Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Judah's Birth Story

(Note to readers before you begin:

1) I know this is really long. You'd think the account of a 5-hour labor would be shorter, but this is really more than just a chronological retelling of the events of Judah's birth. This is the
story of his birth. I wanted to capture my thoughts and my emotions, the physical sensations, the experience of his birth. It was challenging to try to really capture that experience. Which is partly why it has taken me 4 months to finish writing about it!

2) I tried to keep the details un-gross. Personally I think birth is beautiful even with the blood and fluids and burst capillaries, but as my brother said when we told him we might videotape the birth, "I don't want to see any crowning." I tried to honor that sentiment for the casual reader.

This was a life-changing experience for me. Thank you for letting me share it.)



The Home Birth of Judah Michael
And she conceived again and bore a son,
and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.”

Thereforeshe called his name Judah.
Genesis 29:35




I
Life is always a rich and steady time
when you are waiting for something to happen or to hatch.

- E.B. White, Charlotte's Web


It was a clear, cold Tuesday morning in February. I was 6 days overdue with my 4th child and was going in for a fetal biophysical profile ultrasound, done routinely with a post-dates pregnancy to check the well being of the baby. Because Richard was in his off-season, the whole family came along and watched as the technician checked our baby’s breathing, heart rate, movement and the level of amniotic fluid. The resulting “score” would determine whether or not the baby was in distress and if we needed to induce labor or could let the pregnancy continue to progress normally. The score came back perfect – our baby was fine! We didn’t know if we were having a boy or girl, but we knew our baby was healthy, well developed and adorable. We left feeling reassured and with pictures of our baby’s sweet face.



Later in the afternoon, Grace, Moses, Richard and I drove to my appointment with our midwife Maureen. I had been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for weeks now, so I didn’t pay any attention to the ones I was feeling in the car. I was pondering instead how many more days it might be before I could hold the little baby whose image I had seen that morning. Unlike my early ultrasound in which the baby had been a tiny, lean-limbed, oddly cute but alien-featured individual, this time the baby was so big we could only see him or her a piece at a time, all cramped together with chubby arms and legs folded up and a very recognizable baby face peering at us. This looked like a baby who was ready to be held, ready to be in the world, ready to be born! How much longer, I wondered?



I had known all along that I would go overdue and had mentally prepared myself to watch my due date come and go without a baby. I had prayed for the ability to wait patiently until my body naturally went into labor when the baby was ready to be born. Still, pregnancy is a state that isn’t meant to last, and after almost 41 weeks of it I was ready for the culmination.



At my appointment, I continued to have light contractions, but didn’t think much of it. Maureen was happy with my and the baby’s vitals and reassured by the ultrasound results. She said we could just wait another week and reevaluate if I hadn’t gone into labor by then, or she could do a “stretch and sweep”, a natural induction technique that involved sweeping her finger around the neck of the cervix to separate the membranes from the cervix, while also gently stretching it. This causes a release of prostaglandin, which can kick-start labor. Richard and I discussed the pros and cons for half an hour then finally decided to wait, being that the baby was fine. We still preferred to let labor start naturally. But we did make a “plan” (I like to have a plan) in which we would go home, try some activities to encourage labor, and then go ahead with the stretch and sweep if nothing had happened by that weekend. We all felt comfortable with that and left Maureen at 4:00pm.



As we drove away from Maureen’s, I became aware that my contractions had changed. All of a sudden I knew with certainty that I was in labor. “This is really it!” I thought, and immediately there came a quickening of excitement along with the quiet awareness of the hard work ahead of me. However, I knew I was prepared. I knew my body was able to accomplish this huge task, I knew my midwives were competent experts in normal childbirth who would assist us in having a safe birth, and I knew the Lord would be my strength in the coming hours. I wasn’t scared.



Richard and Grace were a little skeptical when I told them I was in labor, but I assured them I was certain and we had to laugh at the timing. So much for our plan! When we got home I called Maureen to inform her that contractions were 6-8 minutes apart and mild, but had the distinct “true contraction” sensation of being low in my abdomen and feeling like cramps, instead of the painless whole-belly hardening of Braxton-Hicks. I said, trust me, this is it; and she did.



