Labour CAN Be Amazing… With Realistic Expectations.
We all hear about “the miracle of birth,” and how magical it is. Nowadays a lot of women have become disillusioned with the process of birth. They see beautiful photos on social media and hear all these whimsical things of unicorns floating out of their womb, yet very few women these days have actually seen or been a part of the labour process. I personally had not.
However, I am a realist and over the years I have done my own market research about birth and child bearing and all that jazz. I heard many stories and listened to numerous experiences. I found one common theme seemed to pop up. “Most women are unprepared for the reality of labour.”
Very few women, especially in my generation, take the time to think about the birthing process from start to finish. They see what TV and Instagram show them and they believe that it’s a push for a little while , scream and cry and then… taaa- daaa!!! Baby! They fail to think about the process and only see the end.
I’ve been in more than enough lengthy physically and mentally draining situations in my life, (from running half a marathon to surviving in the bush for 7 days without food to growing up with a bipolar stepmother). I knew I had to take the time to actually put myself “in the shoes of labour” so to speak, to be able to truly prepare for what was to come.
Why I Climb is my mental perspective that helped me with the whole journey and it let me take the time to appreciate the process.
Being someone that has been conditioned to process scenarios from beginning to end I’ve been subconsciously preparing myself for birth since I took my first Baby sitter CPR course. I learned to run scenarios from beginning to end from lifeguarding and EMS and over the years made it a habit to always assess “what if this happened to me?”
And so, throughout my data collecting I also learned that pretty much every woman I spoke to about birth endured under 36 hrs of labour. This became my endpoint. It was how I was to set my pace.
The other major factor in making this experience amazing was the climbing mentality I developed. I was able to apply the same techniques I use to “send” climbs to the birthing process.
The Big Day, Play by Play.
After 41 weeks the big day finally arrived. Apparently its common for first time moms to become anxious once the due date passes and I have to admit a little bit of that apprehension was beginning to apply to me. I still managed to sleep – for the most part- soundly through the nights but as each day came closer to the due date every odd movement at night would wake me up and each day past the due date I began to wonder if those movements we the beginnings of true labour contractions.
However each day resulted in just another morning with the Little Human still inside. Adam and I maintained light moderate activity right to the end. I credit my healthy pregnancy to playing at least 3 games of disc golf a week. This gave me purpose, light – moderate exercise and kept me in good spirits.
Phase 1 – Loss of Mucous Plug
On this particular day it began at little different. Instead of getting up around 8:00hrs – 9:00hrs like we normally do. we decided to sleep in. I figured it could be any day now with the baby, so I wanted to bank my rest. I slept until about 11:00hrs, I ate some stuff. Then went back to sleep for another 2- 3hours while Adam cleaned. I remember how heavy my eye lids were. I kept catching glimpses and whiffs of Adam scrubbing the bathroom. The smells burned my eyes and was so strong but I was too tried to say anything and I kept falling in and out of heavy sleep. Eventually I started to feel like I was awake and we finally started to mobilize about 14:00hrs. When I went to the bathroom at 14:33hrs, I discovered my mucous plug had fallen out!
This was super exciting for me because I had been waiting for “signs of labour” and this was one of them. Not all women experience the loss of the mucous plug, which is viscous or waxy build up in the cervix that can dislodge when the cervix starts to dilate. Many women miss it because it can easily be lost during a toilet session.
I knew the oversleeping was a good sign that my body was preparing for something big and when I saw the plug I was on high alert for other signs! However the day must go on and I didn’t want to just sit around waiting for labour to happen.
Phase 2 – Regular Contractions
We had plans to run errands, eat things and go watch a beautiful screening of a powerful film “Breaking Free” by our friend Calixte Leblanc owner of Cross Road Media Productions . I remember being at the intersection off Sarcee Trail and whatever that road is that takes you to the Beacon Hill Costco. I was feeling my Braxton hicks contractions (which are kind of like practice contractions that don’t typically hurt and just occur randomly and intermittently but are easily alleviated by changing position or drinking water) and it dawned on me that there was something rhythmic about them. My eyes settled on the digital dash clock of our 2010 Subaru Forester and I started watching the time.
