The day of Theo’s birth was terrifying and beautiful and life-altering in every way. I realize that birth stories are not everyone’s cup of tea and, truth be told, I hesitated to share such a personal story in a public forum but I remember reading other birth stories when I was pregnant and they were incredibly inspiring and empowering. I also thought that it would be nice to write down this story if only for my own memory, hence all the details. So here is the story of how our dear Theo August Samuel Johnson came into this world 10 months ago.
WARNING: THIS IS A VERY VERY LONG POST…
At 37 weeks, I awoke every day wondering if this would be “The Day”. I remember making decaf coffee and thinking about how I was just going about my normal morning routine when in fact, my entire life as I knew it could change at any second. This went on for another 3 weeks. It felt like 3 years. At 40 weeks, our doctor informed me that I was not dilated, I was not contracting and my cervix was high up and closed. “You may very well have to be induced,” he said. I wasn’t all that surprised since I had been 11 days late and my brother, a whopping 19 days late, but I was certainly disappointed. I just wanted to get this show on the road! At 40 weeks and 3 days, we went in for a stress test. The baby was just fine. I was 1 cm dilated but not feeling any contractions. We were scheduled for an induction 5 days later. During those 5 days, I walked for miles and miles, tried acupuncture and ate tons of spicy food in hopes that it might kick start something. But nothing happened.
I had really hoped for a natural birth. I had read the books, done the exercises and prepared myself for a drug-free birth. But I knew that an induction usually went hand-in-hand with an epidural. The induction drug takes you from 0 to 60 and your body has little time to adjust to the level of pain. It’s not as progressive and very intense. I was open to an epidural – to quote my friend M-C: Epidural? Epi-Do It! But it wasn’t my first choice. Not because I wanted to prove something to myself but because I wanted to feel my first birth experience. This statement makes me laugh now.
At 41 weeks and 1 day, I was prepared to go to the hospital to be induced. My family was in town and everyone we knew was on call. We were told to expect a call from the hospital and to be ready to go within 30 minutes of that call. So my bags were packed, I showered and my hair was done. Again, this statement makes me laugh now. The call came and we were told that they were too busy and to call the next morning. Oh how I cried when I hung up the phone. I was huge, I was impatient and I was ready. Did I mention that I had done my hair? The last week had been such an emotional roller coaster and the waiting game had taken its toll. We called back the next morning and again, we were told that they were too busy but to come in for another stress test. The baby was still just chilling and having the time of his life. Meanwhile, I was starting to lose it.
At 41 weeks and 8 days, we called the hospital at 5am. They asked us to call again at 8am. I don’t think I was very nice to the lady on the phone but I obliged. I called at 8am, convinced I would be turned away again but this time she said: “come in now.” We took quick showers, loaded up the car and drove to the hospital with giant smiles on our faces. I warned Mike that we could very well be sent home so it was best not to get our hopes up. It wasn’t until I was alone in the bathroom putting on a gown that it hit me: this is it. I wasn’t even a bit nervous. In fact, I was down right giddy.
The nurse checked me and I was 1.5cm dilated and having somewhat regular albeit small contractions. My cervix was still closed, which meant that they had to give me Cervidil prior to beginning the induction process. Cervidil is a drug that is meant to soften the cervix and it can often kick start labor on its own. In my case, the Cervidil was administered at 11am and it immediately took effect. I began to have very regular contractions. They were 2-3 minutes apart. At first I was able to talk through them but after several hours, I had to stop talking to breathe. Mike and I had brought the laptop with Season 1of Boardwalk Empire and I kept making him pause it when I had contraction. (Side note: Boardwalk Empire has some very graphic sex scenes, which can make for awkward moments with the nurse who comes to check on you and presumes you are watching porn.) We walked up and down the hallway until the evening, passing couples doing the same thing. The nurse came back and told me that they had to remove the Cervidil quickly since I was contracting too frequently and that I would be too tired if things progressed at this rate. Our hope was that my body would continue to labour on its own through the night.
