Friday, February 08, 2008

we did it! (gracie's birth story)

oh my goodness!

due to the overwhelming response of emails (thank you everyone for your congratulations and well wishes and prayers), and because i want to remember moment-by-moment what happened during the labor and delivery, i wanted to blog about everything that happened on gracie's birthday.

let me first start off by saying that everything went exactly as i had hoped and prayed and wished for, only two weeks later. but we did indeed have a home delivery of a healthy and happy baby (girl?!). and we are just over the moon about all of it. [Throughout the following, Adam's commentary will be in brackets]

so on tuesday, right before my midwife appointment, i announced to everyone that i was going to give up being pregnant for lent. (tuesday was fat tuesday, by the way. rae mentioned that it was also "super tuesday" which i thought was hilarious. it was a pretty super tuesday to us!) and then spruitje and i had a long talk that day about how important it was that she didn't wait too much longer to be born -- because if she waited, we would have to go to a hospital, and i knew that neither of us wanted that. i knew that spruitje (as she was still known that day) would be so much more comfortable being born at home, where it is gentle and familiar and loving and calm, rather than in a hospital where it is sterile and bright and unfeeling. i tried to convince her through my words and visualizations that being born at home would be more loving and peaceful for the both of us, and thankfully she heard my words. because on tuesday at the midwives office my water broke during the internal examination. hooray! we went home and just waited at that point for the rest of the labor to begin.

as you read in my previous post, i had until 9:00 on wednesday morning to deliver spruitje or i would have to go to the hospital (due to the increased risk of infection since the waters had already broken earlier in the day). so i was quite impatient to get everything started as soon as possible. adam and i finally went to sleep at about 10:30 on tuesday night, with still no contractions, and i was worried that i would wake up in the morning and have to take a cab to the hospital. but at least spruitje was coming, and that's all that mattered to me at that point.

my contractions began at about 3:00 in the morning on wednesday morning and they were extremely strong, even, and fast right away. they felt like really really strong gas pains, very sharp and crippling. they were about 2 minutes apart right away, so we called the midwife who said to call again when contractions were closer to 1 minute apart. "it's your first baby," she said, "so it will still take a while." so i went downstairs and hung out, listening to music, drinking juice, and rolling around on my big blue pilates ball. my water broke again, for the 6th time that day, and the fluid was all still very clear pink and healthy looking. then my contractions got a lot stronger, and i thought i was already in the transition phase. (transition is when the mother finally dilates the final few centimeters and can begin to start pushing once she reaches 10 cm.) so i moved up to the bed because my back was so tired and sore, and leaning on the pillows would be more comfortable for me. [While Amber was downstairs in the first active part of labor her contractions actually spaced out a bit to about 5 mins apart for about 45 mins or so. I was timing her using the stopwatch function on her cellphone - I could keep track of up to eight contractions on a single screen by using the "lap" function. This was nice, because it let me have a snapshot of the last several contractions to see if there were noticeable changes in the trends - I was grateful to have something to do, so I probably took this way too seriously, but I felt like I was contributing.]

the midwife, sanne, and her midwife-in-training assistant, ilja, came over at about 6:00 a.m. to inspect me. and to my great disgust and frustration, i was only dilated to TWO centimeters! two! two wimpy, measly centimeters! and i only had three more hours to get spruitje out or she'd have to be born in a sterile and cold hospital! but i knew that "doing the math" wouldn't help me at that point -- in other words, just cuz it took me 3 hours to dilate an additional centimeter, that didn't mean that it would take me another 24 hours to dilate an additional 8 centimeters. and from that point forward, i was a woman on a mission, and was determined to have this child at home!

i promptly got out of bed and spent the rest of my labor either on the pilates ball or standing and swaying my hips. my mom left adam and me alone, which i appreciated, because i just couldn't handle any distractions anymore. (apparently she went downstairs and started cooking up a storm -- she made a cake, a couple of soups and stews for later, who knows what else!) even touching my skin was too much for me. adam just sat with me, he kept the lights dim (i almost asked him to blow out the candles in the bedroom too because they were too bright for me -- i wanted to be in a cave of sorts, i guess), and he left me alone. he was a dream. i could not have progressed as well as i did if he wasn't there to support me. he was incredible, just reading my body language and not talking, and stayed completely calm and focused on me. i would have a contraction, and i would stand up and lean on the bed, swaying my hips, and he would move the ball away from my body and uncover my shoulders (i was wearing my robe), and i would sway and breathe and just endure it. then the contraction would be over and he would push the ball back underneath me so i could sit down, and he'd cover me up again. i would tell myself internally "this contraction will never come again. i will never have to have THIS contraction again. and every contraction i have is one contraction closer to spruitje being born." then a cleansing breath, and then i'd be having another contraction all over again. they seemed like they were right on top of each other: adam said they were about a minute and a half apart and lasted about 45 seconds each time, so there was very little time in between to drink water and rest. but somehow we did it. [This was a very dark and nerve-wracking time for me, because I felt so helpless and I was watching my wife slowly become more and more possessed with pain. Toward the end of these three hours, she was crawling around out of her mind and screaming. I wished so bad that I could do more than simply move the pilates ball out from under her and then scoot it back under her at the end of the contraction. I did offer encouraging words now and then, but I could tell that she was not aware of what I was saying.]

