Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The story of Gideon's birth.
The more I think about it the more I wonder how an event can be both utterly life-changing and completely quotidian at the same time. On the one hand, the birth experience was unlike anything I'd ever felt before, but on the other, it was the same empowering experience that mothers throughout history have experience while birthing their children. I birthed my baby the same way it's always been done, yet it was still a miracle.
The last month of pregnancy was difficult for me because of how swollen my feet were. Every night I would sleep with them elevated on pillows and covered in an ice pack just to keep the swelling from becoming unbearable. I had to see a chiropractor every week or I couldn't walk up and down my stairs. My blood pressure, which had been really good my whole pregnancy started creeping up around 38 weeks and I'd been spilling trace protein in my urine since about 30 weeks.
By the time I got to 39 weeks I had gained 90 pounds and hated being fat. I was tired and irritable after about 3pm and my nesting had gone into over drive, making me obsessed with keeping my house completely spotless. My body was really ready to have this baby! I had two bouts of practice labor that lasted about 6 hours each and I was beginning to wonder if I would know when I was in labor - typical first time Mom fear. I also got to the place, mentally, where I resigned myself to being pregnant forever. I used to hear pregnant women say this and I rolled my eyes. No longer. I 100% understand.
My sister-in-law, Ellie, flew in from Oregon on the 3rd of August and my sister, Christa, was scheduled to arrive the 10th. Both planned to attend the birth and stay with me for about six weeks to help me during recovery. We figured they were coming plenty early since my estimated due date was somewhere between the 15th and 20th of August. I figured I would be overdue, both because most first time mothers go overdue by at least a week, and also because both my mother and Silas's mother tend to go anywhere from one to three weeks past their due dates. Turns out I was wrong.
On the 10th Ellie, Silas and I's friend, Britt, and myself decided to go swimming. I'd been planning to spend lots of time at the pool over the summer, but I had yet to go. Also, Christa's flight didn't get in till 11:30 pm and I wanted to distract myself during the day so I wasn't just sitting around waiting to go get her. As soon as I got in the water I wondered why I hadn't been coming to the pool every week! It felt so good to be weightless in the water! The only downside was that when I climbed out of the pool I felt like gravity had just doubled on me. I felt so heavy! As we left the pool Britt told me she thought I should have my baby that day because she had the next day off, but had to work the rest of the week. So if I went into labor after that she couldn't come to the birth. I told her I was totally cool with that since my sister was coming in that night and after she arrived I had nothing to hold me back.
Silas spent the evening at a meeting, so the girls and I were at home without a car. We decided we really wanted ice cream and waited impatiently for Silas to come home so we could go fetch some. He finally got home around 9:30 so we prepared to go out on our mini adventure. I used the bathroom before we left and while on the toilet I felt and heard a POP. It didn't feel like gas at all, but there was no sign of a mucus plug or amniotic fluid, so put on the one pair for flip flops that still fit me and we climbed in the car. Almost as soon as I pulled out onto the street I felt a very warm gush of fluid.
"Um, ladies, my water just broke all over the place." Britt and Ellie were laughing uproariously about something, probably how ridiculous I had looked climbing into the driver's seat of my firebird a few moments earlieror maybe that it was 9:45 at night and we were driving to the store to get ice cream.
"Did she say she thought her water broke?" "There is no thinking! It totally just broke!" Hysterical laugher all around. "Um, should we pull over? Should we go home?" "It's just as much trouble for me to turn around as it is for me to finish driving the 3 blocks to the store." More laughing. "What time does Christa's flight get in?" "11:30. Silas is going to have to go get her by himself... cause I have Niagara falls pouring out of me." "It's not stopping?" "No, it's definitely not stopping....Uhg, and it's WARM. My flip flops are all wet."
We arrived at the store and Britt got out to get the ice cream. I called Silas and told him what happened and to please start making birth preparations. Britt got back in the car, and because we all had the giggles, we decided to call Margaret and share the hilarity. I'm not a phone talker. I just DO NOT talk on the phone. So Margaret knew something was up as soon as she answered the phone. But I think it took a minute to explain what was so funny because of the explosive laughter we were all exhibiting. Eventually she got the message, laughed with us, and instructed us to let her know as soon as there was a baby.
We got home and I waddled up to the bathroom, warm amniotic fluid still running everywhere. I didn't know what to do with the mess so I ran a bath and got in the tub to make phone calls. Ellie alerted the larger Snider family of the happenings and she and Britt started cleaning the upstairs. I called my Mom and then I called my midwife, MeriBeth. I knew she didn't need to come till I started having regular contractions, but I wanted to put her on standby so she could get a baby sitter and get her stuff together since she lives almost two hours away.
