11:48 PM Friday 20th June 2008 ~ * ~ 9 Pounds 5 ounces, 21.5" long, 15" head ~ * ~ Minutes into Cancer, on the Solstice
~ * ~
Aurora's birth was magic. Pure magic. On so many levels, for so many reasons.
My first birth was traumatic, an iatrogenic cesarean for care provider impatience. It should never have happened that way.
My second birth is best characterized as "running uphill", and through nine months of fight, with the world and my own head, I had a triumphant homebirth VBAC.
This birth? This was how it should be, for every woman, every where.
Our story starts with the pregnancy before. I was 11 weeks along, and on July 31, had a miscarriage. We had moved aboard s/v Excellent Adventure by then, and I labored with that miscarriage for seven hours, alone, watching the moon cross the sky, passing blood and flesh and sobbing like I was dying, for the grief of the pregnancy I was losing. In between hideous gushing contractions, I went outside on the deck of the boat, and listened to the sea swirling along the length of the seawall by the boat, and to the "sailor's serenade" of the wind in the rigging of the other boats in the marina.
I was drained physically and spiritually. I found Mina, my spectacular acupuncturist, who treated my body and my soul. I recovered pretty quickly, but was still a little off my game. Two weeks later, I had another "mini miscarriage", where I bled heavily for eight days. Anemic and exhausted, drinking Floradix straight from the bottle, I mourned. A scant week after that, I flew to Cincinnati, OH, for a working conference of birth advocates. I got dehydrated from the plane trips, exhausted from staying up too late talking to my friends, I ate horrible food, drank way too much caffeine, and jumped from the hot tub to the icy pool over and over again, thinking it was somehow purgative, and saying "well hey, if I can't be pregnant here, at least I can enjoy myself!"
When I got home, naturally, because of the time change and the residual effects of the miscarriage, my charting (NFP) was off. My temperatures were high. I waited patiently for the next fountain of blood. Any day now. Yep. Any day, I'm expecting that temperature drop that signals the coming menses. And I passed my normal time... and kept going. My temps stayed high. Incredulously, I looked at my charts, at the proof that I was somehow pregnant. I can't take normal pregnancy tests; my body's hormone levels, while they do support healthy pregnancies, do not register on blood or urine tests. We'd had sex precisely once, precisely one week after that huge second bleed, right before I took off for the conference. By all the rules of NFP and of biology, this pregnancy was impossible.
I held my breath for the entire first trimester. I lived in dread as the time to my last miscarriage approached, and blogged tentatively about mashed potatoes, rather than about being pregnant. And that date passed. I was a normal, exhausted, nauseous, but completely pregnant woman, with a baby that was going to stick. Celebration! I called Claudette, as much to have someone to be happy with, as for actual care. Mostly, she and I talked revolution and overthrow of the current obstetrical system during my "prenatal" visits. I know enough about my body to keep tabs myself, and to course-correct when necessary. So I gestated in peace, bonded with my baby, and had the calmest pregnancy yet.
The only emesis during the pregnancy was during the third trimester, at JavaOne, the annual Sun Microsystems Java programming language conference. Moscone Convention Center, where it's held, was hit by a norovirus outbreak, and when the Health Department found out that a pregnant woman was involved, they panicked utterly, and demanded that I "consult with my OB" to make sure I was safe. So from my hotel room, I phoned Claudette who listened patiently to me freaking out, laughed a little, said "sweetie, it's called the placental barrier for a reason; your baby is safe as long as you're not dehydrated." So the hotel bought me coconut water, and I recovered more rapidly than my coworkers.
During my second trimester, I was given an opportunity to speak at the Trust Birth conference. And the conference was incredible. I got to spend three solid days immersed in the beaming encouragement and approval of women from all walks of life, like a dose of Vitamin Birth, and I have never felt so supported in my life. I learned all kinds of things there that ended up being very helpful to me during labor.
I felt fabulous, the pregnancy progressed unremarkably. For my extended prenatal care, I retained the services of a phenomenal team, Conrad and Mina. They believe that your body cannot accept an acupuncture treatment without being in alignment, and cannot be in alignment without the muscles being relaxed, so they do a 30 minute massage, followed by adjustment, followed by an acupuncture treatment. I was being relaxed, aligned, and balanced, and felt better than I'd felt in my prior two pregnancies. Mina, who is a phenomenal healer, was able to move the baby around just by rubbing my belly gently; the baby would rotate to stay in contact with her hand. I've never seen repositioning done so easily before; imagine how the birth world could be changed if more people had this skill!
