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Birth stories are powerful: they can be inspiring; they can provide a "reality check" for unrealistic expectations; they can suggest helpful approaches or strategies for birthing. Unfortunately, some birth stories turn into "horror stories" - these are the ones that are best ignored!
In this section you will find birth stories from a few BIRTHING YOUR BABY
parents. This section will be growing, so check back for more. Until then,
you can find more birth stories in Ina May Gaskin's book, Ina May Gaskin's
Guide to Childbirth and on several websites in the Online
Resources: Birth Stories section of the website. Enjoy!!
BIRTH: A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS
Born September 6th, 2008
Measuring 7lb 11oz and 20.5"
to Jenn and James
The Birth House
Born February 22nd, 2008
Measuring 8lb 7oz
to Gillian and Ian
MaineGeneral, Augusta Campus
A book I read recently said that sprinkled across your brain are receptors for endogenous cannabinoids, perfectly THC-like chemicals your own body makes in certain kinds of stress. Under their influence the racing mind calms, recent memories blur, and you're left like the peaceful pot smoker who wonders cheerfully what it was he was just talking about. The book said women after childbirth are awash in endogenous cannabinoids, and I have to believe it. Some of my labor memories are actually memories of the anecdotes I told after leaving the hospital, and some I had to quiz Ian for. But some, in fact, were cannabinoid-immune, and they remain so vivid in my mind that all I have to do is close my eyes and let them take me over again.
It's late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, and I awaken five or six times with what feels like raucous digestive activity, quick touches of the sort of crampy fullness you get after a large meal: Braxton-Hicks contractions, I figure, or at most pre-pre-pre-labor pains. Because I haven't yet had that get-this-baby-out-already feeling yet, I expect to give birth late, and it's a full six days before my due date. I adjust the king-size pillow I keep wedged between my knees, under my belly, and between my swollen breasts, and settle down.
In the morning I walk the dog as usual, up Cottage Street and down Lincoln Avenue and back, sticking to the cleared roads and stepping carefully around the ice patches in the watery February light. Then I settle down to work on the May issue of Go and the summer 2008 Outside Buyer's Guide. By about two in the afternoon, though, the sensations resume, this time a little more interestingly: a painless muscular flexing in my abdomen, like the tension of a flexed biceps, a couple of times an hour. I e-mail my two bosses to say I'm feeling odd and although I can't guarantee that this is it, I can't concentrate anymore.
"Can you read until EOB tomorrow, Gillian?" replies one. "It would really help."
"I don't think so," I reply.
I'm sleepy from last night and jumpy at the same time. The biceps feeling comes and goes throughout the afternoon.
Ian arrives from work at about 5:30 but is heading right out again for a slideshow about tuna conservation in Portland, an hour south. "Go ahead," I say. "This is probably just what Ilana had." My friend Ilana had contractions for a couple of weeks before going into any sort of active labor. She and I went swimming at the Y and lunched at Café de Bangkok, and there she was, contracting away the whole time.
But Ian gets out a pen and lays his watch on the kitchen island for us both to observe. It turns out the contractions are happening every seven minutes. It's like clockwork, like a radioactive isotope, amazing. I call Barbara, my midwife. "Tell Ian to skip the tuna," she says. "And call again when the contractions get more painful and closer together."
All the while, I'm cheerful and calm, even a little goofy. My sister-in-law phones about pan-searing hamburgers (kosher salt, no oil, high heat), and we gab and laugh; I don't let on. Ian and I giggle as we putter in the kitchen. I feel as giddy as when I step into an airport before a flight-about to lift off from the ordinary world and into a free-floating bubble of sensation. The thrill of embarkation.
In spite of all the mirth, Raymond, our ninety-pound shepherd mutt, clings to me as if I were gripped by an epileptic seizure. His feathery tail, usually curled up over his back, hangs plumb. If I stir, he jumps. If I cross the room, he stays pressed to my leg, gazing up at me with solemn anxiety. "We have to take Ray to Phyllis and Logan's or he's going to have a heart attack," I say, and Ian packs up his bed and kibble keg and takes him up to the farmhouse. Thus Ian's Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Logan become the first to know something could be afoot.
Ian plays it cool when he phones both his cousin Marsh and friend Jeremy for consultation on installing the car seat: Sure, it's 8:30 at night, 15 degrees, and snowing, but it just seems like a good moment to pop the thing in there. Both men play along. Meanwhile I, having learned in birth class that it's good to have a pre-labor manual project, start making Cook's Illustrated stock out of a couple of the roosters we've been storing in the basement freezer. I happily brown the chicken parts and coarsely chop carrots and celery and pleasing little brown onions, laying down my wooden spoon every six or seven minutes to pay attention to a contraction.
It's like something rolling around from my back to enclose my abdomen, a pair of light vertical rollers. I get a visual flash of gaily painted farm equipment, toy tractors. Still no real pain, nothing to report to Barbara. I pick up the spoon and deglaze the pan with white wine. Hey, maybe I'll be one of those women who feel no pain at all. It sort of stands to reason-the books and classes are made for the average woman, and look at the average woman! I'm much fitter and stronger. This could be a graceful athletic event, like a hill climb when my bicycle feels motorized and I zip right to the top.
Once the ingredients are simmering, I go upstairs to pack a few last-minute-type things-bathrobe, hairbrush, dop kit. Diapers and clothes for the baby. The baby.
Another contraction. Nothing I can't handle. When Ian calls up offering to carry my bag, I say no, thanks. Downstairs, he's covered the rug and the black recliner with moving blankets. If it weren't for the Bugs Bunny/Yosemite Sam motif, our living room would look like the set from Sweeney Todd. I settle into the chair cross-legged, laughing.
After a while, when the contractions get to be five minutes apart and start feeling more insistent-the rollers starting to bruise, sort of-we call Barbara and gather our things. It's spooky getting ready to leave the house at this hour. "Hang on a minute," I say. There we stand in the mudroom in our coats and hats and gloves, duffel bag and backpack at our feet. "Come here," I say. I kiss Ian and wrap my arms around him as far as I can, burying my face in the cool gray taffeta of his down jacket. We are about to walk out of one home and would return to another. Our life as a couple is ending in a matter of hours. Soon we'll be a family, it seems certain now.
