The Birth of B
B’s Birth was so different from the birth of J (now age 4) and M (now age 6) that it surprised me in most every way.
One major differenc came before the birth. B made us wait a bit more than I expected. With M, I gave birth a day before my due date. J came 2 days after her due date. So with B, I was reasonably expecting that she might show up sometime close to the due date. I figured it was simply my genetic makeup. Evidently B doesn’t believe in genetics. When she finally showed, she was a full week past the due date and had been causing me some major frustration, with multiple episodes of “false labor”, for more than a week. I had actually come extremely close to asking Arp to start filling up the birth tub on more than one occasion, only to have contractions that spaced out in the morning. I was beginning to wonder if my baby would ever arrive, if I could survive the wait, and if I’d actually be able to tell if it was the “real thing” when the time came.
The night before labor began in earnest, I had some contractions in bed that required that I do some breathing and even some vocalizations. I didn’t really think much of it, however, since they were infrequent and had no pattern. I was able to get a decent night’s sleep through them, although a few contractions did wake me up a bit. But that was nothing new, as I’d already spent multiple nights awake with contractions that magically disappeared by morning. When I woke that morning, around 7am, the contractions were gone. I figured I had yet another day of waiting in store for me. As I ate breakfast, I did a ton of housework – scrubbing out the tile shower, sweeping the whole house, taking down laundry from the line, folding, running some more loads through the washer, doing dishes…I was busy, busy, busy. I had a few contractions that were a little hard, which I remarked about to Arp, but nothing I’d call labor.
Arp left to go to the market around 9am. Before he left, I passed what I thought was part of my mucus plug. I’d never actually seen a mucus plug before, as I never passed one before labor with either of my other children. I came out of the bathroom to tell Arp about the mucus, I finished up my work, really sweating in the heat of the morning sun. Then I hopped in the shower a little while after Arp left. It was while I was in the shower that I had my first positive indication that labor was starting – I had several contractions that caused me to have to lean over against the tile and moan. When I got out, I told M that I was pretty sure that today was the day, and that I was going to call Daddy very soon and tell him to come home! But still, part of me expected this to be a false alarm. After I got out of the shower, I did try to call Arp, but he wasn’t picking up his cell phone. So I crossed my fingers that he would hurry. I also opened up my laptop and turned on contractionmaster.com. I wanted to time a few contractions so that I could give the midwife an idea of what was happening when I called her.
While I waited for Arp to come home, M and I were getting some things ready for the birth. I was still a bit unsure if I was actually in labor, but I wanted to get ready just in case. M was very helpful. Together, we started rinsing out the already inflated birth pool, which had been waiting outside for the last 3 weeks. With M’s love of water, he was very happy to weild the hose. He was also obviously very excited about the idea of having an inflatable pool right in our kitchen, and was very happy about the idea that he could get into the pool with me. We also gathered beach towels and cotton rugs to use for the birth pool. M was insistant that his special dark-blue shark towel not get used, since he didn’t want any blood or “white cheesy stuff” to get on it. I told him that was no problem – we had enough towels and I didn’t need his. All during this time period, I was having stronger and stronger contractions. For most of them, I actually had to stop what I was doing, lean on something, and breath through them. M was nice enough to trot over to my laptop and log the contractions when I needed him to. This is also when I had to give M a lesson on how to tell if I was having a contraction, and what he should do (be quiet!). It took quite a few contractions for him to learn this lesson, as he was having a tendency to repeatedly ask me questions just when I needed to concentrate. But eventually he got it mostly figured out. J was mostly entertaining herself while M and I worked. I think she was watching TV, although I can’t be entirely sure (I had my mind on other things!). By about 10:30, when Arp finally got home, I was starting to really worry that he would take forever to get home, and that I would have to start filling the birth pool myself!
