Thursday, December 11, 2014

Birth Story : Cole Alexander Monsees

On the Saturday morning of November 1, 2014, at 9:13 am, we welcomed little 7 lb. 10 oz. 19" long Cole Alexander Monsees into the world!

The previous night was Halloween, and Dave and I decided to take a longer evening walk to enjoy the Halloween festivities on 24th street in Noe Valley.  We rummaged through our box of Halloween costumes and knick-knacks to get into the spirit.  We kept it simple - Dave wore Groucho glasses, Winston our Maltese had on his plaid bowtie collar, and I safety-pinned a severed doll arm holding a pumpkin candy basket onto my then fully-blossomed belly (a recycled costume worn by a friend last Halloween when she was pregnant with her little guy).  My costume was by lengths a success amongst many kids and adults that caught sight of the baby crawling out of my tummy to go trick-or-treating.  Little did I know that this costume was to foreshadow what was to happen early the next morning!
In the early morning hours of Nov 1st, at around 3AM, I awoke, as typical, to relieve my tiny, compressed bladder.  Upon returning to bed, I began to have light cramping - similar to the discomfort of the 1st day of my period.  It was an unusual but familiar feeling (as I hadn’t felt that in 9 long months!), but I did not think much of it and tried to go back to sleep.  By 3:30AM, the cramps felt a little more intense, so I went to the restroom again and after wiping noticed pink discharge on the toilet paper.  I remember thinking - well, my mucus plug is still M.I.A., so perhaps it will show soon or this is just my body slowly preparing itself for labor in the coming weeks.  I crawled back into bed to try and close my eyes, but the cramps continued to intensify.  By about 4AM, I decided to wake up Dave and told him what I was feeling and seeing, and all the while, the cramps continued to become more and more painful.

My recollection of what comes next is a bit blurred as my body continued to turn up the intensity and my mind began to focus more and more inward, but I remember needing to move from the bed to the living room and sitting on the couch leaning my arms against the backrest.  Dave in the meantime had quickly downloaded an app on the tablet to record my contractions.  As the minutes passed, I remember it was becoming harder and harder for me to communicate through the rushes and I began out of necessity to moan through exhalations to release the tension emanating from my lower abdomen.  

According to Dave, by 5:45AM, we decided that this was in fact labor, and paged Maria -- contractions were 7 mins apart and a hard 1 min 20 sec long.  I was not in a mindset to process how long my contractions were, what that meant, or even the concept of time for that matter (!), so I recall in those moments thinking it was too early to call Maria - that I didn’t want to inconvenience her with what was probably nothing or just early labor.

Dave continued to monitor my contractions - my uterus decided to pick up the pace and contractions quickly accelerated to 3 min 30 sec apart.  By this point, there didn’t feel like there was a moment to catch my breath.  The best I could do was pace circles around the kitchen island and fight the surges standing up - hopefully finding a surface to lean on when my surges peaked.  In my head, I was trying to remind myself to live in the moment, but in reality, I was anticipating the next surge and how much more painful the next one would be.  As the contractions got more intense with fewer breaks in between, I clearly remember thinking, if this is what it’s going to feel like for the next 36-48 hours, I don’t think I’m going to make it!  

Eventually, maybe because I could not find a comfortable position or thought of the women we saw in videos during our homebirth class that labored in the bathroom, I moved onto the toilet.  Here I stayed with pillows and towels at my feet (along with Winston and Dave) to labor.  After some strong surges, I felt something hanging out of my vagina.  I somehow verbalized this to Dave, who got a flashlight to look and thought it was some part of the baby’s body, but that it was too small to be the head.  In that moment, he nervously considered the scenario that he’d have to deliver the baby himself!

At around 7:30AM, Maria arrived - I was still laboring on the toilet at that time and had by that point given in to the urge to push (which did feel like a vomit reflex...just from the opposite end!).  Maria examined me and was amazed to see that what was hanging out of me was the amniotic sac, or balloon, as the sac had not ruptured, and also determined that I was already at 10cm!

Sue Baelen (our assisting midwife) arrived shortly thereafter, and both Maria and Sue thought I would make better progress by moving to the bed.  When it was suggested I move to the bed, I remember thinking impossible! and that was like someone asking me to climb Mt. Everest.  I somehow managed to make it onto the bed, but after an hour on hands and knees on a soft memory foam top bed (not optimal folks for hands and knees!) and little progress, I became exhausted.  Maria recommended that I try flipping over onto my back with Dave sitting behind me so that I could lean into his torso.  There, he could support me and help me hold my legs back to rotate my pelvis up while pushing.  What helped tremendously was having Maria focus my pushes towards the back of my vagina where she was applying pressure.  This worked well and and after a few more pushes, you could see Cole’s hair behind the amniotic balloon.  

During this time, Maria repeatedly told me to open my eyes - to re-focus but also to see the head starting to crown in the mirror.  I kept my eyes shut tightly - maybe because I didn’t want a visual for the pain I was experiencing, maybe because I was trying to escape.  Instead, she asked that I reach down and feel the head emerging.  I did - and I thought, wow really?  I’m already this close now?  The sensation of a baby that far in the birth canal was not what I expected - yes the surges were painful, but the fact that the baby’s head was sitting in my pelvis about ready to be born surprisingly was not intense.

Oh but the so-called Ring of Fire - yes I felt that indeed!  My encounter with the Ring of Fire was acknowledgement of it, and then damn it, just push past it!  And voila - the head was out.  The balloon finally opened and Maria reached in to unloop the cord from around Cole’s neck (my cord apparently was quite long) -- she said he came out with his eyes wide open.   By this point, the surges were becoming less intense - I wasn’t sure I was ready to push the body out, but Maria gave me one last round of encouragement and the next thing I know (after about an hour of pushing on my back), Maria tells Dave and I to reach down and catch our baby!  We reach down and pulled a crying Cole onto my chest.  He was big, pink, and full of life.  Dave admitted there were tears.  I honestly cannot recall what thoughts flooded my head at that moment, but I was certainly awe of Cole, in awe of what my body just did, in awe of Dave, in awe of Maria and Sue, all the while thinking, this is it!  

It’s humorous to note that Winston our dog sat quietly on the bed next to us - literally a foot away from all the action.  Either he knew exactly what was going on or was wondering why the hell everyone was making so much noise!

We let the cord pulse out for a few minutes, and the placenta delivered quickly thereafter.  I received stitches from Maria for a labia tear - luckily, we later learned from another midwife Ami that Maria is the best embroiderer around!  

The only other big challenge after that was peeing.  After a few tries that morning, and concern about swelling near my stitches, Maria inserted a catheter and was able to drain an incredible 2 liters of urine from my bladder - a record according to Maria!

By 12:15PM our new family was alone.  After only 6 hours of (intense) labor, and a week and a half early, it was hard to believe what just happened. To capture some of the sentiments from Dave’s own written account of the birth - having only known him for less than 36 hours, I can tell that little Cole is an amazing guy. And after watching Judy bring our baby into the world in such a brave and focused fashion, I can't imagine myself ever being prouder.

And now after 3.5 weeks of living our lives with Cole, I can also say that I can’t imagine myself ever being more proud of our new little family.

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