That time I birthed a baby on my bed

Tuesday, September 8th

The day of Miles’ due date, I started to have some very light cramping in the evening. So light that I almost couldn’t tell if it was just in my head. Throughout the entire week, Jackie and I would rebozo twice a day using my Wrapsody wrap because at the last ultrasound, they said Miles was head down, but still posterior.

Thursday, September 10th

Erin and I went on a date (our last pre-baby date) for Ramen in midtown. I had a lot more cramping that night that I needed to take a cab to the restaurant, but still no other signs of labor.

Sunday, September 13th

I woke up around 8am, sat up and instantly something squirted out of me. I thought I had peed a little! But it wasn’t pee and we quickly realized realized my water had broken. It was only leaking though, not a full gush. I stood up and a lot more leaked out. We texted the midwives, who were at another birth that day, and they said to try to stay inside all day, not do a lot so we don’t kickstart labor yet. I didn’t listen to them because 1) we had plans and 2) I wanted to get labor started. So we went to Brooklyn to an etsy pop-up shop with Debs, then to Brooklyn Boulder so Jackie could check out the climbing. My midwife said to stay very hydrated, because women can keep producing amniotic fluid even after their water breaks (who knew?), so I was drinking a lot (and leaking a lot). The whole time I was wearing multiple panti-liners that were doing just about nothing to soak up all the water I was leaking. By 4pm I had leaked through all the pads and it started raining, so we grabbed a (very expensive) cab and headed back to Harlem.

Monday the 14th

My midwife sent me for an ultrasound to check my water pockets and the baby, because I still wasn’t in labor. An “acceptable” amount of water is 2.5 pockets, but a healthy amount is 8 pockets, and I had 3.2. So we knew I was okay and the baby was okay, at least for now. Miles’ heartbeat and size was also good, and he was anterior, yay! The doctor at the imaging center strongly recommended I go to a hospital to be induced, but my midwife told him we were going to try some natural things first. I was so grateful in that moment to have a provider who trusted we were safe and wanted to try natural options.

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Tuesday the 15th

I woke up and first thing made eggs with 2 oz of castor oil. A couple hours later I still didn’t feel the effects of it, so I made a shake with another ounce or so (still nothing). We spent the day doing nipple stimulation on and off. By the late afternoon/early evening the castor oil kicked in and I had diarrhea a few times over the next couple hours. That with the nipple stim set in some contractions. They were still very light though, lasting about 25 seconds every 3-4 minutes (with a few longer, closer together here and there). Jackie’s flight was 11am the next morning, so I wanted nothing more than to have this baby tonight. We had Jordan and Kate come over to make the labor affirmation signs and pray and have a glass of wine and ice the birthday cake. It was really fun and distracting which was just what I needed.

The affiramation signs we made said:

fullsizerender-7“The Creator is not a careless mechanic.”
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

“The power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you.”

“There is power that comes to women when they give birth.”fullsizerender-8

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”

“Just ride the wave”

 

We went to bed around 10:30pm, and I woke up around 1:30am with stronger contractions. Erin and Jackie both got up with me, helped me through the contractions, made me eat some snacks and drink coconut water. By 5am I was tired and ready to sleep more. We all went back to bed, and when I woke up around 7:30-8am, my contractions had completely subsided. Jackie and I said a very teary-eyed goodbye because this meant she was officially missing the birth, and I was birthing without a doula or photographer. This was really hard and emotional for both of us, after all our prep. Lesson learned: you cannot plan or predict labor and birth, not even a little bit.

Wednesday, September 16th

Our midwife came over around 2:30-3pm. At this point, it had been close to 80 hours after my water broke and I was still not in active labor. She checked the baby (no vaginal exam since my water was broken and there is a great risk of infection). She gave me a homeopathic remedy for helping to induce labor. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. At this point, there were very few options left that didn’t involve modern medicine. Since I really did not want to go to a hospital, we decided to induce at home. I started to feel contractions between the 2nd and 3rd dose. By this point it was about 6 or 7pm and my contractions were lasting 30 seconds and coming about every 3 minutes. The midwife decided to leave for a little bit to let things get going. She wasn’t sure if she was going to go home or just get dinner nearby. She texted us and said she decided to get dinner nearby (good thing!) and stayed out for about 2 hrs. When she came back, we set up the couch for her and all went to bed by about 10:30pm.

