~In the realm of personal experiences, childbirth can be considered especially heinous. In the labour and delivery wing, the badass women who birth children are members of an elite squad known as mothers. These are their stories.~
Except it’s just me and my stories.
Still reading? I didn’t think so.
Ah, the miracle of life. It’s beautiful, in theory. In reality, it is a fairly disturbing ordeal.
I’ve birthed two babies (one quite recently), both without complication. For this, I am grateful. The first birth was typical and slightly medical. It took place in a hospital, there was an induction, an epidural, and then a baby. The second babe was born at a birth centre, no drugs, and then a baby. I could stop there and insert a photo of my newborn, and we could all go about our lives, but clearly that is not what I have planned.
Instead, I’m here to commit the ultimate TMI and give you the juicy deets of my births. I’ve been called a lot of things, but “concise” isn’t one of them, so let’s break this shit down. I love a good birth story, and if you’re still reading, you probably do, too.
If you don’t, stop.
For God’s sake, stop.
My Hospital Birth
With my first son, my water broke at 41 weeks. If you’ve never been pregnant, I’ll convert 41 weeks into a time period you can image — a million f*cking years. Also known as one week overdue.
So, I was at the dog park, waddling like a walrus, when my water broke. I was GBS positive (google that if you’re interested, but it is not very interesting) and had no contractions. This meant that to prevent infection, the health care system likes there to be a baby born in a certain number of hours. We went to the hospital and the midwife told me I could go home and hope labour begins, and if it did, I could have my baby at home or at the birth centre. Or, I could stay put at the hospital and be induced.
What is the birth centre?
The Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre is a midwife-led healthcare facility. It is a birth place option for women experiencing low-risk pregnancies, who are under the care of an Ottawa-area midwife. It is beautiful, free, and comes with a catered meal. And without the option of drugs for pain. At the birth centre, you can order a meal, but not an epidural. Perfect for those who self-soothe with food, like me.
My husband and I had initially dismissed the idea of the birth centre, because it seemed too hippie and not as safe as a hospital setting. But then we toured the facility and were struck with now nice it was. It felt like a five-star hotel, and there was this lovely, calm energy that drew us in. We asked several questions to reduce our ignorance and were pleasantly surprised to leave feeling safe and positive about the idea of welcoming our baby in one of the birthing suites. That’s right, a ~suite~. Cause I’m extra like that.
Sure, there would be no drugs, but I was hoping for an unmedicated birth, so that was fine.
Back to my decision while sitting in the triage exam room of the obstetrics wing of the hospital – should I go home and hope for contractions and a lovely, hippie birth at the birth centre, during which the sun would rise as the baby crowned and I would get through contractions by aligning my chakras in yoga poses? Or, should I stay put, be induced, and get this thing over with?
I knew at that moment that a baby today in a hospital was better than literally anything else happening that day or any future day, including at the birth centre. I looked outside and saw there was a storm a-brewing, and I was just so done with being pregnant that I requested to be induced.
WELP… yikes. After being induced with synthetic hormones, I felt like I was being run over by a train. My contractions were two minutes long, each separated by a 30 second “break” of vomiting. I barely knew where I was, and I was roaming the room, on all fours, making this low grunting/howling noise. So fetch.
This went on for four hours. At the four hour mark, I was crawling along the floor like the creature from The Grudge, moaning and vomiting, when I finally asked for an epidural. My midwife responded, “I’ve already called for the anesthetist.”
Receiving the epidural felt like coming back to life after briefly being dead. I was finally not in pain and not throwing up. I chatted with my husband, we watched some of the baseball game on tv. And then I said, calmly, “I think I need to push now.” And I did, for 45 minutes, and then there was a baby. I felt pressure and pain, but I did not feel like I was suffering. And then I met my baby, and felt glad to be in a hospital because I thought my heart would explode.
My Cavewoman Birth
This time around, I hoped again to have my baby at the birth centre. Why? I don’t know. Cause images of the fireplace, loveseats, sound system, massive hot tub, and king-sized bed danced in my head. I really did not want to be induced again. And I like nice things, so shoot me. But please actually shoot me if you ever see me heading back towards that building. Just kidding!……(?)
Things that go bump in the night
There I was, again 41 weeks pregnant (why must my children torture me?), sleeping at 3am when I was awoken by a contraction that felt like a moderate menstrual cramp. But at 41 weeks pregnant, I was so done with being pregnant that I had begun eyeing things like kitchen tongs for their potential ability to relieve me of my condition, so a moderate cramp felt exciting.
