It feels about time that I write out my story of how my daughter came into the world. Already, just from typing that first sentence, my eyes are welling up with tears. It still feels so raw, emotional, and new, and hard to talk about.
Writing about this event is something I’ve wanted to do, well, since it happened nine months ago. I find writing easier than talking and I am doing this more for me, my healing mind and body, than for anyone who will read this… heck, I don’t even know if I’ll actually hit the “publish” button once I’m through (so if you’re ready this, then you’ll know that I didn’t chicken out!).
Last night, we had friends over for dinner and somehow we briefly touched on my birthing experience and talked about how challenging my recovery was. My husband said something really affirming when he looked over at me and said, “You have a wonderful story; it’s one that needs to be shared.” And he’s right. By writing this out, and hopefully (maybe) being able to talk about it more openly one day, I can answer some questions, offer an “you’re not alone” sentiment to any other moms who went through something similar, or talk some of you out of wanting to have children in the future (hehe, that last one was a joke! Children are the greatest gift and blessing and I would never use this as a forum to convince someone otherwise. Although, take that latter statement as a “you’ve been warned” sentiment; I’m about to get real and I won’t spare any details).
So without further ado, my story:
Labour started happening around 1am on Sunday, June 19, 2016. This day was Father’s Day, so I thought for sure that our little one would be a nice little Father’s Day gift to her Daddy, but things didn’t quite unfold that way.
It was a humid evening, and our little bedroom in our 1940s story-and-a-half home was quite hot. The AC doesn’t do much for our upstairs rooms in the summer, which turns out to be a labouring woman’s worst nightmare. So, I let my husband know that it was happening, but I told him to stay in bed because there was no sense for him to miss out on a decent night’s sleep when we were in the early stages of labour.
I went downstairs where the temperature was much cooler. There I worked through a handful of contractions by leaning over the couch, moving to the floor and getting on all fours, or resting my arms on the back of an arm chair and letting my belly hang. I was trying to rest and not take things too seriously yet, since the contractions were sporadic and not nearly closely timed enough to be in “active labour”. Around 4:30am, I was growing tired and was watching the clock avidly, saying to myself, “Within the next 15 minutes, I’ll call the midwife.” But, I kept putting it off since the contractions were not regular. At 6am, the contractions were getting closer, so I let my husband know I was calling the midwife and she came over to check me. I was only 2cm and was ordered to take some Gravol (in hopes that I could catch a nap), eat something, and rest. She left saying, “We won’t have a baby before lunch time. I’ll call you later to check in.”
The next 9 hours were spent marathoning Gilmore Girls on Netflix and working through contractions. I tried eating toast, sipping on Ginger Ale and Gatorade, but I couldn’t keep anything down. At one point, I took a bath and it did provide a bit of relief from the painful contractions. By 3pm, I was shaky and weak, and just downright exhausted. I gave the midwife a call to let her know I was feeling really tired, dehydrated, and frustrated that I was so sick (throwing up everything – including water!). So, she told me to meet her at the hospital for 4pm. [Up until now, my plan was to labour at home for as long as I could. I was open to wherever we’d have this baby and whatever would happen. To this day, I definitely advocate for a “go-with-the-flow” kind of attitude for everyone approaching childbirth!] [Also, I did sort of hope to have a successful home birth, but in the end I was so glad we ended up at the hospital because I couldn’t carry on at home any longer, and things could have been drastically poor for me and my baby had we stayed at home.]
The car ride to hospital was the most uncomfortable car ride of my life, but also the most surreal. We were getting so close to meeting our baby and that was all I could focus on. We reached the labour and delivery ward at the hospital and went to sign in. I approached the desk and said, “I’m in labour and here to meet my midwife.” The receptionist looked at me and said, “You think you’re in labour,” and proceeded to hand me the paperwork. I was taken aback by her comment – it was pretty rude to tell a labouring woman that she ‘thinks’ she is in labour! But I didn’t focus on that. I was more focused on finding somewhere to sit down, since the contractions were coming and going and I could no longer stand. I had to let my husband do all the paper work for me. Once that part was through, my midwife took us to the triage part of the ward to check me, get me an IV to take care of my dehydration, and hook me up to monitors. She was now going to monitor the baby’s heart rate and my contractions. I was grateful to get hooked up to an IV, since I was growing increasingly more weak. Within just a few minutes post-IV, my husband said that the colour in my face had returned and I looked a lot better. I was not even 4cm by this point, but we were admitted to a room and continued labouring some more.
