March 23rd, 2011
8 lbs. & 20 3/4 inches
Damon’s arrival has left me with many existential questions. And as I sit down to write his story, cradling his tiny body in my lap, I feel unworthy of putting words to the magnificent and beautiful event that was his birth. And starting the story is the most difficult of all.
How does one know where a little human’s life story should begin? Is it at conception (Too much information? I thought so…)? Or the pink plus sign on a pee-stick. The first ultrasound and hearing the heart beat. Announcing the news. Surviving the first trimester. Finding out the sex. Or the numerous other milestones that intrigue and excite parents as they look for any hint or glimmer of the being that grows clandestinely inside the uterus. And finally, after 9 months of growing, labor and birth. The first breath. But, where to begin…
Unlike in the movies, labor rarely starts spontaneously with a gush of water. Labor often starts as a painful whisper, foreshadowing things to come. And at the beginning, it leaves little questions in the mind of the mother, like “Is this it?” Or it can start, send you into a whirl, and stop, laughing at those who think they can predict it, control it, or know it. But when the baby has communicated that it is ready to make it’s entrance, labor no longer dances lightly. Labor lets it’s presence be known, and there Is no longer a doubt that the arrival of an earthling is imminent. And whether waiting or laboring, all we can do is surrender.
I started having regular, crampy, contractions in the early morning on Sunday. It was the night of the full moon, and David and I had made the most delicious homemade eggplant parmesan for dinner. I woke up at 2 AM, thinking, this is it! I timed the mildly painful contractions on my iPhone (using the application Stage 1). They were about 15 minutes apart, but getting closer together. So, we called my sister-in-law, who drove an hour-and-a-half at 3:30 AM to be there to take care of Dmitri should he need anything. I called my midwife, who stressed that I really needed to go back to sleep, because it could just be the moon causing them. I stayed in bed, but I was unable to go back to sleep from the contractions. But by 6 AM, I was exhausted, and I finally drifted to sleep. When I woke up a few hours later, I was still having contractions every 10 minutes, but they were much milder. A sign that labor was not progressing.
And I was angry at the full moon for being such a tease.
Three days passed.
I returned to classes on Tuesday (we had been on Spring Break), still very pregnant and rather uncomfortable. But generally, my spirits were up. And I continued to have mild, but crampy and regular contractions.
I woke up Wednesday morning at 5 AM to use the bathroom, and then I knew. I had a contraction. The kind that I could not lay down through. The kind that I had to dance to. I timed three of them, and then I woke up David, saying, “I’m in labor.” There was no doubt.
I called my midwife to let her know that today was the day. I wanted to make sure that she had plenty of time to get there since she lived over an hour away. She asked whether she should come then, and we decided to touch base in an hour. After getting off the phone, I directed David as he helped get everything around the house ready for the birth. We began filling up the labor pool, gathering Dmitri’s essentials, and I ate breakfast. All the while, I moved through the contractions that were coming about every 8 minutes and lasting 60-75 seconds. About 15 minutes after getting off the phone with Debi, I called her back, asking that she go ahead and come. I knew that her arrival would help me relax. I did not want to worry about the baby arriving before she did, as I’ve heard enough insanely fast second birth stories (where the baby arrives in the car/on the toilet/ other unexpected place) to make me worry.
Up until this point, Dmitri was asleep. But around 7:30 AM he woke up. I will always cherish the time that I got to spend with him in between contractions. I told him how today was the day he was going to become a big brother. We shared lots of snuggles, hugs, and kisses. And I cried just a little (the first of many times that day).
Shortly after this, my midwife, Debi, her assistant, Jessica, as well as our friend Ingie (who took Dmitri to their house for the day) all arrived in a bustle of morning energy. Debi and Jessica began unloading their supplies, and I said goodbye to Dmitri, knowing that the next time I saw him, I would be a mother of two.
With all of the arrivals and departures, it took a little while for me to get back into the rhythm that I had had when it was just David and I. Although the contractions were still becoming more intense, they seemed to space out a little more. But it did not take long for me to become comfortable in my labor space, settle in, and make it my own. At this point, I was standing up and swaying my hips during contractions, while deep breathing and chanting “Om.”
“Om” was my labor chant from the beginning until the end. It centered me, keeping me focused and calm throughout the entire labor. It relaxed me, and I really believe that it enabled my cervix to open.
The contractions intensified, and I started having a more difficult time getting through them. I decided that is was time to get in the labor pool! We had a La Bassine pool set up, and it was amazing! It was so spacious; I could move easily. I felt like I was swimming. And I cannot say enough about the power of warm water to help relax and ease the intensity of painful contractions. It was also pleasant to rest in in-between the contractions, and I think it helped me let go of each contraction and not store up the tension.
