All throughout my pregnancy I’d had the suspicion that our babe was going to arrive past the estimated due date, which was May 28th, 2014. Just as I’d thought, the due date came and went. By this point I’d experienced the tease of 4 false starts. Sensations that I thought were the early stages of labour, lasting for hours each time but not progressing into anything. Luckily I wasn’t feeling anxious or impatient, but I did feel like life was almost on pause as we were waiting. The day before actual labour began, my husband Jeremy and I went to a quiet beach in West Vancouver. We relaxed in the sun, swam in the ocean, and discussed how differently our lives were about to be in a very short time. I threw up quite a bit that day, 7 or 8 times actually. I took it as a sign that my body was clearing out and getting into gear.
I was really hoping that my membranes would spontaneously rupture (waters break) at the onset of my labour. Only about 10% of women have their membranes release before contractions begin, but after all of those false starts, I yearned for an unmistakable confirmation like that. On Tuesday, June 3rd at 2:15 (6 days past due) I awoke to the distinct trickle I’d hoped for. It wasn’t a full dramatic “gush”, but I was definitely leaking amniotic fluid. It was happening, for real this time! I got up to get a towel, but tried to stay quiet so I wouldn’t wake Jeremy. He did wake up though and knew right away what was happening, “Your water broke! What should we do?” I suggested that we try to continue resting because I'd heard it's important to rest while you can in the early stages. Right away I started having mild contractions that were coming 5 minutes apart and lasting nearly 1 minute long. This was a pretty strong start and could mean that things might be progressing relatively quickly. This would be fitting because Jeremy often joked that I was going to "blast this baby out in a couple of quick hours". He jumped up and started dismantling the dining room to make space for the birthing tub, while I began lying out the birthing supplies I’d been collecting over the last few weeks.
The sensations stayed at the same pace (5 mins apart, 1 min each) for an hour, but then slowed to around 8-10 mins apart. Jeremy asked if we should contact our traditional birth attendant, Gloria Lemay. As things had slowed, I thought we should try to rest and call her if things picked up again. Jeremy drifted to sleep, but with the mix of excitement and mild contractions coming steadily, I was unable to get back to sleep. At 5:30am Jeremy woke up again and I decided to text Gloria to let her know the situation. She called me shortly after to say that she had another birth to attend, but that she had a backup team ready for us if needed. We chose Gloria to support us through this process because I deeply admire her work and felt her philosophies most closely matched my own for a natural, unmedicated and intervention free birth. We hadn’t really discussed the possibility of her not being able to attend our birth, but I was surprisingly undisturbed by the news. I felt really calm and thought that whatever happened would be okay. If Gloria had arranged for someone else to be with us, I completely trusted that this person would be reliable and supportive. I was completely aware and open to the fact that birth often doesn’t go exactly as planned. I couldn’t let this unforeseen twist shake my confidence.
Gloria was able to stop by our house at 6:30am to check in. I asked her how long it usually takes for babies to arrive after the waters break. She said that the vast majority, roughly 80-85%, arrive within 24hrs, roughly 10-15% within 48hrs, and a rare few go longer than that. She said we would probably have our baby by that evening or possibly early the following morning. I told Gloria I’d call her if I needed more support, but that for now things were steady and manageable. To be honest I was getting a bit bored. I didn’t have the focus or attention to read a book or watch a movie, so I was just hanging out waiting for the next surge, which were still 8-10 mins apart. This went on unchanged for the rest of the day.
Around 8pm (16 hours in) we decided to go to for a walk around Queen Elizabeth Park. The drive was mildly uncomfortable but it was nice to have a change of pace. Contractions started picking up on the walk and they were now 6-8 mins apart. Each one started triggering my bladder as well. Jeremy was making me laugh like crazy (as per usual), so I was basically laughing and peeing myself all over the park. When sensations came on, I would hold onto his shoulders and shudder, shake and lightly moan through each one. He told me I looked like a crazy person, which only made me laugh (and pee myself) even more. Jeremy’s parents live on the Sunshine Coast and had come over to stay with Jeremy’s sister and wait to meet the babe when it arrived. Jeremy asked if we could stop by to say hi to everyone on the way home. I was feeling ready to be in the comfort of our house again so we only went over briefly; just long enough for everyone to share their excitement and wish us well. The car ride home was only a few minutes, but I felt pretty confined in the vehicle as the contractions were becoming stronger.
