In the moments between the crazy, I am treasuring brief bits of total magic. We have a new baby human at our house! Who three days ago went from upside down, umbilically-attached to me...to lung-breathing-infant On The Outside. She's so new that even though her eyes are bright, you can't yet tell what color they will be. Times like these, you really notice the transitory nature of the universe. Our baby had a time Inside, and is now launched. And this is how the transition went.
I felt like I was in labor for two weeks before Ivy arrived. At 36 weeks, around 11pm, Jeff put me in the tub with a glass of wine at Midwife's Orders, while he timed my contractions and we wished hard that this not to be labor. Our wishes were granted, because after an hour and a half, things settled down and I was able to fall asleep. But every night or two after that, the contractions came back, and Kate said: rest often, and don't go into labor until next week at the earliest!
At 37 weeks, I had Made The Cutoff: midwife-approved home delivery now allowed. But every night I tried to figure out: was THIS the night? Or THIS? Were THESE contractions the ones that heralded labor? ...Or THESE? They were definitely not just Braxton Hicks', and obviously Birthing was going to happen soon...
But by 38 weeks, I felt like a mom whose been pregnant for two extra weeks (and I HAD been pregnant for a week longer than I was with Ben, Jem, or Eliza!). I decided to (try to) stop wondering whether I was going into labor (as much as possible), and just deal with it when it arrived. For the first time in my Type A existence, I was taking mini-breaks in bed every day. (Why did it take me so long to try this?!)
And then at 38 weeks and two days, I felt the baby moving like crazy in the night, and the contractions woke me up at 4am - new and unusual. And this time, on March 2, 2015, I knew I wasn't going to be able to fall back to sleep.
(Jeff found a contraction timer app for his phone, but I proved over multiple use tests to be an unreliable subject. I found it nearly impossible to verbalize when contractions were starting and ending, because the Birthing part of my brain was turned on then, and I assumed that my feelings must be obvious - why use speaking?)
After one particularly intense wave, I told Jeff to tell Kate that I was pretty sure this was It - even though I was still a teeny bit doubtful.
Doubt is a theme of mine in labor. I like things to be settled, ironed out, and well planned. I would find it much easier if the Birth Fairy came and told me right off the bat: okay, you gotta do this for three hours, then do that for two-point-five hours, and then when I say so and you do xyz, POOF! the baby will come out. Instead, the whole process begins, and each time I ask a whole lot of intelligent questions, like: "How soon until the baby comes out? Is the baby ready to come out yet? Is this part DONE yet? What do I have to do next? What should I do now? How do I get this baby OUT?!" And I have now four times during labor received frustrating answers from all birth attendants, such as: "The baby will come when it's ready. You're doing great! You know what to do. You're doing GREAT! The baby comes at Just The Right Moment..."
The uncertain nature of birth makes me even more proud that I have done it anyway, four times.
When Kate arrived on Monday, she bustled around in the pre-dawn light. She said in her quiet way, You're going to meet your baby today! And I was pretty excited about that, but I was also a little stuck on how I wasn't looking forward to birthing it. I just kept thinking about how soon, Kate would use the Echoing Radar Thing (otherwise known as the doppler) to listen to the baby's heart rate through a contraction. I have a primal dislike of the doppler's sound, burned into my brain during labor with Ben, during which it was used approximately 57,000 times because I was in labor for approximately 57,000 hours. But this time, my feelings about the bizarre sound were compounded by remembering how, two years ago, Kate arrived at this exact house, used maybe this exact doppler, and listened to my friend Betty's baby's heart rate...which was beating dangerously slowly. At that moment, I wondered, did Betty know she was about to die?
In that early morning moment this past Monday, I thought about Betty's death during Annie's birth, and Jen's death during Lila's birth, and Death Death Death jiggoted around in my brain while Kate and I stood in the closet (since that's where I was having my contraction). Kate listened to my baby's heart, strong and solid and fast, just like it should be. And then I cried a little, and Kate hugged me - and I said I figured that after I was done crying I would think about all this stuff later. Much later. After.
