Natural Childbirth From the Other Side

You may be wondering where I went. I’ve been on this great blogging two-three times a week kick lately and then last week I left you with a paltry one post. One is hardly enough to whet even half a whistle. My apologies.

I have a good excuse, though, trust me. Way better than a last minute doctor appointment, a dog eating my homework, or a flat tire on the way to work. Last week, my sister in law had a baby and I got to help her through her labor. She went into labor Tuesday night and had the baby Wednesday night, which means I was awake for thirty seven hours straight. By the time I got home, I was so tired I needed Wes’s help getting out of the car. It was warm and dark in the garage. Warm and dark and quiet and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Still, as exhausted as I was, it was worth it to be there. Natural childbirth is incredible in every way, though I will say it was a lot more fun being on this side of it. I got all the fun of the miracle of life and none of the sleepless nights with a newborn! Win!

It was interesting to watch the process, and different people’s reactions to what was going on. I was happy to see that, when the chips are down or something goes wrong or someone needs encouragement, I’m indefatigable (that means tireless, for those of you who don’t have a dictionary handy). When my sister in law needed me (or, on a few occasions, the other people in the birth party) I felt no fatigue at all and had a bottomless reserve of energy on which to draw.

If you were to ask me a week ago how I thought I was likely to fare after being awake for thirty seven hours, I would have told you I was likely to be a gibbering wreck. Now, though, I don’t know. I suspect years of writing thrillers has rubbed off on me and I’m now capable of Jack Bauer-esque feats of resilience.

Though, who knows? Maybe I just thought I was helping when in reality I was weeping softly in the corner and trying to take naps in hallways. I’ll allow that possibility.

Either way, I got to help my nephew into the world and I’m amazed by that. I’m amazed by the strength of his mother, the skill of her care providers, and the enchanting sound of a newborn baby voicing his first cry. I’ve heard it three times now and it astounds me every time. Truly, I’m humbled. If you ever want to hear what true love sounds like, listen to a new mother greet her just-born baby for the first time.

Incredible.

Way Too Much Excitement

Oh my gosh, last week. LAST WEEK. When I took my belly photo on Wednesday morning, I had absolutely no idea what kind of day I was going to have. I figured I’d go to my midwife appointment and then lunch with Wes’s parents and that would be that.

Well, I did go to my prenatal appointment, where my midwife revealed that she still STILL wasn’t confident that Little Girl was head down. Between her and my other midwife’s uncertainty, Wes and I decided to heed their recommendation and schedule an ultrasound for later that afternoon.

After lunch, I headed to my ultrasound certain it was a waste of time and money. Ha ha, the joke was on me!

Baby Girl most certainly WAS breech. Breech breech breech. I saw her perfect fingers covering her chubby cheeks, and her fat little toes kicking up near her face, and felt my entire world shift on its axis.

This changed everything. EVERYTHING! I knew it was probably too late for an external cephalic version (where a doctor attempts to flip the baby head-down by moving her through your belly) to be effective, but I scheduled one for the next morning anyway. I wanted to make sure I did everything I could to prevent a c-section if it was in any way preventable.

And then I cried. I made a dozen phone calls on the way home and cried my way through most of them.

The next morning, Wes and I headed to my ECV bright and early. It was our very first visit to the Labor & Delivery ward and we were in jolly spirits. We had no idea what we were in for.

The ECV was painful. Excruciating, really. Horrible, horrible pain that was ultimately pointless because Little Girl would not be budged. After two attempts to flip her around, we all agreed there was no point putting me through a third attempt.

We went home. I scheduled a c-section for the next week. I cried some more.

I’ve been in complete, perfect shock for almost a week now. In the last few days I’ve started grieving the loss of the opportunity to bring my daughter into the world the way I’d planned, but I’m also trying to stay positive and see the upside to the whole situation.

My emotions are a huge, bubbling wreck and I alternate between excited and terrified on an hourly basis. I take comfort in my friends and family’s assurances that I’ll bounce back from my c-section faster than I would have thought possible. I take comfort in knowing that my Little Girl is going to be coming into the world safely courtesy of skilled hands.

But most of all I take comfort in knowing my daughter will be born July 5, after which I’ll never ever be pregnant again. This pregnancy has been way too exciting for my taste and I can’t wait to get my body back for good.

T-minus three days until I get to meet my daughter. I can’t wait.

Quality Qualification

I was chatting with Wes’ little sister today, and she asked me how my labor experience with Aidan was.  And I couldn’t answer her right away.  Truthfully, I’m not entirely certain how to answer that question.

My first inclination was to say that I had fun, and would totally do it again.  But, as my mother in law pointed out (she was there when Aidan was born), I most certainly was not having fun.  Contractions hurt, and there is no way, had you asked me while I was in labor, that I would have said I was having fun.

As for totally doing it again, that is true.  I am still as passionate about natural childbirth as I was before I experienced it, though maybe for different reasons than I was before.  Before, it was all hypothetical and I had no real idea what to expect, I just thought I could do it.

Now, well now I just suppose I know I can do it, and would prefer not to have to mess around with a hospital and anesthesia.  I’m hoping my next birth (whenever that is) will involve less bleeding and less tearing, so that I can genuinely just bask in the afterglow and not have to mess around with lame stuff like IV’s and stitches.

So, getting back to original question, in answering the question of how my labor experience was, it was…And there we go again.  I can recount the details of the day, but how was it?  How do I qualify the experience?

