In honor of my sweet daughter’s 2nd birthday, I share with you our birth story as written a few days after she was born.
August 29. An exam during the day reveals that I’m only 1 cm dilated. We walk around Iowa CIty. I feel heaviness in my womb. All night I feel like a caged animal. To release some energy I put on some music and ask my husband to dance with me. I find a British radio station on my iPhone that’s playing the Cure’s “Pictures of You.” We slow dance. “Hey,” I say, “they’re talking about her sonograms…”
Suddenly, I feel a gush between my legs. I run to the bathroom. Thick bloody discharge! My mucus plug has come out. We call Jun-Nicole, our doula. She says get some rest and she’ll see us in the morning.
I’m a little wired still and as we prepare for our hospital trip, packing last minute essentials, another gush. Pink and liquid. My water broke. It trickles slowly. Moon is still being active inside my belly. She seems fine.
We call the hospital and they say come in, but take our time. They’ll get a room ready for us. We manage to sleep for a couple of hours, but I’m bloody again – a couple of small blood clots come out – and I’m having very mild painless contractions. We shower, get in the car, and drive 90 minutes to the hospital. The contractions are about 10 minutes apart, and still no pain. Moon wiggles around after each one.
We listen to the Breeders on cassette – something left over from my high school days. The song “Driving On 9” comes on and we sing along. The country highway is dark and almost deserted. I think of what a good thing it was that we installed deer whistles to the car. It’s around 4am. It feels peaceful, but momentous.
We arrive at the hospital and buzz in. We’re shown to our room – a nice cozy dimly lit space with decorative hardwood floors and a giant whirlpool tub in the bathroom. The nurse, Kristin, puts monitors on my belly. The baby’s heartbeat is traced out on the computer screen and ticker tape. I feel a tightening.
“Is that a contraction?” I ask.
“That’s what’s it’s showing me here,” she replies.
I’m amazed at how little pain there is.
I rest for a while. We talk to Jun- Nicole again by phone and let her know we’re there. It’s around 7am. She says I’m going to want to get things going and instructs me to walk and do leg lifts and lunges and dance. I entertain my husband with my version of a duck walk. I put on some MC Yogi and swivel and rock my hips, determined to bellydance her out. The contractions are a bit more regular.
Around 10am the midwife, Elizabeth, comes in to tell me that they will be wanting to help things along if the contractions don’t get stronger. Because my water broke they want to reduce the possibility of infection. She gives me a couple of options and lets us talk through it. We can do a slow drip of Pitocin or oral Cytotek. Both wll strengthen contractions. Cytotek cannot be controlled once it’s administered, but Pitocin can be adjusted as needed. We consult with Jun -Nicole, and decide on the Pitocin, so they can back it off if things go too fast. But I still give it my all one more time to get things going naturally. I dance and we walk the quiet halls. The contraction only get a teeny bit stronger. We laugh a lot. Hubby naps on the long couch.
The baby doctors come in and introduce themselves and let us know their role after the birth. They go over my post-delivery plan with me.
I eat some hospital food, then later some potato chips. I drink lots of water.
Around 12:30 Kristin, our nurse, hooks up the IV. I hate being tethered to the thing, but I’m determined to stay flexible and calm and do whatever I need to do to make this go smoothly. I had asked how long we could wait, and Elizabeth had said they could not put it off any longer. It had been 12 hours since my membranes ruptured, and the risk of complications increases after that.
Kristin asks me why I was against the Pitocin. I tell her about my first birth and how it made things speed up and get suddenly very painful and scary for me. She reassured me that they would start slow with a tiny amount and mimic the natural progression of labor by upping the dose every 30 or 60 minutes by 2 mcg.
She has me switch my spiral bracelet from my left arm to my right arm so she can set up the needle. It’s the gift my husband gave me for our first year wedding anniversary almost nine years ago. I’ve never taken it off. I ask him to move it for me.
The first dose got the contractions going a little closer together. I’m really into it. They feel like a rush. I actually enjoy the ride. They are easy enough to breathe through. After a bit more of a nap, hubby calls Jun-Nicole who says she is already on her way.
By 6 mcg of Pitocin the contractions go from “hey that feels really cool,” to “now we’re down to business.” I need my husband to be with me through every one. I have to use the toilet a lot. Plenty of pressure down there.
