Today is April 5th, 2023 - my daughter Harper's second birthday. I cannot believe that she is already two and truthfully if you ask me about it I could pretty much cry on demand. Harper was born in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and things have been a whirlwind since that day - both in our lives and in the world. A lot of people have been asking me about Harper's birth story and if you've had the pleasure of hearing it in person, you'd know that I still get emotional talking about it two years later. I am still doing some healing from the stress of that day and it's taken me this long to relive it long enough to write about it.
So ... here we go.
First, the boring background details ...
Before I get into the story about me labouring and giving birth, I have to give you some background info so that it all makes sense.
We found out we were pregnant in September 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic - essentially around the beginning of it. I'm a labor + delivery nurse so the fast spreading virus came with some stress. I was worried about potentially contracting the virus but also worried about the amount of work that would soon be on my plate. I was right about that second part. Putting on and taking off PPE repeatedly, working extra hours, taking care of patients that were more sick, extra cleaning and protocols. It was a lot. I started to have very mild tightenings in my abdomen around 30 weeks because of it all. My midwife asked about writing me off at that time but because I'm stubborn as hell, I said I would hydrate and wait to see how things played out. For a little while that seemed to work. But eventually, those tightenings turned into actual contractions that caused me to stop what I was doing around 33 weeks. My midwife strongly advised me to go off and I agreed - so at 34 weeks, I went on maternity leave early. Six weeks or so to rest before baby, no problem (wink wink).
Another important piece to our story was that around the time we got pregnant with Harper, we were actually looking to move into a different house. Finding out we were pregnant pushed us to find a good neighbourhood and better home for our babe (the old neighbourhood was full of loud party houses - not exactly our jam with a newborn) and so we signed for a new build home around October 2020.
As if both of those things weren't enough on their own, Harper was measuring quite small and they were questioning whether she was IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction). I wasn't worried too much because my brother and I had been born small but she was measuring less than the 7th percentile so we had booked an ultrasound for 37 weeks. This ultrasound centre was for higher risk babies and the measurements were supposed to be helpful to set up a plan for birth ie. the need for a potential induction of labor or the transfer of care to an OB team from my midwife.
Moving on to the good part ...
On Sunday April 4th, 2021 it was gorgeous out for the first time in a while after a dark winter. The sun was out, all of our windows were open and I actually felt quite comfortable even though I was 36 weeks and 2 days. It was Easter weekend and we had planned a dinner at my in-laws. We had planned for our realtor and her photographer to come to our house and take pictures while we were gone because our house was going to go on the market (to sell) that upcoming Wednesday. Our plan was to get all the house selling nonsense out of the way before baby got here.
When I tell you we cleaned every damn inch of our house that morning, I really mean it. That morning was complete madness. I ran errands to pick up last minute items like fresh flowers and pieces of art for Scott to hang. I was trying to scrub the grout on my hands and knees before Scott begged me to stop (still laughing) and rest. It was the not-so-calm before the storm we just didn't know it yet. Around lunch time I agreed to stop and rest, sat out in a sports bra and got some sun.
At 3pm or so, our realtor + photographer came and we left our house in their hands, going over to my in-laws for dinner. I remember the seat at dinner feeling wildly uncomfortable because of the pressure of Harper's head, but she had always sat low so I didn't really think much of it. I remember telling Scott I couldn't get comfortable and eventually I did get up to sit on the couch. Other than that nothing too eventful happened and we came back to our clean home and went to sleep like normal.
Little did we know ...
Just before 1100pm I woke up and felt a little bit of wetness on my pants. I also noticed it on the pillow I had between my legs but it was a pretty small amount. My initial thought was that I peed myself because you know ... pregnancy. I got up to go to the bathroom and nothing else was leaking. I went pee and sat on the toilet for a few minutes to see if anything changed. Nothing. I didn't feel any different, I didn't notice any more leaking, baby was moving in my belly ... WTF? I woke Scott up and explained the situation to him and he instantly wanted to dive out of bed and get organized. I didn't feel like I had all the pieces to convince myself my water was broken. I told him to go back to sleep - LOL. I cleaned myself up, put on a pad to see if I had any more leaking, and laid in bed staring at the ceiling.
At 1125pm, I had a small gush of fluid. This time I felt it happen and when I got up to move to the bathroom, a little bit actually came down my leg. In my tired + panicked state, I was still questioning if this was it or not. I still didn't feel any different but I was definitely leaking a bit of fluid. I didn't want to bother my midwife if I had just peed my pants, ya know? In light of not being a nuisance, I texted her at 1149pm "Are you still awake!" and waited for a response.
After I texted her, I started cramping. It was very light at first - the best way I can explain it is that it felt like gas pain. It felt so similar to gas pain, actually, that I literally took a gas-x at 1243am to see if it would go away. Now the nurse in me at this point in the story is like GIRL ... because if someone called me at the hospital and said any of this, I'd say come in now please. But the Samantha that didn't want to "bother anyone" wasn't thinking like that and felt like she was managing just fine, maybe just a little bloated and gassy from Easter dinner. And also peeing her pants overnight. Nothing felt consistent, but the intensity was increasing slightly.
I had one single contraction that dropped me to my knees just after 1am and at that point I called my midwife. My brain finally had that oh shit moment - AKA it finally accepted that this might be happening. It's a good thing that I did call because while on the phone with her I went to the bathroom and saw a bit of blood when I wiped. I sent her a picture of it while still on the phone and basically heard her come to the same conclusion I had just come to - I felt like we both knew my cervix must be changing. Time to meet each other at the hospital.
