Thursday, May 31, 2012

the birth story: part IV, the homebirth~the turning point

The Homebirth

The Turning Point

26 hours into labor.

I had been lying in bed for close to 12 hours, with a short break in the birthing tub. I felt very attached to my bed at this point—it was safe and familiar. My midwife and doula kept trying to coax me into different positions, and different rooms, but I was not the most compliant patient. I refused to go back downstairs, balked at the idea of going outdoors for some fresh air. I unhappily agreed to try squatting again, but in the guest room—downstairs felt like a million continents away from the secluded island that was my bed. After only a few contractions in the guest room, I whined and headed back to my bedroom. I tried getting on my hands and knees, only to whine some more. I had never felt so attached to a physical position, but during those hours of labor, all I wanted was to lie down on my left side and ride the contractions. This desire certainly had nothing to do with the position being less painful, because it seemed to cause the most powerful contractions I had had. Perhaps it was because the position was the closest to fetal position I could get with such a round belly. I had crawled into my bed, on my left side, in the smallest fetal ball possible, a billion times throughout my life. It was instinctual, it was where I would go to hide when life felt too overwhelming, it was comforting. 

My clinging to the bed, and hesitation to try new things, was the beginning of the end, the end of one epic tale: The Homebirth. I was not yet cognizant of the fact that there would be a second epic, but at this point it was still hours away from beginning.

Frustration began to creep into my previously positive labor flow. I had statistics running through my head. For instance: the average labor for a first time mother lasts 24 hours. My husband and I both had been thinking about that fact from the moment I began to contract. But, here I was still lying in my bed, still pregnant. I wasn't sure what time it was, but I knew that it was several hours past that 24-hour mark. Why was this happening? Where would it lead? Those questions made it more difficult for me to surrender, and let things happen the way they were meant to happen, the way I had earlier. I wanted to control the situation now, I wanted to wish and pray to any and every deity that may hear my pleas, I wanted something to change soon so I could quiet my fears. I wanted my birth to unfold just as I had envisioned it. But, that wasn't happening anymore.

I continued to work hard, to give labor my all, but I was tired. After 2 days of labor with no sleep and no full meals, your adrenaline begins to wane and your body begins to give out. We are only capable of so much. I knew I was strong enough mentally, emotionally and physically to labor and birth without any interventions or medication—I had proven that already—but there is a wall that I believe any woman will hit if they are called upon to accomplish such a difficult task for so long. My strong will and intense determination could not force my cervix to open, my positive mindset and undeniable courage could not erase the effects of physical exhaustion. 

I got up to use the bathroom at one point and while I stood looking in the mirror, I noticed that I could not see my own reflection. The room began to spin, and I grabbed my husband's shoulder and told him so. My midwife peered in and understood that something had to change. She mentioned the option of transferring to the hospital again, and tears fell from my eyes. I wanted to give it a little more time, which she was fine with—this was not a medical emergency. She then suggested that I get back in the tub, in the hopes that the warm water would slow my labor, which might allow me the opportunity to get some sleep. Sleep became the critical factor. If I could sleep, my body could recharge and relax. Relaxing would allow my cervix to continue to open. And so, I waited for the tub to fill, and begged for my husband to hurry. 

As I waited, I suddenly found that I was not handling the contractions well anymore. For 30+ hours, no amount of pain could break my spirit or cause me to whine, but now everything felt different. Finally, the water was ready and I crawled into the tub in the dark guest room. It was about 9 p.m. I closed my eyes and tried to summon the birthing goddess I had been hours earlier. I went deeply inside of myself, but she was not there. She was sleeping and I was not. I began to cry. My husband, doula, and the midwife's apprentice sat around the tub in silence while my midwife consulted with our other midwives (who had yet to arrive) downstairs. I begged my husband not to leave my side, but he sensed the sudden serious shift in me and began to worry. He rushed downstairs to question my midwife, and without him there, I began to fall apart. When he came back, my doula suggested that we talk about what was going through my head and I was terrified to do so. 

