Laurita Dianita

Reflections and art on the topics of public health, social justice, and love

Rio Esteban’s Birth: Crossing an Ocean

without comments

birth120

(All photos by Ash Adams)

 

I’ve been struggling with how to tell my birth story because it contains some personal emotional details that I don’t feel like broadcasting. But I find myself feeling blocked up from not having written it, not having cast it into narrative form, externalized it and made sense of it in writing. So this is my best attempt to tell the emotional truth of it and share it with all of you.

Before labor

Ida had come 3 days early, and my friends and my husband, Oscar, thought I was going to deliver even earlier this time, a prediction which I didn’t totally agree with, but his positon so low on my cervix made seem plausible. I was not expecting Rio to come so late. His due date was Friday, July 22nd, and my labor didn’t begin until the morning of Tuesday, July 26th. Although I had told myself that I would go back to work on Monday the 25th if I were still pregnant, I sensed that I just needed to take some time to myself and he would come, so I spent Monday getting a massage and a pedicure and meeting with my doula to work on pressure points in my foot and talk through things that were weighing on my heart. That seems to have worked.

Early labor

Early on Tuesday morning, after a poor night of sleep, I went to snuggle with my two and a half-year-old, Ida Luna, in her room, and fell asleep on her crib mattress on the floor. I then awoke around 7:00 with my first contraction. They came every 15 minutes after that, so I figured this was early labor, and I was hoping it would continue and advance. Oscar and I got Ida ready and after he left to take her to school, I slept for another hour and a half, waking every 15 minutes with pain in my pelvis and back. I recognized the contractions, but this felt markedly different than last time, mainly in that they were not accelerating and I was not diving into that deep, private, mental space of Laborland as I had in early labor with Ida.

birth100

Later that morning at home, Oscar pushed on my sacrum as I sat in extended child’s pose, and this felt good, as all of the pain was concentrating in my back. My back, afflicted with spondololysis for the majority of my life, had hurt terribly throughout pregnancy, and I was expecting it to hurt during labor. Around 10-something I threw on a sports bra, a dress, and sneakers while Oscar grabbed the birth bag, and we headed out to go on a walk, to which I invited a few sister-friends. Before the walk, my mom (Geneva Woods Birth Center/Geneva Woods Midwifery owner and Certified Nurse Midwife, Barbara Norton) asked if I’d like to get checked, so I came in. I was 3 cm. dilated, 80% effaced, and my cervix was mostly soft but a little bit firm. She suggested that we not walk so far away at Kincaid Park, as we had been planning, but stay closer by the birth center, so we headed to the trails near Alaska Pacific University, texting friends to update them. In retrospect, all this texting and coordinating was not helping my labor at all, but I really wanted some sister-friend presence. Oscar and I walked for close to a mile, with me leaning on his shoulders and moving my hips and him swatting mosquitoes away from my legs during contractions, and then circled back to the car for a snack and water. I found it odd that I could eat during early labor, since last time I was vomiting at this point. When my friend Suki and my friend and birth photographer Ash arrived, we walked a few more loops with them, me laboring through contractions with the support of Suki or Oscar’s shoulders, Ash snapping photos, and some talking and laughing as we made our way over dirt trails through the beautiful birch forest. My contractions were about 3 – 4 minutes apart at this point, and closer on uphills, so, thinking I had progressed, we headed to the birth center. Oscar had turned the seat heaters on high, which felt amazing on my low back. I had a particularly uncomfortable contraction as we arrived at the birth center, which I got through in the parking lot, leaning against the car.

birth101

My mom had mentioned earlier that if my pain is concentrated in my back, it may be that baby is in a funny position, and I needed to lay on my side with my knee close to my chest in order to get him to turn. By the time I arrived at the birth center again, however, the pain radiated from my pelvis out and into my back and hips, so we were less concerned about position. We settled into the birthing room I had chosen – the bright “Hummingbid Room” lit by sunlight from the large windows and my doula Jen Allison arrived. I got my dose of antibiotics (I had tested positive for GBS) and had a few contractions on the bed in extended child’s pose, with Oscar pressing on my back. Then I tried putting on my calming birth mix on my phone, and getting in the shower, but nothing was quite clicking, and my contractions slowed down significantly. I got out and Jen rubbed my feet and pushed on my labor pressure points, and asked me about the morning and the previous night, I believe trying to tease out from me what might be getting in the way of progressing.

