Giving birth was the easy part.
I teach childbirth classes and work with mothers as a doula. I’ve said to people, “Well, I know nobody who’s just given birth feels like it was easy, but . . ..”
But J’s 3 hour labor was a lot easier than being pregnant was and a lot easier than our life felt for a long time before. And I actually said ‘that was pretty easy’ within an hour or so of giving birth.
I have not lost a baby, but I lost a lot in the couple of years before this birth. Here is the really condensed list of what our family went through during that time: my parents-in-law moved halfway across the country; I broke my ankle and a couple of months later my husband, M, broke a rib; we decided to move closer to my family so I took a part-time job in their city; afterwards we found out that it was impossible to sell our house so we spent almost 2 years commuting back and forth 3 hours each way twice a week as a family of 5; my new job suffered a major flood in the space I was responsible for the week before a major program started; M was rear-ended, totaling one of our cars; for the five months before I conceived, someone in the family was sick one after another the whole time. Lots of good stuff happened, too. But early on in the pregnancy I remember crying when yet another unexpected, not-what-we-wanted thing happened and saying to M, ‘I think we are really resilient people but it is just too many things one after another.’ Even the conception of this pregnancy was not what I was expecting although it was definitely intentional. We had tried the month before and then the cycle I conceived on was really weird (maybe I’d had a very early miscarriage the previous month?) I ovulated on day 10, which is about a week early for me, throwing all my dates for LMP dating off. And this long paragraph is just the stuff I feel comfortable sharing in a public way. There was other stuff I don’t really want to share, even in a relatively anonymous way.
I listen to the mamas on my on-line due date club who are pregnant after a miscarriage or losing an infant and recognize that I had a lot of the same feelings they did, although for different reasons. Bringing all the spiritual and emotional resources I had available to me to bear on my experience, I was not able to shake a deep fear that I would lose this baby in utero or something terrible would happen during the birth. My three year old daughter, D, would say something about the baby and the thought would flash through my mind ‘how will I tell her that the baby died?’ Crazy stuff like that. Finally at the very end of the pregnancy, I had the very clear thought that being afraid would not make a terrible thing hurt any less if it happened. I knew I was trying to protect myself and once I accepted that this tactic could not work, I was able to let go of the fear and simply be present to whatever was going to happen. More or less.
The pregnancy was also a very hard one physically and emotionally. There was nothing physically wrong with me. But although things definitely improved physically after the first trimester, I felt horrible most of the time, most days. Towards the end I was pretty inactive because I was so tired and my body was so out of whack. Things got worse (or harder) emotionally as I got more pregnant. In my three prior pregnancies I was never a super emotional pregnant lady and really I’m not like that ever – but I was this time. I cried a lot, I was angry a lot. I could not detach or reason things out well at all. This sounds like depression and sometimes I wondered if I was depressed but on the other hand, I did feel fine when I (rarely) got enough rest and people and things were being cooperative, so I think if it was depression it was situational rather than chemical.
I was also really reluctant to admit that I was having such a hard time to anybody, and mostly I didn’t. What good would it do, I thought, since I didn’t really have much choice about keeping going, and I was keeping going, doing the best I could.
I know, you thought you were going to read a birth story – and I’m getting there – but because the birth was relatively easy, the biggest part of my labyrinth experience with this birth was in the pregnancy (so far – I’m writing this only a few weeks postpartum.) The pregnancy and birth were about my life, rather than my life being about the pregnancy and birth, if that makes sense. I think I am working now on forgiving myself for being so not-together in so many ways during the pregnancy. I think it may take a while. I am trying to be gentle with myself, and I am aware that this was hard on M and my kids (W, boy age 8; R, boy age 6; D, girl age 3). It may take a while for them to forgive me, and for me to forgive them for being unable to make it easier on me, too.
