(2014) In Which Piper is Born
When it comes to babies, my body is awesome at a lot of things. I basically just have to think about getting pregnant, and voila! We are expecting a baby! Then there’s pregnancy: While never fun (9 months of puking, raging heartburn, sneeze-induced pants peeing, poor sleeping, aches and pains), my body seems to do an amazing job of growing another human. I’ve never had complications or medical concerns while pregnant, even when I had twins. I’ve never been on bed rest, or had pre-term labor. It’s all been pretty textbook. But when we get to the birth part, things get a little less awesome. There’s a common theme with all my births, and it’s that my babies have seemingly no desire to actually come out of the ultra-cozy home I’ve made for them inside. I don’t know if it’s the deluxe placenta, or the spacious almost 6 foot tall human mansion they get to live in, or the fact that my babies just reeeeeally like being close to me---but not one of my kids has ever entered this world in a timely manner, and without a lot of coercion. Yet once labor did start, everything always went quickly and smoothly.
The first three births (4 kids, since one of those were twins) I had were in a hospital, and all were induced. By the time I was pregnant with my 5th baby we had decided to have a homebirth after having had a number of unpleasant experiences in the hospital, and feeling very confident that if I could handle a Pitocin-induced natural labor in a hospital room full of people poking and prodding and bugging the crap out of me, I could most certainly do it in the peace of my own home. Around 40 weeks, I began having contractions sporadically, and I was confident full-blown labor was imminent, yet as the days passed I continued to just have contractions that increased in frequency and intensity…but never to the point of active labor. This went on for almost two weeks. There were a few times when contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and coming steadily, so we called the midwife and nurse to let them know it was time! But as the night progressed and the sun would rise….my contractions would disappear. Finally my midwife suggested I try acupuncture. I had one 60 minute session of acupuncture, left there in full-blown labor, and gave birth to Cooper around 4 hours later.
Knowing that my babies all liked to cook longer than the average 40 weeks, I fully prepared myself for that with this pregnancy. I promised myself I would not hold my “due date” as anything more than a guideline, and that I would be calm and zen about the last few weeks of pregnancy (which, for the record, are the worst time ever). I spoke with the acupuncturist who “induced” me last time, and told her I was planning on using her again if I had a hard time going into labor this time around. She suggested I come for 4 sessions starting at 36 weeks in order to prep my body, so it would go into labor on it’s own. In my head this was the secret weapon. If my body didn’t do it on it’s own—then acupuncture would do it for me! At 36, 37, 38, and 39 weeks I had acupuncture like I had planned. I even went two additional times to really jump start labor since I had started with all the early labor signs again. The pattern my body would follow was: have contractions all night long—just bad enough that I couldn’t sleep through them, but not strong enough to bring on active labor. This happened nearly everyday between weeks 40-42. For those keeping track at home, that’s 2 weeks of wondering every single day if you’re really going into labor or not, and sitting awake in the dark at night timing contractions, only to have it slip away as the sun came up and the household stirred. It was nothing short of maddening. Not to mention exhausting.
About this time, I read an article written by Jana Studelska CPM/LM that described this state of pregnancy perfectly.
“The last days of pregnancy— sometimes stretching to agonizing weeks—are a distinct place, time, event, stage. It is a time of in between. Neither here nor there. Your old self and your new self, balanced on the edge of a pregnancy. One foot in your old world, one foot in a new world. It’s time to hurry up and wait. Not a comfortable place to be, but wholly necessary. We need time and space to prepare for that journey. And somewhere, deep inside us, at a primal level, our cells and hormones and mind and soul know this, and begin the work with or without our awareness.
Shouldn’t there be a word for this state of being, describing the time and place where mothers linger, waiting to be called forward? Germans have a word, zwischen, which means between. I’ve co-opted that word for my own obstetrical uses. When I sense the discomfort and tension of late pregnancy in my clients, I suggest that they are now in The Time of Zwischen. The time of in between, where the opening begins. Giving it a name gives it dimension, an experience closer to wonder than endurance.”
