Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Miracle of the Labor

"You can't always get what you want...but if you try sometime, you might find, you get what you need..." -- The Rolling Stones

My midwife, Martha, had told me, and I had seen it written elsewhere as well, that there is a saying in the birth community: first labors are long, second labors are short, and third labors are unpredictable. Not being one for unpredictability, I went through my third pregnancy feeling certain that not only would my labor be like the first two, I would have some control over it.

How funny that, after two completely natural births, I might have such a foolish notion!

The first intention that did not come to my wishes for fruition was my baby's arrival date. Since the day I knew I was pregnant, I decided we would enjoy a November birthday. Every plan was made for this November birthday, despite my "due date" of December 9th. (It bears mentioning here that I am always 100% sure about my conception dates and theoretical "due dates," however, I do not believe in "due dates" because every mother grows her babies differently and every baby needs a different amount of time in the womb. I, for one, have never made it to "the due date.")

As November faded away and we moved well into the first week of December, my frustration, and my worry, grew. My 2nd baby was a big one, almost too big for me to deliver. There were many factors that caused this abnormally large child to grow in my body, none of which were present in this pregnancy; however, I was still aware that each day, the baby was gaining another ounce.

I'd be concealing the whole truth if I neglected to mention that there was some degree of ambivalence leading up to the birth of this baby. While the pregnancy was carefully planned, even sought after, and we were certain we wanted a 3rd child in our family at this time, I could not think of the baby in terms of what I would gain from its arrival, only what I would lose. I was finally sleeping without interruption from my children, finally free to do something alone without worrying about someone needing to nurse, finally seeing the light at the end of that years-long tunnel of being so available to my children and meeting their needs, at the expense of my own, most of the time. After all, my job outside the home requires so much of my energy and the kids deserve everything they need from me. Another baby would set me back a few years. I was scared.

The next intention that didn't really work out for me was my feeling that my labor would be short and sweet. I had been in a holding pattern for days, with mild contractions starting and stopping but never settling into any real pattern. On Tuesday, though, I knew things were different and I would have my baby pretty soon. I got a good night of rest and called Martha on Wednesday morning to let her know that I would be having my baby that day. I asked her to come early because I was afraid of giving birth alone and not having the help I'd need to get the baby out. She brought her sister, who was visiting from out of town. We called our helpers and asked them to be on their way. Bryan filled the birthing tub with hot water and prepared the house for my labor. I putzed around the house, put a lentil soup into the crock pot, and ordered a big fruit arrangement for everyone to eat while I labored.

Labor continued to be mild for several hours. Bryan and I went for a walk down our street, stopping at fire hydrants for contractions. I ate two English muffins and drank some raspberry leaf tea. After Bryan got the kids from school, I felt my mood start to shift. I had a few hard contractions in the bathroom and started to cry. Things were getting harder and I didn't feel like I was up for the challenge. This was unprecedented! I had handled each of my other labors with poise and grace, for the most part. I cried on Bryan, and Martha told me to get into the tub.

I worried that I was getting into the tub too soon, but she assured me that if my labor stalled, I could just get back out! Martha was right; at around 3 p.m., my getting into the tub was the best move. I could barely feel the contractions anymore, and I felt relaxed enough to let my body do its work.

I focused on letting go, relaxing, and allowing my body to labor. I did a pretty good job of this, just breathing through the contractions and sitting on the birthing stool to facilitate the opening I needed to do for the baby to be born. After awhile, I didn't want Bryan's words of encouragement or the counterpressure on my back that made the other two labors bearable. This time, I just wanted silence and space when I felt contractions. Everyone was respectful of that, and my body did its work.

My water finally broke, on the toilet, at 7 p.m. When I got back to the tub, Martha reminded me that the contractions would be more intense, but I didn't really feel that they were any different. I kept waiting for the sense of calm to wash over me, that feeling of peace that came when it was time to push out Anna and Simon. Those contractions didn't hurt as much...but that never happened. Every contraction took concentration and work to get through. In spite of not knowing for sure whether I was fully dilated (I needed a little assistance from my birth attendant at the end of the dilation phase in the first two labors, but Martha is very hands-off), I decided to start pushing.

