Thursday, July 14, 2016

#tbt Birth Story: That time I had a baby in the dining room.

Our 3.5 year old was born in a Birthing Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland, where the majority of births are attended by midwives. This is not the norm in America, but I had no idea how how subversive it would be to have the birth we desired. My first draft of this story was defensive and included far too much detail of research, evidence, and how we came to this choice (believe me, we LOVE science). For now, though, it seems much more pleasant to tell you only what you came to read: the BIRTH story. 

The only photo of me pregnant with #2.
I was around 38 weeks when I started to lose my mucus plug (Have I lost you already? Warning: This story will contain truth! But I will leave out graphic photos.). This was unexpected, seeing as Graham, our 3.5 year old, had been almost two weeks overdue. We figured Baby #2 would surely not arrive before due date.

David was still working in Indianapolis, and on this particular Thursday morning, I’d been leaking some mucus (not amniotic fluid) for a few days, but on Thursday it was pink. I’d had some mild cramps all week, — not Braxton-Hicks — but no contractions. I called Aundria, our primary midwife, who said that the mucus, combined with the many cramps, suggested that I was in early labor. It “could be today, could be next week,” but it was hard to say. I called David and asked him to come home if he didn’t need to be at the client’s office.

For weeks I had been unable to walk because of hip pain. I had been using a cane, battling sciatica and pelvic girdle pain. Requesting David to come home was as much about having someone to get me a glass of water as it was about him being there for a potential birth. But despite all my joint pain, baby was completely fine, just digging into my right hip.

My cramps were not particularly painful, but they were definitely different from Braxton-Hicks. Considering the contractions I’d had from Graham’s birth were 9-out-of-10 on the pain scale from the very first one, I didn’t think these could be the real thing. But they were fairly regular — about 20 minutes apart. 

David was home by noon.

We did not have a baby that day. 

In fact, by Monday morning, despite the cramps coming, picking up and then stopping again, things weren’t much different than before. David went back to Indianapolis, and I went to my 39-week checkup as scheduled. Baby was perfect, and I declined an offer of a cervical check because our midwife thought any stimulation would likely put me into active labor. With David out of town again, I didn’t want to risk it. Even though I was still in pain from PGP, I wanted baby to cook as long as needed.

That evening I was starting to have more regular cramps again, this time about 10 minutes apart. I suspected I would go into full-blown labor that evening. 

At that point I realized our fridge was empty. Thankfully, our wonderful friend Carrie offered to go to the grocery for me to get the protein snacks and electrolyte drinks I’d needed for labor and brought takeout dinner for me and Graham. 

She also commiserated with me when I sobbed. My doula, Lorie, had just called to tell me her other March client was in labor and she was heading to the hospital for the night. Doulas always have backups, of course, but I hadn’t met Lorie’s backup yet. The main reason I had hired a doula was so someone familiar (but not related to me) could be with me in early labor if David was out of town. It seemed that my big fear was exactly what was happening, so I had more than a few tears.

As soon as Lorie told me she was with another client, my contractions slowed down -- perhaps evidence to support that labor slows when adrenaline rushes. David had packed up and headed home from Indianapolis, arriving by midnight. I’d already sent Graham to stay with my parents for the night, so the house was fairly quiet. 

The night was uneventful. I still had mild cramps, but was able to sleep through them for the most part. In the morning, I texted my mom that there was no baby, but could she please bring Graham by for a hug on the way to preschool. I was overly aware that this might be the last chance I had to snuggle him as an only child. We took a selfie to commemorate the occasion. 

I continued to cramp all morning and was texting with Aundria about what to do. Because of my hip pain, I was unable to go for a long walk — generally the first recommendation to get labor moving along. I decided to put on my TENS machine, thinking that might help with the hip pain and allow me to move around. It relieved some of the pain, but I still couldn’t bear any weight on my right leg. Aundria suggested the Miles Circuit as an alternative to walking, so I did that a few times. Cramps would increase, but then decrease just as quickly. 

Lorie called around 7am to let me know she was finished with her other client and on call for me again - relief! 

David worked from home, taking conference call after conference call. He did manage to run up to Breadworks to buy a loaf of country white bread, so that I could have proper “tea and toast” after the birth. This was one of the charming things we remembered about our birth in Scotland, as well as one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever eaten in my life. Toast slathered with thick Irish butter alongside a cup of tea after having practically run a marathon: perfection.

Eventually Aundria said she would come over to check on me and see if we could maybe get things going. She arrived about 2:30 and asked if she could do a cervical check, noting again that it would probably put me into full-blown labor. This time I consented because the stop-start-unknown had been very frustrating. (Can I just pause for a second and note how wonderful it was that Aundria asked permission every single time she needed to touch me? Whether it was to listen to the baby or check my cervix, she always made sure I said, “Yes.”) When she checked me, I was a little more than 3cm dilated. She did a membrane sweep and stretched a bit while I breathed deeply and tried to relax. It only took about a minute, and she then declared that I was 5cm. 

