I'm hesitant to write this post... mostly because its going to be a full blown birth story. And while I'll share about my son shooting snot rockets out of his nose and my dog eating salt dough ornaments and destroying our couch, birth just seems a little too personal and, yes, a little too gory for my corner of the internet. But yet, here I am with a snuggly newborn snoozing nearby, feeling compelled to document the amazing way Leo came into this world last week. So read on if you like, or scroll through to see cute photos of Leo Axel and skip the birth story part. I won't be offended- I promise!
I should start by saying that when I was pregnant with Corbin, I had hopes of a non-medicated, intervention-free birth. I was adamantly against getting an epidural and was mostly convinced that I could handle the pain of natural childbirth. All those well intentioned hopes and convictions were tossed aside at my 38 week prenatal appointment when my doctor informed me that my fluid levels were possibly low and that I needed to go to the hospital that day to have the baby. I burst into tears while the doctor informed me that I didn't need to cry- she was on call that day and would start my pitocin drip and I'd have my baby before midnight. Austin and I dutifully followed the doctor's orders, threw our natural birth plan out the window, and allowed doctors to strap on monitors and start IV lines. I was induced, refused an epidural as long as I could stand the intense contractions, ended up getting the epidural, and labored flat on my back for over 12 hours. Corbin was born into a furry of activity- I had spiked a fever at some point and additional hospital support staff had been called in to help with the delivery. Numb from the waist down, my baby was pulled out of me and whisked to the corner of the room while doctors frantically attempted to fix me up. Austin was pushed to another corner of the room and ignored throughout the whole scary ordeal. I was so drugged up that I could barely get my eyes to focus and was unaware of everything going on except for the frantic nurses and doctors rushing around and floating in and out of my vision. Corbin was eventually given to me but it took days for the drugs to get out of his system, which complicated breastfeeding efforts and made his weight dip dangerously low. It was a rough start.
This time around, when we found out we were pregnant, I immediately began researching different hospitals and birthing centers. I knew that I didn't want to have another baby with my former doctor in the other hospital (despite being a very good, medically-advanced hospital). I held onto the knowledge that women have been having babies long before many of the medical interventions currently used in this country came into practice and that childbirth was not a disease to be treated, but just a normal thing women's bodies were created to do. We ended up choosing to deliver at UCSD - a teaching hospital that has a birthing center located inside the hospital. The birthing center is run by a team of midwives with a volunteer doula program also available. The midwives encourage women to labor without drugs and interventions and to try natural techniques to cope with pain. If a problem were to arise, a woman could be transported easily to the traditional labor and delivery floor for a 'normal' hospital birth. All of my prenatal care would also be handled by the midwives rather than an OB.
My prenatal appointments were vastly different than my care with Corbin. I felt that my pregnancy was looked after with all the attention to detail a pregnant woman wants and needs but without the reactionary aspects of modern medicine. The midwives I saw answered questions in medical terms yet showed more care for me as a person than any doctor I had seen before. Even when complications arose, my midwives remained positive and optimistic about my ability to have the birth experience that I wanted.
Towards the end of my pregnancy (once said complications were resolved and it looked like I would in fact be able to use the birth center) I decided I needed to do a little research on natural birth. I read "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth" based on the recommendation of the midwives. This book changed everything for me. In the introduction, Ina May states that women's bodies, contrary to common medical practice, are not 'lemons.' They were made for child birth and could have babies without drugs, inductions, and all that other stuff. I realized then that for the last two years I had subconsciously believed that something was wrong with me that prevented me from having Corbin naturally. Recognizing this, and also the fear that the same thing would happen again this time helped me to start changing my thinking about childbirth. It was not an instant change- but as I read more of the book and at each prenatal visit, I grew more and more confident that my body was fine- and was capable.