"If you want to stay here a while longer, we can do that," he offers. "Barbara said."
"No, let's go. I'm ready."
Ian helps me navigate the chunks of plowed-up snow in the driveway and arranges our bags among the hockey sticks and chainsaw equipment in the back of the Subaru. I'm fastening my seatbelt when the motion-activated porch light to turns off and a thin wash of stars emerges, and a few flannelly wisps of cloud. Last night there was a total lunar eclipse, and Ian and I lay in the driveway to watch awhile, he upright in a Crazy Creek chair and I between his knees on a Therm-A-Rest, each of us exhaling from the corners of our mouths so our breath wouldn't cloud the view. From ten to eleven we stared at the advancing translucent shade until the moon looked saved in amber. Now, less than a day later, we're pulling out onto the empty road. We round the corner and the moon appears to us above the tall pines and the river, blazing white and just past full.
I scan the radio. Mirabile dictu: "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper. I know all the words and sing with gusto. "You know, it doesn't hurt while I'm singing. If I just keep singing, the contractions are all right."
"That's awesome," says Ian. The set of his lower lip suggests he doesn't quite believe me. I move on to "Don't Go Back to Rockville," "Sweet Caroline," even Elton John's "Tiny Dancer."
The hospital parking lot is eerily still, and we have to enter through the emergency room. "Hello. We'd like to have a baby, please," I say jauntily to the security guard. Ian chuckles and shakes his head.
The guard takes in the swell of my green wool coat. "I'll show you through. And you have a nice one, now."
I use the same line at the front desk at the maternity ward on floor five: "Good evening! I'd like to have a baby, please!" I feel hilarious.
Before I had a birth story to tell, I cringed a little over the whole birth-story genre. Birth is so superlatively common (more common even than death, demographically speaking) and so deeply, primally personal. But here I am, adding my pages to the great world library of birth stories as I add one more human being-as thrillingly precious as she is incomprehensibly common-to the planet.
I spend a while belly-up on the bed with a sensor belt around my equator, and the numbers are all good. The fetal heart rate is a healthy purr that slows for contractions but perks back up again. I can't see the monitor from my place of bondage on the bed, but I pull the information from the nervous-looking, seemingly 17-year-old nurse who stares into the middle distance above my head as she probes my cervix with gloved fingers. "Mm. Just one, maybe two centimeters," she says. "You could go back home if you wanted to." It doesn't take me long to decide to stay put. I'd rather hang out in the hospital than sit in the car and then wonder if it's time to head back out again. And I'm happy here. My room opens onto a softly lit, green-carpeted hallway. The assortment of medical apparatus and Hampton Inn window treatments are strangely comforting. I don't want to be in my normal world right now.
With each contraction, I imagine myself opening up. The Flower Visualization I'd studied in my birthing books is a needless metaphor; I simply picture my cervix widening, widening. I'm padding around in bare feet and clothes I'll never wear again: maternity jeans, the thin black sweatpants I've been wearing as long johns, an orange striped V-neck and the thin dark-blue sweater I bought from Old Navy and have been wearing every day for months. Everything but the sweater was a hand-me-down from Ian's cousin. I loved buying the sweater.
I've chosen Paul Simon's Graceland from our CD book and I'm singing along, pacing in a clockwise circle. And you can say loo-oo-sing love is like a window in your heart… I consider turning around and walking counterclockwise so I don't get dizzy, but I find I can't. Ian is asleep in the foldout chair-I told him to rest while he could-and the New Yorker he was leafing though is sliding off his lap. A Barack Obama cartoon is on the cover. I can't stop to pick it up.
I pace and sing through Graceland and then Rhythm of the Saints and then the first half of Graceland again before a new kind of contraction stops me in my tracks. Before you was born, dude, when life was- "Ian?" He's wide awake and on his feet.
"Maybe I'll hop onto the bed now." He helps me climb up, and I take hold of the backrest, crouching as if I were riding backward in the front seat of a car, talking to a passenger in the back. Remembering all my training, I breathe deeply and try to imagine gliding off into aqua tranquility in a quiet lane at the pool. Then I turn around and crouch on all fours. It's like no sensation I've ever had before, a full-body pressure that comes from nowhere, pressing neither in nor out nor up nor down but devastatingly hard in all directions. Ian sits at the end of the bed and I kneel beside him, my forehead pressed into the hollow of his collarbone. If I'm hurting him, he doesn't say so. With each wave I press in deeper.
"You're tensing up," he says. "When it comes, don't tense up. Take every muscle that's not involved and try to relax it."
I want to say that's impossible, but I don't want to argue. I nod, and with my eyes closed I graph the contraction in my mind. It's a hill, a mountain. He's right-I'm tensing my whole body to try to lift myself over the crest. Even my feet flex as if I'm rising on tiptoes. "Just slide under it. Just sliiiide under it," I say out loud. Some shard of my normal consciousness notices I'm a cliché after all, moaning my little mantra, but it's helping. Slide under the mountain, just sliiiide under it.
At the end of one contraction I happen to glance up toward the open door. Just outside is a bassinet. It's a cheap-looking blond veneer cabinet on casters with a clear, round-cornered bin on top. Inside is either a small alien creature or a freshly excised human organ, and it's wearing a tiny blue hat. It opens its mouth and starts to wail, and the sound somehow meets the wavelength of tension in my lower body and I think I'll blast into a million pieces.
I don't want one of those in my house! Oh, no. What have I done?
My childbirth instructor told us it can help to moan or groan or yell, that opening the jaw somehow eases the rest of the body, so at the next contraction, I try a moan. "Nnnnnnn," deep in my throat. "Nnnnnnn…"
"That's right, baby," says Ian. "Just keep it low." He's right again. The teacher said a lower pitch is stabilizing; a high pitch just makes you more hysterical. "NNNNnnnn!" I howl, alto profundo. I can't believe how loud I am but I don't care.
I'm sitting on an inflatable peanut-shaped piece of exercise equipment at the foot of the bed when Barbara arrives, and I want to jump into her arms but I stay planted on my peanut, physically stable with my forehead pressed into Ian's thigh. She perches on a stool beside Ian and folds her hands in her lap and smiles a natural, excited smile.
