Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Theo's Birth -- Part II of Sara's Birth Stories

For Theo's birth, I had an in-hospital birth with a midwifery practice at St. Luke's. Again, I loved the prenatal care and enjoyed the group of parents I met through the practice. We rotated through each other's homes for the prenatal visits and they provided a different focus for each visit. The experience that stayed with me as the most transformative was an exercise where we had to write out nine hopes that we had for our birth, each on a three by five card. On the back side of the card, we were then instructed to write what the flip side of that wish would be. For instance, a natural birth on one side might include a cesarean on the other. As we sat with our cards out in front of us, we were asked to flip three over. We all agonized over which of our prized outcomes we could possibly give up. When we were done with that painful task, we were asked to flip over three more. I can't even explain how difficult this exercise was, to face, even on paper, the thought of giving up our hopes for our births. There were tears for some and it was agonizing for everyone. Finally, we had to flip over two more so we only ended up with a single positive outcome. Looking down at my last precious three by five card on which was written, "Healthy baby/Healthy mommy," suddenly all was put into perspective for me. I realized that whatever dreams I may have to give up for my birth, as long as I reached this final outcome, that was really what mattered in the end. Although not an enjoyable exercise, it was freeing to loosen my grip on the attachment I had to a perfect birth experience.

The debrief from the exercise was very emotional and some people were so upset about the thought that a cesarean could be an option they might have to face, the midwives offered to have someone from their practice who had recently been through a cesarean come talk to us about the experience at the next prenatal visit. The mom came to our next meeting with her beautiful newborn who slept peacefully throughout her story. Her baby was breach and she told us of her numerous failed attempts to turn her baby from acupuncture to homeopathy to hanging upside down and the list went on. She told us of her emotional journey from fear to acceptance to anticipation and finally of her detailed experience of the cesarean. Somehow, her story reduced the anxiety level for the rest of us in the group about the possibility of this outcome for ourselves.

In my final days of pregnancy, I read numerous birth stories on the Internet. Since I had a pretty manageable first birth experience, I was feeling pretty confident and excited and looking forward to having a calmer experience during active labor this time. Although I would characterize my first birth as the most intense experience I my life, I really wouldn't call it painful. Pain just doesn't seem like the right word to me. In fact, after my first birth, I wondered why everyone seemed to make such a big deal about labor. After hearing about and reading numerous birth stories, I realized that my very manageable experience of labor was probably due, at least in part, to the fact that my active labor was relatively short so I never had the experience of birthing through exhaustion. It seems to me that managing contractions while physically and emotionally exhausted must be infinitely more challenging than my own birth experience.

Getting to the actual birth, with Theo, my water broke at about midnight three days before my due date. I started having contractions pretty soon thereafter but couldn't reach my mid-wife. We called St. Luke's Hospital and decided to go in right away so as to avoid any possibilities of the mad dash we experienced with Zoe. The hospital tried to reach my midwife also, without success, so I spent the night in a tiny room hooked up to a monitor with no signs of my mid-wife or birth tub. Needless to say, this wasn't my vision for the birth so I was feeling rather depressed and sorry for myself. I tried to sleep (unsuccessfully) and tried not to let my labor progress until my midwife arrived the next morning. Apparently the storm the night before had knocked out a cell phone tower which rendered her pager and cell phone useless. By this time, we had moved into a birthing room so she set up the birthing tub and now we were in business.

I spent an enjoyable morning in early labor with my sister, mother, daughter and husband dancing around the room to music and the sound of Theo's heart beat. When the nurse came in and asked me what my three-year-old's name was, I told her Zoe and she said that she had a niece named Zoe. Later, when she returned she asked what we were thinking of naming this one and I said, Theo. She looked shocked and said that Theo was the name of her nephew, the younger brother of her niece, Zoe, by three years. We took this as a cosmic sign that we had picked out the right name.

When my labor started to pick up, I sent my daughter home with my mother and got into the birth tub. I spent an hour or two in active labor hanging out with my sister and husband nearby. My sister, three months pregnant with her first, was video taping me. I remember breathing through an intense contraction and her, having not gone through the birth experience before, teasing me through the camera and saying "Oh, Sara's getting serious now, she's won't look at the camera any more." I realized, watching the tape later, that she had gotten a smile out of me during active labor and only about half an hour before Theo was born. Needless to say, she was able to keep the mood light and kept me from taking myself too seriously even during such an intense experience as active labor.

I had to get out of the tub for the birth due to the hospital rules and Theo was born after about three pushes. I was kind of sad that I really didn't have much of a pushing phase and wasn't able to recreate the incredible experience of power and exhilaration I felt during the pushing phase with Zoe. Since I didn't have the adrenaline rush I did with Zoe, nearly having her in the car on the freeway, I avoided the violent shaking of my first birth and was able to hold Theo and enjoy him right away. I'd say, except for the rather sterile environment of the hospital setting, the birth was everything I could have hoped for. However, the postpartum care was a drag, being woken up all night for vital sign checks and shift changes. I was glad to leave for my own home the next day.

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