welshann80: Adia Erin's Birth Story
Wednesday, April 27, 2011 11:06 AM
"Why, in the throes of labour, would I want to get in a car and drive to a hospital when I could instead just dim the lights and labour in the peace, quiet, and familiarity of my own home?"
We Find Out
In January 2010, with my period running late by several days, a nagging pain in my lower right abdominal area and a gut feeling that I was pregnant, I admitted my fears to my husband. Crying, I told him that I wasn’t ready for this. After having experienced a traumatic ectopic pregnancy several years earlier and a miscarriage, this unexpected possibility was unnerving and upsetting. My husband calmly insisted on doing a home pregnancy test, which I resisted since I was convinced that this was another ectopic pregnancy (due to the pain in my right ovary area) and would most likely not show positive on an hpt. I took the test anyway, and to my complete surprise, the plus sign immediately appeared. Still sure that this was an ectopic pregnancy, we headed to the hospital right away. Blood work, an internal ultrasound, a precautionary IV line, and several hours later, the emergency room doctor confirmed that yes, I was pregnant, no, it was not ectopic, but signs indicated that the pregnancy “was likely not viable”. Miscarriage. With mixed emotions, we went home with instructions to get follow-up blood work done in a week to verify that my hcg numbers were falling.
An anxious and stressful week later, we visited the local walk-in clinic since we were both graduate students living several hours from our home city and our family doctor. To shorten a long story, the kind clinic doctor rushed our blood work and sent us for a follow-up ultrasound at a special early pregnancy clinic. Amazingly, the blood work showed quickly increasing numbers consistent with a viable pregnancy. WHAT?? Two more ultrasounds and a heart beat was detected with a baby measuring at 8 weeks. We were given an expected due date of September 29, 2010.
I believe that birth choices begin long before labour or even the third trimester begins. For us, even though we had no visions or ideas about the birth experience, we made a critical choice about what our birth could be when we decided to go with a midwife rather than an OB. We hardly knew that at the time though, knowing only that we preferred the midwifery model of care. Concepts of such things as “gentle birth”, “alternative pain management”, “home birth”, etc were unknown to us, and hardly the reason we went with a midwife.
Our pregnancy was uneventful, which was fortunate considering we had temporarily moved back to our home town for the summer meaning we had to travel 4 hours for our monthly visits to our midwife. It was also fortunate considering I was not only working full time, but also in the last semester of my master’s degree, conducting field research and writing a thesis. Other than the common aches and pains of pregnancy, everything progressed normally.
I don’t know at what point we decided to have a home birth but it seemed to be a decision we came to rather organically. Oddly enough, home birth was not something I had ever considered before and was not something I had even found desirable for myself. Midwife, most definitely. Hospital birth, absolutely. Only earth-goddess, solstice-embracing, hippy-leaning types gave birth at home. But the more I read and the more I thought about that moment my baby would come into the world, the more I found myself at odds with the hospital as a backdrop to that moment. I started to imagine the birth I wanted and the words that came to describe that experience, for me, did not conjure up the labour and delivery ward at my local hospital.
Once we made the decision to give birth at home, it actually made complete sense to us. In a lot of ways, it became commonsense and we couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. Why, in the throes of labour, would I want to get in a car and drive to a hospital when I could instead just dim the lights and labour in the peace, quiet, and familiarity of my own home?
The Last Weeks
We moved back to our university town at the beginning of September, 4 weeks before our due date. I had completed all the requirements for my Master’s degree two weeks before, meaning I could finally focus on, and enjoy, being pregnant. To me, that was a bonus because at the point where most women just want the pregnancy to end, I was just finally finding time to “be pregnant”. So, when my due date came and went, it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. My midwife did find it somewhat surprising that the baby had still not dropped into position, but everything else was normal and my cervix was showing signs of preparing for birth, so we just waited. Waited and prepared. Since making the decision to give birth at home, we had developed quite the vision of what that would be like. Visions of hors d’oeuvres and champagne (my hubby is a foodie) danced in our heads. We created an eclectic music play list (no Enya, Sanskrit chants, or nature sounds allowed), rented a birth pool, froze some witch hazel soaked jumbo sanitary pads, put all our birth items in one easy place, and slept.
My husband would argue that the baby first showed signs of her arrival with the all day filing job I took on. Nesting, he said. Nonsense, I replied. Those mountains of papers NEEDED to be filed. But when both of us dreamed of the baby for the first time in the whole pregnancy that night, I figured he might be right.
At 6:45pm the next day, October 4th, five days past my due date, as I stood up from going pee, I felt a thud and then a rush of fluid as my water conveniently broke over the toilet. My heart started racing and I immediately felt incredibly nervous as I realized that this was it. I told my husband who, instead of inflating the birth pool or prepping the pull out bed, rushed to the kitchen to bake some focaccia. Seriously. I phoned Cynthia, our midwife, who reminded me that labour may not start right away and suggested that I go to bed. The more rested you are, she said, the better odds of having a successful, unmedicated, home birth. It’s 7pm, I said, I can’t sleep.
About 10pm, I felt my first contraction. This is what it feels like? Oh, I can handle this, I thought.
