Birth stories are one of those things that most people aren’t interested in until they have their own. At least, that was my experience, so feel entirely free to skip over this if it’s your experience too!
It feels like you could hardly have two more different birthing experiences than Pearl and Rose. I shared Pearl’s story after she was born (part one and part two) but short version: Pearl was a transverse breech that went unnoticed until after my water broke and I had an unplanned caesarean section. She had been diagnosed with heart and kidney issues in utero and so spent the first day of her life in the NICU.
From early on in my pregnancy with Rose the question was “to VBAC or not to VBAC?” (VBAC = vaginal birth after caesarean). I have no regrets about how Pearl’s birth went. It was far from ideal but it was what was needed to deliver her safely. The result was a healthy, thriving baby and that is what matters. So I went into this pregnancy with the attitude that as long as we ended up with another healthy baby, I didn’t really care how it exited my body. Labour and delivery does not a mother make.
That said, when you have a baby, people want to know how long you laboured, how delivery went. New moms swap stories and I always felt like I didn’t have much to contribute. I had never been through labour. As well, recovery from the c-section had been hard and I didn’t relish going through that again, especially now with a two-year-old.
I was a good candidate for a VBAC but ultimately the decision would be left up to the wisdom of our local OBGYN (and the baby’s position, of course). I had my first appointment with him in August where he outlined his reasons for and against VBAC and suggested a date for an elective c-section. I was surprised by how disappointed I felt that he seemed to be leaning towards another c-section but we agreed to wait another month and see where baby was at.
My due date was October 8th but I was sure that baby would arrive earlier than that. I’d been having false labour and irregular contractions for weeks, something I never had with Pearl. Labour Day weekend, while Peter and Pearl camped out in our backyard, I felt the baby make a big movement I hadn’t felt before and the next day Peter commented that I was suddenly carrying lower than I had been. Contractions continued over the next weeks and by the time I saw the OBGYN again he was happy to see how low the baby was. Baby was in a great position for me to deliver and so we agreed to wait and see what happened, with the knowledge that if I hadn’t delivered by my due date they would schedule a c-section.
I felt increasingly ready for baby to arrive and so when my doctor suggested a membrane sweep at my appointment on September 29th I eagerly agreed. I made an appointment for the following week but we both felt confident that we’d be seeing each other again much sooner.
Contractions ramped up almost right away. Peter was skeptical but I was increasingly feeling like the baby would join us that weekend. Peter and Pearl and I went on a pre-bedtime walk that night and Peter timed my contractions as we strolled through the neighbourhood. They were coming close together but didn’t feel that intense so we took the long way home. Peter put Pearl to bed while I sat down on the couch and read up on signs of labour and when to head to the hospital. Contractions slowed down significantly and we went to bed.
I woke again at 1:30 am and now my contractions were strong enough that I couldn’t fall back asleep. Moving to the couch, I timed them from 2 – 3 am and at 3am I woke Peter up. After calling into the hospital we decided it was time to go. Peter’s parents came to stay with Pearl and by 4am I was hooked up to the fetal monitor.
I’ll spare you the gory details but will say that giving birth the traditional way is super painful. I know everyone says that but it is a next level pain that nothing prepares you for. While pushing (which lasted about 45 minutes) I couldn’t keep myself from yelling out, just these really deep, primal cries. Peter tells me that I wasn’t actually that loud but it felt like I was screaming my head off. I’d heard about the pain but also about the intense relief you feel when the baby actually arrives and both are true. Rose was born at 2:01pm, so all told I was in labour about twelve hours. It felt like a long time and I recall feeling frustrated at several points because it seemed like things weren’t moving as quickly as I wanted. Over and over though the nurses and doctor told me that things were progressing well and moving along.
Because I was a VBAC patient, I was kept on the fetal monitor for most of my labour, with a few breaks in order to walk up and down the hall. Baby’s heartbeat dropped a few times during contractions early on and then later as well so there were some nervous moments. Position seemed to make a difference so I stayed on my side a lot (which was the position in which I most felt the need to push later on) and the OBGYN hung around the hospital all day, despite not being on duty, just in case he needed to spring into action. My doctor and the nurses who cared for us were so available, helpful, and encouraging and I’m so thankful for the amazing care we received.
I had worried that I wouldn’t know when to push but what everyone says is true – you know. It’s a pretty undeniable urge and when I started to feel it I wasn’t yet fully dilated. Fortunately, my doctor quickly decided I was close enough and let me push. Almost immediately, everything stopped. I didn’t feel the urge anymore and my contractions moved further apart. They hooked me up to the IV and moved positions and things quickly started up again. This was definitely the most painful part but things were happening so fast, contraction following contraction, that I didn’t really have time to think or focus on anything other than pushing and getting the baby out. At one point, someone asked if I wanted to feel the baby’s head and I don’t think I even replied. I remember thinking, “I will when this is done.”
And then, the pain diminishes and you are suddenly holding the world’s newest person. “Let Karissa see,” said one of the nurses as they passed me my baby. I got to hold her right away, skin-to-skin, something that I missed out on with Pearl.
For all its unflattering qualities, I love this picture. Me, completely exhausted and euphoric. Rose, covered in vernix and so brand new.
While checking her heartbeat, one of the nurses noticed that Rose was working hard to intake air so they took her over to the warming station in the room. She had cried a little upon coming out but her lungs were full of mucus. The doctor spent a few minutes suctioning out her lungs and she was on a respirator for a little while. It felt like longer as I watched but she was soon crying again and back in my arms. She nursed right away (something that took much longer with Pearl, likely because we were apart for most of her first 24 hours) and Peter and I just got to enjoy our new little love.
Pearl came to meet her baby sister later that evening – she was more interested in the dinner that had just been brought to me but was excited to introduce Baby Rose to her grandparents. Rose and I stayed the night in the hospital while Peter went home with Pearl and we were discharged Sunday afternoon.
Recovery this time around has been so much easier than after a caesarean. While giving birth is hard on your body no matter what, this time around it feels like my body went through something hard but something that it was made to do. This time around I’m able to go for walks, carry my newborn in a carrier, and get in and out of bed or a chair easily.
I’m thankful for each of my girls and how they entered the world. It’s been an interesting experience, having two such different birth stories and I feel very grateful for living in a place where I have medical care and options available to me and my family.
We are continuing to get used to life with two little ones but it’s been pretty straightforward so far. Peter had a week off work, which was wonderful, and I’m taking the days on my own with the girls easy as I figure out what parenting looks like now. Rose has been a great eater and sleeper and that also makes life much easier. Now I just need to figure out how to shower with both of them around!