Thursday, June 13, 2013

Welcome, Frances

I wrote our birth story for us - me, and Frances, and Aaron, but I decided I wanted to share it here too.

On Monday, May 20, two days after my due date, I was not very comfortable. My sporadic contractions had gotten a little more difficult to enjoy - as I had been previously, with excitement about the possibility of actually going into labor. It was Whit Monday, one of the four German holidays this May, so there wasn’t really anywhere to go or anything to do. I decided to skip out on a planned movie viewing with my Deutschkurs, as I didn’t feel like I could sit and be comfortable through the film. Aaron stayed home too.

Sometime after we went to bed Monday night, I started being woken by much more regular contractions. In bed, I downloaded an app for my iPhone and started timing them - about 10-12 minutes apart. I was sleeping in between, but got pretty jolted awake by each contraction, around a minute long. Breathing through them, I stayed in bed snoozing for most of the night. Eventually that wasn’t working well anymore and I moved to the rocking chair in the bedroom, thinking about how I would someday - it seemed very far off still - sit in that same place and rock an actual baby.

Tuesday morning, of course, I was tired from my poor sleep. I spent another day at home and Aaron stayed too, because I didn’t feel like I could be alone. I was able to nap quite a bit, and the contractions spaced out dramatically - every half hour or even every few hours for most of the day, with periods where they were more intense. They felt like bad cramps across the bottom band of my huge belly and my lower back. Alexa came for a visit on Tuesday afternoon, and my memories of that are also hazy. I remember her wanting to check the baby’s heartbeat during a contraction and being glad I happened to have a few while she was there. She also wanted to palpate for position, and for the first time I did not enjoy this part of the visit - it hurt to have her pressing on my uterus. There was a funny moment when we discovered that Baby Turon, after hanging out facing my left side for weeks, had flipped over to face right. Alexa said, “kicks over here?” and I said no, never, always on the left. She stood up and my belly made a huge movement as the baby started kicking on the right, and we all laughed.

Tuesday evening, the contractions started coming more regularly again, and I decided to sleep in the guest bedroom to avoid bothering Aaron all night moving around and making noises. I had the thought that he should be well rested to support me through labor - although at no point do I actually remember thinking to myself that I would be in “real” labor anytime soon. The night was pretty unpleasant. I much more quickly got to the point, as I had Monday night, where I couldn’t cope with a contraction lying down. I made a big stack of pillows against the wall and slouched against that, snoozing in between and contracting again, every 10-12 minutes for about a minute and a half or two each. Sitting up on the exercise ball and bouncing also helped, but it was hard to get there fast enough when the contraction started, and moving after they had started was pretty unbearable.

At some point I also discovered that driving my fists into my lower back helped a lot with the pain, so I did that with each contraction. I also realized at some point that I was tensing my entire pelvic floor as a means of managing the pain, but that to do so was counterproductive. It was scary to try to relax all my muscles with each contraction, but I started doing that. The process of overcoming the urge to clench with a mindful instruction to relax became a way of focusing through the pain. When the sun finally started coming up, I was so relieved - not only was the night over, but Aaron would be up soon.

I am really not sure what I did or what happened Wednesday. Like Tuesday, with the light the contractions slowed way down. I tried again to nap, but found that this would create a pattern where I would sleep deeply for about 15-20 minutes, then wake up with a real whiz-bang of a contraction. I read some over these days - starting and finishing Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott, and starting Desert Solitaire for familiar comfort. At some point Aaron suggested a walk, which is something I had wanted to do in early labor. Although it sounded just awful, it seemed like a good idea, so we did a figure-8 around a few of our neighborhood blocks, stopping a few times while I worked through some half-hearted contractions. I was very uncomfortable despite that the contractions were not at all frequent during the day - my back was sore and my body just felt tired, in addition to the sleep deprivation. Still, it was cozy to be at home. And still, I did not entertain the thought that I was in labor. We read up on prelabor and prodromal labor, and I tried to steel myself for another week of the same. Since my contractions were not getting closer together, even at night, it seemed impossible that this might really be labor.

