Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Birthday 9/10/10

After 9 months of preparation through reading and talking with wise moms, exercising, eating intentionally, practicing Hyponbirth relaxation techniques, and praying, the day I had patiently waited for finally arrived. The day I went into labor, I had an appointment scheduled with my midwife, Mary Lou. I was one week past the “due date” and had been having very mild Braxton Hicks contractions at inconsistent intervals and the occasional slightly more crampy ones, but I really hadn’t noticed any other “early labor” signs. Mary Lou did the usual check-up, listened to the baby’s heartbeat, checked my blood pressure and weight, etc., but this visit she wanted to do a vaginal exam to see if there was anything to report. To my surprise, she found me 3 cm dilated and 80% effaced. Obviously those mild surges were doing something! Mary Lou suggested that she also do a “sweep” (to separate the membranes around the baby from the cervix) as a safe and natural induction method since I was 41 weeks. This apparently releases hormones called prostaglandins, which sometimes kick-start labour. Mary Lou speculated that I would probably have the baby within the next 72 hours.

So, I went about my afternoon, got a massage, went to the Herb store and to the Mac store, all the while feeling a few more crampy, but mild, contractions. I called Greg on the way home and we decided that since we were planning a home birth we wanted to let our families be involved by at least coming over sometime in early labor to pray for us, the baby, and the upcoming birth. We didn’t think she would come any time soon, but wanted to have this prayer time anyway.

After our families left, Greg and I went out and had spicy indian food (another alleged natural inducer) and then came home and started watching a tv show. It wasn’t long before I began to feel restless.

Around 9:00 I decided to go downstairs and begin baking the baby’s birthday cake. This was something I had imagined would be fun to have ready for the day after the birth when family came to meet her. I could sense that my body was getting ready and my surges were getting a little more intense each time, so I started baking! Greg came downstairs and began timing the surges, which were getting more and more intense and demanding more of my attention each time. 5 minutes apart, 3 minutes apart.....they were coming quickly, but we weren’t sure if this was the real deal or not. Greg called Mary Lou and explained the situation. When she heard that I was still bustling around the kitchen baking a cake, she promptly told Greg to pour us each a small glass of wine, and get us to bed to sleep through as much of the night as we could .

At 10:00, each surge had me stopping to breathe deeply and lean on Greg for the duration. I set the cake on a cooling rack and headed upstairs. I had a hot shower, a few sips of wine, and laid down to rest. After that point, I completely lost track of time. I spent a couple of hours laying there with a heating pad on my back. I remember getting cold and getting the shakes, then getting too warm and kicking everything off (probably the hormones and adrenaline preparing my body for action).

Around 1:00 AM I felt like I had to pee and as I was sitting there in the bathroom, my water broke right over the toilet. I was kind of relieved that it had broken in such a convenient spot and not all over the floor somewhere else :) Greg called Mary Lou who said she’d be there soon. Meanwhile, I had another surge, this time stronger. Greg went to move his car for the midwives to park closer to the house and I stayed seated through another 2 surges before I felt ready to move.

I made my way downstairs and labored for a while, walking around and leaning on Greg or the counter, but then decided to try lying down in the guest bed to relieve some of the weight of gravity from walking. My surges were very strong now, and I was becoming more and more vocal, taking deep breaths and letting it out in long, low moans. I remembered the advice my dear friend Sarah (a home-birthing mom and the woman who inspired me to do it) had given me:

“Keep it low,” she said. “Remember, ‘Whale song!’”

The idea is that when we allow our cries to move up the scale into that screechy, high pitched range, we’re wasting energy and naturally tend to tense up our shoulders, neck and throats. This is counterproductive to the labor process. Keeping the sound low and using deep, long breaths is much more effective and energy saving. For me it was even more than that. I found that making gentle, low moaning sounds, even in between surges, kept me in a kind of self-soothing, hypnotic lull. I was also conscious about letting my jaw hang loose and not clenching my teeth. Keeping the jaw soft and relaxed has proven effects on the ability of the vaginal muscles to soften and open in labor.

When Mary Lou arrived around 2:00, she came in right as I was having another surge. Without even having to enter the room where I was, she told Greg that she could tell I was already in transition. She and Greg began setting up and filling the birthing tub. Not long after she arrived, I began feeling the urge to push. I was still in the bed and getting anxious to get into the water. I didn’t know at the time, but apparently our hot water had run out and Greg and Mary Lou were heating pots on the stove to get the tub filled enough, so they were not as present during that time, but I just labored on in the next room!

Finally, I was able to move into the water and I immediately felt more relaxed. The surges were still very strong, and Greg and Mary Lou were still working on filling the tub, but the warmth and relief from gravity was wonderful. I could hear my relaxing music mix playing in the background. The songs were familiar, and I had practiced relaxation techniques through my Hypnobirth classes while listening to these specific songs, so my body really responded to that trigger as well. I also remember the scent of lavender oil burning and the sound of water running from the sink as they worked on filling the pool. All of this relaxed me in between surges.

