Our fourth baby arrived twelve days overdue, after 47 hours of labour and a brief medical emergency! This is his crazy long labour birth story.
I love birth stories, but I don’t love mine.
I’m telling it anyway, because I think it matters. How women give birth matters. Not just the “healthy baby in the end” spiel. Yes, that matters too, and if it were a one-or-the-other choice any sane mother would take a healthy baby over a beautiful birth experience in a heartbeat. Obviously.
But you know what? It’s not one or the other. Many mothers get to have both. And I wanted both, too. Having a healthy baby doesn’t mean that my disappointment was invalid – it just means that I don’t get to experience the beautiful, natural homebirth I’ve been longing for ever since the day I first cracked an Ina May Gaskin book and hired a doula for my second birth in 2010. I couldn’t give birth at home in each of my first three births for varying reasons, but this time – everything was aligned and ready.
I longed to welcome my baby into the world in an intimate and familiar space. I wanted the focus to be on the metaphysics of the moment, a new life being born onto this earth. I desired for it to be beautiful, primal, and natural, and I desperately wanted my three big kids to be present to witness our clan become a beautifully complete family of six.
Instead, I met my baby in a hospital room with an epidural, a catheter, a blood pressure cuff, an emergency IV shoved hastily into my hand, and a revolving door of medical personnel.
Of course, at the end of the story we got a captivating, brown-eyed baby boy out of the ordeal, who I wouldn’t trade for all of the candlelit, peaceful home waterbirths in the entire cosmos.
Here’s the story of how we finally met our Everett.
We kept my due date a secret.
My midwife and doula both knew, for obvious reasons, and so did my birth photographer. My mom knew because she lives four hours away, and I had invited her to be at the birth.
Other than that, my answer to “when are you due?” was “in mid-October”. (My due date was September 30.)
All three of my first babies took a week or more past their mystical “due date” to decide to join us earthside, and it was tortuous. Waiting to finally meet my sweet baby was hard enough, but the anticipation of everyone around me was at a fever pitch by my due date. Each day thereafter invited more and more “have you had that baby yet” inquiries, each one ratcheting my stress levels to epic proportions by the end.
For this, my fourth baby, I finally wised up and kept the exact date to myself. That way, I could just announce his birth when it happened, instead of answering “any signs of labour yet?” and “had that baby yet?” eleventy billion times in the last weeks, until my head exploded.
Side note: had I actually gone into labour before my due date we would *not* have been ready. Honestly, we didn’t even pull out the bin of newborn clothes from the basement until around 39 weeks, and we hadn’t finished gathering all of our home birth supplies until somewhere around 40 weeks. I was 99.9% convinced he’d arrive past the due date. (At the same time, I was super okay with potentially being proven wrong!)
Thanks to that bit of genius decision-making, my waiting game at the end was mostly peaceful.
Now, much as I had tried to set appropriate expectations (ie. don’t expect a baby any time before 41 weeks, lady!) I somehow glossed over the fact that although this was my fourth birth, it was still a separate and unique experience. I expected him to to be born sometime between 41 and 42 weeks, just like baby #3 had been, probably with a similar labour.
To quickly recap previous births:
Baby #1: Obstetrician/hospital/Large city. Induced with cervidil at 41, went into labour overnight and gave birth the next day with an epidural and no further intervention. (They still gave me pitocin to hurry things along because why not? #eyeroll) Baby born with ten minutes of pushing. (Isaac’s birth story here on an old and hilariously embarrassing blog circa 2008 that I’ve never linked to before. *cringe*)
Baby #2: Family doctor/hospital/Small town. Induced with cervidil at 41, but really wanting to avoid pitocin after educating myself. Doula for support. Baby born that night with no medication or intervention. Baby born within 30 seconds of involuntary pushing with a single mega contraction. (Aliza’s birth story here.)
Baby #3: First midwife birth/homebirth in someone else’s home (I lived outside of the midwife’s boundaries for care, so they required me to come to the city for the birth, and hooked me up with a nurse friend of theirs who rented her basement for this purpose.) At 41+3 I had a membrane sweep, which put me into labour. Baby was born the next day after a sluggish labour that required a lot of squats, walking, and stair lunges to avoid labour stalling. Baby born with 30 minutes of pushing. (Canaan’s birth story here.)
So. With all of that under my belt, I figured OF COURSE I’d go past the due date. Obviously. (And indeed, I was right.)
