Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I Had A Lot To Think About

To give fair warning, the birth was not easy and was not what I expected. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but this story is not sprinkled falsely with fairy farts and hippy flowers and the Untold Joys of Squooshing a Butterball Turkey Baby out of My Nether Bits. That's Burgundy's birth story, which I've yet to write in 15 stinking years. Not traumatic enough, I guess.

Ultimately, I decided on a plan of increasing aggression against the wee parasite. I would wake Tuesday morning, go for an ultrasound and run a couple of errands. Then we would have Christmas lunch with Mark's parents, keeping it to a reasonably short visit. When we came home, I planned to take black and blue cohosh tincture and have Mark massage my uterus with castor oil. I really didn't want to drink that stuff.

My Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year assured me that these steps all were efficacious in starting labor assuming the baby was ready. The same book recommended ingesting the castor oil only after taking these steps; I happily complied. I decided that if labor did not begin Tuesday night, then Wednesday morning would find me in the kitchen, gagging down castor oil.

I went to bed Monday night with the plan fixed in my mind, relieved finally to have resolved on a course of action.

Tuesday morning I woke at 8:30 and went to the bathroom. When I wiped, I came away with traces of my mucous plug, and when I stood, I had a contraction. I lay back down and snuggled against Mark, telling him what had happened. Five minutes later, I had another contraction. Mark and I decided to go ahead with our errands for the day, and after several more contractions came in rhythm, I texted Jackie, our midwife, to tell her what was happening. We cancelled the ultrasound.

I have no idea why I thought it was so important, but over the course of the morning, I insisted that we go shopping. We went to Michael's for green beads, and when we couldn't find the right shade of green there, we went to Hobby Lobby. I suppose I thought that I might knit so much after the baby came that I would run out of the beads. We went to a local yarn store for a purse to give Mark's mom for Christmas, and we went to Kroger for carrots and broccoli, because I knew I could not live without them while laboring. I continued to have contractions throughout the shopping, terrifying the store clients, thrilling the store staff and doubtless puzzling my poor family beyond repair.

We made it home sometime between 12:30 and 1PM. Mark began setting up the birth pool in the living room, and I sat in the swing in the front yard to call Jackie. I told her the status and said that the contractions were getting intense enough that I couldn't laugh or talk through them. She said she would be on her way after making a couple of stops.

Meanwhile, Mark discovered the vagaries of indoor birth pools and their total lack of instruction on assembly. Once he finally got it assembled (amid my protests of, "I WANT TO BE IN THE WATER NOW. MAKE IT WORK."), he ran the water hose from the hot water heater relief valve to the pool and began filling it up. With cold water. We never have figured that one out. How do you get cold water out of a hot water heater?

While we worked this conundrum, the midwife's assistant, Camellia, arrived with instant calm. She chatted with me between contractions, encouraged me through the hard ones, and swapped stories with me about mutual friends; turns out, she'd heard Burgundy's birth story from Tracey years ago; she was thrilled to make the connection. It was pretty clear I wasn't having the baby anytime soon, so at Camellia's suggestion, Mark ran to Home Depot while I sat in the pool of tepid water, having Burgundy pour pitchers of hot water all around me during contractions.

After a couple of contractions, I discovered that looking right at someone and holding eye contact throughout a contraction really helped me to get through it. When Mark returned, I gave Burgundy the job of sitting across from me through every contraction and looking into my eyes.

Burgundy brought her own phenomenal energy to the birth. She stayed remarkably calm and collected throughout. As she sat across from me through each contraction, every time I began saying, "Nooo, nooo, nooo, nooo, no," or shaking my head, Burgundy would very firmly nod her head yes while pursing her lips to remind me how to breathe.

With the pool filled up with hot water and Jackie present, labor continued to do its job. I remember needing to pee so, so badly, but I simply could not do it. At one point I sat on the toilet in the bathroom, looked at Jackie, and said, "I don't want to do this. I don't want to! I already have a kid; I've done this already, and I don't want to do it again!" I don't know what she thought, but she just smiled and said, "Well, it's coming, and you can't stop it now." Camellia chose that moment to compliment my well-shaped, nursing-ready nipples. I have no idea why that helped, but there you have it. Existential crisis? Grab it by the boobs.

I labored in the pool; I labored in the bed. I knelt, squatted, sat, stood, floated and leaned through the contractions. At one point, Mark had to hold my leg in the air, pushing back against my foot while I used him for leverage. Eventually, Jackie asked if she could check me, and she discovered that I had a little cervical lip. She tried pushing it back, and I hollered like an angry cat on Halloween. She gave me a choice. I could let her try pushing it back during a contraction, or I could try breathing through a few contractions to let it move back on its own. I chose the latter.

