Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Home Birth in South Africa

The birth story of my first son in South Africa.

I am a French living in RSA for two years now. I had my first son 18months ago, this is his story, and I am pregnant with a second son, who will also be born in RSA.

One Monday afternoon, I had my 40 week antenatal check up with our midwife, Sharon. I was assured that I was still going to be pregnant for another week probably, and we went home. It was past 6pm, on May 10, 2010.

But guess what... Suddenly, I was in labour! As sudden as lightening, I was struck. I was indeed as ripe as the avocado I had dreamt of over the weekend. The pregnant body was the green flesh, and the uterus, the pit. The avo was soft and creamy, so ripe, and so was I. 

So I got in the bath and tried to eat some pasta, all the while groaning and moaning. Mu husband was busy attending to me, getting the place ready, communicating with Sharon and timing contractions –and gosh they were close already. I must say that he still did find a few minutes in there to film the room and my first dinner in the bath!

By 9pm, after asking if we thought she should come, Sharon arrived, along with our doula. The pool was set up and made ready, and I was surprisingly relieved as I got in and experienced how relaxing it was. The contractions spaced out, I felt like being in a Jacuzzi, delightful.

However, the warm water also made contractions more intense. I could get a break in between, but there was no time to waste it seemed. Whoever was holding the time watch was adamant to get that baby out that night ;)

Before I knew it, things started happening. My waters broke. I got out of the pool for a lil’ help from gravity, got back in, gave a few pushes – and moaning cries – and there was the happy moment! Delivering the placenta was a mere formality after that. My son was born at 00:30am, it all happened within 6 hours!

Today – 18 months later- I forgot about the pain, the gooey details, the adrenaline... All I have to remind me of these is what kept me going and the strength that replaced the fear. It was my husband, who meant the world to me at that special moment, the soft music that filled my thoughts, and the vision I had of my son and I dancing together in his adult days. It was more than enough to let me know that I would make it to the finish line.

My first statement after the birth also reminds me of the shock of this stormy event. I told my husband, “Mon amour, enjoy, this is your only son!” 
It must have been really sore, but somehow I've changed my mind and today, I’m ready to do it all over again...

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Unassisted Birth of Liliana Kate

The Birth of Liliana Kate 
(a home birth story of love, uncertainty, joy, and a lesson in trust)

I was shocked and thrilled when those two pink lines showed up. I love being a mother, and there was the realization right in front of me that I was lucky enough to get to do it again. I was excited to plan another unassisted birth. We had such a wonderful experience with Nikolai that there was never a question that we would go the same route for this baby. The one thing that was a little different this time was that I chose to have a completely unassisted pregnancy (minus blood work at 4 weeks). I had UP'd with Nikolai from 28 weeks. I had planned on one visit with a naturopath in order to get a referral for an ultrasound at 20 weeks, but that didn't work out. I decided it wasn't meant to be, and was at peace with that turn of events.

There was never any doubt in my mind that I was doing the best thing for my baby and myself. I was healthy, baby was healthy. I knew my body. I saw no need for outside care unless a problem arose. I monitored my blood pressure, urine, and baby's heart rate throughout the pregnancy, with normal results every time. I know that the peace I felt in doing my own pre-natal care contributed to my overall sense of well-being during the pregnancy.

I love being pregnant. And I was lucky enough to have yet another easy pregnancy. I actually had no morning sickness this time, which was the only unpleasant part for me last time. I was very tired during my first trimester, but I knew that would pass. My kids were a great help. The older boys often made sandwiches for the younger two so I could rest.

Once I hit my second trimester, I felt really good, My energy was up, I was eating healthy, and I was loving my ever-growing belly. I started nesting around 20 weeks. I organized, re-organized, scrubbed everything in sight, cleaned closets and washed newborn diapers. I was so busy that I thought I might run out of things to do, and told myself I had to wait until after Christmas to wash baby clothes.

I still felt great during my third trimester. I did have occasional pelvic pain, but other than that, I don't think I had ever felt better during pregnancy. I had more energy than I thought I would at that point. I was walking a lot, taking good care of myself, and thankful I was having such an easy time. The nesting continued. I ordered my birth supplies, washed baby clothes, and kept my house cleaner than it has ever been. Everyone asked me if I had any intuition about gender since we had chosen not to find out. I didn't have a feeling like I did with my other kids, but I did buy a lot of girly cloth diapers and a beautiful pink and brown blanket. The only other time I've done that was when I was pregnant with Persephone, and I knew from the minute the test came up positive that she was a girl. So I guess I did know in a way. Almost everyone else, including Stephen and the kids, was convinced it was a girl.

