Tuesday, February 11, 2014
My husband Chris and I knew Rowan would be born on Christmas Eve. I’m not sure how we knew, we just knew. We also knew she was a girl, even before the ultrasound. But as Christmas Eve approached, I had to take a few deep breaths and try to release my control over her birth.
Maria said to plan on 36 hours of labor, so at dinner on December 23rd, we thought a Christmas Eve baby was a long shot. But at 11:45pm, I woke up leaking amniotic fluid. I soaked my underwear and a spot on our sheets, but I knew there was nothing to do about it yet. I changed and went back to bed. I slept restlessly for a couple hours, and woke again at 3am to another release of fluids. This time I sat on the toilet to confirm it was amniotic fluid, and sure enough it had little bits of pink and white floating in it. I started to get excited, but knew I needed sleep for what was ahead. Chris was partially awake and asked if I was ok, and I told him my water broke, but to go back to sleep. We would call Maria in the morning.
We both slept as best we could, waiting for 9am so we could call Maria. When we called, she asked if I’d had any surges, and I didn’t think I had – I assumed I’d know when I had one. I was having sensations super low in my pelvis, but nothing I would consider strong, or what I was expecting a surge to feel like. Maria suggested going on a walk, making an acupuncture appointment, and doing some nipple stimulation to get things moving, as we needed labor to start within 24-48 hours to avoid infection now that my bag was open. So we slowly started getting ready to meet the day. I spent a few minutes meditating, inviting my labor in, inviting it to start. My brother came over and we walked to The Mill, home of the infamous $4 toast, a few blocks from our house. On the way we ran into our friends James and Ally, who were super excited for us. I ordered pumpkin butter on wheat, which was surprisingly difficult to eat – I was feeling pretty out of it, like waiting for a drug to come on. Then we walked to Alamo Square so our dog Calamity could run around. We chatted with some folks at the park, watched her play, and took a super touristy and awesome photo in front of the pink ladies.
When we got home, Chris went to the grocery store to get food for the birth while my brother rearranged some furniture and set up the birth tub. My brother then headed off for his haircut appointment – he didn’t want to leave me, but I was convinced we had lots of time before things really kicked into gear. I started doing what remained of our birth setup, but quickly started feeling strong surges. I texted Chris at around 3:30pm to come home – I was definitely in labor.
By the time Chris got home, my surges were one minute long and ten minutes apart, and I needed him to put counter pressure on my back and hips while I rocked on the ball. He called Maria, and she told us to expect another twelve hours of this type of labor. But very quickly the surges became more intense, about four to five minutes apart. Chris wanted to call Maria again, but I said the surges needed to be consistent for a full hour before we called. Then the surges got stronger again, and I moved downstairs closer to the bed and the tub. Within a few surges, I was having minute long surges every two to three minutes, and I remember asking Chris, “Why is this happening so fast??” One of the affirmations from our birth class was to rest in the pauses, but I wasn't getting any pauses – the surges just kept coming in close waves, and I was having trouble processing each surge before the next one came. I asked Chris to call Maria (I know now he had already called her when I asked), and she said Sue Baelen was on her way, as Christmas Eve is Maria’s night off with her family. I almost cried when I saw Sue, and again when Leah, our doula arrived. Sue told me I was doing a great job, which I definitely needed to hear, and she took my phone away from me – I didn’t need to be timing the surges anymore. Leah dove right in and started putting counter pressure on my back and vocalizing through the surges with me. Leah and Sue then suggested I labor on my side on the bed, so I could rest in between, as up until now I had been on the ball. I had a few surges on the bed, and felt a need to pee, or poop, or something. I had a strong surge on the toilet, and needed Leah to help me through it. We went back to the bed, and I started feeling pressure on my pelvic floor, like I wanted to start pushing. I remember saying out loud that I thought I wanted to push - I was surprised at the sensation. Sue asked if she could check me, and I said yes. She asked what I wanted to be, and I honestly said I didn’t know. When Sue said 8.5cm, Leah cheered, and I felt awesome - I know I smiled, I may have even laughed. Then another surge came, and it was longer and stronger than any other surge so far. Sue asked how it felt, and I said it was “something else," as it took me over completely. I asked if I could get into the tub (which was magically filled up by now), and Sue said yes. I started laboring in the tub, leaning over the side and rocking during the surges. I asked Chris to come in with me to apply pressure on my hips, but a surge came quickly and he put pressure on from outside the tub, and it was way too much – I couldn’t have any pressure on my hips anymore, and I wanted to be in the tub by myself. Leah continued to massage and put pressure on my sacrum, and breathe and vocalize through the surges with me, which were now amazingly intense. I knew I was vocalizing, but I didn’t quite realize how loudly. After one particularly strong surge, I heard Maria come in. She said, “You’re a rock star!” and kissed my forehead. It was so good to hear her voice, and she brought such a strong, solid calm in with her – the whole room lifted, and I laughed and cried. I was and still am so so grateful that she came, even on Christmas Eve.
