Embracing the Unexpected: Akash’s Birth Story

Life has a funny way of taking what we plan and completely turning it on its head. Akash’s birth was no exception to this rule. Throughout 2016, William and I had taken several leaps of faith. However, even in the midst of moving hectically four times, navigating an unexpected job change for William, and rolling with life’s other twists and turns, we were fastidious in planning Akash’s transition from the womb to earth through a homebirth. Besides working closely with our midwife, we read, googled, watched documentaries, and meditated our way to facilitating a smooth transition for this little miracle of a being.

Throughout the pregnancy, I was incredibly fortunate to feel energized and healthy for the most part, save for a salmonella scare in May. I was in great awe of the work my body was doing without any intervention from me and that I could grow an entire human after having received just one extra cell. To encourage our baby’s development, I ate wholesome foods, exercised regularly, and even chose my environment, music, reading material, and movies carefully. I strongly felt anything that passed through me could make its way to Akash. By the time mid-November rolled around, I was feeling strong, prepared, and ready to settle into motherhood. I was convinced that I had done what was needed to have the birth we had planned. Even though William reminded me that we have to be open to anything, I was sure that with my health and the work we had put into creating an optimum space for this event, all would be fine.

Starting the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I began to experience strong Braxton Hicks almost every morning. Sometimes they would even increase in intensity and I would tell William that today might be the day, only to have everything dissipate by noon. Eventually I began to wonder if my body was missing some sort of starter mechanism – almost as if it was trying to get things moving but couldn’t quite make it happen. Regardless, I increased the length and frequency of my walks and we tried herbs and other exercise tricks our midwife recommended to invite Akash earth side with a bit more urgency.

Soon his December 1st due date had passed and more days ticked by with nothing but Braxton Hicks. He also still hadn’t dropped into my pelvis, which is unusual for a first baby by this point. We went in for an ultrasound on Monday, December 12th to make sure all was well. While all seemed fine, we had to do some follow up testing to ensure he was able to move around enough. Even though he had moved frequently during the follow up testing, we were still strongly encouraged to get an induction that day and I left feeling disheartened and nervous for what was to come, as that visit was the first time that someone had said outright that my body and baby may not be capable of doing this job on their own. I felt a tremendous wave of fear, frustration, and loss that evening as it was seriously considered for the first time that the home birth we had worked so hard to plan may not come to be. In retrospect, this swirl of emotions may have likely laid the groundwork for the experience that would come to be.

The next morning we went to meet with our midwife, Michelle, and found that his position was still not conducive to birth and he had a slight dip in his heart rate during our monitoring. We decided we would go back for a follow up ultrasound to make sure everything was still going well. That ultrasound indicated there was meconium in the waters, which can lead to complications after birth. Between his position, the earlier drop in heart rate, and this new development, we decided William and I would check into the hospital for additional monitoring and try a cervical induction method.

Once hooked up on the monitor at the hospital, it was clear his heart rate was strong and steady and I received medicine to thin my cervix and hopefully initiate contractions. Luckily the procedure was all done by 5:30 and we were able to go downstairs and see my mom’s holiday concert, as she sings in the hospital choir. The baby seemed to enjoy their rendition of Jingle Bells in particular, as I had quite the flurry of kicks and spins!

We went back to our room and I began to bounce on the birthing ball as if my life depended on it for a while. After my parents brought us dinner, William and I relaxed and he dozed off, but my night was just beginning. Contractions began around 9:30 and came anywhere from 2-6 minutes apart for much of the night. While the intensity wasn’t too serious, I began to feel hopeful that things were finally moving downwards. The contractions lasted through the night and the hospital gave us the ok to go home and try to continue the process in our own space.

While they dissipated a bit in the car, I spent much of Wednesday on the couch trying to sleep between the contractions, where were a steady 7 minutes apart. William spent the day preparing our home with the final touches and organizing the birth supplies that we had spent so long curating and excitedly preparing.

Michelle came over around 5pm, as the contractions were a steady 6 minutes apart. She checked and found that I was still just 1 centimeter dilated and we decided it would make sense for me to try to get some more rest, as sleep had been in short supply. Her plan for early labor was to rest for a bit and work for a bit, and I was grateful for purposeful time to let my body relax and was surprised how I was able to more or less doze through the contractions when I really let myself go.

