On Monday night (August 4th), Mike and I prayed that baby would be born during the night. His mom and sister were leaving town in the morning and it would just work out so well if they could stop in at the hospital on the way out of town to meet our newest bundle. Well, nothing happened overnight and in the morning, I was lying in bed, answering a question someone had asked about how I felt – “Just hanging in there, taking things moment to moment and hoping it happens soon,” was essentially my response. I got up at nine and found I had lost my mucous plug. This had never happened to me outside of labour or the day after an internal exam. So naturally, I was excited.
I noticed that I had some cramping over the next few hours and I texted Mike and my friend Sarah to let them know something was happening. I knew that the best thing for me was to stay busy so I wouldn’t sit around wondering when things would get going, especially because it can sometimes be days until actual labour starts. I also felt that baby was not head down that morning – not cause for any great concern because he had been moving so much in the last few weeks, but it made me wonder if I should be doing different exercises to get him into the right position. I felt led to read Hebrews 3 and 4 and found a verse towards the end talking about ceasing from your work and entering into God’s rest. It even had the word labour in it. I figured that was reason enough to just let things happen and trust that baby would go where he was supposed to.
I caught up on a few things around the house and after Mike’s lunch break started having stronger contractions. They intensified all afternoon but were very irregular. I knew I was in early labour at this point but didn’t know how much longer I had. I made pancakes for supper, feeling very strange as I’ve never had a baby take so long to come. It was surreal to be doing things like that while knowing I was labouring. We went to Bible study at Mike’s parents’ house and I was able to share where I was at and be prayed for by everyone there. My contractions got considerably stronger while we were there but didn’t hurt at all. All day I had been having increasing bloody show so I knew this was not false labour which was reassuring.
We went home, put the kids to bed and I used my exercise ball, took care of a few chores and around 11:30 decided that I wasn’t progressing fast enough to bother going into the hospital. We figured we would try to sleep as long as possible. I was up every two hours or so and had a bath in the middle of the night trying to decide whether it was time to go in or not. I woke Mike up around 4:00 and told him that I needed him to decide what we should do. I felt that the baby’s head was up quite high and knew if we went in, they might want to intervene like they did when I was in labour with Elias. I also didn’t want to stay home too long but thought that maybe it would be better if we waited for morning so that we could get the kids up for the day and take them to Sarah’s instead of having someone come in the night. I felt like I was not going to make a clear decision at that point. My contractions had become very uncomfortable and I wasn’t up to talking through them anymore. Mike felt that waiting until 7:00 or so was the best plan so we went back to sleep again.
The strangest thing for me was the fact that I was able to sleep right through contractions even though they were so uncomfortable when I was up. I know the rest was good for me as my labour was taking longer than what is normal for me.
At 6:30, I got up and ate breakfast and an hour later, we woke the kids up and loaded them in the van. Jenny and Elias were both so cute when I told them it was time for me to go to the hospital to have the baby. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Elias’s eyes so big before. Ben, on the other hand, was just mad that they didn’t get to have computer day and he had to go to his friend’s house instead. We dropped them off around 8:00 and chatted with Sarah a bit before we left. When we got to the hospital, I had a good contraction in the parking lot and was laughing at myself as it seemed like something that always happens in movies. On the way in, we saw a friend of mine who is a maternity nurse and was there when I was in the hospital with Sam.
We went in and they put me in an exam room right away. I filled them in on my history and that I was here for a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) and they were about to bring a doctor in when one of my favourites just happened to show up at the door. He came in and felt for baby’s position. He could tell very quickly that there was no head in my pelvis where it should have been. After a minute he found it up under my ribs on my right side. The mood immediately changed and they went to find the obstetrician, who thankfully was in the hospital at the time. He came within ten minutes and they monitored my contractions and baby’s heart rate while we waited. He brought a portable ultrasound machine with him to confirm where baby was and found his head right at the top of my belly and his feet hanging down. This meant he was not frank breech, but footling breech. I had been told that a frank breech (like Sam was) I could attempt my VBAC with, as I had a history of big babies and have had four naturally before. Footling breech is another story, though. I asked the OB what it meant for me and he said, “Looks like you’re looking at another c-section.”
The next twenty minutes were tough as Mike and I prayed and prayed for that baby to turn on its own. Even my friend stayed with us and prayed. We knew we had a decision to make but didn’t understand our options yet. The obstetrician came back in and I asked if we could just wait and see what happened. He had checked me and said that I was already at three centimetres and my membranes were bulging during contractions which usually means your water will break soon. I have only had my water break once on its own and told him that but his concern was that of course, we had no idea if it would happen and baby’s foot would most likely come right out at that point, which would mean an emergency c-section.
