Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Peregrine's Birth Story

I have this written down in much, much greater detail, so that I can remember every tiny thing. But I've been wanting to write the more public, less painfully detailed story for awhile. So here it is. It will be long. I have very few pictures of the event; it was very fast. But I will include what I have.
38 weeks pregnant, shortly before I started feeling huge and sore
I had an easy pregnancy overall. Morning sickness (also known as all-day-all-night-from week-three-to-week-fifteen sickness) was unpleasant and gross and miserable, but not unbearable at all. I had a cough for virtually my entire pregnancy, and I fractured a rib during a particularly violent coughing episode. Other than that, though, I had no complications. I was healthy and strong, and taught music and dance up until a few weeks before I gave birth.

I had planned to give birth at Bellingham Birth Center with a midwife. I had been present at the home births of two of my younger sisters, and that was how I had always imagined giving birth. But, in the case of complications, our home was over half an hour away from the hospital, and that made me nervous. So the Birth Center was a nice compromise.

Peregrine was due August 9th, and I felt beautiful and glowing and alive up until a few days before his due date. Then I just started feeling tired and bloated and huge. My feet were so swollen, and it hurt so much to walk, and I felt so out of shape. I walked constantly, though, because I really, really didn't want to go overdue to the point where I would have to be induced. I felt mentally prepared for any number of birth complications. But if I needed to be medically induced, I felt like it would automatically cancel my plans to have a natural birth. So I walked for miles every day, breathing hard the whole time. Walking also helped keep my mind off waiting. Waiting was slowly driving me crazy.

The morning of Peregrine's due date, I started noticing a pattern to my contractions. I had been having contractions since 32 weeks, even though I couldn't feel them. As I neared my due date, though, they began to make themselves known, though they weren't painful at all, just a barely-perceptible tightening. I got all excited to see a pattern, but then it stopped. So I decided to ignore them and start my daily regimen of eating fresh raspberries and taking multiple walks. (The raspberries had nothing to do with labor. We just had a ton of them, and I liked eating them).
Raspberries! They were juicy, red, and delicious. 
I took a walk with my mom, who came up for the birth. It was a short walk, but it was hard. My contractions became uncomfortable when I was walking, and I had one I couldn't walk through. We came back home, and ate dinner, and cleaned up, and by about 8 in the evening, I was noticing my contractions were coming pretty consistently at every seven minutes. They still didn't hurt at all, they were just like small, mild muscle cramps. We put on a movie, and I used the DVD timer to time my contractions. They were still coming at every seven minutes, but if I got up to pee (which I did a lot), I always had one, regardless of when the last one had been.

It was about 11 when the movie ended, and we decided to go to bed. We were fairly certain I was in early labor, but if we learned anything in our birth class, it was this: When in early labor, sleep. So we went to sleep. Or rather, Andrew went to sleep. I tried to go to sleep, but found out it takes about six minutes to get almost there. And then I would have a contraction, and wake up. My contractions were much more bothersome when I was lying down, so I would usually get up and go to the bathroom when they started. I tried all sorts of positions, but I couldn't sleep, and my contractions were starting to hurt, so I gave up. For awhile, I tried sleeping on my knees on the couch, leaning over the side, but that didn't work either. I tried not to make any noise, because I didn't think I was that far along, and I didn't want to wake anyone up. But finally, my mom couldn't stand not helping me, so she came out and started rubbing my back.

I was annoyed at not having slept, but when I checked the clock, I found out I'd been laboring for several hours already. By 2:30, I was most definitely in real, painful labor, and my mom woke Andrew up and we called the midwife, Eloisa. She said I should wait to come in until I was sure my contractions were lasting a full minute apiece. She said she thought active labor was just beginning, so I should stay comfortable and take it slow. My mom wasn't so sure; she thought I was nearing the end (it should be noted here that my mom had extremely fast labors; she delivered me, her first, in two hours, and woke up in transition with my youngest sister and had her 15 minutes later). Either way, we decided to leave for Bellingham. We had already made arrangements with my friend and doula, Sarah, to have me labor at her house if I wanted to be in Bellingham but wasn't quite ready to go to the birth center.