I had thought all along that it would be neat if baby came on Leap Day. It was only a week away from my guess date, so within the realm of possibility. As I got to about 36 weeks, though, I had a strong feeling that I wouldn't make it that far. Baby was low and getting lower. I could feel the relaxin at work in my hips. I could feel the pressure when I walked. It wasn't uncomfortable. I welcomed all of it. I knew my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to. I felt beautiful and strong. And I thought I would be ready when the time came.

I started having mild, irregular contractions on the morning of the 22nd, the day I turned 38 weeks. They were different than the Braxton-Hicks because they started in my back. I didn't bother timing them at that point because they were spaced so far apart. I also had some bloody show during that time. I knew something was happening, but I didn't know how long it would be. I thought I might have 24 hours or so, based on the bloody show. The contractions didn't get stronger, or closer together that day. I took Persephone to school and went about my day as usual.

Things picked up the next day (23rd). The contractions got stronger, and now radiated down to my upper thighs. I know I must have been sleeping through them, because I would have one every time I got up to pee during the middle of the night (22nd/23rd). They still weren't very regular, though. I might have two or three of them five minutes apart, then nothing for a couple of hours. The bloody show continued heavier than the day before. I slept a lot that day. I knew it would be soon.

By the next morning, I was not in a good place emotionally. The kids had been fighting over the past few days, and Nikolai was not sleeping well. I was really worried about how those distractions would affect my concentration during active labor. I became very unsure of how I would cope. I wanted another peaceful, gentle labor and birth, and I felt like it was slipping out of reach. I slept a lot that afternoon. I had three days of prodromal labor with Nikolai, and by the end I was frustrated with all the stop and start contractions. I just wanted him here. Not so this time. I wanted my baby, but I didn't want labor at that point. Too many distractions, too much uncertainty. I was happy with all of this pre-labor business. The contractions were stronger, but 100% manageable. Not painful at all. I would get on my hands and knees and breathe through them. Then right back to what I had been doing. I wanted to stay right where I was. I didn't want things to get heavy. I wasn't ready. I was...afraid. And I was disappointed in myself once I admitted that.

I checked myself around 9 that night and I was SHOCKED to find that I was 7 cms. dilated. I thought I was maybe 4 or 5. The whole time I had been worrying about active labor and how I would cope, I was already in active labor and coping just fine! That was exactly what I needed. I knew then that I would be fine. That I would have the peaceful birth I wanted for my baby and myself.

The contractions continued steadily for the next hour and a half. I made a couple of excited posts in private facebook groups and got lots of wonderful encouragement from my friends. Stephen had gone to bed early that night "just in case", and I woke him up around 10:30 to start filling the pool. My contractions spaced out a bit after that, and I took advantage of that time to rest. I was really thirsty, so Stephen brought me water. Persephone helped out by bringing me crackers.

My sense of time from here on is a little fuzzy, but the contractions did pick up again, and I got into the pool. Once again, the water felt amazing. I labored in there for awhile on my hands and knees, then felt like I needed to be on solid ground. I leaned over the birth ball and rocked. Then I moved to the bed. Hands and knees, moving my hips back and forth. Then I was back in the pool. Then sitting on the toilet. I definitely had a strong urge to move around.

The contractions were definitely stronger and coming closer together now. One on top of the other sometimes. I knew I was in transition. I got in the shower and leaned over the birth ball, with the water on my lower back. I stood up. It felt good to stand. I hung onto the ledge by the tiny window in the shower. I could feel the intense pressure. I welcomed it. All throughout I was making lots of "Ohhh" vocalizations to remind myself to stay open. It felt SO good to make those noises. I was never in pain. I was uncomfortable in my lower back, and Stephen was awesome about applying counter pressure. I got out of the shower, intending to get right back in the pool, but was hit by a very strong contraction. I went to my hands and knees right there on the bathroom floor. I breathed and "Ohhh"ed through it.

I made it back to the pool, and things went very quickly from there. I almost made myself laugh at one point when I said "Damn it, I'm hungry. Somebody better make me a sandwich when I'm done." It made Stephen laugh. I was so aware and present every minute, which was different than last time. I was off in labor land during each contraction. Not this time. I checked myself again. I was complete with a bulging bag of water. I pushed on my hands and knees for about 10 minutes, expecting it to break. It didn't (I swear it was all those oranges I ate during my pregnancy. They made for an amniotic sac of steel!). I decided, like with Nikolai, to break it myself. i reached up there and tore the sac open with my fingernail. Since I was on my hands and knees and couldn't see, I asked Stephen if the fluid was clear. It was. I told him to get the cameras (digital and video) ready.

