Tuesday, March 9, 2010
I had been having waves of nausea and on and off short spurts of mild contractions that were a bit stronger than Braxton-Hicks for a good 3 weeks. I woke up on 12/8 because my downstairs neighbors were noisy and I was enraged and weepy. I think this was the upsurge of estrogen that precedes labor. I calmed down, and tried to relax and have a restful day. When Seth came home we went for a long 2-hour walk. On the way home I got an enormous roast beef sandwich and some cookies and woofed the whole lot down. I went to bed around midnight. At 2:30 am (now 12/9) I woke up to pee and had some bloody show when I wiped. That got my attention. But I had been determined to not have any false alarms, so I shrugged it off and went back to bed.
Within a half hour of lying back down I was having mild crampy period contractions not unlike what I had in the weeks before. But soon they turned into something a bit sharper and closer together (all within 10 minutes of each other). There was no way I was going to sleep through them. I still wasn't convinced this was the real thing, but I woke up Seth at 3:30. We lay in bed and talked about what to do, whether this was real or just more warm up labor. Around 4am I got up and took a hot shower (I had the irrational thought, “I can’t have a baby with dirty hair”). Seth began cleaning and prep in the kitchen, where we were going to set up the birth pool.
After the shower I checked email, had some oatmeal and trail mix, listened to birth affirmations and strolled around the apartment. The contractions began to get closer together and strong, different from the period cramp contractions. They weren’t all that painful, partly because I didn’t stay still through them. I breathed and swayed and rocked and let them wash over me, thinking about opening my cervix. I was mostly on the opposite side of the apartment from Seth, content to be alone and do my own thing, with occasional forays into the kitchen to say hi. I also had to use the bathroom like 20 times.
By 6 am I wasn't able to really talk through them and they were about 5 minutes apart and close to a minute. At 7am Seth called the midwives, who, as luck would have it, were at another birth, which had begun an hour before mine. Luckily hers was going fast too... We didn’t know this at the time though. I think both they and we thought I had much more time than I did.
I continued to wander around the house, listening to birth affirmations and leaning against walls and into chairs, swaying through the contractions. I took a second shower, which felt like heaven, and that really seemed to speed things up. Around 8am I began moaning through them, not because they hurt, but because it was a way to release, to let them wash over me. I asked Seth to get the pool ready, since we had estimated it would take 2 hours. I didn't know if I was jumping the gun because it was our first time, but things seemed to be moving along pretty quick and I could almost feel my cervix opening. Seth also kept in touch with Audra and Tara about once an hour.
After 8am I was in my bedroom leaning against the wall on the floor in a hip opening posture. I was trying to rest but I found lying down through a contraction made them really hurt and it was annoying to have to scramble to my hands and knees every 3-4 minutes. During a contraction it was much easier to get on my hands and knees and rock back and forth from a sitting position. I stopped talking at this point too, except for the occasional monosyllabic necessary communication. One of these was to ask Seth for a bowl when he came in to time contractions again. I felt somewhat nauseous but didn’t end up throwing up or really even getting close.
Around 10:30am I got in the pool, which was not warm enough, and Seth was frantically boiling water in our big pots, waiting for the water heater to recover. But it was good enough. It made the contractions, which had gotten much more intense, so much better and it made my body easier to relax. I must have been in transition at this point because I was thinking, "This is really hard, I don't want to do this anymore" and "We are so not having any more kids." But I didn't actually say anything beyond grunting, monosyllabic demands and hand waving. My moaning at this point was still sounding like I was having really loud, really good sex. But Seth and I were still alone and didn't know how far along I was, though at this point we knew that Tara was on her way from the other birth. It was snowing and generally very bad weather outside so the drive was long.
At about 11:15 I had a contraction that ended in an involuntary push and we were still alone. I was so surprised, and at that point I thought maybe we should have someone here with us who knew what the hell they were doing! Seth just assured me that Tara was on her way and held my hand. I think we sat in peaceable silence. I just continued to let my body do its thing, neither fighting nor encouraging it.
Fifteen minutes later Tara arrived and a little later Rebecca came (Audra had stayed behind at the other birth to finish up). At some point Molly, the student photographer, came too, but my recall of this time is not so good. I do know that my vocalization shifted at this point to more of an animalistic grunting. The contractions were pretty intense and I was totally inwardly focused, clutching Seth's hand and shoulders in a death grip and hanging over the side of the pool in between, which didn't seem that long (2-3 minutes). This was the most painful point for me; there was this dull painful pressure all around my pelvic bone, which I later realized was my bag of waters.
