On August 29th, 2011, after an unexpected, early delivery, Meaghan and Jonathan Asselin welcomed their sweet baby girl, Beatrice Emilie into the world. From the moment Meaghan found out she was pregnant (while out at a pub where she then ordered ginger ale), she has followed the wise words of her own mother: give your mind, body and soul entirely to your baby and sacrifice everything you have to enrich this new life. Much easier said than done. Meaghan’s ability to put her child before herself was put to the test immediately, starting with Beatrice’s birth. Being almost four weeks early, it did not go as Meaghan had hoped or envisioned. Six months on, she admittedly still struggles with coming to terms with how it all unfolded. Her advice to expectant mothers: have a birth plan in mind but understand ALL possible outcomes and consider having a midwife or doula to advocate on your behalf so you can put the only important thing first – your baby.
On the night of August 27th, I woke up around 2 am. This waking in the night had been pretty normal but that night seemed to be different. I picked up my phone to check the timing – were these real contractions or just the Braxton Hicks but a bit stronger? In bed, I waited as they got stronger and more frequent, about every 5-10 minutes or so but not too regular, so I distracted with TV and headed back to bed at 5 am. I awoke again at 7:30 am but this time with throbbing pain in my back. Jonathan woke up at around 9 and looked over at me. I explained what was happening and that I had been up throughout the night. He decided it was a good idea to go and pack the car just in case. Now, some silly things were going through my mind while he marched up and down the stairs intently. I was nervous that I was overreacting and kept thinking that I didn’t want to falsely claim to labour because of some minor pain.
But again, Jonathan was intent. He asked me about the baby’s movement and I realized that I hadn’t felt much. When he suggested we go to the hospital, I recommended instead we just go for a drive to get the baby moving. Jonathan agreed but strategically drove in the direction of the hospital. About halfway there, I felt some bouncing and flailing inside.
When we got back home, I went straight to bed to get some rest before going to the baby shower that my girlfriends were throwing for me later that day. I slept for a couple more hours when again I was woken up by drilling back pain. This time the intensity and frequency required some concentrated breathing and many shifts in position. I called my mother for some help to focus and then I called Infosante, a medical hotline. I gave the nurse on the phone all the details of the situation and she recommended that we go to the hospital. Again, I didn’t want to overreact. Maybe I was just being wimpy, maybe I was imagining the pain. Likely, Meaghan, likely.
Stubborn woman that I am, or some could say silly and foolish, I did not want to miss the party. Jonathan and I got all dressed up and ready to go – I even curled my hair. On the drive over, Jonathan was timing the “contractions” with the clock on the dash. We were under 5 minutes but not very regular still.
When we arrived at the shower, I needed to be walked out of the car, across the street and supported up the stairs. I landed on the couch, as Jonathan announced that I was likely in labour but refusing to miss my party. Jonathan smartly got himself a full dinner and swallowed without really chewing – he may have realized that we would have a long night ahead.
I was starting to feel worse. One of our friends got out the small blue book that I had placed in my purse that described signs of labour. As she read down the checklist, I recall hearing other voices agreeing with each bullet point – nausea, back pain, contractions, etc. To put it lightly, we were encouraged to go to the hospital by the entire party.
When we arrived at the hospital, I told the receptionist that something was happening. I even told her that I thought maybe I had pulled a muscle in my back because we weren’t due for another few weeks. She asked a nurse to lead us into a birthing room and assured us that we were likely in for a “short stay”, meaning patients that had come too early and would soon be sent home. Such was not to be the case.
A doctor measured my dilation at 3 centimeters. It was exciting to know that the process had really started, that we were on our way and that it was REAL.
Over the previous four weeks of my pregnancy, it had been decided that it was high-risk, which would inevitably alter both our treatment and the expected course of events in the birth. Despite being only 3 centimeters dilated, the excessive amount of amniotic fluid in my uterus was a concern because when my water broke, there was the risk that the cord would flush out too, leading to a possibly fatal outcome. This meant that there was no way we were leaving the hospital and we were in it for the long haul.
Jonathan attempted to sleep on an easy chair and I rested in bed. Throughout the night, nurses checked on us every hour or so. The night became day and Sunday morning brought new faces and new opinions. It was decided that I was no longer in active labour so we were transferred to the ante partum room to free up the birthing room.
Although I had needed the rest from the back pain, I was almost starting to miss it, as it was a sign that we were progressing. A couple of hours passed, then mid-conversation, whack! Like a Mac truck in my side, the pain was back! The first blow had me wriggling and struggling to find a position conducive to tolerating the pain, which was certainly amplified from what it had been the day before. Sitting up with a forward lean and gripping the bars at the foot of the bed braced me as the pain flushed through my body, sharpest at my lower left back and radiating to the lower abdomen and throughout the rest of me. The wave passed.
