January 19, 1998.
I woke up at about 8:00 a.m. and rolled over in bed, enjoying the leisure of a Monday-morning sleep-in. Up until Friday, I’d been teaching full time. My maternity leave began this very morning, January 19, and my baby was due on January 25. Since I knew first babies were usually late, I was looking forward to a leisurely week or two puttering around the house, feathering my nest for the little newcomer.
Jason was in the shower, getting ready to go to work. I sat up and immediately felt an unfamiliar but expected sensation. My water had broken.
A wave of excitement mixed with panic hit me as I called out to Jason to come quickly. “My water’s broken! The baby’s coming today!!”
I said a quick and silent good-bye to my plans for a relaxing week at home with my feet up…and to relaxing with my feet up, uninterrupted, for the next eighteen years.
I didn’t feel any contractions or anything, so I hung around in bed until the doctor’s office was open at nine and then called in. My doctor, who had a refreshingly laid-back approach to childbirth, said there was no point rushing off to the hospital until I was having contractions. He told me to stay home, walk around, get a little exercise, and once labour pains started in earnest I should go to the hospital.
And then … nothing happened. Jason took the day off, poised for action at any moment, and we just waited. I read a book, picking an old comfortable favourite from the shelf: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The day progressed so slowly and uneventfully that I finished the whole book, crying at the end as I always do. The doctor suggested (in response to another of my phone calls) that I should take a walk to see if that would get labour going. The ground outside was covered with ice; Jason and I walked as far as Shoppers’ Drug Mart and back, with me clinging desperately to his arm, afraid I’d slip and fall. Still no contractions; not a twinge to indicate I was in labour.
Back home, we went downstairs and played a couple of games of Ping Pong. I lost as spectacularly as I usually did — 21-2, if I recall the score correctly. We went back upstairs — this was about 5:00 p.m. — and as Jason cooked supper I felt the first stirrings of pain.
“I think this is it! I think I’m in labour!!”
I called the doctor again. He was less excited than I was. He advised me to stay home and take it easy. I’d be in labour for a long, long time with a first baby and I’d just be bored and frustrated in the hospital; better to get through these early stages at home.
The pains didn’t feel like any big deal. I wondered if I should eat supper. I was really hungry and I knew once I did get to the hospital I probably wouldn’t be able to eat anything throughout this long, drawn-out process. So I ate a nice plate of supper — a decision I was soon to regret.
My contractions started getting faster and harder, and I called the doctor again at about 9:00. Yes, he said, maybe I should go to the hospital; he’d meet us there in a little while. So we grabbed the hospital bag which had been packed and lying by the door for three weeks, and headed down to the Grace Hospital, five minutes away.
By the time we got there I could barely stand up. They got me into a room and onto a bed, where I immediately threw up. A nurse came in and examined me and seemed deeply impressed with how far my labour had progressed. I had agonized over whether or not I should have an epidural but it seemed nobody was even interested in raising the question. The four hours I’d spent at home seemed to have taken care of that long-drawn-out process of early labour and the consensus was that I was going to have a baby anytime now.
The nice nurses did, however, give me a shot of a lovely drug called Nubain. I have led a remarkably drug-free existance and I was quite amazed by the effects of the Nubain. It didn’t stop the pain; it just made me stop caring about it. I was clearly aware that there was a woman in pain in the room. I just felt quite detached from her.
Sometime during this lovely though short-lived phase, my friend Sherry showed up with something — a balloon, I think, and some kind of gift — and then my parents and Jason’s mom arrived. I got moved to another, much nice room, and the Nubain wore off. There was no sign of my doctor. I later discovered that on learning I had been admitted at 9:30, he went to bed planning to get several hours of sleep. He was still banking on that “first babies take forever” philosophy.
Forever ended at 11:00 p.m. when the nurses told me I was fully dilated and ready to push. They kicked all my friends and family except Jason out of the room and one of the nurses told someone to call the doctor or he was going to miss the birth. I anticipated that the actual delivery would occur with the same lightning-like speed as labour had, and that my baby would be born on January 19, with or without an attending physician.
Alas, this was not to be. As the Great Big Sea CD’s I’d selected rotated in the CD player and the team of nurses around the bed chanted “Push! Push! Push!” time wore on and no baby arrived. The doctor, however, did arrive, but he had no magic tricks to make the baby come faster. Just push, push, push until I thought my entire body would explode.
It went on. And on. And on. Until 1:24 a.m., January 20, when Christopher was born. Even then it wasn’t instant maternal bliss, because there was no immediately healthy cry and I could see that the baby was a very unhealthy, pale colour. Instead of giving him to me to cuddle they whisked him to a nearby table. I realized he wasn’t breathing and began babbling, “Please make my baby breathe, please make my baby breathe!” This time period seemed to last for hours though Jason assures me that it was only about 30 seconds before we heard our son’s first cry.
Christopher only got a 4 on his first Apgar test. This was the first and — so far — the last test he ever failed, but I’m happy to say that he studied hard for the make-up exam and scored a 9 on his five-minute Apgar. Within seconds he was in my arms, staring up at me with dark blue eyes that seemed far too curious and knowing for a newborn. I tried to introduce him to my breast but he was much more interested in my face … and his dad’s face, and the faces of all the people who eventually came into the room to meet brand-new Christopher Donald Cole.
And Life as We Know It began ….
January 19, 1998.