Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My first birth story, part 2 — Mikko, June 2007: A hospital transfer

This is Part 2 of Mikko's birth story. Part 1 is here: "Labor at home."



Once we’d decided to transfer, we had some time to get ready to go. Since it wasn’t an emergency transfer, we were able to get there in a leisurely manner. M was able to call her hospital of choice and the nurse-midwife she trusted to preside over the birth. Once we transferred, our midwives would no longer have any authority at the hospital, but M & L would drive with us to act as doulas, or birth support. K went home to get some needed sleep before another birth the next morning. Many of their clients were due right around the same time.

The midwives graciously began to clean up, washing dishes, putting away supplies. I wasn’t sure how long this lasted, but now it was time to get our things packed up and go. I had just been continuing to labor as activity whirled around me, and I was feeling more and more intensity. The contractions were now right on top of each other; I kept waiting for the breaks I had gotten used to between contractions so that I could pull on my skirt, pack up some extra undies, make sure we had my Hypnobabies CDs and iPod — but the breaks were gone. I felt like I had become whiny and unhelpful, that I was just stalling. At the same time, I could barely stand up, and I was seriously considering just burying my head in the pillows and refusing to leave. They would have to let me give birth in my room if I refused to leave, right? Finally, I was able to direct Sam and the midwives to pack everything up I needed, from my perch on the bed. Weeks before, I had packed up a half-hearted hospital transfer diaper bag, but I purposely neglected to put any of my own clothes or belongings in it. I had wanted to stay confident that I wouldn’t need it. Now I had to point to items I needed and try to remember where things had ended up. Eventually, they gathered clothes, baby clothes and diapers in newborn size (not the most practical size, as it turns out), and my car keys so that L could move the installed baby car seat from the back seat to the front so that I would have room to stretch out in the back. They made sure to tuck my birthing rock in a front pocket of the diaper bag.

{Is anyone thinking with me, "If only I had stalled longer…"? Clearly I was in transition, despite lack of visible progress. This is why my plan for this home birth is indeed of the bury-my-head-in-a-pillow-and-refuse-to-leave variety.}

I was clearly in such discomfort that M decided to check me again. I was sure that something had happened — these new feelings seemed so dramatic to me. Bad news — still 6-7 cm at most. M, too, had thought something might have happened because of what I was saying and the way I was acting, but oh, well. We were still off to the hospital.

I couldn’t decide if I really was having harder contractions at this point or if it was just the circumstances psychologically. For one thing, Sam was running around gathering things instead of just sitting quietly next to me, pressing on my back. For another, I was reluctant still to transfer even though I had agreed to it; I kept hoping the baby would just hurry up and come out so that it wouldn’t be necessary after all. I also wondered of the effect of telling a woman she would soon receive pain relief — it suggests to the mind that you are now experiencing pain and that you have to wait for that relief. I tried to ignore this effect and refuse to give in to the phenomenon, but I knew it was affecting me. I knew it would be at least a couple hours from decision to transfer before I could hope for the epidural, because we had to pack up, drive to the hospital, check in, be monitored, wait for the anesthesiologist, and then wait for the epidural to be placed and take effect. As soon as the epidural was on the horizon, it seemed like every contraction between then and the epidural was a waste of effort — does that make sense? Beforehand, I knew I would experience every wave and was prepared to meet each one as they progressed to the birth of my baby. Now that I knew there would be a rest, where I wouldn’t be feeling them, still experiencing them felt unfair. I was also annoyed that they had seemed to intensify just when I needed them to break so I could get ready and get out to the car, and I doubted that they were actually more intense and that I wasn’t just turning wussy about them.

We waited for another break, and I grabbed my throw-up mixing bowl and tried to reach for my petroleum jelly, on Sam's nightstand. I managed to knock over an Izze bottle that was in front of it, and it splashed over his laptop and the hardwood floors below. The whole bedroom and hallway floors were lined with plastic shower curtains except for that one section where I knocked the colored soda. Lovely. I collapsed back onto my pillows while Sam rushed to clean up the mess and rescue his computer.

Now I had to wait for another rare break, darn it. Finally, one came, and I said, “Let’s go.” I shuffled as fast as my tired nine-month-pregnant body could out through the kitchen and into the cool night air. I got onto my hands and knees in the back seat of our car, my bowl on the floor in front of me just in case, and a pillow under my head. Sam handed back the wooden massage tool to perform my own counterpressure since he would be driving. We would follow M and L's car to the hospital.

[Sam: It was here that I found out it was bad not to have eaten or slept much in two days, as my previous tasks of, say, sitting around and being encouraging required much less coordination and attention than the act of driving does. It was a good thing it was one in the morning, so I didn't have to worry about negotiating traffic. I was probably the least helpful to Lauren at this point, because I had no idea where we were going; I was staring at the taillights in front of me and hoping that we wouldn't get separated and then have to give birth in a 24-hour 7-11.]


