It’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago I was holding Oliver for the first time! The days have positively flown by, but I think we’re managing very well, especially since we’re completely on our own with no family in town. I have had the best intentions of posting his birth story for more than a week now, but it seems that I so rarely have a moment with both hands free to type. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, as we all adjust to our new routines — and Oliver begins to take scheduled naps — I will be able to return to a more regular program of blogging. I will also respond to all the wonderful comments that were left on my blog from the days leading up to Oliver’s birth until now. Please know that I have read every single one, and I appreciate everyone’s kind words and warm wishes.
Now, without further ado, the story of Oliver’s birth:
On Saturday, August 13th, I was one week plus one day past my due date. Even though I was still feeling good physically, I was becoming frustrated and impatient, as I’d already had two membrane sweeps, yet had even less of a sense that labour was imminent than I’d had in previous days. J and I decided to go for a late night walk that somehow ended up at True Confections (an amazing, but decidedly non-Paleo, dessert place) ;). When we returned home, we started to look up natural techniques for inducing labour, and came across a video demonstrating labour-inducing acupressure points.
I’d already been taking evening primrose oil and a special herbal tea to no avail, so neither of us were particularly convinced of the merits of any other so-called natural induction techniques. Nonetheless, we tried it, and shockingly, I had my first real contraction only five minutes later. Whether it was a result of the acupressure or was mere coincidence, we will never know, but labour began at 2:15 AM on Sunday, August 14th.
We knew from our prenatal classes that we could have a long day (or two) ahead of us, so both J and I tried to get some sleep. Unfortunately, my contractions became much more intense within a couple of hours, and I found it impossible to sleep. By 8:00 AM, they were quite painful, and frequent enough that I woke J up, thinking active labour was close. We called our doula and midwives to apprise them of the situation, and J took care of me by making tea and snacks, massaging me, and bringing me heat packs for my back and abdomen.
By lunchtime I felt myself in need of extra assistance, so our doula came over around 1:00 PM. She was able to coach J and me on pain management techniques, and helped me get into a warm bath to relieve some of my discomfort. I had only managed to eat half a banana and half a LaraBar since morning, as my contractions were so strong that I felt I would not be able to keep any substantial amount of food down. I knew a lack of food could cause problems if my labour were to drag on for a long time, but I also knew that food wouldn’t be particularly helpful anyway if I couldn’t keep it inside of me.
At about 3:00 PM the midwives arrived, by which point my contractions were intense, frequent and very painful. I thought that I must be at least six centimetres dilated (based on how my contractions felt), and was extremely disappointed to find out that I was only four. My contractions had taken a strange direction, in that now the pain did not abate at all in between each contraction, so I had no opportunity to recover and brace myself for the next one. I was quite overwhelmed at the intensity of the pain, and was starting to feel that I would not be able to handle much more. An hour or so later, I asked the midwives about pain relief options. We discussed medication (narcotics) and epidurals. I was surprised and disappointed to discover there was nothing more moderate they could administer at home, and that I would have to proceed to the hospital to get any relief.
An hour later, one of the midwives examined me and found that I had only dilated about another centimetre and a half; possibly two centimetres. This was a fairly crushing blow to my morale, as I was having considerable difficulty coping with the pain, and to me, this meant I still had hours of hard labour yet to endure. I once again asked (then begged and cajoled, to no avail) whether there was anything they could give me at home to relieve the pain, but the answer was still no. I then made the decision that I needed to go to the hospital.
Unfortunately, the idea of actually getting out of the bathtub, getting dressed and travelling the five blocks to the hospital was completely overwhelming to me. I was terrified of having a contraction outside of the hot bath, and even more so of having one in the car. So much for my original idea of casually walking to the hospital! Instead, I was begging them to call an ambulance, because at least then I wouldn’t have to be strapped down in a seated position during contractions.
Two hours after making the decision to go to the hospital, and with considerable assistance from J, the midwives and the doula, I was able to get out of the tub, dressed, packed, and out the door. Luckily, the change in surroundings slowed my labour, and I only had a couple of minor contractions en route to the hospital.
