Stella Marie was born on March 4th, 2012 in Victoria, BC to parents Christine and Trevor and big brother Luca. After a difficult and traumatic birth experience with her son, Christine was determined to have Stella via VBAC. In preparation, she read many books about VBAC, talked with her midwives, did hypnosis with her doula, and took in as many positive VBAC stories she could get her hands on. In the end, Stella’s birth provided an incredible source of healing for Christine and she hopes her story gives the same hope and inspiration that she felt from reading other women’s stories. Christine’s wisest words for expectant mothers: go easy on yourself because motherhood is tough and ups and downs are to be expected. “Some days you rock it, and some days you suck at it. But know that if your baby is fed, warm and snuggled that you are your baby’s best mama.”
I met the final weeks of my pregnancy with a relaxed patience that I didn’t have the first time around. I knew that my Little Passenger was much easier to care for while she was still on board, so I was in no rush. I wanted to revel in those last moments of pregnancy, knowing that, likely, it was the last time I would experience them. I wanted to soak up all the precious moments with my first born while he was still my only.
At 39 weeks and 3 days, my zen state of mind faltered as any pregnant woman’s would after a night of erratic contractions that seemed to go nowhere. Strong enough to keep me awake, yet not consistent enough to make me declare, “This is it”. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t whine and cry to Trevor about it in the morning. I had read stories online of women with days, even weeks worth of prodromal labour. I couldn’t bear the thought of it.
Luckily, Lovely Midwife called to check in, as she has seen our doula at the hospital earlier that morning who had mentioned I called her in the night with contractions. It’s true, I woke my doula up at 2:30 am for no reason whatsoever. In my defense, she had assured me that she prefers to be called if something “seems” to be happening, even in the middle of the night.
So yes, LM calls to check in. She offers to come check me if I’d like. To satisfy my own curiosity, to see if anything’s brewing. My choice. No pressure. I jump at the chance, knowing it could lead to some serious frustration and bummed outedness, but I HAD to know. If I recall correctly there wasn’t too much change as far as dilation, but I was super thin and stretchy. LM reassured me this was progress and very positive, and went on her way.
Shortly after she left, contractions started up, but were still erratic and far apart. I expected a repeat of last night, or at the very least several hours or days of this on-and-off business. Regardless, I thought the time had come for me to get serious about focusing on this labour thing and got Trevor to make arrangements with my Mum to take our son after he got up from his afternoon nap.
I decided to have some toast then hop into the bath and listen to my labour mix on the iPod. I figured I might as well be relaxed if this was going to go on for days, and baths have been known to slow labour. Secretly I was hoping it would slow down, since I figured we were still around a day away from the big event.
The contractions didn’t slow in the tub, but remained pretty inconsistent: 7 minutes, 9 minutes, 6, 10. I was starting to need to focus and breathe through them. They weren’t bad, but did demand my attention. I began hoping that our son would wake up from his nap a bit earlier than usual because I wanted him out of the house. Also, the bath was getting coldish and in my strange labour logic I could NOT leave the tub until he was gone. It made perfect sense to me at the time.
So I continued to breathe and top up the hot water until Trevor sent our son in to say goodbye to me. I gave him a hug and a kiss and stifled my tears as he asked, “what you doing in dere Mummy?” I struggled to swallow the big ol’ lump in my throat knowing this was the last time he’d know Mummy as all his. So sweet and innocent, not knowing his world was about to be turned upside down. My heart broke a little, in only the way a mother’s can.
I spent the next few hours alternating between pacing the house and rocking in the glider watching snippets of the episode of Saturday Night Live we had recorded from the previous night. The contractions came on quite strong when I was up and about and petered off when I sat down to rest. Eventually I figured if I wanted to get this show on the road I best keep moving. I wasn’t keen to go wandering around the neighbourhood in my housecoat, and believe me I was NOT about to get dressed. Put on pants? With a waistband? Are you kidding me? NO. So pacing the house it was, stopping to lean on the banister during contractions. I called it my perch. I tried to time it so when a contraction was coming I’d be near my perch so I could lean. If I wasn’t near my perch it was all wrong.
Shortly after I began my pace-perch-pace ritual we decided it might be time to check in with the doula. She had been expecting to hear from us and was ready to go. When she arrived, I was mid-contraction, hanging out on my perch. It was comforting to have her here with us, even though I worried aloud that this may be boring for her. She just laughed and settled in on the couch. I could feel her watch me as I went about my pace-perch ritual, trying to assess where I was at.
She brewed some tea for me to drink. I know for sure it had ginger in it, but she also put some sort of magical herb into it. After I’d finished the tea she offered me some homeopathic concoction to help get this show on the road (so not her words, I’m positive she said something much more professional). Things really started to pick up at this point and we decided it was time to head the hospital.
