My Birth Story: An Almost Unassisted Birth
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or read the full story below:
1) early September 2013
I gather the 3 books out there on unassisted birth and read up...or rather try to. Completely unimpressed. There is not a single “how to” in the whole lot. Just a bunch of why I should do it, why the hospital sucks, and other people’s stories, religions, opinions. If you know me, I am more of a pragmatic, step-by-step sort of person. And in these 3 resources, and their corresponding websites, I find nothing to that effect.
In this mad search, nearing my daughter's due date, I am then led to two resources that do lend me many positive tools...Grantly Dick-Read’s Childbirth without Fear and Dr. White’s obscure, yet awesomely simple and helpful, 1970 cold war era pamphlet titled “Emergency Childbirth.”
Though these resources provide a good start to understanding birth in a way that will allow me to do it myself, I schedule a meeting with Whapio, founder of the Asheville-based midwifery school, The Matrona.
2) Tuesday September 17, 2013
I meet with Whapio today at the teahouse. She teaches midwives to attend birth “undisturbed” - and courses are taught online and in person. She also teaches a course on unassisted childbirth (which she unfortunately isn’t offering this time of year). So, I pick her brain about the mechanics of birth, what to have on-hand for unassisted birth, what signs of emergency to keep an eye out for (which would mean transferring to the hospital), the variations in normal birth, pain, pushing, stages of birth, all of that.
I meet with her to gain that last chip of confidence I need to fully commit to an unassisted homebirth. To gain knowledge so I don’t bring harm to myself or my unborn child. And to gain knowledge that will ultimately be transformed into the first handbook for unassisted, undisturbed birth. (Again, if you know me, I have a penchant for creating tools to fill gaps of information - things that I couldn't find when I needed them, I strive to make for others.)
Anyway, I emerge from this 3 hour meeting a changed woman. I have confidence. In knowing so much more, I feel like I need to know less. I feel prepared. I go home and tell my husband and we agree that this is the way we want to do it.
We collect a few additional supplies, discard a few, and just wait.
3) Thursday September 19, 2013
During my daily one mile walk to the neighborhood coffee house, I’m having contractions about every 5 or 6 minutes. They continue long after I’ve ordered my single Americano, sat down to work on Go Diaper Free, and got up far too many times to pee. I joke with the owner, Amber, an Austin and Brooklyn transplant, that I might just have my baby in their Cafe. They think it'd be pretty cool and I sit down to more contractions.
Per Grantly Dick-Read’s 1942 instructions, I welcome each contraction and allow them to do what they do: gradually open my cervix so little girl can make her entrance into this world. With every what-feels-like-a-menstrual-cramp down below, and every Braxton Hicks contraction at the top of my uterus and belly up higher, I relax into knowing that these are the sensations that tell me my cervix is secretly opening down below. And I don't have to do a thing. Very cool.
Practice, practice, practice....
All the way home. Every 5-6 minutes. I stop each time I get one and relax my whole body. Walking during a rush hurts. So I stop each time. I take my time. When I get home, I lay down and take a nap. Contractions have now disappeared. Wasn't labor. Just practice.
I think Wouldn’t it be cool if Isadora is born on the anniversary of my late Filipino grandmother’s birthday, Luz...which is tomorrow?
4) Saturday September 21, 2013
She hasn’t come yet, and neither have any more contractions...but at about 3pm I call my husband David into the bathroom to see what just came out into my underwear. Sorry if this is TMI, but there is a huge ball of mucous sitting there, about the size of a quarter, sphered. It is white with no “bloody show” and I didn’t know quite what to think. So I show it to him, and we are both amused and excited that this could be my “plug” that has just come out.
5) Sunday September 22, 2013
My son POOPS in the bathtub. He is 3 and well beyond this! He scoots backward in the water, appalled, and says “Get it out!” I say “What is it?” And he replies, “I pooped!”
