Feb 27, 2011

The birth

The whole thing started on the 17th. After the “false alarm” of waters that were not broken, we went home and walked a bit. We shopped at our local market and came home, cooked some dinner, took it easy. After all, my hips still tended towards the sore whenever I walked.

The nurse’s joke from the birthing centre seemed to work. “Go run a marathon or something,” she said.

Well, I didn’t run a marathon, but the walking changed something in my body. A bunch of contractions started. Still not that regular, but somewhere between about 5-10 minutes apart. And they seemed different somehow from the pre-labor contractions I’d been experiencing for 2 weeks or so. Stronger. More definite.

At about midnight, I spotted some blood. It scared me a bit since everything I’d read said you should go to the hospital right away if you’re bleeding at any time. Rather than make another trip just to be sent home, I called them.

“Wait an hour,” said a woman with a definitely strong Eastern European accent who was on call that night. In fact, she said something like, “You will probably wait three hours or so and then come in, if the contractions continue.” She wasn’t too worried about the bleeding since it wasn’t very much. But she was right about the timing.

Sure enough, at 3am I decided to go to the hospital. I hadn’t been able to sleep due to the contractions and I woke up hubby who’d managed a few hours. We packed up all our things and go there by 4am. I was put on another baby heart rate monitor for 20 minutes. This time, it showed more definite contractions, still at about 5-7 minutes apart.

“You are 2cm dilated,” said the Eastern European doctor who seemed very stressed out and was none too gentle in her exam. “You go walk for two hours, then come back and I check you again. Walk. All the time walk.”

With that, we were sent packing to go walk. We left our stuff at the hospital and went exploring out doors. It wasn’t too cold, but at about 5.30am, there wasn’t much open. Still, we found a 24 hour coffee shop and I sat for 15 minutes to have a cup of peppermint tea, but then walked again per the accented instructions. We found a Couche-Tard, Quebec’s version of 7-11 and bought some magazines and pulled some money. Then, we headed back to the hospital waiting room where hubby fell asleep on the sofa and I went walking up and down the corridor where all the new mommies and babies sleep. Every few minutes I’d have to stop and hold on to the wall for support to breathe through a contraction. They were stronger, but very manageable at this point.

At around 7.30am we headed back to the triage area and the accented doctor checked me again; 7 am, we discovered is a flurry of activity at the hospital. The nurses and doctors change shifts and many people were coming and going. This meant the on-call Eastern European doctor had to debrief all her cases and she wasn’t exactly happy about it. We observed about half an hour of defensive aggression before she was able to examine me.

The good news was that I was now 3cm dilated. I started to get excited because they told me they’d admit me. In the hallway I had seen Dr. Yuen who had been nice to me the previous day when I had the “false alarm”; she was gentle, kind, informative and all round pleasant. And she seemed pleased to see me again in the corridor, welcoming me with an enthusiastic “You’re back.”

Before being admitted to the hospital, I had to make a trip down to the administration, to sign in officially. It’s quite an experience, sitting there, having pulled your ticket to wait in turn (a la Quebecois), breathing through contractions … for some reason I didn’t anticipate this step, though I suppose it makes sense. Perhaps they thought I was well enough to do this myself rather than have the hospital’s administration system do it for me. In any case, I opted for a private room post delivery and paid a little extra. Some friends had given us the great advice to do this as you don’t want to be sharing a room with an extra mom and baby while trying to recover for 2 days.

Once officially admitted to the room, things progressed their course. The contractions got stronger as time went on but were very bearable. About two hours after I had been officially admitted, at 10am, Dr. Yuen came to see me about breaking my waters (I was walking through the corridor, in fact, at that time). She said it would help progress the labor and also asked how I felt about her doing the procedure – it would be her first time and my birth plan had specified that medical procedures needed to be “vetted” by experienced doctors.

Since the breaking of the membrane is a relatively simple act, I told Dr. Yuen she could do it. I went back to the room and she came to do the deed. After three attempts, during which I could hear that she had broken the membrane, but no fluids were gushing out, she called a more senior intern. The senior intern was able to get things going. On their way out they whispered something about a special type of membrane – I have no idea what was different about my membrane, but I guess it was harder to get things going.

