Tuesday, April 19th was the monthly ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) meeting up in Tacoma. The group was really encouraging and hosted a little Mother Blessing celebration for me. Everyone in the group contributed to making a beautiful Labor Bracelet for me while telling mothering stories. I drove home that night feeling super encouraged and energized.
Wednesday, April 20th was my 40 week appointment with my midwife, Tinneca Krogh. She checked me and found the baby at 0 station, cervix at 2-3cm dilated, really soft and 80% effaced. She said if I wanted to try natural induction, we might have a baby tomorrow. I was getting really ramped up now. We knew that the baby’s head was big from ultrasound. We talked about how the more mature the baby gets in utero, the less moveable the plates of the skull would be during the descent. Our best chance of a natural delivery would be sooner rather than later. We didn’t even set up another appointment, I think we were both confident the baby would be coming soon.
Patti Ramos’ (my Birth Doula) cesarean support group, also in Tacoma was Wednesday night. The prodromal contractions which had almost completely stopped a week and a half prior had slowly started to reappear over the course of the day. Right before I left for the meeting, I applied a little mild Aromatherapy induction technique. I blended a couple drops of Jasmine and Clary Sage essential oils (uterine stimulants) into a carrier oil and massaged it lovingly into my belly, sending “I can’t wait to meet you!” vibes to my baby.
It was a dynamic drive up I-5 filled with rain, sun and big weather systems in action. I was compelled to listen to the Jeff Buckley album Grace, a very powerful album for me, and spent the beautiful ride wiping away tears and singing along.
The meeting was great. I was in such high spirits, telling everyone about how hard I had worked to prepare for my homebirth, how many doctors had told me I would need to schedule another c-section, or that my babies are too big for my pelvis, or that I was plainly “not a candidate” for VBAC, and how happy I was that I had finally found my birth team who believed strongly that I could successfully have a HBAC (homebirth after cesarean). Everyone was cheering me on and it felt good to bring some strength and levity into a room where so many women were struggling with similar feelings to the ones I have been struggling with for the last 21 months. To top it off, there were a bunch of new babies at the meeting to admire and send even more good birthy hormones in to my bloodstream. At the end of the night, Patti and I said we would be seeing each other soon.
When I got home, I applied another Aromatherapy treatment. Ryan and I stayed up to do some belly laughing (good for opening up all your sphincter muscles and natural endorphin release). We streamed some comedy on Netflix, and I was following the live-blog of The Feminist Breeder, a VBAC advocate who was due a week and some change before me. She had just gone into labor! I was swimming in birthy goodness. I asked Ryan to come to bed to try one other induction technique ; ) He happily obliged but knowing my intentions was sure to ask “Are you sure you’re ready? This might get things started.” To which I replied that I was totally ready! Let’s go! We both fell asleep about 2:00 am and I slept like a log for about 4.5 hours.
I woke up at 6:30 am as I had every morning for a couple of weeks. As usual, I got up and went to the bathroom and had a couple of contractions before falling back asleep. At 7:30 I woke up again to more contractions and decided to get up for something to drink. In labor with Azalea I became very dehydrated and I knew if today was the day I had to be proactive about every element of my homebirth in order to ensure my success. I had a big glass of water and a big glass of Gatorade. I told myself I would eat something in a little bit once I woke up a bit more. I realized quickly that the contractions were coming every 1-3 minutes and lasting a minute or more each. I wasn’t in pain though, so I thought it was just my prodromal labor returning. I moved around, layed on the couch, checked on the blog and was excited to see that The Feminist Breeder had just succeeded at the homebirth she had been waiting for.
I felt the universe was conspiring to make my homebirth a reality. The sun was rising higher in the sky and everything seemed perfect. This had to be the day. I changed positions and activities and the contractions continued at their fast pace.
After an hour of this, I decided to gently wake Ryan. I told him “I think we might be having a baby today…” and explained the pace and timing of the contractions. We called the midwife and she agreed that the pattern was inconsistent and since I was still talking through the contractions, I should just take a bath (I had already run the bath actually, and was about to get in) and call back if anything changed.
