As I sit here with Callum strapped to my chest rocking away in my rocking chair, I honestly am having a hard time believing that just over two weeks ago he was still in my belly. I remember just wondering who was in there and who we’d be meeting—I’d felt bonded to this little squirmer from the get-go but there was still that question & that unknown that nagged at me, especially at the end of my pregnancy when our due date neared.
Now that he’s arrived, I can say with 1000% confidence I can’t imagine our little one being anyone else—he is such a special, beautiful angel and we feel immeasurably lucky. Both of us just can’t believe we made him and that somehow this little miracle is now ours.
I’m so excited to share his birth story today because much like him so far, it was a really beautiful and calm experience (for the most part, obviously…it did involve pushing a baby out of my vagina so not entirely zen the whole time). It’s really, really rare to get roughly the birth plan you wanted and mine was really close, and as you’ll see as I share my story, I also had the most amazing team from Matt to my midwives to the delivery nurse, so while postpartum is definitely a tough (but magical) period, I feel so, so lucky for the labour and delivery experience I had and hope that in sharing this novel of a story, it helps anyone else who’s preparing for their own delivery in any way!
So just in case any of you are new here, a little background on my pregnancy! In general, my pregnancy was really amazing. It was very straightforward and other than the odd hiccup here and there (rib pain, heartburn, etc) I was very active and mobile right up until the end (more about my prenatal fitness here). I actually walked 20K steps every day for a few days leading up to my waters breaking so if you could walk a baby out, pretty sure I did! To prep for labour, I did prenatal workout programs in addition to swimming and keeping up with my usual strength training (though modified slightly) up until I was about 32 weeks, when I tapered off and started just doing more prenatal mobility and walking a ton. To prep mentally, around 28 weeks I got The Positive Birth Company’s hypnobirthing digital pack (which I’d really recommend doing regardless of the type of birth you want—whether it’s a c-section, water birth, etc, the tools in it helped me so massively I couldn’t urge you enough to do it!) and practiced visualization, imagining both my ideal birth (an unmedicated water birth) and also how I’d like any other situations to go (a c-section, needing an epidural, failure to progress, etc). Matt did the digital pack with me too which was amazing. Him being involved in the experience was really key because he was able to cue me to techniques when I was in the zone during labour, so grateful he did it with me!
Everything seemed to be going swimmingly until I went in for my 39 week appointment (alone at this point because of COVID—for awhile partners were allowed to attend appointments again but that stopped right around 36 weeks). My midwife said baby was posterior & mentioned we may want to look into a few options in case he doesn’t turn in time for labour. Induction & pain relief were both mentioned & even though I’d visualized what I wanted for both situations, that didn’t stop me from bawling my eyes out in public as I walked home on the Seawall afterwards. But I made it my mission to do everything I could to move him so I did a TON of Spinning Babies, crab walking up our stairs to offset my pelvis (we’re the top level of our condo unit with no elevator so fortunately stairs were always there for the taking), rocking constantly on my birthing ball, bouncing around to whatever was playing on the speaker, never reclining, sleeping only on my left side, etc. It must’ve all worked or my very early contractions may have turned him because when I got checked when I finally went into labour he’d most definitely gotten himself into the right position, the little angel!
I’d always thought I’d have an earlier baby but after my birth date guesses came and went and my family continued to remind me that we were all late babies so he probably would be too, I kind of came to peace with the fact that he’d be a November baby. I was still moving & feeling great so as my due date approached I actually oddly felt more and more relaxed about him just coming whenever he wanted to come as I felt like I could really wait it out quite comfortably, and I think that coming to peace & relaxing was what actually helped set the stage for him to come! In our hypnobirthing course they always talk about getting the oxytocin flowing and I definitely was in a happy, good, calm place. The night my waters broke, Matt and I went for a beautiful sunset walk to Granville Island and back and talked about just that—how ready we were but also how content we were to wait for him to arrive when he wanted to, and making plans for the following weekend to do a day trip and keep me distracted and happy. I felt so calm & centred & felt so much peace looking out at the sunset that night—I’ll always remember it.
