The Birth of Polly Diana
this is a long story because i am detail oriented and i want to remember it all. it will probably only appeal to those who are fascinated by childbirth, as I am. if you want to know the truth, it's actually just a very run-of-the-mill birth story, if there can be such a thing. but it's mine and i love it with all my heart. both my daughters' births are sacred to me now, different as they are; they are the stories that make up the most vital and moving parts of my life so far and I am proud to carry them. i post my birth story here in case it helps inform other mamas or anyone at all who is interested in childbirth. Mine is unique only in that it was a VBAC and that i stuck to my plan to go all-natural.
also, i've been typing this over many days and i am tired so there may be many errors and typos. i apologize in advance. i want to get this post up so i'm going to publish it without proofreading. i hope you'll forgive me ;)
On the morning of my due date, January 4, 2014, I awoke with a real contraction at 2:42 a.m. I could immediately tell the difference between this and the Braxton Hicks I'd been regularly having. Those were tightenings. This was a swirling rush of energy that came in like the tide. This was doing work inside my body, I could tell, opening me up. I really did continuously think of the word "rushes" (Ina May Gaskin's euphemistic word for contractions) as I quietly felt them come and go over the next few hours. I tried to go back to sleep, but I was too excited. I thought things would go really quickly since this was my second baby. I got up at 5:00 and fixed myself half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich which tasted great but gave me terrible heartburn. I had already texted Em, my mom, and Addie and let them know things were getting started and told them I'd talk to them in the morning. Finally, I went back to bed next to Darin and Lucy at 6:00 a.m. and Darin awoke to me breathing hard. He looked at me curiously and asked if I was having a contraction; I confirmed and said "didn't you know? I've been having them for a few hours!" He was surprised and excited but we were both able to go back to sleep until 8:00. Then he got up and sprang into action, making us coffee and breakfast, entertaining Lucy and getting things ready.
But the contractions did not get closer together, pretty much all day long. They were each intense, and seemed to be growing in intensity, but they would be anywhere from seven or eight to twenty minutes apart! My mom showed up, my dad showed up, we took a walk down the hill with Lucy to try to get her down for her nap. I think she could sense the excitement; nothing was working for naptime. I was able to finally rock her to sleep, the last time I'd try to fit her around that huge belly and hold her in place. She loves to be rocked, and that has sure gotten easier now ;)
Here I am on labor day right after our walk.
on our walk, last photo as a family of three.
I kept holding off going to the hospital. During the more intense contractions, my mom would get worried and think we needed to get over there. But I knew I was very slowly dilating and my worst fear was to get to the hospital and have them tell me, well you're at a two. So we waited. Emily and Joey arrived. I can't even remember what we talked about or did, besides calling the hospital to let them know I was coming in sometime this evening most likely, and timing my contractions. I did eat some salad with tofu, which is not the best thing to eat when you're bound to puke it up a few hours later. Addie was finally on her way from Grass Valley, having decided to wait (rightfully so) for her husband to get home from work so he could stay home with her baby. It worked out really well because she was able to be by my side the entire time.
Arriving at the Hospital and VBAC precautions:
In the early evening the contractions were suddenly picking up pace and were now about four to five minutes apart. All day long had sort of this leisurely and relaxed atmosphere. I felt comfortable with each contraction although some were definitely painful and I had to grip Darin's hand and he had to tell me his ever present refrain, "relax your brow, keep breathing, do your good breathing." i just used nice deep breaths learned from yoga to breathe energy down into my belly and uterus and then release slowly. for hours, this breathing sustained me. Around 6:00 we gathered our things to go to the hospital, kissed Lucy good-bye and left her at our house with my Mom, and my Dad chauffeured us to the hospital.
The nice pace of our day changed once we arrived. My first couple hours at the hospital were all business, and not fun business, all during active labor. Since I was trying for a VBAC there are all kinds of precautions set in place by the hospital. The main risk for a VBAC is a uterine rupture, and although fairly rare, it is a significant risk that I could not take lightly, since it is a risk that could potentially take the life of my baby, or my own. I also tested positive for Group B Strep (another topic altogether, and a sensitive one for me!) and so I knew I'd need to be on an IV to receive two rounds of penicillin during labor. Not my favorite scenario but after some research I had decided to agree to it. Unfortunately, because I was a VBAC, the IV had to be an 18 gauge needle, a precaution needed in case of emergency surgery. more on this in a moment.