It was 10pm and we decided to try and rest again. Jeremy drifted off, but for the second night in a row I wasn’t able to. I was squirming and moaning a fair amount so I moved to the couch to let Jeremy sleep. At some point in the night he moved some blankets to the ground beside the couch to be with me. He had been so incredibly encouraging the whole day, knowing exactly what to do or say to make me feel safe and supported. I was feeling so grateful to have such a compassionate and intuitive partner.
In the morning (Wednesday, June 4th) Jeremy had an appointment at the bank. Things had been at the same pace for the whole night, I told him I thought it would be ok for him to go still. I called my mom to see if she would come over to stay with me while Jeremy was out of the house. I’d already been laboring for 32 hours so she was curious about how I was doing and was thrilled to be asked to join me. When my mom arrived we went for a walk around the park near our house to see if it would help things progress. It seemed to work and contractions were now the strongest and closest they’d been yet, coming less than 5 mins apart. I called Jeremy to tell him to come after the bank and not to stop for any other errands.
Jeremy arrived back home at noon and called Gloria. Luckily she was finished at her other birth and told us she’d join us in an hour. She was also sending over her birth assistant Jessica Austin. I hadn’t met Jessica before, but greatly respected her work in the local birthing community. When she arrived I was still excitedly laughing, joking and making casual conversation. I later found out that Jessica told Gloria not to rush over, as I was still too jovial for birth to be nearing any time soon.
Gloria arrived at 3pm (37 hours in) and went into the kitchen with Jessica. My mom then left us and headed back home. As soon as Jeremy and I were alone again, things really started ramping up. Even though my mother and I are very close, maybe I was subconsciously holding back with her there? Or maybe I was waiting for Gloria to be with us? Whatever it was, without even thinking about what I was doing, I stripped off my clothes and got down got on hands and knees. I was still able to talk at this point, but I’d stopped joking around. I asked Jeremy to tell Gloria that I wanted in the birth pool, which still needed to be set up and filled. He went into kitchen to tell her, but came back to me saying that she’d said it was too early for the pool still. I told Jeremy that I really wanted in the pool now so he went back to the kitchen. This time she followed him back out and when she saw me naked and on all fours, she smiled and said, "Oh… I see things have changed in here. Well, let’s get the pool set up."
The pool was a welcomed relief. I was able to relax, but after a while it slowed contractions down and I found that a little discouraging. After 40 hours of labour, I only wanted things to move us closer to birth.
I got out of the pool and eventually the contractions picked up again. I also started getting the shakes and was having hot/cold flashes. At this point I stopped talking and was only using single words when needed. Water. No. Blanket. I wandered around the house and sensations were steadily getting more intense. Around 8pm (42 hours in) some contractions started piggybacking- one on top of the other, no rest in between. These were tiring and required a lot of focus and energy. I was making deep, involuntary, guttural noises. The sensations were intense, probably more so than I anticipated, but they never once registered as painful. During my pregnancy I wasn’t nervously anticipating the pain of labour and I actually genuinely looked forward to the experience. I believe that going in with this mindset really helped me cope.
I suddenly became hypersensitive to smells and could detect everything around me. Almonds being eaten, gum being chewed, detergent on clothing. It all made me feel extremely nauseous. I think Jeremy could see how tired I was becoming because he kept trying to encourage me back into the pool to relax for a bit. No way! After all of this time, contractions were increasing and coming closer together. There was no way I wanted to relax and have them slow down again. Everyone there knew I needed my energy when it came time to push, so after some convincing I eventually went back into the pool. Contractions didn’t slow this time and were coming quite close together. I was completely turned inward, lost in the intensity and wasn’t communicating at all anymore. At some points I couldn't help but sleep between contractions, even just for a minute or two at a time, but I much preferred staying awake. Being awake allowed me to feel the sensation coming on, and then I was able to get in a position to prepare for it and ride it through. Between contractions I would rest in child’s pose, but during them I had to stand up and lean on the edge of the pool. If I dozed off, I would miss the early rumblings of the sensation and would be ripped out of sleep with the contraction fully underway. The intensity would paralyze me and I would be stuck, unable to move into the standing position I preferred. If they came on when I was asleep they felt beyond my control and I felt trapped in my own body. If I was awake and prepared for them, I felt like they were a part of me, something that I had the power to manage.
Around midnight (Thursday June 5th, 46 hours in) I stood up and looked Gloria right in the eyes and said, “There's been a shift”. This was the first time I'd actually made direct eye contact or a complete sentence in hours. Something very different was happening in my body and the change was quite obvious to me. I felt a very distinct bearing down. I became much more alert and more aware of the world around me.
