Monday, July 30, 2012

birth story

In this post I would like to share my amazing birth story. I wrote it for myself- so that I would not forget and so that I can share it with my daughter one day. But I'm sharing it with you for several reasons. When I was pregnant all I ever heard from anyone was birth horror stories and comments about how awful pregnancy and labor is. If I said anything positive about my pregnancy the return comment was "Oh, well you just wait!" and when I was nearing my due date the comment was "I'll bet you're ready to get that baby out of there!". It is as if women did not like to hear anything other than the miseries of childbearing. Now that I have had a birth experience as wonderful as my pregnancy was, I am getting comments such as "Oh, you were just really lucky". No. I was not lucky. Blessed- yes, lucky- no. And as you will read, my birth story did not just happen, but was the ending to a long road of intentional preparation of my mind and body. I knew if I didn't write this immediately, then my story would be attributed to after birth forgetfulness. So I wrote my birth story the very next day, and now I'd like to share it with you. 

     My baby girl's birth story is a story of a journey that began long before the first contractions. It is an amazing story that, like all births, cannot be limited to simply the physical act of giving birth, but must include the mental and emotional experience. 

     I cannot tell this story without telling of the role that Choice played in our journey. We decided to have a home birth when I was about 3 months pregnant. I very much liked my OB doctor, and she was supportive of that decision. The decision came after we started to do research on what pregnancy and having a baby looked like. I can't say that a home birth is the best choice for every woman- I can say that it was the best choice for me and now I can't imagine anything better. No matter what choice a woman makes, it is so important to be informed, to know what is going on in your body and to be educated about child birth. If for no other reason, learning about all of this makes this miraculous event all the more amazing! As we did research and asked my doctor questions about birth procedure, I found that there were many aspects of the birth that I was not permitted to decide on that I felt ought to be my choice. I also found little confidence in my body from the general medical perspective of my doctor, and began to notice that the majority of people we knew having hospital births were ending in C-sections many times after the same chain of events that seemed to result in some cases from this lack of confidence. Lastly, we began to discover many benefits to having our baby at home, especially since we were so committed to having our baby born naturally with no unnecessary intervention.

     What resulted from this decision was a formative experience for me as a woman, gave my husband and I a wonderful and intimate birth experience and gave my baby girl what I believe to be the best possible birth. We were blessed by God with a healthy baby and were blessed to not have any serious complications or concerns. This miracle of childbirth makes me marvel how anyone could experience this and not believe in God- and certainly he is intimately involved in the entire process. I talk a lot about confidence throughout this story, but I want to be clear that my confidence is founded in God, and that we prayed for his help through this entire journey- and continue to. It is because of my faith that I found reason to not fear and my confidence grew out of knowing that God loves this baby more than I ever could.

     Once we began meeting with our midwives, Nina and Kelley, we were quickly amazed at the difference in care provided. Instead of the 15 rushed minutes with my doctor, our appointments were an hour long! I was asked immeasurably more medical and family history questions relevant to the birth than I ever was by my doctor. I left every appointment feeling so empowered and so excited about the birth. The difference that made for my husband and I was huge. Our society has made childbirth out to be something to be feared and has so many women believing they couldn't ever do it without an epidural. Many women even believe that having a C-section is "taking the easy way out." Before our decision for a home birth, I found myself very much a product of these messages. This was changed when I began educating myself about childbirth and was empowered to have confidence in my body and my baby to tell me what was needed and if something was wrong.

     Another aspect of our birth story that took place in preparation for the birth was the mental and emotional preparation. As I began to consider how child birth might be hindered or helped by my mind, I began a list of "replacement thoughts" for possible negative and defeating thoughts triggered by fear or pain. Many of those messages were even helpful through discomforts in pregnancy. The more I became aware of and changed my thoughts about pregnancy and birth to positive and uplifting messages, the more they actually changed my emotions and even physically how I felt. I cannot over emphasize how powerful our thoughts are and how our body (and even our babies!) respond to them.

All that being said- here is how the birth began...

