Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mama Bean was born on a Friday.

 monday's child is fair of face, tuesday's child is full of grace, wednesday's child is full of woe, thursday's child has far to go, friday's child is loving and giving, saturday's child works hard for a living, but the child who is born on the sabbath day is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

I was born on a Friday in 1981. Bean was born on a Thursday morning. Papa Bean was born on a Monday, just like his daughter.

Now it's a Tuesday, six months later, and I figure I need to get this down "on the page" before I forget it all, because this writing thing, I've determined, is wrapped up in the exercise of memory keeping, for me, and so I should get on with it. The memory keeping.

(Subsequent birthing stories are always remembered in reference to the previous ones, so forgive me if this sounds like a list of what was different and what was the same, instead of a story. But this is still a birth story, and if you don't want to hear about the gory details, this is not the post for you! Rest assured, a baby came out at the end.)

For two midwife visits prior to Bean's birth, I had an internal exam and a stretch/sweep. Two days before his birth, I was dilated to 3cm, my cervix was soft, but still posterior. I am amazed at how many changes the cervix must undergo before contractions can be most effective (and less painful). It should move from posterior-facing to anterior, it should soften before it can think about thinning, it should thin before active dilation. All of this happens without (m)any outward signs or symptoms, but it's really important work. With Sprout, I had an internal before going away on a weekend retreat, to make sure I wouldn't deliver while an hour away from home (and twenty minutes from a hospital, regardless of homebirth being the plan.) At that time, cervix was softening but not soft, still posterior, and not very dilated (finger-tippy.) At the midwife visit (a week before?) Sprout's birth, the midwife demurred to perform a stretch and sweep, as I was still only 38 weeks, and she didn't think we needed to encourage anything just yet. I did not have any other internal exams with this pregnancy, even to check my dilation during active labour.

I never felt the Braxton-Hicks with Bean, probably because I didn't know what they were, and I'm unfamiliar with menstrual cramping in general (I know, I'm very lucky.) I was more aware of the cramping this time around, and I knew this time it was part of the work my body was doing to prepare my cervix. I knew it was soft, and I knew a little together time with PB would give it a good prostaglandin kickstart. In a way, I feel like any night of the weekend would have worked, but for some reason we waited until Sunday. At 2:30am that night, I felt an especially sharp kind of cramp and thought, "Pay attention" then went back to sleep.

I woke at 3:00 with another sharp cramp and then small gushes of liquid. I did not have SROM with Bean - my water broke during pushing, and almost got midwife LH in the face. I suspect if she had broken my membranes earlier in my pushing with him, I wouldn't have needed to push so long, but I think we didn't effectively communicate to her that they had not yet broken. It was a disorganized kind of birth for him, despite it feeling very calm at the time lol :) Anyway, it was neat to feel the "traditional" water release, and I was careful to maneuver myself out of bed and to the toilet without making a mess. I woke PB.

I called the midwife on call right away, as instructed, because my first delivery had gone so fast, we expected this one to be faster. I had only met midwife C once, at the home visit one week earlier (!) but we had hit it off and I felt really comfortable with her. In fact, I was really glad we "timed" the birth to be on the weekend she was on call. She let me know midwife KK,who would be her second, would reach me first. KK was on our midwife team with Bean, but had not been there for his birth - I was glad she would be there for this one. C asked me questions about how the contractions felt and I didn't know how to answer her. As with Bean, I woke with active labour - the contractions were already a minute long, and about five minutes apart. On the other hand, they weren't terribly intense and I still didn't know if it was just cramping or needing to poop or something. I felt a little muddled talking to her! 

