The first time I met Agnes, I was 16 weeks pregnant with our third child. A friend of mine had told me that she was an amazing midwife here in Ottawa and that I would love her. My friend had birthed her second child at home under her care. She had had a difficult labor and was passing out between every contraction. In a moment where she no longer was progressing in her labor, Agnes said, with her Irish accent, “well, it looks like we’re going to have to rush ya over to the hospital since you’re not progressing.” My friend, being determined not to go to the hospital, began doing everything in her power to progress things along, and had a baby less than an hour later.
“I swear she used reverse psychology on me, she is that good."
“I swear she used reverse psychology on me, she is that good."
When I found out I was indeed pregnant in December of 2011, I phoned the midwives office and asked to be seen by Agnes. “It looks like she’s all booked up,” the secretary replied, “oh no wait, she has one more spot, when would you like to come in?” Midwives in Canada act under certain laws in order to provide the very best of care for their patients, making them only able to take on four clients per month, based on their delivery date. I was her fourth, and little did I know that getting into this spot would change my view on many things, especially the power that women hold within themselves.
I made sure that Blake, my husband, was with me when we went to meet Agnes. Years before that, when I was searching for a midwife for our firstborn, I had gone to this clinic and interviewed with a midwife that I was not particularly fond of. I left feeling disconnected, and so I decided to go with an obstetrician instead. I wanted to make sure that I liked my midwife and had a good connection with her. I wanted to have a good birthing experience. I wanted to have the kind of experience that confirmed my beliefs about woman and their inherent nature to birth babies and in the process, I wanted to feel empowered by my experience.
When Agnes walked into the small room, I beheld exactly what I had envisioned her to be. A 60 year old Irish woman who was short, about 5 foot nothing, plump, grey hair, a jolly smile, and piercing blue eyes that seemed to scan your brain and read your mind, just anxious to meet her next victim... client. Our two kids were there with us. She didn't waste any time and began to download her beliefs of the power that women possess. I can't remember half of what she said, but I remember wanting to believe her, and the other part of me wanting to run on the opposite direction. I had failed too many times in my life to believe that what she was saying about women could actually apply to me. Blake was the one who convinced me to stick it out with Agnes, and so I did it, purely out of trust in him.
Fast forward 21 weeks. It was 3:00 in the morning, I layed awake thinking…thinking about all the women I knew who had given birth. I thought about their strength and about what it was that got them through the most physically excruciating hours of their lives. I lay there wondering why it was that I felt the need to have a baby without medical intervention, and if I could actually do it and come out of it feeling satisfaction from the experience, which wasn’t exactly the case with my first two children. My husband, laying motionless next to me, was supportive either way. I thought about Agnes, and her strong convictions about the strength that women possess, about how she felt that in our American society, women were stripped of their divine nature to trust in their bodies to birth naturally in today’s medically driven society. Why did it matter so much to her, after-all, she had never felt the pain of childbirth herself. After an hour of thinking uncomfortably and not being able to think myself back to sleep, I felt a strong jerk in my stomach. I placed my hands on my bloated abdomen, and began to feel cramping. Thinking I was simply passing gas, I cradled myself into the fetal position in hopes to find some relief, when I felt a trickle down my leg. You gotta be kidding me, I whispered quietly to myself. I knew I should have been more diligent about my kegel exercises, but man did I ever hate doing them and I was now peeing myself at 4:15 in the morning, 41 weeks pregnant. I rolled myself off our bed, and waddled my way into the washroom. I sat on the toilet, took off my pajama bottoms, and placed them on the counter. It suddenly occurred to me, meaning my pregnancy brain finally caught up to me, that I was a week overdue, and I had just “wet” myself. I quickly picked up my pants, and began smelling them with my congested nose. Nothing. No smell. Ugh, I groaned. I continued to do everything in my power to try and smell. It had to be urine. My water doesn’t break, I said to myself as I recalled my two previous birthing experiences in which my water had to forcefully be broken. I began feeling more cramping and more uncomfortable. I reached over and started a hot bath. I wanted to be home, and labor at home as long as possible before turning myself in to the hospital. Two false alarms under my belt was embarrassing enough. Admitted twice, discharged twice. How could I not know what labor was by now, I really should know my body better especially with this being my third pregnancy. The tub was nearly filled, more filled than it would have been 9 months ago when I didn’t need to fill it to the rim to cover my entire body. I dipped my foot in, and sat down carefully, when the door creaked open. It was Blake.