And so I sat in this state of “zwischen” for 2 weeks. It felt a lot like going through the stages of grief. One day I would be in denial and isolation saying, “I can’t BELIEVE I’m still pregnant” and I would stop answering the phone or texts. The next day I would be angry. Oh so angry. I’d hear about someone who had their baby after a 2 hour labor and I would feel rage. When I walked into my midwife’s office when one week overdue and the receptionist looked at me and said, “You poor thing”…my eyes welled up with hot, angry tears. Next came the bargaining phase. This was mostly between God and myself. I prayed constantly for an end to this, for relief, and I promised excellent behavior on my part for the rest of eternity if only this baby would come OUT. Inevitably I would then feel depressed, and usually had a meltdown to poor Seth would could do nothing but say, “I’m so sorry”. Ultimately came some sort of acceptance, a brief phase where I could just be in the moment instead of constantly wishing for the future. In this phase I would answer phone calls, mother my children like I wanted to, and generally enjoy life. And then the cycle would start again…
Finally in the early morning hours of Saturday morning, May 31st I woke up to major contractions and a distinctly different feeling in my body. It was like I was full of electrical currents. My whole body was buzzing and the discomfort I felt was like nothing I’d felt prior. I texted my midwife that I felt like good changes were happening and that maybe today was the day. I went about my day with optimism and purpose. Bennett had a lacrosse tournament that day, and I managed to sit through 3 hot and sweaty games. When we got home that afternoon the contractions set in pretty regularly. By the time we put kids in bed, I felt confident that this was “it.” Eventually I called Christina, my midwife, who came and set up camp. I labored, we waited, I labored some more, we waited some more….and then as the sun came up, and the house began to stir—my contractions faded away. Again. It was almost more than I could bear. The only thing kept me from melt-down mode was that Christina confirmed that this was the real deal. My body was in labor. I was going to have a baby. In addition, I had passed the 42 weeks mark, which is generally considered to be the longest someone should stay pregnant before you need to get that baby out for reals….so we decided that Christina would come back that night and break my water. Once your water is broken, there is no going back. It meant there was an end in sight!
I spent all of Sunday the same way I had spent Saturday…In labor. Contractions were intense—lasting 2 minutes…but anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes apart. There was never a pattern. Around 10 pm, Christina came back with the intention of breaking my water, but when she checked me she determined that not only had I not dilated anymore, but that the baby had moved enough that if she broke my water there was a chance the cord could come down first—which is NOT how that should go. My assignment for the next several hours was to do whatever it took to get that baby as far down as possible. That included squats, lunges, climbing stairs and various other means of pure torture. Each time I did those things, it would set off a round of horribly painful contractions, yet I never progressed. I spent the entire night rotating through attempts to get the baby to come down, dealing with waves of contractions that pushed me to the edge, and little snippets of rest here and there. I remember vividly standing by the window of my bedroom looking out across the sky and realizing the sun was coming up yet again. And still no baby. It truly seemed beyond my body’s ability to get this baby out. Utter defeat was about engulf me when Christina offered to check me again and see if things had changed. Not only had I dilated a little more, but while doing the check, my water finally broke! This reenergized me entirely! A baby was coming! With all my other births, my water breaking was the last thing to happen before I started to push. In every case it was less than an hour between when my water broke, and when a baby was born. So when my water broke in the early morning of Monday, June 2, I truly thought I would be holding a baby in my arms before the kids even woke up!
