Sunday, June 6, 2010

The moment I fell in love

Labor and birth are such rich experiences, packed with a huge variety of thoughts and feelings. I find myself still processing it 6 months later. This is my attempt to save and savor it all, to tuck away in my heart all of its perfection and flaws, knowing I will never forget.

When I got pregnant, I started researching as much as I could about natural childbirth. I was there for both of my younger siblings' births, and my mother used to be a childbirth educator. I always had an interest in babies, birth, and breastfeeding. So I was already fairly well informed, and had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. I knew I wanted the best chance at a vaginal delivery, in a peaceful place, with care providers who respected me, and no drugs. I believed in the power of my own body; there was just never any doubt that I was designed to birth this baby. I also believed in birth as a feminine, or at least maternal rite of passage, so I wanted to be fully present and fully engaged in the process, which drugs would hinder. From there I became fully informed of the risks that various medical interventions carry. I was not afraid of interventions should they become necessary, but what I didn't want was having them forced on me to serve someone else's timeline or agenda.

So I found an awesome practice of midwives, at the only free-standing birth center in Colorado- Mountain Midwifery! I loved my prenatal care. I always had plenty of time to ask questions and I looked forward to hearing that little heartbeat every time.

The week before I went into labor, my mom came out from Michigan to help out. She helped me out with a lot of cleaning and cooking, since by then I was huge and uncomfortable and not much good for anything other than taking naps! I did everything I could to naturally encourage my body toward labor- walking, evening primrose oil, extra time in the bedroom, raspberry leaf tea. The day before I went into labor, on a whim I tried something my mother suggested, which she said was kind of a "modern old wives' tale" that she and some friends were unofficially "testing". You eat as many peanut butter cups as you can stomach!

Surprise, surprise! Early the next morning I was woken by a couple of contractions, but I fell back asleep and they went away. Later, we got up and went to church, although I just felt "off". No contractions at that point, but I felt tired and very unsocial, like I wanted to be somewhere quiet by myself. After lunch, I laid down and took a nap, and was again woken by some mildly painful contractions. This time they were coming regularly, about 7-10 minutes apart. I played World of Warcraft with Will to pass the time. When they were about 5 minutes apart and I had passed some show, I called the midwife to give her a heads up. She told us to start the drive to the birth center when they were 3-4 minutes apart. That time came during a viewing of Superman, and I had to really start breathing through the contractions. So we packed up the car and started the hour long drive up to Denver, which was an uncomfortable, but not unbearable ride.

It was about 7:30pm when we arrived. At the birth center, the midwife checked and found me to be at 3cm. I had hoped I was farther along but, the drive could have slowed down the progress. I moved around, sat on the toilet, sat on a birthing ball, and tried different positions on the bed until I was dilated enough to get into the birth pool. I was already having some back labor. Great...the one thing I was really hoping I wouldn't have to deal with. Once I was in the pool, I found it to be much too cool for my liking. In fact, I was shivering nearly the whole time and it was just too cool for me to relax. The midwife and her assistant tried adding pots full of warm water to heat it up, but it just never did get totally comfortable for me. I was so disappointed, since it was the one coping method I had really looked forward to, especially with bath labor.

Eventually though, I did start feeling the urge to push. I didn't really recognize it at first. It just felt like I had to do a #2. I spent some time pushing gently, until some time later the midwife wanted to check me. I was fully dilated, but there was a lip of cervix that just did not want to move out of the way. She also found that Zeke was still in the occiput posterior position, facing up towards my belly, which was causing all the back labor. She kept having me push while she tried to move the little bit of cervix out of the way, but it kept slipping back. After some time of this and pushing on my hands and knees, in the pool, on the toilet, and on a birth stool, we found that because of his position, Zeke was also stuck on my pubic bone. This after spending a lot of time on my sides trying to get him to turn. No dice. So there I was on my back, pushing hard, trying to use gravity to get him to slide under the pubic bone.The midwife also broke my water, trying to get his head to engage better, and found meconium in the fluid. We kept going though, since his heart rate was so good and he was moving around a lot.

After 2.5 hours of this, I was completely exhausted and discouraged. No matter how hard I pushed it seemed we made little progress. I started falling apart, saying I can't do this, I want to go to the hospital, I want and epidural. They tried to encourage me by explaining that I was so far along, there really wasn't anything more they could do at the hospital. But...I was just so exhausted. I had no energy, I was dehydrated despite trying to keep drinking water, and with constant back labor, I had no relief from pain even between contractions, which were coming so hard by this point that I couldn't NOT push. I broke down sobbing and crying "have mercy!" I just wanted it all over with. I found out later that my husband was terrified.

