As I lay awake last night - all night - while my 38-week old unborn child used my bladder as a punching bag in between an unending stream of Braxton Hicks contractions, I figured it was probably time to start thinking about the upcoming delivery of said baby.
So what better place to start than by remembering the birth of my first baby, just over two years ago. (Spoiler alert: this is a POSITIVE birth story!)
Somehow I lucked out and learned about the midwife process in Alberta before getting pregnant. So as soon as I got that positive test result I submitted my name for a spot with a midwife and was quickly accepted into the clinic at Birth Partnerships in Lakeview, under the care of Helen and Deb. While I did not hire a doula, I did take an 8-week Hypnobirthing course with my husband. Our main takeaway from that course was that the female body is made to do this. The way the uterus contracts and all the hormones rush to do their job; it's fascinating. Combined with the doctrine of "informed consent" preached by the midwives, I spent those 9 months talking to as many people as I could and reading as many positive, natural birth stories as I could get my hands on.
Most people seem to have terrible stories to tell, and they're often the most keen to do so. This is not a criticism; I get it. They went through a horrible trauma and they have never either had it acknowledged or been able to work through it. While most of the decisions are made by the medical provider, the end result is always blamed on the mother: her pelvis was too small, she didn't dilate according to the chart, blablabla. I remember being at a ladies' lunch one time and everyone couldn't wait to tell me how terrible their experience was, except for one woman, who whispered to me on the way out that she had had a great experience and to not get too scared. It was like she felt guilty for having a good birth experience, which I get. It almost seems like you're showing off if people had a horrible time. But it's not! It's really not.
The pattern that I saw in people I spoke to and read about seemed very clear to me: the doctor decides you're "overdue" (i.e. past 40 weeks). So they tell you you're overdue, which makes you feel pressure. So then you have your options for induction: if you have an OB GYN, it's usually straight onto the hormones whereas with a midwife it's usually a cervical sweep. Non-invasive methods that are often suggested are things like sex, brisk walks, acupuncture....which are sold to you as old wives tales, as opposed to the "guarantee" of Pitocin. But what they don't tell you is that the odds of kickstarting natural labour with a cervical sweep or Pitocin are pretty much as low as these old wives' tales lol. The problem with the cervical sweep and Pitocin is just that once you get on that track, it's almost guaranteed that you will follow the "common" path (i.e. Pitocin, failure to dilate, epidural, then possibly a C-section as well as maybe issues with milk supply (maybe because the body wasn't quite ready to give birth or the experience was so traumatic) Please note this is a generalization and I'm not trying to add fear I'm just trying to tell my own experience and how I prepared for it by my personal interpretation of the data.
I knew early on I wanted to try a "natural" birth (i.e. no epidural). Do you know how hard it is to find a first hand story of a natural birth? Thankfully I worked with some great guys in my office at the time, and one of them introduced me to his wife, who had had a wonderful, natural birth. Getting to ask her honest questions about everything was just wonderful. It alleviated my fears and gave me confidence that this wasn't some crazy idea I had.
The other thing I had to work my head around was figuring out all the options we had along the way. I needed to mentally prepare myself for the fact that if things went sideways and I needed the help of an epidural or whatever else, that I wasn't going to plunge into a depression for who knows how long.
We decided to have the birth at the hospital. I looked into some birth centers but the closest one was a further drive than the 10 minutes to the hospital and I was happy with the idea of labouring at home AND the Birth Partnership midwives are guaranteed a spot at Rocky View so we were happy with having that part set up. If we needed the extra care the hospital could offer, we would be there.
So. Our priority was a natural birth. And with that, I knew that I had to be ok with my due date (December 13th) coming and going. So I kept busy. I worked until the week before and walked and stretched at least half an hour every day. I went for massages and myofascial release and pelvic floor physio and chiro and osteo and tried acupuncture. I loved my therapists and I credit all of them for helping me stay comfortable and happy til the very end.
The 13th came and went. I sent my husband to a friends' place for a party that night because there were absolutely no indicators that my body was getting started on anything that night. Add to that the fact that nothing happens quickly like it does in the movies and that he was just a phone call away, I went to sleep looking forward to my acupuncture appointment the next day.
I had a great appointment the morning of the 14th. He attached some electrodes to my ankles and did some gentle pulsing and put the needles in whatever spots are supposed to encourage labour to start naturally. Then I went to Chinook Mall for some last minute Christmas shopping. While I had had the occasional Braxton Hicks contraction before this, I felt like I was having more than I had in the past, but nothing crazy.
I didn't really sleep that night. I had Braxton Hicks the whole time, tossed and turned and read in the bath because I was worried about waking my husband lol. In the morning, he downloaded a contraction tracking app and things got moving.
At 8am we called the midwives because we were at 3-1-1, however I could still walk and talk, but they came anyways to check. I was 4cm dilated, at which the hospital will technically admit you, but why would I labour in a bed there when I could stay home? My water hadn't broken and I was comfortable, so Helen left and we hung out.
By "hung out" I mean I yelled and moaned with every contraction and my husband rubbed my back and did what he could. While it certainly didn't look like the quiet, calm hypnobirthing videos I had watched, I was doing ok.
Around noon, we called Helen again. While it seemed to quick of a progression to her, I wasn't able to talk to her on the phone at that point and she could hear that, um, things were progressing lol. (When she had left after the first time we noticed a "plug" on the towels I was laying on and, as opposed to earlier, fluid seemed to be coming out with each contraction so we figured perhaps my water had broken at this point). So she told us to meet her and Elize (the midwife on call from the other team) at Rocky.
Man that 10 minutes was a long drive to the hospital. I was so worried about making a mess in our new car lol. Thankfully there was a room ready so I got in and they checked me: 10 cm dilated! What a wonderful surprise. They needed some time to get the bed etc. ready so I stripped and hopped in the shower (maybe "hopped" isn't the right description lol but you get it) and tried to stay comfortable. I remember yelling "meconium!" in a broken voice but it went down the drain too quickly for anyone else to see. However they noted it and let the NICU staff know so that they'd be ready to suction the baby's lungs when I did deliver. Yes, my stress went up a bit at that. My greatest fear was them taking my baby away from me. It seemed to go against everything I had read and it was a deal breaker. I told my husband he needed to stay with the baby whatever happened. I'd be fine.
I got into the delivery bed and was so insistent on pushing in any position except on my back but finally Helen was like "you're getting the most movement when you're on your back" so I stayed there. She also had to tell me "you're not going to breathe this baby out" so because of my stubbornness it probably took longer than it should've to get the baby out lol (I pushed for an hour).
When the baby was crowning, she asked me if I wanted to touch its head and I was like "hell no" but then after another push I touched it and it gave me the energy I needed to finish the job. Somewhere in there 3 doctors/nurses came in which was terrible and were ready in case baby had poop in its lungs, but baby came out and, while she was a little slow to cry, she did on her own and no one except Helen touched her. The doctors and nurses left and we found out we had a baby girl!
Helen and Elize got all the paperwork filled out and helped me get her to latch. They stitched me up (2nd degree tear), cleaned me up, and an hour after delivering we were on our way home!
The post-partum care offered by midwives is just amazing. They come to your home and ensure that baby is latching well (and if not get you referred to a lactation consultant right away) and make sure you're doing ok as well. I can't speak highly enough of the whole experience.
There's so much more I could talk about here, but I'll leave it. Any questions, please feel free to reach out. I will eventually write about my next labour, which should be around January 15th. We're planning a home birth this time.