My sweetest baby Anya,
I want to put our last journey together - which I had always thought would be our first journey together - into words, so that I can never forget a single detail of it, of you.
Creating you, and bringing you into this world, is the best thing I’ve ever done, even though you died almost immediately after you were born. We had 9 beautiful months together, and an amazing final journey.
Our last journey…
December 18, 2013
It all began the evening of Wednesday, December 18, 2013. I should have suspected it earlier - I got home from work, with 2 more days to go before my maternity leave, and all of a sudden, probably for the first time ever, I didn’t care about work anymore. Suddenly, it was all about you. Little did I realize, this shift in attitude was a sign you were about to be born!
I woke up. My first contraction, and a little bit of spotting. I woke up dad, and I told him I was going to have a bath - to calm the contractions.
I had hesitated to wake dad. He looked so peaceful, sleeping. I didn’t want to worry him unnecessarily if it turned out to be false labour.
When your mom woke me up, to let me know she was going to have a bath, I was thinking 'This couldn't really be it.. could it?'. I had spent my last few days at work trying to figure out how to stay home after the holidays, in case you were a bit late. The thought of you arriving early hadn't even crossed my mind.
If this was it, though, I would need rest. So I tried to go back to sleep. I can't say I succeeded. Excitement will do that.
December 19, 2013
The bath didn’t calm my contractions, and a bit of research about the spotting convinced dad this was the real deal!
I thought we would have a long day ahead of us. Mamie had been in labour 28 hours with me, her first born. I expected my journey with you would be much the same. So I thought back to our prenatal class, took a Gravol and a Tylenol, and tried to get some sleep.
That didn’t last! Within less than an hour, I was back in the bath, yelling: How do women do this without an epidural!
Dad suggested we call Mamie. I remember worrying it was too late - Mamie would need her sleep if she was to help us through the labour and the next few days. But dad convinced me we should call her. Thank goodness!
Mamie was so happy to hear I was in labour. She couldn’t wait to meet you! She told us she had been thinking of us, suspecting imminent labour!
We talked over the plan for the next few hours with Mamie. We thought it would be quite a while still before your birth, so Mamie was going to have a shower, and slowly make her way to our house. She planned to arrive a few hours later, hopefully arriving before we made our way to the birth house.
I’m not exactly sure about the timing of what came next. Mamie’s voice had given me confidence: Yes! I can do this! No epidural for me! But the pain was so intense. So intense, I puked right there in the bathtub!
After that, dad decided it was time to call our midwife. Her voice was calming and serene.
She reassured us that everything was progressing normally. She gave us tools to manage the pain, reminding dad of the Bonapache pressure points she had taught us during our last prenatal appointment together.
The Bonapache method worked wonders!
I tried to get some sleep, as per her suggestion. Even a minute or so between contractions would be 10 minutes in an hour. But sleep eluded me. There was but a brief moment I could rest - the calm before the storm!
Sometime through all of this - in the bath before the puking and the call to our midwife perhaps - I found a moment to be absolutely… perfectly… excited! You were coming! My baby girl! We were going to meet you! We were going to be parents!
We loved you so much Anya!
It was getting pretty difficult to think that this wasn't the real deal. At this point, I was alternating between doing pressure points, trying to time contractions, trying to keep your mom comfy, and trying to sneak in a google search for additional pressure points. I certainly could've used one or two clones of myself.
I thought some music might soothe mom - And it did, for one song:
When they next song started? "TURN IT OFF!!!!!" "Yes dear - Whatever you need!"
The next hour or so was a blur.
In the bedroom. Your loving dad caring for me. Caring for us! Bonapache pressure points. A giant pile of pillows. Lavender candles.
I felt so loved, through the pain and confusion of the contractions.
Your dad is an amazing, gentle soul! He took such great care of me. He always does. I love him, more than I ever thought possible! I am the luckiest.
Dad decided it was time to call our midwife again - the spotting had come back (later confirmed to have been a completely normal part of labour), and the contractions were lasting longer and getting closer together.