My midwife reminded me that I was a bit early (36 + 3 now) and asked if I wanted her to assess me at my planned delivery hospital or if I wanted to go directly to a bigger centre because I was preterm. I had planned to deliver where I work and so I was already comfortable with the entire team - if I went somewhere else, I'd have to give that all up. My midwife didn't have privileges elsewhere which meant I would lose her too. I told her I'd feel most comfortable meeting her for an assessment at my planned hospital and if I needed to be transferred to the bigger centre then I would obviously go. I wasn't sure how long this labor would be and I felt most comfortable going to the closest hospital ie. where I had planned to deliver all along. I knew exactly how long it would take us to get there and figured we could monitor baby quicker. Overall this felt like the best plan + off we went.
We got to the hospital just after 2am. My midwife was already there and took us into triage to do a sterile speculum exam and non-stress test, to ensure both myself and Harper were okay. She looked into the speculum and said "yup - you're like 3cm and your girl has an entire head full of dark hair".
Oh shit ...
Because I was still in early labor and Harper was predicted to be quite small, the second it was determined as "necessary" to transfer me to a bigger centre - there was an urgency to get me there. The OB was called in, the urgent hotline for an ambulance transfer was initiated and the entire room suddenly came alive. I'd be lying if I said my first thought wasn't fear that I wasn't going to be able to get my epidural until I made it to this new hospital. The thought of how long that would be stressed me out and I was quite uncomfortable for 3cm so I asked if it was possible to get the nubaine injection before the ambulance got there. I was able to get it so my nurse (love you A!) ran to grab it. My midwife started my IV and I remained on the monitor to make sure Harper was safe. In the time it took the nurse to go get the nubaine and come back I had felt a bit of a change - I was shaking, finding it hard to get comfortable in the triage bed, and the contractions were intense. I didn't want to talk much and my focus was on my body.
For this reason, when my nurse came back to give me the injection I asked if my midwife would check my cervix again first. I think they all might have thought I was out of my mind in that moment because it hadn't been much time - but when my mom gave birth to my brother she got an opioid too soon to delivery and he had a hard time transitioning for that exact reason. I didn't want the same thing to happen to me. To everyone's surprise, with that check I was 7cm. This meant a few things - First, I had no time to leave the building. The ambulance was cancelled. And second, I actually could get the epidural now. I wanted it immediately because with the way things were progressing I clearly didn't have much time. We took our short walk over to the labor room and my contractions started ramping up quickly. My care was transferred to the OB and the nurses, but my midwife stayed with me to help out which I was super appreciative of.
I only remember small parts from that moment on. I could feel everyone rushing around me, mostly because I was going quickly but also because Harper was preterm and small. I asked if they had called the anesthesiologist yet but wasn't convinced by the answers I was getting that it had happened - more so that it was on the list of "to do's" behind the other tasks like monitoring baby and opening the crash cart. There's no doubt in my mind that these tasks were important but I was also super uncomfortable and looking for relief before I couldn't get it. I felt a little helpless in that moment if I'm being honest - I couldn't think up anything helpful for pain relief off the top of my head and although I was doing my best to stay calm, I could feel the stress in the room and knew the steps towards an epidural weren't being done. I literally tried to program my own pre-epidural fluid bolus on the IV pump so that they had no excuses but to get me one - but couldn't because I was GBS unknown and my penicillin antibiotics were going through.
The hustle and bustle continued around me but I wanted some sort of relief, so I asked to use the nitrous gas. It was incredibly helpful for a few contractions but made me nauseous - eventually causing me to throw up violently and not wanting to use it anymore.
At about 425am I suddenly felt intense pressure. When the OB checked me this time it was awful - I actually said "stop" because the intensity was too much for me and I was feeling all the things down there. I was 9cm dilated, only had a tiny lip of cervix left and baby was very low. I begged them to call and see where the anesthesiologist was and the OB said "I don't think he'll make it I think we're just going to have a baby" to which I responded "how do you know how long I'm going to push for?". I was hopeful that at least if I had to push for hours, I would have pain control on board for that. Our nurse went and ensured that he was called and he was on his way. I feel like I was at peace knowing that she had gone to check. I finally felt like I had physically watched someone other than myself go do their best to get me an epidural.
That was basically all my body needed to feel ready to push. I started pushing with each contraction to see if the rest of the cervix would move out of the way. The back pain at this point was worse for me than the contractions - our nurse, Scott, and my midwife all took turns holding a heat pack which helped me SO much. I literally still remember how much relief I felt with that thing. At some point my body started involuntarily pushing and my smaller pushes became much bigger. I pushed for about 40 minutes total. As her head began to crown, I started to feel there again - a little scared, thinking she might need some help when she gets here. But mostly proud ... I could feel Scott's hand on my head that had been there the entire time. I could feel myself giving it my all. I had gotten here completely on my own without narcotics and despite my plan going totally out the window, I was literally seconds from meeting our baby.
Finally, at 5:05am our baby girl was born.
She had delayed cord clamping at the perineum. She had APGAR scores of 8 + 9 and cried spontaneously. She didn't need any extra medications or air to help her breathe even though she was preterm. And to top it all off - she was a healthy 5lb 9oz, not nearly as small as she had been predicted.
From start to end, my labor was about 6 hours. For a first time mama that is quite fast. At the end of the day I'm still frustrated that the epidural wasn't prioritized because I do feel like I "wasn't all there" towards the end of my birth and this was a big contributor to grief for me because I blamed myself for not having other strategies in place for coping. After some deep reflecting and thought - I've instead come to realize that I'm a badass for managing a situation I didn't anticipate being in. Perspective is everything I guess!
I wouldn't have done as well as I did if it weren't for my supports - you know who you are, and I am forever grateful for you.
& Miss Harper - I hope you will read this one day and realize how much of a fireball you were from the very beginning. From the very day you were born, you told your parents how things were going down and you meant it. We love you for that, always.
Thanks for reading!