I had called Tracey at some point while laboring in the bedroom, and she remained on the phone, praying and breathing with me through the contractions. About every third contraction, I would become completely overwhelmed and simply scream. Those contractions frightened me; I'd had nothing like them when in labor with Burgundy. Eventually even Tracey's prayers over the phone were too much of a distraction, so we hung up.

After several contractions, Jackie checked me again, but I still had the lip. She and Camellia agreed that breaking my bag of waters would hasten the birth. I asked Jackie if I would be angry with her tomorrow. She paused, then said, "I don't think so." I told her to break it. I had gone from, "I don't want this," to "Get it out; I don't care what it takes."

She said she had to go to the car for her amniohook, and I told her I had a wide range of crochet hooks in all colors and sizes in the next room. She declined to use them. I moaned, panted, and chanted through another contraction, and Jackie returned with the hook, breaking my bag of waters just as the next contraction began.

Reclining into Mark's arms, I relaxed a little as I felt the warm rush of water between my legs, and then a steamroller flattened my last hopes for a dignified birth as a contraction like none I had ever felt before took over my entire body. Instinctively, I curled myself forward and felt myself strangling on a scream of horror as I lost control of myself. I could not will myself to breathe, much less to relax, open, or allow my child to be born gently into an open flower or whatever other hippy nonsense I thought would happen. I found myself on my hands and knees, writhing in agony, screaming into poor Jackie's face. Through it all, I had to pee so badly that I could feel myself NOT-PEEING through the pain of the contraction.

This contraction started with a feeling like something had grabbed my uterus and was trying to wad it like aluminum foil into the smallest possible ball. It spread out from there around my back in bands, making me want to buck against it even though the very action made the crumpling feelings in my uterus even worse. Lightning pains shot down both legs, and my chest felt compressed as though Mark and Burgundy together sat on it.

As it passed, I turned to face Mark. Yes, the poor man watched that contraction from behind. He might never again desire my intimacy. Before I could catch my breath and recover, the next one hit. I felt like a cat being stretched by its limbs and tail; I felt I could come apart at any moment. I briefly saw a visual of the dead wife in The Last King of Scotland, feeling I could easily end up torn limb from limb and sewn back together askance as a warning to all women. I never caught my breath; I remember seeing Mark's face crawling in pain as I grabbed a handful of his stomach flesh in each hand to anchor myself against the screams I couldn't stop.

The contraction passed, and I felt ashamed of the screams. I wanted to take them back, apologize, pull myself together and behave like the grown-ass woman I was. I had birthed Burgundy with dignity and not much trouble as a naïve, broke, and idealistic 20-year-old. Surely as an adult I could do the same? I hardly registered the thought before the next contraction ripped another scream from my throat.

Mark's face kept its rigid, wide-eyed, flared-nostril expression through however many more contractions passed. I mauled his flesh, screamed in his face like a braying donkey. I said I couldn't do it; I didn't want to do it.

Jackie said "He's coming; he's close now," and I asked how long. "Maybe 10 more minutes."

I did the math on the contraction spacing and said, "Okay, so that's four more contractions? I can do this four more times."

After that, I managed to get behind the contractions. I pushed with the next few and each time felt myself blacking out. I told Mark not to let me drown. Jackie told me not to push so hard, and I told her that I didn't have a choice. Then another extreme contraction hit, and through my screams, I told them I thought I would rip open. I could feel myself holding the baby inside of me, clenching my whole bottom shut, trying to protect myself from pain, from the baby, from motherhood itself. The contraction eased, and somehow we managed to get one of my legs up so that my right knee and left foot supported me, and my left knee pointed out and away from my body. Jackie used the Doppler to check the baby's heartrate again; it remained in the 150's.

Another contraction, another push, and between screams I begged Mark not to let me drown. Then through the haze, I heard Jackie's voice: "Melissa, listen to me. You need to do exactly what I tell you to do." I felt argument building inside me; wasn't I already doing everything I could? But I had nothing left to give it a voice. Without a pause, I heard Jackie say, "This is a matter of life and death. You have to get this baby out now."*

I don't know what I said or if I said anything. At that point, I decided that if I had to be ripped open, I would survive it. I remember thinking that I would have to tear him out of myself because I couldn't relax my bottom enough to let him out. So I curled my husband's flesh into my fists, closed my eyes on his face, and I bore down on the baby's body with all the strength in my own, refusing even to grunt until I felt myself blacking out. I stopped, gulped air, and hearing calls of, "Great job, again, again," I closed everyone out again, bore down again, and moved the little body down, out, and away.