I will never forget the feelings I experienced in the tub that night. As I sunk down into the water, I felt myself plummet down into one of the most challenging, dark places I had ever visited. I was distraught over the sudden loss of what had been a beautiful, life-altering, soul-satisfying, spiritual 2-day experience. I could not access any of the strength I knew I needed to get through this challenge. I tried to imagine pushing a baby out into the world in my current state and it seemed unfathomable...impossible. And I was terrified and ashamed to admit where I was. But, I was also terrified of the way I was feeling so I knew I needed to share. 

I answered my doula's question, "what are you thinking right now?" with this: "I've been given two options—transfer to the hospital or get some sleep and catch a second wind—but the only option that seems possible is to die." It's difficult to explain the emotion behind that statement, but I can say that there are places you may end up visiting on your journey towards birth that you never imagined you'd visit. In that moment, the pain and defeat were so unbearable and foreign to me, that my mind seemed to leap to conclusion that this must be death.

With my admission, the birth team knew exactly how much had changed inside me. My doula went downstairs to alert my midwife who came upstairs for a conversation that became a new beginning. She still had faith in me, she had watched me labor like a strong, confident, unbreakable woman for long enough to know what I was capable of. She once again suggested that I try to get some sleep and then we could think about using some more tinctures to get things going. But, this no longer felt like an option to me. I knew that my mind could not conquer what was happening in my body—it had done so for 34 hours, but had nothing left to give now. The exhaustion was insurmountable. The pain was too intense to sleep. All I wanted was for someone to take the reigns at that point. 

I had fought for control over my pregnancy, my body, my birth, my environment, for the last 10 months, but now I found myself wanting to give that control away so that I would not have to make what felt like the most difficult decision of my life. I knew what I had to do, but did not want to be the one to say so. I did not want to be the one who put an end to my amazing homebirth. I did not want to be the one who insisted that I abandon my well-researched, deeply passionate beliefs about birth in general. I felt incredibly weak in that moment. I looked over at my husband and saw the concern on his face. He saw my eyes begging for him to tell me what to do, but instead he simply let me off the hook so I could make the decision myself. He said, "I don't care where you give birth, I just want you to be alive, and for our child to be alive." Hearing that made my decision clear. I was going to the hospital. 

As much as I thought it mattered where I gave birth, as much as I believed I would carry profound feelings of disappointment with me for the rest of my life if my experience was not my version of ideal, when it came down to it what mattered the most was that I give birth to my baby and that both of us were healthy and whole. Sure, I could have accomplished this at home if the situation was slightly altered and I had gotten some sleep, but I could not hold on to a situation that "could have been." 

I sat in the tub a while longer discussing my fears about having a hospital birth, what I could expect when I got there, ways we could make it feel safer and less threatening. As reluctant as I was to make the decision to transfer, I suddenly felt relieved. I think I had known for hours that that was the right decision to make, but was embarrassed to admit what felt like defeat. I stepped out of the tub, and began to crawl out of the dark place I had temporarily lost myself in. And then the scramble began.

My midwife called the hospital and then called our second midwife. Our second midwife's job was now to arrive at the hospital before us and make my wishes known. I had not even entertained the possibility of being transferred to the hospital during my pregnancy, for fear of jinxing my labor, so I never took a tour of the birthing center or packed a "just-in-case bag" or given any thought to what decisions I might make if I found myself there. Now I was 36 hours into labor, exhausted, delirious, and rushing around throwing things in bags at random. My husband helped me shower off 36 hours of sweat and blood, which somehow reset my labor clock. I had showered just before labor began and went into the experience feeling fresh and ready, so I felt I needed to wash away the previous hours and begin again. By the time I was finished showering, I felt more clear-headed and noticed that my husband had temporarily shut down. This fact was evident when we noticed that all he had packed for the hospital was my purse and a bag of celery.  

By the time we were in the car an hour later, I felt my spirit returning. I had expected that it would take me weeks or months to process the fact that my dreams of giving birth at home were never realized and accept that, ultimately, I chose a hospital. But, here I was, 5 minutes down the road and already cheerfully explaining that I had grown as a person in that birthing tub and that I was proud of my ability to make the decision I did. I knew I did the right thing for myself and my baby given the exact situation I found myself in. I knew I needed to ask for help—something that has always been particularly difficult for me to do. I knew I had to let go of my control issues, because the Universe had made it pretty clear for the 7,605,064,884,300,283 time in my life that I was not the one in control. I knew that I could still make this a positive, empowering experience. I knew that I was far from weak for making the decision I did. I was strong, and I would grow even stronger than I could've imagined once I entered those hospital doors. I would just have to refocus and figure out how to birth in a hospital now. 

