My daughter’s birth was an odyssey.
I felt the first contractions just after midnight, on Wednesday October 2, and Poet Victoria – Miss P – was born on Friday, October 4th at 4:34 AM. I got to hold her for a fleeting moment while someone snapped a picture, then she was whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
“Meconium,” I heard someone say in the background. “It’s the meconium.”
I’d spent the months leading up to Miss P’s arrival preparing for and fantasizing about her Birth Day, which was to take place at a nearby free-standing birth center: It would be a water birth, of course; I couldn’t think of a gentler transition from womb to world for my baby. The room would be dimly lit with the scent of lavender essential oil dancing through the air. Norah Jones would be crooning in the background on shuffle, and the few people who were present would speak in hushed voices, respecting the sanctity of the event unfolding before them. After the birth, Miss P and I would move from the tub to the bed where my husband, Tim – Daddy – would join us, and the three of us would gaze at each other as if we were dreaming.
After “The Golden Hour” -which they often referred to in our childbirth classes- had passed, Tim would call my parents, and they’d join us for a nourishing meal and, of course, to meet their long-awaited granddaughter.
Instead, I lay
in a hospital bed.
There was commotion in the hallway, and the bright lights hurt my eyes. A nurse scoffed at me- something about bending the IV- an IV I wasn’t supposed to have – as I gripped my cell phone and tried to focus on the 2″ X 3″ photo of my baby girl the student midwife from the birth center had sent to me before she left; I longed for my baby to be healthy and in my arms.
How did things go so terribly awry?
COULD THIS BE?
It all started two evenings before, on Tuesday, October 2nd. That night brought with it a sense of restlessness, and as the darkness slowly transitioned into Wednesday morning, I realized that the discomfort I’d been feeling had, in fact, been contractions (waves or surges, in HypnoBirthing terms). The surges were completely different from the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d been experiencing throughout the past few months. This time, they started in my lower back and seared as they pulled around to the front, like elastic being stretched far beyond its capacity.
These early surges were met with equal parts of fear, excitement, and uncertainty. My pregnancy had reached 41 weeks and two days, and I’d been anxiously awaiting any sign of impending labor, but I still wasn’t sure if what I was feeling was real.
I woke Tim up.
He gathered pillows and blankets, and we camped out on the couch like kids at a slumber party.
The surges were coming every 15 minutes or so and felt nothing like I’d expected. They were painful, sure, but not unbearable. Still, I couldn’t relax enough to sleep, so, I watched Tim sleep from my end of the couch and waited for the sun to rise. I wondered if tomorrow would be the day we finally got to meet our sweet girl.
When 8 AM arrived, I called my midwife and told her I’d been having contractions since 1 AM. I was hoping this would excuse me from the next round of tests I was scheduled for that afternoon.
No such luck.
Since my pregnancy had extended beyond 40 weeks, I was expected to go to the hospital for a biophysical profile (a type of ultrasound) and a non-stress test (NST) to monitor my baby every other day until her birth. I was told these tests were administered as a precaution because the placenta can begin to deteriorate at this point.
After the tests, I was scheduled for an induction acupuncture session based on the recommendation of my midwife. Our window to deliver at the birth center was between 37 and 42 weeks. Since my pregnancy had already extended beyond 41 weeks, she was eager to help me avoid a medical induction – a fate that terrified me – at the hospital.
Speaking of the hospital, by the time Tim and I arrived for the tests, my contractions had subsided. Still, I was excited as I told the nurse what I’d been experiencing.
“On a scale of 1-10, how painful were they? She cocked her head as she wrapped the elastic band that held the fetal monitor in place around my belly for my NST.
“Mmmm, maybe a four? Yeah, I’d say about a four.”
“Were you able to talk through them?” she asked. She pinned the band closed.
“Yeah, but I couldn’t sleep.”
She looked at me incredulously. “Those weren’t real contractions. Trust me, when they’re real, you’ll know.” She smiled as she stood up to adjust a knob on the monitor.
I left the hospital, once again, with reassurance that my baby was doing well, but as we headed to my acupuncture appointment I couldn’t help feeling a bit defeated. I was so excited I’d finally started having contractions just to be told they weren’t even real. Why wasn’t my body doing what it was supposed to do?
Since Tim and I were at the hospital for so long, we stopped at a little sandwich shop on our way to my acupuncture appointment. We sat on either side of the booth and made small talk as we ate, having no idea this would be the last official dinner we’d eat as a family of two.
