Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Birth Story of Ana Belén
As summer of 2010 began I assumed we were done having kids. Two seemed good. Our table has six chairs and since we co-habit with my parents it seemed perfect. We have three bedrooms...the boys share a room, I get an office/reptile room. All four of us could fit into Erik's truck and go hiking. The carseat and booster fit in the back of my RAV4 with a little extra room. I had been volunteering at Erik's work in the Herpetology and Invertebrate Zoology department and felt really good about my work there and my relationship with the keepers. Even though I had been passed on for a job as a bug keeper, I felt good with the experience I was getting and the rapport I was building with my associates. Micah was becoming more independent and I planned to go back to work when he entered kindergarten.
On June 25 I went to a birthday party for a friend of mine's little boy. A friend I had not seen in about a year since we had moved up to the Northwest side, further away from the park we used to meet at where I met some other beautiful mamas as well. This friend is studying to be a midwife and I always enjoy being around her kind, patient energy. At the party there were two women in their third trimester of pregnancy and they both radiated. Both also had two boys already. I remember really soaking in that night, meeting new beautiful women and getting to hear about the pregnancies. It had been a long time since I was surrounded by so much lovely sister energy, so I wasn't too surprised that when I got home that night I got my period. Little did I know that that was day one of my pregnancy.
Erik was already scheduled for a vasectomy consultation around September. We knew about Natural Family Planning and were smart enough to know when we had to be really careful to avoid pregnancy. But exactly 14 days into my as-yet-unknown-pregnancy, a cloudy haze came over Erik at the critical moment and I remember him saying, "What am I doing?" To me it didn't seem as though anything had happened different from any other time, but he had a feeling there was a slip.
Within about three hours we were at the local drug store purchasing Plan B. I wasn't too happy about the price, but they could charge whatever they wanted for that pill when people were desperate for it! I took the pill within an hour of purchase and the second one around the time when I was supposed to. I kept waiting for the nausea and bleeding to commence, but didn't have any side effects. I considered myself lucky. As I was tossing the packaging, I noticed the statement, "Works effectively in 80% of cases."
Two weeks later I was anxious to know if the Plan B worked. You already know how that played out. The night I found out that I was pregnant I had been invited to go on a special bug collecting expedition late at night in the Santa Rita mountains. By now it was the end of July and the monsoons were working their magic in bringing spectacular bugs and herps and plants out of their usual hiding. Since I volunteered with the keepers I had access to people who had seen and knew where to look for gorgeous animals that I had only seen pictures of or seen in captivity. That night one of the keepers was setting up a bug sheet, which is a white sheet hanging from a frame and a white sheet on the ground with a ridiculously hi-wattage mercury vapor bulb and black light illuminating the whole thing--irresistable to any bug within miles. We were especially on the lookout for a spectacular metallic green beetle called Chrysina that is mostly tropical, but edges up into the Sky Islands of SE Arizona, and the flying-mouse-like giant Saturnid moths. My heart hung heavy as Erik and I drove up the windy mountain road in the dark summer night. I felt like I had to choose between my newly found passion of volunteering with these amazing bug and herp and fish people, and this pregnancy. When wehttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif got to the site I was like a kid in a candy shop running from bug to bug on the sheet, calling out for the others to see this one and that one. We had fun but there was a thickness in my throat all night that I couldn't shake. The next day I cried and cried. I felt like that volunteer job had the potential to open up a career somehow, somewhere, in the field that I loved the most. I decided that the practical thing to do was to hold onto the one chance I felt I had at a career of my dreams. I would terminate the pregnancy and life would continue on as normal.
After I had Micah I remember telling my midwife, somewhere during the postnatal visits that I would be sad not to see her any more. She said she had a feeling she would see me one more time. I was all high on the ecstasy of having had a successful homebirth and I just thought that was sweet of her to say, but in reality that felt impossible. We stayed in contact with email and facebook and about a year later she posted something like, "Repost if you have a lovely daughter." I knew that she has daughters and grand-daughters and I wrote back something like, "You are blessed to have so many beautiful daughters." After we re-connected for this pregnancy she told me that at that moment she had a knowing that I would have a daughter. Also around that same time I remember visiting Montana with my family for my cousin Kristy's wedding. Kristy is my mom's sister's daughter. Kristy has two sisters and my mom's sister has seven grand-daughters. At that time I had been ruminating on mitochondria and how my maternal heritage would continue through my cousins, but not through me. Seeing all my sweet little nieces at the wedding made me think of it and I even brought that up with my mom's mom, Nana, during a visit to her apartment there in Montana. I just said something like, "Nana, I counted up all of Tita's (her mom) female decendents and half of them are your great-granddaughters (through my mom's sister). It is strange for me to think that I won't get to continue that heritage." It took her a second to realize what I was saying and then she said, "Oh, you'll get your daughter." In a brief moment I looked at her kind of quizzically and gave an embarrassed smile. I wonder if my face might have conveyed the feeling of hurt inside, knowing that we weren't planning on having any more kids. She may have noticed because she kind of had a look like maybe she said too much and we both chuckled, changing the subject.
