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.

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