I went to bed shortly after my contractions started, but a mixture of excitement and a contracting uterus made it difficult to sleep. About an hour and a half later I was up, with contractions coming regularly but still far apart. My husband filled the birth pool, made up the pull-out bed, dimmed the lights, turned on the music, and put our bed sheets in the laundry. My midwife had instructed us to page when I was at 5-1-1 (contractions 5 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute, for 1 hour). By 1am, the contractions were coming stronger and faster and I quickly realized that my earlier assessment of how easy labour was going to be may have been premature. The warm water provided amazing pain relief and was relaxing and soothing. The pain from the contractions greatly reduced when I got in the pool. At that moment, I was very thankful that we had decided to rent it. But with the intensity of the contractions increasing, we paged Cynthia at 1:20am and told her it was time. My husband put on the coffee and laid out his spread of hors d’oeuvres. She arrived just after 2am; I was on all fours on the pull out bed we had set up near the pool. My contractions were three minutes apart, I was 90% effaced and 4cms dilated. Wait. Only 4cms? I was sure I would have already been 7 or 8cms. This was supposed to be a short process, 6 hours approximately, start to finish. I mean, that had been the case for both my mother and my sister in their seven combined births. And I had already been in labour for four hours and it had been seven hours from when my water broke.
Over the next TWELVE (!!) hours, I navigated the reality and intensity of the pain with everything I had mentally and physically. I spent most of my time labouring in the birth pool with my husband applying counter pressure to my lower back on every contraction. His hands became my primary source of pain relief and the only thing that really helped me cope. The natural soothing effects of the water would wear off after a bit and I would have to get out of the pool briefly before getting back in and experiencing that “ahhhhhh” relief again. I moved back and forth between the pool, the shower, and sitting on the toilet. When I transitioned into really active labour around 4am, the pain was so intense that I repeatedly told both my husband and my midwife that I could not do it anymore. They gently (irritatingly) reminded me that despite what I thought, I WAS doing it. I must have asked my midwife a hundred times if it was almost over. She, always patiently and quietly, told me that I was getting closer. How I came to hate that response – please just tell me WHEN it’s going to end!! I did find blessed moments of intense rest between contractions when my mind would almost shut down in an attempt to recover before the next contraction. I was intensely focused beyond my conscious doing. My body, mind, and vocal cords took over in an almost primal way and I had no choice but to let it happen.
By 10am, twelve hours in, I was fully dilated. Finally. I thought I would be relieved in that moment, but my body didn’t give me a chance to enjoy the achievement. I was exhausted and so was my husband who had been faithfully pushing on my back with all his might on every contraction. I did somewhere in the exhausted haze curse the morning light that had disrupted my calm, candlelit atmosphere. I had been determined to labour and birth in the calming quiet of the night time. Now it was all business and the daylight just reminded me how long this was taking.
I started feeling the urge to push but was surprised that it didn’t feel like I imagined it would. Practice pushes, I guess. Just before 11am, my second midwife arrived. Her role was to assist in the delivery and follow up care of the baby. I transitioned to the pushing stage around 11am. Now the intensity surprised me. Cynthia wanted to check the progress of the baby and had me lay on the bed. Until now I hadn’t actually spent much time on the bed at all. And once I went down, there was no getting back up. I wanted to move, I hadn’t ever wanted to deliver on my back with my feet in the air. But I physically couldn’t move. The pain was too much and the urge to push too strong. For the next two hours, I pushed. Did I just say TWO hours? It hurt like hell but in a different way than the last twelve hours. Pull your legs back and push, they said. I CAN’T, it HURTS, I moaned back. Can you see the baby’s head in the mirror? NO, I can’t even open my eyes! Then the burning, the ring of fire they call it. That actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. As my midwife applied perineal pressure and Jeff Buckly sang “Hallelujah” in the background, there was a bluooop, bluooop, and it was over. It was 12:56pm, almost fourteen hours from my first contractions. They immediately placed a screaming, wet, slippery baby girl on to my stomach, cord still attached and pulsing. There was immediate relief from the pain and a surge of energy that I wish had come six hours before.
The moments immediately following the birth of our daughter were amazing but more because of the relief that the pain was over than the fact that I was holding our baby finally. In fact, I was a bit surprised (disappointed, if I must be honest) that she was crying (screaming) so much. In my pre-birth vision, she was born serene and smiling in the dim light of dawn. Damn that daylight!!
I held our little girl, still wet and gooey against my skin for the next hour as I delivered the placenta and got stitched up from the minor tear I received when she crowned. She started to instinctively root and found her way to my breast, but didn’t really try to latch. Guess you can’t cry and eat at the same time. When the stitching was done, Cynthia helped me to my bedroom and into my freshly made bed with my clean, cosy smelling sheet –yes, that had been put into my pre-birth vision – and handed me our baby. As I lay in my own bed and breast fed my daughter for the first time, the midwives cleaned up and returned my home to its normal state. My husband brought in the champagne and together with Cynthia, we toasted the birth of our baby. It was an incredible moment.
When I finally needed to go pee, I handed the baby to the second midwife to finally do her measurements. Cynthia helped me to the bathroom and as we took care of business, my husband called from the other room, “how much do you think she weighs”? I don’t know, 8lbs?
9lbs 4oz. You’re joking, right? She isn’t that big. I did NOT just deliver a 9 pounder with absolutely NO pain medication. Over 9lbs. My midwife later commented that the reason she likely didn’t drop into position earlier was because her head was too big to fit comfortably in my pelvis.
Four hours after I gave birth, my husband and I and our new daughter were cuddled skin-to-skin in our bed together, exhausted but happy. We made the required phone calls and then retreated to quietness to get to know each other and bond as a new family.
Adia Erin was born at home on October 5th, 2010, 9lbs 4oz and 20.9 inches long, after fourteen hours of uncomplicated, unmedicated labour. In the moment, it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I cursed the process and the pain, desperately wanted a way out, and vowed I would never, ever give birth again. In hindsight, it was an absolutely amazing experience, a perfect birth, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
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