On June 12th and 10:00 pm, I did the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I birthed my beautiful son into this world.
7 pounds and 6 ounces of pure perfection. Our little rainbow babe.
I wish the following post was all about my magical birth centre experience. I wish I could tell you all about how I breathed my baby earthside, in a birthing tub that was just the right temperature, surrounded by supportive staff, soft lighting and rainbows. I wish I could tell you how empowered I felt allowing my body to do what it was naturally meant to do. I wish I could tell you how amazing it was to finally have the birth I had been preparing for since long before my miscarriage.
But like most birth stories, my plans were ruined before we even got started.
Labour gently crept up on me at 4:00 am on June 10th. It took me falling asleep and waking up multiple times to realize that what I was feeling were my first contractions. I got out of bed, just to see if they were real and they continued to come in waves every so often. I softly woke my wife, letting her know that just maybe labour was starting, but not to panic. It never happens like it does in the movies.
We stood together in our dark living room, her arms encircling my waist swaying gently, watching the sun slowly peek above the horizon. The sky turned one shade lighter as the stars disappeared and light started glinting off the downtown Winnipeg skyline. She would later tell me that this was one of her favourite moments of our relationship. Just the three of us, calmly swaying together, the future bursting with potential.
Just as mysteriously as they had started, the contractions stopped and we carried on with our day. It is very common for early labour to start and stop a few times, so I tried not to let anxiety get the better of me.
The next night the contractions started again at 1:00 am, but with more conviction this time. Soon I wasn’t able to sleep or rest through them, so I got up and walked down our hall. I got my birth ball (a glorified exercise ball) which sat mostly untouched the last few months in our living room, waiting to be retrieved for this very purpose. My hips drew generous circles through the air as I breathed through each contraction. After reading and listening to so many birth stories, the contractions were exactly how I expected them to feel, but at the same time so foreign.
I stayed with my wife our in bedroom, keeping the lights off. She gently shook my hips with every contraction as they became more intense and closer together. It felt good to have that vibration and pressure on my back. Eventually I made my way to the shower, and discovered the true power of water. It felt wonderful to let the hot water pour over my back, relaxing me and easing the sharpness of the pain. We had small electric candles that I had purchased for covert middle-of-the-night breastfeeding operations, but they made for the perfect birthing ambience in our bathroom. I hung my arms around my wife’s shoulders, doing little squats as I breathed, picturing my baby moving down.
This pattern of birth ball, shower and walking continued until my water broke at 10:00 am. I was getting up off the birth ball and felt a sudden gush of fluid down my leg. It quickly formed a small, clear puddle at my feet as I clenched my legs together, trying desperately to make it to the bathroom. My contractions were 4 minutes apart and about 1 minute long, so if I wasn’t fully in active labour I was definitely on the precipice. My wife was getting worried that my contractions were getting so close together, so we called the midwife. She was hesitant to have us come in right away, likely because I was a first time mom and labour tends to take a little bit longer, but she could tell we were worried and said that she would meet us at the birth centre.
My contractions slowed right down once I was in the car. The light of day and the busy downtown traffic was so distracting. I had been dreading this drive since the beginning of my pregnancy because I knew how easily labour could be disturbed. We had worked really hard to make ourselves a calm, dark cave at home and I felt like I was in the groove. But not anymore.
Of course I was only 2-3cm dilated when they checked me at the birth centre. I was kind of expecting that, given how quickly my contractions were derailed by the car ride. Disappointed and tired, we drove home with orders for “therapeutic rest”. The midwives recommended Tylenol, Gravol, a meal and as much sleep as I could get. I was going to need it.
We ordered a massive pizza (the perfect size for eating one’s emotions) and I settled down for a nap. Miraculously, I slept for about 2 or 3 hours and then labour started up again at 7:00pm. Given that my water had already broken we were on a bit of a timeline. The midwives said that they had to consult a physician 24 hours after my water had broken, which scared the crap out of me. I felt my dream of a hippy, crunchy, natural water birth start to crumble.
