Today is Monday, January 13, 2003, and Zoe is one month old
. I thought I would be able to write the story of her birth
immediately after she was born- the next day or so- but somehow I couldn't. It's not that I haven't had time, though I've experienced the trial by fire of sleepless nights and inconsolable crying familiar to every first time mother, but more of a reluctance to step outside of the experience to report it.
I started my maternity leave from work the day after Thanksgiving, though I knew I most likely wouldn't have the baby before December 10th, that gave me more than a week at home to relax, finish nesting and rest before the birth. Sure enough, the 10th came and went. On Thursday, December 11th, I woke up about six am to have breakfast with my husband Nik before he left for work. After he left I started the laundry and put together a beef barley stew in the crockpot for the evening's dinner. I was even able to try a craft I saw in a magazine- melting old vinyl records over a tin can in the oven to make a hipster bowl, it worked!
At about noon I decided to take a walk to the thrift store to look for wool sweaters, I had directions for making "butt sweaters"- a cover or "soaker" for cloth diapers out of a felted wool sweater and I thought I'd pick up a few sweaters and give it a try. I walked at least two miles, to the thrift store and then to another one and then I took the bus home, I was tired and ready for a nap. I came home and had some lunch and went in and laid down with the cats for a nap. Those were the two most glorious hours of sleep I've ever had, I woke up feeling like I had just slept 10 hours. As dinner was in the crockpot and ready to eat, I paid a few bills and surfed on the computer and started forcing some paperwhite bulbs to give to the midwife and her assistant after the birth.
When Nik came home we sat down in the living room with our dinner, I had taken to eating on a little low table and sitting on a "tuffet" to eat as it was much more comfortable than sitting at the dining room table. My friend Jennifer called to see if there was a baby yet (I was getting 3-6 calls like this a day), and offered to drop off some magazines for me to browse when I got bored. Sometime between the time Jennifer called and when she dropped off the magazines, I was sitting on my little stool eating and got a severe "cramp" that knocked me off the stool onto the floor. There I was on my hands and knees trying to get my breath. Nik was standing over me asking me what was wrong and if I were all right but I couldn't answer him.
I very deliberately finished my dinner and noted that I was experiencing menstrual like cramps periodically, but they didn't seem any different than the cramps I'd had occasionally for the past few days. Nik finished eating and decided to do a few chores just in case this was "it". I put in a dvd of Sex and the City episodes and laid down on the couch
to rest and see what developed.
As the cramping continued and was definitely rhythmic, I started writing down their times and put in a call to the midwife, Kay. I was pretty surprised when my midwife's backup called with the news that Kay had laryngitis and couldn't really talk- her backup wanted to know if my water had broken, if there were any show and how long the contractions were lasting. When we timed them they seemed to be 2 minutes long and eight minutes apart. She couldn't really believe they were 2 minutes long, but they were. She said it sounded like the baby was on the way and that I should call Kay (my midwife) again if anything changed. A little while later our midwife's assistant, Joy, called and asked similar questions, basically she said we should call her back when we wanted them to come.
We took some great childbirth classes and knew that latent labor could last for a long time, and could be stalled by a hot bath or shower. We thought we would watch a movie or two, take a shower and go to bed and get some rest. Nik went to the video store and it seemed like he was gone for only a minute- the time distortion was beginning. We decided to give Nik's parents a call and let them know that this could be it- they're a five hour drive away and we invited his mom to be at the birth.
The contractions were getting stronger and it was increasingly hard to concentrate on the Sex and the City episodes. I was laying on the couch and when Nik would hear me start to groan, he would come and take my hand and I would grip his. He would turn off the tv, the contraction would end and I would turn it back on again.
At this point I have to say that I'm piecing my memories together- I just can't remember sequentially how things occurred. I experienced extreme time distortion. I think at this point I took a shower, still thinking that this would stall or slow down things and we would get to those movies, but sometime during the shower I told Nik he had better start getting the birth pool set up.
After the shower I came back out to the couch, where things were still progressing. I asked for a bucket and threw up- quite a bit too. With each contraction a small amount of water would come out of my vagina and a small amount of thin mucus. I never saw a sign of a mucus plug, and this might have been it, it was so small and insignificant though I have no idea. At this point we were clear that the baby was coming, Nik called his parents back and told them "this was it" and if they wanted to be here for the birth they should come.
I decided to take a bath while the pool was being set up. I ran a hot bath and tried to get comfortable in the tub but it was really hard. I think I was in the tub for quite a while when Nik suggested I might want to try the birth tub, it was too hot and we had to run some cold water to cool it down, but I did get in and lay down, Nik was laying down outside the tub so I could grip his hand during the contraction. Eventually he fell asleep between contractions- I remember laying in the tub and not seeing him, just holding his hand and hearing him snore. I have no idea how long I was in the tub, it could have been 45 minutes or 2 hours.
