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Pregnancy

I wanted a natural birth, but nothing about it felt natural to me

Even though my natural birth plan turning C-section was not what I hoped for, everything ended up okay.

I wanted a natural birth, but nothing about it felt natural to me

Lisa Zeltzer

Over Egg McMuffins, my husband and I decided it was time to try for a baby. I was just shy of 30 and fresh out of Occupational Therapy school. We had experimented with keeping plants alive, and when that failed, a dog, who fortunately fared better.

I had no job security and a massive mortgage. But we knew a successful pregnancy could take years, adoption even longer, so we took a leap of faith.

I got pregnant immediately.

The early trimester

I fancied myself the "natural-pregnancy-with-midwives" type, but this pregnancy had other plans. Following several fainting spells, I was referred to the high-risk pregnancy clinic at the hospital.

Working on my feet during the first trimester was torture. I took to laying down on the treatment beds between patient appointments and munching salty chips while colleagues drank their morning coffees.

Patients comforted me as I lowered my head and willed the world to stop spinning. I felt sick all day, and I fell asleep by nine each night.

My husband and I affectionately referred to this pregnancy as our “parasite baby” because he drained me and gave me nothing in return.

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This should've signalled it was time to step away from my work, but that felt like a luxury for those with established careers—not new grads hungrily vying for a permanent position. It also felt like some kind of personal failure. I had chosen this path, and it was on me to endure it quietly since I hadn’t yet disclosed my pregnancy.

It felt like a decade, but I eventually reached that magical 16-week mark. My symptoms became less bothersome, the days became more manageable, and I was medically cleared to sign on with midwives.

author lisa and her son after delivery Lisa Zeltzer

The best trimester

There’s no need to spend much time in my second trimester. I was matched to the most phenomenal midwives. After years of being dairy intolerant, I discovered I could have all the pizza and chocolate milk I wanted. We even took a babymoon to Vancouver where my husband and I hiked for hours and rode bikes along the sea wall.

I felt terrific.

The complicated trimester

To describe my pregnancy finale as "eventful" would be an understatement. Our exuberant dog tore a ligament in her knee, which required urgent surgery, and my husband underwent an unexpected hernia repair.

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I was nursing everyone back to health, my body was gearing up for one of the most daunting experiences of my life. 

After dancing up a storm at my friend’s wedding, I awoke in the middle of the night, certain I had peed the bed. Like any self-respecting adult, I performed a sniff test and called my midwife team. I was in labour.

In the movies, this is the part where I would have woken my husband, who would have run around in an adorable display of chaos. We would have made it to the hospital in perfect time to deliver my son following a few dramatic pushes and a sneeze. Hair and makeup intact.

In reality, I knew we had a long road ahead. I let my husband sleep as I dozed on and off, and there was no progress by morning. 

PROM, but not the fun kind

When your water breaks before labour, it’s called pre-labour rupture of membranes, or PROM. Despite what you see in the movies, PROM occurs in approximately 10% of all pregnancies. The risks associated with PROM, such as infection for both mom and baby, increase after the first 24 hours, so the goal is to get the labour going as soon as possible.

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After reading the entire internet and consulting with our midwives, my husband and I started working through our checklist of labour-inducing activities.

When the hot peppers, breast pumping, and some unmentionables failed, we set out on a nature walk with our dog.

With irregular contractions, we set a plan to meet at the hospital later that evening to start an induction. Induction is when your healthcare provider gives you medicine or uses other methods, like breaking your water (amniotic sac), to help your labour progress.

That sounded fun and all (not), but due to my fear of epidurals or complications with a C-section, I really wanted a natural labour and was feeling on edge.

Things only got worse

And then, I found myself literally over the edge. Our dog had run full speed and dropped four feet into a creek. While working through a contraction, my husband and I bailed our wet, stinky 50-pound dog out from the embankment.

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Despite all this excitement, my labour still hadn't progressed. I was induced later that evening with a medication called Pitocin.

It took some time, but eventually, the induction took effect. After hours of labouring, I finally reached nine centimetres dilated.

Induction causes contractions that become stronger faster than naturally occurring contractions. It was challenging and hurt like hell, but I had come too far to abandon my natural birth plan. 

The home stretch—or not

Just as I accepted the end was near, my strong contractions caused the baby to have heart fluctuations. The care team called an obstetrician for a consult and a scalp monitor was placed on the baby.

In the hot, sauna-like room, I sent my husband to collect a fan from a family member so I could cool off somehow, but minutes after he left, alarms rang out, and five or six staff members charged into my room to work on me. 

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As I worked through a massive rolling contraction, I watched this scene unfold outside my body. Someone moved me in the bed while another drew blood. I couldn’t make sense of the conversations or events happening around me.

Once my husband returned, they explained the baby wasn’t tolerating labour. His heart rate dropped to dangerous levels during the stronger contractions, and I'd likely need a C-section.

author Lisa's son after delivery Lisa Zeltzer

Change of plans

The hospital staff offered me an epidural to be ready if a C-section was needed. If I didn’t take the epidural, I would risk being put to sleep if they had to move to surgery. I'd come so far without the pain medication that it felt unfair. None of this had been part of the plan. But being put to sleep for the birth of our baby? That was inconceivable.

I reluctantly chose the epidural, and we agreed that if there was one more low fetal heart rate event, we would move to a C-section. 

Shortly thereafter, Doogie Howser, M.D. (a joke for '90s kids), entered my hospital room and introduced himself as my anesthesiologist. At more than 25 hours of labour and zero hours of sleep, I couldn't help the way things played out from there.

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Doogie Howser: Hi Lisa, I’m here to perform your epidural.

Me: I don’t think so. Are you even old enough?

Doogie Howser: Lisa, I've done thousands of these. This is by far the simplest activity I perform in my job.

Eventually, his persuasive argument prevailed (there was no one else), so I put on my proverbial big girl (maternity) pants and let him perform the epidural. I survived. I felt some relief. I even took a nap.   

Then, at seven in the morning, a shift change came at the exact time the baby decided to cause a few problems—except this time, no one came running when the alarms went off. My husband dashed out to find the staff, and eventually, they rushed in to take me to the surgery room.

The actual home stretch

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At 9:29 in the morning, after 31 hours since my water had broken, our son made his appearance in the real world. He was an adorable bundle worth all the pain, excitement, and unplanned events.

Over time, my physical and emotional wounds healed, and our precocious son thrived. He entered this world in a slow-moving and theatrical way, and ironically, he remains slow-moving and theatrical to this day. 

I learned through it all that we don’t have much control over any of it. What is within our control is how we choose to ask for, and accept, help as we need it. We don’t have to assign words like “endure” and “suffer” to our experiences of pregnancy and childbirth.

Once you accept this, and the hard becomes a little less hard, your tween son starts calling you "bruh," and a new kind of hard begins. Good luck.

This article was originally published on May 24, 2023

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