It's too much. I set my gaze on the wide silver ring around her thumb. "I don't think I want this baby," I say. I try to sound casual but let my sincerity come through too. Did I achieve that?
"What?" says Barbara. I look up and she's tilting her head and furrowing her brow with gentle concern but no alarm. She's dressed all in sleek black, with black Catwoman glasses, as if she's heading to a nightclub next. Ian looks blank.
"I saw a baby in the hallway and I don't want one." My eyes fill up and I can't see Ian's expression anymore. Nnnnnnn…I want to go home.
"You are going- Listen to me, Gillian. You are going to be a great mom," says Barbara. You're going to have a beautiful little baby and you are going to love that baby with all your heart. Isn't that right, Ian?"
"That's right, baby. You're gonna do great. You're doing great."
"There's no way to back out of this?"
Ian and Barbara smile (she more than he). They think I'm joking around. I have to submerge myself beneath an oncoming mountain, and while I'm under I realize the only way to escape from this room and this labor is to give birth to the baby. The only way out of this is through it. Sliiide under it. The only way out is through. The only way out is through.
"Do you want to get in the tub?" Barbara asks. I nod. Helping me out of my clothes, Ian seems relieved to have something physical to do.
I knew from the hospital tour that it wouldn't be a real birthing tub but a large corner Jacuzzi. MaineGeneral hasn't yet approved Barbara's waterbirth protocol, but she and I agreed that "if the baby should come out in the tub, then, oh well!" The conversation feels like decades ago. I climb in and it's good to be buoyant. Ah, a bathtub. I know bathtubs. I turn the hot water on full blast, and the next mountain doesn't seem so high. I experiment with the jets. A new nurse takes a seat beside the sink and we're introduced. She has short, fluffed-up blond hair and her name is Penny or Patty or Patsy-it's muffled by the water.
"So you're all set up here," says Barbara. "I'm going to just slip next door and check on my other birth."
She has a twinkle in her eye that she directs at Ian, and I for a moment I'm dumbfounded. "You have someone else at the same time?" I ask. "Now?"
"I'll be right next door if you need me, OK?"
What? "If I need you and I call you, you'll come?" I'm pleading.
"I'll be right here if you need me."
"How is that possible? What if the other one needs you at the same time?" I realize I'm not uttering these last questions out loud. I'm pressing my forehead into the lip of the tub while Ian kneads my neck. The lights are very dim, and I ask-aloud-for a washcloth to put under my forehead. "Not you!" I snap at Ian as he moves to reach for a cloth. "Her!"
The dry white washcloth is a talisman of safety and the known world, and I don't move my head from it. The time between contractions is a dull thud of waiting. There is a baby inside me, a full-grown giant human baby that's been consuming my nutrients and bruising and scraping my insides for nine months, and I haven't minded at all. But now the only way to get it out of me is to continue, so I do, and I don't think of what will happen afterward. Some arrangement will be made. The only way out is through, the only way out is through, the only… NNNNNNnnn.
Now I'm sitting with my knees up in a standard woman-in-labor pose and I notice dark little objects bobbing in the water. Jesus Christ. I cannot address the possibility that I am in fact loosing poop into the bathtub in front of Ian. The nurse hops up and scoops it away with a purple-gloved hand. I close my eyes.
Barbara returns and again I want to climb into her arms, but instead I stay in the rapidly cooling water and submit to another check. She pulls out a small flashlight and looks between my legs. "You're doing beautifully, Gillian." She gives me a smile full of warmth and encouragement and I don't believe her. "I don't know," I say. I'm beginning to suspect the labor's not progressing but no one will say so. "If there were something wrong, would you tell me?"
"I would tell you, I promise. You're doing fine. The baby will be coming soon, really soon. You're parting now, and soon you'll probably want to push."
"I don't want to push."
"You don't have to yet. You're just fine doing what you're doing."
Contraction. "This will end?" I ask. The syntax doesn't sound like English somehow. "This will be over sometime?"
Again they think I'm being funny. "Yes," someone chuckles in a manner that's supposed to be reassuring. "It always ends." It's the nurse on the chair. She has pink scrubs and a loud singsong voice.
I remember that "transition" is still to come, that stretch that's so bad you think you won't be able to handle it, and afterwards you want to push the baby out. I don't want to push the baby out, and I know I'm holding in at least as much as I'm trying to open up. The only way out is through.
"They have those Maglites, you know? You can get 'em at Wal-Mart and Reny's, and they're really bright," the nurse is saying. "We should have those for these tub births, 'cause what you've got-is that out of your car? I like how it's got that-"
"Stop…TALKING," I gasp. Suddenly I'm freezing cold and whimpering.
"Let's get her out," says the nurse, and I'm ashamed of myself as she helps me stand and towels me off. Now the shivers are practically convulsions.
"Let's get you warm," says Ian, and he zips me into his huge down jacket. Leaning on the bed, naked from the waist down but wearing his puffy coat and Mountain Hardwear ski hat, I'm a lollipop of gooseflesh and taffeta. But I'm feeling better. I want to cry, I love him so much.
When I've stopped shivering, the nurse asks if I'd rather get into bed or back in the tub. "I'll get back in."
The water has cooled, so Ian turns on the hot tap. I scoot out of the way of a gush of cold water, shivering violently again. "It'll warm up in a minute," says the nurse.
Where is Barbara? "It's not warming up!"
"Give it a sec," she says.
"It's not warming up," says Ian.
I whimper again. I still haven't cried, but I'm close now. "I'll go take care of it," he says. He puts his hands on my shoulders. "Baby, I'll be right back."
Eventually he returns and shakes his head, mutters something to the nurse. She leaves, and by the end of the next contraction she's back with two other nurses, each of whom carries two glass coffeepots. They start pouring warm water from the pots into the tub at my feet. "Not there! Here!" I point to a spot beside my naked torso.
"I don't want to burn-"
"Just pour it!"
The nurses cycle in and out from a Mr. Coffee somewhere, pouring potfuls around me. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you," I murmur. Ian tries the faucet again and it's hot. O wonderful.
With the next few contractions, I perceive something is different, wrong. The mass has fallen through my reproductive tract and ruptured through to my colon. I am completely scrambled inside. "Nnnn…NNNN! Barbara!"
