I'm so grateful for a space to share stories of unusual journeys. First it was the journey to being intestinal parasite-free, and now it's the birth story of my son.
It feels so weird writing that -- birth of my son.
He's here, and healthy, now 5 months old. There was a time I wasn't sure that was going to be the case, despite my ultra healthy, mostly smooth pregnancy. Here's why:
With childbirth, nothing is predictable. I read so many stories, both horrifying and inspiring, during my pregnancy. I'm glad I did - it was the only true prep, knowing that one person's story is not everyone else's; they are as unique as each of us.
Homebirth was the plan for my first experience with birth. Some people thought that was crazy, especially for a first time mom to be. But those that know me didn't bat an eye (OK maybe there were some wide eyes, with slight looks of concern).
After conquering parasites with food and herbs to clear the way for a healthy pregnancy (and the ability to conceive), I felt that continuing in the most natural way possible suited what I wanted for my labor and birth experience. What's more natural than wanting to be in a familiar place amongst so many unknowns? Wanting to have at least some modicum of control in a situation that is ultimately beyond it? At home, my environment was the only thing I could choose, and change to my liking. Besides, once I heard about the possibility of having the baby in a warm, relaxing bath and having the baby go from one fluid filled space to another (I imagined the baby just slipping out!), I was all in!
The people I decided to have in this calming, music-filled [link the soothing sounds for labor workshop write up], dimly lit, pleasantly aromatic environment were my mom, my husband, doula, midwife, and midwife assistant. The (loose) plan was all set.
When I finally went into labor 1.5 weeks after the "due date," it was the new moon of January 21st. (A prediction by a labor-encouraging session from Simone, a wonderful massage therapist!) My mom ended up hanging out in the office/guest room downstairs (my request) and the doula couldn't come that day. I realized nothing could prep me for this experience. At first I thought my contractions could be Braxton-Higgs/false labor that people kept talking about, since I never had sensations that others had days or weeks before their due date. But they didn't go away.
10 minutes apart. But not consistent. Sometimes they would be 7 minutes apart. Then go back to 10. My husband and I became obsessed with tracking them with an app he found.
OK. Early labor. When the contractions switched from 7-10 to 5-6 minutes apart I was to call the midwife. A day passed of just early labor (7-10 minutes of 30 second contractions). I remember it being so frustrating, not being able to tell if the sensations were going to be a manageable ten minutes apart or a too quick seven. Those three minutes really made a difference!
The doula arrived that night and helped my husband time them, kept me hydrated and fed, and suggested positions to make the contractions easier to handle.
From this point days and nights ran together. The contractions kept going from 7-10 to 5-6, never following enough of a pattern to indicate a transition into the next stage of labor.
I had my acupuncturist friend make a house call to help labor along. If I didn't have this pic, I may not have remembered what day or what was exactly done point/needling-wise. By this time, I was more tired than I knew. All I knew is that I wanted to hurry the process along. I was no longer being intrigued by the subtle changes.
Another change was the change in the sounding method I had chosen to deal with labor. Without these samples, and my husband's retelling, I would not have known that my toning changed from a very shallow, soft vague vowel sound making, to a deep, meditative, more intense vocalization. Here's [link to sound clip] what the doula recorded in the early stages.
On the 3rd day, I think (or was it day 2, and the acupuncture was day 3?) I had a massage technique with a rebozo done in the Mayan belly massage tradition, also used to encourage labor. It felt sooo wonderful. The gentle rolling and rocking with a long, sturdy scarf, meant to position the baby in the optimal place for passage through the birth canal, relieved some of the contractions temporarily.
After the 3rd day of labor, I was getting dangerously exhausted. I couldn't sleep for more than 10 minutes, I wasn't hungry and struggled with fluid intake. It was time to bust out the birth pool, at least to provide some relief. I especially craved the warm water. Once the tub was filled and I carefully climbed in, I felt enough relief to joke around that I wanted this big plastic blow up thing in my living room as a permanent fixture. Then the water cooled and it was time to get out. Sigh. But it did the trick of making the contractions a little less intense so I could eat and relax a little.