I found being in the back seat highly uncomfortable. Hovering on my hands and knees over my chux pads didn’t last more than a minute once we started moving, because I couldn’t balance. I had to manage with lying on my side, my sandals wedged against one door and my head pressed against the other. Our back seat really is not big! I felt bad that I couldn’t fasten my seatbelt and wished I could manage to pull the middle belt out around my huge belly. I thought it would be so sad if I died or killed my baby on our way to the hospital. But I really had no hope of doing any such thing, so I tried to put it out of my mind. I put the wooden massager behind my back and pressed against the seat back to keep the pressure high. The contractions were still coming fast and furious, and now they suddenly changed in quality.

I felt like I had to push.

Oh, holy crap.

Was this just another psychological trick? I’m in a car, so my mind worries that I’m going to have a baby on the way to the hospital? I didn’t say anything to Sam as he navigated the near-empty streets to the hospital. I couldn’t see where we were but hoped the ride would be short. We were all glad it was the middle of the night, close to 1 a.m., instead of rush hour on the highways.

My uterus was seizing and bucking, throwing my body around the back seat. I tried not to consciously push, but I could feel my body doing what it wanted without me. I knew if I were still 6-7 cm that any pushing would only swell the cervix and slow up the delivery. I would end up with a c-section if I couldn’t keep the sensations under control. But was I still at 6-7 cm? Was the baby about to crown, here in the back seat of our Ford Escort?

{I keep mentioning this, but I find this article on the fallacy of keeping women from pushing before they're complete very, very interesting.}

Finally, we were in the Stork Parking at the hospital. M helped me out of the back seat, recommending leaving our pillow behind but helping me take my bowl over to the wheelchair that was waiting for me. I timidly suggested that I felt like I was starting to feel pushing sensations. I felt like I was being overly dramatic, considering how far along (or not) I was. At the same time, I felt like I needed to let people know in case the baby was already crowning or something.


I closed my eyes for the ride up the elevator and to my room, so that I didn’t see the hospital until I left after the birth. I also didn’t manage to see what the nurses or nurse-midwife looked like for awhile. I really tried to stay within despite the flutter and lights of the hospital that now surrounded me. They took me right to my room, forestalling my fears of a long stay in triage as we filled out forms.

[Sam: It got really surreal here; since we hadn't planned a hospital birth and I'd never envisioned it, it felt like walking onto the set of a medical drama, like a rehearsal rather than the real thing. I still had time to learn my lines before we did this thing for real, right? Where do I stand? Do I handle any props?]

I flung my skirt off as I lurched onto the bed. I had no modesty still. I wanted someone to check that there wasn’t a head coming out of me. But, no, despite my pushing feelings, I was still just the same dilation as before.

The nurse immediately started hooking me up to an external monitor as another peppered Sam with questions to enter details into the computer records. The monitor belt was being tricky and they were having trouble getting a clear, long record of the baby’s heartbeat. Whatever they did hear was just fine, steady and stable as it had been all day. I wanted to scream in frustration, rip off the belt and get them to stop messing with me. I wanted to stay on hands and knees, and they were trying to pull and prod me different directions all to get their stupid belt to stay where they wanted it. This was exactly what I hated about hospitals — unlike the hands-off, respectful approach of the midwives, the hospital model was all about obtaining data in line with whatever protocol they had to follow, at the expense of the patient’s comfort. I didn’t like being a patient in general and refused to change into a hospital gown at this point (I did postpartum when I decided I would let them do the laundry!) — I was having a baby; I wasn’t sick. Then it was time to put in an IV, and that was another trauma, because I really had no veins left except one very small one in my right hand. I started complaining — when would the epidural come? When could I rest and stop the intensity of these whole-body-bucking contractions?

They called the anesthesiologist and got us on the list to receive an epidural; he had another woman to take care of first. Knowing he was on the way, I relaxed a little. I had wondered if there would be anyone on call at this time of night. I lay obediently still as the nurse miraculously and skillfully put an IV heplock into the one useable vein I had left. She taped the heck out of it so that it wouldn’t jar loose. Then they started more IV fluids to rehydrate me. My fever was running high because of the dehydration, and I kept having them hand me cool cloths to lay over my head that quickly became warm cloths that needed to be swapped out again. We hoped the fluids would help bring my temperature down so I wouldn’t need antibiotics — the assumption with a fever, when you’re in a hospital at least, is that there’s some sort of infection, especially considering the rupturing of my membranes and the internal exams afterward. I didn’t think I had an infection, but I knew I was in hospital land now and felt like I didn’t have any say in what I could do.

I did ask if I could take a shower, and I felt like everyone was laughing at me as they refused my request. There was no shower, just a therapy bathtub, and I wasn’t allowed in.

Everyone was telling me not to push but wasn't giving me any help in managing the intensity of these new feelings. The shower was all I knew that would help me, and I felt like I the birthing mother was being ignored in favor of my veins and uterus and all the parts that made up me as a patient rather than a person. I wanted everyone to stop talking and working on me and start helping me. I also felt like Sam had been stripped of his position as chief birth partner. He had been such an integral, necessary part of my labor up till now, and now I sensed he felt just as awkward in this new environment as I did.