I am sitting on the toilet at this time, in no position to get poop out, but this is a certifiable emergency. As I get up, a bunch of *stuff* comes out of my yoni. Oh my! It’s white mucous mixed with brownish cream (again, TMI? Sorry!) and there is a LOT of it. I notice there is also a lot in the toilet, a lot running down my leg, and a lot still coming forth. I squeeze my yoni shut and waddle my big pregnant self to the bathtub, swiftly remove said poop from the tub with a scoop of my free hand, and plop it into the toilet.
I call in David “Help! Emergency here.” And he enters while on the phone with his mother. He’s explaining to her that we are going to do an unassisted birth at home, and she is freaking out. I show him what all just came out of me and he tells her and she becomes more freaked out, and I say, “You know, I’ve got this. Go on and talk to your mom.” So he complies, looking excited and amused yet again.
This occurs at 8pm.
6) Monday September 23, 2013, late night - Tuesday September 24, 2013, early morning
We rent Life of Pi and watch it for a second time. It is very long and beautiful.
At 11:30pm I get myself to bed and David stays up to work on our new website design. I lay there for about 30 minutes and at the end begin to time the cramps I’m having. The iPhone...it’s so great...I use the lap timer and begin timing at the end of a cramp.
4 minutes and 53 seconds pass, then a cramp begins and I time it. 1 minute 14 seconds long. Then another break of 4 minutes 15 seconds. And another cramp lasting 1 minute 25 seconds. After 12 minutes of timing in this way, I realize that I might be in labor. I get out of bed and tell my husband that I can’t sleep. That it might be happening but I’m not sure.
I get out the picnic tablecloth with the flannel side and the plastic side, and all the towels, and lay them on the kitchen table. This is what Whapio (the woman who runs the midwifery program in town) suggested I birth on. I get out my paints. I figure I’ll do something creative for a little while. But, my body has different plans.
I ask my husband to get off the computer and turn his phone off. The cramps, now identified as contractions, rushes, whatever you want to call them, are very regular and I feel like I want electronics off.
I then ask him to clean the living room.
Such a wonderful husband...he complies happily.
For the next 2 hours I have regular cramps and I work thru each of them with grace and calm, just as Grantly advised in his tome written 70-some-odd years ago. I just relax and let them do what they're doing.
I ask hubby to fill a tub and I get in. The pain is beginning.
Now, Grantly said there is no pain if you don’t fight it. So I try really hard to relax. I end up clawing at my husband’s arms and my deep groans and words turn gradually into screaming and “No!!”’s. It’s kind of humiliating. I feel like I’m losing control.
Now, in Grantly’s book, this would be what he calls that desire for “escape”...which would indicate transition. But I am so in the zone that I can not identify up nor down. I can only get up and shake a little here and there, try to walk, try to breathe, try to relax, and then scream and growl and claw my poor husband. He sits solidly and is there for me. Quietly closes the front windows so as to not indicate I’m being too loud, but to make sure the neighbors aren’t bothered or alarmed. Brings me water and ice and makes sure the towels come with me. He is great and I see that he passes the imaginary test. I truly trust him.
I tell him “Honey, we are not having another baby. I’m sorry. I’m not doing this again.” He says “Ok.”
I try the tub again but I just can’t keep it together any more. I try the toilet again. The pain is unbearable and I am totally fighting it, even though I know I shouldn’t. I sink into the she-wolf inside of me, fully becoming the character. Fully expressing this pain, resistance, and the deep feminine ferocity that we all possess deep inside.
I’ve thrown up twice already and go to do it again in the kitchen sink. He cleans up after me.
Now we’re in the hall and I’m on one knee and I feel into my yoni. Not too far but I touch it. I am disappointed to not feel a head. I wish I knew what was happening, but all I can say is this:
“I feel like I’m in the way. Like I’m keeping her from coming out.”
Retrospect is always 20/20, isn’t it?