birth102

My mom came in with Deb Schneider, who is a certified direct-entry midwife (CDM), as well as a nurse and paramedic, who works in their office as a nurse and birth assistant. Geneva Woods is a CNM-only practice (that is, all births are attended and managed by CNMs), but Deb is able to offer her insight from her own CDM practice, which she maintains outside of her hours at Geneva Woods. For that reason, my mom wanted her help with my birth because she did not want to be the only midwife for her daughter’s labor/grandson’s birth, and the other CNM, Dana, was seeing patients all day. Deb checked me and I was still only 3 cm. dilated, 80% effaced, and a little bit firm. No progress at all. All that walking, all those contractions, some of them increasingly hard, and nothing. This felt defeating. I knew that there was emotional stuff getting in the way. It had been a hard few weeks before the birth, and a hard night, and there was a lot of heavy stuff floating around in my head and heart.

 

Active labor

This was about 2:30 pm. My mom and Deb suggested I could go home, or I could try sleeping here since I had not slept well the night before, and see if that helps. They also said if I like, in a little while they could try breaking my water to speed things up. I didn’t want to be stuck forever, so I considered the idea, but I was hopeful I could get into active labor without it — and it turned out that way.  A change of environment and focus was all I needed. Jen, Ash, my mom, and Deb, all left the room as I lay down with one of Jen’s rice-filled hot pads on my eyes, the rain sound from the white noise app on my phone, pillows between my knees, and Oscar next to me. I may have slept a few minutes before the first contraction hit. They then started to speed up and intensify some as I lay with my eyes covered and just the (artificial) sound of rain. In fact, they intensified so much that I vomited, just as I had at the beginning of active labor with Ida.

 

This certainly felt like progress, but it was also so hard, because I found I could not land on the right coping mechanism, could not decide on visualization or non-focused awareness or concentrating on the parts of my body that did not hurt, or thinking of sweet sleeping Ida that morning, or repeating “open” or thinking of a flower blooming. None of it quite clicked, and I was frustrated. Sadness seemed to be getting in the way of the peaceful, accepting space I wanted to create for me and my son, and sadness made the contractions really hurt. (Obviously, labor hurts, but it hurt more because of the sadness.) In fact, this pain and this sense that I was meandering around trying to cope with it (which was so different than last labor, when my coping strategies had fallen perfectly into place) and the lack of progress at my last check had me think, “Geez, I see why people get epidurals…maybe I should just…no, I know that epidurals increase the risk of c-sections and I do not want to recover from major abdominal surgery, and baby needs my flora. Plus, I know I wouldn’t feel as good and powerful about my birth if I did it that way and what if baby didn’t latch well, and ug, then I’d have to hang out afterwards in the hospital. Plus, I birthed without meds before and I can do it again, just as all of our ancestors have done.” Clearly I won the little argument in my head, but it was there, this little internal struggle.

birth104

After a little while, Jen came in and asked Oscar to go to the store to get Natural Calm to help soothe my back muscles, and candles to light for the grief and pain and sadness that was getting in the way (this was, in part, an idea proposed by a fellow Mount Holyoke College alum and mama, Maya, who suggested I could invite in whatever is hard but set good boundaries with those feelings and relegate them to an appropriate place in the room). After Oscar left, Jen laid with me a while, and provided gentle reassurance and presence the way she always does. She also, upon my request, put “Ra Ma Da Sa” on repeat on her phone, and I let the song’s loving kindness pour over me. Then my mom laid down to talk with me briefly and I asked her to stay, and keep scratching my back as she had begun to do.

 

When I was a child, I was energetic and always wired, so it was hard to get me to fall asleep. My mom would gently trace her fingertips along my back until I fell asleep. This is what she did now, and it brought me such a beautiful calm – because, physiologically, that’s what gentle touches do, but also because it was my mom, and she was so loving and kind and tranquil and calm herself. At this point, my contractions really picked up and intensified. Jen (and sometimes Deb) made sure I had cool rags on my forehead and over my eyes and hot packs pressed against my back. I switched positions from my right to my left side, and got up to pee once, but otherwise just lay on my side with no visual input the entire time. I just let labor happen. I squeezed Jen’s hand during contractions and moaned, her soft voice reminding me to moan low, my mom’s calm voice assuring me through the hardest pains.