S was the nurse-midwife, and she was very no-nonsense. She asked me to let her know when I could focus and talk with her, and her tone made me feel like I should straighten up and stop moaning. I told her I was fine and to go ahead.

{Her attitude felt a little mean to me even at the time, but I think it was what I needed in the moment to cut through all the panic the hospital had induced in me. And, finally, at least someone was concentrating on me.}

We discussed what I was feeling, and everyone started taking my claims of pushing contractions seriously. They said I was not to push because I wasn’t complete but that I should breathe out hard — “ha ha ha” (that’s what the breaths sounded like; that’s not just a sarcastic comment) — through each contraction. I was annoyed by not being able to go along with what my body was doing and feeling — I literally felt like each contraction was lifting me bodily off the bed — until they had a revelation that made it all make sense to me. The baby was turning.

The baby had been in a non-optimal position all day, and now he was flipping for all he was worth to get into a good position to emerge. That I could deal with. Yes, baby, turn, turn. Ha ha ha, I breathed out, and tried to hold my body still. I was told I could let my body involuntarily do whatever it wanted to but just not to purposefully push — that I could handle. It was so much easier to let my body do what felt like pushing instead of fighting against it. I realize now it wasn’t so much pushing as just everything down there violently shifting and pulsing. Those are some powerful muscles! And I felt like the baby was suddenly so powerful, too, mightily emerging.

S offered to check me again — still 7 cm. Oh, no! But then — with some discussion with M, she realized that really just a thin rim of cervix remained closing off the birthing canal. The head was much lower now. Did I want her to try to push it aside? Did I! As anti-intervention as I had been pre-birth, I was willing to have anyone try anything. She said it might not work, but it was worth a shot. During my next contraction, she helped push aside the cervix — and it worked! I was a complete 10 cm.

They told me to rest a little and then, when I next felt the urge, to begin pushing. Hallelujah!

The anesthesiologist knocked on the door. S called out that we didn’t need him now after all. Yes! I was going to have this baby naturally. I was so pumped. All the sadness fled, although I did feel a little as if I could have had the baby at home if we’d just waited a little longer or tried a little harder, and I was thrilled that finally, finally, I was going to have this baby — on June 5. This was our third day of wondering if today would be our baby’s birthday. I was confident that June 5 was definitely it!


All told, I pushed for an hour and a half. Sometimes on the toilet, with people trailing me with my IV pole and helping hold up my lines. Sometimes reclining against the raised back of the bed, my legs pushed back by people standing around (such as Sam) or by bracing my feet against whatever leverage I could find, such as the squat bar. They set up the squat bar once I started pushing, and I was able to hang onto it to help open me up; plus, I was able to use it one time to drop when I felt the urge to push, on S's instructions, really just fall right down to help the baby push through. The only problem with the squat position is that it was very, very intense — even when I wasn’t contracting, it felt like I was, so I was in danger of exhausting myself from pushing continuously without people to tell me to stop and wait until my next contraction actually started.

I think it was during the pushing that I really started vocalizing. I always thought it was funny when birth stories would use the word “vocalizing” and assume it stood for “yelling.” But I think it’s the best word I can find — I was doing sort of a half-grunt, half-moan sort of thing, as you would when pushing. Before this, I had mostly been quiet during contractions — until the ones that started being on top of each other — I can’t promise or remember if I was quiet during those, at home, in the car, in the hospital before the “ha ha ha” ones. But I know I made noise during the pushing. It felt good and right, though, not high-pitched screaming that would have tired me out, but deep guttural sounds that helped me focus my energy.

Everyone (except me) could see that the baby was whipping around inside, vigorously moving, and figured he was trying to get into position to get out. (Of course, he still whips his head around all the time even now!) They tried to find a mirror but couldn’t right away, and I said to forget it, because I didn’t want anything to hold up continuing to push. It just felt so good to be doing something! The baby must have felt the same, because he was whirling like a top, really working with the contractions to get to the opening.

[Sam: S let me feel the top of the head at this point, which was very special, driving home the fact that I was truly there, not just observing, not just watching a film, but touching my child for the first time. The fact that his head felt like a ripe peach rather than anything human was a bit odd, but that first contact ... wow, I hadn't really expected to have that touch at the hospital until after he was born and wiped off and handled by many others.]


Now, the only thing stopping him was a small band of skin around the edges that wouldn’t budge. It wasn’t softening, because it wasn’t cervix — it was HYMEN. Yes, my maidenhead was still partially intact and preventing my son from emerging! Very virgin birth. The only thing to do, as S kept saying, was to push through it and let it tear. I was more than willing to do just that. I really didn’t mind the thought at all — just let me at it. Unfortunately, whether to help me or see if it would stretch or examine it or what, S kept pushing at it herself, and that REALLY hurt. It was, along with that original internal exam that M did, one of the only instances of actual PAIN in my labor. I really didn’t want her to keep touching it, just to let me tear it open, but I wasn’t sure if my complaining about how it hurt didn’t translate to her correctly — if she thought I was saying it would hurt to push through it, not that I just wanted her to stop manipulating it beforehand. I was in general having trouble communicating clearly while I was in this driven, single-minded state.