I had spent 10 months visualizing and meditating on my homebirth so it felt incredibly familiar from the very first contraction on. But, I was about to embark upon an entirely different experience that I had no script for. I would have to make decisions I felt completely unprepared to make. But, I could do this, right? I could give birth in a hospital and still have a positive experience, right? I had two midwives, an apprentice, a doula and a husband behind me. They'd have my back. They all knew how deeply anti-drug I am, they knew I'd rather have my baby pulled out of my left nostril than have a C-section. It'd be okay. Besides, the hospital was placing me with the on-call midwife, not the on-call doctor. A midwife would respect my wishes, right? 

We pulled up to the Emergency Room door and my midwife wheeled me up to the 3rd floor. We entered an enormous suite, and I felt like this was the beginning of a positive experience. I had always envisioned hospital rooms as small, unfriendly and far from comfortable. But, here we were in a room that had a living room area, a bathroom, a normal queen-sized bed with your standard hospital type room tucked into one corner. I met the friendly nurse assigned to me and immediately felt at ease. Just then, the hospital midwife entered the room. She introduced herself, talked with me about what had been going on in my labor, and then asked me what I wanted to do. As I spoke, her face contorted into looks of disapproval and judgement. She suggested pumping me full of a cocktail of narcotics, at which point I began to panic. As she listed the medical interventions she would like to utilize, scenes from The Business of Being Born (a documentary about natural birth vs. hospital birth) began flashing in my head. This woman was a midwife? She had C-section written all over her, in fact she was rushing out of my room to attend one (literally) as she finished up her conversation with me. She wanted to cut me, I could see it in her eyes.  

To be continued...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

the birth story: part III, the homebirth~active labor

Warning: There are bound to be some graphic or raw mentions of the birthing process in this series. It's difficult to feel any squeamishness or embarrassment on my part having been through the experience. And it's difficult to tell a birth story without any of the real details.

Part III.
The Homebirth

Active Labor

I climbed into bed sometime during the early hours of the morning, still in good spirits and enjoying the space between contractions. But, there was an air of seriousness that came with the powerful rushes now. I began to go deeply within every few minutes, bobbing in and out of a trance-like state where the lines between life and death seemed blurred. I have yet to find the right words to explain the place I visited during active labor (and later on, during pushing). It was a place where I simultaneously did not exist yet felt more in my body, and in my soul, than ever before. It was a place where I was connected to something greater than the material world. Every time I closed my eyes, I was gone. But, the second I opened my eyes again, I would return and finish the sentence I had started before the contraction began.

I was surprised by the amount of adrenaline I still had on tap when active labor began, as my body had been working so incredibly hard without any sleep. I hadn't gone into labor with many hours of sleep in my reserve tank either, but sleep was the farthest thing from my mind at this point in the game. I looked around at the rest of my birth team, their eyes at half mast, disappearing one by one to sneak in quick naps in various corners of our house. My husband begged for coffee, but I would not let him leave my side. I even asked him to "please just pee the bed" when he tried to get up to use the bathroom. 

Someone brought Alex a cup of joe so he wouldn't have to leave me. He happily sipped from a pink mug with a Victorian-era looking woman pictured on the side and the words "Maybe I want to look cheap" floating next to her head. There was something so hilarious about him holding that mug during labor, especially after I handed him the underwear I had been wearing up until that point and asked him to just "hold them." He stood next to the bed drinking coffee, my undies hanging from one finger, looking a little bit cheap. For whatever reason I insisted that he keep those undies on him, as if I'd need them while laboring or pushing out a child, so he tucked them in his pocket for safe keeping. 

The contractions grew stronger, and my body adopted a pattern of "double-headers" that lasted throughout labor. One wave would begin and peak, only to run directly into the next wave. The pain was unexpected, more than I could have imagined never having experienced it before. But, I continued to welcome the intensity and kept thinking to myself "I can totally handle this. The pain does not matter." Meanwhile, I began to clutch Alex's hand with every contraction and nearly broke it several times. I specifically remember someone exclaiming "your pinkie, Alex! It's turning purple!" during a particularly tough rush. 

