Our Birth Story
I just sat down to the computer to type and already I hear the sad whimpers of my little newborn. Hopefully not unhappy for long! Time to go check on him . . .
Behold, my well-intentioned, very sleepy husband who has been up watching baby since 6am, letting mommy sleep after breast feeding baby and then who has been holding baby contently in the glider in between breast feeds, is fast asleep in the nursery. A hatless but kimonoed Baby L is sleeping with intermittent whimpers and begins to suck on his covered fingers.
And now, after one diaper change, one baby hair oiling, one breast feed, two faxes to the birth center and to the pediatrician, one swaddle, and two tuck-ins (to husband and to baby), and now an hour and a half later later, little mama is settling back to the compy, with a cup of tea and toasted sandwich and hummus at her side.
A quiet day that is actually going pretty smoothly! Kind of nice to be in relative silence. Though I must say that T, Baby, and me have been blessed with so many kind words from friends and family, flowers from friends, and the TLC of my parents and younger brother these few days — all of which have allowed me to experience a quiet moment such as this.
My silence on my blog has not been without purpose. Last Friday, I experienced a change in discharge, some serious cramping, and made calls to the birth center and to my doula. Something seemed to be changing in the little mini-labors I’d been going through. Thankfully, my mom had come to our place the previous night to spend time with me. The weather was turning colder and had the potential to be icy, and since T was going to be at school 1 hour away for Friday and Saturday, it would be important to have someone with me to help . . .just in case. Though Baby had, up till that Friday morning, not shown any true intention of getting out!
The nurses and doulas advised me that discharge and “bloody show” was normal, and it could indicate the birth of a baby within the next two weeks . . which I was expecting anyway. So mom and I went through the regular tasks of the day, we discouraged our expectant family members from rushing over that day since there was no change in baby’s ETA, and we bought some freshly made and ready-to-bake suppers from a local store to test if they’d be good to take to the delivery as a celebration. . .whenever that day would come. That evening we enjoyed one of the meals – a nice big tray of vegetarian lasagna, which I must say was delicious. I had talked to T throughout the day and told him to enjoy his school and that I’d see him the next afternoon. He had plans to go visit some friends in his school lounge that evening, and I told him that this would be fine.
Then the contractions began: irregular, intermittent, at first merely causing me discomfort, but they felt different. Was it labor? The nurses said that when I go into labor, I’d know, but I wasn’t so sure. It seemed stronger than Braxton Hicks but much like menstrual cramps, so not too too different . . . I decided next to sleep next to my mom in case anything happened. Just as I settled into the bed I felt a much stronger pain – this isn’t right. Mom – wanting to help but very drowsy, wasn’t sure what to do, and I told her that it’s ok, go to sleep. I called T, Lori my doula, and the Birth Center.
“I’m getting contractions again. They seem to be about 6 minutes apart, I can’t tell how long they are, maybe 20 or 30 seconds.”
Midwife: “It sounds like you might be starting something, but it is still very early. The contractions really need to be much longer and more consistent before we know that you’re really in labor. For now, just drink drink drink. Staying hydrated is the best thing that you can do, and try to relax, and do your best to measure the contractions and give me a call if anything changes, that you feel like something has really changed in the type of contraction and length. Don’t hesitate to call. And try to eat something if you can.”
Doula: “Yes, it sounds early. Just stay hydrated and try to stay relaxed, breathe through everything you experience. Get some rest. Also try turning on the guided imagery to help you sleep tonight. Don’t hesitate to call me.”
T: “Ok, don’t worry, the midwives and Lori told us to expect this. It doesn’t sound like you’re in full blown labor yet, do everything you can to relax. I’ll be home in an hour. Just drink a glass of water and try to relax, that should help.”
Me: “Good, I’m drinking water. All right, I’ll turn on the guided imagery/birth affirmations that Lori suggested and I’ll try to rest. I’ll eat a yogurt.”