We came home & decided to keep up our new hobby of watching the stupidest funny movies to keep that oxytocin going. For whatever reason that meant our double feature that evening was Ali G Indahouse & This Is The End. About 30 minutes into This Is The End right around where Micheal Cera slaps Rihanna’s ass, I felt a really weird movement that I’d never felt before. Cal had been crazy active the entire pregnancy (I swear he legit cracked one of my ribs with a kick in the middle of the night once around 32 weeks, I woke up screaming), but this was a novel movement that felt odd and different. I was lying on my left side watching this stupid movie and he was in a very controlled way stretching his foot into my right upper abdomen in long, slow kicks. It almost felt like he was carefully pushing a pedal down—these were not his random, instinctive kicks but what felt like a very precise movement (clearly, he was ready to exit his lair). I’d barely gotten out “this feels weird” to Matt when I felt a bit of a trickle. I ran to the toilet and lo and behold, sure enough my waters had broken—a steady trickle started and I screamed for Matt. Surprisingly, despite feeling so calm and ready earlier I just stared at him in panic and yelled “I’M NOT READY,” followed immediately by “Ali G can’t be the last thing I watch before I go into labour” while in tears, which he laughed at but I was very sincere about. Once my initial adrenaline rush and panic had settled down though, sure enough I got into the zone, called my midwives and started mentally preparing myself. They urged me to try to sleep through the night and to relax so somehow or another I actually fell asleep pretty immediately after that (just showered & for some reason gave myself a pedicure first, was very concerned about making a positive first impression for the baby).
Waking up in the morning though and realizing I’d had at best just mild period cramps throughout the night, I started feeling a bit nervous because I knew the clock was ticking now that my waters had broken (they want you to deliver within 24 hours or have to introduce interventions as the risk of infection is higher after that window) and that quite a bit of time had already elapsed since my waters had broken. We called our midwives who expressed gratitude at allowing both them and us to sleep through the night and they assured us there was still lots of time, that they’d be by soon & give me a “midwives cocktail” to help induce labour and in the meantime, I should just keep doing my stairs, moving around & getting ready.
I had some very minor period cramps during this time, though they did follow a bit of a pattern which was encouraging—15 or so minutes apart but they had very clear build-ups and so I practiced my up breathing (a hypnobirthing technique) just to prep for the contractions to follow. My midwives showed up shortly afterwards (around noon), took a feel and confirmed baby was just about where they’d want him position-wise. They checked my waters and confirmed that everything looked good and that my waters were clear, then helped us whip up this cocktail, which contained verbena, mango juice, almond butter, castor oil and water. It. Was. Gross. But I chugged it down and they left us enough of everything to make a second round if needed for around 4PM. I was told to keep moving (which is all I’d been doing all morning) so after making sure I wouldn’t shit my pants (a potential side effect of the cocktail), we walked to Granville Island to get lunch. It was a gorgeous day and I wanted to be distracted anyway so it felt so good to get outside and not be stressing about time passing in our apartment.
I didn’t really feel anything on the walk to the island, but by the time we got our sandwiches, I started feeling the beginnings of proper early labour. My contractions were very mild and manageable so we kept enjoying the sunshine and eating, but by the time we started walking home I had to stop every 2 minutes or so for contractions that were building in power (apparently a neighbour tried to talk to us and Matt had to like sign language to him to please carry on while I leant against a tree). When we were home, I was actually psyched—I was ready for this and I was managing well and I had this weird nostalgic feeling for swim meets, runs, etc. In other words, this was an athletic event I felt like I’d trained for, had tools for and had prepared for—I was ready to go and to do my best. We put on my birth beats playlist (lots of reggae, Jack Johnson, etc), got a few different props ready for me to cycle through positions (we had the birthing ball in the bedroom for me to lean against the bed, a pillow next to an ottoman to get in a leant over position, etc) and Matt brought down our bags to the car and made sure we were all packed. My midwife had urged me to put on the TENS machine we’d got (a must for labour!) as soon as I felt like labour had properly started and I’m glad she gave us that advice because it really helped me just get in the zone and have something to do when contractions started up (I’d just boost it a bit).