I watched the sun rise out my bedroom window with the feeling of my husband's body holding me in the quiet hours of morning. Everyone there felt like my baby was coming soon. The midwives had already set up the birthing supplies the night before, preparing for the imminent eruption of life from my womb.

I lay in bed, completely unaware of time (so the exact details of my story may be off). As the contractions continued, I buried my head in my armpit only to discover how hard I had been working. I told everyone that my B.O. had reached full hippie status, and that it reminded me of the yoga retreat center I visit every summer, Kripalu, where the people all smell the same—a combination of B.O., dreadlocks, patchouli, and Indian-spiced beans. This led to a conversation about the first time I brought my husband to Kripalu and how much of a culture shock it was for him, beginning with the discovery that all of the guests there fart at will. Alex reminded me of how he was particularly grossed out when someone farted, without apology, while he was eating a banana. He then begged me not to recount the tale of the time I made him dance barefoot in the drum circle, but I couldn't help but immediately launch into the details of how he danced so hard that he tore the skin off the bottom of his big toe and painted the floor with his blood, much to the horror of the other dancers. We all roared with laughter, intermittently interrupted by abrupt silence as I contracted.

At some point that afternoon, my midwife finally gave me the okay to get into the birthing tub—reserved for late in active labor when it's pain-relieving qualities are most needed. It took an eternity for my husband to fill the tub and ensure that the water was the exact, right temperature. But, the wait was worth the immediate soothing effect of the warm water. I was able to relax and take what felt like a break after a hard day's (actually day, night and another day's) work. 

Later on my midwife checked my cervix for the first time. She was very vague about what she felt and didn't offer up the exact details of my progress, a tactic that proved quite effective for keeping my spirits up and preventing any frustration on my part. She decided to massage my cervix while I was contracting in order to help it dilate, which changed everything. 

The pain I experienced, both physically and emotionally, during those cervical "massages" pushed me over the edge. Fear began to creep in, not of childbirth, but of what I might discover about myself in the final legs of this experience. I was not prepared for the pain I felt then, just as I was not prepared to have my cervix massaged during labor, so the tears began to fall. That's the thing about labor, it's incredibly emotional and laughter may melt into inexplicable tears at any moment. There were many times that I began to cry, quietly, and for a multitude of reasons, in the middle of contractions. But, during my second cervical massage, it became evident to my midwife that my tears had a story. The whole birth team—my husband, midwife, apprentice, and doula—gathered around me, placing hands of comfort on my arms and feet and in my hands, as we discussed what might be going through my head. This was one of the greatest moments of healing I've ever experienced in life. Issues from long ago were brought to the surface, pain expressed, fears uncovered, and ultimately, I found the courage to release what was holding me back and come back to the task at hand empowered. 

The cervical massages were a choice, my alternative being going to the hospital to receive an epidural. When those options were given to me, more tears fell. I did not want to even hear the word "hospital" during my labor or birth. I was content to pretend the hospital didn't even exist. Choosing the massages over medication (aka, choosing more intense pain over the alleviation of any pain) seemed like the only option in my mind. But, now the possibility of being transferred was out there, and it would continue to lurk in the dark corners of the room for the rest of my labor.

To boil my complicated situation down, the issue was that my contractions were growing to the necessary level of intensity, seemingly announcing that transition was nearby, but my cervix was not cooperating. 

Here I am laboring with Eminem, as my doula put it.

Somehow, that day, the morning became afternoon, and afternoon bled into night, while I was unable to perceive any of it. All I knew was dark and light, and suddenly it was growing dark again. How could this be? Two sunrises and two sunsets, and still no baby? My husband did his best to keep his cool around me, and I did my best to completely ignore his hushed voice questioning the midwife downstairs. Questions began swirling in my head, a nagging feeling in my gut that I was about to hit a turning point, but perhaps not the turning point I had been anticipating for the last thirty-some-odd hours. 

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

the birth story: part II, the homebirth~early labor

Warning: Starting with this post in the series, there are bound to be some more graphic or raw mentions of the birthing process. It's difficult to feel any squeamishness or embarrassment on my part having been through the experience. And it's difficult to tell a birth story without any of the real details. 