Thursday, September 17th

Labor:

I woke up around 12am with pretty strong contractions. I spent the next 30 min or so just holding on to each side of the kitchen island and rocking my body back and forth during each contraction, with Erin standing behind me, rocking and breathing with me. The contractions were only lasting about 30-40 seconds, but coming every 30-45 seconds and were very, very intense. A couple of times around 1am I was having contractions with no breaks in between them. This was the hardest. It felt like I could get through any pain, as long as I had that break to rest and prepare for the next one. Without the break, it felt impossible. Erin and I decided at this point a warm shower would be a good idea to help slow things down. We got into the shower together and stayed in for about 20 min, just working through the contractions. Erin was my rock. He held me during each break, and swayed with me through each contraction. I sat in the tub for awhile. The warm water was so hot, but also felt so good. It helped slow things down, for a little while at least. I got out and spent a few contractions in the bathroom just rocking on the bathroom sink and towel rack. Afterwards Erin made me drink some coconut water while I just rocked on the kitchen table again for awhile. I remember just staring at the sign “The power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you” on the kitchen table and trying to believe it. Then I heard Erin praying quietly over me as he rocked back and forth with me. It was so calming to know he was there and was calling on our Savior to be present. I couldn’t feel God’s presence the way I wanted to, I couldn’t even feel Erin’s presence the way I wanted to, but I could comprehend that they were both there watching over me and that was so soothing.

Transition:

Around 1-1:30am I got the birthing ball and sat on the floor leaning over it. Val woke up and checked on me, and I told her that I didn’t want to do it anymore. She said “Well, hunny, you have to.” (ha!) and I said “Okay.” I was irrationally angry at her for telling me I had to do it. I wanted someone to tell me it was okay to quit. That I could stop or take a break. I wanted someone to just give me just a short break. To take the contractions away for just 30 min, and then I could muster up the strength to do it some more. Looking back, I realized at this point I was just exhausted and entering transition. I went back to the kitchen for a minute, but then suddenly felt a daze come over me and like a zombie just walked straight to the bed, laid down perpendicular on the bed, and fell asleep. I was too tired to even tell Erin that I needed to lay down, I only had enough energy to just get to the bed. At this point, I was sleeping through contractions which seemed to be coming less often (2-4 min apart) or else I was just so tired that I was sleeping through some of them and didn’t know how far apart they were. The contractions now were the strongest. So intense. I was sweating profusely and so badly wanted to cool off, but the lights were off so Erin didn’t know, and I couldn’t speak to tell him. Each contraction felt so long and hard, at times they were coming back to back without breaks again. I would grab the railing we put on the bed (for co-sleeping with baby) and just pull and squeeze it. During the contractions my entire body would shake uncontrollably. Then I remembered what we learned in the Bradley class – if I totally relaxed all of my muscles I was able to stop the shaking: breathe, relax, let go – every single muscle, even my forehead, even my fingers, just let the wave rush over me. It was helping, my body knew what to do, I just had to let it work. I only accomplished this about half of the the time because staying relaxed during a contraction took real effort, way more than I had the energy for. Erin tried to grab my hand during one of the contractions and I told him not to touch me. I wanted so badly to explain why, to tell him how being touched made everything worse, but all I could muster was “don’t touch me.” He laid down at the bottom of the bed and I felt the blankets move when he laid down and told him “don’t move.” Every touch or movement felt like painful pricks on my skin. He eventually fell asleep there at the bottom of the bed, which was good because he needed rest too. In between my contractions I was having nightmarish dreams. I remember they were about babies being born in hospitals, and the images in the dreams weren’t scary or disturbing, but the feeling I had during them is what made them seem like nightmares. Just a weird feeling.

