Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Best First Birth Story I Could've Ever Asked For

Sarah’s Birth

(I wrote this in my journal on my bed the days after her birth.  I edited a little bit of it since and added details as I remembered them)

Contractions started to be steady at 4 am on July 31st, 2011.  I could sleep in between them.  I knew sometimes you could start contractions and then stop so I just passed through them or let them pass through me for a while.  They were strong enough, though, that I knew I needed to get rest and eat well.  So, I decided to stay home from church and have Michael stay with me to help keep track of contractions.  They were decently strong but the breathing and relaxing got me through them just fine.  We watched a funny church movie and my contractions took an hour break.  Then they came back stronger but not too strong.  We went on a walk to the park.  I had a couple contractions.  Then I needed to go to the bathroom really bad so we walked home and I had at least one on the way home, and I peed my pants. I’d tell Michael whenever they started and then when they stopped and he kept such amazing track in t his little brown waterproof notebook.

All the while I am eating all I can- turkey bagel sandwich, crackers – and drinking tons of water.  I also would lie down when I felt tired because I needed to pace myself as Chris (my midwife) advised.
We knew it was going to be a long haul so I needed to get as much rest and food to preserve my energy.  And am I sure glad I did!

Between going to the park and finally arriving at the Birth Center we went to QFC and stocked up on good food- Pirate’s Booty, Cheez-its, Peanut butter cliff bars…mmm.

I remember having a contraction in the freezer section at QFC, then in front of the chase branch office.  Michael would just stay by me and help me feel like I was doing a great job.  People may have seen what was going on because I would be totally hunched over and kind of swaying my hips.  I didn’t make as much noise, though, during contractions in public.

For every contraction Michael was there and aware.  At the beginning I’d have one and be kind of quiet breathing, waiting relaxing.  Then when they got stronger I started the moaning noises or low and deep “uhhhs.”

One time, when I was on the ground in the dining room having a contraction he started to rub my back and hips like we’d practiced- quickly I realized I didn’t want anyone touching me.  I told him I loved him but would rather he not touch me during contractions. He was not offended.  I told him it helped just to have him close by, so that’s what he did. * Thank you Michael for meeting my every need with so much love and understanding!  I will be forever grateful to you for being by my side figuratively and literally through the whole labor and birth process.

He was so good at timing the contractions and not saying anything if it wasn’t as long as the last or if the time in between them had changed.  That way I could stay mentally focused on getting through each contraction instead of worrying about my progress.  I don’t think I worried about how I was progressing once.  That was a choice I had made and one Michael had apparently made from the beginning.

From the beginning of labor (~4 AM, July 31st) we both just enjoyed our time together.  We stayed calm and remembered that sometimes contractions come and go without it being the real thing.
My parents got home from church and when my mom asked if we were anxious and didn’t want to have to wait, both of us looked at each other and shook our heads “no.”  We weren’t in a rush.  I knew she would come when she and I were both ready.

Then I just focused on resting pretty much, and getting through each contraction, one at a time.  (Mom and Dad went to Mike and Melissa’s for dinner). 

Once the contractions started to be at least 4 minutes apart, lasting at least 1 minute for about an hour we knew we needed to call my midwife, Chris.  This was around 11:30 pm.
We were on the phone with Chris for at least 15 minutes.  I answered what seemed like TONS of questions and some of them I answered repeatedly.  I didn’t get frustrated, though.  Chris stayed on the phone during contractions and coached me through them, telling me to relax and let my bum go soft and everything go soft.  Michael would hold the phone near me so I didn’t have to. This all happened on the floor on my side of our bed in the guest room at my parent’s house.  

This is also the only time I experienced the thought “I don’t know if I can do this.”  I had been experiencing labor for almost 18 hours and I was tired.  I knew the hardest part hadn’t even started yet and so I let myself look ahead and get scared about all I had left to do instead of focusing on getting through the present calmly.  This is a very typical feeling and many women- even those that wanted to deliver naturally- welcome an epidural at this point.  It’s true that some women have exhausted themselves so much that an epidural is what truly saves them and helps them successfully deliver their babies but I was not completely exhausted I knew.  Michael was there to reassure me and Chris was on the phone when I started voicing this fear.  She helped me calm down and regain faith that all would be well and that I could continue to pass through contractions naturally without assistance.

