Joanna and Leonard Grant with their one-month-old son MacGreger
By Joanna Grant | photo by Miranda Tschirhat
I’m certain most women share the same worries I had before their labour commenced: strangers seeing my private parts, pooping on the bed and floor, the baby not wanting to come out or coming out the wrong way, tearing my netheryeya, screaming at doctors, nurses and family members, just to name a few.
I made sure to have a note on my ‘supportive care plan’ to ban any Aurora College nursing students from joining the party in case they happened to know me since childhood. Sure, they may well see a million more vaginas going through the horror mine did, but if they saw and heard me push out a baby, they’d never look at me the same again.
There was also the very real possibility of the baby dying, me dying, or both. Not to mention coming to the sober realization my life will never be the same after this baby pops out.
Despite all these things, let’s face it ladies, you can squish a spider, you can choose not to jump out of an airplane, and you can easily avoid public speaking, if that’s just not your thing. But if you want your own kids, you gotta push ‘em out yourself (or have a C section, which I heard is not much fun, either). Back in the biblical days, poor Eve had no one around with birthing experience to tell her everything was going to be ok. If she could do it, so could I.
On October 2nd, 2014, 10 days over-ripe and tummy fat as a beach ball, it was go time. There I was in the heat of labour, moments before giving birth, squatted beside the bed and very surprised at how incredibly fast I was able to breathe (I definitely beat my rabbit’s record, even after his bear attack experience). All the worries I had going into it quickly vanished. Nothing mattered. There could have been 50 nursing students packed into that room taking flash photos and writing detailed notes. I wouldn’t have known and, at that moment in time, I wouldn’t have cared.
All I know is I mightily pushed, I mightily roared, and a few moments later was handed a tiny stranger who I’m sure was just as utterly bewildered as I was. In the end the pain wasn’t as bad as I anticipated (surprisingly, the recovery was worse!). Maybe it was due to a few friends who stayed up praying for me during the whole thing.
Still, I would have had a terrible experience with childbirth if my sister didn’t drop everything in her hands as she stepped in the door, and ram her knuckles as hard as she possibly could into the back of my hips while I squatted during a contraction. I love my husband, but as I learned through his incomprehensible lack of urgency to get me to the hospital while I was about to give birth (even after my sister woke him up from his sweet nap in the next room over, he thought he still had time to make a cup of tea) he’s just not labor-support material.
Theresa Hansen is a long-time Yellowknife obstetrics doctor who arrived here in July of 1988. Seven months later she delivered me into the world and while it wasn’t planned, she also happened to deliver my son. During her career in the North she’s delivered somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 babies. Delivering a parent and child has only happened about three times in her 27-year career. My mom remembers Dr. Hansen as a calm professional who listened to her concerns and understood what she was going through. Surprisingly, after all these years, she remembered my mom, if not the details of the specific delivery.
It got me curious to know more about her experience. Even more than that, I wanted to know what made her stick around for so long, since Yellowknife is known for its transient nature, and people who have been here for as long or longer than I have are few and far between.
I caught up with Dr. Hansen by phone and was able to ask a few questions before she was off to see another patient. One of the things we talked about was whether there was anything unique to delivering babies in Yellowknife:
“We are very much client-based. We’re not in a rush, or pushing people to do things, we try as much as possible to have natural deliveries. I haven’t practiced down south but certainly down there there is a lot more interventions, a lot more epidurals. I think our cesarean rate is one of the lower ones in the country, and we work pretty hard to keep it there.”
Dr. Hansen had one more thing to add before we hung up: “You know, I have to tell you, I have a lot of colleagues who love doing medicine up here, but then leave because their spouse either doesn’t like their job, etc. But the biggest thing that has drawn people away is not having family here. And especially once you start having kids, it’s nice to have family around for support. So I was very fortunate the man I married had his family here and that’s been my support in the community. Even after we divorced we were very close as a family. But that’s the most important thing to keep people in the community is to have family members around. It’s great to have friends, but there’s something about family.”
I would have been in utter despair if there hadn’t been family around for a last-minute hand off of my one-month-old crying baby on halloween, not to go out to a party but to sit in complete silence at my kitchen table, eating half-made baked goods as I collected my sanity.
It’s true, nothing replaces family.
At the same time, I’ve realized family in the North isn’t only people who look similar to me, or have known me the longest. There are also those with whom I share the beautiful bond of Christianity. My Yellowknife church family has been just as supportive as my biological family. When else can you walk into a building and have a person you aren’t very close with reach out with a big smile, take your child out of your arms without saying a word to you, leaving you with a feeling of contentness because you know your child is in the arms of a trustworthy, godly person, and you can now enjoy the church service without interruption?
If my sister’s family left town, it’d be hard for me to stay. If our church family left too, it’d be impossible.
I am tremendously thankful to know that if I died tomorrow, my husband and son would have endless support through our ‘family’ in the community. These people are my roots. They go down deep, and continue to grow ever strong. They keep me thriving here, and that’s why people like myself, and Dr. Hansen, haven’t left.
Author Joanna Grant at one month old with her mother Kimberly Moreside
Joanna Grant is one-fourth of the local Artless Collective film production crew, but took a sabbatical to study the art of motherhood.