I handled this situation like I always do when something really good or really bad happens in my life: I watched Mean Girls. I perched the iPad on my bedside table, and let it distract me from the mild discomfort of the contractions and the swelling excitement that this could be it! But alas, the contractions went away and I fell asleep even before Regina George kissed Aaron Samuels at the Halloween party.
Whatever, I’m getting cheese fries
When my husband woke up at a humane hour, he asked me if there was anything I needed to feel more comfortable and or to help the time pass. “Pancakes,” was my answer, so we went out for breakfast. The contractions began again. I texted my doula to give her a heads-up that my contractions were 8 minutes apart but that I was eating pancakes through them so they were probably not that bad yet. Around 3pm, I started having contractions that I could not eat, or even talk, through.
Putting the Cave in Cavewoman
When my doula arrived at my house, I had become a self-proclaimed basement dweller. I had retreated into the basement and refused to come out. My doula came downstairs and sat with me. She said that becoming a basement creature (my words, not hers) is very common, because mammals (and humans, in times of yore) retreat to their dwellings to birth, so as to protect their young from predators.
It became clear to me that she didn’t plan to leave, and at one point she said, “You understand that there’s going to be a baby tonight, right?”
Despite being one week past my due date and experiencing low-key contractions for 17 hours, this surprised me. I didn’t want to believe it in case it didn’t happen. But simultaneously, the only thing more horrifying than not having the baby asap was the idea of actually having the baby.
My doula took the job of timing the contractions and this allowed me to let my body do what it wanted to do – hunker down in my cave and let the baby come. After about an hour, my doula said, “I’m calling the midwife, I think it’s time to go. I don’t trust second babies, they show up very quickly sometimes.”
Highway to Hell
In a fun twist of fate, the contractions got much worse as my husband drove us down a road similar in topography to that of the lunar surface. Each dip and climb of the car into these craters felt like I was being stabbed in the vagina by a hot knife. I screamed at the top of my lungs the whole way. I screamed at my husband for driving into the cavernous potholes. I screamed at the city workers for not filling them in before I had to drive down this road with my cervix half open. I screamed that I would be writing a strongly worded letter to my city councilwoman. And I screamed at God himself for allowing the freeze/thaw/expand cycle of water to occur in pavement over the winter and spring. So, yeah, I kept my cool during labour. For sure.
We arrived at the birth centre at about 9pm. We were assigned the biggest birthing suite, which Past Me would have been super stoked about. But at the time, I could not have cared less. All of my instincts were directing me to hunker down and let the baby arrive. I did not gaze at the fireplace or place my head gently on the cushions of the love seat. I did not recline my swollen feet in the arm chair, or melt my weary bones into the fluffy duvet on the king-sized bed.
Instead, I silently made a bee-line for the birthing stool in the corner (think toilet seat on legs), sat on it, and began to moan through my contractions. In that moment, it did not matter to me where I was, only that I was getting through each moment.
Time passed, and I began to feel completely exhausted. I deeply regretted watching Mean Girls at 3am the night before. With a heart full of regret and hatred towards Past Me, I made my way to the recliner, lay on my side, looked out the window into the night and yelled, “I’m jealous of anyone who gets to be asleep right now!”
My midwife told me it wasn’t even 10pm, and most people I knew were probably awake. That made me feel better, for about two seconds. Then the blood-curdling scream of another birthing mother cut through the air. It was so shrill that my midwives (there are two of them at this point) left my suite to go and see if that woman’s midwives needed help. It was at this point that my husband suggested we take advantage of the sound system and listen to some music.
She Who Births the Baby, Calls the Tune
I’m not really a musical person, and we had not curated a special playlist for this occasion. My husband pressed play on a playlist we’d made during our trip to Spain last year – mostly jazzy, instrumental tunes. When the midwives returned, they shuffled to the beat and said that our playlist was a nice break from all of the Enya they are forced to listen to.
I laughed at their jokes about how the playlist was making them crave tapas, but then, without warning to anyone, was struck by a doozy of a contraction and screamed out, “Dying is probably less painful than this!”
Then it passed and we went back to talking about our favourite tapas. Kind of like being at a cocktail party with a senile great-aunt who is prone to expletive outbursts and is off her meds. You love her, but she scares you. That was me.
Fast forward a little time and many contractions later, and I was lying on the bed on my side, holding hands with my husband while he lay next to me, dozing between contractions and breathing deeply through them. I felt more tired that I’d ever felt, and more tired then I’d ever imagined a human being could feel. Weeks later, my midwife noted this moment, the lying on the bed, holding hands, as her favourite of this birth. She said, “You looked so in love and so at peace.” I guffawed and responded, “I was in hell.”