The first week of December was not good. M and I fought a lot and the kids fought a lot with each other and with us. We kind of got ourselves sorted out by the end of the week. On the 7th, a Friday, I was 38 weeks 2 days pregnant. My mother called and wanted to do a spirit session with me – or more accurately with the baby. I am skeptical about her perceptions regarding my children’s spirits being reincarnated ancestors, etc. but I know she is coming from a place of love and figure it is similar to others in my life wanting to pray for me. So I went over, and whatever else happened, got a bit of a nap on the massage table. She said she’d convinced an extra spirit attached to the baby’s spirit to go to heaven with a big angel and now the baby was ready and excited to be born.
That night I was kind of crampy all night and my back hurt a lot. But definitely wasn’t in labor. All day on Saturday I kept thinking, ‘if my water would break I bet I’d have this baby.’
I had my last baby at 36 weeks 4 days (and had never made it to my due date) so I had had all the ABSOLUTELY MUST things done by Thanksgiving. I was still working on other stuff, like filling the freezer. So I made a huge pot of chicken soup for dinner on Saturday, the 8th. And, at about 6:30, as I was about to sit down to eat, my water did break. It was just a leak – but really unmistakable. I announced this to the family, went to put a pad in, and ate. Then I texted my midwife, C, and called my mom, and then my dad, since I wasn’t sure how long it would take for labor to start/finish and I wanted to have backup childcare in place for the next day if it didn’t happen while the kids were asleep. I had some contractions during the evening routine, but they weren’t very serious a first. I was hoping maybe I’d get to go to bed and sleep for a while before labor started. I also realized I needed to call out from work for the following day as I definitely didn’t want to make a 45 minute drive to work and have the possibility of going into labor that far away from home. I called the minister I work with and told him the truth, and texted my sub & committee chair, only saying that I was really tired and had decided with the minister that I should take the day off.
At dinner D looked at me and said, “Mommy, are you excited that the baby’s going to be born?!?” I said, “Yes, are you?” She said “YES!!!” W and R were excited, too, although I did point out that I had no idea how long it would take. They tried to convince us to wake them up if I went into labor, but we would only go so far as to promise too wake them up after the baby was born. I was pretty clear within myself that I didn’t want them to be awake for the birth. Around 9 pm I started feeling like we needed to get the kids to bed soon so I wouldn’t be in active labor with them awake.
By about 10 they were done cleaning up and started watching an anime episode with M (their bedtime ritual). I got up from my chair to get ready for bed and at that point I could tell that things were getting started and I would not be going to sleep. I took the dog out for his evening (very short) walk and told baby/my body that it would be really good if we could slow down just a little so the kids could go to sleep, because walking was clearly making contractions stronger. All through getting everyone in bed, I sort of hid that I was getting serious. D wanted cinnamon toast, and I got her some even though I really didn’t want to because I was pretty sure it would be faster than saying no.
Once we were all in bed D wanted an ‘injury story’ – she loves hearing about people getting hurt/sick and how they got better. By the time everyone was falling asleep, I was trying to breathe through contractions. I got up into child’s pose and was sort of shaking my bottom back and forth to deal with one. M asked me to stop because ‘it made it hard to sleep’! I think that’s pretty funny in retrospect. I told him I didn’t think he was going to get to go to sleep. All three kids seemed to be asleep, thankfully, so we got up.
I needed to use the toilet and M went to set up the birthing bed next to the woodstove. (A mattress we usually store out of the way, but pulled out so I could be warm and have a soft spot to sit/lie.) I had to explain about the bedding. I called C and was really starting to have to vocalize through the contractions. I had one while we were talking and had to put the phone down until it was over. I didn’t exactly ask her to come, but I meant to, and she said she would and to call if anything changed or sped up before she got here. That was at 11:11 according to my phone. She must have come pretty quickly because I remember her saying something about it being almost midnight. Her assistant, A, arrived at the same time.
