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Thursday, 18 October 2018

My Childbirth Story + Lessons Learned

Hi, everyone! Baby Ro is now nearly 5 months old (time is flying!) and I finally feel I have the time and clarity to share with you the story of her birth and some of the lessons I learned along the way. I've told the story to several friends and family members, but there's something therapeutic about properly documenting the experience and sharing it more widely. I hope you find it interesting and helpful, especially if you're a parent or parent-to-be!

Disclaimers before I continue: 

The following sequence of events played out with the guidance of my healthcare team and was in line with my specific needs and history. When you're going into labour, always listen to your team and don't consider my specific timeline as advice :)

Also, I'll be going into some detail about bodily fluids and sensations/pain as well as medical procedures- in case you are squeamish or if these might be triggering for you. 

I'll also be showing some real-life photos from shortly after her birth. Nothing graphic, but some shots from the OR and certainly nothing edited or glamorous. 

Finally- buckle up. Grab a tea. This is a long one! 

My water broke just after midnight and in dramatic fashion. Rewind five minutes: I was a day past my due date and, despite frequent cramps and other discomforts, I had not experienced anything that I could recognize as a contraction. I knew they would be something long and distinct enough to time and I'd yet to feel anything that wasn't super fleeting. I was lying in bed doing a Sudoku puzzle on my phone (as I do), when suddenly I felt a different type of cramp. It slowly came on, hung on for 30 seconds or so, then faded. It was mild, but distinct. I think I had my first contraction!, I thought. Seconds later I felt a gentle popping feeling near my cervix and I had a feeling that something was up. Is this it? I stood up and felt a huge gush of water pour down. I had just emptied my bladder so I knew what this was- my water broke with the epic force seen in t.v. and movies. There was no mistaking it. I called my husband and he helped me to the bathroom. Over the next hour or so there were a few more gushes to deal with- I had no idea there was so much fluid to lose! Luckily, I had some adult diapers on hand (after hearing just how glamorous the postpartum period would be), which saved the sheets. I called my midwife immediately after the first gush. She said that, since I had not had any further contractions, I should just try to get some sleep and that she'd visit first thing in the morning (but to of course call back if the contractions returned). 

One might expect that my water breaking would have led to some anxiety and panic, but it actually brought about an unexpected calm. I found the end of pregnancy quite nerve-wracking (I mean, the fact that baby could come at any time- maybe today, maybe in a week- is quite a trip!). But when my water broke that uncertainty was so relieved- I knew that this 
baby was coming soon!

My last good belly shot- 2 weeks before Ro arrived 

I didn't have any further contractions overnight and maybe scrounged about 3-4 hours of sleep (yes, a calm washed over me, but I wasn't fully zen- I was also pretty excited and antsy!). My midwife arrived around 8am that Tuesday morning and confirmed that my water had indeed broken (no duh- I could've flooded the condo ;)) and let me know what patterns of contractions to look out for. I'd heard that you have to give birth within 24 hours of your water breaking, but she said that I could go a bit beyond this- the most important thing was to listen to my body and to get in touch when my contractions become strong and were coming every 4-5 minutes

At that point, a bit of impatience set in. The day felt like a total waiting game. I started to experience quite mild and sporadic contractions late morning, which gradually intensified throughout the afternoon. I tried to nap but my nerves got the best of me and mild contractions would wake me every so often. I made sure my hospital bag was all ready to go and tried to eat lots, as I didn't know if I could eat once I got to the hospital. 

Come evening, my contractions started to get more intense and to last a bit longer. I remember having to pause our episodes of Breaking Bad to breathe through them. I took a shower and changed into some clothes for the hospital. Then suddenly around 11:00pm my contractions went from every 20 minutes to every 3-7 minutes. This has to be it! I called the midwife and she said I needed to wait another hour to ensure that this pattern was persisting so that I didn't go to the hospital too soon. More waiting! Over the coming hour, the contractions started getting a lot more painful- I really had to start breathing and have Adam rub my shoulders during them- so I called the midwife back and said I was heading to the hospital. Ah, heading to the hospital! Since it's the future, we grabbed our bags and hopped into an Uber. I remember the driver being very kind and calm in the face of his customer being in labour. I had a few contractions in the car and Adam let me squeeze his hand. We got to the hospital around 1am and my midwife met us there. 

In terms of a birth plan, I was planning to give birth vaginally, if possible, and to forego any pain management for as long as I could (e.g., to avoid an epidural unless pain was unbearable and/or if labour persisted for some time). I thought it was important to empower myself with a preference for how my childbirth would go, but at the same time I wanted to allow for some flexibility so that I wouldn't be crushed if things didn't go as planned. I know that sometimes our bodies have plans of their own, so I also prepared myself for some unpredictability. 

