At 5:30 am yesterday morning I kissed Jordan goodbye, gave one last, long look at my sleeping daughters, and took off for the airport. Destination: Edmonton, Alberta. Within a few hours I was at a friend’s place, and then driving another friend’s truck through the outskirts of Edmonton, on my way to Stony Plain, where a legendary birth centre has been attracting BC student midwives for years.
Sometimes a voice in my head says something along the lines of: “How did a kid from Brooklyn end up here?”
Driving an unknown truck — did I mention the cracked windshield, apparently de rigour for Northern Canada?— through an unknown city was one of those moments.
But then: I pressed ‘play’ on a mystery tape in the tape-player, and at once was comforted by the reassuring lyrics of Uncle John’s Band–a song I haven’t heard in years but apparently still know by heart:
Oh, the first days are the hardest days don’t you worry anymore
‘Cause when life feels like easy street there is danger at your door….
And so I arrived in Stony Plain.
I’m staying with one of the midwives here, and came prepared with 3 bottles of wine–midwives are notorious lushes when we’re off-call, after all. I got a big hug for the gift, and an invite to a fabulous family dinner. Two other student midwives–Roz and Gillian– joined me, and we talked NSVDS –normal spontaneous vaginal deliveries, as if it isn’t obvious–to our heart’s content.
The first page came at 5:30 the next morning.
There must be something in the water here, because when I left the birth centre 12 hours later I’d witnessed not one but three NSVDs. The first I simply observed. Another student, Roz, motioned me in, telling me the baby was on its way.
Impossible, I thought, entering the room. That woman still has her underwear on.
Well, she got it off. And the baby came 3 minutes later.
I then returned to “my” labouring woman, who spent the next several hours swapping stories and laughing, only occassionally pausing to gaze somewhat distractedly off into the distance. If you’d asked me to guess her progress based on her demeanor, I would’ve said 2 cm dilated, early labour, go back to sleep. But I knew from examining her that was 9cm dilated, with a history of laughing her babies out. Eventually she birthed a beautiful boy in the birthing tub –such a simple thing, a tub, and such incredible pain relief, yet so many hospitals, mine included, don’t have them for labouring women–her husband catching while I coached him through it.
(“How do you coach a husband through it?” I’d asked Roz earlier. I’d never done it before, and wasn’t sure when to step back. In the end it was easy, because he was a natural. But I did provide one key interference: his wife was on all fours, and I had to guide his hands not back –it’s an instinct, to bring the baby towards you–but under and up to where the woman herself can reach down and take hold. Because otherwise you have a woman on all fours with a newborn wailing from behind her bum. Which isn’t what she wants, trust me.)
And then those adorable, laughing, story-tellers –well, they wept. Which is always the best part.
The last birth was a doozy, and make note that this is the first time I’ve used the word “doozy.” With every room filled, a client (or as we say, a “multip”***) arrived with fluid leaking. She was Group B Strep positive, which to make a long story short means IV antibiotics. So I inserted the IV on the couch in the hallway, then brought her into an assessment room while we waited for housekeeping to clean out a Labour & Delivery room.
“My water broke an hour ago and I’m just starting to get contractions,” she told me. “Watch me be, like, 1 cm dilated.”
Well, she was 8 cm dilated.
Do you see what I’m saying about the water?
20 minutes later she reported pressure with contractions. I checked her again: fully dilated with a bulging bag of waters. I ruptured her membranes, which soaked my arm, and so turned around to wash up. When I turned back around she was crowning. Roz was ready & gloved, but technically off-call. Not one to give up a catch, I cracked open a new pair of sterile gloves and caught her baby 2 minutes later.
Well, that’s been my welcome to Alberta. And now: to sleep and shower.
*** multip = multiparous = previous delivery; primiparous =first time mom. Except actually these terms are misused, because techincally nulliparous =first time, primiparous =2nd time, and multiparous connotes 3rd and up to 5th, at which point you’re a Grand Multipara.
How’s that for a prestigious title?