How to terminate a pregnancy is not a fun thing to research on Google. I wanted to go the herbal route, because I felt it was more natural and women had relied on it for centuries. After much hunting around I found a blog of a heroic woman who swore that her method worked and was safe and natural. I read through about 15-20 pages of comments that it worked before I decided to do it. The method was taking enormous amounts of vitamin C and parsley tea for up to ten days and making a bundle of parsley which gets inserted to bring on cramping. I think I started the process almost a week after I found out I was pregnant. On one of the last pages of comments (after days of reading them) I read a comment by someone that I knew, but hadn't talked to in a year. Re-connecting with her felt so positive and sisterly, in spite of the circumstances. The process had worked for her and taken about ten days. I feel very fortunate to have been able to connect with someone who went through that. I told Erik about my decision and while he was sad and asked me several times if I was sure, he supported me. I was crying and he just said that no matter what we could always have another baby down the line.
I eagerly purchased the ascorbic acid powder and about five bunches of parsley. I had made up my mind and didn't want to think about it any more. I was diligent for the first two days, but on the third day I had a revelation. I pictured myself as an old woman with three adult children or an old woman who had spent her life studying bugs and two adult children. The thought of being old and surrounded by more family warmed my heart. And earlier in the year I had been talking with a friend who had been a keeper and he had said something that stuck with me. He said, "No matter how well you do your job or how hard you work, when you retire people are already moving on and they will forget you in a few weeks. That's just reality." Which, when he told me that reminded me of a quote by Wayne Dyer, "When people are on their deathbed, nobody ever says, 'I wish I had spent more time at the office.' They always say, 'I wish I had spent more time with my family.'" My friend finished the quote with me because it was one of his favorites. When all these thoughts crystallized in my mind, I immediately pulled out the parsley and went crying to Erik,
"I don't want to have another baby down the line--I want *this* baby!" He had tears in his eyes and hugged me and said, "Call Bette (the midwife) now! Tell her about the vitamin C!" I called her and left a message just to call me and then avidly researched the effects of too much vitamin C. Fortunately, there were none, unless high doses were taken for the entire pregnancy, then the baby could have problems absorbing C after birth and show temporary signs of ricketts. It was very rare. Bette confirmed this when I finally talked to her.
I was shakily optimistic as I adjusted to the fact that we were going to have another baby. Now August was fully underway. I informed the Herpetology department that I was pregnant and that I had suffered from morning sickness in the past and that it would probably happen again. They congratulated me and said of course not to worry about taking as much time off as I needed. (Even though I was a volunteer, I treated it like a job and they all knew how much I loved doing it.) The morning sickness definitely happened again--it kicked my butt!
I think I volunteered one or two more weekends before I became incapacitated by the morning sickness. At first I was combatting it with meditation and was having some success. I was having ethereal revelations of joy in my strange state and would find myself weeping as I felt graciously connected with the immensity of all existence. But then it came on like a tidal wave. I became so weak that all I wanted to do was lie on the floor covered with a sheet. I couldn't sleep at night because I was waking every few hours to heave. My weight dropped down to what I weighed in junior high. I felt skeletal. I called the naturopath who told me to only eat what smelled good to me and smell everything deeply before I consumed it. That night I smelled and nibbled and nommed on a peach like a person on ecstacy. Also I picked some leaves off our lemon tree and inhaled its fragrance readily. I inhaled the clean smell of the red rasberry leaf tea which made it taste real and good. About three days later I visited his office and received resonant sound therapy, which is the closest thing to shamanic healing that I've ever experienced. There was chanting and groaning and essential oils and chakra tapping and at one point a bottle of lavender essential oil crashed open on the floor! It lasted about 30-40 minutes and at the end I felt like I was floating. I had no words, only a slight, perfectly content smile.