Because it was time to get down to business. I didn't want no 57,000 hour (nor even a 24-hour) labor this time, no way no how!
The house was filling up with all the right people. The kids were awake, and Heidi and Graham and Jeanette were with them. And the sun was up! Four degrees outside, but when the sun came shining in, it got all warm and energizing. Because I was pretty sure this baby would be born in the daylight, with no overnight labor, praise the lord.
(Did I mention how glad I was not to be up all night in labor this time?)
It's so interesting to give birth four times. You can really collect some data points.
This time I could feel my body's readiness, even though it had been hard to determine when "real" labor would actually start. And this time, now that things were happening, there was space between the contractions that wasn't there the last three times. Even in between the most intense moments at the very end, my tissues relaxed enough to feel complete absence of discomfort (whereas the first time in particular, I felt like I never got a chance to rest, ever). I could sometimes tell: oh, that's my uterus, pushing the baby down. Oh, now the cervix is opening up. Hmmm, I wonder if the baby is swimming closer to the exit?... I mean, not like I could have articulated it to you at the time, but internally, it was obvious to me right then.
I might look like I have my eyes closed when I'm laboring, but what's really happening is that I can see everything in the room that I need. Just not with my eyes.
In between contractions this time, I opened my eyes sometimes - but sometimes not, because I could think better with them closed, and Gear Up.
My legs were tired this time. Holy cow were they tired, and I couldn't find ANYWHERE comfortable for them to be.
Someone was giving me some really nice lower back pressure. I'd been wanting a massage for months, so it was too bad about all the distractions right now, because I couldn't fully appreciate it. I hoped the person would keep going after the contraction ended.
At one point I thought that Jeanette must be very strong, to be able to keep me from falling over. I was grateful for strong people.
Sareanda was singing a pretty song, and had brought lavender oil. It smelled like summer, and that was a relief, because in the summer I'd have a baby and not be in labor any more!
I was SO glad it wasn't night time. I kept thinking, "At least I have energy for this, because I got to sleep last night."
Heidi was there for Eliza. That was so great. Jeff was right next to me pretty often, and sometimes he kissed me with great love. I was really glad about that. He's so great. Graham and Jeanette were taking turns with the boys. That was so great. Jeanette had brought a camera, so maybe we'd have pictures this time! Graham asked if I wanted to sing show tunes. (Uh uh, too busy, but I had actually sang a bunch the evening before! So that kinda counts as singing show tunes in pre-labor, I think.) Kate was so nicely SOLID - you could definitely trust that if she said everything was alright, and I was doing good, then it was true. I tried to believe that she would tell me if something was Bad, so I could by default believe that things were Good instead. But every so often I still needed to remind her to give me status reports.
I knew things would go more quickly this time because Kate was in the room a lot more. Whenever she went downstairs, I thought: "Now I can rest - it's not time to push the baby out yet."
This time I wanted to see if I could accomplish the birth itself without hanging onto Jeff for support (literally) - he had never been in a good viewing position, the other times. But I also didn't want to be on the toilet, nor in the tub, nor on the bed. It turned out later that Jeff was the one who suggested the sunny part of the room at the foot of our bed - it did seem like a good place for my nest (two yoga mats, same ones on which Jem was born), because our big solid bed frame could hold me up no matter how hard I pushed against it.
I just couldn't figure out: how could the baby come out if I was sitting on the floor? I kept trying different positions, which all had the problem of No Place For My Legs. I ended up squatting, because then there would be room for baby to exit.
Sometimes I was able to sink into the pain when it was there, really try to feel to its edges and beyond, and not try to fight it or push it away. At those moments I could feel my body working more effectively, letting whatever primal life force that is birth just _happen._ And at other times, it was just not possible to not fight it, and so I cursed Not With Words and I wiggled my feet.
