Like many of you drawn to read this, I grew up with the lore of multiple birth stories, primarily from my mother. She delivered four LARGE babies, naturally, with each birth story having its own particular sense of drama. The most notable is delivering me, alone at the age of 19, in small-town Saskatchewan, with a doctor who had never attended a birth on his own. As a close runner-up to that, the next baby was born at 10 lbs 12 oz with shoulder dystocia (stuck shoulders) that temporarily popped her hip out of joint. So, naively, I have always assumed that I was made of the stuff of warriors, and that delivering a baby naturally was practically birthright.
That said, I truly had no birth plan in the general sense of the term. Ultimately, I was just so curious. How would it all unfold? Over days? What would the pain actually be like? If I was going to crack under the pain and pressure, how long would it take? Seeing past the birthing process to the moment of meeting baby was almost hard to do, with all my expectation of the event. With a lifetime of anticipation and three days overdue, curiosity gave way to extreme impatience.
I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for Tuesday July 2 at 10 am to discuss options for induction — an idea which I had still not warmed to at all. The night before, in bed semi-asleep, I was wriggling around, beached, when stab – the sharpest, crippling, almost blinding, white-hot pain on my right side. Round ligament pain, which I had had countless times before – but on steroids. Horse steroids, which I am sure is a thing. It had me up and on my knees in seconds gasping for air and waving my arm around to grab Jeff beside me. This is the only point in my dbirth story where the pain brought me to tears.
In addition to really f*&%ing hurting, it was alarming – I knew intuitively that this couldn’t be labour, but at this point in pregnancy, it felt like something had to be wrong. At best, it seemed to be an indication that I wasn’t going to be able to hack labour when it seemed soon to follow. The apparent shock of seeing me go from 0 to 100 and in panicked tears thankfully did not shake my first-responder husband, Jeff. He calmly ran a bath, helped me in, made me guzzle water, and laid out our plan – we would google (eek), wait to see how I felt in a few minutes, and then proceed to either calling the doctor or heading to the hospital. I sat with my belly in the water for close to an hour, watching my muscles on the right slowly release from having clamped down like a vise on baby’s bum. Getting out of the bath, we stayed up together in bed. And I felt nothing. No Braxton-Hicks, no leaking water, no searing pain. Nothing, except for exhaustion.
Like a bad movie montage, the next thing I knew, I woke up the next morning just before 9 am. When I waddled to the bathroom, I suddenly felt myself leaking big splooshy spots along the floor. I called out from the bathroom “YESSS, my water broke!!”, to which Jeff in the bedroom responded, “Your dad just called!” Silence. Jeff: “Oh. OHHHHH! Ok, well one thing at a time then!”
Unfortunately, both of our excitement gave way to nerves when I noticed that the water coming from me was undeniably pink-tinged. Blood. My doctor agreed over the telephone that the appointment was now out the window, and we made our way rather quickly to the hospital in preparation for baby’s birth.
Somehow, we managed to arrive on what was one of the quietest days on the ward, and I was quickly admitted into an examination room and had all sorts of nurse attention. I was only 2 cm (ugh), but my membranes had definitely ruptured, which was a good start. Roughly 40 min later, baby’s heartbeat was confirmed to be strong, and I was being given the low-down by the nurse for my return home for the labour that would hopefully soon follow. Among her pieces of rapid advice was to be on the lookout for greenish flecks of discharge (there is nothing more graphic than childbirth) in the water that was continuing to steadily trickle out of me. When I pointed out that I had just moments before spotted jelly-like, pale-green flecks while peeing, she gave a perfect jaded-nurse eye roll, “Congratulations, you just officially earned yourself a spot here. No home time for you!” Even with the strong heartbeat, somewhere along the way, baby had become distressed and began pooping meconium. Apparently, the squishing it received last night from my round ligaments was equally upsetting to us both.
It was now about noon, three hours since I first noticed the splooshy water drops and I was getting situated in my room, having monitors “installed,” IV-drip put in, and bouncing on a birthing ball with a lime popsicle in hand. So far, this was a slick operation. I was still the ONLY one there and had nurses coming into my room for something to do, after I confirmed that I didn’t mind. I welcomed the distraction, as I was very preoccupied with the doubt of having felt no contractions yet, while hoping birth was imminent.
Jeff left to go gather some more things from home (FOOD), and I began a routine of ball rocking and hall-marching, all the while watching the contraction monitor for any sort of blip. The next few hours felt uneventful. At some point, the contractions slowly but surely started to build. My mom showed up from Regina to be there for the birth, and we hung out and laughed with the nurses. One of the nursing students shadowing on the ward ended up being a student of mine the previous year. She was put in charge of checking my urine every time I peed. Poor kid, I hoped she at least got a good grade in my course to make up for the insult.
