Archive for the 'The Noble Fetus' Category

Birth: part three

NS October 3rd, 2008

If you haven’t already, you may want to read part one and part two

For nine months I planned a homebirth. I read books that advocate natural childbirth and informed myself about the risks, possible complications and in what instances I would be better off in the hospital. Being aware that a majority of births are successful when not complicated by unnecessary monitoring, synthetic hormones, narcotic drugs, unfamiliar environments and lawsuit-fearing medical staff, I knew that the chance of me needing to transfer was slim. I was confident in my choice and so excited to welcome my second child in such a peaceful and intimate way.
I had a straightforward and relatively easy pregnancy compared with what I’d experienced with The Noble Child. I didn’t have severe back, hip and pelvic pain (a condition called SPD) like I’d had with her and this baby wasn’t turned the wrong way around like she had been (with her back to mine instead of facing it, known as the ‘posterior’ position). I had more energy, I didn’t gain as much weight and I didn’t have any swelling. My blood pressure was perfect, I never had any sugar or protein in my urine and the baby’s heart rate was steady and strong each time the midwife listened in with her Doppler. I had a feeling from the very beginning that it was a boy and that feeling just got stronger as the pregnancy progressed. I spent much longer agonising over boy names than I did girls because I was so sure that I would be having a son.

Onto the big day…

On Wednesday September 17th, three days before my due date, I spent the morning clearing up the house and hoping I wouldn’t catch my husband’s cold as he lie upstairs coughing and spluttering in the spare room, having called in sick to work. I walked my daughter to nursery at lunchtime even though I felt exhausted. My lower back ached and my belly felt incredibly heavy. I had a few very strong Braxton Hicks contractions that stopped me in my tracks and made me pause for breath. It took much longer than usual to make the half hour return journey and I collapsed into bed when I got home. I took a nap and sent TNH to collect our daughter at three. As I lie there trying to fall asleep I had a couple of mild contractions and my lower back continued to ache. I suspected that it might be the first twinges of labour but didn’t want to get my hopes up so ignored it and rested for awhile before getting up — my aunt was in London for a work conference that week and was coming over for dinner so I had some last-minute tidying and food preparation to do. The contractions had stopped so I went about my evening and we had dinner as planned. It was great to see my aunt and it took my mind off of the anxiousness of waiting to go into labour. I went to bed at about 10.30 and TNH slept next door again. We didn’t want to take any chances of me catching his cold and being ill while in labour. I think I would’ve murdered him if I couldn’t breathe at the time in my life when I most needed to!

I slept like a rock until I was awoken at 3am on Thursday morning by TNC crying and calling out ‘Mummy!’ from her room. I suspect a loud noise woke her so I went to calm her down. When I picked her up from her cot she wrapped her arms around my neck and her legs around my hips, shaking with fear or cold, or both. She whimpered and pressed a tear-sodden cheek against my shoulder. I laid her down in bed with me and she snuggled up into my arms. I think I must’ve known that things were getting ready to happen because my normal sleepy self would’ve been eager for her to fall back asleep so I could have my bed back. This time, however, I felt my heartstrings ping as I looked at her in the moonlight coming through the window, feeling in my bones that this would be the last time we lay together as a twosome, as one mother with one child. I stroked her hair and cheek and marvelled at her perfection and loveliness. After thirty minutes I put her back in her room, fast asleep, and drifted back into slumber.

I woke up again at 4.15am to a mild contraction but disregarded it. Ten minutes later another came so I grabbed my phone to time them. I lay there for an hour timing them and very soon they were five minutes apart. I allowed some excitement to build and went downstairs where I sat on my birth ball and had tea and toast with jam while watching the news. I thought they might slow down at that point but they were still coming every 5-7 minutes so after two hours, at 6.15, I woke TNH to let him know I thought I was in early labour. I also phoned my friend, L, who was acting as my doula so she could organise childcare for her daughter and come over later in the morning. Hubby brought TNC downstairs just before 7am and they had breakfast. Suddenly, the contractions went back down to only every 15 minutes and they weren’t really getting stronger. I was afraid they were petering out and it was a false alarm. I told L to hold off but still be on standby and arranged for my mother-in-law to come pick up TNC just in case things did kick off.