I really wanted action steps in the area of pushing. At one point I noticed that the room was full of Everyone. The baby was moving down, I could feel it, and I felt extremely irritable, filled with animalistic desire to Get Rid Of The Irritation in my Pelvis NOW.
And speaking of the Urge to Push, I still don't know exactly what that is for other people. During the final moments of all my births, I have finally just had to DECIDE to push, out of sheer urgency and desire to Get It OUT! But it's not an intuitive physical thing, it's more like a decision. Which is what it was like this time, too. I tried these little experimental pushes, and they kept sputtering. When Kate finally checked and said there was only a little bit of cervix left, then I figured it was really time. I waited through one or two contractions for the Urge...but it wasn't coming. I experimented with pushing again, but these pushes sputtered too. (Even though one of them was actually pretty cool, because for a few brief moments I felt something akin to pleasure, or at least a rush of hormones that felt pleasurable, and I smiled because I really wasn't expecting that at such a moment.)
I kept noting things that my conscious brain dubbed "distractions", although in hindsight they were "thoughts":
There is lots of dust under the radiator. I wish I'd vacuumed yesterday: Dust is distracting.
Ben or maybe Jem, or possibly Eliza, is asking questions. Questions are distracting. But: I probably won't ever do this again, and I really want them to be able to be in the room this time, so it is worth it.
Legs. Legs are a distraction. Where the hell can I put my LEGS so that they can rest?!
One more distraction: when is the baby going to rotate? When Kate arrived in the morning, baby was head-down, but still facing my left side (rather than my back, which is ideal). Another distraction: a flash of back pain, later in the morning. Am I about to get "back labor" like I had for a long time with Jem? But then it passed. (Kate told me later that it was at this point was when the baby rotated, but instead of doing a quarter turn, she spun all the way around prior to coming out.)
Dammit, these _contractions_ are distracting! How LONG is this going to take? (The baby was kicking the top of my uterus with its feet sometimes, definitely lower than my ribs now, like it was trying to push its way out. Helpful - but don't push too hard and wear yourself out, Baby! You need energy to breathe with your lungs really soon.)
How will the baby come out? I want some answers to this distracting question! But all everyone keeps saying is, "It is coming, Sarabeth! Your baby wants to come out!" Well darn it, I know that! But HOW?
Kate said I should lay on my right side during two contractions, and then on my left side for two. She said this might release the last bit of cervix in the front. Unpleasant, and distracting! But good: an action step. Two on the right, two on the left.
Another thing: hemorrhoids. These are VERY distracting, or will be in the future. Am not looking forward to these.
But to to hell with future small discomforts - time to get this baby OUT!
Then someone, maybe Kate, said the baby was ready to come down and around my pubic bone. She said that with the next contraction I should push HARD. And my brain was pleased to register some parameters: 1. Send it down and around the pubic bone, by 2. Pushing HARD!
The next contraction sputtered, but I decided not to stop pushing. I yelled as loudly as I could, because it is CRAZY to get a baby's head to go down and around the pubic bone, and the yell might make the push not sputter. I was hoping for the whole body to come at once, but since the Irritation was still substantially residing in my pelvis after all my Push (and yell) was spent, I pushed and yelled again, with this very lucid thought: "This time, I will push as hard as I possibly can, because then it will be OUT so I don't have to save any more energy." I also knew: "I am almost done!" And I thought without really thinking, more of a feeling than actual words: I am Proud.
It was coming through me now, I could tell, because in my mind I could see everything from a vantage point of just above my left ear. I knew that this is why we GIVE birth, and don't DO birth. "Our" bodies are a part of Life that is beyond our conscious control. And with this crazy propellent mixture of determination and animal nature and the universality of Life As We Know It, I gave birth.
Suddenly, I popped awake and opened my eyes. The sun was bright, and everyone was there, somehow managing to fit into a corner of the bedroom that usually only fits a hanging rack of clothes. The baby was bright purple and dangling in Kate's hands and had so much hair on its head, and now I was holding it, and making sure: "It's ALIVE, and it's my baby!" And then I observed, "I'M alive!" Very relieving. And then after that, "I am so glad it's over! And I did it! And it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be!"
