My Birth Story
I gave birth to our son Malcolm Eli on Friday February 21, 2020 at 11:02am. I was 39 weeks and 2 days pregnant. I have spent 5 weeks reflecting on my labour and delivery. I still sometimes catch myself back in some of the particularly excruciating moments and well up with tears, my body tensing as I relive it. I went into labour with nearly no expectations. I was nervous about the pain and wondered how I would handle it. I was fairly determined to have an unmedicated birth and preferred that the setting be the Birth Centre in Toronto, but otherwise, I had no idea how things would go and I didn’t have any hard must-haves for the process. For some reason, when I tried to envision early and active labour, I could only see myself having a long labour that stretched over a few days. That early labour would be slow and sporadic. That I would labour at home for a long time and would get sleep, go for walks, and take baths while waiting to progress to an active state. This is why I was in such denial when at 12am on the 21st, I woke up to some pain in my belly and went to the washroom. In just moments, my water broke, there was a bloody show, and the mucus plug released. Still, I went back to our bedroom and questioned what had just happened. Was the ache I was feeling a contraction? Was I certain that my water broke? The thing about a first time pregnancy is that I could prepare all I wanted for labour, but the reality is that I had never experienced the signs and symptoms before. It was difficult to decipher what was happening within my body. The questioning didn’t last long because as soon as I got back into bed, another surge came and this time I knew it. The contraction was all through the front of my belly and was reminiscent of menstrual cramping. I got up again and Adam drew a bath for me. I was a little shaky, just feeling really nervous that this was the actual thing. I got into the bath and felt another contraction. We pulled up a contraction counting app on my phone and Adam started to keep time. At first, it was a little tricky to clearly say what was the beginning and end of a surge. As I became more in tune with them, I could confidently say when they started and stopped. Within the first 30 mins, Adam was getting nervous that the contractions were already on track to be about one minute in length and 4 mins apart — a sign that active labour was starting. We knew that our midwife would want to hear that I had experienced this rhythm for one hour, but after 30 mins, Adam decided to call. As we suspected, she tried to calm us down and said to wait for that hour to clearly happen before we decided to make any moves. Hearing her voice and reassurance was enough for us to go back to tracking and tuning in. Adam started to gather what we needed and I got changed. He ran downstairs to put the carseat in the car. Somewhere in the midst of it all, I vomited. Another way that my body was expelling and making space for the labour process. 50 minutes passed with clear contractions close together — Adam called the midwife again and she listened to me labour over the phone. I could barely speak during a contraction and this was indication enough that we should go ahead and meet her at the Birth Centre instead of waiting for her to come to our house to assess me. Adam called my sister and suggested that she make her way over too.
The car ride to the centre was uncomfortable to say the least. I dug my feet into the floor of the car and writhed around during each surge. Once we arrived, Adam pulled the car around back and we walked to the dimly lit entrance. As soon as we paged at the door, a young woman opened it and greeted me by name. Her energy was immediately calming and kind. I was having a contraction in the doorway and she steadied me, just telling me to breathe and take my time. I held her hand and started to cry, telling her how grateful I was for her kindness and warmth. She had prepared our room for us. The whole place was dim and quiet — we were the only ones there. Another contraction started to come on as I climbed up on the bed and on all fours, breathed through it. As Adam went to park the car, the woman got me a cold glass of water and rubbed my lower back through another contraction.
Then all at once it seemed, our midwife Corinne, our midwifery student Kelso, and my sister Raylene all arrived. I was beginning to feel a lot of my discomfort and pain in my hip flexors during contractions. This was a troublesome spot for me throughout my pregnancy and it came in with a vengeance during my labour. All I wanted was to be positioned on my knees on the bed where I could have more control over stretching and bending at my hips to try to alleviate that discomfort as best as I could. As I think back, I truly can’t remember the intensity of the pain at this point. I know I couldn’t speak during the contractions. I remember closing my eyes during every surge and going deep into my mind. I felt like I was burying myself inside for one minute at a time and then coming out on the other side to exhale. I vomited again and felt a sense of real discomfort in my whole body and mind. Unsure of how to navigate all of the rapid changes within my body. My midwife had me lay down so that she could check how dilated I was. At this point, I was 4.5–5cm. She asked if I wanted to try labouring in the tub for a bit, so they filled it with warm water and I undressed. At all points, I just remember being surrounded. I never felt alone. Corinne kept her distance but I could feel her watchful eye. She knew that I had my team tightly held around me and I think she wanted to let us ride out the waves together. Kelso would swoop in every 15 mins to check the baby’s heartbeat with the monitor and take my blood pressure and temperature. I felt so incredibly looked after. As I felt every contraction, Raylene stayed close to my head and let me squeeze her hands and Adam was behind me applying deep pressure to my hips in attempts to give me some relief. Corinne’s encouragement was to just focus on getting on top of the one contraction. Stay present and just conquer this one. She’d prompt me to relax my shoulders and slow my breath in between so that I could maximize the moments of relief while I had them. I remember that same sensation of going inside myself. I vocalized my pain in low moans and screams, letting myself yell with every exhale.