Once she established I was at the point in labor I needed to be before coming into the birth center, we got off the phone and started to leave.  Getting to the car took a while (a LONG while says Michael (: ).  I kept getting contractions and needing to stop and breath and relax through them (on the way down the stairs, by the door, just outside the car) Talking to Michael now, he kept thinking “Why don’t you just get in the car and then you can go through your contractions in there and we’ll get to the birth center quicker!” Good thing he didn’t say that, or else I wouldn’t have felt so supported! It’s definitely not that simple.

Finally we got in the car around 12:15 am. The car drive was surreal.  The stars were so bright; it was an absolutely beautiful night. I remember thinking how beautiful this night was that my daughter would be born.  I called Siri once we got in the car.  I felt her concern and sincerity immediately after we began speaking.  She said she’d get ready and be to the birth center right away. Now, I had never talked to her before.  She was my “back-up” doula because Mandy was out of town that weekend and I was still a week before due date not expecting to have my baby.  So to be like this when a stranger (she knew she was my “back-up” doula though) calls you at 12:15 am when you’re tired because you have kids of your own is amazing!  

The rest of the drive I breathed and relaxed through contractions with Michael by my side offering support.  I remember thinking how long that drive down 148th in Bellevue was taking.  It was interesting and perfect driving through the city I grew up in and had left behind for years but was back now to give birth to my first child.

We pulled into the birth center and Chris pulled in right after.  I threw up a couple times (which could have been a sign of “transition”) on the cement and in the dirt right outside door, oops!
We got inside and I immediately started taking my clothes off.  Michael got out my bathing suit tops and asked which I wanted to wear and I just shook my head and said neither.  I didn’t even want to think about putting clothes on my achy, shivery, and ready to explode body.  I wasn’t thinking about the videos and pictures that would be taken and how I wouldn't be able to show them to anyone because I’d be buck naked in them all.  Next time I’ll definitely wear a sports bra so I can show my kids and anyone else that would find it helpful.  During the preparation I saw more than a few natural births including that of my natural birth teacher’s 3rd child.  It REALLY helped and got me excited to watch these.

Chris “checked” me right away and I was at 6 cm.  She could tell I was progressing quickly and so we did the normal tub instead of the big pool… a choice that proved to be best anyways.
About 5 minutes passed and the tub was ready for me.  I got completely naked and got in.  The contractions in the tub were nice because I would just float and look at Michael and he’d help me not go under the water.  My head was rested on a small pillow on the side that Chris gave me.
Michael remained with me the whole time.

After a few contractions I started to grunt and Chris asked if I felt like pushing. I responded, “I don’t know, how does that feel?”  “Like you have to poop.” She said.  After a few minutes I must have felt that way because I said yes.  Michael then asked if I wanted him in the tub and I said I wasn’t sure if there was room.  He assured me there was and then got on his swimsuit and got in the tub with me.  He sat behind me with his legs around me to give me as much room and provide as much support as he could.  It was so nice having him there, especially during the pushes when I needed to get as much leverage as possible squatting and leaning back.

My mom, Michael’s mom, a midwife in training and my doula substitute, Siri, were also in the beautifully decorated, earth toned and dimly lit birthing center room.  I believe mine or Michael’s mom could have provided the support I needed- my mother had 4 children naturally and coached other natural births, even home births- but I felt most comfortable just having them in the room.  I wanted them to witness the life-changing event because I love them so much but for some reason my comfort of their involvement didn’t extend past them sitting close by.  I’m grateful they understood and were happy just to be there.

My first push I threw my head back and pushed hard against the tub wall and let out noise as I pushed.  It was almost like I was doing what I’d seen in the movies, it was the only way I knew how to push.  Somehow, in all my hours of studying and preparing, how to push correctly and effectively never sank in.  So, right there in the tub Chris gave me a pushing crash course.  She told me to put my chin down and hold in the breath so that all energy from my push went to getting Sarah out and not to making noise or extending my neck and head.  My body was curled, in a way, once I put my chin down.  From the top of my head to my bottom was a c-curve, like I’d practiced a lot in my modern dance classes.  

