Friday, January 22, 2010

Sam's birth story and some thoughts

Today is Sam's 17th birthday! I can't believe how tall, grownup and handsome he is, or that next year he will be a legal adult. It all went by so quickly.

Sam's birth was a turning point in my life as a woman, wife and mother. Several years before I felt that I had been emotionally wounded from the way the birth of my first baby had been handled. Mine was a typical story - seeds of doubt planted during routine OB visits, and then a treadmill of interventions at the hospital including breaking the bag of waters, pitocin, epidural, and then the "emergency" C-section that took over an hour to get started and where no one exactly seemed rushed. (10 years later, I found out what a real emergency cesarean was like!)

After that experience, I had total and complete lack of faith in my ability to give birth naturally. I didn't even know if I would ever have another baby again because the first time had been so painful, scary, and humiliating. If that is what birth had to be, I didn't think that I could do it again.  (Incidently I wish Catholic OBs and nurses would focus on this and that priests were aware of it.  The church asks us to be open to new life. That would be a whole lot easier to comply with if young mother's weren't traumatized and manipulated during the birth process!)

But by 1993 I had done my homework on the subject of childbirth and VBAC. I joined ICAN, spent hours reading and re-reading informational and empowering books, attended an out-of-hospital childbirth class, hired a doula and went to a certified nurse midwife. Yet there were many nights before the birth I cried myself to sleep out of fear of what was to come before me.

I did make some big changes to ensure that I would be able to have as normal a childbirth as possible. The midwives I saw were an hour away from home and had a good VBAC track record and a low c-section rate. I discovered that there were variations in midwives. My favorite was very down-to-earth, willing to let things take the time they needed and willing to work with me on pain control with hot water, walking around, birth balls and massage. There was also a midwife on staff that seemed afraid to try any of that and sounded more than likely to call in the backup doctor for anything that wasn't following her protocols. But I continued my prenatal care there keeping my fingers crossed that I would get my favorite midwife when I needed her.

At my last prenatal visit, I was already two weeks overdue and although my cervix looked ripe and ready I was still not in labor. I allowed the midwife to strip my membranes because she was starting to talk about inducing me with pitocin. Pitocin and I had met and it wasn't a good first impression. I wanted to avoid induction if at all possible. So she stripped my membranes. I felt a little funny after wards but there were no contractions to speak of. Mr. Pete took me home and then went back to work. I remember vacuuming the carpet and weeping because I was so afraid I would have to have the induction, and that it wouldn't work and then I'd end up being cut open again.

But as I was vacuuming I realized I had to stop and breathe. Through my tears I realized that this was happening regularly and that perhaps I really was in labor! Thrilled at the prospect I had Mr. Pete come home and we called my doula. It was about 6 p.m. I remember getting Calvin dressed and ready to go over to my sister's house while I had the baby. I was so afraid that he would be afraid to leave me, but he was very excited about going over to play with his cousins and it was no problem getting him out of the house (a trait that remains to this day I'm afraid!)

Mr. Pete came home and my Doula Kathy came over. I'd have to say that those hours we three spent together were wonderful. We talked, we laughed, I labored. But it was very relaxing and natural. I didn't feel pressured or afraid as I had in labor with my first baby. I was so relaxed in fact that Kathy reminded me that we had an hour drive to the hospital and that we should probably get going. Oh how I hated to leave. I felt so safe and comfortable - oh why hadn't I planned a home birth?! We called the hospital to let them know we were on the way.

We got into the car and Mr. Pete drove a few minutes before we were on the express way, on our way to have the baby. And then I felt something that I had totally not experienced the first time, the urge to push. I told Kathy and she looked very concerned. But I was not scared. It was like something went off in my brain. So this was the urge to push I had heard so much about! It was overwhelming and strong and I felt powerless to stop it. I had never felt this with my first birth - and now it was clear to me why the hour of pushing I had done then never worked. My body had simply not been ready to do it.

But Kathy brought be back to reality. We couldn't push the baby out in the car and she had me pant against the urge, trying not to push with it. I tried with all my might - it was probably the hardest work I had ever done. And also the most fruitless. After a few tries, I felt as if the baby was coming out. Kathy had me pull down my slacks so she could see and something big and round was indeed coming out of my body.