Once in the room, my midwife offered me a shot of morphine which was fantastic! I still felt the pain of each contraction, but I just felt a little loopy and had zero cares. I was able to walk around and use the bathroom as I pleased, and there was a bit of temporary relief. A little while later, my midwife broke my water, since that was something that needed to happen to get this show on the road.
I feel like now is a good time to mention that my baby was in a posterior position, or “sunny side up” as my midwife called it (not ideal for birthing). My understanding of what this meant is the following: Some women can birth babies this way, but majority can’t; most of us don’t have hips/pelvis wide enough for this. When a baby is in a proper birthing position, his/her back is opposite the mother’s and the chin is forced down to the chest. A “sunny side up” baby can keep their chin up, which makes it really hard to move through the birth canal properly.
My baby was in this posterior position for a while. For a few weeks leading up to the birth, I was instructed to not slouch, bounce on an exercise ball, try ‘spinning baby’ stretches (Google it if you want to know), and be on all fours (she told me to clean my kitchen floor and do my marking, since I’m a teacher, in this position). I did all of these things, but nothing worked. I should have known then that this was a huge indicator that I have a stubborn little one; she was even stubborn in the womb!
So, I am labouring along with a baby who’s not in an ideal position for a natural birth. My water breaks and my midwife suggests that I try an epidural since it’s about 6pm by this point (going on 17 hours of labour) and I was pretty tired. She thought that I could catch a nap and maybe the epidural would help my baby turn over. Also, I was tested positive for Group B Streptococcus (a bacterial infection that could be harmful, even life threatening, to a baby going through the birth canal), so once my water broke, we had to get that baby out sooner than later to not take any risks.
In Canada, once an epidural is ordered, a transfer of care takes place and a midwife can no longer deliver the baby. I was about to be under the care of an OB for the remainder of this process, although my midwife was planning on being there to coach me through it.
We were all expecting the epidural to do great things for me and my baby. But it didn’t work. Two attempts, and only my right thigh was frozen both times. We think it’s because I have scoliosis, so my spine has two curvatures (it’s kind of like an S shape). The anesthesiologist tried two different spots in my spine and couldn’t get it to work. She was baffled. I was miserable, as I now had to approach birthing a posterior baby naturally.
Once the OB had been called in, a whole slew of nurses and interns came along with her. A nurse hooked me up Pitocin to get the contractions going faster and stronger to move this baby along. However, I had no warning of this! All of a sudden, the pain is growing increasingly strong and I am not coping well. Meanwhile, said nurse is asking me to sit up, move here and there, needing to fix my IV or do something, while in the middle of a contraction!! This happened a few times (she would ask me to move while I’m in intense pain), and I let her know that she had to wait until the contraction was through before I could do anything (I wanted to scream at her, “HELLO, YOU HAVE THE CHART RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU! YOU KNOW I’M IN THE MIDDLE OF SOMETHING HERE!). But I didn’t. I kept my cool until I couldn’t handle it any longer. She kept upping the dose without telling me, which made my contractions pretty much unbearable, and I was getting angry (maybe I was spoiled by my midwife, who was always so considerate and would explain everything to me). I believe I was actually managing pretty well until this point. But then, I just started crying and turned to my midwife and said, “Minka, I am suffering through this.” I lost my patience with the nurse, who was really more interested in conversing with the other nurses in the room, chatting about their vacations and showing more interest in one another, than my situation. I told that nurse that she needs to tell me what she is doing, and I said that I didn’t feel okay with how things were going since the epidural didn’t work and I was literally suffering every time she upped the Pitocin. But then the nurse got angry right back at me and said that they have no choice but to move quickly. Then she remarked, “Well, do you want to have a c-section, then?!” to which I replied, “Maybe! I wasn’t given that option yet.” But my midwife chimed in and said that we weren’t at that point yet, and that I don’t need to worry about a c-section. Looking back, I think I should have jumped at the chance to take a c-section. (And later, I apologized to that nurse for snapping at her. I didn’t feel right about how I treated her in my moment of agony.)
I carried on through the contractions, lying on my side with my eyes closed and trying to breathe/moan to get through it. A few hours must have gone by before my husband was like, “Can someone please check her?” And then I was at 8cm and getting close to pushing.
