Brigid's story begins, I think, the first time that the possibility of her existence became known to me. Close to nine years before she was born, I was pregnant with my oldest child when I had a dream about my children. I saw three of them in my dream - the oldest a girl, the middle child the only boy, and the youngest a second daughter.
I didn't think about her beyond that dream for several more years. It was soon after my second child was born (a boy) that I began to be more consciously aware of "one more" child that was coming at some point. For approximately two years, I was regularly reminded, by myself or outside events, that I was to be doing this parenting journey "one more time," and that it was for a specific presence. It was during this time period that I knew her name was going to be Brigid.
It was also during this time that I had more dreams about her. There were only a few, and all of them involved her birth. Now that I have birthed her, I can point to something that each and every dream taught or told me about her birth. She appeared to me at first to be even smaller than her birth weight would have suggested. She was born while I was standing. I went into active labor while only Sam and Jacob were present. She was born with her eyes closed. I felt her head emerge from my body with my hand - something I had never done nor even wanted to do. All of these things featured in my dreams, and there was nothing significant in any of my dreams that was not born out in her actual birth. In retrospect, I think this was absolutely the neatest thing. I loved having the dreams, I loved having them play out, and I love thinking about it now, too.
Finally, I am a planner. Naturally, then, I had this pregnancy and even the birth all planned out, whether in my head or on paper. My cycles are x days long, so I should ovulate on day y, and my due date would then be z. You get the idea. While Brigid by no means thwarted me at every turn, she did just enough to remind me: you can't plan everything.
I really should have known when, the cycle before the one we planned to start trying to conceive, my body acted weird. Instead of my typical ovulation and cycle length, my body kept putting off ovulation, so that my careful calculations would end up 'off' by more than a week. To add to the fun, I had actual symptoms of early pregnancy, signs I normally would not have had as part of PMS or the lead-in to my period, throughout the luteal phase of that cycle. Eventually, though, my period arrived (not quite on schedule) and we could proceed with trying for our November baby.
Like each of my other children, I knew without taking a test that I had conceived. Still, for various reasons, it was important to me to have the external confirmation and definitive answers. Accordingly, I decided I would test before my period was actually due. The first test was... amusing. I don't do well at peeing on a stick. The control line did not show up immediately, or in the first minute; it did finally make an appearance after eight minutes. The second line did appear within five minutes of the control line, but not within the required ten minutes after starting the test. Ambiguity! The next day, I peed into a cup before dipping the test. The results appeared much quicker and confirmed what I already knew - Brigid was on her way Earthside.
My pregnancy proceeded in much the way I had envisioned and planned, but there were a few exceptions. While I had expected an unassisted pregnancy and birth to mean delving into myself and finding my own resources, to some extent I had unconsciously planned on more emotional support from my husband than he was either able or willing to give. For a time I was resentful of this, but as the time for birth approached, I decided to just accept it as what was, and move forward. Part of this pregnancy and birth was about letting go of plans; part of it was truly relying on myself and only myself. While I intellectually knew that no one could "do it for me," I had to come to accept that on every level.
At one point I considered having a midwife as a back-up. I went so far as to contact one local midwife, speaking with her on the telephone. The details aren't important; what is important is that in that act, I realized I didn't want or need a back-up. I didn't want to deal with anyone, really; I was just willing to make a few exceptions. Like my husband.
Given everything I had already learned during the conception process and pregnancy, I don't know why I persisted in thinking that I could somehow anticipate when Brigid would decide to "pop out," as Jacob put it. Sure, my mother had predicted Gillian's birth to within 15 minutes, and had had the closest guess (two days) with Jacob, but there was no reason to think that either she or I would manage to get that close in predicting Brigid's arrival. It was a nice thought, though, that perhaps I would be one of those people who had a baby at thirty-seven or thirty-eight weeks, and that at the very least, I should surely have her near my due date... right?
In retrospect, I can see that for many reasons, Brigid came at the best possible time. There were some issues with our car that had to be resolved, that couldn't be resolved until mid-November. There were things that needed to be done with Gillian and Jacob. One fear I had about labor and birth was that Jacob's last memory of "before Brigid" would be going to bed one night. Since he often fought going to bed, in a manner vaguely reminiscent of my own (why sleep when there may be exciting things happening?), if I were to go into labor at night (as I had previously) and birth relatively quickly (as I had previously), then his memory would be likely of being upset about having to go to sleep! All of these potential issues were avoided or resolved by the actual timing of labor and birth.
So as forty weeks approached and then receded into the past, I was unhappy. By the time forty-one weeks approached, though, I was both more and less irritated and impatient. Irritated because I was in mild to moderate pain most of the time, from SPD. Impatient because I had had no intentions of being more than forty weeks pregnant when I gave birth. Yet, I was starting to reflect on the pregnancy and I began to think that Brigid had at least one more thing to teach me before she was fully Earthside. The attention I got when I was out in public made me distinctly unhappy, but staying at home didn't sound appealing, either!
