I woke up around quarter after five in the morning the Wednesday my daughter was born. This was nothing out of the ordinary, I was waking up multiple times a night at this point to pee. But this time it was different. I was feeling cramping. Not like the kind you feel right before your period comes, but like the ones you feel when you’re so blocked up and all you want to do is have the most amazing poop of your life. Naturally I thought nothing of it. I tried going back to sleep knowing that when I wake up at seven, it’ll be a solo day with me and Sawyer and my 40 week pregnant belly.
Except I couldn’t go back to sleep. The cramps started coming at seemingly regular intervals. Maybe 10 mins apart? Not for very long, just a few deep breaths and they faded. I still wasn’t thinking much of them… Until I realized over an hour had passed and I’ve moved from breathing through them to getting up on all four’s and having to sway and breath through them. And the feeling had switched from seemingly uncomfortable gas pains, to a low achy cramping in my uterus. When I let out my first moan, I knew I should probably wake Jeff up. He had been sleeping in the guest room since he’s a light sleeper and my tossing and turning and constant getting up to pee was just keeping us both up. Not good to both be sleep deprived with a toddler at home!
“Hey babe, I think I’ve been having contractions for over an hour now,” I said softly. He quickly sat up in bed and with a huge smile said, “Really?” His excitement was sweet, but I wasn’t about to get my hopes up. Several of my friends have had days of false labour before it all actually happened. Given my history with stalling in labour, I definitely wasn’t expecting anything.
So I took a shower, washed my hair. Casually let my parents and sister know but assured them it’s probably nothing.
I applied the TENS unit to help cope with the discomfort. This device is a godsend for pain management. We also started timing the contractions and of course, there was no pattern. Some where 30 seconds, others were 50. Sometimes they were 8 minutes apart, sometimes 5. My sister came in right during a contraction. Now, I don’t remember this, but she told me that upon her arriv, I looked her dead in the eyes and through clenched teeth announced that I am NEVER doing this again. We realized we should check in with the midwife when I couldn’t handle having my toddler around me, or having anyone talk or touch me during a contraction.
Between contractions I couldn’t help but break down and cry at the thought that my first born will now have to share me. I sobbed as I gave him a big hug.
We called the midwife emergency line around nine in the morning and Jan, the midwife on call, listened to me during a contraction and decided to come and check me.
At this point I was still in total denial that I was in labour. None of this started how it did with Sawyer – no mucus plug, no bloody show, no radiating pain from my lower back down my thighs! Jan did the cervical check, and upon completion looked at me and said, “Well, you’re between 6 and 7 cm. It’s time to go to the hospital!”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. With Sawyer I was stalled at 3cm for hours (like 15?), with my contractions double peaking and next to rest between. I needed the TENS maxed out and the hardest hip compressions to counteract the pain. And this time it all felt so much more… manageable.
The drive to the hospital was as quick as it could have been. Jeff drove with the hazards on, and we made it within 20-25 minutes despite regular traffic. I had a few contractions in the car but every time I felt one creeping up, I’d unbuckle, get on my knees and grip onto the headrest, swaying and moaning loudly. Morning commuters got quite the show!
My sister walked me to the elevator while Jeff looked for a parking spot. It was ridiculously busy at the hospital, in fact it was on divergence. As the elevator door was opening, a contraction hit me hard and literally brought me to my knees! We waited it out. I was told a very concerned woman asked if I was ok and my sister casually replied that it’s fine, I’m just having a baby.
Once we got checked in, we waited for Jan to let us know which room to go to. I had a few contractions in the waiting area and hallway. I noticed a heavily pregnant woman watching me. As I recovered from a contraction, I looked at her and with a smile said, “Don’t worry, it’s actually not so bad!” And we had a bit of a laugh.
We were escorted into room 204 by our nurse Courtney. She asked me about my birth plan, I said the only thing I cared about was that no one suggests the epidural to me. It was very important to me that it was 100% my decision this time, unswayed by anyone’s suggestion.
As soon as I walked in the room, despite the fact that I was approaching transition and the contractions where getting more intense, I couldn’t help but notice how amazing the lighting was! My friend Jenny was on her way to come take photos with my camera, and I knew that my original settings where going to be off. Between contractions I said to Jeff, “Pass me my camera, I need to change the settings!” He laughed. How I managed to keep that clear of ahead at this point is beyond me!
I laboured for a few more minutes in the room. At this point the contractions were getting more intense. The sensation had spread to the outside of my thighs and the pressure was really building. I envisioned little lightning bolts hitting my thighs and i couldn’t shake that for some reason. I was starting to feel nauseous and scared. I had to be quite vocal to get through them. During one of the contractions I yelled out, “mmmmm OWWWWWWW, I want the epidural!” As it passed, my nurse looked at me and said, “I don’t take requests during contractions seriously.” Which made me laugh (inside) and like her even more.
