The sun had finally finished descending for the evening and the aroma of Mom's home-cooking gently began to wake me from my early evening couch slumber. Dinner was ready so off to the bathroom I went for yet another preggo pee break. Much to my surprise, my water broke on the way there and initially had me questioning if I had seriously peed my pants. Annoyed and slightly embarrassed that this could be the case, I rushed to the bathroom and was quickly reassured that my bladder was not actually failing me (as it was in fact my waters that had released).
I instantly went through the four stages of early labour: "Holy Crap!" ... "Is This for Real?" ... "YAY...Finally!" ... and "Holy Crap...This IS for Real!" 😳
Knowing that something was up because I hadn't yet come to the table, my Mom came into the room to find me and make sure everything was ok. I told her the situation and explained that I had just got off the phone with Chris to let him know that he was going to have to get ready to leave work and start making the trip back from Fort McMurray to Lac La Biche (even though he had just returned the day before). The plan was set: the kids would finish their dinner while I got my things together, I'd put them to bed and they would stay home with Grandpa while my Mom and I drove to my Grandma's house to meet Chris (and my midwives when I needed them).
My kids hopped into bed just like any other night at Grandma's house. I snuggled in next to them and we decided we would read the new book I had bought for Chris: Your Baby's First Word Will Be DADA - by Jimmy Fallon. After we were done reading, I explained to them that Mummy might need to go to Great Grandma Rose's house that night to have the baby and, that if I did, Grandpa would still be home and that Grandma would be back soon after driving me over. My news was met with a little uncertainty and unhappiness as they had wished to come to Lac La Biche as well but it was late and thankfully they had been totally played out that day with lots of fresh air so they were tired and weren't in the mood to argue further. I hugged them both close and breathed them in as they quickly fell asleep. I knew that would be my last "tuck-in" with just two kiddos under my wings so I savoured every easy moment of it...
It was only minutes before they were both sound asleep so after giving my Dad a big hug and reassuring him that all would be well, my Mom and I loaded into the truck and set off for the hour-long drive. Thankfully, Alberta highways (and their potholes) leave a little to be desired this time of year so all the bumps got my early birthing waves going quite nicely. By the time we arrived at my Grandma's house, things were moving along swiftly and Chris greeted us at the truck (as he had beat us there by about 15 minutes).
We started getting settled into the quaint birthing space that we had set up in my Grandma's spare bedroom. I put a little more air in the birth pool and readied the space with some tea light candles and essential oils. My birthing waves slowed a little while we transitioned to our new space but it didn't take long before I had the lights out, the music playing and was back in the zone and allowing my body and baby to work as they needed to. Around 2:00 in the morning, I had been having rather consistent waves so decided to call my midwife. She arrived shortly after and began preparing her supplies while I continued to labour in my Grandma's living room. After a quick check, we found I was about half of the way to being fully dilated but it seemed that baby was in a wonky position (or something) because she wasn't quite coming down the way we had anticipated.
Having the doula and yoga skills I do was a blessing. My midwife and I came up with a game plan of what I could do to get babe to reposition and off I went to lunge and squat and rock and sway. I felt a lot like Captain Morgan at times but my waves were slowly gaining in intensity so it was all worth it. After some more work and a chance to rest in the birth pool for a bit, I was rather surprised to find out that there was still next to no progress in my labour by the time the sun began to rise. I won't lie, I really did think I'd be holding my baby in my arms by this point so had a bit of a mental hurdle I needed to cross. My waves were still slowly picking up in intensity but they seemed to be spacing out a little and it seemed that something was still "off".
After another few hours with pretty much zero progress in my labour, Chris, my midwife and I started to discuss the reality of a hospital transfer to see if we couldn't get things going a little quicker...or at least see if we couldn't find out what was preventing baby from coming down and out. I had never experienced this with my previous labours so was confused, a little discouraged but mostly annoyed. It was almost noon, I was getting tired and my waters had been ruptured for quite some time by this point. We weighed all of our options and decided it was time to pack things up and go get checked out - it would seem my homebirth plans were unravelling before me but I knew it was time to go...
I always say that everything happens for a reason and am a firm believer in mother's intuition. It took me awhile to mentally accept that my "dream homebirth" was no longer going to be a reality but I know the universe always provides you with what you need (not necessarily what you want). I was initially disappointed, there's no doubt about that, but I also knew that there was a reason for all of this and that at some point, I would be gifted with the answers.
