I didn’t appreciate a good birth story until I found out I was pregnant. After that, I became obsessed with them, asking everyone I knew to share theirs. It was weird and potentially inappropriate. Meet someone, find out they are a mother, ask them to share their birth story. I found, though, that most women loved to share.
The word mother took on a whole new meaning, one I couldn’t grasp until I held my son. I have a mother, but what could it mean to be a mother? The same was true of birth. I was born, but had never given birth. The anticipation drove me wild. A nine month countdown is agonizingly long. But finally, the day came for Hart and I to write our own birth story.
Hart Wilde Sedgwick, A Birth Story
I woke up and looked at the clock. My phone read 4:04 am. Though I’d been waking up in the middle of the night for months now, this time was different — my water was broken. I went to the bathroom to make sure, taking in a few moments of disbelief and excitement. Looking at Edward sleeping soundly, I paused before waking him. He looked so peaceful and familiar. My partner in everything.
His arm was warm to the touch as I shook him awake. Today we’re going to meet our baby. Today’s the day, I told him. Let’s try to get some sleep before what’s sure to be a long day. Ha, foolish, foolish girl. I had no idea how long it was going to be!
A few hours later, we took Olly to the dog park, stopping on the way while I had contractions. They were painful, but nothing I couldn’t handle. They stopped my steps as I grabbed a tree or Ed, whatever was closest, to lean against. In that moment, I remember thinking that I could do this birth without an epidural. That was my plan, after all. This birth was going to be euphoric, all I had to do was be in the right frame of mind, of course. Our birth story would go down in the books with the best of the hippies.
Ed’s mom arrived from Ontario the night before, and was staying at an airbnb a few blocks away. She came over and we all had scrambled eggs on the porch. As the morning drew on, I started to feel pretty scrambled myself. Thoughts were interrupted by spontaneous, painful contractions, my body taken over by forces I couldn’t control or anticipate.
The contractions were getting pretty intense. We packed our bags and prepared to walk to the hospital. But damn, those contractions! Instead of our scenic walk by the river and across the train bridge, we had Ed’s mom drive us to the hospital. My breath cut short by contractions along the way, breathing now a difficult task. There is no time I have hated our car more before or since.
We arrived around 1pm, and I prayed that we wouldn’t be sent home — another car ride sounded like cruel and unusual punishment, but I didn’t want to be in the hospital for an unreasonably long time, either. Luckily (?!), I was already about five centimeters dilated. This was confirmation that I was strong. These contractions were real, and I was in the thick of it. The first few pages of our birth story were already written.
In the assessment room, we had a brief consultation with a doctor. She was old and her name was, literally and hilariously, Dr. Olds. Aside from the pain and the blood, everything seemed funny. I remember only some of what she said, but her face is etched in my mind. She was kind and seasoned, and had a piece of bread on her upper lip. Ed and I watched the piece of bread travel magically around her lips for several minutes, before it found its way into her mouth. Home free. It might have been rice, but it was bread-like, anyway.
The pain had become intense and it was so distracting. I couldn’t focus on anything else. There was only pain and in between pain. There’s no need for pain in childbirth, dear, she said. There is no difference with the baby, only with the mothers. I’ve delivered hundreds of beautiful babies, and I see no advantage. Thank you, doc. This woman I had known for seven minutes gave me the permission I needed. I’d read hippie books like hypnobirthing and Ina May’s whatever and whatever, and gotten my mind set on a fully “natural” birth experience. That still sounded beautiful, but more so for other people. This small, beautiful, grey-haired angel gave me the grace I needed to change my plan.
Since we were already so far along, we were moved into a delivery room almost immediately. Everything picked up speed, like a ball the second it slips out of the pitcher’s hand. The medical team called for the anesthesiologist, and said he would be by soon. The nurse kept saying she was certain she’d get to meet you, dear baby, before her shift ended at 6pm. But the time passed and passed. And it kept on passing and you, our baby, kept on staying and staying.
I started picturing time in words. If the epidural man would be here soon, maybe each letter of soon was measurement of time. S – 20 minutes, O – 20 minutes, O – 20 minutes… A while later (an hour? two?) the anesthesiologist came into the room. He looked even more angelic than the first doctor we’d encountered. Some kind of hero, equipped with needles instead of a cape. He made some small talk that I don’t remember, and put a needle in my back. I crossed my fingers and waited for the pain to lapse. And waited. And waited. This day was becoming a lot more about patience than I had anticipated.