And then I really started pushing. Maria asked me to flip over onto my back so she could see what was happening a bit better. I did, and started pushing with my legs against the side of the tub. Chris held me from behind outside the tub, and Leah held my right leg so I could more easily push against the sides - I needed them both there to hold me, and I wouldn't let them leave. Maria told me to feel between my legs, and it was both surreal and inspiring to feel our daughter’s head pushing out. I couldn’t stay in the moment long, as another strong surge sent me back to holding hands with Chris and Leah. My eyes were closed through most of the surges, and only opened when someone spoke. During one surge, I arched my back and yelled upward, and my energy went everywhere – I was having trouble grounding until Maria suggested I tuck my chin and vocalize downward. She pressed on my perineum and told me to focus my energy on pushing there. I did as best I could, and I felt her head coming farther and farther out, and slipping back in between – the sensation of her slipping back was super uncomfortable, and I said so out loud. But the surges kept coming, and I was making headway. I had a moment of concern about my legs being strong enough, but the moment didn’t last long - I couldn't dwell. Maria then told me it was time to slow down and breathe her out. I heard the words, but I couldn’t – I kept pushing. Maria helped stretch the area where she was coming, which was uncomfortable but very helpful. With the next surge, I felt so close – if I could just push a little more, she’d be out – so I pushed and pushed and pushed, and pushed one more time, and it felt like she came out all at once.
I opened my eyes as she was put on my chest, and I got to see my beautiful daughter for the first time. Her little head was covered in vernix, and she had a pi sign in the middle of her forehead.
She cried just a little, and then I held her against my chest and rubbed her little shoulder. My husband cut her cord after it stopped pulsing, and Maria suggested I cradle her in the water – she started looking around, just checking out the world. She was so alert and calm, and absolutely perfect – the rush of emotions in that moment are indescribable. Our little Rowan Violet was born at 7:13pm, about 4 hours after my surges started.
Then it was time to get out of the tub and birth the placenta. Chris and Leah took our daughter and dried her off while I sat on the birth stool. And nothing happened. I didn’t feel like pushing, and I didn't have any more surges. I tried pushing anyway, but nothing. I nursed Rowan, but still nothing. After about 30 minutes on the birth stool, Maria suggested I get on the bed and try a new position. And still nothing. Maria and Sue offered a shot of Pitocin to help get the placenta out, and I said yes. And still nothing. I was surprised, as I’d heard Pitocin really kicked surges into gear. I tried pushing even though I had no urge, and still nothing. Maria and Sue were both looking a little worried about this point – I knew that the placenta needed to come out, but I didn’t know how to make it happen. On Maria’s suggestion, I thanked the placenta for everything it had done, and told it that it was time to let go – it’s job was done, and now we needed it to be born. I tried pushing again. And nothing. I wasn’t bleeding, so Maria said we had three options – we could continue to wait, she could try going in to get it, or we could go to the OR to get it out. I did not want to go to the OR, but I was ready to be done. Maria said she couldn’t really tug it because the cord was torn, and she was afraid she’d lose it, so she needed go in manually to retrieve it. As a last ditch effort, they tried a catheter to empty my bladder, but my bladder was already empty. We decided to have Maria go in manually, as she felt confident, and we felt confident in her. They set me up with an IV just in case I started bleeding and we needed to transfer, and gave me another shot of Pitocin. Maria went in, and it was unbelievably raw and uncomfortable. I helped push, but the placenta didn’t come out. She went in again, and together we birthed it. Sue immediately checked it over to make sure it was whole, and Maria watched for bleeding. I wasn’t bleeding, the placenta was whole, and a weight lifted - the work of birth truly isn't over until the placenta is born, and now I could relax.
The placenta was small, but it helped sustain my daughter’s life for 10 months, and I am grateful. Maria showed me where she was in the amniotic sac, and showed me the placenta. It was really beautiful. Now that all the work of labor was done, we went upstairs to our bedroom to settle in. Chris put new sheets on the bed, Maria and Sue set us up with what we needed, and went home. I nursed our little girl, and was amazed at our wonderful Christmas present. Our little Rowan Violet is perfect, perfect, perfect, and we’re so in love. I am so incredibly blessed - we had the home birth we wanted, the home birth we envisioned, and I am very, very grateful.