     Monday afternoon at 4:30pm I woke up and rolled over from a nap to feel a sort of "pop" and release of fluid. It was 6 days before my due date and being my first pregnancy I thought there was no way my baby would decide to come this early. It occurred to me that perhaps this could be my water breaking so I went to the bathroom. After a second and third release of fluid, and having tested the pH level to confirm it was not urine, I called my midwives to let them know my water had indeed broke. As I held the phone about to make the call, I felt a flutter in my stomach and a rush of nerves as I realized "it had begun". When I ended the call with Nina I reassessed myself and noticed the nerves were gone and my confidence had returned. After that moment I did not feel nervous or afraid again.

Early labor
     I made a quick grocery list for Kevin (we hadn't quite finished preparations for our home birth...) and made a few more calls- including finding someone to transport and store our dinning room table so there would be room to set up the birthing tub. It was about 5:00pm (30 min. after my water broke) when I started feeling contractions. They were about 7 minutes apart and so faint that I was not sure at first if they were real contractions. By 6:00pm when our friends came to get the dinning room table, I had no doubt that what I felt was contractions and I was already having to be somewhat intentional about keeping my body relaxed through them. Each contraction was about 5-7 minutes apart and by 6:30pm I was needing to sit on the corner of my bed and gently rock through them. When rocking, I could still talk through them- but they were growing in intensity and frequency at a faster rate than I was expecting.

     While the physical intensity was still moderate, I remained in tune with my thoughts and spent much of the time talking to my baby girl as Kevin scurried around trying to get the birthing tub set up. I repeated messages I had been telling myself for months- "My body knows exactly what to do", "I can do this", "I am amazed at my body", "God designed my body to handle this", "This will be over tomorrow", "I don't have to do this alone", "This is so amazing" and other variations and similar thoughts. As I talked with my baby girl through labor, I encouraged my baby that she too could do this, that she could come whenever she was ready, and many words of my love for her. In combination with my thoughts I continued to use progressive relaxation, guided imagery and mindfulness of my body through each contraction. Even though each contraction was growing in intensity- so was my confidence that I really could do this, and I was sure to focus my mind on that growing realization.  

     Kevin and I were keeping our midwives, Kelley and Nina, updated through texting and we were all expecting this to be the beginning of labor which would last perhaps till the early morning hours. Between 7:00 and 8:00pm Kevin was getting a bit frantic while trying to get the birthing tub assembled and filled and I was getting into contractions that I needed to breath through. As I verbally encouraged him that he was doing a great job and everything would be ok and that he could do this, he paused to laugh and comment that I was far more calm than he was. I imagine that is normal for soon to be dads in that moment, and it actually encouraged me to be all the more calm in order to balance his stress. But when he said that to me I realized that I was in fact calm- and the continued realization of my body's ability to respond positively to the intensity of the experience of birth was incredibly empowering.

Active labor
     A little after 9:00 pm my friend Amy arrived. At this point my contractions were about 3 minutes apart and about a 7-8 in intensity. By now the birthing tub was up and being filled and Kevin was with me helping me through the contractions. I wanted to create a calm and soothing environment so I had some aromatherapy candles lit, low lighting and instrumental "relaxation" music playing. As I had a contraction, Kevin would visually scan my body and softly instruct me to relax the areas he could see were tense. Most of my tension was in my face, hands and toes. I used a lot of breathing techniques and guided imagery at this point in labor.

     Nina and Kelley had been keeping posted on my contractions and decided to send Alison, the midwife apprentice, out to see how I was doing. Alison arrived between 9:30 and 10:00pm. After waiting through a few contractions we decided to check and see how dilated I was: 4 centimeters. She also found out that the baby was "sunny side up" and would need to be turned. To turn her I tried several different positions and ended up laying on my side. This was the most difficult point in the entire process. At the time, I rated those contractions at a 9-10 and was really struggling to keep my body relaxed and my mind focused. Kevin stayed close, was encouraging me verbally and kept a firm hold on my hand. On each break between contractions he would coach me to just do one more and kept my focus. Alison was not only encouraging, but maintained the calm in the room. After several contractions like this Alison noticed I was starting to push- she asked if I was trying to push in response to the pain or if my body was telling me to push. All I could say was that I couldn't keep from pushing. She checked me between my next two contractions and found that 45 minutes after her previous exam I was already fully dilated and was in fact ready to push (baby had successfully turned). Very calmly and reassuringly, Alison suggested I get in the tub and quickly called Nina and Kelley to let them know about the sudden progression. Nina and Kelley were on their way but about 20-30 minutes from our house, so Alison helped me breath differently through the contractions so that I could try to keep from pushing till everybody was there.

