I started writing this a couple months ago but only just got around to finally posting Augie’s birth story. At first I was a bit unsure about sharing my labour and delivery story on my blog. I thought to myself why that would be the case, after all, I’ve shared many camping and hiking adventures and other life stories, and this is by far the most incredible, life-changing, memorable adventure I’ve ever experienced. Giving birth is one of the most wondrous yet universal human experiences but it’s not often openly and candidly discussed or talked about, but I think it should be! So here it goes…
For the first time in a month, I’m completely alone. I am 100% by myself – no baby, no husband, no dog – sitting in the park, soaking up some sunshine, with just my laptop. It is something I would have taken for granted not too long ago but now it is a delicious and rare treat. For that, I need to give a huge shout out to my amazing friend Victoria for being the most understanding and caring friend ever, who is currently hanging out with baby Augie at my house so that I can get some alone time to just “do me”. More than just alone time, this is the first time I have felt like I have had the time to sit with my thoughts and reflect on life in a long while. This transition to motherhood is such a pivotal life change, but it happens so abruptly that it is easy to feel a sense of loss of one’s self. There is no “trial” or “training” period. One day, you’re hanging out with friends at a brew pub, eating french fries, childless and (somewhat) carefree, and the next day you’re in the hospital in labour, and then the day after that you’re home with a newborn whose very existence is fully dependent on you. Obviously, the order of events is different for everyone, but that’s how it went for me at least!
There are a lot of different thoughts I want to process and write down, but I don’t really have time for all of that right now. Apologies in advance for this entry likely being all over the place as my sleep deprived brain tries to cobble together coherent sentences. Last night my baby Augustine had one of his worst nights ever since being born. He has been fussy and awake during the night – thus depriving me of sleep, but rarely has he bawled and screamed so consistently for hours on end without a reason (at least without a reason I could figure out). Before baby you know that babies cry and sometimes they cry at 2 AM for hours on end, and that it will be difficult and frustrating. But you don’t really KNOW what that feels like and the emotional and physical toll it takes until it happens. I tried my best to stay calm to calm the baby, but ultimately had to let him cry alone in his bassinet for ten minutes while I went to the bathroom to bawl out my own eyes for a few minutes just to get my frustration out before going back to comfort him.
I digress… what I really wanted to write about in this entry was Augie’s birth story. In my last few months of pregnancy I read the book “The Fourth Trimester” by Kimberly Ann Johnson which I found to be a really helpful guide on how to take care of ME after pregnancy (as opposed to most postpartum books and guides which focus on how to take care of baby). In one chapter she suggests taking the time to reflect on the birth and delivery of your child and what your body went through – which is something I really wanted to do but just somehow haven’t found the time over the past month. There are a number of reasons I really wanted to do this:
- To remember and preserve the memory of my child’s birth – for myself, my family, and my son. I want to be able to have a way to look back on this incredible experience in the years to come, and also give my child the opportunity to know their “origin story” so to speak!
- To process and reflect on this transformational life experience and how it has impacted my identity. Giving birth for the first time was perhaps the most profound life experience I have ever gone through, and it has undeniably changed me forever.
- To share with others (if they’re interested) in what a genuine and positive birth experience looks like. I found that reading positive birth stories (for example, in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth) were very empowering and helped give me a hopeful yet realistic perspective on the birth and labour process that you don’t often find in mainstream media.
So, after all that, here is “Augustine’s Birth Story”! It’s a long one… because, spoiler alert, I was in labour for around 40 hours!