The next wave was not appeased by my previous position and had me jump off the bed. I moved from position to position, contorting myself to try to find a magical angle that would allow the pain to dissipate. If the pain could spread out and leave my back alone for a minute, maybe it would be more manageable. Maybe it would be like the crippling menstrual cramps that I was familiar with, that I have known for all these years, that I thought were my training to be able to handle and even embrace this moment. Lie on the floor? Hunch? Crouch? Extend? I had nothing. Just breathe and wait. When this one was done, the look in my eye had Jonathan up and looking for the nurse or doctor.
Jonathan returned with a nurse, who said a resident would be in shortly to gauge our progress. Although I’m sure that it would have been wise to try to rest, distraction seemed like a better remedy for pain. Just then, my friend arrived with shower gifts in tow. As we waited for the doctor, we opened presents. I sat up in the bed and hurriedly ripped paper and tissue. “Wow, what adorable pjs!” was quickly followed by a distant stare and “Oh my goodness, get this stuff off of me – breathe, breathe, breathe”. (Days later, I had to reopen everything as I had completely forgotten what was given and by whom. It was a happy and welcome distraction at the time, though.)
A resident returned and informed us that we had dilated to about 5 centimeters. Progress! We would be moved back to a birthing room as soon as one was ready. More gift unwrapping, nervous giggling and smiles, and plenty of contortion, barely muffled groans and deep, deep breaths.
As soon as we were moved to our birthing room, I asked Jonathan to play some music as I had read that it is an excellent pain coping strategy. I wanted to hear the soundtrack to “Into the Wild” all sung by Eddie Vedder. Songs about rising up, long nights, and believing in the fundamental strength of the human character would carry me through the next few hours as the pain intensified and radiated throughout my body.
As night approached, Joyce, the same nurse from the night before, was back on the clock and opted for us as patients again. As she checked on me, she started to ask about pain intervention plans. I had heard and read that it is difficult to predict how you will be feeling and a plan may end up being something you wrestle with, fight for, or feel upset about not sticking to, instead of something helpful but I knew that it would be best to have a loose idea of what I could hope for in terms of a delivery plan, in place of an actual agenda. I knew that I wanted to give birth with as little intervention as possible.
As I hadn’t had the intention of using any pain medication, I foolishly didn’t know much about them. Joyce started to suggest, rather heavily, that I should start considering my options. I was really hesitant. I hadn’t had very much experience with hospitals before and certainly no experience with childbirth. I felt strong and capable of continuing with the contraction pain, and pretty confident that I was managing well. Joyce agreed but said that I hadn’t gotten to the hard part yet and it didn’t seem to be coming too soon as I was still hovering at about 5 centimeters. She also pointed out that I had not slept well since Thursday night and my depleting energy levels were going to amplify the challenges ahead.
I agreed to the offer of a narcotic pain reliever to be injected through the IV. I understood that I needed a moment of relief to help me regain and then conserve some energy, and emotionally regroup, so to speak. The drugs gave me a strange sensation, one that I was not ready for or wanted to be having. After concentrating so hard for so many hours, it was strange to be forced to let go. After about 15 minutes, I was more able to endure the pressure of the contractions without any searing pain – but that only lasted an hour. When the doctor came to reboot the injection, I got another dose of relief, lasting only 20 minutes. This was not going to get me through the night.
Joyce returned again to talk to me about the epidural. Now that I had experienced relief, albeit brief, I understood and agreed that it was a good idea to try for a break overnight if possible so that I could get a bit of sleep. I think that I was under the impression that one could have an epidural just for the night and go back to basics the next morning. I guess I should have had a backup plan. I was prepared for her to give me the epidural in the IV, right? Wrong! She explained the procedure and said that the anesthesiologist would be arriving in a moment. I recall throwing up again, turning to Jonathan with tears and lying back saying I needed a moment. With fear and apprehension I passed out cold. When I awoke, just over an hour later, I was in more pain than before. I felt the choice had been made – I decided to take the epidural.
Like the IV, the epidural was not as dramatic as I had imagined. The intense sting was appeased and waves of pressure were all I could feel. It may sound strange but although I did feel some relief, I admit I missed the pain as it was an ever-present reminder that I was working hard with my baby to get him or her into this world.
The nurse was here to prepare a catheter. What?! I had no idea this was going to happen. As is blaringly clear, I hadn’t bothered to look any of this up. I had steadfastly believed I wouldn’t be taking this route. The procedure was relatively quick but not very comfortable. Although I understood the goals of the process I was following, I felt deflated. Here I was, poked and prodded with tubes coming out of me from all angles. This is not what I had been hoping for. But I did agree that, with so much more ahead of me, it was wise to try to get some relief and rest.