And then I snuggled my wet baby, and Eliza jumped out of Jeff's lap and came to say hi, and I pushed out the placenta (it was on the big side, Kate said, though the umbilical cord looked thinner than I remembered). And the sunshine was pouring in, and I was so grateful: for my baby, for everyone's presence, for my mother and all the mothers before me, for the massages and songs and labor support, for all my kids right there, for Kate, for home birthing, for feeling happy, for my Sweetheart and co-creator of this tiny being in my arms, whose kiss right then was the absolute most nicest victory bouquet.
My baby. Baby number four. Whom I hadn't known I was missing...until it arrived, at 11:11am on this Monday morning in March.
It took me a few minutes to want to check the gender. I was so relieved about both of us being alive - why rush things? I wanted the baby to de-purple a bit. Reassuringly, it was definitely keeping-on breathing. Look at all the hair! It had dark hair, and lots of it. We'd worked pretty hard together just now, this little one and I, and I kind of thought that as soon as the hormone rush wore off, I'd be pretty tired. My legs were _really_ trembly.
And the sunshine was sunny, and everyone was talking happily, and it turned out that...we had a girl! What is her name, we all wondered? And Eliza, grinning around at her audience in the sunshine, said, "Duckie!"
And that is my side of the story. Someday, maybe Duckie will tell us hers.
Now a new Beginning Begins. Lots of Amaral/Matilsky Family Firsts and Records were set this week: biggest baby (7 lbs. 4 oz.), oldest-gestational-age for baby-at-birth, first birth attended by siblings, biggest head of hair on baby (=lots more than zero!), first dark-haired baby, shortest labor, first daytime labor, first rH positive baby blood type (only notable if you are an rH-negative mama with an rH positive partner, which I am...), quickest-time-to-identify-and-revise-a-tongue-and-lip-tie-pathology (49 hours), longest drive taken with a newborn (to see the tongue-tie doctor in Albany - 6 hours); baby quickest to receive a name (46 hours).
Now we are Settling In, by which euphemism I mean: we are dealing with the craziness accompanying the first week(s) of New Baby. This time around, I Am Exhausted. It also goes without saying that we now have more children than ever before during a postpartum period! Plus, the way my body experiences After Birth is that I have a Really Large Amount of REALLY unpleasant and intense pains, from many sources. Which are not over yet. Also, Ivy's nursing/feeding situation is not at all established, though we are cautiously optimistic. This is super stressful, both for obvious and historical PTSD reasons (our third child had severe feeding difficulties, due at least in part to tongue- and lip-ties that we didn't catch soon enough, and she never learned to nurse - nor could she drink well even from a bottle). And so all this means...that Jeff is really tired, too.
I'm so grateful for so many things ("This birth sponsored by...!"), including the community in which we live, and all the people who are supporting us in many ways. I'm so grateful for Ivy's birth, and all our friends who helped make it so special; our families, who make things possible in more ways than we know; those who are helping our household chug along in these Days of New Baby Beginnings (i.e. the inimitable Karen and the amazing Heidi, and my mom, who will be coming later); those who are bringing us meals; and everyone from near and far who is supportive in other ways, and who have inundated us with a record-breaking number of Congratulatory e-mails!
I am grateful for our little family, which now feels like a much bigger family, and such an interesting, rich one at that! Four cool people now live in Jeff's and my house along with us...and we kinda sorta made them! And let me just say that while only I can do the physical bearing-of-our-children bit, there's a whole lot of other things that Jeff can do, and is doing - and many of these things involve no glory or public acknowledgement, and some of them involve enormous piles of dirty dishes, poop and other undesirable bodily fluids, having to get up early and often...not to mention dealing with tantrums and irrational children (or very rarely, like hardly ever, an irrational wife). Which is why I fall more in love with him all the time, and am so curious to see what our big wide-open family-of-six's future holds.