The car ride wasn't that bad. It was dark and peaceful, and hardly anyone else was on the road. Whenever I had a contraction, I would press my head into the ceiling of the car (which, oddly, really helped), and hum "What Wondrous Love is This" to myself. I could pretty much count on my contractions lasting the length of a verse of "What Wondrous Love" and it was nice, having something like that to concentrate on. My mom timed my contractions, and they were lasting at least a minute apiece, more often a minute and a half, but we decided just to go to Sarah's. We arrived, and Sarah was very (very, very) excited to see us, and helped settle me in on the futon, sitting on the edge and leaning forward.

The next few hours were by far the most peaceful and enjoyable of my whole labor. Sarah was there, and my mom, and Andrew, and they were brushing my hair and rubbing my back and putting massage oil on my feet. My contractions were hard and painful, but there was space between them, and I concentrated on enjoying those spaces. I thought I had a long way to go, so I decided to just rest as much as I could. I wanted to sleep really badly, so my mom made a nest out of pillows for me and had me lie on my side, since it wasn't as painful as my back. Contractions hurt so much worse lying down at all, but I was so, so tired. Oddly enough, that's the one thing I remember the strongest about being in labor--wanting to sleep with everything in me, and thinking it was so unfair that I hadn't gotten to sleep at all that night. I had never pulled an all-nighter in my life before. I kept telling myself, just get through this, and then you can sleep as long as you want. This line got me through many late-night study sessions in college, but it didn't occur to me at the time that when I got through this, I would have a newborn, and would not sleep as long as I wanted possibly ever again. It was a very reassuring thought at the time, though, so I suppose it's just as well my rational self never kicked in.

Three things were very strange about my labor. The first is that I could always control my contractions. I couldn't stop them, but I could start them. If I ever got up, or changed positions, I would have one. The second is that the pain was always in my back, never anywhere else. I expected this at first, and expected it to change. But it never did. Peregrine was positioned just fine, but I had back labor all the way through. And the third was that my contractions always began at full intensity. I had always imagined contractions on a sort of curve-graph, where the pain would build and build, and peak, and then subside. But mine just came on very suddenly, at their peak from the very start, and then would taper off at the end.

At about 5, we called my dad and Andrew's parents, and told them I was officially in labor. Shortly after that, my labor became very, very intense. My contractions started back to back, with no blissful break in between. My legs started shaking, my nausea got much worse, and I was hot, after being very cold through most of my labor. I was so tired, and it hurt so bad. My contractions felt like they were ripping my spine apart. Andrew decided to call the birth center, but I didn't want to go in and get checked and find out I was only a few centimeters dilated. I could focus through the pain if I just concentrated on the moment I was in. I didn't want to think I had hours ahead. Andrew talked with Eloisa for awhile, and then asked me if meeting at the birth center in an hour sounded good. I said yes, as long as I'm not in transition. Apparently Eloisa had some misgivings when she heard that I had said that. But I didn't really think I was in transition, since no one else seemed to.

Looking back, of course I was in transition. But I didn't feel angry, or scared, or despairing, like I had heard women do during transition. I was just tired. Reflecting on it though, there was a definite change in my emotions. I had stopped feeling gentle and strong and capable. I was ready for labor to be over. I just wanted one of my peaceful breaks-between-contractions again. I didn't want to make low noises, I wanted to scream. And I told Sarah and my mom that I didn't think I could do this for much longer. They wisely refrained from telling me I would probably have to. Andrew came by to comfort me and I almost threw up because there was coffee on his breath. He helped me sit up again, and put a little table in front of me with a pillow on it so I could lay my head down, but the pillow smelled bad. Peregrine was so low, it felt like he was breaking my pelvis open. I kept crying, "He's so low! He's so low!" And everyone kept telling me that was good, he was moving down like he was supposed to. But I wanted to go to bed and sleep.

And then it came, a sweet, blissful break, and suddenly there was no pain. My first thought was, so that wasn't transition, which is too bad, because that means transition is worse, and I can't really imagine worse. My second thought was, I don't care, I'm not in pain, and it feels absolutely wonderful not to be in pain.  I rested for probably five minutes, and then another contraction came, harder than ever. I was groaning and bearing down with the intensity of the contraction, and then it stopped, and it suddenly occurred to me.

I was pushing.

That was an unexpected turn of events.

So I announced to the room, in shock, "I'm pushing! He's coming out!"

