My son is about to turn 20 months and I am just getting around to writing his birth story now. I struggled as to whether or not I even wanted to write this and have it published to my blog. I just felt that some of my readers would be thinking, ‘Oh no, she’s turning into a mommy blogger?!’
I also wondered if any of my readers would be interested in reading about my son’s birth. I mean it isn’t exactly food and travel exciting and yet it was the most exciting thing that happened to me.
Another reason I decided to finally post this is because where you give birth in the world matters. I am lucky enough to call Canada home. Our healthcare is heralded as one of the best in the world (although we have our problems) and I certainly am happy to have it! So in a way it is travel related. I’ll get into that more below but let me start at the beginning.
I was extremely in tune with my body at the time I got pregnant, although I was treating it like crap (whiskey and autumn foods). But I just knew and I was only 2 weeks pregnant.
Like a typical childless woman during Halloween I was partying. I came in second at my local pub costume party I was a non-sexy Beetlejuice…so Beetlejuice.
I lost to a non-sexy female Freddy Krueger. By the end of the evening I was a
little drunk. The next morning I was puking my guts out and was confused. I wasn’t that drunk the night before…
Then came a call. My mom ends up telling me my youngest cousin is pregnant. My wheels start to turn and I begin to think…’Hey! Me too.’ without any form of proof other than my being abnormally hung over that previous day.
That day I went and bought a pregnancy test.
At the time my husband and I were living in my sisters 900 sq ft apartment hence the nightly whiskey and cook-offs. We had just sold our house the month before and couldn’t move in to our new home yet.
I was home alone when I decided to take the test. My sister was fetching pumpkins to carve. I took the test hiding in the bathroom fairly certain of the results and I was right. 2 weeks pregnant.
72 hours later the doc confirms it too. Within 2 weeks I was seeing a maternity doctor at the Strathcona Medical Centre located behind the Kelowna General Hospital with a view of the Okanagan Lake and Waterfront Cafe on the first floor. I indulged in a few sweets with each visit – at first monthly and then as we grew it became weekly.
From months 1-4 everything was going well. No major morning sickness. I would gag during walks in the winter air which was odd and embarrassing when I couldn’t stifle the urge in public. I was extremely tired for those first few months too. All I wanted to do was sleep.
Curiously, I did have a recurring UTI and nothing could stop it so my doctor prescribed a low dose antibiotic to take daily until I was 38 weeks.
Then month 5 hit and I had to take the gross orange drink test to ensure I did not have gestational diabetes.
Turns out I did.
Sitting at my work desk wasn’t good for me or my baby and so I was sent to the Interior Health building on Doyle and took a class on how to manage my gestational diabetes. My case was simple enough, thank goodness! Simply monitor what you eat and manage blood sugar levels with more movement. I didn’t have to take the insulin shots and I didn’t even mind the 3-5 finger pricks per day. It was all much easier than I had first expected, like most things in life.
Prior to getting pregnant I had no idea about anything.
‘What’s a prenatal vitamin and where do I get those?’ I asked my doctor who I could tell was bewildered by my lack of knowledge.
Aside from not knowing much about pregnancy I also was clueless about kids.
How do I put a diaper on?
Do we really need burping cloths?
So when does the attitude start?
I was a blank slate.
How much is it to have a baby?
Along with getting pregnant I did everything a scared, excited mother who loves to read did. I bought all the books and downloaded the What to Expect app. On the app I connected with other women due in the same month, July. We were from all over the world: Japan, Canada, USA, England, France and more. We all spoke English. Some of us were expats living in a foreign country trying to figure out why each culture has very different rules and expectations and procedures around growing and having a baby.
One expat living in Bulgaria said her Bulgarian husband was not allowed in the room when she is to give birth and was, of course, terrified to do it alone.
Another woman from the USA asked how much she should expect to pay because she doesn’t have health coverage. One woman wrote, ‘I paid $10,000 and that was when everything went well!’
To which she replied, ‘Can I have the baby in Canada to save on cost?’
She got a berating on the forum. Angry American pregnant women expressing their anger because it is unpatriotic. Canadian tax payers angry because they felt she was taking advantage of the system. All of their sentiments amplified by hormones.
But I felt for her. $10,000 to have a child without meds and forget that budget if anything should go wrong! I realized just how lucky I was to be pregnant in Canada.
