Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Birth of My Son Ethan

Ethan's birth was such a healing, empowering experience for me. It feels odd to put it that way because honestly, most of the time someone says that, they are referring to healing from a previous birth experience. In some ways, I suppose that is true, also, but for the most part, his birth was a balm on a wounded spirit for me.

The year preceding his conception and birth had been one full of the highest hopes and the deepest devastation as all of our dreams came crashing down around us. Along with those dreams, reality crept in and I was dealing with some very painful truths from my childhood and my adulthood. I discovered I was pregnant right in the middle of this and I can't say that I was happy, per se. I was sort of automatically happy the way I always am but I was also feeling rather betrayed, angry and just, confused. My faith had already taken such a beating and here I was, pregnant with a child I was actively trying to avoid! I felt like God or the Universe or SOMEBODY had played a cruel joke on me. It didn't help that my poor husband couldn't take the news well and that both of us were about as stressed out as we could get. To be expecting another baby in the midst of the worst financial crisis (among other things) of our lives together was really a big thing to chew on.

I spent most of my pregnancy trying to consciously NOT make him feel unwanted. I tuned in, I talked to him, I prayed. I felt he was a boy and I felt his name out long before it was chosen (I always wait for my dh to pick a name as kind of a way of confirming my intuition. So far, three times now, it's worked and we've settled on the same name without previously confiding in each other). I was so afraid there would be something wrong with him. My concerns about this came from a feeling of guilt, that he would somehow know he was unexpected and perhaps get from those feelings that he was also unwanted (not true). Also, my 2nd child had been born 4wks early and was so tiny that my recovery time with her was fraught with constant anxiety and worry as I waited for something awful to happen to her. I think, honestly, the recent past had so traumatized me that I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

As Ethan grew within me, all sorts of things happened in my life. We uprooted our little family and moved back home (450some miles) after having JUST done that the year before, and moved in with my mother-in-law. QUITE an adjustment for all of us, I assure you. My mother in law is very uncomfortable with homebirth so I spent quite a lot of time grieving what I felt would be a loss of what I needed for a good birth. Oh I cannot thank Heaven often enough for the sisters I've been given as an adult. One of my dearest friends offered me her home to birth in (well actually, three of my friends offered, but I chose this one because it was so close. But really, THREE friends offered?! Who can say they've got their pick of homes to choose from for a birth?). This home is one of my homes away from home anyway. It houses 16 cats, 5 dogs, 2 married couples and 2 single individuals. All of them are some of my closest friends. My children know them all as Aunties and Uncles and it's almost as if my entire "adopted" family lives in one house. It's not a big house, but if there was any more love stuffed in there it would burst at the seams. I was very nervous about birthing in a home that wasn't mine but it certainly wasn't for lack of feeling comfortable there! The idea of actually having to get in a car and travel while in labor, though, UGH. I was not impressed! But again, the gratitude I felt at being so well supported and so well loved spilled over into my ambivalent feelings about my pregnancy and slowly, oh so slowly, I began to heal of the traumas my heart had suffered.

During my 2nd trimester, I began measuring really far ahead. I went from measuring 3wks ahead to measuring 6wks ahead in 2 wks. In another 2wks I'd "blossomed" to measuring 10wks ahead! A friend was helping me track my prenatal care and I had her double check for me. My friend is an apprentice mw (sort of) and offered to see if her preceptor would be willing to take a look. I was afraid to ask her because I cannot pay, though I know this woman by her reputation. She graciously agreed to take a look, and confirmed that yes, I was measuring very, VERY far ahead. We looked for 2 heartbeats and while we could find it in two places, the beats were not different enough to confirm twins. I felt in my heart it was a singleton, a boy. Nobody but Karen would listen to me. Everyone in my life was convinced it was twins (and in all fairness, I was HUGE). I finally accepted that maybe, just maybe, it could be twins but the truth was that I really felt like it was polyhydramnios and I scheduled an ultrasound. The long and short of that was that I was right: One baby, a boy, and a diagnosis of poly.

I'd like to take a moment to say that I do not do routine ultrasounds. In this instance, though, for peace of mind, I decided to have one because if it was twins, I needed to know (we live in a 2bedroom home with my husband's mother. She sleeps on the couch, my girls share a room and the baby, my husband and I have another. That's six people in a house barely big enough for three! We NEEDED to know). I also felt it was probably polyhydramnios and I am well read enough to understand that poly can be a symptom of serious problems for my baby and I wanted to make sure he was ok. What surprised me was how much confirming his sex allowed me to connect to him during a time when I felt very vulnerable and was having a hard time "connecting". I had already internally been referring to him as "my son" but it was very validating and affirming for me to be able to realize that my instincts were NOT broken. After so much going wrong and so much hurt I had begun to lose faith in myself. That little bit of confirmation was enormously reassuring to me. Even better, as far as the u/s could detect, our little son appeared to be perfectly healthy and growing just fine!