Augustine’s Birth Story
Part 1: The First Stage of Labour
It was a beautiful Friday in August, I was already finished working and chilling at home for a week or so despite my due date still being two weeks away as I wanted to use up some vacation time and enjoy the summer before the baby’s arrival. My sister had come over to to help me organize the nursery, something I had been procrastinating for a while (I am terrible at cleaning and organizing and didn’t know where to start!). She was a great help and we managed to get the nursery actually looking like a room I would enjoy spending some time in! I noticed that in the afternoon as we were cleaning that I had mild and sporadic cramps but brushed them off as Braxton Hicks contractions. Not that I knew what Braxton Hicks contractions felt like as I hadn’t experienced anything like this at all in my pregnancy yet. Later that evening, my husband Ryan and I went to meet some friends at a local brewery to enjoy the lovely summer evening and have dinner. At this point, I started to wonder if the “Braxton Hicks” contractions were real labour contractions! They were intense enough that I felt the need to stand up and sway or walk to try to relieve some of the pressure in my uterus – by now the cramps were already more painful than any period cramping I had ever experienced (but I don’t really get intense period cramps… so take that for what it’s worth) and kept coming every 10 minutes or so. I texted our Doula, Lindsey, and let her know what I was experiencing and she recommended I do my best to relax and take my mind off the contractions for as long as possible. At this point, hanging out at a brewery was not my idea of relaxing or fun anymore, so we bid farewell to our friends and walked home and I took a bath to try to relax. That night, I tried my best to go to sleep with Ryan, but the contractions didn’t let up and were still regularly occurring every 7-10 minutes. I would start to doze off only to have an intense contraction (or at least, what I thought was intense… little did I know what was about to come!) that would force me into letting out a low but quiet groan and I would kick or move my legs to try to “shake if off”. I gave up on sleep and watched the Women’s Olympic Climbing Finals on the TV in the living room for the rest of the night while miserably writhing in discomfort every several minutes.
By the time morning rolled around, it somehow clicked that I was really in labour and this baby was on its way and coming NOW. It was a bit of an overwhelming realization that my body and baby had decided to kick start the labour processes two weeks ahead of schedule (I was fully expecting to be going past my due date and imagined having two more weeks of summer to chill before the arrival of my little one). At this point I had already spent well over 14 hours in the early stage of labour. I called my Doula and promptly burst into tears over the phone, as at this point I no longer really knew how to “just relax” and my sleep deprived brain didn’t know what I should be doing. I think I was just overwhelmed with the daunting birthing process that still lay ahead of me and that at the end of it, my life would forever be changed.
Lindsey calmly talked with me on the phone, suggested I have a good breakfast and maybe go for a walk, and let me know she’d come over whenever I needed later that morning. My little crying fit quickly subsided (and ended up being the only time I cried the entire time!), and I then woke up Ryan and let him know what was going on. My darling husband made me some delicious french toast with berries to eat and we went for a short walk around the neighbourhood. By now, the contractions were significantly more intense than they had been overnight. When one hit, it felt like a wave slowly building up inside of me, then culminating in a huge squeeze that felt like someone was squishing my insides out like a tube of toothpaste! I tried my best to breathe calmly through the contractions, or lean on Ryan in his arms for support or comfort. We asked Lindsey to come over and also called my parents to let them know that I was in labour.
Later that morning, Lindsey arrived and her presence instantly gave me such a sense of calm as we talked about the previous night and how I was feeling so far. With Lindsey there to give me support and care, Ryan went to go buy some snacks for us and my parents also arrived to check in on how I was doing (and they also brought me more snacks! Hurrah!). They also brought a Dr. Ho’s massage for me, which helped relieve some of the extremely intense back pain I was experiencing during contractions. At this point the contractions were consistently occurring every 5 minutes or so and whenever a contraction hit I was unable to focus on anything but my body and breathing and needed as much calm and peace as possible! I love my parents to death but having them excitedly buzz around the house picking up laundry and doing dishes, although thoughtful and so kind, was not really helping set the calming atmosphere my body needed! We thanked them for the food and for checking in and said goodbye (for now) so that I could work through the contractions and labour with Ryan and Lindsey as best we could. They did hip squeezes and gave me back massages to help provide counter pressure during my contractions and help relax my muscles. I also took a relaxing bath and listened to my “labour” playlist I made with some of my favourite chill out songs. We decided to head to the hospital in the early afternoon, given the regularity and intensity of the contractions, and I even needed to stop and lean on Ryan as they hit as we walked from our door to the car.
At the hospital, the doctor checked my cervix and we found out that despite the my contracts occurring every 4-5 minutes, I was only around 2-3 cm dilated and that we should go home and let things progress more before returning to the hospital. Needless to say I was extremely disappointed and on the verge of tears upon hearing the news. The doctor tried to provide some comfort and optimism, letting us know that even though my cervix wasn’t dilated much, I was already almost fully effaced (meaning my cervix had thinned enough for the baby to be born). We drove back home, but all the excitement of going to and from the hospital threw off the rhythm of my contractions and the progression of my labour actually slowed down. I remembered in Ina May’s book, she talks about how dilation can not only stall but in fact regress due to anxiety or stress factors, so it could have been the case that I was more dilated before going to the hospital when the contractions were strong. In any case, the slowdown was perhaps a mini blessing as I was able to squeeze in a short a nap with Ryan and recover some energy (I use the word “nap” very loosely! I was sleeping in 6-7 minute bursts between contractions).
