Friday, November 23, 2012

More Waterbirth Wonders

Hazel gently holding her new baby sister's tiny foot
Birth is such a wonderful and transformative experience.  At least, it can (and, dare I say it -should) be.  Calliope is my third child, and my second child born peacefully at home, in the water.  Once again, I loved it, though it was actually quite different than the last time!

I went into a lot of detail about why I chose to do a home waterbirth when I wrote about Hazel's birth, so I won't go into all of that here, but if you're curious about it - or want to know more about my first two birth stories - you can read that little novella HERE.

Calliope is such a little wonderbabe.  She has just been such a huge joy, to ALL of us, since her happy arrival a few days ago...I can hardly wrap my brain around how amazing this whole process has been.

So here's how it all went down:

The first awesome moments of life
The day hurricane Sandy rolled through, I'm pretty sure I could have triggered labor if I hadn't been so extremely overly cautious. (What?  I was a little nervous about the prospect of ending up in labor in the middle of a historically destructive storm with no power or water (NO BIRTH TUB!) and no way for my midwives to reach me...) As it was, I started getting contractions that day, with no rhythm or rhyme to them whatsoever, and while they didn't build or get any more consistent or regular, they also didn't stop completely from the day of the full moon until the day before the birth actually took place-10 days later.

(Well, almost, anyway. The day before she arrived we went to Bed Bath & Beyond to get some stuff to make mom's post-op recovery at home a bit easier, and as we ambled through the store at about 3pm, I noticed that the contractions weren't changing as I changed activities anymore.  I decided baby would be coming that night one way or the other, dag gummit, and decided to do all of the 'natural triggers' I could think of that were known to kickstart labor if the kid was actually ready.  As soon as I finished cooking my chinese eggplant in garlic sauce dish, they disappeared entirely. Go figure.)

Anyway, I woke up at about 2:35am on November 8, and was mostly just annoyed that I was awake.  I was having really intense contractions, but that was nothing new after the last couple weeks of waking up contracting only to have them dissipate after I emptied my bladder.  Plus, I think I'd been aware of my contractions in my dreams, which I was having trouble shaking, so nothing seemed odd to me at the time.  I used the bathroom and crawled back into bed, aware at this point that these were different, since my trip to the bathroom hadn't changed anything.  Aware on some level that it was labor, so I should get some rest, I tried to go back to sleep.  I figured Baby would come sometime in the morning.  Mairi and Erin (the two lovely women at M.A.M.A.s Midwifery who had graciously taken me into their practice when I suddenly moved into their area in my third trimester) had instructed me to call them if I was awake for an hour with contractions, so I tried to rest and figured I'd call them around 3:30 if I really couldn't sleep.

But I quickly discovered laying down was not so comfortable. And every time I had a contraction, Hazel would grab onto me and fuss in her sleep...

I got up and walked around, breathed through them, and noticed that I didn't get much of a break between them.  I somehow managed, in all my baby-prep over the course of the 40 weeks + that I had been pregnant, not to download a contraction timing app as I had planned, so I figured what better time than now?

Except that I couldn't.  The contractions were coming so fast and strong I couldn't focus on finding a decent app.  So I did the natural thing and woke James up to do it for me.  He did, though I'm guessing it was mostly superfluous, since I ended up only timing contractions for oh, 20 minutes, tops?  We also looked up who was on call at that hour, and I broke down and called Erin at 3:15. I hadn't even begun to time them yet so I was afraid that I wouldn't have enough info to give her, but I think my voice on the phone as we talked probably gave her all the info she needed.  She said she'd start gathering her things and we'd see how it went.

The first thing James asked when I woke him was if he should start filling up the birth pool.  I had said no, but now began to rethink that answer.  Once I got off the phone, I asked him to set it up, and all of a sudden, up pops Hazel as if it was 3:20 in the afternoon, not 3:20 in the morning, and she declares "I want to help!" and so James had little miss sunshine by his side as he staggered out of bed to set it up.  She gave me a big, awesome, excited hug before tending her duties, and I felt so connected with that little amazel, and so glad she was there and so involved and eager.

Hazel Amazel, on the job!
While they worked, I set about trying to reach Liz, my dear friend and a midwifery student herself, who was going to be present for the birth.  My many attempts at reaching her were unsuccessful...

