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Dear Monster: Your birth story

Friday, May 14, 2010

I think I could write almost infinite iterations of both of my birth stories (but I won't, don't worry!). There are so many details, moments, fears, memories and meanings wrapped up in each of them. There is so much intensity, so much to say.

And it matters who it is for, too. Though I think it is important to be honest and real about birth, and I wouldn't sugar-coat my experience or be intentionally vague, I don't tell my story in the same way to a mother who has already given birth as I do to a woman who is pregnant for the first time, or as I do in a blog carnival on birth stories.

The prelude I posted a few weeks ago was a kind of disclaimer about how fast the Monster's birth was. Too fast to be a good kind of fast.

I often refrain from talking about my birth because it is so unusual; precipitous births apparently happen to only about 2% of first-time moms. I don't want to be scary, and I don't want to be dismissed, so I guess I make a lot of excuses and explanations instead.

Enough of all that. Below is the detailed, unedited version of the play-by-play of my Monster's birth. I wrote it for him, to him.

For a long time after my Monster was born, remembering and telling the story of his birth for me meant recounting the actual events of my labour and delivery, with more or less detail, depending on my audience. This is what I have written below.

But, now, four years later, I have much more to say about the less tangible things - about trauma and shock, about trust and strength and pride, about exhaustion and ambivalence, and about the total weirdness of becoming a mother to a newborn. And yes yes, about love and beauty, too. But all this is a writing assignment for another day.


Dear Monster,

The midwives had assured us that you would be late. Your due date was April 1, so we were expecting you around April 7, hoping you would have the good sense to avoid our birthdays and our anniversary.

On the Thursday before you were born, we had an appointment with the midwife and were told that you hadn't even dropped yet, so nothing was happening any time soon. That was fine with us since we both had lots of stuff still to do - Papi had to finish an essay, and I had to catch up on sleep, clean the house, buy a million things, and wrap my head around the idea that I was about to give birth and become a mom.

J and S organized a last-minute shower for me on Sunday, the 26th of March. I woke up around noon (wow, I haven't done that since!!) and I lost my mucus plug. Supposedly, this means nothing. We went to the baby shower, had a lovely time, got some prezzies for you and for me, and headed back home at about 6pm or so, I think. I was having more Braxton-Hicks contractions, which I hadn't really had at all until then. But no big deal. My entire pregnancy had been very easy.

Your Papi made me some dinner a bit later (perogies, I think), and Uncle D called to see how we were doing. Nothing new, we reported. I went downstairs to trash out with the world figure skating championships, and at about 10pm I had my first contraction. It felt like a period cramp, but lasted and then went away, and it occurred to me that it must have been a contraction. I called your Papi a few times, and he finally came downstairs saying that if I called him like that, he was going to think that I was going into labour.

Well, surprise - I told him - I think I'm going into labour.

Papi went to buy some juice, and I called J to freak out a bit and share the news. Then Papi sat with me and we timed the contractions, 10 minutes apart, quite light and quite regular. Thinking that this could mean anything, but that it would probably be a long time still, we didn't do much, but kept timing them. At about midnight they were 7 minutes apart, so we called our midwife K, just to give her a heads up.

Take a shower, and a Gravol or a glass of wine, and see if you can get some sleep or get the contractions to go away - we were told.

We were all sure that we still had a long time to go.

I had a shower (skipped the wine and the Gravol), and then we got the couch upstairs ready (unfolded it, put on the plastic sheeting and then a normal sheet) and got into bed.

It was actually quite ridiculous. Papi with the flashlight and his watch, every time I had a contraction, checking to see how long it lasted, then trying to go back to sleep. Every 7 minutes. Every 6 minutes. Every 8 minutes. Every 4 minutes. Every 3 minutes. Every 7 minutes. Not regular at all anymore. But we gave up on sleeping and started trying some of the tricks we had learned from our birth preparation class, as the contractions were starting to get more intense.

I walked around, tried my hands and knees, tried the big ball, tried hanging off of Papi, moving my hips around, going to the bathroom, low groaning with my jaw loose (the only one that worked for me).

They were getting a lot more intense, but weren't following the 5-1-1 rule (every 5 minutes or less, lasting for 1 minute or more, for 1 hour), meaning I wasn't in active labour.

When I went to the bathroom and had a bit of blood, we called K again, at about 1am. She wanted to hear me have a contraction.

Sounds like you're coping really well (means that doesn't sound like active labour!) - she said.

But in the end, the blood convinced her to come and have a look, and so she called A (K was a student who graduated the next day, A was one of our two regular midwives) and they came over. We learned later that A had come quite reluctantly, sure that nothing would happen so soon.

Meanwhile, I was starting to be in a lot of pain. Imagining hours and hours of it was starting to freak me out. Papi was trying to apply pressure or massage or support or help me with breathing, and nothing was very soothing. His touch during the contraction itself was unbearable.

At 2am they arrived, opened up their bags and got all settled in. I had a contraction, got onto my hands and knees, and K felt my belly the whole time.

Mild - I heard her say to A.

WHAT?? the thought that they would have to go from that to 'very strong' was unthinkable to me. And it only lasted 30 seconds. 'A' was sure that they were going to head out again and come see us the next day.

Then it was time for a manual examination, to see if I was dilated. The idea was that it would be less than 5 cm if I wasn't in active labour.

I saw K mouth to A - I can touch the head. She said - I think it's 9 cm, but I want A to check.

So A checked, (I should mention that it is extremely painful to have an exam like this while having contractions) and sure enough, they were really surprised.