I was afraid going to bed Wednesday night, and with good reason. Sitting or slouching during contractions became impossible, so I moved from my spare-bedroom nest to the living room. Between contractions, I slept sitting up on the exercise ball with my forehead resting on the back of the couch. When a contraction started, I would get to my feet, lean on the couch, rock and moan and wait for it to be over. Still every 10 minutes, the contractions had lengthened to an average of two and a half minutes. This just seemed unfair at that point, as I’d looked up how long contractions usually are in hard labor, and they seem to usually max out at about a minute and half.

Once again, when light started peeping through the windows and skylight, I was so relieved: only a few more hours until I could get a little break and have Aaron around. As before, with the light things tapered off some, but the same pattern from Wednesday got even more exaggerated - trying to nap, I would fall hard asleep for 15 minutes, then be wrenched awake up with a totally unmanageable contraction. It felt very discouraging … as of course I knew I wasn’t anywhere close to actually being in labor.

We were scheduled for a visit from Alexa in the late afternoon. Aaron had done a little reading and thought that getting in the pool might slow my contractions down and let me get some rest, which sounded great to me. He called Alexa to see if she thought this was an ok idea. She said yes and asked if she should come earlier in the day instead. I said yes, please, definitely, so she headed out toward us around 10.

The pool still needed some inflation and the liners put in, so Aaron and I worked on that and had started filling it when Alexa arrived. She sat down behind me and rubbed my back and shoulders and gave me a bit of a hug, and I started crying. I was so frustrated with increasingly difficult contractions that weren’t going anywhere, I was sure, and so tired from lack of sleep. She said, “I’m sure this baby is coming tonight,” and if I didn’t actually roll my eyes, I’m sure I thought about it. I just wanted to get in the pool and turn the contractions off.

Soon enough it was full enough and I climbed in. The water felt amazing. I was instantly so much more relaxed. The first few contractions in the water felt almost nice - they were so much more do-able than on land. Aaron turned on my “Downbeat Birth” playlist and I relaxed, rubbed my belly, and enjoyed the water with sporadic contractions. Alexa left to get a batch of groceries in the light rain.

Over time, Aaron and I worked through the continuing contractions together, evolving a set of coping mechanisms that turned into these official “titles” in my head - a sort of menu of assistances that I could pick from for any given contraction. There was RELAX, in which Aaron would say softly through the contraction, yoga-style, “Relax your toes … relax your legs … relax your pelvic floor … relax your shoulders” and so on until the contraction subsided. There was WIPE - my face started getting incredibly flushed and hot with each contraction and Aaron would gently pat and wipe it with a cool damp cloth. There was also LOW - I was trying to make smooth, low moans to go with the relaxing, and Aaron would gently remind me to lower the tones and tell me I was doing a great job. As time went on, sometimes I just wanted him to hold my hand. It was kind of incredible how much of a difference this made - if he had gone to get me water or was otherwise not there right when a contraction started, it was easy to feel panicky just for lack of his hand to hold.

At times, the contractions seemed to taper off. Alexa had mentioned on her visit Tuesday that rubbing my belly could set off contractions - at that time, with the idea in mind that I should forego belly-rubbing if I wanted to take a break. In labor, I found that rubbing large, firm, rhythmic circles on my belly could stir up heavy-duty contractions. I also would pull myself up to squatting in the birth pool and stay there until I could feel a contraction coming on. It was hard sometimes to want to take these measures!

What was worse, though, and (I think) the only time I was kind of whiny, was getting out of the pool. Alexa suggested that I get out and pee, and once or twice try walking around to get contractions going. Being out of the pool felt like some sort of cruel torture. Not only would I start shivering violently, but the general pain in my body and especially the few contractions outside the water were really difficult. I was so glad to have the pool to help me cope.