 

I have synesthesia, a cognitive condition in which all graphemes (letters and numbers and words) and many sounds and touches have a color – an absolute color assigned to them, not something I consciously decide. I don’t recall what color my pain was, but I do recall the color of the peace that my mom and Jen and the song brought to me – the red and yellow of the song’s words, the light pink and light blue of my mom’s back scratches, the brown and purple of squeezing Jen’s hand, all this bathed with the gentle window light from the overcast day. At every contraction, I concentrated on the peace and love and calm and colors I was being gifted by these women in my life, and that peace helped override the pain. That peace helped Rio know he was welcome in the world outside, helped me know that I could bring him here.

 

Pushing

From the time I had laid down to “sleep,” it had been just over an hour and a half before my contractions got incredibly intense and were more difficult to breathe through. Listening to and reading my labor, my mom asked, “Laura, do you feel like pushing?” I answered, “Uhm, I don’t know” for two more contractions because I wanted to be sure, and on the third, I said, “Yes, I do.” So she said, “Okay, we don’t need to check you; I can tell you’re ready.” And indeed I was. My sister, Claire Norton-Cruz, had been called in as the birth assistant to take over the job of listening to baby heart tones and other vitals, and to prepare things for the midwives. I still had a cold washcloth over my eyes, so I didn’t see her, but I was grateful she was there. Oscar also had come back from his errand and was able to video some of the pushing and birth, which is such a gift.

 

With both births, pushing felt strange and difficult in the beginning because I wasn’t sure if I was making any progress. But this time, after a few contractions, I gave a push and my water broke suddenly and with great force, splashing all over Deb. We all laughed, even me. It felt like a giant water balloon popping! A few more pushes — this time pulling my own leg up during contractions — and it was clear the head was coming down — I could feel it. From that point on, all I could think was, “I love you, baby Rio. I love you so much, baby Rio.” This was what I concentrated on as he crowned, as he pushed through the “ring of fire,” and as he sat there while my mom told me to wait before pushing him out so my perineum could stretch (this was very hard to do but I was very grateful for the instruction, as it kept me from tearing). I thought of how I loved him and how excited I was to meet him as I then pushed out his head and pushed out his shoulders (which were difficult to get out!) and then pushed out his big chest and his long long body. I was expecting his body to just slide right out after his head, so I recall being confused and yelling, “Get him out!” (my one rude behavior of birth, as far as I can recall). In total, pushing took about 15 minutes. He was born at 4:34 pm.

birth105

Baby is born!

My mom said, “Take your baby, Laura,” and she put his slippery body on my chest as he cried loudly. In fact, he started crying before he was fully born. Hearing his cry, knowing his lungs worked and he could breathe, feeling his hefty little body on my chest, seeing his beautiful face, and knowing I was done – done giving birth to him, done giving birth forever — I felt such a rush of both relief and love. My sister and mom and Deb all toweled him off and got a warm blanket to cover him as he laid on my chest. Oscar came over to look at him and cried and cried. I just kissed Rio’s messy little head and asked Oscar over and over, “Isn’t he beautiful?”

birth106

Meanwhile, the hemorrhage prevention plan we had put in place got implemented – Pitocin in the leg before the placenta is delivered, and once I pushed that out (which was easy, thank goodness), IV Pitocin and plenty of bi-manual compression. I am small and very sensitive to blood loss, so after bleeding last birth and feeling very faint afterwards, I wanted to prevent it this time. Plus, there is new evidence supporting this Pitocin-before-placenta approach. It was nice to feel like myself this time, and not weak or faint.

 

Rio latched on quickly and with great positioning, and began to feed vigorously. This came as a great relief, as Ida had dithered at the breast for a long time when I had really hoped for her help getting my uterus to clamp down, and she was not the most vigorous nurser as a newborn, which contributed to low(ish) supply issues. It looked from this first feed like things with Rio would be different, as indeed they have turned out to be – he has remained a voracious eater, and has grown so much since birth.

birth109

Rio and I cuddled and nursed on the bed for a while as I inspected the burst capillaries all over my face and chest (oh well, I still haven’t perfected my pushing technique) and Oscar went to go pick up Ida from my dad’s house. When he carried her into the room, her face lit up so brightly to finally see “baby Zio” on the outside. She cautiously crawled across the bed to see him and touch him, and gently kissed his head. I had prepared her thoroughly to understand pregnancy and birth and babies, but still wasn’t sure how much she would understand that this baby is the same one who was inside, who she kissed and talked to through my belly each day. But she clearly did, and was quite in love.

