My Son’s Birth (The New Birth Story Part 2)

A quick disclaimer before I continue- I will be quoting people as best I can but I may slightly misremember their exact words or meanings at times. I was…erm….distracted…

I woke up at 4 a.m., feeling uncomfortable and unable to go back to sleep (not unusual…this had been happening for over a month). I laid in bed until 5, then rolled over and asked J. if he wanted to get up and take a shower and go to work early, or if I should take a bath. “mmm…bthkm………uh-huh”

Okay, bath it is. I read Lord of the Rings for a while (can you tell this has been a theme with this pregnancy? It’s full of stories about people having to overcome fears and accomplish very hard tasks). At some point during this hour contractions must have started, because when J.’s alarm went off he came into the bathroom and found me holding the book in front of my face with my eyes shut waving my head from side to side.

“Um, WHAT are you doing?”

“Huh? Oh…it hurts….”

“Okay, when’s the last time it hurt?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been timing them.”

He got out his fancy new smart phone and used an app to time my contractions…four to five minutes apart and a minute long…same as a week ago when this happened…still, better safe than sorry. We made some calls around 7 and asked people to come to the house as soon as they could.

Then from the bath tub I threw up. Not like a week ago. Whoops! Time to go. J. dashed around trying to get a couple of last minute things in place and make sure we had kiddo things to take with us on the fly. The contractions started to be really, really crazy at this point. I started yelling through them as a way of releasing the energy without pushing the baby out on the bathroom rug. God, can I do this? 

My amazing three year old daughter came up and put her arm around my neck and said, “It’s okay, Mommy. You’re doing a great job.” Okay, kid, if you say so. Time to get up! Get dressed.

I moved into the bedroom and pulled on some clothes and sat on the edge of the bed as another contraction hit, full force. Maybe I can’t do this! Where’s my husband? Oh. He’s right there. Good. “I can’t do this! What if I can’t do this?!”  “Yes, you can. It’s going to be great, Katie.  You can do this.” Another contraction. I yelled even louder. E. came over to me, put her hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes and started singing the ABC’s, then Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (or “Fwinkle, Fwinkle, Lilla Staiww” as she calls it). I laughed and forgot about a  contraction.

J. got us all moving and into the car in record time. He drove to the hospital, um…quickly. I kept listening to “You Are the New Day” by The King’s Singers. It’s about two minutes long, so halfway through each time I knew I’d have a contraction.

We got to the hospital and walked up to the maternity floor (the idea of sitting in a wheelchair did NOT appeal to me at that point, even though it was offered by kind strangers a couple of times as we made our way over). As I walked up to the door, one of the nurses at the station saw me and said, “Um, do you need a wheelchair?” haha…..

C. (our midwife) walked by the door at that moment and saw me squatting and holding onto the wall. She kind of laughed a little and made a hand-waving motion. “Uhm, room four. Get up. Let’s go.”

We made it to the room and I felt myself relax. Okay, I can have my baby here. God, I trust you. Please take care of me. I stopped yelling through contractions and just let them do the work they were supposed to do. About fifteen minutes later (half an hour before the birth) M. showed up and took E. for a walk; just in time for her to miss the messy part.

C. asked me where I wanted to go, and if I’d be okay with sitting on the bed and getting checked. I’d had some residual fear around being stuck in the bed and wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it. At that point I didn’t care. She checked me and said, “Well, you can bear down with this next contraction if you want to.”

What the what….?!?! “Um, I need a minute.”

“Okay, take your time.” A couple of contractions.

“Okay, Katie, what do you want to do now? You could push your baby out if you want to.”

Aghh!! My face must have said, because C. said, “Okay, then go sit on the toilet. Empty your bladder and see what happens.” I made it to the bathroom and sat on the toilet. Then I screamed. C. came and looked at me, then said, “Well, we have a head. That toilet works every time! Sooo, we could deliver your baby here, although that’s not really the kind of waterbirth I like to do. Katie, what are we doing here? Do you want to go to the bed?”

“I….I can’t.” Can’t walk. “How….?”

“It’s okay. We got ya. C’mon, dad, let’s go. One foot in front of the other.” Each of them looped an arm through one of my arms and they mostly carried me to the bed. I crawled up and got on my hands and knees and…panicked. “Can you check his heartbeat? Is he okay?” Everyone paused.

