With my three previous births, the transition from 7 to 10 centimeters took me deeper and deeper into the inner recesses of my consciousness. As I pulled further and further into myself, I would dig for any reserves of strength and endurance. Simultaneously I would be taken up and outside of myself to distant spaces somewhere between earth and heaven, almost completely oblivious to my actual physical surroundings and anyone in them. Between contractions, I was typically extremely relaxed and motionless with my eyes closed. Basically, during transition, I’m usually simultaneously high and sedated from the influence of massive amounts of natural opiates (endorphins).
But there I was… nine centimeters with baby #4… and my head was still firmly on this planet? I’d never experienced anything like this before.
After checking my cervix, Mary suggested that I get up on my knees, leaning over my birth ball, to encourage the baby to descend, and do some nipple stimulation to get some good “mean” contractions coming. In retrospect, I can tell you how wise and merciful it was for her to encourage those “mean” contractions. Endorphins are an important part of the birth process, and they’re released in response to pain. Minimal pain, in my case, translated to minimal endorphin release—not the ideal way to prepare for a mini-person to squeeze through my lady parts. Pushing has always been the easiest part of childbirth for me because I’m usually swimming in natural opiates. This time, Mary could tell (and I could tell) that I was most definitely not swimming in opiates. So, nipple stim we did. That’s when my doula arrived with her camera and started snapping pictures.
Knowing how soon the birth would be upon us, we also called for my five-year-old daughter to come upstairs. Before I even became pregnant, she told me she wanted to be my doula the next time I had a baby. She’s my little “birth junkie” and could watch birth YouTube videos with me all day long. Every night before bed for the last several weeks of my pregnancy, she told us, “Wake me up if you think the baby is going to come!” She had her little heart set on watching her new sibling’s birth, and I was excited for her to witness it too. So she bounced into the room, bringing her aura of sweetness and love with her.
The nipple stimulation was serving its purpose, at least to some degree. The contractions were coming more strongly and closer together. At that point, Mary started mentally preparing me for what was coming. Once my water broke, she explained, things were going to feel really intense—partly because we thought this baby was going to be about a pound bigger than she actually was, partly because labor had been so mild up to that point. I can handle intense, I thought. Been there, done that, I thought. I bore down a bit with the next contraction and my bulging bag of water broke. As some fluid burst out, Mary explained to my daughter that it was normal. Meanwhile, I was instantly thrust into something that didn’t feel the least bit normal.
I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the four minutes that followed. Almost instantly I went from calm and serene to wailing my guts out like I never had before. HOLY MOLY. So much for my goal of remaining calm to ease my baby’s transition into this world. Ha. My husband could tell from the unusually high-pitched tone of my vocalization that this birth was different. And my midwife later told me that when she hears mothers making noises like I was she assumes there must be a hand coming down with the head (and there was). After a brief break, another contraction hit, and I recommenced wailing my guts out. In those moments I was suddenly struck with a horrifying thought… What if this takes forever? What if this baby is HUGE and gets stuck and I’m feeling this for HOURS? OH MY GOSH! I am going to die! I never even really felt the “urge to push.” Just the urge to OH MY GOSH END THIS AS SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE. As I pushed and wailed, suddenly I could hear my toddler son wailing downstairs also. Oh no, I thought. He had awoken from his nap, and he was not happy about the fact that my sister was the one holding him. She quickly distracted him by taking him for a walk outside. Thank heaven she was there!
I was still on my knees, and I couldn’t see what was happening behind me, but I learned later that my daughter had become frightened by the sounds I was making and started backing away toward the window. She had watched countless births with me before and was adamant about wanting to be there, but this birth was more intense than any of us had bargained for and the noises I was making weren’t anything like what I had prepared her to hear.
My doula, bless her heart, crouched down beside my daughter and put her arm around her, saying, “Do you want to stand by me?” As that contraction ended, Mary urged me to tell her I was OK… I did. “Tell her again.” I did. “Tell her again.” I did. And each time I told her I was OK, it was like I was telling myself also. Just a couple of weeks ago, I read this statement in a friend’s blogpost: “The words I am are the two most powerful words in the universe. So be careful what you put after them.” At the time I was just thinking about helping my daughter and easing her fears, but hearing my own voice speaking the words, “I’m OK,” three times actually made me feel calmer and gave me courage to go on. My daughter, though she didn’t know it or intend it, gave me a great gift in those moments—providing me with the opportunity to give voice to that powerful statement: “I’m OK.” We both needed to hear it. And, if she hadn’t been there, it wouldn’t have been said. Her sweet presence was such a gift.
