Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A Baby Story (But Not So Full of Doctors and All That)

Since my sweet Peeves will be 6 months old this week, I thought I would revisit the day of her birth. I wrote up this up for the Mothering forums. It is a bit of a professional/factual/stiff accounting. It is also very very long and detailed because I know how much I love reading all the gory details in birth (especially unassisted birth) stories. It is an important part of preparing emotionallly and spiritually for birth. So, you will be really getting in my "head space" so to speak. Enjoy.

My second (and final) unassisted birth story:

The week seemed to be stretching on endless as my secret due date was approaching. Because my previous two children had each been born a few days before their due dates, I anticipated that this child would be born sometime that week as well. I had frequent bouts of semi-intense contractions that were uncomfortable and annoying, I felt the baby’s head lower in my pelvis every day, and my upset stomach and gag reflex had heightened. Every night I would put the kids to bed with my husband and think, “Okay, everyone is asleep, I can go into labor tonight.” Often, I would experience contractions that woke me during the night and get restless, but I would wake every morning in disappointment knowing I was not likely to begin labor during my busy days.

I continued working three afternoons a week with patients asking constantly if it was hard to continue to adjust them while so pregnant and how I was doing. Being busy at work was actually some of my best times emotionally, when I would totally disconnect with my obsession with *when would “it” happen* and just live my normal life. I knew my obsession with second guessing every sign of impending labor was detrimental to my goal of intuitive labor. I knew how my educated mind could pull me away from “laborland”, that intuitive and almost meditative state of labor that was so critical to me during active labor. I knew that the days of prodromal labor I was experiencing were indeed part of my labor, but I was still struggling daily (hourly) with letting go of my constant thoughts and surrendering to my body’s wisdom.

The next day was a Saturday, and my husband had planned to leave me with the kids for several hours while he went to work on a major project for work. In the morning it was very snowy and blowy so he delayed leaving. I was struck with an intense need to get the whole house clean all at once while he was home to help with the kids. My (brilliant) husband sensed that something was going on with me, and decided to stay home all day as I continued to scrub floors and wash windows and fold laundry. I had been nesting for weeks, so I didn’t consider the day’s activities to be necessarily outside of the norm.

I also did some extensive reading on the motheringdotcom unassisted childbirth thread. I not only read a number of inspiring birth stories, but also a few links to threads debating the legitimacy and safety of UC principles and practice. This reading was just what my psyche needed. I felt empowered and validated on a deep and primal level. I knew everything was going to be okay and all I had to do was relax and wait.

We were up late, watching a movie and didn’t even start getting the kids ready for bed until 11:00 that night. The house was immaculate and I finally felt relaxed. My husband took the kids upstairs to bed and I was getting myself ready for bed in the bathroom when a bad smell made me throw up into the sink. That is also a common occurrence in pregnancy for me, so again I didn’t jump to any conclusions. I cleaned up the bathroom and crawled into my solo bed downstairs saying to myself, “Probably not tonight. Just get a good night’s sleep after all that work.” As I settled into my pillow configuration and got comfortable, a felt a slight *pop* or release from an unknown location. I had just enough time to think, “Weird, I wonder what THAT was?” and then I felt the unmistakable warmth of my water spreading. I jumped out of bed faster than I thought possible for that stage of pregnancy, worried about staining the new mattress. I noted that the fluid (now running down my legs) was clear and pulled off my underwear.

I immediately went upstairs where my husband was still reading to the kids and told him that my water had broken and I would like him to come back downstairs to adjust me (DH is also a Chiropractor) before he went to sleep. I settled back on the sofa with a pile of towels to distract myself with some mindless TV. I had no contractions or discomfort at all. After about 15 minutes my husband came back and asked if anything was happening. My other labors had always been well underway by the time my water broke, and then the flow was only a slight leak. This had been a good sized gush and when I got up from the sofa for my husband to check my spine, I gushed more. We giggled at the continuous stream of fluid and grabbed more towels. Every time I shifted positions the stream would start up again. Finally I got into a neutral position and my husband was able to quickly adjust me. Then he gave me a kiss and went off to bed with his cell phone in hand so I could call him rather that go all the way upstairs if I needed him. I settled down on my cushion of pillows to watch a cheesy movie and see what would happen next.

It was so strange to know that this baby would likely be born by sunrise, yet not be having any real “symptoms” of labor. I was having an occasional mild contraction, but nothing different that what had gone on for the past week or so. I considered going to bed but was too full of adrenalin and still leaking fluids. I got up to pee after about an hour and noticed a small clot of mucous and blood on my towel. When I went to the bathroom there was more bloody show but no real change in intensity of contractions. I did have some slight loose stool, which cheered me up, knowing that things were moving along normally. Periodically I would check my watch, noting the passage of time in a distracted and impatient way. My last birth had gone so quickly (just a little over an hour after waking with uncomfortable contractions) and this seemed so anticlimactic. The ramping up of contractions was so subtle and gradual that I really didn’t realize I was getting uncomfortable until I realized I was spending more time going to the bathroom *to relax* than watching TV. A little over two hours had passed. I decided to run a bath because I could still smell my vomit a little and I didn’t want to labor with that smell in my nose. The bath didn’t seem to help or hinder things, so I just matter of factly cleaned up and got back out, feeling a little refreshed. I continued to mostly sit on the toilet during contractions. I made a conscious decision to stop watching TV and to try to get into “laborland”.

