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When people talk about birth, the two most common statements you’ll hear are:
“It’s never going to go according to plan” and “It’s the most rewarding pain you’ll ever endure”.
In my experience, both of those statements are absolutely true.
The day our daughter was born was by far, hands down, the BEST day of my entire life. Whether it was me having no clue that my heart could literally grow three sizes in an instant or the immense feeling of accomplishment and team work I experienced, that day will be very hard to top.
Our sweet baby girl at one week old.
So this is the story of how our girl Sloane came into the world. It feels like a big story to me. I mean, I get it, it’s our birth story, so of course it feels transformative for me. But it was everything; hard, beautiful, funny, long, medicalized, and also so natural too.
The day I became pregnant I immediately checked to see when my estimated due date would be. I knew the window of time I had gotten pregnant because just weeks before I took a pregnancy test I’d gone to Europe to visit my husband Manny, who ski races on the World Cup circuit for the majority of each winter.
When November 13th popped up as my estimated due date, my first thought was, well I hope Manny will get to be there for the birth.
I knew right away that it would be impossible to plan his presence at the birth because the first downhill race of the season is at the end of November. Downhillers race at speeds up to 160 km per hour in nothing more than a spandex suit, helmet, goggles and back brace. Pre-season training is not only paramount to a racer’s success (which is a big part of our livelihood) but it is for safety. It takes weeks to get up to speed, so to speak.
I also got busy preparing for birth the way that made me feel comfortable. I like knowing information. I like knowing about my options and I really like feeling informed and intentional about the decisions I make. I also trusted that my body would do what it needed to in order to bring our baby into the world.
So Manny and I took a natural birth course, I attended a prenatal yoga retreat, read countless books on birth, listened to podcasts, exercised regularly, walked daily, ate well (when I wasn’t throwing up), visited our midwife regularly, hired a doula, and used every single mindset tool in the book during some of the toughest, most sick months of my life.
But the one thing I did that made the biggest difference for me in the end: I didn’t birth box myself.
I didn’t get attached to one certain outcome. This was hard, though. I really wanted to know that doing all the steps would ensure we would have a certain type of experience, but I’ve gone far enough in this life that I knew I couldn’t control everything.
Yes, I prepared myself for a natural birth. I did tons of breathing work and meditation. I did the perineal massage. I visualized labor and birth. I wrote down mantras. I went to prenatal yoga. I discussed labor tools at great length with our midwife and doula. And all of this was extremely helpful in the 2 days I spent laboring in the hospital prior to Sloane’s birth.
Our midwife and I also discussed what the procedure would be like if we ended up needing a c-section. I wanted to know what the protocol would be rather than just saying ‘I hope that doesn’t happen’. We talked about what would happen with the baby, if I would get to see the baby, where Manny would be and what roles our midwife and doula would play. In our prenatal course I learned about all the interventions commonly used in a hospital setting including methods of labor induction, pain relief, and aids to get the baby out. I was well informed that often times one intervention turns into many more interventions.
A good handful of my girlfriends have delivered their babies via c-section and so I knew it was always a possibility. My number one goal was to not be disappointed in the way our baby decided to enter the world, and man am I so glad that I prepared the way I did.
About two weeks before my due date I was having lots of cramping each night and our babe’s head was down and engaged. Manny was training on snow in Colorado, waiting for a call from me when labor began so he could race home and try to make it in time. It wasn’t stressful at all…haha.
Each week from 38 weeks onwards our midwife asked if I wanted a ‘stretch and sweep’ performed at my weekly appointment to check my cervix and encourage dilation. I did, and I didn’t find this painful, but she went slowly and steadily and I did experience cramping for about one day afterwards, each time. I’d had four of these ‘stretch and sweeps’ performed by the time Sloane was born.
My due date came and went. I wasn’t stressed that the baby hadn’t arrived because I’d learned in our prenatal course that many babies arrive between 40 and 42 weeks gestation.
