Baby A was born November 30 at 9:06 a.m., weighing 8 lbs 3 oz and measuring about 20 inches long. He had an Apgar score of 9 at one minute and five minutes, and came into this world enveloped in love, excitement, and peace.
THE DAYS BEFORE
We woke up early on Sunday to take care of the last remaining household tasks we could get at – cleaning up the kitchen, making sure beds had fresh linens, and some basic sanitizing and scrubbing. We also had to pack for everyone because we had been up doing laundry until the night before, then pack up the car and make sure our cat sitter had the keys to our house and mailbox. It was an incredibly rushed morning and we still ended up leaving three hours later than we would have liked. M napped for about half the drive, and we thankfully hit clear weather the whole way through.
When we arrived in Winnipeg we went right to the hotel and found out that the free upgrade we’d earned for sharing our reservation on social media was very much a HUGE upgrade – from a basic queen room to a full suite! Having our sleeping space separate from the living and eating area was perfect with a toddler in tow, and we made good use of having a dining table. We ordered food in that night, and I went to bed early while Matt and a very-wired M stayed up in the living room watching TV.
The next morning Matt had to do some troubleshooting. We’d realized we’d forgotten M’s luggage at home the night before, meaning she had absolutely no clothing. He headed off to the mall and got her a new wardrobe, which was an unwanted expense, but necessary given that we were going to be in town for a week. She also scored a Paw Patrol suitcase out of it so she was quite thrilled. When he got back we grabbed lunch at the hotel, then they went swimming while I snuck in another nap. My mom and her fiancé showed up in the early evening, having road tripped through the States, and we all went out for dinner before bed.
At 2 a.m. M started coughing, hard. She’d been kind of sick on and off for a few weeks, and was suffering with this awful hacking cough, but this was a new level of rough. I went out into the living room to stretch out for a few minutes, hoping she’d drink some water and feel better, but literally the moment I walked back through the bedroom door chaos had broken loose. Right when Matt sat her up to try to relieve the cough, she had thrown up, and she was miserable. She’s only thrown up maybe three times in her life and she was panicking. Worse yet, her getting sick made Matt sick and it was an utter disaster unfolding in the hotel bathroom.
Matt kicked me out and told me he’d handle it, and the two of them had a shower, he cleaned up the bathroom and then I snuggled M while he went out to try to find meds at 3 a.m. With some Advil and a bit of honey for her throat she managed to fall back asleep with him for awhile, then woke up coughing again – I switched her over to my bed and eventually she fell asleep, albeit fitfully, until morning. It wasn’t exactly the relaxing last morning of sleeping in we’d hoped for, as we had to drag everyone out of bed and check out by 11, and we felt terrible for M, though she was doing better by morning.
With a quick round of coffee and muffins we all travelled out to our rental AirBnB, unloaded the cars, and had just enough time for a stop by the pharmacy for supplies – in case we were admitted that evening – and a bit of lunch. Matt and I left M behind with her grandparents and set out toward the hospital.
FIRST HOSPITAL CONSULTATION
Unfortunately, we didn’t really know where we were going. We’d been past the hospital before and knew where the campus itself was but finding the women’s hospital was confusing. By the time we sorted it out, parking presented a problem – the parkade closest to the building was full, and it was about five minutes until our scheduled appointment leaving me totally upset and flustered because I did not want to have anything rescheduled at this point. Matt decided to ditch the car in front of what we figured was the women’s hospital, with a plan to keep running out to feed the meter every 30 minutes. But then we didn’t know where to actually enter the hospital. We went into ambulatory care, down several flights of stairs, only to find out that admitting was upstairs from a nurse who was unimpressed with our questions. I arrived at the desk a sweaty mess, leading the clerk to take immediate pity on me when I saw her and blurted out “I’m from Ontario and have no idea what I’m doing here.” She brought us back into the room and handled our paperwork.
Admitting done, we stepped into the fetal assessment unit, which was a bit of a zoo. As we’d later discover, like many other parts of that hospital, it was small, and busy. They handed me a pager and sent us back out to the main waiting area and that’s when I started to tear up, sitting there beside Matt, finally catching my breath after trying to find my way around a different province and a strange hospital while feeling all the pressure of knowing the next day, we’d be having a baby. Matt looked at me and asked if I was okay and all I could do was shake my head no, not wanting to cry in front of a room full of strangers. He commented that the space looked like a bus terminal – it really did – and the thought that kept running through my head was “I am not supposed to be here.” I missed our bright, new hospital at home, I hated that I didn’t know who I was going to meet or what was going to happen next, and I felt so very unsettled.