After the membrane rupture, the contractions got a lot stronger. The next few hours are now a bit of a blur to me. At first things were still very bearable; as it got harder, hubby helped me by massaging my back with counter pressure. I moved around the room a lot, changed positions often, used a ball, used the bed, stood up. You name it. At this point, of course, the membrane was already broken so fluid continued to leak out and it was generally a back-and-forth between the bathroom and the main room to manage between pain and cleaning up.

I cannot recall the time, but I’m guessing that about 3 hours before baby’s birth, the contractions started to get strong. I asked the doctor about epidurals: the pros and cons. Hubby said not to try to be too brave; that if what I needed was an epidural, I could by all means have one. The doctor told me the pros/cons and I asked if she could check how dilated I was. She said she could, but not too often because of the risk of infection now that the membrane was ruptured.

I was 5cm dilated. I debated the epidural, and decided to wait. Yes, the contractions were strong, but I thought I could still manage. The doctor told me that was fine and that I could decide later, but warned me that at some point, it would be too late. I acknowledged her comment.

Some time later, the contractions became very strong indeed. And I could no longer breathe through them, nor was any kind of counter pressure working any longer. Hubby could do little but hold my hand through each one, and they were coming on quite often. The nurse, who had been with me throughout the day, and given helpful advice along the way, suggested I take a bath.

This sounded like just the thing; maybe the water would calm the contractions somewhat – boy, was I wrong about that. First off, I had to walk over to the bath, which was a task, and then, once in it, the contractions were just as bad but now I was in a slippery bath and soaking wet besides. The belt I had been wearing around my belly all along to monitor baby’s heartbeat and my contractions was also soaking wet . I quickly decided that the bath wasn’t going to do it, and I needed to get out of the bath and back to my delivery room. I was feeling an urge to push – something the nurse told me to look out for.

Hubby helped me dry off and get me back. The nurse checked me and told me I was 7cm dilated – not yet ready to push. And I wasn’t, I would realize later. I just started to feel an early urge to do so. Back in my room, I experienced major spasms all across my belly and back, like a ring around my body. And not just a single spasm either, that started slow, rose to a peak and then slowly withdrew, as the other contractions had been. No. These spasms were entirely different. Like a massive muscle spasm and they occurred in rapid succession in groups of about 5-10 at a time. It was almost unbearable.  After a few rounds of these, I decided that maybe an epidural was the way to go after all.

The nurse checked me again and said I was 8cm dilated, and that she would get an IV going so that the epidural could be administered. Easier said than done. She gave it two tries, then gave up because my veins wouldn’t cooperate. Another nurse came and gave it another two tries, also failing. A third nurse was hauled in. She was replacing my day nurse (a new shift). She tried once and failed. I was getting sick of being poked, even though these failed attempts were not nearly as painful as my contractions, they added to my discomfort.

I started to feel a much stronger urge to push. The new nurse had an insight. “Why don’t I just check you again,” she said. At this point, 30 had easily passed.

“You’re fully dilated,” she announced.

These were probably the best words I’d heard in a few hours. I was fully dilated. Ready. I could push now, give in to that urge. Except that the doctor wasn’t ready yet, even though I was.

“You need to wait for the doctor,” the nurse told me. “She will be here in 15 minutes.”

“What? You’re fucking kidding me,” I think I actually said that. I know you’re not supposed to use profanity in the hospital. There is a big sign about it in every room: they speak over 30 languages but violence isn’t one of them. Still, the only way to describe how I felt was through expletives at this point. And I said it quietly. I didn’t shout it at the top of my lungs or at the nurse – it was really more a side comment to hubby.

In either case, the nurse pretended she hadn’t heard me, and instead told me to pant through the urges to push.

Sometimes I managed. I think I even engaged some kegels at various points which seemed to diminish the urge to push somewhat. But I couldn’t pant through every contraction – the push instinct was simply too strong. The nurse checked my push mechanism and said that I had very strong muscles. Well, I suppose that was good. Hopefully I’d not be doing too much pushing for too long.