It was 16:14hrs when I started questioning my Braxton Hicks contractions. They seemed to be coming in at regular intervals and in waves so I started to time them. (Apparently something you do when you’re in the last stages of pregnancy.) Lo and behold the next one came in at 16:22hrs, then the next one at 16:30hrs, 16:38hrs and then 16:46hrs….
I told Adam…. “I think baby is coming.”
(Which was not a shocking phrase as it was something we had been jokingly saying, repeatedly for the past 2 weeks but this time… I meant it.)
“I think I’m going into labour.”
We give each other a *High five!*
We had already made commitments for the 7pm film screening and I figured well… it’s not like the baby will pop out in the next few hours. Adam and I decided to just keep on doing what we were doing and by 18:00hrs we were at our event with contractions at 7 minutes apart and noticeably getting stronger.
Phase 3 – “Breaking Free” & Bloody Show
“Breaking Free,” is a short film produced, filmed, and created by my friend Calixte Leblanc. It’s a powerful kayaking film about drowning the stigma surrounding mental health that featured Adam and I in the previews. This was an intimate screening with maybe 15-20 people at a therapy ranch and it meant a lot to us that Calixte wanted us to be there for him during this important transition in his life. While we waited for other guests to arrive, I helped myself to more food, kept breathing through the steady waves of contractions and tried to contain my excitement. By 18:36hrs (at the film screening event) I had my first “bloody show” which is basically some bleeding in preparation for labour. Another exciting sign! It also meant that labour was near and we were starting to push the envelop. I decided since it was still quite early in the labour stages we didn’t “have” to be home and we wanted to wait to call the midwives when the contractions were less than 5 minutes apart. Therefor I figured we were still good for time.
I recall throughout the event people would ask me “when’s the baby due?” (as common practice goes). I would reply with a soft smile “today. I’m in labour now.”
The screening began later than expected and my contractions were gradually getting stronger and closer together, but we didn’t want to miss the screening. Which I am so happy we didn’t because we began the evening with a smudging ritual and a small presentation of rock gifts from Calixte. Smudging is a traditional indigenous ritual where a bundle of sage or braid of sweet grass is burned to purify the soul and cleanse the soul as well as the energy of a space. Many people often perform this short ritual when starting a new, moving into a new place or when they want to transition the energy of a space or themselves.
I remember feeling very calm and open during this time. I was elated, happy and just grateful for the things that led up to this day and for the experience that awaited me in the hours to come. This was a wonderful way to being our labour journey.
I’m glad we continued with our day as planned because the event turned out to be such a beautiful and powerful presentation of breaking through life’s challenges and it was a celebration of our friend who broke free from a decade of pain and wanted to share his love and appreciation for those that supported him. Details of this amazing story will be shared another time but I wanted to mention it because it was a major moment in pushing me through the night.
I couldn’t have imagine a more beautiful opening ceremony of the events that were to follow. By the time we left it was sometime after 20:30 and we arrived home around 21:00 with contractions now beginning to be uncomfortable at 5 minutes apart.
Phase 4 : Carb Load and Final Prep
We knew we had a long night ahead of us so I started hydrating with my favourite electrolyte drink Sustain and Adam started to inflate the birthing pool. I started to make some pasta to carb- load but the contractions were starting to make it more difficult, so I just sat on my exercise ball, turned on Netflix and just started focusing on myself and the beginnings of labour! Adam took over the cooking and made me some garlic mushroom pasta.
At this point Adam made a call to the midwife to check in and give them updates. We had a team of three midwives that had been overseeing my pregnancy. All were great but Adam and I really hoped Julie would be the one to attend the labour.