The hospital was the place I was dreading my entire pregnancy. My previous labour was all kinds of medicalized and surgicalized and was not so much a great experience. I passionately wanted to have a VBAC and spent much of my pregnancy convincing myself that it WAS possible to have a VBAC in a hospital with a c-section rate of 34%.
When we made it to the hospital after a quick and intense car ride, I tried my best to shut it all out. I wasn’t there, it didn’t exist. I was some place else. Not in my home, not in the hospital, just some non-descript building with people there who could help me if I got into trouble. It seemed to work, and the arrival to the hospital did not evoke a negative response in me like I had worried it might.
After what would have to be the longest journey from car to labour and delivery, I got settled into my room. Contractions seemed quite intense and I was working hard with them. I remember the nurse trying to ask me questions about why I’d had the c-section the first time, the lab drawing blood, LM fighting with the fetal monitor and struggling to get an IV in me. Generally, this all kind of sucked. Being in bed was just not comfortable for me at all. Luckily Trevor fielded questions from the nurse, the lab worked quickly, LM gave up on the monitor and the IV and I was scooted off to the shower.
I wasn’t super keen on the shower, but had previously spoken with our doula about being agreeable to at least try things she suggested during labour. So off I went to the shower, relieved to be out of bed, but not really all that into it. I spent my time in the shower hanging from the door frame muttering incoherently to Trevor. A few of the more coherent statements I made were, “I hate this shower”, “this shower is stupid”, “I don’t like labour” and “I want drugs”. The logical side of me, while buried in my delirium, knew that I was likely in very active labour, nearing transition, maybe even in transition. It was contraction with several peaks, followed by short breaks in which I would whine about the shower and how much I hated it and labour in general, followed by contraction. When I told Trevor that I wanted drugs, he calmly responded with, “let’s do a few more contractions here, then go see where you’re at”.
I bitterly slumped out of the bathroom, saw LM by the bed, and said to her, “this is bullshit!” I could see her stifle her laughter and try not to smile. “Yes, it is” she said. I was thankful for that moment and her reaction. Knowing she found my statement humorous somehow helped me see that everything was alright. That this experience was normal. That I was still myself.
She checked me and I was pretty much ready to go. No drugs for me. Which, while I was terrified of pushing a baby out unmedicated, was ok with me. I didn’t actually want the drugs, I just wanted everyone to know that it hurt and I was scared. LM started speaking about pressure: “you’re going to feel a lot of pressure and it’s intense and a bit scary but it’s ok.” A bit scary? No. Terrifying. My sacrum was breaking. No really. I think my bones may have broken. This moment, to me, was the worst. I couldn’t understand the pain and it took a while to figure out how to work with it. Once I figured out pushing as hard as I could made the pain in my sacrum disappear all I wanted to do was push. I pushed and pushed and pushed until I didn’t think it would be possible for anyone, ever, anywhere to push more, then I pushed again. I wanted this to be done. I wanted to meet my girl. To see her face and smell her skin and kiss her fuzzy head. I knew the only way this would happen was if I pushed with all I had.
I heard LM tell the nurse to page peds. I heard her say to me, “if your baby doesn’t cry right away I am going to hand her to the pediatricians”. I could feel my intellect want to call out, “what’s wrong?”. Instead I chose to trust the roomful of people and focus on birthing my baby. I needed to get her out, not panic and lose my focus.
A nurse leaned down and quietly said into my ear, “you are going to birth this baby vaginally, you are not having a c-section today.” I cannot even begin to explain what hearing this did to me. What remembering this does to me still. As she was crowning, the same nurse asked me if I wanted a mirror to watch my baby being born. Since there was no way I needed to have a visual to put with what I was feeling, I declined. “Do you want to reach down and touch your baby?” she asked, to which I replied, “not right now”. As if I was saying, “normally I would, but not at this moment, perhaps in a little while.” This still strikes me as funny. Somehow I thought I’ll do it later, this seems to be taking forever, so clearly I have time to reach down when I feel up to it.
I caught a glimpse of Trevor’s face. I knew I was doing it just by the look on his face. I could read exactly what was happening by seeing his face. His expression of awe mixed with joy and pure amazement is one I will never forget. I would consider birthing another child just to see that face again.
Suddenly, there was another tiny being in the room. I saw her being handed over to the peds team, her cries filled the room just as they took her to do their assessment. She was fine. She was perfect.
Trevor did skin to skin with our Sweet Girl while I worked on birthing a very stubborn placenta and got a few stitches for some minor skin tears. This all seemed like an annoyance when all I wanted was to be done with this whole pregnancy and birth thing so I could meet my girl.
Finally, Trevor handed her to me all naked and pink and perfect. I got to see her little face, inhale her sweet scent and kiss her fuzzy head. She nuzzled into me. And I loved her as though I had known her all my life.