Like most good stories, Alistair’s birth story needs context. It actually begins with the birth of his sister, Audrey. If you want to read Audrey’s full birth story, it’s posted before this one but here’s the short version: Early on in labor her heart rate dropped drastically with each contraction. I was immediately sent in for a C-section. While I was happy my daughter arrived healthy and safe, I mourned not delivering her vaginally. I had prepared for and anticipated a natural birth and a C-section derailed me. Fifteen-months later I was pregnant again and determined to do everything in my power to have a vaginal birth after cesarian (VBAC).
Most of my friend’s birth stories go something like this: Around my due date they felt weird, contractions started and got regular, increased in intensity, they pushed, they had a baby.
Wow. That must be nice. As my midwife put it after Alistair was born, ‘You have interesting births’.
It was the perfect pregnancy. No morning sickness, no exhaustion, very little discomfort. I didn’t even feel pregnant until the third trimester. Then came Week 32. It was a Wednesday afternoon in mid-October and I felt weird. I’d had Braxton Hicks contractions before but this was different. And somewhat regular. After a couple of hours I called my midwife, Sophie (I had two midwives, Sophie and Diane). She told us to meet her at the hospital right away. So off we went; I felt ridiculous and nervous.
I’m one of those women who can’t read her own body.
I’m just wasting everyone’s time.
What if he is born?
Monitors were strapped on, questions were asked, body parts were examined. I was contracting regularly, though mildly and spaced far apart, and there was some blood but no dilation or effacement. Eventually the contractions eased up. Neither Sophie or the doctors knew what was making my body act like it was in early labor when it wasn’t (there were two other women in triage at the same time with the same issues so they joked that it had something to do with the moon). We were sent home with instructions to call again if I felt anything similar.
The next evening contractions came back. Off to the hospital to sit and listen to the ‘beep beep beep’ of a baby’s heartbeat and my muscles tighten and release. Blood work showed everything was normal and we knew from the Doppler that Alistair’s heart rate was strong. He was already a champ. Like before, the contraction eased off and I was not in labor. However, because this happened twice in two days, I was given a steroid injection to quicken Alistair’s development, specifically his lungs.
Great. My already extremely active baby is now ripped on ‘roids.
The next two and a half weeks were hard. Most days I experienced low level, regular contractions and some days they increased in intensity and followed the 5-1-1 rule. It was like being in early labor for two hours every third day. It was exhausting mentally and physically. I had no idea what my body was doing and I wanted it to stop but as time went on it seemed it would only happen with Alistair’s birth, which I did not want to happen yet.
At a regular check-up, Sophie gave me homeopathic pills that would stop the contractions if they weren’t the real thing. Everything was still fully closed so there was no sign of Alistair’s imminent arrival and we celebrated each day he stayed in the womb, though an ever-growing part of me wanted him out.
On Friday, November 2nd, there was blood. Not much, but enough to warrant yet another call, this time to Diane. She said to just wait, take the pills and keep her posted. So I went about my day wondering if this was finally it and not sure whether or not to want it to be. I had mild contractions off and on, though they never got worse. Ryan suggested I take it easy and sit down as much as possible but I wanted to keep moving. If this was going to happen, I wanted it to happen. That afternoon we went to a book sale and I spent most of the time squatted down to look at the books on the bottom shelves. I would not try to keep him in anymore.
The contractions continued the next day and in the afternoon they picked up in intensity. Until now I could ignore the contractions and keep going about my business. But now I had to stop, wait for it to pass, and then continue on. By evening I knew I needed to call Diane. She and Sophie met us at triage and I was once again monitored. Another expectant mother was put in the room next to mine and she screamed and gasped and the whole bit. Ryan and I looked at each other and I promised I would not be like that. The contractions were strong, regular and I had dilated 1 cm and was effacing. I was admitted and it felt like an accomplishment. Once in the room I took a bath and then tried to rest. I eventually fell asleep but woke up every five minutes when I contracted. In the early morning Diane gave me a Gravol injection (Canadians- yes, Gravol. Americans- it’s like Dramamine) to ease the contractions enough so I could sleep. When I woke up several hours later the contractions had greatly decreased. I was not going to have my baby. Diane and Sophie thought it would be best if we went home and rested there. I felt defeated. Diane put her arm around me and said if I made it to 38 weeks there were procedures she could do to stimulate labor. But that was still three weeks away. I knew even if Alistair made it that far, I couldn’t.