Jun-Nicole arrives quietly and sets up. She’s completely unobtrusive. By that time the contractions are strong enough that I am losing all sense of the environment. I look at the Pitocin reading on the IV machine. 8 mcg. 10 mcg is the highest they will need to go.
Jun-Nicole starts talking me through each one. I anchor to her voice and will stay anchored to it for the duration.
“Move it down,’ she says, “low and deep.”
I start to need to moan now. Hubby sits in a chair in front of me holding me as I sit on the side of the bed. I feel the need to stand. My husband and I slow dance through the next few. At some point in between contractions I look into his eyes and smile and kiss him deeply. I am so grateful for the comfort, and so excited for us to meet our baby. The love i feel is profound.
Jun-Nicole reminds me to keep my moans low and deep. She walks me through some visualizations. At one point I’m transported back to the caves I love in Belize, feeling primal. At some point I’m aware that my midwife, Elizabeth, is there, as is Kristin, the nurse. I labor in different positions, from leaning against the bed, to sitting. I labor on the toilet as I poop. I feel a little nauseous, but nothing serious. I finally sit on the birthing ball, with my head and hands on the bed. Jun-Nicole puts pressure on my lower back. I remember a youtube video where the woman says “if I can tell women to remember anything in labor that will help, it’s to make spirals with their hips.” I look at the spirals on my bracelet.
I spiral my hips on the ball and suddenly things move from “oh my god, this is intense,” to “Good god! I don’t know if I can do this!”
Jun-Nicole rushes to get the bath ready. She knows exactly where I’m headed. Hubby takes over rubbing my lower back. Elizabeth guides me with her voice.
I go through a few more contractions sitting on the ball. Sitting is beginning to feel wrong.
“This is really hard,” I whimper. I wonder briefly why I decided to do this. The thought passes. I know I can make it. I think I say it out loud, but I’m not sure.
I don’t know how to describe it, except, it’s like you’re on the peak of a roller coaster and you know that you’re about to swoop down into the most amazing pain that will make you temporarily leave your body and go into a wholly different world. But you also know that with a couple of minutes there will be sweet relief and you’ll get just enough time to catch your breath for the next big drop. (No that description doesn’t do it justice, but there really is nothing to compare to it).
They call it “transition.” It’s the point at which your mind starts seeking some escape. The next thing I know I’m in the big tub, grabbing onto the handrails inside. Kristin is continually adjusting the heartbeat monitor around my belly to make sure the baby is doing well. I’m kind of leaning off to my left and bracing myself with each new fast, hard contraction.
“Bring it down,” June-Nicole instructs.
“Bring it down,” I repeat, “Oh please please bring it down.” My eyes roll back in my head.
“Breathe for your baby,” she says, “nice and deep.”
“Oh baby baby baby,” I chant.
A few more pass and I find myself making growling roaring stuttering sounds, something like a Diamanda Galas performance.
“Find a one word mantra,” Jun-Nicole instructs.
“Oh baby baby baby,” I return to that. The goal. The purpose. Reminding myself.
I become aware that my husband is still in the room with me. He had left for a moment. He tells me that his mom and grandma are praying for me. I nod and wave him away. He sits there speaking words of reassurance, realizing that I can’t deal with any new information.
“I don’t think I can do this any more… help…” I look up at Elizabeth.
“You’re on top of it Kristie. You can do it.” she reassures me.
Jun-Nicole gets my attention and has me look at her. “Kristie, all these emotions you’re feeling right now are very normal. You’re going to see your baby really soon.”
Yes, yes, ok. But maybe I need something to take the edge off though. Should I ask? How much longer can I take this? How much longer can I… But just as the thought crosses my mind something new happens. It feels like a bowling ball is filling my vagina. I can tell I’m going to want to push soon. My feet flail in the water.
“Oh baby baby baby,” I chant, trying to run away from the intensity – anywhere – but there’s nowhere to hide.
I become aware of lots of activity going on just outside the bathroom. They’re getting ready for me. I’m a bit surprised. Could it be that close?! Should I get my hopes up?
And suddenly the incredible euphoric sensation washes over me with the next contraction and I can’t help myself. I push, and I push hard.
The only words I can get out are “I PUSH!”
“OK.” I hear Elizabeth say in a definitive tone.
In a gentle flurry everyone quickly moves to take me out of the tub. Oh that pushing feels good! It makes the pain go away!