"I'm right here." She kneels beside the tub and reaches over me, supporting my knees. "Does this feel good?"
"It's-" I can't explain. "I think I want to push." The only way out is through.
"Go for it. Take a deep breath, and as you blow it out, also push at the same time. Let's try it. One, two, three, push!"
Nothing happens. "It's not doing anything!" I'm suddenly exhausted. Pushing is supposed to feel great, cathartic; one of my birth books said it can be downright orgasmic. "Is it too late? Do I need a C-section?"
"You're doing fine. It's perfect, Gillian. Take a breather, and when you're ready again, go ahead and push."
It was around this time that my water broke. Other things would break too, namely a handful of high-capacity interior blood vessels. Later Barbara would shake her head with amazing candor and say, "I don't like all this bleeding." There would be a surgeon called, Novocain that hurt, stitches that didn't, a periurethral tear and a labial hematoma the size of my thumb. There would be weighing and measuring and nurses telling me "'L.G.A.' means 'large for gestational age,' honey." There would be Barbara holding up the surprisingly large, dark, meaty placenta in the shape of an ancient oak tree. And there would be Ian hurriedly unbuttoning his shirt and holding a blanketed bundle to his bare chest. There would be cell-phone calls. But before all that, there would be pushing.
Nurses take turns holding my knees. My abs and back and tiny background muscles I didn't know I had are strained almost to the rupturing point. Eventually Barbara checks me again, pointing her flashlight beam through the murky water. "Gillian, the baby's coming now." She probes again and smiles, gently but happily. "Yep, I can feel the baby's hair now."
This detail pulls the air from my lungs. I would start crying if I could breathe. I want my mother. Even if she were alive she'd be powerless to rescue me, but I want her, I want her.
"You have a choice," says Barbara. A choice? Really? "You can either stay here in the tub or you can move over to the bed. If we stay in the tub, we'll need to drain the water and fill it up again, but we can absolutely do that." Oh.
I think about sitting beached and cold in the empty Jacuzzi. "I'll go to the bed." While Ian and the nurse help me to my feet, Barbara gets a warm towel, and standing there in the tub I have a huge contraction and push. There's movement, a drastic downward shifting. "The baby's coming!"
"That's good!" says Barbara.
"No! It's coming now!" Suddenly the thought of the baby falling headfirst to the floor is as horrific as the previous thought of delivering a baby at all. After another contraction I waddle with somebody's help to the side of the bed and grab hold. "Hurry!" Barbara and the nurses are moving too slowly, just drifting about, but I can't stop myself from pushing. "There's no time!"
"G, it's OK," says Ian. "Barbara knows what she's doing. There's time."
Barbara is in fact far across the room, turning the rods on the blinds to let in…gray-pink winter light. It's morning. All that time in the tub was only one night. Barbara turns off the fluorescent overheads and the room is suddenly, miraculously wholesome.
"Gillian, where do you want to be?"
Some brief negotiation and then I'm standing, half squatting, at the foot of the bed with Ian sitting behind me. His arms are threaded under mine and laced across my chest. My quads sting but I shake my head when someone suggests another position. "This's fine," I whisper. "I'll stay here." Then Barbara kneels at my feet. Reposeful as a Buddhist nun preparing for meditation, she unfurls a pale blue roll of gleaming instruments. They are beautiful.
I push-push and squeeze and strain despite the hundred bones and sinews about to snap throughout my core. Let me explode, then. "You're crowning," says Barbara. "One more push."
I try again but the effect is weak, diffuse. I'm stuck. "Oh, God," I moan, and I'm aware this is the first time I've said that aloud.
"Good. Excellent, Gillian. Next time, make it as big as you can. Ready…push!"
I do, and the movement is dramatic this time, several inches surely. "The head is almost out," says Barbara. "You're almost there. Push!"
The head is almost out? It's partway out? How is it not getting crushed? "Pull!" I yell.
"No, Gillian, this is your job." Smiles. Jesus Christ, do they think I'm joking?
I fill my lungs and heave, bending at the waist and squatting with my knees.
"Good. Now one more time."
The baby must be suffocating, its brain compressing, its face deforming. I heave again.
"The head is out, the head is out. You're almost done, Gillian. When you're ready, one more push."
It's strangling! Without pause I roar and push again, but the resistance is gone. Just a slippery, slithering release. Shoulders, I suppose, and…arms and legs, so long and easy.
And now there's a baby on me, pink and wet and indisputably human, with a dark mat of hair and a curious blue and white tangle of cord. Long, spidery fingers with flawless long oval nails. Huge earth-brown eyes, open and looking for my face.
Ian hoists me onto the bed, with the baby riding on top of me. "Do you want to see what it is?" asks Barbara. Is there a question? Isn't it a regular baby?
"I can't see," says Ian.
Oh-boy or girl. Barbara nudges the cord aside. "Girl! It's a girl!" The baby opens her mouth, takes in the air, and lets out the most plaintive, seductive sound. Instantly, I cannot fathom not wanting this creature. I am beyond in-love. I am gutted, cleaned out, replaced by love.
"We did it," I hear myself say. "My baby. Welcome. My baby." I'm babbling. Nothing I can think to say is equal to this grateful, worshipful, resurrecting devotion.
"She's perfect," says Barbara.
"She's perfect," says Ian.
"Evelyn," I say.
Born at 2:30PM September 18, 2003
Measuring 8lb 10oz, 20.5"
to Brian and Louise
St. Mary's Hospital
September 17-18, 2003
I had been so frustrated, depressed and just all out tired of being pregnant. My body ached. My clothes didn't fit. I was tired of getting up three plus times a night to pee. And most of all, after carrying this little person inside me for 39 weeks, I was ready to meet him. I kept hoping that he would arrive early, but as my due date approached, and let's face it by the 17th it was only five days away, I had resigned myself to the fact that Gabe would be late. It was an exercise in patience.
