Until I was pregnant myself, I wasn’t as interested in other people’s birth stories… Once pregnant, I read a few here and there but as I learned in Hypnobirthing, sometimes hearing/reading too much about others’ experiences can colour how you approach your own birth, which is of course unique.
I certainly never thought I would care to share my birth story, but here I am! For those interested, it’s nothing extra dramatic or special, just our experience!
I was blessed that my pregnancy was pretty smooth and uneventful. I didn’t have severe nausea (or any nausea beyond about 13-14 weeks), high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, aches and pains, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, etc. For the most part I felt good and was able to stay quite active until nearly the end.
My only issues were diastasis recti (separation of the rectus abdominus muscles), which I’m now healing with the Ab System and Core Confidence Program from Bellies Inc., and gaining more than the “recommended” weight for my BMI (I gained 40 pounds, while recommended to gain only 25-35 pounds). I thought my baby was going to be big and I was right!
There was no doubt I wanted a midwife (my team was Mary Fish and Fariba Shodjaie of Community Midwives of Toronto) and a doula (Dr. Tehseen Meghji, ND, my colleague at Mahaya Forest Hill). I also took Hynobirthing (with Dr. EeVon Ling, ND) and diligently practiced the techniques in preparation.
I was not worried about labour (much thanks to Hynobirthing!), I was actually excited for the experience! As long as I had a healthy pregnancy and baby, I was happy to endure the discomfort and I planned for a natural, drug-free birth at the Toronto Birth Centre.
My due date comes and goes
My due date was Tuesday, September 12th but there was little sign of impending labour (I was not dilated, baby still needed to move further down). At our midwife appointment the next day, we discussed next steps – in Ontario midwives will usually let you go for 2 weeks past your due date as long as mom and baby are doing well and then at 42 weeks will encourage medical induction. We scheduled 3 ultrasounds over the next couple weeks to confirm baby was doing well (which she was).
At this point I began to feel a lot of time pressure to get labour going spontaneously. Induction of labour when your body is not ready to give birth often leads to more interventions, such as a C-section, something I very strongly wanted to avoid. I increased my acupuncture sessions (with Jasmine Sufi at Acutoronto and JoAnn Alafriz at Toronto Acubirthing) to 3 times weekly, took homeopathics daily, and started taking long walks twice per day as well as walking up and down the stairs at home a lot more.
At my next midwife appointment Monday, September 18th, there was little different, so we discussed reasons this might be (the baby having trouble moving down and getting head in the right position, etc) as well as discussed induction around 42 weeks and what that would involve. I felt a lot more pressure and tried to think what else I could possibly do to start labour!
I started using my breast pump that evening and began to have Braxton-Hicks contractions after that and throughout the next day when I saw a chiropractor (Dr. Sarah Mickeler at West End Mamas) to get some bodywork and adjustment to help relax my pelvis. That treatment was very relaxing and that night I began to have irregular light contractions on and off and started to pass my mucus plug. I was excited! I was supposed to see the midwife again the next day (Wednesday, September 20th) but since I was having actual contractions, she said to stay home and wait and we would check in the next day. Our doula came over and did acupuncture for me to promote labour.
Things finally get started!
The next morning I woke up and no more contractions! I was really upset and worried that they wouldn’t start again, but later that day they did! By evening, they were much stronger and regular and quickly became closer together and longer each time. We called our doula and midwife and both came over. After that, things moved a lot faster!
When the midwife arrived, I was 4cm dilated and baby had moved down a bit, so I spent the next 6-8 hours labouring at home, mostly in a tub of hot water with our doula and my husband supporting me. That time is mostly a blur – my contractions were very strong and came very close together, sometimes on top of each other (called coupling). I was very uncomfortable, but coped my remembering my Hypnobirthing Surge breathing and listening to a playlist of uplifting songs I had made in preparation for labour. Without the Hypnobirthing breathing I don’t know how I would have coped – it was literally the only thing I could focus on.
Early Friday morning, my midwife told me she suspected I would have the baby that day and given the frequency and severity of the contractions, suggested we change plans and stay at home rather than travel to the birth centre, to which I agreed. I couldn’t get out of the tub, much less the house! However, when she checked me again, I was STILL at only 4cm dilated and baby hadn’t budged!