Anyway, regardless, I kept pushing. I could hear people talking about me, and some of the things they said were really funny in retrospect — like how I was pushing really well and must have been doing my kegels, and then M said, “Well, she’s a dancer.”

They said to reach down and feel the head coming out, so I did, rather tentatively, and I couldn’t figure out what I was feeling. M, I think, took my hand and placed it firmly over the top of the baby’s head, and it was much bigger than I had been expecting. It seemed like a LOT was out, and it was wet and covered with dark hair. In fact, it kept seeming like a lot of head was out, and shouldn’t that be done by now (as Sam remarked later) — fortunately, maybe, I didn’t have the mirror, so I couldn’t really capture how long it was from crowning to more crowning to more crowning to finally the head coming out entirely. Suffice it to say, it was a big head, and it had to push through the hymen tissue, and it was acynclitic, AND he had an arm up by his ear! His left arm was wrapped around his face, his hand resting by his right ear. That’s probably why his head was tipped to the side. And, no, he didn’t put the arm down to come out — he just went ahead and left it there for me to push out. But, hey, I did! This was so strange, because one of my biggest, distinct fears, from another birth story I’d read, had been that the baby would have a nuchal arm, but it ended up being no problem. I could feel everything stretching and knew it was slightly burning with that stretch, but I knew my body could handle it.

The baby’s head slipped out, and I was ecstatic. And then another push, and the shoulders just poured out of me — what a strange and wonderful feeling to birth your baby. Big and full and warm and slippery. And everyone was exclaiming, and when just the head was out, they were speculating that this was not a seven-pound baby after all, and when the whole body was out, they started guessing nine pounds maybe. I was thrilled, because I had been rooting for a big baby. Sam, with an expert look at the genitalia (and despite his bad dreams that he would interpret wrong), announced that this was Mikko.

[I should mention that when Lauren was born, the doctor announced that she was a boy because he mistook the umbilical cord for genitals, and presumably he'd attended a birth or two before. I also worried that perhaps if the baby were in the fetal position, the thighs might hide the goods on a baby boy, and I might mis-announce a girl. Fortunately Mikko had clearly visible, distinctly real boy parts.]

{The full picture shows him half-in, half-out, which I think is amazing. I cropped it for my family's sake…}

They put him up on my chest, and I pulled my shirt up so he could be skin to skin. Here he was, and I looked at him in awe and amazement, in the true senses of those words, well, at least what I mean by them — I was almost befuddled; here was my baby. I could hardly believe such a thing existed outside of my body, and here he was, and I was seeing him for the first time, and he was going to be mine for all time now, and I was just now getting a glimpse of what he looked like. All squinty eyed and crying, chubby cheeks and matted dark hair. I tried putting him on the breast, and we both had a quick, awkward go at our first nursing, and I was glad that would work out for us. I just kept staring at him, and smiling and laughing and talking really loudly. I had given birth. I had a baby.




The cord was thick, really thick, and they clamped it after I confirmed it had stopped pulsing. {Although, you know, see here about rushing things.} They offered for Sam to cut it, but we had decided during a walk on the beach shortly before the birth that it was more symbolic that I cut it, severing the ties of this baby to my body and setting him free to be himself. Sam, we agreed, would announce not the sex itself but the name. The placenta came out quickly and easily and felt like squeezing out a warm aquatic creature, no problems there. It was big as well — as big as three placentas together. And it was this that probably caused all the bleeding after the birth.

[Sam: They told us that the placenta was as big as ones they see for twins or triplets, which led us to speculate later that Mikko is twins but he ate the other guy.]




They took Mikko to weigh him finally, because we were all curious. The scale was in the corner, and when they called over to us 11 pounds, 13 ounces, everyone gasped and yelled and couldn’t believe it. Everyone was chattering and happy and amazed, and I felt so pleased with myself, so triumphant for having gone through this challenging birth situation and survived — no, emerged victorious! Yea! Ours was the largest baby M & T had ever worked with and the second largest of S's patients, although the first largest was a woman’s fifth child, so mine was the largest for a first child. I won. People asked how big I had been at birth (nearly 10 lbs), and if I had had gestational diabetes (I hadn’t, and Mikko's blood sugars were to test just fine over the next 24 hours and several heel pricks, poor guy).


Sam had a chance to snuggle with Mikko, first taking his own shirt off for that skin-to-skin goodness.