Even six months later I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around it.  I suppose the best way to describe the whole shooting match is to liken it to a marathon.  I can guarantee you that come mile 24, none of those marathoners are enjoying themselves and thinking about how much fun they’re having.  Their knees hurt, their muscles ache, they have to pee, and their lungs burn.

But then they see the finish line in the hazy distance, and they feel a spurt of adrenaline that carries them across the line.  And then they stop running, and it is that moment right there that makes them glad they ran the marathon.  It’s not those middle miles that feel interminable, it’s not the training that leads up to it.

It’s that endorphin-soaked moment at the end that makes them feel proud and exhausted and accomplished and absolutely victorious, even if they didn’t finish first.  Because they finished.  Because they did it, something that not many people have done and that a lot of people think is crazy.  And they are crazy, but maybe not in the way that people think.

Granted, I’ve never run a marathon.  I doubt I’ve ever even run more than a mile at once.  But I can imagine that this might be what it’s like.

So maybe that’s how I’ll answer that question in the future.  I’ll liken it to a marathon, and just say that it was hard but so worth it.  I won’t try to explain why it was worth it (because I’m not sure most people care why) and maybe I’ll try to stop saying it was fun.  Because it wasn’t fun in the traditional sense, and it wasn’t really fun in the nontraditional sense.  But it definitely was, and I’d definitely do it again.

Book Review: Baby Catcher

Baby CatcherOf all the books I’ve read in my life that inspired me, Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife is among the foremost.  I read this when I was newly pregnant, suffering from morning sickness and burrowed into my couch.  I was interested in natural childbirth, and had broached the topic with my OB-GYN, but wasn’t sold on the idea that I could do it.

I found this book by reading through the pamphlets and magazines my OB-GYN’s office sent me home with after my 8 week appointment.  This book was on their recommended list of reads, so I grabbed it from the library and promptly fell in love.

It’s the memoir of a pioneer in modern midwifery.  Peggy Vincent, the author, started out as an obstetrical nurse who jumped ship to midwifery because she disliked the medical profession’s widespread opinion that a normal birth is a posthumous diagnosis.

She believed, and still does, that all is normal until it’s not, and the fewer interventions the better (barring obvious complications, emergencies, breech babies, etc.).

She describes details about many of the births she was a part of, and reading all these stories about normal, everyday women who were able to bring their babies into the world naturally inspired the heck out of me.  These women were just like me, many of them first-time moms, and they were all able to do it.  This, of course, meant that I would be able to do it too.

The single-most encouraging thing I ever heard when I was pregnant, and I clung to this idea like a baby spider monkey, was something Peggy said.  I can’t convey it word-for-word, because I don’t have the book with me, but I’ll paraphrase.  She mused in her book,

“Of all the thousands of births I’ve been a part of, I’ve never had to take a mom to the hospital because of unmanageable pain.”

As a first-time mom with no idea what to expect from labor, this was immensely encouraging to me.  It gave me confidence that I could do natural childbirth, and truly confidence is half of that particular battle.  Knowing, in the midst of contractions, that you can do it, that your body is functioning perfectly, well, that’s the difference between being in labor and suffering.  But that’s just my opinion.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.  Even if you don’t plan a natural childbirth, it’s just a lot of fun to read all these incredible birth stories and learn a little about the history of modern midwifery in the U.S.

Book Review: Birthing From Within

Birthing From Within

I’ll be honest, I never really understood Birthing from Within.  I’d seen it recommended a million times over as the number-one-must-read-book-on-natural-childbirth, so it was actually the first one I checked out after I got my positive pregnancy test.

Then I opened it up and…I didn’t get it.  It was very focused on visualization of the birth.  My hopes for the birth, my vision of what it would feel like emotionally, that kind of thing.  It had activities in each chapter that required me to draw pictures of what I felt about birth and that is so not me it’s not even funny.

I was that kid in daycare who, during arts and crafts time, did the bare minimum creative output required so I could go back to reading books or pretending to be a horse running through the field (don’t laugh, it was actually a lot of fun, and since I didn’t have a real horse it was the best I could do).  I don’t really do drawing, my stick figures are so grotesque my four year old niece once remarked that she was proud of my good effort but that my drawing looked nothing like a human being.

For this book to expect me to express myself through drawing was laughable to begin with.  But then it took it a step further by asking me to sit and spend time contemplating what my hopes for the birth were, and imagine how I might feel.  How I visualized birth.

I’d never had a baby before, so for me to try to sit down and figure out how it might make me feel was completely unrealistic.  I have a fantastic imagination, but this was pushing it.  There’s no way I could have ever imagined reaching a point in my labor where time ceased to exist, where the gap between contractions would stretch for years, where I would cease to exist completely while the contraction hit me like a lightning strike.  I had no way of conceptualizing the incredible feeling of pushing Aidan’s head out, when it felt like I was literally giving birth to a planet.

As a childbirth newb, I was looking for boots-on-the-ground information about what labor would be like, what to expect, how to prepare.  This book was asking me to get in touch with the emotions surrounding birth, but I didn’t have any yet so I didn’t find it particularly helpful.

I discussed the book with one of my midwives once, and she nodded and said the book seemed most helpful to moms who had already had babies and were maybe recovering from a traumatic first birth experience.  This makes sense to me.  If my first birth had been traumatic, I could easily see wanting to sift through those emotions before embarking on my next labor adventure.