Adria & Wren

When childbirth is explained, it sounds unbelievable. Not humanly possible. Anatomically preposterous. Despite the trillions of women who have given birth–it seems impossible for your body.

The lights were dimmed in the clinic classroom and the nurse practitioner hit play on the video that seemed to have been filmed in 1986. Seven minutes in, a woman is writhing in pain on a bed, moaning like a tortured animal. It’s primal. The man by her side says very little. Eventually a baby emerges and the wailing subsides.

A few tears stream down Adria’s eight-month-pregnant cheeks as she sits in the dark, staring at the TV screen, contemplating the predicament she’s in. There is no way I’m going to make it through this, she thinks matter-of-factly. The lights are turned back on and the NP takes note of Adria’s face. 

“Are you okay, Adria?” she asks with a concerned tone.

“Well, yeah…” Adria looks around the room and notices she is the only one with tears. Her confusion bubbles to her lips as she says, “Are you all okay with this?!”

As a 39-year-old woman, Adria had definitely heard her fair share of birth stories over the years, but it wasn’t until she was pregnant that she really listened. And for some reason in North American culture, the sight of a pregnant woman seems to welcome people (more specifically, strangers) to share their stories. The good and the horrific.

Let me underscore that Adria is by no means a fearful woman. We’re talking about a highly intelligent, accomplished, and driven woman who eagerly takes on new challenges. But this rational and analytical lady also knows a dilemma when she sees one, and the physics of a melon-sized head coming out of a vagina seemed pretty obvious to her. She just couldn’t imagine this going well.

There were of course some highlights to her days as a pregnant woman. She was excited to think about her newest family member and how quickly her life had changed over the last few years (the romantic whirlwind story of a woman on the verge of becoming a single parent, who falls in love with and marries her sperm donor and long-time friend—deserves its own book!).  And there was also Fredrico, the Parisian osteopath who helped relieve the pain in her hips. I’ll leave the rest of this point to your imagination.

Adria wrapped up work two weeks prior to her May 5 due date. Enough time to assemble an Ikea change table and tend to some personal pampering and grooming. What she intended to be a modest bikini wax, somehow ended up being a full Brazilian. And this might have been invigorating, if it weren’t for her raging maternal hormones and the anticipated reaction of her midwife. The Hollywood movie of her birth story was shaping up just as she had anticipated: Tina Fey starring as the main character.  

The ninth month of pregnancy was not overly kind to Adria. She wasn’t sleeping and was perpetually uncomfortable. Eager to go into labour early, Adria tried every trick to get things going. On the morning of April 29, Adria noticed her mucous plug fall into the toilet, but her excitement was quickly extinguished by friends reminding her that early labour could easily go on for days.

Later that night, Adria and Ronnie hosted some friends to watch the Raptors in the NBA Finals. It was a close game. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the TV. Adria almost didn’t acknowledge the tightening sensation around her abdomen.

“I think I’m having a Toni Braxton guys,” Adria mentioned casually. It wasn’t until the end of the game that the conversation circled back to the impending birth.

“This always happens to me,” Adria’s friend commented. “I go to people’s houses and the next day they have a baby.” Adria was interested in the statistics backing up this assertion. She thought it unlikely, especially given that the next day was her father’s birthday. They saw their friends to the door and headed for bed.

After fake sleeping for a couple of hours, Adria convinced Ronnie that the weird feelings around her tummy warranted a call to the midwives. After speaking on the phone, the on-call midwife dutifully made her way over to their house to assess Adria. After a quick examination, the midwife reported Adria was 4 cm dilated and they should head to the hospital. This was not the response Adria was anticipating. The words did not compute for either her or Ronnie. But their bodies seemed to switch onto auto-pilot and they managed to get themselves into the car.

The 3-km drive to the hospital was excruciating. The contractions had begun to intensify and the speed bumps added an element torture that felt unnecessarily cruel. Luckily at 2 a.m. there was very little traffic. Ronnie stopped the car at the top of the ramp down to the parking garage to let Adria take the shortcut entrance they had discovered during their ultrasound appointments. She rolled out of the car and shuffled towards the entrance as Ronnie pulled away. Her body jolted as she pulled on the door handle only to discover it was locked. Dead of night, Parkdale, no one in sight, excruciating contractions. She closed her eyes slowly, oscillating between stunned disbelief and the acceptance that this, of course, made sense in the context of her life. She would have called Ronnie to the rescue, but there was no phone reception in the parking garage. She knew this would be funny in a year, maybe. In the moment, it took every fibre of her being to fight back the urge to scream, and then cry.

