Reflecting on birth and post-partum a year later (Part 1: Birth) 

I love reflecting. In fact, I struggle to live in the moment because I spend so much time thinking about the past (and dreaming about the future). But I think it can be healthy to reflect on the past, especially when it was a momentous time in your life and you want to hold onto the memories forever. So here we go, down memory lane… 

Birth

Listening to hypnobirthing scripts at about 5cm

I remember thinking I was going to die, and that I just couldn’t do it anymore, but at the same time feeling stronger than any other human on earth in that moment. Labour is like lifting a car off of someone. You don’t know you’ve got it in you until you do it, and there’s no way you could summon that strength under ordinary conditions. I remained more afraid of an epidural than of the pain of childbirth throughout the whole thing. And I prevailed. I remain incredibly impressed with myself for giving birth without pain management of any kind, because that was an experience I really wanted under my belt. I would have liked to have had a completely unmedicated birth, but the pitocin wasn’t so bad. It kept things on track. In hindsight, I remember the midwife saying that my contractions were petering out part way through pushing, so I am thankful to have had an easy way to pick them back up again. Losing the strength of your contractions after having pushed for a while is one reason for ending up on the operating table. Thankful. 

That’s a word I often used to describe my birth experience to people. I’m thankful that my high blood pressure and family history of pre-eclampsia didn’t end up in pre-e for me. I’m thankful that I got my favourite midwife (Martha), and that she delivered Avery, even though it was SUPPOSED to be the OB. I’m thankful that labour was short (only 10ish hours). I’m thankful we got to go home the day she was born. I’m thankful everyone was extremely healthy, we didn’t need the NICU, and I peed on my own without needing a catheter. 

Birth was a haze and like most people who have given birth say, I forgot the pain almost instantly. I know that it was the pain that had me in such a haze, though. It’s a natural mechanism to get you through it. I didn’t know if the room was bright or dark, if it was night or day, or who was there with me. I was completely inside my head. I remember being told to go to the bathroom to pee every hour. That was horrible… What felt like gallons of bloody water gushed out of me at every step (post-water-breaking), I was tangled in tubes and wire from the IV and blood pressure cuff, and I couldn’t see straight. But I obeyed my midwives because I had all my trust in them. 

I remember knowing it was time to push when I suddenly felt my body heave up off the bed with the strength of a contraction. I lost all concern about pooping in front of everyone (which I don’t think I did, actually). I was determined to get the baby out and get it over with. The midwives were surprised at how efficiently I pushed her out, given that she was posterior (bulging forehead facing up, which is technically an upside down way to be born). I remember planning to try to push slowly to avoid tearing. I had practiced my J breathing (from hypnobirthing). I had wanted to be zen and calm and gentle. 

Between pushes I alternated between screaming bloody murder and begging for sweet death, and going into instant deep relaxation to gear up for the next contraction. So hypnobirthing semi-worked. 

And then it was over. I felt the gush. I felt her body squeeze, fumble and pop out of me. I felt the excitement and love instantly fill the room. In an instant, her wet, sticky body was plopped on my chest. In an instant, the pain was a distant memory and I was overcome with joy/love/gratitude/amazement. Our bond that had started during pregnancy was suddenly taken to the next level. She was real. She needed me in a whole new way. Instantly, I loved birth because of what it brought me. My sweet and perfect daughter. 

And birth, dear readers, was the easy part. Stay tuned for my deep and personal reflections on my post-partum experience next. 

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On Photographing your Birth

I’ve written about this before in a post on regrets. I wanted a birth photographer, but in the end it was going to be too expensive to hire a professional and we didn’t know anyone I was comfortable enough letting into the delivery room (I’m weird that way… the closer someone is to me, the less comfortable I am showing them my vulnerability). We brought our nice camera to the hospital with us, but of course everyone in the room was too busy, you know, delivering a baby, to remember to snap pictures. There are 4 or 5 photos of all of us in the delivery room, and most of those have nip slips in them so I don’t even want to show them off.

I’m also a person who takes A. LOT. OF. PHOTOS. My wife teases me about it and asks why I can’t just settle for making a memory in my brain, rather than trying to capture everything in photos and live the actual experience from the other side of a lens. I take so many photos that both my laptop and my phone ran out of space after 6 months of having a baby. I was able to store some pictures in the cloud for a while, but then that too ran out of space. We finally bought a huge external hard drive and I’m now moving everything over to it (and forcing myself to pare down the photos I kept, from ~300 a month, to under 100 per month). 

In my photo sorting, I came across a folder from my nephew’s birth. My wife brought her fancy camera to that too, but this time was free to get creative and play the role of professional photographer. There are more photos of my nephew’s birth (actually the afternoon after he was born – we weren’t in the room for the gory stuff) than there are of Avery’s first 4 months combined (after paring down). There are beautiful shots of the clock on the wall, the contraction monitor, the little “it’s a boy” card, the baby with each and every one of his new extended family members, and about 50 of the new mom with baby, so she could pick the few that she looked best in.

I’m jealous. I’m disappointed for Avery’s sake that we didn’t plan to capture more of her special day. It only happens once in a person’s life, and the changes from that day forward are monumental, taking you away from the wrinkled, vernix-covered innocence to the round, chubby baby days in the blink of an eye. And birth itself is such an intense experience for the person birthing that photos would really help jog the memory when the dust settles and you find yourself wanting to reflect.