At that point things suddenly got more serious. I lit a few candles in the bathroom and turned off all the lights in order to lessen the distractions of “the real world” invading my laborland. I was softly moaning during each contraction and visualizing a dark hole that I was sinking into more deeply with each surge. Between contractions I would get distracted thinking about whether I should wake up my husband and have a little moral support or if I would rather do it alone. We both had talked about a fantasy of my birthing completely alone during the night and him getting up in the morning to the surprise of the new baby. Suddenly, this didn’t sound so great to me. I was feeling restless and a little lonely and time was passing slowly. I decided that this decision was too distracting and that I should just wake him up so I could quit thinking about it. I went upstairs and woke him at about 2:20 am. I don’t know why I didn’t call him. I guess I didn’t want to freak him out.

Obviously, my instincts had been correct once again. As soon as my husband joined us in our small bathroom things picked up dramatically. I don’t know if I hadn’t fully surrendered to labor without the reassurance of his quiet presence (he knows very well by now that I need extreme quiet and stillness during labor) or if I had just innately timed the need for him to the exact moment labor kicked up the next notch, but I suspect his being there was critical for my complete release of control and thought.

I continued to moan through each contraction while sitting on the toilet. My husband made me a glass of weak Gatorade and checked my pelvis between contractions. He was mostly silent unless I expressed my frustration and discomfort. At one point I checked my watch (bad idea!) and was so disheartened to see that I had been laboring hard for well over an hour. I had experience such a quick and effortless birth with my daughter previously and just expected that this birth would be equally efficient. Instead I felt that I was wallowing in an every increasing sense of futility and intensity. I wished I knew how dilated I was and how much longer it would take. This seems silly in retrospect as I know that my cm of dilation wouldn’t really tell me anything more than what I already knew…that my body was doing its job…steadily and surely.

My mental state was slowly deteriorating as I grew exhausted from the steady and painful contractions. I continued to breathe through them and *maintained control*, but I was feeling increasingly out of control and panicky. I didn’t fear that anything was going wrong, but just a growing sense that I couldn’t handle it anymore. I was sitting on the toilet for 2 to 3 contractions and then standing for a few contractions while my husband applied light but steady downward pressure on my sacral bone. The standing position was slightly more painful but during those contractions I would sometimes feel a subtle but distinct shift of the baby and of my pelvis. This gave me the much needed confidence that *something* was happening and I was getting closer with every contraction. I began to get overheated and feel like I couldn’t catch my breath during the contractions. I was feeling desperate and at the end of my rope. I knew these feelings probably meant I was in transition, but I didn’t let myself label it consciously as such for fear I was wrong. I was trying so hard not to *think* about the process and tried to push away thoughts that identified or labeled what was happening.

I asked my husband to run a bath, hoping that something new would distract me from my desperation. As the water ran I knew there was no way I could sit down in a tub right then. I was so so hot. We had left the heat on overnight since we knew I would be awake and laboring, and now I couldn’t cool off. DH suggested I go to the kitchen for a minute (where there was no heater) to cool off. I moved to the kitchen and stationed myself in front of the (miraculously clean!) sink as another surge overtook me. This time I felt a little grunty and pushy. Not quite there but just on the cusp of *there*. It didn’t hurt but wasn’t quite right. Again I asked my husband to traction downward gently on my sacrum and again I felt a *shift* but this one was more significant. “That moved something” I said. DH said, “I know!” DH inquired how far down I thought the baby was positioned. I felt gently and discovered the head right at the tips of my fingers. “You should feel it!” I encouraged my husband. He gently felt and looked thrilled. As I waited between contractions, I felt the baby wriggling quite energetically. “Its okay baby,” I said aloud, “We’re almost there. This has been some crazy sh*t, but we’re gonna get you out right now!”

Suddenly I was totally pissed off! I read recently about the fetal ejection reflex and the characteristic accompanying surge of energy and emotion. Well my emotion was entirely of the angry and frustrated variety. I pushed with all my might during the next contraction, determined to get this “blessed event” over with! I felt the baby come down substantially, but as the contraction eased away the baby slowly shifted back up. “Is it closer?” asked DH. “You check,” I answered tersely. He felt carefully and announced I was making progress. I was still angry and doubly so that this baby would shift back upward between contractions. With the next contraction I pushed with all my might, even past the point when the contraction started to ebb a little. It was so close and I didn’t want it to. Go. Back. Up! Amazingly, just at the end of my strength, the head broke through. There was a seemingly endless pause as I waited for the next contraction. I was on my tip toes, trying to keep my pelvis open and squirming uncomfortably. DH was crouched on the floor and biting his tongue. The baby’s head was pretty purple and he was wanting to make sure everything was okay, but he wisely held his tongue and waited while the baby rotated its shoulders to line up properly for birth. At last the urge came again ( it was probably only a little over a minute…seemed longer) and she slid easily out and into her Papa’s hands. She did have a cord around her neck, but DH gently eased it off and turned her to check her gender. As he announced it was a girl, I remember thinking that I had forgotten to tell him that I wanted to discover the gender myself when I was ready. I was so relieved that the whole ordeal was over that I didn’t really care anyway. We immediately dubbed her Ribh Wallis, (pronounced Reeve; Gaelic pronunciations are a trip!) the name we had finally agreed upon after an extensive search for a Celtic girl’s name we both liked. She looks like a “Ribh”.

