Saturday, November 13

Birth Journey

I started this about two three months ago in anticipation of my son's first birthday. I almost didn't post it. Not because it contains some may say inappropriate detail, but because I haven't really wanted to share anything personal for a while. Also because I know that all women are sensitive about the subject of birthing. In my experience it's because we feel so vulnerable in the experience. I enjoy the romantic idea that the growing of babies is something that unifies all women, and even all people. I even feel closer to my mammal friends in the idea that we go through much the same thing in the act of giving birth.  But there are undeniable and unfortunate expectations that are placed on a woman when she starts to compare notes with other women about the whole pregnancy experience. And in an era of information, when there are so many tools available to us, it is too easy to feel like you don't measure up or like you are suppose to do it a certain way. I know I felt like that after my first birth. But, as I try always to do, I pushed social or cultural expectations out of my mind and tried to just be and know what it was that I wanted. The labor of bringing life out of life is one of Love and beautiful in all of it's forms, as is the sharing of each birth story. I Love Traditions. They give us more reasons for living and tools for sharing this life with each other. The sharing of birth stories is a tradition that I've wanted to participate in for as long as I've been reading them. But before reading, be reminded that all of us are born. It really shouldn't be a big deal to think about how it transpires, but I won't be offended if you are offended. And then there was this:

Birth; not something that just happens, not a simple occurrence or even a situation, but a journey; a pilgrimage in the body of a woman. It starts not when a membrane is ruptured or a rhythmic throbbing begins, but long long before. When first the idea is formed and goes from the thought to the imagination and finally the reality is conceived in a woman's mind that this will end with a life being brought out of her vessel and into her arms.

I first considered the birth of my son when I was birthing my daughter; preparing mentally (unsuccessfully, I might add) for an anesthesiologist to numb my body from my lower back down. From the moment I entered my sterile hospital room, I told the nurse that I wanted to birth 'naturally'. It was the first time I would bring a life out of my own. I was naive and unprepared, but I knew what I wanted. A few hours later, two strange women came into my hospital room and very actively tried to convince me that after spending all day with my water broken, contracting, a natural birth would be extremely difficult for me. One thing kept me from being angry at these two strangers, who were, though well reasoned in their suggestions, more concerned for my labor interrupting their routine than actually helping me to relax and bring my daughter safely out of the womb. I didn't want anger in that room. I wanted it to be a hallowed place, a sanctuary where I would meet this special soul for the first time. I was also afraid of what was happening in my body and of how long it was taking. I remember clearly the nurse telling me that maybe with my next pregnancy my body would be a little better prepared and I would be able to do it naturally. That thought stuck in my head. As soon as the epidural took effect I was able to sleep for a couple hours and during those two hours, my relaxed body dilated from barely a two to a 9 1/2. After the birth I wasn't able to move my legs for at least 3 hours afterward and felt them too weak to walk around for a couple days. I was relieved not to be carrying around the weight anymore, speaking purely physically. But in every way, physical and emotional, I felt completely at the mercy of my husband and that sweet innocent baby girl. As far as everything else, my first born was healthy and beautiful. And we got to know each other through the exhaustion as I imagine most women experience. When I found out nine months later that I was expecting another child, I remembered the words of my nurse and thought 'maybe this time'. As the thought of the pain of labor and the helpless feelings afterward became a reality over the first few days, the maybe dissolved. I knew that I needed to prepare myself better this time. With my first pregnancy, I thought romantically of how labor was something that tied me to every other woman that has ever become a mother. I was only interested in appreciating the experience as all mothers have over the course of many millennium. I thought that this connection was enough. Billions of women have had babies with out the aid of modern medicine and I chose to believe that I couldn't be so different from all of them. But that line of simplistic thinking had put me in a very vulnerable situation and I knew that I didn't want to find myself again, in a place where I was forced to base a decision on whether or not my nurse was sympathetic to my choice of birthing styles. So, along with making sure I could actually pay for having another baby, I went in search of myself and what it was that I really wanted to do with this birth. My journey was underway. I asked a few Mothers who I knew had birthed naturally how they had prepared and I realized that the first thing I needed to do was get some worthy reading material. Previously, I had as my manual, one solitary book. It had a patchwork quilt cover and a drawing of a bulging bellied woman in a rocking chair. It's all encompassing title told me that I would have in it, all of the keys that I needed to appreciate the experience of bringing a child into the world. Did I mention that I was naive? So I found some books. Some were helpful and others not as much. I started some underwater aerobics classes and started walking as often as I could.

