Saturday, April 24, 2010

Birth #3: at home 2

The joys of having children were sufficiently great for us to decide to have a third child when Laura was about 2 1/2.  Once I found out I was pregnant again, I called up Nancy, the midwife, to make an appointment to see her.  Having the time with her was one of the huge plusses of being pregnant.  She was such a great person to spend time with.  I always felt so good after our appointments.

The pregnancy progressed well with few issues except for exhaustion.  I was working a lot of hours tutoring as well as taking care of Andrew and Laura, so by the time I got home from work, I was usually quite tired.  I didn't have the self awareness or confidence to take the time to rest each day.  Instead I internalized my husband's admonitions to just get over it and get on with what I needed to do.  So I dragged myself into the kitchen to cook a meal, took care of the kids, and otherwise functioned as best I could.  It wasn't the best time in my marriage because my husband and I couldn't seem to find empathy for each other.  I was exhausted and couldn't allow myself to rest despite his judgments.  I thought I should be able to work and keep a clean house and be a perfect mother and a great wife, all while still nursing my daughter and growing another baby.  If I had it to do over again, I hope I would be clearer about what my needs were and do what I needed to do to take care of myself.  It was a hard time.  I remember telling Nancy I felt like I wasn't focused on this baby the way I had been on the other two because I was so overwhelmed.  She assured me that he/she was growing well and flourishing and that when he/she was born, he/she would get all the love and attention he/she needed then.  In the meantime, I could trust that he/she was well taken care of.  What a gift that was to be able to let go of my expectations that I be a perfect mother to the unborn baby too. 

Of course whenever I had a quiet moment, especially before going to sleep, I would take time to commune with the baby's spirit, but those moments weren't as frequent as they had been with the other two.  Still, time progressed, and I prepared for labor.

My dear friends in my women's group held a Blessing Way for me.  What that is is a ceremony we've crafted from bits and pieces of ritual from here and there.  It's different each time, but the primary components include sharing and celebrating the baby's impending arrival.  One of the women made a wreath of flowers for my hair and another washed my feet with herbs then rubbed them with blue cornmeal to signify preparation for walking the sacred path of childbirth.  We had a birthday cake (though since I wasn't eating sugar at the time, it was a beautiful belly-shaped loaf of bread instead!).  Each woman had a candle which she lit and put into the bread as she said a wish for the baby, much like the fairy godmothers in Sleeping Beauty (but all these wishes were good ones!).  They wrote the wishes down on a card so they'd be preserved for posterity.  Then came the talking, a time for sharing the wisdom they had accumulated in their experiences.  We shared about other births, about our hopes and fears, our good wishes for this child's life.  One of my friends was an accomplished belly dancer.  She explained that belly dancing used to be something women did among themselves, especially during childbirth because the gyrations were perfect for quelling the pain of childbirth and helping the body accomodate the contractions more easefully.  She then danced for us so I could see how it looked. 

All during the pregnancy, I had been reading affirmations about giving birth.  A friend had given me a book she had made with them in it.  Examples:  I birth my baby like billions of women before me.  The pain is my power.  All is well.  This baby knows the exact right time to be birthed.  I have since made many of these books to pass on to other women for their pregnancies.  Mine was so important and helpful to me.

On March 24, 1992, two friends of ours who had been living in Germany came to visit us for a couple of days.  They had had the stomach flu but said they were over it so kept to their schedule and came on for a visit.  It was lovely to see them as they're terrific, interesting people with whom I love to talk and visit.  Unfortunately, though, I caught their bug.  The night of the 25th, my husband was called to work in the middle of the night.  A few hours later I woke up with a very queasy stomach and ended up needing to vomit.  (I can feel sympathetic nausea as I write this all these years later!)  I got up and leaned over the toilet.  It was actually very difficult to do, given the fact that my belly was as large as it could get.  It was a big hindrance in that situation.  Martin, one of our guests, was so kind.  He came upstairs and helped me clean up and get back to bed.  I fell back into a fitful sleep.  But was back up several more times.  My husband still wasn't home, though it was 3 or 4.  I guess he eventually came home but left for work again at 6:30.  Though our friends were leaving at 10, I tried to stay in bed a little bit longer to recover a bit from being so sick.  At 9:30, I dragged myself downstairs to say goodbye.  Our au pair had gotten the other two kids up and was keeping them occupied.  It was clear to her how I was feeling.  After our friends left, it quickly became apparent to me that I was having contractions.  At least I thought that was what it was.  I prayed it wasn't more nausea.  I called Nancy who suggested I take a bath.  If it was labor, that would either slow things down or speed them up.  Rita, our au pair, drew me a bath.  It definitely sped things up.  I called my husband and told him what was happening.  He asked if I wanted him to come home.  I told him it might be a good idea if he wanted to be there for the birth.  He got home shortly afterwards and found me still in the tub.  Mom came to get Rita and Andrew and Laura since things were starting to happen quickly.  My husband and I talked about a possible name for the baby.  We hadn't been able to decide before.  We decided on Dylan (as in the poet, Dylan Thomas, and the musician Bob Dylan) for a first name if he was a boy.  The middle name was harder.  Because we're both such intellectuals, we wanted something cool for a middle name, so we came up with Raphael, after the painter.  If the baby were a girl, her name would be Sophie Elizabeth, simply because we liked how it sounded.