The pager buzzed just as Matt stepped out to feed the meter again and I reluctantly walked back to the unit, not wanting to go anywhere without him. As I was directed to another hallway he appeared at the same time as a very bubbly, friendly person who turned out to be an ultrasound tech. We were thrilled to find out that we were going to get one last peek at the baby, and as soon as the screen flicked on all of those worries and the doubt and the bad feelings went away. Our last ultrasound locally had been kind of weird – there were two new techs handling it and they didn’t say much or show us anything. This time we got a great peek at baby, saw his little face, watched him kick at the wand, and found out that he was estimated at eight pounds already, at 37 weeks, five days. Seeing him on the screen drove home the fact that we were going to really meet him the next day, and I was suddenly elated.
As the tech was doing the scan a man was popping in and out of the room asking me quick questions about our genetic history. After a few questions, I figured out that he was our doctor – the physician my own doctor specifically referred us to, and sends all her local patients to, because this guy is supposed to be the best of the best. I’d poked around a bit on internet reviews before leaving for Winnipeg and talked to a few friends who’d been risked out of town and had him as a doctor. The consensus from a lot of people was that his bedside manner was lacking, but his intelligence and expertise was unmatched.
For us, we actually really, really liked him. With all his questions out of the way he came in and sat down and introduced himself, explaining that he hadn’t done so before because he wanted to call hematology before they closed for the day. He took more of a brief family history, and explained, mostly to the medical fellow who was with him, a bit about hemophilia and the tainted blood crisis that lead to hemophiliacs contracting HIV and AIDS in the 1980s. He offered one more time to let me try a VBAC versus the scheduled Caesarean, noting that in his view, it doesn’t make sense to automatically section all carriers or potential carriers. But we were already there, and we didn’t want to have to sit and wait in Winnipeg – and pay for lodging during that wait – which was something we’d already discussed with my doctor at home, so we all confirmed the plan for surgery and went ahead as expected.
I found that the doctor didn’t have bad bedside manner – rather, he was just kind of quirky, to me. You could tell he had a strong interest in finding good outcomes for his patients, and was committed to teaching his students, too, and that didn’t leave a whole lot of space for hand holding. While he wasn’t someone I felt like I connected with on a personal level I felt extremely safe in his care, and he showed us warmth and compassion in subtle ways, making sure we felt comfortable and informed. The whole reason we were seeing him was for his knowledge, and we felt very secure in that.
The tech printed us off a few photos of our boy, and with instructions to arrive at the hospital at 7 a.m. the next day for a 9 a.m. C-section. We went back to the AirBnB and met up with our family, then set off for one last dinner – my mom excitedly told our server we were having a baby the next day – and returned to the basement apartment. I took a shower that night knowing I’d have to be up early the next day, and tried to get myself to sleep despite the anticipation and excitement that had taken over my body and mind. Our long, long journey to baby was about to be over, and I couldn’t wait.
NOVEMBER 30 – BIRTH DAY
I woke up early on the 30th, not needing my alarm. I was alone in one of the bedrooms – M and Matt had slept out on an air mattress in the living room to ensure that I could get one last round of decent sleep, if possible. I navigated around the house in the dark, not wanting to wake anyone else. Clothes on, one last check of the hospital bags, rousing Matt and waiting for him to shower, then we were out the door. It was cold and crisp and dark outside and it felt like we were some of the only people in the world as we got into the car and started driving from the suburbs to downtown.
I cued up First Day of My Life by Bright Eyes as Matt steered the car toward the hospital:
This is the first day of my life
Swear I was born right in the doorway
I went out in the rain suddenly everything changed
They’re spreading blankets on the beach
Yours is the first face that I saw
I think I was blind before I met you
Now I don’t know where I am
I don’t know where I’ve been
But I know where I want to go
And so I thought I’d let you know
That these things take forever
I especially am slow
But I realize that I need you
And I wondered if I could come home
We both felt the emotion and the rush of knowing that, after a year of trying, after three losses, after so much sadness, and then the anxiety of waiting and worrying with this guy, hoping we would be able to meet him – we were within hours of his arrival.
