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Not What I Expected


Giving birth to Luka was an amazing experience - and nothing at all like I imagined. I envisioned a short labour, just like my mother's had been for me and my sisters. I prepared for a gentle home water birth by watching lots of home birth videos and reading birth stories. And yet despite familiarizing myself with an incredible breadth of unique stories, Luka's birth was in no way what I expected. 

Our story leading up to Luka's birth is ordinary in the most wonderful way. We were so fortunate to be under the care of Heidi, who reassured me throughout my pregnancy that everything I was feeling (and worrying about) was perfectly normal and healthy. Baby was growing just as expected, and I experienced every unsavoury pregnancy symptom I had been warned about - from the vomiting to the swollen ankles. There was something very calming about having such a textbook pregnancy, despite the discomfort.

Like most first babies, Luka was not ready to join the world on his due date. Curious, we decided to check and found out I was 3 cm dilated and 50% effaced. We decided to do a membrane sweep to see if we could get things moving. I felt a few contractions, but not the real deal. A week and another sweep later, baby was still not ready. I prepared myself to spend a very pregnant Thanksgiving weekend.

However, Luka, it turns out, wanted to celebrate with us! Friday night, my contractions started quite suddenly at 9 pm, 3 minutes apart, intense, and lasting at least 45 seconds. Within the hour, both Heidi and our doula Pam were on their way. Pam quickly set up the pool, and I happily jumped in. I spent the next 6 hours or so labouring in the pool, breathing deeply through the contractions and watching the Home and Garden network on tv. I rocked a lot and used a large mixing bowl as a stool to sit on in the pool. Time was going by quickly for me and the contractions were very manageable. The last few contractions before Heidi checked and announced I was fully dilated at 6:30 am were much more intense, but I still felt completely capable of handling the pain.

Though I was fully dilated, I was not feeling an urge to push. I did feel an incredible amount of pressure, but Heidi explained that might be caused by the fact that my membranes were still intact and that there was a large bulge preceding the baby's head.  On my next contraction, I decided to start pushing. Soon after, I was able to reach in and feel the bag of membranes myself. Heidi had tried to break it with her fingers but hadn't been able to. She suggested that I try breaking it myself. After working away at it for a few minutes, I was finally able to break it and touch my baby's head. It was very exciting!

After pushing in the pool for a while with little progress, Pam and Heidi helped me try a myriad other positions on dry land. I pushed on the toilet, I pushed in the shower, I pushed on my bed, I pushed using my husband's legs as a birthing stool, I pushed on my side, in a squatting position, on all fours... but baby was moving down very slowly. Throughout all of this, his heartbeat was strong and steady and this helped me remain calm and determined to continue pushing.

My contractions, however, were becoming less and less intense. I felt like I was doing all the work on my own and that my contractions were painful but not helpful. Every few contractions, I would feel one that was stronger and allowed me to really bear down and move the baby, but progress was very slow. After 3 hours, Heidi suggested that we transfer to the hospital so that I could get an augment to strengthen my contractions. By this point, I  was tired and the pain was increasingly difficult to deal with. Giving birth in the hospital was not part of the plan, but staying home simply did not make sense anymore.

The car ride to the Royal Alex was very emotional for me. I worried about the domino effect of interventions. At the same time, I knew that I needed help if I wanted to continue with this pushing marathon! We checked in to the Lois Hole Hospital for Women at around 10:30 am and Heidi explained my options. She suggested an epidural to help me manage the pain and get some rest. She also started an oxytocin drip and IV fluids. The obstetrician on call, Dr. Neilson, examined me and was very encouraging. She said that she did not see a need for a c-section, and that I should continue trying to push the baby on my own. Her support gave me a much-needed boost of confidence, since it took the threat of a section off my mind. I also started inhaling laughing gas to take the edge off the contractions, which were starting to feel a bit like torture. I didn't feel the gas was very effective, but I kept sucking it down anyway just in case.

I continued pushing as often as possible. I could feel the contractions intensify and I was getting more of the good "pushy" contractions. When the anesthesiologist showed up to ask if I was ready for my epidural, we decided that I was still managing well enough not to need additional pain management. Heidi suggested that I keep pushing until 1:30 pm, at which point we would get the epidural if baby had not arrived yet (Luka was born at 2:05 pm, and I'm very happy Heidi let me keep pushing past our "deadline").

We tried several positions again. The hospital bed had a bar that was quite useful. I tried squatting and reclining, but in the end side lying felt the best. I held onto my husband's hand and used the bar for leverage. In this position, the baby's head started crowning. Once I was able to see the baby's head in the mirror at the foot of the bed, I felt as though the end was in sight. Crowning was another kind of pain that I was unprepared for. I finally had to let go and accept that I might tear in order to push hard enough for the head to come out (I ended up with only a very small tear and a skid mark).

The feeling I got when I finally saw the head out was nothing short of victorious! Another contraction, and the shoulders were out as well. When Heidi put my baby boy on my chest, I practically melted into tears. I had never worked so hard for something in my entire life, and the reward was beyond anything I could have imagined. Luka weighed in at an impressive 8 lbs 15 oz, with a surprisingly round head for having spent so long in my birth canal!

After the birth, Heidi explained that Luka's head was coming down tilted sideways and took a long time to rotate into the proper position, which is why progress was slow. As to my contractions fading away, we theorized that my body hadn't been prepared for such a long labour. I think that I wasted a lot of energy pushing using only my own strength, rather than waiting for the urge to push and letting strong contractions move baby down.

Still, I am proud of my persistence and awed at my body's ability to give birth (almost) naturally after over 7 hours of pushing. It is without a doubt the most empowering thing I have ever done, and also the most humbling. I am certain that I would not have been able to continue without Pam, Heidi, and my husband's constant support and encouragement. I never felt as though they doubted my ability to give birth, and their belief in me was an invaluable source of strength.  And though Luka's birth was not at all like I imagined it would be, I wouldn't change a thing.