“What’s going on, babe?” his eyes were half shut.
“Oh I’m just taking a bath, don’t worry. Nothing is happening, just go to bed.” I wanted him to get as much sleep as he could since he had to get up at six am for work. He was reluctant to say anything, but finally did.
“Well, I hate to say this, but it’s 4:30 in the morning, and you’re taking a bath. That’s not very normal…” He waited for my reply, as I sat there hating that he just stated the obvious.
“Ok, well maybe you can smell my pants and tell me if you think I peed my pants, or if my water broke.” His eyes grew big and he quickly woke up and stuffed my pants under his nose. He was in the same situation I was in, stuffy and unable to smell. He held them close to his nose and took about 5 big wiffs.
“That’s not pee, we need to call Agnes.” He was right.
He brought me the phone, and I grudgingly called the emergency pager, feeling badly for waking her up for nothing, and for potentially another one of my false alarms. A few minutes later, I see an unknown number appear on my phone. “Hello?” I said tiredly.
“Hi Catherine, it’s Agnes…so what’s going on?”
“Well, I’m uncomfortable. I don’t know. Nothing is really happening, but I was thinking you could come over here to check my progression instead of me going into the hospital just yet.”
Blake whispered to me with big eyes, “tell her you think your water broke!” Oh right, that’s why we were calling, not just to tell her nothing was happening.
“Yea, maybe my water broke, I’m really not sure. I felt my stomach jerk and then I was wet, so maybe it was my water, I just don’t know.” I really didn’t know, I was so tired from being awake for so long and I didn’t seem to register what was happening.
“Okay, Catherine, I’m going to take a quick shower, it takes less than 5 minutes, then I will make my way over to your place. If anything changes, ya need to call me.” Her Irish accent made her statement feel that much more certain.
“Alright. No rush, I’m feeling fine. Thank you, Agnes.”
Why did I call her again? I felt a little silly for calling when I was feeling fine, I could have waited a few hours and let the poor woman sleep! Agnes always looked like she could have used an extra 10 hours of sleep. Her life was midwifery, she was married to it as she once told me during a prenatal visit. I guess I did the right thing, she would want me to call. I mean I was past my due date and my water did break…maybe.
“Blake, you can go lay down and get some sleep, I’m just going to lay here a little longer.” He didn’t budge.
I felt like an animal who was nesting, getting their bed all ready for their new baby to arrive. I was wrestless and uncomfortable to just lay and relax in the tub, fidgeting and changing positions every few seconds. Ten minutes later, I was done with the tub and I wanted to be in my own bed. I was suddenly hit with one intense contraction after another. I quickly recalled the techniques I had read in a book, and told my body to relax every muscles, and I did. I felt no pain, but rather overwhelming joy that the baby was coming in the next few hours. Blake was getting the room all set up for when Agnes would arrive.
**A few days prior, I had a feeling that I should prepare to have a baby at home, which was against every belief that I formerly had about birth, for myself. Other people could give birth at home, I had no problem with that. But Catherine, she would make a mess in a hospital, and she would be served her lunches and ice packs whenever she asked them for them by the nurse. But the feeling was so heavy that it was all I could think about, so I finally told Blake.
“Honey, if things start to happen quickly, I’m okay if I have this baby at home…” I couldn’t believe what I was saying, yet I suddenly felt at ease and every bit of anxiety that I previously had about giving birth left me at that very moment. Blake was surprisingly on board and didn’t question any of it. He also felt at ease with this thought. Still, I did not actually plan on having a baby at home, I just prepared…meaning, I covered my mattress with thick hospital pads that my good friend had given me as a joke in case I had a home birth like she did.**
As I lay in my bed swinging at these 10 contractions that had all of a sudden come flying at me like fast balls, all in a 10-minute span, Blake was preparing the room to my exact orders. He was running around and doing it so quickly, as if the baby were coming very soon. I was in my zone, feeling every contraction with immense gratification and ease. My body was doing the work of a miracle, without anything holding it back not even my own fears. I was worry free and happy. I felt my lips curl up in a smile as I concentrated on relaxing. Any minute now, Anges would walk through the door and support me for the next phase, the hard phase. She would tell me exactly what to do. Going to the hospital at this point had not even crossed my mind, yet I still never expected the outcome, it was too much to think about, so I didn’t. I focused on my work, the greatest work I had to do in that very moment.