While TNH was getting the kiddo ready to leave I pulled open the curtains and saw the glorious sunshine outside. After weeks of grey skies and rain, the sun was out in full force with not a cloud in the sky. It was warm but not hot and with a slight breeze, an absolutely perfect September day. I grabbed my cd case (which I rarely use anymore – I mostly listen to music digitally now) and looked for something to match my mood. I chose the Indigo Girls’ Rites of Passage album (a favourite in college but not often listened to now) and sat on my birth ball, swaying my hips in circles and singing along to songs that I still knew all the words to. The chorus of one song in particular resonated with me – “Love Will Come To You.”

I say love will come to you
Hoping just because I spoke the words that they’re true
As if I offered up a crystal ball to look through
Where there is now one there will be two

Tears of anticipation and happiness pricked my eyes and I felt a calm settle over me like the wind before a storm, sure I was going to meet my baby that day.

The contractions picked back up to a consistent eight minutes apart and were getting stronger so I told L to go ahead and come over. TNC left with her grandma and The Noble Husband had his shower and started getting things ready. I wanted to be sure that the birthing pool got set up in time so had him go ahead and start on that. I closed the curtains and lay down in the dark listening to some instrumental music to conserve my energy and, again, they slowed way down. I had only had four in an hour at 11am when L arrived. I was sure things were stopping again. I mentioned that they would pick back up quite strongly when I stood up so she encouraged me to go walk around the garden with TNH after I had some more food.

At this point it was nearly noon and I was anxious to know if this was really labour or not so I didn’t get too disappointed if it wasn’t. I had another cup of tea, a pain au chocolat and a banana (yum!) and put on my birthing necklace, made from beads sent to me from other women in my due date club, on a parenting message board I’m a member of. We joked that it was my goddess/warrior necklace and I struck a few funny muscle flexing poses. TNH and I went out to the garden and did laps around it, arm in arm, making jokes and talking excitedly about meeting our baby. I turned my face towards the sun and smiled as it warmed me. I kicked off my shoes and enjoyed the sensation of cool grass on my feet, allowing it to ground me. Within minutes the contractions were much stronger and only four minutes apart. We decided to call the midwife at about 12.45 and she arrived at 1.30. Incredibly, it was the midwife I’d seen for the majority of my pregnancy! Considering there are 30-odd midwives on the home birth team and you just get whoever is on call at that time, I felt very lucky because it meant that I already knew her and was comfortable with her. She checked me and found that I was dilated to 5cm. I was elated at the progress I’d made as I was still handling the contractions very well and feeling pretty normal and cheerful between them. She said I could get in the pool if I wanted but since things were progressing so well with me staying on my feet I decided to wait a bit longer.

It was nearly 2pm by this point and the birth team was hungry for lunch so since it was such a gorgeous day we went outside again. TNH, L and the midwife all sat at the table eating soup and sandwiches while I paced around the garden squeezing a stress ball and swaying and breathing through the contractions. We were having a good ol’ time, incredibly, laughing and listening to music and chatting. They all kept commenting on how calm I seemed and how well I was handling labour. Suddenly, a couple of really strong ones washed over me and I knew that I was nearing transition. I said I was ready to get in the pool. The midwife checked me again and found me to be 7cm. I almost couldn’t believe that I’d gotten that far without even being uncomfortable or in too much pain. The midwife asked if I wanted the entonox (gas and air) from her car but I still felt I was coping well without pain relief so I declined.

Finally, I sank into the welcoming warmth of the birthing pool in the dining room and tried to relax. Within minutes things intensified tenfold and I had to really concentrate and breathe through the contractions. I requested cool washcloths on my forehead and had TNH giving me sips of Lucozade and water between each one. Just over an hour after getting into the pool I was nearly at 10cm but a small lip of the cervix remained stuck on baby’s head. The midwife told me not to push quite yet but I was in serious pain at this point and it required all of my strength and energy not to. I was getting very loud by then with my vocalising, saying ‘Aahh’ very loudly, half singing and half yelling it, and squeezing my husband’s and friend’s hands like crazy. My water finally broke and that got the last bit of cervix out of the way so I could push freely. Man, did it hurt! I couldn’t remember pushing with my daughter and remembered the contractions as much worse than that stage. This time it was the opposite – contractions I could handle but this pushing business was the worst!

