Warning – birth story to come. If that is not your cup of tea, don’t read it. But I’ve never put my recollection of it down on paper.
Today, my oldest son turned 18. For him, it was not a big deal. ”It’s not like I can do anything different,” he said. But it’s an anniversary for me too, because on a grey, rainy day much like this one, I became a mother.
Birthing Daniel was the hardest thing I have ever done. Early labour began Wednesday morning Dec 7th, 1994 two weeks past his due date of Nov 26th.. My contractions were about 10 minutes apart, so I could play game after game of Scrabble, and walk down to Jericho Park, playing the waiting game with my husband and the doula, who came over. Wednesday night, I thought for sure that things were kicking into gear. We checked into BC Women’s Hospital, and expected to see the baby by the morning. Instead, just wave after wave of nauseating contractions, never really kicking into heavy, productive labour, but not going away, either.
We listened to a “relaxing” Loreena McKennit CD over and over… I don’t think I’ve listened to it since. Thursday was tough – including vomiting with contractions until there was nothing left to heave, trying showers and hating the tingly feeling of the water hitting my back, trying walking and listening to the moans of the other labouring women – women who were entering the labour rooms and leaving with their babies while I paced and puked, and waited. This baby just wasn’t coming. By Thursday night, I had dilated to 5 cm… but on Friday morning, I had regressed to 3 cm. Seems my cervix was swollen with the pressure of the baby’s head – and the head was probably stuck on my pelvic bone, to make things worse.
That morning, we talked about a C-section as I was “failing to progress” and showing “uncoordinated labour” (that was an understatement). The epidural (something I tried very hard to avoid, since I wanted a “natural” birth) was one of the last tools they had in their bag; it actually made things a lot better for the morning and afternoon of Dec 9th, 1994. I still remember the name of the anaesthetist, Dr. Ross, and how much I loved her. For those hours, I could relax and let my body do its work. I could feel everything – even get up and go to the bathroom – but I couldn’t feel pain. The nurses did a test with an icecube, where they would run it up my pregnant abdomen until I felt the cold. Below the “epidural line” it felt like a toy wooden block, that became cold as it reached my chest. Perfect.
Finally around 5 pm, I was fully dilated and ready to push. Except that every time I did, the baby’s heart beat would slow right down to a dangerous 70 beats or less. I couldn’t get on my hands and knees, I couldn’t squat, I couldn’t stand. All those positions put the baby in grave danger. Finally, we found a position where I laboured on my left side, with my husband and the doula taking turns to hold my upper leg in the air. And with every contraction, we had to monitor the hearbeat of the little person trying to get out. My memory starts clouding around this point… I was pushing, things were tense. Every push put baby in danger – he needed to come out, and it was too late for a C-section, since he was halfway through the birth canal. Afraid for his little life, one of the medical staff said “Can you push – hard?” I let ‘er rip, and felt like I was splitting my self in half (apparently this was pretty close to the truth, too). At some point, the attending doctor reached in and slipped a loop of cord from around the baby’s neck, while I was asked to do “butterfly breaths” – keeping my body, and hopefully the baby’s, still, while he performed this procedure. Another push, and out came a big, blue baby – too still to be good news. Someone picked up a phone on the wall, and called “Code Blue” in my room.
My birth plan said “place baby on mother’s stomach”, but they whisked the round, blue doll over to a table that came in the room with a bunch of people from Children’s Hospital. Now there were 13 people in the room. I counted. About 8 of them were huddled around the table where they had placed the baby. Another three were tending to me, and then there was my husband, who was pacing around with this hands in his hair, and my mom, who excused herself to go for a walk. Nothing seemed real. Every second was a question mark. Why were all these people here? What was going on with my baby? When could I hold him? Why did mom leave the room? I never asked myself if he was going to make it. My brain didn’t want to go there.
I don’t know how long it took for the “infant resuscitation team” to do their work, nor could I see what they were doing. Thinking about it, they were probably doing baby CPR, and giving little Daniel oxygen. But in the end, another life entered the room, and not by the door. In the end, I was ecstatic. Not relieved, because I didn’t want to think about almost losing him. Just ecstatic. When he was finally placed into my arms, around 20 minutes later, it didn’t matter that it had all gone sideways. He was my baby, and he was here.
Happy 18th birthday, Daniel! I’m still so glad you are here!