As I write this my almost 4-week-old son is sleeping on the couch next to me. He went from 2 days to 4 weeks in about 10 minutes. I can’t believe how fast it’s going with this one. I want so much to write about our family being 4 and the transition from 1 to 2 kids, and maybe with any luck I’ll get there. But for today I want to tell my boy’s birth story. It was the birth I wanted: healing, empowering and it was a VBAC!
I wrote in my last post about the fear I had about going for a VBAC birth. Those fears had largely lifted as I approached my due date—partly because my midwife, doula, husband and close friends were so optimistic and partly because I kept doing the work–I want to say that to anyone walking through fear. Keep doing what you know to do: meditate, walk, draw, chant–whatever is your portal to faith walk through it every day and it will start to replace the fear. Or so it went for me. I felt excited and surrendered as Jan 6 approached. I had lots of talks with Baby about staying put for a while because Luciana was getting her immune system very strong and catching everything there was to catch. Sky and I both caught pieces of her string of bugs, and I wanted Baby to arrive in a healthy family. So we made it through moving (we bought a house right before Christmas–I know, ideal timing) and the holidays and deep coughs and diarrhea and food poisoning and then it was January 6. I was due.
photo by Jamie Street
I attached pretty much no significance to my due date with Luciana. I know it’s a guess and in Europe it’s more like 42 weeks and you’re due. But for some reason when Jan 6 hit I began to panic a little. Irrational fears like I wasn’t ever going to go into labor and I’d be induced and it wouldn’t work and down that road….I realized there was some part of me that still wanted to control how this birth went. So I prayed to let go some more.
One of my favorite yoga teachers says that 24-48 hours before a woman gives birth her aura gets huge. I saw her 2 days before my due date and she said the baby wasn’t coming yet. One should not, I assume, stress about one’s aura expanding if one wants such expansion, but of course I did. On Tues (Jan 7) I took a walk on the beach. It was a beautiful moody California winter afternoon; I was listening to the playlist I’d made for the birth, and suddenly I had the sensation that I grew 6 inches. Then the feeling that my feet sank a foot deeper into the sand. And that there was more space on all sides of my body. I don’t know if that was my aura expanding, but it’s what I now imagine it might feel like…..
On Wednesday morning, Jan 8, I sat down to my regular morning meditation. I’d been having Braxton Hicks and very irregular contractions for a couple of weeks, but as soon as I closed my eyes and started to breathe, I felt one that was definitely stronger than anything I’d felt in this pregnancy. But whatever. Then some minutes later I felt another one. OK. So I checked the time and waited. Another one. Another one. They were 6 minutes apart and 30 sec long. I went out to the living room and told Sky maybe possibly something was happening but I wasn’t sure. And knowing me I’d have the baby on Saturday. Luciana took 4 days, after all. So we went about our day: Sky went to work, I got Luciana ready for music class. And all morning I felt these semi-regular but totally manageable contractions. I let my midwife and doula know and everyone said we’ll wait and see.
By afternoon they were stronger–still manageable but not as much. I wanted to walk and take a bath. So Sky came home, we called Luciana’s babysitter who came over, and I did those things: walked, took a bath, walked some more. The bath made the contractions go away; by the second walk I felt nothing, so we sent the babysitter home and figured that was a warm-up round. Sky had the good sense though to ask my mom to spend the night just in case. We told Luciana there was a chance we wouldn’t be here in the morning, that the baby might surprise us tonight, just in case. Mom came over and around 9:00 I went to bed.
I woke up at 11 and something was different. I couldn’t lie in my bed with what I was feeling. I got up, started crawling around on the floor; Sky woke up and timed a couple. 5 minutes apart, 1 minute in length. It seemed like active labor, but still I wasn’t sure. There were no other signs (ie water breaking, losing my plug, etc). Around 1:30 I got in the bath and Sky called Debbie, our midwife. Upon hearing me in the background she said, Sky, hang up and drive to the hospital.
The car ride was miserable. Those of you who have labored in a car know that. I had my Hypnobabies on and it was still miserable. But luckily it was 2 am and we got there fast. Then there’s me on hands and knees at the check in desk, ear buds in with mantras playing while Sky tells them I’m here to have my baby.