Silas put a bunch of towels down in the driver's seat of the car and left to pick up Christa from the airport. Ellie and Britt finished tidying up the bedroom and bathroom and went downstairs to play rock band and brew me a strong pitcher of red raspberry leaf tea. I put down a towel in my bed and tried to get some sleep. I knew it would be a long night but it was hard to rest knowing I would probably be meeting Baby Snider soon. It had been two hours since my water broke and I hadn't felt any contractions. I was just laying in bed, in the dark, wondering about what was to come when I felt the first one. And it was nothing like I thought. I felt pressure and tightening creeping up my spine - it was all in my back - I hardly felt anything in my stomach at all. Oh yes, this was going to be back labor.
I glance at my phone and saw that it read "11:43". After that first contraction I had a contraction every five minutes. After twenty minutes of regular contractions I called MeriBeth and told her to go ahead and come into the city and I called Silas to let him know this was the real deal. He was on his way home from the airport with my sister in tow. Poor Christa, she had been flying all day long and now she was going to be up all night! I kept having contractions every 3-5 minutes till they arrived. I was able to relax through them, just like I hoped. As they slowly grew stronger I started humming through them to help keep me focused. I decided to run another bath.
It was getting later. By 1am the contractions were becoming difficult to relax through. The quiet humming I had been doing during contractions turned into low pitched moaning. Silas called the MeriBeth again - she was 30 minutes away. Silas pulled a chair into the bathroom an held my hand through the contractions. He talked to me and we cracked a few jokes. I remembered my Mom telling me once while watching a birth video "That woman isn't really very close, see how she's still laughing at jokes?" It's funny the things you remember in labor. We sang hymns together in between contractions. At one point Ellie and Christa came in and sang with us. It was a really nice way to stay calm and relaxed.
MeriBeth arrived around 1:45 and started unpacking her stuff and explaining all her equipment to the girls. Both Ellie and Christa have a great interest in midwifery, so this was all really cool to them. I was pretty much oblivious to everything but the contractions and Silas's hand. The presence of MeriBeth, Christa, Ellie and Britt didn't phase me at all. Mostly I just ignored them unless I needed something - in which case it was really nice to have so many hands around. They brought me cold wash cloths for my head and chest, tea, water, juice, and Emergen-c.
I got tired of the tub after awhile and went back in the bedroom. Or rather, I said I wanted to go back in the bedroom and Silas practically lifted me out of the tub carried me in there. I was starting to become exhausted. I had been awake for 18 hours at this point, plus I had gone swimming the previous afternoon. It was around 2:30 and contractions were getting much harder. Out of the water I needed counter pressure on my lower back. Ellie and Christa took turns pushing on my back. They were such good sports. Silas put a glass of tea or water with a straw in it up to my mouth after every contraction. By now he knew I needed a drink after every one. I was so thirsty!
I kept having to pee from all the liquid. Silas had to support me all the way to the toilet, I couldn't really walk by myself. I liked how it felt to labor on the toilet so I would sit there for several contractions before wanting to change position. I started to feel nauseated. Sure enough, while sitting on the toilet I had to puke, so I leaned over and puked in the tub full of water. I'd had a salad for dinner. It was very apparent. I was now miserable. I hate puking. Hate, hate, hate. Labor I could deal with. Puking, not so much. I remember telling Silas "It's not fair! I shouldn't have to be in labor AND be puking. I can't do both!"
The puking was the start of very hard labor for me. The next couple hours are a blur. I remember going back and forth between the bed and the toilet and the bathtub. I remember I began to yell through my contractions that were now coming every two minutes and lasting for about as long, except when they came right on top of each other, which happened way more often than I liked. I remember I had my eyes closed most of the time - I think I was falling asleep in between contractions, then waking up to yell through them. Silas was with me the whole time. He held my hand, he kissed my forehead, he told me I was beautiful, I was strong and that he knew I could do it. This encouraged me more than I can say.
MeriBeth asked if I wanted her to check me. I told her I was afraid I wouldn't be very far dilated after so much work and would be discouraged. She said she thought I was making progress. I talked to Silas and we agree she should go ahead. I was 6 cm dilated, but not very effaced. I remember being somewhat relived because that was about as far as I thought I was. I was beginning to resign myself to the idea that this could be a very long labor. I don't think I was mentally prepared to be in labor for so long. I began to ask Silas things like "Why are there no breaks!? Why are they coming so fast!? Why do I keep puking!?" My low pitched exclamations during contractions started to creep up in pitch. MeriBeth reminded me to bring it back down. It took a lot of focused energy to keep it low.
