It’s 3:13am and my water breaks. It’s unmistakable: I feel water streaming from my body. I am not surprised: my mom’s water also broke before labour with her first child, though on average this happens only in 10% of the women. After that, 90% of the women go in labour within 24 hours. I pray that I’ll be the one; otherwise the OBs will be even more insistent on an induction. The fluid is clear, so I am not worried and go back to bed. At 4am I feel something that I recognize as mild contractions. They are like menstrual cramps that come and go every 10-15 minutes. I sleep through them until the morning.
In the morning I call my doula Lolli. I ask her if I should still go to the acupuncture. I heard that some women go into a “false labour” – a labour that begins but then goes away. I want to make sure my labour kicks in. Lolli encourages me to go. This time I don’t bike – I decide it’s not safe with the leaking waters. Anton drives me. He meets me after the accupuncture with a bouquet of roses and a bunch of our favorite food he got at Whole Foods. We are going to have a feast.
Back from the acupuncture, Lolli calls. She is in the area and proposes to stop by. We all have lunch. Contraction are getting a bit stronger. Every time one comes, I excuse myself and run to the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet feels good. Lolli teaches me how to breathe and relax through contractions. They are not comfortable at this point, but once a contraction passes, I forget it ever happened. Lolli asks me if I had called my midwife. I haven’t. According to the protocol I am not supposed to call if my water runs clear. So I am not in a rush to call them – what if they begin looking for reasons to induce me? Lolli encourages me to call anyway. At this very moment Tamar from the midwifery office calls to tell me about my ultrasound appointment at BC Women’s for the following day. I ask her to cancel it, because I am in labour. She sounds incredulous and says that she’ll keep the appointment for now. She probably thinks that I am a newbie and can’t really know whether I am having a real or false labour. I ask her to tell my midwife Jill that I am having contractions. Jill calls me immediately and decides to stop by.
Jill comes over and we are all chatting. I breathe and relax through contractions. Jill brings verbena oil for a labour cocktail – a natural way to induce labour. I am to take it I don’t go into full-blown labour this evening. I am hoping I won’t need it. Jill and Lolli predict that my labour will start late in the night, so they encourage me to get some sleep. At around 2pm I go take a nap. Anton naps with me. Then he goes upstairs to arrange time off work for the following week.
Contractions are still coming about 10 minutes apart. I can no longer sleep through them, but I can sleep in-between. For each contraction, I get up on all fours and breathe and relax through them.
4:14pm: I get too annoyed having to get up on my hands and knees between contractions, so I arrange a stack of pillows for me to lean on. This way I can stay on all fours and nap between contractions. But napping no longer happens. I begin thinking: “Why was I so much against an epidural?”. C-section didn’t seem such a bad alternative either. Thinking back, these thoughts probably meant that I am having active labour. But at that point I did not know. So I did not call anyone. After all, my contractions were still about 10 minutes apart (or so it felt, because I wasn’t really timing), and I was asked to not call anyone or go to the hospital until they are 3-4 minutes apart.
I remember my cousin Anya who had given birth recently said that staying in the bathtub really helped her hope with contractions. I ask Anton to fill the bathtub.
I continue breathing through contractions in the tub. There is a lot of bloody show. Jill had told me that bright red blood could indicate that my cervix is fully dilated. I see bright red blood. Good. At this point I am pretty sure this is the real thing. Although I don’t time contractions, to me it still feels like they are coming 10 minutes apart. Plus, I expect the first labour phase to be long for a first-time mom. So I don’t bother calling anyone. Just sitting in the tub, keep adding hot water as the water cools. At this point I am mostly quiet. Sometimes I quietly vocalize a contraction to help me cope. But I try to not be too loud. At this point I
still care how I look or sound to the rest of the world.
Thank God, Lolli happens to be in the area. She calls Anton suggesting to pop by. Anton asks me what I think. I say “sure, why not”. Wise decision!
6:50pm: Lolli says she is on her way. I begin vocalizing my contractions. Sort of like tennis players when they give a good serve, but not as loud. Before Lolli gets here, I am surprised to realize that I am feeling the urge to push. I thought this should only be during the second phase of labour, according to what I’ve read. And contractions should be 3-4 minutes apart to get to that phase. Mine feel like they are 10 minutes apart. But I don’t really know, because I wasn’t timing them. There is no clock in the bathroom. Plus, how could the second phase come so quickly? I thought this was supposed to be many hours! Apparently my labour is not going by the books. I am thinking to myself that I cannot imagine getting out of that bathtub and going anywhere. We should just have that baby at home.
Lolli comes and joins me in the bathroom. She hears a grunt – a sign that I am ready to push. She tells Anton to call my midwife right away. We can’t find the phone number, Lolli is frustrated. Lolli is asking me if I would consider having this baby at home. I say, “Yes, let’s do it here, I am not going anywhere”. Inside, I feel confident that this is the right thing to do and that everything is going to be fine. The midwives are equipped to deliver babies at home and they have a protocol to get me to the hospital quickly if things go wrong. That evening at BC Women’s was on diversion -- they were full and were redirecting labouring women to other hospitals. How fitting.
In the meantime, I am ready to push. But I am not allowed to. I can’t deliver the baby before the midwives are here with all the safety equipment. Thank God Lolli is here. She teaches me how to resist pushing by panting like a dog. She pants with me through a few contractions. This is very helpful, because between one contraction and the next I forget how to do this.