Back to our story: it was (Canadian) thanksgiving weekend, which is often a Friday-Monday sort of thing. Schools often have PD days on the Friday, and Monday is the stat holiday. My 41-week mark fell on the Saturday of that weekend, and my midwife was off-call for those four days.
Once I had calculated all of this (months earlier), I set my mind on the Tuesday after the long weekend: October 10. I had a midwife appointment that day. I would be ten days over by then, and I figured chances were decent that I wouldn’t spontaneously go into labour before that day.
I was right. Tuesday rolled around and I heaved my huge and exhausted pregnant self to my midwife’s office for an appointment, where I asked for a membrane sweep, and was discouraged to find that – even at ten days past due – I was only at 1cm dilated with zero signs of labour. Lyanne (my midwife) did the sweep anyway to see if we could give things a nudge along, and got me to 2cm. We briefly discussed what happens if I don’t go into labour by 42 weeks, and how risk starts to slightly increase after that.
She told me not to worry, and that we still had several days before that was a factor. It was Tuesday, and 42 weeks would be on Saturday.
Based on my three previous births, I wholeheartedly believed that surely after 41ish weeks (remember, I was 10 days past, at this point), my body was “mostly ready” and just needed a little (non-medical) nudge so we could get in under the 42 week wire.
We left the office feeling bummed out that there were no real signs of readiness by this point. We stopped for a smoothie. While sitting in the van waiting for Chris to come back with the smoothies, I started to notice that I was getting mild contractions with some regularity.
When we pulled into our driveway, I began timing them. It was around 2pm. They were averaging 4-5 minutes apart, but still quite mild and somewhat inconsistent.
I decided to go inside, and use my breast pump to try and encourage stronger contractions, which worked quite well. I bounced on my exercise ball, used the breast pump intermittently, and hugged my kiddos as they came up to my bedroom for hugs.
They stepped through the doorway with wide eyes and soft touches, stroking my arm or my back as I bounced through contractions and listened to my labour playlist, then scurried back out of the room to go play.
The house was filled with nervous energy as we all realized that this was really (maybe?!) happening. Wanting to determine 100% if it was The Real Thing or not, I decided to take a warm bath, as most midwives suggest for this purpose. If the contractions continued, I’d assume it was real labour. If they petered out, I’d assume it was not.
I awkwardly lowered my 41+3 pregnant body into a wonderfully warm bath, and exhaled with a happy sigh. The entire third trimester is really uncomfortable for me, having a short torso and a belly that goes way out, swollen ankles, anemia – the whole shebang – so small pleasures like this cannot be understated.
My mind was abuzz with excitement that this was maybe going to happen after all?!
Sure enough, the contractions continued.
As I lay enjoying the warm bath, resting, and tuning inward to my body and my baby, I realized that the contractions were still coming. They were every 4-5 minutes consistently for several hours now. Sometimes there would be a larger 8-10 minute pause, and sometimes they came every 2-3. But they continued to come, regardless of what I did or didn’t do.
This was very reminiscent of my labour with baby #3, so we blithely assumed we were in familiar territory with a long labour birth story. We settled in for the long haul. (Little did we know how ridiculously long the haul would be.)
Chris came in to the bathroom and we decided together that we would go ahead and call my mom, doula (Megan), and birth photographer (Naomi). My mom and Naomi, each having 3-4 hour drives ahead of them, said that they’d be on the road shortly. I told my doula to hold off a bit until I felt like I needed the support.
The evening hour became late as labour continued. It seemed to be a slow progression, which wasn’t all that surprising for me. I continued to focus on a combo of resting, eating and drinking, and staying active and encouraging my uterus to work hard.
I used the breast pump off and on to try to stimulate oxytocin and kickstart stronger contractions, but whenever I stopped using that, they slowed down. They didn’t stop coming, they just became weak and sluggish.
At the encouragement of my birth team, Chris and I went for a late-night walk around the neighbourhood. I continued walking, swaying, and breathing through contractions every 4-6 minutes. We came home, and I tried to lay down and rest.
I was so terrified of labour petering out altogether (and ending up in the hospital later on, being induced with pitocin or even needing a c-section) that I could barely sleep, although Chris urged me to try. I made him set the alarm for two hours so that we could reassess and see how it was going.
I slept, and contractions slowed.
But they didn’t stop.