YOUR DESTINATION IS ON THE LEFT blared the GPS as Tim approached the driveway.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” I asked, looking around with uncertainty.
He nodded, and we got out of the truck.
A cat rubbed its back against the tire as Tim shut the driver’s-side door, then it trotted along behind us. There were sprawling plants every which way leading up the front walk, and I felt, for a moment, like Mary from A Secret Garden.
The front door swung open, and we were greeted by the acupuncturist herself. After a quick exchange of hellos, she ushered us down a hallway, past several wagging dogs in various sizes, and through a couple of rooms until we reached her workspace. The dogs followed us closely, but stopped at the entryway as if held back by some invisible force.
I sat next to Tim on the couch as I glanced around. The space hosted numerous books, pillows and tchotchkes, all tidily arranged on the walls, shelves and floor. The room was dimly lit, and it seemed to buzz with positive energy. I was beginning to think this acupuncture business just might work.
The acupuncturist spent a few minutes talking with us, then she asked me to take my shoes off and climb onto her table. I was dizzy with a mixture of uncertainty and anticipation as my head sunk into a pillow that rested on the tabletop, and I rattled off something unintelligible because that’s what I do when I’m full of nervous excitement.
She explained what she was doing as she tapped the needles into my skin in swift motions, concentrating on my lower legs, feet, and hands. I didn’t feel most of the needles going in at all, but there was one that gave me a jolt like I’d just stuck my foot into a light socket.
“Think of it as a disconnect that’s been reconnected,” she said, and I pictured energy, which, in my imagination, looked a lot like rainbow glitter, swirling through my body. I felt wild and exhilarated.
Next, she mixed a homeopathic remedy for me. She took turns pouring drops from several tiny vials into a large plastic bottle full of water. After each new addition, she shook the concoction vigorously. While she worked, she explained the basic concept of homeopathy: Something about throwing a stone into water and ripples traveling away. The way I understood it was that homeopathy is basically a thing that’s diluted so many times that it becomes nothing, but still something. Confusing, yet intriguing. I had a burning desire to learn more.
She held the bottle out toward me, and my head whirred as I accepted it.
“Take a sip every 30 minutes or so,” she said. “Swish it around in your mouth, and hold it under your tongue for a little bit before you swallow.”
Like wine, I thought, trying to distract myself from the fact that I was about to ingest some unknown substance. I won’t lie; I was scared to drink the whatever-it-was, (I’m funny about stuff like that) but I did it anyway. Sure, I’d just met this woman, but I found her fascinating. She seemed to know exactly what she was doing, and I trusted that she wouldn’t give me anything that would harm me or my baby.
“It tastes kind of like printer ink, but mostly like water,” I told Tim as we drove home. Don’t ask me where I came up with this considering I’d certainly never tasted printer ink before. I took another swig and swished it around just as I’d been instructed.
“Yep,” I said. “Printer ink.”
“Oh yeah?” He kept his eyes on the road. He was used to my offhanded comments by now.
Then, somewhere along the 30-minute drive home, I began having
contractions surges again, and, this time, they didn’t go away until Miss P was in my arms.
THIS IS IT
I sunk into my yoga ball, closed my eyes and tried to breathe through the surge.
“Well?” Tim’s voice pulled me back to reality.
“They’re about 15 minutes apart,” I said, “but I feel like they’re lasting longer than they should.”
I’d taken two different classes during my pregnancy: HypnoBirthing and general childbirth education classes at the birth center we planned to deliver at. I remember both classes covering signs of early labor. I tried to remember how long they said the initial contractions would last.
I continued to take deep cleansing breaths and rock through these early surges on my yoga ball.
By midnight, the surges were so strong they had me hopping around the house in agony. I needed support. Since Tim had already been asleep for hours, I called my midwife.
Yes, yes, she thought this was probably the beginning of labor, and she urged me to get some rest because this was likely only early labor and I was going to need my energy later on.
Was she out of her mind?
I tossed my phone onto the chair as I stood up to brace myself for the next surge. The searing pain left me tense and bouncing around like I was barefoot on a floor of hot coals.
In between surges, I made another phone call. This time to my doula, who told me the same thing the midwife did. Rest! I was going to need this rest later.
I sat on the couch fighting back tears. I was alone and scared, and these surges hurt!