I called Nancy to let her know how things were going.  She was at another birth and wasn't sure how quickly she'd be able to be there, so she suggested I call my friend Mary from my women's group who was studying to be a midwife and who had attended many births before.  Mary came right over.  In the meantime, I threw up a couple more times, and now diarrhea was kicking in.  Try that on for size - labor pains, intestinal pains, needing to throw up, and needing to have diarrhea.  I didn't know which end should be where.  I was intensely miserable.  And worried about trying to give birth in such a weakened state.  I was feeling somewhat panicked.

When Mary got there she suggested I lie down on the sofa.  She talked me through a visualization and meditation which really calmed me down and helped me gather my resources.  I decided to let that gentle repose be a perfect substitute for a full night's sleep.  The contractions continued, but more gently, and I was able to sleep for almost an hour.  Nancy arrived around that time.  She examined me and asked me if I wanted to keep things slow or let them get going.  I gathered myself and said, "Let's go.  I'm ready."  I got up and walked around the den then spent some time on the toilet again - apparently that's a really good place for me to labor!  Transition began then.  I went into the den where I was planning to give birth.  Standing, I leaned on Nancy's shoulders while my husband held my belly up from behind.  I gyrated my hips in a belly dance circle.  The contraction came on, I moved my hips around with it, it dissapated like magic.  The movements truly ameloriated the pain to the point where it was manageable.  My affirmation was "This is the most intense feeling I have ever experienced.  It is opening my cervix so I can birth my baby."  Rather than focus on the pain, per se, I focused on the effect it was having, making it more bearable and positive. 

I wanted to squat and give birth as I had with Laura, but I simply wasn't strong enough because of the stomach flu I'd been dealing with, so I sat on a mattress on the floor and leaned against our sturdy mustard-colored arm chair.  My husband was behind me, Nancy in front of me, Mary on the sofa next to me taking pictures.  I felt exhausted and weak but I knew I had the power to birth my baby.  The pushing contractions came over me.  I let them wash over me and through me.  The baby's head crowned.  His head came out.  He was as purple as a concord grape.  It was startling to see how darkly blue he was.  Nancy checked the chord.  I can't remember if it was around his neck or not, but if it was, she removed it.  The baby was in that position for several minutes, part way in, part way out.  I rested as best I could, euphoric, exhausted.  Then the last contraction came, and our son Dylan arrived in the world!  Nancy said what a beautiful girl she was, but my husband and I noticed that actually he was a beautiful boy!  I think she was at a hard angle to see!  Nancy assured us, because he had been so blue, "He was never not OK.  He was never not OK."  Those words have echoed through my head 100's of times since then.  I was thankful for her reassurance, though I'm not sure how anxious I had felt.  Her words turned it into goodness.

This picture is called Thirty Seconds Old.  I drew it from the photograph Mary took at that moment.

Dylan took a few minutes to begin nursing but quickly got the hang of it.  His sucks helped my uterus expel the placenta easily then Nancy sewed me up - I'd torn a bit again. 

I chose not to take an herb bath this time because I didn't want to leave the baby - that had been hard with Laura - so I watched as Nancy weighed and measured Dylan.  He weighed 9 lb.  He was born at 5:00 PM, about 9 hours after I'd woken up to start the day.

My mother, ever prescient, called about 15 minutes after Dylan was born and asked when she could come over and bring the kids to meet their brother.  We asked for a couple of hours so we could get settled in.  I was still so tired and not feeling great nausea-wise, so it was helpful to be able to rest for a brief time first.  We got settled in up in our bedroom, then Mom brought the kids.  We have a wonderful photograph of the kids climbing onto the bed to meet their brother.  They're full of joy and anticipation.  There's another photo of them sitting on either side of me.  I'm nursing Dylan and reading a book to the other two.  I remember loving the moment, even as I felt stretched a bit beyond my ability to satisfy all their needs. 

The next few days were tough.  My husband got the stomach flu as I was recovering from it, then the kids, then our au pair.  I guess the good part about it was that we took it very easy, resting most of the time, allowing ourselves to recover slowly and gently.  It was a lovely time.  Friends again brought meals, and Rita was a huge help.  It truly does take a village to raise a family!

Life with three remained busy and hectic, but Dylan was a fantastic addition to our family.  With him, we became complete.

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