An eternal 12 days after my due date, which contained both moments of patience and absolute cry-my-face-off, hormonal battiness, a complete lunar eclipse, two stretch-and-sweeps, two ultrasounds, and the looming likeliness of medical induction, it was finally starting to look like I was in labour. I had been having short, manageable contractions about 15 to 20 minutes apart for the last couple days, which would fizzle out during the night. This Tuesday evening, they started picking up enough that I would hum or moan through them and have to concentrate. A number of times I got Ben to squeeze my hips throughout a contraction, which felt much better. We had been infested with house-flies recently, and at one point he started squeezing my hips, but saw a fly, and let go of me to go after it with the swatter. I made an indignant noise and waved my hand frantically – how the heck did a fly take priority right now!?
Somewhere around 7 PM, I called my midwife, Kilmeny, to tell her contractions were a minute long and roughly five minutes apart. While we were talking on the phone she heard me have to stop and moan through a contraction, so she could tell that it wasn’t just wishful thinking. She said she would have some supper and then be on her way over, which was about an hour’s drive. Ben already had the inflatable birthing pool partially full and covered to retain warmth, but he began to add more hot water. I had a set of watercolour birthing affirmations that I had painted hanging on the wall near the pool, and Ben lit candles.
It may have been around 8:45 when Kilmeny arrived and checked me. My cervix was only 2 to 3 cm dilated. I was pretty discouraged and felt bad for calling her, but was still having the regular contractions, though not quite as close together. She was quite tired from being at another birth and, saying it could be quite a while yet, suggested sleep. We gave her our bed and we set up on the futon in the living room. I didn’t want to lie down during contractions, but she said maybe that would be good for me, as the discomfort could be an indicator of something happening, whereas always shifting into a more comfortable position might be slowing things down. I called Mom, who brought over some more gravol, and I took some with Tylenol and we went to bed. I lasted maybe an hour and a half trying to doze in-between contractions, with Ben asleep beside me. Then I couldn’t take it anymore and wandered about or sat in the rocker with my heat-pack and tens machine. Soft instrumental lullabies played at a low volume. I was making some noise, but trying to keep it minimal. It felt very lonely in the dark, coping with each wave and being the only one awake, tiptoeing around and feeling guilty for not lying down, as was suggested. I could have woken Ben, but there wasn’t anything he could do, so I thought he might as well sleep while he could.
4 AM – I finally woke Ben and Kilmeny, as my contractions seemed stronger and I was getting very shaky. I held tight to Ben and whispered that I didn’t want to be alone anymore. They topped off the pool with hot water and I got in, which felt really lovely. Kilmeny wanted me to sink all the way into it and try to relax my body as much as possible. They sat nearby with laptops and drank coffee.
6 AM – Dawn was approaching; the midwife offered to break my waters in half an hour if there wasn’t much more progress. I said we might as well do it right away. I asked Ben to say a little prayer, so he held my hands and prayed that it would go well, and then they helped me onto the couch. The waters felt very warm as they trickled out, and Kilmeny said they were clear with no meconium, which I was so glad of.
Contractions picked up quite quickly, and before I could even get back into the pool I said, “I’m going to throw up.” Ben grabbed a bowl for me. I lost the mint I’d been sucking.
Sometime between 8 and 10 AM, the midwives did a changing of the guard. Kilmeny left me with words of encouragement, replaced by Suki and Julie. By this point I was at 8cm and kind of out of it, in my own survival zone. Ben showed our contraction-timing app to Julie who tried it out. I vaguely recall being brought cool cloths for my neck when I found the pool too hot, but the contrast was quite chilly when I got out to pee. At one point I reached to see if I could check my own cervix and felt the top of the baby’s head against my fingers. That was very neat, realizing that it was actually right there and I had touched my child.
Labour continued in the pool until noon; there was immense pressure with each contraction. I would just grab hold of the handles and writhe in the water. The only thing that sort of helped was pressing my lower back against the little blow up seat under the water while bracing my feet against the opposite wall. It was more painful than I had expected, especially because there wasn’t much relief between waves. I didn’t realize it was back labour.
I didn’t have a lot of excitement about the baby throughout that time. It seemed so impossible that it was ever going to arrive. I just focused on making it through each new moment and using what remained of my energy to make the singing, moaning noises that were essential to keeping myself calm. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to try to keep my voice in a low register and my jaw loose, otherwise I would end up screaming and tensing up. So, that was my song – my low, vowel-y litany of labour. “Aaaaa-eeeee-iiiii-ohhh-oooo.”
