At 4:51 am on May 18th, 2017, I woke up to feel a gush of water between my legs. Already certain I knew what it was, I got up and went to the bathroom to investigate. Too much fluid to be anything other than my bag of waters opening. I tried putting a pad on, but it just overflowed - so much and continual, so it must have been more like a leak. Finally one of my daughter's diapers seemed to do the trick. For several weeks I had experienced contractions each night as I laid in bed sleeping and some of them were quite strong and regular. What I wasn't expecting was no contractions whatsoever after discovering that my waters had broke. I decided that I did not want to go to the hospital at this early point without contractions and be put on the 24 hour clock or pitocin. I felt confident that we could get the labor started on our own and suggested to my family that after breakfast we go for a walk.
After our gentle walk in the nearby park, I felt Charlotte (Baby A) move a little lower and had started to feel some light contractions. Nothing that made me think I would be in hard labor anytime soon if my previous births were any indication. I enjoyed my second daughter's birth and labor partly because we filled the day doing things we loved such as walking and enjoying a nice lunch together even through the contractions, so in that spirit we decided to go for lunch at a Greek restaurant where Cam and I actually had our first date. They opened for lunch at 11:30 that day and it was around noon by the time we were driving there. They're located about a 15 minute drive from our home. As we neared the restaurant, something changed and my contractions became more strong and regular. Suddenly having a regular conversation was more challenging and my 6 year old and 3 year were really starting to annoy me... knowing what this meant, I said to Cam, "I think we'd better make it take-out."
I'm going to stop my story here and preface this next part by saying that although early on in my twin pregnancy I had wanted to try to have a home birth, the fact that I developed a blood clot that needed to be managed with daily injections of blood thinner medication made me decide that I wanted to have my babies in the hospital. I was worried that during a home birth my blood would not clot and that I could hemorrhage. However, because I had originally planned to have a home birth, I already had all the supplies on hand and I had even found somebody who was eager to sit and attend to me. Not to play any active role, just someone with some birth experience to keep an eye on how things were progressing, note any warning signs and be ready to call 911 if she saw anything that worried her. Looking back, I had not given up on my wish to have a home birth, but I also had my hospital bag packed and that was my rational first choice. I had even mentally prepared myself to have a caesarean section if need be though that was something I wanted to avoid if I could. Somewhere near the end of my pregnancy I began to trust God and my intuition and decided that I would surrender and let the circumstances guide me when the time came. I had not injected myself with blood thinners for a day or so because of the signs of labor starting.
Returning to our story, on the drive home from the restaurant once we had finally received our take-out order, my contractions were ramping up. My hospital bag was at home, so we had to go there anyway (at least in my mind we did), plus we needed to have my sister-in-law come to look after our older children, ages 6 and 3 since children are prohibited from being in the delivery room and because I didn't want to go to the hospital without my husband advocating for me not knowing what to expect or if I'd even be allowed to remain conscious. I was told by my OB that if they needed to perform a c-section and my blood didn't coagulate enough (determined through advance blood tests), they would not administer a spinal and therefore need to put me under general anesthesia. For that, I would like to have my husband in the room. With nobody close by to look after our older children, he could not be in two places at once I reasoned, though later many of my friends came forward and said they would have looked after our girls. Still, it was a Thursday morning and other people have their own everyday commitments and things progressed quickly. We are a family that does everything together, so childcare is a very rare event. During the drive home I could tell I was already transitioning, so I asked my husband to call the lady that felt confident watching over me. When we arrived home, maybe around 1:00 pm, I was well past the point of wanting anything to eat which was really too bad because I was quite hungry before the labor started and was looking forward to some of my favorite foods. Having a fear of my babies accidently arriving in the van, parking lot, elevator or hospital corridor if we tried to make our way to Labor and Delivery ("L&D"), at this point I felt safer at home. At least that was how the logic went in my mind - a woman in transition is not always the most logical! I dashed upstairs to where I had my home birth box ready and frantically laid the plastic shower curtain down, spread out some chux pads and had some cord clamps at the ready. I hurriedly changed into a swim skirt that I had cut the bottoms out of and my favorite nursing bra dropped to my hands and knees and began rocking. This is where I begin to lose track of time and the order of things. I know I called to my husband and asked him to boil some scissors. It wasn't long before Cindy (name