“Thank you!”

“Oh no, honey, you did that,” she reassured me.

She went on about her day, saying we should call her when contractions were 5 minutes apart, lasting a minute each — the same standard contraction-timing where women are instructed to go to the hospital.

David and I sat around and decided to watch an episode of Mad Men. (We’re a bit behind in pop culture, so this was somewhere in Season One.) My cramps got regular again not long after Aundria left. I ate a protein bar and drank some water, while bouncing on a yoga ball and enjoying the hip-pain relief that TENS machine provided. It also proved useful for contractions, if I hit the ‘increase’ button just as I felt one coming on. 

About 30 minutes into Mad Men, I felt the cramps getting a bit stronger and more wave-like. My mind shifted into birth mode, and I announced, “I am done with Mad Men.” It was maybe 4:30. 

I moved to the twin bed we’d set up in the dining room and tried to relax, hugging as many pillows as possible and putting my face between them with closed eyes and eye-shades, attempting to shut out the daylight. It suddenly felt like I might be in labor, even though the contractions still weren’t close to the pain I’d felt in early labor with Graham. 

David had been timing them, and by 5pm he noticed I’d had 12 contractions in 60 minutes. He called Lorie and Aundria, who both said they would pack up and head over. 

“Ask if you can fill up the pool, please!” 

Andrea gave the green light for that, but made sure to remind David not to allow me in the water until she was there. I was desperate for the water — water is my happy place — but Aundria didn’t want me to accidentally give birth in the water without her.

Lorie arrived just a few minutes before Aundria, shortly after 6pm. My eyes were shut as I tried to relax on the bed. David had been fussing around in the kitchen in between my yelling for him to, "TOUCH ME, PLEASE," every time I felt a surge coming on. I think he was making crockpot chili for the birth team. He was so great about coming to my side when I needed him though. During my first birth I was an island; this time I was determined to ask for help if I wanted it.

“Lorie’s here,” David announced. I’d been wearing an eyemask because it was so bright in the house — one of those Kentucky days in March that was 82 degrees and sunny.

“Hey, Lorie. Here’s my butt,” I remember telling her. I had been wearing just a sports bra since Aundria had visited, and somehow I figured I should break the ice about my nudity. She laughed and started taking photos on my phone, which I didn’t notice until much later in the evening, after the birth (so grateful for those photos now!). 

Aundria arrived like a ninja around 6:10. David must have immediately asked her if I could get in the tub because I remember him touching me gently and saying I could get in.

“Take off my TENS electrodes please. Are you trying to kill me?” I teased him.

I had one last contraction while holding on to the side of the Rubbermaid trough and then swung my legs over the pool, completely submerging and losing myself in the amazing hot water. 

Water is my happy place. With Graham I’d spent about 8 hours in the birthing pool — three of those hours were pushing, though I ended up birthing him on land because I’d needed to try new positions. It was like flipping a switch, and I felt myself relax so much more than I’d been able to on the bed the minute before.

Water is also one of the biggest reasons I chose to have a home birth. I'd loved the pool in Scotland, but hospitals in my part of the US do not allow you to actually deliver in a tub. Before I go off on a tangent, let me instead tell you how fun it was shopping for a stock tank at Tractor Supply while 8 months pregnant. Here I am about 4 weeks before the new babe was born, in the 150 gallon tank we purchased at a farm store--->

Anyway, into the water I went ...

I relaxed so much underwater that it wasn’t thirty seconds before I had my first contraction in the pool, and with it, I felt my water break. 

I came to the surface and said, “Physics question. If my water breaks while I’m in the tub, does the surface water rise? What would Archimedes say?”

They all laughed.

“Yes,” said someone. (I have no idea whom.) 

I went underwater again to blow bubbles smoothly and relax more during another contraction, and then popped up.

“But I was already in the pool. So wouldn’t the water stay the same? It went from inside me to outside me, but the volume already in the pool didn’t change.”

“Hmmm. I guess so?” David confirmed, and everyone had a good chuckle.

At that point, the contractions began to get stronger, and I was suddenly completely uninterested in any more chatter.

The hot water was amazing, and the trough was big enough to allow me to completely submerge and float. I found that floating on my left side with my knees slightly bent was the most comfortable position, as I could be weightless and fully relax. Oddly, this was exactly the same position I found most helpful during Graham’s birth, so I was especially grateful to have the pool available to me. I left a hand on the edge because I liked being able to squeeze David when I needed.

Because I fully submerged, I couldn’t hear anyone speak — ideal for birthing, as I was able to focus completely on opening and ignore anything else. 

I floated through several more contractions, none of them as painful as the very first ones I had with Graham. About thirty minutes later, I felt them get more acute and pointed in the front of my stomach. I’d had such awful back labor with Graham that this was a new feeling. It wasn’t awful, but it was enough that I said, “Owwwwwwwwwww” through it and them, “Okay, that one really really hurt.” 

