Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Zoe's Birth-- Part I of Sara's Birth Stories

Coming from a long line of women who believed in and practiced natural childbirth, I had that vision for myself and was wary of how that would play out in the Western Medicine context. At my first prenatal appointment, I told the OBGYN as she was hurrying out the door after about a five minute appointment, that I had some questions for her. Since she looked rather annoyed and in a rush, I told her that I could wait until the next visit if she was in a hurry. She said to ask now, so I told her my questions were about the birth. She relaxed, smiled, and waived her arm at me as she walked out the door saying, "Don't worry about the birth, you'll be fine. I delivered eight babies just yesterday." Clearly this was her show and not mine.

On my next visit to another OBGYN practice, which was also highly recommended, I had a better visit with a woman who spent about ten minutes with me and answered all my questions. Among other concerns, it seemed that I would see a different person each prenatal visit and who was there at the birth just depended on the luck of the draw. This was still not working for me. I wasn't quite ready for a home birth and couldn't seem to find a hospital birth experience that I felt comfortable with so when I discovered that there was a birth center in SF, I signed right up for the experience.

I loved the relaxed, holistic approach to prenatal care, where I felt like an individual rather than someone on an assembly line. I went into labor four days after my due date, early in the morning. After getting up and taking a shower, I was having light contractions every ten minutes and the midwife agreed I was in early labor. My husband was taking nursing school prerequisites and had a big exam that week. After baking a birthday cake in anticipation of my daughter's arrival, I left him at home to study and spent a wonderful day in early labor with my sister and mother. By the afternoon, the contractions were coming every five minutes. We met up with our husbands for dinner and when my step-father asked me if I was going to work the next day, I replied, "No, I think I'm going to have a baby tonight."

After getting home, I took a hot bath and the contractions nearly stopped, but when I went to bed around 10:00 p.m., they became really intense and close together. Knowing what I know now, that was the beginning of active labor and when I should have headed to the birth center. Unfortunately, my midwife had told me on numerous occasions, not to come in until, "I felt like I was dying." Apparently, she had had people coming in too early lately.

Being a swimmer and practicing yoga both before and during pregnancy, I felt comfortable with my body and with working through exertion and discomfort. I'm not sure if this contributed to my perception of labor, but I made it through transition at home without ever feeling like I was dying. I'll never forget breathing and swaying through a particularly intense contraction and feeling overwhelmed, not knowing how much longer I could do this. When the contraction subsided, I looked up at my husband and desperately asked, "Do you think we should call the midwife now?" His response was, "I think you need to calm down. I think this is going to be a long night." When, on my next contraction, I started pushing, we realized that we had waited too long to call the midwife. He called and she told us to come right away.

I was terrified I was going to give birth in the car on our 10 minute, 2:00 a.m. dash to the birth center on the freeway, but we made it with 13 minutes to spare. So much for the water birth or for having my mother and sister arrive before Zoe was born. (The midwife later told me that the person before me made it with three minutes to spare and the person after me had her baby on the front lawn of her apartment complex so she stopped telling people to wait until they were dying to come in.) My water broke on the stairs as I struggled up to the center and the midwife called down to me, "Don't push, I don't want you to tear your cervix." Not the most reassuring message. Unfortunately, I only had in my last ten minutes the benefit of calm, loving midwives advising me that I could lie down and relax between my contractions and slow my breathing. I realized that I didn't have to feel so anxious and could relax. One of the midwives suggested that I hold my breath during contractions and this transformed the pushing experience for me.

When I held my breath, it was like I put a lid on the energy behind the contraction and I felt the most powerful surge of energy shoot downward through my body with the push. It was the most powerful, incredible feeling I have ever had and definitely did not feel of this world or like something that I can fully articulate. I felt like my body was just a conduit and along for the ride, like I was being pulled under water by this rush of energy, but without any fear. As a swimmer, we often practice breath control so I guess I held my breath longer than the midwife felt comfortable with and she told me to take a breath. I remember thinking, "Do you think I have any control over what is going on here?" When, a few seconds later, the surge let up, I was able to take a breath before I was plunged under again.

I had visions of gazing lovingly into my new daughter's eyes after she was born, but it turned out I was shaking so violently that I couldn't even hold her slippery body and almost dropped her when they placed her on my stomach right after the birth. It was probably 20 or 30 minutes or so and after juice and blankets before my body and I were calm enough to hold and focus on my new daughter. She had now been weighed, measured and swaddled and was like a little angelic gift from God being handed over to me all wrapped up.

My husband and I snuggled up in our bed to sleep through the night with our new baby next to us, listening to the rain coming down outside. We went home the next morning and the three of us took a nice nap together before making all of the obligatory phone calls to spread the word of our daughter's arrival.

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