My littlest man is
two three four weeks old. ← That’s how many times I’ve started writing this! I’ve been desperate to get my birth story down so I don’t forget one single detail. Not an easy feat with three boys demanding my attention now!
On to my birth story….
I wanted to be this:
But instead I was this:
So that will give you an indication of how this story is going to unfold!!
My birth plan was locked down. My husband, Jon, and three midwives (Head midwife Heather, back-up midwife Pauline, and student midwife Jana) knew the birth I was envisioning: natural and calm. My first labour and delivery had been fast and intense and I had been very unprepared for it. Frankly I was traumatized and felt every caregiver involved had let me down. My second was also fast and intense… That is, until I was given an epidural. After my second son was born I was wondering where the easy button was.
I had decided to go the natural route. This is because I would be delivering the baby in New Zealand, where, unlike Canada, “light” epidurals are not possible – they only offer the full meal deal. Sounds great, right? Not so much… The likelihood of further interventions goes waaaay up. The caesarian rate at the local hospital consistently hovers between 40-50%.
This is what I planned on using for pain management – essential oils, reading positive birth affirmations, a birthing playlist of relaxing music, and, of course, the calming water of the birthing pool. I would labour at home as long as possible and after having the baby in hospital planned to leave as soon as they would set me free! A few short hours after my perfect labour and delivery I would skip merrily home with my perfect baby. I giggle a bit thinking of that now.
On the evening of my due date my husband and I watched a movie and went to bed. I was feeling a bit depressed. I didn’t expect the baby to be early, or to arrive on time for that matter, but I was just SO sick of being pregnant. Many women, myself included, get stuck on “that date” and any moment we have to carry the baby longer is excruciating. I took a photo of myself and posted it online right before I turned in. “Good night 40 weeks baby!! Tomorrow you’ll officially be overdue!”
At 1AM I awoke during my first contraction. Here was my thought process: “was that real? Nah, that’s fake. I’m going back to sleep….” Then a few minutes later: “ouch. That was extremely uncomfortable. Oh boy… Is this it?” Another few minutes went by and another contraction took hold. “This is IT.”
I woke up Jon. “’I’m having contractions. Real ones I think.” He was weirdly calm. This wasn’t his first rodeo!!! I headed for the shower because I knew we had awhile to wait and the warm water would help me through the pain of the next few. Jon came in to the bathroom to check the time between my contractions. “Okay tell me when the next one starts.” “It’s starting!” I gasped as the pain took hold. I saw the panic creep onto his face… Only a minute and thirty seconds had passed.
Jon paged the midwife and got ahold of our friend Nurit, who was coming to stay with the two older boys. I texted Jana, who is a great friend but also a student midwife that I had decided I wanted to be with me through my labour (“a friend?!?” You’re exclaiming… Some may find it strange, but you haven’t met Jana!).
My “back-up” midwife Pauline (my main midwife Heather was away at a conference. I have the worst luck!) arrived at 2:15AM, followed by Nurit. Pauline did some checks, including my cervix. I was five centimeters dilated after an hour of contractions… I knew it was going to be quick. Jon, Pauline and Nurit had coffee while I paced back and forth across the living room. Paced and breathed. So far so good, I thought… And was feeling quite proud of myself.
Jon asked if I wanted my playlist on…. Nope. I wanted silence. So much for the hours I agonized over the perfect birthing playlist! And essential oils were the furthest thing from my mind.
As my contractions started to get more intense the world around me melted away. I was in my own space that included my baby, my body, and me.
You don’t really think during the throes of labour. You feel. And you act. Everything becomes instinctual. I knew I needed silence to focus. I knew I needed to pace. I knew staying upright and moving around would help the baby descend but it was also what felt natural to me.
As each contraction was mounting I would tell myself, “just walk around the room twice. By the time you do that it will be done.” So I would walk, clutching my belly, breathing deeply, and telling myself “you’re body is doing what it’s supposed to. Don’t fight it. Let the pain pass through you.” And by the time I was back where I started I would be catching my breath and preparing for the next one. I took it contraction by contraction, not letting myself think about what lay ahead.
I knew it was important to not fight the contractions. I knew it was important that my uterus do its work before I started pushing. I knew I had to trust my body and that it was perfectly capable of delivering me a healthy baby. But… As the minutes ticked by and the contractions became more painful, I felt a panic rising inside of me. The pain… You can’t explain it to someone who’s never experienced it. It’s like being stabbed in the abdomen over and over or gutted like a fish… And even though I had felt it before I was still shocked at how horrible it was. I’m sad to say that I started to lose faith in myself. I lost focus. I let my mind wander into dangerous territory: “this is going to get much MUCH worse before you’re through.” I started to tell myself I couldn’t do it.
By the time we were ready to transfer to the hospital I was struggling to cope. I was filled with despair as I realized I couldn’t, wouldn’t be able to do it in the natural state I had planned. “Pauline, I’ve changed my mind. I want an epidural.” I was practically begging her. She nodded, seemed to understand that I had turned a corner not just in my labour but also in my head… “Let’s try a few things when we get to the hospital. Then decide if you still want the epidural.”