While Nik was sleeping I got up to go to the bathroom- and saw there were blood-clots in the pool- bloody show! While I was in the bathroom I tried to examine myself to gauge dilation. I thought I was at 4 cm or so, but I have no idea how accurate this was. I could also feel a soft, squishy walnut of baby scalp. I went back to the couch and then eventually, to the floor. Nik lay next to me- still holding my hand so I'd have something to grip- he says at this point I started to get very primal, I was moaning and growling very low- like an animal. I was conscious of noises coming from the apartment below ours and I tried to channel my noises into growls so as not to alarm whoever it was below who was up so early getting ready for work, it was probably 4 AM or so.
We were both sleeping between contractions. I asked Nik the time- it was 5 AM. I told him to go ahead call the midwife, my friend Jo Ann, and his mom and tell them they should probably come. At this point the contractions were so uncomfortable I had to push through them to make them bearable. When the midwives arrived they called to ask us where to park, and Nik went downstairs to show them where and bring them up. I remember pushing during contractions while he was gone and thinking that it probably wasn't time to push, but if felt better than not pushing and as long as there wasn't someone there telling me not to, I was going to do it.
When Kay and Joy came in I couldn't even really say hello or even turn to look at them. I was on the living room floor, laid out on our IKEA rug under the Christmas tree on my left side with my right leg propped up on pillows. They were very quiet and didn't turn on any lights, and as Kay had laryngitis- whispered. My best friend Jo Ann and Nik's mom arrived shortly thereafter.
This is where things start to get even more hazy and difficult. Pushing was my big birth hurdle, and was so much harder than I expected. To compound this Kay couldn't speak, so her assistant, Joy, had to take the lead. I consciously wasn't focused on this at the time, but I never considered that Kay would not be helping me labor and deliver this baby. Kay is an older, no-nonsense, direct person who has been a homebirth midwife for about 25 years. Joy is very timid and meek and a little spacy. Kay's backup was in the hospital to receive a baby that was being born and would be adopted. I wasn't aware of this until after the birth, but if the back up were available Kay would not have attended the birth at all. Basically, she was too sick and could not talk, the backup was unavailable, so her assistant had to pinch hit. I had a lot of bad feelings about this in the days after the birth as I went over the details. I never would have chosen Joy on her own to help me labor and deliver, and the fact that that's how it turned out really threw me for a loop afterward- at the time I was not consciously thinking about it. Who knows what I was thinking unconsciously, or if it had any impact on why I ended up to pushing for four and a half hours.
Soon after they arrived I was ready to start pushing, but was not at all comfortable with what it felt like. I know I tried pushing on the toilet, and really didn't like that, and in the birth pool, and really didn't like that either. They asked me to try standing as I pushed in the pool, but nothing was working for me. I went back on the toilet and tried standing to push there but didn't make much progress. Eventually I was back on the living room floor, Kay and Joy wanted me to sit on the couch with Nik supporting me from behind, but I flatly refused. I only wanted to lay on my left side in a resting position with my right leg propped up on pillows. This was comfortable for resting, but very ineffective for pushing. I was completely worn out at this point, I refused food, and the only juice we had was actually a 'juice cocktail' and tasted grossly sweet- even so, I drank as much of this as I could to keep my strength up, I also drank a ton of water. By this point my contractions were not very effective, they were only lasting 30 seconds or so, and I could only stand to push as they were subsiding.
I was gripping both of Nik's hands with each contraction, and dozing between them, I could tell everyone was getting exasperated with my lack of progress- when Kay and Joy arrived they assumed my baby would be out within 2 hours as I was almost completely dilated and starting to push, here it was 3 and a half hours later and the head was in the birth canal, but I couldn't seem to push enough to make it crown.
I pretty much lost it here, I told Kay I was afraid of the baby, and told Jo Ann she could have my baby as soon as it was out- I guess I was delirious, maybe I thought if I gave the baby to my friend it would come out faster. I think I said quite a few things along the line of "I can't" and "I'm afraid". They wanted me to reach down and feel the baby's head and I refused, I just wanted it to end. I also kept uttering oneliners. When asked to push I said "I'd try". Kay said "there is no try, only do" and I said "who invited Yoda!"
Joy was calling out my progress in an annoying fashion "your vulva is bulging" etc. when she said "oh, now your anus is bulging" I said "oh Joy, plant a flag in it". I'm still not sure what I meant, and I don't even remember saying it, Nik told me about it about 2 weeks after the birth- I have absolutely no memory of saying it- I guess I was tired of her progress reports. I was also ready for some kind of intervention. I kept saying "I need help, I need help" thinking maybe Kay could do some sort of episiotomy or something just to make getting the baby out easier. I was at the end of my rope. I called Jo Ann over and asked her to say some prayers for me to help me find the strength to get the baby out. Nik got some 'strengthening' essential oils out for me to inhale, and with each contraction I would inhale them off of a little pillow which I would also scream into.