Right at forty-one weeks, I had a tiny amount of bloody show. Nothing else happened for over a day. Finally, just as I started to go to bed on Wednesday, November 19 (41+1, if we're keeping track), I had what I considered a significant amount of bloody mucus. I went to bed, buoyed by the fact that it seemed <i>something</i> was happening.
Throughout the night, I woke often, as I had for several weeks, both to use the restroom and to change positions in bed - my SPD made it near impossible to roll over without wakening fully. Each time I woke, I had more bloody show. I had contractions that were noticeable throughout the night, but they were short in duration, as well as infrequent and irregular. When the morning came, I had a light breakfast, took a shower (I was feeling the contractions in my back, despite her anterior positioning), and then decided to rest. Until noon, I stayed in bed. I dozed, helped Gillian with her schoolwork, listened to the Hypnobabies track "Come OUT, Baby!" as well as the "Birthing Day Affirmations," and waited for something to happen, one way or another. My answer was the contractions spacing out so much that I essentially would think they had stopped altogether, and would then have a short one, just enough that I could not totally discount the idea that this was some form of early labor. In a three hour time span, I had only three or four contractions.
Around noon, I got out of bed, took another shower (my back was sore, even if it wasn't actively hurting), and ate a bit of lunch. Again, it was light, and I didn't feel like eating much. The contractions were still quite spaced out, though perhaps a bit closer together again, going back to the 15 to 30 minute intervals they had been before I rested. Later in the afternoon, we went to pick up milk; being in the car during a contraction, short as these were, was not fun, and I was once again glad that I was staying home for the birth.
Everything continued as it had been throughout the afternoon. By now, both my mother and my husband expressed surprise at how this was unfolding. After all, with both of my others, I hadn't had any sort of early labor; I had just jumped into active labor, with contractions immediately close together. With my both of my other two, I had had some cramping leading up to active labor (five hours' worth with my first, and two and a half days' worth with my second), yet this time I had had no cramping, just these short, irregular contractions. I wouldn't necessarily remember the lesson later, but during this time, I did remember - Brigid had already 'upset the apple cart' a few times; why should labor be any different? I felt amazingly calm and at peace; I wasn't sure if this was early labor or merely some "false" labor that would stop for a time before "the real thing," but in those moments, it wasn't a huge concern to me.
As evening approached, my husband arrived home from work, and my mother prepared to take my oldest to both swimming lessons and Girl Scouts. All of the coming and going took place around 5 pm, and my husband spent twenty or thirty minutes hanging out with Jacob before the two of them came into the bedroom and joined me. We spent the next forty minutes on the bed, just talking, and this - this was indeed the type of memory I wanted Jacob to have as a last "pre-Brigid" memory. I was having the contractions much more regularly, beginning at this point, though they were still short in duration (only 30 seconds or so). I didn't really time them, per se, but I think they were between three and ten minutes apart, the time between them still varying. We moved into the sunroom and I checked various websites, including posting something totally not about labor; there was a part of me that wanted to put out there on the internet that I was around, but I didn't want to announce what was potentially happening. I read that the space shuttle was either just still visible or had just been visible; we all trekked outside to look for it, and I had a longer stretch at that point between the contractions. My mom arrived back from dropping Gillian at Girl Scouts as we went back in the house. Within seconds, I had another contraction. That was the last time I had a significant break between contractions. The longest I went after that was five minutes. It was approximately 6:20 pm.
I had wanted to wait until my mother arrived to try taking yet another shower for my sore back. As soon as she arrived, I went straight for it. She timed some of my contractions during that time. Just after seven, she and Jacob went to pick up Gillian from Girl Scouts, and she asked if she should call my dad (who was Jacob's 'support person') to start driving to Marietta from Chattanooga. By this point, I was enough in the throes of labor to be completely indecisive. "I don't know. Just wait. I don't want him to drive down for something that's not real." Luckily, my mother recognized this for what it was and went ahead and called him as she went to get Gillian.
During this time, I was going back and forth between consciously using my Hypnobabies and not concentrating fully on it. Even when I was consciously using it, the pain in my back did not abate. In retrospect, I spent much of my Hypnobabies time focused on contractions and labor as something that only happened in the ventral portion of the body. It was a bit ridiculous for someone who typically feels everything in her back (like gallbladder pain), but there it was. As a result, I felt nothing but pressure in the front, but actual pain in my back.
After I abandoned the shower, I spent time sitting on the edge of my bed. I alternated loosely between rocking during the contractions, and standing and swaying during the contractions. I had the heating pad on my sore, aching back throughout this time period. My mom and the kids arrived back around 7:45, and she immediately set them up in the sunroom with some Christmas videos.
Then she and Sam got busy. I don't recall all the details here, but while the bed had been transformed during my shower, now it was time for preparing the <A HREF="http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/70087108
">foldout couch</A> in the living room, blowing up the birth pool, brewing tea, and other things of which I was essentially unaware. I moved to the living room (with my good friend the heating pad) and spent time laboring both on hands and knees and then sitting on a folding chair. I was essentially unaware of time passing at that point. I knew the contractions were even closer together, every two or three minutes, and I knew they still weren't very long, just forty-five seconds or so.