Part II.
The Homebirth~Early Labor

Early Labor

Around 11:15 p.m. on Thursday night, after almost 11 hours of contracting, my midwives decided I was officially in early labor. When I heard those beautiful words—early labor—the excitement finally bubbled up past my caution and skepticism. There had been so many false alarms leading up to the day I finally went into labor that part of me truly believed I'd be pregnant forever. But, now it was happening. 

I will never be able to fully understand how I managed to do it, but once I knew I was in labor a powerful force took over my entire being. The doubt, the lack of faith in myself, the insecurity and belief that I was not strong enough were nowhere to be found. I was overwhelmingly joyful, positive, full of life and ready to dive into the experience. When the contractions grew more painful, I smiled and said "I'm so happy that I'm in pain!" I began to ask, out loud, for my uterus to make the contractions stronger, to keep them coming. I asked my cervix to open up so I could let my baby out. I told my body to bring it on. I completely invited labor to take me over.

I will admit that I did, in fact, listen to Kanye's Stronger about 14 times during those early hours (as I had joked I would many months ago). [Side note: I'm so sorry, baby girl, that that song will forever be attached to bringing you into this world. It's wildly inappropriate, but I did at least listen to the clean version instead of the explicit.] I also listened to an amazing hip hop song written by a local rapper (again, sorry baby girl, your hippie mama has many sides) about his wife going through labor—so beautiful and so encouraging, give it a listen here (the song is called Ups Downs All Around). I can't tell you how much these two songs pumped me up early on! I never thought I'd want to be pumped up during labor, but it really got my adrenaline moving. Little did I know how much I'd be using that reserve of adrenaline over the next 3 days, though.

Sometime in the middle of the night—time became an indiscernible, unfamiliar concept once labor began—I went upstairs to use the bathroom. I was using the stairs and toilet sitting to help bring the baby down and open up my pelvis, both of which are highly effective, by the way. On this trip to the bathroom, though, I was surprised by what I labeled "my first period." I had been looking for any signs of bloody show (a sign that your cervix has begun to dilate) for over a month, so when I finally saw it I was literally shouting with excitement and called my midwives and doula upstairs to show them. I honestly felt like a preteen girl again, so proud to finally "be a woman." Things were happening, I was having a baby, "for real," as I put it to my husband who stood in the bathroom with me, equally excited about my first period.

I was really into squatting during contractions during early labor. Squatting is not easy, let me tell you. I'm not sure where the lower body strength came from to squat over and over for hours, but I pushed through the exhaustion because I felt the progress (aka, pain) more intensely in that position. Squatting also led to many interesting discussions among my birth team, such as the likening of my use of the banister at the end of the staircase to a stripper pole. I felt like I was in Flash Dance and asked them to pour a bucket of water over my chest as I threw my head back during a contraction. Where were these crazy thoughts coming from while in the throws of having a baby? I will never know. But, this discussion ended in me proving that a pregnant woman can still shake her booty—sort of—which was recorded on video for good measure. 

Then there was the marathon session of live Phish concerts that I suddenly needed to have on in the background. I closed my eyes and swayed to the music, transported to summer nights of concert going—this ended up to be an incredibly relaxing visualization for me, such a carefree place to be in my mind. Of course, the music then led to a discussion of our past lives, the time before any of us (in the birth team) had children and could frequent hippie shows and live free-spirited lifestyles. Those days felt so far away while I stood in my living room moving toward childbirth. I wondered if my past and future would ever co-mingle, if the girl would ever peek out from behind the mama exterior.

As labor progressed, and the intensity grew to unbelievable heights, the house was still filled with laughter. Life continued in between contractions and other than the pangs that rolled in waves over my abdomen, I felt like we were just hanging out, hosting a big slumber party. Close to dawn, we ascended the stairs, and I crawled into bed, needing a safe, familiar place. Unbeknownst to me, I would remain there for close to 24 hours.

To be continued….

Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI

Monday, May 21, 2012

the birth story: part I, the homebirth~ induction

I am going to tell my story as a series with several parts, which only makes sense given the epic length of my labor (51 hours spread out over 3 days). Telling this story is incredibly important to me, but also daunting. There were so many life-altering moments, so much humor, so much healing, and so many hours that I'm not sure I can do it justice. But, our birth stories are important. They stay with us for the rest of our lives. They define us in new ways. They are triumphs that deserve to be celebrated and acknowledged. Yet, I am sure I will leave some of the details out—partly to allow some of it to remain private and sacred, partly so as not to delve too deeply into what is a very graphic, raw experience.

