26 April 2010

A Birth Story

Sorry, writing this birth story has taken its while. Lesson learned: I shouldn't promise things such as "I'll be back later today with my birth story" when I have a newborn (and a bronchial infection that Fé and I picked up in the hospital). :)

But here it is. It's honest and it's very personal and it's looooong, so if you're uncomfortable with either of those, don't read on. As with all birth stories, if you've never had a baby and are nowhere close to getting one, well, read this at your own risk. ;)

Having said this, this is a positive birth story, I think. It was an easy and peaceful birth. And I can almost smile thinking about it now.

Wednesday morning 7 am. One last belly shot. 42+1. We are getting ready to leave for the hospital for the scheduled induction. Oh, how I wanted to avoid having to go that route again! But at 15 days overdue, I have no choice. Baby, it's time to get out. The doctors won't let you stay in there for one day longer, and in a way, I'm glad. This has been enough. I'm ready.

It's 8 am. We are checked in, and they put me in hospital clothes. The blue ones, size M. I am slightly offended. Well, I think, I'll be bleeding on this, anyway. Women are strange creatures.

I get my first Cytotec at 10 am, after the doctor checks my cervix and it's still unripe and closed like that eternal vault it seems to be. I was hoping for something less invasive, like sweeping of the membranes, or breaking of waters, or even a Pitocin drip, but just like last time, I get the killer dose of the killer drug. Sigh. (Click here if you are interested in the drug and its side effects and controversies).

And then the waiting begins. The last time around, the contractions started after five hours, and they came every two minutes from the get-go, and they were strong and painful.

But this time around, I had had time to prepare. And I decided I was going to face those contractions head-on. All those years of dancing and yoga must be of some use, right? RIGHT?

And so I sit on my hospital bed and joke around with J. "Bring on the pain, I'm ready!" And J says: "Careful there, you might regret saying that later." And I cringe. Right.

So we sit and wait. Waiting for the pain. See that clock up there? I have something like 200 shots of it.

We are out of things to say, so I start reading the interior design mags J had bought me for the hospital (isn't he such a sweetheart). But I can't concentrate. All those pretty pictures annoy me today. So we start reading my for-after-giving-birth gift, a book called "Exposure" by Brian Peterson. And reading about all that technical photography stuff certainly gets my mind off things. We play around with the camera. A lot. I finally understand what "ISO" means. Iso, would that be a nice baby name?

After four hours there still aren't any contractions, so I get the next dose (triple that of the first one). Sigh. I know the contractions can't be far now.

3:15 pm. I have peed in my hospital bed. Only that it wasn't pee. My waters have broken. Strange, I think. Except for Phoebe and Rachel from Friends, I don't know anybody whose labor actually started with rupture of membranes. Wait, Phoebe and Rachel from Friends don't even exist.

The warm liquid is gushing out of me and I have an expression of relief and happiness on my face. And so it begins! Bring it on!, I think. Again. And then I cringe. Again.

The midwife instructs me to lie down on my side and to not sit up or move, at all, under any circumstance, because baby's head still hasn't dropped, and with my waters gone, there is a danger of the umbilical cord slipping into the birth canal first. Should that happen I'm wheeled off for a C-section immediately. And we want to avoid that, she says. Yes, we do, I say.

Everybody (and who everybody is I don't actually know) says that not being able to move through and with a contraction is the worst. The last time around, with Fé, I got into a different position with each contraction, bouncing on a gymnastic ball, or rocking my hips... anything, anything to get through the pain. And nothing, nothing ever helped.

So this time around, I was going to try to be more peaceful. Lying down, closing my eyes, and just concentrating on beautiful images in my mind.

Maybe, I thought to myself, not being able to move will turn out to be a good thing. I can do this. I can do this.

What if I have to pee? I ask. The bedpan it is, the midwife answers. Oh dear.

At 3:30 pm the contractions start. I tell J to put the camera away. I don't want any of the next stages recorded.

The contractions come every two to three minutes and they feel like intense menstrual cramps. Nothing too bad yet, I tell J.

I close my eyes and concentrate. J tells me stories about living in a white finca in Spain, three little girls running barefoot on the grass in the garden, the fragrance of oleander bushes in the air, the sound of the sea waves rolling by, the smell of salt water in the breeze. I breathe, just breathe.

As the contractions get stronger, my mind wanders off to high cliffs and to the sky. I feel weightless, sometimes I waft in the sky, sometimes I float in the water. And I wear a long white maternity dress with ruffles and lace, I don't know why, but in my mind, that's what I'm wearing. My hair is open and long, undone, a bit messy, the way it usually is. But I look peaceful and happy.