The Freya app (which is a The Positive Birth Company app, another labour must) said I was in established labour around 3PM but all of a sudden, just before 4 my contractions started tapering off and then effectively died off, and all of us (midwives included) were a bit concerned since I’d be coming up to my 24 hour window since my waters broke the evening prior in a matter of hours. In a panic we made an emergency appointment for induction acupuncture and we were also told to drink the second round of cocktail at 4PM which I was a bit nervous about because I’d heard these induction cocktails could lead to really intense/frequent contractions but I just wanted to make sure baby was safe so chugged this witch’s brew down and then all of a sudden everything flipped (and needless to say, the induction acu appointment was cancelled as quickly as it’d been booked).
My contractions ramped up very, very quickly and I was having them about 1 minute apart, maybe 2 minutes max at some points. They were building in intensity but as they did I started getting more and more in the zone. Matt fashioned a weird headband out of a ripped shirt of his so that I could keep an ice pack on my head, I found a prayer position propped up on an ottoman that felt good and just didn’t move for a bit. I thought I’d want to move through positions continuously to distract myself but it was easier to just stay put, particularly because I wasn’t really getting breaks between contractions (usually they should be coming every few minutes, not every minute). The up breathing was a lifesaver because I just didn’t really have any breaks and it would’ve been so easy to panic at this point but I just kept myself in the zone and finally around 5:30 I got Matt to call the midwives and let them know we’d need to meet at the hospital as soon as we could.
They told us to hold off until 6:30 since they were having a shift change at the time and it’d be easier to carry on with the one midwife, along with a midwife student who’d basically act as another support person which I was happy about. I absolutely love the midwife who was going to be on shift then (though I loved all of our midwives, we were part of a team unit) so I was really glad and having a clear timeframe to work with helped too. We fortunately only live a 5-10 minute drive from the hospital so I somehow made it to 6:15 and we got in the car. I was so scared for the drive as I’d heard the bumps and turns can be brutal when you’re in labour but actually, the change of scenery helped my contractions slow down a bit and allowed me to get examined a bit more comfortably once we got in. I was shocked to find out I was only 3cm but since I’d read so many stories in the private FB group for the hypnobirthing program I was in that were very similar (and often still resulted in fast labours), I didn’t let it bother me too much and just kept focusing on the breathing. My midwife told us to go for an hour long walk around the hospital and I’d say this was one of the hardest parts—my contractions immediately started ramping up once I got off the table and it was scary not knowing if I’d be allowed to stay or get sent home with what felt like very alarming power and frequency of contractions at this point. The area we could walk in felt super eerie and deserted (which looking back was maybe a good thing) but I just kept shuffling along the cafeteria area with contractions happening every minute. Matt was literally an angel sent from heaven above during all of this, he knew just how to soothe me and just kept telling me how much he loves me/how proud of me he was, which I think was really the most helpful thing he could do for me.
That hour went by in a fast blur and we got checked again—I had only dilated to 4cm. At this point, I didn’t feel discouraged per se but I knew it was time to look into different options because I never wanted to stick to an unmedicated birth just to say I did it. I’d been dealing with very, very strong contractions a minute apart for well over a few hours and knew that this was unsustainable. I’d always been open to pain relief if I needed it so told my midwives I would be needing an epidural once we got up to the labour & delivery unit and they promised they’d get that arranged for me. A positive birth for me at this point meant not putting myself through a level of suffering that could be managed, so I felt good about this decision and also proud of myself for what I’d done up until this point. Everyone was on the same page and we made our way upstairs to the birthing units, with me stopping now constantly to breathe through contractions (one time I did this right next to a swinging door and Matt had to field it while people came in and out to make sure the door wouldn’t hit me, bless him).