Manny came home from Colorado for a few days after my due date had passed and my Mom (who had been staying with me as my stand in labor assistant and hospital chauffeur) flew back home to Vancouver. While Manny was home we did all the things to encourage labor to start naturally. I ate dates, drank red raspberry leaf tea, drove on bumpy roads, bounced on the birthing ball, walked the stairs daily, did ‘optimal baby positioning exercises’, meditated, relaxed, had hot baths, drank a glass of red wine, took the castor oil concoction, and yes we had sex which is a feat in itself at 41 weeks pregnant.
The days rolled by and I closed in on 41 weeks pregnant. Manny was supposed to leave for the first race of the season in Lake Louise on November 22nd.
But in a weird twist of fate, the first downhill world cup of the season which was scheduled for November 26th, was cancelled due to lack of snow. So Manny would be home for an extra week. We both had a big sigh of relief after hearing this news.
As I passed 41 weeks pregnant, we began to discuss induction with our midwife. The community standard where we live is to start induction at 41 weeks and 3 days. Sure, this wasn’t what I wanted, but I had practiced hard for months not to be attached to something I knew I couldn’t completely control (whether that was labor, or Manny’s presence at the birth or not).
In my heart of hearts I wanted a chance to let labor come on it’s own. I wanted the chance to use the tools I’d practiced. But I also wanted Manny to be with me as our baby joined the world.
Then it was time to make one of the tougher decisions of my life. I knew that getting induced could lead to more interventions. I felt extremely well informed. I had read all the articles about letting labor come naturally. And I also felt like it was a decision that I wanted to make for our family.
I had two choices: request an induction at 41 weeks and 1 day pregnant and have Manny present at the birth of our first child OR wait it out, say goodbye to Manny as he left for Europe for a month of ski racing and labor without him (or get induced without him at a later date!).
It turned out that I actually did make this decision with my heart.
This was probably the most weight I’ve ever felt on my shoulders. But I wanted Manny’s support and didn’t want him to have to meet our child for the first time at one month old. I know it sounds crazy, but this is our lifestyle and it’s something we’ve both chosen. There are only 10 downhills a year. This means only 10 days that are opportunities to support our family and perform in a way that has been practiced for thousands of hours prior. Welcome to the world of elite sport 🙂
Honestly, before my pregnancy and my own labor and birth experience, I think I was judgemental about how other people chose to birth. I thought I wasn’t, but now I know I was in some ways. This experience really changed that for me.
I decided to go ahead with the induction. Our midwife was incredibly supportive and we still were hopeful that being induced would encourage labor to start so that we could use all the tools we’d practiced.
But the universe had other plans.
Our induction with cervidil began at 2pm on Wednesday November 23rd. I experienced cramping and then contractions for about 24 hours. It was enough to keep me awake, but I walked the stairs and halls of the hospital and kept active, moving around doing all the positions and movements I’d learned. We were monitored by the obstetrician, but my midwife was able to perform all the steps which was comforting as I’d been meeting with her for months!
This is Manny napping on me while things escalated…LOL.
The following afternoon (Thursday) my contractions began to increase. Another cervidil had been inserted to encourage more dilation. Our midwife suggested I take some morphine once it got later in the evening so I could get some rest. I was only 2cm dilated and had been up since 6am the day before. I took the morphine and settled into bed at the hospital.
Before Manny could leave to get some sleep at a nearby hotel, my contractions got a lot stronger. This continued through the night and neither of us got much sleep as I made him hold my ankles (it seriously was the only thing combined with the tens machine that brought relief!).
Kyra, our midwife, came in on Friday morning and checked my cervix which was now dilated to 4cm. She broke my water and we noticed there was meconium in my waters.