I didn't feel the urge to push right away, but when I did it was like a freight train. My body pushed. There was no stopping it. I felt her head make its way down. I reached in (and this is the part where I cry remembering it) and touched her head. I felt her hair. I felt the wrinkle in her scalp where her skull plates had shifted to allow passage. I grunted. She crowned. I was kneeling, supporting my perineum, and trying to allow myself to slowly stretch. I gave a little push and her head was out. I cradled her head in my hand, feeling her hair, her tiny ears. That was the only moment where I tuned everything else out. That moment of birth is so amazing to me, because the baby is literally between worlds.

I gave a good push and her shoulders popped out, then the rest of her body. I brought her out of the water and cried out. It was 2:13 in the morning (3 hours and 45 minutes from when I woke Stephen up). Stephen asked if we had a boy or a girl. I looked. "It's a girl! We have a girl!" Joseph, Persephone and Nikolai had been on the bed watching the whole time, and were in awe. I tried to bring her up to my chest, but couldn't. I briefly thought she had a short cord, but I looked down and saw that it was around her neck. I tried to unwind it, but couldn't. I stood up, and it was then I noticed that it wasn't all the way around her neck, but around the back and her left arm. She was fine, but I still couldn't unwind her. I was holding her, half bent over, and I needed another pair of hands. I asked Joseph to help. He pulled the cord over her head and I was able to free her arm. He is very proud of how he helped his baby sister.

We got out of the pool and I sat down on some chux pads on the floor. Lili was covered in vernix, and I rubbed it right into her skin. Gabriel came in then (Bobby had come in while we were trying to figure out how to unwind her). Everyone got a good look at her, and we all decided she was just perfect. Persephone was thrilled to finally have a baby sister. She had wished for one my entire pregnancy (although she said she would be happy with another brother). She was grinning from ear to ear.

I laid down on the bed with Lili and Persephone (snuggled up next to her new baby sister, of course), not in any hurry to birth the placenta. She had pinked up nicely. It had been about 20 minutes since she was born and she nursed well right away. She really didn't leave the breast for the first 5 hours. We stayed skin to skin like that for about an hour and a half before I decided it was time to cut the cord and get both of us cleaned up. The process of getting up and in a position to cut the cord was a little bit comical. We were both covered in meconium and a bit of blood. I was trying to maneuver Lili to the middle of the bed while still attached to her, squatting over a bowl, with pieces of the disposable waterproof sheet sticking to me. And holding the camera while daddy cut the cord. It was a tangle of cord, poop, blood, tissue paper and squirming baby. Pretty funny. And to top it off, I popped the cord band off of the plastic ring that held it open before we got it on, rendering it useless. We ended up tying the cord off with a piece of the same sparkly purple yarn I had used for my blessingway necklaces.

I got up and the placenta came a few minutes later. I checked it over. It looked nice and healthy. Whole, too, so I wasn't worried about retaining anything. I cleaned Lili up, put a diaper on her, and let daddy take over while I took a shower. Lili and I stayed mostly undressed for the next several hours, having lots of precious skin to skin time. She had a wide awake, super aware period right after she was born, then slept and nursed the rest of the day. When we weighed her, about 5 hours after she was born, we were very surprised to find out that she was only 7 pounds! Healthy, but tiny to us. We are used to 8.5 - 9 pounders. My earliest (38w3d) and smallest baby (Bobby had previously held those titles at 38w4d and 8 pounds even). He still has her beat for shortest labor, though (3 hours).

I was on such a high from the birth that I didn't sleep until late that night. I just wanted to look at her. I gently stroked the top of her head - the same spot I had felt as she was coming down the birth canal. I rubbed her (hairy!) little ears, the same way I had when her head was born. I marveled that this mystery baby we had loved and wondered about was finally here (crying again as I write). She was, she is, perfect in every way. We couldn't have asked for a sweeter baby.

The kids are all completely in love with her. Nikolai has totally surprised us, too. I was sure there would be some level of jealousy since he is very much Mommy's Boy. But he has shown nothing but complete adoration for her. He kisses and loves on her every chance he gets, and is so very gentle. He wants to help with everything, from guiding her head to my breast for milk, to putting his hands on her when I lift her from her Moses basket. "Love baby Lili" is definitely the order of the day.

This labor surprised me in that I lost confidence in my ability to handle active labor. I never expected that to happen. It surprised me when I found myself to be 7 cms. dilated. The whole time my mind had been preoccupied with worry, my body just kept right on doing what it was supposed to. I am struck by the same thing that I felt so profoundly after Nikolai's birth. It is momentous and empowering in ways you cannot imagine unless you've done it. At the same time, it is the most simple and ordinary thing in the world. I gave birth at home, just my husband and kids and I.

And in case you were wondering...I did get my sandwich ;)

Saturday, March 3, 2012