“You want to be monitored? Really?” The monitor had been another one of the things that freaked me out going into this labor.

“Yes, I just want to make sure he’s okay. Last time this is when….agghhhhhh!” Contraction.

They checked on him and he was fine. I still felt afraid. Then over the loudspeaker someone started to sing.* “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me/Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be…” Oh, right….Trust. Peace. Okay, I’m ready.

I began pushing (I gave myself a nosebleed and J. wisely said, “Stop pushing with your face, push with your diaphragm down here.” So I did).  They tell me I pushed for fifteen minutes, but it didn’t feel like it took that long. It seemed to take no time at all (and indeed, 15 minutes is almost the closest thing there is to ‘no time at all’ in terms of pushing a baby out). The cord was around his neck but C. quickly looped it over and he came the rest of the way out. Because I was on my hands and knees they passed him up and put him on the bed underneath me. He’s all squishy and gross! This isn’t like tv at all! Yay!!!!

Somehow we all got me over onto my back and S. came up onto my chest. We met each other while he got wiped off and checked. I waited for the placenta, then got stitches for a minor tear. Once the cord stopped pulsing, C. asked me if it was okay to cut it. She handed it to me and said, “Are you ready?” J. got to cut the cord.

And then we were four.

One of the passages that gave me encouragement during the last part of my pregnancy was something Paul wrote back in the day to people in Ephesus:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power…in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…”

In Greek there are at least two different words for ‘knowledge.’ So that last bit should read, “To know by experience the love that surpasses simple understanding.” I don’t know why I was given this experience. At times I have waited for the other shoe to drop, because it just all seemed too good to be true. And I have struggled with how to write it up without it sounding like a tract or some other annoying cheesy thing. But I do feel at this point like I have a grasp on something that I didn’t before. I don’t mean that if you are nice and God is satisfied you’re a good person who thinks the right things then you get good experiences. It would be naive and cruel to think that way. But going back through my Gandalf on Celebdil visualization (yes, I’m a nerd. Get over it), I realize I got the opportunity to throw down my fear and mistrust and to make room for something better.

*I found out later that since we gave birth at a Catholic hospital (a fact that hadn’t played into our decision at all when we were making it), they do a morning blessing every day at 8:00. On the particular day we were there, Sister K. would usually have done it at 8 but she was late because of a meeting. Someone else was going to do it at 8 but they didn’t, and then another person was supposed to do it at 8:30 but they didn’t either. So when Sister K. got there around 8:40 she ended up singing it, which was exactly when I needed her to.

One small thing:

I’ve been encouraged by my midwife, Colleen Brezine, to share her name and the fact that S. was born at St. John West Shore Hospital in the Holistic Birthing Center. If you decide to have your baby there I can’t guarantee he or she will be born 45 minutes after you arrive, but I did have an outstanding experience there, for what it’s worth. I have not been compensated in any way for sharing this information.

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The New Birth Story (Part 1)

**I wrote this post, as you’ll quickly see, before my son was born. I wanted to capture how I was feeling at that moment, but didn’t want to publish it until the story had an ending. So without further ado…**

I am more of a doer than a planner. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very important to me to know what it is I should be doing, and I often put a great deal of thought and research into the hows and whys of my actions. But when it comes down to it, I get stressed out by planning that isn’t followed up pretty much immediately by doing. Once I figure out what the right course of action is, I really want to just get to it. It’s caused me (and by extension the people around me) stress in various church and other settings over the years.

My friend JJ. pointed out to me once that I work the best with a plan. I need to know what my ‘job’ is and then I am okay emotionally, whether or not it’s really hard.

But childbirth isn’t a ‘plan and do’ kind of event. At least, not unless you’re one of those hollywood moms who schedules a c-section or induction so they can go on vacation. But that’s not really my style.

This labor and this boy have been very good for me so far. I have almost gone to the hospital once, and have called the midwife a couple of times saying ‘I don’t think the baby’s coming right this second, but I’m having contractions fairly regularly and just thought you should know.’ I’ve been having contractions approximately every 10 minutes for over a week now. Does that sound exhausting? It is.

