A few days ago, we passed the point where Leo has been out in the world for longer than he’d been in the womb, and I remembered that I had a half-written birth story on the computer. So here we go: a finished, muddled recollection of a couple of very powerful days. So I thought I’d share for people who like this sort of thing. Feel free to leave a comment if you’ve experienced any of this stuff too. Birth is intense, and I think we all need to talk about it.
I went into labour around noon on Labour Day, three days after my due date. I appreciated the irony. It was also my best friend’s due date, so our kids had the possibility of sharing a birthday (that didn’t end up happening, her son was born a week later).
Around 8.30pm, after lightly labouring with a TENS machine throughout the day, my waters broke. I was quite excited by this because hello! It was real labour now! I quickly messaged my midwife, because it was late, and I figured I’d have to wake her up sometime in the night, so it would be nice to give a bit of warning.
“Are your waters clear?” she asked.
“I think so?”
“Let me know if you get more and they’re discoloured. If not, just keep going, you’re doing great.”
Ha. Waters don’t keep breaking, right? That was a full gush, not a trickle. Surely that’s all the water I could fit in me. Well, I was wrong. It happened again. This time I put on one of my reusable cotton pads, and as I reached the toilet and yanked down the pants, my plans fell apart. The pad was soaked in a greenish-brown goo. Meconium. Worse, it was thick meconium.
There goes my peaceful water birth, I thought. Meconium rules that out, I’d had that explained to me at my midwife visits.
So that was the first thing that went wrong.
I called my midwife and confirmed that yes, my waters had some meconium. She recommended that I come into the birth centre for an examination. So that was fine. I put on a clean pad, undies and pants, and we headed out for an extremely uncomfortable but fortunately only ten minute drive to the birth centre. Josh drove so carefully, knowing I was cringing over every bump. He handled the suitcase and the giant bag of snacks (the bag was big enough for a week at the hospital, which came in handy after the birth, as you’ll see.)
As I climbed out of the car, my waters broke. Again. It was like I was the liquid equivalent of a trick candle. A trick water balloon. How much liquid was in me? Was this whole thing just an elaborate psych-out, and I wasn’t pregnant at all, just retaining a ton of water that mysteriously looked baby-shaped on my frequent ultrasounds? Was my son actually a merman?
I waddled in, acutely aware that I was leaking onto their carpet. I apologised to the receptionist, who was not at all bothered. To be honest, I was mostly concerned about my Allbird sneakers. I mean, I’m sure a lot of women had leaked body fluids onto their carpet and they expected that sort of thing, but my shoes were brand-new, man. I have no idea why Í chose that evening to wear them.
The lovely women at River Ridge Birth Centre helped me into an examination room (where I took off my sneaks and saw that the goop had hit my socks but had travelled no further, yaassss). My midwife examined me as the contractions kept coming and confirmed that yes, there was actually quite a lot of meconium, so the birth would have to be at the hospital. So much for the cute, photogenic River Ridge birthing tub. (Maybe next baby? Hahahaha oh god that means doing this again…)
So we drove to the hospital. We checked in and were assigned a delivery room. I have it on good authority that my room was the best one – it’s bigger and has the nicest view.
I did not see the view.
I assume other people enjoyed it?
The birthing suite, obnoxiously, had a big tub that I couldn’t use. It taunted me with promises of hot, soothing water. I wanted to kick it, but it was ceramic or metal or something and I didn’t feel like adding more pain on what was a swiftly increasing level of discomfort.
Baby was posterior, which means he was facing forward. I knew that in advance. He had also been breech up until a couple weeks before birth, but thankfully he’d changed that.Posterior positioning usually means that labour takes longer, because the baby has to rotate around to being in the correct birthing position before he comes out. That involves his spine scraping up against mine. And that hurts in a way I really can’t describe without losing this light, breezy tone and ending up putting women off giving birth. So let’s just say it was a bit sore.
I stood under a hot shower for about half an hour, bending over a chair so the water hit my hips and lower back. It was the closest I could get to a tub and it felt so good. As each contraction hit, I strangely embraced them. Every one brought me closer to having a baby. But then they got worse and the novelty wore off.
“FUUUUUUUUUUUCK!” I bellowed, a couple hours in. My midwife suggested I try the gas. I insisted it didn’t work – it just made me feel nauseous.
“That’s because you’re not breathing it in deep enough.” She gently encouraged the proper technique – breathing long deep breaths. Once you hit about 8 breaths the gas hits juuuuust right. After a couple of contractions worth of this, I had it down pat and the NO2 became my best buddy. It was definitely better than staunching it out. Anyone who manages posterior labour without pain relief is a superhero but also isn’t someone you should trust, because they’re not normal. Josh held my hand and handed the gas hose to me whenever I dropped it. He looked so worried, and I remember thinking that this was rough for him. Oh, girl.
So I huffed on the gas a lot, but the contractions got worse. They got really bad. I like to think I’m reasonably tough due to years of working through migraines (which are like mega-hangovers without the fun of alcohol) but this was next level. It stopped being funny. It just became about bracing for the pain. I screamed. The gas hose would fall out of my mouth. Someone, usually Josh, would pass it back, I would huff. I would scream. Cycle repeat. Over and over.
“Lou, you’re only 3 centimetres dilated,” I was told. I thought of Ross on Friends, and that quote during Rachel’s labour. Three? I’m dilated three! Except there was no laugh track, there was just the misery of realising I was hours into a very slow labour that also had a time limit.
Apparently if there’s old meconium in your waters when they break, you need to give birth within 18 hours or you’re at high risk of infection. Or maybe that’s unrelated to the meconium. I don’t know. At this point my memory gets a bit unreliable and I might recount things in the wrong order.