I ate and drank moderately throughout - we had bottles of Gatorade, Sprite, Fanta, bread and cheese that Alexa had bought, and Aaron made at least one peanut butter banana smoothie which I sipped here and there.

While I was laboring, I felt very present - aware of my surroundings, interactive; I actually had the thought “I’m not in ‘laborland’!” But looking back after the fact, everything has a sort of haze over it.

We had one or the other of my two playlists going the whole time, and while I vaguely remember occasionally singing along, I don’t remember noticing the music in general.

Alexa was a background presence. She checked the heartbeat regularly, often handing Aaron the transducer to place low on my belly in the water. The baby’s heartbeat was strong the entire time, prompting positive comments from Alexa about what a strong baby it was, which made me feel great.

At some point, she asked if she could check me, and that seemed good to me, so she did. The report was that I was a stretchy 7-8 centimeters, with somewhat of a cervical lip. Alexa seemed surprised and impressed, and it seems like she might have said at this point that I could consider pushing if it felt right. (This is one of those fuzzy details - I’m not sure if that’s what actually happened.)

I was also surprised that I was so far along, particularly because I still, somehow, didn’t really have the mindset that I was in labor, let alone that I might be getting close to transition or pushing. I think around this point or shortly after, though, I did have a transition rest. I remember snoozing or almost snoozing on the side of the birth pool. I don’t really remember coming back “to” and starting to push.

Pushing was odd at first. I had the thought, I’ve had all this practice over several days learning how to have and deal with contractions, but I have no idea how to push. I tried to think if I had ever read how to push and came up with nothing. I worked my way through some small contractions making little grunts. I told Alexa I didn’t feel like I was getting big enough contractions to let me push effectively. She suggested standing up and walking around some in the pool, or squatting, both of which helped. She also pointed out, as it was starting to get dark, that my contractions seemed to thrive at night and they would probably pick back up by themselves as it got later.

I started getting into a bit of a groove after a while, and was incredibly pleased when my water broke suddenly during a push. I asked if it was clear and it was. This, for some reason, was the first point at which I really, truly believed that I was in labor and going to have a baby sometime soon!

I think I pushed a little more in the water after that. I don’t remember feeling a big difference in pressure or intensity with the sac broken. With my permission, Alexa held back my cervical lip once during a push, which was pretty unpleasant. During pushing, Aaron had been continuing to talk me through contractions, although I don’t think we were using the coping strategies any longer. At some point, Alexa said, “Aaron and I are going to go in the other room for 3-5 minutes,” and I said that would be ok, that it seemed doable. She also suggested I get out of the water and try pushing on land for a while. Although this seemed like an awful idea comfort-wise, I was eager to really get things going, so I said I’d give it a shot for a few minutes. I asked if I should or could push on the lip myself, and she said that would be fine to do occasionally.

My memories of pushing are clearer. It was hard to get comfortable on the towels outside the birth pool. I tried hands and knees and sitting upright. Standing, Captain Morgan style, seemed totally out of the question. I eventually ended up semi-sitting, leaning back against the couch, rolling my head back and arching my back and hips into the air during pushes.

Meanwhile, I was feeling more and more competent at using contractions to push effectively. The room was dark and quiet (except for the music, which was on the whole time but not very noticeable to me). I felt safe and powerful, and it felt right to start growling and roaring. I was holding my perineum with each push, and occasionally reaching inside my vagina to use two fingers and push my cervical lip up around baby’s head during a push. It was intense, but it didn’t hurt as it had when Alexa did it. Occasionally more amniotic fluid gushed out. It was so cool to feel and know what was going on inside my body, and touching the baby’s head as it came further and further down was a major boost for my stamina and excitement.