While we waited, PB pulled the futon mattress off the frame and laid it flat on the living room floor, covered with the shower curtain and a dark bedsheet (same set-up as with Bean.) We also set up a little table for the midwives to lay out their equipment. KK arrived at some point. I did most of my dilating standing up this time, which had been too painful with Bean, but worked this time. I would feel a sharp wanting-to-poop with an internal stretching/tearing kind of thing - and I envisioned the orange birdcage with the golden bars pulling out and back on the tight round muscles around the uterus (I will explain this image in a later post - it's part of my hypnobirthing strategy, although I wouldn't say I practiced or used much hypnobirthing in this delivery. I think having gone through it once, I had a deep abiding sense of my capabilities, and probably these images came to mind because I had previously thought so much about them.) I did a little dance, from foot to foot, on my toes, while moaning and breathing. I felt these contractions as both more intense than with Bean but less painful, if that makes sense. I had a flash of fear with Bean, alone in my basement wondering why it was so intenese so fast, when I understood why we want the drugs to take it all away. I did not have the fear this time, but I had more self-pity. I had more moments of why-must-this-be-so-hard kind of thing. I remember this time my face would get all crampy and scrunched with pain. KK listened to Sprout's heart a few times and all was well.

C arrived and met PB for the first time (lol) and my next contraction felt push-y. I went to lay down then got back up, I couldn't get comfortable (ha! Is any of this comfortable??), I felt restless, like an animal pacing a cage, looking for something productive to help myself. I guess this was transition, my thinking brain took a backseat. I remember asking rather pitifully, "What's next?" by which I meant, "Please check me." I wanted some reassurance, that this would be over soon, that I was making progress, that I could push the way my body felt. C suggested a hand and knees position on the mattress - I leaned on the futon frame and had some more face-scrunchy, push-y contractions. I was still waiting for confirmation from the midwives that I could push, and I felt a little angry that they weren't giving it to me. They are wise women, and I think they knew I needed to take back responsibility for my birth, stop giving my power to them, and know within myself when I was ready. (I know that sounds hippie dippy as all get out, but that's what I felt!)

It had been about an hour and a half. I didn't know when to call our friend N to come take care of Bean - it was the middle of the night, he was sleeping through it all, and I hated to disturb her needlessly if this was going to go on for awhile. But it clearly wasn't. I'm glad we called her when we did.

C asked if I'd like to take my underwear off (a good idea for having a baby!) and we found the infamous mucus plug (there is no good phrase for this. Bloody show is just as bad. Whatever. It is what it is, but someone should come up with a nicer way to name this thing.) I suddenly felt hot and sweaty and took off my nightgown, too. C asked if I felt hot, and when I said yes, she said, "I think your baby will be here very soon." This was as close as she got to telling me, you're complete, you can push, and she did it in very midwife-y way that mostly meant, follow your body. I had no internal exam to confirm I was at 10cm, I just did what felt right. I had two or so more push-y contractions against the futon frame, where I felt a perineal bulge and back pain. I knew I preferred pushing on my back (darn my weak low back!) so I knew it was time to turn over and get this show on the road!

PB had been helping me with low back massage throughout, because it really helped me handle the pain and pressure. I needed him to push against my lumbosacral junction, right in the middle, as hard as he could. He smiled through most of my labour, and encouraged me to smile. His joy was contagious, he said to me, "I like when you're in labour. It makes me laugh. You're so fun to watch." I suppose this would enrage a lot of labouring women, because it doesn't feel very fun, but being his wife, I knew what he meant and the love behind it. If he didn't have this joy and was all serious, I think that would have scared me - it really picked me up to have him keep smiling. He's the best birth partner, well, whole life partner I could ask for <3

Once laying on my back, I propped up my head and shoulders with pillows (called the inverted J position, because your body looks a bit like a backwards J leaning back.) PB knelt/lay by my left side, holding my left hand with his left hand,for me to squeeze, and supporting my head with his right. This helped me keep my chin pulled to my chest during pushes, which is really important and helpful for me to keep the energy of my pushes directed downward. (I know not every woman likes the chin-to-chest thing...) I remembered to keep my mouth open and loose, instead of clenching my teeth. (This is a Gaskin thing, about keeping all the body sphincters loose, because they run off the same neural circuits, and if an upper muscle ring is tight i.e. the mouth, the lower muscle ring i.e. the cervix, cannot loosen.) I would hold my breath from the start of a push until the most active,peak of it, and then let it out in a whoosh. This is the very same purple pushing hypnobirthing taught me not to do, but it's how I got Bean out, and I figured to just go with what works. I think it was helpful that I let myself sort of sink into the contractions and really feel the wave of it, and know the most productive times to bear down.

