This is the unedited, uncensored birth story. It is really, really long. I have been writing it intermittently during the babe's naps this week. There is really so much more I could say, but this will just have to do. Thank you all for being part of my/our life!
I had indications near the end of March that labor would start soon, and I was really excited. When I had my "bloody show" in the middle of the night, I got so thrilled and expectant that I couldn't sleep, and ended up painting a new painting to hang above our fireplace. Noel came down at 7:30 AM to find me finishing it -- a big moon and falling leaves. For the next couple days I was a wreck, forced to recover from my overly excited stint.
This would prove to be the pattern for my entire five day labor -- getting really excited and then eventually having to come down, somewhat painfully, to earth. That is -- until the fateful day she was finally born, on her due date no less, Friday, April 3rd, 2009 at 1:15 PM. She weighed in at a robust 8 pounds, 1 ounce, and measured 21 inches. Her name: Zoe Nila Smith.
---- Contractions began at about 1:30 AM on Monday, March 30th. I knew enough to know that it wasn't coming on hard and that it would be awhile. This is what is known as "early labor" -- the time before you go to the hospital, before you are dilated to four inches, and before contractions are one minute long and four minutes apart. I was more excited than anything. I could feel in this early stage that the knowledge Noel and I had gained from Birthing from Within was going to be really, really helpful, and it was.
Contractions were not very painful and were sporadic. I told Noel in the morning (actually, I told him in the middle of the night but he was too asleep to understand, and I knew I was okay so I didn't push the point). We decided he would still go to work on Monday and I would call if labor quickened. It didn't. He told his people at work that he would start his three weeks of leave the following day, and he was with me from then on. Contractions continued Monday night and became more painful, but were still sporadic. I slept between them. We pulled the futon out downstairs and slept there, so everything was closer -- kitchen, bathroom.
I had an appointment with Boulder Nurse Midwives on Tuesday, and Angela checked my dilation and stretched me a bit, which caused my uterus to cramp. She could see that I really wanted labor to get going, and she knew this would help. She could also see that I was a bit anxious and I clearly just needed to relax and let go. Angela suggested I go do things with my family who were in town, stay upright, and enjoy life. I went out for a meal with my family and walked around Pearl Street. I could still function -- I just had to slow down and/or stop when I had a contraction.
But that evening it got much more intense. Contractions were from 3 to 5 minutes apart and extremely painful. Noel and I were on the bed breathing through them, doing different positions, making sounds together to get my mind off the pain. I called Boulder Nurse Midwives at around 6 pm because we thought it must be time to come in to the hospital. We packed our bags and were extremely excited -- go time!
But when I talked to Dierdre, another of the three Boulder Nurse Midwives, she slowed down the fast-building momentum. She told me to relax, take a bath, and see if things settled down. She said that having a cervical exam can release lots of prostoglandins, which induce labor. She suggested that this intensity might be short-lived. I took a bath which did mellow me out a bit, but after the bath, contractions remained painful and frequent. By morning, however, they had become more sporadic, with up to 10 minutes between them. I slept in between the "rushes."
It seemed to be my pattern to peak at night and relax in the morning. In keeping with this pattern, as Wednesday wore on, contractions continued to build. It became more and more difficult to deal. Noel and I became experts at breathing together. Wherever he was, I would call on him to come and breathe with me or do whatever I needed during a contraction. He slept beside me as I closed my eyes and dozed between them. When one came on, every five minutes or so, I would push him and he would wake up. We just looked at each other and breathed together, or he would make tones that would help me stay low in my body, or he would rub my lower back. All day and all through the night it was like this.
What is the pain like? When people say it's like a really bad menstrual cramp, that's kind of accurate. It's sharp and deep, with a rise and a peak and a fall. You know it's going to end, so it's workable. It's a great challenge to relax through contractions when your whole body just wants to tense up.
For two full days I had been in "early labor" and not really sleeping. I called the midwives again that night. This time we were so sure we were going that Noel put all the bags in the car and got the snow off. But Angela echoed Dierdre's words -- relax, see if it peters out. Another let down. A whole series of false starts. Labor didn't peter out, but I didn't know if it was "time" either. Everyone just kept saying that I would know, but I wasn't sure that I would. My body was moving slowly and steadily, like the turtle, but my mind was like the hare. And that was the most exhausting part -- the mental excitement and the daily let downs. A very intense practice of patience and acceptance. I didn't know if I could do it anymore. I was cranky, tired, upset. Starting to feel hopeless.
My dear friend Meghan came over that night to be with me. Noel was able to sleep longer than five minutes in a row while she sat with me, made me some food because I wasn't really eating, and talked a bit. My friends had given me a birth candle for labor, and it had been burning for a day and a half. It was the only light in the room, and I stared at it through contractions. It was a beautiful night, one in which I felt the openness of space and my power to be with labor in a good way. I stopped tensing so much and started to accept. Space opened and there was a deep sense of calm. There was no hurry. I had given up. When I got in bed that night/early morning, I was able to breathe through many of them on my own. There was a certain sweetness to it now, a holiness as I stared at the candle burning and as Meghan laid on the floor nearby, so utterly and quietly there for me.
