The Ender turns four this week, and as my crunchy friends send him heartfelt birthday wishes, they also wish me a happy birthing day. Except, it really wasn’t. Happy, I mean. But it doesn’t matter. It was. And he came. And we were both healthy. And that was enough.
So today I give you my long, sappy and thoroughly unfunny birthing story. This is how Ender came. The way he had to come. I don’t give you the really unfunny backstory leading up to it–that’s mine to hold and process, only mine, even more than four years later.
If you’d rather experience (or, if you’ve been in my life since 2009, relive) the short version where I regain my sense of humour, it’s here: The last three minutes of Ender’s otherwise criminally long arrival on planet Earth. And if birth stories give you the heebee-jeebees–and I totally understand, baby, the miracle of birth is horribly gross, really, the things we do for the continuation of the species, crazy, utterly crazy–go read … um, how about the day Flora decided we were going to keep Ender, even though he’s not a girl? Yeah, that’s a good one, “He’s a Keeper.” And it’s short. Minimal time commitment.
But if you’ve got a little bit of time and glory in the full story… here we go…
This is the long version of Ender’s arrival, the last 12 or so hours, written for and published in Birthing magazine.
As dawn breaks over Calgary’s first winter snowstorm in October 2009, I’m 14 days post-estimated-due-date and on the parking lot usually known as Crowchild Trail, en route to the Rockyview Hospital for an induction.
“It’s a good thing you’re not really in labour,” Sean, my partner, says. “Or else we really would be having this baby in the van.”
Ha ha ha. I try not to get angry at my uterus, cervix, DNA code—whichever part of me it is that is not working the way I think it ought to. I try to be philosophical. They come as they must, and all that matters is that they come, healthy, safe. I almost believe it.
By 9 a.m., I’m in a snazzy butt-less hospital gown. I keep my Wicked Witch of the East socks on; they make me happy. The IV’s on—five weeks of prodromal labour and two cervical rimmings haven’t dilated the cervix enough to break my water, so the Oxytocin is flowing.
And nothing is happening. Nurse Kim, with whom I immediately fall in love, jacks up the dose every 30 minutes. By 11 a.m., there are contractions—sort of. I have a nap.
Noon comes. Then 1 p.m. … and exciting news: not quite 3 cm, but dilated enough for the doctor to break my water. Gush. Beautiful, clear liquid flows out of me and I relax, completely, and collapse on the bed. I had no idea how terrified I was I’d see meconium until that moment. It’s all good. Everything will be fine. The fetal monitor stops bugging me; I don’t feel the IV.
Nurse Kim turns down the flow on it a bit because, she says, it’s quite high, and now that my water’s broken, things could really pick up.
Except they don’t. The contractions just about disappear. We crank it up again. And again.
In the end, it’s Robin Williams who does it. In the hospital birthing room, we find a VHS of Birdcage and while we watch it, I laugh so hard I pee myself—well, it might just be more amniotic fluid leaking out. And the contractions build. And build. Soon I have to really breathe. Then close my eyes and breathe. Yes!
“How are things?” Nurse Kim asks at 4 p.m. “Good!” I announce. “That last one really, really hurt.” “That’s not the response I usually get,” she laughs. “But good to hear.”
So here’s my un-plan plan. Oxytocin-induced contractions, I amply remember from my induced miracle one, are not like natural contractions. The best way I can think of to describe the difference is that, if you think of contractions in terms of waves with peaks, induced contractions tend to have multiple “heads”—and you don’t come down off them as fully as you do off the “natural” thing. So a “natural” birth on Oxytocin—in other words, a non-medicated birth—I just don’t think I can do it. Not for three days (length of active labour with miracle one), not for two days (miracle two), and not for 24 hours. I’m going to stay epidural-free for as long as I can—7 p.m. is the mental goal line—and then, I’ll ask for the meds.
The contractions are building. After five weeks of prodromal labour, characterized by contractions that went nowhere, I’m thrilled. 5 p.m. comes. 6 p.m. The doctor checks the dilation.
“I’ll call it 4,” she says.
“What?” one bloody centimeter in the last five hours? One lousy centimeter? Gah! A contraction takes my mind off the outrage. The doctor asks me, between contractions, if I’d mind if a resident came in to observe the birth. I nod. Whatever. What birth? This baby is never coming!
I focus on my body, on my belly, on the little person inside. I feel his heartbeat. He’s working hard too. We’ll do this. However long it takes.
Nurse Kim’s shift ends at 7 p.m. She’s reluctant to go: “I want to be here for the arrival!” she says. We check the dilation again. “Should I say five to make you feel better?” says Kim.