Once registered at the hospital, the midwife started monitoring mine and baby's heart rate and checked me for dilation. I'd been having painful, frequent contractions for a few hours at this point, so my stomach sank when the midwife said I was only 1cm dilated. Really?! She said that given that I wasn't too far along yet, I had two options: 1) to take some pain medication and go home to wait things out or 2) to get an epidural and try to get some sleep until labour became more active. Although it had been my ideal to avoid an epidural, if possible, I decided to go for option 2. I chose this because a) I really did not want to go back home and have to come back and b) I was in lots of pain and had hardly slept the past 24 hours, so I decided to give myself a break

Once you decide on an epidural, your midwife defers your care to an obstetrician and anesthesiologist (though, wonderfully, she still stays with you for support). Shortly after I decided to proceed with pain management, the midwife let me know that the o.b. was in back-to-back surgeries and would not be able to do my epidural for a little while. I took a deep breath and tried not to panic. You wanted to really feel labour presently and mindfully, so now you'll get to do it, at least for the next little bit! Over the next two hours I really did get to experience active labour in all its excruciating glory. The contractions intensified and started coming every 2-4 minutes. They were a mixture of strong pain and pressure and would build up gradually, last for 1-2 minutes, and then start to fade. I found that the pain was most manageable while standing up and rocking side-to-side, so that's how I stayed. Adam rubbed my shoulders during them and I did my best to breathe deeply and slowly. I remember Adam bringing me a yogurt cup during this time and me feeling very grateful that I could have a little bite to eat, despite the pain. 

At around 4am the doctor and anesthesiologist come into my room and I finally anticipated some sweet relief. I thought I would be more nervous for the epidural (it's inserted into your spine), but at that point the contractions hurt so much that a needle in the back felt like child's play. The doctor first inserted the port for the epidural in my back (staying totally still during a contractions was fun- eek!) and said that before they could administer the medication they had to double-check my blood pressure and baby's heart rate. I was fine, but the external monitor kept showing baby's heart at around 100 bpm, which is lower than they would like. They then attempted to measure it internally (via the top of baby's head), but I started getting the sense that they still weren't happy with what they were getting.

In the course of 10 minutes I went from the midwife saying "soon you'll be able to relax and sleep" to the room being crowded with doctors and nurses. It started to sink in- something is not right here. People look concerned. Luckily my midwife, at a previous appointment, had gone through the various scenarios that might warrant an emergency c-section, a low fetal heart rate being one of them. Also, everything happened so quickly that I didn't have a ton of time to panic. My midwife shortly after confirmed with me that I needed to have a c-section because, no matter how they tried, baby's heart rate was not fast enough. I was soon wheeled quickly into the hallway, doors crashing open ahead of me, as in a medical drama. I'd be lying if I said no frightful thoughts entered my mind, but I did my best to keep hopeful and to keep breathing.

They got me onto the operating table and set up the curtain above my waist (typical for c-sections, so that you can't see the procedure while it's happening- good call). I had had no pain medication at this point, so the freezing the anesthesiologist administered was the first bit of numbing I'd experienced. Unfortunately, no one prepared me for the fact that even with the local anesthetic, you can still feel a great deal of the c-section- lots of pressure and some dull, but notable pain. As I hadn't expected this at all (I thought I'd feel nothing), I started to panic and yell "I can feel it! I can feel it!" (to the horror of Adam, waiting outside). The anesthesiologist was patient and kind and tried to convince me that lots of pressure was totally normal.

Then I heard it. The doctors exclaiming that baby was out and totally fine. I heard her crying for the first time, before I could see her, and I don't know if I'd ever felt so much relief in my life. Rowan Joan was born at 5:09am on Wednesday, May 23rd, weighing 6lbs 4oz. She came about 29 hours after my water broke, the culmination of a whirlwind, near-sleepless day. She came two days after my due date and was tiny, but perfect. 

Meeting baby for the first time :)

Can you tell I had two doses of anesthetic, lol? A beautiful moment nonetheless. 

Adam had been let into the operating room during the c-section and soon I could see him looking at her and the joy and love on his face was everything. They took baby Rowan over to a station where they cleaned her and did their initial checks. I could tell that there was no further concern or emergency, so I could finally breathe easy. Until I realized that I could not feel myself breathing. Because I panicked during the c-section, the anesthesiologist gave me a second dose of freezing and now I could only feel my face and hands. As much as I wanted to bask in these first moments of Rowan's life, I was all of a sudden concerned for myself. I felt almost totally numb and worried that something was going wrong with me. As someone who gets panic attacks, it was incredibly anxiety-provoking to not be able to feel myself breathing and to not be able to move anything aside from my hands and face. The anesthesiologist assured that it was only the extra freezing, that I was breathing fine, and that it would start to wear off in an hour or so.

