gently at home
25 June 2012
in the Year of the Dragon
at 10.21 pm
One day before my due date, I woke to two extremely mild cramps. I excitedly checked for show and saw only the tiniest hint of a suggestion of pink. Two hours later and no more nothing and I wasn’t sure whether those had been Braxon-Hicks or just fake outs (I never felt Braxton-Hicks contractions with my first and kept waiting to feel them during this pregnancy). I needed distraction and thankfully had plans with a newly-made friend, also pregnant with her second child to come over for a swim with her daughter. My show started to pick up and I began to allow myself to think things could get exciting soon.
Early evening arrived after a quick grocery store run and I’d had a handful of tiny contractions over the course of the day but it all added up to nothing much. Sout cooked Nava’s dinner as I played around online and I noticed I seemed to have had a couple of contractions sitting at the desk. So at 6pm I fired up the contraction counter and dared it to show a pattern. An hour later at 7pm I could finally announce it was beginning to look like labor; they were coming 15 minutes apart and easy enough to sit still through though they did catch my breath a bit. I called Erin to give her the news and we left it with “so maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow.” I promised to go to bed early with a DVD and get some rest. Nava had napped late so she was up playing and Beth, our student midwife neighbor came over to get Sout to open some coconuts. Nava, relishing her luck at being allowed to stay up and play after bathtime, was in top form flirting and giggling and we all had a nice catch up sitting on the porch. I was grinning broadly and I felt so blessed watching Nava so obviously happy and in her element and it felt like such a great way to spend her last night as a family of three.
Beth noticed I’d started squirming and rocking a bit during the contractions as we sat out on the cold tile but I figured the discomfort was just being amplified because of the hard surface. After Beth went home to get rest in case we called her that night and I admitted to Supernanny Noi that I seemed to be in labor. I laid down with Nava hoping to get her to sleep before anything got more exciting. Stretched on the nice soft mattress however did nothing to ease the pains and even my denialist brain had to admit they were getting uncomfortable. After a few I finally gave up hopes of seeing Nava into dreamland and asked Noi to stay with her so I could get up and move around.
At 8pm Erin and I had the following conversation via text:
“We are 10 mins or slightly less between contractions now. Intensity wise they are starting to get unpleasant but not hard to wiggle through.”
“Ok, have you filled the tub?”.
“No, was just debating. Feel like if we do that, I am really having a baby”
“Well, guess we should tell you… You are having a baby!”
“Guess I still have a little denial to work through”
“Sout is filling the tub”
“Quick work on that denial”
“I’m a quick study”
And then it was Game On. Sout got the extra hose, started boiling water and had the tub in order. The bag of supplies came out. I tidied the bathroom, putting away toothbrushes, laying out towels, and lighting candles. I opened the huge shutters to the night sky over the rice fields behind the villa and enjoyed the cool night air. Room prepped, I turned my attention to myself. I tied my hair back, got undressed, and took out my contacts. Sout took some pictures and we hugged quickly as he continued to get things all ready. The room looked great by candlelight, the tub was nearly full and I was getting really excited. I was completely confident I was going to have the gentle birth I came to Bali seeking.
It was now 8:50. In the excitement of preparation my contractions had gotten steadily quicker. Now they were only 5 minutes apart, but they had halved in duration and intensity. I called and told Erin as much and could tell that she, like me, though this could mean things weren’t really as progressed, as the timing would otherwise seem to indicate. Then just after getting off the phone, I had a real, full-length contraction 5 minutes after the last. It hurt. It hurt enough to remind me of some of the harder parts of my first labor. I texted Erin and then decided I was allowed to get in the tub and I was done texting. I did keep timing contractions on my phone though. Sout was still in and out with his preparations but he came in to see me in the tub, took a few pictures and I told him it was getting serious now.
I tried to get into a laboring mindset. I had labored alone with Nava and going into my myself had been easy. It was surprising for me how different it was to be doing it with company this time—even though the ‘company’ was my husband.