On the first push, I felt my baby's head moving down. On the next one, the head was born. I was expecting Martha to tell me to turn over, so she could assist the delivery of the baby while I was on hands and knees, but she said nothing, because my baby wasn't stuck! My baby was born on the next push. Her umbillical cord was wrapped around her body and her fist was up against her cheek. No wonder her descent was so slow and deliberate! And no wonder this labor hurt so much more than the other two had! Her elbow and fist were digging into my back for hours!

The labor was a miracle.

My labor was exactly what I needed. I have realized that labor is the bridge a mother must cross -- it's the connection between "before the baby" and "after the baby." The bridge I crossed for Anna, my first baby, was long, but not too painful; it showed me that I have power and an innate understanding of my body and what it can do. The bridge I crossed for Simon was much shorter, but was a mixed bag of sorts; I emerged on the other side with the amazing confidence that I can give birth without technology or doctors, but with the knowledge that sometimes, nature has a hiccup and things can be a little out of control. The labor that I endured for this baby was so arduous and exhausting, both physically and mentally, that there was no question I was glad to see it end. Any ambivalence I had about welcoming this baby was long gone, wholly replaced by my singular desire to see the labor end, to be on the other side of that bridge.

Gabriella Cecelia was born alert. She and I both enjoyed the chemical and hormonal gifts nature offers to mothers and babies who experience drug-free births, laying the foundation for a lifetime of love. My trust in the process of labor and birth was restored. It was not the labor I wanted, but it was, without question, the labor I needed.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Homebirth FAQ

As this baby gets bigger and lower, I find more and more people are asking me questions about the upcoming birth. Most are particularly fascinated by the fact that I actually plan to have my baby in my house.

Q1. A homebirth! Is that safe?
A. Not particularly, but we're big, fat risk-takers.

Q2. Aren't you afraid or scared of having a baby in your house?
A. Not half as scared as I would be to give birth in the hospital. The midwife has less stuff with her she can hurt me with than the doctors have in the hospital.

Q3. How do you manage pain at home?
A. Screaming, a lot. Biting things, or people, if necessary. Lots of swear words. Sometimes, I hit people, especially my husband, whose fault this whole thing is, after all. Just like in the movies.

Q4. What if something bad happens? I've heard about horrible things that can happen during a birth.
A. We'd be really screwed. Once we get out into the woods by the fire and the drummers burning incense, we enter a force field and can't leave it to go to a hospital. Ambulances can't get in, either.

Q5. Is the midwife trained?
A. If you're lucky...but if not, usually one of the drummers (by the fire, in the woods) will drop his drum and put out his incense and come over to help in an emergency.

Q6. Why do you want a homebirth?
A. Because I'm a control freak. Why else?

Q7. Shouldn't babies be born in hospitals? They're sterile and everything.
A. If the mother or the baby is sick, a hospital is the best place for them. Then when they catch MRSA, it won't matter so much because they were sick to begin with.

Q8. What about the mess? Isn't the birth messy?
A. You obviously haven't seen my house. Blood stains, medical waste, an errant placenta...it all blends in over here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I yuv you

My little guy, Simon, is almost 3 years old now (just over 3 months to go). He is nothing at all like his big sister was at this age. For one, his speech is very "little boy" where Anna was speaking like a grown-up by 3. I think this is more a factor of Anna being on the high end of normal than Simon having a problem, though for several months I was very concerned about his tongue-tie and whether it had been completely repaired (I had his frenulum clipped when he was 3 weeks old and breastfeeding him felt like nursing a cat -- ouch). He is slow to pronounce several sounds, mostly at the beginnings of words and he has a really tough time with diphthongs. We understand him for the most part, as does the general population who listens to 2-year olds talk.