When Arp arrived, I was in the bathroom. As his car pulled in, I could hear M and J both running out to meet him and shouting something or other about the birth coming. When Arp walked in and met me at the bathroom door, he gave me a questioning look and said something like, “What’s up?” I said something like, “I’m sure the kids told you, right?” So he quickly brought all the bags from the market inside and got the kids plates of fresh farmer cheese and crackers, which I munched on ,too. From that point on, our preparations were a blur. I was alternating from emptying bags of vegetables to having hard contractions. Arp asked me if I wanted to sit down or go to the bedroom, but I didn’t want to just sit around thinking about contractions. During contractions, I felt like I absolutely had to be standing and swaying my hips, although I wanted to lean my head against a wall or something hard. Since I was emptying gracery bags, that hard surface was most often our refridgerator. Our fridge is so small that I can actually partially rest my head on the top of it. It’s so funny that the fridge that I’ve hated for the last 3 months, because it is so small, came in so handy during labor.
As I was emptying bags and working on harder and harder contractions, Arp brought the birth pool in and started filling it. He started by emptying the entire solar water heater full of hot water into the tub (thank goodness it was a sunny morning!). Then, when the water cooled off, he hooked the hose up to the faucet at the kitchen sink in order to use the electric backup heater to get hotter water. After about an hour, at close to noon, the tub was almost full, but not quite hot enough. We took a brief break from filling it to allow the solar and electric power to heat up some more water.
I was in the bathroom when the midwife arrived. A bit more of my mucus plug had come out, and I was having a hard time with a contraction while sitting on the toilet. I had to stand up! When I came out to greet the midwife, I gave her a slightly tired smile and sat on the couch. As we talked about the intensity of contractions, I had to stop talking during contractions. As we wandered over to the birth tub, I commented that I wasn’t worried about the water temperature because I didn’t think I’d want to get into the tub for a few hours. (Ha! Sounds so funny now, because B was born within about an hour’s time!)
A few minutes later, as I had a contraction against a support post in the kitchen, I felt the baby abruptly move and then felt a little popping sensation and a trickle. My water had broke. I quickly grabbed my shorts to stop what I was afraid would be a deluge (it wasn’t – just a trickle) and ran to the toilet. I said to the midwife, “My water just broke, I think. Unless I peed in my pants…” She followed me to the bathroom, and as I sat on the toilet and peeled off my undies, she grabbed them. Then I noticed she sniffed them slightly (Oh my goodness. I was so embarrassed about that, even though I know she was probably just checking to make sure it was amniotic fluid, and not pee. Or maybe checking for meconium. But still…) The midwife also peered into the toilet and pointed out the lovely vernix in the water. That was when I started to get really excited. I realized that I was seeing this vernix that had been in contact with the baby, and that I’d be holding my baby soon. I commented to the midwife that I guessed there was no going back now. This was the first moment I was positive that labor was really going to stick, and I was having a baby! As I heard Arp enter the house again, I asked him to get me another pair of undies. When he came back, I told him that my water had broken. He didn’t seem too surprised, which surprised me. I guess I expected his mouth to drop open or something. Was I the only one in the house that was still surprised that I was giving birth?!
After my water broke, the contractions got a lot worse. I kept feeling surprised by them. Each contraction actually felt harder than the last one. I know this shouldn’t be such a surprise, but it was for me. In my 2 previous labors, which were very long, there were always long periods of time where the contractions seemed very hard, but at a similar level. In those labors, I had time to get used to the strength of contractions, and to put to use many different coping strategies. This time, every contraction was like a new challenge. I remember that I kept telling Arp how much harder each contraction was, and how I had forgotten how intense labor can be. After just a few minutes walking around, I was ready for the birth pool!
