Birth Story, finally

I think this is the part where I get to say, demurely and modestly, of course, that thank you, thank you, yes, no applause please, I birthed that baby without any pain medication. But all I can really say is that that is some PAINFUL stuff, and if I hadn’t been blessed with a pretty quick labor, who knows what I would’ve been asking for. Epidural? Demerol? More like a morphine cluster-bomb, please.

On Wednesday morning I had a bad feeling. I wanted to sit and wrestle with it, to make sure it wasn’t just my own impatience coloring how I felt. I was fine, I could go longer, but the baby wasn’t moving as much as usual, which is okay and normal for the end of pregnancy, but still. I felt bad. I was comforted by the blessing Tom had given me ten days before, and by the re-reading of several chapters in Rixa‘s books, and by the quote Mrs. Potts left on my last post, but as I drove to my non-stress test and midwife check at 41 weeks and 5 days, I couldn’t stop crying. (Until I did, because who wants to be the pregnant lady crying all over the reception desk?)

Baby Molly “passed” the NST, but she did have several decelerations that weren’t explained by contractions. I met with one of my midwives, who wasn’t pushy but seemed uncomfortable with the idea of waiting longer. I was 4+ dilated and 90% effaced. I agreed to a biophysical profile (ultrasound) to just check on things because by then I was wavering back towards wanting to wait, wanting so much to have the totally natural experience as long as the baby was fine. And knowing that inducing with Pitocin (which is known to cause heart decelerations due to stronger and more frequent contractions, especially in concert with broken water no longer cushioning the baby and cord) is a little illogical when the original indicator was heart decelerations. Like when they broke my water with Avery because my amniotic fluid was too low. Somehow ten years ago that made sense.

While I waited, the midwife who was on call that day came into the office and we talked at length about my hopes and her recommendations, what I was comfortable with and what she was comfortable with. I guess in the end it was about me trusting her, that when she promised to turn off the Pitocin as soon as possible, to unhook me from all the machines and let me do whatever I wanted, I believed her. I had packed all my stuff in the car, because of that bad feeling, but she told me to go home, arrange everything with my kids and come back to the hospital with my husband in a couple hours. I called my mom on my way home, realizing I’d have to wait for her to go home first to get her things for staying at our house, but she, too, had had a feeling that morning, and she’d packed a bag before going to school.

I called Crysanthemum and told her it wasn’t urgent, but if she wanted to come to the hospital after her husband came home from work, we’d probably be getting things going by then. I called my sister Marcy and told her she was welcome. Karin ended up coming too, with my dad, who stayed for awhile then left to see my mom and kids.

Before we left home, Tom gave me a blessing, with the girls and my mom looking on. Things felt right. When we got to the hospital, I was excited and a little bit apprehensive, mostly excited; however things went, I’d have a baby today! Or tomorrow! At the latest!

The nurse got me a room and offered me a gown. I told her I’d brought my own clothes and she said “great.” She got me hooked up to the fetal monitors and asked me questions; when she asked me to rate my pain I said that it was a one, but that I was planning to not have any pain medication, including no epidural. Then without prompting she said, “So would you like me to not ask you that again then?” and I said yes. She made a note of that and when I expressed my concern, my caveat that with the Pitocin I didn’t know how I’d do with the pain, she was very encouraging that I could do it.

I told Marcy on the phone to bring her card games. Roberta, my midwife, showed up and never left. We were all sitting around and talking, Marcy, Karin, Dad, Tom, Roberta, Chrysanthemum, the nurse and me. We had the Pitocin on at 4 and I started feeling contractions. I was hooked up to the monitors and the IV, but I was sitting on a birth ball next to the bed. The monitors kept slipping but we didn’t worry too much about them. I bounced and talked; I was feeling much too good, but we didn’t play games. We talked a little about Roberta’s experience as a labor & delivery nurse in Alaska before she became a CNM, and about some culture issues that she’s encountered living in Utah the past ten years — she said that watching movies like the Singles Ward and Pride and Prejudice helped her understand Mormons better.