Mom woke up to the noise of James and Hazel inflating the tub in the living room, and came in to find me.  I wanted my bouncy ball, so eventually we all ended up in the living room except for Cadence, who was still fast asleep.  The ball helped, a lot, but these contractions were still coming super fast and super strong, and I was still kinda groggy and was having trouble relaxing into them as easily as I had been able to during Hazel's birth.  I tried writing an "it's happening" blog post as I had done before, but I got about as far as opening the blogger app on my phone before I abandoned the phone entirely, timing app, inability to reach Liz and all...

The ball wasn't helping as much as it had been before and it crossed my mind that my body wanted me to push.  "Not yet" I thought, "there's no way, it's too soon.  Maybe I just need to go to the bathroom."  So I did.  While I was in there, Mom passed by the door carrying Carmen, and she was muttering to her about 'not doing that'...turns out Carmen was intrigued by something in the tub, and attacked visible punctures, buuuut....

I went in to wake Cadence up at probably 3:45.  That kid is such a heavy sleeper, it took me three contractions to get her up!  I tried sitting on the inflatable Rody horse that she'd left by the side of the bed in lieu of the ball (which was still in the other room) which only kind of worked, but amused me nonetheless.  Cadence was sooo happy when she finally woke up enough to understand what I was saying to her, and gave me the biggest, most encouraging hug before dashing off to help fill the pool.

Best. Helpers. Ever.
I returned to my ball, then back to the bathroom, all the while reminding myself to let it out on sound.  I wasn't truly letting the sound travel through me this time though, (probably because I was holding back to avoid pushing), so while it helped it wasn't the wundertool it had been last time.  The tub was still filling, and I was tempted to tell James to hurry it up...but that really wouldn't have done any good, 'cause he can't make the water flow any faster...

Using the bathroom helped...maybe...just a tad...but I found myself returning to it very soon after I left, and it was during this second visit that I hit the "get the cloth OFF ME!" stage where I couldn't stand clothes anymore, so I abandoned the oversized T-shirt I was wearing on the bathroom floor.  At some point in there I told James that I needed him to call Erin and tell her I was wrong, this birth was gonna happen a lot sooner than I had previously thought...Luckily she'd listened to my voice, not my words, when I told her I didn't think she needed to rush over here, because she reported that she was already getting off the beltway and would be arriving momentarily.  It was becoming harder and harder not to give in to the urge to push, which meant I was resisting my body's natural impulses instead of relaxing into them, and that made it all a bit more scary and painful.

I knew the water would help, so I climbed into the tub even though it wasn't quite full and was a bit too hot, and the relief was instantaneous.  It is truly unbelievable how immediate and palpable the relief is as soon as you get in the water.  It was perfectly heavenly.  Until I realized I still had that freakishly intense urge to push...and then, after a couple more contractions wherein I didn't give in, my body began to push naturally.  I was resistant, mostly because I was not mentally prepared - my midwife hadn't arrived yet and this was all going so fast and I hadn't even gotten myself into the trance-state I spent most of my labor with Hazel in...I think I actually said "No" or "oh no" or something to that effect out loud - which I guess raised some sort of red flag for me, because after that I was able to take a moment to assess the situation and realize that, while Erin wasn't there yet (Mairi was attending another birth that evening and wouldn't be able to join us) she was on her way, and I knew that I was safe, that I could do this, that it was ok to follow my body's lead and trust it, and kind of gave myself permission to not wait and follow someone else's schedule...after that things got much easier.

The phone rang during that intense contraction. It was Erin, confirming our door code to give to her birth assistant, Susan.  Erin said afterwards that her phone recorded that call as taking place at 4:04am.  In retrospect, I'm pretty sure it was that prolonged, intense contraction when my water broke - though I was admittedly unaware of it at the time.

I had some (organic trader joe's) pink lemonade mixed with seltzer on a table within my reach, and normally I love that (in fact, since the birth it has become a pretty serious obsession...I can't get enough!) but for whatever reason, that was completely unappealing in that moment.  I was getting super thirsty, but I really, really didn't want to ask for water because James' presence at the side of the tub was feeding me so much support, I did not want him to move, and mom was busy with the girls just then.  I can't explain how much connection I felt there...I have a fairly vivid memory of seeing him sitting beside the pool, but in analyzing that image it can't possibly be an actual visual recall, because he was sitting to the side and slightly behind me, and I had my eyes closed for most of it anyway...I must have just felt his presence so strongly my brain interpreted it as 'seeing' him there.

