20 March 2014

Marley's Birth Story

Marley arrived on her due date, February 12, 2014, at 2:40 pm in the comfort of our home on a gorgeous 80 degree Los Angeles day. I woke at 3:15am to real contractions. I had been having Braxton hicks contractions for most of my pregnancy (these are the non-painful "practice" contractions you get generally late in pregnancy. I happen to have an over achieving uterus so I contracted my entire pregnancy.) So I'm pretty clear on which contractions are which.  I laid in bed for a while and waited to see what it was all about. After a few contractions I got up and grabbed my phone so I could start tracking them. I went back to bed and started timing: every 10 to 15 minutes. I actually did that thing I'd read about - I slept in between them. I couldn't sleep during the contractions but I had no issue sleeping in between. I was relaxed. Like my first labor I assumed I was not in labor, just having pre-labor or false labor. I had heard and read so much about pre- labor that I kept telling myself, "the real deal could still be days away!" But I tracked the contractions just in case...

I got up at 7am and told Jason what was happening. We basically went into wait and see mode. Business as usual. Take the kid to school, go to the grocery store, cook some food: this was Jason's agenda. Mine included calling the midwife and having some breakfast. Angela (my midwife) texted me around 9:15 to let me know she was going to have some breakfast and then come set up her equipment. I told her I thought it might be too early (at this point I'm still pretty sure I'm not in labor) but if she wanted to come I was cool with that.

Angela arrived at about 11am. I greeted her in the driveway and spoke to her while I was having a contraction (any midwife will tell you that if the pregnant lady is cheery and able to talk to you through contractions then you've arrived WAY too early for the birth.) I resumed my walk through our back yard and up and down our driveway, walking being a good way to get things moving. Jason fixed me some great food, I ate, I walked, I swayed, I breathed. I was still pretty sure I was not in labor.

At noon Angela checked me and I was 1 centimeter dilated. This came as no surprise to me since I was not in labor. So she pulled my cervix forward and tried to stretch it a bit, achieving maybe another centimeter at most. None of this was terribly uncomfortable. Then around 12:30 she decided to leave and give us a little space, see if things might get moving with more walking and quiet.

As soon as Angela left we started to see some progress. The contractions got a little more intense and required a little more concentration. At one point I got into the bath tub because my pelvis was achy. Some time around 1:15 I told Jason to fill up the birthing tub. This is about the time I decided I was in labor. The story goes that Jason texted Angela and Aleks (our second midwife) and said "she's demanding I fill up the tub". They were at a Starbucks a mile from our house when the text came through. They looked at each other and agreed immediately that it was time to return.

At 1:40 the midwives arrived. I was laboring on an exercise ball. I recall this period of time being relatively consumed with the contractions as they were happening but then being much more lucid in between as opposed to last time where I hit a point in my labor when the whole world disappeared and I was focused inward the whole time. I remember we had music playing and I sang for a while in between contractions...it was "Old Brown's Daughter" by Great Big Sea. I remember the contractions getting much more intense quickly after that. I stood up which intensified my labor. And while I was tempted to sit back down on the ball I didn't. There was a voice chattering at me in my head that I needed to stay in the most intense physical place so that I could make progress. That voice, I'm still surprised by its presence. It was definitely a voice of reason not a voice of panic or fear or criticism. I had my own little inner coach...no idea where she came from either.

It's interesting looking back. The day before I went into labor could tell something had shifted. Sitting down I felt totally normal but standing or walking was leaps and bounds more difficult, consuming my energy and breath and focus. Something was weird and I think I even texted with the midwives saying that I was suspicious that something had changed. Indeed.

So. Upright it is. I was standing and clutching Jason for dear life during a particularly intense contraction when my water broke. Just like the first time it was so sudden and so big that I was shocked into lucidity. "Oh!" I said. Jason recognized that immediately, it was the same as the first time. "Her water broke," he called out to the midwives. 

Suddenly there is motion in the room. Suddenly there is noise in my head: a buzzing of chaos, that voice is chattering at me, the pain has its own sound, I'm groaning and moaning, the music is playing in the background. Finally I am letting go of lucidity and going into labor land but it's on the edge of too late because the pain is on the edge of too intense and I'm not quite lala enough to disconnect from it. So I'm suddenly aware that this is intense and am going to remember this one clearly and dear god I hope it's over soon.

They help me get into the tub which is this gigantic inflatable behemoth. Once I'm in I look up and everyone is really, really far away. So I cling to the edge for a while glancing briefly at the little alter I set up with my Buddha statue that was my focal point for Jack's birth, and the wooden horse statue that Jason got me 12 days previous in Chinatown to celebrate the Chinese New Year. And then the most shocking sensation of all hits me: the undeniable overwhelming urge to push. 

THIS SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME.

Again, something I read about but never actually experienced. Never with Jack's birth did I feel the urge to push. The midwives had to check me and tell me I was dilated enough to push. So naturally, when I felt that urge this time around, which was a sensation that could not be ignored or denied in any way, in kinda flipped out. "I'm pushing!" I yelled out, thinking I'm screwed if it's not time to push yet and I hope they say it's ok to push because I can do nothing but fucking push!! Aleks says "great, just listen to your body" and I'm thinking she's being terribly calm and accepting of this whole pushing thing. When the contraction is over I asked several times if it was ok to push and I recall someone smiling and saying "I don't think you could not push at this point". And she was right. I think back now to the stories of women in hospitals being told by their nurses to not push because the doctor hasn't arrived. Ha! Someone who says don't push has never been in labor and deserves our severest pity for their ignorance.