But it also allows me to enter into the experience in a way that feels really important and good. I need to feel like I am doing the best that I can from moment to moment to keep myself from thinking unhelpful thoughts. After we’d made our decision about where to birth (and with whom) and signed the forms stating our wishes about circumcision, IV fluids and a host of other medical interventions, there wasn’t enough to keep my brain busy. So my thoughts wander and end up in a terrible neighborhood, where I keep imagining worst case scenarios (it gets much worse than what happened to me…I know. I’ve watched that horror movie in my head a few times this pregnancy). People have asked me a few times if it is frustrating to have contractions that don’t do anything (another wise friend helpfully pointed out that this isn’t strictly true…while they aren’t labor contractions by hospital textbook standards, even if I’m not dilating centimeters at a time, each one strengthens and tones the uterus and prepares me and the baby for what’s to come).

Either way, through all these contractions I have learned that I do in fact have something to do. It is my job to be calm and present in this moment, and to love this baby. I have decided to trust my body and trust that God is ‘next to me’ (as E. is fond of saying) to take care of me. So each time I have a contraction it feels like a new chance to temper the resolve of my decision. Am I really going to trust? It seems like it’s happening in slow motion, which gives me a great chance to truly think through how I am processing it, and for that I am really grateful.

The Story of My Daughter’s Birth

I am not sharing this to gain pity, or to complain about what happened to me. Doctors and nurses quite possibly saved my daughter’s life by taking the actions that they did.

But I need to take what steps I can to release emotional baggage and get it out of my brain. A very wise friend told me a while ago that I had about 100 hours of crying left to do about it, and that with hard work I could be done in a few months. This is part of my attempt to clear the way for a new experience and the birth of a different person.

I will warn you, I didn’t leave anything out.

I had been in labor for a day and a half or so. At least, my braxton-hicks had gradually become stronger and more organized until I finally realized, ‘hey, this is going somewhere!’

I’d spent that early labor time baking snickerdoodles to share with people at the hospital, going to Costco, and reading Harry Potter. Once the contractions got to about 15 minutes apart I was most comfortable in the bathtub. I talked on the phone with friends and read the Goblet of Fire and easily managed my labor.

We had taken Bradley Method classes, so I kept waiting for the time when I couldn’t talk through contractions and when it ‘got serious.’ It didn’t seem to come. Finally, when the contractions were about 7 minutes apart I started to feel like something was about to happen. But still I could talk during contractions. I told J. I thought it might be time. He called our doula (it was about 3 in the morning) and told her what was going on. Hearing our details she said, “pfff….call me in 2 hours. Or when your contractions are 5 minutes apart. It’s way too soon.”

Immediately after he hung up the phone, though, I threw up (one of the signposts of transition, which means you’re about ready to push). My contractions came every minute and a half and lasted 45 seconds or so. This was NOT how our Bradley workbook described active labor. We freaked out a little and rushed around trying to make last preparations and get to the hospital in time (I should say, J. did most of the rushing around. I was contracting like crazy that whole time). I convinced him to run the red lights and we made it to the hospital in about 10 minutes.

I walked into the L & D floor contracting and walked up to the counter breathing through it. After it was done, we told them I was there to have my baby. The lady behind the counter looked up in a bored sort of way. “How far apart are they?”

“About a minute and a half.”

“Humm. Uh-huh. Follow me please. Here’s your paperwork.”

“But, we already pre-registered….oh okay fine.” As soon as we walked into a tiny room with a couch and side table for paperwork, I had another contraction. Her eyes widened. “Hey, wait, that was only a minute!!!”

“Yeah, we know….”

Having decided to take my labor seriously, they rushed me back to a room and stuck me in a bed. By the time they checked me I was 6 cm and opening fast. They hooked up the external monitor. 20 minutes later I was at 9 cm when the heartbeat dropped and didn’t go back up.

We’d had low lighting and only one nurse and the midwife who I hadn’t met yet (going to a practice with 9 different midwives, I hadn’t met everybody). She started to sound urgent, but underneath a very calm exterior. “Well, Katie, we have to break your water.”

“No.”

J. piped up. “Katie, they can’t find the baby’s heartbeat!” (going back through the report, this wasn’t exactly true…her heartbeat was just slow, not lost).

“Okay, do it.”

They broke my water and put on the internal monitor. No better. “Okay, now we have to take you back and do a c-section.”

“What?!! No.”

“Well, then you have to push.”