I felt him come free in a rush of limbs. Whatever happened next, I found myself reclining next to Mark, back against the pool, with a blue, limp little boy on my chest, snuggling into my breast, the midwives rubbing his feet, his back, his chest, and encouraging me to do the same. I talked to him and rubbed his glorious little chest. "Oh, you're beautiful!" I said, "I'm so glad you're finally here, baby; stay with us now."

Jackie set her stethoscope on his bulging, fat chest, and she heard his strong, big, heart pounding him into existence, insisting on life, forcing his lungs into a long, lusty scream. He began to wail, and I noticed huge, bulbous cheeks; thick, fatty eyebrows, and little white flecks of calcium deposits all over a sweet baby face. His head of peach fuzz looked blond, and his lower lip folded far under his upper lip. When he pinched his face to scream, his eyes disappeared into a fold between his brows and cheeks, a fold that extended across his nose.

His heart rate slowed again, and his noises died down, and we discovered his cord was compressed under his leg. Once freed, his heart raced to catch up, and our son yelled with all the rage of a happy man evicted from his warm, cozy home. Happily, we have milk, the warm flesh of family's embrace, and all the love the world can offer to make up for it.

Much later, after we'd left the pool and dried off, snuggled into our bed together, let Burgundy hold and play with him (Mark has video), nursed and bonded, the midwives and Mark all announced their guesses for birth weight. Camellia guessed, "Well north of nine pounds." Jackie guessed he would be, "Just under nine pounds." Mark looked up from his son and said only, "Nine Two."

Jackie set up her hanging scale, laid him in the sling, and weighed him. She grinned at Mark, "Nine pounds, two ounces." Mark grinned back. He was 22 inches long, and his head was 14.5 inches around (as were his chest and abdomen; what a little rock).

We ultimately decided to stick with the name we'd chosen for him, and our son, Holden Elijah, is grunting and squirming in his bouncer next to me as I type. Yesterday marked two weeks of life, and at the birth center for our two-week checkup, he weighed in at ten pounds, five ounces. Currently he's growling and grunting at his wee left fist, which he insists should produce milk. He continues to try to eat it in defiance of evidence to the contrary. A left-handed fantasist. He'll fit in great here.

* I wanted to write this story entirely from my perspective, but for the sake of those wondering what in the world happened, it was this: The cord was wrapped twice around the baby's neck. It was too tight to pull it over his head, which would be the normal procedure, so I believe Jackie planned to clamp and cut it after I finished delivering the head. When I pushed the head the rest of the way out, though, the cord cinched up like a noose, making clamping impossible as well. That was when Jackie told me that I had to get the baby out now. I pushed the baby out in two pushes that were, I think, between contractions. Jackie flipped the baby as he came out and freed him from his cord, which she then left intact to give him support while we helped him start breathing.


  1. Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! I love this story because it shows that homebirth is not some fluffy thing, but it's real birth and gritty. Yet, so, so beautiful! Congratulations! :) And, yay for your daughter! My ten year old daughter is the best birth coach! :)

    I have 5 homebirths under my belt and am looking forward to the sixth in June. It will be my third water birth, if I can do it. :)

    With my fifth baby, I had a bag of forewaters that I wanted to break, and I told my sister "Go get me a crochet hook!" Off she ran, and then I realized I could do it with my fingernail! :) Something to laugh about later.

  2. Oh, you had me laughing, and then crying. You are an amazing storyteller. Your daughter rocks. Your husband rocks. Your son is beautiful.

    So glad all is well!!!!!!!!

    much love and best wishes for this first year as a family of 4!

  3. What a great story, and well-written, too. I LOLled throughout, and I love that it is so very real. Congrats, and see you around! --Angelique

  4. Congratulations. I was on the edge of my seat reading this - I agree with Blessed that you are an amazing storyteller.

    He is just so adorable. I want to squish him!

    I'm going to be honest - I'm kind of terrified now. But I really appreciate you telling it like it was!

  5. Oh! don't be terrified! You've done this twice; you can do it again! And as for the cord, I think it was handled better by the midwife at home than it would have been by the hospital.

    Also, thank you everyone for the kind praise!

  6. Great job. Wonderful honest post. Thank you for this gift. This all rings so familiar. *HUGGS!*

  7. Congrats! He is adorable and I love the way you told your birth story (just glad I didn't read it while I was pg lol).

    Oh and Scottish Twins - every birth is different, really no need to be terrified. And EMM has it right on w/ the cord/midwife thing. My nightmares center around hospitals :-D.

  8. Congratulations! So glad to hear that he's here, and I'm so glad you pushed when you did. And, yay, to Mark and Burgundy.