As we started to pack things up and get ready to drive over to the hospital, my birthing waves started to pick up even more. For a split second, I considered staying right where I was but then began to wonder if maybe my body or my baby knew that where we were going was where we needed to be. We arrived at the emergency room registration area, greeted by my amazing midwife, and got settled as the nurses admitted me. When the doctor finally arrived and introduced herself, I had chills down my spine. If I would have closed my eyes while she was speaking, I would have thought the late, great Vilia Tosio was sitting right across from me. I immediately had flashbacks to her memorial service just two weeks prior and the powerful words a fellow doula had shared. My eyes still well up when I think about how she envisioned Vilia's new work being that of the "keeper of the babies" ... supporting and encouraging them as they prepared to come earthside ... and reminding them to let their mums know how amazing they are. ❤️
My conversation with her was a bit of blur, however, as I was having a different one inside my head. I knew deep in my soul from that moment that everything was going to be ok and that it would work out just as it needed to. With my midwife still by my side, I agreed to be checked out by this new doctor and just minutes before she began her exam, I had yet another huge release of waters. I couldn't believe how much amniotic fluid my baby had been swimming in and mentioned a few times that I now understood why my belly was SO darn big...
I knew something was up as soon as she finished examining me. The energy changed as she immediately started asking for a speculum. It was very quickly confirmed that with that last gush of waters, my babe's umbilical cord had come down in front of her head. A Cord Prolapse: one of the last things you want to hear as a doula who knows a few things about birth AND especially as a mum who really just wants to come out of her experience with a healthy baby in her arms (nevermind hoping to avoid a surgical birth at all costs). My midwife grabbed the doppler and was having a hard time finding baby's heartbeat. I was asked to flip over onto my hands and knees and get my bum up in the air as high as it would go. I had flashbacks for the second time that day: to my very first doula training and our instructor telling us about what to do with our clients if this exact same scenario should ever unfold while labouring with them at home. I could not believe all of this was happening and yet, it felt like I was sitting by and observing everything even though I was very much in the middle of it all.
Waiting for the sound of that heartbeat was likely one of the scariest experiences of my life but it was also strangely one of the calmest. I remember my face being squished into the bed in front of me and asking them if they could raise the foot of the bed higher so I could be tilted even more. My back felt like it was bending in unnatural ways and looking back, I can now joke that I'm glad I had such a strong backbend practice throughout pregnancy. My midwife reminded me to breathe deeply.
"Your breath is her breath."
The exact same thing I remind the mamas I work with while they are labouring through intense contractions. It was all so surreal. Just then, the most magical sound in the world appeared across the doppler's speakers and I continued to breathe as the room filled with doctors and nurses and I was prepped for emergency surgery. Poor Chris didn't really have a clue what was going on (or the severity of it) so in true doula-husband fashion, was still asking questions and trying to advocate for me. I am always amazed by his strong, silent presence and how even though he was freaking out on the inside, he remained calm and cool and simply held my hand the whole time which, I know in my heart, is what kept me grounded.
It wasn't long before the doctor came back to check on me again. I truthfully don't even know if she left because I was unaware of most of what was going on behind the scenes. I do, however, remember the exact moment she removed her hand from my body one last time and announced that she was able to push the cord back in behind baby's head. "We still have a shot," she said. "We want you to give birth to this baby vaginally if you can." I'll take it, I thought! I was still rocking a mean puppy pose until they were ready and they would still be bringing me into the operating theatre in preparation for a cesarean...this we knew. The only change of plans was that they would now check me one last time before going under to see if I was close enough to try pushing my baby out. Talk about pressure...ha! Throughout all of this, my uterus was still contracting and my body was still working my baby out. I still had a shot.
I still had a shot.
Soon enough they were wheeling me into the OR and, in a last-ditch effort check, found me sitting around 8cm dilated. Close enough for them so surgery was put on hold and, as agreed, I continued to labour while baby was still doing well. Thankfully, transition is usually the shortest phase of childbirth because it really was NOT fun being on a teeny, tiny operating room table while managing the intense birthing waves that were taking over my body. Chris and my midwife were beside me, supporting me the entire time, and there was one particularly caring nurse who did everything she could to make the room a more peaceful place. She brought me water, Chris an ice-pak, and blew us all away when she started setting up a CD player with beautiful classical music playing in the background. She took all of this upon herself and I truly believe she is an angel on earth for her caring and peaceful demeanour. There were easily 10 or so doctors and nurses who had all been called in from their relaxing Easter Sundays but the energy was so calm and strangely light. I really do believe I had many positive, peaceful vibes being sent my way at that time and that operating room was proof.