My stomach gurgled and lurched. It felt like the time, years and years ago, that I’d been sick after eating a rancid club sandwich at brunch while vacationing in Myrtle Beach. Suddenly, I thought about the mysterious homeopathic concoction I’d been sipping on for the past few hours. Always a worrier, I began running scenarios through my head.
Had I been poisoned?
What if the concoction had harmed my baby?
What was going to happen now?
I tensed up and braced myself against another surge. When it passed, I couldn’t help but feel like a failure. I was unable to do the one thing I’d learned was the key to a peaceful labor: relax.
How could I relax? I was scared, and I felt foolish for ever subscribing to the idea that labor was something I could endure naturally. So far, my labor was nothing like the way they’d presented it in my classes; it wasn’t neat and consistent like the one-size-fits-all descriptions printed on the stack of handouts I’d been studying.
I fought each surge armed with equal parts of anger and fear: Anger, because I’d been deceived, and fear because, going forward, I had no idea what to expect.
After a couple more frantic phone calls to my midwife, she decided to come over to check my progress around 5 AM. I was two centimeters dilated at that point, so things were slowly unfolding, but she stressed that I really needed to rest and pace myself.
My doula, Anasuya, wasn’t supposed to come to me until much later, but I was a physical and emotional wreck, so after one more phone call, we decided she’d head over that morning.
MIND OVER MATTER
I took a shower and tried to relax as the hot water washed over me, and, for the first time since the surges began, I felt a sense of calmness. After the shower, I just had this urge to be in Miss P’s nursery, so that’s where I headed.
I turned on the Rainbow Relaxation from my HypnoBirthing CD, and as I settled into the glider I’d been eagerly waiting to rock my new baby in, I began to feel much more centered and at peace. Sure, the surges were still intense, but the more I surrendered to them, the calmer I was able to remain.
Anasuya arrived around 10 AM bearing all kinds of goodies. She put Tim to work gathering up household items we would need throughout the day while she steeped some lemongrass from her garden for a tea.
We set up shop in Miss P’s nursery.
Anasuya began diffusing essential oils while I sipped steaming tea from my favorite mug. It was instantly soothing, and after I finished drinking it, Anasuya instructed me to lay down in the nest of pillows she’d created on the floor. She got me situated, propping an arm up here, a leg up there, and she massaged my ankles and legs with bamboo sticks. The surges made me want to crawl out of my body, but between the tea and massage, I was so relaxed that I was actually able to get a much needed, albeit short, nap.
After my nap, Tim made us lunch – Chickpea of the Sea (vegetarian mock-tuna salad) sandwiches. My surges were closer together and longer in duration now – about six minutes apart, lasting over a minute each- and lunchtime paused with the onset of each one.
Anasuya brought a long soft tube stuffed with rice (or something to that effect) that you warm in the microwave and apply to an area you’re trying to relieve. She warmed the tube and wrapped it around my lower back, and it was pure bliss.
In my moments of freedom, she taught me how to work with the surges. When one came, she taught me to sway and rock my hips and also to use my voice to expel the energy build up. This was pretty much what I did from that point on. Thinking back, I must’ve looked and sounded so ridiculous! It was so primal, so natural feeling. I slipped into my own little world where I was beyond my physical body – perhaps this was the Birthing Body that was often referred to in HypnoBirthing class. In this place, the surges were intense, but there was also a gentleness in the way they rolled in and over and away from me. They were me, and each rhythm brought my baby closer and closer to my arms.
The rest of the day included some yoga and a lot of “me” time. There were moments where I just withdrew from everything and allowed my mind and body to just be. The four of us, me, (Miss P), Tim, and Anasuya, spent a lot of time in the nursery. It was calm and peaceful. Not painless, but still beautiful.
It really was.
When it was time to move on to the birth center, Anasuya mentioned that she had a birth tub in her car.
“I was thinking maybe we’d have an accidental home waterbirth.” She smiled at me.
I didn’t really feel comfortable with that, so off we went to the birth center.
Tim folded the truck’s back seats up, and I kind of stooped against the seat-bottom, rocking through each surge along our 15-minute drive. In between surges, I peered out the window. It was bright outside, and hot, and there were so many mundane things going on: a person standing on the corner waiting to cross at an intersection, a woman holding her cell phone to her ear, a cigarette waving out a car window, and panels of dangling signal lights stopping and starting the evening rush .
The ride pulled me out of my zone a bit, but I still felt safe and in control.
There was no fear; this is what my body was made to do.
