It’s difficult to know where to begin this story. Chiara, my third baby, was due in the middle of August, 2000, and I was absolutely certain that she’d be early and that my labor would be quick. In fact, I almost expected to have her unattended, as both my midwives lived out of town. What actually happened challenged both my self-confidence and my sense of security in my body. I felt at times that my body was betraying me—I was walking around on feet swollen to about three times their normal size and my belly was so huge I could only move with a great deal of effort. Everything hurt. My emotions were haywire. I tried to trust myself, tried to trust my baby, but I was so confused….
The theme of this birth—confusion.
Chiara was due between August 18th and 22nd, depending on whether you went by the ultrasound reading or my LMP. I preferred to think in terms of the 18th but secretly…well, not so secretly…I hoped she would come earlier. The 6th of August, that’s the date I was hoping for. That didn’t happen. Nor did it happen on either of the other two dates I guessed—the 12th and 16th.
In fact, on August 26th I was certain we couldn’t make it another two days. I was having contractions at odd intervals and was about 4cm dilated. By that evening I told a friend (pugmadmama!) that she would probably be sharing a birthday with our baby—August 27th. But the contractions stayed irregular and…nothing. On the 28th I was having a pretty tough time of it. I had no idea when the baby would come…all my expectations had been disproved. The first in several lessons I learned during this experience.
Pam (yep, MDCs very own Pamamidwife!) had been staying in Eugene since the 25th, if memory serves, and we spent our days together shopping, being creative and surrounding ourselves with flowers. The 28th, the day I finally “really” went into labor, was the day she was supposed to return home to Salem. I was so sad thinking about her leaving—as if that alone could make me be pregnant forever. For some reason having her there gave me hope that my baby would indeed be born at some point. In any case, Pam’s presence saved me from myself. She brought art supplies and inspiration and instead of having crying jags in the shower I found myself decoupaging flower petals to bottles.
By the afternoon of the 28th I was timing contractions. Much of this day is lost to me. All I really remember after the speedy trip we took to the local grocery (where Malcolm ran into another car while trying to park) is kneeling at the end of the couch, leaning over on the seat into a pile of pillows, and breathing through short, widely-spaced contractions. At one point Pam suggested that we NOT time them but just go with them. Soren, my dear sweet six-year-old, sat with me for about an hour as I labored. He had been out picking blackberries with our neighbor and sister Mirabai, age 4, and his little hands were stained dark purple. He rubbed my back through contractions and kissed my cheek whenever I made eye contact with him.
Pam was at our house for awhile with her daughter, Bailey, but then she needed to take Bailey back to Salem. We were all pretty sure she’d turn right back around and, sure enough, that’s what happened. She returned in the early evening and we sat around waiting for things to pick up. Malcolm made me a big plate of nachos and I took a nap. Then Pam checked the baby and…she was posterior. So we began working on getting her to turn. I did more hands and knees over the edge of the couch, then tried knees and chest (stinkbug position) on the floor. That was comfortable! Later we went for a walk. My assignment—to walk half on half off the curb. This was supposed to help but Chiara wasn’t budging. When we returned Malcolm got the older kids in bed while Pam and I talked about getting a movie. I think Malcolm went a got one…no, we watched one he had rented the night before. First, however, we tried another thing to get Chiara to turn to anterior. Malcolm and Pam got a sheet and I lay down on it, on my back, they gathered the two ends and with the sheet beneath my hips they rocked me. Back and forth and then Malcolm would jerk his end up. This didn’t work either.