Maureen called our assistant midwife, Amy, and then headed to our house. We made the call for which Grandma and Grandpa Morgan had been waiting for the last 3 weeks! They were coming to care for Grace and Moses while I labored. Richard had a list of tasks to be completed while I was in early labor. (Here’s the trade-off with giving birth at home as opposed to in a hospital; yes, you don’t have to pack up and drive to a hospital in freezing February weather while in labor, but you do have to prepare your home to be the site of a childbirth, which takes some little doing.) Richard disassembled Moses’ crib and moved it out of our room and into the office. He put painter’s plastic down on the carpet in our room, put a fitted plastic sheet on our bed over our normal sheets, and then put some cheap thrift-store sheets over the plastic. He took off our white down comforter and put a shabby green one on the bed, along with some extra pillows. Grace willingly helped him with this; she loves making our bed anyway.



I had my own tasks to accomplish, besides laboring through contractions that were gradually increasing in strength and frequency. My job was to make our bedroom into my own personal birthing haven: my “nest,” my place of comfort and safety in which to bring my child into the world. Of course, I had been “nesting” for weeks and weeks already, so it was mostly small details now. I filled a crockpot with warm water and washcloths to be used as perineal compresses. Lighting some candles around the room and dimming the overhead lights created a soft, warm glow, just right for a baby newly emerging from the womb. I turned on the space heater so our room would be warm and toasty to keep baby from getting chilled. On a low dresser I set out some snacks – fresh fruit, granola bars, trail mix, oatmeal cookies - and bottles of juice and water for my “birth team” and myself. Then I filled an electric teakettle with water, laid out an assortment of teas and some mugs. Moving around helped me feel comfortable during contractions and kept my mind busily engaged. The winter wind blew branches against the windows, but as I looked around the warm alcove of our upstairs bedroom with the freshly made bed and familiar objects, I felt safe and comfortable. I knew this was where I wanted to give birth and I was glad our baby’s first experiences of the outside world would be of dim lights, warm spaces, muted sounds and only the faces of those who loved him.



Everything felt ready, so I changed into my birth clothes; a long, loose cotton knit nightshirt, legwarmers and my fuzzy robe; clothes that were comfortable and familiar to me, so unlike the cold crinkly paper gown they make you wear in the hospital that leaves your backside hanging out. I made myself some tea and alternately walked around the house and rested while labor continued. Soon we welcomed my parents and our midwives into our home and to our birth.



While my parents played downstairs with Grace and Moses, Richard finished preparing our bedroom and Maureen and Amy set out supplies from their birth kits. I rocked in my rocking chair for a while and then lay in bed as the contractions got stronger. Richard put in my relaxing labor music and Grace came upstairs intermittently to rub my feet or hold my hand. Maureen encouraged me to eat something in order to keep up my strength and to keep drinking fluids. Otherwise she and Amy simply sat quietly, observing. The atmosphere was tranquil, quiet and muted. I knew Grace and Moses were well taken care of and that Richard could be with them if they needed a parent’s attention. I was especially thankful we could be near Moses, who was just 19 months old and susceptible to separation anxiety at night. I felt serene and undisturbed by any unnecessary commotion, able to focus on the work of bringing a baby into the world.



Time fluctuated, the sixty seconds of a contraction being drawn out for ages, but the hours of laboring passing swiftly as my focus turned more and more inward. I had no notion of what time it was or how long I had been in labor. Contractions became stronger and stronger and I instinctually relaxed my entire body and let them wash over me. I found a place of calm and release deep inside; eyes closed, breathing slowly and deeply, lying still and quiet. Words of scripture and hymn lyrics flowed through my mind as each contraction peaked. “The Lord is my Strength and my Fortress.” “The Lord is my Comforter and my Help.” “The Lord is my Deliverer and my Strong Tower.” “Jesus, Lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly. While the nearer waters roll, While the tempest still is high.” These words gave me strength and peace, staving off the fear that could easily take hold. My body was working apart from my control, and the only way I could manage the intense sensations was to completely surrender to it. It felt so overriding, so rhythmic, so productive – a slow but steady force pushing the baby ever closer to being born.