TRANSITION + DELIVERY
Our unit was beautiful, super spacious & complete with a tub—seriously, we are so lucky to live where we do & that I got to deliver at BC Women’s. Matt immediately set to work putting out our flameless candles, getting our speaker set up, etc while our midwife (and amazing midwife student, who basically functioned as a doula which was awesome) set up the bath and soothed me, all while getting the cannula set up in my hand. They wanted to get me in the bath just to help with pain relief while we waited for the anesthesiologist to get to our suite and while I was at this point very anxious for an epidural, I had also initially wanted to have a water birth so getting a bit of time in the tub also made me happy. Getting into the bath was the most instantaneous amazing relief, but unfortunately a very short lasting relief! I’ll never forget this momentary sense of peace as the candles flickered, my relaxing playlist played in the background and I had that first amazing sensation of warmth & weightlessness as I lay back in the water, followed almost immediately by the sudden feeling that things were going very, very sideways. I suddenly felt this buckling sensation as if baby was kicking upwards (again in that controlled way, not in the more spastic, reflexive way I’d felt through my pregnancy) and my entire abdomen hardened, with this weird, foreign feeling pressure building in my pelvis. I immediately started panicking about wanting to poop & though I’d say I’m usually actually a pretty uninhibited/vocal person and not afraid to be heard, I got very, very quiet and scared. They plied me with gas & air to help me breathe but I took one or two breath cycles with it (registering quickly with sadness that it did nothing for me, I was hoping I’d be one of the lucky ones who got all loopy from it) before pretty much dropping it to the side of the tub and apparently very quietly just whispering to Matt “need epidural now.” I got out of the tub and Matt held me as I retreated to the darkest corner of the washroom that I could find to hide (crazy how we act just like other mammals in labour during these moments!) & all I remember is trying to stay very calm while also clearly communicating that shit was going down & that they need to act fast, aka to help me NOW. It all just felt very, very urgent.
The midwives & our awesome delivery nurse meanwhile had convened & they told me later that they were wondering if I was transitioning (the hiding is apparently a telltale sign) but thought I couldn’t possibly be because I was making no noise and was too calm (speaking of telltale signs, seems like this is one for hypnobirthing!). During that time I found my voice again and started calling from my corner of the washroom in desperation as I sat on the toilet “I need to poop, please just let me okay!” and being almost in tears about how unfair it was that no one would let me poop, but by the time they’d come to check in on me and discuss next steps, my pooping mania had been taken over by that first overwhelming urge to push. I was quickly checked on the bed and they discovered I’d dilated in 10-15 minutes from 4 to 10 cm, so no wonder I was not feeling so in control—I had been in transition! The epidural was cancelled, I was told that the baby was coming & just everything flipped so quickly, I didn’t have time to really process it. My amazing midwife assured me if I wanted pain relief they could still find options, but something changed when they told me I was fully dilated and I just was ready to go.
I initially started down breathing (another hypnobirthing technique) while holding the back of the bed in an upright position, but between Matt accidentally leaning on the controls again and again (making it recline while I was pushing, he’s still mortified by this but I think it’s hilarious, I hardly remember it) and just struggling to make a lot of progress in this position, they got me on my side holding up one leg. Hilariously, the only thing I’d written very definitively in my birth preferences was that I under no circumstances wanted to be on my back, but eventually that’s where I ended up and honestly, it was fine. It was just the best position for me and allowed me to actually push more effectively oddly. Another example of not getting too married to any one idea!
I didn’t know what time it was but my midwives mentioned we were past the 24 hour cycle by now so I really needed to focus on getting him out. I had almost been cocky going into second stage (the pushing part) because being athletic and someone who had worked so hard on my fitness through my pregnancy, I thought this would be the easy part for me, especially with all the core and pelvic work I’d done. Nope! I had a really hard time opening up and little guy’s head kept bobbing in and out, which was good in that it helped stretch everything but it got to the point where I could tell they were starting to get a bit more anxious about getting his head out. They set up a mirror to motivate me but incidentally, the way it was set I couldn’t actually see my vag just my butthole. After being so anxious about pooping, at the very least I could be assured I did during delivery because I saw the nurse cleaning me at least 3 times, so that was nice.
Finally, they said they’d need to use a vacuum soon and bring in an obstetrician if I couldn’t get his head fully out on the next few pushes. That was all the motivation I needed and I just trusted them fully when they told me what to do and really gave in to my body at this point (because part of me the whole time was still like “well this is weird”—none of it feels normal, yet it all felt very natural). Once I’d silenced the unhelpful rational part of my brain and just leant into what my body told me to do, things progressed quickly—I gave it my all for the next 3 pushes (and by my all, I mean literally my all…it was all-consuming) and needed a lot of active coaching and encouragement from my amazing team but it was exactly what I needed. Baby’s head came out on the second or third push, and his whole body slipped out on the next push, all 7lb 10 oz of his perfect little self.
