Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dreams Do Come True - a birth story ...

Dreams Do Come True – a birth story …

My son Damian Joseph is now over a month old.  He’s a bundle of innocent cuteness and keeping my hands quite full, which is why I’m only now getting to reflect upon his birth.

Damian Joseph Martin

Damian’s birth was everything I had hoped for and I almost didn’t believe it had really happened that way – even as it was, in fact, happening.  To share the experience with you, please indulge me as I give you a little backstory.  (This is longer than my normal posts, but believe me, it will be worth it.)  This is my experience of womanhood …

It was probably my mother’s example that nudged me towards desiring a natural birth.  She birthed seven children and six of them without an epidural.  She survived, and talked about it not with disdain nor anxiety but a sense of confidence, a pride in her mothering.  Yet, she didn’t boast; it was almost just a matter of fact contentment.  I admired that naturalness, that trust in our own womanhood to just go with it.

It really was never a question for me when the time came for the birth of my first.  I longed to give birth as all women have done for ages and ages – without intervention, without fuss, letting nature take over and letting my body do what it was made to do.  This was my hope, my dream.

The problem arose when my little body didn’t seem to be kicking in to do what it was supposed to.  My first was 11 days overdue and that was my doctor’s limit.  I went in, they prepped the cervix, and then my body finally kicked in and took over.  I labored and gave birth without any pain medication, but from start of the very tiniest contraction to finish I was at the hospital.  Afterwards, I thought that was a stupid idea, that I was crazy and I didn’t get what the big deal was to go “all natural.”  Then I held my Gregory and forgot the rest.

With each child after that the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, my body needed a nudge to kick into gear and then it would finally take over and I’d labor and birth without any pain medication, but again – in the hospital from beginning to end.  And despite how I swore I’d never go through natural labor again when I was in the throws of it, I always did.  I just couldn’t not do it.  I can’t explain it, but it was like something within – compelling me to try again.  It was with my 4th birth that I caught a glimpse of what could be possible with a natural labor.  I had a great nurse who, when she was in the room with me, was able to turn an intense contraction into a moment of peace.  Also, right after Emmanuel was born, they placed him in my arms and let me hold him for what felt like an eternity before they took him to clean him off and weigh him (it was over an hour).  Right away, my heart melted into him and bonded deeper and more profoundly than with the other babies because I was given that extended time. 

It was then that I thought there must be more to this natural birth thing than I am getting out of it.  Up until now, I was “just muscling through” the labor.  Sure I had accomplished medication free labor and birth, but it wasn’t ever a beautiful experience.  I then went out and bought more books on natural childbirth and how to exercise just to get in shape for labor and birth.  (I know, I know!  You would think after four kiddos that I would have had all these books already, but I didn’t.  And the funny thing was, I wasn’t even pregnant when I bought them. I was just so curious about what other women had gotten out of natural childbirth that I might have missed.)

The more I read, the more I prayed for at least one more chance – at some point – to give this natural childbirth thing another go.  These women expressed such joy and senses of gratitude for their labor and birth experiences.  (My only thought after my births was “thank God that’s over!”)  God had answered our prayer for another child and I was pregnant with Damian.  What also gave me hope that my body might work more efficiently this time around was my eating.  I did some detoxing juicing and switched my eating habits to a plant based diet and after 6 months of this, my menstrual cycle changed from a sporadic, irregular pattern to exactly 28 days every month.  Getting pregnant after that, I had hope that maybe – just maybe! – that was a sign that my body will go into labor on its own.

All five of our handsome boys.  Damian has four adoring big brothers!

So, that was my dream.  I wanted to go into labor on my own at home, do most of my laboring in my home and then go into the hospital when it was getting intense.  (You know, like normal women do.)  I had so many preterm contractions and false labor though, that even when the day arrived (that turned out to be the real thing), I was doubting every minute of it.  Yet, looking back, it was the loveliest thing.