David sat beside me in a chair while I labored in the pool for several hours; and Debi and Jessica sat in the living room. I continued to eat light foods (apple, toast) and I drank a lot of water, as well as a little bit of iced red raspberry leaf tea. As the contractions became more intense, David applied counter pressure to my hips while I was in the pool. We talked in between contractions and listened to music (Tegan and Sara, if you are wondering). This was such a wonderful way to labor: I was relaxed and confident, but in my moments of doubt, David was there to encourage me and support me. There were several times after an especially intense contraction when I broke down and cried. This really helped me release my fear and was able to let go and power through the next contraction.
As for fetal monitoring during this time, Jessica would come in and listen to the baby’s heart beat occasionally. However, I felt very comfortable with her. She was very non-intrusive, and I never felt like my space was violated. And if I were having a contraction, she was very respectful about waiting until it was finished.
As labor continued, David started timing the contractions to see how close they were together. We used the Stage 1 application on my iPhone. It was a super easy application to use; I would definitely recommend it. (And it’s free!) Around 11:00 AM the contractions were at their most intense, and I had severe back labor, but they were still 3-4 minutes apart.
This is when I became upset. I looked at David and declared, “This is taking too long. I cannot keep doing this. They are still 3-4 minutes apart and it’s going to be so much longer…I can’t do this.” I was anticipating this labor to be just like Dmitri’s labor. His labor had progressed similarly up until this point; and then I had hit transition. Transition was two hours of pure hell: incredibly intense contractions that lasted 90 seconds, with only 30 seconds in between. For two, solid, hours. Luckily, I had not known how long it would last with Dmitri, and I kept thinking it would just be a little bit longer. Especially since I had read that transition was normally only 8-10 contractions and usually lasted about half an hour [a learning experience that there really is no “normal” in labor.]
But this time, I had that memory. And I was terrified of having to endure that again. David recognized that I needed a “change of scenery” and we had listened through the Tegan and Sara playlist two or three times. At first, I suggested Regina Spektor. But as David clicked through the playlist, I said “Next” to every single song. I was just not in the mood. Debi had brought a CD that was nothing but the sound of ocean waves. I had not wanted to listen to it earlier, but now it was just what I needed. So, David put that on.
It was perfect. During each contraction, I envisioned standing on the beach (skinny and in a bikini again, of course!) holding the baby in my arms, feeling the sweet burn of sunshine on my skin, cool sand in between my toes, and watching Dmitri laugh, splash, and run in the waves. I am pretty sure that I smiled during the contractions. I know that my eyes watered, not from pain or fear, but from pure happiness and excitement to meet my baby. I was mostly silent, and I meditated in between contractions. When I could think about nothing else, I focused on getting to hold the baby. And I listened to the crashing of the waves…
All of a sudden, I felt a wave of dizziness and pressure in my lower back. I told David, “Get Debi, NOW.” Debi came into the room, and I said, “Debi, I don’t know what’s going on!” [Code for: Surely I am not feeling the need to push.”] She asked if I wanted her to check me (I had not had any vaginal checks up to this point.) I decided that yes, I wanted to be checked. I wanted to know what was going on. She checked me while I was still in the labor pool.
She said, “No cervix!”
David said, “Caroline, you know what that means!” I think I had the biggest smile I’ve ever had in my life. I was elated. In my mind, I had somehow just skipped transition, (of course, I had actually just powered through it.) I laughed; and I was so excited.
At this point, there was a slight lull in my contractions. I’m not sure if it was the excitement, or just that I was transitioning from stage one to stage two of labor. At one point, I felt like I was going to have a contraction, so I got into my hands-and-knees position and took a deep breath. But the contraction didn’t come. I burst out laughing, feeling like I had been pranked. But it was a short-lived break, and they resumed, now with a strong feeling of pressure. Debi and Jessica were in the room now.
I began to bear down during the contractions. I did not feel a full out need to push, but I felt so much pressure. And then, with a huge “pop” (although, not audible, since it was underwater, I felt it) my water broke. It was like an octopus emitting ink into water, except that it was clear: yay!. I said, “Thank god! My water just broke. That feels so much better.” But the relief did not last long. I felt surges of dizziness and a lot of intense pressure and pain in my lower back. I decided that I wanted to get out of the pool, so David helped me out. For a little while I felt like standing up. David stood behind me, nearly holding me up, in a supported standing position while I pushed against his support. While I was pushing, a massive amount of fluids came out. I said, “I feel like a Clydesdale!” Debi assured me that I was not peeing, but the gushing warm liquid had some similarities.
