Atticus, my love: a birth story

July 21, 2010

I am studying to become a doula, and thus have been reading a lot of birth stories lately. I’ve been wanted to write down my experience for a while, and have been inspired to do so from what I have read. So, here is our birth story, the full version. I am going to include some graphic details, so if that’s not your thing, you might not want to read it. Otherwise, enjoy!

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The Thursday before my due date, I made a list of things I needed to do the coming weekend, before the baby’s arrival. My due date was on Monday, Feb 8th, but knowing that first time babies usually come late, I figured I had plenty of time to take care of a few last minute details. Nonetheless, I did have my bags mostly packed for the hospital, and a list sitting on top of the things I would need to pack last minute (like, my curling iron. because, of course, that would be important to have postpartum). I was super tired that day, like most of those last days, so suggested to Bill that we eat out that night, to avoid cooking and dirty dishes. We went down the street to Aladdin’s. During dinner, I mentioned to Bill that this might very well be our last dinner out as a twosome. I enjoyed my dinner, and the night carried on as usual.We watched some tv at home, and then we went to bed.

Somewhere around 4:30 the next morning, I experienced a strange sensation that woke me up. It was not painful really, but it was a sensation I had not experienced yet. Kind of like a mild cramp. My mind raced for a moment. It was different from Braxton Hicks. Was it a real contraction? I didn’t know. But I should get some sleep just case it was. I had a few more of these sensations, every 20 min or so for a little while, but as I said, they were not painful, so I just tried to keep sleeping. Around 6, I got up to go to the bathroom, and discovered a bit of blood tinged mucus. I was losing my mucus plug. Putting this with the sensation that I was having, I suspected that I might be in early labor. When I came back from the bathroom Bill asked me if everything was ok, and I told him we might be having a baby today, but he either didn’t hear me or was too sleepy to understand, because he just went back to sleep without saying anything. Not me, I was way to excited now, even though I knew it would be in my best interest to sleep before any discomfort began. But, I just laid there tossing and turning until Bill’s alarm went off.

When Bill woke up, I filled him in. I told him that I thought I was in early labor, but I wasn’t so sure, and that he should get ready as usual, and if things progressed for me after getting up, he would call off work. If not, he would go in to work, but be seriously stuck by his phone. During this time, I continued to have contraction, maybe 10 or so minutes apart. He called work and told them that he wanted to see what would happen, and that he would call them back around 10 and let them know if he was coming in or if I was going into labor for real. Over the next hour or so, as we tooled around the house, my contractions came closer together, about 5 or 6 minutes apart. They became more uncomfortable, but i was able to breathe through them, and i took a hot shower, which helped a lot. Bill made me some oatmeal and did the dishes so we wouldnt have dirty ones to come home to. I called my midwife (Emily was on call that day) to let her know what was happening. She said she would call back at 1 to check on me. That seemed like a long time, but I went with it.

It was snowing. When people asked me beforehand if I was nervous about the birth, I said the thing I was worried about was the possibility of a snowstorm, since we seem to get a bad on every February. I didn’t want to be snowed in and have an unplanned unassisted labor! While I was laboring, and waiting for Emily to call again, the news was talking about the bad storm coming our way, and then snow was slowly but steadily piling up outside. This made me quite nervous. I finished packing our bags, I talked to my mom, and the contractions became more painful. I kept trying different positions to sit or lay in to ease this discomfort. I eventally ended up in the shower again, because the water was so soothing. While I was showering, Emily called again. I told her that my contractions were steady at 5 minutes, lasting about a minute, and that that they were becoming more painful. She asked me what I wanted to do. I knew that the benefits of laboring at home for as long as possible were great, but the weather was making me very nervous, so I told her I wanted to get to the hospital before the snow got too bad. I told her we would leave our place in half an hour, and she said she would meet us at the hospital shortly  after we were to arrive.