Ben was funny, as well as supportive. He couldn’t help laughing a little when I would vocalize, “Hoo hooo.” “And the owl goes?” he joked under his breath.
I wanted to be pushing so badly, wanting to be done this long stage. I tried it a bit, but my body wasn’t feeling the urge. I remember Suki asking, “Are you feeling pushy?” I complained, “I want to be feeling pushy!” She laughed. She checked and said I was at 9.5 cm, but there was a thick edge of cervical lip in the way. She offered to try to hold it back for me during a contraction. We tried and it hurt a lot but she said she had cleared it about halfway back. I tried laboring a little longer and asked if she would do it again. She said it was very unusual for someone to ask for that again! I just so badly wanted to get through, I didn’t care much about the pain. I think I started throwing up again.
Finally, I felt able to push a little with the contractions. It wasn’t getting the baby out though, so they moved me to the bed and tried various positions. Suki continued to push back the lip with every opportunity. Whenever I was pushing it was bearable, but if she was still working on it after I had finished pushing I would practically scream at her not to. At last she said it was all cleared away. I was relieved, thinking we must be almost done and the baby could be born at any point now. However, I continued pushing, back and forth between the toilet and bed, not seeming to be able to finish the job. I would try and try, and they kept saying that it was a great push and just go a little harder to make the baby come far enough to stop going back, but then I would lose my breath and have to stop.
Suki told me that, because I was so exhausted and didn’t seem to have the final burst of energy needed for strong enough pushes, that I could try for ten more minutes, but then she would like to transfer me to the hospital and use Pitocin to strengthen the contractions. I said I didn’t want to. I wanted to avoid Pitocin if at all possible. I kept trying my best, and she held off on that ultimatum, telling me that I was just so close, I was almost doing it.
At last though, I was so pooped, that I agreed to go to the hospital for a vacuum suction removal. It felt a little bit like a gracious defeat, handing over my own fortitude for being able to do it at home, but I was also thankful to know that I would have help. It wasn’t all on my shoulders anymore. I was headed towards the end; it was just a matter of waiting it out now.
“It’s so hard, my love,” I whispered. In true Ben form, my hubby responded with an innuendo, which not even the pain could keep me from finding funny. “It’s good to see you smile”, he said.
The ambulance arrived with a couple of friendly paramedics. I remember thinking how awesome it was that they wheel a carrier right into the house and that I didn’t have to try to walk out to the vehicle. At first they buckled me in, but I couldn’t bear to be on my back, so I asked to be unbuckled very quickly. As the door was shut and we left, a couple of flies got stuck inside with us and started landing on me. If I could have laughed at that point I would have. It was the last straw – those flies that we had been swatting for weeks.
The hour-long, bumpy ambulance ride was the worst part of, well, anything in my life thus far. Fully dilated and stuck, I sang constantly. It took a lot of energy to force it out, but I couldn’t not do it. I apologized to the lovely paramedic for making so much noise, and she cheerfully replied that it was a nice change for them. They didn’t usually get serenaded on the job. Once I almost asked how much further it was to the hospital, but decided I’d rather not know. I didn’t try pushing at all on the journey, I just endured, trembling and sweaty, while Ben encouraged me through what felt like a haze. I was glad to have him there. At first, they had suggested that he bring our car behind, but I definitely wanted him with me. Julie went home, but Suki followed the ambulance in her car.
When we arrived, things moved speedily. I was whisked upstairs to the maternity wing, into a bed, and people bustled around quickly prepping for the baby and drawing blood samples, as I had weakly asked about an epidural. When they told me it would take at least ten minutes to get the needle in, I said to forget that, let’s just get this finished! Besides, I really did want a natural birth. So, the obstetrician on call, a super lady OB, who we had seen for a consult the week before, came right in and checked the baby. She turned to the midwife and said the little one was, “Sunny side up,” as they say, which was partly why the labour was stalled. She said she would use forceps, but I was against this. She explained that the only way we could still go with the vacuum suction is if I pushed while she turned the baby. That way the top of its head would be accessible. Bracing my feet against the supports, I gave it my best effort, while thinking about saving my baby’s precious skull from the trauma of forceps. It worked, and I could feel the whole body swivel in the birth canal.