Mr. Pete remembers looking back into the back seat and thinking it was the baby's head. He hit the accelerator hoping to cut our 60 minute drive in half and amazed that we weren't getting stopped by the police.

Kathy looked at what was going on and determined that I hadn't pushed out my baby's head but rather the bag of waters was bulging out like a balloon. She pricked it and amniotic fluid went everywhere. I was soaked. It did seem to make it easier to fight off the contractions.

We did make it to the hospital. Mr. Pete rushed into the emergency room entrance and couldn't find anyone to help and couldn't find a wheelchair either. It took him about five excruciating minutes to get back to us with a chair and then the three of us made it on our own up to labor and delivery.

As it turns out, I had a lot more work to do. My least favorite midwife was there that night, but my doula kept my spirits up about that. The midwife had another lady in labor so she didn't bother me too much. The hospital nurse assigned to us was wonderful. She allowed me to labor on the toilet, or on my hands and knees, taking fetal heart tones and letting me know that everything was okay.

Mr. Pete did have to leave me once to move his van. He had parked outside of the emergency room and they needed him to move it. Intellectually I understand it, but at the time it seemed cruel to ask him to leave me and I vowed that would NEVER happen to us again at future births ( and it never did).

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I also remember that despite filling out all of my paper work ahead of time I still had a someone come in during a contraction to ask if I was going to have a tubal after the delivery. I remember looking at her with annoyance and wondering if they meant to ask a woman in labor if she ever wanted to do this again?! Mr. Pete told her no and to get out - the insensitivity of some people still astounds.

The hours passed, and I was pushing with my body but not making any progress. The midwife came in and announced that if I hadn't made any progress in the next half hour, she was calling the OB resident, with the implication being I had better get ready for another Cesarean. Kathy decided we had to get pretty aggressive. She had me squat as in a ballet second position plie next to the bed and push with the next contraction. I didn't want to. I remember it really hurt, but with the next contraction, and Kathy loudly encouraging me, and Mr. Pete nervously at my side I pushed, and I felt the baby come right down the birth canal to crowning. It took one push.

The midwife was surprised to have to come back so soon and she sort of joked about it. I remember being annoyed and thinking that I was really done with her.  So to just get it over with, when the the next contraction came I pushed with all my might, still standing next to the bed, and little Sam was born. My body had worked, all by itself, I just needed a little gravity to help.

A few surprises remained. I gave myself a pretty good tear because I pushed so hard. With my next two vaginal births I learned that I had to control it, and the best way to control it for me was to have people I actually liked at the delivery. People who would encourage me instead of threaten me.  It took a long time to heal from that tear.

We also learned that Sammy had a true knot in his cord.  At some point inside of me he made a loop and swam through it!  I'm still not sure what that means except that perhaps Sam is here for a special purpose.
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Sam was also born on Roe v. Wade day.  I can't think of a better day to protest the legalization of abortion in this country than to give birth that day.

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As I recovered from the birth physically, the old emotional wounds healed as well. I became a birth enthusiast and an amateur expert. I even took some doula training and acted as a doula for a friend of mine for all of her births. I'm afraid that for a time I was even a natural birth and VBAC zealot.  Even now there is a blogger who feels that I was after her because of her birthchoices.  I apologize for the times I let my enthusiasm and support for natural birth override my sensitivity to the feelings of others. My intentions though were also with the hope of encouraging and supporting women in taking back their God given rights and abilities to birth their babies.   But the politics of birth is best left for a different post some day.



Today I remember this great adventure that was Sam's birth. I told him about it yesterday and he laughed that he had such a grand entrance. The bible says that women will be saved by childbearing. In a way Sam's birth helped save me from the trauma and doubts of my past, and watching Sam grow from the sweet little baby to the sensitive young man he is to day has truly been a great gift.

Happy Birthday Sam.

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Our Doula Kathy holding Baby Sam

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Meeting Sam face to face for the first time.

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october 2009 and old halloween pictures 100







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