an unassisted-birth story
meeting séan: november 8, 2004
it was an ordinary birth, i promise.
the same way laurie morgan protests in writing about the birth of her son, john, it doesn't feel like there's anything to write. when i went to the la leche league meeting the week following séan's birth, one of the ladies there said, "you must be feeling like Power. you must feel like you can do anything." no, not really. i'm feeling like a new mother-- happy, tired, sometimes overwhelmed. i fall in love every time i look down in his basket or in the sling and see his sleeping face. i get lost in the mini-curls of his hair. i wonder how i tricked myself into this during our nursing marathons from 4 to 6 every morning. i'm amazed by him. but i'm not amazed by his birth-- not in the sense that it was anything other than what it was supposed to be. (but i will say that the circumstances of séan's birth make it so that people don't doubt me as much as they used to. it's kind of funny.)
so what happened, anyway?
sunday, november 7, 2004 was a gorgeous day in atlanta-- clear sky, not too warm or too cold. i got to experience this directly because dustin's haunted house, having closed for the season the weekend prior, threw a wrap-party for the employees and their families. dustin had been joking that i couldn't have the baby until after the wrap-party, and i just smiled and nodded, since i was pretty sure i wouldn't have the baby until later in the week, anyway. so november seventh, the day of the wrap-party, came around, and i wasn't feeling very social. i was feeling little twinges, as i had been for the previous couple of days, and while i didn't think they meant anything was imminent, i did really want to just stay home and sleep. i figured i'd go to the wrap-party anyway, since i wouldn't be seeing most of the people there again for months, and it might make for good distraction from the twinges.
we made it to the party and back with a minimum of fuss. after putzing around the house for a little bit, and still feeling twinges, i decided to go ahead and make up the double batch of chili that i'd been meaning to make all weekend. my intention was to freeze half of it, like i had done with the other meals i had cooked that week. chopping, sauteing, and simmering took my mind off the twinges somewhat, but could not hide the fact that they were definitely more noticeable, and feeling kinda crampy in nature. i told dustin what was going on, but told him to go ahead and plan on being at work in the morning. if things decided to take off the next day, i could always just call him and have him come home-- his job is only 10-ish minutes away from our house. but i didn't want to unnecessarily keep him from earning money. :-)
the chili finished cooking and i had a bowl (not my best batch, but serviceable). i put the extra mattress pad and sheets on the bed just in case, and sent dustin to the store for last-minute labor things just in case. i putzed around on the computer, and then decided to try out my brand-new, freshly-assembled glider-rocker. i rocked and read for quite a while. a few times, i got up and walked through a couple of twinges to see how that felt. the twinges were feeling more crampy than twinge-y.
is it labor, or not?
i wanted more distraction than reading could provide, so i got back on the computer. fortunately, the perfect person to chat with was on-line. i wanted to talk to someone about what was going on, and how i was feeling, but i didn't want to trumpet to the world that i was in labor, only to have things stall out. unfortunately, it was closing in on 11 o'clock, and she needed to go to bed, so we didn't talk for long. i was also chatting with my brother, but didn't want to tell him that i might be in labor. at one point, i abruptly left the computer for a while (early labor diarrhea), and when i came back his message to me was, "um, hello? sister dear?" i apologized profusely, told him i'd had a long day and was going to go to bed, and logged off.
i did actually go to bed at that point. the cramps were edging towards contractions, and i figured if this was it, then things might still be early enough that i might be able to squeeze in some sleep before things got heavy. so i went to bed. i dozed. i went to the bathroom for another bout of diarrhea. i dozed. i asked dustin to bring me a full hot-water bottle because these cramps were getting out of hand! i dozed. i went back to the bathroom for yet another bout of diarrhea. i stayed to throw up in the sink. there was no going back to bed.
yes, it's labor!