And then some pretty unexpected things happened. Kay called another midwife, Mary, who happens to live in my neighborhood to come and help out. It just so happens that this is the same person we took our birth classes from- a no-nonsense, direct, forceful woman who I really liked. Kay thought she might be able to help inspire me as I was so discouraged. I have no idea what made her think of this, Kay knew we took classes from Mary, but didn't know I liked her so much. Mary was very reluctant to come over, but finally agreed. I remember feeling embarrassed and ashamed that Kay had to call in reinforcements.
When Mary arrived she took one look at me and said, this baby can be out in three contractions, we need to get her on her back and get her legs up. I was resistant to getting on my back as it's the traditional hospital position, but finally they convinced me. I tried pushing like this but gave up as the pain seemed unendurable. Mary said just push through it, that I could do it and I was doing it. Being on my back made the baby's heart tones drop, and just then Kay's doppler went on the fritz which really made me mad as it was acting up the last few months of my pregnancy and she had plenty of time to get another. Luckily Mary had two in her car and Nik's mom was dispatched downstairs to get a working doppler.
The next push the baby crowned, and at that point I thought I don't care if I split in half and die, the next contraction I'm going to push until the baby is out. The contraction came, I screamed bloody murder, or what seemed like it and the head was born. There was a nuchal cord, which they pushed back and meconium. The baby let loose another whole load all over me as they put her on my belly
She was born at 11:40 AM on Friday, December 13th, 5 hours and forty minutes after the midwife and her assistant arrived. She was completely purple and screaming like mad. I was shocked and overwhelmed, my first thought was "oh my goodness, here is a whole new person I am responsible for". I was flat on my back on the floor, so it was really hard for me to see her face
or lift her up. I asked Nik if the baby was a boy or girl, and he lifted up her leg and looked under the towel and said "a little girl".
I was shocked again, I was pretty convinced throughout the whole pregnancy that I was having a boy! I thought "it's little Zoe". Kay wanted me to get up and squat over a bowl to deliver the placenta, Nik took off his shirt and I handed Zoe to him and he held his little girl
for the first time.
The placenta came out without problem, and it was intact. As the baby was out, Mary left immediately- her pager went off twice as the baby was being born. Then Kay examined me for tears and there were none, just two tiny 'skid marks' on the inside.
Kay weighed Zoe and she was 9 pounds and 8 ounces
! A big girl!! They put me in the rocker and gave me Zoe to nurse. Jo Ann fed me scrambled eggs as I tried to get Zoe to nurse. There was a lot of worry and fretting by Joy and Kay because my nipples were flat and she was having a little difficulty latching on. Joy really got worked up over this and kept making me change the way I was holding her, and giving me lots of directions, I still hadn't properly greeted my baby yet! I think I was mildly traumatized by the difficulty of birth. I remember thinking in the first hour after she was born 'that was the hardest thing I've ever done and I'll never be able to do it again". The next day everything started to fade and though I remembered how hard it was, I didn't have the same "never again" feeling.
Eventually they put Nik, Zoe and I to bed together and Nik and Zoe went right to sleep
, but I couldn't! As a matter of fact, I didn't sleep for more than two hours at a time for the next three days- not because of the baby, Zoe slept great. For some reason I could not sleep, maybe the excitement or hormones or something. We decided not to name her until the next day, we both liked Zoe but we wanted to sleep on it and not rush it. In the morning Nik announced to his mother "her name is Zoe Nicole", and it felt just right.
In retrospect, I do have a couple regrets. I wish my midwife would have let me know when she fell ill, so I would have been more mentally prepared for a substitute. I wish it hadn't been necessary for Joy to play such a major role in the birth- I think she was ill suited to this and not a good match temperamentally, and I wish they would not have rushed the delivery of the placenta/nursing immediately after birth as I needed some time to rest, greet my baby and enjoy the fruits of my labor. I think that since Kay was ill but needed to attend the birth, she rushed things as she wanted to go home to bed- they were only there for 7 hours at most, hardly a marathon as far as births go. I wish Kay would have tended to her malfunctioning doppler in a more timely fashion- or at least had a backup. I'm thankful Jo Ann and Nik's mom were there, and that Kay thought to call Mary- I still can't quite figure out how or why it ended up that she attended our birth, but I'm very grateful that she did.
I am most grateful for my incredible husband Nik. He was my rock and my true partner throughout the whole birth. He tirelessly attended me the entire time and rode out every contraction with me. The love and devotion he showed toward me during the labor and birth and after were so incredible- a real gift. I could not have done it without him- he was the one true irreplaceable member of my birth team. I'm so grateful he was able to take off his shirt and cuddle Zoe close and give her the warm, loving welcome I was unable to at the time.
all the best,