On a side note, while the app was helpful I found it was funner to watch Madge the Vag by the Scary Mommy YouTube channel. Her fun and light hearted approach to the female anatomy helped me laugh during my pregnancy questions…
Pelvic Floor Specialists
I started to worry about what every woman worries about. The inevitable exit of the child from a rather small circumference. I read from Mama Natural, a natural pregnancy book, which suggested if you massage your perineum with olive oil – oh hey there is an element of food to this 😯 – and slowly stretch it with each go you can prevent severe tearing with prolonged practice. I tried it. It was odd at first. But it also made me more comfortable with the idea of it all.
I also saw a pelvic floor specialist here in Kelowna.
More doctors need to recommend pregnant women and women in general go to see these specialists! Yes, it may be uncomfortable but what aspect of having a baby isn’t? The more I watched and read the more comfortable I became with the idea of being naked in front of a group of doctors and nurses.
So what happens during your visit?
A pelvic floor specialist inserts her fingers and literally works out the pelvic muscles. She’s checking for abnormalities, tightened areas and providing pelvic floor exercises. A pelvic floor specialist can get you into fighting shape and turn you into Samantha Jones in no time. She can improve your sex life, help prevent urine from leaking during laughing fits – very typical after having a child – and probably make rainbows shoot from your vagina.
Let me say it again: MORE DOCTORS SHOULD TO BE RECOMMENDING THESE SPECIALISTS!
Many women accept weak pelvic muscles as a fact of life. Throw on the Depends and smile just like Brooke Burke. But the fact is you can strengthen these muscles again after the trauma of birth! Find a pelvic floor specialist near you by clicking here (Canada & USA).
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My pelvic floor specialist even has an Instagram account to help you if you feel too shy to come in for a consultation. See above.
As a Canadian with additional work coverage these visits were free.
I don’t think that’s the head…
Something you don’t want to hear your maternity doctor say at month 7.5.
I was at Strathcona Medical Centre for my weekly routine check of growth – both mine and the baby – when suddenly I wasn’t seeing my usual doctor because they had interns in for training.
He felt my belly and said, ‘Yup! Feels like the head is down and starting to get into position.’
‘Oh, good, everything is normal.’
I inquired to the intern about donating stem cells to which he replied…’There’s lots of options when it comes to the placenta. I know some women want to ingest it but that’s not something we do.’
‘Uhhhh, that’s not what I mean. I want to donate my stem cells for research?’
He had no idea what I was talking about. BIG RED FLAG. It turns out only 2 cities in Canada have the option for donating stem cells which is a shame! But I digress.
The following week, this time, I had the same intern but my maternity doc stayed with us.
He felt and said, ‘Yes, just as last week. He’s getting into position.’ Then my very experienced, very knowledgable maternity doctor had a feel.
‘I don’t think that’s the head. The head is still up here.’ She said as she felt just under my ribs. She sent me to the ultrasound office where I first discovered my son’s gender, which confirmed my worries. He was still head up.
Around month 8 I was scheduled to have an ultrasound at the hospital two and a half weeks prior to my son’s due date. I still had time.
Again, I read and took all possible avenues:
I swam regularly in my parents’ pool and did hand stands in the deep end to help alleviate gravity in hopes of making it easier for him to flip.
I went to an acupuncturist who poked me with needles in my hands, feet, ankles and lower legs. She burned a foul smelling dried moxa on my pinky toes and promptly removed it as soon as I felt the burn. The entire session with the moxa to take home was only $5 because I am additionally covered by my work health insurance. It was an experience to say the least. New age music. Lots of Chinese statues and brightly coloured silks gilded in gold stitching hanging on the walls. Beads hanging in the doorways.
I placed cold compresses around my ribs where I suspected his head to be while in a warm bath in hopes he would move towards the warmth.
Then suddenly I was sleeping and felt an incredible tug. ‘He moved! Did he move? Does my belly feel different to you? I’m pretty certain he moved but I don’t know.’
I was tormenting myself and my family.
Hospitals aren’t just for having babies…
The same week we were to have our final ultrasound my husband’s father had a stroke. He was “rushed” from his small town in the Kootenay region to Kelowna General Hospital, 2.5 hours away. I have rushed in quotation marks because he sat waiting for someone to do something for an uncomfortably long time. They couldn’t rush him out with the helicopter because someone else needed it first. Eventually they got him to Kelowna.