My head thought about how long my first labor had been, knowing that I’d only been in active labor for about 2 hours so far this time, and it had only been 30 minutes or so since my water had broken (I didn't actually know any of those times, but I did know that the sun was still up and it had only been a few contractions). I didn’t think I would be able to 6-10 more hours of contractions with that sharp pain.

At this point, I didn’t realize it (though I did notice I was holding Lorie’s hand and not David’s), but David had gone to make a sandwich, and then run upstairs to look for a special baby blanket that we'd received from the NHS after Graham's birth.

“I don’t think I can do this much longer,” I said. “Can you check how far?” I asked Aundria. My thought had gone to if I’m only at 6cm, then this will be impossible.

She checked me and said, “Oh, honey, you’re, like, nine and a half.”

I don’t know if I actually smiled, but I felt my body relax even more, knowing that I had done the hard part. I had one more contraction, during which I grunted, “Oooooooooooo-pen,” and remember hearing Lorie cheer me on with a “Yeah!” 

In the same exhale as that contraction, I felt a switch flip inside. The pain completely stopped, and my body started to push on its own. 

David came back downstairs. While I was underwater, Lorie and Aundria updated him on my progress — totally surprising him as well, since he'd thought we had a few hours left. 

The baby crowned during that first contraction-which-turned-into-a-push. On the next contraction, his head was completely out. Aundria started a stopwatch (I guess water births have a time limit?) and asked me to turn over to my knees. David held my arms, and my body pushed one last time — a little extra effort from me as Aundria had asked me to push hard because he had a nuchal hand (hand/arm up by his face — Graham had the same thing when he was born). 

I felt the midwife’s gloved fingers guiding the shoulders out, and I dramatically screamed, “He’s tearing me in half!” Honestly, I think I only shouted like that because I felt the moment needed a little more drama. It wasn’t actually that bad, but I did feel a pain where her fingers had been; the previous pushes hadn’t hurt at all.

"No, you're not," Aundria replied firmly. And then, as that contraction wound down she said, “I’m going to pass him up to you.” Like a choreographed routine, I leaned back and watched the baby swim up as she had guided him forward.

It had been three minutes and three pushes, and it was only 6:58pm — about two and a half hours of active labor.

I looked down and announced, “It’s a boy!” Graham had insisted on the sex being a surprise, even though we suspected it was a boy. (Lack of morning sickness and same pregnancy cravings I’d had with him.)

Aundria covered the baby with a warm towel while I cradled him close to my chest, enjoying the sunlight from the unexpectedly warm day. She checked all his vitals, listening to his heart and watching his breathing. She held him to do the APGAR and rubbed his back and then gave our perfect baby back to me to snuggle. 

Everyone cheered me on and talked about how quickly he’d come and how hard and fast labor had been. I was amazed that I’d only really had a very few painful contractions there at the end and couldn’t believe how different the delivery had been from Graham’s.

David had called my family right after the new boy was born, but asked that everyone stay away for a couple of hours. At 8:30 my mom brought Graham over to meet his baby brother. We were already snuggled up in our newly-purchased king-size bed, when Lorie walked Graham up the stairs. 

Grandma stayed downstairs, and I can’t remember why. I think it was because there were already two midwives, a doula, and David in our bedroom. Also, my mom and I have a tendency to, um, argue a bit, and I definitely didn’t need any more adrenaline. She’d been kind enough to keep Graham for two nights, and I’m still not sure how she contained herself not seeing the brand new baby. (She came over the next morning to meet him.)

I’ll go into the rest of the evening in more detail in another blog, for those curious about home birth and specific care practices. For now, just know that I was tended to by a Certified Nurse Midwife (who is also a Nurse Practitioner), a Certified Professional Midwife (and former EMT), a doula, and my husband. Most of the birth team stayed for five hours after birth, checking my and my baby’s vitals regularly and making sure we were well and comfortable. 

Baby snuggled up and nursed quickly, not really crying at all. Lorie pumped me with electrolyte drinks, and David remembered the magic loaf of country white bread and toasted it, while Lorie slathered it with a pile of Kerry Gold Irish butter, so I could have my postpartum tea-and-toast. Perfection. I felt like Superwoman. 

We ate a late dinner of that crockpot chili that David had started when my water broke. I snacked on all kinds of protein bars (and more than a few Samoas) piled up next to our bed and tried my best to sleep. Adrenaline kept me up most of the night, but the rest of the family slept peacefully. It was so nice to wake up in my own bed and have our midwife come to the home to check on us for weeks after. I didn't think that level of postpartum care was available in America. I am so happy to have found it.

The midwives who tended to me are looking to open a Birthing Centre in Kentucky to bring this level of choice and care to women here. (Because reproductive CHOICE is a fundamental right for women!) Here's their fundraising page.

8 lbs 13.5 oz
21" long