Maureen asked me afterward who had taught me to labor like that. The answer is really, “myself.” I instinctually listened to what my body was telling me and labored in harmony with it. I let the pain grip me with all its force and then fade away again without fighting or resisting it. As the contractions increased to incredible intensity I let the rest of my body utterly relax. My eyelids, my jaws, my limbs and fingers and toes were lighter and looser and freer than they ever can be in daily life. It’s as if all the energy in my whole body was focused in the exertion of my uterus, and my mind withdrew to a place deep, deep within me where there is no time and nothing exists but my constricting womb and the work of moving a baby towards birth.




II
And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her,
“Do not fear, for you have another son.”
Genesis 35:17



Besides checking the baby’s heartbeat often, my midwives let me labor as I chose, offering a few suggestions but never pressing me to do anything. Because of my experiences giving birth in the hospital, I kept expecting them to “check” me, find out how far I was dilated, and offer to break my water. But then I would remember that there was no need for any of that. There was no rush, everything was progressing perfectly, and nothing good or necessary would come from my midwives “doing” things to me. They knew this, but I had to keep reminding myself that my body was perfectly capable of birthing this baby without anyone knowing if I was dilating at a rate of two centimeters per hour.



Maureen suggested I walk around, which I did for a while. But soon I was back on our bed as I approached transition. I had to focus very hard to get through these contractions and found myself needing to be very still and quiet. Once, after a series of brutal contractions, the thought came into my head, I am never going to do this again. No more kids. Then I had to tell myself, Okay, just focus on this kid and worry about the future ones later.



I sat on the edge of the bed and draped my arms around Richard, leaning my head on his shoulder as he faced me. Richard’s strong presence gave me courage, and the knowledge that my midwives were nearby reassured me. There comes a point in which childbirth becomes a solitary work and you have to go deep within yourself where no one else can follow. No one can do the work for you, or take the pain onto themselves, or shoulder the burden for you. That's when the comforting touch and encouraging words of those supporting you become essential. It helps you to stay strong as the waves roll over you, helps you to not give up and not give in to fear. I knew Richard and Maureen and Amy were there; I could sense their belief in my and their support and encouragement. But I could only focus inwards, I could only see dimly. It wasn't until later that I could resurface, come back, reach for my husband’s hands and again see the faces of those around me.



It was during this time that the midwives suggested I switch to a hands-and-knees position and lean on my birthing ball. This helped to open up my pelvis and also put me in a more neutral position for pushing. The pushing stages of my previous births had been extremely fast, causing me to tear. Unhurried pushing would help me stretch gradually and reduce the chance of tearing. It felt good to be draped across the large ball and I could feel my pelvis widening and opening. My water had not yet broken so I didn’t have an overpowering urge to push yet, but I could feel a lot of low pressure, so I “labored down”. This basically meant letting my body press the baby down into the birth canal without any voluntary effort of pushing. I breathed and grunted slightly during contractions but I simply allowed my body to do the pushing without physically bearing down.



Maureen knew the baby would probably be coming soon, so she had Richard get ready to catch him. Grace had decided that she wanted to watch her sibling being born, so they called to her that it was almost time. She came upstairs and I caught a glimpse of the wonder and concern mixing on her face. I wanted to reassure her that everything was fine, that the moment had almost come, that this was the very best, most exciting part. But I couldn’t manage to say a word. Gratefully, I heard Richard speaking softly to her and encouraging her that all was well. I felt a sensation of increasing pressure building up until suddenly it was relieved with a gushing burst as my water broke, drenching Richard with amniotic fluid. Good man that he be, he wasn’t fazed in the least.



