Curled in bed, we lie face-to-face in the silence. Our knees touch as we clasp our hands between us. Out of darkness, Blake says softly, “I’m so proud of you.” Soundlessly, tears slip onto my pillowcase. “Not many people would have done what you did,” he added. The silence stretches out into a gentle pause. “Thank you for saying that,” I manage as I squeeze his hands tighter, the tears continuing to fall quietly from my face.
It had been just over 24 hours since baby Claire Marie May Candon had made her much awaited entrance into the world and I was finally at home in our own bed. Arriving on Tuesday, February 5th at 6:42pm, Claire had tipped the scales at 7lbs 3oz. and had melted all of our hearts instantly.
The story of Claire’s arrival is one of incredible community, love and support from strangers, close friends and family from both here in Sioux Lookout, from Kingston and in between! Before she had even taken her first breath, Claire was truly loved by so, so many.
After years of disappointment, heartbreak and devastation as Amy and Adam struggled with the dream of a family of their own, Claire’s story from conception to birth is truly miraculous. I feel privileged to not only tell the story of her birth, but to have played such a unique role in her little life. When the news is full of stories of tragedy, it is remarkable to be reminded of the good in humanity and the strength of community.
Amy and Adam arrived to the Sioux Lookout airport on a late Monday night. Bundled in snow pants and parkas, they landed amidst a blowing snowstorm that had delayed them many hours in their journey from Kingston, to Toronto, to Thunder Bay, then finally to Sioux Lookout. Despite the arduous travel day, the frigid conditions and the late hour, they stepped off the plane with huge smiles and obvious excitement. An empty carseat carefully wrapped in a plastic travel bag appeared on the baggage carousel – a poignant reminder of the purpose of their arrival.
After settling Adam and Amy into their temporary Sioux Lookout digs, a little duplex borrowed from a physician colleague of mine who worked intermittently in Sioux Lookout, I drove quietly home. It felt like Christmas Eve – the night heavy with expectation. Our plan was to meet early the next morning at the hospital for a planned induction of labour which meant that if all went well, the constantly wiggling baby girl that I had been carrying since she was a tiny ball of cells would soon be a real human screaming in her parents arms.
Needless to say, I slept very little that night. In latter weeks of my pregnancy with Claire, I was already having a very challenging time with sleep. My nights rattled by vivid, recurring dreams of giving birth on my own, then needing to resuscitate Baby Candon all alone in the labour and delivery room. Combined with calls from the hospital, wicked heartburn and trying to night-train Henry which involved changing him and the bedsheets at least once or twice a night and his 5am morning greetings, I was beyond exhausted. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t looking forward to having Baby C on the worldly side of my belly.
The next morning was a bright, blue-skied, frigid February day so typical of Sioux Lookout winters. The blazing sun tricking your mind into thinking that it wasn’t actually -30 degrees outside. After getting Henry on the school bus, I showered, dressed deliberately and made my way to the hospital, leaving Alice and Blake behind in the middle of a game of hide and seek. I was nervous, excited and anxious about how the day would unfold. All babies are precious, of course, but I admit, I felt a tremendous responsibility to bring this one safely into the world.
While the nurses monitored Baby C for twenty minutes or so, my lovely physician colleague and dear friend Megan Bollinger slipped me a latte to sip on. Laying in the quiet labour and delivery room listening to Baby C’s heartbeat, I felt like I was at the spa. A brief reprieve from the chaos of home and a moment alone to collect my thoughts before the events of the day would soon unfurl.
Eventually, Amy and Adam arrived and we chatted easily until our doctor, and my close friend Lianne Gerber Finn appeared to get the induction started. After performing one of her infamous stretch and sweeps, Lianne administered a prostaglandin medication to gently kick-start my labour. Within ten minutes, I began feeling regular (but mild) contractions. I remember thinking, “Here we go! No turning back now!”
Back at home, I spent the afternoon reading and quietly trying to ignore the regular cramping. By mid-afternoon, I decided to go hang out at Adam and Amy’s place in town as the contractions were coming every 3-4 minutes and the app that I was tracking them on kept notifying me to “GO TO THE HOSPITAL!” 🙂 We spent the afternoon drinking tea and chatting, basking in the bright sunlight reflecting off the ice of Pelican Lake outside their windows. The contractions continued mildly, but steadily. The app continued to urge me to ‘GO TO THE HOSPITAL!’ and when finally, the notification changed to “CALL 911”, I texted Lianne.
On her way home from school pick-up, with her kids strapped in her running van (typical for the life of a doctor Mom!), Lianne popped in to check to see how far along I was. Having had two very precipitous labours, I was somewhat anxious to ensure I had time to make it to the hospital.
After a quick cervical check, Lianne announced that I was 3cm dilated. *Sigh* Only 3cm! With a hug and a reassuring smile, Lianne gently reminded me that maybe this labour would be different than my previous ones and that I should mentally prepare for the long-haul. She urged me into the bath and left me with bubbles cascading over my belly and my book in-hand. The warm water felt delicious and I felt my irritability dissipate. I could do this. I just had to shift my mental focus and stop watching the clock.
Not an hour after feeling my body relax, I suddenly felt something very different. A literal ‘POP’. I dropped my book onto the bathroom floor. Confused, I stood up and stepped gingerly onto the bathmat wondering could my waters have truly broken? A steady stream of clear water soaked my feet confirming this suspicion.