While his pronounciation isn't always right on, what he says is amazing to me. He talks about feeling sad and missing me when I go to work. He tells people how much he loves spaghetti and broccoli ("pa-getty and bokkie") but doesn't care for beef ("it's bad for my body and my b(r)ain"). He talks about trucks that dig and trains that take people to the city, and will tell strangers in the store that he goes to the doctor if he's healthy, just for a check-up.

The default phrase for Simon, though, is "I yuv you." He'll be sitting, playing, quietly, then look up at me and say "Mamma, I yuv you." In the car, if I turn around to smile at him at a red light, he'll say "I yuv you." In the wee hours of the morning, when he comes into my bed to snuggle until we get out of bed, he whispers "I yuv you."

Someday, he'll learn to pronounce his "l" sound and probbaly will only tell me he loves me if I tell him first -- if I'm lucky. For now, "I yuv you" is music to this mamma's ears.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

He's still my baby

I'm really savoring these days, as they might be the last days that Simon is my "baby." We're hoping to get pregnant this month. While Simon won't know immediately that he's no longer the "baby" in our family, I will, so I'm really enjoying Simon, age 2-1/3, as my sweet little one for a few more days.

Our breastfeeding relationship, which continues to be a huge part of how we relate to each other, is what I know will change the most. Nursing Anna during Simon's pregnancy was just short of torture for me, to the point that I vowed to never do it again. Once Simon was born, though, the tandem nursing of Anna and Simon together wasn't such a terrible thing and I am thankful for the benefits I reaped from that investment in Anna.

During each cycle, my luteal phase presents real difficulties for me in nursing Simon. After I ovulate, breastfeeding starts to get uncomfortable, progressing to downright painful and annoying as my period approaches. My experience of nursing through a pregnancy was basically that pre-period feeling for the duration of the pregnancy. I had many moments of resentment toward Anna, as well as many escapist techniques to help myself through the sensations that were so abrasive to me. Indeed, I found a way to get through the pregnancy and let Anna continue to nurse, but it was all for her. I did not cherish those nursing sessions one little bit. Sadly, Anna was younger than Simon is now when Simon arrived -- the majority of her 2nd year was spent with a declining milk supply and an often-frustrated mother.
Thankfully, after Simon was born, I started to like nursing Anna again, so my memory of our breastfeeding relationship will always be positive. Her weaning was timely; we were both ready to move on to new ways of interacting and relating to each other. She still seeks closeness with me, and I still make the time to sit and offer her individual affection and attention. I worry, though, that Simon might wean halfway through my next pregnancy, when the milk dries up. While this very fact is one reason I waited as long as I have to get pregnant again (Simon will be over 3 when this baby is born, whether we conceive this cycle or not), I am concerned that his last nursings might be accompanied by my impatience or visible discomfort.

Of course, it is just as likely that Simon will continue to enjoy his "un" through the birth of his younger sibling, and benefit from a second round of colostrum as Anna has.

Today, I'm savoring everything about Simon's babyhood: his intoxicating scent, how delighted he gets when he climbs into bed with me to nurse (he says "oh boy!" with so much excitement!), how he talks about nursing ("I drink this un now, this un in morning"), the way he searches for a part of my skin he can touch and pat while he's nursing.

I learned the hard way during Simon's pregnancy how detrimental it can be if I overlook the fact that the baby inside of me needs as much care as the ones on the outside, the ones who are already born. My intent to take good care of the baby inside might sometimes mean Simon gets the short end of the stick. If he doesn't night wean soon, we may have to encourage him to, so that I can get my sleep. His 45-minute nursing sessions, which happen a few times each week, won't really be practical anymore as my discomfort increases. Within a few months, I won't be able to sleep on my back anymore, which might upset Simon on the nights he wants to put his head on my chest. He won't accept anything else on those nights, and admonishes me "No sideways! I want to see un!" if I try to roll over before he's asleep and will let me move his head to the pillow beside me.

For a few more days, Simon will be my baby. He's been such a wonderful baby, and I know he will be a fabulous big brother when that time comes.