Friday, December 23, 2011

Birth Stories, Part II

Once again, my water broke at 2:20 in the morning, this time on Thanksgiving day.  I had been having strong contractions for about a week, starting late in the afternoon and increasing in intensity until they were as close as 4 minutes apart and 60 seconds long, when they would peter out in the wee hours of the morning.  I would finally pass out, discouraged and even angry.  I wasn't scared.  I wanted the pain!  I wanted my daughter so badly.  So when I fell asleep Wednesday night, for the first time in a week, I was surprised to wake up in the peak of an intense contraction, followed immediately by the subtle pop that I remembered without knowing I remembered it.  I managed to get to the bathroom before the gush of waters.

My first reaction was nearly crying.  Not again, not again, not again.  Suddenly, the reality of repeating my previous labor experience seemed intensely real.  Then, as quickly as the sadness of that had descended over me came, it left as I realized that this time I was in labor.  I was having strong contractions.  This time would be different.

I woke my husband.  The second time in his life to be roused from sleep with the words, "my water broke!".  The poor man!  He asked what to do, and I told him to call our doula.  This time, I saw no reason to get our midwives involved before it was absolutely necessary.  I think a part of me wanted to be sure that labor was progressing before starting that stop watch.  Even the midwives have limits when safety is a concern.

Our doula, after a week of worrying about me and knowing that I was frustrated and ready to go, was happy to hear that this was finally happening.  She instructed us to time them and call her back.

While my husband timed them, I was in and out of the shower, bath, and back upstairs to our bedroom with the birthing ball.  Eventually, he called the midwives.  They said we didn't have to come in until we wanted to and I wasn't ready so we stayed home.  The pains got stronger and I knew I wanted our doula with us soon so she showered and came over at around 5 in the morning.  I had no conept of time - I know the timeline only because she kept track and wrote us a lovely birth story and noted in it the timeline.

By the time she got here, I had been having a lot of bloody show and mucus and the like and I somehow believed that this was indicative of being around 3cm.  I was somewhat scared that if this was 3cm, I might not be able to handle 8 or 9.  But after an hour, we were all in agreement that it was time to head to the midwifery.  I was not fearful, but I was concerned that I was not as far along as we thought.  I think this stems from being told repeatedly during Jack's labor that I was not in labor, was not progressing, that my contractions were not real.

The midwifery is a special place.  When you arrive there, the walls are covered floor to ceiling in the tiny blue and pink footprints of every baby born there in the last 12 years.  They are running out of room on the walls.  They have three labor rooms - each with a queen size bed and a jacuzzi tub, and the feeling is homelike.  One of my biggest fears throughout my pregnancy was that the rooms would be full and I would not be able to labor there.  When I realized that it was Thanksgiving day, I was convinced this would be so.  But we arrived and were ushered into a room with pink walls.

The downside of laboring at home for so long is that a 20 minute car ride to the hospital at 6 in the morning is the longest 20 minutes of your life.  And possibly the most painful.  Every time my husband stopped at a light, it took all of my willpower not to open the door and get out.  Once we arrived at the midwifery, I had to be lying on the bed with the monitors for 20 minutes.  This was almost as painful as the car ride, made worse by the monitor dropping off of my daughter during contractions, which meant more like 45 minutes of monitoring to be sure she was healthy enough to labor there.  She was!

When we finally got unstrapped, I got into the shower.  The tub was not warm enough and they were working hard to get it ready for me, but I needed something to help with the pains.  At that point, I had already begun to feel the urge to push but was convinced that it wasn't time because when they checked me, I was only 6cm.  I say "only" but in reality, I was thrilled to hear that.  I had been terrified that I would only be 2 or 3cm.  My husband got into the shower with me and during my contractions, he supported all of my weight while I dangled from his arms and tried to relax my muscles.  Our doula coached from outside the shower, applying counter pressure to my lower back during surges.

