On Friday, the 5th of November, 1999, I decided to go into Nelson to take care of some errands. I looked at some nursing bras, but was advised by the staff in the store not to buy one until closer to my due date, which was still 24 days away. Then I went to the Employment Insurance office to register for maternity and parental benefits. I took a number and settled into a chair to wait my turn. To my surprise, I felt a gush of warmth between my legs. Immediately suspecting that my water had broken, I stood up, as I had read that this could cause the baby's head to settle into the cervix & stop the flow. To my immense relief this worked, the flow stopped. Nonchalantly, I sidled over behind a brochure rack in the corner, and performed a discreet "one finger poke check". Yep, that wasn't urine, my water had really broken! At that moment the EI clerk called my number (26). The time was 3:30 pm.
I walked up to the desk, handed the clerk my paperwork, and stood next to the chair. The clerk asked me to have a seat, but I declined (being afraid to uncork that cervix!), and asked to use the bathroom. She told me that there was no public washroom in the office, but that she would process my claim quickly so that I could use the one in the government building nest door (I knew where it was, I used to work in that building). She was true to her word, and soon I was in the washroom taking stock of the situation. Clear, sweet smelling amniotic fluid, with a swirl of cloudy white mucus...it was showtime!
I walked back to my car (heart pounding), fished my spare raincoat out of the hatchback to spread out over the drivers seat, and started the trip back to Castlegar. Usually a 45 minute drive at 80 km/h, the trip took even longer as I was stuck behind a loaded logging truck that did not exceed 60 km/h, with a line of 15 cars already behind it. As anxious as I was, I convinced myself that getting home a little later was better than getting home in an ambulance after cracking up trying to pass that parade.
Upon arriving home I found a note on the kitchen table from Steve, saying "Out for a bike ride with Buster (our dog), then over to Paul's (a good friend)...S xoxo". I called Paul's house, and to my relief Steve was already there. I told Steve that he had better come home, that I was pretty sure my water had broken. After assuring him that I was not kidding, he said he'd be right home. After we hung up, he called right back, to ask again "Really?!?" and to say again that he'd be right here.
I thought that this might be a good time to pack my hospital bag...one of those chores that I had been putting off until I was closer to my time'. I knew that I was a bit nervous when I looked at my growing pile of things and realized that I had a pile of 12 pair of underwear...we live 5 blocks from the hospital, I wasn't going to need quite that many! Halfway through packing, I thought that maybe I should call the hospital.
The folks at the hospital suggested that I start timing the contractions, and to call Dr. Anderson with the duration & interval. Boy, it's amazing the basic things you forget when the crunch is on! I agreed and hung up the phone, at which point a breathless Steve came home - sans dog, he had left Buster at Paul's for a "doggie sleepover".
We started timing contractions (which weren't at all painful yet), and to my great surprise they were pretty consistent at about 1 minute long and five minutes apart. Yikes...that's the go to the hospital' pattern! Steve called Dr. Anderson with these numbers, and she said to meet her at the hospital at 5:00 - that was in less than 1/ 2 an hour! Steve helped me finish packing (following lists from the Sears' The Baby Book' and a list of extras that I had been jotting down when I thought of them). Some of these extras included snacks like honey sticks for extra energy, my favorite pillow and blanket for comfort, and my favorite herbal teabags (Celestial Seasoning's Bengal Spice...yummm) for the post-partum days. I also asked Steve to make me some dinner (when he asked what, I said "I don't care, something that's easy to throw up" :-) He obliged, making me some pasta shells with tomato sauce - carbo loading for the marathon to come. He's a coach through & through.
It was now just after 5:00, and Steve turned off the heat on the pasta, saying "We've got to go!" I turned it back on, saying "I've got to eat" and I really was just starved...I had not eaten anything since about 10:00 that morning. When it was done, I dumped the pasta into a Tupperware, grabbed a spoon and a glass of milk in a no-spill mug, and said "Ok, we can go now". It was a good thing that I insisted on bringing that pasta, as the dinner at the hospital was liver that night...ugh.
At the hospital, we were led to the room where they do the fetal monitoring. I was just getting comfortable and ready for the external belts, when the nurse came back in and said that the monitors were being used by another woman who was already in labour, so they were just going to move me into my room and monitor me using the Doppler unit - a little machine kind of like a Walkman that amplifies the baby's heartbeat so that the baby's stress level can be estimated. The baby's heartbeat was good and strong, and now my contractions were starting to be a bit painful. Dr. Anderson came in and gave me a quick internal exam, and said that I was about 3 cm dilated. O boy!
The Doctor and nurse (Ellen) left Steve & I alone to labour, with instructions on how to call if we needed help and towels in case we wanted to have a shower. Once the contractions started to get more painful, I found that the most comfortable position for me was kneeling on a pillow beside the bed, while leaning on my arms on the bed (kind of like I was saying my bedtime prayers). This way Steve could sit on a chair behind me and rub my back as I directed.