Ronnie eventually rescued Adria and guided her to the labour and delivery wing on the other side of the building. There was a brief moment of atonement when Adria heard the midwife say the words “private room.”  The next two hours of labour were fairly textbook. She spent most of the time sitting on a yoga ball in the shower while Ronnie ran hot water down her back. Her arm was tethered to an IV pole dripping antibiotics since she tested positive for strep. It was intense, but not as intense as Adria had imagined.

At 5 a.m. exhaustion was starting to kick in. Adria began inquiring about the possibility of an epidural. “What would happen if I was to get an epidural?” she asked the midwife, almost hypothetically.

“Well, things would slow down. We’d probably sleep for a few hours and then we’d get the team back in when it’s time to push,” said the midwife.

The words ‘sleep for a few hours’ hung in the air and Adria was instantly sold on the idea. She had heard friends rave about the sweet relief from pain brought on by an epidural, but for some reason Adria had never thought about the need for sleep. In that moment, the discomfort of a needle in the back seemed insignificant compared to the lure of some peaceful rest. 

The anesthesiologist arrived promptly and worked his magic. Soon after, the intensity of labour lifted and Adria was able to drift off for a few hours.

At 8 a.m. Adria woke up with the rising sun and the bustle of the hospital’s morning activity. The midwife assessed Adria. It was almost time to start pushing.

The intimacy of the moment was completely dispelled by the influx of people into the room: the OB, a med student, two nurses, and the midwives. Adria was completely surrounded. Ronnie stood in his anchor position by one of her legs. In the least glamorous way, Adria felt like a race car being tuned by a pit crew. She had no idea what to do, or what was expected of her. The midwife eventually instructed her to push, which she interpreted to mean make a face that resembles a big bowel movement. 

This continued for 45 minutes. Finally, the sight of the crowning head indicated the end was near. The focus in the room was intense. Ronnie’s gift for breaking tension with comical and punchy one-liners was in full swing. “It’s like a rat coming out of a drain!” he exclaimed. The room erupted in laughter, save Adria. She knew that line would be permanently etched in her memory of this moment.

After several attempts to get the baby out, the OB decided that an episiotomy was necessary. Adria was reluctant, but eager to meet her baby, so she agreed. The procedure instantly released the pressure and Adria’s daughter slipped into the world.

Adria hadn’t read much about infant or childcare during her pregnancy. She wouldn’t let herself. Not until her baby was safe in her arms. It was like Adria had been holding her breath for nine months and was finally allowed to breathe. Adria and Wren both filled their lungs with air, and it felt miraculous.  

Ronnie and Adria stared at their daughter, their hearts throbbing with every emotion known to humans. The hospital staff shifted around them carrying out all the routine checks and tests.

Adria’s mom, Bonnie, had been sitting patiently and nervously in the waiting room for several hours. The birth of her first grandchild seemed to awaken all the joyous and painful memories she had experienced with the birth of her own children. Ronnie came out to relay the good news and guide his mother-in-law to the room.

Bonnie entered slowly, trying to contain her emotions. Her eyes met her daughter’s and silently conveyed everything she was feeling: we are both mothers now, and with this new lens you can see the immeasurable strength of my love for you and my new granddaughter. Tears streamed down Adria’s face and the three generations embraced.

Hours later, Ronnie, Adria, and Wren were left alone in the quiet of their hospital room. Cuddled on the bed, the trio tried to absorb the immensity of the moment.

Their union is a testament of true love. Not the kind of romantic love that waxes and wanes with our mood, but rather the selfless love that always seeks the good of another. That love was present in each of them, long before this day. It fueled the courage Adria found to say yes to motherhood as a single woman at the height of her career. And it was awakened in Ronnie as he discovered a sense of purpose in the idea of fatherhood. Love is what brought these three souls together, defying all odds.

Adria sat up in her bed that evening savouring a cold McDonald’s hamburger with a deep sense of gratitude. Her world felt perfect. It felt like the impossible was now possible.