I went into the experience of childbirth with extreme anxiety. I would tell anyone who would listen how terrified I was of labour. While my friends’ birth stories, at varying degrees of difficulty, had me scared, it was watching the videos in prenatal class that really sent me over the edge in the weeks leading up to it (the words “mucous plug” got me uncomfortable before the graphic images made me queasy!). It was Jon who heard most of my concerns: how much would it hurt? how would I cope with the pain? would I be able to push her out (I believed our girl was at least 8 pounds and babies in my family were trending towards the larger side!)? or would I have to have a c-section? Jon was great at calming me down, encouraging me by telling me I could do it. And my closest friends and family, most of whom have been through it themselves, told me I was stronger than I knew, and that if they could get do it, so could I. But in true modern fashion, it was something my bestie Haley saw on-line and texted me that gave me great comfort going into my due date:
Then two days after DD, at 4:30 am, I got my first real contraction. When women tell you, after you wonder whether you’ve had a real contraction or not, that you’ll know when you have one, boy are they right! I didn’t wake Jon at first, then when another came, I knew it was time. We stayed like that for hours, in bed and in the dark, Jon timing the contractions on his cellphone. As they got more regular, we got up and I tried to get ready in between contractions that were growing steadily stronger. I attempted to distract myself by finalizing my labour playlists (one titled Energetic, another Chill), while Jon made us breakfast and watched his football (Manchester United lost, which of course our doctor, also a fan of football but of a different team, reminded Jon of later that day;). When my contractions were about 6 minutes apart and lasting about 1 minute, we made our way to the hospital from our small town 10 minutes outside of Estevan. We’d been there only the day before, because I was sure my water had broke. They’d sent me home saying that it wasn’t the case and I wasn’t dilated at all (I also had to wait to see another doctor about an eye infection, not a good way to start things off!). It was obvious something was happening this time by the pain I was experiencing, but upon inspection, the nurse told us I was still not dilated, not even a little bit. And the contractions weren’t registering on the monitor, but were in my back. After calling our doctor, she advised us that I could get morphine for the pain, but then I’d have to be admitted, and we had no way of knowing how long we’d be in the hospital for. Disappointed that things weren’t progressing as quickly as we had thought, we decided to discuss what we should do (I can’t believe we even contemplated going home to wait!), and as the nurse suggested, walk around in hopes of getting things moving along.
The weather was gorgeous, unusually warm for later September. The leaves were lovely autumn shades, many not yet fallen and it felt more like the first, not last official day of summer. We walked around outside the hospital, me often doubling over in pain, taking breaks to call our mothers to give them updates. We even walked over to a nearby restaurant, as a major piece of advice from my girlfriends had been to eat something before being admitted to the hospital. Jon’s parents came to join us, and somehow I managed to get in bites of lunch between contractions that had me gripping Jon’s hand hard under the table, until the pain finally became too much.
We returned to the hospital, got admitted, and examined again. Things were definitely happening: I was 4 cm dilated. Over the next several hours, I got morphine which only barely took the edge off, tried to walk up and down the halls and took a shower to try and ease the pain (I wasn’t allowed to bath as my water had in fact broke). I tried the gas for pain, but it only made me vomit up the lunch I had tried so hard to get down. Next time they checked me though, I was 9 cm dilated! As I’d written on my birth plan, I was open to an epidural, but there was no time. Along with all the things my pregnancy books and prenatal class suggested bringing to help through the hours of waiting and then deal with pain, this birth plan never even made it out of my carefully packed hospital bag. Music and massage tools may have helped if I had been in labour for a long time, but Jon did a great job of rubbing my back during contractions, and the nurses’ cheering me on with rounds of “You can do it, girl!” gave me a boost when things got hard…oh and a second round of morphine sure helped! The contractions were intense (I wouldn’t wish back labour on anyone!), but this really gave me the chance to recover and catch my breath in between contractions. I was lucky though, because no matter how painful the contractions were, it wasn’t hours upon hours of active labour. We had expected to be in the hospital for a day or more before baby arrived, so we’d asked Jon’s mum to come support us. She was great at encouraging me, and when I was told it was too late for the epidural, she lovingly but plainly told me in her English accent to “Take it on the chin.” 😉
Possibly even more difficult than the contractions was the strong urge to push, which came on fairly quickly and got almost unbearably strong. I think the hardest thing I did was to not push! So while I had been so scared of labour, and worried mostly that I wasn’t strong enough, when they told me it was time to push, I was relieved. And our doctor must have felt confident, as he announced that our baby would be born by 6 pm. It was only over half an hour away but it gave me something to focus on, a goal to reach (and she was born only 6 minutes past deadline). When the doctor asked me if I wanted to touch our baby’s head, I surprised myself by reaching down and instead of making me feel queasy, it motivated me to push harder to get her head all the way out. The doctor had to use the vacuum to help and Jon told me after that this was because her cord was wrapped around her neck (which I later learned is quite common). But our doctor never let on that there was any cause for concern (I’m glad I didn’t know why the vacuum was necessary at the time; it would have put me into a panic). Our doctor’s calm, combined with the encouragement of the nurses and the support of Jon and his mum, gave me what I needed to carry on pushing. I looked over at Jon and kissed him before the last few pushes; he had been my biggest cheerleader through this whole journey, my greatest source of love and comfort. I thought surely I would scream, swear and cry out during the contractions or while pushing, like women do on TV or in movies. But I didn’t. I was just so ready to meet our little girl; somehow I became a calmer, stronger version of myself. Or maybe I always had it in me, and it just took this experience to bring it out.
When the doctor pulled Lily Rose out, I was surprised by how small she was (which helps explain the not-as-painful-as-I-had-imagined labour) but she screamed like a baby twice her size. I remember only being concerned with her very white hands and feet, which eventually flushed with colour. And I asked the doctor, as Jon cut the cord, to confirm that she was in fact a girl, as we’d been told (the doctor reassured us and I was relieved that we would not have to cover up the Lily Rose decal we had already put up on her wall, or pack away the frilly dresses and headbands ready to be worn). They took her to the table beside the bed for a quick clean and check-up, and then they placed her in my arms. I was finally meeting the little person who had taken up residence in my belly for 40 weeks; who had made me a bit sick to start with, later kicked like a champ and had nightly hiccups. I looked down at our tiny girl, more precious than I had imagined: a good amount of surprisingly dark hair, a button nose, cherub lips, and round cheeks just begging to be kissed. She was also puffy, blotchy and wrinkly, but she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
The details of that day will not always be clear in my mind, like when contractions started and how far apart they were before we headed to the hospital. Already I have to ask Jon to remind me how some things happened. Even the pain of back labour and overwhelming early urges to push will become weaker in my mind over time. But some memories won’t fade: the feeling of Jon and I growing even closer as we readied to meet our daughter, seeing Lily Rose’s face for the first time, and the surge of love that came over me as I held our baby in my arms and said to her: “I waited my whole life to meet you.”