At the hospital, we knew where to park and where to check in, although there was a brief moment of worry when the admitting clerk couldn’t find us on the surgery list. She sent us up to triage after finding our details and taking down the details of our request for a private room, but neither of us were actually listening and ended up on the wrong floor at day surgery. We had to ask for directions and reroute ourselves up one more floor. At triage they sat me down and started asking questions until my answer to “why are you here” was “I’m having a C-section” at which point they realized I needed to be in an entirely different area and moved me over to a place where, honestly, I’m not sure what normally happens. There were a bunch of beds in curtained off sections, a handful of nurses, and a bathroom. A different set of nurses gave me a gown to put on, took my clothes and started an IV, then kicked us out to a patient lounge to sit and wait.
Matt started to get visibly nervous at this point. He paced the lounge room and complained about the TV, which was playing a very loud sportscast that was just too much for him to bear at that early hour with his nervous energy fully engaged. Eventually he asked a clerk if he could have the remote, and when it turned out that the remote was missing, he climbed up on a chair and unplugged the TV from the wall, exhaling in relief as he sunk into a chair.
Soon after, as Matt was in a washroom putting on his own scrubs, I heard the already familiar sound of our doctor’s voice and realized that it was go time. Everything around me sped up, quickly. I met the anesthesiologist, who told me that he’d be treating me “like a normal patient” having assessed all the risks of hemophilia and my potential carrier status. The doctor went over informed consent with me, a nurse handed me a cup full of liquid to neutralize my stomach acid, Matt appeared in the doorway wearing too-large scrubs, and suddenly we were all moving down the hall. We briefly stopped in a prep room where Matt disappeared again to ask the nurses for a cup of juice so he wouldn’t faint, then I found myself being guided into the operating room.
At our hospital, the OR is a separate area of the hospital, but here, it was just another room within the delivery wing, and that felt strange to me, literally walking myself into the place where my baby would soon be born knowing that there were women giving birth all around me. Matt later told me that as he sat in the hallway waiting to be called in, a woman was screaming in pain – as I was being prepped, the nurses told me “Your husband is frantically pacing outside.”
In the OR, I was introduced to the rest of the medical staff, and helped hoist myself up onto the bed for the spinal anesthetic. I told the anesthesiologist he had his practice down to an art – every sensation he said I’d experience, I experienced immediately after he said I would. I couldn’t remember what getting the spinal was like, when I had M, and was feeling a bit nervous about it this time, but the doctor braced me at the front, the needles went in, and although it hurt a bit, it was quick, and I felt strangely calm as soon as it was done. I used the last bit of feeling in my legs to stretch out on the table, pushed one arm off to either side, and settled into the heavy, dull sensation.
Every bit of worry I had faded away. I have never felt so calm in my life. I felt quiet, relaxed, and finally, finally assured that everything would be fine. I can’t explain why it happened but I am so grateful that my anxiety let go at that point. I looked up at the lights over the table – seaglass shades of green and blue and white – and breathed deeply as I smelled the disinfectant being applied to my body and felt the nurses touching my stomach. When I had M, I was terrified. I hated the disengaged feeling; not knowing what was happening, not being able to feel my body. This time it felt like I had turned myself over to what was supposed to happen. It felt like I could just sink into the process and trust that all would be well. Something deep inside me knew that I was, in fact, exactly where I was supposed to be.
Matt came in and sat down on a chair beside my head – a pre-emptive measure for the guy who seemed on the verge of fainting all morning – and the OR crew started the audio tape, explaining who I was and what they were doing. It was quiet and peaceful and moved so quickly. In what seemed like minutes, the anesthesiologist advised me that I’d be feeling a lot of pressure: “You can’t push him out, so we’re going to push him out for you.” I mostly felt that sensation toward my ribs where I had a nurse on each side putting what felt like all their weight on my body.
And then A cried. Matt also cried, grasping my hand and saying, with such joy, “That’s him! That’s him!” Me, I still felt nothing but utter peace and calm. Of course it was him. Of course he was here. It was the way things were supposed to be, all along. How could I have ever thought differently?