Thankfully, after less than an hour of it, our baby was born into the water at 4.32pm, caught by TNH and placed in my arms straight away. He shouted “You did it!” He was ecstatic, L was in awe and I was exhausted yet exhilarated. Giving birth without any pain relief releases strong endorphins and I was on a natural high. It truly is an amazing feeling. When TNH announced: “It’s a boy!” I nodded and laughed. I had known I was having a son and now I finally got to meet him. I kissed his head and talked to him softly while I rubbed his chest and wrapped him in a towel. After just a few moments he let out a mewling cry and we could relax a bit. The midwife looked him over and said he was fine so after a few pictures and a couple more checks, TNH cut the cord and we got out of the pool. I delivered the placenta and then we snuggled up together on the futon we’d laid out on the floor in the living room. I had to have a few stitches which hurt like hell (still no pain relief!) but other than that I was absolutely fine and so was The Noble Baby. He weighed 8lbs 7oz and was 22.5″ long.

We got everything cleaned up, the midwives and L left and then TNH ran to the shops to buy the dinner I requested – steak, chips (fries) and spinach with a small glass of red wine, followed by a cup of tea and a delicious Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar. I made phone calls to my parents and sister and finally ate at 9pm. I was strangely wired even though I was exhausted and kept grinning in an almost drunken way at my newborn son, watching his tiny fingers curl around mine as he sleepily nursed at my breast. I finally went to bed at 11.30 and TNH stayed up with the baby until 1.30am so I could get a couple hours of sleep before feeding time came around again.

He is now two weeks old and TNB is such a laid-back little guy. He sleeps a ton, only waking twice at night to nurse. He goes back to sleep fairly quickly afterwards, too. I’m totally, utterly in love with him and feel so blessed that he’s here and healthy, and that the birth went even better than I had anticipated. Believing in birth and making it happen has given me a renewed sense of faith in myself, something I think was desperately needed. I now know that I have the power within me to do things I previously thought impossible or too painful. I can face seemingly insurmountable obstacles and with enough determination, organisation and knowledge, clear them easily. This was more than just my child’s birth – it was my rebirth. I’m not a religious person and I don’t even consider myself spiritual, but I do know that I’ve never felt more alive, more connected to humanity or more powerful, yet so humble. If that’s not a sacred experience, I don’t know what is.

I came across a quote recently that sums up how I will remember my son’s homebirth:

“The memory of pain always recedes. The memory of triumph does not.”
– Ani Di Franco

Birth: part two

NS September 29th, 2008

The next afternoon, with only one more hour’s sleep in me, I finally checked out of the hospital and went home with my baby girl. I was shell-shocked, sore, exhausted and overwhelmed. I couldn’t sit down so had to lay reclining on the sofa in the living room or tucked up in bed with a plethora of pillows underneath and around me. I tried to get a handle on breastfeeding but it was all going horribly. I fed TNC on demand, knowing that this would stimulate my milk, but it still took five days for it to come in. I’m convinced that this was due (at least in part) by the sleep deprivation and lack of food in hospital, the pethidine I had in labour and the overall stress I endured with the birth. By that point TNC had lost nearly a pound from her birth weight and I was being pressured to supplement with formula by one midwife in particular and the health visitor. One of them actually reached out and squeezed my breast before commenting “There’s not much in there, is there? You need to feed your baby.” I was told that if I didn’t supplement and get her weight up, my daughter would be classed as ‘failure to thrive’ and would need to be readmitted to the hospital. This absolutely terrified me and so I did as I was instructed. I went out and bought formula and started giving her an ounce or two after every breastfeeding session or even replacing a feed or two with a bottle of formula to give myself a break. What I didn’t know is that every time I skipped a feed I was setting myself up for failure as my supply decreased. I ended up on fenugreek, a homeopathic supplement meant to increase milk production and a bad case of mastitis.