As we arrived at our church's kinship meeting, I steeled my fragile psyche for the questions - how are you feeling? Still pregnant? Yes I am - I thought - yes I am. I shared my frustrations and the group promptly resolved to pray for me. I honestly do not remember what they prayed only that in the middle of the praying I felt two sharp, strong contractions. I quickly stood up and walked to the doorway as sitting was not comfortable - my friends Laurie and Ron both looked at me with concern, but I shook my head, dismissing the contractions as my usual Braxton Hicks. After all, this was usually the time I felt them.
We went home shortly after and went to bed without incident. Now it is important to interject here that Brian was exhausted. Weeks of my snoring had kept him up and in an effort to get some solid rest he took two Tylenol PM. He quickly fell into an exhausted, drugged sleep.
The late evening proceeded without incident beyond my getting up every hour to relieve my aching bladder. At 2:15 A.M. I suddenly felt like passing gas. As it passed I felt a gush. My heart stopped. My brain froze. My body just seemed like it was suspended in time. As the minutes ticked by and my brain thawed from its shock over this new development, I argued with myself... Was that my water breaking? Did I pee in bed? After much inner debate I decided to touch the wetness that had seeped from my body. It was sticky and smelled like sweet and sour. It was not pee. Very carefully with my legs crossed in hopes of not leaking more fluid on the floor, I rolled out of bed and hobbled to the bathroom. The scene really was comical.
The light spilling from the bathroom awakened Brian. His groggy voice croaked out Are you ok? I responded with a slight giggle,Well my water just broke. My response was met with several seconds of dead silence followed by a sleepy Do you need me? Now it's important to mention that at this point I had felt nothing - no contractions, no pain, nothing. So I promptly responded No, go to sleep, knowing that I would need him to be in top form later. I cleaned myself up and went to bed. By this time I was feeling contractions - they were 20 minutes apart. Lying down was miserable, so I got up and did a load of laundry and paced the kitchen with my dog, Maggie, for company.
At about 5 A.M., I was starting to get very uncomfortable I went to Brian and he suggested getting rest in the recliner with the massage and heating pad on. This helped tremendously as I dozed for about an hour. Finally at 6 I went back upstairs and Brian timed my contractions. They were two minutes apart and lasting thirty seconds. He worriedly suggested I call the hospital. I relented, and they wanted me to come in. I, however, wanted to take a shower. This was quite an endeavor as with contractions at two minutes apart and very forceful it took some time to work my way through the shower routine. We arrived at the hospital at 8. They brought me to the triage room and confirmed that my contractions were two minutes apart. The nurse checked me and I was five cm dilated. This was important to me as I had previously determined my goal was to be at five cm upon admission to the hospital. So this was good news.
Now the real work began. Labor was intense. I mentally crawled through contractions by moaning and imagining a cat giving birth. I labored for most of the morning in a bathtub. Time started to get hazy. At some point I moved out of the tub and onto the toilet where Barbara, my midwive, checked me. I was 7 cm. This flattened me. It seemed like I had worked so hard and had only progressed two cm. I moved from the toilet to the bed and lay on my side till at least 1 P.M.
The events that occurred around me during this time are very hazy and dream-like. I was present physically but mentally had retreated deep within. I was only conscious of contractions, my deep groans, and the pressure of my mom or Brian's hands on mine. Being up since 2 A.M. finally started to catch up with me at this point-- fatigue was starting to wear down my control and concentration. I asked for relief. Prior to this moment I had vowed not to cave into this desire... I would be strong as caving only showed weakness. However, there were two evils railing through my mind. Which would be worse: to cave into and ask for relief or to lose control of my birth? I chose to maintain my control. The Nubain injection allowed me to sleep between the contractions, which were probably less than a minute apart. This was the kick I needed.
an hour I started pushing. The nurse came in to check me and saw I had
only a small lip of my cervix in the way. She held it while I pushed.
Barbara returned and we tried several positions on the bed. These were
all very uncomfortable. So we moved back to the tub. Pushing was amazing.
I felt so in control, and it was relief not to have contractions twisting
through my body. I pushed for about an hour in all. Gabe's entrance to
the world was exhilarating. I felt such relief. Gabe was born in water
with his cord wrapped around his body, shoulder and neck, but he was ok.
They placed his wet warm body on my chest. He quickly looked for my breast.
He was alert and absolutely beautiful.
Gabe is the most incredible, perfect creation we have ever seen. Nothing we ever do in the rest of our lives will ever surpass the perfection of this little person that we've made in love. (Until the next one anyway!)
Born at 5:27, June 15, 2002
Measuring 7lb 14oz, 21"
to Chris & Christina
Central Maine Medical Center
June 14-15 2002
The birth of my daughter was one of those few experiences that actually surpassed the expectations I had built up in its anticipation. And I'm serious about anticipation - I'd been waiting what felt like forever for "my own baby". As the oldest of five, I remember watching my mother's pregnancies and the new babies, just aching for when I could become a mother too. My husband and I waited a while to have a baby and sometimes it seemed like we would never get to be the ones discussing ultrasounds and due dates. So, when I became pregnant, I was ecstatic. I used the nine months to read, study, and discuss pregnancy and birth, take a Bradley class for preparation, and read some more. Did I mention I read??
As a teacher, I highly value education - especially for something so important. I'm also a "planner" I'm "Type A" I struggle to "go with the flow" So reading and thinking and imagining the birth I had long dreamt of was quite consuming. However, I came to understand that no matter how carefully I planned, my preparations did not give me control. This acceptance did not mean that I prepared less - I still wanted to understand the birth process I still wanted to prepare my body the best I could by eating well and exercising I carefully chose a doctor and prepared a birth "plan" discussed and practiced comfort measures with my husband reviewed efficient birth positions, etc. All of this - the things I could do - helped me let go of what I couldn't do: predict and control the actual birth.
On June 14th, three days after my due date, I started to suspect I might be in labor. I was a little uncomfortable, with periodic tightening across my belly, and just unable to focus. I went on with my everyday tasks, though, not really sure whether this was really "it". I cleaned a little, had lunch with a student who dropped by, and tried to relax. After a few hours I called my husband and he came home a little early (4pm), prepared to distract me with games, massage and a movie. He began timing the contractions, and when they started increasing in strength at about 6:30pm, I called to check in with the hospital. I wasn't ready to leave home though, so we continued with some regular evening activities - eating dinner, taking our evening showers, etc. while I paced around and packed/repacked my bag. Everytime I tried to sit still I became uncomfortable, so I just kept moving, even as we "watched" a few scenes from one of my favorite movies (A Room with a View) and had a pasta dinner.