     Around 11:00 pm Nina and Kelley arrived and I gave my body full permission to push. Everything had changed physically since I got into the tub. Almost immediately I felt relief in the warm water from the soreness in my abdominal muscles. My contractions, while probably still just as intense, were only uncomfortable at their peak as opposed to a sort of bell curve. I immediately knew that the tub was an incredibly good decision! The water was so warm and I felt so relaxed despite the events taking place. Shortly after really starting to push I switched over to a hands and knees position with Kevin facing me. I was surprised at how weightless I felt and what little pressure there was on any part of my body. Between contractions I would rest my head on Kevin's shoulder and for most of the time Nina held a fan so it blew on my face. At this point in the birth I could honestly say I was completely comfortable and relaxed were it not for the contractions. Even those, combined with the pushing, were not anything like I had expected after hearing the many horror stories of birth and being generally influenced by the ways media portrays birth. I was actually able to really soak in the experience and, yes- I'm going to say it, enjoy it. A miracle was taking place in my body and it was not scary, and it was not an emergency. I was surrounded by people that believed I could handle this and that my body was made to do this. I expected a lot of instruction from the midwives when it came to the birth- but when I asked what to do they responded by asking what my body was telling me to do, and each time I knew the answer.

     Perhaps the most surprising thing about our baby's birth was that I never felt the "transition" phase. I knew about it and was ready for it, and at one point even asked while pushing if this was the point at which I should be feeling that "I can't do this" feeling. I asked that because I wasn't feeling that way, but it did seem like the pushing was taking forever and I was getting a little tired. I remembered reading that when you experience that transition of feeling you can't do it, that you are close to actually doing it...and I was hoping I was getting close to the end.


     At 12:15am, after about 1hr. and 15 min. of pushing, our baby girl was born. She had her cord wrapped once around her neck tight enough that Alison and Kelley "somersaulted" her out. When they put her on my chest her eyes were open and she was stretching her neck, but she hadn't cried yet. After rubbing her back a little she finally let out one or two little cries and we watched as she took her first breath! I have heard people say that immediately they felt overwhelming love for their baby- for me I felt overwhelmingly shocked at what had just happened. I couldn't believe that she had just come out of my belly!

     After moving out of the tub and to our bed, I began to feel that intense rush of love you see in the faces of parents as they look at their new baby. After a little work to get my placenta out, Kevin and I were left with our baby girl for about 45 minutes to bond with her. She never did cry very much, but was alert as we studied each others faces. A little over an hour later Kevin cut her cord. I couldn't believe that in just under 8 hours our baby girl had arrived. While I was shocked at how quickly she came (as was everyone!) I feel blessed to have had only 45 minutes of active labor and just over an hour of pushing. 

     When Nina, Kelley and Alison returned they did their exam of the baby while we were still in the room so we could watch. I couldn't help but think even then at all the differences I was experiencing to being in a hospital. My baby was not washed of her vernix or wisked away from me. She wasn't placed on a hard metal tray to be weighed or strapped with ankle and arm bands. I watch as Alison very lovingly checked, measured and weighed her in a way that was soft and sweet and not at all just work routine. I also loved that we were there for all of it- there was no mystery to where my baby was and how she was being handled. I was in my home with people I loved and felt personally connected to, rather than strangers I had just met.

     The rest kind of does become a blur- Amy made me eggs and turkey bacon- it will remain to be one of the best meals of my life! I felt great comfort knowing she was holding my baby as I went to shower. Amy's role in the birth extended beyond the beginning of labor. For months she had been encouraging me and with me on the journey of discovering the confidence that I believe in great part led to this birth story. She took photos and video that I will forever cherish and continued to be there for us and we began the rather terrifying journey of parenthood!  

     There aren't words to express how glad I am that we decided to have a home birth with Choice. I will forever consider this to be one of the best decisions we have made as a couple. The very personal care we have experienced from the midwives has just been unbelievable. I wish that every woman who has feared child birth could see birth through their eyes.

Our baby girl, named Kyra Aaron Reed, is a beautiful, calm baby girl. She was 7 lbs. 8 oz. and just under 20 inches long. We cannot count our blessings!