The last weeks of my pregnancy went by as if I was underwater. Each day dragged on and with every hour that passed without so much as a Braxton Hicks I became more uncomfortable. I tried hard not to be impatient, though I suspected (and was right) that I would go pretty far past my 'guess date'. Friends and family sent messages daily enquiring about the whereabouts of the baby, which I appreciated but found also made me anxious. I felt open to whatever birth experience was coming my way—I just didn't want to be induced.
On June 30th, 8 days past my due date with no signs that I was anywhere close to going into labour, we went to BC Women's early in the morning for a routine check-up they give to women who go past 41 weeks. I first had an ultrasound to check fluid levels and everything looked good. We went down the hall to have an NST done. They got me all hooked up and within 5 minutes things started happening. The nurses started to look concerned and were having me move from my right to my left side. Out of nowhere someone slapped an oxygen mask over my face and they started to wheel me away down the hall. I really didn't know what was going on but this strange sense of calm came over me. I could feel him kicking away as normal so I wasn't very alarmed. Andy chased after us and they explained that his heartbeat had decelerated way down and didn't come back up to totally "normal" range. There was mention of a c-section then. It was a little shocking. We didn't have anything packed because we thought we'd be in and out in an hour and back home waiting another week for him to show up. They wheeled me into the labour & delivery triage and decided to monitor me for a few more hours because he hadn't had any more big decelerations. Over those hours he did continue to drop down into the 90s but would come back up right away and they didn't seem that concerned. His heart rate was a little slower than what's considered 'normal' but after a few hours they realized that was normal for him. They weren't happy to leave it any longer, and so, I was induced. Of course.
And of course I didn't mind nearly as much as I thought I would. They wanted him out and so did I, for his safety. They induced me using Cervidil, which is like a small tampon of medication they stick up beside the cervix. The first dose could take 12 hours and I would come back to get a second or third dose if nothing was happening—essentially, it could be days until he was finally born. We left the hospital around noon and settled in to wait the induction out. That afternoon we ate a big meal of pasta (for energy) and both took a nap. Nothing was happening. When we woke up I made dinner and started to feel like maybe something was starting but it was so vague. We went to bed and things just got weird. My stomach was hardening for minutes and minutes. I wasn't recognizing any type of "contractions" or "rushes"; the sensations were constant, but I see now that they were intensifying steadily and slowly. I wasn't in much discomfort but we called our doula and the hospital because it didn't feel right. The doctors had said that Cervidil can hyperstimulate the uterus causing these types of mega-contractions so we were on the lookout. I got in the bath, Andy lit candles and we knew these were the last moments at home just the two of us. Then it was around 11pm and time to go back to the hospital to get my bizarre contractions checked out.
In triage at the hospital things started to get real. They had me hooked up to the TOCO monitor which outputs a graph of your contractions and they were continuous peaks, climbing and barely ever dropping down very far. This was just a taste of what was to come. The Cervidil had fallen out of place at some point, which I am now thankful for, and they considered placing another dose because I was still only 1cm dilated. There was talk of sending me home with morphine and I didn't want this but I wasn't being a very good advocate for myself in the midst of my mountain peak contractions. One of the OBs finally took a close look at the fetal heart rate monitor and the TOCO output and realized sending me home wasn't in the cards. He was still decelerating and my contractions were getting intense so I was admitted to keep an eye on his heart. It was around 1am now and I was already tired and experiencing contractions that didn't make sense. I'm pretty sure they all thought I was exaggerating because they basically left us alone with a nurse who checked in here and there, all night, while I laboured and huffed laughing gas incessantly. Andy watched the graph of my contractions climbing and climbing and did his best to help me through. One contraction would easily last 20 minutes before dipping down briefly and climbing straight back up. It was just me and Andy. I'm grateful now for those moments of focus and solitude and companionship despite the incredible pain I experienced, because the rest of the birth was the opposite.
I laboured through the night with only laughing gas for relief. Laughing gas does basically nothing except distract you, and it made all of my limbs and my neck and head tingle and buzz unpleasantly, but it was all I had. I may have had a bit too much. My body was being ripped apart and my mind was flying. I used it unapologetically to focus my breathing, inhaling deeply and exhaling with insane noises. I was groaning, screaming into the mouth piece with every breath and that's pretty much how I made it through till morning. By 4 or 5am I had had enough and asked for an epidural. I was silly and should have asked long before, but when they checked me before the anesthesiologist came around 7am maybe, I was still at 2cm. I'm sure they still all thought I was exaggerating. When the anesthesiologist finally got everything set up and they checked again 40 minutes later I was at 8cm. That was horrible. And yet my darkest moments were the ones spent waiting for the epidural to be inserted, trying to sit still on the edge of my bed while my body ripped itself in two. I felt like I wanted to die, like there was no way I would be able to wait even one more second or stay still enough for the needle to go in the right place. I think I was crying. My contractions had been relentless for so many hours and I couldn't fathom the thought of doing any more and I was exhausted. The epidural took a while to start working and when it did there was still a strip across my abdomen that seemed immune to the medication, but it was SO MUCH BETTER. That epidural was like a gift from God to me. Honestly. I could not have pushed without it.