Eventually the medical team realized the epidural didn’t take. We joked about my German tolerance, and my husband told them how much I had to drink to feel drunk. Not really a conversation I imagined having with medical professionals while gigantically pregnant, but, as promised by friends, any sense of decency and shyness was long gone by now. Epidural man seemed shocked that it hadn’t worked. This is rare, he said.
After tap two, the epidural kicked in. Alleluia and amen. The comfort! I could see again! This was the most fun part of the day. I sat on the birth ball and joked with my husband, the nurses, and doctors. My doctor wasn’t on duty, but the resident we had been seeing was. She came by frequently, and I so appreciated her kind and familiar face. The nurses and doctors were all so good. I loved them intensely, and felt safe in their hands.
I thought of my own mother. She had done this for me and for my brother. This one difficult and impossible day. She’d lived it for me, and she had barely mentioned it. It was a badge of honour, something to be survived that turned into something beautiful. Bringing life into the world, it turns out, is no easy task. Mothers are gods.
Though my water had broken early in the morning, it had resealed, and was blocking the view of the baby’s head. I tried all sorts of positions to burst it myself over the course of an hour. Bouncing, stretching, squatting. Nothing worked, and eventually, the doctor suggested she pop it. When I pop this sack, the baby will come fast, she warned. I think this is what is keeping him or her up there. You’re already at 10 centimeters.
My husband and I looked at each other excited and anxious. It had already been a long day, and we were ready to hold our little one. I nodded and the doctor reached up and burst my waters. There was a flood and I felt warmed in my lower half. Here we go, I breathed.
And then still, nothing. I sat at 10 centimeters for hours. The nurses switched out, so did the doctors. Our resident stayed around, even though her shift was over. The clock counted down the seconds, the minutes, the hours. My husband ordered Red Pepper, and when the staff was out of the room, I snuck a few bites of his spring roll. One only, because I didn’t want to…well, you know.
Though I was fully dilated, the baby wasn’t dropping. The doctor suggested no more epidural, and we let the drugs wear off. She wanted me to be able to feel the pressure so I would know when to push. The drugs ebbed and those horrible flowing pains were back. Persistent. Consistent. Constant.
Baby still didn’t drop. We don’t normally allow women to be fully dilated for so long, the doctor said. She was advising drugs to help speed up the process. I wanted to avoid the additional drugs if possible, so tried a position recommended by a nurse to help bring the baby down. They set the timer for 30 minutes. If the baby didn’t drop, then we would have to try the drugs. I leaned into the position — face down, ass up, knees apart — as hard as I could. I willed the baby downward.
As the timer ticked down, I finally felt something. A pressure to accompany the pain. With just a few minutes left until the “deadline,” baby dropped enough.
You did it girl, the doctor said. The nurse smiled at me as I thanked her for her sage advice. Now it’s time to push. Fear crept back in, but I was also so damn ready to be done with labour. It was getting late, somewhere around 11pm. Time was an illusion to me at this point, and for months after.
Then the pushing started. Holy hell, the pushing started.
Contractions came and went so fast, though I still found a way to savour the few seconds between each one. I was having intense back labour, so right after each contraction, I would make wild animal sounds as the pain moved from my abdomen to my back. During each push, I tried to heed the doctor’s advice and breathe properly, but almost every time, the pain crowded my intentions. I just couldn’t do what they said, and I hated the advice.
My eyes closed, my mouth open with sounds I didn’t know I could make, I pushed. For the few seconds between each contraction, I’d look into Ed’s eyes. He was here. I was scared, but having him there made it feel okay.
The night dragged on. The pushing dragged on. Pain. Push. Resist. Pain. Breathe. Fear. Repeat. After awhile, when I could open my eyes, I noted with vague interest that there were more people in the room. More nurses, more doctors. There were more conversations I couldn’t hear, didn’t care to strain for. Each time I could open my eyes, I looked at Ed and only Ed. I could see he was scared, and I could see that he was strong. He was my only comfort in those moments. He’s going to be a dad, I kept thinking. He’s going to be such a good father.
They tried the vacuum. Twice. My poor baby didn’t want to come out. When he eventually did, his entire head was bruised from the suction. It broke my heart, though by then I knew he was safe and healthy.
