Minna: A Birth Story

I don’t intend to do this a fourth time, but if I do the first thing I will have to tell my care provider is “You can’t talk to me about induction before 41 weeks.” Three times I have done this, and Minna was the only one not born at 41 weeks on the nose. On September 1, at 41w1d, I left the big girls with a friend and went to the chiropractor with but one humble request: get my hips open and get this baby going.

“I can’t believe how low she is. She’s going to fly out when you go into labor. I can’t believe you haven’t gone already,” my doctor said. We completed the appointment and I thanked her for her work, then collected the girls and went home. No more than five minutes after walking through the front door, Moira summoned me to get her some tape to hang a drawing she had made earlier…and halfway through the kitchen on my way to the tape, my water broke. It was a tiny break, and not the cinematic rush of a Hollywood rupture. It was about quarter to 5.

Tom’s hearing is perhaps not quite as good as it was when we were first wed. All he heard was “Water…broken” and then went to check the sink faucet in the downstairs toilet. “Working fine!”

Sigh.

Once he was corrected, we sprang into action. I hadn’t felt a single contraction all day, but my past two labors (each between 5-6 hours) and Minna’s placement (low! so low!) led us to believe that the countdown clock was running fast. The girls went off for a sleepover with some lovely friends who live around the corner, I called my mom and the midwives, and we settled in.

And…we waited.

I sat in the tub and gushed. I climbed stairs and gushed. I lay down on my side to nap a little. Contractions were here and there, and definitely nothing to get excited about. I leaked like a Snowden file drive. We ordered pizza. I had a few slices, and continued to gush. I wore Depends for most of these early hours in an effort to keep moving and to get things moving along. The baby was low, after all! So low!

And…we waited. A few contractions, getting stronger, but no real rhythm.

I had another slice of pizza.

And…we waited. A few more, somewhat closer together.

“Every labor is different,” you hear. And it’s true; I needed a little humility and perspective now, after all the expectations that I would have a zippy-fast labor. The sun set. I grabbed a flannel shirt from Tom’s closet (one of his newer good ones, I learned later). Finally, the contractions started getting intense enough that I had to focus to deal with them.

Our bathroom has a heating element/towel rack with a bar about 6′ off the ground. I tied my baby-wearing woven Storchenwiege wrap around the bar and sat on our peanut-shaped exercise ball. Every time I had a contraction, I would begin to hum in a low, focused way. Tom began the timer, I would lean forward and sort of squat, and hold on to the wrap and hang. It helped loosen up my lower body, and was a comfortable way to deal. When that got tiring, I’d move to crouching in the bathtub or sitting upright by the toilet.

(Still gushing, by the way. Birth is nothing if not saturated with emotions and emissions. You’re welcome for that image, those who’ve not gone through this process.)

We lit candles in the bathroom, so by flickering candlelight I moved through these stations. The clock crept toward midnight, and I finally had about an hour of contractions that were 6-7 minutes apart. My midwife agreed it was time to come over, and C arrived around midnight.

By this point that low, focused humming had become a bit higher and sharper. All that brilliant hypnobirthing I’d done with Moira was not as useful this time. The contractions were longer and further apart; it was harder to get a good rhythm down. I was more tired, too. I’d gotten up for the day around 5am the previous morning, and had a full day with my girls. Plus, this baby was low! So low! and yet I had a lot of back labor. Tom was a much more active participant this time, as he and my midwife applied counter-pressure to my back with every contraction. I tried kneeling to open my hips more and started to get a wretched case of the shakes, which I hopefully speculated was transition and this would be over soon.

“I’m shaking, but I’m not cold,” I said. In fact, despite the cool house, I was beginning to get a little toasty.

“That’s because your body is doing bloody hard work,” my midwife responded.

Yeah! I AM doing bloody hard work. It’s nice to be validated.

I felt like moving to the bed, as my knees had had it with all the crouching and kneeling. Tom took exception to my observation that “I hate this mattress. I should just take the plastic off and let the birth destroy it now.”

“Hey! We still need to sleep somewhere after this.”