At 5 pm, the midwife checks on me. If I need any pain killers, she wants to know. No, not yet, thank you, I say. And I don't. The pain is intense but manageable. And it's only been one and a half hours. I ask for a cold-water bottle. It doesn't relieve the pain but it makes the stories in my mind about floating in the cold Mediterranean Sea more believable. 

J continues telling me stories. I am not listening to his stories any more at this point, but the constant trickling of his voice in the background is comforting. Like a soft waterfall somewhere in Peru, somewhere very far away, but still near enough somehow for me to hold onto.

The contractions are becoming intense waves of pain now, but I feel in control. I just go with them, let them take me, let them whirl me around in the sea. But I am somehow able to remove myself from it all, as if I am watching from above. I concentrate on breathing. I take everything I've learned in dance and yoga and apply it right here, right now. Focus and breathe, focus and breathe. That's all that exists for me right now.

By 6 pm, the images in my head are starting to get blurred. I try to focus, but the me in my head, with that ruffled white maternity dress, keeps slipping away. Focus, focus, I tell myself. And I haven't even noticed before, but I breathe heavily and loudly now. J is starting to get worried. Are you alright? - Yes, but it's getting pretty painful, I say. I can tell, he says and starts rubbing my feet. Oh no, please, don't touch me right now. I need to be with myself, find that image of peace. Because I know once I lose that focus, it's all over, and I'll never get back to that happy place again. And to steal the words of Isoinpapu, "all hell will break lose."

At 6:30 pm the midwife comes in to check my cervix. J tells her to get me painkillers. I am thinking, oh my goodness, I can't do this much longer. Good news!, she says, you're 4 cm, I'll go call the delivery ward.

Has the baby's head engaged? Can I move now? - Yes, the baby's head is all the way down there now. You may move.

Thank goodness, and I sit up for the first time in three hours, ah what sweet relief. But when the next contraction comes, it overwhelms me, because I have no safe place any more. Once I can move, I try to run away from the pain and it is not working. I am not lying now, I have nothing to grasp and hold onto any longer. My peaceful waterfall has vanished, too, and is frantically packing up our things. I stand up and bend over. That seems to help a little.

At 6:40 pm, three hours of contractions, three Gatorade bottles (those were hard to find in Finland, let me tell you) and three filled bedpans later, we are on our way to the delivery ward. It is only a hallway away but it seems like miles upon miles. I have to stop every minute (or less, who is counting now) to breathe through my contractions.

Am I really only 4 cm? 

At 6:55 pm we get to the delivery room. I need to pee. And there, in the little bathroom of the delivery room, it is. Unmistakable. That pressure on my pelvis, on my everywhere, a big, hard melon rolling down my alley at unstoppable speed. I get off the toilet and onto the floor to stop the pressure. I am only 4 cm, I cannot start pushing yet. I chant it like a mantra to myself. Only that it isn't a chant as much as a strained cat wailing: Do not push, to not push. Ahhhh, breathe breathe, do not push.

I tell the midwife in the delivery room (young, smiley, and blonde, innocent-looking... and childless, definitely childless) that I feel an intense pressure on my pelvis. She smiles and says it's normal. That's the baby's head. And I think, well duh it's the baby's head. I know it's the baby's head!

Since she doesn't seem to be helpful at all, I ask for pain medication. She smiles. Well, she says, let's see what the CTG says first. We need to see if you are in real labor first. And inside, I shout. REAL LABOR? Are you kidding me, woman? Believe you me, I am in real labor alright! But on the outside, I am composed and I wince as that cruel creature makes me lie on my back to strap that stupid CTG on.

She hands me happy gas and I take it. At this point I'd take anything she gives me. I take it and I breathe it all in, but it does nothing, nothing. And I panic, because I really believe that I cannot do this much longer. Is this supposed to help? I ask. She smiles (she smiles a lot and it offends me). You need to be taking it for a while for it to start working. Oh goodness. A while. I don't have a while. Because I will die in about 5 minutes from now.

The smiley midwife says she'll be back later and leaves. I look at J, and I know that something is coming. I can feel it now, building up inside me, but I don't know what it is. It is a contraction, but it feels so different from all the other ones. It is like a tornado, strong and terrible, and it takes me with it, ripping me apart. I feel that big melon pushing downwards, and I try to focus, but my mind can't find a steady point to hold onto. I feel myself slipping into unconsciousness. Then I suddenly speak, surprising myself, because I am speaking without being fully aware of it. J, something is wrong, get somebody in here now. The baby is coming, the baby is coming. And I don't know why I am saying these words because I know the baby cannot possibly be coming. I am only 4 cm, don't push, don't push. But there my mouth is saying it again. The baby is coming.