We left for the hospital when the contractions were about three minutes apart (9:30 pm). The nurses chatted with me, checked me (3cm), and hooked me up to the EFM monitor. Unfortunately this was Madelyn's most active time, so I had to wait a long time for her to settle down for a "test strip". After that, about eleven, I got settled into my room and continued many of the same comfort measures I'd used at home - walking the halls, showering, massage, deep breathing. While I was hooked up to the fetal monitor (for a short time every hour or so), I rested on my side, trying to completely relax.
When the nurse checked me at 1am, I was 6cm dilated. I was excited to be making what I felt to be decent progress, but was also wondering how long this all would take. My contractions were about 90 seconds apart, but some were double-peaked and seemed to last forever. But with Chris's help, I was able to relax through most of them. I focused on my breathing while he massaged my legs to keep them from tensing up. About 3am, we were both getting really tired. The contractions were very intense so I stayed in bed on my side, concentrating on a focal point and sleeping in-between contractions. I was very fuzzy/hazy at this point, just working through each contraction as it came.
At 4am, I wanted them to check me. I had resolved to get into the labor tub if I wasn't almost completely dilated. Happily, I was at 10cm, so they brought in my doctor and we decided to break my water (the only "intervention" during the entire birth). I couldn't believe I had dozed/relaxed through most of the "transition"! But the first fifteen minutes after my water broke were pretty difficult - and then I got the urge to push. We tried several positions on the bed, but I knew I wasn't pushing effectively. Then the doctor suggested using the birth stool. I was so disoriented and exhausted at this point that I wasn't sure I could move, but she helped me get comfortable. I do remember sitting on the stool, with the nurse and doctor cross-legged on the floor, with blue drape all around. Someone (not me!) remarked that it felt like a slumber party.
Finally, perched on the stool and grasping my legs, I was able to really push. This was probably the hardest part for me - I was tired and just wanted to go home and come back later. At some point I realized that even though it hurt, I had to keep pushing to get my baby and rest. After some enormous pushes, the nurse told me that she could see the baby's hair... I reached down to feel her slippery head and this helped me focus. I quickly became re-absorbed into pushing out her head, feeling the famous "Ring of Fire" sensation. The nurse told me to stop pushing and pant, but I knew I was so close I don't think I held back much.
Madelyn was born at 5:37, 45 minutes after I started pushing on the stool. She slipped out so fast that the doctor almost didn't catch her! I immediately brought her to my chest where she gazed up at us, waving her purple-red arms and legs in wide startled gestures. After coughing up some amniotic fluid and getting a little massage for her lungs (while I birthed the placenta and got re-situated in the bed), we snuggled skin-to-skin under a pile of warm blankets. Chris and I gazed at her in awe of the miracle we had just participated in, our amazement over finally being able to see and touch her washing over us.
Several aspects of Madelyn's birth surprised me. I wasn't sure how well the hospital staff would cooperate with my birth wishes. Every time someone new came into our hospital room, my husband asked them if they'd read our birth plan - they soon realized how serious we were about this! My room was quiet and dim, with Enya playing, and I was free to walk the halls, shower, etc., with very few interruptions from the staff. No one offered any medication or suggested that I should have Pitocin it was very peaceful. After the birth, too, our wishes were respected, with lots of quiet bonding time and breastfeeding support. Despite this, I can imagine how, without support and information, it would be easy to surrender to a typical hospital birth. For example, I had not planned on wearing the fetal monitor as much as I did but it was easier to rest while they monitored than argue about it. My hormones put me into a trance-like state, which I would have had to break out of in order to make a successful argument. I hadn't realized just how powerful the birthing hormones would be, or how matter-of-fact the staff could make the hospital process seem.
Finally I was surprised that despite all my reading and the Bradley class, I still had no idea what to expect. During the first six or seven hours of labor, I wasn't even sure I was IN labor! My contractions didn't fit the pattern that I expected my early labor signs didn't fit the pattern I expected Transition wasn't as bad as everyone told me and pushing - the part that some women even claim to enjoy - was actually the hardest part of Madelyn's birth. Even still, my preparation paid off because I knew that what was happening was all part of the normal birthing process and so I could remain calm and focused.
Knowing what I know now, what might I try next time? Well, if we still lived 5 minutes from the hospital, I'd try a homebirth but now that we're 45 minutes or more away, I don't think we actually will. I would like to have a midwife, next time. And get into the a birthing tub for some of the labor. I'd try to negotiate more of a compromise on the amount of time hooked up to the EFM. I'd like to try a few more squatting-type positions for the birth. I hope I'll be able to push a little more gently at the end - with Madelyn I was so focused on getting her out and to stop hurting that I pushed too hard and tore a little. I was also so distracted with pushing that I didn't use the mirror or touch her head much - I really want to do that next time. I might make my husband drag a birthing ball to the hospital, in addition to all the other bags and bags And finally, I keep having this awesome re-occurring dream that I get to "catch" my own baby and bring her up to my chest myself, so I will have to try to find a midwifery practice/hospital that might possibly accommodate this tremendously powerful dream.
The birth of my daughter was the most empowering, amazing experience I've ever had but not because by force of will and planning I made it happen a certain way. By the time I was in labor, I knew enough to know that I had really no idea what was going to happen. And somehow (thank you, hormones!), I gracefully accepted this and - finally - went with the flow. The amazing, empowering part is that I was able to let go and work with my body to birth my baby, that what had been dancing inside me for so long emerged from my body and was - wow! - her own little person!!
Born at 10:47PM, May 18, 2005
Measuring 8lbs 8oz, 20"
to Chris & Christina
ONE: THE FAKE-OUT
I'd been having contractions for days - sometimes as many as five or six an hour, though they weren't terribly strong. Then, Friday May 13th through the weekend I had many clusters of contractions, often at night. Several times I got up in the middle of the night to the computer to time them to see if there was a pattern, but they'd always stop after an hour or so.
