“The ring of flesh opened suddenly, and my fingers touched something wet and hard. Relaxation, and it moved back, away, leaving the ends of my fingers tingling with the knowledge that I touched someone entirely new. Once more the great pressure, the stretching came, and once more eased slowly back. I pushed back the edge of the shift, and with the next push the ring stretched to impossible size and a head like a Chinese gargoyle popped out, with a flood of amniotic fluid and blood.” – Diana Gabaldon
The mechanics of naturally making, carrying, and birthing a baby (as they teach in school) are uniform: penis, vagina, sperm, egg, fertilization, implantation, and etcetera. It wasn’t until myself, and my friends reached the point in our lives that we were actively trying to create our own families that I realize how unique this whole process is. Not only did I begin to understand the uniqueness, but also the challenges that are unique to everyone’s journey. For us, we conceived easily. It was a textbook pregnancy until I reached 28 weeks and 1 day, which we now celebrate as my first son’s birthday.
This particular day I was experiencing what I thought was Braxton Hicks contractions. However, around dinner time I began to bleed. We quickly made our way to the local hospital where the doctor assured me that there was no way that at 28 weeks and 1 day that I was in labour. He performed an ultrasound, and informed me that the baby was “head down, cervix closed.” At this point my pain was very intense, and occurring in 5 to 10 minute intervals. We left the hospital asking the doctor to call ahead to a different hospital for us; we wanted a second opinion!
The drive was a torturous 1 ½ hours. My husband drove the speed limit, and refused to let me drive. My contractions went from 5 minutes apart to 3 minutes apart on the drive, and they had an intensity that almost assisted me in tearing the center console from the vehicle as I braced against it. I took a small comfort in feeling the baby move once during the drive.
By the time we reached the hospital I was curling protectively around the ball of my tummy with each contraction. The staff at the hospital thankfully worked fast. For me it was like watching a movie scene. The announcement, “you’re having a baby,” set the play rolling. I was on a stretcher, on my back, watching the lights fly by as we raced down the corridor.
A fast I.V., followed by the staff breaking my water, and there was no time for anything else. I did get gas, but I think it did more for the people around me then it did for me. Every time I had a contraction my hand, which was supposed to be holding the mask on my face, would slide upward onto my forehead with the mask. It was no help at all up there. After a short while of sharing my gas with the room, my conservative husband began cracking jokes, and laughing with the resident doctor and nurses through my contractions!
My son was born in 20 minutes. His small 2.7 pounds was silent, he didn’t cry, and he wasn’t breathing. I got less than a glimpse of his unmoving form as he was passed to the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) team that were standing by my bed. They worked quickly on him, and then rushed him from the room, my husband in tow.
It was a couple hours before I was able to see my tiny son. He was nestled in an incubator with all sorts of wires and cords in his belly button. He had a feeding tube, and oxygen. I marvelled at his paper thin skin, and fury little body. He was so small.
I didn’t get to hold him for a week. He didn’t come home for 3 months! During that time we experienced a number of ups and downs: holes in the heart, artifacts on the brain, blood transfusions, jaundice, x-rays, eye exams, on and off oxygen, and etcetera. When we finally got to bring him home, we ended up back in the hospital 2 weeks later with congestive heart failure. We almost lost him again! The next few years passed in much the same manner. Thankfully, he is now a healthy and happy 5 year old boy, and one of the loves of my life.
However, despite it all we decided to brave the odds, and try for a second baby. Baby number 2 stayed in my tummy until week 35, so he was considered a term baby. The experience was very different. This time my water broke at home, and I felt like a human geyser! In further contrast to my first experience of labour, this baby didn’t want to come out, and we experienced a vacuum extraction. The doctor looked up at me from his perch between my legs and told us, “You should buy a lottery ticket!” Baby 2 had the umbilical cord around his neck, and there was a second knot tied tight in the cord itself.
Like my first son, this son wasn’t crying or breathing either. The NICU team worked their magic, and saved his life. I got a brief cuddle from this lazy baby who refused to eat, or regulate his body temperature before he was off to the NICU for a short stay, before coming home.
My two experiences were far from uniform, and far from penis meets vagina, sperm meets egg, pregnant for 40 weeks, and baby born happy and healthy. My innocent thought that pregnancy and having a baby were a fairy-tale story of happiness (beyond labour of course) shattered. The reality is each of us has our own unique set of experiences that leaves us with a unique story to tell.
By Shari Marshall – 2016