Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Story of a Birth

I checked the weather forecast a bit obsessively in the weeks surrounding my due date, trying to tell my body which days would be good for birthing and which days should be avoided. I hate driving in bad weather and the past few weeks in Maryland had been full of just such conditions.

I knew that Thursday, March 5th, was a bad day to go into labor. Even though it marked a week past my due date, I DID NOT want to go into labor that day. Tom stayed home from work  that day because of the snow, and I spent the day cleaning and cooking. That night we pulled out mattresses and blankets and watched Beasts of the Southern Wilds with the kids on the living room floor, and the whole time I wondered if I was feeling the beginnings of labor. The contractions weren't very strong, but they were pretty regular and coming close. As I tucked the kids into various beds, I became pretty certain I was going into labor. I called my mom and sisters to let them know, but decided to give it an hour or two.

Like most pregnant mothers planning on natural chilbirth, my plan had been to labor at home for as long as I could before going to the birth center. However, the weather messed up all my plans, and I was reminded yet again, that plans mean nothing. I was afraid of laboring too long at home and then getting stuck on terrible roads. It seemed inevitable that I was going to deliver my sweet girl on the side of the snowy highway if I didn't try to get to Annapolis sooner rather than later.

My sister Molly came from next door to stay with my two sleeping boys and my one very anxious daughter who could not possibly sleep with the prospect of a baby being born on the imminent horizon. With weak contractions coming about every three minutes, my mom drove Tom and I towards the birth center. However, en route, we discovered that the birth center was closed due to weather and that we needed to go straight to the hospital.

The roads were awful. My mom white knuckled the hour long drive, her shoulders clenched directly under her ears the whole way. The moon was full and the snow covered farms we passed on the way were beautiful, but my contractions all but disappeared because of the stress. When we showed up to triage, I was 5 cm dilated but clearly not in active labor.

As a fourth time mother, I sort of expect myself to "know my body," and I was embarrassed that we had come all this way, but I had misread the whole thing. The midwife on duty (there are seven midwives in the practice) suggested I walk for a while, and she'd check me again in an hour or two to see if things got restarted. After countless laps around the maternity ward, I could feel little waves coming again, and I knew something was happening, but it was still subtle. At 2 am, I was another cm dilated and having mild contractions, so we decided to officially check into the hospital, if for no other reason than we knew we couldn't drive home, and I didn't particularly want to check into a nearby hotel.

As we got settled in the room, the midwife suggested breaking my water to get things going, an idea I was completely opposed to. I was disappointed that she even suggested it. In my mind, the whole midwife model of care is about very limited intervention and letting your body do what it's going to do. There was no medical need to rush my labor, and breaking my water would have put a timer over my head.

I decided to spend the next few hours trying to get some rest before doing my best to get things going.  My mom, Tom, and I settled in. The two of them shared the pull apart couch contraption, each in nearly fetal positions at their respective ends. At some time around seven the midwife came back, asked me about breaking my water again, implying that if I didn't I might need pitocin. When I declined, she told me that that Anne, a different midwife was coming on duty in a little bit and that I could discuss it with her. I felt like she was being dismissive knew we didn't see eye to eye. I was so grateful that someone else was coming on duty. I knew I did not want to deliver my baby with that particular midwife. When Anne came in a little while later, I was shocked at how different her presence was. She was full of life and energy and happiness, and she clearly had a great relationship with the nurse on duty.

As I said, I wanted to give birth at the birth center. In Maryland it is basically illegal to have a home birth, not that I have previously been very interested in having one. But I have grown quite weary of hospitals. Something about discussing your living will and being all but forced to get a stint upon arrival doesn't make for a joyous celebration. The fear of staph lurking in corners, the flu spreading like wildfire, the sense that everything is dictated by insurance companies and avoiding liability.  My three previous hospital births have been wonderful because I left with wonderful, healthy babies in my arms, but there was almost nothing else about them that I enjoyed.

This birth was different though.

