Ten years ago today, I first held my daughter, Madigan. In honor of her birthday, I’m sharing with you the event that changed my life in so many ways and set me on this path as a childbirth educator, doula, breastfeeding advocate, intactivist… and gave me the best title of all: mom.
This is her birth story as written nearly 10 years ago:
May 7, 2002
We were thrilled to find out in August 2001 that I was pregnant. What a time of excitement and anticipation! I never felt unwell and had a smooth and easy pregnancy. I lost 12 pounds early on (I stopped drinking wine!), then eventually gained 30. We had an ultrasound done at 10 weeks because my OB-GYN did not believe me that I knew on which day I had conceived. I was right though, I just didn’t take note of the dates when my periods began. We also had a fetal survey done at 20 weeks, at which time the doctor examined the chambers of the baby’s heart and the baby’s general cardiac anatomy to make sure the baby didn’t have Andrew’s heart defect, as they called it. Actually, they wrote “freak of nature” on his xray and thought it was a congenital anomaly, not a genetic trait. Fortunately, everything looked normal for our baby.
My due date, May 1st, came and went and with the exception of our Guide Dog for the Blind puppy going into heat on that day, the only sign of baby was the onset of Braxton-Hicks contractions in the evening. On the morning of Monday May 6th, we went to Amy for our weekly appointment. By now baby was nearly a week late and they estimated the baby weighed 8 plus pounds already. Amy stripped the membranes. At that time, I was about 2 cm dilated. We were told I’d probably feel stronger Braxton-Hicks contractions after that, and indeed I did, starting immediately. We were given a couple of homeopathic remedies (black and blue cohosh) to try that night which would work as uterine stimulants. We also made appointments for a fetal non-stress test the next day and an ultrasound on Wednesday the 8th.
All that afternoon and early evening I was feeling contractions which I assumed were Braxton-Hicks contractions. They seemed to come every 5-8 minutes or so, but didn’t seem to be strong enough to be the real thing. Finally, around 8pm, we decided to start timing the contractions properly to see if they were regular. This is what we consider the beginning of labor – when we actually started timing. I did the homeopathic remedy, a tiny pill to dissolve under my tongue every 15 minutes for 2 hours. At around 11 PM, we decided to go to bed – we still weren’t convinced this was it, so we figured if I could sleep through the contractions, then it wasn’t real labor. After an hour and a half of lying in bed trying to sleep, we finally began to realize that I was actually probably in labor. By one in the morning, I was sitting on the floor of the shower and Andrew called my parents, who had wanted to know when I was in labor.
We stayed up laboring all night and the next morning we went to the birthing center for our 9:30 appointment with Lorri. Although we were no longer going to do the non-stress test now that I did seem to be in labor, they did want to check the baby’s heart rate with the Doppler and see how far I’d progressed. I was happy to learn I was 6.5 or 7 cm dilated – progress! Lorri thought we might have a baby by dinner time. We went home and continued to labor. I had a bath and asked Andrew for some strawberries – one strawberry and then I vomited…
At about lunchtime, Amy called to see how things were going. She asked Andrew to just sit near me so she could hear me go through a contraction and that would let her know whether or not it was time for her to come over. She heard one contraction and decided it was time.
By now, my contractions were pretty intense. It was wonderful to be home because I could do whatever felt best – I went from the shower to the bath to walking around to lying on the couch. Andrew was fantastic: he’d been awake as long as I had and helped me through every contraction by massaging my back, putting a heating pad to my back or throwing water on my back when I was in the bath. Although I didn’t fully realize it at the time, my labor had turned into back labor and so the contractions were strong enough to drop me to my knees whether I was in the shower or on the stairs.
I did not seem to be making much progress.
At around 5pm, Lorri and Shawn arrived.
I was given sips of water, juice or iced tea after each contraction to keep me hydrated, but I vomited again and was getting tired – we had been awake for some 33 hours by now as my labor started in the evening – so the midwives suggested I get an IV of 1000 mL fluid to hydrate me, which would also slow down contractions a little so I could get some rest between them. I agreed and was wrapped in blankets as they held the IV bag for about half an hour as I drifted in and out of sleep – something I never thought would be possible! I was shaking quite a bit although I didn’t feel cold. The fluid going into my veins was making me shake.