I fell asleep during the movie and woke to find that Pam and Malcolm were getting ready to go to bed. The contractions had tapered off again and I started feeling worried, nearly anxious, and I didn’t want them to go to bed…*I* didn’t want to go to bed. I wanted to have a baby!! Still, we all lay down for as long as we could. One hour, almost exactly. During this time I got a little bit of sleep but it didn’t take long for the contractions to start piling one on top of the other. They hurt like nothing else—way more than I remembered from either of my previous births. They hit me mostly in my back and I lay there in the dark, Malcolm sound asleep beside me, biting the pillows and trying to breathe. Pam heard me and came in to ask if I wanted to try the tub. I think I said yes and woke up Malcolm and I have a vague memory of sitting on the toilet in tears…. I kept wondering what my body was doing. Nothing felt right, I couldn’t get “on top” of the contractions, I didn’t know how to cope. The tub helped tremendously. The birth room, as we called it, was set up with the tub—a large Rubbermaid trough—a chair that was folded out into a bed, my dresser, which was covered with candles and pictures, and a set of shelves that held the baby clothes. On the wall around the tub I had hung pictures and quotes—the stuff I received at my Blessingway along with some other things that meant a lot to me. As for the tub, we put a large, white sheet in the bottom so Pam could more easily assess blood loss, and Malcolm filled it with wonderful warm water. The room was dimly lit with candles and one lamp. When I climbed in the water it was all so surreal—the white sheet floated up around me and everything was so…soft. Made the contractions a bit easier.
I labored in the tub on all fours, for awhile, and at some point during this time I felt my belly and…she had turned! Pam was skeptical and I was reserved until she confirmed it—she had had trouble ascertaining the baby’s position because my uterus was always so tight. But joy of joys, she was anterior! Finally!
Shortly after this happened I climbed out of the tub to pee and be checked. 8cm. I was a bit bummed by this, admittedly. I thought for sure I could push, and indeed I had the urge to bear down through contractions. The big difference—bearing down didn’t take the pain away this time. It hurt more.
At this point I was a bit fed up and very tired. I was sitting on the folded-out chair next to the birth tub and I decided to take a nap. Soren had reassured me many times in the past month that if things got too tough I could always “stop my labor and go to sleep” (he had heard that was possible on the Spiritual Midwifery video). So that’s what I did. I think I slept for about half an hour, maybe it was longer. Granted, contractions didn’t stop but they did seem to slow down a bit.
People came and went quietly during that time but I was either asleep or so deeply into my labor space that I wasn’t very aware of them. At one point Malcolm took a picture of me and I remember wondering if my butt would feature prominently in the print. I hoped it wouldn’t.
The short nap really helped my spirits...for a moment. When I did decide to become vertical and just give birth already I found I was still stuck in that confusing space. The terrain was still completely unfamiliar, and worse yet, it felt like I wasn’t progressing despite the contractions.
All the rest is hazy to me now. Soren got up after I awoke and at one point he and Malcolm took a nap. My neighbor, Sarah, came over and I remember hearing her reading to the kids in the living room. I remember noticing that the sun had come up. I remember the other midwife, Liz, arriving. But nothing is more vivid than the time I spent on hands and knees, half on the chair cushion, half on the floor. I gripped the birthing stool and wailed through contractions. Between contractions I was dimly aware that I was mooning just about everyone in the room…and I sort of cared, sort of didn’t. The kids came in at some point and I looked over at them and tried to smile. They both smiled at me and I think Soren told me I was doing a good job. Pam got water ready for my hot compresses and she and Malcolm started putting them on well before Chiara was born. That was nice and comforting—and I felt a bit better about showing my bare butt to the entire world!
But the position I was locked into was completely ineffective. I pushed through the tail-end of contractions but felt nothing productive. No head descending and it only made the pain worse. Pam asked if I wanted to move and I said no—it hurt too damn much to move. I was afraid to move enough to get my knee up on a pillow even though it hurt so bad grinding into the wood floor (I finally did ask for a pillow and got it under my knee, with help). I don’t know how long I spent crouched there, hot compresses coming and going on my perineum, feeling stuck and sorry for myself. I wanted desperately to switch places with someone but there was no way I’d want to wish my predicament on anyone else. There was even a moment when I wondered if we’d have to transport—I felt that stuck. The combination of feeling stuck and thinking about transporting was very disheartening to me. But I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I was the only one who could birth my baby. I was sure that if I couldn’t do it then it couldn’t be done.