Part I.
The Homebirth

Forward: The Decision

I decided halfway through my pregnancy that I wanted to give birth at home. I have always had a negative association with hospitals, but in this case, it was much more than that. I've been fascinated with birth for years and so have read many books and seen many documentaries, all of which have convinced me that an unmedicated, calm, quiet birth in which I would be able to make decisions for myself was what I wanted. 

The hospital I was originally planning to birth in, and the midwifery practice that was going to deliver my baby, were both notorious for medical interventions and placing hospital policy above the wishes of its laboring patients. As I've mentioned, I decided to hire a doula to alleviate some of my fears surrounding birthing in an environment that threatened to mar the experience I had envisioned. She immediately encouraged me to explore other options and interview other midwifery practices. I was very hesitant to make drastic changes halfway through my pregnancy, but it didn't take much reflection to realize that in my gut and heart, I've always wanted to birth at home. It was the only thing that felt right to me. I simply hadn't allowed myself to entertain the thought, believing it wasn't a viable option for me, for whatever reason. After a few long talks with my husband, though, I quickly understood that a homebirth wasn't something to fear, it was a way to provide myself the greatest chance of having my version of the ideal birth. 

Once I made the decision, all the fear and anxieties I had about having to give birth vanished. Instead, I looked forward to a meaningful, private, joyful experience that would allow me to remain 100% in my element. I put photos on the wall next to my bed to serve as a focal point during labor. I bought my favorite soothing candles and made a long, relaxing playlist of music. I felt so at ease knowing I could cozy up in all my favorite parts of the house for comfort. I was relieved that my environment wouldn't be foreign and there wouldn't be a parade of doctors and nurses I'd never met intruding upon the flow of my labor. I dreamt of cuddling up, as a family, in my own bed after pushing my child out, peacefully and gently.

Making the decision to do a homebirth was the most important decision I made during pregnancy, and I owe so much of my experience to the wonderful, attentive, caring, insanely talented group of midwives I hired. From the 1-hour prenatal appointments to the deep level on which they got to know and understand me to the constant support, encouragement and care I received over the 3 days I labored—they did much more than make sure my baby and I were healthy. They are special women, not of this world. And I believe my story, the one I'm about to start telling, is so meaningful and beautiful in large part thanks to them.

The Induction

I was a few days away from being 42 weeks, at which point I would have to be medically induced in the hospital. Given my decision to do a homebirth, I was obviously not feeling too thrilled about the possibility of ending up in that situation. Thankfully, midwives have many tricks up their sleeves, one of which is to try to push you over the edge into labor with the use of several herbal tinctures. I had been having strong contractions for weeks that would last for several hours and then (frustratingly) peter away. So, the aim was to simply nudge me along when that happened. 

One of the midwives and her apprentice came over late morning on Thursday to start the tinctures and monitor my progress. That day was bright and lovely, full of so much hope and anticipation. I couldn't sleep the night before, knowing there was a good chance my baby girl could be on her way the next day. It's interesting to swing from impatiently wondering at every moment when labor will begin to suddenly taking control (or at least attempting to) by telling your body that labor is going to begin now. Alex and I were excited, yet cautiously so. We had tried the herbal tinctures a few days earlier without any luck, so I tried to temper my expectations. 

We went for several long walks and I remember our neighborhood looking more beautiful than it ever has, the sun more golden and everything touched by it cast in a glow that seemed to come directly from heaven. We ate tuna fish sandwiches with avocado and I wondered if that would be my last meal for a long while. 

The contractions began, but we quickly learned how slow the process of birth can be, especially when you are trying to induce. I contracted from 12:30 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. before my contractions organized and made it clear that this was actual labor. Most of those 10.5 hours was spent sitting on my birth ball while Alex tried to lift my belly (thus the baby) into a better position in the hopes that I would start to dilate. We were both amazed by how those hours passed by so effortlessly—we were so incredibly focused on doing what we had to in order to meet our baby. 