of doula changed for her protection) arrived and came upstairs to find me rocking back and forth. She built a tower of pillows for me to lean on because she was concerned my arms would get tired, but I didn't like the feel of the pillow tower and besides, my arms weren't going to have a chance to get too tired because I knew Charlotte would come soon. Cindy could sense that Charlotte was moving down the birth canal and encouraged me to lean against her and soften my pelvis. Soon I felt the need to push and in one push I reached down and caught my little 5 lb 10 oz Charlotte looking bewildered and perfect. I wish I could put the image in my mind of her puffy-eyed, vernix covered face onto paper. For as long as I live I don't think I will forget it. I just made Charlotte's birth sound easy, though it was anything but. It was painful and hard, but also quick. I kept trying to bring her to my breast but she just couldn't reach because her cord was too short. We placed Charlotte on my tummy, waited for the cord to stop pulsing and then cut it with the sterilized scissors. I looked behind me and saw the chux pad that was previously beneath me was puddled with blood. There was some confusion about the placenta - why wasn't it coming out? Fortunately, we knew that the worst thing we could do is try to pull it out. I was content leaving it and knew it would come out when it was ready that there was probably a good reason for it to remain in. Later we learned that even in fraternal twin births where each baby has their own placenta, the placenta doesn't come out until the womb is empty. The two placentas were also fused together which was a surprise to me because when I had my ultrasounds, I was told that there was an anterior placenta and a posterior placenta, so it never occurred to me that they would be joined.
Once the cord was cut we nursed for a bit which brought on more contractions and I thought that maybe it wouldn't be long before Grace would also come. We waited and waited and then we went downstairs so I could eat some of the tasty Greek food (probably a sure sign that I was no longer in hard labor). We walked around the block. We rubbed clary sage essential oil on my tummy. We listened to Grace's heartbeat with a doppler that I had purchased several months before and Grace was at 145 beats per minute, just like she always was at our ultrasounds. I also still felt her moving, but not in a panicky manner. Finally, as I was passing my computer I googled "how long birthing time between twins" or something like that and I saw the words "never more than half an hour apart" which, of course, made me worry. I've heard of much longer intervals between perfectly healthy twin births, but I also knew that the longer I waited, the more complicated everything would become. By this time, I was also beginning to feel the effects of the blood loss; when I would stand up from a reclined position I was on the verge of passing out. I turned to Cindy and let her know what was going on and she agreed it would be a good idea to go to the hospital. We called my sister-in-law who lives outside of the city and would need 40 minutes to get to our home to look after our older girls. I didn't want to wait any longer, so Cindy volunteered to stay with the girls and do some clean up while my sister-in-law made her way to our home.
We arrived at the hospital at around 5:30 pm or thereabouts, but we have a very tall van and could not park in the parkade. There was no parking whatsoever causing us to drive around and around wasting precious time. Ultimately we decided to park in the staff parking and hope we didn't get towed. A parking ticket would be fine, but being towed would really complicate matters even more since we are a one vehicle family!
By now it was around 6:00 pm. There was a comical moment when we arrived at L&D and the nurses tried to assess what was happening even though we were happy to explain. The first nurse said, "Oh, you're here to visit? Oh, look at the baby! That's a very new baby!" And the second nurse gasped and pointed to me, "But look at her stomach!" First nurse, "Okay, you better just explain what's going on here because I'm so confused right now." We explained and they were all shocked and exclaimed that that was a first. They got me into the delivery room immediately and assessed that I was still 9 cm dilated. I was hooked up to an IV with pitocin and they started on a very low dose to see how my body would react. They had to run those blood tests to see if my blood would clot properly. In the meantime, the L&D staff were very good about getting my consent for everything and explaining procedures in advance. They wanted to know if they could administer somebody else's blood if it was a matter of me dying to which I consented. Grace was still in her bag of waters and still holding strong at 145 heart beats per minute. I, on the other hand, had a pulse of 120-130 beats per minute which was probably due to my earlier blood loss or maybe my increased adrenaline and nervousness about what would happen next. Grace wasn't really breech so much as transverse or another term I've heard her described as is oblique. They explained that they would have to reach up into my uterus, grab her feet and guide her out while I pushed. It was then that I decided I wanted an epidural before that procedure was performed. I wasn't so much worried about the breech birth as I was about that procedure. There was no mention of me having a c-section and I suspect it was because the operating room was already busy with moms and babies that were in much more distress