FYI: I have covered the story of my birth in more detail on the podcast – NEW EPISODE NOW AVAILABLE ON ALL MAJOR PODCAST PLATFORMS. I will also make a separate written post about home births in Ontario and prep/procedure. Check out the episode here!
Well, I didn’t make it to 41 weeks as I had feared.. as James decided to make his arrival on February 4th at 3:54 pm. February 4th is a particularly meaningful day for me – so when I woke up at 2:30 am with 7-9 minute apart contractions I couldn’t believe that it could possibly be his day of arrival.
Disclaimer: this blog is for informational purposes only. This is not medical advice. Please seek medical advice from your trusted healthcare provider.
FYI for the episode – the first 35 minutes reviews my pregnancy care experience, as well as a brief overview of my first labor & delivery with my daughter. The second half of the episode (starting at 39 minutes) is dedicated to my labor & birth experiences this time, and we talk briefly at the end about adjusting to two kiddos! Feel free to skip forward if you’re here for the labor & birth!
February 4th is the anniversary of my grandmother’s passing.
My grandmother was my best friend, truly. She passed away in 2016 suddenly and unexpectedly from a major stroke. She was a healthy woman and one of the kindest, most accepting and friendly people I had ever known. I’ll save her memory for another post, but the fact that James was born on the day she left has a lot of meaning to me. This pregnancy had a very difficult 6 weeks in the middle as many of you know, and I remember my aunt telling me about a dream she had in the midst of it. She was going down a slide and my grandmother was behind her until she suddenly disappeared. She felt that she had gone to be with me. I always feel her presence – but I felt it especially after that. She was with me through every appointment, especially the one where we were told we got the all clear on every flag from our initial anatomy scan.
It makes sense that she stayed with me since then, and that James arrived on her anniversary of passing. My grandfather said that she wanted us to have something happy to associate with that day – and I believe it.
So I woke up on the morning of February 4th around 2:30 am and went to the bathroom – pretty standard for a 40 week pregnant person. I felt totally normal getting up but by the time I got back in bed I noticed some contractions starting. How would I describe them? Like a bad intestinal cramp really. These were different then the cramping I had a few weeks earlier which were more comparable to period cramps and more constant. They came like a wave with a clear rise, peak and fall. They were early so I wasn’t very uncomfortable. I kept lying in bed and falling asleep between them. By closer to the time we get Maggie up for daycare, they were disturbing me more. I had take Tylenol and Gravol when they started because I had a feeling this was “it” and I wanted to try and sleep and rest as much as I could before I got up.
I helped my husband get my daughter ready for daycare with contractions still about 7 minutes apart (they started at about 7-9 minutes apart variably). They were getting stronger, but they stayed about 7 minutes until he returned from dropping her off. I ate breakfast and decided to get in the bath. Contractions got closer to about 5-6 minutes apart, and I was still able to talk through them for the most part. Around 9:30 am we paged the midwives and told them the situation – they agreed it sounded like I was starting to go into active labor and one of them was on their way. I had a snack at this point because I felt ravenous and started drinking a gatorade.
By 10:30, the midwife arrived and checked me – I was 4 cm dilated now (the day before at my sweep I had been 1-2 cm). We discussed another sweep at this time to ramp up the contraction strength and I agreed. After the sweep I was about 5 cm and my contractions quickly got stronger. I stayed on the main floor and the midwife went to set up in our bedroom, which is where I had planned to do most of my later labouring and delivery. I watched the Olympics in between my contractions which I leaned over the couch for or got on hands and knees on our chaise.
My contractions were getting closer together and much stronger, but I of course had stopped timing them myself at this point. I went upstairs and used the bathroom, with contractions before, during and after. I moved between our room and my daughters room because she had this pink bean bag chair that was really great for leaning on, and I liked the hard surface of the change table. My midwife had brought a TENS machine with her which she suggested – this had never been a part of my labor plan because I’ve used TENS before in physiotherapy and was not a fan. However, I agreed I’d try it because why not. I was having a bit of back labor at the time and figured it could help (or if it didn’t, I’d just take it off). It ends up that I loved it right up until I pushed basically! I used the “burst” setting between and the more constant stimulation during contractions. You can increase and decrease the intensity too on a little remote. It was super handy. I wore my Gift Gowns Maternity gown during labor and it had a pocket that I put the remote in during my “breaks”.
P.S. You can read more about using a TENS machine during labor for pain control on Evidence Based Birth!
By 11:30 I was in active labor, and by 12:30 my water broke – it seemed to leak some gushes at a time for the next couple hours. This was totally different from my first birth, where I had a very small leak in my waters and no contractions. I knew right away it was my water because it happened during a contraction, and I had just gone to the washroom. Contractions really ramped up after this for me. I was still getting decent break periods between contractions – some longer than others and I relished in those moments. I was on my feet most of the time unless I had a particularly gruelling contraction and needed to sit down and have a drink after (gatorade + water were my ongoing drinks for the day!).