We arrived at St. Paul’s at approximately 7:00 PM. Upon arrival, I was whisked off to Maternity and deposited into a room after practically throwing my healthcare card at the reception desk to avoid having to spend a single moment checking in. Once J (who had been parking the car), the midwives and the doula arrived in the room, I began to demand pain medication; however, I had to wait for a blood test (they wanted to check my platelet count) before anything could be done. Suddenly, I became aware of talk about anesthesiologists and epidurals, which was puzzling to me, because I’d only ever expressed a desire for pain medication.
When I inquired, it was explained that there was a point after which narcotics could no longer be administered due to the possibility of the medication affecting the baby. I really, really did not want to have an epidural. I only wanted some relief from the pain; not a complete loss of sensation. I was told that with an epidural, I would be confined to labouring on the bed, and would have to have a catheter as I would not be permitted to walk to the washroom. This was not how I’d envisioned my birth experience, and I was starting to see “the cascade of interventions” unfold before my eyes.
As it turned out, it was going to be a half hour or longer before the anesthesiologist would be available to give me the epidural, so I demanded that they give me something — anything — to help me cope with the pain in the interim.
While everyone else was debating what to do, the most wonderful nurse — who could clearly see I was having trouble — quickly arranged to get some intravenous Fentanyl (a narcotic) for me. Just a few minutes after receiving the medication, I started to feel more comfortable. While it didn’t take away the pain of the contractions, it took enough of the edge off the pain in between contractions that I was able to calm down and focus on the task at hand. At that point, I knew in no uncertain terms that I would not need an epidural to get through the rest of the labour.
Calming down helped my labour to progress, and within a half hour of receiving my first dose of Fentanyl, I began to feel the urge to push. I am apparently one of the lucky few who are relatively unaffected by narcotics. The Fentanyl had a calming and pain dulling effect, but did not make me nauseous, drowsy or ineffective. In fact, I was completely lucid and physically very capable of changing positions and getting up out of the bed, despite receiving a total of four doses over the course of a few hours.
I chose to push from a kneeling position on the bed, knowing that my post-date baby would likely be on the large side, and that kneeling provided the greatest odds of getting his shoulders out without difficulty. I also frequently got out of the bed to walk to the washroom and labour in a seated position on the toilet.
Shortly after 10:00 PM, I reached down and felt what I thought was the baby’s head (actually, it was the amniotic sac, which had shockingly not yet ruptured), and was encouraged. The midwives urged me to allow them to manually break my water, as it would make it easier for me to push the baby out. I reluctantly agreed (even though I thought it would have been really cool to have the baby born in an intact sac) as I really needed the process to be as easy as possible.
The intense pushing continued, and I could feel that the baby was moving down with each push. Just prior to 11:10 PM, I had my first discernible “CrossFit moment” of the entire labour. I looked at the clock and gave myself a deadline for the hardest workout of my life: the baby had to be born by 11:15. Three pushes later, with a searing pain and a couple of loud screams that could have never come out of my mouth under any other circumstances, Oliver arrived, with the clock reading 11:12 (he was actually born at 11:09 — I later found out that the hospital clock was three minutes fast).
J caught Oliver in his hands as he came out, and the fact that he was the first person to handle Oliver made the experience really special for all of us. J also got to cut the cord once it had stopped pulsing.
Oliver began to cry immediately, and there was no doubt in my mind that he was strong and healthy. He was quickly passed to me and I held him on my chest while the midwives towelled him off. I was struck by how seemingly tiny — yet completely perfect — he was.
A very short time later, he was taken to be assessed by the pediatrician, while the midwives examined me for tearing and helped me to deliver the placenta. J was very proactive in staying with Oliver and pushing the pediatrician to give him back to me at the soonest possible moment. Oliver had scored nine out of 10 on both APGAR tests and appeared to be completely unaffected by the Fentanyl, but for some reason the pediatrician was concerned that due to my low platelet count, he could have blood clotting issues. In the meantime, I delivered the placenta without oxytocin, and without any excess bleeding whatsoever, so all of the concern for my low platelets turned out to be for naught.