Finally, when it was time to push, the OB wasn’t back yet (she had been coming and going up to this point, there were also other labouring women she was tending to, too). One of the interns in my room texted the OB to let her know it was go time. Once she arrived, we were ready to start pushing, and thus begin the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Some friends of mine told me that the pushing part was the best part of labour and delivery because they were distracted from the pain of contractions. For me, it was the absolute worst. It was the most pain I’ve ever endured. We started with one good push during each contraction. By about 3 hours into pushing, I was giving three pushes per contraction. It was exhausting and so difficult to go through. Also, remember how earlier I said that my baby is stubborn? Well, she continued to prove that as she got further down the birth canal and was STILL posterior. So, the OB had to manually flip her. The OB actually had to stick her hand up there and physically turn the baby over. That was excruciating! And this happened twice. My baby flipped herself back into the posterior position (must’ve been comfy, or something), and we had to do it all over a second time.
Nearing the end of those three torturous hours of pushing, the OB told me that I was tearing pretty bad and asked if she could make an incision as an attempt to stop it from tearing further. So I agreed and we carried on pushing. A little while later, she said that I was losing a lot of blood and we had to get the baby out ASAP. I was pushing as hard as I could by this point; no breaks anymore, just non-stop-pushing. I had no idea that I was bleeding that badly, but I could see some blood on the OB’s gloves. Later, my husband told me how it was pooling, and that he was so scared he was going to lose me; but somehow, through God’s grace, and the actual, literal miracle that birthing is, I made it through.
My midwife was holding up my left leg and my husband was holding up my right when I was finally able to push my baby out. The room was full of so many people: a handful of nurses, my midwife and husband, the OB and some interns, and at this point, two paediatricians.
My sweet little girl came into the world at 3:45am on Monday, June 20, 2016. Once my baby was born, she was immediately taken over to the paediatricians where they had to suction out her lungs, since she had swallowed meconium. Meanwhile, I was resting for a few minutes before they had me push out the placenta (this part was completely pain-free, thankfully). Then, the OB told me that I had an extreme tear from the birth. It was a fourth degree tear (I didn’t know at the time that this is basically the worst thing that can happen). She recommended taking me into the OR for surgery so that they could reconstruct everything. I remember her saying, “This is the best chance you’ll have at healing properly.” She was presenting me the option to choose the OR or to just try and stitch me up right there, but I immediately said that I’ll do surgery. She had to rush off to deliver another baby before heading to meet me in the OR, which gave me a few minutes to finally hold my baby before my surgery.
I held my sweet girl and I remember feeling so inadequate as a brand new mom, like I just didn’t know what to do. She was so perfect and beautiful, and she was my daughter. I asked my midwife if I should try breastfeeding and she told me to go for it. My baby latched right away and I got a few minutes with her before some hospital staff had to move me to a stretcher and take me to the OR. I left my beautiful baby and her dad behind in that delivery room.
Once I was in the OR, the anesthesiologist (the same one who tried to do the two failed epidurals earlier) came and gave me a spinal (the same type of freezing one would get if she was having a c-section). She also gave me something in an IV that was making my face itchy. I couldn’t stop scratching it! It was a weird feeling, weirder than the morphine. I was in the OR for an hour before the OB came to do the surgery. I remember just watching the clock, so eager to get back to my husband and baby. However, I was treated incredibly well while in the OR. The nurses and interns were so nice, chatting with me, and they were covering me with warm sheets and towels (I was shivering when I got to the OR – it was a cold room). The anesthesiologist noticed that my lips were very chapped and found some lip balm and applied it to my lips. They brought me my water bottle and brought it up to my lips so I could drink. My midwife came to visit me, and beforehand had arranged for my husband and baby to have skin-to-skin time, as this is crucial for newborns to help regulate their body temperatures and heartbeats. She took a photo of my hubby cuddling our sweet baby to show me. Later, she texted me that photo and I’ll keep it saved in my phone forever.
After an hour of waiting, the OB came to do the surgery. It was another hour of surgery, with me constantly watching the clock, just feeling so eager to get out of there and get to hold my baby. Finally, I got to return to my room. I was numb for a while afterwards, but so eager to get up and get moving. We tried to rest a bit before we had visitors and just had the morning to ourselves (which was much needed, not just for recovery and rest, but also to have time to spend with our girl).
