by Jocelyn Wagner
Our labour/birth journey of our first child was not what I originally imagined. I originally envisioned labouring and giving birth naturally at home with our midwives, ideally using a birthing pool, unless things got unsafe or I needed pain relief. However, the “home birth” part of this dream was modified quite early, around 30 weeks, when we found out that our babe was sitting in the frank breech position.
We tried everything to turn her but she ultimately remained head up. Because of this, our midwife had to transfer care of delivery to an OB. And because I really wanted to go into labour naturally, not to mention give birth naturally, we spent the remainder of the pregnancy doing everything to ripen my cervix and naturally induce labour. Which finally happened on the morning of January 3!
That morning I was having a bath to ease the “pressure” I woke up with in my pelvis. This pressure was a new sensation in my pregnancy, so my spidey-sense was tingling that something was up. Around 11:00 am I felt a “pop” in my pelvic area and the release of fluid into the bath. Phil, my husband/birth partner and baby’s father, made a quick call to the doula and midwife to confirm that my water had indeed broke! And, oh boy, there was a lot of meconium from our bum-down baby! I called my mom (who we had planned to join us from the Comox Valley for labour and birth) and we packed up the car and headed to BC Women’s Hospital to meet our midwife and doula and get admitted.
I remember driving to the hospital taking in the snow-covered mountains, blue bid sky and uncharacteristically cold Vancouver air. I remember thinking, “After so much of my life wondering who my baby will be, I finally get to meet them. I’d never felt such a combination of peace and anticipation as I did in that moment. Later, Phil said the same thing — “We may have been calm on the surface, but we were terrified and super excited on the inside!”
Our arrival at the hospital felt rehearsed, maybe because we had done the very same drop off a few weeks early when we attempted an ECV, an external version, an obstetric procedure to turn a breech baby. Except this time, it was go time. And speaking of time — from the moment we arrived at hospital, time became fluid. I remember looking at the clock a bit throughout labour, but it could’ve said anything. Time no longer meant anything. I was just in it!
In the admitting area, my contractions intensified as baby’s heart rate and my contractions were monitored by a variety of machines that went “bing!” I was hooked up to an IV. Phil and our doula accompanied me through the waves of pressure in my pelvis. We strapped a TENS unit to my lower back and I used the “toning” technique almost religiously to live into these intense sensations.
After about an hour or so, once the hospital staff was convinced I was indeed progressing, I was moved up by wheelchair to a private labouring room. The privacy and intimacy of the room was glorious! I could tell from the few windows that the daylight had already faded. The lights were kept very low. The nurse was gentle, informative and attentive. The machines were not invasive but reassuring. A couple comfy chairs and a cot welcomed my family. I felt like I was in a safe cocoon.
Contractions were now full on and I was using the TENS machine throughout every contraction. I had my team members providing counter pressure to my hips during each contraction. (I have the bruise to prove how hard I was asking them to push against me!) As much as it hurt during each contraction, at no point did pain relief cross my mind. I got up regularly to relieve my bladder and bowels, often experiencing contractions on the toilet, leaning into Phil so much that I almost pushed him over, and then curled back up on the hospital bed, sucking on sweet popsicles, sipping water and relentlessly applying chapstick to my lips.
My parents arrived in the late evening. The frequency of the contractions, and the intensity at their peak, made me yearn for my mom like I was a child again. I was very relieved when she arrived. My dad sweetly lingered on the vicinity, getting Phil a coffee and sleeping in the car so as not to be too far away. With their presence, and the care I was receiving from the hospital staff and my midwife, doula and husband, I again felt insulated; protected. My intuition felt encouraged and trusted.
After 13 hours of this pattern, I still hadn’t dilated more than two centimetres. Babe just wouldn’t descend! Oxytocin was suggested to augment labour, but that would intensify the contractions. This reality check made me distressed and I felt panicked. I really wanted to do the best for my baby and for me, but I was tired and a bit weary of more intense and frequent contractions. I also felt strongly that I hadn’t yet exhausted all options for a natural delivery. Then someone said, “I think you should consider an epidural” and it was like my body didn’t give my brain a chance to consider – I immediately accepted!
The epidural, though a bit patchy, brought me physical relief and a chance to rest while the oxytocin attempted to get baby to descend. However, after another five hours, I still didn’t dilate. Babe still hadn’t dropped. And I was now 18 hours into labour, six hours away from a higher chance of infection due to my water having already broken.
My options were now: 1) keep trying the same thing for a couple more hours or 2) have a cesarean. Although my midwife and OBs felt that Option 1 wouldn’t make a difference, and although I deeply valued their knowledge and experience, it was my intuition that ultimately made the decision. I believed our baby was strong (the fetal heart rate monitor told me the same thing) and I believed baby’s reasons for being breech and not descending were not for me to question or to force. So I opted for birth by cesarean.
Within what felt like half an hour I was in the OR getting prepared for surgery. Within what felt like minutes after that, my baby was out of me. Between those moments, I experienced several intense things – I shook uncontrollably due to the spinal block, so much that I had to hold on to poles on either side of me and worried I would shatter my teeth; I was freaked out by not being able to feel or control my legs; and it was 7:00 am – shift change for all the nurses – so I didn’t recognize anyone behind their hats and face masks. But, I got through it, many thanks to my doula, midwife and husband for reminding me of my courage. And I am so grateful for the anesthetist, with his tall height and willingness to take Phil’s phone from our doula and stand above the barrier to capture photos of my baby being removed from me.
As per our wishes, Phil was prompted by the OBs to announce the sex to the room (we didn’t know until then what we were having!) and my daughter was put on my chest within seconds. I will never forget that moment when I saw her face for the first time. On one hand, I had no idea who she would be. On the other, she was exactly who I expected. I am so grateful for this immediate connection I had with her. And I am so grateful for the photos of these moments captured by my doula.
Dawn, as we came to name our daughter, was a bit wheezy because of the mucus in her system, but her eyes were open and she stared at me as her skin turned from blue to pink. She had very little vernix on her – this confirmed my intuition that she had been ready (and adamant) to be born that day! And as she lay on my chest, her outstretched legs brought her sweet little feet to my chin. It was surreal. It was elating. It was a dream come true.
Phil followed Dawn and the paediatrician to have her checked out. He trimmed the umbilical cord and was able to hold her skin to skin while I was stitched up. We were into the recovery area by sometime after 8:00 am and then into a postpartum room sometime after that. Again, time was not a something I tracked but instead lived in!
We spent the next two days recovering in the Dogwood ward, learning lots from the nurses, and being visited by the OBs, the anesthetists, our midwife and our close family and friends. It was a magical (somewhat drug-induced!) time of learning to breastfeed, learning to trust that she was breathing when she was in the bassinet, and accepting help. It was incredibly humbling. I’ve never felt so vulnerable, nor so human.
Jocelyn Wagner is a communications strategist who believes in the power of framing all birth stories positively. She found the act of writing her own story to be an important exercise in processing the many emotions, facts and milestones of her experience and she hopes that other new and expectant mamas may be encouraged to do the same. She currently lives in East Vancouver with her husband, Phil, and their newborn baby girl, Dawn.