“First baby, glass; second child, rubber,” an old saying goes. It speaks to the hard-earned confidence women acquire with the second kid, after experiencing the cluelessness of brand-new motherhood and caring for a delicate newborn for the first time.
That’s how I felt about my two birth experiences. The first one was the great unknown, but with my second pregnancy, I knew the incredible gift I would get at the end of the hard labour — I wouldn’t be knocked up anymore. Oh, and I’d get to lock eyes with someone teensy and beautiful, who could read my soul in an instant. One day’s discomfort for a lifetime of rewards.
My first-born, Nate, was delivered under difficult circumstances, in an operating room via emergency C-section, and we were in the hospital for nine days before we got to go home as a fragile new- mom-baby-boy combo. When I found myself expecting again, two-and-a-half years later, I was determined to give this new child a different origin story.
I decided I wanted to try for a Vaginal Birth After Caesarean (VBAC). Family and friends told me I was crazy not to go for the simplicity of another Caesarean, or selfish to put my desires before the health and safety of the baby.
But I’d done my homework and for a woman my age (33), the outcomes for a VBAC were more than encouraging. It was even the healthier choice, according to most studies I read. An ultrasound confirmed that my surgery incision had completely healed, minimizing my chance for a scary rupture during delivery to less than two percent. Obviously I wanted a healthy baby most of all, but I also wanted to be able to walk out into the waiting room and introduce my toddler son to his sibling. After my C-section it had taken me a few days to get back on my feet.
On a hot August morning, exactly on my due date, I started feeling contractions. I timed them at home all day until they were five minutes apart, and then we checked into the hospital. Unlike so many of my friends who had incredible stories of medicated, (mostly) pain-free births, my previous experience with the epidural had some rare complications. Hospital policy dictated that, as a VBAC
candidate, I was to see the anaesthesiologist shortly after being admitted, but I somehow managed to convince the doctor on duty that she should delay my epidural. After they broke my waters, I was left to labour privately in my room with my husband and homeopath/labour coach at my side.
Of course, after a few hours of contractions, and then the transition stage of labour, I was begging for pain relief, but there was no one to administer it to me because the anaesthesiologists were in the OR dealing with C-sections. So I breathed. I breathed and I brayed and I bucked. I felt more comfortable standing up, leaning on my husband, locked in the world’s most awkward slow dance. At one point, I may have peed on his foot.
After 10 hours of this business, and a shot of Demerol that the nurse administered, it was time to push, and I got back into the hospital bed. But I was just not that into it. Couldn’t someone else have this baby for me?
Then someone said, “I can see the head!” The head! My baby was down there! I was back in the present moment. I pushed with all my might. I shocked myself by asking for a mirror, which helped immensely as I could somehow project my pain onto that woman in the mirror (who clearly needed a bikini wax!). And at 6:33 a.m., I pushed out the rest of this milky new baby, heard a cry and the words, “It’s a girl!”
In moments, she was cleaned up and placed upon me like a prize. We locked eyes. She knew who I was in an instant. “Hello, Lucine,” I whispered.
Piece of cake? Not so much. But oh, how sweet the reward.
This article appeared in the Today’s Parent Pregnancy spring/summer 2013 edition with the headline, “Labours of love: My (mostly) drug-free hospital birth”, p.45-46.