The hours passed and our movements felt like a dance. We moved from the tub, to the bed, to the toilet, back to the bed, to standing, to the birthing ball. I took long sips of water and spoke of my pain. I said I hated it, I said again and again that I couldn’t do it anymore. My little team around me reminded me of every breath and held the space for me while I wailed and grabbed at the bedsheets for relief. At a certain point — I can’t remember when — I was offered to try the nitrous oxide (you may know it as laughing gas). This is the one form of ‘pain relief’ that they have available at the Birth Centre. I didn’t think twice about accepting the offer. I felt a little fuzzy after using it for the first time. With every inhale, I breathed in the gas deeply and on every exhale I pushed my face into the mask and allowed my loud exhales to be swallowed up. I didn’t feel much relief from the gas, but rather a sense of comfort in at least trying to ease up the pain. It’s hard to explain but I think there was a comfort in the ritual of reaching for the mask and riding out the surge with it.
We had arrived to the Birth Centre just before 2am and from the moment we got there, until the moment I began to push, my contractions came strong and steadily every 4 minutes or less. By around 7am, I was exhausted by this relentless rhythm and I was deep into my transitional contractions, finding it harder and harder to hang on. The transition time comes just before you’re fully dilated and ready to push. It’s so intense that it’s often the time when women beg for an epidural and are certain they can’t do it anymore. I looked desperately at Corinne and asked her to check my dilation again. She said that I was 8 cm and that my cervix was just over the baby’s head. She said that she could try to manually push the cervix over his head during my next contraction, and if it stayed, I’d be 10 cm dilated and ready to push. She warned me that this would not be pleasant. I wanted to do it out of sheer desperation to move onto the next phase. Up until this point, I had spent 99% of my time on my knees, both on the bed and in the tub. I even developed some bruising on the tops of my feet from the hard bottom of the tub and the pressure I sent down to my feet with each surge. In order for her to do the manual dilation, I’d have to lay on my back, which at this point felt like the most excruciating position to be in. Adam and Raylene held my hands on either side and as the next contraction came on, Corinne coaxed my cervix over the baby’s head. I have seriously erased my own memory of the pain of this. My sister said that Corinne actually did this twice but I can only remember the one time. My mind can’t remember what it felt like in my body but my mind can remember how much I was screaming and hating every moment of it. Thankfully it was worth it, because during the next contraction, Corinne could feel that it had stayed in place and I was now 10cm.
Many women speak of the urge to push when the time comes. I can’t say that I clearly felt this. My contractions slowed down while I was pushing which gave me some more rest in between but it took me some time to feel what it was to successfully push. By this time a second midwife, Sara, had arrived to support during the pushing and delivery phase. Corinne helped me to use my breath and push simultaneously. With each contraction, I was pushing 3 or 4 times. Still the pain was very present. Still my discomfort laying on my back was so prominent. I tried the birthing stool for some time which felt a bit better. I also tried pushing in a side-lying position. No matter what I tried, it was clear to Corinne that I was having the most successful pushes on my back, so I decided to put up with the added discomfort and stay there. I was about 1.5 hours into pushing. They were seeing progression and I think at this point I could reach down and feel the top of the baby’s head. Kelso began checking his heartbeat after every contraction and it was during one of these check ins that they noted a slight deceleration. He was so stuck and a bit squished at this point. After a couple more contractions and pushing as hard as I could, there was still no change. Corinne instructed the Birth Centre staff to call an ambulance just in case we would have to go to the hospital. I remember pushing the hardest I could and really feeling worried. They moved me to the birthing stool and Adam sat behind me to hold me there. I remember looking down at Sara and saying that I was scared. She was so firm and kind in her response, saying that she would tell me when I had reason to worry — that my baby was healthy with a beating heart. Within a few contractions on the birthing stool, his heart rate returned to normal. Moving positions was what it took.