It took a further few weeks before I wised up and did enough research (on kellymom.com) and got enough help (from a lovely lactation consultant at the National Childbirth Trust) that I trusted my body enough to know that it could nourish my daughter on its own if given the chance. I weaned TNC off the formula top-ups and by the time she was three months old she was off of them completely and back to receiving breast milk exclusively. She thrived beautifully and my confidence levels went through the roof. I realised that my body wasn’t broken, that I could and would feed my daughter myself, as I was meant to, and that the health visitors and midwives weren’t always right and didn’t always know what they were talking about. They might have meant well but in part because of their bad advice I didn’t enjoy the first several weeks of my child’s life. Instead, I was in agony most every day, from both the birth and the breastfeeding, and emotionally wrecked. I shoved these feelings aside, as most new mothers do, and got on with the business of raising a baby. By the time she was six months old I was happy again and we were both thriving. I was enjoying motherhood tremendously.

However, at around this time I began reflecting on the birth and how while it wasn’t terrible or traumatic per se, it certainly wasn’t ideal and was the beginning of a lot of the problems I encountered from there on out. I began researching the effects of pethidine and NHS birthing practices and stumbled across an online forum for mothers that encourages a more physiological approach to pregnancy, birth and baby care and promotes attachment parenting. I quickly realised that my mothering instincts drew me to this philosophy and that I was already living some of its core beliefs, such as breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping and delayed vaccinations. I began questioning the current birthing industry and read a lot on the history of maternity care and midwifery. I was hooked.

There was so much that I hadn’t known, so many practices put into place for reasons that were anything but altruistic. Instead of what was best for mother and baby, it was often what was best for doctors and insurance companies. I was disgusted and fascinated at the same time. I began to learn what a female is capable of during childbirth (both physically and emotionally) and how that power has been squashed little by little over time by a male-dominated obstetric field and cultural limitations. I realised that I could question these practices and advocate for change while still respecting the medical advances that truly are advantageous and life-saving. So often in these arguments for and against natural birth, particularly births at home, the extremes come through and a line is drawn with one side saying “No interventions are ever necessary, never trust a doctor” and the other side saying “You are foolish not to have all of these interventions and are endangering your baby by not using all of them because birth is dangerous and you could DIE.” I realised I didn’t have to subscribe to such extreme views but could form my own somewhere in the middle ground, one that was truly about what was best for mothers and babies (particularly me and my babies) and not what was expected culturally or what was spouted as fact by medical institutions that focus only on overall statistics and not individual needs.

I began to write about birth and how it relates to modern feminism. I also began engaging in discussion with other feminists and mothers on this issue and (hopefully) highlighting for others why it is a valid feminist issue that needs attention. I now call myself a birth activist and try to put that activism into action at every chance I get, no matter how small. I decided to start with myself, by choosing to trust birth and put faith in my body. After months of thoughtful research and soul-searching, I knew that when I had another baby it would be a much different experience and that I would have a completely different outlook on the whole process. I decided that the best option for me would be to stay at home, where I would be more in control, more relaxed and less likely to succumb to interventions that scarred me physically and wounded me mentally. And so when a positive result appeared on the pregnancy test in mid-January, I joyfully began planning and preparing for my second child’s arrival, into his parents hands in his own home.

Birth: part one

NS September 29th, 2008

The story of the birth of my son eleven days ago begins with the birth of my daughter two and a half years ago.

When I was pregnant with The Noble Child I was pretty mainstream in my views on birth. I bought and read that classic tome What To Expect When You’re Expecting and dutifully planned my hospital birth. I said I wanted a natural birth but didn’t really grasp what that meant or what it would require of me. I attended NHS parenting classes and thought the health visitors running them really knew their stuff (ha!). I knew I wanted to breastfeed but didn’t do any research into what it would be like or how I could succeed, nor did I seek out any breastfeeding women for support. As the first in my local group of friends to have a baby, I had no one in my personal life to turn to for advice. So I bought the books and just assumed that all would go well. Any problems I encountered would be addressed and solved by The Baby Whisperer or Gina Ford, surely.

And then, at six days past my due date, I went into labour and everything went flying out the window like Aunty Em’s good china in a Kansas twister.

