As the birth of this new baby gets closer, I'm finding myself more nervous than previous times. I suppose when you know what labor and birth entail and what to expect, you know more of what you're getting into. I have found reading positive birth stories to be one of the most helpful tools in getting ready for a healthy, holy birth. So much of the work of birth is in the mind and I'm finding the need to psyche myself up for this go-around. So, I'm posting here the birth story I wrote for David. I never wrote the stories for John Paul and Michael and I regret that. Perhaps someday I'll write down what I can remember because I find it so awesome to have these memories in writing. And hopefully, this will help me get in a positive birth frame of mind and maybe help out others, too. And, yes, it's long :)
I woke up Brian after three or four contractions and told him I thought it was time. We timed a few contractions at 4 to 7 minutes apart. As I paced around the house with excited energy, I, of course, second-guessed myself as to whether I should call Jen. The last thing I wanted to do was wake her up and especially start driving all the way out here if it was a false alarm. I voiced this to Brian and he immediately told me to CALL. He had seen me go into labor twice before and he could tell just by looking at me that it was time. So we called and Jen left right away to get to our house.
When everything on The List was done, the pool was about half way full and contractions were about two to three minutes apart and very intense. Brian thoughtfully suggested that we pray a Rosary together. I asked to pray the Joyful Mysteries due to the third Mystery being the Birth of Christ and I really wanted to focus on the joy of bringing another child into the world. It felt right, though, I can also see the Sorrowful Mysteries also being a beautiful way to unite the suffering of labor to the Lord’s Passion, death and Resurrection. Brian led since I didn’t feel I was able to keep track during the contractions and towards the end, I wasn’t able to even pray out loud during the contractions. But I mumbled/mouthed the prayers as best I could while Brian prayed aloud. It was truly a grace-filled, beautiful moment in our Marriage. Labor and birth is something that transcends the purely natural world and our prayer together allowed us to remember that and offer all of it to our Lord through his most beautiful Mother.
Before and during the Rosary I had begun choosing to squat during contractions. It definitely increased the pressure and intensity of each contraction but that was okay with me. I knew that by getting in the position I was opening up my pelvis and working with the contraction and helping our little one to descend faster. It was hard physically since it did intensify the contractions so much but knowing that it was shortening labor and allowing me to DO something made them (barely) manageable. Shortly after we finished praying I was ready to get in the pool. The heat felt really comforting at first and it was nice to be able to relax a little bit in between the contractions. During contractions, while the hot water helped to handle the pain, I was feeling overheated so Brian helped by getting me cool washcloths to place on my forehead and neck. THAT felt great! I liked that in the water it was so easy to change positions…during what I now know was transition I found myself with arms and head down on the side of the pool (with a cold washcloth) and the rest of my body in the water. One of the biggest comforts during this time was the ice cold orange juice with a straw that Brian brought to me in the pool. It sounds silly, but it tasted SO good and helped give me a bit of energy to keep working. It was around that time, maybe or so that Jen arrived. I was definitely in transition at that point and I remember telling Brian to tell her as he showed her in to tell her I was beginning to feel ‘pushy’.
I wasn’t in the mood for any small talk at that point and Jen could tell right away that I was close. One of the hallmarks of a good midwife is that they are able to read the room and the laboring mother well and Jen was great at this. When she arrived, she quietly came in, set up her supplies and equipment, whispering if she needed to talk, and was so respectful of the space and sacredness of the moment. I could hear her and Brian whispering to each other, and for some reason, the murmur of the quiet voices were comforting to me. It made me feel respected, yet taken care of. Her assistant Emily arrived a few minutes later and volunteered to take the camera for us and get some shots, which I was incredibly grateful for.