As my morning sickness ever-so-slowly decreased its intensity Erik got some devastating news from his work. As the fiscal year was about to start in October, they realized their budget would need some severe cuts and Erik was the last person hired in his department so he knew his position was vulnerable. He immediately started looking for a new job in case he got laid off. My parents reassured us that no matter what they would help us. Adjustments could be made. After much worry and anxiety they ended up cutting his hours by one day of work per week. We immediately thought of ways to cut back our spending. Driving 26 miles every Sunday for a volunteer job suddenly didn't seem so important.
As we adjusted to the fact that Erik would be losing a portion of his income he started thinking of ways to augment. He hung up a flyer in the docent lounge at work advertising tree trimming. Slowly the jobs started to trickle in and by the grace of God he has managed an average of about three per month, which is enough to replace the lost income. He also started an Amazon seller account and sells used books online that he finds for sale at the local Friends of the Library book sales and other such places. This income basically supports his book habit, which even he admits had been taking a small bite out of our budget.
As I entered into the second trimester my energy returned and I resumed the daily routine with the boys and domestic affairs--cooking, cleaning, helping with homework. The pregnancy remained easy and mostly faded into the background. As the due date marched closer the only thing that became an issue was pregnancy-related anemia, which I had with the boys as well, and a bit of swelling, which I combatted effectively (for the first time--the other pregnancies I suffered) with increased fluid intake and focusing on proteins and vegetables while shunning my beloved carbs. Seeing how well my body responded gave me newfound respect for people following diets such as the paleo diet and the alkaline diet, which also tend to shun grains. I found plenty of support for such dietary changes through online friends and family who practiced such diets for their health and found results.
The last few weeks before the birth, our family life felt like it was getting stitched together. Everything felt right. I felt relaxed and confident about the birth.
Maybe I was a little too relaxed because as the weekend before my last appointment with the midwife arrived (I was due the following Friday, April 1st) I still hadn't gathered all the supplies and sterilized the rags and sheet for the birth. When Saturday came I had an impending feeling to "get it all taken care of." We also went to the feed store to get straw bales for our raised garden bed. As we drove around from store to store I had a few times where I felt a combination of a cramp with a feeling of light-headedness, sort of like how a guy describes getting "kicked in the nuts". About an hour passed between each time it happened. Also, due to our running around, I hadn't eaten nearly anything since breakfast and was famished and *very* grumpy. The cramps and grumpiness could easily be chalked up to not eating. As we left Home Depot I ate a few M&Ms and then planned on having a nice protein meal when we got home.
Funny thing is that when I got home and fixed myself some chicken, I could barely eat a few bites. I felt slightly nauseous and anxious to get everything ready for the birth. I had an inkling that it would be in the next couple of days. I felt monstrously bitchy as I finished getting everything prepared. As the afternoon wore into the evening, Erik finished placing the bales and then decided that he would finally take Noah to go see "Rango" like he had been talking about for the last week or two. He asked if the birth was imminent and I said I had a feeling the contractions would taper off at night. I'm glad they went because he was anxious and Noah was bounding off the walls. They both needed to get *out*! I still needed a few things from the grocery store, but was feeling kind of weak from not eating so my mom went for me and took Micah. I had almost an hour alone to meditate on what was to come. I put on some relaxing music as an incredible back ache came on that felt like I had been doing heavy lifting all day. I savored it.
Since the onset of my pregnancy, I had a strong feeling that this would be my last pregnancy and longingly wished to have an unassisted birth. Since I had birthed Micah successfully at home I felt, I knew, I could do it on my own. I knew women who had done it and with my innate distrust of the medical profession and trust in the wisdom of the ancient process of birth, I wanted to experience that most primitive of mammalian experiences, alone, the way I imagined most animals birthed. Even though I had seen adult female cats birthing in the arms of another female and knew that some animals like elephants and horses might have a female accompany them at their birth, I felt that birthing alone was the most normal way for an animal to give birth.
As I sat there in the blue night contemplating the upcoming birth I was surprised to find myself feeling grateful that I would have Bette with me at the birth. Even though I knew I *could* do it on my own, having her calm, knowledgable presence felt comforting.
