Monday, November 23, 2009

The Beginning

Did anyone notice the title of the last post, a Warm Wind? I posted it more as a feeling, but then when I opened the blog today the absolutely obvious literary connection made me smile so heartily to myself... let me know if you caught it, too. So sweet, and clearly subliminal since I only caught it myself today.

I want to post about the birth of my sweet Fiona, more as a way of documenting it for myself than because I think all of you need to know every single detail... It's long and has some graphic photos, just as a warning...

First, on the night of the 11th, I had my first real night of terror. Liam woke up to pee at about 1:30 and I got up with him, and I could not get the baby to wake up after I lay back down. I spent about half an hour poking, taking deep breaths, and trying to be zen about it before I went downstairs and got some orange juice to try to stir things up. Another half an hour went by with close to no movement (I think there was actually some, but I wanted a lot) and I was beginning to panic. Should I go in? How would we tell the kids? How could this be happening again?

Then, quite suddenly, I sneezed, loudly and hard. And that baby gave a thump, and a whirl, and she was all over the place. I lay down, relieved, but said to myself and to her, I can't do that again. I can't do this night after night. This baby has to be born.

So the next night, supper was in the oven, and I was busy typing e-mails to people (like Sally) telling them that I really had no feeling that this baby was coming soon. The phone rang, and it was my good friend Pete calling from Vermont. I asked Greg to let it ring. "He's just calling to ask if I've had the baby yet, " said, feeling discouraged. "I'm not in the mood to tell him no." So the phone rang, and then stopped, and I logged off the computer because I could smell that the casserole was ready and the clock said 4:57 and I was in the mood for a nice, early bedtime that night. On my way to the stove, I scooped up the phone and pushed the button to listen to the message, and while I pulled the casserole out of the oven I heard just what I had expected:
Hi, Carol. I just had this really strong premonition that you had the baby... or that you're having the baby. Call me back.

I groaned, and I pulled a spoon out of the bucket of utensils behind the stove, and stuck the spoon into the potato gratin.

It was at the moment of contact, spoon on potato, that I felt the gush.

Greg was standing next to me, and the kids were in the other room with his mother, who conveniently happened to be over for dinner. I grabbed his arm and dragged him into the bathroom.
I think my water broke, I told him, and pulled down my pants.

Now, this is absolutely bordering on TMI on a blog, but to me it's a little comical, so I have to include it. Those of you who have had babies know that there are all sorts of things that gush and squish out of you in those last few weeks of pregnancy, and for the few days prior to this one I had been losing pieces of mucous plug bit by bit. So when I sat down to "check" on what had felt like a gush, I saw this thing, and it was soft and wet and slimy and I looked at Greg and I said, Oh, no. Sorry, I was wrong. I was disappointed. Obviously too good to be true.
Then I stood up, and the floodgates opened. Greg was out in the hall and I called out to him, No, No! I was right, I was right!

Most of you know that this is how my labor with Charlotte began, and it was at this critical moment, at the rupture of membranes, that my little first daughter lost her life. So yes, this was terrifying for me perhaps even more than it was exciting, but I was prepared. I was calm. I took a deep breath. Greg's mom was there, in the other room. All we had to do was get the bag and drive 10 minutes, and I could be on a monitor. We gently and calmly told the kids what had happened, and we got into the car, and we drove.

My baby, sweet Fiona, she wiggled the whole way there. She needed me to know all was well, and it was. When we arrived they hooked me up to the sweet monitor, so I could hear the galloping hoofbeats of her little heart, and she was alive and well.

You have to remember, the midwife said to me, as I lay there on the monitor, that statistically for a baby to come into the hospital in labor with strips (heart tracings) as good as this it is basically 100%. Basically, I thought, thinking of all of you. But there was a part of me that believed her, too. I had made it, right? I needed to believe that.

So then began the waiting. My water had broken, and for the first few hours I could feel the increasing pressure on my cervix, I was crampy and bleeding and contracting periodically. I walked the halls for a few hours to try to get things going, but I could feel that whatever was happening was not prodicing any remarkable effect. Things began to dwindle, until there were essentially no contractions at all. By 10 PM my midwife suggested that I try to get some rest, and that they could in fact augment my labor with some slowly administered Pitocin in the morning.