We were in the same hospital at the same time and I saw the stress in my husbands eyes, although he tried to hide it from me.
His father was recovering slowly after a week and we paid him a visit prior to heading to our own appointment.
I felt selfish because I couldn’t think or feel anything else than what the baby was doing inside me. I was consumed. My hands were always pressing and feeling these odd shapes and bumps protruding from my belly. Sometimes they would move but the lump was still under my ribs. I convinced myself it was his bum. It must be his bum. I can’t have a c-section. I went through a long line of tough women who went through child birth in their own homes. Surely, a natural birth was my right of passage too.
If we don’t succeed, odds are it’ll be because you can’t take the pain…
So there I was undergoing an ultrasound. The first doctor took an hour as we waiting in a birthing room of the newly built maternity ward. Ironically, my husband helped lay the concrete for the very building we were now sitting within.
She pressed and zoomed in and out on the screen. She wouldn’t let me see.
‘I don’t think his head is down but I’ll call in a second opinion.’
‘But I felt a movement. A big tug.’
She turned the screen towards me, ‘See this? That is his head.’ She glided the monitor over the lump under my ribs.
She left and the nurse came in with a hospital gown.
‘You’ll need to wear this. We will bring in another doctor but it appears we may have to try and move the baby if you have time?’
‘We have nothing else to do, sure. What do you mean move the baby?’
‘We are waiting for the next doctor to come in. She will confirm with the ultrasound and then move you into the operating room where she will perform ECV which means she will try to manually move the baby into position.’
‘OK.’ I quietly said.
‘We will monitor the baby’s heart rate and should it fluctuate to an unsafe level we may need to perform a C-section today.’
Instantly, I began to shake. I could be seeing my baby today? I could be having my baby today?
2 hours later a different doctor comes in to perform another ultrasound. She confirms the baby’s head is still stuck under my ribs.
‘I just want to warn you that ECV is painful. Typically, if we succeed depends on if you can take the pain. You’ll probably ask us to stop before we decide to stop if we can’t flip the baby.’
‘You are strong enough to endure this.’ I told myself. ‘This will be less painful than a natural child birth so you will get through it.’
We sat waiting for the ECV doctor for nearly 8 hours. I refused any phone calls from family. I knew it would just make me cry. I had to get myself into the right head space. The hours went by incredibly fast despite my hunger and thirst. I couldn’t eat nor drink in case of the need to operate. I requested ice cubes to quench my thirst but I was denied.
And then she arrived.
I was wheeled into the operating room on the same floor just a short ride away. My husband accompanied and held my hand. Two female nurses, the one female doctor to perform the ECV were in the room as well. I readied myself breathing steadily and deeply.
The doctor began and I felt her hands press down manipulating my belly to twist him out of place. I had to allow my stomach to be relaxed throughout the pain and pressure. She would ask me to exhale and relax and I would. I squeezed my eyes tight and my husband’s hand even tighter. I watched wide eyes watch my belly. He could see the shape of the baby take form as they tried to flip him from his breeched position. Later he would tell me that the ECV doctor injured her wrist as she struggled to move him. In an odd way I felt victorious in that I didn’t cave from the pain. I outlasted the doctor and she conceded defeat before I did. Through it all I kept breathing. The baby’s heart rate didn’t budge through it all and there was no need for an immediate c-section.
After the unsuccessful ECV they returned me to my room where I was promptly provided ice cubes and we kept monitoring my baby’s heart beat for another hour before I was released. The first thing I did…went to my nearest restaurant for a big steak.
Misconceptions about c-sections
So that was it. I was suddenly scheduled in for a c-section. When I announced it to my family they were all very scared. I was amazed to hear their fears knowing they were all misguided.
‘My friend told me they’ll have to take out all your organs and guts before they get to the baby.’
Nope! I showed her the diagram of organs being pushed to the background as the baby grew so she saw the baby really was at the forefront of my belly, hence why we can see the child during an ultrasound and see him move or his kicks.
‘You should be wary of contaminated blood. They don’t know if the person donating has HIV. My mom had a transfusion on the same day as another woman and mom was fine but the other woman ended up with HIV.’
‘That was also 30 years ago. I’m going to get a transfusion if it means saving my life.’
‘You’ll have to stay in the hospital for much longer.’