Once inside the pool, I wouldn’t say that the water helped all that much with the pain. I think if the water in the birth pool had been warmer, it probably would have helped more. But given the fact that it is so warm in Costa Rica (even though it wasn’t exceptionally hot on this day), I don’t think I would have wanted the birth pool to be much hotter. Maybe birth pools are more suited to cooler climates? I think the major way that the birth pool helped me this time was that the water allowed me a greater and more comfortable range of movement. The comfy, inflated floor of the birth tub allowed me to move through contractions on my hands and knees, something that would have been less comfortable to do on our hard tile floors. I would rock back and forth on my hands and knees through most of the contractions, calling Arp (who was still busy doing various things) to the side of the tub each time. Between contractions, I was able to float in the water and relax. That helped me prepare for the next contraction. I was making lots of noise through every contraction – mostly low moaning. Both M and J were in the birth pool with me. I allowed them in with the promise from M that he would not talk during contractions. I remember him being pretty good about remembering that, although I think I had to whisper to Arp to tell J to shush a few times. When J ran out of the ability to shush, I think Arp got the kids out of the pool by putting a DVD on in the next room.
Soon after the kids got out of the pool, I remember telling Arp, through several contractions, that I was feeling a lot of pressure. This was pressure down low, near my butt, and I was surprised by it. It seemed too soon for me to be feeling that sort of pressure (are you seeing a theme in my reactions yet? Ha!). I wasn’t ready to push yet, but the word “pushy” raced across my mind once or twice, before I firmly discounted it, and then put it out of my mind. I mean, I couldn’t be close to pushing already, could I? After that, I remember several contractions coming practically right on top of each other. I complained to Arp, with irritation and bewilderment, that I wasn’t even getting a break between contractions anymore. I’m really laughing now, and I can imagine that everyone in the room must have known what was going on. Everyone, seemingly, except me. A contraction later, and I was having some serious trouble staying on top of things. I was vocalizing during each contraction, which helps me immensely. But this time, I started moaning “NOoooooooo!” But mid-contraction, I realized that the “No” was definitely not helping me. I made a conscious effort to view the contraction as helping me to meet my baby, and mid-contraction, as I gasped my next breath, I changed the “no” to “Yesssssssssss!” In my mind, I was thinking, “Yes! My cervix is opening so that I can see my baby!” I sort of forced my brain to view the pain as positive, and visualized my cervix opening. It actually worked, too, and I felt a little better emotionally!
A contraction or two later, about mid-contraction, I suddenly felt movement around my cervix. I actually felt the baby slip down, seemingly about an inch, and I was suddenly plunged into active pushing. I say plunged, because I couldn’t have stopped my body from pushing if I had wanted to. It was great! This sensation was so similar to what I had when I gave birth to J. My body was just taking over, and I couldn’t help but join the effort and push along with it. Maybe B was pushing too, although I don’t remember feeling her feet pushing at that point. All I remember is the absolute need to push her head out. I said to Arp, “I’m pushing! I can’t help it! I HAVE to!” I think the midwife might have said something about going ahead with it, but frankly, what ever people in the room said was irrelevant at that point. All my concentration was on pushing, and it was very satisfying.
After what seemed like just a few minutes, maybe 2-4 contractions at most, I started to feel some burning. I reached my hand down at that point to feel the head, which was starting to emerge. When I reached my hand down, I was actually consciously thinking about an article on Gloria LeMay’s blog where she talks about the reflex that women tend to have to slap their hand down to the vagina during crowning in order to preserve an intact perineum. I actually felt a lot safer with my hand down there, supporting myself and feeling the head as it came out. In J’s birth, I had been afraid to put my hand down there, and I sort of let the midwife take over. But much of the reason behind that had been due to my intense fear of tearing. This time, I had purposely planned a birth with much less midwife involvement, which sort of freed me take more physical control of my body and birth. So my hand stayed down at my vagina during much of the crowning. I felt very safe with my hand there, protecting myself. At this point, I was mostly squatting on my knees in the pool. At some point, I went onto my hands and knees. Arp was at my head, and I knew the midwife was behind me. I asked her if she could see the head. I’m not sure if she answered, but she asked me to lower my butt into the water, as the baby’s head was going to be over the water level. So I lowered my butt down a little into the water, still on hands and knees. On the next contraction, I pushed through the burning and felt the baby’s head pop out. What a relief! The midwife suggested that I push the rest of the body out on the next contraction, which I did. What a sensation! So slippery! The midwife sent the baby under the water, through my legs, and told me to pick up my baby. Even though it only lasted a second or two, I vividly remember looking down and seeing my baby, face up, sailing through the water between my legs. I reached down to grab her, pulling her out of the water and to my chest. Then I lay back against the far end of the tub, my legs floating up through the water.