During the appointment I had with the OB a few weeks before, I had asked him about external cephalic version (ECV) where they turn the baby from the outside. It was something mentioned when I was pregnant with Sam but not attempted as there was no OB here at the time. He said he could do them if baby wasn’t presenting correctly at the end. So when he came back to find out what we wanted to do, I asked him if he could do a version. He said he could but in these cases, there was a risk of the cord catching on baby’s feet as they were rotated and there was only a fifty percent chance it would work at all. It would also mean giving me a spinal, prepping me for a c-section and doing the whole thing in the operating room so that if things didn’t work, they could quickly get the baby out. Mike and I did not have peace about moving forward into a caesarean right away but even a fifty percent chance sounded good to us. So we went forward, I had IVs already and they added a catheter before moving me to the OR. Mike was very quiet through most of this but when I would look to see how he was doing, I could see his mouth moving. He said later that he basically prayed the entire time this was going on. The older nurse in the room also told us that every time she goes into the OR, she is praying.
Added to the prayer support we already had, Mike let his family know what was going on. My doctor showed up to do the spinal and knowing he was a believer (as well as the first doctor to examine me) made me feel even more supported by people who were praying or at the very least, hoping for the very best outcome. They wheeled me down to the OR, left Mike to wait for the spinal to be done and took me in. The experience was similar to what happened with Sam although the big difference was that I was not feeling like pushing like I had been with him. When I had to sit still through the spinal it really wasn’t difficult as my contractions were still fairly well spaced apart. It went quickly and I had my maternity nurse friend right there to hold onto while it was done.
Mike came back in the room, the ultrasound was set up and the OB came in to start the procedure. From what I’ve heard, it can be very intense and without anesthetic can be painful, especially if you are already in labour. He found baby’s head and bum and with just a bit of gel on my belly, started moving him. What I had expected was not at all what happened. It must have taken less than two minutes to get him moved and he just went without effort. It was incredible! The OB said later that he was being very cooperative. When it was done, the mood in the OR was comical. My doctor had said that he was doing a long lasting spinal so that if we had to do a section, it wouldn’t need to be redone. Now he said that the reason the ECV worked was because he had chosen to use that form of spinal. There was a lot of laughing – the room was fairly full of people (my friend Nikky, a new unit manager that she was training, the older nurse, Kathleen, a resident doctor who was helping, Dr. Stephenson, the OB, Dr. Oluyede, the anesthetist, Dr. Mackey and at least one OR nurse as well).
The OB kept his hands on baby’s head and prepared to break my water. The resident took over with the head while he did it – I had no idea when it was done because of the spinal. It was strange to experience my water breaking without feeling anything. There was meconium in the fluid which added a bit of concern but it wasn’t heavy so they suspected it had happened when he was being moved. They then started Pitocin – something that I had thought was too risky with a previous caesarean but found out from research and talks with the OB was only risky if you were not in labour yet. They wanted his head to move down as it was still quite high. I wish I could remember what time all of this was happening but I believe it was close to 10:00 am when we went to the OR. I had jokingly told the baby on the way to the hospital that I’d like to be done by noon so at some point, I was watching the clock but having no idea how long things would take.
At first, I was told that they would move me to the ward to deliver once we got the head down and my waters were broken. After it was done, they decided to keep me in the OR just in case we needed to move quickly. I was feeling great at this point and just amazed that it had worked so easily. I was not resigned to a second c-section but had come to terms with the fact that it could happen and was just looking forward to meeting our baby. Now I was lying on my side in a strange position, not feeling anything because of the spinal, feeling euphoric that I was going to have this baby vaginally. I had lines everywhere and it was far from a “natural” experience but I didn’t even care. I knew those prayers were working and I settled in to labour until baby was ready to come.
Eventually I started to feel contractions again and a nurse checked me to see how far I was. She estimated five centimetres and baby was at -2 station which means high. This was before they turned me on my side and when the Pitocin was still at a lower dose. They turned it up at some point and things picked up a bit but I still couldn’t feel a thing below my waist. After an hour or so, two of the nurses decided to take a break so they sent in another nurse and at the same time, Mike left to use the bathroom and get something to drink. I have no idea how long they were all gone but when one of the nurses came back, she caught the end of a contraction and said quickly, “You’re sounding pushy! I need to check you!”