So when I first checked in I was sent to the triage room with Darin. Corry was the head nurse who checked my dilation and she couldn't find my cervix, the baby's head was in the way?! I had never heard of that happening, but she was very casual about it and said, "It'll come down, don't worry. I'll just have Dr. Nelson check you in your room." So I wrapped the sheet around myself and Darin and I trotted over to my lovely delivery room. Joey and Emily and my dad had already brought in my stuff. It was good to see Dr. Nelson (my own doctor who happened to be on call all weekend, yay!) when he came in and checked me. He proclaimed me 4-5 cm dilated. Exactly what i had hoped! I felt good about that since I remembered it taking a long time and lots of hard work (nipple stimulation, walks, the tub) to reach that last time when my water had broken and my progress was being monitored more closely. This time I had easily gotten this far on my own!
Nurses came in after that and got down to all the VBAC prep business. It took three different nurses to get that big needle in my vein for the IV. I was distracted by the contractions but it was still so painful and made me squeamish! They were trying to insert it in the back of my hand or wrist so it would be out of the way during labor, but my veins kept "blowing." I had to ask them what that meant and was kind of disgusted and surprised to find that actually means they blew up! They had to call up an ER nurse to place the needle, supposedly she gets them right away but she only wanted to use the inner elbow (apparently the worst placement during labor) and it still took two tries. The first arm she tried ended up turning into a massive bruise. someone later told me she hit an artery.
Here's the ER nurse, finally getting it right.
Then I met with the anesthesiologist who convinced me to get the epidural port placed in my spine (my worst nightmare) without any medication in it (since she knew I wanted to go all natural) just in case things went wrong and I needed an emergency C-section. Unfortunately we figured out later this wasn't actually necessary, although it was hard to thoroughly consider the situation in my position, but if there had been a true emergency (uterine rupture) I would have been placed under general anesthesia anyway. I am more uncomfortable with the idea of something going into my spine than my veins even, so it was really unpleasant feeling the strange pressure of the insertion of the epidural port, and I kept involuntarily jerking away from it, much to the staff's chagrin. In any case, I had that set-up all taped to my back during my whole labor and I eventually just forgot about it.
Meanwhile, during all these procedures I was still in full labor of course. It didn't slow down at all once we got to the hospital, and my memory of the hours from about 8-11 pm are fuzzy. I know that Dr. Nelson walked in while the anesthesiologist was inserting the port in my back and said, "getting a little medication?" and we were all quick to say "NO!" I think even he sort of wondered if that was really necessary but he didn't say anything, just went about checking me. Now he said I was at about a 7-8 cm dilated. Exciting! I felt great about this progress. I was also getting the antibiotic drip through the IV at this point, and it stung. I was surprised to even notice the stinging through my intense contractions, but it was just a funny achy feeling going into my vein.
Just about then, my mom arrived with Lucy. I had asked her to bring her by after bathtime to say goodnight. It was a delight to see her, although quick because I didn't want her to see me in pain from contractions. She was so excited about her stay with nana, her trip up the elevator, pushing the buttons, the hospital, my bed, etc. Her pure joy buoyed me up for the next round.
My faithful birthing team included Darin, right by my head and rubbing my lower back (HARD) the whole time, Addie rubbing a foot or hand, and Emily rubbing a foot or hand or calf. In the end, Joey was in there taking some pictures and I was comfortable with him staying too, so he got to witness (and videotape!) the whole birth. I am so glad he was there, for one thing, to get prepared for his own baby's birth in just a couple weeks, and for another, because he has a poet's soul that takes it all in and makes it beautiful. All four of them created the exact presence and guidance I needed throughout the entire evening, and once I got into transition, if the slightest change occurred (like Addie sat down for a minute) I got agitated and needed to know where she went. With Dr. Nelson and Jan, my amazing nurse who came on at 11 pm by the grace of god and the sweet sweet universe, I was in the perfect hands for this birth. Jan (I later found out she is known as Hippie Jan, so perfect!) has a special story for us because she was there for the whole beginning of Lucy's birth. She was so supportive of our natural methods and had plenty of great ideas for labor, either for encouraging progress (she is the one who taught us nipple stimulation) or for making me more comfortable, aware, and in control. It was by chance that she happened to accept a shift the night of January 4, she said she never works nights and just randomly agreed to come in for four hours. Those four hours she was my angel! Exactly who I needed to be coaching me alongside calm and wonderful Dr. Nelson. Darin and I felt like it was truly a mysteriously fated occurrence especially because it all balanced out: last time she started our labor with us and then after she left things went kinda haywire (emergency c-section that we never saw coming!) and this time things were a bit haywire at first but she ended labor with us in the most natural, perfect way that we had always envisioned. It felt like we came full circle.