I asked to get checked. During the cervical check, a contraction hit. My midwife needed to continue the check to help move a cervical lip out of the way. Oddly enough this wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as I always imagined it would be! When the contraction finished she informed me I was 9cm already. Some time during the contraction and check, my friend Jenny came in the room. My eyes were locked shut as I breathed through the contraction and she snuck in like a panther!
That’s when my panic really hit. I had made into into transition. I seemed to be coping well, but something in my brain could not be turned off. I had another few contractions while on my knees on the bed, holding on to the end of the mattress that had been elevated. I asked Jeff to help walk me to the washroom so I could pee and I told him I was terrified. It was then that I decided that, even though I made it this far without any medication, I wanted the epidural. Another contraction hit. My support people tried to talk me through it, I told them to be quite (or maybe even to shut up?) And called for Jan to talk me through it. Her visualizations where what I needed most. The decision was made in my mind. I wanted the epidural. My midwife presented me with other alternatives but they all instilled a feeling of panic in me. I told her I’m certain I want the epidural. She was conflicted because my chart said no epidural, which was just an administrative mistake! I had never been against it. She wanted to honour my wishes and asked me to clarify why it was important that there was no talk of an epidural in my request. I told her my reasons and an anesthesiologist was paged.
Luckily there was an anesthesiologist available within 15 minutes. Talk about fate! I knew it was a matter of time before I crossed the too late threshold. She came, administered the epidural, and was out of the room in what seemed like less than 10 minutes. Jan broke my water and we began our (short) wait to reach 10cm.
Instantly I felt relieved, excited, and full of pure happiness. I made a comment at how beautiful and sunny of a day it was and the whole room laughed. “Epidural has kicked in!” said my nurse. This was all around quarter to noon maybe? I can’t fully recall at this point.
Though I stopped feeling the intensity of the contractions in my uterus, that urge to push was very real and very persistent. My midwife needed to check in on a patient that was in a c-section so she asked if I could scale how intense it was to see if she should stay or go. I told her I can hold back… For now.
I asked the nurse if a mirror was available. I had decided that if I opted for the epidural, I wanted to be able to watch my baby being born. She managed to hunt down the only available one. I can’t say enough good things about my care at the hospital.
Within about 20 mins of Jan leaving to attend the c-section, I realized I couldn’t hold back the urge to push anymore. She was paged and moments later showed up, gloved up and ready to go!
The nurse set up a bar with a sheet tied to it for me to pull onto while I pressed my feet into the bar frame with each big push. That technique, in combination with the feedback I was getting from the reflection in the mirror, was awesome at making me push very effectively. The fact that the epidural was starting to slowly wear off and I could really feel the intensity of the pressure also helped. Unlike with Sawyer’s birth, I chose not to top up my medication.
Within about 35 minutes I saw (and felt!) her crowning. Nothing looks larger than a newborn head coming out of a vagina. Trust me. Nothing feels larger either. I felt some burning which I didn’t at all expect because with Sawyer I was so completely numb, but I let out a solid guttural yell followed by, “it’s burning!!!” and within seconds her head was born! Everything happened super fast, but Jan guided me to reach down for my baby and with the next contraction I pushed her body out and with Jan’s help, pulled her onto my body!
And just like that, at 1:16 pm on a sunny Wednesday, September the 18th, my sweet baby girl, Zoe May Roussakis was born! 3300 grams and 49.5 cm in length. Absolute perfection. That familiar feeling of her squishy, warm, wet body against mine had me elated. Feeling her squirm and cry all covered in vernix brought a huge smile to my face. I couldn’t stop smiling!
Jeff cut the cord, and we enjoyed that blissful skin-to-skin time together.
Zoe’s birth was the kind of experience I wanted so badly: Empowering. I am no stranger to birth not going your way, leaving you with residual feelings of failure. I know that not everyone, in fact, I’d say most, don’t get to experience their ideal birth. But with Zoe I did! I felt heard, respected, and in control of our experience. It was a wild 8 hour ride, one that involved a lot of trust in my own body, and my instincts, and decision making in a moment of panic. I wouldn’t change a single moment of it.
I wanted to give a massive thank you to my birth team: The midwives at the Community Birth Program – specifically Nargess for my prenatal care and Jan for the healthy delivery of Zoe; my husband Jeff, who stayed quiet and didn’t dare touch me after I swatted him away during contractions (I know how hard this was for him), my sister Ewa, for being a calming presence and offering a massage between contractions; my wonderful friend Jenny for capturing these amazing photos and dropping her appointments to be with me just in time; my amazing parents for taking care of Sawyer and filling my fridge with home cooked meals while everything went down; and all the friends that continue to check in on me! I love you all!