Meanwhile, another contraction came, and at Mary’s suggestion, I shoved the birth ball out of the way so I could tuck my chin up under myself and get some better pushing leverage. I had never pushed in that position before, and I really couldn’t tell whether I was making any progress at all. The sensations of this delivery were so strange and foreign and, dare I say, traumatizingly intense. When I heard Mary telling my daughter that the bit of bloody show coming out was normal, I felt a flood of relief. Blood meant I was actually getting somewhere—maybe I wouldn’t be wailing my guts out forever after all! With that bit of hope, I pushed and wailed like crazy. Soon the head was crowning, and Mary and her assistant were urging me to blow, blow, blow so the head could ease out slow and easy, Mary applied olive oil and warm compresses on my perineum to encourage stretching and prevent tearing.
I’m told that as soon as they could see the head starting to emerge, all signs of fear vanished from my daughter’s face, her jaw suddenly dropped in excitement and she was totally and completely mesmerized and thrilled. Oh how I wish I could have seen her face! I can’t recall exactly, but I have a vague memory of Mary narrating everything to her, helping her understand what was happening.
Only four minutes from the time my water broke, at 3:24 p.m. on February 24th, my baby emerged with her hand up behind the top of her head. Mary caught her and immediately passed her between my legs and into my hands. Without skipping a beat, my husband and I looked between her legs, and I exclaimed, “It’s a girl!”
I quickly pulled her up to my chest and waddled on my knees to the head of the bed, turning and collapsing in relief onto the pillows with my baby on my chest. She made a few little gentle cries, letting us know she was breathing, and pinked right up. I tore off my swim suit top so we could have immediate and unhindered skin-to-skin. As soon as my baby was in the crook of my arm, against my naked chest, she calmed right down. After the cord stopped pulsating, my husband cut it.
One of my hopes for this birth was to experience the “breast crawl,” but Mary wanted to be sure that my uterus was contracting strong and hard after the birth as a precaution (since my labor had been so mild), so she encouraged me to get the baby latched on right away. As I offered my baby my breast, she calmed even more, and slowly relaxed her face muscles and began opening her eyes. As she fully opened her eyes for the first time, my face was the first thing she saw, and she stared straight into me. I don’t think I audibly gasped, but I was momentarily stunned by her intense gaze. It was mere seconds but it felt like our eyes were locked together for several enthralling minutes. I will be forever grateful that my doula captured that moment with her camera. Seeing the photo brings me instantly back.
Within a few moments, my baby was nursing, and she stayed at my breasts for almost the entire first hour of her life. Though everyone else, including my husband, had to wait for their “turn” with the baby, I’m so grateful and happy that my baby’s first moments were skin-to-skin at her mother’s breast.
About five or ten minutes after the birth, I pushed out my placenta. It was surprisingly small, and based on its appearance and the way it came out, Mary suspects it was low-lying. Even so, everything was, as Mary kept saying afterward, “Perfect.” Perfect delivery, perfect minimal blood loss, perfect baby. I don’t think any of us will forget the birth of my placenta because it was made memorable by my daughter’s words of comfort to me, sitting to my right, lovingly rubbing my arm as I grimaced and pushed it out: “It’s OK, Mommy. You’ll grow another one.”
She had no idea she was being funny. She was just being her sweet, empathetic self. She stayed right by my side as I nursed her new baby sister, rubbing my arm, sweetly pulling my hair back away from my face. In those sweet, quiet moments, she told me:
“I knew you could do it, Mommy.”
Just typing the words now I get choked-up. I am so incredibly grateful she was at her sister’s birth. Her presence and enthusiasm and love created something magical and special that I will always treasure. In retrospect, I really believe that the landscape of this birth—the slow mild build followed by a steep and speedy finish—was for her benefit. (She only saw me in pain for four minutes, and I think that was more than enough for her fledgling doula heart to take.) I like to think that she will see this experience as a turning point in her life, seared by joy and wonder into her memory. I could be wrong, but I have a hunch that witnessing her baby sister’s birth was a springboard into a future full of many more births and many more quiet moments when she will say to the strong women in her future, “I knew you could do it.”
When I was pregnant for the first time, I used to watch an old reality show called “Maternity Ward” all the time, much to my husband’s chagrin (he used to get quite woozy seeing birth and blood and all that jazz). The births always made me get teary-eyed , so naturally I assumed that having my own children would make me get teary-eyes also.
To my surprise, I didn’t cry… not the first time, not the second time, and not the third time. But, as I sat nursing baby #4, with my husband at my left and my sweet 5-year-old at my right, tears came to my eyes. I couldn’t even describe what I was feeling when my daughter asked, “Why are you crying?” I know from my 30 years on this earth that there are only two things that can get me to cry: intense emotional pain and God. So I guess the best answer to my daughter’s question would have been…
“I’m feeling God.”
This birth wasn’t what I expected or imagined, but it was exactly what it needed to be. And at this moment I can say I wouldn’t change a thing.
Read “Surrender, part 5″ HERE.