William Christopher barreled his 10 1/2 lbs into the air at 11:07 Sunday night, June 24th, 2012. This fulfilled his daddy's wish for a birthday full of multiples of 6, and his mommy's prayer for a birth far quicker that his sister's. Speaking of Ryan, you can read his account of the story here.
For those of you wanting DETAILS, ta-da!:
William's birth story begins with my 41-week prenatal visit the previous Thursday. Measurements showed that I was measuring 42 cm (consistent with a 41-week gestational age estimate), and I continued to display all the signs of imminent labor, from strong frequent contractions to the passing of my mucus plug to loose bowels and an unsettled stomach to a totally dropped baby. But for whatever reason, I had yet to experience the regular, strengthening contractions of "active labor." My midwife encouraged me to think and pray about using some herbal means of induction if nothing got started on its own, using her decades of experience. Her theory was that because I was carrying Liam so far "out there" that gravity was actually working against the contractions-- which were trying to bring him in vertical alignment with my very-posterior cervix. This would explain why I had so many of my strongest contractions at night or in the car, but why they tended to stop when I stood or walked for long periods of time. She counseled me to wear my belly band at all times.
Ryan requested a weekend induction attempt, and we had a wedding for a family friend that I wanted to attend on Saturday, so we decided that-- if we attempted to kick-start things-- it would be Sunday. I was still quite unsure about meddling with the natural order of things, so I was researching and praying and re-calculating my due date, and looking at Eowyn's birth records. What I found was that the herbs my midwife was recommending-- blue & black cohosh-- would not force a labor on an unready cervix or baby, but would rather help coordinate the efforts my body was already naturally making. When Saturday brought several hard contractions that petered out true to form, and Saturday night proved particularly un-restful and frustrating, I decided that my body had had enough of this pre-labor (it'd been going on in full force for over 2 weeks... 2 weeks of frequent contractions, many nights of nearly no sleep, stomach upset, etc.).
Black cohosh ("snake root") stimulates uterine contractions. Blue cohosh ("papoose root"-- Native Americans used it in labor extensively) actually calms the uterus, so is useful in stopping preterm or Braxton-Hicks contractions (wish I'd known this about a month ago!). Taken together the two work to augment and streamline labor. They are most effective when contractions are already present. Check! Normally my midwife recommends a castor-oil cocktail to start contractions, and then uses the herbs, but since I was already contracting, we agreed to start with just the herbs. (I've heard too many negative things about castor oil...) So at 10 o'clock Sunday morning, I put the first 2 1/2-droppers of the cohosh tinctures under my tongue. OOOOOHH talk about burning!! The tinctures are dissolved in alcohol... so I was popping the gum to make sure I didn't smell like a distillery at church, hehehe. Every subsequent hour, on the hour, I took a full dropper of each. Ideally, tinctures are taken under the tongue for fast absorption, but... you try holding whisky under your tongue some time. By 4 pm I was putting the tinctures into a few ounces of pineapple juice (also good for labor induction). Contractions were certainly coming but were all too true to form: irregular. I tried not to be discouraged as we settled in to our family nap.
I awoke at 4 to a strong contraction. I tried to rest after that, but noticed that every 20 minutes another contraction came. They were consistently strong, too. I tried timing a few and they were about 90 seconds long. By 5, it was time for my next tincture dose, so I called my midwife & asked if I should keep taking them or wait and see what my body would do on its own. As contractions were still coming, Mereinda recommended I stop the herbs. As time progressed, I began to have to "work" to get through the contractions, blowing or saying "oooh" in a deep tone. Eowyn woke up and needed watching and I had a hard time focusing on her as contractions took more and more concentration. Ryan woke up and took over Eowyn-duty, explaining that "Mommy's belly is getting really tight, so she makes noise to help it hurt less." Eowyn accepted this. I was still reluctant to call my aunt Olga- who would be watching Eowyn- or my Mom- who would accompany us to the birthing center, fearing that this was yet another false alarm. It wasn't until Ryan pointed out that I hadn't had to vocalize through any of my other contractions that I realized something was different.