As each contraction arrived, the exhaustion messed with my head and I felt panicky and got all gaspy. My brain was asking, “When will this end?” My doula, who hadn’t left my side for a moment since she joined me in the basement of my house, hours earlier, put her cool hands on my hips and said, “Just do this one contraction. Breath through just this one.” I knew I could do each one, and concentrating on “just this one” seemed doable.
Push It Real Good ~Salt-N-Pepa
At 11:50pm, I felt that it was time to push. Or, rather, I felt that my body was pushing. I believe my exact words were, “The baby is in my bum. The baby is in the basement of this building. The baby has decided to come out my bum. I don’t know how all the pipes work down there, but I’m pretty sure this baby is bum-bound.”
Apparently, that’s not a thing, but it’s a common feeling right before it’s time to push.
The midwives suggested I move to the birthing tub for the pushing part. Many mothers labour for hours in the tub. The tub has been mentioned as one of the main features that attracts mothers to the birth centre. It’s massive and looks like you’re own private oasis. But it wasn’t until the pushing part that it felt like somewhere I wanted to be.
And then I found out why. The tub is massive, and I am floaty. This was not a good combination. You’ll recall that I am in the process of expelling a person from my body, which is no small feat. And speaking of feet, floaty me + massive tub = no place to brace my feet against. I was lying there on my back, with my head in a corner of the tub resting on a pillow my doula had placed there lovingly (which I later, accidentally and unceremoniously, threw at her face), my arms along the sides, and my feet floating along the top of the water.
To combat this precarious situation, my brain decided to fall asleep. That’s right, as this floaty moment was occurring between contractions, and I was exhausted to the bone, my brain checked out and fell into a deep sleep… for about 10 seconds. But man, I swear I slipped right into REM sleep because when I woke up to the blinding pain of another contraction, my brain had no idea what was happening and decided to have the world’s shortest, and maybe loudest, panic attack. As I felt the baby descend farther down the birth canal, I screamed at the top of my lungs, “What is happening?”
Getting My Sea Legs
In the fog of pain, I heard my doula whisper lovingly but firmly, directly into my ear, “Take a deep breath in. You are safe. We are here with you. The baby is coming. You can do this. Now breath out slowly.” This doula saved my life a hundred times that night.
The contraction eased away, and I said, “Who is going to catch the baby?”
My midwife leaned down and said, “You are!”
This seemed unlikely. My legs were floating in front of me. My hands were gripping the sides of the tub. If I let go to reach down to catch the baby, I was definitely going to float away with the current. I tried to explain this to my midwife but was gripped by another contraction and instead gulped out the words, “I can’t.”
She thought I was talking about the pain of pushing, not the physical impossibility of me catching the baby whilst not drowning in the tub, and responded, “You can do this!”
Ugh, I thought, no time to explain.
I went into full cavewoman instinct mode and flipped myself around, such that my arms and shoulders were out of the tub and I was leaning on the edge with my armpits. Kinda like I was ordering a drink while in the hot tub on Bachelor in Paradise.
My husband was right there, and I held his hands.
My knees were on the floor of the tub, and though my midwife said, “Great position choice. Now, you can reach back and catch your baby.” I cocked my head back, looked her dead in the eyes and said in deep, guttural voice, “YOU CATCH THE BABY.”
I turned back, looked at my husband’s encouraging (and low-key terrified) face. And then it dawned on me that the rest was up to me. And that the only way out of this wretched pain was through it.
I have a notoriously low pain tolerance, I have the self-discipline of a toddler, and I have cheated during every single workout I’ve ever done, so this felt very scary. But I knew that unlike secretly turning down the resistance dial on my bike during spin class, I couldn’t fake my way through childbirth. I was going to have to turn up the pain dial by pushing this baby out, and I was going to have to do it all on my own. The only way to make it better was to make it worse.
I didn’t think I could do it.
So I did it.
And after I pushed through that blinding pain, I exhaled, smiled slightly, and felt ready to meet my baby. But then my midwife said, “Good, good. And now, push out the shoulders and the rest of the body.”
That final push was powered by anger and spite for the whole birthing process. And I felt those shoulders. I felt those elbows. I felt those hips and those knobby knees. I felt every f*cking toe. Unmedicated childbirth is no joke and it shocks me to my core that humans have lasted as long as we have, given this hellish process is responsible for the propagation of the species. That is what I was thinking as my baby was being born.
My husband tells me that his first glimpse of the baby was the little guy’s arms and legs spreading straight out in the water, like a baby orangutan, flying through the jungle from tree to tree.