“I’m just going to quickly email off my lesson plans to the substitute teacher, I’ll be right back…” Blake said to me with one hand on my back.
As he exited the room, the next contraction came with the biggest surprise. My pelvic muscles suddenly expanded and I felt as if I had a bowling ball pushing down and out of me.
“BLAKE!!” The shock of the situation overwhelmed me. I wasn’t actually planning on giving birth at home…All I said was that I was okay if it were to happen, I didn’t actually think it would happen this way…Anges was just coming over to check my progression, that’s all...nothing else.
As Blake entered the bedroom he panicked. “She’s coming out!” Next thing I heard was his voice speaking very loudly and urgently…
“Where are you? Agnes, the baby is coming out right now!”
The next voice was a woman on speaker phone, surely not Agnes as Agnes’ voice was distinct, Irish, definitive, confident. This voice was asking silly questions, and Blake was giving silly answers,
“TWO, ONE, EIGHT, ONE NAVAHO DRIVE…….SEVEN ZERO NINE ZERO SEVEN FOUR SEVEN”
Why is he yelling out digits to Agnes?? Shouldn’t she know our address?
The next contraction came and I was laying on my side pulling my leg up at my calf…screaming, mostly out of shock that I was actually pushing a baby out of me that very moment with no professional in attendance.
“Babe, you have to lay on your back.”
No way was I lying on my back. I quickly thought back to how vulnerable I felt when I gave birth to our first child. I immediately got up on all fours facing my window and clenching my pillow. At this point, any feeling of gratification was gone, I was panicking, hyperventilating, I had lost control. I wasn’t scared, but I was in pain and I could no longer relax as my contraction was winding down.
“It’s your time to relax Catherine, you can relax now.”
His voice was so soothing; how did he know what to say? His words were like strong medicine and the best thing I could have heard in that very moment. He was everything I needed and I depended on his words to carry me through. I dropped my previously uptight shoulders, relaxed my jaw muscles, and then my whole body unclenched. I regained my composure, recharged my battery, and then that feeling slowly but all too quickly began to come back. Time to push again. At this point Blake was behind me, ready to catch; and catch he did. Out she came, a limp baby girl. He held her in his hands, and I buried my head in my pillow, completely relieved, breathing hard, smiling and so incredibly happy that it was over and that she was here.
“Is she breathing…” said the lady, who wasn’t Agnes, on the phone.
“Umm, hold on.” Blake wasn’t sure what to say. No, she wasn’t breathing, but I had just given birth and he didn’t want to alarm me. The cord was snug around her neck as she came out, and he unraveled it right away.
“I don’t hear a cry, is she breathing…” the lady again.
“No….she’s not.” Blake quickly came to accept that he had lost her, our most perfect miracle baby had vanished in his hands. He felt a mix of overwhelming sadness, but then so much gratitude and relief that I was okay. Just as he had accepted the most devastating loss, our little girl began to gargle, and then cry. Pure relief on his end, and I was still just glad that it was over and it never even crossed my mind that my husband went through thirty seconds of hell.
I turned around and sat in a pool of my own blood, and blissfully held our little miracle. The entire experience was a miracle.
“Congratulations!” said the lady over the phone. “I will hang up with you in case they try and call you, they should be there shortly.”
I was oblivious to what that even meant. I was still waiting for Agnes to pop through the door. We hugged, we kissed, our hearts were racing with excitement over what we had just experienced. Five minutes later, the paramedics were in my bedroom. Was I screaming that loud that our neighbors called 9-11? They hooked me up and checked my vitals, and then the baby’s. They clamped the cord, and let Blake cut it. We were healthy, both me and our perfect daughter. Now the medics were standing around wondering what to do next.
“Where is your midwife?” the one asked.
Fifteen minutes later, we get a call. “I’m here, let me in.” She races over to my bedroom, scans the room, looks at me with a grin and says,
“See?! I told ya ya didn’t need me!”