On the Monday May 16th the contractions were a little stronger and occurring more frequently, beginning in the middle of the night, with contraction ever 7-10 minutes for an hour. They stopped though and I went back to sleep. After grocery shopping, lunch & putting Madelyn to bed for a nap they had come back - going from every ten minutes to every five. At this point, I decided to call Chris, who was working 1.25 hours away, to come home. Chris's mom was also on alert that we might need her to come over & take care of Madelyn. The contractions continued, still not very intense, but very regular. After hearing so many stories of second births going quickly, and having a fairly fast birth for Madelyn, I thought we'd better start thinking about leaving. I made sure everything was packed got our food together Elaine was on her way contractions continued. Elaine got here with Shadow and there was some chaos as the two dogs got used to each other and Madelyn of course was very excited to see her Nana. I realized that my contractions had stopped, but once we were on the road to Inland Hospital (a 30-40 minute drive), they picked right back up.
On our way to the hospital, we stopped by a bookstore and picked up the fourth Harry Potter book in case I wanted Chris to read to me. Still having contractions. Got to Inland about 7:00pm went through the admissions process chose a room got into my labor clothes nurses called in Midwife L (my midwife) hooked me up to the EFM only to see a very weak pattern of very very weak contractions. Midwife L arrived and checked me and - to my extreme dismay - I was not dilated AT ALL. Contractions stopped. Yep. Stopped completely. We walked the halls a little I squatted some watched a little tv cried. Oh yes - the disappointment and embarrassment of coming in for nothing calling Chris home & Chris's mom over etc So we left & got home about 10:30pm. And you know I had a couple contractions in the car on the way home!!
After all those regular contractions, I had nothing all day Tuesday, all night Tuesday. And I know because Madelyn was up all night, about once an hour. Got up for Wednesday exhausted.
Woke up Wednesday, May 18th with a few twinges, but nothing major. We decided that Chris would stay home to help me get some rest & take care of Madelyn. I let him get some sleep in the morning while I took Madelyn to my 39 week prenatal appointment, as usual. She would have been bitterly disappointed to miss hearing Owen's heartbeat and helping Midwife L measure me etc. At the appointment, Midwife L said she thought I'd have a baby in the next few days, but reassured me how difficult these things are to predict.
I left my appointment and the few twinges had become stronger though not regular at all. We continued on to story time at our library, where I had a few contractions that were strong enough that I needed to breath through them. Still nothing regular. I got some funny looks though!
We got home, had lunch, and put Madelyn down for a much-needed nap. I was going to take myself a much-needed nap too (after being up almost all night!). But as soon as I laid down, the contractions became much more intense. Every time I would drift off to sleep, I'd have one to wake me up. So I tried to rest for a little while but got up after 45 minutes, about 2:00pm.
Chris started timing the contractions as I straightened the house and puttered around. We put Elaine on call again - this time planning for her to meet us at the hospital. The contractions settled into a pattern of lasting about a minute, 4-6 minutes apart. By the end of the hour, they were increasingly intense and 3-5 minutes apart. At this point, I still had none of the more definitive "this is it" events like bloody show or water breaking.
By 3:00pm, I began to feel more certain that maybe this actually was the day. I took a shower checked my bags again got food together, etc Madelyn was up and we left for the hospital around four. The ride was not fun, with strong contractions continuing every 3-5 minutes, while I was cramped into passenger seat with the seatbelt barely fitting around my huge belly.
We got to Inland Hospital again, checked in again and I chose the "cave room" (no windows) that was attached to the Jacuzzi tub room - a great set-up. This time I stayed in my regular clothes while they did a quick EFM strip (the only ten minutes I spent hooked up for the whole labor! Yea!!), and Midwife L came to check me, announcing that I was 4-5cm dilated. Boy was I relieved! Unfortunately, Madelyn was very upset to see me hooked up to the monitor and lying in bed, and was close to hysterical. She and Chris were in the waiting room watching tv and eating pizza with another family waiting for a baby. I enjoyed a little peace and quiet, getting used to the room and accepting that this really was it. I was soooo relieved that it was finally time to get down to business and have this baby. Though the contractions were intense enough to breathe through, I was not in any significant discomfort.
Madelyn calmed down and came to visit with me, playing in the room for a few minutes until Elaine arrived to take her home. She departed peacefully, excited to see her Nana. At this point I think it was around 5:30pm. I declined a blood draw, the IV, etc. The nurse was almost off her shift, but drew a nice warm bath for me in the Jacuzzi and told me she didn't think this would be a very long labor.
I got settled in the tub as the evening sunlight streamed in the windows. Chris tried reading to me, but since the jets were so loud on the tub we just talked instead. He had to re-learn not to talk to me or touch me during a contraction! Although the contractions were increasingly intense, Chris and I joked and had a great conversation in-between them. I felt very connected to him and very grateful for his calm, cheerful presence. He got cold washcloths for me for after each contraction, washing off my neck and forehead. A new nurse came in & introduced herself, intermittently checking the baby heartbeat with the Doppler during a contraction. I stayed in the tub until about seven, getting out once to pee out all the Gatorade I'd been drinking.
At around 7:30pm, I got dried off & dressed in my robe, still feeling good. Midwife L came and checked me again (the only other time the whole labor! Yea!!), and I was slightly dismayed to be only 6 centimeters dilated, but since the labor was still not very uncomfortable and my caregivers continued to tell me they didn't think it'd be long, I maintained a strong sense of contentment and progress. I figured it was time to get up & get moving. Chris & I walked the halls a little, while the nurses set up the baby warming bed and wheeled it into our room. This made me tear up from excitement and disbelief that they really did think it would be soon! We walked a little more, stopping for contractions, potty-breaks, and water.
we were walking, I felt the contractions change in intensity. Chris told
the nurse, who came in with Midwife L. They sat on the bed, calmly watching
us. I had decided to get on the birth ball, and after a few minutes Chris
and I settled into a routine for the contractions with him in the chair
facing me and Enya playing in the background. During each contraction
Chris rubbed my legs as I rocked slowly on the ball, vocalizing a low
grumble/moan. At first we chatted in-between contractions with Midwife
L and the nurse but as things got more intense I stopped talking. I began
to sink deeply into "Laborland", closing my eyes during the
contractions and focusing within. As long as Chris & I continued the
rocking/rubbing/moaning ritual (I know, I know, it sounds like something
else, but after all, the same parts & hormones ARE involved!!) I was
able to stay calm and relaxed. Midwife L brought my water bottle over
and some cool clothes for my face.