We settled in to wait a bit and FINALLY, mostly pain-free, I went to sleep. What an incredible feeling. Things were calm and my doula and my mom had arrived. We were going to meet our son and there was finally the excitement I had been hoping for. There were some jokes and funny conversations, and they tested my epidural in a way I still think is so cool. The nurse put an ice cube on my leg and I could feel the sensation of the cold but not her poking me or pinching me in the same spot. So strange. I felt a little more energized and a little 'push-y'. They broke my water at 9:10am and then it was time to push. I'm so thankful for the epidural because I was able to move around, squat and change positions, but I could only feel the contractions vaguely, just enough to know when to push. The break from the unending pain was kind of like a vacation.
Pushing is crazy. It is for sure the hardest I've ever worked at anything. I put every ounce of energy I had left into trying to get our boy out of me, but it just wasn't working. I pretty much went to sleep between each push I was so tired, and I could focus on only two things—sipping Powerade and pushing with all of my might. Time disappeared into a vacuum. It was so incredibly hard. We were trying everything. I was squatting and half-standing and using the waterski rope and all kinds of other things I've probably forgotten. I felt like it had only been half an hour when I thought to ask but it had been over 2 hours. Oh man. There had been a few times where everyone had gotten excited and I felt like I was making good progress and I must have been close. To hear you're still so far after so much physical exertion...there's nothing like it. Nothing like putting absolutely everything into something, thinking you're almost there, then hearing it's been 3 freaking hours and they're not happy with your progress. That was really discouraging. But I kept going, even as the epidural weakened because I forgot to press the top-up button for an hour and the last of my energy was spent. I am forever indebted to my cheer squad, made up of Andy, my mom and my doula. They held my legs, got me ice chips and fed me Powerade, counted for me and cheered loud. It was special to have my mom there helping me while I experienced the insanity she went through to birth me. That's a pretty humbling feeling. I'm so thankful to my doula Raquel who was such a positive and powerful presence in the room, helping me to dig in for a tiny bit more when all I wanted was to give up. I couldn't and wouldn't have done it without their support.
Alas, the doctors were still concerned about his heart rate, which had been decelerating intermittently throughout the entire labour, so nearing the 4 hour mark of pushing they couldn't take it anymore and the OB called it. He just wasn't descending and they wanted to try forceps. If that failed it was going to be a c-section—he needed to come out now.
Hearing the C-word after pushing for all of eternity was disappointing but I was so out of it I think it barely registered. Talk of forceps probably should have alarmed me but I remember just being relieved that they were going to help me. I so badly wanted him out. They topped up my epidural (hallelujah) and a resident OB (I think) performed a traumatizing exam to assess the exact position of his head in the canal, to make sure that forceps would work. It was long and she had her arms in there and when she was done I bled a lot. Thankfully I couldn't feel a thing and I also didn't notice the blood but Andy and everyone else could. When they moved me onto the gurney to take me to the OR for the procedure I saw the huge amount of blood left on my bed but again, it really didn't register. It was like my mind was detached from my body. I think I fell asleep on the way to the operating room. (They do 'trial of forceps' in the OR so if it doesn't work they can go straight to cesarean.) I definitely was in and out of consciousness as they got everything ready. It's cold in the OR. They had my legs up on stirrups with my feet in these warmed boots that looked like snowboarding boots. (That was probably the best part.) I was shaking uncontrollably from the epidural and adrenaline, my teeth clacking together and my eyes probably rolling back in my head every couple minutes. I was so cold and more exhausted than I knew was physically possible. I remember being genuinely afraid I would sleep through my baby being born.
After what felt like forever, Andy came in and the OB clanged her two giant stainless steel prongs together and went to work. I was thankful we'd passed around a set of forceps in our prenatal class cause those things look so medieval, it's a little frightening. She got them in place and we waited for a contraction. As it came I pushed as hard as I could while she pulled a little and then removed the forceps. (It was so fast. My birth summary paper lists the 3rd stage duration as 3 minutes, with a 'low' and 'easy' forceps application. I like to think that means I didn't do that bad at pushing after all.) He needed one final push and I am thankful they let me do it myself. And then, just like that, he was out. Huge and goopy and swollen and crying, with a giant conehead I didn't notice in the moment, from being stuck in the canal for so long. The cord was wrapped twice around his body, which probably accounted for his continued heart decels and prevented him from descending enough as I pushed. They placed him on my chest and Andy started weeping right away as the world stood still for our little family. I felt like laughing as I was overcome with gratitude in that moment. He made it safely and we were really, truly together for the first time.
And so, after 13 hours and 8 minutes of labour, at 1:35pm on July 1st, Casper Nicholas was born.
[I am forever grateful for the staff at BC Women's who were just incredible and made a potentially scary labour calm and supported. The photos were taken by my mom, Andy, our doula Raquel and one of our nurses.]