I did eventually give in and request water, and when he got up to go the room felt noticeably colder, somehow.  I was so glad when he came back, both for the water, and for the emotional hug his presence gave me.  I made my way to one side of the tub and kind of draped myself over the edge, resting my head on the side as I let the contractions roll through me. I was doing a better job of letting my body do what it needed to, and letting it out on sound, but I still had one major hangup:  I was feeling rectal pressure and my monkey-mind was all up in arms about that being the wrong direction, and I was feeling miserable and not giving in to what my body needed to do.

It was about this time that Erin arrived.  Having her steady, experienced presence enter the space was relieving - it was like struggling with a question and finally being able to discuss it with a trusted guru...she wasn't going to give me any answers or do the hard part for me, but her wisdom and experience was there for me to draw upon, and that felt like such a gift.

She hit the ground running, and, after telling me that, if I was still in the position I was in when the baby came, I should just sit back and bring the baby up in front of me, apologetically asked me if I could shift just a bit so she could better reach to check the baby's heart rate.  I told her I could move anywhere, as long as I wasn't in the middle of a contraction!  I really was still totally fine between contractions, and was excited that this was finally happening...though the contractions were coming so close together at this point that I didn't really have much time between them anyhow.  A quick listen and she declared that Baby sounded perfectly happy, but the water was a bit too hot, so we added some cold water to the tub and carried on.  Erin stepped behind me to the other side of the pool, and sort of embedded herself in the side of my consciousness...she was there, present, part of this support system holding me up, but not prominent or a focal point in any way.  It was just what I needed.

I was quietly aware of the buzzy excited energy of the girls, which, though they were being amazingly reverent and pretty calm and quiet, was feeding me plenty of positive, up-beat energy even as I began to consciously turn my focus to an inner calm.  I could feel the extremely primal comfort of my mother's presence in the room - calming, supporting, perhaps worrying just a tad, but only to a healthy, loving degree and nothing troubling...I was so grateful to have them all there, welcoming love and support from my surrounding generations...It really was a gift.  I am very thankful that this lady graced us with her arrival while mom was still here to help us welcome her.  While I'm sure everything would have gone just fine even if she hadn't been here, it wouldn't have been the same.  And the way she came was pretty perfect.

Right about this time, each of our three feline family members made their presence known to me, too...just for a moment, and I don't even know how exactly, but I became aware of each of them, individually, stationed throughout the room - though I couldn't tell you where they were...I just took note that all three were there, which surprised me a bit, since they'd all been a bit skittish since Puy's amputation, and Carmen and Puy had both been quite reclusive, especially when there were lots of people around...but all three of them were there with me in the room, too - even Puy in all her 3 legged post-op bad haircut glory...and it was wonderfully uplifting.

Which made me realize that my only hangups now were totally psychological, and I needed to let go in order to make this happen painlessly.  I told Erin about my irrational fear of my urge to push being in the wrong direction, and while she responded very sweetly about it being a totally normal fear and not needing to worry about it, just voicing it had allowed me to let go, and by the time she was into her speech, my body had moved on.

I admit, though, that I did hit a moment of despair and panic.  It happened approximately 30 seconds before the baby crowned.  As I mentioned, I was not at all in the trance-like 'labor state' that I achieved during my last birth...with this labor, there was no time to ease myself into that hypnotic state, I really just woke up in the thick of it with the really intense contractions, and everything happened so quickly I barely had time to process what was going on, and as such, everything was much more vividly 'real' to me on a conscious level this swirling surges of energy or one-ness with the water, just me, in my living room, surrounded by the physical presence of my loved ones, experiencing what I was experiencing.  And right after I had surrendered that fear to Erin and began to let my body do what it needed to do,  I got hit with the most intense pressure that I could possibly imagine and my mind nosedived even as I surrendered to it; I was suddenly acutely aware that, while this would pass and I'd be fine, it SUCKED right then, and I was present enough to be, well, present in it, and that meant I was stuck with it...I was solidly in the moment, and had to just experience this, and 'this' was extremely uncomfortable.  (Not painful, necessarily - oddly enough it registered as discomfort more than pain.) There was no escape, and I didn't know how long it would go on.