It was now 9:00. I used a couple drops of Lavender Essential Oil on my suddenly offensive armpits and let the aroma relax me completely. 45 minutes later, my water broke and we called the team to let them know it was on. I was just vocalizing a low, steady Ahhh tone through each contraction, which were now coming consistently every 1-2 minutes and lasting 1-2 minutes each. I was feeling a lot of pressure, but was still conversational and happy in between. I was not yet feeling any pain.
Azalea woke up and came in to the bathroom to hug me and kiss me. She touched my belly and said “It’s still inside you”. I told her yes, but that her new baby brother or sister would be here soon. She said “I looove youuuu!!!”. She really wanted to get into the bath with me, which I realized quickly was causing me to lose focus. I decided it would be better for our on-call team to whisk her away for the day so that I could focus on birthing and not mommying.
Lisa Kattenbraker arrived to take Az at about 10:15. I enjoyed a brief conversation with her, and soaked up all of her glowing encouragement. If she hadn’t been my first choice in safe, fun Azalea care, she definitely would have been at the birth. I felt so peaceful, beautiful and powerful when she left. I never could have imagined that this is how I would experience the transition stage of labor. I remember just relaxing on my own until the birth team began to congregate.
My fantastic midwife, Tinneca, arrived at about 11:00 and said she wanted to check me. I had serious fears about the possibility of infection over the course of a long labor because my waters had broken. I didn’t want to start the endless cycle of internal exams too soon. I was thinking about the steps that led to my cesarean (we ended up with a fever and an infection) and was terribly afraid of repeating that experience. I verbalized this very clearly to her and she assured me she wasn’t worried and that my contractions “sound serious”. She won over my fears with her calm confidence and I was overwhelmed with amazement in myself when she told me I was completely dilated except for a little lip. She said we should move to the birth tub if I wanted to deliver there!
Ryan had the tub ready and waiting. It was awesome floating around in the deep water, in the sunshine, listening to the music I compiled for the event. Tinneca suggested I reach in and feel the baby’s head. Of course that sounded really interesting so in I went. All I could feel was a big ridge and I thought maybe that was the remaining cervical lip. Tinneca assured me that what I was feeling was the baby’s skull bones overlapping. Far out! The doorbell rang and we saw the UPS man had dropped off our new car seat. Great timing! I stayed in the tub for what they said was an hour but felt like 5 minutes. Really blissful.
Things started to slow down a bit which meant I was getting a nice rest in between contractions, but wasn’t really getting anywhere. We all decided that I needed a change in order to keep progressing, so I got out and Ryan and I were sent to the bedroom to snuggle at about 12:30.
This is the point at which things changed. I was moving around on the bed and the contractions were getting more intense. I remember Ryan trying to spoon me just as this really strong contraction took me over and I actually felt the cervical lip recede and the baby’s head slide down into the birth canal. Whoa--talk about unfamiliar sensations. I was finally feeling the urge to push, a stage I had never reached even after 30 hours of labor with Azalea. All new territory from here on out.
We tried a few things. My midwife told me calmly that it was “going to take some work to get this baby out”. I didn’t know what that meant. Doesn’t it take some work to get all babies out? Luckily, I was not compelled to ask for clarification, because she confided in me later that the degree with which the skull bones were already overlapping so far up the birth canal indicated to her the very real possibility of the baby not descending. She began to work her slightly invasive midwifery magic on the inside of my pelvis during contractions. This was not fun! I found that the sooner in a contraction I would start pushing, the less it would hurt and the more I could just focus my energy on “down and out”. We tried some lifted-leg squats, sitting on the toilet, kneeling next to the bed… The contractions were really intense now and I was trying to push but felt stuck. Patti assured me that my uterus was doing 80% of the work and I only had to do 20%. I started to get really fatigued. I don’t think I really complained about the pain, just how tired I was. It occurred to everyone that I hadn’t eaten. Lydia Sparks, Patti’s assistant, began to spoon-feed me yogurt and kept me hydrated.
The last part of pushing was great. I was lying on my back on top of a cookie sheet to lift up my pelvis and make a solid surface for my hips. This was not the way I envisioned it going, but sometimes certain babies just need to be delivered that way.