During this time, I had a sit-down conversation with Don, the harbormaster, about my plans to birth on the boat. I'd done my homework in case of emergency. The local fire department has a five minute response time (that is, five minutes from when I call to when they're at the boat). Then it's seven minutes up the hill to the nearest and best hospital, Alta Bates, which amusingly enough was the backup hospital I'd chosen for Kestrel's birth too. They're really decent and care-based and I've heard a lot of very good reports back from women who've ended up there. So I was 12 minutes from emergency care, which is better than I was in our house. Yet there was still this lingering perception with people that I was having a "stunt" birth. Whatever. Don was totally fine with it, seeing as how he's a smart man and realizes there's not a darned thing he could do about it. Living in a marina is a lot like living in a small town, though, and word gets around. And not one, not two, but three people took their "concerns" about the "danger" of my birth plans to Don. Bless his heart, Don's response was "why don't you go ask Laureen for her research on this... if you dare. Then come on back and I'll have Band-Aids for ya." Turns out the maintenance guy here, Thomas, was also very much on our side; his sister has had five home births. And, as he put it "people have died here in the marina; it's nice to finally have a birth here instead." So our unconventional plans continued unharassed.
Having had a homebirth with Kestrel, we pretty much knew what to expect in terms of my attitude and needs during labor, and physical logistics. I pulled together the stuff we were going to need over the course of a week or so... some chux pads, a tarp for the bed, spare sheets, coconut water for hydration, mag-phos for the hideous leg cramps (which didn't happen this time), and all the supplies for the new babe. And then... we were set. Oh, wait... and we had the takeout menu from our favorite sushi place. Critical, that.
By the third trimester, I'd started showing the wear, and as the pregnancy went on I got bigger, as only a woman with a very short waist can do. It's no wonder to me that induction rates in this country are so tremendous; pregnant women get driven to it by the relentless pressure placed on them by clueless but well-meaning bystanders. I got asked if they were going to "let" me get any bigger? Why I hadn't induced? Wasn't I ready to have the baby yet? (I nearly slapped that person). And then the obvious-yet-attempting-subtle phone calls from people "just to see how you are" which is a code phrase for "have you had the baby yet?" Sometimes, you gotta just pass up the opportunity to educate, and respond to a question with the only answer possible. "Oh, I had it weeks ago, but I jammed this basketball up there cause I think fat and waddling is a good look for me."I only had one really strong pregnancy dream this time. Everyone and their dog was speculating about the gender of this baby I was carrying. So in my dream, I laid down to labor, pushed the baby out in one strong push, and brought it onto my chest. The baby was a perfect Shiva, complete with crescent moon headdress, and third eye, which winked at me. I woke up laughing; Shiva is often considered to be androgynous.
I nested this pregnancy, which I hadn't done before. I arranged, organized, and cleaned. The relaxin hit my system with a vengeance, and my pelvis separated about a month and a half before the birth, which made going up and down the stairs in the companionways sheer torture, so I had to plan my trips across the boat more carefully than I'd plan trips across the Bay. Jason nested too; because I was so confident in myself and my choices, I really hadn't involved him in the pregnancy much. When he finally had something to do, "set up the birth tub", he finally had a target for his own birth tension, and so he not only set up the tub in our cockpit (which involved removing the installed table there), and created a heater for it, he also converted the cockpit into a sanctuary for me, with electric fairy lights, hanging candles, crystals, incense, privacy drapes, stacks of clean towels, and a power plug for my laptop. It was gorgeous, and I have no pictures of it at all; we were so absorbed in the creation, we utterly forgot to document.
Prodromal labor began nearly three weeks out. I got excited, but kept it to myself, other than the gasps that from time to time I couldn't hide. Jason got ridiculously solicitous, stuck by me like glue, and asked if he should start heating up the tub pretty much nightly. I was ready, and then some. I sailed past 40 weeks, past 41, and into 42. All the other women I knew who were pregnant at the same time as me had their babies. I wrote pleasant congratulation notes, all the while stewing that I wasn't there yet. And then finally, I went into labor. Hard, sharp contractions that I had to concentrate through. Fabulous!
...and then they petered out. I did that three times; went into labor that was unmistakably labor, only to try to "rest" through the contractions, and have them disappear. I woke up each time hugely, wildly disappointed. I allowed myself a few solid cries, hoping the release would make things get moving. But no such luck. We eased into 43 weeks, and sailed past all but the very last of my calculated due dates.
On the evening of June 19, labor started up again, and I was so disgusted with the start and stop thing, I didn't even say anything. I tried to palpate the baby to assess position, and couldn't feel anything like a landmark through my rock-solid belly. The pains were long and low and down in front. So I just coped. I drank water, ate a huge dinner, and resolved to endure another false alarm. And as 8:00 PM and 9:00 PM and 10:00 PM rolled past with no easing, I decided that maybe Jason should turn the heater on for the birth tub.