It was now 5 pm, I was 4 cm dilated, doubling over and rocking through every contraction, but feeling in control of the pain. Things were happening, and it all seemed fairly textbook. However, somewhere around here, true “back labour” began. The nauseatingly dull, throbbing pain that I could feel in my hip and back bones did not go away between contractions. In some respects, a contraction was a welcome (confusing) distraction from the tension weighing like a stone in my lower back. Soon, the only thing I really wanted to discuss between contractions was the knife that I now felt was lodged in my butt. I actually distinctly remember my mother saying in a semi-admonishing way, “You’re saying ‘butt’ an awful lot.” Which should have been infuriating, but I actually found it hilarious. That’s because there was a KNIFE IN MY BUTT, MOM.
At around 6 pm, I got in and out of a molten-lava temperature bath; I was maybe 5 cm dilated and the contractions were starting to take my breath away. The knife/back dilemma was starting to take away my will to be nice, or strong, or positive. The feeling of my bones separating in my hips, the sharp, insistent pain of a knife dropping through my bowels (butt), and the lack of breath I was able to draw in. My curiosity was now satisfied. I knew. This is what labour feels like. This is birth. Without an epidural, this night would be exceedingly hard-fought. I doubted I would remember the coming hours, and I had serious doubts about my stamina to withstand this type of pain. I requested and received an epidural around 7 pm – just in time for nurse shift change (apologies, you sweet baby angels).
It turned out that I had made it to 7 cm on my own, doing about 5 of those in the space of roughly 6 hours! In hindsight, and at the moment the needle was going in, it felt bittersweet – maybe it was possible for me to go all the way on my own? Make it to the finale of the birth. This seemed to be a fast-moving train. The feeling passed and ceased to matter when I felt an easing in the stabbing (of the KNIFE IN MY BUTT!) which was replaced by a different, heavy feeling. I suddenly felt more conscious and aware of where baby was – they were low behind my pubic bone, much lower than I had ever felt them. With the edge taken off, I could feel things widening during each contraction, space being created in me, and baby’s head sliding down as the pressure dropped. This was pretty freaking cool. The most alien feeling, but I could feel baby creeping down and forwards, towards us. I had a nap, ate two more lime popsicles, sat like a Buddha, and twice had to quickly flip onto my hands and knees as baby’s heartbeat did a (not unexpected) deceleration in response to the epidural. Slightly concerning, but the nurses were so damn competent and reassuring that I barely felt my own heartbeat elevate watching baby’s go down. Strange.
At around 8 pm, enter my doctor. I could and should write a dedication to her, Dr. Penny (Penelope) Stalker. She actually delivered all three of my brothers and distinctly remembers each birth (see previous comment re: drama). She saw my mom in the room and despite not having seen each other in 23 years, they hugged and started laughing like old friends. I trust her so completely and couldn’t believe my luck that the timing worked for her to be the one to deliver my baby. She’d oversee this birth the way she had all my brothers’. In my newfound epidural-ed state, with my mom and her reminiscing in the room, I can say confidently that I was damn near euphoric. Things were happening. Penny was here. The baby was COMING. Tonight!! Maybe tomorrow. My “no plan is a good plan” mantra appeared to be working for me.
Though I had just been checked an hour ago at the time of epidural, Penny checked me again shortly after coming in. She calmly stood up, took her gloves off, and said “Well I’m going to go gown up, because you’re about to have a baby.” It was such an unexpected sentence that we just sat in silence. Jeff and I looked at each other – I was just 7 cm an hour ago. Had I really jumped 3 cm in the last hour and a bit after managing to relax with the epidural?? That “space” I felt being created in me turned out to be very real. I still didn’t believe her, saying, very eloquently “Nuhuh.” Yes, she said – she could see the hair on the baby’s head! “Well…that can’t be our baby then, both Jeff and I were bald as babies.” That statement hung in the air for a beat, at which point Penny laughed, patted my leg and said, “I’ll give you a minute.”
I got a few. With a flurry of preparation around me, they were moving my legs into position (“Guys, are we sure!?”), a nurse was explaining how I would push, (“But GUYS, I don’t feel the urge to push yet!!”), a lime popsicle inexplicably made its way into my hand, my mother left the room, and Jeff was buzzing beside me. Apparently it was natural in this case that I couldn’t feel the strong urge to push, even though I was just about 10 cm and baby was low, they weren’t yet at the lowest drop possible. I was going to try to push to help them along and see how we both did.