We knew the baby was a lucky a baby and lo and behold Julie was the midwife on call that night! Adam relayed my status to Julie and she asked if we needed her to come. I wanted to hold off at long as I could so Julie could get as much rest as she needed and also so we didn’t risk having her drive all the way only to go back home if I wasn’t far enough along.
Adam passed the phone to me and Julie asked me how I was doing. At this point I could force quick sentences between contractions or speak single words but it was definitely getting harder. Wondering what contractions feel like? Imagine having bad diarrhea pains or bad period cramps and trying to talk through them.
Julie asked me where the pain was during contractions – back or abdomen? I told her it was in my uterus. She asked me how I felt during contractions. I told her I wanted to bear down, clench and squeeze my toes in. Julie instructed me to try softening and relaxing the perineum and not to squeeze my toes but rather imagine “a buttery perineum.” She asked me again if I needed her to come and told me to try get some rest and she’ll see me in the morning.
I remember laughing to myself and Adam saying “I don’t think Julie knows how far along I am… because there’s no way we’re sleeping tonight, the baby’s coming.”
We’ve been told numerous times that first time moms usually are anxious and over anticipate labour, so it was no surprise that Julie assumed I was in the same boat and that she had more time.
I wanted to ensure I followed Julie’s every instruction so Adam and I headed to bed and tried to get some sleep.
Phase 5 : “Buttery Perineum” = Water Breaking
Upon the next set of contractions, I focused on keeping my feet relaxed, on my breathing and then imagining a soft and relaxed perineum. Suddenly I head and felt a “Pop.”
“AdamMyWaterBroke.” I said quickly in the middle of my contractions.
Adam jumps up “really??” He runs around to my side of the bed and lifts up the sheets. He asks if I want to get up so he can soak up the fluid. I was still in the middle of a contraction and I managed to utter a couple words indicating we just wait a minute.
This was sometime around 23:00hrs. At this point I told Adam maybe it was time to call Julie. I also called Leanne, my doula and let her know my water broke.
At this point Adam started to partially fill the birthing pool and I wandered around the house trying to find the best positions to endure the contractions which were now at about 4- 5 minutes apart. I had also taken the opportunity to check the fluid because we had been warned that if there was meconium (baby poop) present in the fluid then there was concern of the baby aspirating it in utero. I took a quick photo of the discharge and kept the pad to show Julie, my midwife. (We later found out that in many cases this was a possible indication to go to the hospital but after monitoring mine and the baby’s vitals Julie deemed it was okay. This was the first of many “complications,” that could have warranted a ride to the hospital.)
Phase 6: Team arrival, pool time, traction
Leanne, my ninja friend and doula arrived first. This was now sometime before 24:00hrs and by now contractions were leaving me quite focused in whatever position I would find myself. After some hellos and loving strokes of my back, Leanne stepped in and started providing me with traction in my hips through the contractions. Basically what this means is that she was squeezing my pelvis together in the midst of contractions to counteract the painful expanding of the hips during a contraction.
This changed everything! The pained was reduced quite dramatically, just by having Leanne use her palms or inner thighs to squeeze my hips in whenever I was experiencing a contraction. For the rest of the night Adam and Leanne alternated this task and I couldn’t imagine enduring labour without this. There were only a couple times where I recalled looking up desperately for someone to be at my hips. Imagine a panic-eyed- puppy- dog kind of an expression.
Julie arrived about 20-30min after Leanne and set up her things in the living room. Julie took my vitals as well as check on the fetal heart rate and checked my cervical dilation. (She didn’t tell us at the time but I was already 4cm dilated which meant I was progressing farther along than she anticipated.)
Shortly after she asked me if I wanted to get into the pool. I remember over zealously asking “Can I??!” (Thinking the pool was pretty much just for the pushing portion of the whole labour ordeal) she replied “yeah if you want!”