I woke up after two hours, my nerves jittery and frustrated. I opted to use the pump a bit more while bouncing on the ball, and listening to my calming birth playlist. (I made three birth playlists with different tempos/vibes: fast [“dilation station”], medium [“keep it steady”], and slow [“worth it”]. Maybe I’m an overachiever, why do you ask? Ha!)
By the time the first morning light came, things were still in much the same state as the night before. It seemed to be following the same pattern as my previous labour: sluggish contractions that required me to continually work for them with bouncing, squatting, and walking. I focused on my goal of seeing my sweet baby’s face for the first time, and persevered.
Contractions continued to come every 4-5 minutes, but sometimes as frequently as every 2-3 minutes, then slowing down and coming every 8-10 for a bit. It had been like that pretty much since the start of labour.
That morning (Wednesday, Oct. 11th), we decided that we would head to the health food store for some herbs that are recommended to help induce labour to see if they would speed things up. We also got an appointment with my chiropractor for that afternoon to get an adjustment and acupuncture, just in case things were still slow.
The morning ticked by and our appointment rolled around, and the contractions kept coming. If I stopped squatting, walking, bouncing, and using the breast pump, the contractions slowed… but did not stop. My doula went home for some rest with instructions to call her back whenever necessary.
When we got home from the chiropractor, I continued labouring in our bedroom. It was a peaceful and lovely environment that I had carefully and lovingly planned: candles burning, a small pool for me to labour and/or birth in, my playlists that I’d made ahead of time, and some birth affirmations that I’d strung up on the wall. My birth team varied between being at my side, massaging my lower back, or giving me some space.
As lovely as it was, the whole thing was getting monotonous. I was growing tired of the songs on my playlists, the candles were melting down, copious amounts of tea had been consumed, and I was growing weary.
I had been in labour for over 24 hours.
By late afternoon contractions started to feel a bit more intense. I laboured in the birth pool and felt like things were intensifying. The contractions felt more painful and I felt increasing pressure from baby’s head.
After a period of increased intensity with some bigger, more painful contractions, we decided that it was time to call the midwife. She arrived around dinnertime, and once she set up her equipment, she asked if she could check me for dilation.
At 5pm, after 28 hours of labour, I was only at 4.5 or 5cm.
I felt like someone had sucked the air right out of the room – I could barely process what was going on. Why on earth was this not working?! Didn’t I do everything “right”? Being patient, declining unnecessary interventions, creating a safe and peaceful environment, bouncing and walking…
I know intellectually that birth is unpredictable, and that of course there are no guarantees. But in my mind, in that moment – this was not how it was supposed to go. Overwhelming feelings of failure kept crashing over me.
I also felt guilty about keeping my birth team there for so long, and for calling my mom and photographer to drive all that way so early in a long labour. Not that I would have known, obviously, but I felt bad despite trying not to. This made me feel even worse because I knew that distracting negative emotions can prolong labour. (A terrible cycle!)
We decided to give it a few hours to see how things progressed and so I continued to labour – breathing, walking, and bouncing through contractions, still using the breast pump
And I laboured… and laboured… and laboured… for four more hours.
At 9pm, Lyanne did another check as we waited nervously to find out if there had been any progression.
When she told me that I was still barely at 5cm, I was numb. I stared at the ceiling feeling utterly helpless. Nothing was working, especially not my body, and yet I was determined to keep going. It had been 32 hours of labouring and I was exhausted. Exhausted… but stubborn.
We decided to break my water in an effort to help things intensify and speed up. It’s a calculated risk due to the increased risk of infection. It’s recommended to get the baby out within a certain number of hours afterward. Essentially, it places a time limit on you, which I normally would avoid… however by that point in this long labour birth story, we knew I had a ticking clock on just how long I could sustain my energy and stamina anyway.
More labouring, bouncing, squatting, rebozo sifting, in the birth pool, out of the birth pool, on the toilet to encourage muscle relaxation (a trick from my last labour). My birth team kept me supplied with fluids – I drank so. much. bone broth and herbal tea. I choked down a few snacks for energy.
Grueling work for 1.5 hours, then… another check.
5cm. Again. Again?!
Yes, I had been at 5cm dilation for at least six hours, despite every single concerted effort I had made. I felt completely and utterly desperate.
(Everett’s long labour birth story to be continued.)
(All photos above by the amazing Acorn & Oak Birth Photography. <3)