I am a visually motivated person. I learn visually, I plan visually. One thing that really helped me was to make birthing art; a visual interpretation of the way I think of birth or labor. Birthing art is like a free-write. My very favorite English teacher in middle school assigned us free-writes every single day. It got our imaginations flowing and could not be right or wrong, it simply was. Through them I learned about who I was at that moment in time and was able to learn about what I wanted to do with myself (Thank You Gordon Cotrel). I've heard some mothers explain contractions as a series of waves coming up on a beach. One in particular repeated in her mind "the wave always hits the shore". It always confused me a little, this idea of having a phrase to repeat, almost like a chant. I didn't understand how this could help. The powerful idea of this is the inevitability. I remember my first birth, between contractions thinking that no matter what I do in the next few seconds of lesser pain, I could not avoid that the next contraction would come and I feared it in ever cell in every micro molecule. I believe that this was the most important part of the birth of my still-new little boy. It was what I needed to change. I realized that what was coming was inevitable. And I had to learn to accept that I was going to feel pain, and even welcome it. My birthing drawing is like that chant, a visual representation of the power that is in my body. I made this for myself and not as a framed piece of art to be shared. It is essentially a waterfall in the body of a woman. The trees above and below, and the calm pool at the end of the fall, all represented to me the parts of labor, all connected by a rushing unstoppable force of water...

It also represents something that is as natural as snow melting off a mountain. I have never lived near the ocean and don't feel a strong connection to it, as did my friend who used the ocean waves as an image in her birth. But this, to me is powerful. About 7 months along in my pregnancy, my husband and I, with our one year old daughter, went camping to Grand Tetons National Park. We hiked around Jenny Lake to Hidden falls, a cascade of about 200 feet with such power that anything in the way of the water would be powerless against it and immediately overpowered and swept away. I watched that series of short bursts of water and saw in it my fear. That's how I felt in my first birth; fighting against each wave of my body, powerless to do anything and powerless to cope. As my labor started with my second child, two months after our camping trip, that image stayed in my head, not the one in this simple drawing but the one it stems from.

The contractions started to be steady at about One o'clock in the afternoon. I timed the first one as I got back in my car after buying a few things to make sure the family would be alright while I was tending to the new baby, whenever he came. I was two days past my due date and waiting...the way only a past-due pregnant woman waits. It was Wednesday and I knew that if I wanted my doctor to deliver, today would have to be the day. I didn't want my doctors partner to aid in my delivery as he was a little too comfortable with the scalpel in my last labor as my daughter crowned.  I had a few birthing projects planned. I was attempting to paint the fence next to my patio as well as tile my small entry-way. I drove home continuing to time each contraction, about 8 minute apart and getting more painful. A bitter sweet part of labor. I was filled with the fear of what was to come, but relieved that I might not have to wait anymore. If this was just the beginning, how bad were they going to get? When I got home it was fluctuating between 8 minutes and 5. I called my Mom as she would need to make the hour and a half drive from Logan before we could go to the hospital, unless we wanted to take Ada with us. I wanted to labor at home as much as possible and so, continued preparing my fence to be painted, trying to pass the time. At this point the contractions were painful but I could still hold a conversation and think about what was transpiring.  Fortunately my daughter was enjoying a lengthy nap and Ariel called in to work to tell them he wouldn't be in. I ate grapes and wandered around picking things up and moving them menially between contractions. Picking things up helped a lot as I found that the most comfortable position for me was to be crouched on the ground.
Looking back, it's comical, but it probably helped a lot. I remember feeling like everything was just fine and I'd just wait it out until it got really hard. I knew that this was against the doctors orders, but wasn't really concerned. The contractions were every 5 minutes when my Mom came and Ada was still asleep. I couldn't have timed it better if I had planned it. I remember just eating grapes and talking until another wave of contractions would hit, until my Mom finally told us that we REALLY needed to go. By this time it was 6 pm. Suddenly I felt an urgency and rushed to get everything in the car. We drove to IMC (the hospital) and the contractions worsened as we drove. Pulling into the hospital, they were coming about every 2-3 minutes. We got checked into a labor room and after the nurse checked my dilation and put in an IV line for the antibiotics, for step-b, I got right in the tub. I was dilated to 6 cm. Contractions after contraction, Ariel poured warm water over my belly sticking out of the water. I can't say that the tub was the most comfortable place to labor but the water was so nice. There was no time to put in any music to help me focus or for Ariel to massage my feet or any of the other things I thought might help me along the way. I just focused on breathing and tried not to get annoyed at interruptions. Ariel was so wonderful and just took my cues that a contraction was coming and to shut up, let me concentrate and continue pouring water on my belly. This went on for about an hour. When we heard that the doctor had arrived I got out of the tub. Still the most comfortable position during a contraction was squatting on the floor, as they got longer and harder I crouched lower and lower. Ariel put pressure on my lower back, which helped a lot. The worst part was when the doctor came. While I was relieved to see him, he told me that I needed to get up on the bed. In all of my reading I understood that laying on your back was the worst was to labor and I didn't feel like I had it in me to getup there anyway. But I knew that he at least needed to check my dilation and I didn't have the will power to ask him to come down to the floor, so I got up on the bed. He immediately said I was dilated to a 9 1/2 and asked if I was ready to push. Everyone started running around grabbing things, taking the bed apart and calling other nurses. I can't remember exactly at what point I started pushing but it was only a couple minutes. My doctor talked to me in the few seconds between one contraction and the next and told me that I needed to listen to every thing he said and when he told me that I needed to NOT push, I had to do what he said. I was VERY hesitant to agree, but I did. I suddenly felt a HUGE urge to push. He told me to push, I pushed. Then all of the sudden in the middle of the most intense sensation, when everything in my body was telling me to push that baby out, my doctor told me STOP PUSHING. The hardest thing I have ever had to do, was not push in those few seconds. It felt like I might explode, because Pushing felt like the most wonderful thing and I WANTED to. The pain was virtually nonexistent. I've read descriptions of women having what they termed as orgasms during labor and never could I imagine that there could be any validity in that. But that pushing gave me a pretty good idea. However, I was NOT pushing. A few seconds later my baby came sliding out of me, and suddenly I knew why I wasn't pushing, or at least I felt it. The sensation of release, all of the pressure in my body that has been building for 9 some months, all of the water that was cushioning the pain, and of course, the beautiful baby boy came slithering out. And It Felt SO GOOD. I remember too well to say that it was orgasmic, but close enough that I can appreciate the sentiment.
And there he was, all covered in a fuzz of black hair. I brought him up on my belly and instantly he latched on to my breast. We were both cold, as I had gotten out of the tub only 20 minutes earlier and he was still covered in fluids and vernix, but I took off the blanket that separated us and held him close to my body. It was instantaneous; some loves come easier than others and some we have to suffer for. I believe the latter influenced the former because I can't imagine any other reason why my connection with my son was so much stronger sooner than with my daughter, born just 18 months earlier.