I continued to feel dizzy, and I became tired from standing, so Debi directed me to the bed. I DID NOT want to lay or sit down on that bed, and I do not think that there was anything anyone could have done to get me to, outside of chaining me down! I told David to get the ball, and I tried holding the ball while in a hands and knees position on the bed. But that was not comfortable at all. I kept saying, “I just feel so dizzy.” Jessica mixed me an Emergen-C to help give me energy, and I felt much better after chugging it. Debi then suggested that I get on the squat stool.
The squat stool was covered in a trash bag, so I could not really see what it looked like. But when I sat down on it, I was astonished to find that it was incredibly comfortable! It was like the rim of a chair, or a toilet, but the front and center parts were open. It was also covered in foam, so it was very soft. Because of the shape and height, it enabled me to relax (much like a toilet would, except that it was much softer and more comfortable). Think Sphincter Law. I cannot rave enough about the squat stool.
At this point, Debi was in front of me, with Jessica and David on either side of her. And I began to really push. While I pushed, I leaned on Debi. I still felt dizzy, but I knew that I had to work through it. I pushed during contractions, but I also pushed in between contractions. And I pushed slowly. (I had read a lot on the benefits of slow pushing). As the baby began to descend, I got to put my fingers inside and feel his head. This was both motivating and empowering! I was not afraid of my own body. And I held no inhibitions. And I continued to push. I do not think that I can describe all of the sensations that I felt at this point. A lot of pain, a lot of pressure, the most intense experience that I have ever been in; He began to crown. And there were plenty of hands there to catch him, including my own. It seemed to take a long time for his head to be fully born. It burned, and I made a lot of noise! But finally, I delivered Damon August at 12:04 PM and David was there to catch him. Debi directed David’s hands to put him in my arms. I do not remember what I said at this point:
I was in complete shock and disbelief that I was holding a completely blue, floppy, and oh-my-goodness, slippery! baby in my arms. I could not take it in- it was so amazing. And I could not take my eyes off of him as I cradled him in my arms. He eventually took his first breath and made a whimper, but he never actually cried. They helped me move up to the bed; David sat beside me. And we got to know our son. It was only a few minutes before he had latched onto my breast and was sucking away. It was incredible to be able to bond with him immediately, and for the three of us to lie in bed together: completely relaxed and comfortable. There were no interruptions, no one bugging us. Just an immense amount of love, awe, happiness, and peace as we shared and celebrated the first hours of Damon’s life.
The Afterbirth & After thoughts:
It took a little while before I pushed out the placenta, however, even after it was delivered, we left him attached for about an hour and a half so that we made sure he received most of his blood back. I was fascinated by the cord and placenta (something that I did not even want to look at the first time around). I had no idea that the cord was so rubbery and cartilage-like. David got to cut the cord when we finally did cut it.
I had zero-tearing, and not even a skid mark. Which my midwife said was impressive, considering he was 8 lbs. and had a head-circumference of 14 .“ I was so happy about this; tearing is not a fun recovery at all.
Naturally, I was sore afterward. And the contractions were pretty horrible(and lasted for several days. They were especially bad while nursing). But I had very little swelling, and honestly, my perineum and tissues did not even feel like I had had a baby at all by the next day! Although, I had a lot of soreness other places (like my back!)
One thing that I learned afterwards, was that my midwife had never intended for me to give birth on the squat stool; she prefers for moms to not give birth on it because they often push too hard and have severe tearing and difficult repairs. I found this out after I had gone on and on to anyone who would listen about the wonders of the squat stool, how much I loved it, and how I would refuse to give birth any other way in the future. Debi assured me that I could give birth on it again; I have since joked that I have earned squat stool privileges and I want a badge.
Breastfeeding is going well. My milk fully came in four days after the birth. Of course, I have the usual complaints of soreness and engorgement. But it comes with the territory and we are working through it. I have had to work to make sure that he has a proper latch, but we seem to have it down now. I am also pumping so that I will have milk stored, should he need it when I go back to classes.
Dmitri got to meet Damon a few hours after he was born. He is very sweet and gentle with him. He loves to point out his hair, eyes, ears, nose, mouth and toes. And he greets him by saying “Hiiiiiii baby!” Having a little brother who requires attention is definitely an adjustment for him, and for all of us. But he is doing as well as can be expected.
Since Dmitri still sleeps in bed with us, it has been a conundrum determining how to handle sleeping arrangements with two little ones. As of right now, all four of us are sleeping in our King size bed and it is working really well. This might not seem like the most comfortable situation, but it is working for us, for now, and we love getting bond and cuddle as a family.
All in all, I feel like I could not have asked for a more perfect birth. Yes, it was crazy/intense/painful/etc. But, it went exactly how I wanted it to, and I feel very very lucky. Perfect is not a word that I thought could ever modify the word birth.
A final thought: there is a placenta in our freezer. That’s a little strange. I'm unsure what we will end up doing with it!