I immediately called Lianne, then texted Blake to call the babysitter and meet us at the hospital. With Alice’s birth, my water had broken and within 20 minutes she had been born so I knew we had to to get hustling! Pulling on my increasingly soaking pants, I hollered for Amy and yelled for Adam to start the car. I then called the maternity floor at the hospital to give them a heads up that we were coming in. Within ten minutes we had thankfully made it to Labour and Delivery. I was so relieved, having also had numerous dreams about Baby C being born in the car!
Within minutes of arriving to the hospital, Amy, Adam, Blake, Megan (who had previously offered herself as a non-clinical labour support for me) and Lianne were all in the room. With two physicians rubbing my back during each contraction, my fears of having an unattended delivery faded. The labour pains continued to come regularly but I was still able to chat and joke between them and was coping well. Surrounded by so many people, their faces all waiting expectantly as if I was going to drop a baby out any second, I remember feeling almost silly that things weren’t moving along faster!
Eventually though, the strength and frequency of the labour pains quickly ramped up. There was an exact moment where Lianne heard in my moans and recognized in my face the absolute remembrance of what the true pain of labour feels like. It’s so incredible what a woman’s body and mind can force her to forget so that she goes onto having more than one baby!
Within an hour and a half or so of arriving to the hospital, the pain had become impossibly intense and the contractions were packed tightly upon each other, leaving little break between to get a grip. There was no more joking and the mood in the room shifted. I felt myself starting to unravel. It was as if I was being forced to stare directly into an intense beam of light without the ability to blink or look away. As each pain finished, I gasped for fleeting moments before the dread of the next contraction began anew. With my eyes kept tightly shut, I had no awareness of who was around me or what was happening beyond the pillow that I was burying my face into.
Soon, my body began to take over and I felt an incredible urge to push. I can only describe this feeling as if you are suddenly the subject of an exorcism, with total loss of voluntary control over your body’s actions. Lianne quickly checked me, but I was only 7cm dilated! The nurses and Lianne urged and pleaded with me not to push which was akin to asking someone not to vomit. “Impossible!”, I screamed in my head, but desperately tried my best to hang on. I remember frantically pulling my friend Megan towards me, crushing her hand in a death grip as I buried my face into her neck. Despite changes in position, using the nitrous oxide mask and focusing on the many encouraging voices surrounding me, I only managed to get through a few more contractions before finally screaming out, “Lianne, I HAVE TO PUSH!”. I felt wild. Totally out of control and DESPERATE. I needed her out of me.
For the first time throughout the labour, I got onto my back in the bed. Then, I began to push. I pushed with everything in me, gripping tightly to Megan and Amy’s hands. With my eyes still tightly shut, I could hear the nurses voices urging me to stay in control. The pain was beyond what I could bear when I recall Heather, one of our fabulous senior nurses telling me to stop pushing. In this exact moment I had two very clear and distinct thoughts. As a physician who delivers babies on the regular, I knew that this meant that Baby C was coming imminently and that Heather was trying to encourage her head to be delivered in a controlled fashion to minimize tearing. I was elated! It was almost over! My second thought, right on the heels of the first was that I didn’t care ONE IOTA if I tore into a thousand pieces. I wanted her out and I wanted her out RIGHT NOW. I completely ignored Heather’s words of wisdom and pushed with all of my strength. And then, finally, it was done.
After two hours of labour and five minutes of pushing, there she was – a wiggling, screaming pink baby held between my feet by Lianne’s loving hands. I opened my eyes in disbelief to witness that brief moment before tightly closing them again. I have no memory of baby Claire’s first moments of life – of Adam and Amy cutting the cord together, of their first greeting, of Amy holding her daughter as they did skin-to-skin together in the nearby reclining chair. So wracked with the relief that the pain was finished, I just kept my eyes closed and my hand tightly in grip with Megan’s as the after pains and adrenaline shook my whole being.
What came next was a bit of a blur. Out of the blue, my placenta stubbornly refused to come. Adam, Amy, baby Claire and Blake were whisked to another Labour and Delivery room while I was sedated to allow Lianne to immediately remove the placenta to minimize my bleeding. Because of the medications, I was essentially snowed for the first two hours after baby Claire was born. Apparently, at one point, Blake, unaware of what had been happening had returned to the room where I was still in a sedated sleep. Megan and Lianne explained to him what had just transpired to which Blake responded, ‘Well, I feel a bit stupid now, because I just ordered pizza for all of us!”
The medications soon wore off though, and I awoke to Blake at my bedside slowly stroking my hair. It was quiet and we were alone. I remember sitting up, then seeing the pizza! Glorious! Within minutes I was chomping away at a veggie slice as if nothing had happened 🙂 After getting cleaned up, we started the celebrations. Shots of fireball, more pizza, hugs, kisses and many congratulations were passed around. I was finally able to meet baby Claire and was astounded that there she was in my arms, as perfect as can be!
Thanks to Lianne’s expert skill, Megan’s incredible labour support, Blake, Adam and Amy’s constant presence and the amazing care from our OB nurses, both baby Claire and I were alive and well. Amy and Adam had been able to be present for the entire labour and for the birth of their baby girl, and had also been able to do immediate skin-to-skin with Claire for the first hours of her life. I couldn’t have been happier at how things had went. What a relief!
And so the beginning of Claire’s life marks the end of my journey as a gestational carrier for Adam and Amy. In one short year of my own life, I was able to help Adam and Amy start their family and they will now and forever be parents. My own two children are everything to me and I cannot imagine life without them. I am incredibly elated to welcome Adam and Amy to parenthood and cannot wait to support them through the next part of their lives with a newborn. Congratulations you two!