Debbie and our doula Khefri got there right after we did. Debbie checked me and I was at 6cm. With Luciana I didn’t progress past 4cm. That was the scariest moment for me: her checking. I was scared I’d be a 2 and this would be a repeat of before. That I was 6 was a moment of relief, excitement, belief– I wanted this so much. I knew there were no guarantees, but learning I was a 6 I grinned. In the midst of strong active labor I almost laughed.
What I remember about the next several hours is the dark room, the nurse I loved, the rosewater Khefri sprayed that was heaven to me, that all I wanted was to be on the floor, that I was so so so so thirsty. I remember Khefri and Debbie making me a nest of blankets and pads on the floor so I could lie there in between contractions when I would crawl and squat and rock and breathe. I remember the HEPlock which I loathe but as a VBAC mama needed to have. I remember at some point I couldn’t talk anymore so I would hit my own back as a way to tell them to please press it because the pressure was so crazy there and I didn’t know how to take it.
What I will say about Hypnobabies is this: I would not call my experience of childbirth easy and comfortable. I would not say that my pressure waves, ie contractions, felt like big hugs. But I LOVED Hypnobabies. It had done so much to prepare me for the time I needed to let my mind go completely and trust my body and I experienced that to a greater degree than I knew possible. I witnessed my body take over. It knew when and how to move, when and how to rest; I couldn’t control it if I wanted to, and though it was so rigorous, challenging, and YES painful, the atmosphere in the birthing room was so calm, so sweet, so peaceful. Hypno was a huge part of that, as were the mantras, which soothed me when I was resting and kept me in a state of openness and surrender. Or so Sky tells me, since at about 7am when I was 9.75 cm and stuck there I hit that wall I hear women hit: I said I can’t do it anymore and started to cry.
There was a little lip of cervix that wasn’t budging. This isn’t unusual; I remember hearing about it in birthing classes for both kids. But that lip wasn’t moving and there I was, almost fully dilated, really wanting to push, and technically not supposed to. The pressure in my back was like a giant boulder splintering into 4000 pieces every few minutes and I’d started to yell a lot and grunt like a wild beast. Debbie and Khefri reminded me to take the energy of my breath down—that sending it out like that was the opposite of the grounding energy I needed to get the baby out. With their help I breathed differently, stopped yelling, and labored some more. Debbie then said it was OK to push a little, that maybe that would help that anterior lip move. Sky supported me in a squat and I pushed in what I hoped was a moderate amount. My water had broken shortly before, but as a thin trickle rather than a big gush. The baby had some of the amneotic sac in front of his/her head and Debbie thought that the “balloon” of water was perhaps lessening the baby’s impact on my cervix. I agreed to her breaking that water bubble; she did and I pushed a little more. It was light out now and I remember I wanted to see the light; didn’t need the room dark anymore. I’d switched to more energetic music and I didn’t want any blinds closed. I needed the light –needed something to kick me into the next gear.
I went to 10. It was 8am. Maybe it was seeing dawn and knowing I’d been up all night but I wanted to get on the bed. I climbed up and squatted. Then I lay on my side and pushed there. Baby made good progress in that position, but I kept rolling more towards my back. It seemed I wanted to be there, so Debbie angled the bed up. Sky held one leg, Khefri held another, and that’s where I was when my baby was born. At 10:25am. For 2.5 hours I pushed. What I remember about that is the feeling that in between pushes I thought I was going to hurl myself, Exorcist-style, off the bed. My back siezed up and it was more than I could ever think I could bear. I remember that feeling of closing my eyes and sending every ounce of myself down, down to where the baby was, down to get the baby out, down and down and down. All I could think was down. I remember praying in between and Sky showing me a picture I’d brought to remind me to pray and let go. I remember pooping. God, in labor you do that a lot. Some got on Sky! That is a whole new level of intimacy.
At 9:30 Debbie told me the baby’s heart rate was dropping during contractions. If Baby didn’t come out soon I’d need to consider a vacuum and if I didn’t want that it could be another C-section. I didn’t freak out. I wanted a completely intervention-free birth, but my baby’s health was so much more important. She told me there was a doctor in her practice already at the hospital, so she would come instead of my backup OB. I feel like that doctor was an angel. She came in and I instantly adored her. She, like Debbie, was so calm, and there was something fierce about her. She said the baby looked fine–right after Debbie brought up the vacuum the heart rate recovered–I guess he wanted intervention-free too:)– But she said she was going to stay and keep an eye on things. So I pushed some more. Then she and Khefri started counting when I pushed, and I’m convinced that got my baby out. I knew Baby was progressing–Debbie talked me through it all and Sky was like a Seahawks fan at the game last Sunday–“OHMIGODTHERE’STHEHEAD!THEHEADISCOMING!THAT’S ITMYLOVEICANSEETHEHAIR!” at which point I, determined my genes were more dominant in this kid said, It has dark hair, right? To which Debbie replied It’s looking pretty blonde….those Nordic genes of my husband’s are insane.