Everything goes really fast now. My memories are hazy. J runs into the hallway and grabs the first person in shrubs he sees. I am faintly aware of a short lady with red hair and a tall one with dark hair rushing in. A voice says Isabell, Isabell, can you hear me? Isabell, can you lie on your back? And I think, no, please, I can't lie on my back. But my mouth won't open now. Because I am focusing really hard on not pushing. She asks again, Can you lie on your back? And I manage to huff out a No, no, I can't. Okay, the voice says, do you feel like pushing? And I answer simply yes. And she orders I need to you to lie on your back, I need to check you right now with such authority that I do it. I am now convinced the short red-haired lady is a general in the Russian army, or maybe the principal of a German school.

The general speaks again, but what she is saying seems unbelievable. Isabell, when you feel like pushing the next time, you can, because you are a full 10. Hmpf. Really? I think. But I was only 4 cm 30 minutes ago! And then: ohh, now it all makes sense... and then: oh, it's almost over! And I want to cry and laugh in elation because now the world makes sense again, but I don't have time because the next wave is rolling on to take me, that primeval urge to push, but this time I am in control and I scream and I push, and there, I can feel the melon between my legs, the baby's head is crowning and I don't care that it hurts, I just push right into the pain.

The general is by the door to get something (gloves? scissors? a chainsaw? Who knows). When she hears me screaming she starts running back to my side and shouts DON'T push, do NOT push.

Why, why, why? Is there something wrong? Is there something wrong with the baby???

The two midwives are busying themselves between my legs. I have no idea what they are doing, but I am convinced they are cutting me open. I don't care, because every cell in my body is trying not to push.

I lose my focus and I panic, my eyes roll back into my head and I feel my mind slipping toward unconsciousness again.

Isabell, Isabell, I need you to breathe.

Was I not breathing?

I breathe short, pitiful breaths now. I focus on the melon between my legs, and for the first time it occurs to me that it's a baby. My baby, the one I have been carrying for 42 long weeks. And she is going to be here soon.

And just as I am thinking this, another contraction starts building and just in time, the general tells me to push. And I do. And there she is. Her head is born. I can't see it, but I can feel it. And I push once more, and there she is. I can see her now. She's perfect, she is beautiful! My girl. My baby.

And all the pain is gone. And nothing else matters. Just: there she is!

The dark-haired midwife tells J to get out his camera. He does and he snaps this picture of me seeing our little daughter for the first time. And I feel forever indebted to that midwife for telling J to take a picture of this moment. I didn't think that I would ever want to see myself like this. Naked, and bloody, and sweaty. But I love this picture. Because it says it all, right there, in my face. The amazement, the wonder, no trace of pain or panic left. Just: oh, she is beautiful, I love her, my little girl.

All I could think was oh, she is beautiful, she is perfect. Which is exactly what I thought when Fé was born. I guess these feelings are not mutually exclusive. You can love two children at the same time with the same amount of love. A mother's supply of love is endless, it's true.

So there she was and nothing else mattered, and there was no pain any more, and the last ten minutes of pain were completely forgotten. In fact, I can't remember it now, the pain, how it felt. I'm forcing these things back into my memory before I forget them, because I want to remember. I want to remember them for this one reason: that when the baby is there, nothing else matters. No pain in the world can counter-weigh the joy that you feel when you see your child for the first time.

I don't know how a person reading this story will feel about it. It sounds much more horrible written down like that than it did when I was going through it. Mostly because the phase of the unbearable pain was only 15 minutes or so. And I suppose it only felt unbearable because I didn't know it was almost over. And I was also in a kind of haze, and everything felt oddly fast while it was happening.

I got into the delivery room at 6:55 pm and she was born at 7:07 pm. I suppose I'm lucky I made it there in time, she could have so easily been born on that cold hospital hallway that seemed to stretch on for miles upon miles.

So, if anybody asked me, I'd tell them this was a ridiculously easy labor and delivery. My hospital  records say that labor and delivery took two and a half hours, and pushing took two minutes. It really took three and a half hours, but I guess they start counting from the moment the contractions turn regular.

The midwives in the hospital were all over me, telling me that this was a dream delivery. I actually agreed, although I thought to myself, well, sure it was, for YOU. Because you had to do nothing. But really, it was. It felt natural and easy, and except for the very last bit, I felt in control, and I felt strong.

I don't have any tears or stitches, either, so the recovery has been easy-breezy, too. The milk came on the second day, and by the time we were released from the hospital, Sisie had only dropped 1.7 % of her birth weight.

And here she is now, one week old today, and already full of life.

She is lying next to me on the couch, sleeping peacefully, and I can't resist her for a minute longer. I must go and cuddle, cuddle, cuddle with her. How can one not want to hold and carry and snuggle constantly with a newborn?

Am I spoiling my children too much? Oh, so be it!

25 April 2010

For older posts, go to my old blog:
Blueberry Fields