I tried not to lose hope and more importantly I tried to stay relaxed. The midwives recommended some nipple stimulation to get the contractions ramped up again, as it released oxytocin into the body. Let’s just say, it worked pretty quickly.
The contractions continued ramping up through the night. They felt noticeably different from before and soon I couldn’t really talk or concentrate through them. The shower was my only reprieve and I kept cycling through the hot water and resting on my birth ball until 2:00am. My contractions were definitely every 4 minutes, lasting 1 minute (sometimes longer) and had been going on for over an hour. We called the midwives and they said we could make our way over.
This time my contractions didn’t stop in the car and I was really hoping that my cervix had progressed. The midwife checked me again and I was only 2 cm dilated. I was devastated.
The midwife said that maybe the baby’s head wasn’t quite in the right position to help my cervix dilate, so she said we could wait in the waiting room for an hour and see if repositioning the baby helped me move along. She instructed my wife to gently lift my belly each time I had a contraction and to continue to walk around. If my contractions weren’t painful before (and they were) they were definitely painful when my wife lifted our baby into position. It was a gruelling hour, in the hauntingly dark waiting room of the birth centre. My moans echoed in the high ceilings, partially drowned out by the ocean sounds in my headphones. The memory of the moment my wife and I had shared 48 hours previously felt like it was from a story of another lifetime.
An hour later, I was no further ahead.
My head was a whirlwind of fatigue and exhaustion. I could barely hear what the midwife was saying, but I really didn’t need to. I knew what she was recommending and I knew what that meant for my birth.
Because my water had broken early, the baby was now at increased risk for infection as the cozy, watery home that had protected him for the last nine months was no more. They had room at the hospital to admit us right away, or we could go home for a handful of hours and try to be admitted that morning, if nothing progressed in the next few hours.
I often think back to this pivotal decision. So many factors were at play: exhaustion, the concerned looks on the faces of my wife and my mom, the safety of my baby, my desire to have a natural birth, the strong recommendation of the midwife. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had just gone home. But I was called to be a mother before my son was even born because his safety and well being were all that mattered. I knew that a natural birth was best for him and for me. But after knowing the risks we were faced with, I never would have forgiven myself if anything happened to our baby.
So with tears streaming down my face, we told the midwives we would go to the hospital. It was the first in a series of difficult decisions my wife and I would have to make over the next 15 hours. I was crushed and terrified and I felt so betrayed by my body. After months of hearing endless stories of natural birth and watching the most breathtaking videos of unmedicated home births, I felt supremely ripped off. I figured we might as well book the C-section right then.
My contractions continued as we checked into the hospital. I was definitely in active labour, but apparently my cervix did not get the memo.
The hospital room was somewhat dingy. Bright fluorescent lights assaulted my eyes and the scent of hand sanitizer took me back to my floor nursing days. A hospital gown was folded at the end of the bed, but I promised myself I would never put it on.
I laid back in the hospital bed as my worst nightmare unfolded in a blur in front of me. Continuous fetal monitoring was attached to my belly in two places, an IV was started in my wrist. I watched helplessly as fluids began dripping and synthetic oxytocin entered my veins. I was connected to a million things and felt so disconnected from my body and from my baby. I felt trapped by all of the technology that was supposed to be helping us. They might as well have chained me to the bed.
In a desperate attempt to have some control over what was happening to me, we turned off the lights and turned on the ocean sounds I had found so comforting at home. At least I could try to simulate some of the relaxing environment I would have had at the birth centre.
I was able to rest for about an hour or so before the contractions really started to get bad. Synthetic oxytocin mimics real oxytocin, which is the hormone responsible for progressing labour. Unfortunately, the synthetic oxytocin doesn’t come with the natural endorphins that your body would otherwise produce in labour to help counteract the pain. Additionally, the protocol increased the synthetic oxytocin every half hour, regardless of whether or not my body was ready for it. I had no access to any natural methods of pain management that I had planned for, like warm showers, a relaxing bath or using a TENS machine (as it interfered with fetal monitoring). The hospital couldn’t even provide me with a decent birthing ball, which is a very useful tool for helping baby move down and for easing pain. The first one they brought in was so deflated I was basically squatting on the floor, and the second (and only other ball on the unit) was very small. And do you think they had a pump to keep the balls inflated properly? Nope. Of course not.
