So it's been 10 days now since I birthed my son. I am thankfully on the road to recovery-- able to walk around the house a bit more and not be on complete bed rest, etc, but I couldn't have healed up as well without my sweet husband's help. I told him today, "I'm glad you're my baby-daddy." And it's true: he's been absolutely invaluable getting me food, changing J-Mike's diapers, soothing him when he won't feed, feeding and walking the dog, doing laundry, keeping our space sacred*...yeah. I finally caught up with emails after a week, then I set about writing J-Mike's baby book: we're almost done, yes! One of the things that was most difficult for me to write, though, was the birth story-- not because it was horrible, but I think because it was so...intense. And yes, caring for a newborn isn't exactly refreshing. Our normal has changed: we now have to adjust to a fourth member in the family--not just my husband and I, but our dog, too, who was once our baby, well, now, she's got a younger sibling who needs all of Mommy's attention. She's been great, though I do sense that she misses me. So yes, dogs are absolutely great practice for having kids: they need attention and love, almost like a child, but not as much as they're not as helpless and usually not as loud.
So. On to the actual birth.
We'd been futzing back and forth when this baby would be born: my Chinese relatives told me I better birth AFTER Jan. 23, so he would be born under the sign of the Dragon in Chinese astrology. I retorted that any year was as good as any as I was officially safe to give birth by Week 37 which was Jan. 15, but whatever, right? My due date was Feb. 5, so when that came and went, the heat was on. Then Week 41 was approaching and my parents were coming that Wednesday, so they were saying that hopefully the baby would be born by the time they arrived, to which I replied he will born when he wants to be born. My mother-in-law suggested Feb. 12th as 2-12-12 was pretty neat, but I said no: Feb. 12 is my cousin's birthday and also the day my aunt was killed. I also didn't want Feb. 14 as a Valentine baby is just cheesy, and I really think that most kids born on holidays would prefer to be born on another day: Christmas especially. So.
Saturday Feb. 11th came, and my husband and I had a breastfeeding class to attend. As we were getting ready, I felt this weird moistness like I was peeing but couldn't help it so I raced to the bathroom as much as my preggo self could, and sure enough, there was a pinkish blob in the water. At the same time, I started to get mild cramps. I told my midwife and she said it's probably my mucus plug coming unplugged. That whole day I was a bit uncomfortable every now and then, though we were still able to stop for fresh veggie juice with some chili--chili as I heard it's a good way to bring on labor, but also with my weird tastebuds, who knows?
Sunday Feb. 12th, the cramps were becoming a bit more uncomfortable and the discharge was more fluid, so our midwife and doula came over to check on me. Doula gave me a foot massage; midwife did a pH check and sure enough, we had some amniotic fluid. Nonetheless, we were still able to go to Lululemon (kung fu pants for J!), Ikea (a changing table) and Thai Pepper (basil duck!) for dinner, where I surprisingly did not have much appetite. We then knew something was up. We then visited our doula to borrow her birthing ball. That night, the cramps did not stop and made sleep quite difficult: Jess asked the midwife what to do and she said to time them when I had them, so he did.
Monday Feb. 13th, the cramps were by now more intense, and painful enough that I couldn't really interact with anyone when it hit: I even abandoned my iPhone to the waves of labor (which on hindsight was probably one of the best things I did so as to focus purely on labor). Our midwife told my husband to time the "cramps," and as he timed them, they were starting to be more regular than the ones the night before. So husband stayed home and did not go to work; doula came over followed by our midwife. It was a rainy day. We were definitely in labor, it turned out. We didn't know how long it would take, but we were all here for the ride. I liked staying in bed as it didn't hurt as much, but apparently in this case, pain was good: my midwife told me, "No pain, no gain" and "Pain is the way through." So our doula would have me sit on the toilet, and I would rock out the contractions there, then she also liked me to sit on the birthing ball, which I liked less, as the contractions got really strong while I would be on it. We would kinda haggle-- me wanting to lie on the bed and her wanting me to sit on the ball, but I would eventually cave as I knew she had my interests at heart. My husband would also echo me when I would moan during contractions--something he learned from Ina May Gaskin, and it did help a little. Later on, our doula asked if I wanted to take my shower with my husband, that it might make me feel better, but when I did, the contractions intensified and hurt more (though I felt cleaner). I would hang onto my husband as I rode out the contractions, while our midwife would put a doppler to my stomach to listen to baby's heartbeat: every time, she was satisfied, and would say, "happy baby!". In between, they pushed food on me, as I had no appetite: that and liquid in the form of raspberry tea and