Meanwhile, my hemorrhaging was brought under control. S, M, and the nurses were quietly concerned that I was losing too much blood, about twice as much as normal. They massaged my uterus to get it to contract back to its normal size — and if “massage” sounds comfy, it was the new most painful thing to happen to me during the birth. It was very vigorous rubbing and kneading of a muscle that was already fatigued and worn out. They gave me pitocin in my IV. When neither of those worked quickly enough, they gave me a suppository and then an intramuscular injection. Basically, all the methods at their disposal. But one or all of them worked eventually, and I avoided a blood transfusion or worse. I felt fine, but I remember lying there enjoying my baby and the afterglow of birth and at the same time wondering if I would die. I knew that women did die of childbirth, of course, and I could very well be one of them, leaving Sam to raise our new son alone. I wondered if you could tell if you were going to die, because I felt so very much alive, but did everyone who was near death feel like they were?

{Again, new insights here.}

As you may have guessed, I did in fact survive, but with that and the high fever I was running, making everyone want to give me more IV fluids and later IV antibiotics, I started realizing that my transfer to the hospital had maybe been a good thing for this particular situation after all. If I hadn’t transferred when I did, I might have faced an emergency transfer after the birth to stop the hemorrhaging and to bring down my fever. It didn’t make me happy we had transferred necessarily, but in retrospect it seemed the best of a less than ideal situation. I would much rather have not had the circumstances that would have required a transfer, and I still mourned my lost opportunity for an ideal home birth, but I was willing to be happy for the favorable outcome of a healthy baby and mama. I was very glad S was the nurse-midwife and that we went to this particular hospital. I was very glad to have avoided the epidural, and the pitocin during labor, and I wondered how long it would have taken me to birth if I’d stayed home, since it was S who’d pushed my cervix out of the way and brought things to a head (literally, ha ha). All told, I was in the hospital only 3 hours before Mikko was born, half of that time actively pushing.


After the birth, S gave me a local spray anesthetic so she could stitch me up. I had only two small tears, both from that strange leftover hymen skin. While the stitching and so on were happening, hospital administrative tasks were still going on, with a nurse asking Sam for more data and having him fill out forms. S kindly snagged us some snacks of cereal, cheese, milk, juice, crackers, etc., and Sam & I chowed down. I hadn’t been able to keep anything down for two days, and I was starving! I was afraid I might overdo it and throw up, but everything tasted good and stayed put. Hooray!

Mikko finally stopped crying for awhile and went to sleep. I had somehow thought that a baby born naturally and gently wouldn’t need to scream so much, but Mikko didn’t receive that message. He’s continued to be the talkative sort, despite our attachment style of parenting where we respond to his needs right away, so I think it must just be a temperament sort of thing.

[Sam: Lauren kept insisting I eat some of her meals, as they were too much for her, although in theory I was probably supposed to … I don't know … leave the room and get my own food. I was just so ecstatic and it was all so unbelievable that I didn't want the reality of the world to come seeping back in just yet. I didn't actually leave the room until it was time to leave together as a family.]

including WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6, 2007

The rest of that day and into the afternoon of the next, which happened to be our ninth wedding anniversary, we spent trying (unsuccessfully) to rest and (for some time unsuccessfully) trying to get home from the hospital.

Mikko was born at 4:03 in the morning, and by the time we got settled, called our parents {early risers on Eastern time}, got some adrenaline out of our system, ate our snack, etc., it was time for the morning shift to come on. For the rest of the day, we couldn’t get more than an hour or so of sleep at a time. Whenever a new nurse came on duty, she would take all our vitals again even if the last nurse had done so just five minutes before, and for whatever reason, the nurses kept shifting around who was working, so we had several changes. We’re TIRED, people — we just had a BABY! If we’d been home as planned, we would have cuddled up and been asleep in no time. One nurse even told us we should really put back up the blinds (1) so that she didn’t have to turn on the lights as bright to check on us (fine), but also (2) because babies really like sunlight. Well, OK, but does he need sunlight right this minute? I mean, he’s an hour old, and he’s been waiting nine months — can’t he wait another day so we can get some rest?

We did a lot of nodding and smiling in general. The jolly pediatrician they sent in was quite nice but condescending and advocated showing our baby who was boss right away by letting him cry. At least he openly approved of our not circumcising our little boy. I’m not sure what the rest of his advice had to do with pediatrics, and I also wondered how many people his little spiel (because it was clearly a rehearsed monologue) actually benefited. We were not 15-year-olds who’d accidentally conceived in the back seat of our Ford Escort. We maybe had done some research and given some thought to parenting BEFORE we had our baby….

Then there were all the nurses who gave me breastfeeding advice, which was each one to come through the door. First of all, every single one would come over and shove my breast in Mikko's mouth. It didn’t matter if I was sleeping, and they would never ask permission, never handle it gently, never explain what they were doing — they would just come over and start manhandling me. These are my breasts, for crying out loud! At least give me fair warning. One nurse’s breastfeeding harangue was the worst — I was half-asleep, and she stood over me in the dark to tell me, “By the way, when you’re breastfeeding, you can’t have alcohol, caffeine, garlic, onions, peppers, spices…,” on and on. I was flabbergasted. I wondered how many women she told this to each day and how many women she convinced not to breastfeed because doing so was too restrictive. Seriously, this is how it’s introduced to new mothers, by (wrongly) telling them all the things they won’t be able to enjoy?