At a late term ultrasound, the OB consulting exclaimed that the baby was huge and was concerned about complications. My midwives did not share this view about complications but did think it might be a big baby. At my 39 week appointment, my midwife checked dilation and asked if I wanted her to sweep my membranes lightly. We both agreed that if the baby was large and I was dilating, it wouldn't hurt. After confirming that I was already 2 cm dilated, she lightly swept, being careful not to break my water. That was last Friday. I had already been experiencing mild contractions and cramping for a week or two but after my appointment, these seemed to amp up.
With some kind of miraculous foresight, I sent Corbin to my parent's house for the night, reasoning that I could then go to Austin's late night baseball game one more time before the baby potentially came. Austin also made plans to go scuba diving the next morning with some friends from work and as I confirmed dinner with friends for the next night, I felt fairly confident that we'd be heading to the hospital that night. I also made Austin take me out for spicy Mexican food to help things along after the game.
Well, I slept great, all night long, without any hint of a contraction or cramp. Austin got up early and went diving and I slept in a little. I woke up with a full-blown plan formed to take some last minute maternity self portraits. As I fixed my hair and set up the camera, I got a little nostalgic, thinking that this might be the last time I was pregnant and that I had hardly taken any photos. I attempted to not look awkward (impossible) and was getting kind of frustrated with my efforts.
|awkward self portrait|
|the pose that broke the camel's back... or water.. or I don't know...|
|at least my toes looked good!|
I felt like I needed to walk around so I stayed with Austin as we parked the car and then trooped back to the hospital main entrance. We got 'checked in' and met Linda, the midwife on call. Already our experience was vastly different from my first pregnancy. Linda was warm and friendly and made sure to introduce herself to Austin and talk specifically to him. (Austin told me later that the first time around he felt like the doctor and nurses acted like he was responsible for all the complications I was having.) Linda checked to make sure my water had actually broken and then had us look through the microscope to see the cool 'fern-pattern' that amniotic fluid makes. Austin and I both commented on feeling like we were in high school biology again but it was cool to feel included in the whole thing. We also met our nurse, Agnieska, a woman from Poland who had all kinds of experience delivering babies in every kind of situation, including at home. She informed us that we didn't need to wait around in a hospital room but to check in every hour for a temperature and blood pressure check. Besides, we were waiting for a larger birthing room to open up so we didn't want to get too settled. Austin and I decided to head down to the cafeteria to get him some lunch since it was 12:30.
While we were eating, my contractions started to get harder to handle, especially sitting down. I made Austin scarf down his lunch so we could walk around some more before heading back to the birthing center. As we walked down a dead-end hallway, I 'joked' that I needed to make a wide turn to go back. Austin says that's when he knew things were picking up. We got back to our little room for the nurse to do her thing and I breathed and walked through a few more contractions. The nurse suggested I get on my hands and knees to help the baby position better so I tried that for awhile. I also bounced on a birthing ball but found that really uncomfortable once I had a contraction. It was painful enough that we asked the nurse to call for a doula. Agnieska came back and declared that she'd be our support person for awhile and taught Austin where to massage my back and apply counter-pressure during a contraction. We were in the room less than hour when we were informed we could move to the larger birthing room.
We moved to the big room which was set up with a tub and large four-poster bed. There were no bright lights or beeping machines to be found. Linda the midwife came in and observed a few contractions before checking me again. Oh- I was still wearing my own comfy clothes and was free to pace, sway, jump, whatever. Though, I really just wanted to lean over the bed and have Austin push on my back at that point. She was shocked to see that I was in active labor at 6 cm. Agnieska just smiled knowingly at this.
At this point I started to 'draw inside' myself. This is kind of hard to explain, but I knew I needed to focus only on having the baby and it felt like part of me kind of shut down. I kept my eyes closed pretty much the entire time from here on out and could barely say two words. My contractions were right on top of each other so there was very little rest in between them. I remember reading that I needed to keep my mouth and face loose and focused on blowing air through my lips (Agnieska called it 'horse lips') during each contraction. I could hear the conversation between Austin and the midwife and our nurse but I was definitely in my own world. What was really strange was the part of my brain that could rationally understand the things they were suggesting but could not necessarily convince the rest of my body to obey.