BIRTH WITHOUT FEAR
It’s really difficult for me to chronologically place the events once we arrived at the center’s Cherry Blossom room. I remember certain things: the space was dimly lit and serene. I spent some time bouncing on the yoga ball. I spent a lot of time in the tub; I loved the tub so much. Tim and I embraced each other and swayed together, he caught up in the rhythm of each surge alongside me. I ate bananas and drank coconut water. I joked and laughed with the midwives. Anasuya sang Portuguese lullabies to Poet while I was in the tub. The Rainbow Relaxation played on repeat in the background.
At some point, one of the midwives checked my progress while I was in the tub. I was in transition- the phase between being fully dilated and pushing. She remarked how if you’d told someone I was in transition at that point, they wouldn’t have believed it. I was so calm and relaxed. She also recommended I get out of the tub, as it seemed to be stalling things a bit.
I got out of the tub and walked the birth center’s hallways with Anasuya. We stopped in the waiting room to work through a couple yoga poses to help the baby settle into an optimal position for birth. It was probably around 9 PM, and the calm I’d previously felt quickly gave way to anxiety in the dimly-lit quarters. I was mentally and physically exhausted.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I said, which was a lie because I was doing it.
Things become blurry here.
There are gaps missing.
Eventually I was back in the Cherry Blossom room, seated on the toilet and surrounded by midwives.
Tim was beside me.
The midwives wanted me to start pushing on the toilet because they said the reflex was similar to when you’re going to the bathroom.
Nothing was happening.
They moved me to the bed and broke my water in an effort to prompt things along. I remember the sharp pop and forceful gush.
“Meconium,” said one of the midwives as another jotted something down on my chart.
I shuddered at her observation. I’d always thought meconium stained amniotic fluid was a cause for concern, but she didn’t seem troubled by its presence, and there was no time to dwell on the issue because I was already being instructed to move into a different position, then another, then another.
Nothing was happening.
I have no idea how much time passed.
Miss P wasn’t coming, and I was starving and exhausted. Anasuya fed me honey from a straw, and one of the midwives poured some homeopathic beadlets under my tongue. I slumped back. I couldn’t do it anymore.
I was done.
Then the midwives were scolding me. Miss P’s heart tones, which they’d been carefully monitoring since my arrival, were off. I needed to push this baby out, now. They were going to have to transfer me to the hospital at this point. We were out of time. I told them I couldn’t do it. I kept trying. I kept pushing, but she wasn’t coming.
Before I knew it, the door to the Cherry Blossom room was open, and there were two EMTs with a stretcher in the hallway. I felt like a teenager who’d been caught redhanded throwing a party while my parents were out of town- like I was doing something so terribly wrong and got busted. I was angry and ashamed.
What if Miss P wasn’t okay?
What if I’d harmed her by electing to deliver outside the hospital?
After months of careful research, I knew free standing birth centers were a safe option, yet in the moment, I doubted by choice.
The EMTs wheeled me into the elevator on the stretcher.
I watched the doors close, saw my reflection in the cold shiny metal.
My head felt weightless – hallow- as if it might float away.
So many thoughts spun through my mind on the ride to the hospital. Tim must’ve been scared as well. They wouldn’t let him ride in the ambulance, so he followed behind us. So did Anasuya and one of the student midwives.
Inside the ambulance, an EMT sat on either side of me. The one on my right tried to insert an IV into the top my hand, but couldn’t get it.
“You’re really in labor right now? asked the EMT on the left.
Now it was Lefties turn to try for the IV. No luck for him either.
“Are you guys sure you know what you’re doing?” I half joked as I looked down at my hands, which were quickly swelling at the attempted insertion sites for the IV.
By the time we arrived at the hospital, I was a wreck. As I was wheeled down a stark hallway into a room, I was terrified that Miss P was in grave danger, and the surges, which were now coming one on top of the other, were completely overbearing. The chaos coupled with the harsh florescent lighting pulled me from the safety zone – the Birthing Body – I’d been laboring in. Each time I tried to sit up and lean forward to brace myself against another surge, a nurse snapped at me.
You need to lay down.
You need to lay down.
You need to lay down.
The nurses voice was stern.
“I want a c-section, right now!” I demanded. I felt helpless and ashamed as the words escaped my lips. “Please.” I looked up at the nurse.
She told me I needed to wait for the doctor to arrive before they made any decisions, and I needed to lay down.