Monday morning came after only a few brief intervals of sleep. The first order of the day was to use ultrasound imaging to help establish that the baby’s lungs were developed enough to come into this world ahead of time. Pregnancy is considered full-term anywhere after 37 weeks and we were a third of the way through 36. Somehow, it was then decided that this was close enough.
Instead of the ultrasound plan, we were moving along to an assisted water breaking, which would require a lot of caution and control because of the risks we were warned about upon our arrival at the hospital. Orderlies lined the doorway of the birthing room ready in case of an emergency transport and a number of residents lined my bed. Jonathan grabbed my hand and squeezed tight while apprehensively taking in all of the action. (He would tell me later that this was the hardest and scariest time for him, though I admit barely being aware or attuned to the severity of the situation.) My water broke with just a simple touch and fluids came rushing out. Relief. Without any complications, the next step in labour had been achieved. The orderlies left their guard, the residents left my room but Jonathan never left my side.
Now it was time for some preventative antibiotics and a bit more waiting. Perhaps the baby would start to descend as the comforts of his/her swimming pool had been compromised. Jonathan and I basically hung out together, exhausted yet excited, enduring contraction pain, albeit more subdued than before. It is at this point of the journey that I feel I lost what little control or autonomy available but I question if I was ever in control to begin with. As we had been told, one intervention brings forth the next – it was now time for some inducing.
I had not been dilating very quickly or consistently and it was thought that perhaps some progress would be made with medication. The contractions began to increase in frequency and intensity and even though I believed I could handle the pain, it was not my tolerance we were concerned about – my baby was struggling through the contractions and having a harder and harder time with them.
At around 6:30 pm on August 29th, a new doctor entered our room with news. He said that although he knew and sympathized with me for not wanting to hear this perspective, he felt certain that a caesarean section was the best next step and listed a number of factors that led him to this conclusion. Instead of being drawn into the canal leading with the top and back of the head, our baby was arching backwards pushing its face, more specifically, chin out first. The baby was basically stuck. He said we could continue with the labour if we wanted but he was entirely certain that we would not progress – we were running in place.
Without time to really process the information, and exhausted, my emotions were raw and real. Jonathan and I both cried. We were connected, afraid, excited, upset, and resigned. We discussed the rollercoaster ride the weekend had taken us on and made our decision. I called my mom, in tears, to tell her what was happening. Jonathan went to call upon the nurse and tell the doctor that we would rather not wait fruitlessly, and potentially harmfully as contractions continued to distress both me and the baby.
By 7:30 Monday night, we were being transported downstairs to the operating room. Jonathan was instructed to change into “scrubs” and wait at the end of the hall. Feeling alone, I began frantically asking all of the attendants their names and their roles. I was wheeled into a mint green tiled room and realized that I was shaking. It was definitely cold in the room but my body was trembling. I was desperately afraid and definitely upset that this is what was happening but I, of course, was also extremely excited and elated that I was about to meet my baby face-to-face.
Jonathan came into the room and again found his seat by my side. He held my left hand and stared into my eyes. I pretended he was the only one in the room – even though I had already introduced myself to the entire staff. My body continued to shake and I had never felt so cold. I felt separate from the other half of my body on the other side of a blue curtain.
Within moments, the doctor instructed Jonathan to stand, look over the curtain and announce the baby’s sex. At 8:37 pm, he stood up. “It’s a girl!” he announced looking at what he later described as a purpley blue, wriggly, wrinkly form. She weighed 7 lbs, 11oz.
And then I heard her – a plaintiff meowling whine. Beatrice Emilie was here! She was wrapped in a blanket and dressed in a hat and laid on my chest. Amazing. She stayed on me for 30 minutes while the doctors put me back together. She was then brought upstairs with Jonathan to be settled into the hospital’s nursery. I awoke at 11:30 pm in the recovery room. It was time to go get my girl.
Before leaving the hospital (which wasn’t until Thursday), it became very clear to me that I was loaded down. I was confused and angry about how my labour had progressed and I needed answers before I could go home. Never having been one to keep my thoughts to myself, I called upon the nearest doctor involved in my case and told him that I was angry and that I didn’t have the energy for anger as I was trying to recuperate from the operation, the ordeal of the labour, and of course, the mammoth and momentous task ahead of motherhood.
He went through everything that happened since our arrival at the hospital – the latent labour, the high-risk diagnostics, and the precautionary measures as Jonathan and I scrutinized each step. He responded to as many questions as he could and then brought in our primary doctor. She was comforting and reassuring and I believe that her presence provided certainty and closure. She reiterated that we had all done what we could have in each given situation.
With an emancipating sigh, a weight was lifted and dark shadows left the sunny hospital room. Regardless of how I had hoped my girl would come into the world, the point is that she had arrived strong, healthy and bright. We had a beautiful, thriving baby girl. Beatrice Emilie Asselin – welcome to the world. I will protect and cherish you with every part of my being.