Getting in the tub was really nice but again it was a strangely new feeling for me and it took some getting used to. The water was really very hot thanks to the pot of boiled water Sout had topped it off with and I was a little worried Ibu Robin would want me out or to cool it down. In fact it was so warm I really only wanted to immerse in it when the contractions hit. In between the pressure I was up on my knees with my belly out of the water enjoying the cool night breeze coming in the huge window over the bathtub.
By 9:30 Sout took the last picture of me laboring alone in the tub, the midwives had all arrived, and I timed my last contraction-one and a half minutes apart, 47 seconds long. I explained how I was feeling and apologized for the super hot tub. Heart tones were checked with the Doppler and I hated the noise. The contractions quickly cut off further chit chat and I again tried to work on getting focused. I told Sout, “I have to stop talking now. I need to meditate.”
I quickly found that I liked leaning way out over the side of the pool and into the bathtub towards Sout. This was a completely new experience for me as well—to have my husband supporting me in labor. It felt incredibly reassuring. I remember being impressed at how good he was as Daddy Doula it and the instant relief he could make me feel. It was quickly apparent he’d been paying close attention when we’d reviewed comfort techniques a couple of days earlier. He was doing just about every possible thing I could hope for. He quickly took my hands and started doing the pressure point in my thumb-finger webbing I’d shown him. When a contraction came on and I started clenching up, he leaned over close to my face and breathed slowly with me to encourage me to be calm and whispered gently to me to relax my jaw. He even managed to come up with ice-cold washcloths to wipe my face.
It got harder to just drape over the tub and enjoy Sout’s support through the contractions. The pain level was increasing and the pain was coming from incrementally lower in my pelvis. In hindsight, I assume I was in transition though at the time I didn’t really think of it as such. I could no longer talk; I could barely open my eyes and I could hear everything. I distinctly loathed hearing Robin and Erin chatting nearby and when they left the room I growl whispered to Sout that he had to make them stop talking to each other—and to me.
I was in my own world as I took on the pain. I ordered Sout out of the bathtub (near my head) and into the birth pool to give counter pressure on my back. It was another new labor experience for me—and one I appreciated tremendously. He tried to go back to my head when the contraction was over but that left him not giving pressure when the next one began and I got mad at him for leaving ‘his post’. I then ordered him (transition, remember?) to not leave my back no matter what.
The pain was sharp now and I was popping up from my kneeling in the water just from the stab of them in my lower pelvis. I pushed down on the sides of the tub, locking my wrists and grimacing at their peaks. I managed to slosh a lot of water out of the pool doing this but I reflexively knew at this point that labor was almost over and so preserving the pool set up mattered very little now. I was not verbally communicative at all any more. I could so clearly feel my baby move lower in my pelvis with each contraction I felt no need to ask how I was doing. It seemed so obvious to me that I would be pushing soon that I didn’t even think to tell anyone.
Erin announced she was going to try to take heart tones again. Fine by me, I thought. But then she turned on the Doppler and pressed it to me and it was so horribly loud with the worst nails-on-the-chalkboard static and hiss you could even imagine. I screamed, “I hate it!”, unable to explain any better than that.
At this point, it must have been about 10 pm. With each wave of pressure I continued feeling my baby’s progress down and out of my body. I think it was possible because of the calm of the quiet room. I relished being able to feel so intimately how the birth was occurring inside, unseen. It was so different from the chaotic hospital transition of my first birth.
The pushing feeling began to sneak in at the end of my contractions and I went with it. But again, it was different. I was on my hands and knees, not my back. I hadn’t asked anyone’s permission nor was I awaiting their instructions of how to do it “right”. I began burying my head into Ibu Robin and bearing down. My mouth was closed and I had no urge to yell, much to my surprise. It felt better than the previous contractions; I find the feeling it hard to describe. An intense, intimate pressure commanded my attention. With each push I felt my baby’s body descend. Quickly, I could feel him in the birth canal.