This was good news to me. As a VBAC, because Liam was a c-section, I was ineligible to be induced with Pitocin, and I took that to mean no vitamin P ever, for whatever reason. But it turns out that with a buttery-soft 4-5 cm cervix, and ruptured membranes, they would give me a little-- bit by bit-- so I could work towards that natural delivery. I didn't know how long they would give me to get things going, and I didn't want to take any chances. But I did want to try to avoid the C if I could.

So at 6 AM they started the drip. By 3 PM I had progressed.... oh my goodness... 1 cm. Fortunately I had not been working for this. Despite feeling contractions to some degree, I have labored before and I knew they were not strong enough to be doing much of anything. More than frustrated I was becoming impatient; it had been 22 hours since my water broke and I wondered if or when they would tell me I couldn't wait any longer. Not wanting to know, I never asked when that would be.

At this point, the midwife asked me if I wanted her to try to stir things up a bit, and of course I said yes. Who wouldn't? So she went in and stretched my cervix some more with her hand and reached as high as she could and scraped and stripped and rucked up everything within reach. She kept apologizing, knowing it was uncomfortable. Bring it on, I said. Bring it on.

It was a quarter past three. I was hungry, really hungry. The midwives let you eat, but the nurses, guided by the anesthesiologists, don't want you to. I wanted to eat, but (imagine this!) also err on the side of caution knowing anything is possible. So I hadn't eaten much in the 28 hours before this point... not since a waffle brunch the day before. Suddenly I felt this burst of energy, I knew this baby was going to come, and I knew I needed to eat.
I sent Greg down to the hospital coffee shop for a cider donut, you know the kind. Homemade, greasy, with cinnamon sugar all over the outside. When he came back he reported that they were sold out of the cider donuts, but handed me a hearty replacement: a 4x5 inch brick of crumb coffee cake-- with about 1/2 inch of cake and 3/4 inch of crumb topping. At this point, my contractions were really kicking in, it was about 3:30 in the afternoon, and between contractions I wolfed down this gigantic piece of cake-- 47 grams of fat, Greg later informed me-- and I was on my way.

What followed was fast, furious, and amazing. It got fierce immediately following that last bite of cake, I'm not kidding. Suddenly I was doing it again-- this was my third, true, unmedicated, unfettered-by-tragedy labour, and I knew just what to do. It was a familiar, beloved, dreaded friend. Suddenly I was right in the midst of it all over again. I went into that zone where I was coherent, calm, and present until I would feel this vague, tingling feeling that would tell me something was coming. I would press my head into the bed, which I had raised, and I would find the tone center of the song on the CD player and let it ricochet through my body in the lowest octave I could find. Greg's job was to push with all his might against my tailbone, a kind of counterpressure that this particular labor demanded, and of course I can't say why (ten days later I can still feel the bruising from this unusual method of surviving a contraction). I experimented with some different positions but with the same result-- each time I found myself in any other position, as soon as that feeling swept over me that another contraction was on its way, I would frantically flip back over, head into the bed, unable to tolerate any alternative. This went on, as labor does, with me completely unaware of the passage of time. There were just the contractions, and the calm between, and the pounding of the baby's heart, steady all the while. I was having this baby. For real.

At a few select times during the intense part of my labor, I thought about what was happening for real, almost as if for the first time during the pregnancy. I am going to have a new baby, I thought. Someone to love and keep and hold. This is going to be a new member of our family. Each time I had these coherent, obvious thoughts, I would begin to cry hard, and my tears and snot would pour down as I sang myself through the contractions and prayed that I was right.

The pressure increased, it had been seventy minutes since the good labour had started. I was having those thoughts of wanting to escape, of being desperate for a break, of the pressure being too much for me.

Oh, I remember saying. The pressure. The pressure.

Do you want to push? asked the midwife.

Do you have to check me? I asked.

No, she said. I trust you.

What magic words. I was in charge of my body. I started to bear down, but not with intention, just as another counter pressure to the surges as they threatened to knock me flat. I was intimidated by the intensity of this labour-- it was already so much more difficult than Aoife's, and within the first three half-hearted pushes she had been born, and this baby was not. I had not slept in two days. My legs and arms ached. I was exhausted. I wondered if I had the strength.