But rest didn’t come easily at all. T came home as promised and I had been fumbling through my relaxation methods – sitting on the birthing ball, leaning forward over the bed, breathing deeply with every pain and every time that my nerves set in. But things were so irregular – 6, 7, minutes, sometimes 2-3 minutes between contractions. 30 seconds here, 45 seconds there. Where’s that second hand? With T’s arrival I still felt like I was doing a lot of the counting. He did some of the calculations but he, too, fell asleep at last. So I had a little pencil and paper, holding my watch in one hand, grabbing the birth ball or the bed with the other hand, counting the seconds, and scribbling the time and result on a napkin. I think it was when my contractions had started spreading to about 15 minutes apart – that’s when I finally got a little rest. I even though, darn, maybe this baby isn’t coming. It’s all slowing down. Maybe I’m in for something like this again in a few days.
Suddenly 5 o’clock a.m. rolls around and I’ve been in and out of bed all night. Labor does that to you I suppose, making you less inhibited, more apt to get up and around and to try to put yourself in a place that will give you the most comfort, given that the most uncomfortable thing of life seems to be happening at the same time!
Instead of spreading apart more as they had been, the contractions started coming every 5 minutes, lasting steadily for around 30-45 seconds. Even as I type this the memory starts to become fuzzy, but all I know is that I knew I had to call the birth center and the doula again. This seemed real and changed. T and my mom were awake and alert by the morning and ready to step in to do everything for me. They made sure I drank and ate. Did I want sambhar? Paneer? no, I said sadly, just water . .ok, I’ll finish my yogurt with fruit. Then they got me cereal and milk, and when we talked with the midwives and the doula, made sure I got some protein. Mom made me some hard-boiled eggs which I ate bleakly, tiny piece by tiny piece reaching my mouth intermittently throughout the morning. T made me graham crackers, which I nibbled on as well, here and there. But I really didn’t want to eat much of anything. But I knew it was helping.
Drinking water made a huge difference. Contraction. Small sip of water. contraction, small sip of water. It really kept me going. There are so many things you can’t stop during labor – one of which is that you get hopelessly dry and parched, so the water was key.
The other thing I remember from that morning is distraction. Humor didn’t work with me. People talking during contractions didn’t help me. That made me VERY irritable. T noticed right away and made sure that the environment was calm every time I nodded that one was starting. Unfortunately, my mom learned the hard way I didn’t want to be bothered during these times. I yelled at her when she remarked something to me at one point in the day. I felt really bad but thankfully she understood the place I was in.
Around 11am things hadn’t really progressed. Yes, the pain was there and oh was it sometimes painful. T was thoroughly supportive, giving counter pressure at the hips and back when I asked him to, coaching me to breathe deeply and to try to relax. He was in frequent contact with the midwives and the doula to give us counseling. When the contractions were between 5 and 6 minutes apart and were 45-60 seconds he was suggesting that we go into the center, but it didn’t seem close enough together to me, and when the midwives talked to me they were reassured that I was still somewhat comfortable. The magic number for them is 5-1-1 – 5 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute for at least 1 hour at a time. We didn’t seem nearly there. Plus, once you reach that point you usually expect a few hours to progress further to get fully dilated, and then at least another 2 hours of pushing. Lots of time to go . .
Then the good advice came into play around 12 pm. Both our midwife Nicole and our doula Lori suggested that I do some cat and dog stretches and moreover said – don’t worry so much about doing them during the contraction, do them in between, so that it can help the baby get into good position. I began a routine – some yogic cat/dog stretches, sitting on the couch in between to watch 30 Rock and Modern Family . . pauses for contractions, back to cat/dog stretch. And suddenly things changed. I went to contractions steadily at just under 5 minutes apart, still lasting under a minute. But the pain got very strong.
Probably around 1 pm I became serious, was unable to joke, to enjoy jokes, not really smiling much but sometimes smiling weakly if people gave me lots of encouragement. The doula decided that it was time to come over but she was about 40 minutes away. We were really considering coming to the center at this point but I still hadn’t progressed quite enough and people still had to come nearer by. Nicole the midwife suggested over the phone that I jump in a warm shower until Lori arrived to help a bit, then we would all meet at the birth center.
The warm shower factored heavily into my tolerating natural labor. Mind you – throughout my labor that morning not once was I laying back in bed. I could never get comfortable in that position – I was upright, on all fours, walking, anything I could do to let gravity help me. The water really helped push my labor forward even more. I had started to moan pretty significantly through contractions, it was that painful. But once I got into the shower and started the massage setting, letting warm water hit my back, the moaning stopped – at least for a few contractions. T and my mom were shocked at the difference it seemed to make.
