Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sean's Birth Story

Processing Sean's birth story has been rather choppy. Life with Sean doesn't involve very many long stretches where I can just sit down and write (he and Nate are taking a nap together on the couch– so fingers crossed that I can make good headway on this post before I am needed!!!) so I have tried to mentally and verbally process through it with others so that writing it down won't be the "I-wonder-where-this-is-going?" kind of adventure that some of my other posts tend to turn into.

When my contractions started the evening of July 2 (I had my first big contraction while waddling around Lowe's!) I was startled by how quickly they fell into a pattern of 3-5 minutes apart, and how intense they felt after only an hour. I had hoped for a long, slow transition into labor: I wanted to make Sean's birthday cake, read my birth affirmations, and have plenty of time to feel excited before I had to start concentrating through contractions. But after only an hour, they were already intense enough that I was exclaiming quite forcefully in the middle of them This is my marathon! This is my marathon! One step at a time! I listened to exactly one song on my birth playlist before deciding it wasn't helping. And when my sister Emily asked me if I still wanted to try to make the cake or if I wanted her to do it, I didn't hesitate to tell her to do it.

Labor was, on the whole, a lot harder than I expected it to be. By harder, I mean harder work. It wasn't traumatic; the pain was bad but it was productive pain. I wasn't suffering. The hardest work was balancing on that tightrope between physically surrendering myself to the contractions (allowing my body to do what it needed to bring Sean into the world) and fighting to stay mentally on top of the contractions (not allowing myself to panic or scream or cry or give up.) When I asked Nate how he would describe me in labor, he said the word he would use is "focused." And I was– once I was in active labor I completely stopped talking. I didn't have a sense of time– the whole world was moaning, swaying, deep-groaning, breathing, resting, and beginning again. I did have to force myself not to think about how many contractions were left. I only let my sister check my dilation once, and by that time I was eight centimeters. I knew that frequent checking would not be good for me, since progress can be very non-linear, and I didn't want to be discouraged.

My labor with Sean was perfectly straightforward. There were no complications, no hitches, no stalling, and certainly nothing to worry about. My midwife, Christine, and her assistant didn't arrive until five minutes after Sean was born, but since my midwife-sister Emily was there to catch him and my niece Samantha was there to hand her things and Nate was there to lie next to me and hold my hands and encourage me through each contraction, it was perfectly fine– in fact I quite enjoy the fact that my labor and birth was a strictly family affair. (Don't worry– if Emily had not been there, we would have called Christine and told her to come much earlier than we did. (I am not an advocate of "unassisted" birth.) As it was, she and her assistant arrived just in time to take care of all the clean-up.)

I had prepared myself for a very emotional labor. After all, it was barely a year after Livia and Lucy's birth and death, and I was prepared for tears, for reminding myself that this birth was Sean's story. Nate and Emily were prepared to reassure and affirm me in whatever emotions I experienced. So it came as somewhat of a surprise to me afterwards, in processing, to realize that I don't remember having any emotions during labor. Of course, I was happy and relieved when Sean was actually born, but labor itself was nearly a 100% physical process: I didn't have any energy to spare for thinking or feeling! After talking with my sister about it, I've realized that this lack of emotion during labor was really a good sign: it meant that I had done the hard work of processing Livia and Lucy's birth beforehand, and I wasn't in danger of mentally stalling out my labor. I could enter the "labor zone" without any subconscious mental or physical resistance.

Another thing I've realized is that beforehand I was guilty of romanticizing and glamorizing home birth. And honestly– birth is not romantic or glamorous, regardless of where it happens. Birth is beautiful (and that beauty is present also regardless of where the birth happens) but with a gritty, raw kind of beauty, the beauty of sweat and blood, the beauty of the deep strength of a woman's body. So beauty, yes, but glamor, no– there weren't any flowers floating in our birth pool, I forgot to light candles, I forgot to listen to music. My hair was in a greasy sweaty ponytail and I wasn't wearing makeup (seriously, I have seen birth photography where the mamas have on blush and eyeshadow... nothing wrong with that, but it definitely wasn't on my mind during labor!) I didn't have the kind of birth story where I could say with a straight face that I "loved my labor." I'm quite satisfied with my experience and I know it went well and I'm proud of myself for doing it the way I did, but for me, labor in and of itself was not a wonderful, intoxicating experience that I immediately wanted to do all over again! Labor was the hard, good, painful work that was the means of bringing my son into the world.

However, I've realized that while being at home didn't make my labor glamorous, it did mean there was nothing to make it harder than it had to be. My environment was very calm and very quiet. Emily and Nate and Samantha spoke to me in soft, gentle tones; there was no beeping, no noise of machines, no harsh sounds. The lights were dimmed or off– Emily used a small flashlight when there was anything she needed to see better. I could be wherever I wanted– on the couch, in the bathtub, in the birth pool, on our bed– and move however I wanted, unhindered by IV lines or belly monitors or blood pressure cuffs. Emily used a handheld Doppler at intervals to check Sean's (perfectly steady) heartbeat. I was free to eat or drink if I wanted (in fact I didn't want to, but they urged me to have sips of water and tea and bites of yogurt to help give me energy.) Everything around me was familiar; no strangers, no shift changes, no one asking me "what number would you give your pain?", no one pressing unwanted procedures on me or telling me what I was doing was against protocol. It was the perfect environment to help me feel calm and safe and devote 100% of myself to labor.

I pushed for forty-five minutes, and when Sean was born, immediately I reached down and Emily helped me lift him onto my chest. There he stayed for the next hour, lifting his little head and looking at me with his wide dark eyes. No one tried to take him away from me, no one tried to cut the cord prematurely. We didn't have turn down the newborn bath or make sure no one rubbed erythromycin in his eyes. There was no worry or fuss about the placenta; it came on its own about thirty minutes after Sean was born, no pitocin or cord traction necessary. There was no "fundal massage" (hospital code name for "the nurse puts her hands on your sore and tired abdomen and mashes down with all her strength"). When it hurt too much when Sean latched on one side, Christine gently helped me move him to the other side. Once his cord had stopped pulsing and the placenta was delivered, I cut the cord myself. :-)

I didn't have the euphoric high I was hoping for immediately after he was born– I think I was just too exhausted. But it did come a day and a half later– everyone else was outside setting off fireworks, and Sean and I were in bed doing skin to skin. That was when the tears came– the tears of utter joy and firecracker love, the glow of happiness and endorphins, the incredible sense of just how perfectly my son belonged in my arms.

And so yes, I got the redeeming labor and birth I wanted and needed, but so much more important than that was the afterwards, those wonderful, undisturbed hours of holding and snuggling and whispering to Sean, of stroking his silky skin and fuzzy hair, of gazing deep into his eyes, of kissing his nose, of giggling at the faces he made, of just loving him and enjoying him and being with him. That is the best part of the story, and the nice thing is that it doesn't end, and I go on snuggling and stroking and kissing and loving and enjoying Sean every day!

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing your story with us. I can't wait to meet this sweet bundle!