I got dressed (leggings and crocs!), and while Bill packed the car, I made a peanut butter sandwich and packed some juice to have on the way over. Emily recommended I drink the juice on the way to make sure the baby was awake and active when I got to the hospital, so that the triage nurses would see that I didn’t need continuous monitoring. As I was making my food, Chino came into the kitchen and stoll a baggie of pitas off of the counter. I tried to wrestle it away from his so he wouldnt eat the plastic. I had a contraction while I was wrestling the dog, and the combination was too much for me to handle, so I puked in the sink. Bill walked in from the car right at that moment, and I was embarrassed, but realized that he was going to witness a lot more mess that day than some regurgitated oatmeal. I cleaned out the sink, thankful that Bill had already done the dishes, because that would have been a headache to clean up. I felt very sick now, so I threw my sandwich away, and we got in the car.

Our drive was much longer than it would have normally taken because of the weather. I think it took us around 30 minutes to get to St. Ann’s hospital. I had considered a home birth, and having to ride in the car during contractions has helped (among other things) to solidify my desire for that in the future. I could not sit comfortably in the car at all. When we finally got to the hospital (around 2), Bill offered to drop me off at the door so I could check in while he parked the car, but I really didn’t want to go in by myself, so I walked with him from the parking lot. I’m not sure what I expected checking in to be like, but it was ind of a miserable experience. When we got to the maternity ward, and went up to the check in desk, the lady asked why I was here. I told her I was in labor. She took down my name, and told me to have a seat, there were a couple people ahead of me. I wasn’t expecting that at all. I knew our midwife had called ahead to let them know we were on our way, and I had pre-registered weeks ago, so I didn’t really know why we had to wait. Anyway, during that time I had a couple of contractions in the waiting room, and felt very exposed about the whole thing. I was not comfortable laboring in front of strangers. The woman at the desk saw that I really was in active labor (I don’t know if she didn’t believe me or what), and asked a family who was checking in for an induction if it was ok if I went ahead of them since I was in the active stage. Of course they had no problem with that. I had to give my insurance info and everything, which was really obnoxious because I took the time to pre-register that info and it didn’t seem to save us any time. We finally went into triage, where a nurse came in, allowed me to change into a hospital gown, and took my vitals and checked my cervix, which was dilated to 4 cm. She hooked the fetal monitor around my belly and abdomen so she could monitor the baby’s heart rate for 20 minutes, to see what was happening during contractions. During this time, she also asked me a million questions. I hated this part so much. I tend to be a very private person, so I hated laboring in front of a nurse I didn’t know, and I hated that she was certainly very busy, and thus didn’t offer any comfort but just fired question after question at me, without looking in my direction at all. During this time, I also threw up again, all of the juice I drank on the car ride over. I was really scared when this happened, not for my health, but worried that the nurses would try to make me have a continuous IV since I had thrown up twice. But she didn’t say anything about it, phew. The baby’s heart rate was fine, so we got to go to our hospital room. The L&D rooms at St. Ann’s are very nice and spacious, especially if you get one with a tub, which we did. I think Emily got there right around that time. She had us walk around while she did some charts. She gave me some tips on how to cope with contractions while we were walking, and told when we would need to stop back in to the room to be monitored again. If i remember correctly, it’s the practice at most hospitals to monitor the baby for 20 minutes out of every hour. Every time  I went on the monitor, the baby’s heart rate was fine. After walking for what seemed like forever, we went back to our room to try some other things. I labored in the shower for a while, which felt the best. I labored on the birth ball, which I didn’t like at all. I labored sitting backwards on the toilet, which I think was best overall, because in this position I really felt like things were progressing. The contractions felt rally productive, and I rested my head on a pillow between them, which was relaxing. I felt like I was in a trance. I had my eyes closed most of the time, and was almost asleep in between contractions. It’s so cool the way our body copes with things. In all of the books I read, and in the classes I took, and even in all of my prenatal appointments, everyone stressed moving around in to different positions during labor, to cope with pain and to help the baby progress. But no one anywhere mentioned that when you move or stand up, you have a seriously intense contraction as your uterus deals with your new position. Things started to get really intense for me, and I was making a lot of vocalizations to cope with the pain of the contractions. Deep vocalizations helped, and when I would get to high pitched, Emily would remind me to bring my vocalizations lower, because tensing up is counter productive. I seriously would not have gotten through it without our awesome midwife. She was supportive and sensitive, but also really no nonsense. At one point when things got really intense, I remember saying that I was scared, and she was like, what are you scared of? You are doing great.