{I have written complained about this extensively: "Breastfeeding support: A tale of two hospitals," "What I wish I'd known when I started breastfeeding," and "Finger feeding and baby hickeys: the challenges of breastfeeding," for instance. The worst experience I wrote about for the first time as follows.}

But the reason we weren’t discharged in the morning of June 6 as planned, after S and the pediatrician had signed off on me and Mikko respectively, was one particular, very nice nurse who wanted to work with us on feeding because she was concerned that Mikko wasn’t eating enough. We were exhausted, he was screaming off and on all night, this was my first time ever breastfeeding, and here I was in an environment with other people being the experts and I’m a people pleaser, and in retrospect I’m really unhappy with how I handled this, one of my first mothering jobs. Mikko's a big guy and was frustrated that my colostrum wasn’t plentifully flowing, although it was definitely there. He was used to a placenta and had to learn how to work at getting his food. He had plenty of weight to lose, especially considering his birth weight was probably inflated by several ounces by the IV fluids. He could have survived the two days until my milk came in. (On June 7, when I woke up, it was there for our postpartum visit with M — it hadn’t occurred to me that that’s why my breasts were GINORMOUS and hard as rocks — ohhhh….) But the nurse thought he wasn’t eating vigorously enough and wanted to try him out on a bottle of formula to make sure he would eat once my milk came in. I protested but in a questioning way (Won’t that lead to nipple confusion? I’m not sure I want him to have formula, etc.), and she countered each objection and went ahead and grabbed the bottle, making him gulp down something I never wanted him to have. Great, she was happy, Mikko had a full tummy, and I was distraught for going against all my wishes for him. But, it got us home, along with a rented electric breastpump and once we reassured the nurse that we had an appointment with our midwife for the next day and with our pediatrician for the day after that (which we thankfully canceled after M said, “What in the world! You need to be just resting, not going out.” Our postpartum visit with M was a home visit — yea, midwives!).



For the next week, feeding Mikko was a two-person, many-handed job. We joked (but not in a laughing way) that to feed him required being an octopus. By the second day we were back, we had stopped using all the formula samples we’d been sent home with and were using exclusively pumped breastmilk to supplement. We started with a syringe and/or a syringe and thin feeding tube, then moved to having him suck the feeding tube from alongside one of our fingers, then moved to putting him on the breast with the tube threaded into the corner of his mouth. He would wiggle and throw his head around, popping off the breast, grabbing at the tube with his little grabby fists, screaming that the milk wasn’t flowing fast enough. Meanwhile, milk would spill out of the sides of his mouth and the end of the tube as he whipped his head around, all that precious liquid I worked so hard to pump and that he needed every minute portion of an ounce of. Added to this, the air passages in his nose were very narrow, and his nose was stuffy, so every feeding felt and sounded like we were suffocating him. All day I was either feeding him or pumping, or pumping in the middle of feeding him so that he could continue to eat enough. It was exhausting. I couldn’t imagine ever just being able to pop him on the breast and let him feed, or ever being able to leave the house again, since Sam & I had barely enough hands between us to manage all the equipment required at once to feed this baby. Within a week, we had gotten him weaned off the supplementing and returned the breastpump, and I’ve never looked back.

{Here's a link on the supplemental feeding methods we used, and here's one on how to deal with nasal congestion affecting breastfeeding.}

Here’s the thing: I was highly motivated to breastfeed and continue breastfeeding; what about women who are only averagely motivated? Wouldn’t they give up within, say, a day? I was devastated that my baby was going hungry and that I was to blame — if I hadn’t (1) researched breastfeeding enough to know that he could lose weight and that my milk would come in and that colostrum was important (I really hope he still got plenty after that whole fiasco!) and to know how to do a good latch despite having next to no help from all those grabby nurses and (2) had M come over the next day after our discharge with a strong dose of commonsense and encouragement about how he was doing fine and that he hadn’t lost that much weight (down to 11 pounds, 3 ounces, at discharge, up to 11 pounds, 5 ounces, I think, on her scale after the formula supplementation) and so forth — I would have given up in a heartbeat, assuming I was doing the best thing for my child — feeding him when he was hungry. I knew that breastfeeding was worth a day or a week of agony for either or both of us to get started, and it has been so worth it, but another woman might not have had that conviction.

{This is why I don't blame parents who can't make breastfeeding work for them, up against obstacles like these. It's all these fricking booby traps!}

So that’s my rant on hospitals, and all the things we would have avoided if we’d birthed at home, peacefully drifting off to sleep in our own bed after the midwives cleaned up and left.