How was I coping? I personally think I coped really well with my contractions, even up to transition (but then it certainly was much harder mentally). Even during active labor I was able to use visualization and distraction techniques. For some reason – don’t ask me why – “Somewhere On a Beach” by Dierks Bentley was the song I kept singing in my head. I literally do not know why -it wasn’t even a song on my relaxation playlist for pregnancy! But it seemed to be what my mind wanted. I was thinking of being at the beach at the cottage too – so maybe that was why, but it was so funny that my brain was like “no this is what we’re listening to”. I also did belly breathing of course or the contraction/surge breathing suggested in Hollie De Cruz’s book which I’ve talked about before (Amazon link).
I had been really worried about breathing leading up to labor because my last 2 weeks of pregnancy I had a lot of shortness of breath and just rib pain that was making it hard for me to take a deep breath. Thankfully, it had mostly resolved by the time I hit 40 weeks exactly, and I had no issues with it during labor. I did 4 counts in and 5-6 counts out. Sometimes I counted (earlier on) but as labor progressed I sort of just zoned out and focused on what felt right. I also constantly said to myself ‘I can do anything for one minute‘ and this was really affirming for me. Most of these techniques are outlined in De Cruz’s book which was an excellent read for me prior to labor.
Other things that helped me personally were of course the TENS machine as I mentioned, and movement. Movement had been big for me with my first labor too but I became more restricted with the epidural (luckily, I got it later on and it worked really well so I didn’t need it as much at that time). I walked between rooms for along time then finally stationed myself in our bedroom. Then I changed positions often – leaning against the wall with counter pressure from my midwife or husband; hands and knees on the floor over the bean bag chair which we moved into our room, or on the bed, or on the bed with the yoga ball. As transition came, I was beginning to get physically tired from all the movement. Hands and knees became my position from then until a bit later but I did a lot of rocking of my hips and back and forth. I also constantly made sure I was keeping my hips wide and open, which also helped with the pain of the contractions.
Around 9cm dilated, I started to feel the urge to push. This was new to me too – I could feel it a bit with my first labor, but the epidural really changes the sensation. With the epidural, I’d say it was just like an “oh you should maybe push now” sensation. Without, it was like YOU MUST ABSOLUTELY PUSH NOW. I had a bit of a cervical lip at this time, but my contractions started to slow or dull down a bit (I can’t remember exactly but I do remember feeling a bit of a release) as my body prepared which was nice. I remained on hands and knees for a bit, then moved to the birthing stool my midwife brought. Honestly would have delivered there if it wasn’t for my sons big head and the cervical lip. She said she could hold it back for me but in that position it was too much pressure and my body was so tired. I was leaning against my husband but I still felt exhausted.
It was during this time that more of my water came out and my primary midwife (as I now had two present) noticed some meconium, where it had previously been clear. She told me I was already 9 cm so they would not transfer me of course, but that I could wait and see how baby was doing or they could have EMS on stand-by. The nurse in me asked for the stand-by option, just in case. So EMS showed up right as I started pushing which I was thankful for – and they all seemed lovely, though I was very distracted – but also annoyed by because it caused a lot of disruption in my focus. My midwife thinks if I hadn’t become so distracted at the time that he may have come out even faster, but I lost my momentum a bit when they came. Oh well! I am truly thankful they were there (and spoiler alert – they were not needed). Shout out to the EMS guy who picked up our mail too.
The time was nearing so I decided to move onto the bed onto my side, but my SPD symptoms decided to make one last flare up appearance when I started pushing there. My hips got so sore, it felt like I could barely move them. I had to change to my back to manage, so for the end of my pushing I grabbed behind my knees and pulled my legs up. This was honestly the hardest part of this labor, which is again – so different from my first where I found the contractions/coping the hardest. There was just so much pressure and I felt so tired. I took my breaks in between and tried to must the energy. I kept thinking “soon I’ll be holding my baby”, “he’s almost here!”. My husband said the same things to me and held my hand. He also held one of my legs and my midwife the other with me, and finally – after 30 minutes that felt like 3 hours of pushing – baby James was born at 3:54 pm and placed on my chest.
OH THE RELIEF. All that pressure, all that discomfort in my pelvis and hips of the last few weeks (or months) of pregnancy – relieved. But I didn’t feel the true relief until my placenta delivered which happened shortly after. It felt like the best poop I had ever taken!!! Truly haha!!
We did delayed cord clamping as usual, and Cody cut the cord again. I got an injection of prophylactic oxytocin for bleeding which I didn’t even feel get inserted. I was too buzzed off my relief & labor experience – and most of all, my newborn!
Stitching & The Hours After
I did get a small 2nd degree tear (similar to with Maggie) that was stitched up as I laid in bed with the baby. He legitimately did the breast crawl and wanted to feed right away. He had been on my stomach and was suddenly up at my breast rooting. He latched pretty easily right away and had a good long feed.