I was vocal enough about the terrible-ness of trying to labour on the operating table that somebody finally had the brilliant idea of wheeling one of the maternity beds down to the OR. When it arrived, I was able to flip back over onto my hands and knees and had never felt such sweet relief. Ladies, labour is not meant to happen on your back!! It was at that same time that I was completely dilated and ready to start pushing my baby out and I was soooooo ready. This was when I realized one of the reasons why my labour had been taking so long...
I felt my baby very slowly making her way down the birth canal and knew instantly that I would be having a big girl. I pushed and pushed and pushed and felt her inch down ever so slightly but it was exhausting and she was definitely taking her sweet time. I had another mental hurdle to cross because I was losing steam and was really starting to doubt myself and my ability to get her out. I had made it this far but really didn't know if I could carry on much longer. All of a sudden, an affirmation that I had shared on my Facebook page just a couple weeks prior popped into my head.
"The only way through...is through."
This was true. I had made it this far and really couldn't see myself giving up at this point. So I pushed on and kept repeating the mantra to myself over and over in between pushes. I knew my baby would be earthside soon and I truly had to dig deep into the dark recesses of my soul to find the strength to get her head the rest of the way out. Anticipating that we'd be dealing with a shoulder dystocia because of her size, the doctors began mentally preparing me to flip back over to perform the McRoberts Maneuver once her head had finally emerged. Once again I was so very thankful for all of my training and knowledge as a birth worker because I can pretty much guarantee that if I didn't know what they were suggesting and why, I'd probably have lost my mind by that point.
Her head finally emerged and flipped over I did. It all happened so very fast and she most definitely was stuck. I had the assistance of a handful of doctors and nurses helping to get her out and for a split second I remember feeling like I was in a different world. I could feel her little shoulder stuck on some bone within my pelvis...it wasn't painful in the sense that I was suffering...it was just very intense and, again, very surreal that I was able to simply feel all of these sensations without letting them overcome me. At one point, I heard my midwife say, "Push for your life, Jen!" and all of a sudden I felt like I was coming back to the room. It dawned on me then that I still had work to do and so once again I pushed with all my might and she finally came out...all 10 pounds, 11.6 ounces of her! Our beautiful baby, Jade Elizabeth was finally here and healthy and Chris and I could breathe a huge sigh of relief!
About halfway through my pregnancy, I came across a quote about childbirth that touched me deeply. It says:
"It is said that women in labour leave their bodies... They travel to the stars to collect the souls of their babies and return to this world together."
I feel like I knew when that exact moment was for me. And while many people were worried that I would be traumatized by my experience, I can honestly say I look back on my baby's entry into the world with complete peace in my heart. There was literally no time throughout my entire labour that I feared the process and I welcomed every single sensation as the teacher that it was. I am far from traumatized as I feel like I learned a lot from my sweet Jade's birth. I learned a lot about energy and intuition and trusting in the universe; I learned so much more about the amazing-ness of midwifery support than I ever could have imagined; I was reminded of how incredibly strong and grounded my husband is; and I learned so very much about myself and the true strength I have within me. I've been on a bit of a self-love crusade this past year or so and I used to think I knew what I was capable of...but now I really know. I also know what my new daughter is capable of and the wisdom she has held within her long before even being born.
So did I get the "dream homebirth" I had envisioned for so long? No, maybe not. But a homebirth was not my main reason for seeking out midwifery care. That would have been the icing on the cake but the real gift was having people surround me who truly supported me and believed in me. The real gift was having the ability to make informed choice throughout my whole pregnancy and not once feel guilty for it or pressured into anything. That's powerful...and is an opportunity I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Barbara Katz Rothman said that "Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers -- strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength." My sweet Jade's BIRTHday gave me that opportunity...to truly know...and I will forever be grateful to her for that. This may have been my third time "becoming" a mother but it was very much a separate, unique experience that has transformed me in ways I never knew possible.
Photos: Allison Andria Photography