9:00 rolled around. i heard the bells ringing loudly from the church next door -- it was ash wednesday, mass was about to begin, and my baby was about to enter this beautiful world. sanne and ilja came right on time and inspected me again: 9 centimeters! i started shouting, "HALLELUJAH!" over and over and over. this baby was coming, and she was coming now! she was going to be born at home! [When Sanne arrived I showed her the length of the last few contractions on my stopwatch - down to the tenth of a second - I remember the last cycle was 53.8 seconds. I was so proud of all the data I had collected, but she just kind of glanced at it and said o.k. She did not need the quantitative data, because her expert judgment could read Amber's body language and she could tell from that how her contractions were going.]

sanne said she was going to get her bag of supplies and that if i felt the urge to push, i could go ahead and start pushing. ilja stayed with us, and i got positioned correctly on the bed. and from that point forward i really don't know what happened, only i wish that i could have seen it all. i was THERE, but i wasn't there either. i was just present in the moment and not aware of what was going on around me.

i never really got the urge to push, which surprised me. i just thought, "well, i'm fully dilated, so i may as well start to push so i can have this baby now." so i just started bearing down when i had a contraction. honestly, it took me a while to learn how to push effectively. it's not like i've had much practice doing this before. so i pushed and pushed, and sanne would check spruitje's heartbeat, and then i'd push and push, and she'd check the heartbeat again, and on and on like that for quite some time. at some point sanne inspected me, and said that unfortunately spruitje was not moving down the birth canal quickly enough. [So at that point Amber moved to the toilet at the midwive's recommendation to see if using gravity while sitting up during pushes would help. She tried this for probably about 20 mins. I sat in a chair facing her so that she could lean on me and relax in between pushes and grab my arms and legs during pushes to try to get more leverage. I found myself pushing with her, which probably explains a bit of why I was so sweaty after the process - that and the fact that we had the temperature in the house cranked up to 23 celsius (we normally have it at about 19) plus a space heater in the room.]

[We moved back to the bed after this and Sanne checked again. There was some progress but not as much as she had wanted.] "15 more minutes of pushing and if she is not here, then we go to hospital," she said. and i was thinking to myself, "how the hell am i going to get to the hospital when i have to walk down two flights of stairs and the market is already set up on my street today?!" so from that point on i just gave it my all. my mom and adam were incredible: adam would remind me to use my lats to make my pushing stronger, and he'd support my leg when i needed to rest between contractions. my mom would whisper in my ear that i was doing a good job and the she could see a little bit of the head coming out. she'd help me sit up when i had a contraction so that i could be in the right position to push. they were both so supportive and loving, i felt completely calm and charged at the same time. someone suggested to get a mirror so i could see what was happening, and that REALLY helped me. i looked down and pointed at my butt, and asked, "is that spruitje?" "no," said someone in the room, "she's up there," and pointed to my vagina instead. now you'd think i would know what i'd be looking for, but i was just in such a different realm i just instinctively pointed to the area where i felt the most pressure. i've heard so many people say that pushing a baby feels like having a giant bowel movement, so i was pushing downward in that direction. but when they pointed so much higher on my body, i realized that my pushing was not pushing her out, only pushing her down. and from that point forward it went a lot faster. (adam told me today that someone asked me how i was doing because i had been pushing for a LONG time, and i answered, "oh this is fun! i'm doing GREAT! spruitje is coming!" and i'm SURE that i meant every word of it, too. i totally had the strength to keep going!) oh yeah, and for a while apparently the midwives would bear down with me, helping me to push spruitje out. they put one hand on the wall and the other hand on the top of my uterus and would push the baby down and out when i would have a contraction. i didn't know that they were pushing so hard until adam told me today -- it really felt to me like they just had their hands gently on me, like doing some sort of reiki or something.