OK, positive points: The food was actually really good. And I loved the therapy-style bathtub, very Back to the Future, with a door that opened like a Delorean and a seat and then a lever to swish you back to a reclining position, plus jets for bubbles. And you gotta love the sexy mesh panties and the freebie humongous pads and the fact that someone else is doing all the nasty laundry, particularly when we remembered that Mikko needed some sort of diaper on too late. Much too late. Ah, meconium.

With all the back labor and how much time the birthing took, there were moments during the process when thoughts crept in: One baby’s good…I don’t need to have more children ever again…. But I had heard that women have a sort of amnesia just after giving birth where they forget all the struggle and effort and remember only the glory of the experience. I hate to admit my conventionality, but I have dived into that amnesia. I would do this all again, gladly.

{And here I go for round two!}

[Sam: A few months later, someone asked me if I saw a different side of Lauren during the birth, and I had to say no. She was always the calm, intelligent, caring, laughing person I see every day. She didn't slip into some kind of bizarre mode just because she had plenty of excuse for it. Every time someone hears that she delivered such a big boy completely naturally, they call her Superwoman and say she should get a medal. But that's only half the story. She did it with grace, with confidence, determination, kindness, and beauty. I've seen firsthand that birth doesn't have to be an experience that breaks you, but that reveals and enriches you.]

{No, seriously. Is everyone jealous of me for snagging this partner?}

From my experience, here are my recommendations for future birthing mothers (and myself):
  • Hypnobabies is worth it, to relax and stay calm. I think it might have worked for total relief of discomfort if I hadn’t had back labor. When I concentrated just on my abdomen, I realized it felt like really faint menstrual cramps, and they were totally manageable with the relaxation, but the back pressure could still be felt. Still, as it was, it kept me peaceful and I didn’t panic! I would so have had an epidural without my Hypnobabies preparation, which included just being positive about birth in general and my abilities as a birthing woman.
  • Don’t give birth at a hospital. Keep your choices and your power. Hospitals are the perfect place if you’re sick and need expert medical care and hands-on nursing. But pregnancy is not a disease, and birth is not a medical emergency. I’m not bashing hospitals as hospitals — I just think birth is not something that belongs there as a matter of course. These aren’t mainstream opinions, so if you disagree with me, take comfort from the fact that you’re in the majority… Seriously, in all this I’m not trying to offend anyone — I just feel like sometimes when people hear about our choices, they think, “Oooo…kay, weirdo,” and it feels good to explain my views in full.
  • Don’t call the midwife until you’re really, really sure you’re about to give birth. That’s my theory for next time, even though I enjoyed having them around. I felt a little guilty having people hang out all day just watching me.
  • Don’t tell family you’re in labor unless you’re prepared to update them throughout the day, so I would say don’t say anything at all. Won’t it be a nice surprise to call with news of the birth?
  • Have a licensed direct-entry midwife do your prenatal care, not an obstetrician or a nurse-midwife committed to a hospital system. Try out the midwifery model and see the difference — hour-long, conversational prenatal visits; much more affordable prices; less invasive philosophy; very positive outlook on birth. Our midwives, T & M, and their midwifery students were gentle, knowledgeable, optimistic, and respectful, from prenatal care all the way through to postpartum home visits.
  • Along the same lines, don’t have an ultrasound. Their safety has not been thoroughly tested and they are intended to be used for medical diagnosis, so use one only if you need one. If I had had an ultrasound toward the end of my pregnancy, I would have ended up with a c-section. If they had had any inkling that I was having an almost 12-pounder, no one ever would have thought I could successfully birth him on my own. Ultrasounds are notoriously inaccurate for estimating birth weights anyway, so no matter what an ultrasound technician tells you about how huge your baby is, have faith that your body will give you only what you can handle.
  • Don’t have internal exams to check your dilation. It doesn’t tell you anything and will, almost in every case, disappoint and frustrate you. Unless you’re a 10, you’ll feel sad that you’re not as far along as you think you should be. And, the thing is, you could be plenty far along — just not dilated! It doesn’t tell you everything about your progress!
    Seriously, stay out of the hospital!
  • Breastfeed. Hooray! {I had to cut down what was there originally.}
  • Enjoy your birth (at home, naturally)! It’s a wonderful, beautiful experience, and it is not to be feared! If I can calmly make it through 42 hours of back labor and deliver an 11 pound, 13 ounce, baby with two tiny tears, you can manage whatever your body gives you, too. I don’t say that to scare or to boast or to suggest that I’m stronger than average — that’s my point — we’re all that strong! We’re all that average! Your body was made to give birth, and it can do it safely and effectively and easily. Let it. Yea! {Is this obnoxious or just cheerleader-cute? I can't decide. Is this whole list obnoxious? I'm trying to decide what to edit on my family's site…just in case someone's still reading my birth story four years after the fact.}
Hey, you made it to the end! Good for you. Now, to watch the beautiful (also long) birth video (it makes me cry, but I don’t suppose that’s saying much), click the play button:

It’s a sort of moving (two meanings there) illustration of the birth story.