Happy as a clam I waddled into the pool and Leanne jumped in with me, while Adam added hot water to the pool. (At one point burning his own hand.)
Being in the water made me much happier. It helped with easing the pain of contractions quite a bit. Also this was a childhood dream of mine to give birth at home in a pool so emotionally I was hitting all the tick lists.
Phase 7: The long game & complications.
This was one of the longest moments. It seemed like contractions would never end . One of the biggest things I didn’t prepare for was back to back contractions. I had no idea that this was a thing. I always thought there was a rest in between every set of contractions but NO there comes a time where you may experience back to back to back to back to back contractions. This was the worst.
I recall only two moments in time where I looked up at the kitchen clock. Sometime around 23:00hrs and sometime around 03:00hrs.
Throughout this time there were only a few thoughts that cycled through my mind continuously like a mantra. “Keep your perineum relaxed – like butter,” “36 hours left” and “breathe.” Every time I could feel a contraction building up these were the things that kept me focused. Just like when I’m climbing. “Breathe, move your feet, just try harder.”
Phase 8: Complications.
I endured a few complications that flagged some concern with my midwife. However she was very experienced and recognized that as long as I progressed positively and kept my mind and body in control, then she would wait before making the decision to transport me to the hospital. (Basically since I wasn’t freaking out, the baby wasn’t freaking out and the midwife wasn’t freaking out.
Complication #1 when my water broke I noticed some yellowy green discharge and took a photo and kept my pad to show Julie when she arrived. We later found out that this was one of the moments where she was a little concerned there was meconium present which could potentially be aspirated by the baby. However upon checking my vitals and the baby’s she deemed it was safe to proceed with the home birth.
Complication #2 amniotic sac had a bubble. During the last few hours, my contractions had caused a section of the amniotic sac to pinch off and create a fluid filled bubble which was resulting in a stand still in the labour process. Once again checking my vitals and the baby’s, Julie deemed us stable and corrected the situation but using what essentially resembled a crochet hook, up into my hooha to puncture the bubble. I remember instantly there was a small relief in pressure. Julie then reported that some more space was now available in the birthing canal for better ease of getting the baby out.Complication #3 this was the more severe issue that posed the most concern. There hit a point (I think around 3am) that things were “stuck”. There was an unusual amount of blood coming out during each contraction (when normally there should be little to none) and though I was dilated the baby was not able to move down. Julie realized that my cervix was being pinched and dragged by the baby’s head versus the baby’s head thinning the cervix and bypassing.
Imagine putting a heavy weight (baby’s head) on a long strip of carpet(the cervix) and dragging it. The carpet would being to fold and rippled rather than the weight glide over the carpet as intended.To fix this Julie had to manually press down on the tissue during several contractions to allow for the baby’s head to move down. It would be like having someone hold the carpet down while another person drags the weight.
Phase 9: Experiencing the True Miracle of Birth
People often think the miracle of birth is when the baby pops out and is on the mothers chest and they meet eye to eye for the first time. For me, I learned the miracle is when you realize that the very moment you are in, is the most mentally and physically challenging moment you have ever experienced in your entire life and all the while you are appreciating it as awesome as it’s happening.
Now this was one of the most painful points of labour. The next set of thoughts in this phase that helped me through was, “if you do as she tells you, you don’t have to do it again and this will be over sooner,” “36 hours left,” “isn’t this great? Live in the moment because it will never happen again. How many people get to experience this exact thing!?”
Yes, that last thought was my go- to whenever things got really “unbearable,” I reminded myself that what I was experiencing was unique and magical. Believe it or not it was in these moments you may have caught a fleeting smile because it was when I truly would understand the “beauty and miracle of birth.”
All this was occurring while I was still in the birthing pool. The absolute most painful part of my labour was what happened next. Julie asked me to get out of the pool.