i asked dustin to bring a pillow to me in the bathroom so i could camp out in the bathroom for a while. he was a bit concerned about all the purging i was doing, and more than a little grossed out. when i reassured him that this was normal, he became a real trooper. he brought my pillow. he dragged a chair into the bathroom so he could sit on it while massaging my back as i sat on the toilet facing the tank propped up on my pillow. he obeyed my injunction to not talk to me while i was contracting. he followed my lead. he followed.
at one point he asked me how far apart the contractions were, and i answered, "i don't know," with all the force of-- what kind of a damnfool question is that?-- i could cram into three words. he didn't ask that question again.
lights out in the bedroom. lights out in the bathroom. the only lights on in the whole house were in the computer room. that provided the perfect amount of illumination for the bathroom, bedroom, and living room. (yes, it's a small house.) i almost panicked when dustin moved to turn on the bathroom light. the light stayed off.
my legs were getting numb from sitting on the toilet. i stood to give them a break, and decided to move to the living room. i spread out another extra mattress pad on the floor and spread towels on top of it. i leaned on the seat of my brand-new, freshly-assembled glider-rocker and rocked through several contractions on my knees. the seat of the rocker was a bit too high, so i leaned on the rocker's ottoman and rocked through several contractions there. the ottoman was a bit too low, so i asked dustin to bring me my pillow from the bathroom, and put it on top of the ottoman and rocked through several contractions that way. i got tired of rocking.
moaning helped. moaning in the dark helped. moaning in the dark in my own house helped. i got pretty wanton with the moaning.
if rocking wasn't going to do it, hand-and-knees would have to. hand-and-knees during contractions. side-laying during breaks. dustin camped out on the couch. following. i contracted steadily, alone in the dark, and thought to myself, this is why women want the company of other women during labor. this is kinda lonely. i want to bitch to someone who's been here and done this. and then i thought, what would another woman's presence give me? what would her presence take away in exchange? and i stopped thinking about it.
i progressed from wordless moaning, to saying, "oww..." during contractions. i even threw in the occasional curse. dustin brought me a big plastic bowl, in case i threw up again. he rubbed my back for a little while. however, unlike in the bathroom, where rubbing during contractions felt nice, now rubbing during contractions was agony. i had to tell him to stop. gathering the energy to speak during a contraction made the pain spike even more. he lay down on the floor next to my nest of mattress pad and towels. he dozed.
i was tired. i was so tired. i was pissed that i didn't get any real sleep before labor began. i was pissed that i was hurting so much. i was pissed at the trains that went by on the railroad track less than a mile from our house. did there have to be so many of them tonight of all nights?! and i was especially pissed that dustin got to sleep! i growled through a couple of contractions. and then i threw up. dustin rinsed out the bowl and brought it back to me.
i wondered how long i could go on, being so tired. i wondered who-in-the-hell's great idea was this, anyway? i wondered why i wasn't like everyone else, trooping obediently to the hospital and getting an epidural as my reward.
i have to sleep. hands-and-knees during contractions. side-laying during breaks. i have to sleep. i can't do this anymore. i had crossed the line-- there were no more little tricks i could do for each contraction to make it bearable.
i dreamed crazy half-dreams during the breaks. i fought so hard for that reprieve during the breaks. for one contraction, i didn't get up to hands-and-knees in time. my moaning-growling-cursing turned into a high-pitched whine of true pain. that one contraction was the longest one of my entire labor. laying down was horrible. trying to move to correct the problem made it worse. all i could do was wait it out. believe me, i made that mistake only once.
somewhere along the way, i noticed that in breathing out during a contraction, my body was holding on. not a true pushing, but a kind of counterpressure against what my uterus was doing. i noticed it, and immediate thoughts of swelling my cervix filled my head. (--the size of a watermelon!) more counterpressure from my body. and i decided to continue with my plan as i had so far-- follow. follow my body's lead. get out of my own way and follow. if i'm not pushing, my body will not swell its own cervix shut. follow.
hand-and-knees during contractions. side-laying during breaks. more crazy half-dreams. more counterpressure. it suddenly became very important for my back to be arched during contractions. scared-cat arched. head down, back arched, pelvis loose. the counterpressure became pushing.