At some point, the birth pool started calling to me, and I asked Sam if it were full. It wasn't completely full, but it was near the fill line, so in I went. In a scene eerily reminiscent of Jacob's birth, I was in the tub for just a few contractions before transition was upon me. At some point, I checked myself, and decided I still had four or five centimeters left to go. I announced that there was too much cervix left, and I didn't like it. I made a lot of noise about Demerol, told Sam and my mother that it was too much trouble to go to the hospital just for Demerol, and then asked if they thought some EMTs would just bring me some Demerol and then leave. They assured me that, no, the EMTs did not carry Demerol. This was vaguely upsetting to me, and I remember moaning about it not really being fair.
It was just moments after I had checked myself that I felt an irresistable urge to stand. Considering how difficult I found moving up until that point, even in that moment I wondered how it was that I had stood so easily and fluidly. I labored through just one more contraction before I felt her moving down and felt increased pressure on my tailbone.
Here is where knowledge could have gotten me into trouble, but further knowledge helped make sure it didn't. It had been no more than five or ten minutes since I had felt a considerable amount of cervix remaining between my hand and Brigid's head, but I had a distinct urge to push. If I had merely listened to dictums about not pushing until "complete," I might have tried to resist that urge. Luckily, I had read enough and heard enough about laboring down, in addition to simply believing in the wisdom of my body, that I didn't resist it. I pushed. One contraction. Another.
"I can feel her moving down."
"Do you need to push?"
"I <i>am</i> pushing."
A third contraction, then a fourth, and a fifth, still pushing, still standing. During the fifth, my dad arrived, fresh from his drive south. My mom called out to him, letting him know the kids were in the sunroom. After the fifth, I decided to check our progress again. Brigid's head was an inch or two inside me. It was a far cry from the behind five cm of cervix I had found just minutes earlier!
When the next contraction hit, I started pushing. I don't know if I decided it was time for her to be born, or if it was entirely my body, but she moved down, fast. I had my hand on her head and felt it come down, then start the crowning process. At some point, I managed to communicate this, as well as the fact that I wasn't going to be able to catch her myself. Sam moved so that he could do so. I didn't really feel a "ring of fire;" I did feel the tissues stretching prior to her actually crowning. Even as she was crowning, I both would not and could not stop pushing. Her head slid most of the way out, and then I had a moment of panic. I could not get my body to cooperate to push suddenly. My mom calmly suggested I wrap both arms around her neck, just letting myself hang, and try again. I did that, and Brigid quickly slid into Sam's hands. I immediately turned, lifted my leg over the cord, and pulled her into my arms. Then we moved onto the fold-out couch, and my dad and the kids came into the living room to meet Brigid.
She was very peaceful; her eyes were closed for some time after the birth. Her color was good, but she was definitely a little 'gurgly;' she coughed up mucus several times in her first twenty four hours. I think this probably had a little to do with just how fast she came down and out - less time for the fetal heimlich to have any effect.
Brigid Eleanor was born at 9:15 pm on Thursday, November 20, 2008. She weighed approximately seven pounds eight ounces, and was about twenty-one inches long. Her height was exactly in between the heights of my older children; her weight was closer to her big sister than her big brother. Both of my older children arrived in the morning hours, as the sun was rising, but Brigid arrived after sunset, as the day was ending. In many ways, her birth, from the onset of active labor, was similar to my other two births, but in other ways, it was different. In the end, Brigid's pregnancy and birth indeed taught me that I really cannot plan everything, and that I truly had not needed anyone else. Just myself, and my own resources. I thought I knew that during the process of planning an unassisted pregnancy and unassisted birth, but the difference between intellectually knowing it and knowing it fully was immensely and a road that had to be traversed.
One of the motivations I had for having an unassisted birth was so that I would be truly unhindered, so that my body would not react to the presence of a stranger or strangers. I wasn't sure what that would mean exactly for the birth. What did happen in those last moments is exactly what Michel Odent says should happen in all births - that when the mother feels truly safe, the birth is ended by the "fetal ejection reflex." Sarah Buckley explained it thusly in a <i>Mothering</i> magazine article: "After an undisturbed labor, however, when the moment of birth is imminent, these hormones act in a different way. There is a sudden increase in CA levels, especially noradrenaline, which actives the fetal ejection reflex. The mother experiences a sudden rush of energy; she will be upright and alert, with a dry mouth and shallow breathing and perhaps the urge to grasp something. She may express fear, anger, or excitement, and the CA rush will cause several very strong contractions, which will birth the baby quickly and easily."
At some point during my pregnancy, I read some book or another that suggested an exercise for preparing for birth. I don't know the exact exercise, but looking at what I wrote, I can guess that it was to write a letter to your baby about your plans for the birth. I do remember that after writing the letter, the instructions stated to put the pencil into the non-dominant hand, attempt to clear the mind, and write your baby's "response." The last sentence of my letter was <i>I want them to leave us alone - we know what to do." The response that came, written messily by my left hand, was simple. <i>Yes. We know how to do it all perfectly.</i>
And we did.