I had already lost you once. I was so relieved when you decided to try again. The whole first trimester was a scary ordeal, filled with blood and panicked emergency room visits.
Your fluttering little heart would appear.
Your wiggling little limbs.
“It’s ok. I’m still here, mom.”
Luckily, the drama ended with the first trimester and I began to strategize your way out, and onto my chest. Prenatal yoga, massage, and chiropractic; spinning babies and doula birthing classes.
I began giving you pep talks during our daily walks and while I buzzed around the house like a blue-arsed fly, cleaning and washing; decorating and organizing. I promised to listen to you and asked you to listen to me.
I am much more afraid of drugs than pain. I had faith in my body and faith in our partnership. I wanted to be truly present for your birth. This was my only shot and I wanted to feel it all; savour every sensation.
It felt like I had to fight for the birth I wanted; one that included me eating snacks during labour. Living in Newfoundland in 2017 meant I didn’t have the option of a home birth or a midwife. I searched for the next best things—and found them. An amazing birth doula named Jillian, and a maternity care doctor named Kelly. Both supported non-medicated, low intervention, family-centred births.
There’s only so much you can really control in these situations. But by God, I was going to control what I could. I envisioned myself post-birth, feeling strong with a rush of oxytocin and endorphins enveloping us while I gazed into your eyes.
At 37 weeks, I mixed up the days of the week and missed my prenatal yoga class. “No worries,” your dad said, “you can go to the Saturday class instead.”
On Friday, my mother arrived. She said it was so I could rest. It was also because I wouldn’t promise to call her when I went into labour.
“I’ll call when I think the time is right.”
“The time is right, as soon as you have any signs of labour,” she’d huffed back at me.
She was convinced I wasn’t going to make it to my due date. Being at my house for the weekend increased her odds of being with me when I went into labour.
Just you try to have a baby and not tell me about it. I could hear the thought rattling in her mind from where I stood on the porch.
Mom had arrived at 9:00 a.m. I had my prenatal chiropractic appointment at 10:00. When I returned, we would spend the rest of the day cleaning out cupboards and washing diapers.
The chiropractic appointments were to help keep you in the ideal birthing position. The chiropractor had a table designed for pregnant bellies and breasts. I laid face down, sinking into its concave features while she tapped and gently adjusted the table up and down. I was happy to hear that we were perfectly aligned for your impending arrival.
“Take your time getting up,” the chiropractor cautioned.
I slowly pulled all body parts out and up, and then hopped down from the table. As my feet hit the floor, a gush of fluid spilled down my pant legs. I was wearing black yoga pants and a confused face.
“Um, where’s the bathroom?” I asked.
I waddled behind her, as she led me to the bathroom.
“There’s someone in there, my love,” the receptionist called, “you’ll have to go down the hall next to the movie theatre.”
The chiropractor operated out of a mini-mall with a movie theatre I often forgot was still open. I continued my waddle down through the mall to the washrooms. I’m not sure what I expected. What I found was very wet underwear and pants.
I called your dad at work but told him there was no reason to come home yet. Then I called Kelly, who explained that if my water had broken and I had no contractions, the obstetrician at the hospital would have to follow me until I was in active labour. At which point, she could take over (as long as there were no complications). We made a plan to go to the hospital that afternoon. Hospital policy was to admit you once your water had broken but they could not keep me if I refused to stay.
I drove home to find my mother in the kitchen.
“What’s the matter?” she asked before I had my shoes off.
“My water broke …”
“Now see, Nan’s boy wanted to come when he knew I would be here!”
Your dad came home an hour later. His bosses got sick of him pacing the floor.
The gushing in my pants continued. I was grateful for the adult diapers in my closet. We proceeded to clean the house, pack a hospital bag, and install the car seat.
At 2:30 p.m., we made our way to the case room. There were still no contractions. A nurse took my diaper and wrung it out, quickly confirming it was amniotic fluid. She said I would be admitted due to the risk of infection. I refused, explaining I had a plan with my doctor and was choosing to return home.
At home, I ate supper with mom and went for a walk in the rain with my sister.
Jillian arrived, giving advice on how to start contractions and walking us through timelines and hospital policy. I walked up and down the stairs, applied essential oils, used a breast pump, drank tea, ate hot peppers, and bounced on a yoga ball. Your father played guitar and we sang.
We were back at the hospital at 11:30 p.m. I pushed the button outside the case room. Before the doors buzzed open, I could hear the nurse through the speaker say, “yeah, that’s the one that needs to be induced.”