Our last child was born unassisted but my husband and I both felt more comfortable with a MW in attendance this time. We weren't concerned so much with the birthing (I would know if something was wrong) but we wanted someone who could look over the baby with a more experienced eye than us, should he prove to have some problem that explained the poly. The mw graciously agreed to attend, despite our complete inability to pay her. As my pregnancy progressed, I had some very laid back routine prenatal care with this woman. Towards the end, my blood pressure just kept getting higher and higher. We talked about a possible home induction but I wasn't sure it was time yet so we put it off for a week.

Monday morning, August 10th, I was 39wks6days. Karen came over to do a quick check and my bp was through the roof. Not high enough to rush to the hospital (and I didn't have any indication that I currently had pre-e but I was beginning to show some worrisome symptoms) but enough to raise both our eyebrows and confirm to me that perhaps giving a gentle nudge was a good idea. I asked her for a vaginal exam (something I had no intention of doing previously, I hate VE’s). I wasn't even going to try a nudge unless it was physically apparent that labor was very close indeed. I was 3 ½ cm dilated and about 50% effaced. Baby's head was very, very low. She felt a nudge would be effective and simple and my bp wasn't so high that if it didn't work, I'd have to transfer...yet. I felt it was wise to nudge and so gave the go-ahead.

So, at 11:30 and again at noon, I took a tablespoon of castor oil. I also took some labor tincture (2 doses) as I began to have contractions (for the 100th time that month) at around 3:30pm. At 4pm, I called Karen and told her I'd started having contractions that were lasting anywhere from 2-3minutes and were coming anywhere from 2-7minutes apart. Long, sporadic and no, they felt no different to me than the contractions I'd been having on and off for weeks. She asked me if I felt like I was in labor. I told her that IF I was, it was very, very early yet . (To be completely frank, I never actually believed this would work and she teased me about it later.) She advised me to go to my friend’s house as traveling in hard labor is no fun. I said something about not wanting to be over there all up in their space for no reason and Karen said it was up to me but at least if I was there, I’d have a nice time and be in good company. I hung up with her and asked dh to call over at the house and let them know we’d be ready in about an hour. I was in total denial about my labor. Paul told me later that at the time, he thought I was nuts and should just go right over (this is our 3rd baby together, so I guess he knows what to expect) but he was trying to respect my wishes. It’s just that I read all about hypnobirthing and had practiced the relaxation exercises *every day* of the 2nd half of my pregnancy and THEY WORK. I just did not believe that the contractions I was having were any more than prodomal contractions. They just didn’t HURT enough.

So he gets off the phone with Elise (one of the women that lives in the wonderful house) and I make a trip to the bathroom. As soon as my butt hits the toilet seat, I have another contraction….and it’s all downward pressure, all head in the birth canal. OH SHIT. One of my first thoughts (while moaning like a lioness) is “WHAT HAPPENED TO TRANSITION?!?!”

I came out of the bathroom after two more of those and told Paul, “Call Elise back and tell her to come RIGHT NOW.” He said, “I knew it…” and picked the phone back up. Time gets very strange for me after that because the ONLY thing I was concentrating on was NOT pushing the baby OUT. I did not check but I imagine that if I had, I would have been able to touch his head. This is the only time during my labor that I did a lot of yelling. I had to! Birthing is so much energy and I handled the contractions well until I had to fight them. Fighting them SUCKS. I remember standing in the kitchen while dh and Elise were getting the car packed. I had this utterly powerful contraction, the kind that makes your legs shake and your entire body feel like it’s crumpling in on itself. NOT pushing during that contraction was one of the hardest things I will ever do and fighting my body HURT. I kept screaming “hurry up!!!” at them. I totally freaked my 2yo out. She was FINE until I started shrieking. Poor baby, I kept giving her hugs in between contractions, just to let her know I was ok.