Dr. Yuen came in, in sterile scrubs. She was ready, but we were still waiting for the other doctor. I think it was the longest 15 minutes of my life, and in reality might have been closer to 20.

Dr. Yuen explained to me several possible positions to give birth. One sounded appealing to me, but the experienced doctor who was now in the room suggested my arms might get tired, and that staying on my back would probably be better. (I’ll get back to my arms later …).

So they had me push on my back. I had grips on the bed to pull myself up with and push with every contraction. For at least 10 seconds, while holding my breath, 3 or 4 times in a row while the contractions lasted.

It wasn’t easy. It was better than the last stage of unbearable contractions, but now the pain moved to birth canal itself. I was asked to feel the baby’s head, and it felt soft. I think it was meant as encouragement to get me to keep going with the pushing. The nurse gave verbal coaching each time. Hubby helped to hold up my head. They told me to drop my legs to the side more, but every time I did, my hip muscles cramped up. What a time for cramps, I tell you.

The doctors tried to give me encouragement every step of the way. Giving me little tid-bits of information like “Oh, he’s blond!” when his head first appeared. It was nice of them, although I barely remember much of what went on.

At some point they gave me extra oxygen. I think the baby’s heart beat was dropping and I must have been running out of oxygen with all the pushing. The hold up was that my perineum was not stretching out enough. So in between the pushes, I was being massaged to stretch these muscles. This was extremely painful. The doctor kept forgetting that I hadn’t had an epidural and could therefore feel everything “down there”. Yet, stretch they did. But not enough.

So after about 45 minutes of pushing, the doctor decided I needed an episiotomy. They wanted to make a small cut so that the birth canal could widen a bit to allow baby’s head to get through. I was all for it. I could not be pushing forever and I could feel that things were stretching too much, and would likely rupture. The doctor agreed and said she’d prefer for the tears to go in the direction she wanted them to.

She made the cut. I didn’t feel it.

With the next push, the baby’s head emerged.

“Stop pushing,” was the next instruction.

Woah. Ok. Shift gears. I had to wait for them to turn the baby a bit to deliver the rest. A minute or so later it was done. Baby was out! Hubby told me later it was 16:16pm.

The next thing I knew was that baby-boy was on my chest, screaming away. He was very wet, but the nurse quickly and efficiently dried him off. Hubby meanwhile cut the umbilical cord at the doctor’s insistence.

While I held my little bundle, I felt enormous relief and happiness. Hubby and I connected over the baby, while the doctors stitched me up after delivery of the placenta, which I didn’t even feel. I felt some discomfort with the stitching, but the main thing was that the contractions and the pushing were over, and my life improved 100 fold.

I held baby-boy the entire time and got a shot for something (maybe to stop blood clotting?). At some point, baby-boy taught himself to suckle at my breast. Yay. He managed to breastfeed. After an hour or so, the nurse asked to check the baby and she did so nearby, while we could watch.

Not long after, the nurse “massaged” my stomach to help the uterus to contract. The massaging was most unpleasant and I couldn’t withhold the instinct to tighten my stomach muscles. She did this several times.

An hour and half or so after baby’s birth, the nurse helped me into a wheel chair and placed baby-boy in my lap. We were being wheeled to my private room where we would spend 2 days recovering and under observation.

I cannot tell you how proud I felt at that moment, of my beautiful baby boy. I wanted each person we passed to look at me and coo over my baby. Most of the nurses at the station didn’t notice, but a few other passersby did. I saw one woman walking the corridor, clearly trying to spur on her labor. I smiled as I thought back to earlier that day when I had been doing the same thing.

Soon, I’ll write about the first few days in baby-boy’s life.


  1. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!!! Thanks for the great & magical tale. :))

  2. Wow. You've just helped me relive the birth of my son, 26 years ago, but from the other side. The story of our son's birth is perfect, and amazing, and unique, even if it happens every day and has been for a long time. It's always unique.

  3. Wonderful story, reading it with tears in my eyes and also reliving the birth of our daughter 9 months ago. Congratulations, well done! Liefs Susan