Pushing:

I woke up around 3am and it felt like the baby was a rocket in my stomach (the best way I can describe it). Like there was literally nothing else inside of me but him (which was close to true, since my water had been leaking for days), and he was hard and right down the middle. I remember looking down during a contraction and could see only him right in the center, no more bump. Then, it felt like I had to poop and there was a weird pressure – aka: pushing contractions. It dawned on me what was happening and I woke Erin up and told him “get Val!”

Val came in and helped me get my pants off (which I did reluctantly because I had no energy and so much pain). She checked me and I was 8cm. She said “oh, we’re having a baby!” And ran into the living room to call Lindsay, her assistant. She told Lindsay to hop in a cab or she would miss it. Then she and Erin started prepping the bed for the birth. We were supposed to have set up the bed and the tub ahead of time, but no one realized how quickly everything would progress (we all assumed I would labor through the night and give birth sometime midday on Thursday). They set up the bed around me while I was still laying there dealing with contractions. Erin helped me get onto my hands and knees on the bed.In between getting tools for Val, he stayed by my head, encouraging me, holding my hand, wiping the sweat off my forehead with a wash cloth. I am yelling and screaming in my throat, so Val told me not to scatter my energy but to work with my body. To put my energy towards the push. She said to use my breath to bear down with each push/contraction, and try not to make noise or hurt my vocal cords during the push. I did what she said, it felt like silently screaming. Doing this was so much better. So much less pain. I was finally working with my body, instead of against it. In between pushes I would lay in some combination of child’s post and downward dog, and Val would apply a hot compress to help relax the muscles and allow them to stretch and rub the small of my back with her wrist – that provided so much comfort and relief.  She kept quietly whispering some of my motivational signs, “just ride the wave sweetie” as she rubbed my back, and I thought she was truly an angel sent from above (I guess I had forgiven her for making me continue…).

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Birth:

A little while later (maybe 30 min) she checked me and I was 10cm. She said “ok we’re having this baby”. I was sweating so much at this point, I had Erin help me take my shirt off.  Lindsay came in right around this time and grabbed the camera to get the angle where the baby would come from. Val reminded me to bear down, because I was starting to get worked up and my pushes had become vocal again. I switched back to “silent screaming.” Working with my body again (Why is that so hard?) After one or two of those pushes, the baby was crowning. Val had Erin and I each feel his head. At first I told her I couldn’t feel him (because it all just felt like weird wet vagina to me), so she had me feel again and I could tell it was his head (though it still didn’t feel like a head to me). I was mad she made me feel it. I didn’t care where his head was at this point unless it was outside of me! I did manage to make a joke right then. A few weeks back, we had a watched this video of a woman giving birth (mad props to this woman for birthing a 10 lb baby in a car with her clothes on, hero status) and at one point she screams “Babe its coming out of me!” So I looked at Erin and said “babe, its coming out of me” with the most dry, mundane voice because I could not muster a playful voice in that moment. But I made Erin smile, so there’s that.

Another contraction was coming and Val told me to slow down now. Not to push with it. That was so unbelievable difficult (I had been trying so hard to work with my body, now I had to work against it!). Pushing with it is the only thing that made me feel like I could get through it. But I did my best. Next one his head was out. She had me slow down again. Next one she said “okay this is it, push baby out” and I did.  I got his head out without a tear, but when his body came out something tore me (Val thinks it was his elbow). I didn’t feel anything though. I heard his cry and the next thing I knew she placed him between my legs and there he was (born at 4:12 am on Thursday Sept 17th). I was in a complete state of shock. I didn’t pick him up right away (the birth pause), I just looked at him. I remember seeing him pee, and I remember being so sad that he was crying, but I couldn’t think of what to do. I started to pet his head, and I looked at Erin (who was crying) and I felt so happy and completely oblivious to anything else going on. After about a minute I picked him up and Val put a towel over him and I held him against my chest.

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The breast crawl:

Erin then helped me lay down, and Val explained a breastfeeding method of letting the baby find the breast himself. So we put Miles on my stomach and he crawled to my chest and rooted around until he found my nipple and started to latch – this took him about an hour, but it was amazing to watch. Erin and I were just cheering him on the whole time (“c’mon buddy, you can do it!”) and laughing and smiling and just falling in love with this little peanut.

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First picture together!

