Saturday, January 7, 2012
Vivian Llewella's Birth Story
In the middle of my second pregnancy I switched from an OBGYN group to a group of midwives a few towns away. I’d decided with this pregnancy that I wanted as natural a delivery as possible since my first labor and delivery was anything but, and I didn't fully trust that my group of doctors would let me labor naturally. My first baby was born in Tennessee with a different OBGYN group. I had been induced ten days early with him due to low amniotic fluid; ended up with an epidural that didn’t work and had to be repositioned three times before it finally kicked in right as it was time to push; had a giant episiotomy and a vacuum assisted birth that left my baby with a minor birth injury. I knew I didn’t want any of those things with my second labor, and so I started reading all about natural labor, specifically Ina May Gaskin’s books on midwifery and natural birth. During the last few weeks of my pregnancy I began re-reading all the positive birth stories contained therein and hoping my birth would be just as magical. By the end of my pregnancy I’d spent many months seeing the same midwife and felt a close bond with her.
The last month of my pregnancy I began feeling contractions a few times a week, something I never felt with my first. I thought for sure this meant I’d deliver early, well before my due date which was December 19th. But the full moon of December came and went. Days of irregular contractions came and went. My due date came and went, and still no baby. I walked every day, drank cup-fulls of Red Raspberry Leaf tea, meditated each day, ate spicy food, drank half a Guinness, rode in cars all over the bumpy, pot-holed streets of our New Jersey town, jogged up and down the 44 steep concrete stairs of our town’s biggest park. 10 times in one day. And still baby was content to stay put. I’d been 3 cm dilated and fully effaced for the last two weeks before my due date, and every day that passed felt like it could be the day I would go into labor. I wasn’t too uncomfortable, but I was having daily contractions and sometimes it literally felt like my baby’s head was right between my legs. On my due date my midwife swept my membranes, hoping to get labor going. I left her office feeling like I’d have the baby that day since I’d been up most of the night before with what felt like menstrual cramps. In the car on the way home from her office, I started having stronger cramping sensations and a few contractions, but by the time I arrived home they subsided.
My mother-in-law was staying with us to look after our son Seamus while I was in the hospital, and the closer we came to Christmas the more pressure I felt to have this baby. I wanted my mother-in-law to at least make it to her home in Tennessee in time to spend Christmas with the rest of her family. While my husband Thomas was at work, my mother-in-law and I passed the time together waiting for baby by playing with Seamus, baking and cooking, making a popcorn and cranberry garland for the Christmas tree and sitting on the couch talking about our lives. She was great company, and I was grateful to have her there with me.
Then two days after my due date I walked my son to the park. We’d been cooped up inside for a few cold days, and he needed to blow off some energy. As soon as I got outside and started walking I noticed a much stronger pressure in my pelvic floor than I’d ever had before. It was a consistent pressure that I recognized from my first pregnancy to mean that I had probably dilated some more. By the time we reached the park I was having long, painless contractions, which felt exactly like the word contraction, like a big muscle flexing and tightening. I pushed my son on the swing and watched him run and slide all over the playground. It was a typical December day with temperatures in the 40s and a cold, gray sky. There were starlings everywhere outside, swarms of them, flying from treetop to rooftop and making lots of noise. After we were done playing in the park, I decided we should take a long, leisurely walk around the block and enjoy the day, enjoy a last little moment we’d have as just mother and son, a last walk around the block for me as a mother of one. I felt with certainty my labor would start within a few hours or at least sometime after I went to bed that night.
My contractions continued all that day, coming every 30 minutes or so without pain, only pressure. That night I went to sleep next to Thomas while he watched Friday the 13th in bed. I wanted to tell him to turn off the movie and get some sleep because I was positive he’d need it. Sure enough a couple of hours after going to bed I had a big contraction. This one woke me up, and this time it wasn’t painless. In fact, it felt exactly like the contractions I had while in labor with my son only a little lighter. It was 2:18 in the morning and I started recording the times of my contractions in a little notebook I kept by my bed. I had three contractions nine minutes apart each and then two contractions seven minutes apart. I woke Thomas at this point and he started rubbing my lower back and reminding me to relax and breathe deeply through each wave. In the span of about 45 minutes my contractions were coming three minutes apart and lasting about 80-90 seconds each. I called my midwife, who was already at the hospital with another laboring woman. Since I could still talk through my contractions, she advised me to labor at home for a while longer until the contractions built in intensity. However, at the end of our conversation she told me if I felt like my labor was progressing rapidly to just come on over to the hospital. She told me I was the best judge of what was going on with my body. I got off the phone intending to labor at home for a while, but twenty minutes later my contractions were right on top of each other, coming less than a minute apart and I was starting to feel nauseous. Thomas called the midwife and told her we were on our way. Incidentally, throughout my labor I was always able to talk through my contractions even during the pushing stage.