Agnieska suggested I try the tub for awhile. Before labor began I had thought I might like the tub but I was freaked out that I wouldn't be able to handle the contractions once I was in the water. Our nurse reassured me that she and Austin would still help me so I got in.
The water felt great and Agnieska was right- she and Austin could still apply counter pressure. The contractions got even harder and closer together. Suddenly I was feeling the pain of the contractions plus this incredible pressure. I realized I was starting to push but knew it was too soon. This was when that rational part of my brain also noted that I was making all kinds of primal, roaring sounds that were completely out of my control. My rational brain also noted that I didn't really care that I was roaring like a lion because it seemed to help me 'ride' the contractions.
Linda came back after and hour and a half in the tub and decided she better see if I had progressed, especially since I was having the pushing sensation. Somehow I managed to get out of the tub and to the bed (a miracle! Climbing out of a 3 foot high rubber bathtub while very pregnant and in the midst of crazy contractions seems absolutely impossible right now!) for the midwife to check me again. It was incredibly painful to have her 'messing around inside of me' and a contraction came while she was still checking. Austin claims I yelled at her to 'get out' but I don't remember any of that and question the truth in that statement ;)
I was mostly just terrified that Linda would tell me that I was still at 6 cm. I began to question this whole insane idea to not get the drugs. I also rationalized that I hadn't been laboring that long and so I must have a long way to go. This line of thinking made me even more panicky (so I may have yelled at the midwife after all).
She finally 'got out' and announced that I as at 9cm and almost ready to push- but not to do it yet! I was relieved but again terrified that I couldn't push right then- the only thing that was making the contractions tolerable at this point. I went to sit on the toilet for awhile, hoping that sitting upright would allow gravity to work for that last centimeter. Here's where I really experienced that 'out of body' thing. I could barely keep myself from doubling over during each contraction even though I knew I needed to sit upright. My rational mind kept telling myself "Sit up, this will go faster!" and "Don't push! You'll only wear yourself out!" But I could barely listen to myself, let alone follow those directions. Austin and the nurse crammed into the tiny bathroom with me and I pulled on Austin's neck as hard as I could to get through each contraction. I was still doing 'horse lips'- quite dramatically I might add- but I was getting dehydrated from all the work. After what seemed like an eternity (really less than an hour) my nurse announced that it was time to get back to the bed and push. (she was very adamant that if my body was telling me to push, then everyone should listen to it... I was relieved to hear this).
Linda came back and everyone climbed onto the big bed with me. They had me roll from side to side and adjust positions between contractions and then start pushing. It was a relief to finally let loose and push. Agnieska coached me to push silently- no more roaring, yelling, or whatever else I may or may not have been doing- but to focus all of my energy on pushing. She also continued to monitor the baby's heartbeat with a doppler- not continuously, but on occasion.
I pushed for just over an hour. In between contractions, I finally had a few moments to rest. My support team recognized that I needed some energy and brought cranberry juice for me to sip. While I felt a little nauseous, it did give me extra energy. As the baby got closer, his heart rate dipped a little. They gave me oxygen for a few minutes and everything was back to normal. Austin worked overtime fanning me, giving me water, holding the oxygen mask, and helping hold my leg when I pushed. At some point he also turned on the radio and it was nice to have a little distraction in between pushing. I was again starting to panic that I wouldn't make it when the midwife announced that his head was almost out and grabbed my hand so I could feel him. I couldn't believe I was feeling my baby's head and I think I said something like 'Ohhh!' Everyone laughed a little and commented on how that seemed to make me work harder. Another nurse came in and held a mirror so I could watch him come out. Unfortunately, she didn't aim very well and my eyes were closed pretty tightly most of the time so I only caught glimpses of him being born but I could tell what was happening the whole time. His head came out- Austin said he was completely purple and squishing up his face- and then his body followed. He managed to give me a few good kicks while I was pushing him out though.