At 5am, I was awoken by a new nurse who informed us that we were changing rooms. I had had regular contractions during the night but they were no stronger. I was 3cm dilated but the doctor wanted to move forward with the induction. At this point, I accepted that a natural birth was out the window and I was prepared to face what was to come. I just want a healthy baby and I would like him to arrive yesterday. Around 9am, I was given Pitocin and I instantly felt the effects of the medicine. My contractions went from being manageable to excruciating within the hour. I was writhing around on the bed, making animal-like noises. In fact, I was determined to rip off the metal bar on the side of my bed. Mike sat next to me, timing the contractions and calmly asking me to go easy on the hospital furniture.
Shortly thereafter, I exclaimed: “Mike, I want the epidural. Now.” And off he went to find our nurse. The hospital was very busy that morning and they told me that it would be 30 minutes before the anesthesiologist could administer the epidural. Longest 30 minutes ever. When he finally arrived, I sat on the edge of the bed shaking as they inserted the long needle in my back. I have no fear of needles but in all honesty, I found the whole process very scary. Within minutes, I went numb in both legs and on my right side. It was a huge relief but I was still feeling the contractions on my left side. They moved me on my side in hopes that the medicine would move down and completely freeze my mid-section. It didn’t. After 30 minutes, the anesthesiologist returned to give me more medicine. This only further froze my legs but I continued to feel the pain of the contractions. My legs were like two concrete blocks and looking back, it’s almost comical. You could have stuck a fork in them and I would not have felt a thing. They were just flopping off the table as though disconnected from my body entirely. The left side of my mid-section though, was not numb. This is the part of labor that was most difficult for me. I was in a lot of pain but unable to move or really do anything to help myself. I wanted to move around. I wanted to sit up. I wanted to kick the walls and punch the feathers out of my pillows.
As luck would have it, the day that Theo was born was a record breaking day in terms of temperature. It was nearly 30 degrees with the humidex in Montreal!! People were in shorts and sandals – in March! Since it was still full-on winter, the hospital had its heating on and could not turn on the air conditioning. They explained that it would take 3 days for the system to turn off the heat completely and another 3 to turn it back on and by then, there would be more snow! So it was close to 32 degrees in the maternity ward, even warmer with the bright lights they had on in the delivery room!
Around 3pm, the doctor came back to check on me. I was on oxygen at this point and suffering from what I think was heat stroke. Luckily, she informed me that it was time to push. Hallelujah! The baby was not in the right position but they were confident that he would move when pushing began. I don’t remember much after this point, only snippets: I remember my floppy legs. I remember asking for cold compresses. I remember there being a lot of sweaty nurses and doctors coming in and out. I remember vomiting and Mike saying “oh babe, I’m so sorry”. I remember the beep of the fetal heart monitor. I remember the nurse saying “push in your bum” and my thinking “I can’t feel my bum”. This annoyed me to no end.
By the time we passed the 3 hour mark, there were 3 doctors in our room having what appeared to be serious discussions but I was too focused to care. Finally one of them informed me that we would have to use a vacuum. They could have used a tractor-pull for all I cared – I just wanted the baby OUT. I pushed with every ounce of strength I could muster and everyone in the room held their breath with me. One doctor looked me straight in the eyes and said “I know you can do this Marie-Eve but it has to happen now” and that was all I needed to hear. I grabbed my knees and pushed until I felt like I was going to faint and then I heard “open your eyes, open your eyes!” I looked down and the doctor handed me a baby. My baby. He came out oh so quietly at 6:27pm. His skin was so warm and wet and he was staring at me with these curious little blinking eyes. I looked at him and then I looked at Mike. Our mouths were wide open, tears streamed down our cheeks but we were laughing. He was finally here. Finally.
There is no way to describe what that moment feels like. That moment where you first meet your first child; that little being that has been inside your being for 9 months. It was surreal in every way and the purest joy I’ve ever experienced. I felt like I was floating above my body and watching this scene like it was a movie. In a split second, the lens that was my life refocused and zoomed in on a little stranger with eyes like his father’s and toes like mine. It was the moment that my heart began to beat outside of my body.
I won’t get into my recovery in this post because well, that’s a whole other post really. But it goes without saying that 3+ hours of pushing in 30+ temperatures took its toll on my body and I stayed at the hospital for 5 days. I would say that it took me 3 months before I felt like my body had healed. But you know what, I would do it all over again. I really would. Nothing this amazing can happen without hard work – and lots and lots of patience.