{Sorry it's super long. You won't believe it, but it used to be longer. You can skip around to what interests you. It's in three parts: pregnancy, birth, postpartum. I was going to trim it further, but we didn't save the original file because it was so huge, just the one we uploaded, which means I don't have the audio on separate tracks. So there are some goofy places where the audio and visual don't match up because of my trimming, and I figured cutting it more would just make it worse. Also, I did the funniest effects on it to sparkle away my hoo-ha and nips from the uncomfortable gaze of my father and father-in-law. Anyway! Enjoy it quickly before YouTube pulls it again for violating copyright law… Speaking of which, it's got some great songs on it. I love that the Dixie Chicks' "Lullaby" even mentions cosleeping. Sweet!}

So there you have it. I really am looking forward to this next birth — for a reworking of the lows and, hopefully, a repeat of the highs. Here's to birth!


Angela Toucan said...

fabulous story, thank you for sharing.

Maria said...

I didn't watch the video yet but I'm glad the read the end of the story! Seriously jealous of the hubby you landed, LOL! You & I seem to have the same views/ideas on birth. :-)

Does your state license DEMs? Maryland doesn't even license CPMs!

Adrienne said...

Thanks so much for sharing! I am on a birthy high after reading that!

Sure would love a homebirth next time around, though I haven't found a DEM who would do it...maybe I'll find one by the time I need one.

And yes! Sounds like you have an amazing husband!!

Jennifer said...

Awesome! I had a fairly uncomplicated and long (although not as long as yours) natural first (hypno)birth in a hospital setting with a midwife. I was pressured to take medication for (non existant) pain at 1cm (presumably so i could rest). Luckily, I got away with just one injection of morphine to sleep in the middle of the night. I'm with you on the grabby nurses giving breastfeeding advice. I learned much more from the LC who came once a day (or more if you wanted). I also love your advice about not letting people know. That's what we did the second time (except for DS' caregiver) and it was bliss. We also only accepted visitors at the hospital from the grandparents.

I'm so glad you have the option to do it all again the way you had hoped it would go the first time. I'm anxiously awaiting your second birth story. ;-)

Lisa C said...

Wow, I can't believe the nurses manhandled you like that. The hospital I gave birth in had lactation consultants, and the nurses didn't give me any bf advice unless I asked. And just so everyone out there knows--it's worth MONTHS of agony to breastfeed. Every nursing couple gets it eventually, and it's SO worth it.

Okay, so back the birth story. I loved reading it. I was so sad at the part where you had to go to the hospital right when something was finally happening, but then it sounded like maybe it was good that you went? Do you think so? Like with the hemorrhaging and the hymen? So glad you popped that baby out before they could give you pitocin or an epidural! Hooray for natural birth!

But yeah, sad about it not being at home. I understand that, for sure. It's so hard for things not to be the way you want them. I still secretly wanted a homebirth even after I was declared high risk. I really, REALLY hope it stays a home birth this time for you (I have to live vicariously through others, see--no really, I want it for YOU).

I cried in a few different places in your story. Loved reading all the stuff that happened at home, and then I could totally relate to the annoyingness of the hospital. Argh! Grr! Especially them having to get their stats with the monitors and crap.

I loved that you said you prayed a lot. That's so inspiring to me. I've been praying a lot lately about how things are going to go for my next pregnancy, and I really feel like He is listening. I feel like God is the only one I can really trust, not doctors. Aw, now I'm crying again...

Thank you for sharing your story, Lauren. I just posted mine. It's mostly sad, but there are some good parts in it, too. :)

Unknown said...

Awesome story!

I still can't get over how chatty the people in your birth room are in the moments immediately after Mikko was born. This next birth is going to be SO different in that respect.

I'm so very excited for you, Sam, and Mikko to meet your new little family member!

Mama Chocolate said...

Awesome story and great video!

Good luck on your next birth coming up! Sending prayers for an easier go around this time, (and that you can stay out of the hospital!)

I recently wrote up one of my own homebirth stories, and I'm working on the 2nd!
Thanks for tweeting me to tell me you'd got the 2nd installment up! ;-) (ChoresChocolate)

Raphaeline said...

I teared up to watch that video ;)

Thank you very much for sharing your story! Our second child is due at the end of the year and we're attempting a home birth. This was very inspiring!

Melissa said...

Thank you for sharing your birth experience! We were blessed to experience a natural birth at a birthing center for our second child. Our first birth was a c-section and after much prayer, we were able to switch mid pregnancy to a fabulous midwife ( I had previously been seeing an MD). We were so glad we did!!! Complications in our next birth made it necessary for another c section (breach in delivery and baby distress). I am very thankful for the opportunity to have had a birth with a midwife. It is a totally different experience from hospital birth. The biggest help for us was taking Bradley Classes and I would highly recommend them to anyone looking to have a home birth.

sbrown1107 said...

I loved reading your story! Thanks for sharing on fb, and happy fifth bday Mikko! It's so funny how we become such natural birth evangelists, but the experience is just that amazing, isn't it? The other 98% of birthing mothers are totally missing out.

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