When I finally couldn't ignore the urges, I told my husband I wanted to push.  The next thing I knew, I had to get out of the shower because they wouldn't allow me to deliver in there (no room) but the tub wasn't quite ready.  I remember asking over and over why I couldn't get in the tub and never hearing anyone answer, although I'm sure they did.  I know now that they needed the temperature higher first.  When it was ready, I was in there as fast as I could get in and my husband climbed right in there after me, a first for our doula after attending hundreds of births.  I started out sitting but when I said I wanted to push, someone suggested I turn over onto all fours, with my arms on the built in seat.  This gave me the leverage I needed and kept my head mostly above water (I do remember breathing out several times and discovering that my mouth was in the water).  It took about 15 minutes of pushing.  I remember feeling her descending.  I'm certain that I could feel her head go through my cervix and travel down the birth canal.  Despite the pain, it was an amazing thing to witness!

And then...and then she was here.  My husband caught her, which means so very much to me.  During my first pregnancy, I read about a couple who had a homebirth in a tub, and the father caught his baby.  It struck a cord with me and became a part of the ideal birth in my head.  Within moments, everyone was helping me turn over and she was in my arms.  I felt instantly that I recognized her as my daughter and felt that she was the most amazing thing in the world.  I felt that all of my work had been shared with her, that we were a team and she had wanted me as badly as I wanted her.

I am amazed with my body and even more amazed that moments after delivering her, I stood up while holding her to my chest, climbed out of the tub, and walked to the bed.  Obviously, I was assisted but I had no idea that I could do that.  The midwives prefer to deliver the placenta on the bed, and with her still connected to me, we looked into each others eyes.  I was thrilled that there was no rush to cut her cord, but when offered, my husband declined (again - but Jack's was wrapped around his neck and had to be cut before the rest of his body could come out) and the next thing I knew, the midwife was handing me the scissors and telling me where to cut.  I think it speaks volumes that the midwives would offer such an option.  I've never heard of a mother cutting the cord (but then, most fathers are more into doing it themselves).

I should mention here that last night, my husband informed me that the scariest part of labor was when I stood up from the tub because blood was gushing out of me.  I never noticed, possibly because I was totally enamoured of my new little baby girl.

No one tried to take her from me.  She lay on my chest for a long time.  She peed on me, and when I encouraged her toward my nipple, she refused it, preferring to find it on her own and nurse contendedly for a while.  She was loud, screaming for much of her first hour of life outside my womb.  At first, we were worried that something was wrong.  Then we realized that it was good, healthy, normal for her to scream.  It just seemed abnormal after our son was born medicated and quiet.

Somewhere in there, our doula asked eagerly for her name.  We had kept it a secret and were pleased to introduce Paisley Evelyn to her and her midwives, who had been caring so lovingly for both her and her mother for so long.  We made phone calls, took pictures, and she had her footprints taken.  My husband had one put on his arm, and later had it tattooed on there.

Eventually, she was weighed and measured and my little chunky butterball baby was 8lb 9oz (a whole pound bigger than Jack was as birth!) and 20 inches (and an inch and a half shorter!).  We have had no real issues with nursing and she is for the most part a happy baby.  She sleeps well and is growing fast!

I cannot imagine a better birth story.  Labor isn't easy and for the most part, it isn't fun.  I learned the hard way that no matter how badly you want to, it isn't wise to push through the ring of fire and somewhere where I can't easily see, I'll have a scar to show for it.  But that aside, everything went exactly as I had hoped it would.  The most wonderful thing was not having to worry about my needs as a woman being met.  I needed to be present, participating in my labor and dictating how I labored with support from women who knew what to expect.  In fact, the midwife and the nurse were barely there in my memories of her birth.  They were in the room, quiet and in the background, ready for her arrival but not intervening or invading my space.  When I believed I could not possibly survive another second, my doula and my husband both reassured me that I was 100%  capable.  I felt safe there.

In a couple of weeks, Paisley's footprints will be added to the walls of the midwifery.  For some reason, this means the world to me.  It represents a journey that for me, was so essential.  I once read that for as long as a woman lives, she will remember how she was made to feel while in labor.  Since Paisley's birth, the pain of Jack's labor has dulled.  I don't dwell on it anymore.  It doesn't make me quite so sad.  I'll never forget, but stronger now is the memory of how empowered, respected, and safe I was made to feel in my second labor and delivery.

I wish every woman could labor and deliver at such a magical place.

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