After Christmas celebration #3 (one in Long Island, one near Albany, NY and this last one in Phoenix, AZ) I have finally had a chance to have a long nap here at my mother’s house and a chance to do some writing. We have been so lucky to have so much loving family around us for the holidays this year! And it’s also pretty exhausting to do so much traveling with a dog and a baby. I caught a terrible cold. The baby seems to have had it. Now his dad has it. Razor blades in the throat and sinuses. Misery. We are lucky to have my mom spoil us with home-cooked meals, baked goods and even an array of our favorite beverages. We are lucky to have help with the baby as we all recover from the festivities and the awful head colds. I feel that all these things merit a mention, because I am feeling so very thankful for them and because without them, I think it would be another month before I wrote this second half of the birth story.
When I left off, it was October 19th at about 7:30 pm, and we were arriving at the hospital. I was trying not to push in the car. One of my favorite things about Yale New Haven Hospital? Free valet parking for families who are having babies there. I developed tunnel vision and could no longer speak around this time. I remember the wheelchair, and feeling grateful for it. I remember closing my eyes and concentrating on my breath and what my body was telling me. I remember the elevator. I remember looking up from the bed in triage at my wonderful midwife, Elise, and immediately feeling more relaxed.
At home, I had felt anxious. How long would I labor at home? What was the next stage going to feel like? Why was I vomiting?! I had not been told about the vomit! Was that feeling normal? That one? That other one?
In triage, I knew that Elise and our doula, Kate, would take of me no matter what happened physically, emotionally or psychologically. I remembered that they had seen it all. I also remember being told that I could only take one “support person” into the triage room with me and moaning “I want Kate!” Nathan took that very well, I must say. It was really hard to talk, but I was really motivated to make that wish understood. Elise later told me that I looked so calm that the staff in triage thought that there was a good chance that I had come in too early and would be sent home to labor there some more. Oh, how wrong they were!
At some point, amniotic fluid began to gush out of me with each surge [contraction] and it just kept coming. Whatever was under me soaking the stuff up had to be changed with shocking frequency and the nurse, Elise, Kate and I all found this funny. How can there be more?! I think I remember being told I was fully dilated. I remember people moving around. I know that we got from triage to a delivery room, and I remember Nathan joining us in the hallway. Elise was suddenly in scrubs, saying “Let’s have a baby!” with a big smile. I was honestly so excited that this time was here.
The HypnoBirthing affirmations work. I had been telling myself for months that I was excited to meet my baby, that I trusted my body and my baby, that I would have a peaceful birth. When the time came, I felt excitement. My heart was filled with faith in my body, my baby, my care providers, my support people, God. I was filled with faith in myself. I knew with my entire being that I was going to rock this. I became a goddess, deeply in touch with nature/my body and with the spiritual, so aware that I was bringing new life into the world. I was at the center of the most sacred process.
I went to that place as we moved and as the delivery room was readied. When my tunnel expanded to include the people around me, I was in a bed in a dimly lit and quiet room. I asked that Kate play my affirmations on my phone. She put it next to my head and held my right hand. Nathan was on my left. I labored on my right side for a long time. I focused on “breathing the baby down” and on the soft recording repeating that my healthy body and baby were doing what they needed to do, that I was helping my baby on his journey. Periodically, the volume would increase on the phone and a chorus of voices would cheer me on, telling me that I was doing great! I’d meet my baby soon! I remember feeling confused at times, because this was obvious to me. I remember smiling to show them that I knew that I was awesome and excited to meet this baby. I found out later that they were being loud in order to drown out the screams of a woman in a nearby room! I still feel a bit sorry for her–they told me she did a lot of screaming.
I was aware that my body was doing incredible things; I am not an athletic person, so I was actually a bit surprised at how well I dealt with the exertion and all the sweating. Fluid continued to gush out of me. We continued to laugh at how often they were changing the pads under me. I asked them if they had to do that, because I did not want to lift my body up at all. They said something about my skin getting irritated and yes, they had to try and keep me dry, but I really did not appreciate that.
Before long, Elise told me to lift my left leg; I was still laboring on my right side in bed, and this would open up my pelvis. I really did not want to move. I remembered a story from HypnoBirthing class about a woman who refused to move out of one position during her birth and that this became problematic somehow, so I cooperated. I may have even laughed after I did it, though, because it felt good. I didn’t really think it was possible to trust Elise more at that point, but after that suggestion made me a lot more comfortable, I did find room in my heart for more faith in her.
