Monday, July 24, 2017

Gaius's Birth Story, Part II: Baby Time!

(Missed Part I? Read it here)

Jon and I walked inside and surveyed our house. What could we get ready before the birth team arrived? 

During our home visit with Pam the week before, we had already decided that the birth tub would be set up in the kids' room, where there was enough floor space for people to move around the tub. There was also easy access to a bed for when it was time for me to get out of the tub after the birth.

We went into the basement together so I could show Jon where I had stashed the hose for filling up the birth tub. He panicked a little when he discovered that the hose would not hook up to our house's old original cast iron sinks. After all, we thought we had three more weeks to buy any adaptors we would need! I suggested that we hook one end up to the newer utility sink in the basement, and snake it up the laundry shoot. Luckily, Jon had bought a long enough hose that it reached all the way into the kids' room. 

I opened the birth kit bin that I had assembled the week before for our home visit with Pam. 

Jon laid a shower curtain over the sheets on the kids' queen size bed, and then covered it with another set of older sheets. 

I pulled out all the towels we own from our linen closet.

With nothing else to get ready, I settled down at my sewing machine again, determined to finish the few cloth diapers I had left while the contractions were still easy. 

Jon settled onto the couch with a book and ate his "to-go" meal from the restaurant. Now we just had to wait for everyone else to get there.

Alison arrived first, around 8:30.

Pam drove up a few minutes later.

I continued to sew while everyone else carried in Pam's equipment bins. I saw familiar pieces of the tub make their way into the kids' room. 

By 9:30, the rest of the team had arrived: Rhee, Pam's assistant midwife; Kristin, a student midwife just starting her studies; and Elise, a newly married friend who I had invited to simply come and witness natural labor and birth.

The birth room, now ready and waiting.
My contractions were still coming regularly, now about 3-4 minutes apart on average, but still pretty easy to manage. Once I finished the last cloth diaper (why was I so fixated on finishing those things?!), we decided to go on a walk in hopes that it would ramp things up a bit. 

The temperature was still pretty hot, even this late in the evening. We don't have any air-conditioning in our house, so the occasional lake-effect breeze outside felt great. I handed my phone off to Alison to track my contractions. I kept asking Alison if they were lasting longer than a minute, knowing that the contractions needed to last that long in order to actually dilate my cervix. Jon, Alison, Elise, and I headed down one side of the street for about half a mile, and then turned around to head down the other side of the street. My contractions started lasting a little longer, but were not coming that much faster. 

At one point, I remember turning to my walking buddies and telling them that I wanted to trim my fingernails when we got back. I remembered how reaching for Eden's head during her labor had given me the second wind I needed at the end. I wanted to be able to feel Gaius's descent without worrying about scratching his little head.

When we arrived back at the house, Alison insisted that I have some food to keep my energy up for the labor ahead. I had absolutely no desire to eat, but I knew she was right. I sat on a birth ball, borrowed from a friend, while eating frozen strawberries. 

Still in good spirits, waiting for labor to ramp up.
Everyone was gathered in the living room together, and I could sense their watchful attention on my physical and emotional state. They are all waiting for me to progress. I knew that this group of women had the utmost respect for my body, and the natural labor process, but I struggled momentarily with the thought of being a burden on their time.

Sitting seemed to slow the contractions significantly. Once I was done eating, we decided to head out for another walk. I almost convinced my crew to drive to Walmart with me to buy the detergent I needed to wash my newly finished cloth diapers (I can just labor while I walk around Walmart, right?), but they convinced me to take to the streets again.

The second walk through the neighborhood really intensified the contractions. They were lasting longer and coming much closer together. By the time we were heading back to the house, I couldn't easily manage the contractions without leaning all my weight on Jon, arms flung around his neck, while Alison applied counter pressure on my hips. 

I was pretty tired when we arrived back home, around midnight. All I wanted to do was go to sleep and start up labor again the next day, but I knew that there was no turning back at this point. Actually feeling fatigue, rather than constant adrenaline like my other labors, helped me realize that I needed to intentionally rest in between contractions if I was going to have any energy to push out a baby later.

Craving rest and relief.
I decided to try laboring in my bed, laying on my side. This position turned out to be great for resting, but horrible for pain management. When the next contraction arrived, I found myself scrambling out of bed to kneel on the floor, head on the mattress, so that Alison could continue to squeeze my hips together. The pain was getting harder and harder to manage. 

Then Pam and Alison started suggesting that I get into the birth tub. That's how I knew that I must be going through transition. I must be getting close. I suffered through a few more contractions leaning on my bed, and then resolved to get in the water. 

I trimmed my fingernails. It was about 1 am.

The kids' room felt like a sauna, being that it was such a hot night, and a giant tub with hot water took up most of the floor space. Stepping into the weightless world of the water brought me back to Eden's water birth. My body relaxed, but I knew more contractions were on their way. I savored the break before the next one arrived; I lowered my head, closed my eyes, and rested one hand on my belly.