This same pediatrician was also very displeased with our decision to decline the Vitamin K shot. Although platelets and Vitamin K are two entirely different clotting factors, she tried to scare us into submission by suggesting that my low platelet count would somehow make Oliver more susceptible to Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding. Our midwives were excellent at running interference for us, and while we still felt the pediatrician’s immense pressure to comply, we never had to discuss the issue directly with the her. After much back and forth, we compromised by agreeing to have Oliver’s platelets checked a few hours after birth. If the low platelet count turned out to be hereditary (which I knew it would not be, since it had only been a gestational issue for me), we would strongly re-consider our stance on the Vitamin K shot.
In the meantime, I had unfortunately torn very, very badly, and spent the next two hours being stitched up by a midwife and two doctors. Besides being an incredibly painful process, it made it very difficult to attempt breastfeeding, as I was distracted, in pain and in a most awkward position. I was, however, able to keep Oliver on my chest, skin to skin, throughout the ordeal.
After I was finished being stitched up, a lab technician came to take blood from Oliver. If I had known how the blood would be drawn, I’d have never agreed to subject him to the test. It was awful; completely heartbreaking. The technician pricked his heel with a blade and had to fill half a vial with blood by pressing and shaking the blood out of the wound while he screamed. Initially, she wanted me to put him in the cot before she drew the blood, but I’m glad that I stood my ground and insisted on being able to hold him in my arms. As it turned out, his platelet count was a very healthy 260,000 so there was no further discussion of the Vitamin K prophylaxis.
Finally, at 2:15 AM, 24 hours after labour had begun and three hours after Oliver’s birth, we were left alone to enjoy some quiet time together as a family. A short time later, J went to sleep on the fold-out armchair and Oliver curled up on my chest.
Morning came quickly, with the delivery of a most disgusting breakfast of lukewarm Cream of Wheat, stewed prunes, an institutional banana muffin and some margarine. I took one look at the tray and sent J to Starbucks for some breakfast sandwiches and tea! Although the hospital likes to keep maternity patients for a minimum of 24 hours after delivery, we requested — and were granted — an early discharge (…and were thus able to avoid the hospital lunch).
At about 1:00 PM, we strapped Oliver into his car seat and headed home. In the evening, we went for our first walk to the grocery store, with our beautiful 18-hour-old baby in tow, and we’ve since managed to get out of the apartment — even just for brief trips — every single day since Oliver’s birth.
Overall, labour was a lot more difficult than I ever imagined it would be. I’m not really sure why my contractions were as intense as they were from such an early point, nor why the pain was so completely unrelenting, but I certainly never anticipated that I would be begging to go to the hospital for pain relief. Initially, I was disappointed that it hadn’t been easier, because I had truly believed that being in such good shape would make labour (relatively speaking) a breeze. I was also disappointed in my complete inability to handle the pain. But in the end, I realized that I was able to labour at home for 17 of the 21 hours and avoid any major interventions, and of course, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy boy, which is the only thing that truly matters. And really, who’s to say that labour might not have been even more difficult than it was if I hadn’t taken such good care of my health during pregnancy?
Where I can unequivocally say that my health and fitness has made a difference is in my recovery. It has been astoundingly rapid. As previously mentioned, I was home from the hospital half a day after giving birth, and out and about in the neighbourhood later that evening. One week post-partum, I had lost 20 pounds and was only eight pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight. Now, two weeks later, I don’t look at all like someone who has recently given birth, and I am ready to return to the gym to begin my “lose the baby weight” challenge (more on that later).
With that, I’m off to try and sneak in some much-needed sleep. I have lots to say about our first couple of weeks as new parents (besides the fact that we’ve actually been pretty fantastic about sticking to our Paleo diet during a very chaotic time!), but it shall all have to wait until a later post.