“What?” I’m not complete, and I’m not having a contraction. Certainly no overwhelming urge to push….I began to let the panic in the room seep in. It stole my voice.

“PUSH!!! NOW!”

Ummm, okay…. I pushed, and her head came down to where they could see it. “Oh….well, her hand is up over her head. Just keep trying to push…” she said in a not-too-optimistic way…

Suddenly the lights came up and several people rushed into the room. J. was shoved back. He was given scrubs and told to change into them so he could accompany us to the operating room. 25 interns, or possibly the entire supporting cast of Grey’s Anatomy came and rushed me away, starting an IV and asking me my mother’s maiden name.

I said, “Jason?” as I was taken out of the room but he was gone. I didn’t see him again until much, much later. I think in real time it was only about an hour, but it felt (still feels) a lot longer.

We swept along the hallways and got to the OR. Someone asked me my mother’s maiden name again. Someone said, “Hi, I’m Dr. asdksjdhfajn (not his real name…). I’ll be your anesthesiologist.”

Oh, crap.  “Oh….” I said in a tone that must’ve sounded different than the usual relief that greets the anesthesiologist. I heard snickering. “I’m…I’m sorry, it’s just…I don’t want this…”

“Okay, we’re going to try the vacuum. Dr. nuniwenfk (some intern I think), would you like to try applying the vacuum?” Try? Really? Is there someone who can actually do it and not just try?

They ‘tried’ applying the vacuum 3 times, and each time I was told to push. Everyone in the room counted to 10 while I pushed, and each time her head came down, cocked to the side with her hand over it. After the first or second push I pooped. Someone reached into my rectum and swirled their finger around to clear the area, or something…geez, what the….? Buy a girl a drink first….I’m kinda busy here….

After the third time the vacuum seal failed they said, “Okay, we have to put you out now.” No…………………..

They tied my arms down. Contraction. I started crying. The midwife says, ” Are you having a contraction? I think she’s having a contraction. Wait a minute.”

They finished tying my arms down, and someone started shaving me for the section. You have time to ask me my mother’s maiden name, but no time to say, “hey, by the way, we’re going to shave your privates now…” really?

They put a mask over my face and then…..nothing. Just nothing.

I started to hear voices gradually. Unexpected voices…who is that? Familiar, I think. But why….wait, what?

I opened my eyes, s.l.o.w.l.y. Wait, I was in the middle of something…it was important. My brain feels so fuzzy…What was I doing? “Uhhh…..” The doula’s face came over mine.  Oh. Right. I think I remember now. But you weren’t here. You didn’t get to do anything. I remember you mentioned before about these wierd doulas who sing songs to ladies’ vaginas to get them to open…“Want to sing me a little song?” She chuckled.

I saw my mother in law. I didn’t know she was going to be at my birth…

Then my father in law. How am I supposed to push a baby out in front of him? What’s going on here?

Then I saw J. They brought a baby over to me. What’s this? It looks like one of the ones on tv. I though I was going to have a baby that looked all squishy and gross. I don’t understand. I signed 3 different forms so they wouldn’t put erythromycin in her eyes. I don’t have gonorrhea, so this must not be my baby. Well, they’re handing it to me, and now it’s staring at me.

My father in law, full of relief for me and grandfatherly pride, exultantly said, “I got to hold her when she was only five minutes old!”

I didn’t get to hold her. How old is she now? I started crying.

My mother in law assumed I was crying happy tears and took my picture. She framed that particular one and gave it to me a few weeks later. I wanted to throw it. I got unfairly and irrationally angry every time she took a picture for a year afterwards. This was often, as she loves to take pictures. We have since worked through it and even chipped in together to give E. her own camera for Christmas last year so she can take pictures, ‘like Grandma’.

The doula stayed around a while, then left. I was being moved to the post partum floor. The nurse said, “This is your morphine drip. Push this button every time it hurts.” I pushed the button a lot. I still felt sad and numb. My in-laws stayed. My IV came loose and I convinced the postpartum nurse to let me take percoset instead of having an IV. My parents and my brother arrived a couple of hours later.