As the strength of the contractions continued to increase, this position was no longer the best one for me. As well, the cries of the woman across the hall from us giving birth were starting to really bother me, so we decided to walk down the hall to the showers & give water therapy a try. This was a wonderful idea...the water felt soooo good, and eased the pain of the contractions a good deal. We sat in the shower for quite a while, until the water stopped being quite so soothing and I was starting to prune up. We got back dressed and returned to my room.
The contractions were now so strong that I could no longer talk through them. I still liked the hands and knees position, but now I put the back up on the bed, kneeled on the bed and rested my arms and head on the elevated back of the bed. I was now being very careful to relax as much as possible between contractions, and Steve and I even dozed off between a few of them. Not for long though, as they continued to increase in strength.
It was about this time that I started to feel sick to my stomach with each contraction. I went to the bathroom and vomited for a while, then returned to the bed to labour some more.
When I started to cry out with each contraction, I decided that I wanted some pain relief. I knew that Nitrous Oxide would not pass through the placenta to our baby, so I rang the nurse and requested some Nitrous. The nurse checked my dilation, and said that I was at about 6 cm. She said that she would bring me something for the pain. Imagine my surprise when she brought in a syringe of Demerol! I stated that I did not want Demerol, and again requested Nitrous Oxide. The nurse said that Dr. Anderson had authorized a shot of Demerol, but not Nitrous Oxide. I repeated that I did not want the Demerol, and requested that the nurse contact Dr. Anderson with my request for Nitrous Oxide. About 1/2 an hour later the nurse wheeled in a bottle of Nitrous Oxide, which I used during each contraction until I had reached 10 cm dilation. The Nitrous Oxide did not eliminate the pain, but took the edge off and gave me something else to concentrate on at the beginning of each contraction (where's that mask?!?). I did not continue to use the Nitrous Oxide until each contraction was fully over, but only until I could feel the effects, and then rode out the rest of the contraction without the mask.
At about 1:00 am I heard a baby cry - the woman across the hall had delivered her baby! I felt so happy for her, and remembered that this is what all our hard work is about - pretty soon we'd have a baby of our own to hold and love. At about 2:00 Dr. Anderson came in to check on me. She mentioned that it was snowing outside - the first snowfall of the year, and on my baby's birthday! I took such strength from this news, and was filled with a new sense of joy and determination.
We continued labouring in this manner until I reached 10 cm dilation, at about 2:30 am on November 6th. After this I was no longer permitted to use the Nitrous Oxide to help me through the contractions, and was moved across the hall to the delivery room. And so, the pushing could begin.
Because I had liked the hands-and-knees position for dilation, we started my pushing in that position. I had good, strong pushes, and soon our baby was about ready to crown. Ellen, the nurse, was still using the Doppler to listen to the baby's heartbeat between each contraction, so we knew that the baby was coping well with her passage through the birth canal - the heartbeat was consistently between 120 and 140 beats per minute throughout the pushing stage.
At about this point I was sick again - this one took us all by surprise...I projectile-vomited in the only direction that no-one was standing, and reached a good four feet to hit the wall! Good thing for all that pasta and water - I felt much better afterwards, and apologized to the nurse.
After pushing for a while, the baby didn't seem to be moving any further, so we changed position. We raised the head of the bed, which I leaned against while Steve and the nurses held my legs, and I pulled back on my thighs to push. This didn't seem to help much, so after a few more pushes we went into the bathroom so that I could sit on the toilet to push for a while. While I was still pushing hard & strong, we were making no further progress. The baby would begin to crown, with about 3 cm (just over 1 inch) of the top of her head showing, but as soon as the contraction ended and I stopped pushing, she would slide back in. I was making a point of resting as much as possible between contractions, keeping my head tucked into my chest during contractions, and keeping my cries low in pitch to help the pushing along. Yet we were making no progress, at least none that stayed made after the contraction ended.
Dr. Anderson asked me if I was a horseback rider, and puzzled, I said no. She explained that riders sometimes have the same problems that I was having, because of their overdeveloped thigh and perineal muscles. I told her that I had taken nine years of ballet, and liked to mountain bike - two activities which could produce the same results as horseback riding. Who thought that being in good shape could be a detriment to me during labour!
Anyway, Steve suggested that we try the squatting bar - and what a wonderful suggestion that was. We had talked about this earlier, but I was so caught up in the experience that I had forgotten all about it. They fitted the bar onto the bed, lowered the foot of the bed so that I could squat on it, and we began pushing again, each push a little more powerful in the new position. I asked Steve to get up onto the bed with me, and he sat behind me with his legs on either side of me. This was a wonderful position - I felt that I had his strength added to mine during the pushes, and I could relax back into his arms between contractions. He could really feel how much effort I was putting into each push, and when I would push particularly hard he knew as soon as the doctor and I, and was the first to encourage me to keep it up.