Then, I felt it. That burning, tight feeling. There actually was a head. This was happening. I was going to push this baby out, and I was going to do it now.

But I was still in this awkward position-- on my hands and knees, head smashed into the bed in front of me. I didn't want to give birth like this, where I could not see my baby be born, where she would not be able to slip out onto my belly in one, smooth, uninterrupted move. So I tried to change. I asked for the squatting bar. They set it up for me, Greg and Pam, our midwife, and I managed to eek out one miserable contraction with half-hearted, incredibly-uncomfortable pushing until I flipped back over into the original position. Then I tried to side-lie, with the same result. Everything I tried landed me back on all fours. Apparently, this was how this baby was going to be born.

So I went for it. I don't know how many pushes it took. One moment I was pushing by choice, and the next moment I was in the zone where you can't stop pushing, where the contraction ends but you are still going at it with all your might, where the burn is so intense that you can't figure out what is compelling you to keep at it because all you want to do is make it stop. The funny thing is, because of the peculiar angle I was in, my midwife and my husband did not know that I was going for it in earnest. And so it wasn't until the head was, maybe, halfway out that I heard an exclamation of, Oh my! You've got a head here! and then I saw Pam's hand shoot out to the nurse's call button and cry, "Trudy! Come now!"

Trudy, as you may recall, is our fairy-godmother nurse turned family friend who has been present at the births of all of our children. You may not be surprised to learn that she just so happened to be assigned a shift-and-a-half, from 7-7 on that day. So yes, she was there, and she rushed into the room just as the head emerged. I felt that moment of sweet relief but the pushing kept happening despite my will to rest, and another huge, overwhelmingly intense stretch assured me of the easy birth of the shoulders, and then I felt it-- that amazing, fast rush as the rest of your baby's body tumbles from you with apparent ease, and then the void.

In this moment, I leapt. Remember, I was on my hands and my knees, and more than anything I wanted this baby on my belly. So I turned, lifting my leg over my baby and her cord, dancing myself around in a pirouette of sorts. I landed on my back and the baby was there, below me and being lifted onto my belly. Her face was tiny and elfin, and she cried weakly as I pulled her to my breast. Trudy laid a warm, soft blanket over her body. My baby scrunched her nose and opened her eyes. I cried for joy.

Look at her face, I said. Look how beautiful her face is. She is so cute.

Suddenly I realized that while the tiny, elfin face with delicate features had led me to declare her a girl, I had not actually checked. Imagine if a mother's first words to her son were implying that he was a girl. But I checked, quickly, and I was right, it was a tiny girl on my chest, and she was, indeed, beautiful.

Oh, how my heart sang. Sang to the trees, the earth, the stars. Sang to the spirit of Charlotte, to the voices of Liam and Aoife, to the energy of Greg, my companion and soulmate, anchoring me to where I was at.

I covered the baby with kisses as her body changed from the blueish cast of birth to a rosy, warm pink. I kept asking if she was okay, and they kept telling me she was, she was wonderful, perfect, lovely. I was so emotional. I was so surprised. This pregnancy, the fact that it took a while to come, the fact that I was so guarded for the whole 8 months of my knowing about it, I really hadn't expected the sweet, mewing baby who now lay across my chest, still joined to me by her pulsing cord.

But she was there. My beautiful new daughter, ripe and ready. My third little girl. My fourth little person. A sister to Aoife, who here on earth had been sister-less. A baby for Liam, my nurturing, sweet little angel. Another child for me to pour myself into, to give everything to, to feel everything for. The addiction of mother love is amazing.

We gazed at her for a time, amazed by her pixie-cuteness and alert state. She was wide eyed, looking around, serene and calm. The lights in the room were very low, our music was still playing (the Cold Mountain soundtrack...) the nurse and midwife were cleaning out their things, preparing to leave us for a time. It was heaven, pure heaven. That moment, that I have been blessed with now three times, where I lie there in utter bliss, a pulsing, new life in my arms, knowing that it doesn't always turn out this way.