At 6 we called in the troops. I ate some yogurt & started a bowl of cereal, and stayed glued to my birthing ball. Unlike with most labors, an upright position slowed my contractions (gravity pulling Liam forward instead of down), so sitting on the ball or bed helped keep them intense and regular. They were 6 minutes apart, then 5, then 4, still lasting 60-90 seconds. It was a while before my aunt could make it to our house, but thankfully my mom arrived and was able to take care of Eowyn (and wash our dishes =D), since I now needed Ryan to support me through contractions. He rose to the occasion beautifully, doing his reading in Ina May's Guide to Childbirth justice. I texted some close friends, asking them to pray that this was the real thing, and for a safe (and short!) delivery... while confessing that a part of me wanted to stop the whole thing, because it was starting to hurt! As Eowyn came to kiss me goodbye, she asked "You not feeling good, Mommy?" "It's ok, baby girl." Then, with utmost sincerity, "Jesus will help you!" That comforted my heart. :) Then she was off, thrilled to be spending the night with some of her favorite people.
We headed to the birth center around 8:30. I'd tried to hold out a bit because I knew my midwife's son's 18th birthday party was going on, but the labor tub started to sound too appealing to miss. She tried to check me when we got there, but laying on my back was agony, bringing a seemingly unending contration, and my cervix was still posterior. By my demeanor and the sounds I was making, she estimated me to be at about 5 cm dilated.
I cannot tell you what a difference that labor tub made. I will never- NEVER- labor without one again. I'll stand on my head to stop contractions if I have to. :) Slipping into the warm water was so comforting. I told Ryan, "It's actually quite delightful between contractions!" Mereinda advised me to labor as much as I could leaning back, to try and bring Liam's head over my cervix instead of its current place of low but in front of it. I could not have complied were it not for the tub. In the tub, the water's buyoncy provided counter-pressure, supported my legs so I could let them float, and kept the baby's head from jarring against my tailbone as he descended. Contractions were never pleasant, but they were bearable. Labor really began moving along. I entered the slightly-out-of-mind-state of moaning, praying, etc., through a contraction, and then nearly falling asleep. Ryan kept reminding me to relax my hands, to have loose lips, and my doula-training kept me keeping my tone low and to relax as much as I could (hah- NOT natural for me!). I told Ryan that these contractions felt more intense than the ones I'd had with Eowyn, and he was surprised, since he thought I was handling them much better. I count the tub & my doula experience for that.
I began to get unbearably sleepy around 10, telling Ryan pitifully after a contraction "I just wish they'd stop so I can go to sleep...I'm so so tired." Mereinda immediately began trying to get me to eat, but the most I wanted was a few bites of very soggy cereal, so she pushed the gatorade, saying she was concerned about my energy level. This did perk me up a bit. I tried a few different positions, but mostly labored on my back. When I had to get out of the water to use the bathroom, contractions would become far worse. Even in the water, a few times it felt like someone was taking a hacksaw to my back. Ryan would provide counter-pressure, rub my head, encourage me, and keep me drinking water. A few times I was overwhelmed by contractions, having to work very hard to keep any semblance of control, crying out loud to Jesus for strength, and talking to William "move down, baby!" I remember also repeating "the baby-- I want to see the baby." A few times I told Ryan I didn't want to do this anymore, or just cried that it hurt. My first successful cervical check came at 10:45, when I was declared to be 7 cm dilated, with a fully anterior cervix, & a baby ready at +1 station. I just want to take a second here to praise my midwife's compassion and skill-- she was constantly assessing my progress based on how I sounded, how I described my pain, and how I looked, NOT using monitors and numbers (though she regularly checked William's heart rate with a doppler.). Her voice was reassuring and kind, even as she gave me instructions or recommendations.
By now I knew I was in "transition." Contrations became closer together, longer, with a more intense peak. At least I knew I wouldn't have to deal with them long. With Eowyn, I'd had my water broken at 7 cm, and only labored 4 more hours. I decided to hold off on breaking my water since I hadn't been laboring all that long. Not 15 minutes later I told Merienda that I was feeling "pushy." She checked me again (can I say how much better being checked is in the water??) and announced that I was nearly complete, with only a tiny little bit of the cervix left in front. The very next contraction I shouted "I'm pushing and I can't stop!" Pop! With a feeling like a water balloon untying, and a burst of fluid, I broke my own bag of waters for the first time. That was a good feeling. :) Merienda took one look at the water and said "there's a bit of meconium in the fluid, so in case we have to suction him, I'm going to need you to deliver on the bed. I know it's going to be hard to get out and move, so just give it every bit of strength that you've got!"