After awhile the baby’s head had descended a bit, so Roberta broke my waters and then I was back on the birth ball, making a mess of the floor even with the pads under me. I started feeling the contractions, checking out of the conversation then coming back in. An hour after starting the Pitocin, I felt really in labor and Roberta ran a bath for me. We unhooked the monitors and the IVs and I hobbled to the bathroom. Mostly I just wanted to be on the toilet. I was still 4+ dilated. I got in the tub, but it wasn’t so great, just a regular-size tub. I was most comfortable on my hands and knees, draping my arms and head over the side. I clutched at Tom’s pants and moaned. I had Tom shut the bathroom door all the way. I could hear my sisters and Crysanthemum and the nurse and Roberta, all laughing and talking. Didn’t they know I was dying in here?

Roberta knocked on the door and came in to ask if I was pushing. I said no. She said, are you sure? Because it sounds like you are. I said no, but I was definitely rethinking all this stupid natural stuff, wishing I’d never read a single book, never heard of Rixa’s blog, that I’d remained in happy ignorance. A while later (fifteen minutes?) she brought a large bath sheet in and said she wanted to get me on the bed to check me. I was happy to get out of the tub, it just wasn’t that comfortable, too small for a whale anyway.

I got back on the bed and heard the best news ever. I was dilated to 9, and it’s true that if pain is productive, if you can say, look, this is really doing something, we’re getting somewhere, then it is much easier to bear. I had shed the towel somewhere between the bathroom and the bed, and now I climbed off to stand facing the bed, bracing myself on it, and doing awkward deep plie-type movements, sticking my butt high in the air. Crysanthemum closed the blinds at the big window, saying something about my privacy, but I could have paraded naked down Fifth Avenue at that point. I had spent a great deal of time and energy worrying about what I’d wear in labor, how I’d feel naked or wearing this camisole or that nightgown, and as soon as I really was in labor, the thought of putting clothes back on was not even a thought my brain could entertain. I don’t think the door to my room was even closed — the curtain was pulled so no one could see in, but the actual door was open, I think, the entire time. I didn’t care, in fact, I think I liked the idea that even with my loud vocalizations, the hospital wasn’t trying to shut me up in any way.

Roberta threw some sheets and towels on the floor and said I could have the baby there if I wanted, but maybe I’d like to try kneeling on the bed. She raised the back all the way up, almost 90 degrees, and I knelt facing it, so I could rest against the top of it between contractions. That was a pretty comfortable position, and reduced the strain on my legs, was soft on my knees. It felt good to sag against the pillows between times. I think it was at that point that Tom asked when I would start pushing. Roberta laughed and told him I already was. I stayed that way for awhile but started to tire. Roberta encouraged me to lie down on my left side. It felt so good to lie down.

Then she told me to hold my right leg up, bent at the knee. I was almost furious, incredulous, flabbergasted. Things were starting to really hurt, I was doing all this work, and I HAD TO HOLD MY LEG UP. Couldn’t someone else do that for me? What did they think I was, Superwoman? But I did it. I was really too occupied surviving and breathing to demand that Tom hold my @#$% leg up.

Other nurses came in, with their yellow paper smocks on. One of them brushed my hair away from my face and I grabbed her fingers and slobbered all over them, pressing them to my mouth. I never saw her face, she was just there for me to hold on to. Tom was at my back then, I think, putting pressure down low. He was fabulous the whole time, except once when he delicately scrunched his fingers towards my spine. More pressure! Firm! Don’t Stop! Roberta showed him where to press on my spine, but I actually liked it better with dual points on my pelvis.

I was breathing too fast at one point, trying instinctively to stay ahead of the pain or something and Roberta reminded me to slow down, make deeper noises, I was going to hyperventilate if I couldn’t relax just a little. That was the hardest thing, trying to not tense and tighten against the pain. Pushing was a relief because it was something to do, not something to allow or endure. I started wailing that I just couldn’t do it. Roberta told me, “you can do it because you already are doing it.” Which didn’t make any sense, but I was too far gone to think what alternative there might possibly be to just getting this thing done, getting this baby out of my body, just doing it.