Then MeriBeth gave me an herb in my tea - I don't remember now what it was, but it was supposed to give me more time between contractions so I could rest more. It was just beginning to get light out. I was completely exhausted and wanted a break desperately. And I was given one. I slept for an hour in the tub. I remember waking up and seeing through the frosted bathroom window that it was fully light out and I thought to myself "It's the morning. And I'm still pregnant. *expletive*". I tried not to count how many hours I'd been in labor. I knew I would just discourage myself. I kept hoping I was getting close to transition, but nothing felt different. My contractions were very strong and often one would begin before the previous one ended, but I didn't feel anything like pushing or the baby moving down.
MeriBeth asked me if it was ok if she called her assistant, Joanna, in because we were all so tired and none of us had slept and it would be nice to have fresh energy. I had met Joanna a one of my prenatal appointments. The plan had been that Joanna would not come to the birth unless she was needed and we called her in. I had been rather against her coming initially (Not because I didn't like her, I dare anyone to not like Joanna, she's the sweetest thing ever!) because I didn't want too many people at the birth. But I was so oblivious to everyone but Silas and MeriBeth any way, so I was totally fine with Joanna coming.
It was suggested that I walk around, maybe go up and down the stairs. I got out of the tub and tried to stand through a contraction - I couldn't do it. Silas had to hold me up. I tried to go down the stairs, but after one contraction on the stairs, where Silas also had to hold me up, that wasn't happening either. I tried to labor on my hands and knees on the bed, but again, when hit with a contraction I collapsed onto my stomach. When I think about it now, I wonder if the reason I had so much trouble was because the contractions were really that hard, or because I had been awake for 24 hours at that point. I am inclined to believe it was the latter. I remember telling Silas over and over again "This is so hard! I'm so tired! I can't do this without more sleep!"
MeriBeth offered to check me again. I agreed. She pulled her hand out with a big smile on her face "7cm and almost completely effaced!" she announced. I was confused at first... only 7 cm! But MeriBeth explained that the effacement was what was really important. I was hung up on the cm, but MeriBeth was so enthusiastic and encouraging that I couldn't help but be encouraged as well.
I think that was when I started transitioning. I'd been told transition is the hardest part. I think I'd agree. Joanna arrived and immediately jumped right in and started to give me counter pressure on my back. I reminded myself that I should visualize my cervix opening. When a contraction would come there was so much pressure I would start to yell "OWWW!" but I reminded myself that "ow" meant pain, this wasn't pain it was work. So I would change from "OWWW" to "OOOUUUUTTTT!" I would repeat "Out!" and "Down!" during contractions. The contractions were now almost impossible for me to stay on top of. I remember asking Silas if he was sure there was a baby in there. MeriBeth reminded me that my body was MADE to do this and that I was doing it. The pressure in my back and pelvis was unbelievable. This was definitely the hardest part.
(As a random aside, I live in a row house in a neighborhood of row houses with well meaning but very nosey neighbors and my window was open this whole time. I have no idea what the neighbors thought. I'm grateful no one called 911 on us.)
"I... I think I feel pushy." I told MeriBeth. I was unsure of myself - MeriBeth had checked me just an hour ago and I had 3 cms to go. "But I don't want you to check me." I said. There was so much pressure I couldn't handle being checked. MeriBeth was fine with that. She told me that with my next contraction I should push and let out a low growl sound. Contraction. Low pitched moaning/yelling. No pushing. I couldn't push. I felt like pushing, but I didn't know how. I had assumed prior to labor that my body would just know how to push and would do so without any prompting from me. Wrong.
MeriBeth spent an hour patiently coaching me. She told me where to direct my energy, what sounds to make, what to visualize. But I was too busy trying to hide from the pressure. I needed to go into the pressure and it took me awhile to actually understand that. At one point I was so tired and annoyed and angry that nothing was happening that I finally let out that growl sound during a contraction and I pushed with all my might, straight into the pain. "Yes!" said MeriBeth "That's it! That's what you have to do!" I was scared by the force of pushing, but there was nothing else to do. I was laying on my side on my bed, naked, surrounded by people I loved and who loved me. All of them helping me as best they could. I think I finally just decided to do it. The mental battle was won. I was ready to birth.
Silas sat next to me. He held my hand and told me I could do this. Christa sat behind me, pressing on my lower back. Ellie held my leg up for me. Joanna helped her. MeriBeth applied hot compresses to my bottom to ease the stretching. Britt took pictures and brought more compresses to MeriBeth. I pushed. My body never did push on its own without a kick start from me. A contraction would start, I would muster up all my energy and push as hard as I could. Then my body would take over and push three or four more times until the contraction was over. My pushes were wimpy in comparison with my body's.
I don't know how to describe pushing. It felt like I was pushing the whole universe out of me. Everywhere was pressure and power. It was in my belly and my pelvis and my back. Everything looked purple. The force of the pushing made me puke. I cried in between pushes from the sheer power of it. I was not in control. My body was. It was doing what it was made to do. It was pushing this baby out. At the beginning of every contraction I had to get up my courage to push because my body wouldn't start pushing till I did but I didn't like giving up the control. But then I would remind myself that the only way out of this was to give in and let my body do what it was designed to.