Around 10am, my other midwife (since I had two, one who was on call for the birth and was there for the whole thing, and then the other one who was on ‘clinic’ that week) came to visit me. She told me that in all their years of practice, they had never had this happen to any of their patients. I hadn’t processed how bad it was until that moment. She was offering sympathies, and it really just made me feel worse emotionally. She asked me how I was doing and I started welling up with tears when I said, “The worst part was that I only got to hold my baby for a few minutes before I had to be taken into surgery.” And to this day, I still think that is the worst part of the birth for me.
We spent 3 days in the hospital. I spent most of that first day numb and trying to rest. However, I was growing more and more restless and wanting to get out of bed. A few times, I asked the nurse to help me get up, but each time I was too light headed to actually walk and had to get back into bed. It was hard being patient!
The nurses had to check me periodically each day to ensure that I wasn’t overly swollen or infected. I was constantly icing myself, as it provided great relief. When I was feeling ambitious, I’d take a little walk (maybe like 10 meters), to the kitchenette near my room where I could raid the fridge, make tea, or fill up my water bottle.
I wasn’t allowed to be discharged until I pooped. They had to ensure that everything would hold up down there for me to be able to use the bathroom and not bleed out, essentially. I wanted to avoid pooping forever – the though of it was terrifying. My midwife was telling me to drink lots of water in hopes that it would help me go, so I did even though I really didn’t want to. I had to take three dosses of Milk of Magnesium and two dosses of stool softeners daily (and this continued for weeks following). I was also on a pain killer drug called Toradol (which I remember telling my mom about and laughing about the name of the drug because it sounds like “tore it all” and that’s actually what happened to me).
Wednesday afternoon, the time came for me to poop. My mom was visiting and my husband had to get the nurse, because they had to see evidence that it happened and that I was okay before I could actually leave the hospital. I got my mom to look at the poop before the nurse did because it was turning out to be a funny experience – there a lot of poop that day! I hopped in the shower because there was no way in heck I was going to wipe. I used the shower head as a bidet to rinse off, and then I was good to get dressed and get out of there.
The nurse checked my poop and gave the okay for us to go. A little while later she brought us the papers to fill out so we could be discharged. But she let us take our time packing up and we waited until after the baby had her next feeding before we left.
We made the decision to stay at my parents house for a few days, since I wanted to avoid stairs (I could barely walk without pain). My parents live in a bungalow, so it was super convenient to have everything on one level. After leaving the hospital, we made our way to our home to pick up a few things and then hit the road to go stay with my parents. We stayed with them until our baby was a week old, and I got the okay from the OB to do stairs.
There were some hiccups and challenges that followed. Breastfeeding was a rough start; before we even left the hospital we had to supplement with some formula. But, I was determined to figure it out and I also learned that I have a super resilient baby. Part of our struggles stemmed from the fact that she had a hard time learning how to suck and swallow. She was guarding her airway by thrashing her tongue forward, since her lungs got suctioned out right after she was born. It took a while for both of us to get into the swing of things.
I had to take the Toradol drug for three weeks before I could move to just Advil for pain. To help me strengthen, I did pelvic physio for a few months to help with my lower pelvic pain (which I think is solely just from having to push for so long). I also wanted to go for walks, but it took two months before I felt okay-enough to do so.
The mental and emotional recovery was the hardest. There were several nights where I would lie wide awake just thinking about what I went through, trying to process what happened to my body. Sometimes, feeling self-pity – a “why me?” approach – but, that usually only made me feel worse. The thing that helped me overcome these challenges the most was the support from my husband. He looked and still looks at me as though I’ve conquered the most amazing feat. Now when I think about what I went through, I feel very resilient that I came through that and I am doing so well today.
I feel fortunate that this was my very first birthing experience, so I had nothing to compare it to. I remember saying to some friends and family that “I haven’t had a successful birthing experience, so I have nothing to compare this one to.” I felt like it would be so much worse to have gone through a fairly “normal” birthing experience prior to this one. But that statement is not true. The whole birthing experience was a success. My baby came out alive and well, and today she is a thriving 9 month old. By God’s grace and power, I healed remarkably well. Every visit I had with the OB afterwards, she was blown away by the huge progress I was having in my healing. My body will never be the same, but it is strong today and has healed very well.
I am not advised to try another vaginal birth again, as my OB had said my bottom “won’t be as forgiving a second time.” And that’s okay, once was enough.
Last night I asked my husband, “Why do you think my story’s good?”
He said, “Because of what you went through. What we went through.”
It’s true. I know now that I am resilient. I know now that I can do anything. I’m definitely a stronger woman today. We’re stronger together, for it.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.