The nurses and Linda congratulated me and squealed over our baby as they pushed him up to my chest. He was covered in vernix- another thing that got lots of comments as they rarely see babies born before 38 weeks with vernix still on them- and after a good lung-clearing cry settled down to look around the room and figure out his surroundings. His eyes were so alert and he was so strong as he pushed his head up to look around. Everyone sat back and watched our Leo experience his first few minutes outside the womb. We all quietly talked and laughed and I marveled at what a different experience we had just had. No one was in a rush to clean Leo or weigh him and they waited for me to naturally deliver the placenta and for it to stop pulsing before clamping his umbilical cord. Once it was clamped, they directed Austin to cut it- which he did without passing out! Agneiska helped Leo reposition and nurse for the first time- which he did quite willingly and without any trouble.
I had some minor tearing where I had received stitches from Corbin's birth and they did have to give me an injection to help my uterus start to shrink down. Then the unpleasantness of afterbirth cramping and bleeding started and I told the midwife that I was ready for the epidural now. She laughed and kept doing her thing and I got to enjoy holding and actually 'being there' for those first few moments with my son. After over an hour, they took him to weigh and measure. I was shocked when they reported Leo was 9 lbs 5 oz and 20 inches long.
I was also shocked that though I was pretty worn out, I felt great! Well, I felt like I really needed to comb my hair and put on a clean shirt but other than that I felt great. Our family was bugging the nursing staff to come in and meet the baby and hear his name so after getting my clean shirt and hairbrush, we finally let them come in. Everyone was excited to meet Leo, including his big brother Corbin, who was very gentle and sweet with him.
My parents took Corbin home after awhile and Austin's parents hung around for a bit. Agnieska came to say good night but informed us she would be back in the morning to check in on us. The night nurse went about cleaning up the room- we were going to stay in large birthing room for our entire time in the hospital so it was nice to not have to pack up and be shuttled to another part of the hospital. Within a few hours of Leo's grand entrance, I was up to use the bathroom and walk around a little.
Austin's family said goodnight and we were alone to get a little rest before Leo needed to eat again. Austin was able to sleep in the big (clean- they stripped it and cleaned everything up!) bed with me and the nurses for the most part left us alone all night to rest and love on our little Leo. The next morning we were asked how long we wanted to stay and we said we'd like to be home as soon as possible. We had to wait 24 hours for the newborn screening tests but if everything came back clear, we'd be free to go home. I took a shower, got dressed, and was able to eat a few meals. Austin went home to be with Corbin for a few hours while my mom hung out with me and Leo and we had a few friends come visit us (everyone was shocked to see me sitting up and dressed instead of recovering in a hospital bed... of course I was still sore and in need of recovery but I was tired of being in bed!). Leo passed all of his tests and with the help of Agnieska, we were on our way home a little over 24 hours from his birth.
So that's the story... Austin and I are both so happy with how Leo came into this world. As cheesy as it sounds, natural childbirth has made me feel stronger and empowered as a person. It was not easy or pain-free. But I did it. And not too many women in this country get to experience an unmedicated childbirth. I think that giving birth in any capacity- with medication, by cesarean, on your head (just kidding) should be cause for celebration and leave you feeling at the very least amazed by your body and how it was carefully and wonderfully created to carry and deliver another human being (wow!!). For us, giving birth without extra interventions allowed us to really experience it all- and it resulted in a healthy newborn and mama too!
And now we're adjusting to life on a newborn schedule with the added bonus of a very active and inquisitive two year old. Its been challenging but good. We by no means have things figured out... in fact we're all over the place in terms of routines and schedules but I think we'll get there soon. We have amazing family and friends that have surrounded us and showered us with meals and other support and we are so blessed. For now, I am reveling in his squishy cheeks and the sweet newborn grunts and groans little Leo makes in his sleep. I marvel at how my only child transformed to my first child and has taken on his role of adoring big brother very seriously. And how Mr. Incredible- aka Austin- has embraced toddler wrestling, late night diaper changes, and a newly postpartum mama all in stride. We are blessed.