So if you are reading this and you are pregnant, I highly, highly, highly recommend having a birth photographer. Don’t lose out on the chance to capture those fleeting memories in all the raw, beautiful detail.

Birth Story

My home water birth plan turned into a hospital birth. I made the decision that would be safest for everyone. But now that I have my baby home with me, I don’t even get sad seeing the birth pool and all the home birth supplies still sitting in my dining room. I got my healthy baby without too much trauma or medical concern, and that turned out to be all I needed to love my birth experience.
So here’s the story. On Aug 23rd I went in to the hospital for monitoring following another blood pressure spike, and found myself needing to make a decision – be induced that day or to go on blood pressure meds and likely end up with more of a dire need for an induction a few days to week later if labour didn’t come spontaneously early. With the help of an amazing midwife, I confidently made the choice to have an induction that day. I think my natural induction strategies (acupuncture, labour tincture) had really worked to ready my body. At 38 weeks and 3 days, I was already 3 cm dilated and fully effaced. I was a prime candidate for a medical induction. My body was expected to respond well to pitocin, and it did.

I did go through about an hour of regret when I was first hooked up to the IV and the monitors and was told I unfortunately couldn’t get up and move around, but once my midwife arrived I felt advocated for again and we were able to set up a peaceful environment. We dimmed the lights, I was able to eat, and the midwife suggested ways for me to move around on and beside the bed.

Early labour was quite boring. Pitocin was started at 1pm, and labour stayed pretty mild until around 8pm. During early labour my hypnobirthing came in handy – I was in the zone, totally relaxed, listening to guided meditations, and easily breathing through contractions. My wife sat beside me playing bejeweled on her phone because there was really nothing for either of us to do but relax and try to conserve our energy.

The pitocin drip was very slowly increased to attempt to mimic the natural progression of oxytocin. When active labour started and my contractions got more intense, I had to concentrate really hard to keep my relaxed, meditative composure. I had in my birth plan that I didn’t want my dilation to be checked unless absolutely necessary, and I didn’t want to hear how dilated I was (or wasn’t). That was working for me until the consulting OB, whom I hadn’t seen at all yet, came in and decided to break my water. When he did it he announced “she’s 5cm”. I immediately lost my composure. I broke down crying and panicked through the next half hour of contractions, saying there was no way I could make it through another 5 cm. However, as badly as I wanted to end the sensations, I wanted to avoid an epidural more. Respecting my birth plan, I was never offered an epidural, even when I was panicking about not being able to go on. My birthing team was right – I could totally do it.

When I finally calmed down and accepted that I couldn’t just give up and go home without completing labour, I got back in the zone. From 5 cm to full dilation my contractions were back to back. I had some trouble staying in the zone of relaxation and breathing near the end, and had moments of being scared and of losing confidence in my ability to make it. During the transition phase I used a loud gutteral screaming to release the tension. I kept apologizing for how loud I was being and felt terrible that I would scare other labouring women in the ward. The sensations were intense, and the way I got through it was to remind myself that they weren’t stronger than me; they were me.

I went from 5 cm to fully open in about 4 or 5 hours, but it went by in a blur. Even my wife, who was standing beside me constantly replacing ice compresses on my forehead, said the time flew and the hours bled into one another. By 12:30am my uterus had started to push the baby out. The contractions had changed, and the strength of them literally heaved my upper body up off the bed. The midwife asked if she could check me, and lo and behold, I was fully dilated. My body knew what to do.

Pushing lasted for an hour and a half, which again, went by in a timeless way. Between contractions I went into deep relaxation to conserve energy and relax the muscles of the birth canal. My wife watched as the buldge that was her head moved down, under the skin, and eventually crowned. She had flipped around during labour and was posterior, so her forehead had been squeezed into a big bump that emerged first. The midwives called her a special unicorn baby because of the big swollen bump on her head. When her whole head came out, her body slipped out in the same push. I was so shocked that I had actually just pushed a baby out of me that I think I stared at her stunned for the entire first 2 hours of skin to skin. I didn’t even notice that her head was swollen until much later. After the first 24 hours of life, though, all the swelling went down and we could finally see what she actually looked like.

Ever since we got pregnant I wondered what it would be like to have two moms, and therefore two maternal instincts, receiving their baby at the same time. I wondered if there would be jealousy over bonding time. But when she came out I kept asking the midwives if my wife could hold her yet. I couldn’t wait for her to feel the amazingness that was holding and bonding with our little bug. They were adamant that the baby stay on my chest for a full 2 hours though, which was great for baby’s breastfeeding abilities. She latched right away and went to town replenishing her energy from such an awkwardly positioned emergence into the world.

We spent the rest of the night in the delivery room bonding, getting stitches, getting baby checked out, and trying to pee. By 5 am we got a new room where we spent the morning. We were home by 4 in the afternoon on the day of her birth.

Everything went as well as it could have (although I might be sitting a little easier right now if I hadn’t needed stitches). Our baby is so fucking beautiful it hurts my heart. I had an amazing birth experience.