They checked again for the heartbeat and said it was beginning to drop. The OB said she didn’t usually do episiotomies, but needed to for this situation. I said, “Oh no, please don’t! I’d much rather tear.” She said ok, we just needed to get the baby out right away. As it turned out, the heartbeat sped up again as she affixed the vacuum cup to the baby’s head. She exclaimed that it must have made the baby excited. Then the doctor pulled while I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. I knew this was my last chance to do this naturally and I had to do it now. I think I just gave up on breathing entirely. My face went purple. Then it happened – the head was out! I gasped and gasped.
Ben disappeared into the bathroom for a moment and I heard someone ask if he was ok. He told me, after, that he knew he was about to faint, being overwhelmed and so out of control of the situation. Someone told him he should sit with his head between his knees, but he already knew about that and was doing it. He came back just a few seconds later though, as the rest of the baby’s body slithered out of me and I felt the incredible sensation of all the pressure being gone.
Then everything immediately melted into an amazing glow of relief and elation and joy and tenderness. The baby was on my empty belly, his back to my face, as the cord was attached. I could tell from the look of the sturdy build that it was going to be Peregrine, even before my husband said, “It’s a boy!” Ben sat silent and teary beside me, as I sobbed happily, “My baby! My baby!” I gathered the warm pink skin into my caressing hands. He was fuzzy and dry, with no vernix, and bawled lustily. Everyone in the room was smiling and laughing with the joy of it…and also because he had pooped all over the doctor’s feet. They were trying to wipe poo off the baby so it wouldn’t get onto me, but I didn’t care.
Even though our newborn had passed meconium during the ambulance ride, and they had an expert in the room to clear his airways if needed, he seemed to be fine, so they were able to delay cord clamping for five minutes. I had agreed to a shot of Pitocin directly after he was born, as they didn’t want to risk hemorrhaging, so the placenta came out very quickly. I didn’t care what was going on around me anymore, or about what they were doing to fix me up, I was just so ecstatic.
I put my son to my breast almost right away and he latched on like a natural, so easily and quietly that the attendants were surprised when they looked over and saw him nursing.
Then they took him to a table right beside me to briefly suction a little mucous from his throat and weigh him: 9 lbs, ½ oz! What a huge baby, big and healthy. His head circumference was the same as most six week old infants! We named him as we had planned: Peregrine Benedict – “Perrin” for short.
I had a second-degree tear, which needed sewing, but compared to what I had just been through I barely noticed the stitches.
Although Perrin cried at first, he soon became peaceful and alert for our first few hours together. We admired all the features of his precious little face and remarked on how his ears were a perfect combination of ours. His cheeks looked like mine had, as a baby. His feet were big, with long toes like Ben’s. His Daddy held him close for skin-to-skin time and later they gazed wondrously at one another. He also sucked his thumb.
My mom arrived, immensely reassured to know that I was still alive, after not hearing from us for 15 hours and panicking. Ben had called her as we left for the hospital, asking her to meet us there, so she could bring the car seat and drive us home. She shared delightful moments with her brand new grandchild, as he looked about on the bright world, before she headed into town to pick up food for us all, midwife included, from Tim Hortons.
I was crazy hungry. I devoured two suppers – the hot meal provided by the hospital, and a big take-out sandwich wrap. I was also completely re-energized, chatting and laughing excitedly and walking around the room, relating all the circumstances of the birth. It was as if all the exhaustion and tribulation of my body had just vanished.
Ben texted family members and sent photos of the new arrival. I hadn’t wanted to tell anyone when I went into labour, so the news was a surprise. Mom answered questions for the survey project of a grateful student-nurse, as Ben and I were way too distracted. I also had a hot shower before my wonderful sister-in-law Addie arrived to pick up my placenta for encapsulation.
Perrin’s birth was at 3:09 PM on September 30th. Only three hours later, dressed in a little outfit with a bunting pattern, that I had bought to be his first, we packed up the tiny person into the car-seat where he fell fast asleep. Wearing a blanket as a skirt, since I had forgotten to bring pants, I thanked everyone, especially the midwife Suki, very warmly, and we left to bring our little son back to our home and our new lives as a family of three.
That’s the end of the birth story of Peregrine Benedict and the beginning of the rest of his life.
P.S. I know many people have had negative birth experiences in hospitals, but I was very blessed to suffer no trauma or disappointment from my transfer. Even though I would have preferred to have a home birth, without interventions, I was consulted about and consented to everything that happened. My desires were respected by everyone who assisted me, and I didn’t feel invaded or pressured. Overall it was a positive experience. I was very grateful for receiving the help that I did.