It’s hard to make what happened in the next 16 hours sound interesting, because as my midwife put it, “Labor is boring”. Was I having contractions? Yes. Did they hurt? You bet. Did this go on seemingly forever? Absolutely. Contractions would increase in intensity and frequency to the point I could no longer cope with them on land, so I would get in the tub for relief…and hopefully to get to the next phase of pushing, but without fail—every single time, the contractions would stop. The tub did such a good job of providing relief that my body would just give up, and all I was left with was exhaustion like I’ve never known. By this point it had been days upon days since I had slept a night through, or had what felt like any sort of peaceful rest. I was completely overcome. All I could think about was sleeping, and yet, if I tried to lie down the contractions would wake me up every few minutes, making the whole experience feel more like cruel sleep torture. During all of this I had the support of Chanel, who is the person anyone would want on their side when in the midst of turmoil. She has a strong and calm presence and seemed to infuse me with encouragement and hope when I needed it most. And then there was Seth, who stayed by my side—pushing on my back when the contractions would come. He kept vigil for days, really. Between the two of them I remained fed, watered, encouraged and uplifted. My midwife and nurse would encourage me to get up, walk the stairs, do some more squats—whatever it took to intensify what my body kept stalling. The morning hours turned into afternoon, and again into evening. My waters had broken 12 hours earlier and I was not any closer to having this baby than I had been nearly two days earlier. At this point I completely broke down sobbing. There was nothing left in me. Seth asked me if I wanted to just go to the hospital, but somehow the thought of ending this journey hooked up to IV’s on a hospital bed was still just slightly worse than enduring this never-ending labor. We knew that if this baby hadn’t come by 3am, we needed to transfer to the hospital anyway…and so I was determined to stick it out until then. Throughout all of this, they monitored the baby’s heartbeat and every single time Kelly, my nurse, would confirm that the baby was doing great and say, “She is totally unphased by this”. Knowing that I was the only one struggling made it a lot easier to forge ahead.
Then Christina suggested I go for a drive. Of all the things that had been suggested to me to try, this seemed the most benign. When I asked what driving around could possibly do to help, she explained that sometimes the distance between home and the hospital can bring the biggest changes in labor. She said that a bumpy car ride may be just the thing I needed to make something happen. So Chanel and I took dinner orders, and we planned a route to pick up some food for the gang and headed out on what would be the worst car ride of my life.
Here’s the thing about contractions: The only way to get through them without losing your mind is to basically play possum. You have to relax your body as much as possible and just breathe and let that wave of awful crash over you. You know what is physically impossible to do while riding in a car? Relax through a contraction. Every contraction felt like it was coming through a magnifying glass. Every acceleration and stop caused my entire body to clench and tighten and reverberate with the agony of each movement. I had my eyes shut the entire time because the sensation of watching things fly by out the window, coupled with the contractions that were at this point coming one after the other with no breaks, made me feel like I might puke--if I didn’t die first. By the time we got home, I felt the urge to push. It took awhile to even get out of the car and in the house because there was no break between contractions. I got in the tub as soon as I could--since I had planned on a water birth. Oh, The sweet blessed relief of that water! I could finally relax and just let the contractions come without fighting them. Except…then the contractions stopped coming. Again. Knowing that I had to get out of that tub, just so the contractions would come back took more emotional fortitude than pretty much anything I’ve ever had to do. All I wanted to do was lay there and drift into a sleep that would last approximately 43 days. Just when I had reached what I thought was my limit—it was pushed yet further. It was like a finish line that kept moving back the closer I got.
I got out of the tub and tried to eat, but I was just miserable. Christina suggested taking a Benadryl, and to go lie down and do my best to sleep. For about an hour I did, dozing between contractions that grew increasingly strong. They racked me to the core—but I could feel them actually getting me one step closer to having this baby, and I just let it happen as best I could. Eventually the urge to push came and Christina checked me again and declared it go time!
With each of my other births pushing has been the easiest/hardest part. The urge to push is the most powerful thing I’ve ever experienced. To stop me from pushing a baby out is like trying to stop a freight train. The easy part is that my body totally takes over—it is out of my hands to think about what is happening. It just does what needs to be done. The hard part, of course, is that my body is pushing a human person out—and if you do the logistics of that equation, you realize it will hurt like hell. So with each contraction I expected the freight train I couldn’t stop. I expected my body to take over and do what it’s done before. I expected to meet my baby any minute. And yet, nothing. As soon as the urge to push would come, it would go. I could never get on top of it—and no amount of pushing on my own was getting me any closer. For over an hour I pushed. And it was useless.