Eventually, the start/stop scenario happened again. 10 minutes, 5-6 minutes, never staying at a pattern. At this point the midwife was seriously concerned about my energy level. I was sipping bone broth, coconut water, having bites of fruit, bread when I could stomach it, but still not getting more than 10 minutes of rest. She was worried I would have no energy to get through active labor.
Taking benadryl and tylenol was suggested to slow the contractions. I resisted, not wanted to take medicine that I normally don't take at all. A couple hours later, I succumbed, I was so tired and really needed a break to build up energy. It definitely helped with the sleep, but I felt it was not enough. Birth tub time again!
I really wanted to get back in that soothing warm water, especially since I started to experience sciatic pain on my left side - from my lower back, glutes, and all the way down my leg with each contraction. What?! Where did THAT come from? This time the water soothed the spasms on my left side AND sped up the labor. At some point, I saw tiny drips of bright red blood and wondered if that meant my water broke? I couldn't tell while in the pool. Here we go???
I mentioned the blood to the doula, and we expected the contractions to stay at 5-6 minutes this time. We had the phones at the ready to call the midwife.
But the contractions slowed down. Again.
I got out of the tub. Again.
Exhaustion had set in all around. My husband and the doula could no longer keep up with timing the contractions. I remember at one point they were both passed out while I labored on. I didn't wake them up since I felt they needed sleep to for whatever was to come! When they woke up, we all agreed to call the midwife, if even for some shift relief for them.
The midwife and her assistant came over after they filled her in on the details. It was time for the dreaded vaginal exam to see how much I had dilated, and if indeed my water had broken. Did I mention I had an exam previously? I'd rather forget it. Having this kind of exam during labor is like contracting times one hundred. For this one, instead of on my back, she had me get on all fours. I was actually relieved to not have to lie on my back. I expected less pain, since this was a position that helped the contractions.
Nope. But I got through it initially.
Until it became a bit more rough. I think she was massaging my cervix to encourage dilation but all I knew was pain. Blood gushed everywhere, confirming that my water had broken earlier in the tub, several hours earlier. The midwife stopped (thank god!) and checked the baby's heart rate (or did she do that before the exam?). Time seemed suspended and the hours had already felt like they ran together.
Suddenly, she said to her assistant, pass me a flashlight, then a couple seconds later, THE FLASHLIGHT! WHAT IS TAKING SO LONG! My doula, who had been passed out on the couch - a front row view of my ass practically stuck in her face, snapped her eyes open, grabbed her phone and turned on the flashlight app in one motion.
Now I was worried. There was a strange tone in her voice, to say the least. The next thing I remember is really getting a good look at the blood oozing out of me. The midwife smeared it with her gloved finger. It was brown. Meconium.
The baby was in distress and had pooped in utero. The midwife's alarming tone changed to a gentle one as she told me we had to transfer to the hospital. She calmly explained that since she was having trouble hearing a steady heartbeat, and the presence of meconium meant that it was no longer safe to have a homebirth.
We needed to transfer to the hospital. Woodhull.
Even though I thought I had prepped mentally by disassociating that hospital with its nickname (due to their horrible emergency room), the black box of death, I was still terrified.
I could no longer control my environment once there. But at that point, I would have done anything to make the current situation end safe and sound.
The car ride there (midwife's car) was excruciating. I felt every bump and stop. They were magnified by every erratic, unpredictable contraction. Once there, the sidewalk leading up to the triage entrance loomed large - stretched out unrealistically long. I had to get to and through that door?! How? I had to ask for a wheelchair.
I'll skip over the next hour of getting through triage. Woodhull lived up to its horrible rep there. All I will say is that I had to put a hand up in someone's face while she was trying to put an IV in me during a contraction. No, I am NOT done contracting yet!! After that I really zen-ed out with my tones, blotting out the crazy bull-nurse and the other ladies in labor behind the other curtains in the room. My mantra became, "the room is almost ready, the room is almost ready..." Once it was, I never thought I'd be grateful for the sight of the wheelchair again.