I had a few hours of contractions the night before, but then they went away and I had a great night’s sleep.  I woke up to my sweet husband kissing my forehead and letting me know he was heading off to work soon.  I got up, got dressed and got a little coffee.   The boys were scampering about already – playing, singing, running – and I was about to make their breakfast when the first hard contractions started.  I sat down and breathed, thinking “here we go again with the phonies!”  That went on for a couple hours and then I had some bloody show.  That was the first thing that made me doubt my doubts. ;-)  (Plus I had an amazing group of online friends who blog at The Guiding Star Project giving me great advice and support!)

They paused a little during late morning, but picked up again around 11 am.  I alerted Pete and the gals I had lined up to babysit just in case.  I made my darlings lunch and they were eating when I told the sitter and Pete “I think it’s time.”  By the time the sitter arrived and Pete got home and changed, it was about 2:30ish.  We headed to the hospital and I called my friend, Summer.  This was another piece of the puzzle for me in order to set it all up to allow the best experience possible.  Like I said, I had a great nurse with Emmanuel’s labor, but then her shift ended and off she went before he was even born!  I know it was just her job but it was startling to me at the time because I was relying on her.  With Summer there, I knew I’d have womanly help through out. 

We arrived and I’ll spare you all the details, but suffice it to say the nurse who checked me wasn’t impressed with my progress.  (My doubts to the “realness” of all this began to creep up again.)  When my OB practitioner, I’ll call her S, came in she gave me the run down of possibilities.  The baby’s heart rate wasn’t coming in very clearly so we would need to allow them to get another half hour of recorded monitoring to make sure he’s okay.  Also, if the baby’s head was as high as the nurse thought, S wouldn’t want to break the bag of water.  If he was more engaged and/or if I was more dilated, she would be okay with breaking the water, but that would mean I’d have to stay.  And she felt inclined to tell me that if we broke the water and the contractions slowed down, then we were stuck and would have to use Pitocin.  (Well, that wasn’t what I wanted AT ALL!)  Regardless, S thought I should just go ahead, get checked in officially and set up in a room.  Then I could spend some time walking the halls, letting the contractions build and see where we were at after the next shift change at 7:30 p.m.  (It also allowed them to get the monitoring of the baby they needed and get some antibiotics in me, which they wanted to do because I had tested positive for group B strep.)

Summer and Pete were keeping me entertained through the contractions.  I sat on the exercise ball for a while and then tried different positions (like standing with one foot up on the bed and rocking into that bent leg during a contraction).  Summer timed them and kept telling me when they ought to be almost over.  Pete was my rock as always and Summer was my cheerleader.  The two of them together made a fantastic team and were wonderful advocates for me – communicating to the staff exactly what I needed.

Peter and I decided that if at 8 p.m. when S checked I was still at 3cm, then we’d go home.  I wouldn’t want to break the waters if my body wasn’t already in the motion.  I didn’t want to force God’s hand, and prayed that He would make the choice clear.  So, somehow then, I think I convinced myself I’d be going home.  I imagined my soft, comfy bed and the peacefulness of our home.  When she checked and said I was 5cm, she even asked if I wanted her to break the bag right then, and I said “no! just leave it!”  I was still thinking (obviously not clearly!) that I could still go home.  I looked at Pete and he said, “5cm is good.” 
I said, “So we should probably stay?” 
Summer piped in, “Wait?  You still think you have a chance of going home?!”  She laughed.  And S overheard at that point and commented,
“Girl, you aren’t going anywhere!  You are having this baby today!  I bet he comes by midnight.”
“oh, okay,” I said.  Ha!  I remember being disappointed.  Here I had been waiting and waiting for this day, but because of the doubt of the nurse that I was not “far enough along” and that it was “probably false labor,” I had talked myself out of believing it.  I didn’t want to be disappointed if it wasn’t real labor so I convinced myself it wasn’t.  I guess I did too good of a job, because I was then disappointed when they said it was!  How silly I am! 
I seriously had to do some mind-adjusting.  Honestly, part of the dilemma was also a hesitation to embrace the labor.  Up to that point, we weren’t sure if this was the real thing.  So when Summer (who was also pregnant and due a few months after me) would say,
“I wish I was in your place already!”  I’d respond with, “No you don’t!  We all wish it and then it comes and this hurts!”  Of course she just smiled saying,
“You are doing so wonderfully!  I hope I am as brave as you!”