On Thursday I called the midwives again, just to talk. I just wanted some advice and understanding, which is what I got. Angela said that if I just couldn't make it another day, I could come in and she would break my water to get things going. I wanted to be in the hospital but I didn't want interventions. Angela suggested I go outside and take a walk, and Patrice, who was going to be my doula, suggested I walk up and down the stairs, even through contractions. Patrice and I talked about the option of having my water broken, and she said that if I wasn't sure, I should do nothing. I accepted her advice.
Noel and I went for a walk, and the air outside revitalized me. We walked incredibly slowly, and he just stopped and stood with me whenever I had a contraction. I peed in the bushes because I had to go every two minutes. We passed families with babies and felt the irony and intensity of that. When we got home, I walked the stairs. I felt more brave and able to go forward, and more accepting that it might last forever.
In the beginning of labor, I had wanted to create a sacred cocoon of our home. I felt it had to be a certain way. Now I no longer cared. I was in it, no matter what was happening around me. So my family came over, and my two younger brothers (in town from Europe and New Orleans), Noel, and I played Clue. It was hilarious. I sat on an exercise ball and it seemed that whenever anyone asked me a question, like, "Miss Scarlett, in the kitchen, with the rope," I would have a contraction. I just sat quietly, closed my eyes, and possibly muttered something like, "One minute." (Quite literally, one minute). All these boys just sat through the pain with me, and it was nice to have the distraction. And I almost won too. My mom and dad were there too, reading and cooking and hanging out.
Quite soon after they all left, Noel and I resumed our positions on the futon, lying together, breathing through. "Open, open," he had taken to saying. Sometimes we would lift our arms together, hold hands, and breathe in and out as our arms moved back and forth. It was amazing, beautiful, and challenging. Trying to stay low, to be brave and not push the pain away. To accept that I had no idea when it would actually happen. To be with the experience with no end in sight and with great trust.
A couple hours into this, my lip started quivering. It was subtle, but something was different. I knew my cycle at this point - the contractions would build through the night before settling down. It was around 7:30 PM or so. I figured if we just went in, it would all move. We just had to go. I wanted to be in the space where I could actually have this baby.
I called Angela and told her I thought it was time. She said "Great, I'll meet you there." She said that if contractions petered out again, I could just sleep there. No need to have my water broken or do anything at all. Gratitude.
And Oh my God, we're actually going. We're actually going. Take it easy, no big deal, we're actually going. Ah, finally. In the car, breathing through, while Noel finishes fetching things inside. We make it in and are greeted by a sweet receptionist with a big tattoo. She opens the electronic door for us but I can't make it through because I have to stop for a contraction. I smile, she understands, and opens it again. I continue.
I am so comforted to be there, to lay on the bed, to have my contractions monitored, to finally be there. The nurse checked my dilation (4.5 or so) and said my contractions were frequent enough. She called Angela to check in. I could stay (which I already knew from what Angela had told me). I could have the baby there. Such balm to finally be there after having such a difficult time, physically and mentally, making it there. It was such a relief.
We unloaded our things from home -- we brought a blanket, the mala my friends made for me, and lots of other necessities. I wore the mala the whole time. Patrice was sick, so wasn't able to come in the end -- it was just me and Noel, moving through this together with great strength and love.
We had checked into the hospital at about 10:30 PM. Angela arrived at about midnight. She, Noel, and Valorie, a lovely nurse, were with me as I labored through the night. Around 2 AM my dilation was at 6. By daybreak I was at 8. Hands and knees, side-lying, leaning, standing. Sitting as in meditation, upright on the bed, Noel and I holding hands and staring at each other. We are doing this. We are going to have a baby.
Oo, oo, ooooopen...The tears, the intensity, the loveliness. Everyone said I was doing great work, and I was opening. It was beautiful.
But still, I was tired. My whole body was shaking. At Angela's suggestion, I got in the tub and got a break. Ah how it relaxes me. When I got out, it was time for the midwives to switch shifts. Merrilynn, the midwife that I had seen the most since the beginning of my pregnancy, and who started Boulder Nurse Midwives, was about to come on. Angela and Valorie hugged us and wished us luck. It felt like the birth could happen very soon, and they were sad to miss it. It was wonderful to have the night with them, holding us as we opened up together.
Noel and I walked the stairs in the hospital during this transition. A doctor I knew saw me - "Aren't you at 8?" She had seen it on a board in a doctors'/nurses' room. "Yeah..." "And you're still walking around! You look great!" We walked two flights of stairs and then I had had enough. We were trying to get the baby's head low, and to finally get my water to break.
And then the day time, and Merrilynn, and a new nurse. Everyone was more down to business, and it was time, really. I was so tired and so shaky that they suggested I have some IV fluids. I agreed. We kept laboring, laboring, but losing steam. I said, "I think this is the time when women think they can't do it anymore." The fabled "transition" period.
Nothing was moving. Merillynn checked my dilation around 9 AM, about four hours after Angela had last checked, and no change. My body was so tired and my pattern of contractions was just not working. It was morning after all, my body's natural time to rest.