Pushing didn’t hurt, per se; it was more that sustaining the intensity of the contractions and pushing was an incredibly intense mental experience. There was nowhere else to go, or be, and no way to take a break and reflect. It was probably one of the most intense experiences of concentration in my life - thinking about one thing and only one thing by myself there in the dark. Although, I wasn’t quite by myself. When I started being able to feel the baby coming down, down, its skull growing into a larger and larger bulge in my vagina and on my perineum, I began talking to it - “Come on, baby!” and I really did feel as though we were working together on baby’s impending exit.

Alexa continued to come and very unobtrusively check baby’s heartbeat and get me water, but otherwise she and Aaron stayed in the back room while I pushed and pushed, roaring my way through. (Actually, I learned that Aaron came out occasionally to ask if I wanted him there - and I apparently kept turning him down.) Time passed, although I had no idea how long it had been - 4-5 hours - until after the fact.

At some point, I got back in the pool - on Alexa’s suggestion, I assume - and became aware that she was staying out in the living room. She asked me to think wide, wide, wide, and open my pelvis as wide as possible. I morphed my roars into “wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide” and thought about my hips just opening up and out sideways to let baby slide out. I think Alexa checked me again at some point. Baby’s head was so huge and near in my hand on my perineum. I knew, somehow, that we were close, and asked Alexa to please have Aaron come out - to which he responded “I’m right here!”

Finally, with one enormous push, out came baby’s head, and maybe body - I’m not even sure I pushed separately for the shoulders. It was a completely overwhelming moment. Without thinking at all I reached down and scooped baby up to my chest. I was in total disbelief, despite everything, that I had actually just pushed my baby out into the world. The cord was tight and I was having a hard time lifting baby as high on my chest as I wanted. Alexa came and unlooped it from baby’s neck and wrapped a few oven-warmed blankets around the baby. Aaron was leaning in so close and we were just staring at the baby. I was running an involuntary commentary - “I can’t believe it worked! Oh my god, it’s a baby, oh baby, I love you, I cannot believe you came out!” I held baby up high and kissed its feet and stared at its face. Baby had not cried at all - a few little whimpers, and eyes closed tight against even the dim light of the room.

After a few moments I asked if Aaron wanted to check the sex and rotated the baby toward him, then promptly revoked the offer by parting baby’s legs myself and discovering we had a daughter. I was overjoyed. I believe I asked Aaron, “Frances? Frances Elisabeth?” and it seemed so right, so suitable for her, that we agreed right away that was her name.

I wanted to get out of the pool, so Aaron helped me climb out, holding Frances, and lay down on the huge pile of pillows and warm blankets that Alexa had ready on the couch. I put Frances on my chest and marveled at her. She was quiet and relaxed, eyes squeezed shut. I think I tried to help her toward my nipple and she latched on. (At some point Alexa also helped get her latched, but I’m not sure if it was this first time or a little later to help my uterus contract down). Alexa ran quick APGAR tests - although I didn’t realize that’s what she was doing until later, and felt blessedly undisturbed. Aaron leaned in and we gawked at our newborn daughter together.

With Frances’s sucking, I could feel mild contractions, and I told Alexa I thought I was ready to push out the placenta. I gave a tentative push, and out it slid, much larger than I anticipated but not painful. With her separation from me, Frances gave her first real cry - just a small ‘goodbye, hello’ yelp. Alexa clamped and cut the cord - neither of us felt drawn to this task - and showed us the placenta (the next morning it occurred to me to wonder where it had ended up - in a bowl next to the sofa, covered primly in chux pads).

We stayed on the sofa breastfeeding for a while, then Alexa weighed and measured her. Aaron held his daughter for the first time while Alexa checked me over. After I washed up a little and peed, the three of us convened on the sofa for the first time together as a family.

Welcome to the world, Frances! We can’t wait to get to know you.

1 comment:

  1. Jessica, what a wonderful story! I enjoyed every, single detail. Thank you for sharing it with us. My heart is filled and warmed with your beautiful words of love. You did an excellent job, mama!