My younger sister Sara and I have always been close, and over the past year we've become closer than ever before. She's been an incredible friend to me as I coped with my parents' bizarre behaviour around the wedding, and a wonderful shoulder to lean on as I went through miscarriage - since she's been through two of them. I find that I am able to talk to her about things that I wouldn't share with many other people, and even more interesting to me, she is recently beginning to share things with me - since my pregnancies - that she's never told me before.
For example, last Tuesday night she and I talked for over two hours. Our conversation touched on a great many subjects, but by far the most in-depth portion was to do with pregnancy, labour, and birth. She told me the following story about her youngest son's birth last June.
Sara's husband, Dave, drives a Canada Bread truck for a living. He is an incredibly hard worker and must put in long days in order to make his business a success. He gets up around 2am, heads out to meet the barge at the dock at 3:30am and pick up his deliveries for the day. Then he finishes work sometime between 2 and 4pm, heads home and makes dinner for his family before going to bed at 8pm.
This is important because, in the days leading up to Scotty's birth, Sara knew she would have to have a contingency plan in place if Dave wasn't home when she went into labour. She had her friend Louise "on call" for when she needed company, care for her older son Andrew, and/or a ride to the hospital. Sara also spoke of a mixture of determination and worry that Scotty would be born a few days after his due date: he was due on a Tuesday, which is Dave's longest day of work, and Sara hoped he would be a few days late, as his older brother was, so that there would be less difficulty for Dave to be in attendance.
However, it was not to be. Dave got up that Tuesday morning around 2am and Sara woke up slightly, feeling something that she knew she couldn't deny. She tried, though, telling herself it would go away, telling herself "this baby isn't coming till the weekend." Dave went off to work, and Sara went back to sleep for a few hours. By 5am, she couldn't sleep anymore and called Louise, who came over to get Andrew out of bed and keep Sara company. Sara called her doctor, and Dave, to let them know that she was in labour.
At 7am, it was time to go to the hospital. Sara labours very quickly, and both her sons were born within 12 hours of the beginning of labour. Louise drove Sara and Andrew to the hospital and called Dave to let him know they had arrived. After this, Sara said, things were very blurry to her. She broke down in tears at one point, crying to Louise that she couldn't do this, she wanted it to stop, someone had to make it stop, she just couldn't handle it. She also remembers telling Louise, "Right now, I need you. But when Andrew needs you, I need you to go be with him, make sure he's okay, take him out if that's what he needs."
Soon after, Dave arrived at the hospital, and Andrew told Louise that he didn't like the noises his mommy was making. Louise took Andrew out of the room. Moments later, Scotty was born.
Sara then talked to me about things that she wasn't aware of during her labour, but that only fell into place for her later. "When I broke down crying, it was Louise who told me why I'd done that - it was because Dave wasn't there. It wasn't the pain, I'd handled that before. It was that I couldn't have the baby unless Dave was there with me. I just needed him there." Makes perfect sense. She talked about how she'd already begun pushing before Dave arrived, but that "as soon as he walked in the room, my pushes became 100% more committed, more intense. It was like I was finally ready to get on with it." Sara's doctor also mentioned later that when she called him from home, she spoke in a very calm and detached way. "I thought you were way earlier in your labour than you were," he told her later, because of the way she was speaking. It was as if she wasn't truly commited to labour - in fact, a part of her was in denial about it - until the plans she'd lined up for her family fell into place: Dave in attendance, Andrew being taken care of by Louise so Sara could labour freely without worrying about his reaction.
I knew bits and pieces of this story before, but Sara has never shared so completely her thoughts and feelings at the time of Scotty's birth. I hear this story and I get a very powerful message about the importance of respecting and honouring women's feelings around labour and birth.
Sara simply was not ready - you could say, was not able to have that baby until her husband arrived. Sara had never created anything like a formal "birth plan", but nevertheless, she had one critical factor that needed to be in place in order for her to commit to labour and birth, and that was it. Look at the incredible power she exerted over her body's labour to hold it back until he was there - and she wasn't even consciously aware of it. This is a real-life example of what midwives and doulas are talking about when they say that the mother will have better outcomes when she feels empowered, respected, and confident during labour and birth.
This story shows me that it's worth it to keep fighting for what I feel is important during my own labour and birth: who's there with me (and who's not), where the birth takes place, and what kind of care we receive throughout the experience.