The baby was so beautiful! Her eyes were closed and all scrunched up, and she wasn’t doing a lot of moving. Just a little. I was spontaneously rubbing her back to stimulate her. I remember the midwife listening with her stethoscope and asking me to stimulate her a little (I learned later that her one minute Apgar was a 6). So I rubbed her back and squeezed her hands a bit and Arp and I talked to her. Before I had even thought about it, Arp was announcing that we had another girl! I had to remind him that it was supposed to be M’s job to check and tell us that. Arp hadn’t realized that M and I had agreed on that. Oh well. I don’t think M was disappointed, as he was sort of like a deer in the headlights once crowning had started. At one point, as I looked at B’s face, I saw it suddenly pink up. It was like a pink curtain was moving over her, and I said to Arp, “Woah! Did you just see her face pink up?” It was kind of miraculous to see that transition at that exact moment. A few minutes later, I pushed the placenta out. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying as pushing the baby out, but I was kind of relieved to get it done with because I wanted to lay in bed and cuddle with the baby as soon as possible.
Once the placenta was out, I actually got my first real experience touching a placenta. With J’s birth, I had so many other things on my mind, and before I knew it, the placenta was in a ziplock and in the freezer. This time, as the midwife held it floating in the water, Arp and I reached out and really felt it. It seemed to be so strong and powerful to me. When I think of it, I have a real sense of being thankful and reverent towards B’s placenta, thinking about what an important role it played in protecting her and helping her grow all those months. Looking at it, I remarked how one side of it looked like a really cool blue color, and how strange it seemed. I wanted M to take a look at the placenta because I thought he’d be interested, but he seemed pretty grossed out, which surprised me. As much as he normally is not easily grossed out, and as much as we prepared him for the birth, I think he was a little horrified by the blood and goo. I guess I can’t blame him. After all, he is a big fan of Jaws. Looking at the water in the birth pool after the birth, I can imagine he might have been thinking of a shark attack.
After Arp cut the cord, I asked him to hold the baby while I climbed out of the tub. This was very important to me, as during J’s birth, she had been taken from my arms by the midwives after the birth, while I was climbing out of the bathtub and drying myself off. At J’s birth, I had felt very upset to be handing my baby off to someone. And worse than that, the midwife had walked out of the room with J in her arms. The anxiety of that separation had been huge, and it still lives in my soul. So this time, I handed B to Arp, which felt very safe to me. The midwife helped me out of the tub and helped me walk to the bedroom, with Arp and the baby with me the whole way. I actually felt great and I hardly needed any help. I had no dizziness, and I felt really strong and happy.
Here’s one of my favorite parts of homebirth: Being able to lay down in my very own bed after the birth, with my family and new baby at my side. The baby was cuddled up next to me and Arp was at my side. I think M and J were off playing, so Arp and I had some time to spend together with our new baby. The midwife came in to briefly check my bleeding and check for tears (no tearing!), and then she left us alone for quite some time. After a little time, I got Bina started on nursing. I had to pay a little attention to the latch, but she nursed very well once she got started. It was great! Oh – except for the afterpains! Those were almost as bad as some of my labor contractions, and I found myself moaning through some of them. But otherwise, we were very happy! And just as we were all cuddling in bed, the sky darkened a bit, and an afternoon rain began (it’s the beginning of the Costa Rican rainy season). There’s nothing like cuddling in bed with your new baby under cozy blankets, hearing the birds chirping, along with the spatter of a light rain on a tin roof in Costa Rica. What an utterly lovely day and a joyous welcome for B.