Babies born in water don’t inhale until they hit the air, and he did a big inhale as my midwife pulled him up and thrust him towards me.
However, I, ever the graceful flower, had somehow gotten my leg entangled in the umbilical cord while flipping around from being on my knees to sitting on my bum in the pool.
My doula saved the day (again), by freeing my leg, so that I could enjoy my first moment with my baby without worrying that I would strangle him and simultaneously drown my own self.
For someone who used to be a lifeguard, I had many near-drowning experiences during my 10 minute stint in that tub.
As my midwife handed me the baby, I muttered, “I don’t remember how to hold a newborn!”
She pressed the baby against my chest, released her grip, and said, “Figure it out!”
Words cannot describe this moment, so I won’t try.
The pain was gone, the baby was with me, and I felt the wave of euphoria of no longer being pregnant. I don’t hate being pregnant. But I do hate being 41 weeks pregnant, and that was over and it already (20 second in) felt fantastic.
But then, my midwife, aka Debbie Downer, gently cooed, “Okay, it’s time to start to think about pushing out the placenta.”
I replied with a very clear, “No.”
I spent the next ten minutes ignoring the contractions that were trying to expel the placenta from my body. I didn’t want any more pain.
I tried to negotiate. I asked my midwife if she could just pull out the placenta by the umbilical cord and she said no. I changed tacks and asked if we could let it fall out in its own good time. Again, she said no.
I asked if it was going to hurt when I pushed it out, cause I had no plans to go down that road again. She replied with an honest, but sneaky, “There are no bones in the placenta.”
What a crock of sh*t.
I pushed it out while staring daggers at her. As I pushed, I yelled, “It’s bigger than you led me to belieeeeeve!” And it was done.
Happy Birthday, let’s eat!
Then things got fun. Finally.
The midwives and doula helped me from the pool, like the scene in which they pull Free Willy from the water tank to take him to freedom. My husband, the baby, and I snuggled up in the king sized bed. A catered meal was ordered and delivered. We settled on a name and phoned our parents, talking to them in hushed, gleeful voices.
Once my blood pressure, etc, was in good shape, my doula led me to the big shower with the rain shower head. I sat on the a stool and she bathed me like I was Cleopatra. She wrapped me in a warm towel, and helped me put on clean clothes. She brushed my f*cking hair.
We all sat by the fireplace for a few minutes, admiring the baby. Someone from the birth centre came by and took our photo for the wall of fame, and I pretend that never happened because it was the absolute worst photo I’ve ever seen of myself. Oh yes, worse than the candid during-birth photos above. You’d think my narcissism could take a break at this moment if no other. But you’d be wrong.
I then mentally prepared to stand up again, and my husband re-packed our bag. I hadn’t needed any of the $54 worth of snacks I’d bought at Wal-mart the week before, so back in the bag they went. Pringles? What the actual f*ck was I thinking childbirth would be like?
And just like that, 6 hours after we’d arrived, and 2.5 hours after the little orangutan was born, we were heading back home. With enough Pringles to supply the food table at a frat party.
Welcome home, little one
I was tired and elated. My doula gently coaxed my weary bones upstairs and into bed. My husband slipped in next to me. We cooed at the little baby asleep on my chest. And then my husband fell asleep and started snoring. He wouldn’t wake up when I spoke, and then yelled, his name. I couldn’t reach him to poke him because he was too far away and I was trapped under this tiny baby. So instead, I lay there hating him for the remaining two hours of the night. If I killed him, I wondered, would I be acquitted? Surely a jury would be sympathetic, given I’d just gone through the ordeal of childbirth. Marriage is weird.
And then my other baby woke up, and we were four.
“I hear you bore him in the water?” -actual question posed to me
When I tell people the key points of my birth story (birth centre, unmedicated, water birth), they seem impressed. Which is weird for me. One friend exclaimed, “You were at the birth centre, and you delivered in the tub! You had the birth we’re all told to want.”
Hmmm. On paper, yes…?
Putting aside that the birth was healthy, normal, and that I felt safe, I’m not so sure the location mattered in the end to me. Upon reflection, I truly believe that I could have been hunkered down under a highway overpass, for all I cared at the time.
My takeaways from my medicated, hospital birth and my unmedicated, hippie, cavewoman birth are as follows:
1) There is no easy way to have a baby
2) Epidurals are among the greatest achievements of modern medicine
3) It feels cool to have also had an unmedicated badass water birth (feels cool now, NOT AT THE TIME)
4) The birth centre is a beautiful place to be in horrific pain.
Just before falling madly in love.