My Will said “ok,” but inside I remember thinking “omg I can’t,” because I knew contractions were coming and I didn’t think I could make the 5-6 steps to the bed let alone high step out of the birthing pool and then climb up on the bed. Every time I started thinking about the whole process of what I had to do, I simply told myself “just do it,” and completed each movement one at a time until I was finally on the bed .
These next moments were some of the most painful moments of the labour. To the point where it was the most difficult to recollect. In my mind I thought perhaps it was 20minutes or so but when I asked Leanne my doula and friend, she said 45min to an hour. She also said she could hear the tone in my voice change and she could her the escalation of pain.
I guess being in the water truly is better!
During this time Adam was emptying the pool and changing the water for the last phase of labour. Julie, the midwife was assessing me on the bed and doing her magic. I don’t remember much of this phase, just that it hurt and I remember desperately looking for someone to apply traction to my hips every time a contraction was coming, but due to my position no one could help me. I remember pulling on my hair so hard I partially expected clumps to rip out. Leanna recalls this as well.
Eventually Julie said I could return to the pool. I don’t remember how I got there but next thing you know I was back in the pool.
This next phase was also a little foggy. I just recall Julie instructing me to change position – probably something to do with the baby obviously. I wasn’t about to argue. Here begins the awkward get-on- all – fours – with- your – feet – up position. Yay. This was not a pleasant position to be in but I had to do some interesting breathing / panting patterns to get the baby into an ideal position. I’m not sure how long I was here for because by now I was just pacing myself to get to my 36 hr mark. (Remember this is the goal I preset for myself because whatever happens in labour… the baby is going to be out within 36 hrs.)
One of the other worse things I remember is this stupid tile seam or something that my knee kept gravitating towards. My knee was so sore and bruised from resting on it but I couldn’t waste the energy to say more than one or two words at a time so I was unable to let Adam know I needed help fixing this horrible painful annoyance.
AND I WAS SO HOT! The pool water seemed to be like hot tub and all i could muster was “wet, towel. Hot.” Too hot. This is the part in labour where you DO NOT TOUCH the pregnant woman.
Phase 10: The Calm.
This was another unexpected transition in labour that I had no idea existed. The calm phase. For a wonderful amount of time, the contractions spaced out. They slowed down as if to give my body a chance to reboot. It was as if your body is telling you to slow down, remember this moment because the next part of labour… is what you have been waiting for your whole life.
I actually was able to sleep in between contractions at this point. They were less frequent and less intense. I knew the end was near. Throughout the labour process I was still able to crack a few smiles and make a few jokes and this phase I was definitely feeling pretty happy. I conserved my energy to express this happiness but if you were part of my team you had the chance to see little wisps and bursts of uncanny and witty humour.
Anyways, cold cloths, naps and quiet time. It’s interesting. When I show people my birthing photos people always comment on how calm it seems, and in reality it was. At the end… how quickly you people forget about all the phases I wrote to you above! Alas yes, this was my favourite part. It brings tears to my eyes to recollect this wonderful moment. It gave me time to reflect on the entire journey, from when I realized I wanted to be a mom all those decades ago, to this exact point in time… moments a mere couple hours before I would get to hold a little human and call it mine.
It gave me time to appreciate the day leading to this moment in the freaking hot tub of a birthing pool and smile at those around me. Adam, Leanne, Julie and Callan. It gave me time to breathe and listen to my breath. I remember looking around and being grateful for all the tired faces around me. Thinking about when the last time each of them slept. Feeling humbled that these people around me were willing to not only participate voluntarily in a wake – a – thon but basically be expected to work their asses off keeping me alive, cold, tractioned and hydrated.
This was the calm phase… the begging of the end of the beginning.
Phase Eleven: The Push
This is the phase you see in the movies. The 20 minutes of labour that make people think is all labour. They part where women seem to fear the most. This was actually what I looked forward to the most. It’s because it meant I could see the finish line. If any of you have every competed in anything, you know this feeling. A mix of joy, followed by a reality check of not getting too excited because you still have to save your energy and then a burst of focus and determination to get to the end.