But, before the thought even had time to complete itself in my brain, suddenly all that pressure I'd been resisting proved itself right and I could feel the baby in the birth wasn't "the wrong direction", it was the baby trying to move past in her descent!  Suddenly I got it, and fully gave in to that same push I could feel her features as she traveled all the way down the canal and I felt the 'ring of fire' for less time than it took me to notice (literally, my brain said "ring o-"before the sensation had moved on)...Suddenly I knew we were just about done, her head was emerging! I reached down and put my hand on her head and tried to relax and not rush...I could feel her hair, I could feel the realness of her, my mind was on overdrive and I found myself saying something along the lines of "that's my baby's head! I'm holding my baby's head..." mostly, I think, as a way to steady myself and keep myself grounded, present, in the moment.  I had a brief moment between contractions, and then I could feel her moving again...I started to move backwards, I could hear James telling me to take my time, and not hurt myself (a reference to Hazel's birth, where I more or less consciously pushed her out knowing that I'd tear if I didn't wait for one more contraction) and I was amused and glad he said that, I tried to just chill and let her ease out...I could feel her spin as she emerged, I could feel her face with my fingers...Erin said something about small gentle pushes, and I tried that too, but she was sliding out of her own accord, so quickly...and then it was done, I sat back and saw the whole baby gently floating up towards me.  I scooped her up, it felt almost non-chalant, and I held her to my chest and marveled at her as she looked up at me like..."ok, what's this?"

Blurry, but I love it nonetheless...the glee of baby's grand arrival!! (photo thanks to my mom!!)

It was amazing.  And it was done.  It was 4:22am.  I hadn't even been in labor for 2 full hours.  Both girls were with James beside me, and together we all marveled at that sweet new life in my arms.  James said something to Cadence and Hazel about now being able to find out if it was a girl or a boy...which reminded me to check, 'cause I was lost in her little face at that moment.  Her serene little eyes taking it all in, and clearly wanting to go back to sleep.  I did check, obviously: "it's another girl!"

Glad to be here
She gave a couple good cries shortly thereafter, but that was it.  Otherwise she was content to cuddle with me and let this craziness unfold.  Susan, the birth assistant, arrived several minutes later, and offered us our first congrats.  Calliope and I stayed in the birth tub until I delivered the placenta, then got out and settled in on the couch.  It was splendid. Amazing.  I felt grand.  I wasn't even tired. I was totally on a natural high (James looked at me at one point quite a while later and just said "your pupils are so dilated right now..."), and loving life.  Calliope nursed (like a champ!) and once the cord stopped pulsing, James cut it. (Mairi and Erin had warned us ahead of time that they do it a little differently than most folks are used to..they left about 4 inches of cord attached to her belly, which, I guess due to increased surface area allowing more moisture to be wicked away, allows the cord to dry out & fall away much more quickly.  They weren't kidding - Calliope's cord fell of on day 3!) They checked me out (blood pressure low, but that's normal for me, everything else looked great.) Erin & Mairi had told us beforehand that, in their experience, mothers who put their hands on their babies' heads as they crowned, and then delivered into their hands were far less likely to tear - and even if they did, the tears tend not to be as bad, so I was cautiously hopeful that I wouldn't need to be stitched this time...but I was still (pleasantly!) surprised when Erin informed me that there was a teensy tear that didn't even warrant fixing, especially if I iced I did that. No stitches!  Fabulous!!

I can't help thinking she looks like a much cuter version of the Face of Bo in this one...wise old (smiley!) soul!
Erin also checked the placenta - it was whole, and it did have some definite calcification, which meant that it was older and was beginning to lose its functionality-but no danger yet, so Calliope came at a good time.  She also had deep lines on the bottoms of her feet, and long fingernails -both of which are additional signs of being well-cooked! Interestingly, though, she also arrived with nice coating of vernix, which you usually only see in babies born at a younger gestational I take these contradicting indicators to mean that she arrived at precisely the right moment for her.  Good job, kid.