She asked how far apart my contractions were (about 5 minutes apart, lasting over a minute each, by dad’s best guess). She suggested we slowly head over to the birth house.
Dad started to pack a few things, last minute additions to our bag. And we were on our way.
This was it. The moment I had been picturing in my mind for almost 9 months. I scrambled to find the list of last-minute additions to our bag. I gathered everything on the list, leaving the kitchen a mess. I made a sign for Mamie, indicating that we were on our way to the birthing house. I stuck it on the door. I took a moment to pause, and think 'This is it. The next time I come home, it will be as a dad - with our baby... Wow.'
What a drive it was!
A snowstorm had started over night. It wouldn’t end for a few days after.
Dad was amazing! Driving slowly, carefully and calmly, through the storm. Visibility was poor, roads were slippery, and I was alternately telling dad to be careful, and moaning in pain.
Sitting in the car was the first time all night I really looked at the clock. Sitting in the front seat, I couldn’t help but stare at the time. I was trying - more or less successfully - to time my contractions (4 minutes apart by my best guess). I was worried my contractions were still too far apart, and that I would get sent home, despite the seemingly constant contraction pain.
We made it safely to the birth house, pulling into the parking lot just behind our midwife, and stopping for a contraction on the way out of the car.
We walked into the birth house. Dad helped me take off my boots. I waddled upstairs and chose a room - the orange room, the very same room in which I had dreamed you would be born!
Our midwife examined me. We heard your little heart beating strong at well over 100 beats per minute. I was so exquisitely happy to hear your heart - it was always my favourite part of prenatal check-ups. And now, we were going to meet you!!
After examining me, she asked if I liked good news: I was 9 cm dilated! (No reason to be concerned anyone would send me home at 9 cm.)
She suggested I hop in the bath to reduce the pain, float and relieve my body a bit. I remember stepping into the hot bath and thinking: Mmmmmmm! So nice, so hot, so wonderful! I had been worried about making my baths too hot during pregnancy - and here was a midwife endorsed hot bath! How perfectly exquisite that bath was!
I felt good in the bath. The contractions still hurt terribly of course! I remember alternately yelling at dad to use the Bonapache pressure points on my back and to: Stop touching me!
Sometime later, Mamie arrived. Someone got me water, and apple juice.
I accidently pressed the water jet button on the bathtub during a handful of contractions. It startled me every single time - yet somehow, leaning on the side of the bath, I kept pressing the button - and it continued to surprise me.
I remember telling our midwife: J’ai peur de la poussée! (I’m scared of the pushing part!)
I remember holding myself up, hands in the bottom of the bath, in an intense moment. My hands started to hurt from the weight and the energy I was directing into them. She smiled and said: On accouche avec tout le corps! (Labour is a full body experience!)
I remember a moment between contractions - I felt you move inside of me! It was the only time I took to notice - through all the pain - that it was really you, my baby Anya that I had carried for 9 months. You were living this journey with me! I said: Je la sens bouger! (I can feel her move!) To which our midwife responded, stating the obvious: C’est un bébé! (It’s a baby!)
She examined me again - I was fully dilated! She broke my water, though most of the amniotic fluid had already leaked out slowly. I remember being so happy! You were on your way Anya!
Somewhere along the journey the birth attendant and the second midwife arrived.
Time to push!
Our midwife told me things were going to start moving quickly. She and the second midwife helped me out of the bath, and I tried to find a comfortable position.
I wasn’t afraid to push anymore. All I could do was push. I couldn’t have waited to push - or held back - if I had wanted to. My body was ready. You, Anya, were ready!
I tried different positions on the bed - on hands and knees, on the birthing seat… I remember sitting on the birthing seat, with a mirror below. I was curious and scared to look in the mirror. It was overwhelming, yet I wanted to see you arrive.
With all that was going on, I somehow still had a doubt in the back of my mind that your birth was imminent. You hear stories of long, painful labours - and in contrast, ours hadn't been long. But as your mom was starting to push, I couldn't help but think 'December 19? We are going to be parents before Christmas? What an incredible gift'.