From then on I did pretty well at pushing effectively… so well that my face would turn bluish purple (says my mom) and I often wondered if my head would burst or pop off.  During some of the pushes and the breaks in between pushes I thought about the name “Sarah”.  This happened three times. I know now that I was being prepared to make our final decision on our baby girl’s name.  

A little after I started pushing Chris began to stretch me “down there” during each push.  We think my initial tear happened during one of these stretches because Michael saw a bunch of blood while she was stretching me.  I don’t know for sure, though.

In between pushes I would relax and it would get really quiet.  Michael would replace the cold cloth on my face.  I loved that time because it was so peaceful.  I even started to sing or hum, I can’t remember, during one of those quiet times.  Something important I should mention is that the birth center was SO conducive with a peaceful and quiet birth.  I believe it would be conducive with any kind of birth except for a high-stress and completely uncomfortable one.  I was so happy.  I started to cry because I was so happy.  At another point I said, “I need people to tell me everything is going to be OK.” And everyone confidently reassured me it would.  But, for the most part, I knew it would be and I could feel God’s love and power very strongly throughout the birth.
I never felt like I was “out of my body” but looking back, what I accomplished was miraculous- meaning God worked through me, gave me the will, strength, energy to push and get Sarah out and not give up until she was on my chest- which, by the way, was the best/coolest feeling in the whole universe!!!!  Two words that might describe how it felt are peace and goodness, even perfection.  Everything felt completely right.  Michael and my marriage felt so right.  Me being a mother felt so right. Everyone that was there and helping me felt so right.  Having our baby girl in our arms felt so so so right.

Throughout the pushing Chris would check the baby’s pulse with a tool she could stick in the water and on my belly.  Near the end, when Sarah’s head was getting squished the most in the canal, her heart rate would drop and Chris would take on a serious face and remind me to breathe as deeply as possible in between pushes.  She’d keep the tool on my tummy and I would breathe as deeply as I could until the little pitter-patters of her heartbeat were closer together.  I remember never caring more about anything in my life than helping my baby have a normal heart rate while she was making her way down the birth canal so she could end up healthily in my arms, right there in that peaceful spot in the Birth Center.  The thought came more than once that If I could keep a good breath and help her get the oxygen she needed then I could deliver her right there in the birth center and avoid having to get out of the tub, into a car and drive to the nearby hospital to deliver her.  I had decided to not be devastated if that had happened but still I wanted to avoid it.  Gratefully, she did get the oxygen she needed and maintained a normal heart rate.

I continued to push with each contraction.  I ended up needing to get on my feet and squat and push for a while.  It became an art, the moment I learned the best way to push; at the first signs of a contraction I would rip the cloth of my face, get on my feet in a squatting position and give it everything I had and some.  Eventually little Sarah’s head was out enough that it didn’t go back in between the contraction and we could touch it.  I could feel her cute little head and hair. That was incredible and provided all the motivation I needed to finish pushing her out.  I knew I needed to be patient with my body, though, and only push when I felt a contraction.

A contraction came and I pushed and out came her whole head.  The only reason I knew it was because Chris told me.  Because she hadn’t hit air, she could have been in the water for minutes and been OK. It’s incredible what our bodies do.  The chance to push came and I barely pushed when the rest of her body slid out.  That felt kind of crazy.  It was like my body was saying, “Well, you got her head out, now here’s the rest of her!!” 

Immediately her whole self was on my self.  She was so little.  She was a little blue and a little goopy but not bad… the water had cleaned her off a bit.  I remember seeing her little face and almost dying of happiness.  Michael was still behind me, as he had been this whole time, and could see her over my shoulder and hold her from behind me.  Chris and the assistant put a little pink and blue hat on her head right away and kept a warm towel on her body to keep her temperature safe, but we got to sit there and hold her for what seemed like an hour but was actually about 10 minutes or so.  In that 10 minutes we heard her for the first time, such a little voice that we fell in love with. It was when the tub was too red from my bleeding that we got out. When people ask Michael if that grossed him out to be in that tub with me he just shrugs… he’s the best!

