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.

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