For the stitches, the midwives used lidocaine so I didn’t feel it at all which was a relief because I was worried about how it might feel without the epidural. I can’t really tell you what else they did in that time – they cleaned me up, put some hot compresses on my perineum which was honestly heavenly and made sure I had the pads under me. They propped me up when I asked, and offered to make me food but my father-in-law dropped off McDonalds which was exactly what I wanted after the last few weeks of pregnancy where I wanted to eat nothing.
They got me up to go to the washroom – but I couldn’t go the first time. I tried running water, the peri bottle, blowing bubbles in a cup and peppermint oil and nothing. So I went back to bed and finished eating and drank a bottle of water and finally the urge to pee came and I went no problem after that.
They had changed our bed while I was up (I talk more about this in the podcast but you set up your bed so there is a drop sheet there and your clean sheets are underneath two other layers) and I got into a fresh bed (they put a sheet back on underneath in case of leaking). All James’s checks were done on me and his vitamin K shot. He then had a newborn check an hour or two later. He was a bit mucus-y but no issues beyond that. They thought they heard a slight murmur but when he got rechecked in the days following (day 1, 3, 5, 7) it was no longer there.
James weighed in at 8lbs 15oz – basically a 9lb guy! He was 2 oz heavier than his sister, and 1″ shorter (20 inches). His head was the same size as her at 37.5 cm – ouch!
He pooped and peed on his way out (similar to his sister) and had a good cry (much more than his sister) on his arrival. The midwives checked us every so often and cleaned up. The student midwife arrived just after (literally minutes) I delivered and helped with the after care. Such a great team!
I have so many good things to say about my experience, which I will reflect on in another post in more detail, but one of the best parts was that Maggie was just down the street and got to come home that evening and meet her brother. She came upstairs and was calling for mama, then came in the room and saw the baby. She said “hi baby” about 1 million times and stroked his head. Then she stroked my head and said “hi mama”. It was such a simple but beautiful moment.
The other amazing part was that I was already home – when the midwives finally cleared out, I got up and put sweatpants on and sat on my couch and watched TV with my husband and newborn (after Maggie’s bedtime). Then we got to go to sleep in our bed that night (we got this with Maggie too but I remember being much more exhausted from being at the hospital all day before).
This is just an overview – my story is on the podcast in more detail with more questions answered. AVAILABLE ON ALL MAJOR PODCAST PLATFORMS. Just search “Elephant in the Womb”!
I lived off a “home birth high” for days after. I still think fondly back to my birth – despite the pressure and tension of contractions and pushing, it was such a good birth experience for me. I’m so thankful my son is healthy, and that I was able to qualify for a home birth in Ontario as a low-risk pregnancy. That’s not to say that my birth with Maggie was negative – it wasn’t. It was overall a positive experience, just with a few details that I wished had gone differently (don’t we all have that at times?). Mostly my coping in my first labor was not as good, but I had an induced labor so it was a totally different pathway and experience overall. And no – it has nothing to do with the medicated vs unmedicated aspect. I had hoped to have an unmedicated birth the first time – not because I have anything against epidurals or medication (clearly, because I got one!) – but just because it was what I had envisioned for my birth. We are all allowed to have ‘goals’. When I was induced, I reassessed my vision and said nope, to make this positive I need the epidural. I am so glad I did that, because during my first labor my pushing was the best part mostly because of the epidural and the relief and rest it provided me .
This time, I went into labor naturally and found coping with my contractions easier. I didn’t once think of an epidural, except maybe when I was pushing and wishing I couldn’t feel the ring of fire (LOL – it is a real thing!). But medicated vs unmedicated did not make my experience positive or negative. It was how I prepared, coped and reflected on my experience that did. It was how flexible I was in the moment – it was not having anything set in stone but being open and accepting that my labor was going to go how it went and what I had to do was respond appropriately in the best way I could at the time (or – have a rough plan if I wasn’t able to respond; have an advocate in the form of my husband and midwives who knew my needs/desires, etc). In one case, that was by getting the epidural that let me nap and refresh for pushing. In the other, I was already rested and ready – it was mentally getting through it. In the end, I had two healthy babies and no complications during either experience which is what mattered most to me.
It just goes to show how different two pregnancies and two births can be. My pregnancies were totally different, labor totally different both times; and now my babies are quite different in many ways.
If you read this – thank you. If you listen to the podcast too – thank you again. I love sharing birth stories and hope to bring awareness to both the amazing experience that is midwifery care and low-risk pregnancy home births in Ontario. Don’t forget that midwives deliver in hospital too – so your preferred place of birth doesn’t impact your ability to have midwives if you have a low risk pregnancy. I wanted to have my first baby in the hospital and I’m glad I did. The pandemic and the restrictions changed my mindset this time – I wanted my husband to be with me for sure, and we reassessed and decided to go this route with the support of my midwives at 37 weeks (it’s never too late!). I am so thankful that we did, and we live 5 minutes from a hospital so that was definitely a consideration for me, but also understand this is not everyone’s preferred choice. Make sure to discuss your goals with your care provider – although we have no control over how labor goes really, we can have goals about labor & birth and we can work towards those goals while remaining flexible and open to the fact that things can change.