This moment is when I knew that within and hour or so I would be able to finally sleep and the back to back to back to back contractions would no longer be. It was GO TIME.
I was also mentally prepared enough for this moment that I could be patient. I wanted to limit the amount of perineal tearing as much as possible and knew I would have to take my time.
I remember being really in tuned to my midwife. I’ve always known that the “easy” way out is usually the harder in the end so it was better to be focused and listen carefully to the instructions of Julie. I recall being able to feel and hold easy push and be mindful of the baby moving down the cervix. Of course it was painful but I knew if I didn’t hold my position it would only mean the baby would get sucked back in and I would have to do it again. Think about rolling a heavy boulder up a hill, if you let go each time you wanted to take a break, the boulder would roll back down to the bottom and you would have to start again. Rather, be strong, persevere and maintain an anchor when you need a break and slowly but surely you’ll get that boulder to the top of the hill.
Hold and push. Hold and push. Breathe.
I did hit a point when I knew I was getting too tired, and if waited a couple more holds it probably would have reduced the tearing. I had to decide in my mind whether I had enough energy to wait or if I didn’t complete the final push now perhaps I would be too tired to continue. At this point you’re not worried about tearing anymore because in reality the worst was over so whats a little “split lip?”
Adam always jokes about how when the midwife asked me if i knew what the baby sex was I replied “boy,” because I saw the umbilical cord. What really was going on my mind while everyone was teary eyed and celebrating was “I don’t care what the sex is, I need to sleep and there’s still so much work to be done. I need to get out of this pool, deliver this placenta, get sutures and still get examined and do who knows what. I’ll just saw whatever sex comes to mind to get them to stop bugging me so we can keep going!”
Phase Twelve: The Work Begins, delivering the placenta and all the other stuff people neglect to incorporate in their birthing process.
A lot of people think the hard work is over once the baby comes out. I knew better. I allotted myself enough energy for up to 3 more hours of “work,” once the baby came out. I had realistic expectations and I knew my limits. If I didn’t continue “working” I would shut down and run out of adrenaline.
This was another 1-2 hour process. The most painful aspect of the labour process for sure. Everyone was getting ready to rest and enjoy the baby and I was in military mode. No one tells you how the contractions get worse and continue while delivering the placenta and nursing. They had to massage the crap out of my uterus to make sure all the blood clots came out and the placenta was released properly so there wasn’t unresolved bleeding.
I remember wanting to ask for sutures as soon as possible but I was too tired and too polite to question the teams process. It seemed like forever. Maybe 45 minutes before it was attended to. (Adam says 20-25 Minutes but he also thinks hiking into cougar canyon takes 20-25minutes…) I was counting the minutes, listening to everyone clean up and take notes and all I could think about was getting stitched up before my adrenaline wore off.
Finally it was time to get sutured. It was the most painful part of the whole process. Where I was frozen it didn’t hurt it was everything else. I remember my inner thighs and labia majora being so tender and just the slight touch of a glove would send crippling spasms through my body. I’m sure I was breaking the hands of Adam and Leanne as they held on to me. My back hurt from all the spasms. I wish I said something sooner. Whether or not it could have been addressed to I wish I made the effort to say something because it was THE WORST.
My proudest moments:
I remember the doula, Leanna and midwife Julie saying that Adam was the most hands on and attentive partner they’ve ever seen. (He was basically my doula 2IC.)
The midwife said she only wanted to attend climbers from now on because of our ability to focus and have such control. (I mean this really was just a long climbing project I needed to send.)
When the midwife said there were several incidences where she considered a hospital intervention but saw how calm and focused I was.
When my doula said of the 16 births she attended this was the calmest she’s seen a baby come out. Just quiet and calm.
Things I want for next time:
Frozen cloths for when I’m burning up, sutures ASAP, video footage, padding under the birthing pool. Glass O’ Wine!