Somewhere around 9:00pm, I felt my contractions change again and I began to feel a little "grunty" and "pushy". The contractions became very intense. Midwife L suggested I go to the bathroom one last time and as I sat (boy is it hard to pee in labor!) I was definitely feeling the urge to push. The contractions were very strong and were finally truly painful.
I decided to move to the bed and worked through the second part of transition side-lying, focusing on Chris's face, breathing deeply and trying to stay relaxed. There was one contraction that was so intense I almost lost it, but Chris helped me focus on breathing slowly and vocalizing. A part of me registered that there was some activity going on around me in the room, but I was in such a daze that the room itself looked hazy and dim (literally) and my brain was (thankfully!) in a hormone-induced fog.
Then, I felt the contractions change again - spacing out and the urge to push growing stronger as the most painful edge of the contractions dissipated. I was in the "rest and be thankful" phase in-between first stage (dilation) and second stage (birth). I dozed a little and rested, waking up more & more fully as the pushing contractions felt more urgent.
Sometime around 10pm, when I could register the room around me again, I realized it was all ready for the baby's birth, another nurse had joined us, and everyone was getting into the ready position. Midwife L and the nurse changed my bed around and encouraged me to scoot down to the end. Chris propped up one of my legs and a nurse supported the other as I reached down for the handles that would help me brace myself into an efficient pushing position.
Of course I was hoping for a brief second stage, as this was my least favorite part of Madelyn's birth. You know - one of those "three pushes and he was out" births that you hear about. Well, it was relatively short but still extremely intense. After about 15 minutes of pushing, Midwife L said my bag of waters was bulging out and it gushed open shortly thereafter. At first that felt great, warm & full of release but then the baby's head was right there and ouch! Chris tells me the baby nurse (the one who'd just come into the room) was counting, but I was completely ignoring everything/everyone around me and was totally focused on pushing the baby's head out so it would stop hurting.
Chris watched the baby's head slipping forward and back, and as the first bit of slick black hair started to crown Midwife L encouraged me to look in the mirror. I did - and though it was very awesome to see, I have to admit I was extremely disappointed that all I saw was a sliver, knowing that it was still several pushes before he'd be out. After some hard work though, the baby's head slipped out (with his hand right up by his ear!), then his shoulders and he was born - wailing - and pulled up to my belly all slippery and warm and amazed.
I lost track of time just gazing at this new baby, my son Owen, but I think it was only a push or two before my placenta came and his cord was cut. I scooted back into the den of pillows on the bed, snuggling my new baby who had immediately started to suckle. Everyone else faded away and it was just Chris & I joyously welcoming our new son Owen Christopher Kennedy.
It was wonderful to have a baby during the day and actually be able to sleep that night! Chris & I snuggled with Owen I got just a few minor stitches we made some phone calls to let everyone know. Around midnight the nurse weighed and measured Owen, cleaned him up a little and by 1:00am we were all asleep, Chris on the pull-out bed, me in a new gown on a fresh bed and Owen all swaddled in the crook of my arm.
Although I didn't sleep soundly, the rest was wonderful. By five I was awake again, Owen continuing to nurse often and well. The pediatrician came and I began my campaign to be released that afternoon. He was reluctant and rather a know-it-all, and said the next pediatrician on-call would be the one to make the decision. Midwife L came to see us & told me I looked fine and she'd be fine with discharging us. I had some breakfast and took a shower, amazed at how strong I felt.
Elaine brought Madelyn around 10am, and Madelyn was so tender and gentle with her new baby. She was kissing him and petting him before her jacket was even off. She held him on my lap and looked & looked at his face. I had held off on his first bath until she got there, and so she was able to help the nurse lather him up & rinse him. He wasn't very happy but calmed down when the nurse washed his hair.
Madelyn, Chris & Elaine left around noon - Madelyn was very sad to leave without her mama and her baby, which just strengthened my resolve to come home, especially since I felt (relatively) great. I talked to the new pediatrician, got all the necessary paperwork signed, and slept for a while. It was a very peaceful afternoon.
Chris & Madelyn came to pick me up about five, just a little more than 24 hours after we had arrived the day before and we were home in time for a delicious dinner brought by my friend Gwen who held the baby while we enjoyed our first meal as a new family.
Midwife L and the nurses at Inland Hospital in Waterville were fantastic. They followed the spirit of my birth plan exactly - allowing Chris & I the space to do the work of birthing Owen. It was a calm and peaceful experience, with absolutely no interference.
Although there were few procedural interruptions with Madelyn's birth, I was on the EFM a lot more, and was checked and talked to much more frequently as well. I have a more coherent timeline from her birth, because of these interruptions and a greater focus on time. With Owen's birth, the focus was entirely on my body. Midwife L didn't check me to see if it was time for me to push - she understood that that was what my body was doing & knew that it was right. I knew she & the nurses were watching me to see what I was doing, and listening to what I told them, and that was enough for them to make decisions about my care - it was truly an individualized, woman-centered birth. In turn, their focus & belief in my body allowed me to go much deeper into the experience. I felt a distinct hormone shift between active labor and transition, and between transition and second stage labor. I was able to go completely inward and enjoy the awesome process of birthing.
of the aspects I was most concerned about was the post-birth recovery
time, especially since
I would be coming home to a three-year-old who I knew would need my energy
& reassurance. It was weeks before I felt pretty good after Madelyn's
birth, though it had been relatively short and completely uncomplicated.
This time was totally different though - thankfully! I don't know if it
was laboring in the water that relaxed my muscles, or pushing in a different
position, or the fact that he is a second baby, or some other mysterious
factor(s), but I felt so much better after Owen's birth. I was able to
get up & take a shower the next morning, walking with some care but
without much discomfort. I didn't feel at all like I'd had a baby the
night before! I was tired, like I'd been on a long hike, and very hungry,
but not uncomfortable like I'd been hit by a bus! It was wonderful to
be able to go home so quickly and enjoy my babies