Actually, they told me a total of 2-3 days depending on recovery.
‘Is this really necessary?’
While I had the option to continue waiting until baby decided to join the world and hope that by then he would flip into position, the doctors were worried that because I had gestational diabetes he would continue to get bigger. With increased size he would be even less likely to flip out of breech position and I would end up having a c-section anyways. I wasn’t going to argue with experienced doctors who knew and have seen more than I.
I was more worried about real problems like bleeding out, contaminating a strep strain or getting contracting a superbug that they’ve found to be in every hospital.
But as fearful as I was before the ECV I was suddenly relaxed knowing I was going to be present and coherent during the birth of my child. I knew the exact minute he would be brought into this world and there was a calm in knowing that.
The day has arrived
We got to the hospital at 5:45 am. I was instructed to have no nail polish and no make up on. Looking back I should have at least had a lash extension done for photos. But anyways, that morning I washed with an anti-bacterial soap and didn’t have anything to eat since dinner the night before, more than 12 hours prior.
They told me that we’ll get into the operating room at around 9:00 am where we will promptly get the epidural going, then bring my husband in after the incision has been made and my baby will be born by 9:15 am!
So off I went. Wheeled into the same room I had the ECV a couple weeks before. The lights hovered above me and the doctors and nurses had me sit up. One woman held my hand trying to calm my nerves.
‘Hold as still as you can.’ She said and she noticed my legs shaking in fear.
Somehow we fell into a conversation about Scotland where my husband and I had a portion of our honeymoon. She had worked in Edinburgh for 2 years as a nurse before moving to Kelowna.
The epidural was in and suddenly my hips felt warm. It soon spread to my thighs, then calves and finally my toes.
‘Can you feel this?’
‘No.’ I laughed nervously.
As I lay there I gazed up at the reflection from the metal in between the surgical lights. I could see my belly. They made the cut and I flinched at the pouring of blood. One nurse noticed.
‘Can you see anything from the reflections?’
I nodded yes and the lights were adjusted so I couldn’t anymore.
My husband came in and held my hand. Again, his wide eyes were shocked to see the amount of blood.
Suddenly it was hard for me to breathe.
‘I can’t breathe. It’s hard.’ I told my husband as I tried to take a breath. The anesthesiologist heard and I heard him click the button three times for more morphine.
‘The doctor is trying to get the baby out.’ My husband said.
‘He’s stuck.’ I heard my maternity doctor say. Suddenly she was in the room and then she was on my chest trying to press my son’s head out from under my ribs. The pressure of her weighing on my chest and lungs made it hard to breathe for a moment until finally I saw him. My baby was free from under my ribs. I immediately started to cry. My husband asked if I was in pain as he went to tend to our newborn. I couldn’t answer. All I could do was bawl at the sight of my son.
My son, on the other hand, was bewildered, understandably so, and quiet. It felt like too long until finally he let out a cry. They brought him to the baby warmer unit where was measured and weighed quickly with dad by his side then swaddled him. He was brought next to my head and he cooed into my ear. I didn’t know they did that. He was making such sweet noises.
All this went on as I was oblivious to being patched up.
With all this in mind the worst part of the hospital visit was waiting to be discharged. I was walking within 5 hours of the operation. The sooner you can walk, after the morphine has worn off, the better your recovery. I didn’t go far at first. I stood to see my child in his bassinet, walked to the bathroom and to the door.
We were lucky to have a private room. It was Canada Day weekend and so many doctors weren’t in. It was also relatively quiet with only two other women giving birth during our stay.
Nothing was on the television but Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, on repeat. I still cringe when I see it on TV. So the recovery felt like weeks when it was only 48 hours after the operation. The lack of sleep is what also dragged on the hours. I was ready to go home and start this new life with my son.
Little did I know, when your baby is breech, and for such a long duration as he was, his hips can be affected. Ryker was finding it hard to keep his legs down. He looked like an olympic ski jumper at times. The nurses and I would swaddle him so that his legs were free to kick but tucked in to stay down. It took him a good 3 months to have that initial leg movement – to kick his feet up by his ears – go away. We later had an ultrasound done at 6 weeks to ensure his hips were ok and indeed we found no issues. Today he is running all over the house!
So there it is. My birth story that at first I found to be relatively plain but on second look it might help someone on their journey! Share your birth story or pregnancy updates in the comments below!