I totally recommitted myself to pushing my baby into the world. A contraction would begin and I remember saying things like “Ok everybody!” I needed so much help. I had to tell Ryan and Lydia to pull my legs back harder. Tinneca was manipulating my bones and tissues. I was pulling my big belly in and pushing with both hands to help move the baby under the pubic bone. I remember saying “I feel like I’m doing more than 20%!” and I think at least one person laughed. At one point between contractions Patti held up a mirror and I could see the baby’s head crowning. I remember reaching down to touch the fuzzy little fleshy head and for the first time really knowing, without a trace of doubt, that I would be meeting my baby soon--right here in my bedroom. I was doing it. I was totally present, having my homebirth. That epiphany gave me everything I needed to finish the job.
With every contraction, the baby’s head emerged a little further. It was definitely slow going but the heartbeat was excellent, as it had consistently been for the entire labor and I was fearless. With every new centimeter of head becoming visible to Ryan, he would say my name in such a calm, beautiful way that communicated complete astonishment and love. He made me feel like a goddess.
The ring of fire didn’t really burn like I expected. Probably because Tinneca had been stretching me out for nearly 2 hours at that point, and I was already softened from being in the water all morning. I was giving 3 or 4 deep breathed, hard pushes with every contraction.
I suddenly felt the head was out. I opened my eyes and looked around wildly for a moment, not knowing what to do next. The contraction was over and the feeling of the baby in the birth canal was totally overwhelming. I caught Patti’s eyes and she said, “Stay focused, you can keep pushing if you want to,” so I did. All by myself with no help from my uterus. The feeling of all her little bones moving slowly down thorough my bones was like nothing else in this world. At 2:27 she was on my chest, all puffy and calm and lilac. Ryan checked and announced that she was a GIRL! I couldn’t believe it. She started sucking on her hands and pinked up immediately.
After her cord stopped pulsing, we clamped it and Ryan got to cut her apart from me. We took all her measurements and did all her tests. She was the 2nd largest baby my midwife had delivered! 10lbs 11oz! Her head circumference is about 15 inches, comfortably at the 97th percentile (and only a 2nd degree tear, not too bad). On top of that, we discovered her head had been asynclitic (tilted to one side and not in line with the birth canal) right up until that last pushing sprint which made the circumference even wider and pushing less productive and more painful (aha! That makes sense). The molding of her head that occurred because of this is easily visible in this picture of her sucking her thumb:
Everything was poetry. Such a big baby, in a difficult position and we got her out in 7 total hours of labor, only 2 of them difficult. The thought of taking something for the pain never even crossed my mind. I’m still kind of in denial that I did it. It’s hard to believe that after all my work and persistence, I have exactly what I wanted.
As for her name, I knew I wanted to incorporate the lotus flower, but didn’t want to name her Lotus. Dilation and birth to me are very much like the slow blooming of a flower and having her naturally and peacefully and safely were so important to me, I really wanted to draw attention to the reality that she came into the world that way. In Buddhism, the lotus represents many things. The blue lotus represents the victory of our spirit over our senses and I felt this was so appropriate not only because of the meditative, calm centeredness I held close throughout labor, but also because of my baby’s sheer strength to overcome a difficult delivery with such a brilliantly steady heart. I believe my fearlessness transferred to her. Kamala is the Tibetan word for this flower. Also ‘cama’ is Spanish for ‘bed’, which is where she was both conceived and born. Even though thousands of miles lay between the locations of the two events, the surface was the same and the bed was a gift from my paternal grandmother, Frieda Eggert. When Ryan found the word, I immediately loved it.
Nova means ‘new’ in Latin and in Astronomy means a star that releases a tremendous burst of energy, becoming temporarily extraordinarily bright, which is exactly what her spirit needed to do to be born into this world. Also, to follow the star theme, it was the brightest part of a beautiful sunny afternoon in Olympia, WA (one of the cloudiest cities in the U.S.) when she was born. So rare, so perfect.
Grace fit for many personal reasons. I had been thinking about it for a few weeks and then listening to the Jeff Buckley album the day before her birth was so powerful and cathartic for me. A day or two after her birth, Ryan, Kamala and I were all laying in bed talking about names and I was opening up a package from Ryan’s parents. Ryan said, “How about Grace?” literally at the same moment I was pulling out a sticker from the package that reads, “GRACE HAPPENS”. Totally sold. It had to be Grace.
You can read Patti’s sweet little photo blog of the event here: