They say that birthing a baby is like running a marathon. In my case, I feel like the marathon route unexpectedly zagged through a raiding party, and at mile 24, we had to wrestle a bear. Basically, if birthing was a movie, I am Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, and I would like my Academy Award now, please.
I started labour on a Thursday. At first, it felt like nothing, or maybe something…it was hard to tell, really. Mild back pain, coupled with some prodromal feelings of unwellness—the kind you get before you come down with a cold—kept rolling through me. Instead of having coffee with my mom, as we had planned, she just walked with me up and down Saint Clair Avenue for an hour, which was nice. Every now and then I would say something like, “Maybe this is how it starts?” and she would say, “This baby is coming!” and then I would put my hands on my back and walk some more. It was a sunny day, it was cold, I was hugely pregnant.
Over the next few days, things started to form. The back pain went from being vague—was that a twinge?—to very much present. My mom told me that contractions felt like her belly was being squeezed by a blood-pressure cuff, but my “rushes” (thanks, Ina May) settled in my back. Still, we were able to work through it. M put on David Bowie and we slow-danced to “Kooks,” I read about art conservation in The New Yorker, and while it wasn’t quite pleasant, it felt constructive. It was intimate. When a contraction hit, M would talk me through it—”Breathe, breathe, letitgoleitgoletitgo,” and time them. My job was to just keep my head down and yes, breathe. It felt doable
Saturday night, we called the midwives, who came to our house and informed me that I was three centimetres dilated. This apparently was not quite large enough to pass the watermelon that was coming down the pipeline. Also, distressingly, my contractions, though increasingly painful, hadn’t formed themselves into a rhythm yet. They were still five, six, seven minutes apart, coming haphazardly. They advised me to keep labouring at home, and they left at about 2:00 AM.
Sunday was…a blur, but I do know Sunday night was awful. It is almost literally impossible to describe this pain. I felt like I was being tased while I had the flu. I couldn’t always stay upright; sometimes, I would sink to my hands and feet and moan, or shriek, or curse, or just pant like a dog. Sometimes, I would throw up. Sometimes, I would have to kneel on the bed and press mightily into the small of back, or along the tops of my hips, trying to relieve any kind of pressure that I could on that area. Sometimes, doing that was agony. My knees were bruised, my back felt swollen, and the “space between worlds” that one holistic birth site talked about felt like it was full of demons.
Monday morning, we went to the Midwives Collective office for a fetal non-stress test, where they monitor the baby’s heartbeat for twenty minutes and see how my labour is progressing. Now, every position change triggered a new contraction. Sitting up, standing up, walking up stairs, sitting down, peeing, getting in and out of a car. I threw up cheerful little chunks of optimistic melon on Bloor Street walking to the midwives’ office. There, I found I was now six centimetres dilated—progress!—and despite not being in that five-minutes-apart rhythm, we could go the Toronto Birth Centre. There was a huge tub there; for weeks, I had wanted to labour in that. I was dreaming of that tub. That tub was going to solve some shit for me.
The Birth Centre is beautiful, but I don’t really remember much about being there. I have flash-memories: sinking to my hands and knees as soon as I got into the birthing suite, hit by a blinding wall of pain; being petted gently by my husband and midwives as I screamed, labouring on my side in bed; my whole body shaking underwater as a contraction ripped through me in the tub and I wondered, briefly, if I would drown; just hating the birth stool (which the hippie part of me thought I would love!). My lips were chapped raw from breathing so hard. I threw up again. I made noises like a horse, a cat, a distressed and frightened animal. The tub wasn’t the balm I had hoped for. Nothing was.
At three PM, after about five hours of labour, the midwives asked me if I wanted to keep labouring at the Birth Centre, or if I wanted to switch to Mount Sinai for another non-stress test and to start a pitocin drip to see if we could get the contractions more regular. I asked if I could have an epidural along with the pitocin; I cried when they said yes. My mom, who had appeared at some point, marched into traffic on Dundas Street and held her arms out like a warrior so we could pull out. I would have laughed if I could have.
At this point, I had been in early labour, or pre-labour, for nearly 80 hours. Here’s how exhausted I was by then: I fell asleep during the epidural. For those of you who have never had an epidural, it involves shoving a long needle into your spine, and then a catheter the size of a pencil lead in along the same path. It is not exactly a back massage. And yet, by then, I was so ruined on pain that I barely felt it. The midwives were still with me, having switched from tee shirts and jeans to hospital gowns, but now I also had an anesthesiologist (two, actually, whom M described as “bro-y,” and we agreed they were incredibly kind), and an OB, who wore pink-rimmed glasses and reminded me of my best gal Liz: competent, funny, and completely unwilling to fuck around when it came to health.
Now, finally, things were starting to happen, although not exactly in a way I might want. The baby’s heart rate started to dip after every contraction; the OB discovered meconium in the amniotic fluid (meaning our little dude had taken his first momentous poop inside the womb), and now, instead of administering pitocin, we would all be heading to the OR for an emergency c-section.
I will pause here and say that, while I had visions of beautiful natural birth—himalayan rock-salt lamps! tub! birth stools! a sweaty, healthy glow!—I’m not an idiot. Birth isn’t an emergency, and I would have preferred a natural experience, but the only outcome that I cared about was a healthy baby. The narrative around modern birth is, or can be, problematic and overmedicalized, but I am so happy that I live in a time where what happened to us wasn’t a death sentence for our baby. It kept occurring to me that, one hundred years ago, it would have been. The thought makes me nauseous.
In any case, back to the OR. The whole thing would take about 40 minutes. They administered the numbing agent through epidural pathway, but this time, they wanted total coverage. M waited outside while they prepped me, and the midwives stepped to the side as the surgical team worked. I started to shake uncontrollably, and then my hands went numb (they use the same amount of numbing medication no matter how big the patient is, which meant that 5’1″ me was frozen right up to my neck), and I could barely speak, my jaw was clenched so hard. When I told the anesthesiologist I felt fucked up, he helpfully told me that it was because my uterus was “outside my body and upside down,” which, like, I am all for knowledge, but that was TMI.
In any case, the baby was born! The respiratory therapists aspirated all the poop-water from NS’s lungs, M got to cut the cord, he introduced me to our son, I clenched and shook, and then somehow we were all in the recovery room with our parents, with everyone crying and laughing and me topless. (Everyone—and I mean everyone—related to this process has now seen some combination of my vagina and boobs.) When we introduced him to my parents, my dad started to cry—Noah Stanley is named in part after him—and everyone else started to cry.
And we were all happy. And we were all healthy! And we are now all home, after two days in the hospital, after lurching to the bathroom on unsteady feet, after kind nurses and lactation consultants and pediatricians, after learning how to swaddle our son, after M sleeping in a chair for two days, we are home, in bed, resting and sleeping and nursing and watching The X-Files in bed and trying to hang on for dear life as my post-partum hormones surge and pulse.
I won’t tell you that it was easy. But I will tell you, without a doubt, with no hesitation whatsoever, that it was all worth it. This kid is great so far: warm, cute, a good sleeper, a healthy cry-er. He sleeps with one eye slitted slightly open, just like his papa, and looks terrific in hats, just like his mom. We are a family. We are all doing just fine.
This post originally appeared on Hipsters Are Boring.