Believe me, I felt nothing close to brave, but at that point I didn’t yet have to commit to it.  Now, S said I’m 5cm and not going home.  This was finally it.  This was what I was waiting for and now was the time to embrace it.  S saw me struggling mentally (she is so fantastic at reading my face!) and suggested I spend some time laboring in the whirlpool tub.  Now I could definitely get behind that!  I had never labored in the tub before.

I spent two hours in the tub without even realizing how much time went by.  Summer was telling me stories about (well I can’t remember what!), but she kept making me laugh.  The contractions barely hurt in the tub that I wondered if this was slowing down the labor.  On the other hand, I was enjoying the break from intense pain, so I didn’t mind so much.  Summer warned that she had labored in a tub before and was so relaxed that when she got out labor sped up a ton and got super intense.  Can anyone actually look forward to that?  I tried not to think about it too much and just enjoy the water.  After a while, though, even that got boring because I was stuck in just one place and couldn’t move around.

I got out around 10:30 p.m. and sure enough, labor picked up a great deal of speed!  Pete gave me back pressure and Summer talked me through.  It was more intense than I’ve had before because there were no breaks between the contractions – one after the next after the next after the next after the next after the next after the next after the next

I tried moving, different positions – rocking through them with Pete’s pressure help seemed to be the easiest way to ride the waves of contraction.  Then the chills came.  (Pete later told me that he knew I was entering transition because I always start shivering.  I was like, “I do???”  Of course he’d have a clearer mind to remember how the labor goes – I just try to forget! ;-)  Shaking all over, they covered me with warmed blankets.  As intense as this all was, my attitude was restful and enduring.  I usually start doubting and worrying in my mind (I never have the strength to voice it), but I felt completely cared for. 

When the most intense contractions came, about 11:30ish, I sat on the side of the bed, leaning my head into Summer’s shoulder and Pete kept pressure on my back.  It was the only way I could get through and it worked perfectly.  I couldn’t have gotten through it so beautifully without the two of them!

Then came the pushing contractions, but wait! S was not back yet.  Usually, nurses are in a bustle at this point shouting orders to me, “sit up!” “Knees back!” “We have you!” But they said nothing except,
“Hang on, S isn’t here yet!”
“But I have to push!  I’m telling you these are pushing contractions!  You’ve got to get S here now.”
“She’s on her way.”
“But I need to push!”  – – – – silence – – – –

I expected them to rush to action, but they just stood there telling me S wasn’t here yet.  I kept looking at them, waiting to hear them tell me to push, but they didn’t.  Exacerbated, I said, “look, I really need push!”  Finally one nurse said,
“Well, just let your body do what it needs to.”

What was that supposed to mean?! I thought.  And then I was like, ‘well forget them!’  I started barking the orders “Pete prop me up!  Use those pillows!”  “Summer, get over there – yes – okay, help me like that…”

Then with the next contraction, I thought he was crowning because I could feel the pressure of him descending, but no one said anything.  (I didn’t know why they were so quiet and not on him; I really thought his head was almost out!)  Then S walked in and said right away, “okay, with the next contraction, give us a big push!” (“phew! Finally! I thought”)

So with the next contraction I did just that.  I pushed with all my might and vigor!  Remembering my karate training, I focused all my energy to that one movement.  And that baby popped right out!  (At the time, I thought everything was normal.  My body had pushed his head out itself and then I helped and pushed the rest of him out.  Only the next day (!) did I learn what really happened.  And I learned because the nurses were all buzzing that morning, “we heard what an amazing one push wonder your baby was!”  “that’s a birth we’ll be talking about for months!”  So then I asked Pete what was so different?  His eyes got really big, “you didn’t know?!”  And so he filled me in …)