My husband and I both now realize (2 weeks later is when it occurs to me) that this statement was my body’s way of saying “it’s time to push.” But given my last birth experience, when I wanted to push far too early, and ended up pushing for 4 painful hours...well, without 3 midwives here to coach me this time, I didn’t feel up to it at all. It’s been an hour of this screaming and contractions about 1-2 minutes apart. I am starting to be afraid, feeling in the way of the process, and desiring a way out. In retrospect, I could have pushed at the top of the 3rd hour. I was likely fully in transition, and likely fully dilated, at that time. I did *such* a great job in Stage 1 of Labor that this was almost certain...but only in retrospect. But in the moment, I don’t know, and I just persist until I tell myself I can’t do it any longer. I feel again...no head. Lots of pressure, but no head.
I try to call a friend, but she doesn’t answer. She did an unassisted birth. She might know what to tell me. But she doesn’t answer. I have no one else to call...I don’t think anyone would be awake anyway. It’s just me and him. Which is how I want it, but now I feel stuck.
The fear of what might happen if I turned those screams into pushes overwhelms me, and I ask David to take me to the hospital. To get them to take this baby out of me no matter what it takes. Visions of c-sections, of epidurals, of any kind of way out provided by modern medicine, overwhelm me with hope of this soon ending.
Again, in retrospect: transition. Time to push.
But my body doesn’t say, “Bear down; push! Time to push!”
It just says “Ouch! Tighten up! Scared!” My husband, being supportive as he is, grabs the keys and gets me outdoors. I stand in the driveway and scream so loudly I am certain everyone in the neighborhood will wake up. Thank god my son isn’t with me tonite. I so wanted him to experience the birth, but I feel malequipped and am certain I’d be scaring him if he were here. Plus, it’s 3:15 in the morning! He is sleeping soundly down the street. That is good.
I finally make it into the car. I tell my husband to call the hospital and tell them we’re coming. 3 times in their conversation they pause for my 30 second-long scream. It is excruciating and I can hardly sit on the towel underneath me. I grab his arm. Luckily the hospital is only 10 minutes away. 3 contractions later, we arrive. I have one in the doorway and the nurse looks at me, confused. David says “she’s in labor. Where do we go?” And she snaps into the present and says “Oh, yes, this way!”
I sit in the wheelchair and the woman seems to not know where to go either! I am a little miffed.
So we get into the delivery room. It is dimly lit, comfortable, and there are 3 or 4 nurses there who are really nice. They pull my skirt off on the count of 3 and I hop onto the table. I want to be on my knees but end up on my side. They are trying to check my dilation but I’m mid-contraction. I squeeze my yoni shut, and tell them "no," until it ends, screaming all the while. They quickly check and say “She’s fully dilated. She’s a 10.” And I think...
No shit. No wonder. I could have pushed at home, damnit.
The British nurse, oh how I love her voice, says, “Ok darlin, you need to turn those screams into pushes.” Again, it dawns on me that I could have done that at home. But I didn’t know. She wasn’t there to tell me. David didn’t know.
So I lean into her voice and close my eyes. She counts to 10 for me each time and tells me to stop pushing when the contraction ends.
They get me onto my back and push my legs in. This is how I birthed Kaiva, but on my bed. I am afraid because I pushed 4 hours for him like this. But they assure me it’s happening now. I lean more closely in to the British nurse’s counting, to her voice, allowing her to guide me into letting my baby out.
At home, I was keeping her in. Here, I could let her out. I felt safe.
(Surprisingly...as I hate hospitals and have such a strong bias against birthing in a place like this!)
But this is my team now and I accept them. David holds my left leg and tells me I’m doing great. They keep trying to monitor the baby with the fetal monitor, but luckily they never strap it on, and the heartbeat is strong despite all I know about the tendency for it to go up and down during labor and birth...so that’s good.
I flip over onto my knees, quicker than the nurses say they've ever seen, and the OB says I can stay there if I want but that I did better on my back. David says “she’s right” and I obey, as much as it hurts.
But pushing feels great!
So, about 2 or 3 more contractions of pushing and I feel the head coming out. I don’t reach down like last time. I just close my eyes and focus on meeting Isadora. It’s pretty amazing.
It doesn’t hurt until her head is coming out, and with that I just lean into the Brit’s voice. It passes.