I felt done with the pool and got out to start experimenting with different positions to see what felt right. I tried child's pose on the ground. I tried many positions on our bed. I finally settled on standing in the doorway of our living room, using gravity to help me. Earlier I’d knotted a scarf and closed it in the top of the doorframe so both ends hung down. It felt great to wrap the ends around my arms and squat each time I felt my body bearing down. Jeremy was in position behind me, ready to catch our baby.
This pushing stage felt so much different than active labour. Physically they were very different, but what I found most interesting was the mental shift that happened. There was a distinct change in the relationship between brain and body. During active labour, I had to fight my brain from holding my body back. I had to help my mind believe that my body was able to go deeper. I had to get my mind to stop fighting against the sensations, and start working with them. Now during the pushing stage, it was almost the opposite. Instead of my mind holding my body back, my mind was aggressively trying to push my body faster and harder. At this point I had a lot of energy from adrenaline and each time I felt the bearing down, my mind was telling my body to go, go go, PUSH. I had to rein my brain back, tell my mind to ease off and let my body do the work, as gently and slowly as it needed. Each bearing down sensation was so physical and purposeful. It was incredible to feel them open me up and allow our baby to descend.
In the last few months of pregnancy I had become particularly fascinated with the rare occurrence of babies being born in the caul (an intact water sac). At 2:35am the top of our baby’s head started to come into view and Gloria announced that it was in the caul! The amniotic fluid I’d been leaking must have been from a small puncture in the top, probably made by a little toe. I reached down and felt the sac, still full of fluid and around my babe’s head. The baby was descending in “two steps forward, one step back”. It was taking longer this way, but it allowed for the stretching to be gradual and gentle and helped avoid major tearing. Having my hand there helped to relieve some of the pressure, which was quite intense at first, but actually started to become numb as the baby came further down.
I was surprised at how long the pushing stage was taking. Active labour had been long, but I was so lost in it that time seemed irrelevant. I knew that pushing could take hours, but I kind of assumed it would be somewhere between 5-30 minutes. I was so cognizant during the pushing stage and remember being concerned that Jeremy had been holding his arms straight out for so long, waiting to catch the baby at any moment. I kept thinking about how it’s not easy to hold your arms straight out for long periods of time and I’d hoped he was doing ok.
It was 3am and the only light in the house was coming from the tealight candles. They had been scatted around earlier and were now casting a gorgeous, soft flickering glow. As the head finally came through, Jeremy saw our baby’s face for the first time with the intact water sack around it. Once the shoulders came through, the sack then broke. The rest of the body came out very quickly in a slippery gush and I was amazed that Jeremy was able to catch it. He announced that we had a baby boy. I knew it! All along I had a very strong feeling that we were having a boy and I would've been shocked if it had been a little girl. Jeremy placed our little guy on my chest after I laid down, and the three of us were together for the first time. The time was called 3:16am, exactly 49 hours and one minute after contractions began. The way the baby was on my chest, I could only see the top of his head. After 41 weeks of waiting, I wanted so badly to look at his little face, but my arms felt very weak and shaky and a very strong nausea came over me. I was also surprised to feel heavy cramping in my lower stomach still. I was waiting for moment of pure bliss, the oxytocin high, and the “we did it!” rush of it all, but I felt completely awful. I’d been told that birthing the placenta was just like passing a large tampon, but it was actually quite a bit more intense than I’d assumed. In fact the cramping was still so strong that I had to ask Jeremy to take the baby off of me. I'd lost what seemed like a fair amount of blood, but Gloria assured me that it was ok. I passed the placenta just after 4am and then felt my eyes starting to involuntarily roll into the back of my head. My body was finally able to acknowledge that I was beyond exhausted. It was now Thursday and I hadn't eaten anything substantial since Monday evening and I was still quite shaky and nauseous. I vaguely remember Jeremy leaning down beside me and calling my mom on speakerphone. I wanted so very badly to cuddle and gaze at our new babe, but I fell into a deep sleep with him nuzzled up in my arm and Jeremy beside us.
When I awoke a couple hours later, I finally had the moment I had hoped for right after birth. The second my eyes met his, I was bursting with the love I’d heard other mothers declare, but could never truly understand until this very moment. “Look at this little dude!” I yelped, waking Jeremy. ”He's the best!” I was totally and deeply in love instantaniously. I'd heard it happened like that, but there’s no way to believe it until it happens to you.