birth111

Ida was also fiercely protective, such that she cried intensly and was very difficult to comfort when my mom gave Rio his Vitamin K shot. After that, she mistrusted my mom and whimpered on my shoulder as my mom measured Rio’s head and chest and length, and weighed him. Ash had proposed we all wager bets on Rio’s weight, and her bet turned out to be right: 8 lbs., 3 oz. He was 21 in. long, his head measured 13.25 in., and his chest measured 14 in. People joked, “Where do you hide these big babies?” because even at 40 weeks I was measuring something like 35 or 36 cm., and looked small. (I think I hide them on my organs, because I sure felt squished at the end.)  Oscar then dressed baby and Ash went and picked up pho for us, which we ate in the kitchen area before heading home to manage that awkward first night of sleep with a newborn and a toddler.

birth116

Reflection

This story ends well, with a natural birth, healthy mama, and healthy baby.  However, it is a much harder story to tell than that of my first birth. Even though the active labor was so quick (about an hour and forty minutes) and pushing was surprisingly quick (15 minutes), and even though I am proud of having given birth powerfully and naturally, and even though I am so intensely grateful for the support I received, I do still remember this birth as hard.

 

Whereas my memories of Ida’s birth are hazy and suffused with peace and joy, the story of this birth is more one of struggle, of overcoming adversity, of pushing through sadness and grief towards peace and power. I did experience peace and tranquility, and I did give birth with determination and power and a great welling of love for my son and belief in my body. I did it, and as I look back on it with more distance, it will serve as a story of my own resilience that will help me get through hard times; I know that. It will remind me of how I can push through any kind of despair that comes upon me because of the love I have for my family. I will remember being a warrior, and I will keep going. It’s just that those stories that strengthen us in the long run aren’t quite so heart-warming to remember and tell in the period afterwards. In fact, even if they have happy endings, as this one does, we tell these stories with some grief too. We wish we could tell simpler stories.

 

The story of this birth will serve as a reminder that resilience is a quality not just generated by an individual, but is something that is made possible with the support of others. Sure, I was resilient, and, as my doula said, I “crossed an ocean” by myself in the process. But my resilience was the determination to find what was good around me and concentrate on that – and I was surrounded by good. I was surrounded by love and peace and strong, caring women and all I had to do was to visualize that, to focus on it and let it fall over me — and then, with great effort and great joy and loving encouragement, to push my baby out.

 

And although I don’t believe in gender essentialism, and I know that not all people with uteruses who labor and birth or who assist labors and births identify as women, I did feel in this birth the particular comfort of women. I was reminded of why labor and delivery has been, for most of human existence (and even primate existence) supported primarily by other women/females. Whether by design or by socialization, there was a particular ambiance created by these women – all but one of whom had pushed their own babies out in the same way, all of whom had overcome adversities particular to being female in a patriarchal world, an ambiance that I needed to feel at peace.

 

I also knew that I was safe and that baby was safe. I felt absolutely no fear because I had confronted my fears while pregnant with the help of the midwives at Geneva Woods and my friends and Jen and my Blessingway Ceremony, and had let go of them. I felt no fear because I knew from her record of outcomes that my midwife mama, Barbara Norton, was safe and the staff she had helping her were safe and competent (that Deb was a paramedic for decades and that my doula was a nurse were both extra bonus sources of reassurance). It is easier to practice resilience and to find peace amid turmoil when you can be confident in the physical safety of you and your children.

birth121

There is sadness in telling this story, as well as a sense of pride and power, and most of all a sense of gratitude. I am so grateful for the support I had from my birth team and the care I received from Geneva Woods Birth Center. I wish for everyone the kind of preparation for birth that Jen Allison provided for both me and Oscar, and the kind of loving, empowering, and evidence-based care I got from the staff.

 

Rio Esteban – this long, heavy child of ours; our sweet, sleepy, strong son, is waking up from his resting spot on my belly now, so I best change his diaper and engage with him. I am so grateful that this beautiful little soul has joined our family, and so grateful for the experience of labor and birth, however hard it was, that brought him out into the world.

 

birth122

 

 

 

 

Written by admin

August 17th, 2016 at 9:41 am

Posted in health

Tagged with , ,

Leave a Reply