And thereupon there was a flurry of activity. I was a bit preoccupied with my second pushing contraction, so I'm not sure who was doing what, but Eloisa was called again, and plans were made to get all the necessary people to the birth center. I again announced to the room, "What if I'm not ready to push?" They all hastened to reassure me, but I realized they thought I had meant, what if I'm emotionally unready to push, when I was actually wondering if my cervix was fully dilated yet. I wasn't even worried about this, I just thought I should throw the question out there. I was in a very odd frame of mind.

I didn't want to move, and I seriously considered calling Eloisa and having her just come to Sarah's house. But for some reason, I was fixated on the idea of giving birth in the water. I'm not sure exactly why. But the thought of the wonderful warm tub of water kept me going. Eventually Andrew came over to me and said, "You're pushing the baby out. We're going to the birth center." I was glad he was so decisive. I was willing to do what people told me to do, but I didn't have any energy to waste on making my own decisions.

It wasn't until I had made it out of the apartment and into the hall that the reality of where I was sunk in. I remember a few things running through my mind at the moment. I felt inordinately sorry for leaving amniotic fluid on Sarah's futon, and I felt bad for all the neighbors, being so rudely awakened by the sounds of a woman (loudly) giving birth (actually, someone did come out to see if everything was okay; she seemed satisfied with Sarah's explanation). But mostly, I just thought about the fact that I was at the top of 27 stairs. At the time, I wasn't sure I would ever make it down them all. I was pushing, actively, and couldn't think about doing anything else. So Andrew picked me up on one side, and Sarah's husband picked me up on the other, and they basically dragged me down the stairs. It was kind of awful. Actually, it was really awful.

They put me in Sarah's car, and I lay in the back with my head in my mom's lap while Sarah floored the accelerator and drove the few miles to the birth center. I was wholly prepared at that moment to give birth in the car, and the prospect didn't bother me, or even faze me that much. I wasn't in control of the situation at all. Things would happen the way they happened, and I was okay with that. I was in a really altered consciousness at the time. I felt almost drugged. My overarching memory of that car ride is of just how beautiful the early-morning was. The light was gray and cool and sleepy and the sun was just beginning to come up. I felt oddly at peace with everything then. At one point I asked where Andrew was, and Sarah said he was right behind us. Actually, she couldn't see him at all.

We arrived at the birth center and had to wait a few minutes for Eloisa to get there and unlock the door. Finally, she arrived, and Andrew came out with a wheelchair for me. I have rarely ever been so glad to see anything in my life. I was dreading walking again. They got me inside, where Eloisa was filling up the tub. Someone made some comment about there maybe not being enough time to fill it up, and I remember thinking that was the most pointless thing I'd ever heard. I had waited long and hard, and braved 27 stairs, for that water. Who cares if it was filled up all the way or not.

Right before I got in, my water broke for real (though it had been trickling on and off), and another intense pushing contraction came on. I was glad it happened then, so Eloisa could see I had been serious about having the baby right then, and so she wouldn't feel like I had dragged her out of bed for a false alarm. I got in the water, and she went through the necessary procedures of checking my blood pressure (which was apparently sky-high, due to my almost-crowning baby), and charting what time I had arrived. She tried to check me, to see how far down Peregrine's head was, but my body would have none of it, and so she gave up.

Peregrine crowned a couple of minutes after I got in the water. I felt it starting, and I felt the pain, and I dreaded what I knew had to happen. I told Eloisa it hurt, and she told me (in her perfect, gentle, monotone voice) to go slow, and be gentle on my body; and I didn't know how to tell her I had no control at all. I rested for awhile, and then his head came through, and my world exploded in pain.

I don't know what exactly made that moment so awful, but I do know it is easily the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life, and that nothing in labor compared to it at all. His head crowned, and then just stayed there, and I had no power either to pull back or to push him out. I know it isn't typical to feel tearing, but I very much did. I felt ripped and split and torn apart, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was the only moment in labor I truly panicked. For all I knew, he would be stuck there, in that terrible burning place, forever, and I would be trapped. I'm not even sure I was fully conscious at the time. I remember Eloisa telling me again to be gentle. I remember her saying his hand was coming out, and I needed to keep going. I remember her saying she was going to check for a cord around his neck, and feeling her hands going in, and thinking, well, it won't really make a difference, nothing can hurt worse than this hurts now. And I remember my mom saying his head was coming and thinking, well, that's obvious.

