Simone & Liam
If you want to see what yin and yang look like in human form, you should venture to Etobicoke and meet Simone and Michael Harrington. Simone is a planner. In fact, her career has flourished as a direct result of her ability to anticipate the future. She is always three steps ahead. Michael, on the other hand, enjoys life in the present. Together, they are magic.
In her 20s, Simone never really envisioned having children. Motherhood never seemed to make an appearance on her vision boards. That is, until she met Michael. In her opinion, he emulated the best qualities a human being could possess, and she couldn’t in good conscience let the opportunity pass to replicate his wonderfulness.
A year or so into their marriage, Simone began to prompt Michael with questions about babies in an attempt to clarify their 10-year strategic life plan. “So, how many children do you want?” inquired Simone. This seemed to be a necessary question in Simone’s mind.
“I don’t know,” Michael answered honestly. “Why don’t we just try to have one, and see how that goes?” This exchange between them illustrated how Michael could effortlessly simplify seemingly complex matters that would have otherwise been trapped in Simone’s mind for hours.
A few months after this initial discussion they found out they were expecting, and Simone spent the spring and summer of 2014 basking in the glow of her pregnancy. Her body appeared to thrive in this new state. She enjoyed her full belly and everything motherhood brought her. Most of all, she relished the companionship she felt with this new being inside her.
During the last trimester, Simone and Michael took a pre-natal class with a midwife in the Bloor West Village. Her medical philosophy was to provide clients with the best available information so they could feel empowered to make informed decisions regarding their options. This completely aligned with Simone’s way of thinking. By the end of the course, Simone had developed a clear birth plan in her mind: natural labour and minimal intervention, resulting in supreme birth-goddess state. She felt prepared.
Work was tied up with a bow a week prior to her due date in November. She took full advantage of the gorgeous fall weather and the time off. Nearly every day she and Wade, their beloved dog, would go to High Park for a walk with a decaf coffee in hand. The autumn sun was warm and the colours golden. Life was good. And about to get even better.
The week of the baby’s due date, Simone went for an ultrasound. Everything looked healthy, though they didn’t want the baby growing too much more, for Simone’s sake. She was meeting with the doctor twice a week by this point. The due date came and went. No baby. Clue number one that things were not going to follow Simone’s plan. She did her best to summon additional patience and continued to embrace the quiet time at home. On the Thursday after her due date, the doctor initiated a plan for an induction on the coming Sunday. Still plenty of time to go into labour naturally, thought Simone.
On the Sunday morning, Simone’s phone rang around 9 a.m. She picked it up, 41 weeks and 1 day pregnant. Still no signs of labour. It was the hospital calling her in to initiate the induction. On their way in, Michael and Simone decided to celebrate their final pre-children days with brunch at Cora’s.
They got to Sunnybrook Hospital at 11 a.m. and it didn’t take the doctor long to put the Cervidil gel on Simone’s cervix. The hope was that the prostaglandin would kick-start labour. They were told to go home and come back later that evening to assess progress.
The ride home was quiet as Simone internally revised her birth plan to account for the induction. It felt like a minor setback. Given that this was Simone’s first child and none of her close friends had children yet, she had no point of reference for her situation. She was charting new territory, and although Simone was not nervous of new experiences, the invisible path seemed laden with all sorts of expectations, assumptions and opportunities for failure. Thankfully, soon after they got home Michael’s parents came over to pick up Wade and Simone was sufficiently distracted by the company and coffee.
During dinner Simone started to experience some light cramping, and by the time they returned to the hospital at 8 p.m. Simone was sure labour was well underway. The pain had definitely kicked up a couple of notches. So you can only imagine Simone’s reaction when she overheard her nurse at the nursing station say, “Oh yeah, she’s not even getting started.” The blood drained from Simone’s determined faced as reality sunk in and she realized how grossly she had underestimated this process. The nurse came back to inform her she was only 1 cm dilated and they were being sent home to wait until labour progressed further. The ride home was even less fun than the first.