From triage to the labor and delivery floor was like night and day. My mental relief was palpable when I saw that my midwife knew the hospital's midwife on duty. They became the first of two amazing teams of people who really helped me through. So far, I didn't mind being in the hospital.
We were gearing up for a vaginal birth, but I had only dilated .1 cm in 3 hours since I arrived (from 5 to 5.1).
Pitocin was mentioned. I said, hell no. Not without an epidural. I knew Pitocin would increase the contractions drastically, and at that point I knew I could not handle more intense contractions AND the sciatic pain that never went away alongside them. Despite my anti-medication stance, getting the epidural was the best decision I made. Such sweet relief after 4 days of laboring.
So with the baby monitor previously installed (I can't remember when exactly they did that), we waited and listened. My midwife prepped me by saying even though I wouldn't feel anything, I would feel pressure and I had to listen when she would tell me to push. The Pitocin was prepped. The hospital's midwife came back in and frowned. It seemed with each contraction, the baby's heart rate became slower. When the contraction passed, it steadily increased. Much more of the same and she told me we could easily lose the heartbeat during birth. An emergency C section was mentioned. All of us focused on the only sound in the room it seemed at that point. The heartbeat like a little train chugging along. Then slowing as if straining to go up a hill, and increasing speed as it got over the hump.
My terror seeped in, after remaining calm all this time. I still didn't panic, but fear of not being able to do anything but breathe into an oxygen mask they handed me made me focus only on breathing and sending all my energy to the baby in utero, hoping that sheer will alone would keep him alive.
It kept happening. After the third round, that was it. Emergency C section was called for (I had already signed the papers giving it a go if necessary).
At this point I was not even lamenting the fact I was about to be cut open and pumped full of drugs.
After all this time I didn't want to lose the baby. That was all that mattered. They unhooked the fetal monitor (or just turned the sound off?) while I was being wheeled to the OR. The oxygen mask was taken away as well. I had nothing to grip tightly, nor any indication of when the contractions were happening so I could breathe more deeply. I could only feel my own fear creeping in deeper.
The OR team (so many people!) got to work quickly and quietly. The surgeon came in and turned on the music. What?! YES! Some of the worry melted away, as he hummed and made small talk with a neo-soul Spotify playlist in the background. This was the same guy I vaguely remember meeting as the physician on duty when I first arrived. He joked to my husband that he looked like Keanu Reeves. One to many times though. Apparently he did it again once we heard the news about the heart rate. It did not go over well. Bad timing, dude!
I remember asking what antibiotics they were pumping in me (like I would remember!) while being a little freaked out about the sheet covering the completely numb lower half of my body. In what seemed like both an instant and forever I felt a lot of tugging and pressure (so freaky).
And then, a baby cry! He was alive! I was ready to see him and hold him immediately, skin to skin. But my arms were hooked up to these table extensions in a "T". One side was holding my arm in place so that the IV in my hand would not slip out. I guess the other so I wouldn't pull it out? Dunno.
My husband (when did he come in?) and I both kept repeating, "skin to skin, skin to skin," but no one moved to pick up the baby in the bassinet to the right and above my head. Less than 6 feet away.
Finally a midwife took charge, walked over, picked him up and put him on my chest. My left hand was freed so I could at least hold him in place with one hand with her help for a few too-short moments. I was blissed out and in awe. That's all I could remember from that instant.
I had a healthy boy and a painless delivery. But the story was not over yet.
The next morning, snowpocalypse started. I have to say that during the blizzard, the hospital staff was amazing. Some nurses had to be there for 24 hours straight, stuck since public transportation was shut down. I really had no idea what was going on outside, other than what we could see from the recovery room window.
The next three days was a crash course in parenting, patience, and a little stir-craziness. On the third day -- my birthday -- Kaden Garrett Sanborn and I were discharged.