Finally the damn car was ready. I fight off another contraction and then rush from the front door to the car-only to realize that the front seat (MY seat) is covered in junk. Damnit! I really did not want to be fighting contractions out where the entire world could see me. OH WELL. So I have one standing up by the car, while Elise is clearing the seat off. I say, “OMG it’s FUCKING hot out here!” And it was. It was the hottest day we’d seen that year (we found that out later). The contraction and gravity were working so well together that I had no choice but to get down on my hands and knees (yes right there in public!!!) and howl and holler, trying to keep my son IN. Finally! The seat is clean, I can get in the car. I’m talking to myself in my head, at this point: “You will NOT have this baby here in the grass. You will wait this contraction out and then, ok, here we go, UP, GET IN THE CAR, quick, before the next one!”

The car ride was a special level of hell. For one thing, I was literally sitting on my son’s head. I could FEEL it right there. I was trying not to shriek in the car because for some reason, I was very aware of how loud it would be to everyone in the car (particularly Abby, who was so upset by it). It occurred to me, though, as we were traveling, that dh needed to call Karen back and tell her that she needed to leave NOW to come meet us at Ruby’s. Right as he begins to do that…we turn up this little street only to be made to stop because of construction. The guy was trying to make us wait for an entire line of cars coming the other way! OH NO HE DIDN’T!! Elise starts shrieking out the one side of the car, My husband (who is still on the phone with the midwife) is leaning out his side of the car, banging on the door shouting, and I’m yelling NO NO NO NO NO!!!! As much as it sucked in the moment, it makes me laugh to remember it. He let us past, thank God.
At one point, during the drive, I said something like “do NOT have the baby in the car!” and Elise reassured me that hey, if the baby was born in the car, at least labor would be over!
Thankfully, the baby was not born in the car but I felt like I might need to poo. And as I’d had castor oil, I was highly conscious of just what that might look like and so I desperately wanted to get to the bathroom. This was at the forefront of my mind when we arrived at the back of Ruby’s house. Naturally, I’m having a contraction when Nick opens my door to help me out so I have to wait through that one and then it’s UP AND GET ACROSS THE YARD AND UP THE…OH NO, HERE’S ANOTHER ONE! I knew that if I stood up during a contraction, the baby was going to come sooner rather than later and damnit, I needed to go potty first! NO POOPING IN PUBLIC. So I backed off the steps I had started up and got down on my hands and knees, again, where everyone could see me. Why on earth it bothered me I cannot tell you but getting inside the house was SO important to me.

Finally contraction over and as I go up the steps into the house, I have this quick panic that I’d get in there and the pool would not be set up and I would cry. But no, there it was, in all of it’s glory! Clean, set up and half-full of wonderful, delightful water! But NO, I have to poo! Contraction by the door, walk to middle of living room, down to my knees for another contraction. I think Molly was helping me to the bathroom and I’m pretty sure I made it up the steps before the next one. I sat on the potty with Molly outside the potty and had 2 more contractions on the toilet. I managed to poo such a tiny little bit that I almost had to laugh at myself for wasting all that energy getting to the bathroom! So, back down the stairs.

I was beginning to calm down. Everything can unfold now, I don’t have to fight my body anymore, I can go back to relaxing and breathing and enjoying the amazing dance of life that is birthing a child. My husband had taken the opportunity to have a celebratory smoke with Nick, in the basement. Ruby had taken the girls out to the front porch. Molly and Elise were like my personal hand-maidens. I remember, upon first stepping into the pool, telling Elise the water was too warm, but not by a lot. I felt like a queen! It was…I don’t know how to explain it, it was just so calm and peaceful and I was cared for so much and I could FEEL it in the air! I sat down and immediately all the pain in my lower back just stopped. OH IT WAS HEAVEN. Elise switched the water to cool and I was so hot I put the hose right in my face and got my hair wet. Sweet relief! I just kept my feet in front of the cool water coming out after that, it felt fabulous. I had a contraction and was able to just stretch out and breath and no more fighting! Damn, his head is really right here, huh?