The whole labor I could feel the baby's feet pushing against my upper and then mid-belly, like she was helping me by trying to push her own way out. The whole time I was concentrating on taking long, slow, deep breaths and during contractions exhaling with a low moan and loose jaw. I drank a lot of water too. The midwives monitored the baby while I was pushing and she was doing fine. I think I was a little crabby about being monitored because I had to shift positions to help them find the baby’s heart beat with the Doppler.
I think somewhere around 12:30pm Tara told me that I could start pushing, so I tentatively began to put some effort into those involuntary pushes that were happening on their own. At this point (I think) my water broke with a loud pop that kind of scared me and made me clench up. But relief was almost instantaneous, and the pushing began to get much more serious. Contractions would start with two or three pretty intense pushes and then begin to taper off. That beginning two or three involuntary pushes were when I added my own active efforts.
Tara and Rebecca were encouraging me and Seth seemed to take his cue about what to do from them and he began encouraging me too. They were praising me for how careful of my perineum I was being by not heaving her out in one go. At one point I was reaching down to support myself and Tara told me I could reach down and feel the baby’s head if I wanted. I snatched my hand back; I didn’t want to be reminded about what was going on from the outside, it would break my concentration. Tara also told me I should wait for a second after the head came out so that she could make sure the cord wasn’t wrapped around the baby’s neck. I felt her head come out in increments, got the all clear and then (probably a little too enthusiastically but I was ready to be done) gave one good heave and she shot out into the water like a cannon ball.
The midwives caught her and put her on my chest, but I couldn't bring her up very far because the cord was pretty short. Because of this, having some mucus in her mouth suctioned out, she got pissed. This is when things got stressful. She cried for a good 30 minutes and was too angry to nurse. I had gotten out of the water at this point was reclined on some pillows and blankets on the kitchen floor against the fridge. I gave her to Seth to do some skin-to-skin and calm down while I delivered the placenta. He did managed to calm her down by singing her Sonic Youth’s Schizophrenia. After a couple of hours I was getting worried because she hadn't nurse yet and was only calm while dozing. She screamed through the whole newborn exam and was too upset to nurse until close to 6pm. I was feeling shaky and all this was pretty overwhelming.. Argh!
Tara stayed and helped me get her to nurse a little and help Seth with the worst of the clean up (draining the nasty water out of the tub). After she left the baby was still really cranky. If we moved her she screamed. But around 1am, she farted, shat a diaper load of meconium and barfed up what looked like the rest of that mucus that was in her mouth at birth, and calmed down immediately. And the next morning, I got to wake up in bed with Seth and our new baby, Rassa June, to hang out, work on breastfeeding and rest.
I feel so totally lucky to have had the kind of birth that I wanted that seemed surprisingly easy to handle. It was painful there at the end, but not unreasonably so and didn’t go on for too long. I got to stay at home and I never had to deal with things I didn’t want to. Tara and Audra were important in making this happen for me throughout my pregnancy and birth. Welcome Rassa, aka Angry Goddess.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
The contractions began on Friday, September 18th, 2009 at 11 pm. Kyle was watching the end of the movie, Watchmen, when I came down and told him that contractions had started. This was the 3rd time they began and I was 10 days late so we were hoping this was the real deal. The contractions weren't painful yet, just present, so I couldn't sleep. They started to become more regular at 2 am and I woke Kyle up to call Tara Kenny, our midwife. Over the previous 7 months, Tara had made home visits monthly, then bi-weekly, then weekly. I came to anticipate each visit as it was really nice to talk about what my body was going through. In the end, she became a close friend.
Back to the birth. I turned on the tv to keep me from going crazy in the middle of the night and The Cosby Show was on...and while I chuckled, the contractions got REAL. After reading every birth story I could get my hand on, I was disappointed not to find a description of what the contractions were like and I swore I would try my best to convey the feeling. As my friend, Tracy Blankenship, told me...contractions feel like "the countdown", which is the feeling one gets when they have 10 seconds to find a bathroom before their drawers are completely wrecked. In other words, the worst intestinal cramps you can imagine. There's definitely sweating and concentrating involved, but there's also a menstrual element to it. At that point in the birth, contractions were 10 minutes apart and about 30 seconds long. To attempt relaxation I hopped in the shower and cranked up the heat. Holding the shower head directly on my stomach made a HUGE difference in lessening the contraction intensity. And this is when I knew it was time to fill the birthing tub with water, which begins my fondest memories.