And then all of a sudden it was over and Eloisa had put a baby on my chest. I wasn't honestly sure how he had gotten there, and I don't really remember pushing the rest of him out, or the relief you're supposed to feel at that moment, much less the exhilaration and the forgetting-it-all that I'd heard of. He was just--there--and I didn't know him yet, but he was there. I grabbed him instinctively, and my fleeting fear that I was too weak to hold him was soon replaced by the assurance that I might be too weak to do anything else, but come what may, I was going to hold him. I heard his tiny little gurgling cry, and then a stronger cry, and I said, "Don't cry, baby," and Eloisa told me crying is good, he should be crying, and I didn't know how to tell her I was just saying hello to him.
No elation. Just shock. And the sudden realization that I was holding a baby.
We stayed that way for a long time. Along the way, I pushed out the placenta. I was shocked when it happened, because I had kind of forgotten it was in there. It hurt coming out, furthering my conviction that I had torn, badly. Eventually Peregrine's cord stopped pulsing, and we cut it, and Andrew got to hold him for the first time.
Proud new daddy, cute new baby. Note the dedication with which P is eating his hands.
He made the rounds, and even met some friends of ours who were there for a prenatal appointment. He had his newborn exam, and weighed in at 7 lbs 7 oz, and 20 1/2 inches long. Meanwhile, I waited for the rest of the amniotic sac to decide to emerge, though I had no strength left to push. I felt literally paralyzed from about the waist down. Eventually, it became imperative that Peregrine start nursing, whether or not I had to go to the hospital to finish the placenta removal. But when I stood up, it all came out. By that time, I was glad to be rid of the gross bloody water.

Peregrine latched on like a pro, and nursing him felt completely natural. I had wondered a lot how that moment would feel, but it didn't really feel like anything. I spent my childhood imitating my mom and pretending to nurse baby dolls and stuffed animals (and pine branches and wood blocks), and I remember thinking it felt like that. No huge surge of hormones, no pain. Just a baby, sucking away.
Still no elation. But a very primal falling in love.
Eloisa examined me for tears, which I knew I had. I had felt them happen, and I felt them still stinging away. I was right, I had torn up and down, and although the tears were only second-degree, they went deep, deep inside me. It took a long time to stitch me up, and it was kind of a terrible experience. I kept berating myself for thinking it was so bad; after all, I had just pushed out a baby. But there was no getting around the fact that it was awful. For one thing, my muscles weren't functioning right, so every time one would flinch, there would be a ripple effect in all the surrounding muscles. And for another, I had just pushed out a baby. In a way, it was like scratching a sunburn. It didn't put the pain into proper perspective, it made it worse. I kept asking Eloisa, hopefully, if she was almost done, and she kept telling me (in her calm, gentle, perfect voice) that she wasn't actually, there was a lot more to go, and I should just focus on my baby. I appreciated her honestly, if not her message, so I gritted my teeth and focused on my baby for all I was worth. I don't know the final stitch count, only that one time when Eloisa told me she wasn't done she mentioned having already put in a dozen stitches.

The rest of the protocol was attended to. I drank blue gatorade and peed successfully, but then I just about fainted on the way back to the bed. Sarah caught me in time and laid me on the bed, and Eloisa told me I should take a nap before I left. So I took a nap, and then Andrew and my mom got Peregrine dressed in tiny little clothes and put him in his carseat. The seatbelt was too big, and we had to pad the empty space with diapers. Then they wheeled me outside and got me into the car, and half an hour later (maybe a bit more, Andrew drove way below the speed limit in light of his precious new cargo), we were home, and I was in bed, with my tiny new creature snuggled up beside me.
Still no elation. But wonder, definitely wonder. He was so little.
It was days before I felt elation. The first few days were blurry and strange; I was sleep deprived and every bone and muscle and nerve in my body throbbed and ached and stung. Everything hurt, and I was still covered in sweat and blood because I couldn't stand long enough to take a shower. But when those days were over, and I was beginning to get some strength, then I would stare at him in wonder. Some of it was a kind of horrified wonder (How on earth did that giant head fit through me? How?), but most of it was awestruck wonder. I lived it all over in my mind, hardly able to believe the power, the sacredness, the beauty of it all. And then the elation came, and sometimes it floored me with its intensity.
So that's Peregrine's story. The beginning of it, at least. He came like a storm and lives like one. It's the hardest work I've ever done, and it was kind of wonderful. A part of me was born, I think, when I gave birth to him. I don't really understand it all. But if increased pain in childbearing is part of the curse of sin, I think childbearing itself is part of the image of God.

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