When I surrendered to that knowledge things shifted. I decided to try sitting on the birth stool again. With much help I turned around and sat up. When I did that, there was no stopping me. I pushed through a contraction and finally felt the head creep down. I felt like I couldn’t stop pushing and I wondered if I would scare the kids with my wailing. I remember starting to cry and someone saying it was okay to cry. I felt so out of control and I couldn’t get comfortable or stop what felt like a train rocketing through my body. All I could do was push and scream and cry and then Liz got really close to me and asked me to look in her eyes and slow down. I tried to but the head was coming and I still felt like I was all out of control. Apparently, however, her head came out really, really slowly. At one point I roughly demanded a hot compress. That old familiar feeling of being ripped apart….
Once her head was out everything slowed way down. Someone handed me a mirror. That was exactly what I needed. Her head was so amazing sitting there. She had at least one perfect little ear (all that I could see at the time!) and she was so bald! I just looked at her and touched her head and had no urge to push the rest of her out. And though I don’t remember hearing it at the time, she cried as soon as her head was born. Such a strong girl, filling her lungs while her body was still inside me. As the minutes ticked by and her head just sat there Liz asked if I could push, I said no, and she asked Malcolm to stimulate my nipples a bit (and in the re-telling he always lapses into his Beavis and Butthead impression: heh heh, heh heh, come in Tokyo! Heh heh….). I’m not sure if that helped though. Chiara was the one, I think, who decided to be born. She began shrugging her shoulders, as if she could pull her head back inside, and I remember saying (shrieking?) “no no! Don’t go back!!” Then she started wiggling up inside me, looking for the easiest route into the world. Her shoulders started to come…slowly…and when she was out to her nipple line the rest of her tumbled free.
What a rush. Soren gasped as she fell away from me and cried “Oh Mira!” Then Pam handed her up to me and the rest is all a blur of emotion and her sweet voice. She cried strongly right away, as though she was a bit pissed at having to come out into this bright, cold world. Soren and Mira were watching the whole time and I remembered that they wanted to see the baby’s sex first but being terribly impatient I snuck my hand down and felt…a girl. Someone said something about finding out the sex and I just smiled and whispered “I know.” Then I lifted the blanket and let the kids take a peek. I heard Soren say it was a girl and Mirabai asked how he knew. “Because she has a vagina!”
The kids came around so they could see her face and she was still crying, refusing to open her eyes. So I suggested that they sing to her. They both leaned in and started up a round of Twinkle Twinkle off key…and lo, Chiara stopped crying, opened her eyes, and craned her head back to see them! It was amazing. She knew exactly who they were. She knew that song.
After the placenta came daddy cut the cord. Chiara’s placenta was quite interesting—the cord was inserted velamentously. After Pam finished checking out the placenta the attention turned to blood. I bled a bit after Mira was born and was also anemic in my third trimester with Chiara so Pam and Liz were concerned about blood loss. Indeed, I passed a cantaloupe-sized clot and had a few gushes so they gave me some methergine and some nasty tea. Soren watched with great interest whenever Pam massaged my fundus and after she left he took it upon himself to stick his bony little fingers in my belly whenever I looked like I was in pain!
That’s my boy, taking care of mama.
Chiara was called Willow for the first couple of hours. During this time she also fussed in daddy's arms—and screamed in mine. She nursed a bit but she acted like she was ravenous and was not at all happy that I had no milk. When we changed her name to Chiara and settled down a bit she fell asleep and the staring began. All I could do was look at her. And touch her. She had fuzzy shoulders and ears. What little hair she had was red and her eyes were a deep blue. I thought at one point, immediately after she was born, that she only had four toes on one foot but it turned out that she liked to hide her pinky toe behind the others.
Wow. My second girl, a sister for Mirabai and Soren. Perfect in every way…and humongous. I was talking to my mom when Pam weighed her and we were all blown away—9 pounds 10 ounces! My other two were both under 8 pounds! Finding out how big she was helped me sort out some of the confusion I had about her birth. Looking back I know that she did most of that—she got out of me. She turned and wiggled and tucked her chin and figured it out. I was mostly just along for the ride. To birth this dramatically, dynamically…was such a gift. Nothing like I expected but Chiara is everything I could have hoped for. She’s my baby bear.
Chiara Soleil Nicole June 8/29/00, 8:32 AM