We wanted my labor to continue to progress so Manny and I hopped into the shower together where my contractions continued and I don’t remember things as clearly from this point forward…
I know I laboured in lots of different positions. Our doula, Kate, came to the hospital (she had been bringing us food for the days previous!) around this time and helped keep me comfortable. I remember her rubbing my legs, giving me water after each contraction and suggesting different positions. Manny was also part of these comfort measures, rubbing my back and lying beside me when I was taking rest.
Here’s our midwife Kyra taking my blood pressure and giving me a massage while I sat on the exercise ball.
After a number of hours I had progressed to 6cm but my contractions were not following a defined pattern. Some were 3 minutes long with 30 seconds of rest, and then minutes would go by without a strong contraction. They were definitely intense and I remember needing to moan through them, not able to talk anymore.
At this point we made the decision to start an oxytocin drip. I also got an epidural which took me to 10cm relatively quickly. It definitely helped me to relax which sped up dilation in my case. The epidural was so much different than I imagined. I could still move around to change positions and could feel the contractions.
Once I had reached 10cm dilated, I clearly remember Kyra and our second midwife Maxine announcing that it was time to push. This was by far my favourite part of the whole experience (other than seeing Sloane’s face for the first time).
Kyra coached me while Maxine held up my lip of cervix (honestly, that was one of the more painful parts of the whole thing!), Manny cheered me on like crazy, and Kate held the puke bucket for me! I pushed on hands and knees, with my arms on the back of the bed, side lying, using the squat bar, with the reboso (a scarf to pull with my arms), and on my back too.
It was hard and tiring but I felt so supported and motivated. After Sloane’s head failed to move significantly, our obstetrician Dr. Hugo came in. He gave me the option of trying a vacuum. It is not nearly as scary as it sounds. I pushed as HARD AS I FREAKING COULD and the look on his face told us everything. Sloane’s head was not in a position where she could be born vaginally. No wonder all our solid pushing efforts hadn’t helped her move down.
Dr. Hugo said we would need to do an emergency c-section. Sloane’s heart rate had accelerated significantly and so had mine. We had both been in a safe and healthy range until this point.
I don’t remember being scared or sad. I remember thinking that I had really tried every option. I felt like every single person in the room was so supportive and helpful. I also knew I wouldn’t be alone during the surgery. Kyra and Manny were with me, so that was wonderful.
As we went down to the operating room I just tried to stay in the moment, to breathe and to not jump to any conclusions or attach to any fears. The team prepped me for surgery while Kyra and Manny were up by my head. In a matter of minutes we heard her cry and someone said ‘it’s a girl!’
I will never forget that moment. I screamed and balled. Manny was crying at my shoulder too. Then the pediatrician brought her to us and I saw her face for the first time.
All I remember thinking when I looked at her was ‘it was you all along’. I can’t describe it. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and was worth every single minute of nausea, every hour of labor and every tough decision I’d made. In fact I would do it all over again multiple times for the feeling I had in that moment.
What happened next was the part that I considered leaving out, but that would be ridiculous. It was part of our story and vital to the whole experience. Because of the position Sloane had been in, when she was delivered via c-section, the incision in my uterus tore right into my uterine artery. I lost about 2 litres of blood and went into shock. Her head had been de-flexed and rotated, pushing firmly into the front of my uterus, degrading the muscle to the point that it could tear quite easily.
Manny was gone from the room with Sloane when I really started shaking. Kyra (seriously, what the HELL would I have done without that woman) was holding the bowl for me as I got sick repeatedly and talking to me as I felt super dizzy. The operating team along with Dr. Hugo took great care of me and stitched me back up in all the places I needed it.
While in recovery, Kyra hand expressed my colostrum and Manny fed it to Sloane. I was able to breast feed her when I got back up to our hospital room too. I remember feeling like I was on the biggest LOVE high ever when I was with her.
Enjoying skin to skin time. Manny kept taking off his shirt saying ‘skin to skin!’ haha.