On the way to the hospital, which is about a five-minute drive at 3AM, Jon had to stop three times for me to jump out. I couldn’t fathom being confined to the vehicle during a contraction. I needed out in the air, I needed to walk, I needed to moan and groan and cry and howl at the moon. My contractions were continuing to come very frequently. I barely had time to recover from one when the next one was beginning. I would feel it coming and think “no, no, please no, I can’t do it…” I was feeling totally defeated.
Jana met us at the entrance to the maternity ward. It was 3:15 AM, just a few hours after my first contraction, but to me it felt like I’d been laboring for days. I was pleading for the epidural within seconds of entering the delivery suite. Pauline suggested I try gas as an alternative but I couldn’t stand it – I couldn’t stand being in one spot huffing into a piece of plastic with all of that intensity moving through my body. On my own initiative I went into the bathroom and got into the shower. I put the shower nozzle directly on my belly but it provided little relief. I got out. I got back in. I got out again. I was a mess. I didn’t know what to do. I just wanted it to STOP. Pauline checked my cervix again. She told me I was very, very close and if I could be strong for a little while longer it would soon be over. I knew that if I had the epidural there were risks and I would also have to remain completely still on the bed while they administered it… But in those moments I didn’t care. Again, I insisted on it. I could see something in Pauline’s eyes, doubt and maybe fear… But she left to notify the anesthetist. Later I found out that 100% of Pauline’s patients that had had epidurals that year had required further interventions – forceps or caesarians. No wonder she was fearful.
Meanwhile Jana was filling the birthing pool. I was still pacing the length of the room and crying out as each contraction took hold. At the peak of each I was almost paralyzed with pain. Pauline came back and told us the anesthetist was on his way, but had another woman to attend to first. I could have died in that moment. I knew my window of opportunity was closing very quickly. I was panicking and wanted to lay the blame with someone. I went to Jon and whispered “please Jon, please get me the epidural. I feel like they’re trying to keep it from me. And I want it. I can’t do this. Please you have to speak up for me.”
I agreed to get into the pool. I believe in that time Jon had words with Pauline and Jana in the next room regarding the epidural but there wasn’t much to be done. It definitely wasn’t the conspiracy I had convinced myself of. Today when I think of Jon sticking up for me, knowing full well I was out of my mind, I’m filled with warmth! I married the right man. He would do anything for me. I know he feels helpless when I’m in labour and I know he thought it was the one thing he might be able to do for me.
As I stepped into the pool I accepted my fate. The likelihood of the anesthetist arriving before the baby was born was unlikely, and the chances of me being able to hold absolutely still while they administered it were zero. I immersed myself in the water of the pool and thought, “when I get out, it will be with my baby in my arms. Not long now.” At some point Pauline came to me and told me they needed to start getting the IV ready for the epidural. I shook my head… I was staying put.
I was surprised to learn that the birthing pool felt all wrong to me. Why wasn’t it taking the pain away? It was hot, too hot…. The heat made me feel agitated. I cranked on the cold. When the next contraction came I literally pushed my belly directly under the freezing stream of water. It helped, but barely. I wanted to punch something so I punched the water. I must have soaked Jon, Jana, and Pauline, as well as made a disaster of that room. But again, you don’t think when your in labour, you act.
I was in my own world again. I could hear Pauline and Jana’s encouraging voices, but it wasn’t clear what was being said. Mostly my eyes were closed as I did what I could to cope with each contraction. As the water cooled I became more comfortable in it. What felt good for me was holding onto the side of the tub, belly down. The water gives you a weightless feeling and you are able to move your body into whatever position you need to. Jon sat on a chair beside the tub. He kept quiet but leaned in towards me, putting his hand on mine when he could. That’s all I needed to know that I wasn’t alone.
Finally that overwhelming feeling came over me: it was time to push. I don’t know how women know, but we do. I put my head in my hands on the edge of the tub. I knew this was the moment we had all gathered here for. The moment Jon and I had waited nine long months for. But it would be the most difficult part of the whole journey. I cried and I thought, I can’t… I can’t do it. I was exhausted. I felt beaten.
Pauline reached into the tub to check the position of the baby. She told me “Jen, the baby is RIGHT there. Just a couple pushes and you’ll be done.” I knew that it was the only way through this. Pauline warmed up the water to prepare for the baby’s arrival as I gathered my strength. I could still feel Jon’s hand on mine, squeezing encouragement. I envisioned the beautiful baby I was about to meet. With the next contraction I pushed with all my strength, cried and screamed and pushed… My body was consumed by a burning feeling as if I had been lit on fire. And that is when our baby entered the world. Pauline told me “just one more push to finish!” I remember thinking, no, it can’t be… One? I can do one!
I pushed again with all I had, but this time a renewed energy knowing I was at the finish line. I could feel as the entity inside me passed completely through and I was suddenly empty. I collapsed against the side of the tub, my body slack with exhaustion and relief. Pauline placed the baby in my arms. I was shaking and tearful, but so overwhelmed with love. He looked up at me – I didn’t need to check if it was a boy, I knew – then he closed his eyes and went back to sleep, curled up in my embrace.
Our third baby boy was born on August 14th, 2013 at Queen Mary Hospital in Dunedin, New Zealand. He arrived at 4:08AM after three hours of labour but less than five minutes of pushing. He weighed 9lbs, 3 ounces. We named him Brandon Matthew Campbell.
We’ve all been waiting for you.
Your arrival has been marked, has been recorded
in the universe,
in the galaxies,
in all of space,
in all of time.