Molly was born at 10:15 pm, four hours and fifteen minutes after we checked in. Roberta put her on my tummy, what a relief to roll to my back and flop there. I’ve never felt such relief, such . . . blessed, relieving . . . relief. She was posterior, which I didn’t think about until the next day when I felt like someone had used my tailbone for kickboxing practice. She rested on my tummy for several minutes with the cord attached, what a weird feeling — I tried to pull her up to my breast and felt the tug of the cord between my legs. Tom had been too squeamish to cut the cord with our other girls, but this time he did it. I got her up and offered her my breast, hoping nursing would help with the placenta, but she wasn’t interested yet.

Roberta asked for a push for the placenta, promising that there are no bones in it, but I still felt it; I’d never felt the placenta delivery with my other kids, that’s another weird (not bad) feeling. They re-hooked up the IV and gave me some more Pitocin to help my uterus clamp down. I don’t know if that helped a lot, but after having after-birth pains that got stronger with each kid, I never felt any with Molly, even while breastfeeding. I had one stitch and then lay there for about an hour and a half with Molly on my chest. My dad came back just as I got her to suck, and then everyone but Tom left. The nurse gave her the vitamin K shot and the antibiotic ointment while she fed. I had been interested to see if she was more alert than my other kids, but it didn’t really seem that different. I breastfed all four of them within the first hour of birth, but she was the first one that I had continually on my body until I agreed to hand her over for weighing and washing and getting checked out. By then I wanted a shower and food enough that I didn’t mind sending Tom off to the nursery with her.

One of the best parts was getting up off that bed all by myself and walking, first to the bathroom, and then down the hall, past the nurses’ station where they all congratulated me (and I thanked the nurse whose hand I’d commandeered), and to the elevators where we rode down to the room we’d sleep in. Tom and Molly were back by the time I’d showered. Oh, and right before I left the delivery room, I accepted some Percocet, feeling I dang-well deserved it! We slept pretty well that night, with Molly swaddled and in the bed with me, and with me throwing things at Tom over in the father’s bed, trying to get him to stop snoring. We left early the next afternoon, after a 19-hour stay. I was anxious to get home to my own stuff, but it sure was nice being able to ring at any time for fresh ice packs and Lorna Doone cookies.

In the weeks following, I sometimes regretted that I got induced. Molly weighed 8 pounds 15 ounces; she was my second-largest baby, but she had a small-ish head, so we could have gone another week and probably delivered without trouble. The placenta was all intact and healthy, the cord was strong and not wrapped around anything. It was definitely a subjective judgment call, and I’m sad I never had the experience of going into spontaneous labor, feeling those contractions slowly build, being at home and being in labor, but looking back now, I wonder, even knowing how healthy she came out, if I would have done anything differently. As one of the midwives said, about my bad feeling earlier that day, that you have to start trusting those maternal instincts sometime.

The most important thing for me is that I feel like I did something here. I accomplished what I set out to do. I studied, I made a plan, I was flexible, it hurt really bad but then it was over, and in the end, I had a healthy baby AND the satisfaction of knowing that I did what was best for both of us, with our individual set of circumstances. I’m really, really glad that it went quickly because that is a blessing that cannot be overstated in terms of foregoing an epidural. I honestly have no idea if I could have gone natural with my first baby (though for sure I would have at least postponed both that induction and that epidural). My sister-in-law read several of the same books I did and practiced Hypnobirthing with her first baby who was born a few days after Molly. She had a much longer, harder labor than I did and got a shot of fentanyl towards the end. I think that is a really great compromise, and I’m in awe that that was all she needed to help her get through it.

Two things helped me succeed in both having an uncomplicated vaginal delivery with induction and with not requiring pain medication. The first was being really prepared and working really hard, mostly mentally, but some physically — though I should’ve practiced more — for the birth. It might seem silly to spend so much time getting ready for something that’s only going to last anywhere from four hours to twenty-four (or more, but usually not much longer of real hard labor), but I feel like I’m still using what I learned — I should remember what I learned more often. Like, patience, and trusting God and nature, listening to my body and what it needs e.g. more sleep, water, good food, exercise, etc. And also, patience.