By the end of this phase of labor, the humor began. Never in my life did I imagine I would be so humorous and entertaining in labor, but it was a theme that lasted until the moment my placenta was delivered (of course, there were definite periods that lacked humor, as well, but it always came back). I think part of my unexpected comedy routine, which was equally matched by Alex's, was that the hours were beginning to wear on me. There is a whole lot of waiting involved in labor and birth, and after 10.5 hours of simply waiting for contractions to organize before officially labeling it "early labor," we were definitely getting a little bit nutty. I realized Alex was losing it when he took out a box of animal crackers and began performing a show that involved a mountain goat who climbed the rough terrain of my swollen belly only to break both his front legs, a buffalo would received CPR from a pig with heart-shaped ears, and an elephant who lost his tusk to a camel who was trying to sell us said tusk on the black market. Yes, this was the official beginning of labor, and the official beginning of the insanity/entertainment/challenges that took place over the course of 3 days.

To be continued…

Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI

Friday, May 18, 2012

Emerson Winter

Emerson Winter (Baby Em, Emmie)
Born May 12, 2012 at 3:08 p.m.
7 lbs 14.5 oz
21 inches long

My sweet baby girl entered the world with one tiny cry and an obvious aura of peace about her. I am amazed by how right on I was about her personality before she was born—the connection between mother and child during gestation is certainly powerful and mysterious. Baby E is sweet, curious, strong, determined, and gentle. She has been incredibly alert from the first moment she opened her eyes, always studying the faces in front of her in a way that pulls at your heart and creates an instant bond—it's impossible not to love her (but, perhaps I'm a little biased). 

Emmie will be one week old tomorrow, and I am just now able to detach her from my body for short spurts of time, although I still cannot be in a separate room from her. I knew I'd be pretty attached to my baby when she arrived, but the overwhelming need to feel her tiny body against mine, to smell her skin, to continue to feel intertwined and one with her, is a phenomenon I couldn't have imagined before. For the first few days I even felt conflicted in that I was so ecstatic to finally have her here, to be able to see her face and hold her, but at the same time part of me wanted to tuck her back in my belly and not let her go. 

Even more incredible than my attachment to Em, though, is her attachment to me. Nothing could've prepared me for the love my daughter has for her mama. It's still hard for me to accept how important I am, how much she needs me and craves me. The night she was born, my husband and I slept with her in between us in bed, each of us holding one of her hands, all three of our faces pressed together. The next night Em scooted herself a little bit closer to me, the night after she was pressed up against my chest, and the night after that she was on top of me….where she remains today. She has a need for constant body contact, which I love, but it has certainly changed my life. Alex and I live in fear of the times I need to get up to use the bathroom, because the minute I exit the room she knows and loses her calm composure. The radar she has is unbelievable. Alex can hold her in bed with me sitting right next to her and she'll be fine, but she knows if I am not in bed. 

The animal instincts of babies just blow my mind. For example, the way they rely on their sense of smell is unreal. Em learned the smell of her amniotic fluid in utero which is the same smell my breast milk has, so she can keep track of me, whether she is asleep or awake, based on whether or not she smells me in the room. It's crazy to see her react from across the room when there is a boob out in the open. She can sniff that milk out like a bloodhound. What breaks my heart is the look on her face when she knows I'm not there—her eyebrows are so incredibly expressive and you can tell, without a doubt, that she is truly worried, like a dog who fears his owner will never come back every time he is left. 

So, this is my life right now—nursing non-stop, cuddling, not sleeping, and strategizing about how to sneak out of the room to use the bathroom (aka, the only 5 minutes I get to myself now that Em is on the scene). Parenthood is just as everyone explains it: crazy and chaotic, wonderful and life-altering, exhausting and the source of so much love, appreciation and heart-melting goodness. 