When I was writing out my birth plan, I knew that I wanted to be allowed to eat and drink during labor. But I was seriously nauseous and could not deal with more than small sips of water between contractions. I really wanted to get in the tub, but despite the intensity of my contractions, they were still relatively far apart. Emily was concerned that if I got in the water too early, my labor would slow down or halt. She asked if I wanted her to break my water, to see if it would help me progress a bit. Beforehand, I didn’t think that I would want my membranes ruptured artificially, but in the midst of all that intensity, the possibility of speeding things along sounded great. And speed things up it did. After she broke my water, it all happened so fast that I can barely remember it all. But I do remember this. There was meconium in the water. Even though I had read about this beforehand, I had to ask Emily to explain to me what exactly it meant. Which shows that even with a lot of preparation, during such active labor it is hard to focus on and remember the facts, which is why a supportive labor team is so important. She said that it meant that I would have to remain hooked up to the monitor so they could make sure the baby was alright. Which meant I would not be able to go in the tub. Which ended up not being such a big deal since things happened so fast after that. I tried sitting in the bed with my feet in a frog leg position, but that positions made it really hard for me to cope between contractions. I rolled over into a side laying position. And that is when my body started to push. I have heard people talk about feeling the urge to push, but that does not describe what happened to me. It was not an urge, my body was just doing it. I was only 8 or so cm dilated, so Emily was like, you cannot push yet, you have got to focus and breathe through these next few contractions. It was so hard not to push, and at this point I felt really out of control. Bill was trying to get me to do some Lamaze breathing, and i tried, but it was just too crazy. I must have looked like a wild woman the way I was looking at him. I felt wild. After a few contractions, my cervix was completely dilated, so I was able to push. I pushed in a semi reclined position, curling my body up with every push. They lowered the mirror down from the ceiling, and everyone could see the baby’s head crowning. Everyone was exclaiming about all the hair they could see on the baby’s head, but I couldn’t see because I wasn’t wearing my glasses and the mirror was too far away. When I said this, one of the nurses was really sad for me and asked if I wanted someone to get my glasses, but i was like, no, I don’t care at this point, I just want to do this. Feeling the stretch of the baby’s head crowning was a crazy feeling. It feels painful, but also really productive, so it is an exciting pain. After I pushed the head out, Emily told me to stop because the cord was around the baby’s neck. So she unwrapped the cord, and I pushed the rest of the baby’s body out. It only took 20 or 30 minutes of pushing for the baby to be born. Bill announced that it was a boy! And in those few seconds between his announcement and the baby being placed into my arms, I didn’t know if I believed him. I had felt such a strong intuition that the baby would be a girl, that I thought to myself, I needed to double check for myself. They placed him in my arms, and I held him tight and just kept repeating over and over how much I loved him. Atticus Finch. My sweet baby boy. He cried as I held him, and waited for the placenta to be born. But it wasn’t coming. In retrospect, I know that breastfeeding can stimulate the uterus to contract, but I did not nurse him right away, probably because I was still very uncertain of how and wanted someone to help me, but I didn’t ask at that point. The hospital has a policy that if the placenta isn’t delivered in 30 minutes, they have to manually remove it. I didn’t (and still don’t) really know what that entails, but it sounded awful, so I agreed to some pitocin. I really wanted to deliver the placenta on my own, but it didn’t work out that way. After the placenta was birthed, I let the nurses clean Atticus up and take his blood sample while I got stitched up (I ended up with a 2nd degree tear). Bill held him until they were finished, and they just looked into each others eyes. After I was all stitched up, I nursed Atticus for the first time, with some help from the midwife before we moved on to our recovery room. He was born at 7:51pm on Feb 5, 7 lbs 2 oz and 21.5 in long.