The other thing was a wonderful midwife who completely justified my trust in her and a very supportive hospital and nursing staff. If you want a natural hospital birth, I cannot recommend American Fork Hospital highly enough. They were fantastic from start to finish. To some natural birth purists, it probably sounds from this birth story that I had a somewhat directed labor, what with Roberta suggesting I do this or that, and with the intermittent monitoring — at one point when I was kneeling on the bed and pushing the nurse was reaching up between my legs to hold the monitor to my pubic bone and I just wanted to kick her out of the way. But I didn’t, and it really didn’t interfere with me feeling the next contraction anyway.

Every time Roberta suggested I try something new, it turned out to be a great idea, and I never felt like she was insisting I do it her way. I always felt like she was offering me different options, and especially towards the end, I was grateful there was someone there who was making sure everything was going okay, because I was too busy just doing it. In abdicating some of that mental and physical responsibility at the end, it helped that this was a woman who I’d come to know and trust, who always listened to (and heard) me, who asked before she did an exam, who wanted me to have the birth I wanted, almost as much as I did.

And finally, I was surprised and very happy about how effectively supportive Tom turned out to be. I always knew he would support me in doing what I wanted, but it was great how actively supportive he was. I ended up almost feeling bad that Crysanthemum, who acted as my doula through my pregnancy and labor, didn’t have much to do, because Tom was there, and he really stepped up. In talking it through later, he was impressed also that it had been a much different, more immediate and urgent and big experience than before. I’m not sure, but it seems like his involvement in her birth is probably why he has been even more engaged with Molly, in the small but significant parts of her care like comforting her. He has always changed diapers and such; with Avery he stayed home with her for eighteen months while I worked and he went to grad school, but with all of them, at the first sign of distress he would pass them off to me for feeding and comfort. With Molly I am still the only one who can feed her, but he is much more likely to attempt to comfort her if food isn’t what she needs. And that is what I need.

Tom’s version.

Wanting the fourth as much as the first

Today I held Lucy on my lap, she got my whole lap to herself, as I read her the same book from the library three times. Yesterday I weathered Callie’s tantrum over the hard words in her reading-practice book with tempered patience. She settled, finally, into the couch and into letting me help, and sounded them out. I finally realized that Avery needs that hour after school, alone on her bed reading a five-hundred page book about cats, before she can talk about how school was and what happened. It is unfortunate that her return to sociability coincides with the final moments of dinner preparation and nagging to set the table and Dad’s return from work and the baby’s fussy hour and Callie’s math homework and Lucy’s insistence on having her perfect-fitting pants rolled up midcalf in winter. But that is when she is ready to talk, and tomorrow I will be ready to listen.  

Today the baby pooped twice. A change from pooping twice a week to pooping twice in one day. Twice of the strip-everything-around-her-for washing and fill-up-the-baby-tub variety poops.

I hate when people say to enjoy this phase. I am enjoying the heck out of it. If I were enjoying it anymore, I’d be guilty of parent-of-a-newborn orgiastic gluttony. I never wish my babies would stay small. Hurry up and grow up so we can talk. Get big and interesting.

Today Avery, who has decided she’s old enough to sit in the front seat of the car all the time now (she definitely meets the height and weight requirements), and I listened to a story on NPR about a girl in Iraq who was kidnapped but denies being raped, because if she was raped her family — her father, her uncle — would have to kill her to restore the family honor. I almost turned the station, I did change the station for a minute, but then I realized Avery is almost as old as that girl, and if something that horrible can happen to a girl in our world, then Avery can hear about it. I told her we have bad laws and customs here, too, but nothing quite so heinous as a custom of “honor”killings. She wanted to know what bad laws we have, and I thought how complicated it is to explain, why was she pinning me down to specifics, but that laws should protect everyone equally, and when they can’t, they should at least make it so choosing is a hard decision.

