For the duration of my second pregnancy it never occurred to me that my daughter, Seneca, could arrive early. Because my son, Isaac, was born by cesarean and I was planning a VBAC at home (an HBAC, if you will), my main fear was going late and being pressured to have a chemical induction. I’d even agreed to set the official due date by the dating ultrasound rather than my LMP because it was 10 days later and therefore ‘safer’, even though I knew it was too late. By that count, labour started at 36 weeks and 3 days, on Monday, November 28th.
Everyone had been telling me it looked like the baby had dropped, but I felt like I had all the time in the world. When my chiropractor told me the baby was low around 6:00pm I just nodded and went about my business, going to London Drugs to exchange some of the home birth supplies we’d bought the day before, and to Toys R Us to get a birthday present for Isaac. I came home for dinner and everything was normal in our nighttime routine until I sat on a low stool in front of the toilet while my son peed. All of a sudden my water broke, and Isaac was convinced I was peeing on the floor. For an instant I was, too. It was 10:00pm.
I called Abby (my doula) and the midwives to give them a heads up, but since I had no pain they just told me to get some sleep and we’d reassess in the morning. So I went to bed and read to Isaac. Forty minutes later I had Ian call the midwives and doula to tell them I was in active labour. Abby arrived before midnight, I think, and two midwives (Grace and Sandra) plus a student (Vanessa) trickled in between then and 1:00am. By this point I was dilated to 8cm, which was astounding, to say the least! I was told that 36 and 3 was technically early and that Grace was required to propose a hospital transfer. I pointed out that it could just as easily be calculated at 38 weeks. No hospital for me, thankyouverymuch.
Labour was fast and furious, each contraction crashing before the previous one fully ebbed. I remember labouring in various places and positions, and having my baby’s heartbeat monitored regularly. I know my boy was so excited to help and offered me cool washcloths for my forehead until he passed out from sheer exhaustion around 2:00am in his grandmother’s arms. I also know I was in the tub the first time I felt my body involuntarily push, and that pushing got a whole lot more effective after a catheter. What I don’t know is the exact sequence of events because my focus was directed inwards, at least until the last half hour or so.
The primary midwife, Grace, told me I’d been pushing for two and a half hours and that she was required to offer me the chance to go to the hospital. Not only was I afraid that going to the hospital would result in a cesarean the way it had last time, but I just could not fathom the logistics of getting there. So we redoubled our efforts. The midwives suggested I change positions and surprisingly, this was one of those less common births where lying back is the optimal position. Abby suggested she and I hold opposite ends of a sheet so I could pull as I pushed, allowing me to direct my pushes. I sat on the edge of my bed with my husband, Ian, at my back, Sandra and Vanessa at each knee, Grace in a catcher’s stance with my feet on her knees, and Abby behind Grace, wrangling the sheet.
I’d push for as long as I could and then I’d say I needed a rest, and everyone would loosen up a bit. Finally, one time I pushed as hard and as long as I could, but when I said I needed to rest I was greeted by a wave of ‘NO!’s, so I kept going and going and going beyond every limit I had until all at once Seneca’s head was born. Around her neck they found, not her umbilical cord, but her fingers. This required some manipulation and resulted in a tear for me and likely sore (but not broken!) arms for Seneca, but by 6:27am, she was on my chest. After the placenta was born, Ian got to cut the cord and I got a shot of oxytocin. I hadn’t planned on getting one, but it had been a bit of a rough birth and Grace strongly recommended I take the precaution.
We woke Isaac up to meet Seneca because he’d been so excited, but he went back to sleep 5 minutes later and cleanup began. Grace, Vanessa and Ian took care of me and my stitches (I was given a second shot of oxytocin at this point), Sandra rushed off to another birth, Abby cleaned up and made me something to eat, and I just stared at and nursed my baby girl. I was in awe of how different the experience had been from my first birth, when I hadn’t been able to touch my son until I came out of the recovery room over an hour later.
Different, too, is how I feel about myself. Even during labour with Seneca I doubted my ability to give birth. A few times, I’m told, I said I didn’t think I could take any more. At least once I remember half-wishing for a reason to give up and have a cesarean. It was such hard work, but now I know I have the strength to do just about anything.
Alana Budihardjo is an apprentice instructor with The Childbearing Society.