Birth Story Contest 2019
The Dark Road to Life
by Jackie Pants
Jackie Pants (pronouns she/her) is a queer artist based in South Frontenac County in Ontario, Canada. She is originally from Montréal, Québec and moved to Ontario when she was 26. She lived in Toronto before getting tired of the grind and settling down north of Kingston in her rural haven with her partner, toddler and many animal friends. She has spent almost a decade working in the social services doing work ranging from homelessness, housing, VAW work, substance use, mental health and working with queer youth. She currently spends her days parenting and hustling in the social services, and is passionate about art, music, spirituality, meditation and energy healing. This is her first attempt at writing. Check out her art www.jackiepantsart.com or follow her @jackiepantsart.
I never really thought of myself having kids. I wasn’t sure I even liked kids. As far back as I can remember I have never even held a baby, especially not a wrinkly translucent delicate newborn. I did not think they were cute, more-so, I thought of them as weird looking with erratic movements. I grew up in big cities, where even at 30, no one I knew had children. No one could afford it. It was like being in your early twenties forever. Scrambling to pay rent and living with five other people. My feelings about children and babies never changed even as my partner of five years started to really yearn for a baby. I love Emily. I love Emily and I wanted her to have her dreams. I was indifferent, not opposed. Intuitively, I knew that the challenges I would face as a parent would help my spiritual growth.
When we finally decided to start trying, we had moved from Toronto and had bought a house north of Kingston. We had gotten good stable jobs and our life seemed in order. We were ready. We chose an anonymous donor and went through the Clinical Investigations Unit (thank goodness they changed that name!) at Kingston General Hospital. Emily got pregnant on our first try! We felt lucky, golden even.
Emily’s pregnancy was pretty typical until the end, but I’ll get there. What I want to talk about first is bonding. Not being the gestational parent, the baby and I would not be biologically related, and I was worried about forming a bond and feared that it would feel like Emily’s baby and not mine. My sister, during her pregnancy, told me she had heard about a lesbian couple who could share the breastfeeding role by inducing lactation in the non-gestational mother. It sounded so cool. I really wanted to do it and I did! I have to be honest, it was a lottttttttt of work.
I won’t get into details of the process of inducing lactation, that’s a long story, but I will mention some challenges that I faced that maybe could help medical professionals who might have patients looking to induce in the future. My family doctor had no idea of the process, but was happy to prescribe me the necessary medication. I saw a lactation consultant who had no idea of the process, but was happy to explain to me the ins and outs of breastfeeding. Our midwives directed me to a protocol online of how to induce lactation, but couldn’t help me beyond that as their patient was Emily and the baby, not me.
I was on my own and I did it on my own. It required that I start pumping milk a few months before the due date, every four hours every day. This made for awkwardness at work for sure. But I was pretty unapologetic about it and nobody gave me any negative feedback. Most people thought it was pretty cool. I remember feeling so tired because I had to get up in the night to pump. I look back at that time with humour as I had not yet known how little sleep my future would entail.
As I said before, Emily’s pregnancy was pretty typical, until near the end. She started to have low platelet levels and we were really worried about having to transfer to the high-risk pregnancy unit from our midwives, as well as some of the complications that could occur, such as pre-eclampsia. We were told that if Emily didn’t give birth within a week, she should be induced. We took our midwife on the offer to do a cervical “sweep” and hoped that she would go into labour soon. Lucky for us it worked and in the middle of that night Em started to have contractions and thought her water broke.
The next day was a blur. I know that we stayed at home the majority of the time Em was in labour, but beyond that, I can’t recall anything until we started having visitors in the evening. Emily’s mom, sister and dad were present. Our midwife showed up and advised Emily to walk to get the labour going. The main floor of our house is connected in a complete circle, almost. Our living room goes into our dining room, then into our kitchen, then into a second living room, and then the circle starts again. Round and round she went and I followed, and our husky, Chili, followed me. Every few minutes Em would have a contraction and lean against something. My job was to put pressure on her back at those moments. This was fun and felt magical. The CBC Radio program “The Signal” was playing. I loved it and would listen to it at work when I used to work overnights. It is now off the air. The labour was probably the last time I heard it. I was excited and loved being at our house during that time. It was very comforting.
Our midwife couldn’t get reception on her cell since we live in a forested ravine. She had to drive up to the road to make a call, which was kind of funny, however, that was the defining moment that compelled us to get a landline.