I was so relieved and just overwhelmed with how surreal & insane it was when they propped him up for me to take him in. He was just beautiful and so calm—everyone in the room commented on how chill he was, along with his luscious lips (their words verbatim not mine, though I’d have to agree). My cord was a bit short so he had to kind of snuggle my tummy while they got me to actively push out my placenta 30 minutes later (I didn’t get any more contractions after I delivered our angel so had to literally push into my bum to get it out), all while shaking uncontrollably from the adrenaline coursing through my body. Matt snipped the cord and I finally got to snuggle our baby up on my chest. I got assessed and since little guy had come out with a Superman pose with his fist next to his face, had a very “straightforward” (as they said) second degree tear. They stitched me up with some local anaesthetic and at this point I had a couple huffs of gas & air for the stitching process, but it was honestly all fine and not particularly painful.
Some time during this period I was finally able to position Callum to look up at me and I’ll never forget him calmly just staring right into my eyes, straight into my soul—the only other time I’d had an experience like this was when my beloved childhood dog Bailey was about to pass away and he’d fixed his eyes on me unblinkingly for what felt like an eternity with so much love and peace in his eyes. I realized afterwards it was him saying goodbye because he died days later. I know with full certainty that that was Bailey’s way of saying he loved me and saying bye for now and I’ll never forget it. And I know just as certainly when Cal fixed his eyes on mine that it was his way of saying hello, and him taking in that I was his mummy who’d been carrying him all this time. I’ll never, ever forget it.
I also knew in that moment that the name I’d wanted all this time and had been holding near & dear to my heart was most definitely his. He was absolutely my little Cal Pal and I said “he’s Callum” to Matt, remembering to say it as soon as I could after delivery so Matt would feel more compelled to agree since he’d be beholden to me for pushing the baby out (joking but not really). Fortunately, Matt had loved the name all along and agreed wholeheartedly that this was our Callum. It took us a few more days to settle on a middle name but we got there soon enough (we gave him the middle name Elliott in honour of Matt’s late grandpa, who was very clearly so in love with Matt from the home video footage Matt’s parents had found and that we got to watch later in our pregnancy).
Around 3AM when everyone had left and I’d showered and came out to see our baby getting skin-to-skin with Matt, I just felt like I was in another dimension in both the most amazing and trippiest way possible. I couldn’t believe I’d done it and that I’d given birth to our son basically completely unmedicated. Everything had happened so quickly and it’d all been such a whirlwind and all of a sudden we had our baby. I had really wanted an epidural for some time during the labour process (well, by some time I mean an hour or two…the whole labour happened so quickly) so the realization that I’d never even taken so much as a Tylenol kind of slowly dawned on me. It wasn’t that one way or another was more ideal, but I felt immediately so grateful I’d taken the hypnobirthing course and done the work because it had helped me deliver unmedicated in a calm way and I know I wouldn’t have been able to (mostly) keep my cool as well as I had if it hadn’t been for that.
And then everything else started coming back to me in fragments. I’ve seen Matt cry maybe 3 times over our whole nearly 13 year relationship so it was also really special to remember him crying during labour (not that I get joy out of him sobbing, but kind of did in this instance). He said after the fact that he was just so overwhelmed with how proud of me he was but I’m also so proud of him. We kept joking throughout the pregnancy that he was my doula but truth be told, being pregnant and giving birth during the pandemic is no joke and we had decided to just be a team of two and not book a doula in case regulations changed again. He really stepped up to the challenge and was so amazing to me throughout the whole process, both during pregnancy, during labour, postpartum and I’m sure beyond. A little side note, but I thought for sure I’d scream at him and want to kill him at some point during labour but that never happened—I was always just nestled towards him and he was constantly in my ear encouraging me the whole time. Our midwife snapped some really special pictures and you can see it in all the snaps, he’s just leant over me and keeping me going. I felt like we were such a team and I was just so grateful to him for his support—this whole experience has made me feel like our love and partnership is stronger than it has ever been, and we’ve had to rely on each other more than ever.