And now the scary part!
I think it was sometime while I was on the birthing seat… Your heart rate started to drop.
I vaguely remember our midwife saying something about getting an ambulance and making our way to the hospital. I wasn’t sure why… I thought it was simply preventative. I vaguely remember being disappointed with myself. I needed medical intervention to bring you into this world, where so many women had managed without. But I trusted her.
And I had no idea how things would end - thankfully - I would have panicked it I’d known. How does one give birth, while facing sheer panic?
All these thoughts were very vague and distant anyway… All I was focused on, truly, was pushing!
She asked me to move to the bed. I think your heart rate picked up again. (Though I must admit I’m not sure if I realized this at the time… my memories have already been altered by what I learned in the days to come.)
I lay on my left side, and I pushed. Your heart rate dropped again.
I moved to my back, and I pushed. Your heart rate came back up. Then it dropped.
The ambulance arrived, just as your head started to crown.
Our midwife asked me if I wanted to touch your head. I did! I was touching you, my beautiful daughter! You were almost with us! I couldn’t wait to meet you. Touching you kept me going. motivated me to push. I wanted to hold you in my arms!
I remember Mamie on my right side and dad on my left - each of them holding one of my legs, coaching me to push.
In hindsight, this is where things took a turn. But in the moment, my dear Anya, I was not worried. If there was one thing that was stressed to us, it's that midwives err on the side of taking every precaution. And so it was easy to tell myself that the ambulance was just a precaution. I had little doubt that we could succeed without it.
Then things started to unravel…
Someone gave me oxygen to breathe. Our midwife told me to push harder, for longer - to hold my breath and push for longer. I remember she placed her fingers just where I needed to focus my pushing.
I don’t know what she said exactly, or in what order…
She told me to push. This was it. Anya was going to be born at the birth house.
I felt relieved - I wouldn’t have to go to the hospital. I thought you were going to be OK Anya…
Then she told me to push even harder - longer - and something in her voice set off an alarm bell inside me. She said push, and I heard: Your baby needs you to push! Push to save your baby!
I pushed and pushed with everything I had! I only paused to take a breath! I gave everything I had to help you be born quickly, safely!
I was even pushing between contractions. And I remember the second midwife telling me not to push if I didn’t have a contraction. That was hard. I wanted to push you to safety. I didn’t want to stop pushing until you were in my arms!
I pushed! And I pushed! I felt guilty pausing for a small breath. Please know, I only stopped pushing when I needed to breathe. I had to breathe!
Mamie, dad and our midwife all told me to get mad! But I didn’t have any anger in me… Only desperation! I knew I had to push for you, for my beautiful daughter, for my baby Anya, whom I loved (love still) with every fiber of my being!
Our midwife threatened an episiotomy if I didn’t push hard and long enough. I almost yelled at her: Cut me open! Do the episiotomy if it will save my baby!
But I didn’t yell. I don’t know why - maybe I was scared. I wish I had yelled at her. I wish I had been able to save your life!
I remember Mamie telling me to push - giving me strength and confidence. I remember dad - giving me hope and love - we were about to meet our daughter!!
I pushed as hard (and as long) as I could - and your head came out! Your head! I think I felt surprised: Wow! My baby’s head!
I pushed more, until your shoulders came out. I felt the rest of your body slide out of me. You were born!
(Oh how this moment was supposed to turn out differently! It should have been the happiest moment of my life!)
Our midwife placed you skin to skin on my belly.
You were so limp. I was immediately in shock. I wasn’t sure what was happening - but I was worried - you were so limp!
She asked dad to cut the umbilical cord. But it all seemed so rushed… I knew they meant to take you away after… to try and help you.
Dad hesitated to cut the cord. Who wouldn’t? I imagined his thoughts: Can I cut the cord? Will it hurt my baby? What if I do it wrong?
Only a few seconds passed, but she judged things were taking too long. She cut the cord and took you away from me.
That was the last moment of your life we spent together.