Empowered, strong, fulfilled: my amazing birth experience

I know it sounds cliche, but it’s hard to believe it’s been a year since our boy was born. I figure it’s a good time to put our birth story from pen to paper (or computer screen), as it’s something I’d like to continue sharing with our son in the years to come.

The short story is we had an amazing birth experience. Here’s what I can remember of the long story:

Flashback to August 2014. It was hot. I’d handled July no problem, but August hit and I’d had enough. Our little house didn’t have air conditioning, and I was a hot, huge, sweaty mess. So, the dogs and I headed to my parents’ house, about an hour away. The A/C was blissful. I’d come back to the city on Thursdays to attend a prenatal pilates class and then scheduled any doctor appointments for the Friday. After that, I’d head back to Young.

After one such trip, once I got back to my parents’, I emailed my husband, APB, insistent that he come and get me on Sunday. No particular reason. I just felt I needed to be home (plus I missed my cats!). He tried to encourage me to embrace the A/C but I was adamant. He came and picked up me and the dogs, and we were back in Saskatoon by 7:30 that night.

We went to bed around 10 or 10:30. I woke up at about 11:30 with what felt like the baby kicking me and then a huge gush of liquid came out. I tried to squeeze it off, thinking I was just peeing the bed, but more came out, so I made my way to the bathroom and ran the tub. Once in the water, I called out to APB and said, “I think my water broke.” I asked him to check the bed.

APB checked and said there was no doubt my water broke. He said I should call Karen, our back-up doula, as the doula we had hired was out of town on holidays. She figured it would work out because it was still almost 4 weeks to my due date.

From the tub I texted Karen. She didn’t respond right away, so after some encouragement from APB (who was washing the bedding because I thought I might want to labour on the bed if it was early labour as I thought it might be), I called Karen. She had heard the text and figured it wasn’t a big deal. Then she saw the phone call, saw my name, and looked at the time, thinking something must be up because it was me and so late.

After chatting, we decided Karen should come over. She texted at one point asking if we wanted coffee, and APB answered, “Sure, coffee would be great. Contractions are 2 to 3 minutes apart.” Karen decided coffee would have to wait.

For my part, I knew the contractions were close, but I wasn’t timing them. I was just hanging out, enjoying my midnight bath. At some point, APB was messaging the kennel where our dogs sometimes stay, to see if the owner could come and pick them up in the morning and take them. And she did! So appreciated.

I was still in the tub when Karen arrived. She joined me in the bathroom, as did Brooke, my cat. It seems like such a little thing, but I was thrilled to have my cat there. I’d intended to labour at a friend’s house (whom I thought was also away on holidays at this point), and while I looked forward to a larger, more peaceful space, I knew I’d miss my cats. At 1:48 a.m. we left for the hospital. Because I was exhibiting signs that labour was moving along quite quickly (contractions getting more intense and lasting longer) and because I was early, according to my EDD, Karen said we needed to get to there. APB was also getting nervous and was pretty excited to get going. He tried to make me put on a seatbelt but Karen told him to get going, so he put on the four-way flashers. At this point, I was in the front passenger seat, backwards, holding on, trying to focus on breathing.

We arrived at RUH around 2 a.m. Monday, August 18, 2014. I was apprehensive (when APB went to park, I turned to Karen, and exclaimed, “Don’t leave me!” Which was a bit dramatic, because obviously she wasn’t going anywhere), but the first nurse I encountered in assessment put my mind at ease. I believe her name was Kerry or Kelly (I’m sure it started with a ‘K’). The first question she asked was whether or not I had a birth plan. I was pleasantly surprised by this question. I did have a birth plan but because my baby decided he was in a hurry, I didn’t have it with me and told her as much. She asked if there were any key things that were important to me, so we outlined those, and all of them were respected during my labour. Things like lights off as much as possible (the lights were off in the delivery room, and we used light from the bathroom as needed – in fact, no lights were ever turned on during the birth); music (we played CBC Radio); no medication (I was asked once if I wanted pain medication for relief, I said no, and was never asked again); the ability to move around during labour and to deliver in whatever position was comfortable (I laboured the entire time switching between all fours and on my left side, and I delivered on all fours). I also didn’t want the monitor strapped to me all the time (which it was not – I was checked intermittently) and once the baby born, I did not want any medical staff telling me the gender or saying much at all. I requested immediate skin-to-skin and delayed cord clamping.

Our doula, Karen, with me and our son.
Our doula, Karen, with me and our son.

Not only did this nurse ask if I had a birth plan, but when a contraction came, she encouraged me through it by saying things like, “You’re doing great. Your body is designed to do this. Good work.” She was amazing. My wish is for every mom in labour to have a nurse like her.

From here on in, it’s hard to remember many details. I remember when things got really painful, saying to Karen, “I can’t do this!” She’d make me look her in the eyes and encouraged me that I for sure could do it, and that I already was. APB was right there encouraging me, too. Both kept saying, “Soon you’ll get to meet your baby!” I know at one point I replied somewhat exasperated, somewhat joking (as much as a woman can joke when she’s in the throes of labour), “You keep saying that!”