Placenta:

During that time (about 20 min after baby delivery) imagethe cord had stopped pulsing and the midwife said it was time to push out the placenta. Pushing was the last thing I wanted to do after all the pushing I had just done. I felt cramps and contractions and Val told me to give a few good pushes. I finally did and it came out after about 4 little pushes. I didn’t even feel it come out – I actually had to ask if it did. Then Erin cut the cord and Val clamped and cleaned up the cord on Miles.

Stitching:

At this point, they needed to check my tear. It was a lot deeper than Val originally thought and I needed a lot of stitches. This was the most traumatic, painful, and difficult part of everything. Even with a local anesthetic, the pain was horrible. I was leaning on Erin who was sitting behind me (with baby on my chest). Erin was just comforting me the entire time, but it took an hour for her to finish stitching me and most of that time I was crying and shaking in shock.

Finally done!

fullsizerender-3When she was finally done, the midwives had me pee and eat a banana (against my will, haha!) made our bed, and cleaned up. When I came back from the bathroom, Erin was sitting on the couch, skin to skin with Miles. Its an image I will never forget. The trauma and pain I had just experienced was gone in that moment.

 

 

The midwives ordered us to sleep, which we did on and off for about 6 hours (Looking back, that was probably the best stretch of sleep Miles has given us in this past year!). It was so hard to sleep at 7:30am with all the adrenaline and excitement, despite being exhausted. The sun was shining through the windows and we could finally turn the AC back on a little (phew). There was such a sense of peace and calmness in those hours after his birth. It was so nice to be able to just lay down, with baby on my chest and Erin by my side, knowing that we finally did it. We brought this baby earthside, together, in our home.

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*************

Looking back now, a year later, I’m amazed that we did it. After a lot of research, prayer, thought, and discussion, I was determined to have a home birth. It felt right. And so many things tried to get in the way – insurance, low iron, Miles was transverse for awhile, etc. With each obstacle that arose, I prayed, cried and fought to make it happen. We found solutions. I religiously took iron supplements three times a day and my iron levels went up. I used every spinning babies technique I could and he turned.

It’s true what they say, you forget the pain. When I think about his birth I feel strong, empowered, and proud. Reading through this story again though, I remember how hard it really was. How painful it was. How I felt like giving up just as I was making progress. It’s cool really, how I wanted so badly to give up but didn’t actually have the option of giving up. Nothing could provide relief besides the tools I had inside of me: breathing, moving, resting, grasping, relaxing, letting go, acceptance.

How often do I allow myself to give up on other things as soon as they get difficult? What if I immediately prayed every time life throws a hurdle? What if giving up wasn’t an option, just like it wasn’t that night?

I learned so much from this experience. I learned that God provides perfectly and there’s no reason to doubt Him. I discovered that my husband is an amazing, supportive partner through the most difficult of times and I am so lucky to have him. And I found out I am capable of so much more than I ever realized.

 

 

 

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The Forgotten Trimester

postpartum

 

This photo was taken about 18 hours after I gave birth to our son. I was mostly naked save for an adult diaper and a wrap holding my belly in (not because I was trying to make it shrink or hide it, but because it was uncomfortable – painful really – to have all of that extra weight hanging off of my small frame). I hadn’t showered since being in labor. I was dirty, in pain, exhausted and so so happy. I had no idea what the days ahead had in store and I greatly underestimated the amount of time it would take to recover, both physically and emotionally.

Throughout pregnancy we have apps that track our progress as we count down to the due date. We learn how how big our baby is getting each week and what is happening to our body throughout those developments. There are monthly appointments where our physical and mental health is checked on by a professional. We take take classes and read books to prepare us for labor, birth and how to care for a newborn. And then it happens, finally, the baby arrives. We can put all that knowledge to use! But we often forget to research and learn about how to care for ourselves during the weeks following a birth. Those weeks can be some of the most physically and mentally draining, yet postpartum preparation and support is too often overlooked in our society today. Many women are met with some unpleasant surprises as they try to navigate those first weeks, often alone.