Transition and those moments and contractions right before pushing are agony. That is the only way I know to describe it. During those times, I was leaning and rocking in the water, keeping the crucifix we had placed on the nearby table in my mind. I remember moaning “God, help me” and the precious name of Jesus over and over. About two or three contractions after Jen arrived (or maybe it was more…time seems so elastic when you’re in labor), I told Jen I needed to push. I remember the urge feeling gradually stronger with each contraction until finally, there is no way you can NOT push. It is beyond your control because your entire body is pushing whether you want to or not. I tried to put my hands down to support my perineum and avoid a tear but I found that awkward with the way my body decided to push. I had thought I would try a hands and knees position but I ended up flipping during the agony of one of the contractions and leaning with my back against the pool wall. It felt as though my entire body was being twisted like a wet washcloth inside of me and the pushing came without thought. During my previous births, I remember the doctor telling me not to push when everything in my body was already pushing. It’s like telling someone to hold it in when they have to vomit or use the bathroom…excuse the analogy. You can’t. Your body takes over and you are pushing. It’s called the fetal ejection reflex and maybe I have an incredibly powerful one. This birth, I had decided to trust that my body knew what it was doing. Jen didn’t tell me to push or not push but go with what my body was doing. I knew I did want to try not to tear as I had with my other births and a slower push would help with that but as I mentioned, it is uncontrollable and pretty useless to fight it. There were no screams of “PUSH!” and no counting and I allowed my body to take over as it pushed with everything in me.
During this time I felt like I was in another world. It took concentration to associate with anything in the real world and my whole being was focused on the task of Having This Baby. I think it was after that second pushing contraction that I could feel the baby’s head fill up inside of me and begin to crown. It was then that Brian quickly jumped in the water to help catch the baby. Another push quickly followed and the baby’s head was out. The RELIEF that follows that is unbelievable. In an instant Jen noticed a loose nuchal cord (the cord around his neck, very common and not usually a cause for concern) and flipped it off while the baby was still face down in Brian’s hands. I had a few moments to breathe and take a very quick rest before the next contraction came and I felt sharp shoulders and the rest of my baby’s body slip out into the water and into Brian’s hands. Our baby was born into a quiet, candlelit room into warm water and the first hands to touch our precious child were of the very people who helped create him. Brian without a second delay carefully put the baby right onto my chest. I was so tired but the relief and elation that simultaneously filled my heart was indescribable. I got up the strength to cradle our little one and discovered that we had been blessed with another beautiful son! What a beautiful, perfect gift that had grown inside of me! I was thrilled and our new little boy promptly fell asleep right on my chest in the water…no crying, no bright lights and yelling, no being whisked away cold and afraid…just a beautiful, peaceful birth into his parent’s arms.
We were able to stay like that for awhile as I rested and took in these awesome moments. We allowed the cord to finish pumping blood into the baby and didn’t cut it until it had stopped pulsating so that our baby could get as much of that vital oxygen-rich cord blood as possible. Brian cut the cord as I was still holding our little one on my chest. At this point I finally surrendered him into Brian’s arms so that I could get out of the pool and finish up the birthing process in our bed. Jen and Emily helped me get out and get to the bed where I was able to quickly deliver the placenta in a few pushes. I had torn a good bit but I chose to allow the tear to heal naturally rather than put in those painful stitches which make recovery so difficult.
Brian then brought the baby into me to nurse while Jen and Emily did cleanup and checked the placenta to make sure it was complete. He latched on great and nursed right away for at least twenty minutes. This was the only time he would nurse, however, for about 24 hours. He was just so sleepy and no matter what we tried to do, he slept and had no interest in nursing. He also had a good amount of mucous that he would cough every so often during that time which may have played a role in his desire to nurse. Because he wasn’t nursing very often, he didn’t have his first bowel movement for at least 24 hours. (ETA: We now know this was also one of the signs of his Hirschsprung's Disease.) Just when we were beginning to get worried that next day, he perked up and everything started working fine. His temperature was also a bit low that first day. It wasn’t worrisome but in order to keep him warm I kept him skin-to-skin with me under the blankets which works much better and is much less distressing to mama and baby than a plastic incubator. These few things were among the many reasons I was so grateful not to be in a hospital. Without a doubt, the lazy nursing and low temperature would have caused chaos and much unnecessary interventions with our delicate little baby and could possibly have led to more serious issues. We knew that we had the intelligence to keep an eye on things and we definitely would have gotten outside help if his vital signs had gotten worrisome, but also knew that the standard procedures for those things in the hospital are usually unnecessary and irrational and would have been traumatic for both me and baby.
(And this is where you get to start seeing the pictures ;)