Savoring every moment of rest.
As the next contraction rolled in, I positioned myself so that Alison would still be able to apply pressure to my hips from outside the tub. I continued this dance between maximizing rest and managing pain for the next hour. I even fell asleep between a few contractions, on hands and knees, my head resting on a towel draped over the side of the tub. Alison said she could see my breath patterns change by watching the ripples on the water as I shifted between being awake and asleep. Eventually, Jon had to take over squeezing my hips together. He was the strongest and could maintain the pressure I needed.

"I'm just so tired," I found myself saying aloud after many of my contractions. "I just want to hold him."

At this point in the labor, I was simply waiting for my body to have the urge to push. I remembered naively and foolishly pushing for a straight 20 minutes during Eden's birth, not bothering to wait for contractions, and it really compromised my energy and recovery afterwards. This time, I was determined to feel that urge and wait to push along with the contractions. I would have no energy left if I didn't push smarter.

But I simply wasn't feeling the urge. Why wasn't it coming? Maybe I should feel for his head. I reclined against the side of the pool and I reached down and felt...nothing. Nothing.

Pam doesn't routinely perform vaginal exams before or during labor. A woman's dilation or effacement of the cervix is not necessarily a good indicator of how much time is left in her pregnancy or labor. Furthermore, every check potentially introduces unwanted foreign substances into the delicate environment of the birth canal. However, since I was already performing a check on myself, Pam decided to use the opportunity to gather information through what I was feeling.

I reported that I couldn't feel a head. Only soft tissue everywhere. Pam explained that my water might not have broken, and perhaps I was feeling the amniotic sac. So, I pushed a little further in the direction where I should be feeling something, and found a head! There was a firm bubble of amniotic fluid hovering above Gaius's hard skull that had thrown me off at first. But he was there! 

I also reported that I could feel the cervix. I found myself trying to stretch it, force a little more "give" to the tissue. It's time to get this baby OUT!

Soon I started "test" pushing; maybe a little push will help him engage in the pelvis and move things along. It didn't seem to do much. So I turned my focus once again to resting in between contractions and waiting for the urge to push.

When the urge came, it really came. I started bearing down with everything I had. I kept my hand in the birth canal, hoping to feel him as he emerged.

He descended suddenly. I could feel him crowning. I tried applying counter pressure so that I wouldn't tear. His head was slowly emerging. 

I didn't realize at the time that my water still hadn't broken. As his head was coming out, Pam asked me to shift from a reclining position to hands and knees. Thankfully, this wasn't too difficult in the water, but I did so with his head halfway out. She couldn't see him clearly through amniotic sac. 

Now that Pam was positioned to guide Gaius in Jon's hands, she exclaimed, "Oh! His head isn't all the way out! Alison, I need you to give a gentle push to coax the rest of his head out." A little push was all it took.

The next contraction brought the rest of Gaius's body into Jon's hands, still completely encased in the bag of waters. He was born in the caul! 

Pam quickly broke the bag to check for any cord tangles. Then she and Jon raised his body above the water and handed him to me.

I wish I could recall what I said in that moment. All I remember is the euphoric, pain-free, utter relief of getting to hold my baby for the first time. I wanted to clutch him close and stare at him all at once. 

There was no more waiting, no more wondering, no more wanting it to be over. He was here. And he was perfect. He was calm; he was warm and squishy and slippery. 

And he was mine.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Gaius's Birth Story, Part I: Is This Really Happening?!!

I woke up on Thursday, July 6 to a contraction. Rudely awakened by the painful tightening, I stumbled drowsily into the bathroom to drain the little bit of pee that my bladder could hold. As I crawled back into bed, a little more alert, I wondered if I had really had a contraction at all, or if the feeling was left over from a fading dream. I closed my eyes, hoping to doze off again before Jadon and Eden skipped into my room to ask for a banana.

Then I had another one. This time, my eyes flew open. 

I was exactly 39 weeks pregnant that day. But pre-labor signs were the last thing on my mind. After all, Jadon had been born twelve days past his due date; Eden had to be coaxed out with castor oil fourteen days past her due date. I fully expected to be pregnant with little Gaius for another three weeks! What's with these contractions?!

I turned over to Jon, who was just waking up. "Jon."


"I just felt two contractions. Like, not just Braxton Hicks contractions, but real, uncomfortable, annoying, pre-labor contractions."

He turned over to look at me, and motioned to take my hand. I offered it, and he gave it a reassuring squeeze. "You ready to have a baby?"

"Well, I guess I might have to be," I responded outwardly. Inwardly, I asked, How can you be so calm? This isn't happening today! You should be laughing at me, asking if I'm really sure, something!

We rolled out of bed and started getting ready for the day ahead. Jadon and Eden emerged from their beds, asking for their morning bananas. I took a rare morning shower to test and see if the contractions continued. They did. They were sporadic, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes apart, but real, and not going away. 

I thought about my plans for the day. Soon, our upstairs neighbor would be sending down her daughter for me to watch while she was at work. After feeding everyone breakfast, I would drive us all over to the home of Alison, my doula, to also watch her two kids for the morning. I knew I had no reason to cancel any of these plans right then, but I hoped I wouldn't have to inconvenience two families by going into labor while I was in charge of their kids.