I was able to sleep a little between 10:00 and 2:00 AM. But then the contractions got too serious to sleep through, so I got up and headed out to the birth tub.
At some point in the past, I read that there's a native American group who believes that labor is so the woman's spirit can journey across the sky to bring her baby's soul to earth. I wasn't really too sure about that, until this labor. The night before had been the full moon, and it was with some shock that I realized that there I was, in my birth tub, watching the moon cross the sky, exactly as I had been for the miscarriage all those months before. And it seemed to take no time at all. The ocean would rock, the boat would rock, then the tub would rock. I was being cradled in a virtual sea, meditating on a brilliant full moon, pulling it all into a rhythm with the surges in my body.
Around 4:00 AM, I remembered that I'd wanted to watch "Henry V" during labor, so I popped the disc into the laptop, and watched while the moon and the sea and my belly continued on in their rhythm. I adore Henry; it's a film that never fails to inspire me to persevere. And since I had insane long labors with my boys, I assumed I was at the beginning of a long journey, so I was sort of reserving myself. I watched the movie, and at the end of it, was surprised to find myself still in labor. I was also sort of concerned and assuming that it would peter out again, but it was still going strong. I sent out an email to all my support folks, letting them know that this was it, and to light candles or pray or do whatever they wanted to do in the way of support.
I spent the rest of the morning drifting in and out of the present, getting in and out of the tub, cuddling with the boys, trying to rest between contractions. I have never been so spacey during labor. I listened to Loreena McKennitt, and realized at one point that it wasn't that the song I was hearing had gone on really long; it's that I had spaced out the entire hour and a half of my playlist and tuned back in at the same song.
The things I learned at the Trust Birth conference kicked in here. I noticed that all of the unassisted birthers, and all of the women who had really great births, all communicated with the baby during labor. So as each contraction picked up intensity, I'd chant "baby, baby, baby" to get me over the peak and down the other side. I visualized this little person rolling around, getting into position. And I actually felt the baby moving with me, with the contractions, lining up to come out and be born. It was triumphant in a way I can't even describe. The baby and I were a team, we were focused together on this dance of birth. I was so amazed, I forgot to hurt. It was intense, it was brilliant. I kept it up; "baby, baby, baby, come on out, baby". I whispered it, I growled it. The contractions got more and less intense, depending on how the baby was moving at any point. I drifted off, I dozed. I moved back in and out of the tub, into my berth like a denning animal.
Before long, it was nightfall. I was in the tub, and Jason was sitting with me. Claudette called for a progress report, and I was chatting happily (and apparently somewhat disconnectedly) with her when a contraction hit, and I handed the phone to Jason. Claudette asked him how long I'd been unable to talk through them, and he said "oh, only like an hour." She asked if it would be OK "if I was just in the neighborhood". I thought this was gloriously funny; she lives about an hour and a half north of me. Once she was in range, she phoned again, and asked if she could stop by, or if I wanted my space still. I was so disconnected, there could have been a parade through the boat and I wouldn't have noticed, so I told Jason to have her come by.
In between the call and her arrival, I felt the need, quite strongly, to be down in the berth. I made it only as far as the galley, before I had to stop and breathe. Claudette arrived, quietly, and just listened to me for a few minutes. She gently said "hey, lady... you sound kinda pushy."
I laughed at her. I have insane long labors, and I was only 26 hours into this one, so I still had ages to go, right? She was there just cause she wanted to be, and I still had miles to go. I opened my mouth to say something just like that to her, when this animal grunt came out and I felt the beginnings of a push. Able to say only "huh!", I made it the rest of the way to my room, when a full-on pushing urge hit, and my waters broke. I laughed as Jason went to wipe the floor, at the amusing picture of the waters cascading through the floor and into the bilge, and then into the sea. I had been part of the ocean in labor, and now I was creating ocean water. It was funny, and I could not say a word of it, because there was another push. Still without having seen me, Claudette suggested I try laying on my side to help bring the baby down.
I laid down, and proceeded to have the most excruciating pain of my life. I knew I had to do it (it felt right), but still, oh ouch! I moaned "I can't, I can't, I can't" over and over. Jason gave me the encouraging "yes, you can, babe, you are doing it!" and I snarled "SHUT UP!" (I've never yelled at Jason in labor before, so this was a big deal.) He flinched, and took the opportunity to go to the boys' room, to ask if they wanted to come see the baby be born. Rowan woke briefly, yawned "I'll meet her tomorrow, Papa" and went back to sleep. Kestrel didn't even stir. Notice... Rowan chose the right gender. He's like that. He also knew I was pregnant, both times, before I did.
