I felt the first contraction around 6:40 a.m. on November 11th. I wasn’t absolutely sure it was a contraction at first, and it lasted only a minute. Twenty minutes later, there was another one. I phoned my midwife, Heather, at about 9 a.m. to let her know that things were underway. She told me to let her know when my contractions were about 3 or 4 minutes apart, or when I knew I was in active labour, or if my water broke.
We made it a pretty normal day, although I can’t tell you now just what I did to fill the time. Since it was Remembrance Day, Michael had been planning to go to the ceremonies at the Canada Games Centre with Jade, and then for a hike with Nanuq afterward; he abandoned those plans, though, since it was clear that I was in early labour. We both did a little blogging, made sure Jade ate her meals and snacks on time, phoned our families. I do seem to remember eating a lot that day. I figured I should keep my energy up. I also remember telling Michael that I still couldn’t really believe we had a baby coming.
I continued to have mild contractions throughout the day, sometimes 20 minutes apart, sometimes more. I even got a break in the afternoon and napped for at least an hour. That nap ended suddenly when a particularly strong contraction caused me to leap out of bed. I found lying down was absolutely the worst position for getting through a contraction. Instead, I made good use of my trusty exercise ball. (I have never used it for exercise. I got it after Jade was born. It was extremely useful for quieting her cries when she was suffering from gas pains.)
As we moved into evening, the contractions got stronger. They started to be painful, except that I’d visualize my body opening up to let the baby out. “Open up, open up,” I was whispering to myself, and somehow the contraction wouldn’t seem as painful that way.
Around 6 o’clock we had supper (my mom’s fabulously delicious homemade jiaozi) and Michael put in a call to Heather’s pager. My contractions were about 7 minutes apart at that point, though I’d still occasionally have a longer break. We were both surprised that Heather didn’t call back right away, especially since she’d checked in with me in the afternoon to see whether it was okay to go into town or if I thought I’d need her very soon. It turned out that she’d started helping someone put up some drywall; for the first time that day, her pager wasn’t right on her. She ended up phoning us at 6:30 and let us know she was going home to get her things (and shower off the drywalling gunk).
Heather arrived at 7:00 and started putting together the birthing pool. I wasn’t necessarily set on the idea of a water birth, but I was very excited about the idea of labouring in the water. A couple of women I know have found labouring in a bath extremely helpful. (“Better than an epidural!” said one friend who’s done it both ways.) Meanwhile, my mom started Jade’s bedtime routine, since she always goes to bed after supper.
At this point, I really wanted to concentrate on my labour and the overhead lights just seemed too harsh. I stayed in the kitchen but turned out all the lights and got Michael to light some candles. I also changed into a ratty old bathrobe to get my clothing out of the way.
I could hear Heather in our office, assembling the birthing pool. The contractions were getting a lot more intense and closer together and I was doing a lot of moaning. (The moaning was helpful, but I remember thinking how unmusical the sound was. No one would think I’m much of a singer, listening to those sounds coming out of me!) I remember wishing Heather would hurry up because I wanted advice on how to deal with the intensity! Sometimes I was on the exercise ball. Sometimes I would put my arms around Michael’s neck and sort of hang on him. I tried squatting but that felt like it was hurrying things along a bit too much and I didn’t try it again.
Heather came out and said, “Fawn, do you feel like you have to push?” She waited a moment. “Because it sounds like you want to push.” I think I was on the exercise ball at that point and I kind of moaned a question about when the pool would be ready. There were just a few centimetres of water in there; the pool normally takes about 20 minutes to fill. She could tell there wasn’t that kind of time. “You’re not going to make it,” she said. “Where do you want to be?”
My mom had prepared the upstairs bedroom for me, laying out a shower curtain liner to protection the mattress, with some old sheets on top. At that moment, though, the last place I wanted to be was in a bed. Actually, I’d spent a good part of my day visiting the bathroom. (Loose bowel movements are common during early labour; it’s one of the ways the body gets itself ready.) If you haven’t heard this before, you’ll hear it now: the toilet is a wonderful place to get through contractions. The supported squatting position that doesn’t put pressure on your delicate bits is, well, comfortable, if you can call being in labour comfortable. When Heather asked me where I wanted to be, everything in me said I didn’t want to be in a bed. No, I’d much rather be on the toilet. And I said so.
“Okay,” said Heather. So she and Michael helped me to the bathroom and onto the toilet.
Things were really starting to roll. The contractions were very strong, there was a lot of pressure happening down below, and I was feeling out of control. I think the moaning turned into something more like screaming at this point. I was holding onto Michael’s hands (perhaps cutting off his circulation, I might add) and Heather was kneeling in front of me. “Slow it down, Fawn” said Heather, calmly, soothingly. “Try to pant through the contractions.” (The idea here is to let the tissues of the perineum stretch so that less tearing will happen.) I think I managed to pant through two contractions, but I couldn’t rein in what my body wanted me to do.
Suddenly I felt an explosion. Perhaps you can imagine how disconcerting it is to feel an explosion between your legs. (Well, this kind of explosion is. Heh heh…) I screamed something like, “I felt something go!” I was honestly a bit panicked at this point. I realized how fast things were going and I wasn’t really mentally prepared to be at this stage of labour yet. I could actually feel the baby’s head about to crown; I knew it was happening because remembered what this felt like with Jade, except that with Jade it had taken a bit of work pushing to get to this point. Things couldn’t possibly be going this fast!
Once I’d announced that my water had broken, Heather told me I had to stand up. I got up and turned to face her, with Michael behind me. It took just push to get Halia’s head out. One more push, and out came the baby! I didn’t see it, of course, but Michael is still extremely impressed with Heather’s spectacular catch. (Truly, she “caught” the baby. And if you’ve never seen a newborn, babies are extremely slippery when they’re newly delivered!) I heard the baby crying in the first seconds after she was born. I sat back down on the toilet and Heather handed her to me.
I don’t know if Michael ever said it on his blog, but he was convinced from quite early on that we were going to have a boy. He was so dead sure of it that by the last couple of months, he had me convinced, too. So it was a huge surprise when I looked down at the tiny squirming thing in my hands and realized, “It’s a girl!” I wonder how surprised I sounded, because I sure felt surprised. “Oh!” Michael said. “I was so wrong!”
After that, Heather filled up the (regular) bathtub for me and I got into it with our new little baby girl. We shut the lights off and Michael brought in some of the candles that had been burning in the kitchen. Heather busied herself getting some things ready for me. I believe she offered me some arnica, and also a small amount of herbal tea. She explained their function to me at the time, but I don’t remember those details very clearly now.
I do remember thinking my poor mother must have felt pretty stressed being downstairs and listening to me scream. I told Michael, “Why don’t we bring Jade upstairs now to meet her little sister?” Then we suddenly thought to wonder what the time was. It was just before 8 o’clock. (I hope poor Halia never gets too much into astrology, since we don’t know the exact minute of her birth.)
Jade was absolutely enchanted by the new baby. She also really wanted to get into the tub with me and the new baby girl (who, as you may recall, remained nameless for several days). The bathwater was pretty bloody, so we decided we should try to finish filling the birthing pool, which would fit all four of us. Unfortunately, a few minutes later the hot water ran out. Then the bathroom sink sprung a leak, probably from the pressure of the hose running to the birthing pool. Since it was clear we wouldn’t get to use the pool and Jade had already stripped all her clothes off (by herself), we decided to let her get in with me so that she could really meet her little sister. And she’s been helping us to look after her ever since.