As a theatre artist and educator, I understand the importance of improvisation and flexibility. There will be times when I need to deviate from the script, or when the lesson plan is altered or abandoned. The same is true when giving birth.
Two wonderful midwives oversaw my prenatal care, and after much research and discussion (plus more than a few videos on youtube and birth stories on OBM) my husband and I decided that a home birth was the right choice for us. Our midwives were very supportive of our decision, and we began preparing for the birth: attending prenatal classes, doing aquafit and yoga, reading “The Birth Partner”, buying old sheets and other necessary supplies, asking my sisters to be our labour and post-partum doulas, and anything else that seemed important at the time.
Our baby was due at the end of December, and it seemed like everyone we knew had an opinion on the potential birth date-specifically, when baby WASN’T allowed to be born. I would laugh and tell people that it wasn’t really my choice, but there was one date that was the “please god no don’t arrive just yet” date: December 26th. My husband works in sales, and and a twelve hour shift with commissions and holiday pay loomed over our heads; we really couldn’t afford for him to miss that day of work. “You stay put,” Jason told our baby, “no showing up until after Daddy is home from work and has caught up on sleep.”
I had my first contraction within a minute of Jason arriving home from work on Boxing Day.
Thankfully for Jason, labour didn’t start just then and there, so he was able to get a good night’s sleep. I alternated between restless sleep and nesting, knowing that we would meet our baby very soon. My instincts proved right on the morning of December 28th, as my water broke while I ate breakfast. After hemming and hawing over whether it was amniotic fluid or pee, I decided to call my family in Ottawa, to give my sisters the heads-up that they would be needed in the near future. Allison hopped a train to Kingston, and I took a nap. When I awoke, my pad was filled with a pink-ish fluid: this was REAL. I called my midwife, who told me to come in for my regular appointment that afternoon. Jason’s manager sent him home from work, and Allison arrived, bursting with ideas on how we were going to get through my labour. There would be dancing, and Pixar movies, and baking, and lots of massage…was I having a baby or a slumber party? We went out to lunch before my appointment, and I fidgeted through mild contractions while eating my chicken panini.
When we arrived at the midwives office, I went to pee and check my pad. Looking down, the fluid was no longer pink-it was a greenish-brown colour. My heart dropped to my stomach and I bit my lip. Meconium. Bye-bye homebirth. Jane, my midwife, was incredibly calm and reassuring. We watched and listened to the baby’s heart over the monitor. “Sometimes they pass meconium because they’re stressed, but this baby is healthy and happy.” I decided I wasn’t going to let the meconium stress me out, because I needed to be healthy and happy. Jane explained that meconium meant a hospital birth, and most likely an induction. She would no longer be my primary caregiver, but would still be at the birth. Care would be transferred back to her once the baby was born. I gave her a smile and a hug as she wished me good luck and promised that she would come to the hospital when it was time. I cried for a few minutes on the car ride home, grieving for my homebirth, but the decided that I needed to stay positive to have the birth experience I wanted, despite the need for it to be in a hospital.
After we arrived at the hospital, I was hooked up to the monitors, and hated them immediately. Despite being given a wireless pack so I could move around, the belts were constantly slipping, making it seem like the baby was in distress. Even though I knew my baby was fine, I would still panic when I would see the heartrate dip and jump, or when a nurse would rush in to make sure everything was okay. I wanted to move, I needed to move-the resident OB told me that if my labour progressed on its own, I wouldn’t need to be induced, and care could be transferred back to Jane. I paced the halls, swayed my hips, and bounced on an exercise ball, all while holding the monitor in place with my left hand, all while praying that things would speed up, that my body was strong enough, and that the baby was safe. My sister offered her own prayers, although hers were of a very different nature: we had found out that part of the reason the OB was okay with holding off on the induction was due to the fact that the hospital was understaffed. Allison asked God if he wouldn’t mind making people late or keeping an extra nurse at home with the flu if it helped me to avoid an induction.
I didn’t want to be induced, because I knew that pitocin had the potential to do more harm than good, and I worried about putting the baby into a state of distress. I was also concerned about my ability to cope with contractions if I was on pitocin, as I was already having difficulty with pain management. Thankfully, the hospital staff were very supportive of my desire to let my body do its work. My sister and husband were also fantastic advocates, asking questions I couldn’t always voice, and providing me with much-needed reassurance that the choices I made were the best for me and the baby. This reassurance was crucial when I made the decision to get a shot of morphine: no one pushed pain meds on me, but it was a difficult decision to make. I had planned an unmedicated birth, but I was fatigued and worried that I wouldn’t have the strength to push. The morphine was just what I needed; it let me catch five minute catnaps in between contractions, while still allowing me to feel what was going on in my body. I would feel the start of a contraction, say “okay”, and begin to vocalize while Allison provided counter-pressure on my back, and Jason coached and encouraged me through the waves.
Eventually, there were no breaks in between each contraction. I can remember saying “Is this transition? I’m so confused, I don’t know what to do.” By that point we had been assigned a nurse, who told me it was okay to be confused, but that my body knew what it was doing, and that everything was okay. I moaned and did my “birthday candle blowing”, as I was almost fully dilated, but not quite. By the time Jane arrived to catch the baby, I was ready to push. Jane asked me what position I wanted to deliver in, and I instinctively went on my knees, holding the back of the bed for support. Pushing was slightly terrifying, but provided amazing relief. I alternated between prayer, the mantra “my faith is stronger than my fear”, and a few extremely loud obscenities. After the baby’s head crowned, there was a little voice in the back of my head telling me to slow down, but my body had none of it. The baby slid out with one mighty push, and I heard the words “It’s a girl!” Our baby was quickly handed to the nursery team, but was handed back to me almost immediately as wasn’t suffering from any complications related to the meconium. I had originally included immediate skin-on-skin contact as part of my birth plan, but that didn’t matter now. I held my little burrito babe in my arms, and started to sing “The Rainbow Connection”, a song that had been sung to her so many times before. My little family of two was now a family of three. The road we took to get here wasn’t the trip I had planned, but the few detours along the way were worth it. Georgia Cadence was here. I could now add “mama” to my resume alongside theatre artist and educator.