In the shower, I envisioned a video which Lori, my doula, had sent me. After learning that I loved to sing, she had sent me this youtube video of a woman in labor singing Psalm 23 through a contraction while her partner accompanied her on guitar. I began to sing The Lord’s Prayer by Alfred Hay Malotte – a favorite tune of mine that brings me peace. Unlike the woman in the video I simply couldn’t make it through the contraction and continue to sing, but in the most painful parts I focused my energy on the water, the tune and lyrics of the music in my mind, and allowing my body to do its work. I also practiced a lot of swaying from side to side during my contractions in and out of the shower. The next song I envisioned and sang was “Edelweiss,” and through 6-7 contractions these relaxation techniques really helped me through.
T says that by the time I got out of the shower (45 minutes later) my contractions had narrowed to three minutes apart and were definitely at least a minute in length. Lori arrived at that moment and came in to greet me, calmly guiding me through the next contraction to relax and breathe. The smile on her face when she came in really helped, as well as her calm encouraging words. We got dressed up and she made me eat and drink some more, and then we went down to the car. At this point I was standing without any supports around me so T was key – I would put all my weight on him through the contractions as we headed downstairs.
In the car I sat in the front seat, facing backwards, holding on for dear life as I experienced 2-3 contractions during our short drive to the Birth Center. Even getting out of the car in the freezing cold I had to pause, it was that dramatic. When we got in I met Nicole’s smiling face at me and she said “Hi Mama, you’re doing great! Let’s check you and then you can go to your birth suite.”
Then for the first time all day I lied flat on my back for my examination and learned that I was already dilated to 6-7 centimeters. Good, I thought, just a few more hours and then I can push and then maybe we will deliver by late evening. But the minute that I stood up and got to the room, and went toward the tub, eating a few bites of granola bar as we waited for it to fill and warm up, I felt a very dramatic contraction and the urge to push. As I leaned on T my water broke. Then I stepped into the tub – a deep pool with really nice, warm water.
I was more posed on my knees in the tube since it was most comfortable, and then with contractions I could lean on the side of the tub. I felt the urge to push once again but wasn’t really sure what sensation I was experiencing. But as the contractions came the midwives urged me to go with it. My eyes felt like they were going wide with each contractions. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but I think that I had already started to push and when they asked me if I could feel my baby, I answered that I wasn’t sure, but I’m pretty sure that he was right there, which explains that pressure. They encouraged me to redirect the moans from high-pitched shrieks to more low pitched moans, which at this point I now know are probably more amenable to pushing out a baby. I couldn’t believe it when they told me that I was pushing. I had really thought it would be much longer. I had only just gotten to the birth center! I asked Nicole if it would really be two more hours and she said that she didn’t think so. And then suddenly during a push I could definitely feel the head there, and then another push and the head was partially out! They encouraged me to do slower pushes at that point to ease out the baby and within two more pushes he was out completely, Nicole swept down and helped me pick him up out of the water and bring him onto my chest. It was the most amazing feeling to have this little baby be born in the water! And apparently only 20 minutes after I had started the pushing process while out of the tub. The midwives said that between the onset of true labor (about 5a.m. that morning) and deliver, only 11 hours had passed, and that I was a “rockin’ prime,” made to have babies. I was beaming.
Originally I didn’t intend to give birth in the water – it has only been done for a few hundred years or so, and I think babies can be born just fine on a bed. The College of Ob/Gyn and the American Academy of Pediatrics have inconsistent views on waterbirth – Ob/Gyns are ok with it, whereas the AAP feels it hasn’t been studied completely . . .but all of this reasoning pretty much went out the window with me. By the time I sat in that tub I knew I was delivering there. And baby L did exactly what he was supposed to do – his diving reflex – the reflex that prevents him from breathing underwater – worked great. And he took his first breath as he came out and immediately cried. What a feeling to be holding this baby onto me. We got onto the bed and as they helped get me into gear physically, Baby L squirmed on my chest and attempted to latch!
The rest I will let be for now. I can write more later but I feel pretty overwhelmed having documented this so far. I can only say that the experience of natural childbirth and delivering at a wonderfully quiet and safe birth center were more amazing than I could have imagined. I wish for every mother going through a low risk pregnancy to seriously consider it.