First Stage. It was about 4 am when I climbed into the tub. We set it up a month prior near our gynormous windows in the living area. Kyle hooked up the garden hose to our kitchen sink and turned on the hot water. There were also two heating pads within the tub that maintained the temperature. When the water was full to the recommended line, I could sit cross legged on the floor and the water level would sit right below my shoulders, but I did a lot of belly-up floating with my hands and the ground holding me. Kyle laid on our small couch in the fetal position trying to sleep while I worked through the contractions. Our mac played a Pandora radio station that I specifically made for the birth with a lot of Sigur Ros, but it would also insert some Death Cab for Cutie, Postal Service and Jose Gonzalez. When I first laid down in the tub, I rested my head on the edge with my eyes looking up out the window at the stars. Slowly, the dawn started to show and contractions got more intense as the sun came up.
Second Stage. Right about the time that Tara came over, around 8:30 a.m., I had started to pace and at the onset of a contraction, I would lean against a counter and concentrate. Tara guided me through the hard ones. I would switch between the tub, to our bed upstairs, to the kitchen and the shower. Audra Karp, another wonderful midwife and Tara's backup arrived around noon. They both fed me water, smoothies and applesauce. Tara also took my temperature, monitored the baby's heart rate with a stethoscope, and monitored my heart rate/blood pressure periodically throughout labor.
Transition. During the hardest part, the transition stage, I was on our bed with the birthing ball and the contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and I would take a nap in between. Tara had me walk down to the shower and every time I got up to walk, the contractions came faster. In the shower, I got down on my hands and knees and felt the need to push. After Tara checked to measure my dilation, I was still a centimeter away from full dilation. So I worked through another hour on our bed with Kitty standing by... at one point I thought, I'm not going to have the energy and just wanted the whole thing to go away and let me sleep.
Pushing. Around 5 pm, I got in the tub and started pushing. For motivation, Tara told me to feel inside me for the head. I thought she was crazy and I was pretty delirious at this point, but I did. This was equivalent to seeing the 12 mile marker in a half marathon. I could feel the head and one small, unbroken bag of water in front of it. The pushing then became a fight to the finish and even though I was beyond exhausted, I knew that it was almost over and the surprise would be here. When the head was crowning, it truly felt like a ring of fire. Tara coached me to slow down and take deep breaths so I wouldn't tear anything, so as hard as it was, I put the brakes on. The head slowly came out, thirty seconds went by and the body came out under water. Tara handed me the baby and I was able to see that I had a GIRL! Annika laid on me crying as exhaustion blanketed me. I looked at Kyle and wept.
Post-birth. Tara and Audra helped me out of the tub and lied me on our couch covered with a bunch of chux pads. They helped Annika nurse on me to stimulate contractions so they could retrieve the placenta and Kyle unintentionally sat right across from me as they did this...first time I had a laugh in 24 hours. Now it was time to pee, which seemed daunting. They helped me to the bathroom. The three of them wanted to feed me something substantial, but I just wanted smoothies and to go to sleep. Tara's husband brought over an air mattress and we "slept" downstairs in our living area with Annika in between us.
The Morning After. My body was still pretty exhausted, but I was on a high every time I noticed the small bundle laying there and from what my body did the day before. "Did I really do that?" I kept asking myself. I felt so empowered. One of my favorite shows, CBS Sunday Morning was on and Kyle made me a HUGE breakfast. Tara visited us that night to help with breastfeeding and check on Annika and I.
Thank goodness Kyle had the week off from work! He helped me walk around the condo, take Sitz bathes and cook ungodly amounts of food while I taught myself and coaxed Annika on breastfeeding.
People ask me if I had the choice to do a home birth again, would I? ABSOLUTELY! I treated my pregnancy like a training period for a marathon. Three times a week for Yoga and twice a week to weight lifting and sculpting and to get to the gym I rode my bike. I actually rode my bike two days past my due date which was liberating. Per Tara's recommendation, I also made weekly appointments during the final 6 weeks for acupuncture and chiropractic care. My acupuncturist, Sharon Levy, was extremely knowledgeable about pregnancy and induction methods and her sessions really relaxed me. Lisa Geiger was my chiropractor and she did an excellent job at aligning my body to make labor a seamless process! The whole point of all this is, I was in control of the pregnancy and the birth. Owning the birth, with Tara as the guide, was the best decision I've made in my life, and if we live far away from Tara for our second child, I want to fly her to me for that birth!