Then the pressure returned even more intensely and the urge to push overwhelmed me. I told Maureen I felt like I needed to push and asked her to “check” me. It was the first and only time she did an internal exam, and she said, yes, I was fully dilated and could push as I felt like it. Still kneeling with my upper body hugging the birth ball, I began pushing in cooperation with the overpowering force of my body. Every fiber was pushing, my whole entire body was pushing. I could actually feel the baby’s firm head filling the birth canal and moving down and outward. Yes, he was coming! I could feel him ready to emerge. Richard was applying counter-pressure with warm washcloths and it felt heavenly. There was no burning or tearing feeling at all. I pushed and pushed again, surprised that it was taking so much effort. My other babies had come in three or four pushes; this one was taking more effort! But then – yes, I could feel his head emerging! It was the most amazing sensation. I knew I was almost done. More pushing and his shoulders came out, one at a time. Then one more quick push and the rest of his body came slithering out in a wet gush, easily and smoothly, slipping from my body like a seal sliding through a hole in the ice. I felt a strange sensation of hollowness inside me, a sudden emptiness in my womb. Utterly spent, I stayed draped across the birth ball, my eyes closed, relief flooding my body. I heard Richard say, “It’s a boy!” and thought, Really? A boy? It’s a boy - it’s Judah. But I couldn’t quite process that information yet. I just needed to know that he was all right.




Why had no one told me that my body would become a battleground, a sacrifice, a test? Why did I not know that birth is the pinnacle where women discover the courage to become mothers? But of course, there is no way to tell this or to hear it. Until you are the woman on the [birthing] bricks, you have no idea how death stands in the corner, ready to play his part. Until you are the woman on the bricks, you do not know the power that rises from other women.

~Anita Diamant, The Red Tent



This was the moment when I felt fear rising in me: immediately after Judah was born, when the midwives were busily wiping him off and helping him take his first breath. I had rolled onto my back on the bed and saw them holding him. I mistook their concerted efforts as a sign that something was wrong with my baby. My thoughts flew back to the moment after I pushed Matthias out, silent and limp. I remembered my midwife then saying “thick mec” and knowing that meant “dead baby mec.” And after that there was frantic activity, people rushing and bending over my baby while I lay on the cold O.R. table without having had a glimpse of him or knowing what was happening. To me meconium meant a baby who dies. My stomach turned over as I asked Maureen, “Is there mec?” Fear gripped me. “Meconium?” Then Maureen looked at me and smiled. “No, he’s fine.” She handed baby Judah to me and I saw him breathing and heard his whimpers and had his warm, damp, undeniably alive little body in my hands. Fine. He’s fine. I breathed again and fear fled. Death does not linger where he is defeated.



“Your son,” she said. “My son,” I answered, dumbfounded, taking him in my arms. Just as there is no warning for childbirth, there is no preparation for the first sight of a child. There should be a song for women to sing at this moment, or a prayer to recite. But perhaps there is none because there are no words strong enough to name that moment. Like every mother since the first mother, I was overcome and bereft, exalted and ravaged. I beheld myself as an infant in my mother’s arms, and caught a glimpse of my own death. I wept without knowing whether I rejoiced or mourned. My mothers and their mothers were with me as I held my baby.

~Anita Diamant, The Red Tent



I barely remember delivering the placenta. It came out easily and whole. I remember that Maureen was uncomfortable with how much I was bleeding, so Amy gave me a quick shot of Pitocin in the thigh and the bleeding slowed down to a trickle. I remember Maureen gently examining me and saying, No tears to stitch! I was amazed, having assumed that tearing was a given part of childbirth. But thanks to the gentle hands of my midwives and the warm, firm counter-pressure provided by Richard while I was pushing, along with the guidance to push slowly and evenly, my biggest baby emerged without any ripping or tearing. I could focus on meeting my new baby without the pain and distraction of being stitched up at the same time. I was so thankful for the wisdom of my midwives, their attentive, sensitive care and emotional support throughout labor, their clearly expressed belief in my body’s ability to give birth, and their assistance in having a safe, gentle and loving birth.