coconut water. I preferred the liquid over the food (i.e. the green smoothie I made that morning with my husband's help). I threw up some, which made my birth team happy for some reason, then after a while, when I asked to stay in bed, to my surprise, they agreed. But it didn't feel so good, and the crinkly sound from the plastic layer underneath didn't help, so I moved to lay on our black leather couch, and even managed to sleep there a bit. I sat on the toilet and rocked and threw up again and let out one different-sounding yell which was accompanied by a feeling that felt like an urge to poop: my midwife said, "sounds like we're ready to push!" Then we moved back to the black couch: my moans changed to hoarse screams (that my doula told me to change to deep yells) and an urge to poop, which apparently was a transition to pushing. My husband had just stepped out to walk our standard poodle Bella, and our midwife opened the door and told him to "keep it a short one." We had rented a birthing tub, but we weren't ever told when to set it up, and I was so deep in the pain that I didn't have enough presence to ask about it. Besides, I just wanted the pain to be over. Birth team suggested we go to the bed. The pain still didn't go away, and I asked why. They said it will go away when your baby's head comes out! which wasn't really satisfactory to me as it still hurt. So we continued to push on the bed, one leg bent and one leg straight, then to both legs bent being held in the air, and at one point, our midwife said, "oh I see the head!" then the contraction and urge to push would be over, and he'd retreat back. At one point too she peered down there and as she did so, I yelled (deep-yell, our doula reminded me) and pushed, which by now almost felt uncontrollable, painful and relieving at the same time, then out popped this surge of water, to which she said, "well I guess that was your water bag breaking" or something like that, much to our everyone's amusement, though I was in too much pain to notice! But it was hard going on the bed. Someone (our doula? our midwife herself?) then suggested our midwife's birthing stool: maybe the pull of gravity would help. I nodded feebly: anything to get this over with!-- so she hurried to get it, and she and our doula wrapped it in stain-protecting pads, then I was guided onto it. I was holding onto my husband, then our midwife suggested he squat down by her to catch the baby. I hung on for dear life to our doula-- her big, warm, strong presence was great-- and I pushed. And pushed some more. It seemed like in no time at all that our squirmy, squalling baby popped/burst out in a rush of blood and amniotic fluid to be caught by his awestruck (I can still remember his expression of shock and awe) daddy, then brought to the chest and arms of his mommy. Our midwife announced it to be 6:02 pm. And it seemed to me that for a moment, baby had this surprised look on his face (welcome to the colder outside!) before he started squalling. Our baby still had his placenta attached to him (in a Ziploc bag) when we were led to my pad-covered side of the bed. He had a hard time latching on to my breast, much to everyone's concern (though I think my husband was sorta delirious: he was saying how our baby looked like William Shatner, and later, like the lovechild of E.T. and William Shatner) so our midwife helped me with some positions, and eventually baby got the drift and nursed for a solid hour, much to everyone's relief, though our doula suggested we call the lactation consultant we met from the breastfeeding class anyway. Only then did my husband cut the cord under our midwife's direction, and the cord felt/looked like a cold, thick, white udon noodle. I was still being plied with liquid and food, only now, my appetite had returned. I asked why appetite goes away during labor, and I was told it's because all systems shut down to concentrate on the uterus/labor. Our midwife examined me and saw that I had some minor tears, and asked me and my husband if we wanted it stitched up. We did, and it was tender, so she numbed the area with Lidocaine then stitched it up. In the meantime, our friends N and K had come over with food and flowers, but I was buck-naked and bloody, thus in no shape to receive them. Our birth team then drew me an herbal bath, in candlelight. Our midwife suggested I pee, even if I didn't want to: sure enough, there was a lot of pee waiting! Then she led me to the bath, followed by our baby, along with instructions on how to hold him (he was so little!) I was also amazed at my stomach, which had been all puffed out pre-birth, belly button included, get all deflated and loose, and even a bit dark, after the birth. (I actually weighed myself the next day and had already lost about 19 pounds--whoa that's a lot of fluid and baby and placenta! Of course there's still weight to lose, but I also hear breastfeeding helps with that...)
It was wrap-up time at around 10:30/11-ish p.m., so our doula left with promises to come back the next day (Valentine's Day) with a placenta shake, as well as on contacting the lactation consultant to come by too ; our midwife left us with instructions to check temperatures on both me and baby, as well as to tell my husband when I'd get up to pee; also that I would be on bedrest for a week then transition the week after. She also said to call for anything.