The birth story is coming soon. I'm hoping to begin posting the series on Monday! Yes, it will take more than one post to tell this epic—in fact, it will take several.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

weeks 41 and 42 (and 42, the sequel): being a watched pot

I decided to stop posting after I reached my due date, wanting and needing to experience the end of this journey with my husband (and amazing support team). My need for privacy has never felt so exaggerated and necessary. The absolute classic and inevitable situation that occurs as your due date approaches, and especially once it has come and gone, is that you become a watched pot and no one seems to consider, or to be able to contain their excitement/impatience/curiosity enough to consider, that you will not boil until left alone. Animals in the wild will not birth their young until they have found a dark, secluded, private place without an audience—they will halt their labor if passersby enter their space while it's going down and hold their babies in until their need for privacy is met. Humans are much the same. And so, I slowly disconnected from the world as my due date approached and did the only thing I could: focus on the task at hand, try to work through the mental blocks that were holding up the process, relax, distract myself, enjoy those last moments alone, survive the misery that rolled in waves over my expectant existence, and wait. All was well in my isolated little world….until I went three days past my due date.

And then I lost my shit.

Yes, I lost it. My previous state of peaceful connection to the process, the joy and excitement, the calm patience….it all began to disperse around me until I was a caricature of an overdue pregnant woman, screaming "get this baby out of me!" The impatience, the intense desire for the pregnancy to be over, the unrelenting need to know when this baby was going to come, the frustration of waking up every morning still pregnant, were all driving me insane. Then my hormones chimed in and the battle for what had been such a pleasant journey toward childbirth felt completely lost. My hormones had been inexplicably cooperative until that point, allowing me to remain calm. I thought I was somehow immune to what other women seem to experience at the end (impatience and discomfort). Of course, the Universe knew it was about to blow that notion apart, so it was probably just being cool to me before I descended into insanity.

In the last few weeks, I ended up oscillating between said state of insanity and a reclaimed state of peace and acceptance every few days. With every swing back to peace, though, there was a new lesson learned, another issue or emotional block that was worked through, a more profound sense of what this whole process is all about (or, I should say, what it's about if you really get down in it and let it teach you).

Here's the fun part: as my 41st week came to a close, I had a bomb dropped on me. My due date was changed (though I had already past it). This is incredibly uncommon at the end of pregnancy, and is absolutely maddening to a woman who has mentally prepared to be done any day—a week is an ETERNITY to an overdue pregnant woman, I cannot even explain. But, I had started out my pregnancy with one midwifery practice that was not exactly in the business of listening to or trusting the women they served, so my due date was incorrectly calculated. I had charted my cycles religiously and used several methods to pinpoint the exact day of ovulation every month when we were trying, so I knew, without a doubt, the day I conceived. But, no one would listen. That midwifery practice changed my due date from their original "estimation" early on and that was what we went with. It didn't take long for me to grow undeniably uncomfortable with those midwives, for various reasons, which is when I sought out the help of a doula. I knew I would need an advocate if I was going to birth with a provider who had such difficulty listening to me. But, that doula inspired me to consider all my options and I quickly realized that a homebirth was what I had wanted all along. At any rate, I started with the new practice (the best decision of my life!!). Using homebirth midwives, however, meant I needed to have a back-up hospital-based practice that would keep track of my pregnancy and step in should there be an emergency or if I ended up being transferred to the hospital. And so, the number of providers and records was a little crazy.

Long story short: the details of how my due date was calculated were lost in the shuffle of switching midwives earlier in my pregnancy and an overabundance of records being held in different places. Of course, it is a wonderful thing to be given more time when you are overdue, if you are someone who does not want to be medically induced or ever see the inside of a hospital (which is how I felt). However, it is incredibly difficult to reccaliberate your mental state and expectations so late in the game. As far as I was concerned, I was overdue and the thought of having to wait yet another week was about the worst thing anyone could have told me at that point, regardless of the favor they did me. So, when the date was changed I reached a new level of losing my shit.

But, I was proactive about redirecting my mental (and physical) state after being thrown off my peaceful course. During those last weeks I had Craniosacral Therapy, Reiki, several rounds of acupuncture, several Chiropractic adjustments, prenatal massage, Mayan uterine massage, acupressure, and about a billion talks with my doula and midwives. I'm glad I did all of that, but in the end what seemed to help the process the most was letting go and giving up on trying to coax it to happen. I ended up spending my last week in a great state of calm and surrender, which I believe ultimately gave me the strength to remain calm and surrender when labor finally began. The waiting was for sure excruciating at times, but I learned so much about the process of birth in those weeks and what I, personally, needed to get through it. I learned to tune out the world around me, despite the fact that the world was knocking down my door wondering when my baby was coming, and found an entirely new and powerful kind of focus. 

Birth story to come...