It's been unseasonably warm for November...
Hazel decided she wanted to go back to bed, and Cadence stayed up to help Erin check out and measure Calliope (13.5" head circumference, weighing 7lbs 1oz, and 20" long). She checked her all out (the word "perfect" was tossed out at some point) and my wonderful family made sure I had plenty to eat and drink (that eggplant dish was exactly what I was that pink lemonade & seltzer!).  Susan departed, and we chatted with Erin while she did her paperwork and such.  Turns out mine was the 4th labor in 2 days, and I'd woken poor Erin up a mere hour after she'd gone to bed after returning home from another birth...and she had to be at a conference by 8am.  (When we saw her again two days later for a follow up, mom jokingly asked if she'd finally gotten to sleep.  She said no.  Evidently all their November moms gave birth in the same week*. [Liz quipped that it was Mercury being in retrograde.]  And Mairi was still with the same poor mom who had been in labor when I was.  Just goes to show, every birth is unpredictable and different.)

An exhausted but intrepid Erin weighs baby Calliope 
As time went on, the pool began to list rather comically...James had begun to empty it, but it was becoming clear that the structural integrity of the pool had been seriously compromised.  As it drained, it kind of collapsed in on itself.  Thank you, birth pool, for lasting exactly as long as I needed you!

Baba with his oldest & youngest daughters
Anyway, Erin had James take off his shirt so he could have some skin-to-skin contact with Calliope (for bonding and warmth!), and helped me to the bathroom.  I took a quick rinse-off shower, and after I was clean and settled, Erin made sure we were set and departed. The sun was rising in the sky, it was a new day, and there we were - a family of five, hangin' out with Nana and the kitties, reveling, enjoying...

family of 5 
3 generations!
After Hazel's birth, because of the timing and the little hemorrhage episode I had, I was sent to bed as soon as I was set - it was the closing of the day, and I just got up the next day as a new chapter.  (And I was totally unaware of all the businessy things and cleanup that James dealt with...)  This time, however, labor had been so quick and easy that I didn't even feel tired.  I honestly tried to sleep, but I couldn't get my eyes to stay closed.  I'd try to relax into it, and my mind would wander and I'd forget I was supposed to be trying to sleep!  It was morning!  Had that all really just happened?? I had my baby! It was unreal...

My beautiful baby & me!
Mom and James finished emptying the pool, and Cadence and Hazel helped them to take EXCELLENT care of both me and Calliope, and we had an awesome first day as a family.  I can't explain how wonderful this experience was...despite being quite different than my last home water birth experience, which I described (even at the time!) as being "blissful."  I don't know that I would use that same word to describe this one, but I would say that it was awesome, and amazing, and wonderful, and empowering, exciting...even fun!  I can't say I preferred one experience to the other, they were each so unique and offered me so many new insights in different ways, and I'm sure the kids they brought forth will be different, and unique in their own wonderful ways, too.  I just love it.  I can't recommend homebirth or waterbirth highly enough.  It's just so comfortable and...humane.

Becoming a family of 5 is exhausting!
Welcome, little Calliope Sage!  I admit that I was scared and reluctant when I first found out I was pregnant for the third time...but here we are, less than two weeks since your wondrous arrival, and I already can't imagine life without you.  Thank you for coming to us, little one, thank you for making our family whole and bringing us the gift of your presence.  I'm so totally in love with you, my little pup.

Calliope Sage
I'll close this story with the lyrics to the song/wish/blessing that Mairi taught us all at our last group prenatal session before all these kids arrived.  I wish this for you, Calliope, that you are able to live a full, meaningful, awesome life, that touches those around you in a profound and positive way.  Make the most of it, kid.  I love you.

When you were born
you cried
and the world rejoiced.
Live your life so that when you die,
the world will cry 
and you'll rejoice.

Quality time with Nana

Carmen & Calliope:  Our oldest charge and our youngest 
Puy checks on the new kitten
Lily & Calliope: each the youngest of three. Lily likes to keep the new kitten warm.

Love this fabulous little soul.
*Throughout my pregnancy, I've felt a sort of spiritual kinship with wolves, and have thought of Calliope as my little wolf pup.  Because of this, I can't help but think of these 6 babies arriving into their respective dens all clustered together like that with the same midwives (seriously, it's SO UNUSUAL for that many babes who were expected over the span of a month to arrive all at once...) as being like her spiritual litter. Welcome to the world, all of you!

Cadence caresses her new baby sister's tiny head

EDIT TO ADD: Liz was understandably devastated that she missed the big event, but later shared with me a voicemail that she discovered on her phone when she got up that morning. I knew what it was instantly. Unbeknownst to me, James had valiantly continued to try to reach her on and off throughout, and the last time he called, he didn't hang up right away...her phone recorded the moment of Calliope's birth.