Simone was starting to feel exhausted from the unexpected turns. They put on Netflix and continued to binge-watch Luther, which helped numb her mind. The heating pad did the same for her body. Around midnight Simone could feel her contractions intensify, though they were still pretty far apart. She began to rotate from the birthing ball, to the bed, to the TV, in an endless quest for comfort. She looked over at Michael sleeping peacefully and for an instant considered murder.
At 5 a.m. they decided to call the hospital. The nurse told them to come in, but nothing about her words or tone implied urgency. Simone decided to count it as a win. They arrived at the hospital at 7 a.m. and Simone was eager for the nurse to assess her progress. Surely her hours of labouring and strict adherence to the pre-natal course curriculum would mean she was nearing the finish line. Much to her dismay, she was only 3 cm dilated; barely far enough to qualify for hospital admission.
Luckily, Simone’s physician was on-call and she was able to talk her through what to expect next. “The next intervention will be to break your water when you’re fully 3 cm dilated. This should help stimulate labour further,” said the doctor. This sounded like the opposite of what Simone had wanted.Buried deep in her expectations, Simone felt the need to resist all unnecessary interventions. This was the path to a successful birth.
“No, let’s not do that. Let’s wait,” replied Simone. Advocating for herself was one of the few things she felt in control of. She felt sure about her decision.
For the next three hours Simone continued to labour with Michael by her side. Contractions were frequent and intense, but short in duration. Simone slipped into a transient state, completely in tune with her body and the pain. The rest of the world disappeared. At 10 a.m. her physician assessed her again and relayed the disappointing news that not much had changed. Simone felt she had no choice but to concede and let the doctor break her water. Things were expected to progress quickly after that. They didn’t. Simone continued to wade through the endless fog of labour that seemed to completely deactivate her sense of direction. Hours passed, though her labour stood still; contractions stuck on repeat.
At one in the afternoon the nurse stopped in to let Simone know the anesthesiologist was heading into surgery shortly. If she had any interest in an epidural, the window of opportunity was closing soon. Michael and Simone didn’t have long to contemplate what had previously been rejected with certainty. The mere idea of the epidural threatened Simone’s chances of adding a “perfect birth” to her long list of accomplishments. But reality seemed to silence the empowered, informed woman who was ready to resist. Tears ran down her exhausted cheeks. After 12 hours of labour she succumbed and agreed to have an epidural.
The anesthesiologist was an older man who seemed confident in the decades of experience that had earned him the respect of his colleagues and pupils. As he entered the room, Simone began with the list of questions aimed at preserving her status as an evidence-based self-advocate. The doctor barely resisted rolling his eyes.
“Is it expected that the medication will slow down the labour?” Simone investigated.
“Why, is there somewhere you’ve got to be?” retorted the anesthesiologist. The smugness of his tone was shocking. Michael raised his eyebrows and held his breath, uncertain if the doctor knew what his comment was getting him into. But Simone knew she was dependent on this clinician and was able to swallow her rage.
The insertion of the epidural wasn’t very straight forward. The anatomy of Simone’s spine made it particularly difficult to access the necessary space between the vertebrae. And the contractions added another layer of complexity. Simone sat as still as possible, hunched over a pillow to expose her back. But every 60 seconds the team had to stop their efforts as Simone sat up to tackle the oncoming contraction. With each failed attempt the frustration in the room grew.
After 45 minutes, the epidural was finally in. Simone clutched onto the trigger that allowed her to control the amount of anesthetic. The relief was immediate and within 10 minutes she was asleep. Her entire body relaxed. It was as if the colour of the room switched from scarlet red to soothing pastels. Simone spent the next few hours drifting in and out of consciousness and the intensity dissipated as she finally let her body take over from her brain.
Around 5 p.m. Simone felt something change from deep within. Her body began to quiver uncontrollably and the surge in sensations forced tears to stream down Simone’s face. Michael alerted the nurses, alarmed by the sudden change. The doctor came in to assess Simone and delivered the unexpected news that she was fully dilated!