Mom got back with the groceries and bathed Micah and put him down for bed. In order to help Micah fall asleep, she laid with him in the dark and I turned off all the lights and sat in the living room dark, surfing the internet. By the time Erik and Noah got home around ten the back-ache had subsided and I decided to try sleeping. My stomach felt a bit off so I drank a big glass of chamomile tea and a little Recharge because I was feeling weak from not eating much food all day.
I fell asleep with Erik and woke up around 1am to go pee and felt like I was going to be sick. I sat on the toilet and barely grabbed the trashcan as my body mechanically evacuated from every hole in my body. I felt slightly better when the whole event was done but didn't feel like sleeping. Erik gallantly cleaned out the trash can for me and put a liner in it. I was a little concerned because I had heard about people throwing up during transition with especially hard contractions, but not just in general.
Thank goodness for Dr. Google, because I learned that flu-like symptoms without fever are common for 48 hours prior to labor. And that's exactly how I felt. I even had muscle cramps in my legs similar to when I have the flu. I went back to bed and mostly laid there, stretching and moving my aching legs. At around 3am I started to get contractions again, about every 15 minutes. At 4 I got up again to use the toilet and was sick again, even though the contractions were totally bearable. I took the trashbag outside to the main trash can, just wearing my t-shirt. The cool dark air was so silent and silky; I glanced up at the big dipper and knew that I would soon be giving birth.
I returned to the bathroom, rinsed my mouth with water and baking soda, and laid in bed for about twenty more minutes, feeling the contractions gaining strength. After a few good ones I got up to go to the bathroom again and now the pinkish mucus was definitely being shed. Yea! I re-read Bette's instructions on when to call her--water breaks or regular contractions. They were still about 5-10 minutes apart and I didn't have to breathe through them. In fact, I found that if I I sat on the toilet and pushed just a little during a contraction, it almost felt good. I decided to feel inside myself when I was pushing to see if I could feel anything. The first couple of times it just felt all squishy and I couldn't really tell one fold from the next. But when I had a really good contraction I reached in and past a certain fold (the lip of my cervix, which was all soft and fluffy) I felt something smooth and hard. The head! I was exhilarated and encouraged. I briefly contemplated just going through with the birth there in the bathroom, but since I trusted Bette and knew that there was still major work to be done, I decided to time the contractions and make sure that birth was imminent when she came. Now it was around 5am, and even though I wasn't even breathing through the contractions (the pushing lessened the pain), when I had a contraction and pushed I could feel the bag of waters descending. I was surprised how in between contractions everything ascended back up inside. Also, I had a new understanding of "dilation." The cervix didn't just incrementally increase in size opening over a period of time. It opened and closed dynamically and was definitely not circular! It was more elliptical and tilted toward the back.
I called Bette and while I was waiting for her call-back had another contraction and felt the bag of waters descend even more so I paged her again. She immediately called and we talked for a bit because I was still able to talk through them okay, due to my pushing technique. She told me to be careful with pushing because pushing too early can swell the cervix which will make it harder to push when the head is ready. She also said sitting on the toilet can dilate me very fast. Could I please just find another position and breathe through the contractions until she got there? Yes, I could.
I told Erik that I had called Bette and for him to get the bed ready. We already had the plastic sheet on the bed, but he had to put the sterile sheet on the bed and he also had to assist Bette with anything she needed when she got there. I went back into the bathroom and Rama the cat squeezed in with me. As I got on all fours to manage the contractions, Rama mewed and rubbed all over me, begging to be pet. As I smoothed her silky smooth fur and she bumped her head on me I became acutely aware that petting a cat does, indeed, release oxytocin. I wished Erik could have taken a picture because I always loved the idea of cats comforting a laboring mother. Unfortunately, as so often seems the case, some (most?) of the soft, delicate moments in life find us without a camera to memorialize it.
I migrated into the bedroom to try leaning over the edge of the bed for something to sink my head into and grip the sheet or a pillow. Now the contractions were feeling really intense without the toilet seat to relieve the pressure and I started to really breathe through them. I felt like this was probably a good thing for me to endure for a while and let my body really open up. Fortunately the contractions were only 30-45 seconds long and were spaced a couple of minutes apart. No trains barrelling down on me. Now Bette arrived and started setting up camp. I asked Erik to sit on the edge of the bed and during a contraction I would burrow my head into his torso. I really wanted to bite him but he asked could I please not! Maybe I could bite something else? A pillow might work.