Even with all of this help, I was not making any further progress. I noticed the doctor and nurse looking at the clock, and looking at each other with worried expressions. The baby's heartbeat was still steady and strong, but I had been pushing for almost three hours - usually doctors do not like the pushing stage to go on longer than two. Dr. Anderson told me that she was going to call in Dr. Merritt, the surgeon, to assess the situation and possibly prepare for a Cesarian section. She also said that while we were waiting for Dr. Merritt to show up, she would like to try using the vacuum to hold the baby in place after each contraction, and prevent the baby from losing the progress that we sere still making with each push.
I was getting very tired, but would not admit it. As I was still pushing strongly, and very much wanted to avoid a C-section, I agreed to trying the vacuum. After some fumbling trying to get it in (poor Dr. Anderson, each time the suction cup would pop out, I could see the pained expression on her face - she kept apologizing to me), the cup was in place. Now, with each contraction we kept the progress that we made, but after a few pushes the baby again refused to budge . Dr. Anderson said that she would like to try an episiotomy, as we were so close to having the baby out. I thought of the alternative cut (the C-section) and agreed to the episiotomy. As she was making the snip (which I did not feel at all), a young, rumpled and sleepy looking man came into the delivery room. I was a bit peeved, and remember thinking "What, are the interns coming in to see how things are going?" Then I realized that this was Dr. Merritt, coming in to assess me for the C- section.
After the episiotomy, and with renewed strength due to the anger that I felt over the fact that I had gone so far and might have to end up having a C- section, the baby's head was born on the next push. Dr. Anderson advised me to stop pushing, and they suctioned the baby's mouth clear. I had my head buried in the crook of my arm, and Steve was telling me to look down at our baby. I said no, but he pulled my arm away & turned my head toward the baby - I looked down to see the most wonderful sight - our baby's head, bloody and beautiful, with a mouth opening wide to give a first cry...what an amazing sound.
The baby's body was born with the next push (at 5:55 am), and the baby was placed on my stomach to be dried and for the cord to be cut. The placenta was delivered with the next push - and what a wonderful feeling that was...all of the pressure was magically gone. As we gazed at the baby in tearful wonder, Dr. Anderson asked if it was a boy or a girl (I had put in my birth plan that I wanted Steve to announce the sex).
Laughing and crying, amazed that at this point it did not really matter what the sex was because we had a beautiful, breathing, crying, pink baby, Steve parted the baby's legs and with tears of joy announced that we had a baby girl - and so we introduced Paula Dianna to the team that brought her into the world.
The umbilical cord was cut, an initial assessment of Paula was made while she remained on my stomach, and Dr. Anderson stitched up my episiotomy (with the help of a local anesthetic). We were then left alone with Paula to do some serious family bonding. Paula showed no interest in nursing, but did lick at the nipple when it was offered to her. So she got the taste, smell, and sound of mommy, if not my milk right away.
When the Doctor and nurse returned, they took Paula to a mobile assessment station (right beside the bed, I could have reached out and touched her), then returned her to me for some more bonding. Dr. Anderson showed us the placenta (which was good & healthy), then left us alone again. We stayed in the delivery room together for about an hour after Paula's birth. Then it was time for us to move back into my hospital room.
Steve went with Paula to the nursery so that she could be weighed, then went to the room with Paula to wait for me. He took off his shirt and held Paula skin-to-skin, to keep her body warm and let her feel safe and close to Daddy. What a beautiful sight as I was pushed back to my room in the wheelchair - the two people who I love most in the world sharing a quiet moment of bonding - now it was my turn to cry.
Paula was born at 0555h on November 6, 1999 (23 days early) after 15 hours of labour, 3 1/2 of those pushing. She weighed 5 lb, 15 oz (2706 g), was 19 inches long (43.5 cm), and her Apgars (ratings made a 1, 5 and 10 minutes after birth, out of a total of 10 and based on the baby's muscle tone, respiration and vigour) were 9, 10 and 10. She first breast fed about 1.5 hours after birth.
Dr. Anderson was very complimentary to me about the birth...she said that she was very impressed at how I kept making jokes throughout, and didn't even swear (I made the nurse crack up once when during a particularly intense contraction, I said "Ohhh...frick!" - she assured me that I was allowed to swear if I wanted to). Afterwards, Dr. A told me that 90% of the women that she had delivered for would not have been able to pull off the birth that I had - that it would have ended in a C-section. That made me feel very good - it sure wasn't for lack of trying!
Although Paula's birth did not unfold exactly as I had imagined it would, I was very pleased with the way that it all worked out. I felt very involved with each decision that was made, and felt very confident in the care that I was receiving. Our birth experience with Paula was a very positive one - not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but one that I feel very good about.
And we now have our beloved Paula. We are a family.