Back to that night though, the rest of that first night at the hospital was such a blur. Because we’d gone past the 24 hour window (but by only an hour, gah!) we needed more frequent monitoring (well, Cal did) so we really barely slept as it felt like people were in and out of our room fairly constantly. I vaguely remember registering that the nurses changed here and there but mostly just felt like I was in this upside down hazy murky world in between check-ups, cuddles and trying to get our latch right (though he barely wanted to feed, very common in the first 24 hours when the poor babies are exhausted from making their arrival earth-side). We ordered pizza from one of the only places in the area open around 3:30AM and for some reason I craved a Coke—usually a sure sign that I’m majorly depleted ‘cause I don’t love pop usually, it’s usually a sign I have heat exhaustion while travelling if I’m asking for one actually. But the next day when we all woke up I’d say postpartum recovery really properly started and it’s just been a process of all of us getting to know each other and falling more and more in love every day, while also just going through the process of recovering too.
I’m only just over two weeks postpartum so I feel like I’m still in the thick of it, but one thing’s for certain: we couldn’t have been luckier with my pregnancy, couldn’t have been luckier with our labour & delivery and couldn’t have been luckier with our team, but more than anything, we couldn’t be luckier to have our angel boy (or our “beautiful boy” as we call him most often, this kid is going to be so vain one day if we don’t start controlling ourselves). He’s been very, very easy on his incompetent parents (and I don’t mean that in a self-deprecating way—they literally had to show us how to hold a newborn in the hospital, and I’m fairly certain I’ve still messed that up since we’ve been home). He is very easily soothed, he lets us put him down which is amazing and his cries are even cute (we just call them his “ole’s” because he just mostly goes “Ole, Ole, Ole” when he’s hungry). Haters will say they’re gas smiles but we’re both fairly certain we’ve gotten the first glimmers of smiles while he’s become more alert and interacted with us more and more. We’re just both so hopelessly in love with our beautiful angel and while postpartum recovery isn’t easy (more on that in another post soon), it’s all felt worth it for these moments of bliss with him.
Based off of my very personal experience (remembering that this is just what I went through and not a sweeping recommendation for everyone), here are some takeaways from my labour & delivery experience:
I’d recommend doing some sort of mental prep & breath work, whether that’s meditating, hypnobirthing, yoga, etc. It helped me more than anything.
Thinking through & visualizing all potential eventualities helped me feel positive & not despair or panic throughout labour. Knowing no matter what things will be okay & not getting married to one idea are both key.
You obviously can’t control another person, but getting your birth partner on the same page as far as techniques & walking through birth preferences with them was (for me) very important. But ultimately, I think the best thing a birth partner can do is to advocate for you, encourage you and remind you that they love & support you.
Having a plan for early labour helps you feel some level of control over the experience. I knew I wanted Parks & Rec on in the background, some music that always reminds me of happy times, certain foods that comfort me, breath work to rely on, etc. It all immediately got me in the zone.
Remember that you can do this. That millions of women have done this. Have some mantras. During early labour, I would inhale & exhale out different words like “Calm,” “Strong,” etc. I had all these different affirmations I wanted to use once we were at the hospital but by then I just needed a lifeline to ground me so just kept repeating to myself “I can do this.” And I did!
Thanks for getting this far if you’re still reading this absolute novel of a post! But I wanted to write it in its entirety because this story and experience has been so special to me. I feel so lucky and I’m just so grateful. I have found postpartum to be much more challenging than both my birth experience & pregnancy, but every day it’s getting better which is also so encouraging. I find a lot of the labour & delivery prep I did is still getting used now, whether it’s up breathing during latches (it’s getting so much better for me but initially, the first minute or two of latching on during breastfeeding was indescribably painful for me), having a mantra (for me it’s been “every day & in every way I’m getting better & better”) and remembering yet again, that I can do this just like so many other women have before me. I honestly hardly know what’s going on in the world but from what I have seen it seems like we’re in a pretty serious second wave now of COVID—I hope you’re all staying safe & doing well! For those of you who are pregnant or newly postpartum and dealing with these new restrictions (which has been personally really hard for me as my parents had to go back to work and can’t come by anymore)—sending so much love your way & know that you’ve got this.