The team assisted Simone onto all fours to let gravity help the baby lower into her pelvis. The pressure of contractions was still palpable, but the pain relief made them easier to bear. A half-hour later, Simone told the nurses she could sense the pressure growing farther down and things felt different. They helped Simone onto her back and guided her through a trial push, which proved more effective than anticipated. They told Simone to hold as still as possible while they assembled the delivery team. In filed the two nurses, a med student, an OB resident, the obstetrician, the anesthesiology team, and two respiratory therapists because there had been meconium in Simone’s amniotic fluid. Altogether, Simone and Michael counted 11 people including themselves.
On the next contraction Simone lifted her chin towards the ceiling. The reflection in the glass of the large overhead surgical light let her see what was happening below. The baby’s head was starting to emerge. Simone took a deep breath and pushed as hard as she could. The doctor gently twisted Liam’s shoulders, helping him slip out into the world, screaming. Simone collapsed over the finish line, consoled by the sound of Liam’s voice.
A moment later, Simone was face-to-face with her son as the nurse placed him onto her chest. “Hello, Liam!” she exclaimed. His name was a nod to her maternal grandfather, William, and she was excited to voice it for the first time in his presence. Michael took a photo of the moment, forever capturing the simultaneous joy and exhaustion in Simone’s face.
Michael got the honour of cutting the umbilical cord as the nurses continued to clean Liam and tend to Simone. After all the routine assessments,they wrapped Liam in the standard flannel hospital baby blanket trimmed with blue and pink stripes and passed him to his father.
Simone’s parents were the first set of family members to visit. Her mother, Linda, was beyond excited to meet her newest grandson. She had done her best to contain her eagerness over the past 24 hours. Earlier that afternoon she parked herself in the lobby of the hospital, fully equipped with comfort foods from Pusateri’s. As soon as the grandparents received word of Liam’s safe arrival they made their way up to the birthing suit.
It had been a fairly gray day outside, but somehow the clouds had parted to reveal a beautiful rainbow in the western sky. Simone handed Liam to her mother, giving them a moment to get acquainted. Linda nuzzled Liam close. “My beautiful rainbow baby,” she declared. Over the next hour, their family feasted on Pusateri’s and recounted the remarkable sequence of events of the last day and a half.
The next morning, Simone’s sister, Asha, and her son, Ethan, came to visit the newest family member along with her parents again. “I got you a birthday present!” Simone announced as her sister entered the room. Asha immediately stretched out her arms for Liam. The bond with her first blood-nephew was forged instantly.
Michael’s parents arrived shortly after. His mother rushed into the room and pushed to the front of the crowd, unapologetic for her out-of-character behaviour. “Where’s my baby?” she said, frantically surveying the room for Liam. She scooped him out of Simone’s arms, finally able to exhale. Her face was glowing with love. Michael’s father stepped in and embraced Simone and Michael. “I’m really proud of you two,” he said tenderly. The sincerity of his words was felt deeply.
In the quiet of the hospital room, Simone, Michael and Liam cuddled on the bed, their three heads resting on each other. That night all the realities of having a newborn began to set in. That night turned into the next day,followed by the next week. Post-partum was full of ups and downs. Simone slowly began to process the magnitude of change that had occurred.
People often say that hindsight is 20-20. But it is not a given. Our clarity of perspective only comes when we put effort into contemplation and are able to see our experiences in relation to subsequent moments in our lives. This helps us learn. This helps us grow. This helps us become better versions of ourselves.And it often takes great courage and humility; two qualities Simone possesses in spades.
In the five years following the birth of Liam, Simone experienced the death of a child and the birth of another. The extreme pain and joy she has lived through has shed new light on life and her perspective on motherhood that can be best captured by her own words:
“Motherhood has entirely deconstructed who I am and then built it back up in the most wonderful and meaningful way. It brought me to my knees and taught me how to rise up stronger and better and more fulsomely. I can’t even compare myself to the person I was before children. The profoundness of my experiences having children has led to so much reflection on how I viewed what was important, how I show up to situations, and what resilience means. I used to be a collector of accomplishments and that was how I defined my own self-worth and value. I’m now a person that still has goals but also sees a life well-lived as one where you love and are loved. You show up for the people you love—and the rest is just details. There is a lot of freedom in realizing that we actually have very little control over anything in life. Life is about appreciating what you do have and making the most of the time that you do have.” - Simone Harrington