III
A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come;
but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish
because of her joy that a child is born into the world.
John 16:21




There was not a flurry of activity or unknown people know bustling in and out. Nobody took Judah from me to measure and weigh and poke and prod. For a moment there was only me and my baby, and all I could think was “I did it. It’s over and I did it and here he is. Finally. Here he is and I’m finally meeting him and I had to wait so long and work so hard and I’m so tired but here he is. This is him. This is my baby. He’s finally here.” Here he was, lying on my chest; he felt surprisingly substantial for being so fresh into the world. I looked at him with wonder and saw his dark hair and his incredible gumdrop nose perched in the middle of his round face and his steely mountain-blue eyes peeping through eyelids slightly puffy and bruised, and his head so perfectly round and his bright, pink, new skin, so soft and velvety that I could hardly feel in under my fingers, and smelling absolutely fresh and lotiony and new. I felt slightly surprised that he didn’t look familiar to me. I remembered the first time I saw Moses, how it had felt immediately like I knew him, like I recognized him the moment I laid eyes on him. But it wasn’t like that with Judah. At first I just felt a mild surprise and wonder, like the first time you meet someone you’ve heard about and they don’t look like what you imagined. I felt we needed to be introduced to each other, spend some time getting to know one another. It was reassuring to know we’d be doing just that in the next hours and days, until I would come to know the precise pitch of his hungry cry, and the exact curve of his nose, and just how his downy hair felt on my lips. But now I mostly felt tired. Relieved and happy and peaceful and utterly exhausted. My work was over and my baby was finally in my arms.



At some point the bloody blankets and sheets were stripped off the bed and a chux pad was laid over the clean crisp sheets underneath. Grace brought the blankets my mom had been warming in the dryer and draped them over me. My legs were shaking uncontrollably, but they immediately relaxed under the warm weight of the quilt. Maureen and Amy quietly put away their supplies and tidied up, leaving Richard and I to greet our new son. Later they did the necessary weighing and measuring – now we just looked into the face of our child as he lay quietly on my chest. He peered back at us and I think there was amazement in all our eyes. All the planning, the waiting, the work and sweat and effort had been for this little creature ling here. We had gone through so much while waiting for him, we had prepared so carefully for his arrival, and I had labored so hard to get him here. And it was so totally, unbelievably worth it. Judah was worth it all.



It was 9:03 pm on the night of February 19th in the year 2008. I was in my own home, in my own bed, but I had traveled many miles. I had been “there and back again”; had looked at the dark form of fear and death and had heard the first cry of life chasing it away. I had given everything that was in me, plumbed the limits of my strength and endurance and found that I was strong. I knew I had what it takes to do the job. I had pushed my baby into the hands of his father; ushered him from my protective womb and into the world. I had looked for the first time at the face of my baby with wonder: a fresh and new and unsullied life, so recent from the hand of God. I had experienced something raw and whole and vital. I had done something extraordinary, something life defining. I had given birth, and here was this baby whom I had waited for and longed to meet for 9 months. Now I was the mother to another child, utterly unique and precious and loved. I was forever changed.




There are things you learn when you have a baby that you cannot learn any other way. You find out what life is about when you carry another human being in your womb. You find out what really matters when you straddle life and death to push your child through the birth canal.
~ Rebecca Walker, Baby Love

4 comments:

Scotty and Lisa said...

How beautiful Missy! Tears rolled down my cheeks as I read your amazing account of birth- knowing I would soon be going through something similar (unfortunately, not as tranquil as a homebirth). Thank you so much for taking the time to share such a miraculous story.

melissa said...

Thanks, Lisa. I'm looking forward to hearing about the birth of your little one!! You don't have to have a homebirth to have a peaceful, gentle birth - it has a lot to do with your own beliefs about birth going into it. I know you're strong and that you will do an outstanding job in ushering your child into the world!! :)

Annette said...

What a beautifully written story. Thank you so much for sharing it, Missy. I am so thankful for your family and how God has crafted it just so. Blessings to you and Richard.

Stephanie said...

What an amazing and beautiful account! It made me cry as well. I was so disappointed not to be under the same roof as my laboring sister - but this makes me feel like I at least shared it with you. Thank you for writing this. You'll need to be my coach for when I, Lord willing, labor.