It had taken an hour for MeriBeth to convince me that I could push. It took another hour of pushing before I felt any real progress. I began to feel my birth canal filling up and I was slowly opening. "I see a quarter's worth of head!" Joanna announced. "Really! There's really head!?" I asked/cried. "See, you're doing it!" MeriBeth said. Another contraction. 4 or 5 pushes. "Ok, you're crowning, we're going to do this slowly." MeriBeth told me. I saw Britt taking a picture out of the corner of my eye and demanded to see. She brought the camera over so I could see my baby's head. I started crying for joy and exclaimed "It's just like in the movies!" Everyone thought this was hilarious.
MeriBeth had been massaging me with arnica oil the whole time I'd been pushing and now she used it even more liberally on me as I stretched and stretched. I felt the ring of fire. My body pushed and pushed. The power was incredible. It almost felt good. But only almost. It burned as it stretched. I was sure I was tearing, but I chose not to focus on the burning but rather to imagine my baby's head coming out to meet me. "Ok, I see little eyes, and a little nose, a mouth, the head is out!" exclaimed MeriBeth. I reached down and felt the little face. My eyes were closed, but I could see him in my mind's eye as I felt his swollen features covered in vernix. The memory of how his face felt is still the one that stands out in my mind the most from the whole event. It was a very special moment.
"Ok," MeriBeth said "No rush, just go slowly with your next contraction for the body." I was so, so tired. "I don't think I can catch him, MeriBeth." It had long been the plan for me to catch him myself. "Oh, yes you can!" she said "As he comes out we'll roll you over to your back and you can pull him out, ok?" Contraction. I knew this was it. I rallied and pushed. It all happened at once. I rolled over on my back and reached down between my legs and brought my baby up on my belly in one fluid motion. "It's a boy!" Silas exclaimed. "What?" I asked. I was so focused on getting him out that I forgot that we had no idea what the sex was - I just wanted that baby out! "We have a boy!" he repeated "Oh, Gideon!" I cried as I pulled him up to my face so I could see him. "You look just like your Daddy!"
The next few minutes were spent talking to Gideon and rubbing his back. He was so, so covered in vernix and he was having a bit of trouble clearing his airway, but I wasn't panicked or concerned about it at all. I could tell that he was just fine. He was very tired and just sort of laid on my chest. He cried a little, but not too much. Mostly just protests at being rubbed, I think. Just then the ice cream truck went by playing "Swanee River". We all looked at each other. "And so" said Britt "It began and ended with ice cream".
I still needed to deliver the placenta, but it was stubborn and didn't want to come out while I was lying on my back. MeriBeth examined me while waiting for the placenta and announced that there were no tears. I was estatic. There hadn't been very much visible blood loss and MeriBeth was concerned about blood pooling behind the placenta. I'd planned on leaving Gideon attached to his cord until after I delivered the placenta, but I was having strong contractions and was getting annoyed that the placenta wasn't coming out, so thirty minutes after birth I suggested we cut his cord and hand him to his daddy so I could focus on getting the placenta out. While Gideon and Daddy got to know each other I did my best to try to push out the placenta. Nothing doing.
MeriBeth suggested I get up on my knees, but I was very sore and didn't want to. It took about 30 minutes to convince me that I really should try to move. Silas was busy with the baby so it took four people to help me up on my knees. The placenta fell out pretty much immediately. It was a dark blue/violet color and the beautiful tree of life was there. There was also a calcification of some sort. I didn't see it very well and wasn't that interested at the time - I wanted to get back to my baby! I have it in my freezer though, so I can pull it out and look at it later.
Once the placenta was out I tried nursing Gideon and he latched on almost right away but he wasn't very interested in eating. MeriBeth did the newborn exam. We guessed at his weight. I could tell he wasn't a huge baby, but he didn't look small either. I guessed 8 something. He weighed 8 lbs 10oz. He was 20 inches long and his head was 15 inches around. And he was very, very tired. After the exam Daddy took him back so I could shower. Then Mommy, Daddy, and Gideon climbed into bed together to rest.
I couldn't be more happy with my birth experience. The labor was long and difficult, but uncomplicated, and I was completely thrilled that I didn't tear. I was pretty much terrified of it. But God was good to me and MeriBeth was attentive and I am very much intact. Very sore, of course, but intact. Gideon nursed well from the beginning. I feel like everything has gone exactly how it was supposed to. Gideon's birth was both a miracle and at the same completely normal. And I am so, so grateful that Gideon, Silas and I were able to have this uplifting experience together.