I got into the shower that was right next to the tub and sat with the showerhead in my hands spraying water on my face and my body, rinsing myself off and renewing myself physically.  It was in the shower that I realized that my body was my own, again.  I didn’t have a little peanut inside of me anymore... it was just me.  Since then I’ve learned that my body would hardly ever be my own after having kids, forever bearing evidence that I carried them and nursed them.
My energy was pretty low.  I had just given birth and pushed hard for an hour and a half!  I had to have help from the shower to the bed.  

The room was so beautiful.  During the contractions in the tub, the pushing and then the recovery, the birth center provided a calming and home-like atmosphere I was so comfortable in and grateful for. 
As my mom and others helped me to the bed to rest and receive stitches I walked by Michael who was holding Sarah on his bare chest.  He looked like he was in heaven.  As is a baby’s instinct, she was using her little lips and head to make her way to his nipple and trying to latch, we all got a kick out of that!  I was just grateful he had her and happy to take a moment to myself.
On the bed I was wrapped up in a robe and cozy in the large bed’s comforter.  I remember my mom sitting on the bed with me and stroking my head telling me how well I did and how proud she was of me.  Thank you, Mom!  What a miracle to have you there to watch me-a daughter you gave birth to- give birth to her own daughter.  It was the day I could start my life-long journey of understanding all that you’ve done and do for me.

On the bed, once I was decent, the Keller’s all came in to see the baby and me.  I remember Steve’s face… he was so happy and so proud.  Keith was tired and maybe a little uncomfortable and sat on the chair near the bed.  Whitney and Allie were beaming and excited to meet their first niece.  I think it was around that time or maybe a little before when Chris asked me what we were going to name her.  I had told Michael about thinking about the name Sarah a few times while I was pushing and both of us knew that should and would be her name.  When Steve and Laura found out they were speechless.  I don’t think we understood what that meant to them and the whole Keller family, we only felt honored for the privilege to name our daughter after a family member who had touched so many lives with her love and testimony.
It was soon after that that I could take Sarah and try to nursing for the first time.  I didn’t feel pressure for it to work right away because of what I had heard from other moms- it can take time for both you and the baby to learn how to breast-feed.  Miraculously, it worked right away.  To be able to successfully nurse her at the beginning was a tender mercy from the Lord because after that day it didn’t happen so easily for a while.  I needed that time though, that connection with this human I had carried for nine months and then felt as if I would give my own life to allow her to enter this world. 
The room was warm.  I was surrounded by people that wanted that child almost as bad as I did.  My dad took some pictures.  My hair was crimped from being in braids before and my face had traces of the makeup I put on the day before.  My skin was barely sun kissed and my cheeks were rosy from the physical exertion.

I felt more beautiful than I had ever before.  I believe I actually was the most beautiful I had ever been because I had finally experienced giving everything I had for someone else. 
If only I could learn from the me that gave birth to Sarah that cool summer morning and remember every day that true beauty and joy comes from giving, serving, loving and sacrificing… all willingly and even gratefully.  

Here's what I wrote a few weeks after her birth:

To be totally honest, I’ve forgotten a lot about the birth.  All I know is that I feel honored to have had the birth experience that I had.  Everything went perfectly and the end, when Sarah was finally on my chest and Michael and I were just smiling, laughing and crying, was magical.  I was so happy.  It was as if every bad or sad or horrible experience I’d ever had was swallowed up in the wonder/perfection/bliss of having a child- of having Sarah.  I don’t know if I would have felt that way if I had had a hospital/epidural birth*, but I’m sure glad I did it like I did.

*I’m sure that eventually I’d have felt this way but what I’m grateful for is that I could feel it during the birth and right after.

Thanks for reading my story. Every mother has her own birth story. I am grateful that my first is a positive story and hope the rest are similar to it in that I do all I can to be healthy for me and the baby and to prepare myself to bring my child into the world in the most natural and healthy way possible.  I’m not anti-hospitals/epidural… I’m just pro-healthiest way for you and your baby.  

If you have questions I’d love to answer them.  Good luck to you if you’re expecting.  Being able to carry a child and give birth is one of the many blessings from such a loving Father in Heaven.

Class I took: "Birth From the Heart" by Erika Ribary, North Bend, WA

Books I read: Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin & The Bradley Method by Susan McCutcheon

Book I will read before next birth: HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method: A natural approach to a safe, easier, more comfortable birthing by Marie F. Mongan