So...the midwife and her assistant consulted with each other, and came back and said that because Zeke was stuck and making poor progress, they agreed it would be a good decision to transfer to the hospital. They started an IV with fluids and sugars to boost my energy, and loaded me into the car (the hospital was literally 2 blocks away). It was the most uncomfortable ride of my life- I couldn't sit on my bottom so I rode on my knees. My conscious thought focused to a pinpoint, and I only remember very specific things from around that time. I remember riding backwards in a wheel chair, watching Will's feet move as he pushed me and the patter of the carpet underneath. I remember laying in the bed on my side, waiting for the anesthesiologist as each contraction washed over me and the nurse strapped monitors around my belly.

Then the doctor on call walked in. He checked to see where I was, and then said to me very seriously, "You don't have time for an epidural. His head is right there; you've got to push this baby out!" It turns out Zeke had shifted and moved further down with all the jostling on the trip over. I felt more refreshed after getting some fluids in, and mumbled "oookay..." Like I had a choice at that point!

So I was back to pushing in a variety of positions, mostly squatting. I pushed HARD to try to get this kid to move. Still, progress was slow. After some time of this, Zeke, who had been an incredible trooper the whole time, started tiring and his heart rate was dropping. We agreed to a scalp electrode to more closely monitor him. I ended up pushing on my back again, with my rear in the air to try to get him to slide under the pubic bone. His heart rate continued to drop. A sense of urgency washed over me, as if I hadn't been pushing on this kid for hours already. By this time, the head midwife of the birth center, Tracy, had come and relieved Sarah, who had been with me since I came in. The doctor strongly recommended using vacuum assistance to help speed progress since Zeke was in distress and we needed him out quickly. We all agreed it was necessary at that point, but having the suction cup attached to his head was more painful than anything up to that point.

Then I was back to pushing, with every fiber of my being. I used every last muscle I had in my body. I don't even recall a distinct feeling of the "ring of fire" I had been told about; everything in my awareness blended into one amorphous feeling of extreme pain. I remember the doctor counting and encouraging me to push harder, that I was almost there. I remember the intensely focused faces of Tracy and the assistant, who was a student nurse-midwife and an amazing encouragement. I remember my endlessly supportive husband holding my leg and my hand.

Over and over, I silently repeated to myself with each contraction, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Right about the time I thought surely I have nothing left to give, the pain suddenly disappeared. I was momentarily disoriented and confused, relieved that the pain was gone and yet somehow I couldn't remember what was supposed to come next.

Then I heard him cry. And I wanted to see him, I wanted to feel him. I wanted to make sure he was really a he! Suddenly I remembered why I had just gone through all of that.

The doctor laid him on my belly, his little limbs flailing and quickly getting pink, his mouth wide open with a loud, healthy cry for his mama. I at first didn't know what to do, and awkwardly stroked him, saying, "Mommy's here, it's ok sweet boy!"

He had a light covering of brown hair on his head, and when he stopped crying he opened his eyes and looked right at me, in such an intense way that I've never seen from a baby before. It was like he was trying to memorize every aspect of my face. There was eternity in those dark blue eyes.

It was at that moment that I fell headlong into love with my precious son, the boy I had given every bit of my strength to birth. His name, Ezekiel, even means "God strengthens." I could not stop saying, "My precious, sweet baby, I love you so much, you are so perfect!" over, and over, and over. "Mama loves you so much!"

The effort of the birth had not left me untouched. It turned out that once Zeke had finished crowning, he shot out so fast the doctor almost didn't catch him! No wait for the shoulders. In the process, I received a nice 2nd degree tear. So while the doc stitched me up, the nurses weighed, measured, and bundled tiny Zekie in the corner of the room. In hindsight, I wish I had asked them not to dress him, so I could take my hospital gown off and hold him skin-to-skin. But I was so delirious at that point, all of those details faded away. I don't even remember nursing Zeke in the delivery room, but Will swears that I did, less than an hour after delivery. I do remember that he could not figure out how to latch on well that first day, probably because of the difficult delivery.

Ezekiel Joseph was 7lb 13oz, 20.5in, born at 7:35am on his due date, 11/30/09, after 17 hours of labor, including 4.5 hours of pushing.

I commented to Tracy that I was "never doing this again." She laughed and said that I wouldn't remember it so intensely and I would change my mind. I raised an eyebrow at her and told her to check back with me in 2 years and we'd see how I felt then!

Once all the excitement calmed down, I realized I was ravenously hungry and couldn't wait to get wheeled to my room so I could order breakfast. French toast and chocolate cake never tasted so good!

Later that day my whole body started hurting all over. My skin felt like I had a severe sunburn over every inch of my body, but I found it rather satisfying. I hadn't gotten the peaceful, gentle water birth I had wanted. But I had some proof of just how hard I had worked and what I had overcome to birth my son.

Sweet little boy...Mama loves you! 6 months later, I still can hardly believe you're mine.

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