Anyway, baby would come down then retreat a bit, and this went on and on. We were waiting for the push that got the head out and it stayed out, but it kept slipping back in. More counting, more pushing. My face felt like it had been squeezed into a miniature version of itself I had crunched it so hard-this was not the graceful breathing my baby out, this was animal primal every ounce of strength and courage and endurance I had. I talked to the Baby, said Down, Baby, Out, Baby; I focused all of my attention down in my body. I’d lie on the bed in between and one would start and I’d lie still for as long as possible breathing slowly and then there was no choice–I’d have to push again, so hard and for so long. I was ready to stop at 6; they counted til 10 or 11 and I swear to you every time I thought I can’t go any more but they were counting so I did and Baby emerged a little more.
labor photos by our awesome amazing doula Khefri
Finally I felt the ring of fire, and honestly I thought what is the big deal about the ring of fire? Yes, it burns, but I’d take that for an hour over what I was feeling in my back. They had the mirror in place but I, for one, can not push that hard while keeping my eyes open and trying to look at anything. So I did not watch my baby being born. But I remember the feeling of the head coming out. Coming out of my body. Which still barely makes sense to me. There is nothing logical about labor and birth; nothing my rational mind can wrap itself around. And that is so so beautiful. The head was out and to me it felt like the body shot out in a fast gush. I remember crying out with relief. Sky says it was actually slow and fluid and graceful, and that Debbie so skillfully guided and turned the baby and then Baby was born. And then Debbie said, Melanie, this is your baby. Reach down and lift your baby. And as I lifted that wet slithery body and saw a wet matted blood-flecked head, Sky said it’s a boy! Oh my god it’s a Boy! And I said Hi Baby, hi hi hi hi my love hi baby i love you baby we’re here baby you made it baby i love you baby. Sky is weeping next to me and after a few moments of holding and loving and staring at this baby I yelled out My Vagina F-ing Hurts! and that, my friends, was the truth. Not to mention that when I looked at it a couple of hours later upon going to pee it looked like a baboon’s. Things are back to normal now, rest assured.
It’s a boy. Henrik Wilde Meltzer, and lots of the time we call him Huck. (Though I love the name Henrik and I call him that too but I am crazy about Huck for a little boy). Born Jan 9, 2014 at 10:25 am.
photo by Aunt Kristina
He took a long time there at the end because 1) the cord was wrapped around his leg as we learned after he was out–hence the heart rate dropping and the bungee jumping he was doing by coming down and retreating back up and 2) he was 8 lbs 15 oz. That is a fairly large child, and definitely larger than Debbie or I thought I was having. 8.15 and 21 inches long. He’s already out of newborn clothes and acts like someone who’s been here much longer than 3.5 weeks. His birth taught me that I actually can do anything. I do not need to stop when it feels like it might break me in a dozen pieces. If it matters to me I can keep trying and what will be will be and it will be right. It taught me I am capable of getting out of my head, something that is often hard for me, and that my body has more wisdom than I can fathom. Truly. And more strength and resilience–I didn’t tear and recovery has been so so fast. It taught me to lean on others–I needed my team in the birth room. There is NO WAY I could have done that without them. And it’s made it easier to ask for and receive help since Huck was born.
also by Jamie Street
Huck. He is heaven in a onesie. We spent one night in the hospital, and Sky actually went home that night to be with Luciana and bring her over the next morning, so I had that first night alone with my little man. When I was pregnant I thought he was a girl and if I’m honest I wanted him to be a girl. Now I know it was him the whole time and I had no idea the love I would feel for a He. I am just so smitten with my boy.
The transition from 1 to 2 is wild. It’s been hard for Luciana. It’s been hard for me. It’s so much change. And that’s for another post. It is also what everyone said: you watch your heart expand and love more. One can, it turns out, always love more. Thank you, Huck, for choosing us as your family. I love you so unbelievably much, my beautiful beautiful boy. And it turns out (if you read my last post) that anything is indeed possible.
and yes, by Jamie Street. We really like her.