Moving wasn't too bad. I made it to the 4-poster bed, collapsed onto my left side, and immediately started having pushing contractions. It was absolutely surreal, like a typhoon was sweeping through my body. I began to roar like a mama dinosaur as the only way to stay somewhat in control. "Slow it down! Pant a little bit! I don't want you to tear." "I'll try!" The midwife's assistant, Carrie, showed up just in time. I was on my left side with Ryan holding my right leg bent and at a 90 degree angle. Mom was at my head, stroking my hair and holding my hand. I buried my face in the covers and gave unbelievably strong pushes as the contractions swept through my body. The pushing contractions were nearly continuous, and I found strength and energy in abundance to push along with them. I only really remember stopping and breathing between 2 of them (there were about 5 total). Suddenly, there was pressure and a burning and the words "he's crowning!" Ryan told me "I can see our boy!" Then they told me to wait a minute as they checked for a chord around his neck because his head was out! No cord, but he did have a little fist tucked right under his chin. It felt like a vat of snakes writhing in me as the midwife's assistant swept her fingers around and pulled his little hand free. Another huge long push, and my son's body slipped into the air. Seven minutes after I'd started pushing-- 25 after I'd entered "transition"-- and what struck me as a purple giant squid was plopped on my chest. "Thank you, Jesus! Oh, thank you!" Not having seen him emerge at all, having had no time to process his arrival, it was totally surreal. In a daze I marveled at his huge hands. "He's so big!" and "I can't believe he's actually here!" were two phrases I kept repeating. I think we were all a bit in shock.
Mom & Ryan immediately began rubbing him down as I called to him and the midwives tapped his feet, trying to get him to take his first breath. He never really cried but instead gave a little gasp and protested our efforts a few times. He started pinking up right away. We waited a good 10 minutes to cut the cord, and I was relieved when it was finally cut because I was so swollen and tender that even the light pressure of the cord on me was abrasive. I was overjoyed to learn that I needed NO stiches, only having a tiny tear from where his hand had had to be pulled out. The little munchkin had been sucking his fist throughout all of labor, which accounted for the spots of awful back pressure I'd felt: his hand pressed against my tailbone. He is very attached to his hands. :)
He came out pooping and pooped on me another two times before his first half-hour of life. He started to nurse fairly quickly, too. When it came time to weigh him, Merienda laughed that she knew she wouldn't be able to hold the spring-scale high enough to get a reading, since she's short and she knew he was a chunker. This meant that the proud Daddy got to weigh him, and I was shocked as the scale pulled down past 10 lbs...4, 5, 6 ounces! Yet another benefit of the tub: the water softens your perineum so much that tearing is far less likely, as my large baby with a neuchal hand demonstrated. He was 22 1/4" long, with a 14" head (quite molded though). "There is no question that that is a 41-week-old baby!" my midwife affirmed, and I knew I'd done fine to use the herbs.
I got everything I prayed for: a face-down baby, a non-marathon, unmedicated labor, minimal tearing, trustworthy & knowledgeable birth attendants, a supportive husband who was with me the entire time in every sense of the words, and a healthy baby boy with every sign of looking like his Daddy-- from the dark hair to the Szrama dimpled chin and perfect bow lips.
Two hours after the birth, with my mom's home cooking in my tummy and the clearance from my midwife, we were headed home to sleep in our own bed. In our bags were several goodies, like goldenseal capsules to dry up Liam's umbilical stump, and an herbal sitz bath formula to use as a peri-wash. I really respect everything our midwife recommends, as so far every bit of her advice or recommendation has proven absolutely right on! Guess it comes with that whole decades-long-practice thing... :) We could not have had a better experience, nor more highly recommend Merienda and her birthing practice, Upstate Birth Center. There is something so empowering about feeling total freedom in your own birth-- the freedom to eat, say, cry out, position yourself, do, or not do whatever your body tells you or your best research recommends. Psychologically it's amazing. Even Ryan kept commenting at how refreshingly different this experience was from our hospital birth experience with our daughter-- and we had a totally positive experience there, too!
"Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?" says the LORD. "Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?" says your God." (Isaiah 66:9)
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17)