C knelt in front of me and put my feet on her knees. This was much nicer than with Bean, when each midwife grabbed one of my feet, and I had to pull back on my thighs, to spread my legs during pushes. C kept the right pressure on my legs without me having to hold anything, and all I really wanted to hold was PBs hand, anyway. But I did feel bad pushing on her legs so hard, I wonder what the longterm effects on her legs and knees are - I can't imagine it feels very good to be in that position for so long with such strong forces being exerted on her joints. That's just the Chiropractor in me speaking.

I was having hamstring cramps and worried I would run out of steam or get a cramp at a key moment during a key push. This time, I knew how to push into my perineum and was not afraid of the bulging feeling, like the baby was going to come out of my butt instead. This was a fear I had to overcome during pushing for Bean. N arrived shortly after I started pushing, and I managed to introduce her to the midwives through my breathing, they all laughed at me. She went downstairs and folded laundry because she is a sweetheart. I was worried about how loud I was being, but she says I wasn't very loud at all. I didn't wake Bean, anyway.

I did remember I didn't like the burning feeling of crowning, I was afraid of how long it went on with Bean, but I let the fear go, and I needn't have worried, because it didn't last long this time around. During a contraction, I would have a set of two maybe three good pushes, then rest between for a bit. I had two or three sets of burning when Sprout's head first started peeking-and-retreating. Then there were two or three more sets to where Sprout would crown and the head would stay, which C called "bringing baby around the pubic bone." 

KK checked Sprout's heartrate every two or three sets of pushes, and was very reassuring. During Bean's delivery, the constant heartrate checking sort of irked me, because that midwife had been more serious about it, with her serious face on and seriously writing it down with her serious hands. I suppose that is just her demeanor, there was never any concern with Bean's heartrate. I thought that I might ask the midwives to just forego Doppler during this delivery. Then I was privileged to support a friend (N! Who was sitting patiently in the basement folding my laundry :) through her delivery in a hospital, and saw what continuous fetal monitoring looked like. By comparison, a few Doppler checks didn't seem so intrusive after all, and it is, of course, very important to monitor the heartrate, as it is one of the first indicators of baby's distress. So it would have been irresponsible to drop it, and I'm glad KKs methods were calm and reassuring.

There were many comments as Sprout crowned about her having lots of hair, and I remember the sense of joy building like electricity during this time. It is so amazing to hear how powerful and strong you are at the height of delivery. The burning became constant, even during the rest periods, as I stretched around the head. C was an absolute genius about coaching my pushes to give time for the head and perineum to shape around each other, so I wouldn't tear. I could have pushed Sprout out very quickly, because I am powerful in my pushes. As it was, I pushed for an hour, which is half the time I took for Bean, so it felt quick to me. C told me to pant through the second part of my later contractions and not push, because she wanted to slow me down. It's not instinct to slow down at this point, everything points to let's-be-DONE-already! But I'm really (really really) glad she directed me in this, because I would have torn otherwise, and in every way possible I can think to express it, not tearing is a gift beyond measure. I would gladly push for two hours if it meant I wouldn't tear.