The next half an hour was a bit of a blur, as I tried to calm myself down while being present for this incredible moment. I remember the midwife teaching Adam how to put on Rowan's diaper, which I razzed him about because he was was squeamish about diapers. I do remember the midwife laying Rowan on my chest for the first time. What an amazing mix of emotions. I felt so much love, but it was also incredibly surreal and clouded by the fact that my chest was still numb and I could not feel her lying there. Eventually, Adam held her beside me so I could fully take her in. She was beautiful and she was here! 

After they stitched me up and Rowan was fully tended to, they wheeled me out of the OR and the three of us were brought to a private recovery room. They laid Rowan on my chest as we were wheeled there, and I remember her sneezing along the way. Her first sneeze- so soon! So cute! That time in the recovery room was the magic that I had hoped for that I could not soak in right after surgery. The freezing began to wear off and I was able to have skin-to-skin contact with her on my chest and feel every moment. I called my parents and shared the good news. Adam brought me a muffin and I was able to enjoy a few bites. Things still felt surreal for sure, but I was able to feel present and calm and happy. We were now a family of three!

Since this has been such a long post, I will end the story there for now, but here's my quick take on lessons learned from my childbirth experience:

1) Have a birth plan but allow for things to not turn out as planned. I do think it is empowering to be able to map out and express your desires for childbirth. To take ownership over what happens to your body during this incredible and often stressful experience is your right. That said, I have heard stories from several mothers who felt devastated when their labours did not go as planned. Please don't beat up on yourself if there needs to be a change in plan- baby and your body often have an agenda of their own. The most important thing is that everyone is healthy and safe! Be kind to yourself and allow for some flexibility. You have done nothing wrong if you need a c-section or opt for an epidural, for example. 
2) I am glad to have fully experienced a portion of active labour without pain management, but I now fully understand why epidurals exist. I really wanted to use labour as an opportunity to be fully present and practice my mindfulness skills. I wasn't trying to "be a hero" as others have suggested- I really just wanted to soak in the experience, knowing that the pain was natural and safe. I'd also heard that recovery from labour could be easier if there was not an epidural. That said, contractions really, really hurt (though I know all mothers' sensations and pain tolerances are different; this was my experience, though). By the time the midwife told me I was only 1cm dilated, I had been having quite painful contractions for a few hours and even after that relatively short time, the option of pain management felt incredibly enticing. I do not regret requesting an epidural, even though the c-section happened before I could get it. 
3) It's ok if the first moments with your baby are not "perfect" and euphoric. I'd heard mothers say that "Once you meet your baby for the first time, all the pain and anxiety totally disappear." For whatever reason I had fully trusted this notion and initially felt a great deal of guilt that my first moments with baby were clouded by the fact that I felt numb and anxious, essentially concerned for my own well-being. I felt bad that I could not put the concern for myself aside in that moment. Luckily, I was able to quickly let that go, allowing for some self-compassion. You have just been through an incredible experience- your body and emotions have been through so much. You are not selfish for not being able to slip into nirvana after all of this, even with baby on your chest. You will have time for those perfect moments; it doesn't have to be right away

I really hope you enjoyed reading this. Bless you if you made it all the way through! If anything, I am pleased to have documented my childbirth experience while it was still relatively fresh in my mind. It will provide a lasting journal of those two days and our welcoming Rowan Joan into this world.

Let me know if you'd be interested in any other motherhood-related posts, such as c-section recovery, breastfeeding issues, or postpartum mental health.

Lots of love and have a beautiful weekend :)



  1. Congratulations! I really enjoyed reading this and seeing the beautiful pictures - I have never been pregnant but hope to have children someday, so this was really good information to have. I'm so glad you and Rowan are both healthy! Thank you for sharing :)

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for the kind words! xoxo

  2. She's such a little love-muffin!

    1. She's the tastiest! So glad you got to meet her :)

  3. Aww - love the baby story. It's such an amazing moment even if it doesn't go as planned. As long as baby and momma are happy and healthy, that's all that matters!

  4. Love itttt! Thanks for sharing. Would love to hear about all of the topics you mentioned above (c-section recovery, breastfeeding issues, or postpartum mental health)!

    1. Thanks so much, Beth! I definitely plan to write on those topics also. Congrats on your little one too! xo

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All of your lovely comments make my day! Thanks for taking the time to share your musings, ideas, and opinions. Feel free to leave a link to your blog- I'd be happy to check it out :)