7:28pm: Anton pages Jill.
7:33pm: Jill calls – she is on her way. I hear Lolli tell Anton to get a stack of towels. Anton wonders whether birthing at home is a good idea. Lolli says that given the state where I am it is safer to stay home. Lolli tells me that I should get out of the bathtub, because it’s small and obstructed by glass doors. I consent.
7:50pm: Jill is here. She checks what’s going on inside. I hear her say: “The baby’s head is right here”. She reassures Anton that it is safer to stay home than go to the hospital and risk delivering the baby in the car. To complete our unplanned labour party, she calls a second midwife, Lorri: this is mandated by the protocol. Lorri arrives at 8:05. Jill or Lolli explain to me that they need to call the paramedics. Not because anything is going wrong, but because they need to be on standby according to the rules. I am totally fine with that. I feel I am in a trans: focused on what’s inside and very calm.
In the meantime, all I feel is a very strong urge to push. There are no longer crampy sensations of first phase contractions. Lolli strictly forbids me to push – we need to wait until the paramedics arrive and until Jill and Lorri set camp in our bedroom. They protect the bed with plastic sheets and towels and set up their equipment. I pant like a dog. I have to pant very quickly to suppress the urge to push.
8:10pm: Paramedics arrive. I am still not allowed to push. The urge is overwhelming. It’s like a train inside your body that moves at full speed, an overpowering force. Lolli is still not allowing me to push. I pant faster and faster. But sometimes I can’t resist the urge and let out a grunt. This is not painful, but intense and overwhelming. I am no longer thinking about an epidural. In the meantime, Jill and Lorri are listening to the baby’s heart beat and measuring my blood pressure.
In-between contractions I feel totally normal. I ask how Anton is doing. We had agreed that he won’t be in the birthing room during the birth, so he is outside. I wonder how he is feeling – this must be so crazy and overwhelming for him! Lorri tells me that he is talking with the paramedics. I hear voices downstairs. He later told me it felt very good that he could talk to anyone. All this time I am on all fours, in the “frog” position.
8:25pm: The infant transport unit arrives. Both paramedic teams are on standby downstairs. Jill and Lorri are all set up. Finally Lolli allows me to push. The urge to push is so strong that I am unsure if I should give in. It really feels like there is a full-speed train thrusting inside my body. So it is really helpful that Lolli’s tells me: “Push this baby out, with all your might”. And I push with all my might. I vocalize. I think I am quite loud now – probably as loud as Sharapova when she hits a good ball. I wonder if Anton can hear. A couple of more pushing contractions. Jill says: “Do you want to feel your baby’s head”? I shake my head. I’d rather concentrate on my job: pushing. More measurements of the baby’s heart rate and my blood pressure.
As I push, there are things besides the baby coming out of my body. Whatever was inside, in my bowels. Lorri wipes me off. This is annoying and I wish she didn’t. I don’t feel a bit embarrassed.
Another push. Lolli keeps reminding me to push with all my might. I really need this reminder. Pushing feels so overwhelming, I would feel afraid to succumb to this force without reassurance. I feel that my body begin tearing apart. I remember Anya saying that the tears that she got during the labour neither hurt nor bothered her after delivery. So I am not worried about that. Lolli explains that after each push, the baby goes back in for a little bit. I figure I better let her out in as few pushes as possible. I want to be done.
Jill tells me to get higher up on my knees, otherwise the baby would bump her head against the mattress as she comes out. Next contraction. I see the head crowning. I realize that it’s time to get this over with. Next contraction. I give it all my might. The baby is not out yet, but I want this over. So even as the contraction is gone, I give it my own push, and out she comes – head and body at the same time.
It is 8:46pm and Naomi is born.
She is vigorous -- intently looking around with her bright eyes, exploring the world into which she was brought, begins crying right away. When given breast, she attacks it like a little baby-condor: she knows what to do. A little human cub.
Anton brings me food and a long-awaited glass of wine.
Having seen birth videos where babies come out of the womb ashen-coloured and slimy, I am glad to see that Naomi is perfectly pink (rather red), surprisingly mucus-free and begins using her voice right away. She opens her eyes and looks around – such an inquisitive and lively little creature! She is tiny – only 2.475 kg, but that’s normal for her gestational age (between 10th and 50th percentile). Her Apgar score is 9.
I am put on my back and covered with blankets. Naomi is given to me, the embillical cord still reaching from her navel into my uterus, which still contains the placenta. I am told to breastfeed immediately. I am surprised that Naomi knows what to do – she opens her mouth wide and ravenously sucks from the breast. She is hungry!
After labour there is no pain. Just memories of it. So when the midwife suggests to stitch me up (I have a couple of small tears) I try to convince her to let me go unstitched. My legs are shaking – the midwife says it’s because of the adrenaline. I am totally alert and instruct Anton to take pictures of our home birth setup.
Anton cuts the cord.
The midwife offers a shot of oxytocin to encourage the birth of the placenta. Because the labour happened so quickly, she is concerned that I might bleed. Normally very anti-drug, at this point I don’t care and consent to a shot. The placenta comes out shortly. A few minutes later I Skype my mom and show her our home birth quarters.
My baby Naomi is divine. I’ll never forget how she looked: a tiny, but vigorous, alert and confident human cub. I love you, Naomi.