Back at home we waited to see what was going to happen. Contractions continued to come but didn’t pick up. I played with Audrey, cried over Skype with my parents and we watched football. Then. . .
Everything took off. I contracted hard and often. I breathed through every one and worked to find a comfortable position. I wanted to do everything the woman in the room next to us the night before did.
At 5 pm I made Ryan call Diane. Though this was nothing like I experienced before I was hesitant and I was so tired of calling. It was decided that she and Sophie would come to our apartment and we would go from there. When they arrived I was almost 3 cm dilated and fully effaced. After a couple of hours it was time to go to the hospital. In the car I timed my contractions, praying they wouldn’t stop. I knew I should have four contractions during the drive; I had five. Ryan dropped me off at the main entrance and Diane walked with me while he parked the car. Determined to prove to myself I was strong enough to push a baby out of my vagina, I took the stairs. I barely made it to the top when another contraction hit hard. I leaned against the wall and swayed my hips while Diane gently rubbed my back. We walked straight past triage and I felt like I won the lottery. This is happening. THIS IS HAPPENING!
Because I was attempting a VBAC, GBS positive and five weeks premature, I was hooked up to monitors and an IV. It was 8 pm and because this was considered my first deliver, the timeline was one centimeter ever two hours with two hours of pushing. I had about 12 more hours to go. With every contraction I leaned hard into Ryan, grabbed his shoulders, buried my face in his stomach and yelled. Diane and Sophie put their hands on my back and the touch of so many people told me I was not alone, I could do this, this is beautiful.
At 9 the resident doctor examined me. I was 5 cm; good progression. I began using laughing gas and I loved it. A quarter past 11 everything came to a head. I had great pressure in my lower pelvis and the contractions grew significantly worse. I was in the frog position for several contractions and I screamed and cried with each one. I can’t do this I can’t do this filled my mind. Then with the next contraction I leaned back as far as I could into the squat and my water broke. Ryan and Sophie helped me onto the bed and as she examined me, Sophie said, “You’re 10 cm. You can push when you want”. Okay, maybe I can do this.
With the next contraction I pushed. And kept on pushing after it ended. I was bound and determined to get that baby out of the birth canal as fast as possible. Diane, who was checking the monitor next to me, quickly leaned over me, put her hand on my arm and firmly but gently said, ‘ Erin, that is NOT how we push. Wait for the next contraction and then push’. So I waited. Then I squeezed Ryan’s hand and moved my son a little bit closer to this world. After several more contractions I looked up and didn’t see Sohpie. The doctor was at the end of the bed and there were about seven more people in the room. I had no idea where they came from. Diane explained that Alistair’s heart rate had dropped and she couldn’t get the monitors in place so she wanted a nurse. The whole unit decided to come. After a quick look the doctor said to me, “You need to get this baby out with the next contraction or I have to do an episiotomy”. I pushed with every ounce of my being. He was close but not born. Cut. “Erin, you have to get him out now or I have to use a vacuum and I don’t want to with a baby this small”. This was a challenge. I would bring my son into the world. I would not surrender another birth to technology. I took all the pain and sadness from my daughter’s birth and turned it into strength. I bore down and gave birth to my son. Tears of joy fell from my eyes.
Because his heart rate had dropped Alistair was immediately taken to a table to be examined. I looked over and saw my newborn son, moments after his birth. He had a full head of red hair and large purple feet. Twelve seconds after his birth and five weeks before his due date, I held Alistair in my arms. He melted into my chest and I could not believe it. Not only was he here and healthy, he arrived via my vagina. I had done it. While my legs shook and lady parts stitched back together, Alistair latched onto my breast. He was already thriving.
We were taken to the room where we would spend the next three days. Sophie and Diane settled us in and said goodnight. Ryan kissed me, said he loved me and was proud. He collapsed into a chair. The moonlight came into the room and shone on my son’s face. I couldn’t get enough of him. I held him close to my chest and put my finger in his little wrinkled hand. That’s how we slept that night, my son and I, hand in hand, chest to chest. I experienced contentment and beauty I never knew existed.