Two and a half hours of pushing later, the doctors told me to stop the force of nature. No more pushing, they said. Your baby hasn’t dropped an inch during this time. We’re going to need to do a c-section. The pace of our birth story changed abruptly, the course altered.
Tears filled my exhausted eyes. The dream of a natural birth slipped away. The idea of pulling my child up to my breast while still attached to the cord evaporated. In that second, my hazy, pain-clouded thoughts focused on all the work I had just done. It was pointless. All the pain and all the fatigue and all the emotions. Ed and I locked eyes and I started to cry. He squeezed my hand tighter. He knew I didn’t want a c-section. We’d both felt something was wrong, though, and it couldn’t go on like this.
The doctors described what would happen if I chose not to have a c-section — they’d try the forceps, tearing me and possibly breaking my baby’s shoulders, or worse. I didn’t need convincing though. Some part of my body had known that the baby wasn’t coming, not the way I had planned. Each push was so painful, but never did I feel progress. I nodded. They brought the paperwork. Seizing the pen through intense contractions, I signed documents on a clipboard over my pregnant belly. The perfect shelf that had taken nine months to grow would be gone by tomorrow. Sign here. Here. Here. The doctor pointed to blanks as I desperately inked my child-like signature on every line. I put my signature on our birth story edits.
The doctors did everything they could, but the baby was stuck. Wedged. Cramped and comfortable, despite my discomfort.
When they took the documents, a doctor ordered another epidural. No use being in pain now, she told me. I wanted to squeeze her. The contractions now felt useless in their pain. I couldn’t wait until they subsided.
Onto the next room — surgery prep. Once the epidural kicked in, I was almost giddy. Delirious, really. It was the wee hours of May 27 by now. Ed was outside the room, getting prepped for my surgery. They gave me more drugs.
I asked about the drugs, and noted that fentanyl was included. The big guns, I said. They laughed. Again, the first epidural didn’t work. We joked about my substance tolerance while I made inappropriate jokes. The lack of sleep, drugs, adrenaline, fear, and excitement heightened everything, giving it all a surreal texture.
Do I look like Jesus? I asked, with my arms and legs spread out, immovable. They all laughed. Then I apologized for making a religious joke. I joked about Ed messing up the gender reveal when they finally held up the baby. If he messes that up after all this, I said. More jokes and banter followed. Even splayed out for surgery I couldn’t resist going for a laugh.
The operating team was amazing. They were all kind and funny, and we talked and talked. Like old buds in a coffee shop, except some held needles while others prepared to slice open my abdomen. I feared that if I stopped talking, I’d fall asleep.
Finally Ed came into the room again. We smiled at each other as he walked over to me in his green gown and cap. He looked so wonderfully out of place in medical garb. He sat at my head so I could look into his eyes. The curtain went up over my chest so we couldn’t see the slicing.
Damn baby, you were wedged. Once the doctors got their hands inside me and tried to pull you out, we found out how stuck you really were. Eventually, one of the surgeons got on her legs up on the operating table and was pulling on you with both hands. Yanking. My body shook on the operating table. Ed and I laughed a little — is this normal? I’d heard stories about emergency c-sections before and couldn’t stop wondering if my intestines were outside my body, sitting in a cold metal bowl beside me. I asked Ed, but he didn’t know.
After the tugging, they tried forceps. Nope. Back to yanking, both hands in. Finally, after 15 minutes of this tug-of-war, team earth won, and you broke free. Your cry pierced the air, and it was the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. Looking into Ed’s eyes, we both cried through excited smiles. Our baby was coming earthside.
The doctors held up the baby. Don’t mess this up Ed, I joked again. It’s a boy! He yelled. It’s a boy! We have a boy! The team all laughed and cheered, and I cried again. They took him to the back and cleaned him up while Ed took photos. Finally they put our little guy in Ed’s arms. He brought him over to me and I held him with my dead arms up at my neck. Baby, baby, I whispered. I’m so happy you’re here.
As the fatigue settled in, so too did the idea form of the world he was entering. A world where his arrival was anticipated by so many loved ones. A world where he was already loved so fiercely. Though the birth story wasn’t what I hoped for, it was beautiful. Your birth story moved from present to past as the doctors stitched me up.
Time of birth, 4:04 am, said one of the doctors. Exactly 24 hours after I woke up with my water broken, my little boy was in my arms.
And that is the birth story of Hart Wilde Sedgwick.