Before they came, my body was clearing out my bowels so I kept having to go to the toilet except then I’d get caught halfway back to the birth bed with a contraction, which I really did not like. The toilet wasn’t a horrible place to be, actually, for the first time ever in labor for me. But it was cold in there and I did NOT like having contractions when I wasn’t ready in the kitchen (from the toilet to the woodstove is about a 20 foot distance at most, so contractions were coming pretty fast at this point). I asked M to pull some chux out of the birth kit and put them under me on the bed, I took off my pjs and undies, and just let myself go on the chux. I only had one more poop in there anyway, which was definitely gross, but M was cool about it, got the toilet paper so I could wipe myself, we folded it all up, and put it in the trash. That is actually one of my favorite moments of the birth, because it was so exactly what I needed, and despite how gross it was/sounds, M was totally just calm about it and just did what needed to be done. We can be our true, physical, messy, unhappy, angry, whatever selves with each other and not be destroyed.
My last time on the toilet I tried to check my cervix – my vagina was all nice and juicy and soft, and I could feel baby head through the vaginal wall, but I could not feel my cervix. It was too far back, posterior. I kind of thought, oh, this could take a while. Also, while contractions were certainly hard and fast, it didn’t feel as . . . freight-train like (at least at that point) as my labor with D felt.
Three other things felt different/strange to me: I almost never had an actual break between contractions. I almost constantly had a low, frontal achiness, like a mild period cramp, which would then build into a stronger contraction and fade back into achiness afterwards. Only a few times did it relax all the way. Second strange thing was that I had to be upright and almost leaning back during contractions. Leaning forwards was horrible – so different from my first two labors where the babies were posterior, and even from my third labor. The final thing was that I was holding up my baby/belly during contractions. It was sort of instinctual and I sort of knew it was a good idea if what needed to happen was for the baby’s head to help the cervix move forwards.
I tried a couple of different positions on the birth bed. I tried hanging around M’s neck, on my knees, but it was hard to feel enough control that way, and I couldn’t hold my belly up. Also tried leaning forward on my birth ball but as I already said, leaning forward wasn’t working at all. Vocalizing did help, a lot. I am amazed that all three kids slept through the level of noise I was making. I’m not over-estimating the noise level, either. I have a powerful voice and I was using it! Once M went into the bedroom for a minute and I heard him speak sharply. I was worried he was talking to one of the kids, but it turned out he was trying to get the dog to stay in there, which (surprisingly) worked.
The one position which did seem to work was on my knees, legs fairly widely spread, rising up to my knees upright during contractions. I knew that was going to be really hard to maintain for any length of time, but nothing else was working at all. M sat next to me, made me some lemon zinger tea with honey, and himself some coffee. I started to feel that I was – my body was – pushing some during at least one contraction. I said to M that maybe we were going to have this baby without C, but that didn’t really make any sense to me since I knew my cervix wasn’t open yet.
When C and A arrived I had my one true break between contractions. I lay in child’s pose and just breathed, pretty much ignoring them. I don’t know how long the break was, but definitely not longer than 6 or 7 minutes.
I told C and A that I knew I sounded like I was pushing (some of the time I was pretty grunty) but that I couldn’t even reach my cervix so a baby was not about to pop out. Once contractions started back up again I tried to check my cervix again. It was still pretty far back but I could reach it and it was about 3 fingers open. I don’t remember things in a chronological way for the next hour or hour and a half. That fact is interesting to me; I felt that way about a big chunk of my first labor, too, but not so much with my middle two. My first labor was long and therefore things were repetitive – this labor was compressed and intense.