So now I'm pushing and it's feeling a little futile. The tub just wasn't my friend this time around. I kept trying to find a good position to push but it was difficult to let gravity be king in the tub. I was on all fours, I was on my back, and for some reason when the pushing came around I was vocalizing and grunting and yelling (which is to say I wasn't pushing since the most productive kind of pushing happens with the breath held.) So occasionally the voice of one of my midwives in my ear speaking above the din of chaos, "Kerry try holding your breath when you push," ...(oh, right...duh. Shit.) "that's good, make room for the baby." I try to widen my stance. And then above all the noise and chaos... "Heart rate is 90 during the contractions." I don't need to be a midwife or even lucid to hear the concern in that remark. A quick mental backtrack tells me that the heart rate usually hovered around 140. 90 doesn't sound too good.

Suddenly it's time to get out of the tub. I'm being ushered up and out but I have to have a quick push first before I figure out how to heave myself over the friggin side of that humongous tub. When the contraction subsides I say (just like last time) "I can't." And what I mean is I really literally cannot get out of the tub someone is going to have to lift me. "Jason lift my leg." Jason moves to help me but in such a way that assumes I can do some of this work myself - "no really, LIFT my leg". (Side note here: from the time I was about 16 weeks pregnant my pelvis got misaligned and caused me to be miserable for the rest of my pregnancy, 24 more weeks. For 24 weeks I could not lift my leg to put my pants on. For 24 weeks I could not bend over and walk. For 24 weeks I could not get out of my car one leg at a time. Now I'm being asked to hoist myself out of a waist high tub in the middle of trying to push a baby out. Needless to say they ended up having to lift me out.)

These ladies worked fast, there was a birthing stool all set up with chuck pads all over the place to catch the mess. I had to move fast because the pushing contractions were coming like every 30 seconds it seemed. As soon as I was out of the tub I sat and pushed. I don't recall if it was right away or if it took another push or two but I was lucid enough this time around to feel to entire decent of baby's head through my pelvis and out. The crowning took only one push and the head was born. I remember about half way through that push feeling that very powerful unmistakable sensation of her head descending and I remember having a stab of fear like maybe I should wait and not feel that yet. And then that crazy voice inside my head piped up and said, "Hey Kerry, the only way through this is through it. The sooner you push the sooner this is over." So I didn't back off at all and ended up achieving a lot of ground in that one moment. Angela tells me she felt a wave of relief at seeing the baby's head and watching the color pink drain into it. She poked around a bit and found a nuchal chord (one loop of umbilical chord around the neck, as well as her little hand resting right next to her chin (This little hand was suspected as the culprit of so much of my pelvic pain.) My eyes are still shut tight, there is still this loud chorus in my head of thoughts and sounds and the sound of my pain and the sound of my blood rushing and racing. And I can feel it all coming to a head, the sound rises, the room starts rotating, the sun ducks behind some clouds, the air grows thin...

The last contraction comes and I push with all my might remembering some advice from a friend to breathe out on the last push to avoid tearing (how did I remember to do the right things in the midst of such chaos?) And then here is how it happened that my child was born: she dropped right out of me and I heard a splash, I felt an instantaneous void in my belly that was such a monumental relief to me. My eyes opened and I looked down and the earth stopped spinning. The cacophony in my head completely silenced in an instant, the wind ceased, the voice disappeared. You could hear a pin drop a million miles away. Nothing in nature moved. My baby was brought to my chest (after her papa and Angela caught her all slippery, and unwrapped her chord) and the entire world paused in silence to have a look at bloody perfection in my arms. And the world was quiet. So, so quiet. It was 2:40 pm, approximately an hour and a half after I admitted I was in labor.

An hour old.


My aural memory of this event is so strong. Sometimes it's the sounds that stay with you I suppose. When I got into a motorcycle accident when I was 22 the sound was so deafening - the crash and then the wind whistling through my hair as I flew across the intersection, head bare because there were no helmet laws. Not that my labor and birth were like a motorcycle crash! No, it's that the sounds were so profoundly there and loud and then so suddenly NOT there and quiet. I could almost feel the receptors in my body releasing all the separate hormones like squirts of a powerful drug through an IV. The world slowed and tiny details were recorded like deep grooves in stone.  This is how we record and report monumental events in our lives, through a profound aural memory or a vivd recall of tiny internal details.

I feel so fortunate to have had two very positive and empowering births, and I recognize that that's not always the case for some women. But my experience has shown me the power of trust and belief in the body to do what nature dictated and I am left with a profound sense of awe for the creative process, as usual.

And so a final word about my method...I know a fair number of my friends privately believed I had gone off the rails in wanting to have a home birth and I just want to say Thanks to all of them for not voicing their criticisms. Staying in a positive environment allowed me to do this the way I wanted to as much as my diet and desire and my body's cooperation. Also, it's just not as crazy as you think. Most of the time birth is not an emergency and does not require a hospital. Thankfully hospitals are there for when we need them, and thankfully I didn't need one. Being in my own comfortable space and surrounded by people who believed in me and loved me (my husband and my midwives) was priceless. What an amazing experience.


This is Angela, one of my awesome midwives, measuring Marley.


This is Aleks, my other awesome midwife, helping Jack weigh Marley
who was 7 pounds 7 ounces.

This is love.

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