I feel the natural pause between her head and body coming out but the stinking doc is pulling her body to get her out. I remind them not to take her from me. They agree.
She pops right out and everyone is excited. As almost an afterthought (albeit a very important one), I say, “Don’t cut the cord yet!” And the doc says, “Sorry, already clamped it.”
I am disappointed but they lay my daughter on my belly and she gets her lungs about her. It takes her a while and they really don’t do much to her. It’s pretty low intervention.
When they hand her to me, Isadora pees all over my leg. Twice! (Ah, the EC begins...we of course cue along with her. "Psssss...")
Then they start on my placenta. Wow. Oh the pain! The doc kneads and pulls and pushes and I think I actually hit her hand off me at one point, telling her to stop, that it will come on its own accord.
David calms me down and says, “You wanted to come here, so they are going to do what they do now.”
He’s right...and for the moment I feel like a failure.
I feel like a failure...EXCEPT it’s only 4:14am when Isadora comes out, and I did it without intervention, drugs, or c-section...my birth, as I wanted it, would be very quick and all natural. Those things ended up happening! However, out of principle, I wanted it at home, but it was my choice to come here. I needed coaching.
I am fighting the feeling of failing by telling myself, “Wow, I was only here for 30 minutes til she came out! A 4 hour labor. That is nice.”
I look at my daughter. I don’t feel like a failure for the moment. She is perfect.
I hold her, nurse her a little, feel the incredible post-birth cramping that only comes with a second (or subsequent) child, feel the doctor pressuring the placenta out. I get her to lay off for 15 minutes so it can come out naturally. She does. Finally I birth the placenta and to my surprise they allow us to keep it, to take it home with us.
I get to hold my daughter, skin to skin, for a good hour til they ask if Daddy can come to the middle of the room where they’ll take her weight, height, and a little blood from the heel to test sugars. He does, she hardly cries...it’s all good. I rest and relax like in the French book (Bringing Up Bebe).
I trust him. I somehow trust them. Except this doctor. Geez.
So I decide to cut through the mistrust and talk to the doc as she examines me. “No tears,” she says and I am happy with that. I had no tears with Kaiva but this was much quicker. My body came through after all.
I then share with the doctor that I teach infant potty training, or elimination communication, and that this is pretty cool that she peed on me. I have all sorts of energy and feel very chatty all of a sudden. I like that there are 4 women in the room with us and I take advantage as if it’s social hour (but it’s really 5am!).
Very much to my surprise, Dr. Wang says that she was born in Hong Kong and that her mother did infant potty training with her and her brother, and that the only thing she didn’t like is that her brother was out of diapers before she was! I ask her by what age she was trained.
The doc says “Oh, by 1 year old I was out of diapers.”
I lay there, holding my baby, satisfied, knowing that this is all for a reason. I ask the doc a few more questions...did they wear split pants (not sure), how long did it take with her brother (11 months - she was jealous that he finished sooner than she did)...and then I sort of revel in the irony and coincidence of it all. The synchronicity.
I am in a hospital.
The delivering doctor was ECed as a child in Hong Kong.
We get transferred upstairs at around 6am, right before dawn. The room is cozy and has a beautiful view. They never take my baby from me. They honor my request to get me out of there within 12 hours. Somehow, it works out.
Every 30 minutes someone interrupts our sleep. I wish I were at home! Leave me alone already. The nurse, the food, the photographer, the other nurse....blah blah blah.
I take a shower. I enjoy 3 somewhat fresh, free, and served-to-me meals. I don’t have to lift a finger. I get all sorts of free things like pads, disposable underwear, diapers. I don’t have anything to clean up.
I let them take care of me. Pamper me, even.
I call in Ibuprofen when the cramps get bad. I keep everyone on schedule with “I will be leaving in 12 hours...let’s make that happen.” Pediatrician. OB. Everyone comes and goes, comes and goes. We don’t invite family or friends. We text the parents. We post to Facebook our little girl’s arrival. But mostly we snooze. Hubby on the couch, me in the bed, baby in our arms or the bassinet.