Pops was there the whole time too, but when things got a little more crazy he and Debby (Darin's mom) waited in the little family waiting room. Joey and Emily and Addie had put up my flags and lights and set up my birth altar for me. I did look at it a few times during labor and drew strength from the photos and trinkets that were displayed there, like a little glimpse into my true strong soul.
Active Labor to Transition:
This is the part I remember least. Those couple of hours passed very quickly. I started to breathe out with a low moan during contractions. I felt them intensely in my lower back, just like last time, and they built in intensity until they really did feel like a train running through my body. (I think that was Addie's analogy, and I do find it to be apt). But I also felt totally in control all along. I did have some severe heartburn and nausea which was relieved by finally vomiting into a plastic bowl. It was so gross, out came the salad from earlier! Everything had to be cleared out to make way for the crazy waves of energy that were rocketing through me.
The staff did maintain constant fetal monitoring, (until Jan came on at 11 and then she was much more lax) but they also let me move around as I pleased and then would just come back and find her heartbeat again and strap it back onto my belly. So I tried squatting, sitting on the ball, and different positions on the bed to help move these contractions through my body and get me opened up. I requested the birthing bar in order to help me bear down. I think I still had the other nurse then and she seemed a little doubtful but brought it out and sure enough, as I held onto it (like a drowning sailor, clinging and slumped against it!) my water finally broke and splashed all over addie and em! They were very nice about that.
I love Ade in this picture, totally serene and focused, giving me lots of strong energy. Love. It's what it's all about.
The bar, 11 pm, just before the nurses switched, probably just before my water broke!
Transition and Pushing
I think it was shortly after that when Dr. Nelson came back in and pronounced me "complete." It was the best word I'd ever heard. He said if I started to feel the urge to bear down or poop, to go ahead and start pushing. He also explained that I could either "labor down" which was to let nature and the contractions take their course and not start pushing yet, or to go ahead and try to start pushing. I opted to start with laboring down. There was a good thirty minutes or so now that I just had very strong, isolated contractions with long breaks in between. All throughout the day and night the breaks in between contractions had been so relaxing that I felt the whole process had almost a peaceful pace to it. this became more and more the case as I grew closer to the end. the breaks were so long I could hardly believe it. I felt totally on drugs and without any real sense of time. I would sometimes look around at each of my team's eyes with utter amazement. I was tripping out, my body felt part of something way bigger than me, I felt elemental. Darin and Em later described to me some of the faces I'd make and the way I looked at them, it was almost eerie.
I also got a bit demanding, needed the slightest little thing to be right. I needed Darin to chew gum, Em had to take off her ring, the pressure of their hands had to be just right. I always apologized after I requested those things though. Darin says I was very polite. I needed chapstick and Jan handed me one of her own homemade coconut oil lip balms, so perfect. I also remember saying I understood why Addie didn't want anyone telling her "good job" during transition. I preferred not to hear that, and I had a crystal clear understanding of why at the time, but I can't quite fathom it now. Maybe because I felt like I was all body, not a force of willpower with the ability to do good or not. That was probably when I was just about fully dilated, and I didn't exactly feel in charge.
But when it comes to pushing, like it or not, you are in charge of the pushing. And wow, what an experience, what a physical raw wild experience it is. You have to consciously do this thing that is the hardest thing your body has ever done; you have to willingly and purposefully push right into the heart of the pain.
Dr. Nelson came back in just as I was feeling the need to poop, which of course I knew was the signal to start pushing. I have heard all different things about the pushing stage of labor. I have heard that it is a relief, I've heard about the "ring of fire" and I witnessed my sister's very difficult and ultimately damaging pushing stage. But I felt prepared to start pushing, to take this unknown challenge. and even though it took a lot longer than I thought at first, and even though I yelled, ROARED, through the height of each charging, blazing push, I have a fairly clear memory of the whole two hours and I am comfortable with the process. I feel like it went really well, when all is said and done, and that it was the way childbirth is meant to be. It was not easy, it was not pretty; it was a wild horse, it was feral and dramatic and difficult, but it marked one of the most important liminal moments of my life. It was meant to be wild and strong and vast.
