For about nine months last year, I was a pregnant midwife. If there was a theme to my pregnancy, it was probably “no fuss.” I barely attended my prenatal appointments, I didn’t take prenatal classes, I didn’t want a doula, I wanted a simple birth at home. I wanted my pregnancy and birth to be neat, simple, straightforward, no fuss.
Thankfully, my body cooperated. I got pregnant before my partner and I really even knew what we were doing. I had a little nausea and some minor fatigue. The tests I took were all reassuring. But mostly, I just carried on, and grew and grew.
While pregnant, I had a dream that was mostly a narration from my partner’s perspective. In it, I was crouched in the bathroom, head and body leaning into the corner, and I could hear him on the phone to my midwife saying “I don’t know what’s wrong with her but she won’t talk to me anymore and — Oh my god! The head just came out,” as I delivered my own baby, totally unassisted.
I wanted that birth.
Aside from reliving that dream over and over and attending a prenatal yoga class, I didn’t do any specific birth preparation. On the one hand, I knew that there was no possible way to prepare and that I was just going to have to figure it out on the day of (true). But on the other hand, I was afraid to prepare. I associated preparing (whatever that may be) with obsessing, controlling, taking it too seriously — definite fussing.
… the oops-I’m-pregnant, sure-homebirth-sounds-fine, oops-I’m-fully-dilated folks are thought to be the intuitive, relaxed, easy-going, no fuss clients. I wanted to be one of those clients.
In midwife culture, there can be a bias against the prepare-ers, the birth plan-ers, the obsesser-ers — all thought to be guaranteed c-sections, whereas the “oops-I’m-pregnant, sure-homebirth-sounds-fine, oops-I’m-fully-dilated” folks are thought to be the intuitive, relaxed, easy-going, no fuss clients.
I wanted to be one of those clients.
I was due on a Tuesday. The following Friday night, I started contracting. They were strong and regular but I did my best to keep my cool. I rested, showered, didn’t wake my partner Jeff, tried to stay cool. I felt that this was a shift from the pre-labour I’d been having all week into early labour, which seemed great. It stopped as the sun rose, which didn’t bother me. I slept in, and waited to see what the next night would bring.
Again, that night, they were strong and regular, I rested, showered, didn’t wake Jeff. It was harder to stay cool, but I managed. Again, they stopped when the sun rose. I reported on the “stabbing knives” I’d had all night to Jeff in the morning. We took it easy that day, feeling the birth was imminent.
That night, like clockwork, they started again. This time they were strong and quick. Strong and quick like a baby that’s coming in 3 hours quick. Jeff was up with me, lighting the candles, playing music, being so kind to me. I was excited — could I possibly be so lucky to have a baby this quickly? — but I also knew something wasn’t totally right. The speed of the contractions didn’t match how lucid I still was and the pain was stabbing, ripping pain instead of the grabbing, aching type of pain I’d seen countless women experience.
The contractions continued fast and furious but they didn’t go any further. And again, they stopped when the sun rose. I cancelled my midwife appointment that day, preferring rest over a check-up, but my midwife came to see me at home. All was well except my cervix was long and nearly closed: not what I wanted to hear, but I couldn’t let it discourage me. I needed to keep strong.
The next night, again, they started, even stronger and quicker. Jeff set up the birth pool and it was divine. The contractions were strong and quick but still not quite right. I was getting tired, and frustrated. I was coping but on my fourth night, I was weakening, especially because I could feel that it wasn’t progressive.
Around 5 AM, I called one of my midwives: break my water please. Let’s get this show on the road. She came right over, but my cervix was pretty much the same. It might be a little thinner, she said, and I saw right through her midwife sugar-coating having delivered my fair share of it myself. She didn’t think it was a good idea to break my water so close to the time that they may stop again. She was hopeful for more rest before real labour, and hopeful that if they stopped again, they might re-start the next night, finally in a progressive pattern. OK, I agreed. I’ll carry on until the sun rises.
I was tired. I was afraid of how tired I was going to get, and, given how early on it still was, of getting so physically tired that my body simply wouldn’t be able to do the work.
The sun rose but they didn’t stop. I was tired. I was afraid of how tired I was going to get, and, given how early on it still was, of getting so physically tired that my body simply wouldn’t be able to do the work. So off we went to the hospital for a dose of morphine to stop the contractions and allow me to rest, and then straight back home to bed. It helped enough that I could stay in bed and sleep in between, but I still woke every few minutes with each contraction.