Since I was exhausted, she suggested I try to rest for a bit and keep labouring after that a few hours. She went home to take a nap. The next 4 hours were also a blur – I spent that time almost entirely in the shower with my husband or our doula spraying hot water on me and doing lunges to try to open my pelvis and bring the baby down. It became harder and harder to focus on my breathing so I just started counting during contractions, knowing that they were temporary. When the midwife came back midday Friday, she checked me and again nothing had changed!
When my “plan” had to change…
At this point we didn’t know why the baby was not moving down, but discussed that something was preventing this and there were a couple of options: to try labouring another few hours at home to see if any progress could be made or to go to the hospital where I would have an epidural (to relax my muscles and hopefully make more room for baby to move down) and pitocin (to augment the contractions to push the baby down).
My midwife, doula, and husband all assured me they thought I was doing great and coping well. But I DID NOT feel like I was! I was exhausted and having a lot of trouble coping with the pain – the strategies I had been using all night (breathing, visualization, etc) were hard to sustain. The past 4 hours had been such a challenge and I was losing faith that my body could budge this baby further.
I knew you cannot plan for how your birth will go, and in fact this was why I did not write a “birth plan” but rather a “birth wishlist” of my preferences. However, I did have a strong wish for a natural birth and I was afraid to veer from that. I was also afraid of going down a path that would increase the likelihood of having a C-section or other interventions. On the other hand, I also worried that there were reasons labour wasn’t progressing and delaying another few hours increased the risks to me and the baby.
So, while everyone supported whatever decision I made, I felt there was only one option, which was to go to the hospital. Our midwife left immediately to check us in and get set up in a birthing room. My husband took all our stuff to the car and our doula helped me get dressed (through crazy contractions!) and we started the drive. It is definitely not comfortable to drive in a car with frequent, strong contractions!
Once at the hospital, we met up with a second midwife and things moved quickly. An obstetrician came to check me and I was 4-5cm dilated and she though the baby’s head was tilted back a bit (chin not tucked in) which would make it difficult for the baby to move down in my pelvis. She also broke my water! We had thought my water broke earlier in the tub, but apparently not!
There was meconium in the water, which meant we would have had to go to the hospital for the birth anyway since the baby would need to have suction to remove meconium immediately after birth. Next up an anesthesiologist came to give me the epidural and the midwives started me on an IV with fluids (I was dehydrated) and pitocin. Soon I was relatively pain-free and encouraged to take a nap, which was great – I had been awake since Thursday morning and it was now Friday night.
The moment arrives!
I dilated very quickly to 7cm (within a few hours) and then 10cm and it was time to push. During this last hour of pushing, the midwives found that the baby had her umbilical cord around her neck (this is likely why she couldn’t tuck her head in and descend), so I had to keep changing positions after each push to relieve pressure on her cord and I was also told I had to push her out ASAP!
Alexandra arrived in the early morning of September 23rd at 9 pounds, 6 ounces! Once she was out, a pediatrician from the hospital suctioned out all the meconium while I was so anxious to know if she was OK. She was great, had great APGAR scores right away and I soon got to hold her and breastfeed!
Because she was just over the normal range for weight for her age, the hospital has a protocol to test blood sugar every 3 hours for 12 hours to rule out hypoglycemia, so we stayed a bit longer in the hospital and went home the next afternoon!
Parenthood requires adaptability
So now, just over 2 weeks later, what stands out to me about my birth story?
First, I am so happy with my choices to take Hypnobirthing and have both a midwife and a doula as part of my team. I cannot imagine how any mom (much less a first time mom!) prepares for birth and copes afterwards without the amazing support of midwives and a doula! Both my husband and I were so thankful for the care we received and it made the whole experience (despite the stress and change of plans) positive for us.
Second, I’m thankful to have been able to labour mostly at home but also to have made the decision to move to the hospital when I did. It was clearly the right move for us and resulted in a wonderful birth experience that preserved many of the items on my birth “wishlist”. I am already so thankful for our amazing healthcare system in Canada/Ontario and it is experiences like this that continue to remind me that Canadians are among the most fortunate in this area.
Finally, through the birth and the weeks since I am quickly learning that to be a parent requires adaptability! Being at the whim of a tiny but powerful human makes you realize fast that your own plans can be destroyed in an instant. Definitely a lesson I have needed to learn and I hope to continue to embrace!