Once we arrived at Alison's house, the kids poured out of the car to greet their friends and start playing. I followed Alison into her kitchen and practically blurted out that I had been experiencing contractions all morning. She gave me the look that I had expected from Jon: surprise and doubt, mixed with a little smirk.

I proceeded to explain how I woke up, and how these contractions were different from Braxton Hicks. She laughed, "Oh, stop it, stop it. It's so not fair. Alison, I was having contractions like that with Joel starting at, like, 14 weeks!" We have frequently joked with each other that we would be a perfect baby-making team if I could take on pregnancy, and then she could somehow take over at labor and delivery. I took her comment in good humor, but it did cause me to question if I was experiencing something that was "normal" for most full-term pregnant women, but I had yet to experience with my "easy" pregnancies.

Once Alison left, I turned my attention to the little people in my care. Looking back, having all those kids and their needs fill up my day helped me not become consumed with what was going on in my body. I continued to notice the contractions as I helped pick backyard raspberries, set up a sprinkler, tend to "owies," make lunch, read books, and police conflicting ideas of what games and imaginative play should come next. 

It was time to return home around 1:30, and I had a few more contractions during the drive. It was another couple hours of playtime before my neighbor came home, and I continued to notice the presence of these sporadic, uncomfortable contractions. The kids were playing so nicely that I decided to sit down at my sewing machine at the dining room table and try to finish a few more cloth diapers for Gaius once he outgrew my newborn sizes.

I remember my eyes unexpectedly tearing up at the sewing machine. It was the first time that day where I had a pause, just a moment to myself. My sudden emotional response helped me admit to myself what I already knew deep inside: this baby was coming, and it wouldn't be in three weeks. Maybe not tonight, but probably in the next couple days.

By 5:00, my neighbor was back from work, and Jon arrived home soon after. He asked me what time we had to leave, since Thursday night is "Grandma night," and we planned to go out to our favorite restaurant downtown. I told him that Grandma was expecting us around 6, and that the contractions had continued all day. 

"Did you tell Pam yet?"


"You need to contact her and give her a heads up. We don't even have the birth tub yet."

So I texted Pam:

When she called me back, she affirmed that she was surprised by the timing of it all, but that she trusted what I was feeling. I told her that I planned to go about our evening as planned, which she agreed was a good idea. She reminded me that pre-labor contractions could last for days, or even weeks. What she needed to know was when I was experiencing clear labor patterns, and she needed to actually start heading my way once contractions were under five minutes apart, or lasting longer than a minute, or if my water were to break.

After I hung up, I downloaded a contraction timer app to my phone so that I could actually start tracking myself objectively. 

Soon it was time to pile the family into the car. As I walked the kids into my parents' house, I happened to get another contraction. We found my mom in the kitchen. She greeted the kids, then looked at me and asked, "What's wrong?"

"Oh, nothing's wrong...I've just been experiencing contractions...all day!"

My mom's eyes opened wide with anticipation. I told her that there was no established pattern yet, but that I was pretty sure labor would come much sooner than I had originally thought. However, I knew that really anything was possible at this point. Pre-labor pains could plague me for days, but go away at night; they could last all night and ramp up into an exhausting labor the next day on little sleep; they could jump straight into active labor if my water were to break. 

All the same, my mom was excited, and insisted on taking a picture of me, in case it was the last one I would get before Gaius arrived. 

As we parted, I told her that we would pick up the kids before 9. She told me to keep her posted.

Jon and I headed downtown for dinner at our new favorite Milwaukee restaurant, Bavette. However, we completely forgot that Summerfest was in full swing, so traffic was thick, and parking looked impossible. As we drove around for the next half hour, I continued to track my contractions. I also had a long text conversation with my doula.

Soon, I noticed that they started coming in under ten minutes apart. We decided to ditch the downtown area for something closer to home.

We arrived at the Riverwest Filling Station, located just three blocks from our house, just before 7. I was relieved to step into the air conditioning, as it was nearly 90 degrees that day. We sat at the bar and started looking over the menu, all while I continued to track the contractions. They were about 7 minutes apart. I texted Pam a screen shot of my contraction timer to give her an update. She recognized that things were picking up and asked if I wanted her to come down. I still had this haunting suspicion that labor could taper off. I can't have this entire birth team come to my house, only to send them home again. I told her I wanted to have a few more contractions first.

We ordered our food. Then they started coming in less than five minutes apart. I knew that there was really no turning back now. It had taken me all day to realize that this was really it. I am definitely in labor. I am having a baby tonight!

I showed Jon the timer app. We requested that our food be put in take out bags since we needed to leave sooner than originally planned; I was in labor. I don't think I've ever seen a waiter power walk that fast.

I texted Pam that it was go time. I really hoped that she would get to our house in time to set up the birth tub.

I texted Alison. She said she'd head over as soon as she finished dinner with her family.

I called my mom. She said that she was already anticipating keeping the kids overnight. I laughed to myself, knowing that I literally dropped them off with the clothes on their back, and technically, Jadon was only wearing his swimming trucks and rash guard from playing in the sprinkler that morning. He didn't even have underwear! 

Our food arrived, and we headed out the door.

Click here to read Part II