"dustin, i'm cold. so cold. please." he turned up the gas heater. he brought a comforter from the bed and draped it over me. more pushing. i was grunting with it. the pushing didn't hurt, and for that i was glad, but it felt like my body was pushing against a brick wall. it didn't feel like anything was happening. follow. hands-and-knees. side-laying. hands-and-knees. side-laying. i was so so tired. it didn't register for a couple of contractions that the fluid i was feeling spilling between my thighs might actually be my water breaking. whatever the fluid was, i needed to keep it from soaking through to the carpet under the mattress pad. "dustin! i need more towels!" a couple of towels dropped to the floor next to me. "did your water break?" "i think so."
i tried to spread the towels under my knees, but was caught by another contraction-- and with this one, i felt progress, in a major way. in the space of that one contraction-- push-- i felt the head move down deep in my hips-- i thought to myself, i'm not ready for it to come out yet!-- push-- that's the head!-- yelp! of surprise-- push-- lumps and bumps of shouldersbodyarmslegs-- splashspluttercryinginfant-- and he was out.
forget trying to soak up amniotic fluid! i caressed the baby where he landed on the towels. he was crying and crying (as shocked about his sudden appearance as i was, i'm sure). i was so wrapped up in greeting him that i took me a couple of tries to answer dustin when he asked me where i had put the shoelaces and scissors i had gotten specifically for cutting the cord. i picked the baby up, and wrapped him up in the remaining dry towel i had. i told dustin to heat up a couple more towels in the dryer. in transferring the baby to the warmed towels, i saw that he was a boy-- yes, it took me that long to look. "you wanna take a guess at the gender?" "a girl?" "nope. it's séan!" dustin smiled down at me. "can his middle name be nicholas? please?" we hadn't agreed on a middle name yet. dustin said yes.
dustin and i agreed that the time séan was born was 3:25am-- it happened so fast, we had to track back carefully.
séan's umbilical cord was about 2 feet long and looped over him like a sash-- from one shoulder to opposite hip. i tied it off and cut it right after i birthed the placenta-- maybe ten minutes after he was born. he was breathing and crying well enough on his own, so i didn't worry about suctioning his nose and mouth. i was still lying in the (wet and sticky) pile of mattress pad and towels i had birthed on when we started making phone calls-- dustin's parents, dustin's sister, my mother, my grandmother.
dustin held séan for the first time when i went to take a shower, shortly after i made this post.
i noticed some stinging when i rinsed my vulva, so after my shower i inspected for damage: one spot on the inside of my inner labia where it looked like the skin had split. nothing major. creative positioning on the toilet kept me from being too uncomfortable when i peed. i rinsed with water every time i went to the bathroom and herbal sitz baths (courtesy of one online friend) were a lifesaver. a week later (during which i firmly forbid myself from looking at the area and freaking myself out), the skin had knit together nicely, and i was sitting comfortably again.
i was finally able to go to sleep at around 6:30 in the morning. dustin did laundry and clean-up. :-)
notes and post-scripts
in reading over what i wrote, it's sort of surprising that i have so much to say about an event that, in the end, feels so normal. in all honesty, the cliffs notes version of this birth would be i had a bunch of contractions and then pushed out a baby. everything else is just filler.
if the importance of my husband did not shine through in my account, let me say it here: dustin was exactly what i needed during this birth. he was the ultimate chinese stagehand-- on the ball when i needed him, nonexistent when i did not. for someone who'd had no prior experience with birth, he was the perfect birth partner.
séan was weighed and measured at the pediatrician's three days after he was born: 5 pounds 10 ounces, 18 inches long. (--and he still manages to be larger than life and twice as loud. how does he do it?)