What I had felt was my body moving Damian down into position, but his head had not actually crowned yet.  All they saw was the bag of waters (which was still in tact) bulging out a little.  When S finally gave the go ahead and I pushed, all of a sudden, the bag burst, water sloshed out everywhere and out came the entire baby!  All in one moment, bam!  Peter said it seemed like the baby just shot right out!  He landed on the bed, and the nurse said she had her hand on him; however, S later shared she was really happy I was back far enough for him to just land right there on the bed because no one expected him to come out so fast.  With the water bursting right at the moment of birth and the baby coming out entirely all at once, apparently it was pretty uncommon and even more amazing.  Indeed, it was “a birth to remember.”  Damian Joseph was 12:04 a.m. on June 5th, his exact due date!

Immediately they placed Damian in my arms and I just held him and stared at his amazing face.  It never seems as real when you are pregnant, but wow – there he is!  Perfect in every way and just waiting for me to love him!  All through this pregnancy I was like why do we do this?  Why do women have kids, this is so difficult to go through?  But right at that moment I knew – this was it, this was why.  Because his life is so beautiful, precious, amazing.  At that moment, I could have agreed to have a dozen more just like him, I loved him so! 

And I have been smitten ever since.  I have never been so blessed to remember a labor before.  This one really was an answer to prayers.  I started the labor at home and my body didn’t need any help at all!  I had two wonderful people to assist me and a doctor who didn’t break the water because she could but wanted to give me the labor and birth that I desired.  I never had to fight her or try to convince her; she supported whatever I wanted from day one.  Those last two hours were probably the most difficult I ever experienced (pain scale and the lack of break in between), but easiest in that it was fast and I had the best support I could ask for. 

I definitely would have been an emotional wreck without my husband, my rock, my love.  Together we brought another beautiful boy into this world!  Babies are beautiful no matter how they come (whether C-section, with epidural, forceps – whatever!), but it was my dream to have a completely natural birth that I didn’t just grit my way through but actually embraced.  I now know why women want to birth naturally.  Even though I “got through” my other labors, I never had the full support I needed to really get the most out of it.  After the other births, I always said “I’m insane, why does anyone ever do this?!”  But not this one.  It was different; it was beautiful, painful, but deeply powerful.  Some prayers do get answered just how we’d like them too; some dreams really do come true. ;-)

I now have a wonderful birth experience that I can remember with joy!  Indeed, this was “a birth to remember”!   (Thanks for letting me share it with you!)

(All professional photos by www.hwportraits.com - she's amazing!)

your friendly new feminist,
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Well, that’s my view of it and I welcome yours!  (Please comment below!  And please use initials or first name or even pseudonym instead of simply “anonymous” so we can have some way to distinguish each person in the discussion.  Thank You!)

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  1. Oh Theresa! What a wonderful, beautiful, birth story!! It was an honor getting to be a part of that amazing event. Damian is such a true blessing, and the obvious love you and Pete share is a true testimony to sacramental love. God bless your testimony and inspiration, as it finds its way to other women who may now understand even more fully the ideology of a natural and wonderful labor/birth. So proud of you all!

  2. Amazing story. Thanks for sharing it with us all. You are an inspiration to so many!

  3. For those who've read all the way down to here! I have one thing to add, in the crazy face-paced birth, it seems i pulled or tore an internal ligament. I am going to physical therapy and its getting better, but I'm still in much pain.
    Any prayers you all could send up for a quick return to health would be most appreciated!

  4. Great story. Happy to hear you got what you wanted. Liz is my Summer. I can't imagine her not on my team. True advocates for YOU make dream come true births. That and gumption.

  5. What a beautiful birth story, Theresa! I'd heard parts of it, but I loved reading your account here. You did have an amazing team with Pete, Summer, and S. I'm so happy for you, and praying for your full recovery!

  6. Your picture alone makes me want two more little boys to add to our bunch. Oh, that, and your birth story, too. :) Thanks for sharing...birth stories make me really happy!