than Grace and I. We were calm right until the end when that pitocin really kicked in, which was hours later, and then I experienced the type of contractions and labor that does make women fear childbirth - just awful and I had the rare opportunity to do a very recent comparison of both types of labor! When it came time to push, I still didn't have the epidural and they were asking me not to push (almost impossible). One of the nurses snagged the very busy anesthesiologist between c-sections and he administered the epidural. However, I was told that it needed 10 to 15 minutes to take effect and it was time to push NOW. They positioned me on my back (of course), feet in the stirrups (of course) and told me they were now going to rupture Grace's amniotic sac. I told them that I didn't want to push in that position, that I would tear, but there was no arguing with them on this point. We waited for the next contraction, then the resident reached in, ruptured the amniotic sac, grabbed Grace's feet and I pushed with all my strength. I felt Grace's head get stuck, but I kept pushing even harder and then it was over. They brought beautiful Grace, 6 lbs 4 oz, onto my tummy and we all just took a little rest. It was 10:15 pm on the same day. We watched the cord (also a very short cord) stop pulsing and grow paler and I felt okay about cutting it. I'm not sure how long we left it as time goes by differently in these moments. I know the epidural did not have time to take effect as I felt the needle when the nurse attempted to give me stitches and she gave me more freezing. I was told later that there was a cord prolapse, most likely from artificially rupturing her amniotic sac I would think. We chose not to have the antibiotic eye drops administered, however, we did decide to have the vitamin K1 injections for both babies, if for no other reason than concerns over the blood thinner medication that I took in the month or two leading up to the birth. We were able to take our placentas home which I had someone use the TCM method to encapsulate. The L&D staff were really respectful of my decisions and, for this reason, really did a lot to dispel all the negative associations I had developed from my first birth experience.
Having twins cracked my façade wide open and brought me to my brink. They forced me to finally realize and admit that I do need help and I do deserve to be mothered also, that I don't always have to put up a strong front. I've lost a lot of friends in the past two years and maybe that can be attributed to the natural progression as my girlfriends' children begin to attend school and make friends with their peers while my girls continue to learn in a home environment, but on a deeper level, I think it might be because I just don't have time or interest in putting up a false front anymore. I don't make picture perfect meals every night. Yes, my floor could use a good mop. Yep, my girls really should brush their hair a little more often. I think the shine is really off the penny now. Don't get me wrong, we still eat with our health in mind, our home is tidy (usually) and harmful objects are most definitely kept out of little hands, teeth are brushed, etc... I guess I just don't care to keep it all together and try to make it look "perfect" - whatever "perfect" is anyway. No more comparisons, no more competitions, no more one-upping because I know that we are all on our own unique path and I'm grateful for the path I'm on.
Have you ever heard of kintsugi? It's the Japanese art of mending broken ceramics by applying a
gold, silver, or platinum powder to the lacquer that binds the broken pieces back together so that it leaves the object even more beautiful than before the breakage. As a life philosophy, it translates to treating the breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to be disguised. Charlotte and Grace, you broke me open in the most beautiful of ways... I had no choice. As I pick the pieces up and slowly mend them back together, I can only now appreciate the deep, fundamental ways you've changed me for the better. Thank you.
The preceding was written within 3 days to a week of the birth when everything was very fresh, raw and definitely cracked wide open. I've not shared it publicly ever except among friends and family, afraid that someone would accuse me of being irresponsible or not loving my children enough, but I see no reason to hold it so close to my chest any longer. It's well established that once your labor reaches a certain point, you're just going to go with what feels safest to you, whether that's the hospital, a birthing center, or in my case and very animalistic, a dark and private corner. The hospital did not feel like a safe place for me due to continual coercion from my OB to have a c-section and due to previous birth trauma. I can also understand the argument that perhaps I was putting my own wellbeing ahead of my babies' but after reading so many positive twin birth stories, I honestly believed (and still believe) that what was best for me was also what was best for them when you factor in recovery, successful breastfeeding relationships and the absence of postpartum depression. As they say, "The map is not the territory." In other words, it's one thing to make a plan and a completely other thing to be in the midst of the said situation and I can absolutely promise you that everyone does the best they can for where they're at in this human experience called life. I hope you enjoyed this story and, if you're in a similar position, I hope your birth is everything you hope for and more. Just like mine was.