Things I remember: saying, “I feel so whiny” because I was actually vocalizing “ow ow ow ow” a lot. M laughed a little and C said I was doing a great job. C said “okay” when my vocalizing was getting kind of desperate sounding and then I switched to “ok ok ok ok” as a vocalization some of the time. I had some contractions that double peaked or were a lot longer/stronger, some that were shorter. Some with less cervical pain, where I could ease the sensation by pushing a little. Then some where the sensation went down into my lower back and hips. C and A checked heart-tones maybe 3 or 4 times, they were good and moving down my body – I think on the right and then towards the center. The last time I think I told A “lower” when she couldn’t find them at first. I could tell baby was further down. I told M to rub my back, my upper back, because it was tense, and later to put pressure on my sacrum for at least one contraction. C put a straw in another cup of tea and I kept drinking. I said, “I haven’t thrown up yet,” explained to C and A that I usually throw up at 4 cm, not 7 cm, and promptly threw up through a whole, long, miserable contraction. Chicken soup and tea were so much easier to throw up than the tuna salad I had eaten right before labor with D! I tried a contraction or two leaning back sideways on M, the position in which W and R were born, but I didn’t like it very much except that it let me stretch my legs out for a minute. At one point W woke half-way up and asked if the baby was coming out. M said, “Not yet – you can wait in there,” and when the contraction was over I said, “or come out and sit quietly on the sofa” but by then he was asleep again. Although I did have that ‘this might take a while’ thought near the beginning of the labor, I also kind of knew it probably wouldn’t. One big sign of which was that I was shaking all over pretty constantly from about when I got out of bed through when I took a shower after the birth. That was the intensity level and it just doesn’t take that long to get a baby out at that level of intensity in my experience. At one point I said, “come out baby, we can have boo-boos [nurse] and go to sleep! How does that sound?” Once I started almost making the “huddah” noise D makes sometimes when she is upset, so then I did make that exact noise on purpose, and M and I laughed a little over it.
My memories of the intense part of labor feel kind of hallucinogenic, but it didn’t really feel that way in the moment, or not exactly. Like one part of me was in an altered reality, but another part of me was quite calm and – not in control exactly, but – observing, recognizing the process and that it was good, functional, not much fun, but working fine. This labor was probably the closest I’ve gotten to the ‘labor-land-can’t-express-needs-verbally’ state. I could still talk, but I’d think of something during the beginning or end of a contraction and it would be a big effort to actually say it before the next one overtook me. And what I did way was usually one word: “water”, “tea”, “back” (i.e., push on it), etc.
C asked if I wanted to try her birth stool and I thought that sounded good. She set it up right on the other side of the birth bed, covered it with chux and put chux under it on the rug. M and C helped me onto it. It was a relief to my knees. I checked my cervix again and it was most of the way forward. I held my fingers out the same distance I’d been able to spread them inside and C said that was about 7 cm. I’ll be curious to see her detailed notes later on – at one of our postpartum visits she said that the 7 cm check was at about 1:04 and J was born 8 minutes later.
I think I had 1 or 2 more strong cervical contractions on the birth stool. I peed with one of them. Then I felt and the head and cervix were all the way forward, with a squishy lump of something in the front which I (probably erroneously) thought was cervix. Now I suspect it was just vaginal tissue. My vulva was partway open already. M was next to me and I asked him if he wanted to touch the head, and he did “oh, yeah, that’s the head!” I said, “hi, baby!” and then on the next contraction really my body pushed the baby out.
I had both hands down there. It was pretty dark but I think C must have had her headlamp or a flashlight on because there was some light. I felt some burning at the top and at the bottom and did pant/try to slow down a little, but I wasn’t freaked out about it and just let my body do what it was doing, mostly. The top of the head came out, rotated clockwise from my perspective, and the whole baby came out. This is one of my most intense memories of the birth, the visual of lowering her down to the floor at first, fairly gently. She was in a full startle reflex and cried and cried immediately. Her cord was around her neck like a stole, coming up the right side of her torso, around the back of her neck, and down her left side. I picked her up, pulled my shirt up, and held her on my chest/tummy. I said, “oh, I know, oh, that was scary, I’m sorry sweetheart.” C suggested unlooping the cord and I think helped me slip it off her neck. Baby sounded gurgly for a minute and M helped me turn her around and rub her back a little. C helped me take my shirt off, and got some blankets or something (it was not very warm in the room). The baby peed on both M and I. I checked to see what sex the baby was – I really had not even paid attention to that until that point and had really not seen yet – but “that’s definitely not a penis!” She was pretty swollen, but that was not a penis. C said, “she just looks like a girl!”