Ruby appeared and I don’t remember exactly what we said to each other but I do remember saying she could bring the girls in if she wanted to (Elizabeth really, really wanted to see her brother come out). Right then, Paul came upstairs. He was smoking a cigarette and on his way out to the front porch with Nick, who, having completed his task of setting up the pool, was leaving. Nick heads out to the porch and dh stops by the pool and says, “Wow, I didn’t even know you were down here, I thought you were still in the bathroom! You’re so quiet!”
“The baby is coming out” I said. With a look of affection and sympathy he says, “I know, babe”. Another contraction begins and I manage to grit out “No, he’s coming out RIGHT NOW” as I get my hand down to my vulva and cover the top of his head with my hand. Watching my husband consciously decide NOT to throw his smoke over his shoulder while he races around the pool to get by my side was priceless and I will never forget it. As he gets around, to where I was, my son’s head is born. “Head’s born” or “head’s out” (I can’t remember which I said). I switch to half crab-squat, half recline as he rotates and my body expels him in one big contraction. Paul gets his hands in the water just in time to keep the baby’s head from hitting the bottom of the pool. I have this snapshot image of him floating there, just for a second, before I reach down and scoop him up. I could NOT stop smiling this huge, elated smile. HI BABY!! HI LITTLE SON! I heard someone say “Becky, the look on your face!”. I don’t even know who it was. I just could not get over my beautiful son! He was here! And so quickly! It was only 5:15pm! AND THE HAIR OH MY GOD! My girls didn’t have a bunch of hair, but this boy looked like the dream-baby I had…Dark hair! And he was long and perfect and squishy and beautiful and I couldn’t take it all in, I was just telling my mw I was only, MAYBE in early labor and here I am, with a naked, vernixy boy in my arms and she wasn’t even THERE yet! Paul poked his head out the front door to tell Ruby and Nick and the girls that the baby was born. Nick hadn’t even gotten halfway through his smoke!

His cord was so much shorter than I’d had before, I could only hold him around my belly button area. The girls came in to see him then and Elizabeth was so precious. “Oh he’s so cute! Can I hold him?!” “Baby! Baby! Baby!” from Abigail. At some point Karen arrived and said something about how I make such pretty babies (that woman knows how to make a freshly birthed Mama burst with pride). Paul was there by my side the whole time. I loved how Karen made no moves to do anything at all. She just commented on my beautiful baby, my beautiful girls and began to fix me some tea. I loved that. I was worried, a bit, that she wouldn’t really be hands off but she WAS. I mean, lol, you can’t get much more hands off than missing the birth, but at no point in the 3rd stage did I ever feel like she “took over” . Nope. She was helpful and confident but not intrusive.

Ethan’s cord was short enough I asked her to cut it for me so that I could get out of the pool. I remember he had the kind I’ve always thought looked so cool: fat and really twisty. She cut it and I think I passed him off to Paul. The afterbirth high makes it hard to remember anything very clearly. I know that I took off my shirt so I could skin to skin with Ethan. I remember that before doing that, I birthed the placenta and in so doing discovered some minor little tears (skin deep, all of them) in some awkward places. I know Karen took a quick look at my girly bits (as I asked her to) just to make sure the tears were minor. The girls made sure I was snuggled in on the couch with my new little son and somewhere in there Ethan was weighed and measured (5lbs15oz and 20 ¾”). I couldn’t stop smiling! Karen instructed Ruby in how to make me a lovely cup of tea with some AfterEase tincture in it. That stuff is heaven! Meanwhile, the pool was broken down and washed and afterwards, I passed Ethan off and had a nice soak in an herbal bath while Ruby kept me company. Molly was the perfect nurse for me as she got me what I needed and helped me into Ruby’s bed for some more alone time with my baby. Karen left right around the time I was getting ready for my bath.
Again, I don’t remember the timelines so clearly but at some point I decided to join my family and friends downstairs on Ruby’s couch again. The girls had all had a chance to hold their little brother, my MIL and Aunt Debbie had brought some things we’d forgotten in the mad dash out of the house along with some gifts! After I got settled onto the couch, a bunch of our friends arrived. Lee, Jansen and Alex showed up. Lee and Jansen had gotten Ruby and I bottles of wine (and yes, I had a small glass to celebrate!). Lee decided he was going to cook everyone dinner and damn, they threw a party!

Honestly, I can’t say enough positive things about Ethan’s birth. I feel as if in many ways I’ve lost my family over the last ten years but these women have become my sisters (Uh…yeah, Jansen and Lee count as “girls” in our circle, lol, Lee was even at my Blessingway). How precious a thing, in this day and age and in our society, to have a circle of women that are so open to caring for one another? There aren’t words to express my gratitude and how humbled I was by their gift. I don’t know how many women can say they’ve had a birth experience like this one and I know I will cherish it in my heart until the day I die.


Rixa said...

What a wild ride--literally and figuratively! I'm so happy to hear that all worked out well, although I don't know how you could have gotten in that car when you were already pushing. No way I could have done that! I too had a great hands-off midwife and was so happy how it all worked out with her. Glad it was the same for you.

Molly Higgs said...

I loved being there. I felt so honored. Paul actually tried to catch Ethan with the cig still in his hands. I had to yell "give me the cigarette!" hehehe I loved being there for you.