It was probably around 11 p.m. when our midwife said we were ready to transfer over to the hospital. Driving was weird and Emily found it really hard to have contractions while in the car.It was dark on the country roads with no other cars in sight. The darkness is what I find most unsettling about not being in the city anymore. We coasted through town and parked the car. We made it up to a big room designed for birthing. I set up the birthing playlist we made together which was mostly meditation music. Em really liked this Indigenous flute player R. Carlos Nakai and a playlist that I found for dog relaxation. We dimmed the lights and continued on. Em’s sister was the only other person with us. She took a lot of great pictures and was very supportive throughout.
I was still pumping every three to four hours and looking back on this in retrospect, I realize I was so diligent about it because it was something that I could control. Everything else about having this baby was up to Emily.
Em’s pain was getting worse and she opted to take a hot shower which she said helped a lot. When she had contractions, she looked like she was in so much pain and her mind was somewhere far away. At this point, she wasn’t able to communicate with me that much and I was just trying to guess what she needed. I went in the shower with her for quite a while, but decided to leave because I was freezing. This is the one time when I felt I let Emily down. I think she wanted me to stay, but was unable to voice it. She came out maybe 20 minutes later and said she couldn’t handle the pain anymore and wanted an epidural.
She said she tried, but couldn’t do it. I know that she felt guilty for making this decision. We both wanted to have a natural birth. I am positive she felt like she let me down. I think I was supportive in the moment. But it was a sad time because we both thought we had failed the other person. There was an energetic shift at this moment when things went from an idealized birth to something much bleaker.
It felt so long before the anesthesiologist came to do the epidural. It was probably seven or eight in the morning. You could see that the sun had risen through the low windows. She made some quip about ‘how nice the music was.’ This aggravated me. It made things seem less magical and more medical. After the epidural, Em felt so much better and we were advised to rest. We slept for a few hours. When we got up again, Em had dilated enough and it was time to push.
At some point, out of nowhere, our midwife, who’s been caring for us for months, told us she had to leave because she had been up more than 24 hours and it wasn’t safe for her to be there anymore. This came so out of the blue, it almost felt like a betrayal. I wish she had warned us of this possibility before the birth. I understand the logic, but learning about it two seconds before it happened was a shock.
Two other midwives came in to replace her and went through the pushing part of the labour. Em was lying in the bed with her legs spread and pushed as hard as she could for what seemed like 20 or so rounds. Everybody was so encouraging towards her, but you could see that something was off. The midwives looked worried. Our baby’s heartbeat was lowering. Supposedly, our baby was right there and just needed to get past the last hurdle and out into our world. The midwives called on some specialists and ten or so people came in. They just continued praising and encouraging Em. She had no idea that everyone’s faces were serious and worried. She pushed like a champion. Multiple people tried forceps, there was blood everywhere. I was worried, scared and felt bad for Em.
They took her away from me for an emergency C-section. They gowned me up and had me sit out in the hall for what felt like an eternity on a cold metal stool. Our midwife wasn’t recognizable in the sea of blue gowns and face masks, but she took our camera and said she would get some good shots. I started crying and I couldn’t stop. I don’t know why and two years later I still don’t know why. The other midwife tried to comfort me, but I was not into it. How could they split us up?
When they finally let me in, I rushed in to be with Emily. It felt as though she was strapped to the table. She saw that I was upset and tried to comfort me. I should have been the one comforting her. I once again felt like I failed her. Whatever they were doing started to make her whole body convulse and she vomited off to the side. The anesthesiologist caught her vomit and was very kind to her. This was horrible to watch and I was not sure what I was supposed to do.
There was a curtain blocking Em’s view beyond her breasts. I found our camera discarded - the replacement midwife was busying around being useful. There were at least fifteen blue gowned people running around doing important things. I took some pictures and was just in time as they raised our baby out of Em’s stomach. His eyes were wide open and he looked confused. He did not cry. He was a boy. This also shocked me. I had made myself believe since day one we were having a girl. My intuition was wrong and that pained me. They did all of their tests as quickly as possible and the midwife handed him over to me. I was not thrilled, I just wanted to be with Emily. I was the first of us to hold him and the midwife showed me how to get him to latch. This should have been a beautiful moment, in the midst of all the chaos. I had worked hard to induce lactation, and we had planned carefully this unique moment when I would breastfeed him for the first time, but I didn’t want any of it. I was tired. I was sad. I just wanted to be with Emily.
We shuffled into a recovery room and I finally got to pass him over to Emily. She looked so proud and happy. It was a relief. It made me feel way better. This was her dream and I was happy to be part of it. The heavy emotions, drama, and lack of sleep settled and we switched to our roles of being new moms.