I tried pushing with the birthing bar. My hip kept going out, like a charley horse, and my leg would shoot straight out and couldn't support me. Which sucked because that position felt a little more relieving for my lower back. It was crazy the tornado of pain in my lower back that I was pushing straight into. I remember asking, when is this pain in my lower back going to stop?! and they said, once you push the baby's head out!
Dr. Nelson kept telling me how close her head was. Then I could hear Addie and Emily exclaiming about seeing her head. When I'd push, he would softly advise me to push just a little more, just past this bone, just a little further, and she'd be out. Every time she slipped back, if I started to lose hope or feel like I hadn't made any progress, he would tell me it was perfect, she was a little closer each time, this is how it works. His patience was so important to me. I would give it my all (it felt like) roaring right into it, and then as the contraction subsided, i would lose steam and finish that push with a final long strain and then relax. I had never realized how much each contraction actually helps with the pushing, ironically. It is that building pain and that massive wave of energy that gives you the oomph to truly push with all your might. In between were long, silent rests. My eyes were closed. Every bit of myself and my energy was focused inward on the task at hand. My team was quiet and their energy would build as the next wave hit. I would pause, gather myself, feel it sweeping into me again, and take a deep breath just like Dr. Nelson and Jan advised. Sometimes I tried holding my breath, and that did seem to help, but it always erupted into a loud primal yell as I pushed with every fiber of my body.
I could feel the energy change a little bit as I pushed her even closer. She was right there. They were telling me so, and Jan took my hand and guided it down so I could feel her little head. I hadn't yet felt the ring of fire, just that volcanic pain through my lower half at the crux of each push. So I knew there was more I could do. I knew intuitively what Dr. Nelson was asking of me when he said just a little more. It felt impossible. Although Darin doesn't remember me saying it aloud, there was definitely a moment when I wasn't sure I could do it. and YET. she was right there, and I remembered what my friend Alisa said how at the moment you think you have given everything you possibly can, just give a little bit more, go a little beyond anything you ever thought possible for your body, and your baby will be born.
I heard them saying it was just minutes away. I head Addie say "OH HONEY!" as her head strained forth. It was the next push that I did the thing I had thought I couldn't do. I pushed deep into the heart of the pain, into the train wreck spiraling pell mell through my body, and straight down into the base of my groin and the seat of my soul and the raw material of my very being. I pushed into the knowing that I was splitting in half, I pushed into the trust for my team that we would survive, that my baby was right about to be born. I pushed through that whole contraction, and then I stretched it just a tiny bit further, I kept going, I didn't breathe, I just exerted the whole of myself.
And then with a giant POP her head burst forth!
A cheer went up immediately. And then a hush as Dr Nelson asked me to give one more push and I whimpered but obeyed, feeling like I could not do anything else ever again, and then her sweet perfect body slithered right out. It was the most amazing inside-out, topsy-turvy, mind blowing feeling ever. Her cry came forth the same instant as her body entered the world. I loved that wonderful lively sound. Jan immediately placed her against my chest and put a warm blanket over us. Her face was a little full moon of glory. She became instantly calm and quiet, gazing around and gazing at us. She was perfect, she was my girl who had grown and lived snugly inside my body, she was ours. I did it. I delivered my little daughter naturally, vaginally, with the spirit and mood and energy that I'd imagined at my birth. It did not occur to me to feel strong or powerful. I just felt happy, relieved, and surrounded by, overflowing with love.
it was 1:52 a.m. (Tootie was born at 1:53 a.m!)
she was 7 lb 4 oz although i didn't find that out until a couple hours later.
joey got the birth on video. i cried watching it two days later. it is truly the most awe inspiring sight, to watch a child be born into this world. it seems like another dimension, there is something about the process and the new little soul that is otherworldly. i am honored to have been this vessel.
and i am so lucky and in love with this beautiful little sprite that has come into our home and family. i knew when she was inside me that she must be a mellow one. so far she sleeps almost all the time, but when she's awake she has a quietly commanding presence. eyes full of ancient mysteries. gentle butterflying little hands with long fingers. a wise and patient little face. holding her close and staring into her face, i have had moments of the sweetest heartaching power that seems to come from both inside and outside of me. i feel intricately part of the cellular make up of the universe, the miraculous spiderweb of being. i bear witness, i open my grateful heart, i am a mother once again.