Does she have a name? the midwife asked. She did, and it was what it is, but suddenly it seemed like too big a name to give such a tiny, miniature girl. I pictured Fiona as this brazen, blond toddler fighting fiercely for her turn to ride the scooter and chasing around her much older siblings in the backyard. But this tiny creature? The name seemed so big... I voiced my worry, but Pam confirmed her name. I see Fiona as such a small, delicate thing. It's five letters, so small, for the three syllables... I think it's perfect. And so it was a done deal, her name was what we had chosen for her on a steamy August night by the lake in Ontario, and she became my little Fiona Clementine.

And since then? It has been absolutely the best babymoon ever. Liam and Aoife absolutely love their sister. This I did not expect-- this instantaneous love for her. They adore her, they climb into bed with us and curl themselves around her, letting their lips graze her soft cheeks, loving the feel of her latch when she "kisses" their cheeks in her hunger. They marvel over her tiny fingers and toes, they want to hold her all the time. In our 8 days of being home together, our only issues have been whose turn it is to hold their "newborn baby".

And Fiona? She is a quiet little mouse, peaceful and serene. She is rhythmic and predictable, sleeping nearly all the time now. She wakes, stretches, poops, is awake for a few minutes, roots quietly, eats, and sleeps again. She has yet to cry, and with the exception of two car rides and the obvious diaper changes, she has not yet been put down in this life. Wrapped in somebody's arms at every moment, it is no wonder that she sleeps peacefully, looks around serenely, and needs only to open her little mouth like a robin before she is fed. I love the little family that surrounds her and the life we are making for her. I feel unbelievably blessed. I am emotionally and mentally prone with gratitude, kissing the earth below me in thanks for this gift of life that I cherish beyond explanation.

Fiona's placenta-- cord side-- the tree of life.


Rixa said...

so lovely...the birth story, the pictures, your fierce love, everything.

Mira said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing this story so beautifully, and intimately. The pictures are amazing, I'm overwhelmed. What a light you have within you, and in your babies too.

Anonymous said...

I had one rough, emotional day today. But reading your story has brought me such immense joy and tears and excitement for your family.

Thank you for sharing this. Thank you for sharing the pictures. They are so SO beautiful!

jojo said...

Yes, thank you so much for sharing the pictures.They are so beautiful!

Heather said...

That is a beautiful birth story. Fiona is such a breathtaking little baby. Congratulations to you and yours.

Birdies Mama said...

i am in tears.
oh how beautiful this is.
i am speechless to this beauty.
you are my inspiration.

kris said...

Oh, that first picture looks so much like Aoife to me. She is beyond gorgeous and perfect, Carol. Thank you for sharing her story, and yours. You never cease to amaze me. Of course Liam and Aoife are in love--how can you possibly resist that face? Love and blessings in this time of Thanksgiving to you, Greg, and all 4 of your beauties.

iMuslimah said...

Wow- thank you for sharing such a BEAUTIFUL moment in your life. Truly beautiful. Congratulations to you and your entire family. May you all be blessed with the best of everything ;)

Erika P said...

So beautiful, Carol, so much light and hope and love. I'm in tears, too. Thank you for sharing such intimate details and pictures. I'm so happy for you, and thankful that you and Greg and all four of your children are a part of my life.

excavator said...

Thank you for sharing your story. You have a beautiful family. There is such power in a birth story.

erica said...

This is just beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

Shanti Mama said...

Beautiful! Thanks for sharing and as always for your honest voice. Wishing you much happiness with this little beauty.

Beth said...

beautiful.. i love the statments "the addiction of mother love." i'm addicted.. i just have no physical body to give that love to. waiting for the day i can have the smile you have.

the raw expression on your face, though hidden behind your hair, when the placed fiona on your chest... wow. there really are no words. just warm wind.

Hope's Mama said...

I'm in awe of you, Carol. This post was vivid, rich, real and full of love. Hearty congratulations to you all again. Fiona is such a doll.

Leigh Steele said...

Oh blessings upon your home and family, dear mama. You did it! What a powerful, beautiful, transforming story of Fiona's birth.
Also, sounds like she may have been posterior (with the need for counterpressure and hands and knees)? As a doula, I can share that counterpressure is something that most laboring women LOVE so you were not alone in that request. :)

Angela said...

Amazing, beautiful, powerful. The story of the birth of your fourth child brought me to tears.