At some point the other midwife D and the student midwife A had been called, and they arrived around then. A had seen births but never a home birth before, so I hope the view that greeted her–flannel shirt, bed wrapped in plastic, me resting against the peanut ball that had been propped on the bed (bless you, peanut ball) with my altogether out in the wind–was a welcome change from sterile hospital environments. I didn’t have much time for the pleasantries, because that higher-pitched focused moaning and my attempts to engage hypnobirthing finally quit, and I launched into full-on crying out. I asked to be moved back into the bathroom to sit upright to get some pressure off my poor, poor back, and they helped me in.

This was the point when Rational Me lost the ability to verbalize entirely, and the only part of me capable of speaking was the Id. I still had a rational running narrative in my mind, but somewhere along the path to speech the words got hijacked:

“Would you like some water?”

What I thought: “Yes, I should hydrate.” What I said, snarling: “NO!” It’s impossible to convey the utter brattiness, the total two-year-old inflection of my delivery, but I was told later that the four others looked at each other and all had to stifle a laugh.

The crying-out became full-on screaming, and in between every contraction I was getting ready to give up and give in. “I can’t, I can’t do this anymore.”

D replied helpfully, “Yep. This part sucks.”

Yeah! Yeah, it DOES suck! It’s nice to be validated.

I realized I was running with sweat, and Rational Me thought “I should unbutton this.” It came out as an ineffective flapping of hands in the general direction of the buttons, which I’d forgotten how to operate, and me grunting “Flannel.” The midwives, British, looked for a washcloth (a flannel) to hand me while Tom, American, started undoing my buttons.

These are the sorts of cross-cultural communication incidents I never really covered in my lofty-minded undergraduate Communications major.

I begged for gas and air, something to help me, anything. The hour was ticking toward 3am. I got about one suck, and they suggested I move toward the bed. With every contraction–and they were coming fast now, oh yes, quite fast indeed–I could feel her ever…so…slowly…ratcheting downward. I threw in the towel, and begged for a hospital transfer. Problem was, if I really wanted that, they needed to do an internal exam to give the information to the intake so I wouldn’t be further prodded at the hospital.

“No! NO! I want an epidural, I don’t want this anymore!”

Tom repeated the necessity for the midwives’ to do an internal, and then suggested that if we really did this, I was so close that the baby was likely to be born en route. I thought this was utter bullshit. “Tom. Help me. Why won’t you help me?!”

“Remember, with Moira, when you felt like you couldn’t do it anymore, you were almost done? You’re so close, you’re about to meet your daughter!”

Now, at this point, I’m on all fours, certain that I was going to evaporate from the pain, screaming intermittently, and I’ve totally, utterly lost the plot. I never did get a handle on the rhythm of this labor, and at no point was that more apparent to me than right at that second. So it’s a really, really good thing I did not see what Tom did next after offering me that bit of encouragement: he turned to D and mouthed the words “I’m telling the truth, right?”

“Oh yeah,” she mouthed back. They could tell by the change in pitch and volume of my voice that we were near the end, but there were really no physical signs they could hang their hats on.

Finally, after all that, I felt the contraction that got her within hailing distance of the end. I gave in to it. I gave in.

I’ve done this three times now. The first birth was a medicalized machine that left me feeling floundering and alone; the second a roller-coaster ride of emotions and sensations but still manageable; and now a slow, difficult endurance marathon twice as long as the other labors I’d had.

The only thing all three had in common was this: at some point, whatever may come, you just have to give in and ride the lightning all the way to the end.

“Okay. Okay. I can do this.” They got me on all fours to go, and Tom peeled off the drenched heap of his flannel. I finally felt her start to crown. Rational Me understood perfectly the following directives from the midwives to stop screaming and breathe, but every time I tried to say “I just feel like I need to push now, thank you” I just screamed more. It’s a wonder the police weren’t summoned.

And sure enough, not five minutes after Tom told me that I was almost done and I didn’t believe him and begged him to get me to a hospital and a spinal block, Minna’s head–and the arm up around her face that had been keeping her from whooshing out, the arm that had made this into a marathon–emerged.

She was fully born at 3:23am, 8lbs, 8oz, bathed in soft lamplight and the cool of a September morning, placed just in front of me, head full of hair and eyes huge from surprise.

My Minna, with whom I immediately fell into tearful, humbled, joyful, and grateful love.

My last little girl, who taught me so much on her way to this side. We are complete, thanks to you.

Welcome, Minna.

2 September 2015

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