[I should mention that the midwives started to check on the baby's heart beat much more frequently as the time went by. They were checking almost after every round of pushing. At one point the baby's heartbeat was very slow - must have been 50 bpms - and this was the darkest, scariest moment for me. I felt like passing out and I started to pace the room wringing my hands and breathing deeply - how were we going to get to the hospital!! The baby's heartbeat quickly shot back up and after that her heartbeat was steady as could be, so I began to relax a bit, but I was ready for the whole thing to be over. Also, the wall-push technique really was something to see! Those midwives were absolutely cranking on that baby's back in Amber's belly trying to get her out - I had no idea they had that trick up their sleeves. At this point I could start to see the baby's head, I remember the first time that Sanne called me down where she was and showed me some dark hair and said "that's your baby" - that was the first time I saw her - how amazing!]

so anyway, they got out the mirror, and once i realized which direction to push, things went a lot faster. and i saw her head coming out, and could touch her soft hair, and it was good motivation to get me to push harder because i was just so excited to see her i wanted to push as hard and as fast as i could so i could see her sooner!

they moved the mirror away so that sanne could catch her head, and before i knew it, i had this warm, squirming baby on my chest. i thought i would have to push out the shoulders and the hips and the feet, but with one more push, she was out just like that! she didn't breathe right away, and adam and i both at the same time asked why she wasn't crying. it was at that point that she started gurgling and whimpering a little bit, and soon enough she was crying. but not screaming, not wailing, just mostly announcing that she was here and that she was cold and confused. she was completely alert and aware of everything too, because i didn't have any pain meds to dope me up, and the delivery was so straightforward and gentle that she really had no need to scream or take time to wake up from it all. she was just completely present and alert and ready to go. i held her for a long while, in absolute amazement, and then adam cut the cord. i handed him the baby and delivered the placenta, which was a beautiful, thick, deep red organ. (the placenta, in dutch, translates to "mother cake." isn't that beautiful?) i needed three tiny little stitches, which i was pleased about considering what a big baby i just pushed out. everyone was totally focused on "baby girl briggle" (she didn't have a name yet since we thought certainly spruitje was going to be a leopold once he was here), which was fine and necessary, but now i needed stitches and no one was there to help me! [I was busy holding the baby at this point and watching as her blue skin slowly turned pink. She was shivering, her little chin was quivering and she would whimper a bit, but mostly she was quite calm and just looking up at me trying to focus her eyes but going cross-eyed frequently. I could not believe it was happening to me - it was a transcendent experience. There she was! I looked over and saw a needle going toward Amber and decided to just let her worry about that - I was holding our baby! and she was so curious about the world.]

at that point the kraamzorgster (maternity nurse), wilma, came over and very gently offered her hand to me, and let me squeeze it when i was scared or when i felt a pinching from the needles. it was so sweet. i loved her right away. and after that i just don't know what happened. they cleaned her up, and weighed her, and made sure i was stable and that baby was good, and then both sanne and ilja left. wilma stayed for another couple of hours i think, helping baby girl briggle and i learn how to nurse. she helped me into the shower, and while i was showering she changed the sheets for me. and then i climbed back into bed and just stayed wide awake for hours on end, totally buzzed on adrenaline and love. wilma brought me food and water and totally took care of me. what an angel!

and then the days and nights have just been a blur. i'm not sure what time of day it is, i only eat and sleep when i feel like it and not when the clock dictates. it took a while before i felt like i could walk again without my bottom splitting open from the pressure, but now today i'm obviously able to be downstairs for the first time and i've been moving around pretty well. i fainted on thursday morning after using the toilet, and gave both mom and adam several grey hairs from it, but since then i've been feeling a lot stronger and healthier, and haven't had any complaints at all. and gracie, as we finally decided to call her, is an absolute dream. she's everything i imagined her to be (only she's a GIRL!) and we're just ecstatic to have her here. the next blog post is going to be all about her, of course, but i wanted to get this one out there right away so we could do it all chronologically. [That first night was wonderous and scary at the same time - Amber was pretty much stuck in bed and it was dark and I had a squirming helpless baby in a crib. I ran around all night adjusting all the radiators in the house because I thought it was too hot for the baby and then it was too cold, etc. I was so afraid that I would not know what she needed. I have calmed down since then and am just now realizing how intense the experience as and how I had entered into a completely different mode of being, one where I did not realize anything about myself - that I had to use the bathroom or eat or sleep - I was just so focused on the baby.]

all in all, it was exactly as i had hoped for it to be. only two weeks later than i originally wished for. she is definitely worth the wait, and i'd do it all over again. it was the most transcendental, miraculous, life-altering experience i have ever had, and it's only going to get better from here on out.

okay time for dinner now and hopefully tomorrow i will have a chance to tell you all about mary grace, what she's like, who she looks like, how she acts, everything. i can't wait to tell you all! she's incredible!


SubtleKnife said...

*lots and lots of hugs to all of you*

Katarina said...

What a great birth story!

Rama said...

Now I've read it...a little delayed :) Wow! What a beautiful experience, brought tears to my eyes. Congratulations!!!