Bette wanted to check the heart and do an internal. She asked if I could get on the bed with a bunch of pillows behind me? (I had told Bette beforehand that I wanted to catch the baby and she said that was a good position for that.) I made a pile of pillows and laid kind of on my right side and kind of on my back. Remembering how good it felt when I was feeling the bag of waters descend during a contraction on the toilet, I asked if she would do the internal during a contraction while I pushed. She later told me that was strange because most women don't want an internal during a contraction. But when she did it she could feel the cervical lip and asked me if I wanted her to massage the lip over the head with a bit of oil as I pushed. Yes! I did! Which, again later I found out that many women don't want that kind of intervention from the midwife at all, but it felt so good! She did that for a few contractions then said the baby was so close to being born. When she got up to get some supplies for the birth the contractions were so intense without her massaging back the cervix. I told Erik to get behind me and I would pull on his arms during the contractions. I definitely was wanting to push through these huge contractions now.
So now came the guttural moaning and groaning. The deep down strong noises. The "get-behind-it" noises. I don't remember how many pushes at this point, but the on one of them the bag of waters burst with a thick snapping sound and a splash of fluid which Bette expertly blocked with a towel! Then one push where I felt the pressure on my tailbone. Then one push where the head almost crowned. I didn't want a repeat of almost-crowning so on the next one I pushed 'til crowning. Which is such a surreal moment because the stretching, burning sensation is so strong that the urge to just blast through it with a push is so intense, but Bette knows that can lead to a tear so she tells me to stop pushing and just blow-blow-blow. It's like a skateboarder flying through the air on a half-pipe and if you could slow down time to an incremental frame by frame as she (of course!) reaches the pinnacle of her trajectory with one hand planted on the rim of the pipe and her body upside down staring down the wall of the pipe and just freeze time right there, right on that edge, that incredible momentum and potential energy at its peak--that's kind of what it feels like. That's when my humanity betrayed my will to birth goddess-like and I called out, "It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!" After just a few more interminable seconds I don't remember if I pushed or her head just popped out, but the burning subsided and the words "Thank you thank you thank you" flooded out of me. My eyes were still closed out of exhaustion and I heard Bette say with more than a hint of delight, "Hi Baby!" So I reached down and caressed the head and ears and nose that was facing my right thigh. That gave me a rush and I wanted to meet the baby so much that I started pushing again and Bette said, "Slow down now, we're doing the shoulders." So I just paused and delicately stroked her face, still with my eyes closed! As the next contraction came over me a mighty heave and she was out. I lay there panting "thank you thank you thank you", the words streaming from my heart.
I finally opened my eyes and as I was lifting the baby onto my belly Erik said, "How big is he?"
I said, "It's a boy?"
Erik said, "No, I don't know."
So I lifted her up and said "It's a girl?!"
Bette grinned and said, "I knew it!"
She was all coated in luscious vernix and slippery like a baby seal. She just laid on my belly and rested as calm as a well-fed nursling. Bette even wanted to prod her just a bit to hear just a sound. After some gentle taps and prods she finally tried lifting her slightly off my belly, to which baby let everyone know that was not okay.
Bette felt the cord and it was still pulsing. I'm really glad she did because I wanted to feel that too. The feeling of the pulsing cord was so full of life and yet diminishing. Beautiful and surreal. I wish I had handled the placenta too before it got popped in the freezer, when it was still warm and plump and veiny. I am slightly obsessed with the amazing nature of placentas.
The final big contraction came and I told Betty I was ready to push the placenta out, which surprised her that it was so soon. I was surprised again at how relatively hard I had to push to get a shapeless blob out. But my placentas have all had the remark of "Wow that's big!" Feels like birthing an octopus.
We had our hearts set on naming the baby Scout if it was a girl, but something about her tranquil nature belied our decision. After relishing in the sweet aroma and glow and feel of our newborn for a while Erik said, "She kind of looks like an Anna, or Ana. Ana Belén?" Yes, that felt right. Twelve hours later Erik's uncle called and said that that day, March 27, 2011, would have been the 100th birthday of Erik's beloved grannie, Anna Belle. Waves of chills and euphoria washed over me when I heard that. I later looked up the meaning of Anna and it comes from the Hebrew word "chana" which means grace. Nothing other than grace could have brought Ana Belén into our lives.