Contractions stopped when she was born, so the placenta wasn’t born right away. M and C or A helped me up off the stool and got me over to lie down on the bed. We got blankets and the baby latched onto the breast pretty easily and quickly. We met her. My bleeding was OK, but the placenta didn’t just appear on its own. After a while I thought it would really be more comfortable to have that thing out and I tried tugging gently on the cord during a contraction. But the cord is slippery and I couldn’t do anything with it so on the next contraction I asked C to tug (weird, but true) and the placenta, small like my 3 year olds was, came out. I didn’t tear – there was a very small skid mark on my perineum, but it healed with no special care beyond using a peri bottle for a couple of days.
The baby was born at 1:12 am on Sunday, December 9, 2012. I called my mother to tell her about a half an hour later and M called his mother about then, too. Everybody else we waited to tell until morning.
We talked about how we didn’t know her name. I drank more fluids. M went into the bedroom and got the kids up – with effort. He had to really rouse each of them. W and R got up and got dressed and came out, but D was so sleepy. She said she wanted to come out but took several minutes to actually be awake at all once M carried her out.
It was really sweet to have the kids and M all around me and the baby. We had D put the cord clamp on, and R got the scissors and cut the cord. He says the scissors must have been really sharp, because it was easy. C put on a tape tie. After a while A did our vitals and the baby was really cold – 96.3. When we unwrapped so I could get up to pee/shower, we figured out why – the tie wasn’t tight enough and her stump was bleeding. Then C put a plastic rubber-band type clamp on instead and that worked better.
M helped me to the bathroom/shower while C and A did the newborn exam and placenta tour with the kids. The baby did not like being examined and weighed, but she was 6 lbs 10 oz and 20 inches long. They dressed her, too, which was fine with me. She had a lot of vernix for a 38 week + 4 days baby, in my opinion – we rubbed it all in. M said she looked a lot like D and looking at pictures I agree, though as usual, she just looked like herself (and a baby) to me.
I wanted to stay in the living room near the woodstove, being warmer after my shower but not that warm, and C wanted M to be near me. So we all camped out, me and baby on the birth bed, M on the couch, and W, R & D on cushions with sleeping bags and blankets on the floor. That made me really happy and is one of my favorite memories of the birth.
I think C and A left and we were all asleep by about 3:30 or so. I got about 4 hours of sleep but when I woke up at 7 it was light and I was so pumped – and besides, I knew I needed to let the minister know and start calling other people, so I got my phone and did so.
We named the baby on the second morning (Monday). I woke up Sunday morning with the “j/g” sound in my head, and we all liked the combination we came up with. She was very sleepy (but nursing enthusiastically) for the first 24 hours or so – she would open her eyes really briefly but wasn’t really tracking at all. By the second day she had both eyes working together. The first two full nights were hard – she woke up to nurse about every 45 – 90 minutes, but I was able to handle it and my milk came in on Tuesday and she spaced out the nursing a bit. I got very engorged as usual, but J accepted it relatively philosophically. My abdominal muscles were very sore at first. I was pretty adamant about resting the first week, more so than with R or D’s birth. I guess I recognized that this pregnancy was so hard on me that I needed to take it easy. In contrast, I have felt so much better and more stable emotionally since the birth than I did before it (for the most part. I had my weepy moments and a few more extreme times.) J is so calm she seems sad to me, sometimes. I guess I worry some about the tough, tough pregnancy we shared and I want to protect her from upsets, too. At the same time her life is hers and I don’t want to fall into the trap of projecting my feelings onto her.
I also feel way better physically now than I did while pregnant, and I feel 100% done with ever being pregnant again. We always planned to have 4 children, so that’s fine. But I loved giving birth all 4 times and I love mothering a tiny baby, and I do feel I will miss not doing those things again. I am trying to notice and remember all the little things about J – hands, feet, the shape of her head, the nursing sounds and the way she ‘talks’.
There will be more to this story for me (almost 5,000 words isn’t enough?!?) because the postpartum journey is nowhere near over, and I don’t know what will happen next. But for now I want to share it and start to let it go a little. This is my looking back without staring – and that lets me start to look forward.
Edited by Mamabeakley - 1/2/13 at 5:23pm