At some point, the other midwife, Barbara, arrived and began helping set up as well. My eyes remained closed most of the time, and I continued to go deeper and deeper into my birthing body, focusing on the sensations as they came and relaxing deeply in-between surges. As I got closer to the end, I actually felt myself falling asleep in-between very strong surges. I remember leaning over the side of the tub after a surge and a minute or so passed. I started dreaming something and my head jerked as I began to nod off. This was my body gathering every ounce of strength for the next push.

At one point in the labor Mary Lou asked me to step out of the tub and go back to the bed so they could examine me. This was a bit disruptive actually. Gravity set back in and I had to climb back up onto the bed and had a couple of surges there, but the midwives were able to clear the last bit of cervix out of the way and also help the baby’s head come down past the pubic bone. This helped move things along a bit and I was then able to go back into the water.

At that point everyone got very quiet and waited. Mary Lou would occasionally reach down with her stethoscope and check the baby’s heartbeat. Greg sat by the pool and would gently rub my arm or hold my hand and whisper encouragement to me or offer me water. I did some pushing with my back against the side of the pool, but my back ached in that position so I tried pushing on my hands and knees which was much easier. I would lay back against the pool in-between surges or sometimes just drape myself over the side of the pool to rest.

Before the birth, everyone had told me that I would reach a point where I would start to lose hope and think I couldn’t do it. Everyone said I would wish for a way out but that I would have to remember that the only “way” is through. I knew I would be tempted to doubt and falter, and those thoughts and feelings began to press on the back of my mind as I got closer, but I knew the truth—that my body was designed to perform in this way, and I fought to keep from giving into fear.

What truly gave me the gumption to keep going was reaching down and feeling the baby’s little head starting to come through. I must have made a face when I first felt it, because Mary Lou asked if I could feel anything and I excitedly exclaimed that I did! But after each surge, the head would slowly slip back inside.

“Is it normal that her head keeps going back in?” I asked, beginning to feel a bit like I was just pushing and feeling all this pain for nothing.

“It’s totally normal,” Mary Lou answered. “Everyone gets frustrated by that, but just remember that each time you push you’re making progress and it’s coming through more and more. You’re so close!”

She encouraged me that it would help to keep reaching down and feeling the area stretch each time. She also encouraged me to start deepening the pushes. She put it well when she told me to “make it as big as it needs to be.” And rather that making a lot of noise like I had been doing (which was thus far helpful), she wanted me to use the breath to push PAST the point I had been reaching before.

Apparently, according to the midwives, I had this look on my face of both “pain and ecstasy” when the head was crowning. I knew we were close, and I new that the moment of joy I had been dreaming about was just a few pushes away! When her head was far enough out so that it didn’t recede back inside, I experienced the most intense and prolonged pain of the labor. This was that “ring of fire” I had heard about. Indeed, it was crazy pain! But we were so close and I had a goal: get that head out and the rest will come easily! I focused on the sensation of her soft hair at my fingertips and the shape of her skull fitting miraculously through.

Finally, her head come all the way out and I was so excited and shocked that I leaned back exclaiming, “The head is out! The head is out!!” and Mary Lou had to remind me to focus and push the rest of the baby out! :) I was just so excited that I had gotten that head out!

Another push and at 4:37 AM, just 6 1/2 hours after labor began, her whole slippery, little body came gently out into my arms and I beheld my beautiful daughter, Aria Jane, for the first time!

The water was such a gentle transition for her, and she was so relaxed, that she didn’t want to wake up and cry for us at first. She just squirmed a little in my arms, looking peacefully asleep. Barbara massaged her back, cleared her nose and mouth with and aspirator, and even had to blow into her mouth once to wake her up and get her to take that first breath on her own. She was 6 lbs 13 ounces, 20.5 inches long and absolutely perfect!

Our first moments together were surreal. I was amazed at her fragility and her strength. Here was this little creature whom God had blessed us with. She was so delicate, so helpless, yet to be able experience birth on her end proves her own God-given health and strength! I remember so vividly taking it all in for the first time—her dark, soft hair, almond-shaped eyes, long fingers, perfect little nose, beautiful, puckered lips, the chord still connecting her to me for a few moments more. The weight of her in my arms instead of my belly was exhilarating! Nothing could have truly prepared me for this moment. I felt such a rush of love and energy and awe.

Now, my one-month-old daughter lays sleeping on my chest, cooing and breathing. I breathe in her sweet scent as I kiss her head and thank God for the miracle of life and for this child He has blessed us with. May she come to know His love for her someday and may we be faithful, loving parents, pointing her to Him in all we do. Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, His love endures forever!

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