My midwife gently suggested an epidural as a possibility, to let me rest while my body did the work of dilating. And even though I hadn’t intended to get an epidural (you can’t have them at birth centres and that was my original plan), the offer was like a life preserver. So I accepted, even though the idea of them had made me nervous at my antenatal class. (Tip for future mothers: antenatal you is an innocent lamb. Appreciate her, but don’t try to follow her instructions. Just do what feels right for you in the moment.) At some point during labour I was given oxytocin to speed the process, which helped. It was done on a drip.
So the epidural, thankfully, came immediately. I sat as still as I could for the rather large injection, and asked the anesthesiologist if I’d fucked up (by moving). She misheard me and thought I’d asked if she fucked up. She was very gracious and tried to explain that she’d done it correctly, but Josh thankfully clarified, and she immediately said “oh honey no, you did it just right.” Cringe. Sorry, anesthesiologist, that was my bad. I’d like to say I’m not always that awkward, but that would be a lie.
Anyway, the epidural worked. There was a patch near my hip which didn’t quite numb, which meant I felt a tiny twinge of each contraction. I found that weirdly comforting, like I was still connected to a process that felt like my body was going through without me.
The next few hours were relatively peaceful, yet still tiring. They continued monitoring the baby, who was surprisingly chill. There were a couple of periods where they thought he was in distress, but it turned out that his monitoring equipment wasn’t in the right position. So that scared us, but it was all good. So far, there was no need for a caesarean section. I was very clear that I only wanted a c-section if the baby was in distress, not me.
(C-section mums: please note that I am NOT one of those people who thinks they’re “not real birth” or any of that bollocks. That wasn’t my issue. I was just really scared of getting major abdominal surgery and adding to the healing time. Zero judgement here of whatever way you choose to birth, it’s an intense experience no matter what!)
The hospital midwives changed shifts, and my midwife and student midwife went home to get some sleep. When they returned later, I had managed a nap, and I was eight centimetres dilated. Mention of the c-section popped up again, and I refused again.
My mum called, and I finally had a cry, so she and Dad headed over to the hospital to come and talk to me while I waited out the last couple centimetres. Originally I hadn’t planned to have them come see me, but hey, a lot of things hadn’t worked out the way I thought.
This was when I was told that my cervical lip was blocking his head from being able to get past. This was aired as another reason for a c-section. I was still really not keen, but the OB-GYN said if it didn’t fix itself soon I would be out of options. He left to start prepping. In the time he was out, my midwife tried a tactic called “manually reducing” which involves turning baby’s head, I think? It apparently is super painful but I couldn’t feel it, it was just uncomfortable. But it worked! Lip gone. OB-GYN came back in and was really happy that it had worked.
My parents arrived half an hour later, and my mum teared up as soon as she saw me. I must’ve looked like a wreck. My student midwife was rubbing my numb leg, which was incredibly comforting, and there were people everywhere. My midwife (who was friends with my mum and babysat me as a toddler!) took my folks out to update them while I got examined by the OB-GYN, who told me yet again that if I wasn’t at 10cm, we were out of time and natural labour was off the table. He was right, but I didn’t like it.
But yay! Family returned to the room in time to hear the OB-GYN announce that I had hit 10 centimetres! We were good to go. So the fam vanished, and the pushing began.
I pushed for two hours.
Apparently at first I made great progress – good, strong pushes that had him moving really well. But then he got stuck. Turns out he had his arm up by his face. (He still sleeps like that now. But it’s cuter now. It wasn’t cute that day.) Because of this, he was jammed. And he was going to need forceps or a ventouse, because the two hours pushing was done, over 18 hours had passed since the waters broke, and he needed to be out. So I chose the ventouse, they attached it, and I pushed again. A couple minutes later, I heard a loud pop!
“His head’s out, Lou, you’re nearly done! One more push!”
Around me, all the voices were urging me to push. It was such a weird moment. So I cried out that I was going to puke. Then I threw up. Amazing timing. A smart midwife was there in time with a bowl. Then I pushed again, and suddenly a huge, beautiful, surprisingly un-gunky baby, all squirms and smoosh, with a faint head of hair and a not-so-faint yell, was on my chest.
“Hi baby!” I managed to say. I couldn’t see his face. But I assumed he was cute. My midwife noticed immediately and adjusted him so I could see his gorgeous, scrunched-up face.
He was beautiful.
I did it. I did it.
Five minutes later, the placenta was out and the cord had stopped pulsing. Josh got to cut it. They finished Leo’s APGAR tests, and he latched for a feed. He latched perfectly from the first moment, which redeemed him somewhat for that hand-up-by-his-face-during-birth nonsense. I got stitched up for my 3A tear. Ouch. After that, I fell asleep. I assume that was when Josh got to cuddle him. I dunno. I was tired, man.
After that was a night at the hospital, then two nights as a family at River Ridge, and then a night at home before Leo turned bright orange and needed 8 days in a locked-down NICU for jaundice. Josh and I both stayed in the hospital with him because I was EBF. That was a tough week. But he’s fine now.
People have often mentioned my birth being traumatic. I wouldn’t personally call it that. I know that there were a lot of complications, but thanks to my amazing midwife and her focus on informed consent, I felt in control of a lot of what happened. I don’t regret any decisions I made. If my next birth went the same way, I would make the same choices. Well, I’d probably get the epidural earlier, and I’d huff the gas properly from the start. I also wouldn’t wear wool sneakers.
So thank you to everyone who was a part of Leo’s birth story. You all helped me and reassured me, and most of all, you respected me. That’s how every birth should go.