From this point on, everything felt like a huge force of effort and it took all I had. It was nearly my 11th hour of this exhausting labour and I was struggling to lift my head from the bed with each push. My energy was so low. They brought in a popsicle and some ginger ale to try and bring my blood sugar up. The baby was crowning and everyone was yelling PUSH! I felt the width of his head and the widening of my pelvis. I was visualizing over and over what it would be to push him completely out. Corinne kept encouraging me to lean right into the burning. This ring of fire sensation that comes at the end when all you want to do is stop but this is the moment when you’re the closest to meeting your baby and it’s almost over. The midwives both warned me that I needed to listen to when Corinne would tell me to stop pushing. This would mean that the baby was coming out and at that point, in order to avoid as much tearing as possible, you switch to these little pants and smaller pushes to get them out slowly. I’m crying right now as I remember that moment Corinne said stop pushing! Now little pants. And within a moment — after so many seemingly endless moments — our little baby was born. I’m stumbling over writing about this exact moment and have decided that there are no words to describe the feeling when your baby is placed on your chest and you’re elated and changed forever. I felt the most visceral relief wash over me as I released every fear and worry I had conjured over 9 months of pregnancy. I felt my tears streaming as I looked from this little human, to Adam’s tear streaked face, and over to Raylene, smiling and teary. I’ve never felt such enormous love. It was bigger than the room — bigger than all of us.
Seconds passed before I asked if it was a boy or girl. I thought it would be the first thing on my mind but it didn’t matter at all in the heart of everything. We had a baby! A little pink fleshed human that was crying and grabbing onto our fingers and nuzzling into my chest. We named him Malcolm after my grandma’s oldest brother. A name that belonged to an incredible, kind and admired man. And we chose Eli for its beauty, just because we loved it. The moments after birth that I shared with Adam as he knelt beside me and put his head to mine. Nothing has ever felt so perfect. All of it felt unbelievable. Unbelievable that I had birthed this human. That we had known him for much longer than just today. That we had felt his kicks and heard his heartbeat long before this moment. That we made him.
After I birthed the placenta and the umbilical cord stopped pulsing, it was cut and the midwives started to quietly tidy around us. Malcolm stayed on my bare skin for about an hour while I got a few stitches for a second degree tear. This whole post-birth process intimidated me, but in reality, it barely felt like anything. I was so enthralled in the moment, just staring at this little person with a head so shaped like a cone after having spent so much time stuck. Poor little guy. They scooped up baby, weighed and measured him. He was 6lbs9oz. And before I knew it, Corinne had me propped up in the bed, learning how to feed this little being. Corinne also sat with me to acknowledge how intense my labour had been. Something I felt so validated by. When I was in it and was in so much pain, I questioned if I just had low tolerance or if I was weak. It felt powerful to have Corinne say that it was a particularly challenging labour. That typically women don’t push for 3 hours and that active labour isn’t such a long stretch.
It’s interesting to consider that I never thought about leaving that room. I never considered a different way. Even when the paramedics were called, I knew in my gut that here is where I was having my baby. I thought about the pain and begged for relief. But still there is something unique about the pain of childbirth. It’s in pursuit of something. It has an end and the end was so much what I’ve always wanted, that it allowed me to stay in it. To continue to endure. I don’t remember much of what I was ‘thinking’ during labour. There wasn’t much time for me to think outside of just conquering each surge. But I do remember a moment when I looked at the mural on one wall in our room. When we toured the Birth Centre they told us that it is a mural created by Indigenous artists and inspired by nature and the strength of the female body. I looked at the painting and thought about that strength. I thought about the thing that I was doing as being the most intense and incredible thing I’ll ever do. I thought about my mom, my grandmother, my sister next to me, and the women I know who will soon be mothers. I asked for collective strength from all of these female forces that are so present and powerful in my life. Having one of those women there in the room with me was something I’ll forever be grateful for. My sister’s belief in me during the entire process and her voice in my ear was magic. She was the constant and familiar support that both Adam and I needed.
I didn’t realize what postpartum really was until I experienced it. And watched those who loved me experience it too. Adam was traumatized from witnessing my pain, feeling helpless, and fearing for my well being. He needed to process so much following Malcolm’s arrival. I also now understand the importance of processing your own birthing experience. This is why I’ve chosen to write it down. A letting go. A send off to the scary moments and the pain. The early postpartum days were a blend of so much more emotion than I had anticipated. I grieved the end of my pregnancy. I felt phantom kicks and would reach down to feel my squishy tummy and would cry and ache from not having him inside me anymore where I felt he was safe and protected. I would experience incredible highs from just looking at him. Moments of crying out of the purest joy. And I would remember the longest hours of labour, the pushing that I thought would never end, the questioning my ability to actually do it. But I would also remember the support and love I felt from everyone in the room and it would overwhelm me to tears to know that I have humans like the ones I do.
To every mama out there. No matter how you birthed your baby, you are incredible.