Most stories seem to end here, but I think a little third stage dialogue is important so others can recognize what un-managed third stage and post-natal periods look like. I was bleeding a bit and shaking a lot (although I wasn’t cold at all). I settled myself on a kitchen chair on another towel with Ribh in arms, wrapped in an old towel. She was very vernix-y and her color was excellent. She was breathing well, although with a slight raspy sound of fluid. I cleared her mouth and found no obstruction, so I let her work it out herself over the next hour or so. I held her while DH checked her neck (the area of the spine most frequently stressed during labor) and cleared the subluxation he found there. She still had not cried or even made any noise, but she began to open her eyes and peer at us. DH got the camera and I put her to my breast where she got to work immediately. The three of us just hung out in the soft light of the kitchen and talked a little about the birth. I asked my husband what he felt the second time he checked her head for descent. He said it felt no different than the first time but he wasn’t about to tell me that!

DH rolled up the kitchen rug (totally ruined) and got me a drink. As Ribh nursed I began to feel some uncomfortable low back labor-y pains. We checked the cord and found it to be white and cold so we decided to cut it so I could move about more freely in order to birth the placenta. I would estimate about an hour had passed since the birth. While DH held Ribh, I went to the bathroom and balanced a stainless steel bowl on the toilet. Then I squatted above it and gave a slight push and the placenta released neatly into the bowl. I examined it to be sure I hadn’t retained any portion and that it looked intact and healthy. Then I returned to tell DH that I was going to take a quick bath to warm up and wash off the sweat and blood on my legs. I had him bring the baby to me in the bath to gently wash some of the blood and mucous off her, but I left the vernix alone to nourish her skin. It was all gone except for pockets in the folds of her skin by that evening. Then I bundled up in comfy clothes (and a frozen sanitary pad) and wrapped Ribh in a clean towel and took her to bed with DH to snuggle and nurse while we talked softly about the birth.

About this time, my oldest child woke up upstairs and missed his papa and then his crying woke his little sister. I send DH up to bed with the “big kids” and I settled down to snuggle and babymoon with my newborn. I was tired but elated. I had no tears, no pain and I was able to experience such peace and harmony with my purpose as a mother. This is what birth is all about. I cried a bit in relief and happiness that my family is complete and whole and that we did it all on our terms. Such bliss!


Evelyn said...

Wow! I'm an only child and have no kids... What an amazing experience! Only one question from this peanut gallery - what is 'vernix'? (did I spell it right?) You are so lucky to be able to give birth like that - I guess we all could do it... I don't think I would be able to do that - I have a very low threshhold of pain. Were all your birthings painless? Thanks for sharing! :)

Mar said...

Vernix is thethick whitish coating that babies are covered in in-utero. It absorbs (really good skin conditioner) into their skin within hours and doesn't even need to be washed off.

And for the record: In general, I am a total wuss about pain. When I got my tatoo I passed out cold. But labor pain is totally different. Your body was designed to withstand it as long as you trust your body and don't fight the process.

Glad you enjoyed. I hope that someday women (and men) can have a collective viewpoint of birth that is more trusting and celebratory and less fearful and control-based.

karla said...

Unasissted childbirth blows my mind. I needed assistance just getting dressed when I was pregnant; no way could I have given birth without help!

chryscat said...

I am truly in awe. I've birthed three girls. The last one was the smallest, but I didn't have any drugs with her. I most certainly was not in control of the situation.
How much did this little bundle of joy weigh?

ChiroMum said...

What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing!

Mar said...

Ribh weighed about 8 pounds. I weighed her 2 days later at 7lbs 14 oz, but I imagine she dropped a few ounces.

Meghan said...

Hello Mar,

WOW. That's the word that comes to mind. Wht a mind-blowing experience. I had your usual pedestrian hospital delivery with an epidural that was so blissfull I wanted to french kiss the anesthesiologist right in front of my husband. Birth stories are always amazing. Yours is remarkable because it was unassisted. It sounds like such a calm serene night. Amazing!

Linda said...

That was a mighty good read, even the second time!

So forgive me, I have forgotten (read too many birth stories and that happens) what your first birth was like, did that have much to do with your desire to do the others unassisted? What to you was valuable about doing it unassisted vs. assisted?