My water still hadn’t broken. Amy could feel the bag of water bulging, but hoped that it would cushion the baby’s head as they tried to turn it. When that wasn’t working, they finally decided to rupture the membranes and hope the baby would turn as it dropped down into the pelvis once the water broke. Amy broke the bag in two attempts – it was a strong bag of water! It was painless and I just felt a warm gush.
Finally, at around 7:30pm, I felt the urge to push. It was an unmistakable, completely involuntary and overwhelming need to push. Pushing was not painful, as the contractions had been. At last, we were on the home stretch! My brain was rather fuzzy by now, but I optimistically thought I’d have my baby in about half an hour – little did I know it would turn out to be about three hours later… It was very difficult to get the baby’s head past my pelvic bone, but the midwives and Andrew were very encouraging.
Eventually, the midwives suggested I try to empty my bladder as a full bladder could stand in the way of the baby’s path. By now I had been on my bed for quite some time and I wasn’t about to get up and have another contraction on the toilet, so I agreed to a catheter. The midwives expected I would have at least something in my bladder as I’d had a liter of fluids through the IV, but it turned out my bladder was empty.
Later, I did go to the bathroom and said exhaustedly to Andrew that I didn’t know how much more of this I could take. He told the midwives, and they said to me that they’d give it another half hour, but then we should probably at least consider going to the hospital. Well, I wasn’t about to get this far and then end up in hospital! I got back on the bed and pushed my little heart out! I made the most of every contraction, pushing whenever I possibly could. Andrew’s coaching became almost frantic, really encouraging me during and between every contraction. Finally, finally, the baby’s head started to appear. I had thought that I would want to feel the baby’s head as soon as it was visible, but I didn’t. I was too tired and focused on getting the baby out.
For a contraction or two, it really stung as I started tearing a little. But finally the head popped out – the whole birth team got very excited and I knew we were almost there. They suctioned the baby’s nose and mouth and then, in another contraction, Andrew and I held the baby together as we brought our child up to my abdomen. Everyone was exclaiming how big he was and look at how big his head was and how much hair he had. I hadn’t seen for myself yet whether it was a boy or girl so I lifted the baby to see and then announced “It’s a girl!”
And so Madigan Yolande was born at home at 10:47 PM on Tuesday May 7th, 2002. She’d been direct occiput posterior.
The placenta was delivered soon after. Andrew then cut the umbilical cord and held her as she received an oral dose of vitamin K (she had quite a cone head and a bruise on her head from her journey through the birth canal). Then he weighed her and she weighed in at 9 pounds exactly. In the meantime, I was given a shot of pitocin in my left leg to help stop the bleeding. I also got stitches in three different places for some small splits. Then Shawn accompanied me to the shower, which I did carefully as I was a little light-headed. I was amazed that my belly had deflated already and felt so mushy. The next morning I would discover I’d lost 17 pounds!
I got back to bed feeling somewhat refreshed and yet exhausted and amazed at what we had just accomplished. The midwives left Madigan in my arms and gave us some private bonding time. What a beautiful, perfect baby girl we had! Andrew called his parents and sister and then my parents called. The midwives then came in to check Madigan and my family came over to get their first glance at their first grandchild and niece.
Finally, everyone left at about 1:30 AM – we’d been awake for some 42 hours and we were exhausted, but we couldn’t have been happier or more proud. It was a beautiful experience and we had so much to look forward to! But for now, we just smell her sweet breath and gaze at our little daughter…
Breastfeeding was a lot harder than I had anticipated. The first week was really tough – I was in the shower at 3 am in tears because of painful engorgement and a high level of frustration. Thankfully, with Amy’s invaluable help, we finally got the hang of it. I think I was on the brink of mastitis, as half of my left breast was hard and painful and red. Fortunately, Amy showed us how to massage the breast while Madigan nurses and things improved. It was tough because my right nipple is flat so Madigan could not latch on properly and could spend 45 minutes trying to latch on and we’d both get frustrated and I was upset that I was starving my baby etc.
The turning point for us was when she was 6 days old. We went to see Amy and we knew newborns often lose ten percent of their body weight after birth. Our 9-lb Madigan had lost only 2 ounces, so she was clearly somehow getting enough nutrition. She also showed no signs of dehydration or jaundice – in fact, she seemed very healthy. That really put my mind at ease. I also decided to hell with trying to nurse her every three hours or so, as the general recommendation dictates. I decided to nurse her whenever she wanted, so if she went 1 hour or 5 hours before wanting another feed, that was fine. Once I accepted that, we were all much happier. As the paediatrician said, listen to what your baby tells you.