Anne felt the baby in my stomach and determined that she wasn't in the right position; she was laying diagonally rather than up and down. When she went to feel for her head, she discovered that the baby's head was sort of crooked, so she wasn't coming down the way she should. She told me to rest for a few more hours sine Ihad basically been up all night and then suggested that we push the baby into position and tie up my belly with some sheets to force her to stay that way. It sounded a little crazy and like the sort of thing I'm totally into. After reading and rereading Ina May, I was ready for some serious midwife action.

At around noon, she tied up my belly, my mom went out to her car to make some phone calls, and I took the nurse's suggestion to employ the age old nipple stimulation trick, and damn if it didn't get things moving. For the next hour my contractions started in earnest, a few reaching around the eight mark on the super subjective "pain scale." I was able to sway through them pretty easily, though a few times I did need to do a little moaning.  At some point after one, I had to get hooked up to a monitor. They tried to let me do it standing up, but they couldn't keep the heartbeat that way, so they made me lay down.

When I first laid down, it seemed as though it completely destroyed my contractions. Tom rubbed my feet, and I actually fell asleep for a few minutes before a pretty terrible rush hit me. I thought the ferociousness of it was because I couldn't move through the pain, but I was also feeling a little panicked. My last birth was natural, but my first two births were medicated.  I was regretting having another natural childbirth. With Arlo my moment of panic / regret was mere moments before his arrival, and I was convinced that I still had a long haul ahead of me with this birth and that it was going to be terrible. I had tried to prepare myself to be calm and peaceful through labor and delivery, envisioning a serene delivery that would somehow validate me as a person, a woman, a warrior. I wanted to prove myself. My motivations were all completely ridiculous and superficial, but it's hard to let go of your heart's desires.

But as I went through a second contraction laying down, I kissed yet another plan good bye. I wasn't going to make it. It was awful. I knew there would soon be wailing and gnashing of teeth.  But then, out of what felt like nowhere, it hit me that I needed to push. Tom grabbed the nurse and midwife from the hall. They quickly repositioned the bed so I could be sitting up. At the next contraction it felt like my whole body was convulsing, and I felt that little baby move so far that I do not have words to adequately express how bizarre it was. It felt like she was traveling through me, not mere centimeters, but rather undertaking a great journey. I was aware of her entire body moving through my body. There was no ring of fire. No crowning. No head first. In a matter of seconds, she all but flew out of me and was set on my quivering, shocked belly.

It took me a while to process what just happened. She was here. She was here? And she looked so small. And she was here, already? That was all?

I feel weird saying "That was all." I had arrived at the hospital 14 hours prior, but most of it had been so uneventful, so boring, and quite frankly, disappointing. It felt like nothing was happening and as though I shouldn't have even come. I spent a lot of hours second guessing myself and feeling a little embarrassed. And then, all of the sudden, here she is, squirming on me rather than in me.
Here she is.


  1. Oh man there's nothing I love more than a good birth story! Yours is perfection. Every second-guessing, every secret pride, that long journey, I can just feel it all. Nothing more lively and pure than a newborn baby shooting through your body. WOW. I basically held my breath while reading this. Hi Alamae! I love your birth story! I wonder what it says about you, your relationship with your family, your little spirit? I think she will be mellow and sweet and easy going until the moment she gets pushed too far than bang! A little lioness who can roar with the best of them. Great work mama! You never needed to doubt it for a second. Your body was just subtly, wonderfully, slowly doing the work. No ring of fire huh?! I'm impressed indeed and kinda jealous. And hooray for your morning midwife too, Ina May would be proud.

  2. Delighted all was well, even if a bit of a flat pancake feeling and then a whoosh! at the end ... I do hope you keep a record of this for her :). My own Mum has died and my father wasn't present at my birth, so I know nothing much about it ... I love the comment above, and the idea that there might be something about the way we enter this world which stays with us. Wishing you gentle and happy days and that Spring may be with you soon.

  3. soooooo good! Black dress right till the end! We need to preserve that frock!

  4. I love birth stories and yours strikes me as so unusual! Love how life surprises us sometimes. . .