The only time I want my babies to stay young forever, to preserve, not in memory, a moment and not yearn impatiently for the time they’re independent and autonomous and not needing me just when I desperately need a minute, is when I’m breastfeeding the baby. She can stay, her little head on my arm, the crown of her head in the crook of my elbow, her mouth a seal between her hunger and my milk, cementing us together in the most dependent and synonymous and neediest of embraces.

When the others want me, it’s my attention for a minute, my patience for an hour, my regret and promise to not yell over imagined injury of not having the perfect clothes worn perfectly for dance class. These are small pieces of me that chip away at my calm, sometimes it feels like each minor plea is an erosion, a tearing of flesh, a picking clean, slowly, slowly, of my weary bones. Must you take another piece, right now, I had just rebuilt, reclaimed that part of my leg you insist on gnawing off. I thought you had forgotten in your flight to something else, and now you are back to chew some more.

But Molly doesn’t pick or pat my arm or say my name in escalating tone and pitch. She wails, full volume from the start, if her belly gets to empty, supremely confident of her right to every atom of my thought and movement and milk. She gulps it down without restraint, forget the little prick here and there: she gorges on what my body makes, just for her. She grows fat and round and plump from the whole of me, transfusion of my essence to her creased thigh, no apology, no pretence of learning to care for herself, no inkling yet of making her own damn sandwich.

And I love it.

From Slacker Mom to Hot Glue Gun Barbie in 24 Hours

Yesterday I was drying Callie’s hair before afternoon kindergarten, feeling pretty on top of things because I’d actually had her bathe even though it wasn’t Sunday, and I had ambitious plans to trim her fingernails during lunch. Callie asked if she could have pigtails, and I said sure. Then she said that she’s the only girl in her class who wears her hair hanging down. All the other girls have ponytails or barrettes or something, and all of them have flowers in their hair, too. Well, there is one other girl who doesn’t have flowers in her hair, but she does have it up, not hanging down.

I sent her off with adorable, if unadorned, pigtails and made a trip to Hobby Lobby. Nobody puts my baby in the corner. Not even me.

Election fraud comes to Seagull Fountain

I told Tom someone must have heard that I planned to vote FOR the swimming pool General Obligation Bond, so they took my name off the rolls. I was pretty skeeved. I voted in that very same room (at Callie’s school) two years ago, so I know I’m registered to vote here. Maybe Brother X heard my loud thoughts in Sunday School this week? My mental assertion that actually, now IS the time for government to go into debt for recreational opportunities? (Okay, so I don’t know that Brother X is responsible for the Now Is Not the Time pamphlets, but I know he was thinking it.)

There goes my teary-eyed bi-annual lesson on patriotic duty and democratic gratitude, replaced with dire Tammany Hall pronouncements and grumbling that the nineteenth amendment doesn’t do a disenfranchised woman much good. Maybe we have some more basics to cover anyway. This morning when I told the girls I was voting for the swimming pool, Callie said she thought I should vote for one of those trampolines with the bungee cords on the sides, like they have at the mall . . .

I used to think washing the dishes was the sexiest thing a man could do

Tom likes to wear the baby, to church, at the store, around the house, because it is the best way to keep her happy, i.e. put her to sleep. Our babies don’t like pacifiers or riding in the car (unless there’s no slowing down or stopping involved), so your soothing options are basically: a) breastfeeding, b) pacing, and c) breastfeeding. Tom is the master of the pace, except when his arms get tired and she slips into a cradle hold that promises milk he has no intention of supplying. Enter the baby carrier:

That is one fine man. All of my glands gush love hormones and let-me-squeeze-you bonding agents. Almost enough to make you want another baby, until this baby starts crying, or one of her sisters starts whining/fighting/changing her clothes yet again. Usually our division of labor on Saturdays is Tom: 3 kids, Shannon: baby. But whenever we are all together, daddy breaks out the baby bjorn (if only you could hear how Lucy says it) and everyone is happy.

Really, it’s amazing I ever get annoyed at this man . . .