At this point, I felt like the already too-short breaks between surges were becoming non-existent. There had been a constant pressure–surge or no surge–for too long already, in my opinion. My body was working even harder. I began to feel tired and lost my focus a bit. Then, Elise told me to reach down and feel my baby’s head. I did, and energy shot through me. At the same time, I was a bit disappointed that there was not more head to feel! He was really only a little bit out?!
I leaned heavily on Kate and Nathan, figuratively speaking. Kate breathed with me. The words in the affirmations lost all meaning. I had absorbed the meaning of those words, and language was not matching how I felt anymore. I felt like an entirely physical being, but I managed to ask that they put on music instead of the affirmations. Elise asked me if I wanted her to set up the mirror so I could see. I felt like opening my eyes was the last thing I wanted to do, but I said yes, in case that changed later. Communicating that took a ridiculous amount of effort.
“Let’s let gravity help out a little, here. If the nurse sets up the birthing bar, will you use it?” I nodded. (For the record, she used the nurse’s name, which I completely ashamed to say I cannot remember; I loved that nurse!) The birthing bar is a simple but incredible piece of engineering. As easy as its inventors tried to make using the thing, I looked up at it and thought “No way, no how.” Nathan and Kate helped me squat while holding onto the bar. I got very tired and discouraged.
Elise said “Anne-Marie, you are amazing! Look at your baby!” And I looked in the mirror, saw his tiny head and felt determination with more force than I had ever felt anything in my life. I was meeting that baby, and soon. After a few more surges, eyes on that head, my arms were simultaneously stuck in position and shaking with exhaustion. I had done what I needed to do, and let gravity help, though, because Elise said that I should lie back. I needed help to do this, since my hands were pretty much glued to that bar. Exhaustion hit me again. Hard.
“I can’t do this!” I didn’t want to say it. I had told myself I wouldn’t say it. I said it because I knew that if I did, all four of the people in that room would tell me that I could do it. What I didn’t expect was that Elise would say “You have done it! Reach down!” I did. “Is that his NOSE?!” And she said “Yes! It is!” I might have laughed, I was so relieved. The next couple surges were difficult, but before I knew it, they told me his head was out. I was lying back again, now, and my eyes were closed. All of my focus was on that baby. I swear, I could see his progress when I closed my eyes, his little head leading his way.
Suddenly, there was searing pain. I remember being pissed off about it, too, because his head was already out, and I was told that that was the difficult part! I didn’t know why the pain was more intense, but everyone around me was cheerleading and I kept going. Elise did something–I felt her hands but didn’t know what she was doing. I knew it was helping. Finally, I felt the release; the pressure was gone. I had given birth!
I remember touching Walter. I remember Nathan cutting the cord and that he double-checked that we had waited long enough to do so. I remember feeling that there was more moving around in the room than I had expected after watching so many tapes of births in class. I remember feeling completely unsurprised that Walter wasn’t crying. I had essentially meditated throughout his birth; we were in a calm space. He had nothing to fear and no reason to be in pain.
Apparently, babies are “supposed” to cry, according to the medical professionals. Something about crying indicated that they are breathing properly. Elise explained that the nurse was taking Walter to the warmer to check on his breathing, but that no one was really worried about him, because his color was excellent and his chest was moving up and down. And yet, because he wasn’t crying, they needed to perform this check. Nathan would go with him. They would only be a few feet away, and I could see the warmer from my bed while Elise took care of me. I was surprised at feeling perfectly calm and ok with all of it. Kate took my phone, snapped a few pictures of my pink, healthy baby in the warmer, holding on to his dad’s fingers with a nice, strong grip. I grinned and grinned.
Elise gave me a shot of Pitocin in my inner thigh, something I had agreed to in the office that morning, because research from across the globe has shown that a localized shot of this drug that causes the uterus to contract dramatically decreases the chances that a woman will bleed too much after giving birth. She told me I had a very minor (“first degree”) labial tear and would need a few stitches. I can’t remember how many, but it was no more than four. I could hardly believe it when she told me why: after I had birthed Walter’s head, he had turned, as all babies do, because it helps them slide their shoulders and hips out of the birth canal. But my son had not put one shoulder down, like he should have. He insisted, she told me, that both shoulders come out at once, perpendicular to the floor, despite her “wrangling.” That was what I had felt her doing; she had tried to use her hands to turn him into the usual one-shoulder-first position. He had refused. She heaped praise on me, and told me that my body would recover faster and better because I had taken my time and remained so calm. Had I pushed harder and faster, those shoulders would have caused a lot more damage and pain.