Lindsey encouraged me after getting up from my nap to head out for a walk with her (while Ryan continued to nap) as she suggested it might help my labour start to progress more again. We went for a few laps around the block and got a lot of interesting looks from neighbours as I had to stop every so often to lean on Lindsey and let out some deep moans! I also did some curb walking which is supposed to help open up the pelvis in preparation for delivery. Once back home, I made some instant noodles with veggies and an egg for dinner, gave my mom a phone call to update her on how things were going, and chatted about life a bit with Lindsey. Ryan got up from his nap and he and Lindsey continued to help me through my contractions over the next few hours which were becoming increasingly more and more intense.
Part 2: Heading to the Hospital
By 11 pm, I felt like the contractions were coming in waves right on top of each other, and I hardly had any time between them to rest and recover. I moved from kneeling on the floor to sitting on a birthing ball or sitting on the toilet for each contraction, but no matter what position I was in they were very strong and my entire body felt like it was working in overdrive. We decided it was time to head back to the hospital – I can hardly remember how I even managed to get in the car and up to the maternity unit! I do recall having to pause in the hospital lobby before going up the elevators as I had a huge contraction and at the time,not caring at all that I had an audience watching me groan very loudly! In triage, the doctor checked me again and I was now 5 cm dilated… enough to not be sent home, but not far enough along to be admitted into a labour and delivery room. In between contractions, I tried my best to rest but my whole body would uncontrollably shake – apparently totally normal, but I had no idea! At this point, I had declined an epidural or narcotics (which was part of my birth preferences), I did start to use some entonox (aka laughing gas) which does not make one laugh at all, or even relieve any pain, but I found helped me to focus on regulating my breathing. By 2 am, they checked me again and I had progressed to 6 cm and I was moved to a labour and delivery room and reunited with our Doula who had been patiently waiting for us outside.
The labour and delivery room was like an oasis after being in triage! We had tons space to move around into different labour positions, a couch for Ryan to rest on when needed, and a private bathroom with a shower! Nurse Davneet was our L&D nurse, and Dr. Fong my obstetrician. They were both such incredibly wonderful and caring women, and took so much care to try to ensure I would be able to have my birth wishes met. Along with Lindsey, they helped worked with me through labour through the middle of the night into the morning. I tried taking a shower as water is supposed to help with pain management but the entire experience of having contractions in the hard shower was extremely uncomfortable for me. So I spent most of my time alternating between lying or kneeling on the bed, sitting on a birthing ball, or leaning over on Lindesy or Ryan in their arms. By 7 am, Dr. Fong checked me again and my cervix was still only at 6 cm despite all the difficult labouring I had gone through, so we decided to have her break my waters. Breaking the waters was completely painless and all I felt was a massive gush of warm liquid rush out of my body between my legs.
Dr. Fong and Nurse Davneet were finished with their shift and so we said a very grateful thank you and good bye. It was also Davneet’s birthday and she told us she was sad she wouldn’t get to meet our little one who would share her special day but wished us all the best. Nurse Jen and Dr. Jantzie took over for them and they were equally as incredible and supportive.
Part 3: Transition
After my waters had been broken, my labour progressed very quickly and I felt a significant increase in pressure during contractions on my pelvis. I had entered the final and most intense hours of my labour. At this point, I was fully naked and completely immersed in the experience of labour, with next to zero awareness or care for the outside world. I moved through different positions to labour in depending on what my body was telling me to do – which was primarily on all fours on the ground. I tried my best to keep my jaw relaxed and let out deep and low guttural moans and groans as breathing techniques to manage the pain. Ryan said he never knew I could sing like a baritone!