Merillynn told us her feelings. She suggested that it had been so long and that I was so tired that we should really do something. She said that if she broke the water, it would most likely get things moving in a much better pattern. I asked her what would happen if that didn't work. She said she would give me a tiny bit of pitocin. She read my mind and asked if I would like to just sleep for an hour and think it over. Yes. She said she would come back around 10 AM and see what we had decided. We slept between contractions -- Noel in a chair by the bed, I lying on my left side. We decided we would have the water broken.
It was painless. Merillynn used a plastic device resembling a crochet hook and did it swiftly and as if by rote. Suddenly there was a warm flood. The water had a tiny bit of meconium in it, but nothing to be alarmed about. There would be a team called in when the baby emerged in order to make sure she didn't aspirate it. As soon as the water broke, the pattern of contractions changed and became more frequent and more intense.
Suddenly there was new momentum, new life in the room after having been stalled out for so long. It was fun again. We were moving. Noel and I took to watching my monitor, which was funny. Didn't think we'd enjoy the technology so much, but we did. Hearing the baby's heart beat was rhythmic and soothing, and watching my peaks and valleys of contractions was fun and fascinating. Sometimes they didn't hurt much but appeared intense and sometimes they hurt a lot but looked mild on the screen. I labored on the ball, I sat up in bed, I walked around the room. I leaned, I squatted.
An hour later, I was at 9. I kept going. An hour later, I was so close, almost there. It was almost time to push. Merillynn said I would just feel it. I wasn't sure.
When she checked me again, I wasn't quite at 10, so she helped me get all the way there. She told me to bear down, but not push. She reached inside of me and skillfully got the rest of the cervix out of the way. It was the most impressive, gentle, competent motion. Suddenly there was nothing in the way, nothing I could damage. She said the baby's head was low, and that it wouldn't take me long. She told me to go for it. I searched for my position, delirious, but trusting. "I think I'm going to puke," and immediately there was puke, yellow from Recharge. Beautiful! All over Noel. He almost got the bucket there in time but not quite. Typical, so I had heard... "That's how you know you're near the end." Merillynn said, "So good to have all of that out of your stomach."
I found my position, sitting halfway up, legs up on the bar that is generally used for squatting. Merillynn offered a tied sheet that I could pull on. So my legs up on the bar above me, sheet in the center of the bar, my arms pulling my body forward. "Chin to chest, breathe out, and push down," she told me. It was heartbreaking, wild, loud, wonderful, painful. "When you feel that burning pain, you want to push all the more," she said. Three or four pushes each contraction. I was loud, not screaming, but loud. Gutteral. "You're a good pusher!" "You know how to do this Katie, just a couple more." "Noel you can see the head if you come down here!" And he did, and he was crying.
And then she crowned, and I felt her, and they got the mirror, and I saw the top of her smushed, bloody head.
A team of doctors and nurses entered then so they could take care of the baby if she had aspirated meconium. I didn't understand. They looked like medical students to me. As they entered, in the middle of a contraction, I looked at them, made a disapproving face, and shook my head. Who are these people?
By the time the contraction passed, I understood. I looked at them and said hello and laughed. I remember one in particular smiled sheepishly back. What a funny moment, to cheerfully say "hello!" as a baby is emerging from my vagina. I didn't care, I felt brave, powerful and in the right place. I was thrilled to be able to push, to be wrathful, to express all this, all these days of work, all this feeling inside me. Thrilled to let it out, quite literally, in a most beautiful raging loud bloody disaster -- yes! Such truth and rightness in this. Yes yes yes and thank you. So lucky to have gotten here, to be surrounded by such support and love in this room and outside of this room, so blessed, so fortunate, so terribly disgustingly wonderfully nastily perfectly indescribably pure.
"This is going to be the one Katie," as she put oxygen to my mouth to give me energy for pushing. Noel put his face under the mask too as he felt faint, tears falling from his eyes. I was not crying, I was working. And I did it again, with everything I had, so joyful to give so fully, chin to chest, breathe out. I pulled my body forward, off the bed, pushing pushing through the burning and the stinging and then suddenly
The head was out, "there's the cord", shifting the baby's body to remove the shoulders, "Ok Katie Okay," as they moved my legs down to be able to get the shoulders out, as Merillynn slathered on oil so I didn't tear, and then
A baby on my chest, people wiping her off as she lay there, crying, looking at me, I at her -- who are you? I know you I think.... Hello.. Hi Baby... Hi sweetie... Hi... Hi Sweetie... Hi...Ah.....
And then "one little push, Katie," and the placenta was out, and "Oh, we want to keep that" (It's still in the freezer) and then it was just me and the baby and Noel for a long time. Crying a bit together, slowly coming back to earth, a process I am still involved in, looking over at Noel and Zoe on the couch sleeping together -- amazing.
I am grateful beyond measure to Noel for every moment, Meghan for that grounding, spacious night, Boulder Nurse Midwives for their amazing trust of women and their strong intuition and incredible support. Birthing from Within and Erika, for inspiration, grounding and trust of myself and the situation, Patrice, for being with us in spirit, my family, for being here and witnessing this milestone in my life, and my incredible friends for so much support and love. And Zoe for making it all possible.