“I want this baby out now. Right now.” My cheeks grew warm, and I felt like a child throwing a tantrum. Miss P was in danger, and I wanted her safe in my arms. If that meant facing my worst fears to get her there, so be it.
Suddenly, the student midwife who’d followed us from the birth center was at my side, or, perhaps she’d been beside me all along, and, in the momentary pause from my hysteria, I’d just noticed.
“You don’t want a c-section,” she calmly urged. “That’s the last thing you want.”
She was right.
In the event of a true medical emergency, I was grateful I had the option, but until the doctor arrived to assess the situation I needed to find that zone of calm and focus and trust where I’d previously resided.
“I release my birth over to my body and my baby.”
A round of fetal monitoring verified that Miss P’s heart tones had returned to normal; she was no longer in distress, but the nurse was concerned about the note on my chart stating there was meconium in the amniotic fluid. She explained that though this didn’t necessarily signify a problem – it actually wasn’t too uncommon – a team from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit would be standing by incase of complications.
The doctor arrived a bit later. She looked over my birth plan, and we agreed we’d keep trying for a natural, unmedicated birth- an opportunity I’m so grateful for.
“I’m prepared to calmly meet whatever turn my birthing may take.”
In some ways it feels like only mere moments passed between the doctor’s okay and Miss P’s debut, in others, it feels like an eternity.
“My baby moves gently along on its journey.”
In reality, it was a few hours.
“Each surge of my body brings my baby closer to me.”
At 4:34 AM, Poet Victoria was born 100 percent naturally, albeit not so peacefully.
The moment Miss P was born, time was suspended like the lingering pause between a bolt of lightening slashing the night sky and an angry crack of thunder in the distance.
She didn’t emerge with gusto, the way some babies do. Instead, she was limp and silent. The doctor rushed to cut the umbilical cord as she mumbled something about meconium. She swaddled a languid Miss P in a receiving blanket, and placed her in my arms just long enough for someone to snap our first family photo. I barely had the chance to look down at her before she was taken from me, rushed to the NICU.
The whole thing was so far from the peaceful private entrance I’d been fantasizing about since we switched to midwifery care and found a supportive doula.
Our birth plan clearly stated that in the event of a medical emergency, Tim and our baby were not to be separated, but he was told he had to stay behind. It was terrifying because we didn’t know if she was okay, and it was heartbreaking knowing that she would be looking for Mom and Dad, and we wouldn’t be there.
Tim got to see her an hour or so later. She was okay- just a rough start. He said she was crying when he walked in the room, and then when she heard his voice, she stopped.
I finally got to see her and hold her a few hours later, and, that part, well, there really are no words.
Less than halfway through her first day, Miss P was breathing unassisted, alert, and nursing like a pro. Even so, the first 48 hours of her life were spent in the NICU under observation. During this time, Tim and I were allowed to stay with her. We were allowed to hold her and care for her, though not quite in the same ways we would have had the situation presented itself differently.
I find myself often wondering what it would’ve been like had Miss P not been pulled from my arms moments after her birth- to have experienced the mythical Golden Hour in all its glory: no weighing and measuring, no bath to compromise the precious vernix, no generic blanket and cap to mimic the warmth of that initial skin-to-skin contact with the mother.
I wonder what it would’ve been like to hold her close without a tangle of cords hooked up to various monitors intruding between us, to know the sound of her breath without the drone of equipment – equipment that in our case was completely unnecessary. I also wonder how I would’ve felt had I not had to watch a nurse push the empty plastic bassinet from my hospital room, its wheels squeaking across the tile floor.
When Miss P was 24-hours old, I called my midwife from the hospital to thank her and to let her know we were all doing well. During our conversation, I was forced to think about what might’ve happened had Miss P been born at the birth center. I felt the sting of salt behind my eyes.
“She’s a smart baby,” said my midwife. “She knew where she needed to be born.”
It was true.
Sure, I didn’t get the birth center water birth I’d planned, but I got the peaceful birth center labor and the midwifery care my mama-to-be-spirit yearned for and the hospital birth Miss P needed.
“I put all fear aside and welcome my baby with happiness and joy.”
Welcome, Poet Victoria:
Poet: “A maker of verses.”
Mongan, Marie F. “Affirmations for Easier, Comfortable Birthing.”Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method: A Natural Approach to a Safe, Easier, More Comfortable Birthing. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 2005. N. pag. Print.