There were no hours of early labour in which I got to sip tea and take warm baths while experiencing “mild period-like pains” every 10-15 minutes like the books told me it would happen. I didn’t have time to eat a healthy meal or tidy up the living room or phone family to tell them today was the day. Instead, contractions started out five minutes apart and quickly progressed to every three. Having a bath just made them more painful and I began to panic. It shouldn’t hurt this much so soon, should it? I hadn’t done this before, how should I know? My mother had a history of relatively short labours so I thought it conceivable that I was further along than I thought. TNH had no idea either so into hospital we went for some professional advice and care.

When I arrived at the hospital I was examined and found to be three centimetres dilated. Because TNC was facing the wrong way (posterior) in my uterus, the pains were focused mainly in my back and had double peaks which meant I wasn’t really getting much of a break between them. Once my water broke, when I was about 4cm, things just intensified ten-fold. I got into the birthing pool but couldn’t get a handle on the pain. I tried entonox (50% oxygen, 50% nitrous oxide) but that did nothing for me except give me something to bite on with the mouthpiece. The midwife assigned to me wasn’t very hands on — didn’t try to massage my back, suggest different positions or provide any emotional support. She just sat in a corner of the room, calmly writing notes in my chart, and told me that I probably still had at least five hours to go before I was fully dilated. Of course, this freaked me right out. I was already in serious pain and the thought of another five hours of steadily increasing agony was too much to bear. I begin to tell TNH that I couldn’t do this and panicked. The midwife chose that moment to ask if I wanted any drugs. Even though I felt horrible about accepting since I had wanted to avoid narcotics, I didn’t feel I had any choice at that point. I didn’t know how to get a handle on my pain and was spiraling out of control.

I said yes to the offer of pain killers and got out of the pool. She gave me the injection of pethidine (UK equivalent to Demerol) and then lowered the lights and left me alone with TNH to attend to other women birthing on the ward. I laid on my side on the bed, feeling a bit out of it from the drugs and still scared because I didn’t know what was going on or what I should be doing. TNH sat by my side holding my hand and saying encouraging things but I could tell he was nervous and a bit frightened as well. We both felt out of our element. After a couple hours of laying in bed on the pethidine I began to make some grunting noises and realised that I was pushing involuntarily. TNH ran to get someone who consequently told me not to push as I couldn’t possibly be fully dilated yet. I tried not to but I couldn’t do a thing about it. Asking me not to push was like asking a freight train at full speed to slam on its brakes and not derail.

My body ignored their commands and so they did a quick cervical check and exclaimed “Oh, you really are at 10cm! Well, I guess you can push then.” Having been granted their permission (ahem) I begin to push, eagerly ready to end the pain and the whole experience. I don’t remember much of this part and I’m not sure if it’s because of the drugs, because I’d been awake for nearly 24 hours and hadn’t eaten anything for 12, because I was in labour la-la land (a very real place, believe me) or because I chose to block it out. Whatever the case, I hardly remember the two hours of pushing that resulted in a whole lot of nothing. And since two hours is apparently the maximum time limit in which you have to push out a baby, a consultant was called in to observe and make a decision about what to do. Suddenly the room was filled with doctors and midwives and I was being told that they wanted to do a vacuum-assisted ventouse delivery in which a suction cup is placed on the baby’s head and a machine is switched on, effectively sucking the baby out as you push. Oh and, by the way, they have to cut an episiotomy in order to do this. I have no idea if I was actually asked if I wanted this done or if it was just done but I do know that I wanted it all to be over and so probably would’ve agreed to anything short of a c-section at that point.

The gloves were donned. My feet went up in cold, metal stirrups. My husband was sort of pushed to the side and had to find a small place by my head on the other side of the bed. Scissors came out and I was cut. Blood covered my thighs and I could see it reflected in the chrome light suspended above me, like a gruesome lava lamp. The cup was placed on the baby’s head, a procedure which was incredibly painful. A switch was flicked. Something whirred and purred. I was told “You push, we’ll pull.” I saw the veins in the doctor’s arms bulge as he used all his strength to pull on this tube attached to my baby. I looked to my left, where The Noble Husband knelt by my side, and saw he had his face buried in his arms, not wanting to see what was going on. I didn’t blame him.