The reason I needed and felt relieved to not push when I felt the urge, was that I pushed a ten pound (o.k. really only 9 lb 14 oz.) baby boy out with out tearing my perineum. When I compare that with my daughter, who was 9 lb 9 oz and with whom my doctor wouldn't even tell me how many stitches I had, I recognize that the difference was in the doctor. He knew what he was doing instinctively. As hard as it is for ME to trust people that I don't know very well, he made me feel comfortable enough to take the risk and do what he said; and I am SO glad that I did.  The other big difference was that not ten minutes later, I walked across the room to where my little boy was being weighed and tested and didn't lie down again for a couple of hours afterward. That alone was worth any amount of pain to be able to get him out without an epidural. And there you have it, the whole story. After THAT I know that I can do ANYTHING. Running a marathon seems like an easy feat. I know I make it sound like it was simple. But the reality is that I was incredibly blessed AND I had the right tools. I am so Thankful for that little bundle of cuddly mama's boy. Looking back, I don't have many complaints, which is more than I can say of my first hospital/labor experience. My nurse was so supportive and actually seemed re leaved when I told her that I was going to try to have the baby naturally. But even with such a positive experience, my birthing journey is not over, as I'd like 3 more babies, give or take. I hope next time to have the means to do it in my home and I'll probably being living in a third world country when I do. But that's another birth story.  


The Kooky Queen--Rachel said...

Your kids are so cute and Nahuel is SOOOOOOOOO darling with all that hair! Kudos for you and going natural---WOW! I'm a wimp. :)

Lisa and Andy said...

Andrea, you are an amazing person! I love your outlook on life, because I agree with you, but I don't always do what I really want to because I can be weak to social expectations and such. I am slowly peeling all that away. It's a long process, but every step taken feels so good. I love having a glimpse in your life and knowing that others have a similar outlook. I wish I had done natural births with my babies, but just knowing that I would be willing to do that today shows me the person I've become and am becoming. We need to get together so I can meet your new little guy!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you for sharing this. I didn't know any of it. I loved reading it, and I think it will be great for the kids to be able to read it when they're older, too.

Even after having given birth twice, I still don't know what labor or contractions or any of that feels like. You are an incredible writer and I could almost feel what you were describing as I read it.

I love you and am so blessed to have you in my life. You are truly a chosen woman. Your children chose well in choosing you!