I waddle over to the bed as they dry me off. The next rush hits and I lean against the bed and push. My husband stands across the bed from me and holds my hands, his face close to mine.
There is some discussion about whether I want to kneel on the bed. I let everyone know that I’m staying put. I need to stand up and lean forward. They concede and get ready for the catch.
The first few times I push with all my might. It feels GREAT! I feel the pressure moving down.
Jun-Nicole remembers that I said I wanted to look in the mirror. She asks me if I want to see the baby’s head.
“No, no, no, it’ ok. I just want to do this.” I reply. My eyes are closed and I don’t want to open them. The room is amazing quiet, with only a few necessary comments. I hear my husband’s voice, but don’t remember what he says.
I squat and push with every urge.
I think it’s Kristin who says “reach down and feel your baby’s head, Kristie. I know that’s important to you.”
I reach between my legs. I feel the top of her soft squishy silky little wet head pushing my vagina open. I can’t believe she’s almost here. I get excited.
The next time I push several time, hard. I hold my breath. I squat low. I’ve heard this part called “the ring of fire.” It’s just an intense burning sensation as everything stretches to it’s limit.
“Really squat deep this time,” Elizabeth says.
I can feel her head come through me. She’s here!
“She’s waving hello!” Elizabeth says. I imagine her little hand coming out next to her face.
“Ok, let’s ease it up a little, Kristie. Easy this time.” I think it’s Jun-Nicole’s voice. I push again with a little less strength. I can feel all her little bones moving through my vagina. Every little joint, every body part, just as they felt inside my womb. I feel them slipping out through me, and they feel so familiar. I involuntarily go up onto my tiptoes.
“Oh, shoulders?” I ask?
“She’s almost out,” Elizabeth says.
And with a final push and a slithery slippery feeling, she’s made it! There’s a cute little squawk as she fills her lungs with air.
Elizabeth immediately hands her between my legs and into my arms, still attached. With some assistance I sit on the edge of the bed and snuggle her close. Warm blankets are draped over us.
“Look at you!” I say. “Oh baby, we made it. You did it! You’re here. What a journey little Moon! I’m so proud of you.”
Then I sing her a the Gayatri Mantra quietly as everyone smiles and looks on. She stares at me, wide eyed. The lights are low. It’s 6:31pm on August 30 – and it’s dusk on the Muslim holiday of Eid.
I’m helped onto the bed, and daddy is next to me staring at her. We marvel at every bit of her. Her tiny ears, bright aware eyes, and dark silky hair. We double check to make sure she’s a girl. She is. I kiss my husband and thank him for giving me this sweet little girl.
After a bit Elizabeth tells us that the cord has stopped pulsing and asks if she can clamp it now. She invites daddy to cut the cord. He does so, carefully detaching her from her previous womb home.
She is so relaxed. Every part of her is so familiar – just on the outside instead of the inside now. She doesn’t cry, but she is breathing just fine. There is a peaceful wonder in her face. She looks into my eyes.
WIthin minutes she is rooting around for my breast, opening her mouth wide and bobbing her head. She latches on easily, sucking and staring at me.
I hold her and nurse her while Elizabeth helps me to deliver the placenta. Pushing a bit more. It takes some time. The thing is HUGE. Daddy takes pics of it. Elizabeth presses on my abdomen, which hurts, but is necessary to prevent too much bleeding. She then tells me I have a small tear and she’s going to put in a couple of stitches. I barely pay any attention as she numbs me and sews me up. I’m fixated on my little Moon.
Daddy and I ooo and ahh at her. We talk about what features of hers look like him or me. We claim her as our own.
The baby doctors come and go, listening to her heartbeat while she’s still on my chest. We stay there for a good two hours, nursing off and on.
Jun-Nicole sits peacefully at the foot of the bed. She’s made sure to bring the warming table next to the bed so when the docs come back I can be close. She talks a bit about what comes next before she says goodbye.
Daddy finally gets to hold Muneera as he brings her to the the docs do her assessment. She’s fine, and she puts up with the inspection with great patience. She’s 7 pounds, 5 ounces, and 19 inches long.
We move to our private family room where we’ll spend two nights cuddling our precious one on a nice full sized bed. She nurses for two hours straight the first night. The next day we give her her first bath and she seems to enjoy it. She looks at me for reassurance as I wash her little head, combing away the final residue from the womb. She’s a natural at this baby thing. And I’m so happy, I won’t sleep for days…