I tried my hardest to help the doctors by giving it what little energy I had left but I’m not sure how much I had to do with the birth at that point. A change in the doctor’s stance and demeanor told me the head was out, though I hadn’t felt it happen (I was given a local anesthetic for the episiotomy) and wasn’t informed that it had. Suddenly I felt a great whoosh and my whole body gave an enormous sigh as my daughter was finally born at 6.31am, after 11 hours of labour. I should have been elated but was merely relieved. The next hour (while I was stitched up and TNC was weighed, measured and assessed) is mostly a blur to me. I remember that my husband went with the baby while she was in the next room being assessed and that I was all alone, staring at the hospital ceiling in a disbelieving daze, while I was pieced back together with needle and thread. Frankenstein’s bride, indeed (though I did eventually heal and return to normal — don’t want to scare you ladies who have yet to become mothers!).

Once everything was done and TNC was firmly attached to my breast for her first feed, I was put into a private room across the hall in which to recover. I remember that I had never felt more tired or shaky or weak in my entire life. Walking hurt. Lifting my arms hurt. Breathing hurt. I felt like I could pass out at any moment. I wanted to shower to wash the copious amounts of blood away but couldn’t fathom doing it on my own. TNH had to help me and even then I was unable to stand at all. I ended up sitting on the floor of the shower stall while TNH washed my hair and hosed me down. My bleary eyes and heavy head stared at the water, which ran red for several minutes and then spiraled down the drain, quite symbolic of my waning body, I thought. All the while that we struggled to get me washed and dressed and find things in our bags, we had to keep TNC nearby in her rolling plastic cot, now entrusted to ensure another human being’s survival.

As paranoid new parents with no clue what to do, we felt torn between focusing all of our attention on her and looking after ourselves after a harrowing and exhausting night. I had stupidly assumed that we would receive help with the baby while we sorted ourselves out and got some sleep. This shows how ignorant I was of the NHS staffing problems, particularly in maternity wards. There were no midwives to help with the babies because they were all busy attending to other women in labour. They dashed between rooms incessantly and interchangeably, only stopping to write notes in the charts at the front desk. We weren’t shown how to change a nappy or bathe the baby and I was given minimal advice with regards to breastfeeding. They pretty much just left us to it. I managed to get one or two hours sleep before visiting hours were over and TNH had to leave. You see, even partners (the fathers of the children just born!) can’t stay overnight in an NHS maternity ward, it’s against their health and safety policies. I asked if I could check out early but was told I needed to stay the night for observation since I’d had an instrumental delivery. I didn’t find out until later that I could have declined this ‘observation’ (ha! they hardly even checked on me!) and left anyway. As it was, TNH left at 10pm and I was left alone with a newborn baby, no clue what to do, a bottom half so sore that I couldn’t sit up in bed and with a whopping 1.5 hours sleep under my belt. I tried the call button twice — once when I wanted water and once for help breastfeeding — but no one came. I lay draped on the edge of the bed, stitches throbbing, my hand resting lightly on my baby’s chest to make sure she was still breathing and spent the rest of the milk-empty hours listening to the screams of a woman birthing next door, demanding an epidural. I was in for a long night.

Coming attraction

NS September 26th, 2008

Birth story coming soon. In the meantime, I give you baby fingers

Cherish

NS September 13th, 2008

I hold her on my lap, in my arms, by my side, as I walk, even though she weighs heavily on the baby below. Her arms wrap around my neck, her sweet apple juice lips leaving wet rings on my cheek. I brush the hair from her eyes, look into the sparkling abyss of neverending devotion. She sighs, puts her head on my chest and says “I like Mummy.” The lump in my throat doesn’t allow me to reply but I’m sure she hears my soul sing out “I love you, I love you, I love you” as salty tears sting my eyes.

Soon, our twosome will become three and no longer will she be the sole occupant of my heart. So I drink her in, envelop her, cherish her, cling to her, awaiting with excitement and a bit of fear the great unknown, this great stranger within. I am ready as I’ll ever be but at the same time, don’t ever want to let go.

These really are the waiting days.

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