The monitor showed you were just fine. Maybe a little too comfortable, given the situation. There were still no contractions and my cervix was closed. The doctor recommended I go on Pitocin to induce labour. I refused and told them my birth plan. They were skeptical but willing to humour me at least for now.
From 1:00 to 2:00 a.m., I climbed the hospital stairs, stopping on the fifth floor to do my entire prenatal yoga practice. It was Saturday, after all. At 2:30 a.m., there were still no contractions; no dilation. Kelly, my doctor, recommended they give me Cytotec to help start contractions. It was traditionally used to terminate pregnancy. Some doctors (maybe those who would be on later shifts that morning), refused to use it.
The nurse came in with a tiny crumb. They had cut the pill in quarters and offered me one. If there was no change in an hour, they may consider giving me another quarter.
An hour later, there was no change. I was beginning to let the idea slither into my brain that I may need to give in and take the Pitocin. I overheard the resident telling the nurse she wasn’t sure what to do… they weren’t supposed to give more Cytotec since I was having contractions.
“I’m not having contractions,” I said.
“Yes, you are,” she said, pointing to the printout coming from the monitor.
“But I can’t feel anything.”
They recommended I go on Pitocin. I refused and was served another crumb. Your dad and I then left the hospital and began walking up and down the parkway at 4:00 a.m., pausing to take my final belly picture. It was September 30th and the air was cool and misty. I loved every step of that walk, holding hands with your father, as I felt my first contractions. The excitement of finally feeling something was such a relief. By 9:00 a.m., I had to concentrate to breathe through the contractions and I was 3 cm dilated!
There was a new doctor on duty. She didn’t introduce herself. She did give me a pretty severe sweep without warning during an intense contraction and then announced that I should be put on Pitocin. She was not impressed with my progress or my birth plan.
I refused. She persisted.
Jillian appeared grinning ear to ear. A nurse called out to the doctor. They proceeded to have a whispered conversation. The doctor returned and announced that if I were not dilated 5 cm by noon, I would have no choice but to be put on Pitocin. Then she vanished into a cloud of smoke.
Jillian gleefully introduced me to the new nurse, Marie. She was a former midwife from Ontario and doctors often deferred to her birthing expertise. She assured me she would handle the doctor.
We then returned to climbing stairs in an effort to meet the doctor’s demands. As the clock struck 12:00 p.m., Marie checked my cervix. “It’s about four, but that’s close enough to five for me,” she winked.
An hour later, I was breathing heavily and moaning loudly, bent over the hospital bed as the sensations took over my body, and becoming more intense every minute. Your dad rubbed my back and chanted with me, “the only way out is through, the only way out is through, the only way out is through.”
We had agreed that if I wanted drugs, I would say the address of my first apartment: 293 Freshwater Road. No one would question it and I would be given the drugs.
I laboured standing up in different positions until 8 cm. I was exhausted and the contractions were now on top of one another. My legs buckled as each new contraction made my body jerk forward against the bed.
The only thing my mind could now conjure was, 2-9-3 … 2-9-3 … 2-9-3. I whispered the numbers under my breath. Kelly finally arrived. She had been delivering another baby.
“Look who’s finally having contractions! I’m so happy for you!” She was grinning so hard her eyes nearly closed under the upward pressure of her cheeks. Still bent over the bed, I let my head rest on the mattress and smiled.
“Let’s get her on the bed and see how she does,” Kelly instructed, observing my quivering legs.
I laid on my side, naked, with my legs in a flamingo pose. Your dad held the buckled leg in place. From then on, I made no noise. I closed my eyes and saw nothing but stars. Jillian squeezed my hand under the pillow and whispered in my ear. All other sounds were a distance muffle, as I surrendered to your instructions.
After 53 minutes of pushing, you arrived at 4:08 p.m., nearly 30 hours after my water had broken.
The pain evaporated and I burst into tears as Kelly placed you on my chest. Your hair was matted with blood and I could feel the warm coil of the umbilical cord draped over my upper thigh and along my side.
I gazed into your eyes, feeling strong as a rush of oxytocin and endorphins enveloped us.
Karen Clarke (she/her) grew up in rural Newfoundland, the ancestral homeland of the Beothuk, and now lives in Mount Pearl, NL, with her husband and son. She is a social worker interested in the connection between maternal health and population wellbeing and currently works as a policy analyst. She loves to write and is working toward writing being a more prominent part of her life. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don't miss the virtual Birth Sharing Circle 2021 on Zoom on October 30th at 2 p.m. (EST) Come meet the winning writers, including Karen, who will share their birth and writing experiences. Many of the jurors and readers will be there too! It will be a unique heartwarming event! Tickets are available on Eventbrite by donation.