Alex & Nora

Women are incredible beings. They are capable of extraordinary things, often unimaginable. At times, they demonstrate seemingly contrary traits simultaneously: gentleness and strength, calmness and urgency, kindness and power. Like a magnolia tree, in many respects, with its delicate blossoms yet profoundly resilient roots. This is the story of an incredible woman and the mountain she climbed to bring her daughter into the world.

In May of 2019, Alex was running on overdrive. On the home front, her 2-year-oldson, Jack, was growing into a new toddler stage with his expanding vocabulary. It was exciting, but demanding. Professionally, Alex had started a new job as a nursing professional practice consultant after completing her PhD the year prior. When she was seven months pregnant she applied for the position her boss had recently vacated, and got the job! Life was full, so it is no surprise that her pregnancy seemed to fly by. Preparations for the new baby were limited to a‘mandatory needs only’ basis. Jack was vacated from the baby room, and his name on the wall was replaced with Nora. Done,thought Alex.

Alex’s last week at work seemed to escalate in activity rather than decline. It was Nursing Week, which meant daily celebrations and events in addition to her normal workload. The weekend came quickly and she continued to keep her head down, keen to wrap up her projects and tie everything with a bow before signing off for a year. 

By Tuesday things for work weren’t quite where Alex wanted to leave them, but she had scheduled a hair appointment downtown at the Aveda Institute and she was determined to go. A fresh cut and colour was the perfect way to recharge and relax before the baby arrived, she thought. As she drove across the Gardiner she felt her abdomen tighten a few times, but she dismissed the sensation as Braxton Hicks. It continued throughout her appointment but she buried her instincts deeply under a ton of denial. By the time she got home, the only thing Alex could think was, “I still need to finish my handover!” The pace of her emails increased to a slightly frantic speed. And she began inserting, “I think I am in labour so this is me saying good-bye,” at the end of each one. By 11 p.m. she shutdown her laptop and was ready to accept reality. She was having a baby.

Alex called her mother, Carol, who was waiting on-call in Hamilton to take care of Jack. “Hi, Mom. Can you please come? I think I’m in labour.”

“Should I wait until the morning?” her mother queried given that it was already almost midnight.

“Nope. I think you should come now,” Alex responded, finally letting her instincts surface.

Alex’s next call was to her midwife. Contractions were still quite mild and far apart, so the midwife advised Alex to take some Gravol and get some sleep. So far, birth number two seemed quite civilized.

The next morning Alex woke up at 7, as usual. It felt like a normal workday. First thing on the agenda: birthing a baby. The contractions were coming more regularly, and they were painful enough that Alex could no longer just ignore them. Alex and Chris got into the car and made the short trip to St. Joe’s Hospital by 8 a.m.

It was a busy morning in the labour and delivery ward. The nurse at the front desk took a quick scan of Alex and began explaining that she should return home. It was evident there were very few rooms available and Alex was all too familiar with the tactics used to triage and divert low priority patients. She shamelessly played the game and began reciting all the known phrases that would notch her up on the priority list: contractions were coming regularly and strong, her first baby came quickly, the pressure below was intensifying. By 9 a.m., Alex was admitted. 

Alex made her way to the shower and began labouring on all fours while Chris sprayed her back with warm water. The vibration of the water hitting her back was soothing.  

Alex felt a strange sense of calm despite the pain of the contractions.She had been through this before. And she felt more prepared this time around. Much thanks to the pre-natal class she and Chris did with a pelvic floor physiotherapist. The preparation was less about the process and facts of childbirth, and more to do with breathing and visualization techniques to help facilitate the delivery of the baby. 

And so, when the contractions started to come on strong, Alex began climbing her mountain. Her breathing became steady and deep. She fully fixated on the image of the mountaintop and could see herself climbing closer with each wave of pain. At the top was Nora, waiting for her. The intense focus on this image blurred out everything else in the room. She felt incredibly strong and empowered. Her body and her mind were completely synchronized.

Over the next few hours, Alex rotated positions between the shower, the medicine ball, and the edge of the bed. Chris was by her side the whole time,completely in tune with his teammate. He seemed to know just what to say and do.

They inquired about an epidural early on, but the anesthesiologist was in the operating room. Alex was quite far into her labour when he finally arrived. He was able to put in the line, but by then Alex could feel her body starting to change. She needed to start pushing and there was no time to start the meds.  

She moved onto the bed, on her back. Her mind shifted from the mountain, to the image of a flower. With every push she imagined the flower opening. This helped her mind engage muscles she didn’t even know she had! The obstetrician took the lead position as the baby sank lower and lower in Alex’s pelvis. She could feel the OBs fingers stretching her body, making way for the baby’s head. Eventually, around noon, the flower fully blossomed and Nora entered the world. 

The adrenalin rush was intense. Alex’s body was shaking as they placed Nora’s tiny body on her chest; flesh to flesh. Women are incredible–how are we not all running the world?! thought Alex as she marvelled at her accomplishment. Chris took a video of Alex’s first embrace with her daughter. What a moment. Exhaustion. Relief. Peace. 

Soon after, Chris got his chance to hold Nora while the care team tended to Alex. The OB assessed Alex’s body and began tending to the tears.Seeing the epidural line, the OB skipped the local anesthetic and began stitching the skin. Alex began to scream.

“Why are you screaming at me?” the OB said incredulously. 

“I’m in pain!!!” retorted Alex. The OB’s face was still doubtful.

“The IV line is not hooked up,” the midwife said, sensing the OB’s confusion.

Then the OB did what can only be described as a complete and utter disregard for the humanity of the patient; she continued stitching. Alex continued screaming; the pain searing deep into the precious experience of her child’s birth.

Afterwards, the room was finally quiet and calm. Chris, Alex, and Nora had time to snuggle on the bed and recuperate from everything they had just been through. Alex nourished her body with watermelon and Cliff bars, just like last time.

Around 3 p.m. Alex’s parents and brother brought Jack to the hospital to meet his new family member. He was very excited, equal parts for his new sister and the green bike she brought him. He sat up on the bed with Alex and Nora and began singing his full repertoire of songs. “My baby sister! My baby sister,” he kept repeating. After giving several kisses, Alex’s family took Jack home and she was able to rest a while longer.

Laying in bed, with her daughter and husband by her side, Alex felt utterly content. There wasn’t anything that could dampen her mood. Even the notoriously bad hospital food, which had been delivered to her room, tasted good.By 5 p.m. she felt ready to go home and continue the celebration there.

It was a beautiful spring day. The sun was shining and the air carried the scent of new life. Alex and Chris were keen to take the kids for a walk around the block to see their neighbours: Saleem and David, Tim and Trish, Rosemary,and Allan. Since becoming parents, the value of community had taken on new significance in their lives. It was as if having children helped them turn outwards and see the importance of human connections in a new way.

As they walked down the street, Alex was taken aback by the sight of their neighbour’s magnolia tree in full bloom. They stood in silence for a few moments taking in its majestic beauty. It was the perfect representation of how womanly Alex felt, carrying Nora in her arms. She would remember this moment for the rest of her life. And she would be sure to teach her daughter that she, too, is capable of extraordinary, unimaginable things.