It was just me and the synthetic oxytocin. And it was brutal in every way.
I felt profoundly out of control. No amount of breathing or meditating could relieve the intense, vice-grip pain that resonated through my whole body with every contraction. Every 5 minutes. Every 4 minutes. Every 3 minutes. Soon there were no breaks between contractions at all. I cried. My wife cried. My mom cried. I made the most deep, primal sounds, trying to wash away the pain with my voice. I shook the bedrail so hard I thought it would break off. I cried again. And again. And again.
My wife coached me expertly through each contraction, helping me to relax and make the most of the small breaks between contractions. Her voice was the only thing grounding me and making me feel like maybe I could get through this somehow. She let me pull and push and hang off of her in any direction and was always lifting water to my lips to keep me hydrated. She walked me to the bathroom and helped me pull up my pants and navigate the mess of cords and wires. She rubbed my shoulders and advocated for me and communicated with our midwives. She supported me in every way and showed me the true meaning of “in sickness and in health”.
After about 8 hours of this, I reached a breaking point. The nurse looking after me said that, because I was a first time mom, I could maybe expect another 8 hours or more of labour like this. I thought I was going to die. I had to do something. I knew if I kept going like this I would end up being too exhausted to push my baby out and that would guarantee a C-section for us. So, I asked for sterile water injections. And a few hours later I asked for morphine. I was so ashamed, but so desperate. I still hate that I had to ask for help, and I knew the potential risks to my little baby, but I couldn’t carry on. I just couldn’t.
My pain relief also gave a little relief to my poor mom and wife who were on the sidelines watching and listening this nightmare unfold. They had not taken the time to eat or sleep much, not wanting to leave my side. My mom was incredibly strong and stoic, supporting us in anyway she could. I could feel her loving presence and hoped that I could make her proud. As I rested in bed briefly, I saw them relax as well. At the back of my mind, I felt so horrible for putting them through all of this, wishing I could have done anything to prevent it. They were absolute champions and I can never thank them enough for being there for me.
The morphine wore off all too quickly, but I felt a small burst of energy and carried on the synthetic oxytocin train of hell. I cycled between sitting on the chair, sitting at the edge of the bed and going to the bathroom to keep my bladder as empty as possible.
At 5:00 pm I reached another breaking point. I still had hours ahead of me and was almost at the 24 hour mark for no food, and no decent rest. The obstetrician offered to check my dilation.
I was only 4-5 cm.
I couldn’t believe it. All of that pain for a couple centimetres of progress. There was no end in sight. I sobbed into my wife’s shirt, clinging to her for dear life. And then I looked into her eyes and asked the unthinkable.
Should I get an epidural?
I was being traumatized. I was hardly even feeling excited to meet our baby. That’s how I knew I couldn’t go on anymore. The situation was only going to deteriorate from here, given that I had not had food or rest and the contractions were only going to get worse (as if that was even possible). And the hardest part was yet to come. I still had to push my baby out. I knew that if I was too exhausted to birth my baby, I was guaranteed to have a C-section.
I had already reached my limit hours ago and was only holding it together because my wife was living each contraction with me. She never left me. Her strength matched my own and I absolutely could not have birthed our son without her. She was my rock. She was my everything that day.
She knew how fiercely opposed to epidurals I was, and tried to push me a little further, but quickly saw I had nothing left to give. So we called the anesthesiologist.
Ironically, as soon as the epidural started working, I felt back in control of the birth. Back in control of my birth.
The contractions changed from the intense pain that felt like I was being ripped in half, to intense pressure and tightness. I could still feel everything, but it was different. And I was able to rest.
Within two short hours, I was feeling very intense pressure in my bottom, which is a big sign that baby is in position for pushing. The nurse checked me and I was 10 centimetres dilated.