The medical team asked Matt if he wanted to stand and look at the baby, then countered themselves with “Ehhhh… unless you feel like you might faint?” He asked me if he could look – I had banned him from peeking at M before I could, but this time that peace was enveloping me so much that I gave my blessing and he immediately shot up over the surgical drape to look, reporting back that the baby was absolutely beautiful. A nurse towelled him off quickly and brought him around the other side of the drape – the minute the doctor told Matt it was time for skin to skin he ripped off his scrub top and grabbed A, holding him tight as he brought him close to my face.
He looked like M, but different. Heavier, squishier, not as dark. Matt was emotional but I still felt tranquil, just happy to lie back and drink in a long look at A. The medical team soon asked Matt if he wanted to help weigh A, and he jumped at the opportunity. I laughed when the nurse carefully led him around the surgical drape, sternly instructing, “Do NOT look over there. And don’t touch anything blue.”
Around this time, I started to feel a bit nauseated, for the first time since surgery began. The anesthesiologist said he could adjust things (and told me it was probably partially due to my uterus being out of my body which didn’t really help with my feeling of illness) and I thankfully felt better shortly thereafter, but then the exhaustion kicked in. He told me it was likely a combination of medicine, coming down from the rush of surgery, and post-birth hormones, and I decided to just lean into it and shut my eyes while everyone bustled around me. I felt no sense of urgency as they finished surgery and Matt returned with A in his arms. Everyone gave me their assurances that surgery had went very well, and the room cleared out, leaving a few people left to log roll me over onto the bed they’d use to wheel us to recovery.
A was placed in my arms and latched on as we were in the hallway between the OR and the recovery room. When the nurse expressed her amazement at that, I said, “That’s nothing – my daughter latched right away in the OR!”
We were the only ones in recovery and I laid back with A while Matt called our parents. My dad was actually in surgery at the same time, in Ottawa, so we held off on making any public announcement until we could talk to him later that afternoon. I still felt dozy, but being allowed to eat a bit of food and drink some juice helped, and I was eager to get going out of recovery. I was thrilled to find out that my doctor asks the nurses to take out the catheter right away for his C-section patients. Most people wait for 12 to 14 hours, the nurse explained, but he asks for them to be taken out in recovery to encourage women to have to get up and move faster. One of my big concerns, going into another Caesarean, was how long I’d be stuck in bed, so I was definitely on board with that plan. I could move my own legs to help with the removal, which impressed the nurse, and the feeling came back to my lower body quite quickly. By the time they wheeled us out to the elevator to take us up to our room, I was able to scooch myself over from the recovery stretcher to the hospital bed, bit by bit, without any assistance.
The rest of the day was busy, loud, and disconcerting especially compared with the peace of birth. We were in an incredibly small shared room, with roommates who were not exactly the most courteous people in the world, and it was utterly packed especially when M and her grandparents came to visit. That didn’t matter, though, when I saw how thrilled M was to meet her baby brother. Soon after they came to visit, hematology came down and let us know that A’s clotting factor was perfectly normal, meaning he is not a hemophiliac.
I spent a lot of that day feeling a bit out of sorts, to be honest, after surgery was over and A was in our arms. When I had M, the Caesarean was the culmination of a long hard labour, and so I felt like I had done a lot of work to get her out even though it was ultimately a surgical birth. With A, I walked myself into the operating room and came out less than an hour later with a brand-new baby. I kept telling Matt that it was crazy to me that he was real. I had barely had time to process our sped-up delivery plan, barely had time to think about what the surgery would be like, and then it happened and there was this tiny little person in our lives. It felt like something that happened to me, rather than something I participated in. That feeling faded quickly, though, and this time around I really have no regrets or misgivings about the birth itself. Even though it turned out to be a precaution that didn’t necessarily need to be taken, given that he is not a hemophiliac, I’m glad that we took the safest route, and I am so thankful that all my anxiety finally fell away the moment my feet hit the threshold of the operating room.
When the sky darkened, Matt went out to get our bags from the car and I had my first moment alone with A. I pulled him in close to my body and he rested his warm head on my chest. It felt positively blissful. Every part of my body rang with happiness in that minute, and I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and completeness.
Before we had A, a lot of friends told me that their scheduled repeat C-sections were a dream compared to previous unplanned Caesareans. For me, that very much held true. This was the right birth for us, for our baby, and for our situation, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.