The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new. ~Rajneesh
I awoke early Thursday morning, January 19th, with bright red bleeding, a sign I had grown fearful of during the last seven weeks of my pregnancy, but responded to with a calm urgency. At 28 weeks I had been hospitalized for nearly two weeks, diagnosed with a placental abruption and arrested preterm labor. I called the hospital to let them know my symptoms and that I was on my way. I packed my bags like I had grown used to — this would be my third hospitalization since I was prescribed bed rest — and called my mother to pick me up. Although it didn’t mean much to me at the time, there was a bigger sense of pressure in my call than the laid back response I got from her asking if being there in twenty minutes was alright. I told her, ‘Now’.
The night before, my estranged husband and I talked on the phone for the first time in a while and it was a good talk. I had been noticing a different sort of feeling in the lower center of my uterus that night. Baby’s positioning, I thought. But during the car ride to Boston that morning, there was no position I could get into that would make the ache subside. These are contractions, I thought; not the Braxton Hicks type at all, and they’re about four minutes apart. I told Mom, I think I’m in labor.
A wheelchair sat by the elevator and Mom wheeled me into the Labor and Delivery Room. The nurse, Colleen, who admitted me during my first Tufts stay, was there; we had grown to know each other relatively well and had a friendly, joking relationship. She would be there until 3 o’clock that afternoon, and it turned out that I had finished with my delivery and aftercare by the time she was leaving to go home. Linda was another very sweet nurse that I had grown to know. Before I got into my actual room, I was checked out and put on the electronic fetal monitoring machine. Baby was fine, like baby had always miraculously been, and I commented that the contractions being picked up on the machine were definitely not as strong as I was feeling. There was so much blood as I was told that I was five centimeters dilated and, Congratulations, I’m having a baby today. Whether I would deliver or be delivered would be determined.
I was admitted to my room, the same room that I had first been admitted to over seven weeks ago. More familiarity. I lay on the bed, observing and breathing through my contractions after getting in touch with my doula, Colleen. I called up my friend Kyle asking him to bring his iPod and headphones because “There’s no f*cking way I’m getting an epidural.” He came shortly after with two crystals, a couple holographic images to focus on, a book by Deepak Chopra, and wished me positive, well energy. I put on Vibrasphere for a couple of tracks, as they were The artists of my pregnancy, and began to cry due to the unbelievable wave of beauty that had swept over me when I heard the first part of Tierra Azul (please give it a listen for the full effect!). This portion of the song played over and over in my head throughout the day.
Colleen showed up a bit later and used some oils and massage, gentle reassurance, stories of the wonderful birth she had just come from a short while ago. Mom sat by my side and dutifully applied a cool washcloth on my forehead. A woman from anesthesiology came to talk to me about epidurals and had to wait patiently for me to get through each contraction, and eventually was like, Okay, you’re amazing and I’m leaving. I loved that each contraction was manageable and had a mostly clear beginning and ending in the early to middle portion of the labor. I tried to position myself differently, but because I was being continuously monitored, I couldn’t get on my hands and knees or anything other than on my sides. There was one point that I tried to get on my hands and knees, but baby fell off the monitor and back on my side I went. Nurse Colleen said she respected my desires after having read my birth plan, but because I’d had an abruption, we couldn’t do everything the way I wanted. Some things had to be done the hospital’s way; I can birth in a field next time if I want (lol).
It all really becomes a blur, a very surreal blur. Labor trance was in full effect. I remember blurting out calmly, ‘This f*cking sucks’, which made doula Colleen and Mom laugh. Colleen really helped me when the contractions got super strong by showing me a helpful way to moan through them. Without her demonstrating and chanting with me, I know I would have been much more self-conscious. Mom probably thought it was bizarre, but also joined in the chanting. After a while, I was moaning like no one’s business, and it didn’t matter. Oh my goodness, did vocalization help!
More pressure; pressure, pressure, pressure, until I felt the urge to push. My cervix was checked a couple of different times and was making great progress, so much that I was almost surprised. At around eight centimeters or so I believe, someone came in to break my waters because they still hadn’t ruptured on their own. Before the pushing began, I just remember that I was smiling and joking about something and everyone commented how amazing and how great at this I am.
I pushed on my sides for a bit before more people came in — who and how many I don’t know; it felt best to have my eyes closed throughout the entire process. The urge to push became unreal. I kept asking if it was almost over because it felt like the baby had to be at least somewhat out now. Touch the tip of the baby’s head, they told me, and I remember thinking, That’s it?! I was told that I should push on my back with my arms pulling in my thighs, which I spoke out against, but ended up having to put aside and do anyway.