Walter refused to cry, but he was breathing so well that he was returned to me. I was wearing a once-comfy and soft Pretty Pushers hospital gown instead of the hospital-provided gowns, but it was soaked, so I asked them to just cut it off me. Everyone was still marveling at how much fluid this kid had been swimming in. And it was still coming. They massaged my stomach to help me birth the placenta (I believe my words were, “Oh, yeah! I forgot about that!”) and out came some more. Still more came out with the placenta. You probably had to be there to see the comedy, but it made me laugh to see the surprise in the nurse, Elise and Kate. It was probably the endorphins, but I was strangely proud of being able to surprise the birth veterans. At any rate, they cut off my gown, put dry bedding under me yet again, and we placed my Walter on my chest.
At some point, I realized that Kate was not feeling well at all. I still find it incredible that she had been in intense pain for a long time. An ovarian cyst had burst in her own body. She is so good at her job that she simply kept on holding my hand and breathing until I didn’t need her support, at which point she quietly informed Elise that she required some pain killers and told me that she was sorry she couldn’t stay, but that she had to go call her mom to pick her up. There’s a saying that the doula “mothers the mother,” and that is what she did. She put her life, her body, her pain, aside so completely, all to support me on my birthing journey. Yes, we paid her. But no amount of money can motivate someone to give the kind of loving support she offered me. I had Nathan and my baby, now, and urged her to go rest until she could leave.
I focused in on this beautiful baby boy again. He was mine. He was ours. He was perfect. I offered and encouraged breastfeeding, but he didn’t want to nurse. His eyes opened, and we made eye contact. They were blue, and I sent up a little light-hearted prayer that they would stay light, like his dad’s. I think my own brown eyes are particularly lovely, actually, but I just had this vision of our child with his blue eyes. The nurse had used a warm towel to rub in the vernix that coated his skin, protecting it from the amniotic fluid before birth, but no one cleaned our bodies too much. One of the HypnoBirthing affirmations uses the phrase “pink and healthy” to describe the tissue in the birth canal in order to help moms visualize that there will be blood–a baby comes out of there, after all–but not too much. I think that’s why the blood I saw didn’t bother me. But Elise and the nurse cleaned everything up with pretty astonishing speed. Nathan and I had time with our son while everyone either left the room or watched from a distance. Soon, Nathan’s mother Judy and his step-father Walter had arrived at the hospital. The whole thing had happened so quickly that Judy had not made it in time to be with us for her grandson’s birth, despite living only an hour and a half away. He was born at 10:50 pm, and his grandparents arrived at 11:30.
No one had expected it to go so quickly. I felt shocked! For all I knew, it could have been one hour or ten. It was still dark outside, but I really didn’t think I had given birth only three and a half hours after arriving at the hospital! We hadn’t even been sure it was “the real thing” until sometime after Kate arrived at our house a little before 6:00.
We stayed in the delivery room for about an hour–me, my son, his father, his grandmother and his namesake. Everything seemed to fill up with love, light, peace, joy. I’m sure I sound like a crazy hippie to some of you. But ask anyone who was there–it was the most spiritual, joyful, peaceful birth. Nathan likes to say, “She basically meditated through the entire birth.” It was the best meditation of my life; I have never felt closer to God. I have never felt stronger faith. Remember: hospitals used to give me panic attacks. I have been diagnosed with two anxiety disorders and depression. I took medication that supposedly put my fetus/baby at risk.
I conceived a child, created a human being, gave birth to a person. In fact, I gave birth with dignity and grace. I began this blog to document my experience with a medicated pregnancy. I had no idea that I would one day write that I had grabbed on to the pregnancy and the birth that followed as a chance to heal myself. I am not pretending that I am cured of anything. But I know now that I can do anything, overcome anything. There is nothing in this world that is powerful enough to convince me otherwise. I don’t know I can attribute to giving birth after spending under five hours in labor to my strength or my use of HypnoBirthing methods and techniques. I do know that I created the dignity, the grace, the strength and the peace that I carried through labor and birth.