The reason why I considered not sharing the complications I experienced with you is this: it’s such a factual story when I write it out, it sounds scary, it even could sound negative. But the experience was exactly the opposite. It was absolutely not a bad experience. I feel as though I had a very positive experience even with all the interventions we had. (Please know that it is not my intention to alienate those of you who’ve had tough experiences. In fact, I think it’s through you that I’ve gained strength).
I felt very supported. I felt intentional with the decisions I made. I was educated on my options and had the BEST possible team beside me. I also became a mother and Manny became a father that day so it was more about love than anything else.
Also, I don’t think we need more scary birth stories (of course everyone is absolutely entitled to sharing their experiences, scary, hard or however they happen, and every experience is completely different and valid) but I didn’t want to make my truly empowering experience into a fearful tale because it wasn’t that for me. Yes, I was induced and had interventions too, but man oh man, entering motherhood with the weight of feeling like you ‘did it wrong?’ was not a thought I wanted to carry with me.
Perhaps the reason why I felt empowered was because of all the preparation I did. Maybe it was because of the mindset work I’ve done over the years. I think it was because I did the best I could, with what I had. Remember, if your birth experience was scary or disempowering, it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong either. All birth experiences are valid.
When Dr. Hugo said that he didn’t believe Sloane would have been able to come out vaginally due to her head position, I thought maybe that’s why I never went in to labor on my own. But we’ll never know that because it happened the way it happened and I feel at peace, even empowered by the way I handled it all.
Our first family picture!
I’ve discussed our big, beautiful birth story with our midwife, doula and Manny multiple times. A lot transpired over our days in the hospital and I’ve never once wished that it went a different way. I wondered what effect my decisions had on our outcome, but I haven’t wanted to give up THE most powerful experience I’ve ever had. I am actually glad that I got to feel everything I did, the contractions, that I got to 10cm and pushed and even had the c-section. It makes me feel more prepared for next time ;).
Manny left us for Europe when Sloane was 36 hours old. My Mom flew in from Vancouver and slept in the hospital beside me, bringing me Sloane to feed every few hours as I could not move at all. Holy moly…a c-section is no joke. I was so swollen when I left the hospital, I looked more pregnant than when I went in!
When I got home from the hospital I certainly had a few days during my baby blues moments when I wondered if I’d made the right decisions. I thought ‘what if I hadn’t gotten induced?’ and ‘maybe I should have done more bouncing on the ball or this, or that’.
Now I know that wondering if we’re doing it right is absolutely part of motherhood. Who hasn’t questioned some of the decisions they’ve made? So I’ve been working on trusting my instincts and doing my best for the past three weeks. Sloane is feeding well, sleeping well for a newborn and I don’t think I ever considered I might enjoy it all THIS much.
My recovery will be slower than your average c-section, so I’m taking the opportunity to snuggle, breastfeed and stare at Sloane all day long. I’ve got a rehabilitation program I’ll be following specifically for c-section recovery, so I am looking forward to that.
We’ve gone on a few walks outside, a couple coffee dates, and have received more support from our family and friends than we could have ever asked for. Grateful and blessed are words that mean so much more to me now.
I know that I would prepare the exact same way for another birth. Who knows what decisions I’ll have to make next time. I’ll continue to trust my body and prepare for birth naturally. We really just don’t know how life is going to go, so I say have preferences, goals and desires but keep your options open and work at being adaptable when things don’t quite go according to ‘plan’.
A massive thank you from the bottom of my heart to our midwife Kyra, our doula Kate, our obstetrician Dr. Hugo, the paediatrician Dr. Pinaar, the amazing nurses who helped me master breastfeeding and took amazing care of all of us, to Manny for being there in all the moments and to Sloane for showing up exactly how she did.
One of the greatest gifts of this whole experience is that I used to really stress and worry about what other people thought of my decisions. This time, I barely considered what other people would think. I thought of myself, of our baby, of Manny and of the support we had. November 25th was a big, beautiful day.
All my love,