I’m pretty sure I use some bad words. “No,” I say. “Fine. That’s fine.” But it’s not and I give up. I’ll take an epidural the next time an anesthetist’s around, I say.
Nurse Kim hands me off to Nurse Sue. She has warm hands. She says the anaesthetist is on the ward, could be here in a few minutes. “Should we get the bed ready?” I’ve been on it in a squatting position, holding onto bars. The bars have to come down, the bed to go up… I have to sit on the side, she explains, slumped over a pillow… her voice fades in and out.
I look at the clock. It’s 7:20. I’m not even five centimetres. And tired. And having another ridiculously medicated birth that will go on forever…
“OK,” I say. “But I have to go to the bathroom first.” The room seems very, very full and very loud.
I void everything, and think about puking, decide not to. Sean pokes his head in. “Everything ok?” I nod. “Ready to come out?” Not really. I don’t really want the spinal. I don’t want to have to be told when to push. I don’t want to not feel my legs. … I don’t really want to be in the room full of people again.
Sean pokes his head in again. Worried. He shepherds me and my IV back to the bed. Nurse Sue helps get me into the “position”—which I promptly get out of, as a the mother of all contractions rocks my world. I scream.
Baby number three, and this is my first birthing scream. It feels so good. And it hurts. Oh, it hurts. 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 90 seconds. I scream again. I have become, in the last five or so hours, an expert in time keeping. This is 30 seconds and this is 60. This is the pause – 30 seconds, sometimes 45, occasionally a long, blissful 60. And here we go again, 30 seconds… no, here’s the mother of all contractions again and I only had five seconds of down time. What is this? 30… 60… 90… 120…
“Why won’t this contraction end!” I scream. There is nothing left on the bed to hold on to. My legs are wrapped around Sean, my back is arched against my mother, and I’m screaming with my whole self, except for one teeny tiny part of me which is thinking that I should remember this post-partum, should miracle number three be a colicky or fussy baby: when you’re in certain types of pain, all you can do is scream.
“Jane, is the baby coming?” Nurse Sue cries out.
It seems to me an incredibly stupid thing to say.
“How should I know?” I snap. I disengage one leg from around Sean’s waist and stick it up into the air.
“Um… I think that’s the head,” Sean says weakly.
Honestly, I don’t connect the dots. I’m still doing math. 150, 180… I am so overdue for a break… 210…
“Push the red button,” Nurse Sue tells Sean. There’s a scramble. “What button?” “There.” “This one?” Sean yanks it out of the wall. There’s noise of feet, and the full room feels fuller. (Later, I find out pushing the button summons the doctor. Yanking it out of the wall screams emergency and sends all available staff running.)
I scream again.
“Don’t scream—push!” someone hollers. My mother, whose arm I’m in the process of breaking, snaps back, “It’s her labour and she can scream if she wants to!” She’s up in arms. It’s sweet. But I think… pushing’s a good idea. Yeah, I should do that. Definitely a good idea.
I push. Once.
And he arrives. Just like that, me on my side, one leg wrapped around Sean, one leg up in air, he slides into Nurse Sue’s arms.
“And he’s here. Your baby’s here,” she says, and I collapse, the pain is gone—the memory of it is gone. He’s here, he’s here.
Nurse Sue puts him on my chest and he’s purple and slimy and the most shockingly beautiful thing in the world. I look at him and he looks at me, and we drink each other, and at some point the doctor runs in and there’s a technical discussion going on at the foot of the bed about time of birth (“7:39 p.m.”), when I started to push (“Well, I’d say… 7:38 p.m.”), and all those fascinating details needed for the paperwork (incidentally, the doctor—and not Nurse Sue—got credit for the delivery, but now you know how it really was). I hear it through a filter whose name is Ender.
Our miracles come into our lives any way they need to come. My little miracle wriggles on my chest. He is healthy and perfect in everyway. He starts rooting for the nipple. The arrival is over; the real adventure begins.
I’m so proud of you for making it to the end. No, not you, Mom, I know you re-read this story every year. I’m talking to that dude over there, see him? Yeah. Mildly nauseated, not just a little grossed out, and planning to stock up on condoms and spermicide as soon as he can tear his eyes away from the screen–but he made it to the end. You rock, lover. So here’s a reward. This is why we endure the gross. Once, twice, thrice. So one day, we can film this:
Worth it? Oh, yeah.
P.S. Yes, Cinder is wearing a turkey on his head. It was Canadian Thanksgiving on Monday. That’s what we do here. All of us. Really.