This story doesn’t really feel like it has an ending.  I think mostly because when the big climactic moment of most birth stories occurs the mom is, well, awake. I can’t tell that part of the story because I was not there. So getting closure around it has been…tricky, and disjointed. Everyone keeps telling me that this next birth will be very healing for me. I hope so, but goodness it seems like a lot of pressure to put on this baby. I have done a lot of work over the past 2 years to put this behind me (It took me a year to come out of my shell-shocked new parent state enough to be able to even begin to process what happened. It also took a year before I felt like I could tell anyone the entire story, or like anyone even wanted to hear it. We are not always able to be with each other’s sadness and I appreciate my friend M. more than I can say for asking me to share it, and then for sitting and listening that day at Phoenix Coffee).

I still have a ways to go, obviously. But go I will.

Going from Grey to White is Exhausting.

“Alas!” said Aragorn. “Gandalf the Grey fell into shadow. He remained in Moria and did not escape.”

At these words all the Elves in the hall cried aloud in grief and amazement….

It is hard to watch people you love fall into depression. After my daughter was born I was exhausted and ill-equipped to deal with the emotional turnover caused by becoming a parent, and by the reality of the way she was born. I may share that story here in its entirety at some point (I have told it out loud many times by now but it took me almost a year tell it all the way through from start to finish), but for now it is enough that you know it was an emergency cesarean under general anesthesia and I was left with some post traumatic symptoms- dreams, flashbacks, etc.).

I had a lot of people who loved me and who wanted good things for me (I still do), but many of them were somewhat dismayed by the change in me in the first months of my motherhood. For a long time it seemed like I was past the point where I’d find my ‘self’ again and be the same old Katie. But  s.l.o.w.l.y. I began to find a new me. So I wasn’t good at fearlessly speaking my mind without regard for emotional consequences anymore (mine or other peoples!). But I finally noticed that other people have feelings about and reactions to things that I say (yes, I’m really quick on the uptake about certain things but that one actually took me until almost the end of my twenties to get). And that noticing is a valuable skill, as it turns out. Who knew? (Okay, lots of people…)

One day a couple of months ago I was re-reading LOTR and I came across Gandalf’s description of fighting the Balrog. Something in my heart and mind just…clicked. It lent purpose to what I have gone through as I have struggled with how to react to a near complete upheaval in how I understood my life and identity.

“Long time I fell,” he said at last, slowly, as if thinking back with difficulty. “Long I fell, and he fell with me. His fire was about me. I was burned. Then we plunged into the deep water and all was dark. Cold it was as the tide of death: almost it froze my heart…it has a bottom, beyond light and knowledge,’ said Gandalf.
Thither I came at last, to the uttermost foundations of stone. He was with me still. His fire was quenched, but now he was a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake.

“We fought far under the living earth, where time is not counted. Ever he clutched me, and ever I hewed him, till at last he fled into dark tunnels…Now I have walked there but I will bring no report to darken the light of day. In that despair my enemy was my only hope {some of my Christian friends may have an adverse reaction to this…it isn’t that the Balrog is the only hope, it’s just the only thing he could see so he had no other option at that time. To move forward sometimes we have to follow paths we don’t like or choose, and I humbly assert that that’s mainly what is meant here.}, and I pursued him, clutching at his heel. Thus he brought me back at last to the secret ways of Khazad-dum: too well he knew them all. Ever up now we went, until we came to the Endless Stair.”

“There upon Celebdil…Out he sprang, and even as I came behind, he burst into new flame…a great smoke rose about us, vapour and steam. Ice fell like rain. I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin. Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell.”

“…I was sent back…until my task is done. And I lay upon the mountain-top. The tower behind was crumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined stair was choked with burned and broken stone. I was alone, forgotten, without escape  upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay, staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone. And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away….” 

“Gandalf,” the old man repeated, as if recalling from old memory a long disused word. “Yes, that was the name. I was Gandalf…”

…the dwarf looked up and laughed suddenly. “Gandalf!” he said. “But you are all in white!”

“Yes, I am white now,” said Gandalf. “Indeed I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been.”

I am a firm believer that fiction can teach us things that nonfiction can’t. I didn’t actually climb an endless stair or get carried away to Loth Lorien by a giant talking eagle. But I did come through a time that was very hard for me, and I do feel sometimes that I’ve been through a great battle in the past couple of years. But anyone who knows the story of Gandalf knows that what happens in the dark tunnels and on the mountain is what makes him into Gandalf the White, who is more powerful and wise than ever before. He doesn’t come back as the same person. Not really. But it was worth it.