That evening I had a strategy talk with one of my midwives. I remember her saying something about me being in prodromal labour. What?!! The word shocked me. Even after four nights of contractions and one dose of morphine, I was still trying to downplay what was happening and hadn’t yet admitted that I was indeed in prodromal labour. I did not want there to be anything abnormal about my labour but I also knew my hopes for a homebirth were dimming with each useless contraction.
And sure enough, for the fifth night, they started again. I waited a few hours, but it was the same as before. We met the midwife at the hospital around midnight: your cervix might be a little thinner, she said. Right. I got some more morphine and a promise to finally break my water in the morning, hopefully after some more rest.
This time the morphine didn’t do a thing. I got into the tub and howled the house down. My partner reached his limit: this isn’t right, we have to go in. No, I told him, its prodromal labour, they wouldn’t even take me. At a loss, he turned on the TV and I kept howling. About an hour later, I realized he was right. Something needed to change. I asked him to call the midwife: please come break my water, we need to try something different. This was my last, desperate, shot at having this baby at home.
Suddenly, it was over. There wasn’t going to be a homebirth and I needed an epidural yesterday.
The midwife managed to squeeze the hook through my reluctant cervix to break my water. And after an hour or two, nothing changed. Then I reached my limit. Suddenly, it was over. There wasn’t going to be a homebirth and I needed an epidural yesterday. Jeff and I got to the hospital before the midwife. Through tears, I told the first nurse I saw: I need a room, a nurse, an IV, an epidural, and oxy, and eventually I got it all.
My memories of the hours in the hospital are hazy. I was tired, drugged, and I suppose by then finally in some degree of the “labour-land” that my labour at home wasn’t able to take me to. My epidural had to be replaced a few times, and I can still remember the scraping pain of my baby’s head pushing onto the area medication refused to numb. I remember being two centimeters dilated, two and a half centimeters dilated, three centimeters, four — a snail’s pace.
I remember really not wanting to have a c-section but being breathtakingly aware of how likely it was. I remember the relief knowing my favourite doctor was on call, and impatience waiting for her to get the oxytocin going. I remember Jeff sleeping on the floor beside me, reaching his hand up to my bed when I stirred. I remember his eyes red from crying in the hallway. I remember the team of midwives slowly growing in numbers as they assembled for what seemed impossible: a baby coming out of me.
Finally, twelve or so hours after getting to the hospital: fully dilated! Time to push. I knew from the baby’s heartbeat that I wasn’t going to have a lot of time. I knew I was going to have to push hard. Everyone snapped to attention, lights went on, the mirror came out. Push, and push, and push, and push. And push. Facecloths on my face and neck, tiny sliver of head appearing and retreating, squatting, squatting, encouragement, cheering, tenderness, worry. His heartbeat is low.
Then, busting into the silence: my baby’s cry, Jeff’s cry, my cry, the room explodes. Love is everywhere.
The less favoured doctor is busy in the OR, the more favoured doctor is free. I can not push any harder, there is no more. Forceps. No problem, I’m just thrilled not to have a c-section, and thrilled to stop this goddamn pain. The room fills, it is impossibly full, all nurses and doctors I work with. I am naked and raving with the pain. And then: silence. Then, busting into the silence: my baby’s cry, Jeff’s cry, my cry, the room explodes. Love is everywhere. Although I had nearly every intervention, I am triumphant: I escaped a c-section! This was my victory.
We headed home a few hours later. I limped to the car, one of my legs still slightly wobbly from the epidural. The midwife carried the baby to the car so that I wouldn’t drop him. Our little family glided home through the quiet 2AM streets, floating on the mystery of how it was somehow all over and now our baby was strapped into the car seat instead of in my belly.
Nine months later, with my baby now having spent the same amount of time outside me as he did inside me, I’m a midwife who fell in love with homebirth as a teenager and probably visualized myself in labour a million times prior to even becoming pregnant. Yet I’m also a woman who had a heavily intervention-filled hospital birth.
Of course I wish I’d had my simple no-fuss fantasy birth, but the love I felt from my husband, my midwives, the nurses and even the doctors at my real birth vastly eclipses any regret I have about not having my baby at home. The love in that room made it a truly great birth, which I felt on my postpartum high for days after the birth, and still feel nine months later. I am grateful for my beautiful healthy baby, for being able to have a baby with an amazing man whom I love and who loves me and for being able to birth my baby surrounded by people who were joyous about the beginning of his life.