The midwives were called, as they were going to help me bring my baby into the world. I was so grateful that they had not abandoned us, and even though my care had been transferred to the obstetricians at the hospital, they were still going to do everything they could do to support us.
The pressure in my nether regions was increasing and I was feeling like I could push. I hated that I was on my back, but I didn’t have a choice. I knew it was the least effective position to be in and put me at higher risk for tearing, but between the IV in my hand, the monitoring and the epidural I couldn’t be in any other position. The foot rests came out and I placed my feet on them, gritting my teeth with determination.
I was going to birth my baby. Right now. Everything else had been taken away from me. But I refused to let them take this away.
The midwives showed up quickly and before I knew it, my vagina had a big audience. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing, my body and my baby. I worked with every contraction, pushing my baby further down and closer to us. A couple of times the midwife gently put her fingers in me to guide my pushing, but mostly I was left alone to follow my instincts. I learned with each push and soon enough the midwife told me that I could feel my baby’s head if I reached down. My fingers brushed the very top of his little head, as he started to crown. He had the finest hair on the top of his head, all soft and wet. I felt a rush of joy and knew that all of my hard work and suffering was going to be so worth it when we held him. So soon.
I was equal parts ecstatic and terrified as I felt his head start to descend and crown. I was so scared of tearing, but my desire to meet my little one overcame me. Somewhere, somehow I mustered the last of my strength to push him out. I was careful and slowly panted with little pushes, gradually easing him through the birth canal. Suddenly, I felt a big release and I looked up to see the midwife holding my baby to look at me and then she immediately placed him on my belly.
He was warm and wet and felt almost rubbery. His skin was pale and a slightly blue tinged, so I rubbed his back and called to him again and again. It felt like time stopped as I waited to hear him cry. Finally he took a breath and let out the most precious cry. I was overjoyed. I kept talking to him as he looked around for my face. I knew that he knew my voice.
My wife and I were completely in love. I barely remember delivering the placenta, as I was so focussed on our little baby. He was wide-eyed and I started feeling him push his legs against my belly as he made his way towards my voice. I had seen the infamous breast crawl so many times, and I couldn’t believe my little one was doing it right before our eyes. He slowly pushed his way up to my breast as the room bustled with people charting, reporting and monitoring. It was such a juxtaposition of intense intimacy and bureaucratic bustling. But all of that was in the periphery as I watched my baby.
I felt like I could be in that moment forever.
He latched a couple of times and I was over the moon. I was so passionate about breastfeeding and I wanted us to get the best start possible. The nightmare was finally coming to an end.
As we came back to reality, I realized that I was soaked in blood and covered in meconium. I didn’t care one bit. I never thought being pooped on would feel so amazing, but it totally did. Because it meant I was a mom.
I don’t really know how to process my birthing experience. Maybe it’s just too soon. I know I’m not alone in this, as so many women have births that range from less than desirable to downright traumatic. Just because you are fortunate enough to go home with a healthy bundle of joy, doesn’t mean everything was joyous. And that’s okay. I know that I am so incredibly lucky to have my healthy baby boy, but I still feel a bit robbed. At times I am angry at myself, my body and at how the health care system let us down. But I am also grateful that I had a clean hospital with excellent, caring staff to take care of us when we needed it most. I am so thankful that I get to watch my little boy grow every day and yet I am sad that so much of my birthing joy was sucked up by medical protocols. Maybe I’m being too greedy. Maybe I should just be happy with what I have. I don’t know.
But here’s what I do know:
I feel grateful. I feel betrayed by my body. I feel like my body is so powerful. I feel lucky. I feel so in love. I feel sad. I feel let down. I feel angry. I feel like a failure. I feel so tired. I feel so happy. I feel connected to my wife. I feel like my marriage is on the back burner. I feel so alone. I feel like I will never get to be alone again. I feel frustrated. I feel like this is who I was meant to be. I feel like I will never be the person I was before.
Maybe this is what parenthood feels like. If it is, I guess I’m doing okay.