So, without the call of nature, a strong feeling of pressure or urge to push, I began pushing. I had to be warned when a contraction was coming, but I also stared at my belly to see the tightening come. This was strange and not how I imagined it at all – I had been wholly prepared for the idea that your body “knows” when to start pushing. Now, not only was I somewhat disconnected from what was happening below because of the epidural, my body didn’t seem to yet be on the same page.
You can imagine the routine. Breathe, hold, PUSH. *Work really hard to visualize what my lower half was supposed to be doing.* Breathe, hold, PUSH. Popsicle bite from Jeff, wipe of the forehead. Repeat, repeat, repeat. At some point Jeff actually took a picture of my vagina in all its dilated glory so that I could see that baby was in fact there. I didn’t look long at the picture then, but the sight of a small dark globe of hair right there was so surreal and did not really have the intended effect of convincing me.
However, pushing appeared to be working! Twenty minutes in and baby’s head was amazingly just past crowned, but was having trouble rocking up and over one of the bones in my pelvis, given they were facing slightly sideways. Suddenly, there was beeping. All heads swiveled to the monitor and it seemed both nurses and the doctor suddenly yelled “OK, PUSH!!” Two new nurses suddenly appeared in the room. Without a contraction happening, I bore down. The beeping ceased. Penny frowned and told me that baby’s heart decelerated quite sharply. She asked for a vacuum to be prepared. Two more normal push cycles. Then the beeping again, and insistent calls for me to push like I never had before. Penny was clearly bothered but was calm and cool. “Looks like baby is going to have to come very quickly; that was two sharp decels, and I don’t wait for a third. If it happens again, the vacuum is going on and you have to push with everything you have. You still have to do most of the work – but that’s it, baby’s coming out, it’s the only option.”
To paraphrase/quote Anchorman, this had escalated quickly. The room now was serious, and though I still felt out of body, the slow-and-steady approach I had moments ago was gone, replaced by fluttery panic. I didn’t necessarily feel “in my body”, how was I going to be able to push a baby out in ONE push from just crowned? With the extra nurses now in the room, everyone murmured encouragingly through a normal push cycle. Then another. I was straining and vibrating, focusing every bit of my attention below, pretending each push was the final push – and baby ended up slightly edged forward, forehead now through. I got another inexplicable lick of a popsicle. Then, beeping.
What happened next feels like it took both 10 minutes and 10 seconds. A nurse pushed me up from my back, so I was almost doubled over the ball of my belly, a vacuum (which looked like a hair dryer and NOT the medical-grade shop-vac I was expecting) went between my legs, and there was a chorus in the room of panicked “pushpushpushpush.” I could see Penny, pulling, with the tiny, wet, dark-haired head from the photo attached to the end – I focused all of my energy and push staring at the back of that head of hair. That is still the clearest image in my mind – seeing a tiny head hovering outside my body, bobbing along with the action of the vacuum. I don’t remember the moment baby was out. Suddenly there was a small body that was all but football tossed onto my belly, which then instantly disappeared under a flurry of white towels, being rubbed and scrubbed vigorously by three different pairs of hands, trying to make them cry. I have no idea if Jeff or I made a noise – I couldn’t quite process that there suddenly was this warm, slick, body on my stomach that I couldn’t really see. Was that it? Did I just give birth? I was just eating a popsicle what felt like 10 seconds – 10 minutes ago.
Then, new baby cry. The single best sound I have ever heard in my life, and remembering it makes me tear up even now. It brought me jolting back into my post-birth body and Jeff and I both did that wonderful relieved laugh-cry many new parents will know well.
After just under a minute into their new life on the outside, it took a nurse from the back of the room yelling out “Well, what is it!?” This promptly made the toweling-off stop and the room laugh. For a few hot minutes, that was of the lowest priority. Finally, I got to touch them for the first time, and lifted up their little legs – girl. GIRL. GIRL?! The surprise and gift of my lifetime.
Sasha. She started her journey our way with steady purpose that morning at 9 am and had come in what ended up being a 27-minute hurried sprint at 9:01 pm, and amazingly now lay happily on my chest, unbothered. Having finally lived it, I know now that the birth story is really just the preamble to the true event — meeting and holding the tiny human that lived as part of you for months. Epidural and lack of relative drama included in our story, meeting her was the perfect ending to our most unique day and the most perfect start to the rest of our new life.