You're going to have this baby really soon, [Macondo Mama]. I remember a really firm grab of my thigh from A, and it was reassuring.

She wanted to break my water to make sure it was clear. If it wasn't, she wanted to go to the hospital, just in case. I asked if it wasn't too late for that, and she said no. But it will make everything more intense. More intense than this?

I remember saying no puedo (I can't) at one point to Papi, and he smiled at me and told me that of course I could, and translated what I had said to the midwives. I asked if this was the part when I was going to think that I couldn't do it, and A smiled and told me I was already well past that stage.

I felt a painless gush when she broke the water, and it seemed like maybe just one or two excruciating contractions later, I was told it was okay to push if I wanted to. It was 2:20am.

(Here is a detailed account of the pushing stage).

I asked if I should change position to my side or something (I was on my back still from when they had broken my water), and A said that since I was already pushing well, that I should just stay the way I was. I had to pull on my thighs and take a breath and push.

They told me to keep my voice in and use it to push (instead of screaming, I guess). It took me a few pushes before I realized that I had to change gears. Instead of just trying to get through the pain, I had to be active and push through the pain. They said I was doing well.

Dear Monster, none of this conveys how much it was all tearing me apart!

Every now and then they checked your heart rate, and at one point they told me that I really had to push to move you along. And so I did. And you crowned, and Papi had a look and told me that you had green hair.

I pushed like crazy. And out you came.

You were born with your hand on your face, crying and perfectly healthy, with lots of long, dark hair. Your Papi cut the cord and looked at you and me with total awe. Neither of us could believe what had just happened. You were on my chest, wrapped up in a blanket, crying and crying.

You were born at 2:54am. According to the midwives' calculations, I had probably entered the active stage of labour at around midnight, meaning that active birth had lasted two hours and fifty-four minutes.

I was shaking with cold (probably more like shock), while the midwives were dealing with whatever they deal with, blood and afterbirth and things. I bled quite a bit, apparently. Eventually I birthed the placenta.

They examined you, they filled out papers, they asked us your name (what a weird feeling! you exist! you have a real name!) and they sent me off to the bathroom with your Papi. I could barely walk.

(It was only a few days later, when my tailbone was still hurting a lot and we retraced our steps, that we realized with the midwives that I had probably broken my tailbone while giving birth. We had known this was a possibility, since I had already broken it many years earlier, but luckily I forgot about that possibility when I was actually giving birth. I'm not sure if I experienced your birth as so extremely painful because of my tailbone, because it was so quick, or because giving birth is, after all, giving birth.)

Then we got cozy, they weighed you, diapered you. I nursed you for the first time - you latched right on and I had lots of colostrum.

They made me some toast with cream cheese (additional proof that midwives totally rule). They waited around a while, cleaned up, checked my bleeding a bunch of times, gave us a bunch of papers, told us to sleep as much as we could, nurse you every 2 hours, keep track of your pees and poops, and our other midwife would come to see us at around noon.

And that was it. They congratulated us, and left us all alone with you.

Papi made a few happy phone calls, and we went to sleep with you in our arms.

It was absolutely, by far, the most intense thing I've ever done, matched only a few years later when Monkey was born. But birthing you was, as they say, also my birth as a mother, and I don't have the words to explain how intense and life-changing that is.


Midwifery care during pregnancy and childbirth is covered by provincial health coverage in Ontario. Women under the care of midwives can choose to deliver at home or in hospital, and can transfer to medical care and/or to hospital at any time, whether for preference or for medical reasons. 

I did not see a doctor at all during either of my low-risk pregnancies (though I was offered information about and access to all of the regular pre-natal tests and analyses), and our midwives were responsible for our follow-up care for six weeks post-partum.


Justine said...

Wow - birth stories are always so intense, so amazing. Somehow the part I remember the most about mine is when I missed the fact that my water broke and went on with my day - conference calls, restaurant, movie, until the first major contraction. And the rest is history.

I haven't attempted to write my birth story down, but you've inspired me. I really should.

Amber said...

I love this. I love birth stories. Reading this one provoked an intense emotion because I have been there.


Deborah said...

I love birth stories too. I ended up with tears in my eyes, sharing the birth, remembering my own births. Thank you so much for telling this story.

ck said...

I also love birthing stories. They're something I always stop to listen to, or read. They connected women in a way that little else can. I also loved this line, "But birthing you was, as they say, also my birth as a mother..." You're so right, I never gave that a thought before now.

Midwives also delivered my daughters, and while they didn't make me toast with cream cheese (which I would've LOVED) they were wonderful. But seriously, THEY FED YOU? Man, you're lucky.

macondo mama said...

Thanks everyone. Nothing like a good birth story.

ck: Your comment made me remember that my midwives also washed the dishes! It was because they needed to use the sink, but still. What incredible women.

Sarah said...

The first-born is so special because he gave life to the mother just as the mother gave life to him. yes yes yes! A beautiful, intense birth story, now forever etched in time. I have never written my own story. It is not quite as engaging. There was a lot of waiting around. Some pain. And a baby. Of course that's not ALL of it, but I'm okay with not remembering much of it. The baby was the most important part. And I get to keep him forever even if the memories fade away.

kate said...

midwives rule! i am fortunate to have had the same woman at all three of my births and she is (hopefully) going to be there for my fourth!

thank you for sharing the story, birth stories are so very powerful.

macondo mama said...

kate - How wonderful to have the same midwife for all your births. I wish I had stayed with the same midwives for my second birth. They get to know you and your family, and your body and the way you birth, and it is all that much more intimate and familiar, in good hands.

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