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So, there you have it, the story of Atticus’s birth. Maybe at a later time I will talk about the rest of our stay at the hospital and why I want a homebirth next time even though I had an awesome midwife. I am also planning a future entry about our early struggles with breastfeeding and jaundice.

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Biscuits and Gravy

July 21, 2010

Over the past few years, as I have learned more and more about the way food is produced and processed here in the United States, I have tried to change my eating habits to correspond with a more thoughtful lifestyle. The first of these changes was when I went vegetarian in 2004. For a long time now, I feel like I have been trying (and mostly failing) to completely, or at least largely eliminate processed and packaged foods from our diet, and sticking to whole foods prepared in our home. I did well with this for a while, but when I got pregnant last year, I was ultra tired all the time, and now that I have a small child to take care of, I do not have a ton of free time to spend cooking up delicious gourmet meals like I used to. The challenge now come from how to come up with healthy, whole foods meals that are quick to make and with enough variety to keep my husband happy.

To Bill’s credit, he is an adventurous eater, and is willing to try just about anything. But on occasion, he protests to simple meals. I am the primary cook in our household (I hate to feel like I have to make this caveat, but I do it anyway: this is not because I am the woman, this is because I love to cook and have serious skills in the kitchen). I am also the primary grocery shopper. When I ask Bill for input on what he might like to eat, he usually comes up with ideas that incorporate processed foods (usually in the way of faux meats), or concoctions that would require 5 or 6 different out of season vegetables for one course, putting it outside of our small budget. A couple weeks ago, I asked if he would like to take a week to do a beans and rice challenge while we sorted out a minor budgetary crisis. To him, this sounded boring because it meant to him a bowl of plain beans and plain rice every night for a meal. To me it meant tacos, chili, veggie burgers, chana masala, mujadara and an italian-style dish, with sides of veggies found at the farmer’s market. Sometimes it takes some coaxing to open up his mind a little.

Breakfast had been one of the hardest times to get away from processed foods. Bill usually eats bagels, and I usually stick with some sort of high fiber cereal. As far as processed foods go, these aren’t so bad. But I did want to have some whole food ideas up my sleeve. I do love a bowl of oatmeal with some agave, cinnamon and nuts, and am trying to eat that (along with a smoothie) for often. But my beloved often turns up his nose to oats, so on the weekends, we have to think of something else. Pancakes are always welcomed, but I always feel guilty starting the day off with that much maple syrup. Last weekend I proposed to Bill that we make some whole wheat biscuits with smoked almond gravy. He was suspicious, but I persisted, and even convinced him to whip up the gravy while I tended to the babe. He obliged, but didn’t like the looks of the biscuits I had in the oven. “The last time you made biscuits, they tasted like flour”. “Bill, the main ingredient in biscuits is flour. Of course homemade biscuits taste different. The reason that pilsbury biscuits taste the way they do is that they are full of chemicals and trans fats. You have to change your expectations of what a biscuit is supposed to taste like”.  When I got the biscuits out of the oven, he mentioned that they looked dry. I told him he could use some butter if he wanted (actually, we use Earth Balance vegan butter). So we sat down to eat. And the meal was delicious. And Bill told me that it was good, and that he was mad that it tasted so good! I laughed a little at that.

So what is the point of this long, rambly entry. I guess just the lesson that if you want to change your lifestyle, you probably need to change your expectations first. Considering that Atticus will be joining us for meals very very soon, this change needs to happen quick for us. We don’t want him to become hooked on processed foods, and we certainly don’t want eat foods in front of him that are off-limits for him, so we will probably only serve them up at the rarest of occasions. Being a parent really causes you to look at you life under a microscope, and I consider that a positive thing.