So it came down to me, my husband, our dog Bella, and the newest member of our family, our baby boy, J-Mike, short for Jess Michael Sua Totten. The birth was beautiful, miraculous but also almost common place: there were no drugs involved, no vaccines, no eye drops, no looking/poking into my woman parts during labor, no monitors, no transferring to/from the hospital, no hospital gowns or protocols, not much paperwork to fill out. Instead, we were home, active labor took all of a day, our birth team was able to go home at a reasonable time: it seemed almost like a mundane event within a miraculous, momentous one, or vice versa? As our doula told me later, "I had nothing (bad) to process: it was perfect!" And when I thanked my birth team, they told me, "No, you did it: it was all you, you strong momma!"
It was a beautiful birth. I have a beautiful baby boy who's alert and wide-eyed and active, and at times, that's still hard to believe, that he came out of me, in such amazing circumstances after 41 weeks and a day of growing inside of me. If I would do it again, I would do it just the same: at home, with my choices in place, and with only my birth team in place (that includes Bella!). This is how women birthed over the ages until very recently with the advent of hospitals; so why change the wheel if it's unnecessary? I believe in my choices, my empowered birth.
It's funny how stuff works: I didn't want him born on Feb. 12, or Feb. 14, and my parents were coming on Feb. 15, so baby said, ok, then it'll just have to be Feb. 13! So there we go.
It's now been 10 days since J-MIke's birth, and during that time, we've seen friends and family, been given food by some, photographed by others, seen J-Mike's pediatrician at home, had our prenatal photographer come to photograph J-Mike, etc. Three days ago, at our midwife's one-week visit, she told me that because I choose to breastfeed, that I can eat a bit more: 300-600 calories more, and that that can involve a bit more sugar than the almost-zero tolerance during pregnancy. This made me think, so the next day, I emailed her, thanking her for her vigilance on sugar. Granted, I hate being told what to do as that was how my childhood was, and maybe I do like sugar more than I admit (must be the diabetes in my family), but because of this, ok, I'd slip up every now and then (I do love cookies and sandwiches!), but all in all tried to be careful, as I usually try to follow orders ;) But because of this, we as a family are definitely more conscious of sugar now. I notice that healthy fats and proteins, as well as probiotics help balance out the sugar. Also, I told her to look into palm/coconut sugar aside from stevia: I find it didn't raise my blood sugar the way agave or honey would: with agave/honey and even flour, I would get this sickly sweet/thick coating feel on my tongue.
*Since some hoary visits too, my husband formulated some rules on visiting mama and baby, as shown below. May you take them to heart and apply them to you/a loved one's birth and avoid the stress that would come without the rules!
Rules on Visiting a Newborn
by Jess G. Totten
- bring food.
- wash dishes.
- help with laundry.
- refill mama's water glass.
- be aware that you are entering a sacred space, where mama and baby have enacted a tangible miracle, love made flesh. Enter with quiet reverence, please.
- papa, whether he realizes it or not, is the guardian of a sacred space. Please do what you can to make his job easier.
- please limit your visit to a couple of hours at absolute most, limit photography to the bare minimum, and limit the number of people in the birthing room.
- wash your hands.
- modulate the tone and volume of your voice. you don't have to whisper, but loud noise will disturb baby. Keep a calm collected energy; please "contain" yourselves.
- please leave any gifts in your car. If you must bring gifts, set them down someplace out of the way, and tell papa "We got you guys an (x)."
- baby has three jobs: eating, sleeping and pooping.
- mama has three jobs: resting, healing and feeding baby.
- if your presence isn't helping mama or baby perform one of their three jobs, ask yourself why you have entered their space.
- baby is not a rock star, an NFL quarterback, or a lingerie model. Baby will be disturbed by lots of strange giants pointing flashing, clicking devices at him. this is where UFO abduction nightmares come from.
- if mama or baby is looking tired or stressed, make your graceful exit immediately. This applies even if you just got here ten minutes ago.
- as you make your timely and graceful exit, grab the trash bag and drop it in the outside bin.
- all of these guidelines and regulations may seem onerous and restrictive. Daddy may seem like a cranky asshole. Mama and papa and baby have all just been through a major upheaval in their lives. Adjusting to that, and tending to the daily needs of all three, is an enormous job. Show some respect.
- baby is forming non-verbal associations that will last his entire life. If you want to continue to be a part of his life, you want him to associate you with warmth and comfort and relaxation.
Cranky Hippie New Dad