All of my focus and energy at this point was 100% on my body and on my baby. There were a few moments of desperation where I looked at Lindsey and Ryan and told them I didn’t think I could continue doing this, and that I might need drugs after all, but they both encouraged me that I was close to the end and that I was so strong to have already come this far. I kept repeating various mantras to myself in my head and sometimes out loud as I went through each contraction: “this too shall pass” and “this is natural and normal” and “my body and my baby are strong and healthy”. The whole experience is so difficult to describe – going through the transition stage of labour unmedicated was like being transported into a completely different plane of existence. My mind and body were united completely with the sole task of bringing a new life into the world. I trusted my natural instincts and did exactly whatever my body was telling me to do with each contraction including making very deep “ommm” sounds (kind of like at the end of yoga class!) and did lots of wide hip circles on my knees. Nurse Jen was such a cheerleader – and I remember her and other nurses excitedly buzzing around while monitoring baby’s heartbeat, constantly telling me what a strong mama I was and how incredible it was to see a first time mom deliver naturally (I guess it doesn’t happen very often, and after going through the pain I completely understand why!).
Part 4: The Final Push
By 9 am, Dr. Jantzie told us that I was just about ready to push the baby out! My body had already at this point naturally felt the need to push during contractions, but there was still a little bit of a “lip” of my cervix remaining and I was told to resist pushing during the net few contractions to allow the rest of my cervix to fully open. It took all of my focus and might to resist pushing and used breath work to get through the next three contractions, after which the Dr. told me the baby was ready to come out and I could start pushing! I lay on my side in the bed and held my thigh up and began using my deep breathes to push baby out. Moving from contractions to pushing was such a relief! Although still painful, the pain felt more purposeful as I knew the end was near and soon I would get to meet my little one.
Dr. Jantzie excitedly told me that they could see my baby’s head and that there was a full head of hair! She suggest that I could reach down and touch baby’s head and feel how hard I should push by feeling the head come out further. I was actually touching my baby’s head for the first time and could feel the wet hair on their head! It was super effective to feel how his head would move in and out based on my pushing and before I knew it, after around 20 minutes, with a big push the entire head popped out and the rest of baby’s body slid easily through. I couldn’t see what was happening but Ryan told me it was like front row seats at sea world as baby, blood and fluid came rushing out of my body!
Nurse Jen immediately brought my baby up onto my bare chest, and Ryan announced with tears in his eyes that we had a baby boy while the nurses wiped away the blood (and a little baby poop!) from my son. Throughout my pregnancy I had the gut feeling that I was carrying a girl – but boy oh boy I was totally wrong! My baby boy was alert and his big eyes were taking in the world around him, and he was making the cutest “wa-AH-ah” cry that went way up in pitch in the middle. All the pain I had gone through was immediately washed away and my whole body relaxed like a gentle sigh as I admired my new baby boy. A nurse helped me get him latched to my breast and for the first time ever I fed my child while Ryan and I kissed each other and kissed our son.
I lay on the hospital bed nursing my son for the first time in complete awe and wonder. At the same time, Dr. Jantzie was instructing a resident on how to stitch up a couple second degree tears that I sustained on my vulva during the delivery. Let’s just say, having a (very awkward and nervous) resident perform his first ever “down there” repair job was not the most comfortable but I didn’t mind in the slightest, as I completely preoccupied with admiring our brand new baby. Besides, the mild pain of getting poked with needles on my swollen vulva was nothing compared to what I had just gone through and no amount of pain mattered anymore now that I held our son. The first day of Augustine’s life was so full of perseverance, love, joy and wonder! I hope it is a reflection for how the rest of his wonderful life will be!
I had no idea what to really expect going into labour and giving birth… the sheer physicality of the process was beyond anything I could have imagined but I am so proud of myself and my body for what it was able to go through in order to safely bring my son into this world. I am also really grateful for how smoothly everything with the delivery went – yes it was long and arduous, but unmedicated save for some entonox and required minimal medical intervention. I know that many powerful and strong women go through a lot of struggle and pain and fear during childbirth far beyond what I experienced and applaud them for their resilience and grit.
Welcome to the world our darling Augustine Barrett! I loved you before you were born but I love you so much more now that I have met you and held you in my arms. Because of you, I have become a mother and am forever changed. A lifetime of love and learning and adventures await our family!
A huge thank you to our Doula Lindsey at Blue Hazel Birth Services who took the time to write a birth story for us, which helped me fill in a lot of the gaps in my memory like the names of our L&D team, and also who took all of the amazing photos for us!