I grabbed a big metal bowl on the way out the door in case I threw up, and we started off on the thirty minute drive to the hospital. Each time I would have a contraction I would breathe deeply and remember all the positive birth stories I’d read, trying to take from them whatever would help to get me up and over the long wave of each contraction. A simple Yogic breathing technique (inflating my stomach with each inhale and deflating my stomach with each exhale) seemed to help the most because it directed the breath right to the source of the sensation. It also helped to imagine all the work my uterus was doing to open me up and move the baby down. During labor my every sense was heightened. I took everything in on the drive to the hospital, every billboard (it was Christmas time so there were a lot of Ginger Ale ads), ever exit number, every street name. I was able to give my husband directions to the hospital we’d only been to once before, help him find the emergency entrance, the parking garage and the appropriate place to park even in the midst of a contraction. I felt like I could see and hear and feel every single thing around me.
I decided to walk from the parking garage to the emergency entrance since I thought it might speed labor along. It was a long walk made longer by the fact that we had to stop each time I had a contraction so Thomas could stand behind me rubbing his hands on my lower back. We laughed about the fact that it looked more like we were engaging in indecent behavior in the parking garage than having a baby.
We finally made it into the hospital around 4 am, and I was wheeled up to a room in the maternity unit, where I met my midwife along with a new midwife she was training and a couple of nurses. My midwife dimmed the lights and closed the door and told me I didn't have to wear the hospital gown waiting for me on the bed if I'd rather wear my own nightgown. As soon as I got into my nightgown and rested on the bed I had what felt like a pushing contraction and announced to the room that I needed to push. As soon as I pushed, there was a loud pop and a gush of clear, warm water around my thighs. My water had broken. My midwife checked my cervix and found I was 10 cm dilated and ready to push. She said she was glad I came to the hospital when I did instead of laboring at home or Thomas would have been delivering the baby.
Pushing contractions were intense. I don’t want to use the word painful because it wasn’t pain that I felt but rather an overwhelming pressure in my bottom. Let’s just say it felt like the baby was crowning in my rectum not my vagina. My midwife poured mineral oil over my perineum and used her fingers to help stretch me. She told me to push into the pressure, which was scary because doing so only made the pressure greater. The pressure I felt while doing this completely overcame me, and I heard myself letting out these enormous roars and groans with each push. Thomas said this was one of the most amazing parts of my labor; neither one of us realized I could make those sounds. When I went with it I felt like I was possessed and letting my animal-body take control. Pushing was hard work. My baby didn’t just pop out like I thought it would, being my second baby and all. I pushed for over an hour. I know that much of this time would have been reduced if I’d gotten over a mental block I had sooner. The pressure was so intense it scared me and I held back, but eventually I realized if the baby was going to come out it was up to me to listen to my midwife and push into the pressure. As soon as I’d made up my mind to do just that my baby’s head came out with that very push. I felt an enormous relief and pushed the rest of the body out with the next contraction.
I held my baby against my chest for a moment before checking out who I had. I was surprised to find a little girl in my arms. I held her to my chest for a while before the nurses took her weight and measurements and then handed her back to me. My midwife helped me out of my clothes and I nursed my baby, who latched on instantly and nursed beautifully for over an hour.
Vivian Llewella Gwyn was 7 lbs. and 15 oz. and 20 inches long. She came out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and oh, so strong.
Her birth was the most amazing thing I’ve done in my life. I was in labor for only 3 ½ hours from the first contraction until my baby came out. Two weeks later my recovery has been much easier than with my first. After having both a medicated birth full of interventions and a completely natural birth with no interventions, I would have to say the natural birth was easiest and definitely the most rewarding. I was so happy with my midwife, who stayed with me the entire time and did things in my labor that a doctor would never take the time to do. The level of care I experienced from her before, during and after birth has far surpassed that of any OBGYN I’ve ever seen. She was more thorough than my previous doctors and intent on letting my body do what it was made to do. Even though natural labor was intense and at times painful, it was such a powerful feeling to let my body do its work to bring this person into the world.