There must have been twenty pushes altogether; I struggled channeling that energy very well to start with, but got better after some suggestions. My moans were feral and felt amazing and I couldn’t believe those noises were coming out of me, but they didn’t make for entirely productive pushes. Like you’re taking the biggest poop of your life, I was told. Soon enough I was making some great pushes, and oh, we were getting somewhere! That was the baby’s head! Oh god, I wanted to give up; I was so tired but at the same time it felt so good to push. And then, with an incredible burst I gave one final, unnaturally strong push which was probably the culprit for my second degree tear, and the baby was birthed. They handed a crying baby to me and I saw that she was a girl as I brought her to my chest. I knew it, I might have said aloud, and I heard my mother crying, and I was crying, and it was an ecstatic moment forever frozen in time.
Mom cut the cord. I was able to lay with her skin to skin for a bit before she was measured, and afterward when I was getting stitched up.
She arrived at 1:34PM, scored an eight on the APGAR, weighed 6.73 lbs, and her height was 20.5”. This is Aliyah Rain’s birth story. It’s a story of two different worlds — natural birth vs. the medical model of birth — working together to give me a memory that I accept and even feel was beautiful given the circumstances. I knew that I had to be in a hospital setting rather than my preference of a birth center, and felt that my wishes were adhered to as much as they could be in a high-risk situation. I felt loved and held within a sacred space, where nothing negative could enter. It’s a story of coming full circle in many ways. I am proud of myself and my endurance through such a complicated third trimester, and birth itself, which took about seven hours total, but felt like much shorter. After, when Mom commented that I did so well, I turned to her and said, Built to birth! I am so proud of my baby girl who knew it was her time even if she was a bit early at 35 weeks and 6 days. She filled her lungs and was very alert, observing her surroundings. She is so beautiful and I admire the strength she’s already shown me in her character.
It meant a lot to me that my wishes were respected in regards to taking my placenta home. I plan to pour my heart into the construction of a burial ritual when the time is right.
After thoughts about the birth experience:
1) Pushing/birthing on my back. This was like the first thing I learned about how some of the medical model of birth’s practices make absolutely no sense. Yay for, ugh, working against gravity, yet they’re the experts? Despite transitioning, I was coherent enough to tell everyone that I couldn’t push on my back. I felt like no one listened or even acknowledged my words. All for the sake of unreliable continuous monitoring and convenience for them.
2) This one really grinds my gears: I’m not sure if it was before or after I passed my placenta, but without my consent, I heard someone say, Start the pitocin. Yes, folks, I had successfully birthed my baby via my body’s wisdom in a place where the staff believe that women’s bodies are broken. Knowing my general preferences, they still went ahead and put the medicine into my IV without asking. I also remember now that doctors also went in and broke my waters without asking for my consent.
3) Vitamin K. I got the guilt tripping what-are-you-trying-to-do-kill-your-baby spiel by doctors, nurses and pediatricians way too soon after she was born because I refused that she be given the shot. Guys. C’mon. At least some of the hospital staff had read my birth preference list; right away, it should have been clear that I’d done my research and knew damn well what I was choosing for both me and my child. I didn’t appreciate the hounding and having to hold my ground in such a fragile state.
4) One of the nurses in the MIU. I was extremely sensitive the days following Aliyah’s birth. This nurse offered very little support; I’d say almost even cruelly handling my emotional state. Something along the lines of, Toughen up. The way she spoke was condescending, and she pushed that I feed her formula despite knowing that I was pumping a good amount. This was said even with a lactation consultant standing in the room who was saying that formula wouldn’t be necessary.
I am far from ungrateful for the specialized care I received, and I hope I never come off that way. However, it really saddens me that a branch of the medical field specifically geared towards females could be so far from Women Friendly.
The parts that I give the hospital staff props for: working so well in a team with my doula — they rarely work with them in their delivery room. Working with me in my preference for no pain medications when 90% of women receive epidurals there. Not announcing the baby’s sex for me, handing her to me instead to announce it myself. Delayed cord clamping and cutting, and my mother cut the cord. We also had a fair amount of skin-to-skin time before she was taken up to the nursery. Not taking my placenta away to Placental Pathology or whatever, even if it behaved a little wonky in the third trimester.
If I have another child, I pray that pregnancy will be uncomplicated with the birth taking place at home.