Physically I experienced a lot of pain and bleeding for much longer than I expected. I couldn’t walk without pain for almost four weeks. My stitches were a nightmare. Pooping was terrifying. My boobs were sore.

Emotionally I was experiencing a love so intense it made me cry everyday. After family had left and my husband returned to work, I was lonely. My days were filled with joy, frustration, adrenaline, and exhaustion all within moments of each other (which can be exhausting on its own).

While this isn’t everyone’s experience, it was mine, and I was totally unprepared for it.

Women’s needs vary greatly depending on the individual and her unique circumstances but there are a few universal postpartum needs: rest, emotional and physical support, and healthy food. As a society we need to better prepare pregnant moms for what life after baby’s arrival might truly look like. And we need to be more available to provide for these moms.

“Lying-in” is an old postpartum practice, often displayed in Renaissance art and literature, where a new mother would stay in bed for up to two months after giving birth while friends and family cared for her, brought gifts and food, and let her spend the time bonding with her new baby. Interestingly, the term is now defined as a woman in the process of giving birth. And unfortunately that seems to be the new norm. We need to return to a time when we extend our care for a new mom beyond just the labor (and we need to take better care of laboring moms too – but that’s a blog post for another day).

I’m not suggesting women stay in bed for two months, that sounds mostly awful and I can’t imagine anyone in present-day society enjoying that, even with Netflix and Kindles. But allowing for rest and bonding is crucial to a new mother’s mental and physical well-being.

 

If you know a new mom….

Spend some time with her. Let her know you’re not bothered by exposed nipples and dripping milk – she’s doing her best to figure out how to feed her baby. She’s probably worried about his weight gain or concerned with her latch, the last thing she needs is a person in her home too prude to be in the same room as a leaking boob.

When you enter her home, please, first ask her how she is doing and what she needs. Give her a hug before trying to hold the baby. Ask about her birth story, telling it over and over can be so healing for her spirit.

Bring her some food. But not just any food. Take the time to look up postpartum recipes that contribute to healing, nursing and recovery. Make her something fresh, and bring it to her on the couch. Ask if you can hold the baby while she eats. (Bonus tip: if the baby starts crying, don’t try to comfort him/her, give the baby back to mom and put her food in the oven to stay warm. Hearing her baby crying will make that meal unpleasant, and newborns really just need their mamas when they’re crying).

If something is messy, clean it. Don’t ask if she wants it clean, she’ll probably say no because she’s polite and doesn’t want someone else cleaning her bathroom. But odds are, seeing a sparkly clean bathroom later that day will bring to her a sense of relief.

 

Pregnant, first time moms….

Put the newborn book back on the shelf. You’ll have time to read it later, and more likely you won’t need it because none of us ever know what we’re doing anyway, no matter how many books we’ve read. Pick up a few books on postpartum healing. Find out what your body might be going through, try to anticipate the needs you might have based on your personality and specific situation. Talk to other moms about their experience, what they appreciated having, what they didn’t expect needing, and how long their recovery took.

If you are able to, consider hiring a postpartum doula. If you have a partner or family in town to help, the doula might be able to lead them in what to do for you. Or hire her for when your family leaves and your partner is back to work because you may be very grateful for an extra pair of hands around, even a month after giving birth.

Find local moms to spend time with. This will be crucial to your mental health. Look up local groups on Facebook and organize a get-together, or find a postpartum yoga class. Consider pelvic floor therapy a few months after giving birth, some simple exercises and massages can help your body heal and gain strength again, which can do wonders for your mental health as well.
Most importantly though, don’t be afraid to ask for what it is you need. There is someone in your life who wants to and is able to provide it for you. Find them, ask them, and don’t feel bad about it. You just gave life to a new human, it’s the least that we could do.

 

(One last note: I was very well cared for after giving birth. I had many loved ones come visit and bring meals and take care of me. My husband provided the best support and took care of me in every way possible. But despite all of that, I was not prepared for how much I would need that support. This is what was most difficult. And not every woman feels this way. Many women give birth and feel fairly back to normal soon after. Some take even longer than me to recover. Every single birth is different, and every single recovery period is different – which is exactly why we don’t know what to expect and must prepare ourselves for the endless possibilities).