I had two residents and the attending physician, who was not my prenatal doctor but from the same clinic. Turns out he was awesome (so much so that we switched to him as our family doctor). Looking back, my birth plan said I didn’t want residents but I obviously forgot and it didn’t matter as they were all great and respectful of my wishes. At one point, one of the residents checked how dilated I was and then Dr. Dosman asked if he could check. A contraction came and I yelled, “NO!” and he said “OK!” and pulled off his gloves and walked out the door. I couldn’t tell if he was pissed off or took it in stride but I also didn’t care because I was feeling intense contractions!

Shortly before I delivered my son, the physician asked me about the shot of pitocin to stop any potential hemorrhaging. I declined it. He turned to APB to explain why he was recommending it, and he said I didn’t want it and he supported that. The physician again respected our wishes.

At one point, the physician asked if I was going to deliver on all fours. Karen checked with me, and I said I wasn’t moving anywhere. He was cool with that: he literally pulled up a chair with his feet because he was gloved and waited. He was completely hands off until the baby’s head came out.

Our son was born at 5:26 a.m. in my husband’s words, our baby shot out of me like a cannon. I don’t remember how I knew what to do, but I easily turned around and the physician handed my baby to me and laid him on my chest. My husband told me later that it was somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes later before the cord was cut.

While we were enjoying our new little family, the doctor asked if we has a name picked out, noting, “John [his name] is a good name.” We had a couple in mind but hasn’t decided for sure.

Love at first sight.
Love at first sight. I remember telling our son, “We did it.” It’s a phrase I’ve used over the past year when we’ve gotten through a rough spell or day.

Some point after our son was born, we called my parents, and it was then that we agreed on the name. I’d just recently shown them how to turn off the ringer on their phones but still leave it on. No answer. Of course! They called back a few minutes later. Such a cool conversation: our baby was being weighed on another table, and I said, “Can you hear that baby crying? It’s ours!” My parents still recall that conversation to this day. They were shocked, overjoyed, excited. Kind of like us. I mouthed the name to my husband and he agreed, so we told them and everyone else in the room: Cub.

APB says the room was dusty, but really, the guy who never cries had tears in his eyes after the birth. To this day, he won’t tell me exactly why. I hope it’s because it was an amazing experience.

My husband's dusty eyes. Moments after giving birth.
My husband’s dusty eyes. Moments after giving birth.

I know in my birth plan I had thoughts around newborn procedures, but I can’t remember if I requested them or not. I know our baby wasn’t taken to be weighed, etc until a while later because by then my second doula had arrived (she wasn’t on holidays after all! She was leaving that morning). She took some amazing photos of my son and me – which was nice, because we’d hired a birth photographer, but we forgot to call her. Whoops! This is my only regret, if you can call it that, around our birth experience.

The funny thing, too, is that we did all this research about labour and delivery, like the signs of early labour, but I didn’t have early labour (at least to my knowledge). I had downloaded these empowering spoken word chants I’d heard in a yoga class that I wanted to play in labour. Forgot about that, too, much like the birth photographer. But it all worked out as it should have.

At some point not long after the birth because we were still in L&D, my husband posted a photo on Facebook, and I started texting people. I texted one of my best friends who hosts a radio morning show to tell her we were listening and that I’d had my baby! At the end of her show, she welcomed the show’s newest and youngest listener, Cub.

Another friend texted to say she recovered a Riders football from our raspberry patch that she was picking so I told her, surprise! Baby is here! And then another friend who is also a colleague emailed a work question…to which I responded, surprise! I’m off now because I had a baby! It’s all kind of comical to think about. We stayed in the hospital a few more days and I was literally finishing freelance work assignments during our stay.

After giving birth, I felt like I could do anything. The nurse who was checking me over after called me a warrior because she said she’d never seen a woman dilate to 10 centimetres without an epidural. I had to double check with Karen that the nurse had said that, because it seemed astounding to me: mostly that she had never seen an unmedicated birth.

My heart is bursting in this photo.
My heart is bursting in this photo.

I wish every woman could have a birth like mine. Not the exact same circumstances, as I would never tell a woman how she should experience something as personal as birth, but one that is empowering and on their terms as much as is possible. Giving birth is a normal physiological procedure, and at times that has been forgotten in society. Women, you got this. Your body was designed to give birth. It will hurt like hell but it will be amazing.

A wise friend told me it would be the beginning of the greatest love story I’d ever experienced, and she was oh-so-right. The past year has had hard times, but it’s true that you mostly remember the wonderful and amazing times. Sometimes when I hold my sleeping boy, I still tear up with how much I love him.

With that out of the way, now we focus on the cake smash photos and singing ‘happy birthday!’

Edited to add: I wrote the original version of this when my son was 1. I continue adding to it as I remember new things either on my own or from talking to people who were there!

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