After about 10 minutes of this, I instinctively rolled onto my knees, grabbed Jason's shoulders, and was overtaken by an earthshattering push urge. He rubbed my shoulders, and I snarled "DON'T TOUCH ME!", he reflexively pulled back but, another urge, and I was leaving clawmarks in his shoulders. He held up brilliantly.
Suddenly, the push just.... stopped. Everything stopped. I gasped, and breathed, and got very, very still. It seemed like forever, although it can't have been more than 30 seconds or so. Then the overwhelming push urge one more time, and I felt something give huge resistance, and then let go as the baby slid out of me.
Claudette swooped in under me and grabbed the baby, and started counting loudly, "1...2...3...4...5". I had no idea what she was doing; I was frozen in an arch, like my body had gotten stuck. I looked down as she unwound loop number 2... my baby had the cord looped around the chest both directions like bandoliers, and three times around the neck. I didn't even look at gender, I was so fascinated by those loops around my baby. Who was not breathing.
Claudette laid the baby back down on the bed, and I sat back down. I could feel the cord still pulsing inside of me, across my leg, and down into the baby. I had a sense of complete, utter calm. I noticed that my baby was female. But mostly, I was just in this little bubble that was just she and I, that other people kept moving in and out of. She wasn't breathing still, and I caressed her chest, singing "breathe, baby, breathe" to her. Jason wanted to freak out (she came out so fast he didn't even see that the cord had been around her, so wasn't sure what was going on) but I wasn't, so he didn't. He didn't know what I knew, that she was still connected to her cord, which was still connected to the placenta, which was still connected to me, so she was still receiving oxygen. No need to panic. Claudette suctioned the baby, bagged her a few times, and she began to breathe.
I held her close to me, and felt the most incredible surge of animal protectiveness. I just sat there and held her and watched her breathe. Somewhere in the back of my analytical brain, I was thinking about the Furyans, whose babies are born strangled with the cord. I had apparently done just that; the stall and the tug I felt was most likely the cords tightening around the baby on her way out.
The assistant midwife came back into the room after about 20 minutes, and asked if I had any urge to release the placenta, or if I wanted her to help. Apparently I snarled at her (I don't remember doing it), and she retreated again. I went back to holding the baby and watching her, touching her limbs, her face, and just being utterly absorbed in her being.
Finally, about 45 minutes after her birth and about 40 minutes after her breathing had been established, the placenta detached, and I delivered it with a halfhearted halfpush. This is somewhat remarkable, as my placentas with both the boys were detached and out within 10 minutes. Apparently, this time, my body knew that the baby needed more, needed a longer attachment and a continuation of her oxygen source past what her brothers had needed. The pulsing of the cord stopped almost immediately, and Jason cut it. The midwives examined it, and discovered it was a nearly velamentous insertion.
I left the baby in Jason's arms, and made my way to the other side of the boat for a shower. Cleaned, dried, dressed in my happy tie-dye jammies, I got one stitch on each side (which I wouldn't have bothered with, except for the requirement of incessant stairclimbing here), and then had a moment with Jason, where we stared at our new baby girl, and she let us know that her name was Aurora Miranda. I also realized at that moment that it was still the 20th, so I'd had her on my friend Dana's birthday, which also happened to be the Summer Solstice this year.
And thus began the rhythm of our days. We snuggled and nursed. Her brothers came to hold her and adore her. I had the best, fastest, most complete recovery I've had so far. Four months later, it's still fabulouser and fabulouser by the day. She's an amazing creature.
I am so incredibly grateful I had her at home. Had her cord gotten messed with, the breathing thing would have been an emergency instead of just another transition. Had a care provider less skilled than Claudette seen all those loops of cord around her, they might have panicked. But no panic was necessary. Had someone gotten jumpy and "assisted" me with the tardy placenta, the velamentous cord would have ripped out, creating hemorrhage. So many elements of the disasters I've seen in other births that were avoided just because I trusted, and was surrounded by those who trust.
This birth had a few things to teach me. I learned that indeed, every pregnancy is different, as is every labor. She was completely anterior, 100% of the time, with no need to reposition, which was new, and different, and so incredibly much easier and less painful. And because of that, I know now that in fact my labor with Rowan was one of the hardest things a woman can do (posterior labor with a baby who's both huge and asynclitic), and there's a little easing in my heart of my feelings of failure about not having been able to birth him. I'd also like to toss out a great big fat neener to the midwives and OBs who told me that my malformed pelvis must have forced my baby into a posterior position and those were the only kinds of births I'd ever have.
I also know, now, that one of the great hidden truths in birth is that it is a dyad effort. The baby is there and participating, just like the mother, and you separate those two awarenesses at your own peril. In my first two births, I thought the baby was a passive part of the event, but I know differently now.
Aurora Miranda, my solstice girl. The adventure begins...
Comments? Mail us.