At this point, Erin asked if I was pushing. Ha! Yes. Yes, I am. I was incredulous she didn’t know but in retrospect, it makes sense—it must have been hard to believe just how quick it was all going really. She reminded me to go slow, slow. Slow. They asked for permission to put some flowers in the water like they do at the birth center. And then, so soon, I could feel his head on my perineum. The ring of fire feeling was completely outshined by the intensity of the sensation—my whole baby right there, just on the edge of being born. It was incredibly otherworldly. They encouraged me to reach down and feel his head but there was no way I could move my arms from the position they were in. Besides, since I knew exactly what the baby was doing so I didn’t feel the need to touch him just yet. I think it was right around this point I got a little break. Contractions spaced out and I could actually relax a tiny bit. It felt wonderful and definitely gave me a boost for what was coming.
Robin tried to get my bra off so the baby could nurse right away but it was an ill-fated attempt. I tried to allow them to get it off but finally the distraction was just too annoying to bear once the next contraction set it. Again, my faculty of speech wasn’t fully operational and all I could communicate was a yell of ”Don’t Fuck!”. Crude but effective and the hands stopped pulling at my bra.
Erin explained that the water in the tub had gotten low and I was going to need to sink down lower into the water rather than being upright on my knees like I was if I wanted to deliver in the tub (babies breathe for the first time when they feel air so they must be kept fully in or fully out of the water for birth). I understood exactly what she was worried about and I knew I couldn’t sink down because I wouldn’t have anyway to brace to push from that position. I’d never been deeply set on actually birthing in the water anyways so I agreed to move to the bed. As I did a contraction came on and we had consensus—get this one over and we’ll help you to the bed.
Only with “this one” his head was born.
Erin told me to push his body out with the next contraction but strangely the next one came and went without a pushing urge so I waited. Then the next rushed in and I pushed his shoulders through and then his body slipped right out. I knew the baby was safe with his dad and I knew most of my job was over and I just started taking deep breaths. I couldn’t yet open my eyes and I could barely feel my arms, wrists, and hands. They offered me the baby to hold but there was no way I could have done so yet. I needed a lot of help to slowly flip around in the tub. Only then could I look. I opened my eyes and saw Sout sitting in front of me in the tub, holding our son, wearing a huge smile, utterly transfixed. Like Nava, Loka was calm with his eyes open and looking around. I stared as my eyes welled up and I started saying “oh baby oh baby oh baby…”. I was sobbing and trying to take it all in. Finally my attention came back to myself and I asked for help to massage the blood back into my wrists so I could finally reach out to touch him. But I still didn’t feel confident enough to hold him. Besides, I couldn’t imagine taking him out of Sout’s arms at that point.
I concentrated of taking deep breaths and returning back to the ‘real world’ for the next few moments. My bottom hurt and I could feel the placenta needing to come out. I took a little longer to gather my composure and then pushed it out in two pushes. The placenta was quickly scooped into a large bowl to allow it to follow Loka around easily, very extended delayed cord clamping being the plan. I was quickly helped to my feet and shuffled slowly to my bed. I needed a few stiches for a small tear. I was disappointed (I hate being sewn!) but the best way to get through it was to be distracted by my baby. Sout climbed in bed next to me to cuddle me through the stiches and put Loka on my chest. Loka took to nursing immediately with a great latch and a powerful suck that took me by surprise. Time started to slow down and I could begin to process that…
It was only 11pm
Birth was done
I was nursing my son
My daughter had slept though it
I was in my own bed snuggling my family
Sout had the tub draining immediately and by midnight everyone had packed and gone, with plans to return the next morning for the newborn exam and cord separation. Nava woke just after everyone left and had a preliminary meeting with her brother but she was still sleepy and confused as to what was going on. We called grandparents and skyped the cousins back in Lao. I had some of banana bread and coconut water tucked in bed and we turned out the lights around 1 am as a family of four.