Labour, Delivery and a Grateful Grandmother
by Sharon Chisvin
Sharon Chisvin is a Winnipeg mother of three adult children and a grateful grandmother of two precious grandsons. She works as a journalist, editor and oral historian, and is the author of the children’s picture book, The Girl Who Cannot Eat Peanut Butter.
While I knew that I was going to love and adore my grandson from the moment he was born, I never expected that I would have the great privilege of witnessing his birth. But in response to my daughter and son-in-law’s repeated insistence that they wanted me with them during labour and delivery, I made the trip from Winnipeg to Toronto last winter to accompany them to the hospital for a scheduled induction for what an ultrasound had indicated was ‘a very big baby.’ My daughter’s pregnancy had been easy but it had followed two miscarriages, and so none of us were taking anything for granted.
Some of the finer details of that day are fuzzy, partly because so much has happened since then (it’s been an eventful year for our family and for the world!), but this is what I remember.
My daughter had been instructed to be at the renowned downtown hospital at 3 p.m. Thursday, February 14, but our Uber driver took a surprising long time to arrive, was unsure of the best route to the hospital, and seemed stymied by the falling snow and sleet-filled streets. In the end, we arrived at the hospital about 20 minutes late, feeling badly that we may have kept hospital staff waiting.
We need not have worried!
After riding the elevator up the 15th floor, my daughter checked in, completed some paperwork and was kindly told to wait in the lounge area until a room became available. And so we waited, the three of us excited but calm, and my daughter comfortable and at ease as she watched, with her usual intense interest in people, a parade of expectant women and their partners pace up and down the hallways.
Three hours later we were escorted to a labour and delivery room where a nurse told my daughter that the doctor on call, not her regular obstetrician, would be in shortly to begin the induction process. And so we waited, the three of us still excited but calm, although, admittedly, we quickly turned our attention to the door every time we heard footsteps approaching down the hall. Those footsteps did sometimes enter our room, but each time it was a different nurse, always caring and always friendly, but only there to do a quick check-in and to tell us again that the induction would start soon.
And so we waited, half-heartedly watching videos on my son-in-law’s laptop, chatting, reading, snacking, napping and making a couple phone calls to let family and friends know we were still waiting. Finally, at one in the morning, almost 10 hours after we arrived at the hospital and seven hours after being escorted to the labour and delivery room, the nurses and doctor arrived to begin the induction.
And we were all still excited but calm.
As expected, my daughter’s contractions came on quickly once her water was broken, and she met their arrival with equal measures of eagerness, fortitude and fearlessness. Her husband stood by her side holding one hand, while I stood on the other side holding the other, and together we stumbled along, offering her sips of water, encouraging her, praising her and reminding her to inhale and exhale through the pain. Our efforts were well-intentioned, but they were also unsynchronized, amateurish and inadequate, and it quickly became apparent to all three of us that we had not prepared for labour as well as we could have. I had clearly relied too much on faded memories of my own labours, some 30 years before, while my daughter and son-in-law, always busy and pulled in many different directions, seemed not to have practised often enough what they had learned in a weekend prenatal class. In the heat of the moment, we also all completely forgot that there was a print-out of helpful breathing exercises tucked into my son-in-law’s jeans’ pocket.
Three hours after the contractions began, my daughter’s resolve and energy beginning to wane, she requested an epidural, less so because she couldn’t manage the pain, but more so because she suddenly began to worry that if the contractions lasted for hours she would be too exhausted to push when the time came. I was ushered out of the room when the anesthetist arrived to administer the epidural, but invited back in as soon as he left. The three of us slept fitfully then for a couple of hours, waking in the early morning to the news that dilation had barely progressed and a C-section might be in order. Those words seemed to work a kind of magic, because no sooner were they uttered, then a new check revealed that my daughter was in fact fully dilated. It was time to push.
My daughter now laughs when she thinks about what she thought would occur during the pushing phase. A couple strenuous pushes, a few minutes of exertion and out would come baby! But, of course, it wasn’t quite like that. There was terrible pain and fatigue. Fleeting flashes of self-doubt. Hand-gripping. Leg holding. Brow wiping. Murmured but ineffective words of encouragement from me and her husband. Worry that the baby may have swallowed meconium. A crowd of nurses, medical students and specialists gathered around. A head that appeared stuck. A head that had to be suctioned out. A torn cervix from the baby’s sunny-side up exit. A lot of blood. A placenta in pieces. And at one point, what I feared was an urgent exchange between the doctor and nurses, but to which my daughter and her husband seemed oblivious.
And in the end this beautiful baby boy!
To this day, I do not know if that sense of urgency or concern I thought I overheard between the physician and nurses was real or imagined, but I do know that I held my breath and clutched my daughter’s hand - my baby’s hand - until I saw the doctor lean away from her, sigh and say that all was well. By then the baby - her baby - had been weighed and swaddled (he wasn’t ‘very big’ after all), posed for his first photo, and been cuddled by his star-struck father. Perhaps it was then, as the baby was gently placed back into his mother’s trembling arms, that my daughter, grateful, enraptured and in love, began to think that maybe next time she, like so many women she knew, would engage the services of a doula.
The next time has come sooner than planned. Just as the playful, curious, and wondrous toddler who has filled my daughter and son-in-law’s lives and the life of our entire family with unbounded joy and love, turns 18 months, his baby brother is set to make his entrance. Any day now in fact.
But despite my daughter’s best intentions, there will be no doula at the birth. For justas she was making arrangements for an initial consultation with one in Toronto, COVID-19 came to Canada, and my daughter, son-in law and grandson hastily packed up and came to Winnipeg to wait out the pandemic. The hoped-for regular face-to-face sessions with a Toronto doula, as a result, never happened., and with all the upheaval and uncertainties that defined the last few months, including new restrictions on how many people could accompany labouring mothers in hospital, my daughter seemed to give up on the doula idea. That is, until someone recently suggested to her that she could engage a doula to do a virtual session.
We just did that on-line session last week, and though, of course, we know that a single two hour session cannot replace months of regular face-to-face visits, we feel reasonably confident that we are better prepared for my daughter’s second labour and delivery than we were for the first. We certainly know more this time about the various stages of labour, breathing options, massage techniques and birthing positions, and if we forget what we learned in the excitement of the moment, we will at least remember that we have all this information clearly printed out on handy recipe cards and tucked into my son-in-law’s pants’ pockets.
I say ‘we’, because at the moment, with COVID in Manitoba reasonably under control, local hospitals are now permitting labouring mothers to be accompanied by two support people, and I am both delighted and honoured to have been invited again to be one of those support people and be present at my daughter’s second labour of love.