Deemed healthy, we leave at 5pm that night.
Not bad for a hospital birth!
I feel waves of the grieving process inherent with most births...the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s...the if only’s.
Bargaining, sadness, anger (mostly with myself for my own ignorance), acceptance, denial. The usual 5.
I tell David, “Well, I guess I don’t need to write that book on Unassisted Birth anymore, huh?” Feeling like a failure again. Sad. Disappointed. But somehow also pleased with myself for such a quick and healthy birth.
Oh, the juxtaposition of the success and failure of birth. My.
He says, much to my surprise, “Yes you can. And you should. There are two things we didn’t know early this morning that we now know it would have been useful to know. Number 1, how to check for full dilation. Neither of us knew that. And Number 2, how to know when to push. Was it evident in what you were feeling? When you wanted to escape? And if we knew you were dilated, could you have pushed? How would you...turning the screams into pushing like the nurse said? Now we know all of that. You didn’t have the urge to push, you didn’t know you were ready to...and now we know two keys to the puzzle. These are things women need to know to do this. And you wouldn’t have learned those two things if you didn’t go through this.”
I sit there, totally impressed by this man. He is right. And furthermore, the fact that I didn’t have a fully unassisted birth...well, that just makes my story more realistic, people less attached to some unreal expectation of the “perfect birth.” This is a really, really good thing after all.
I agree to write my book anyway. To collect the information that was missing from my toolbox and give it to the people who have always held this wisdom in the past: the women.
And then I say to my love, “Darling, I do want to have another baby with you. And this time, I will know just what to do. He’ll come out in just an hour or two and I will know when and how to push him out.”
We smile, we embrace, we catch our baby’s first poop.
We tell the nurse and she’s disappointed it’s not in the diaper. Hah. Oh well.
Over the next 2 weeks I have doubts, regrets, feelings of failure and disappointment. But I also have feelings of pride, success, happiness, and acceptance.
My birth was 4 hours. It was half painless, half painful (but the pain is now something I can see as purposeful). I was able to work through 3/4 of the labor at home with the man I love. Had I been in the hospital the whole time, I know I would have caved in to offerings of intervention. I would have complained. I would have allowed intervention. I was able to labor at home...to push for 30 minutes at the hospital was a good exchange for this valuable time at home!
Yes, it could have been just 2 hours. It could have been 95% painless, 5% painful. We could have spared 12 hours at the hospital and had the perfect homebirth, unassisted and undisturbed.
But we didn’t.
That is not the reality of it.
That is not what happened, and therefore, that is not what was meant to happen. This was what was meant to be. This was perfect.
In the end, I wanted coaching. Needed it. And I needed to learn a couple more things that have been lost in the absence of birth wisdom...to share with others, as is my natural inclination. If it hadn’t happened this way, I would not hold the potential to help others nearly as much. So, for this purposeful event, I am so grateful. I see the deeper reason that the Universe has put behind it, and I appreciate that.
I have a beautiful 4 week old daughter. Despite being in the hospital, I was able to preserve her umbilical cord and prepare her placenta through dehydration. Yes, she didn’t have the full benefit of minutes or hours of an uncut cord, but I also didn’t have her taken from me, drugged, or otherwise distressed.
I suppose it’s all a trade-off in the end.
And another lesson learned: tell the husband these things, ahead of time..."I do not want the cord clamped immediately”...just in case. Have a back-up plan, a hospital plan, without believing you’ll end up there. And if you do, there’s a reason. But with the proper preparation, we can all have the birth we want. It’s my aim to translate this birthing experience of mine into something helpful for the greater community. Wish me luck.
And thanks for listening to my story.
If my almost unassisted birth story has affected you in any way, or inspired you to share something similar, or any thoughts at all, please leave a comment below.
NOTE: Please be sensitive with my and others' stories...they are very personal after all. :)
[If you'd like to follow our starting Elimination Communication from birth with Isadora, please visit our blog. I'll be starting that series next week.]