I had a set of pushes when I felt Sprout's head was halfway out. A second set of pushes and I felt her head push through, and very loudly said, "Thank God!" C quietly said, "One, two...three! nuchal rings. Another push please" then unwrapped the cord from Sprout's neck. I didn't know what a nuchal ring was (oi!) which was maybe good, because I might have had a panic moment then. As it is, C was super duper calm about it, just asked for another little effort from me to push Sprout out enough to give her the room to loosen the loops, it was very quick. Nuchal rings are very common, though three is a little rare. They are nothing to worry about, in the grand scheme of things (they can become something to worry about, I suppose.) I would not have pushed just then, because once her head was out I wanted to rest before the push for her shoulders and body (unlike with Bean, once his head was out I just kept pushing even though the most active part of the contraction was over because I just wanted him out!) But C very calmly did what her training told her to do, and I am grateful. Sprout's cord was much long than Bean's and seemed much skinnier. I wonder if the nuchal rings were why she seemed less active in the womb than Bean (other than simple activity differences of personality and maybe gender) and I also wonder if they are why her head stability was not as good as his at birth, and took longer to strengthen.

I had one more easy push for Sprout's shoulders and body to slide out, and then she was up on my chest and we were saying hello. She did and does have a whole pile of beautiful, dark hair. She was also covered head-to-toe in thick white vernix, even more than Bean. Is this from the heartburn?! It took way longer for her vernix to rub into her skin, and I did have to wipe it out of some of her creases, because it made the skin raw underneath (poor baby.) It was a great relief to be done, a great rush of love hormones, and I drank it all up. That's why I don't remember the pain - I would actually say I didn't find the process all that painful (I know, I am a cliche.)

I don't remember precisely what happened next. At some point we looked to see she was a girl. This was a surprise in the sense that, statistically the Y is strong in PBs family, and so another boy was more likely. But it was not a surprise in the sense that many things were different in this pregnancy (less nausea, more heartburn, carried lower and wider - all things that can be explained by 2nd-pregnancies-are-different, but if you give credence to folk wisdom...) and everyone (my mom, staff, patients) had been predicting a girl all along. I had that mom gut feeling she was a girl later in the pregnancy, but just kept telling myself and others it was probably a boy.

C carried out the newborn exam, Sprout's Apgars were 9 and 10 or something like that. We moved the futon back onto the frame so I could sit up and try nursing. I was nervous about this because starting Bean on the b00b had been such an ordeal. C has a long career history as a lactation consultant, she was so helpful it's ridiculous, and Sprout was a natural. We did a little hamburgering to help her latch, and then she just took to it like a fish in water. C actually perched on the arm of the futon, which is not padded, and held my b00b for me, so I could concentrate on orienting Sprout's body, which demonstrates her commitment and support of good breastfeeding - she is a gem. Sprout ate from each side for more than 20 minutes, which C assured me would really help cement the breastfeeding relationship. It was lovely.

Normally the 2nd midwife doesn't stick around much past the birth, but KK stayed so she and C could go get breakfast. N stayed all day to play with Bean, while I nursed and napped and got to know Sprout (thank-you, N!) 

Both of my labours started about the same time of night: 2:45 for Bean and he arrived at 7:17, 7 pounds 4 ounces and 20 inches long, on a Thursday I was scheduled to work, five days before due date. 

3:00 for Sprout and she arrived at 5:25, 7 pounds 7 ounces and 21 inches long, on a Monday one week after I stopped working, a week before due date.

I don't know about "fair of face" or "far to go" but everything around here is bonny and blithe and good and gay as far as I'm concerned.


  1. Thanks Jo for posting your birth story!! Mine won't be quite so interesting as yours!!! With your symptoms, makes me wonder if I am carrying a little girl!! :)

  2. Great story! I'm so happy to be a part of it.

  3. That's an incredible story. But its weird to think of us as grown ups now. Especially given how long we've known each other. OMG. I just did the math. We were like, EIGHT when we met.

  4. ....(getting up after fainting from the vibrant and descriptive narrative)...(deep breaths)...

    One of the greatest moments of our lives, but uh, you're quite definitely the word painter! Quite the visual?!

    (now going for a stiff drink)...Cheers!