My reaction was, “I am?” I couldn’t feel anything and didn’t notice anything different in my vocalizations but she knew her stuff so she went to check. Her next words were, “This baby is RIGHT HERE!!” I was ten centimetres and +2 station which means baby is very nearly crowning. Everyone started scrambling, calling for a doctor to come in to deliver, trying to find the other nurses and Mike. Thankfully it waited until everyone got there (not thanks to anything I was doing in this case – because I couldn’t feel the urge to push, baby was just coming down on his own). The OB was in surgery so they found the original doctor to be the baby doctor in case he was needed and the resident to deliver. They coached me and when he crowned, I got to feel his head, something I had never done before. We still had no idea of gender but I knew this kid had a lot of hair. I did my best to follow what they wanted me to do in terms of going slow so I wouldn’t tear and it must have been my past experience because the whole time I was uncertain of whether I was doing the right thing. It was less than ten minutes and maybe three contractions and he was born. They turned him over and were saying, “It’s another boy!” right as I was seeing it for myself. I laughed (as I had predicted) as there is something funny about having a girl and then FIVE boys in a row. Oliver was born at 12:47 pm, not too far off of my hoped for noon arrival time.
I then got to have the experience I missed with Sam, holding Oliver right on my chest right away. I kept him there while they delivered the placenta – the OB was back at this point – and when they wheeled me back to my room. I would have handed him to Mike but he said as I missed it last time, I should take as long as I wanted. It was quite some time before we knew what he weighed because I kept him on my chest until I felt ready to let him go. He nursed a bit at some point and when they weighed him, my suspicions were confirmed that he was not even eight pounds. Not my smallest baby – Erik and Elias were smaller – but smaller than the last two. We noticed quickly that he looked a lot like Erik. I realized later that he was almost identical to him, just with lots of hair.
Calling the kids was the best part – I talked to Jenny and she was so excited to hear that Oliver was born. She wasn’t one bit disappointed that he was another brother and not a long awaited sister. Mike went to get them after a few hours and it was really something to have all six of my kids in that room. Dad came just after they did and then took them out for supper. He kept the kids for a bit later on so Mike could come back to see me before he put the kids to bed.
By the end of the day, once the spinal wore off, I felt really good. The next morning, I felt totally normal but still decided to stay in the hospital as they weren’t busy and I figured the quiet would be nice. Visiting hours were also very restricted and I wanted to be there long enough for a few more people to come to see us.
All in all, this is the most unique experience I’ve ever had. Not just birth, but life experience. I have always dreamed of a peaceful home birth, maybe in water – low lights, no interventions, falling asleep in my own bed after everything was done. But this taught me that even with almost every kind of intervention you can have, a peaceful birth is still possible. Sam’s birth was peaceful but the recovery from the c-section was so hard and really not something I wanted to repeat. I kept telling people that I felt amazing in part because I wasn’t recovering from a caesarean when I could have been. There was a point when we could have consented to the c-section without trying anything else but I’m so glad I knew that we had options and that we asked about them.
I wasn’t the only person who thought the birth was strange – the nursing staff were talking about it and when we were checking out on Friday, the nurse asked if I was a section. I said no, but I nearly was. She said, “OH, that was YOU!” Apparently the whole thing is just not something they’ve seen before. The older nurse who was there the whole time told me later that she had never seen a successful ECV before and she was so grateful to have been a part of Oliver’s birth because of that. The resident also told me when he came to check on Ollie that it was the most unique birth he had been to. There were lots of smiles and laughter from everyone involved as I think we all knew that what had happened was somewhat miraculous. I still feel surprised by it – I got my VBAC!! I also have an amazing story to tell which turns out is more fun than, “We went to the hospital and the baby was born.”
An afterthought: of course I spent a lot of time writing this and then a few hours later, remembered other things I wanted to share as part of the story. One of those was our desire for me to not only have a VBAC but to go into labour on my own. I have only done it twice before (with Elias and Erik) and babies four and five were induced from zero dilation. Having had six years since I went into labour on my own, I had to fight doubt and fear that I would be able to do it again. So we prayed that it would start on its own and did our best to trust that it would. The second thing that I had personally been praying for was that I would go into labour before my 41 week appointment and my final OB appointment. I knew that those appointments had potential for stress as the obstetrician didn’t want me to go past ten days overdue. Even having my membranes swept – a process that has never worked for me anyway – was more intervention than I hoped for. The 41 week appointment was booked for 11:45 on Wednesday the 6th so I missed it because I was in labour. The second was for Friday the 8th and by the appointment time, Oliver and I were back at home. What an answer to prayer!