We decided I should get out of the tub and try pushing on the bed for awhile. It felt much the same as in the tub—that somehow my body was just not getting the memo on how to push a baby out. It was like my uterus had checked the box for “successfully build human person” then left on vacation before checking the box “get said human person out”. At some point I realized that it was left to me to make this happen, and I honestly didn’t know if I could. You’ll often hear a woman in labor say, “I can’t” when really it means they are just about to have that baby. In my case, saying “I can’t” was as close to an accurate statement as I could have made at the time. But it was now or never—and never wasn’t really an option. And so I pushed. Within moments came the ring of fire. The searing pain told me this baby was actually coming—but as soon as I stopped pushing just to breathe or regroup, all momentum would be lost, and the baby would lose all the progress. The other problem was that instead of contractions coming one after another like they usually do at the end, allowing you to keep momentum and quickly get that baby out, mine were still several minutes apart. So I had these huge gaps of time to wait in between, which made it even more difficult. For one, it just plain hurt. For another, it was like starting all over each time. And the exhaustion that would set in between was so overwhelming it felt physically impossible to do it again.
I was truly about to give up. I just didn’t think I had it in me. This entire experience felt like I found myself in an Iron Man competition, when all I signed up for was a 5K fun run. I was out of my league, and maybe I should just realize my limits. But then Seth leaned into the pillow and just said calmly, “You can do this. You are strong.” I actually repeated the words out loud in the hopes that I might believe them. And I guess I did, because I started to push, and this time I knew I would not stop until my baby was here. I made noises I didn’t know I could make. I was alarmed to hear those sounds come out of my own face. But I knew she was coming. This was it! And at 10:11 pm, in an instant, all that pain and anguish was over, and my baby was here—big and pink and yelling at the top of her baby lungs as if to say, “FINALLY!!”
Just thinking about the overwhelming emotions I felt at that moment brings tears to my eyes. Pure joy, relief, awe, gratitude and amazement swirled around as we examined the absolute perfection that is Piper June Malley. I’ve never felt such an intense love for someone so instantly. This was not meeting her for the first time—this was being reunited with someone I had loved and missed for so long, and hadn’t even realized it. She was the missing piece in the puzzle of our lives, and we were finally all together again.
To quote Jana Sudelska, “To give birth, whether at home in a birth tub with candles and family or in a surgical suite with machines and a neonatal team, a woman must go to the place between this world and the next, to that thin membrane between here and there. To the place where life comes from, to the mystery, in order to reach over to bring forth the child that is hers. The heroic tales of Odysseus are with us, each ordinary day. This round woman is not going into battle, but she is going to the edge of her being where every resource she has will be called on to assist in this journey.”
I absolutely felt like I went to the place between this world and the next to bring my baby back with me. I went to the edge of my being, and there I found resources I didn’t know I had. I’m so grateful I didn’t know how hard it would be. I’m grateful I didn’t know my limits could be pushed that far—or else the fear would have taken over. I can honestly say I’m grateful for the journey of bringing Piper into this world, because it has forged a bond between us that is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. It is an honor to be her mother.
After Piper was measured and weighed (9 lbs. 20.5 inches), and I was declared to be perfectly fine, the three of us snuggled down in bed, Piper in my arms…as Christina, Kelly, and Chanel essentially tucked us in and said goodnight. This was the visual image I had held in my mind the entire pregnancy, and throughout the marathon of labor. I imagined the bliss of having our baby, and going to sleep in our own bed, in our own home, filled with the people we love. In that moment, as we looked at our perfect little daughter and felt complete peace and contentment, it made all of it—the tears, the pain, the agony and frustration--all worth it.
Soon the sun would rise again, this time with a baby in our arms. The kids would all wake up to find that their long awaited baby sister had arrived while they slept, and we would spend the morning with kids clamoring to hold her and kiss her and declare her the cutest baby ever. And it would be better than I had ever imagined possible.