When I came back down from the nap, it was time to get to work. I walked up and down stairs, tried squatting, bouncing on the ball, and doing lunges. Michelle encouraged me to sink deeper and deeper into each contraction and William was a phenomenal support, as I would often lean into him during the most intense moments of each one. We would chant “Aum” together to help me breathe through the peak of the rush and I found incredible comfort and fortitude in this shared experience.

We took another rest later on and when I came down at 11:30pm we found my waters had broken slightly and I had a steady trickle. Now we were really starting to gain hope, though the contractions were still 6 minutes apart or so. We did a quick check and it did seem he had moved down slightly as well. We went back to work for a bit, but this was interrupted by me getting sick and needing to vomit. Luckily, I felt revived after that and was able to keep walking and trying methods of sinking into each rush. When I could rally to say make more noise than just a moan, I would often chant Open along with Aum interchangeably during each rush as a way to remind my body what we were trying to accomplish and spiral my hips to encourage our baby to spin downwards.

Around 1:30am on Thursday morning, Patti, a nurse and home birth midwife who specializes in uterine massage, joined us. She worked on my uterus for almost two hours, trying to coax our baby down and help my muscles coordinate their actions to facilitate this process. It also became clear that getting sick was going to be part of this experience, as I again had to throw up in the middle of her work. Her gentle touch and presence was incredibly important during the darkest time of the night, as she has a very calming presence even in the midst of such intensity.

After her visit we did some more walking and trying to find ways to move to increase the intensity and frequency of the contractions, but to no avail and I felt like I desperately needed some more rest. Around 5:30 I was woken by the strongest rushes of intensity I had felt yet. I had to keep reminding myself that every sensation I was experiencing was coming from my own muscles and my own body so they could not overpower me, because the intensity was created by me. Michelle had called the rest of our home birth team by this point and Allie, her assistant, and Gillian, our secondary midwife, were there when I made it back out to the living room. Their quiet synergy allowed William and me to be enveloped in conscious and deliberate care, without our space being intruded on. I was so grateful for this balance as I was trying to navigate this seeming next stage of the labor process with the ever-increasing intensity.

birthing tubDespite our best efforts, the intensity again waned and we decided to do another check. It was incredibly disheartening to find that, after 36 hours of contractions, I was only 2 centimeters dilated. At this point, the five of us had to have a conversation because my water had been broken for long enough that the risk of infection could start increasing. We decided that we were going to spend the next couple hours doing everything and anything we could to get this baby out at home and then revisit all the options we had.

William and I took this opportunity to go for a walk to the bottom of the driveway and visit our favorite neighborhood dog. Getting a bit of sun and fresh air felt absolutely amazing and I felt like we were able to recenter and ground ourselves back down to this seemingly endless journey. Upon arrival back at the cabin, we changed the music from our quiet and steady yogic chants to more upbeat Thievery Corporation, which William eventually changed to a psytrance DJ to really get the mood up. We filled the tub and I tried a couple different positions there, as well as more squatting and stairs.

Regardless of our efforts however, no progress was being made and it was now around 1pm on Thursday. Still getting sick occasionally and running on little sleep, I was becoming increasingly exhausted and finding it harder and harder to really sink into the contractions and give my body full permission to use them to open. The process began to feel more like a fight and my mind began to swirl with doubt in my ability to find the light at the end of the tunnel, literally and figuratively.

After a long conversation, we decided to call the hospital, as it seemed this baby needed a stronger invitation to join us, as the risks for complications were getting higher. Of course, just as we were able to leave, I sank into my strongest waves of contractions yet. We thought we had another glimmer of hope for a home birth, but this was short lived and eventually we made our way back to the hospital.

hospital roomWilliam drove us to the hospital and we didn’t talk much, just sharing the space and accepting the experience we were being given. He wheeled me up to the Birth Place and they put us in a room so we could get settled. William quickly went to work, hanging Christmas tree lights and setting up a makeshift version of the birth altar we had created at home. The twinkling lights and vibrant energy created by the altar helped ease this transition and made the space feel much more like our own which was exactly what we needed at that moment.

After conversations with Michelle and the midwife from the hospital, we decided that I would get a saline bag to start and see how things were going once I could get more hydrated. Once I was all set up, my parents and sister were able to join us briefly and they came with such love and support for us in the midst of an experience they knew would be challenging for us. Around this time, William and I decided that I would receive an epidural. Even though the contractions were less intense than they had been at home, I felt myself fighting them more and more and was no longer able to embrace them and facilitate the opening that needed to happen. After the saline bag had finished, the anesthesiologist came in to administer the epidural.

Once the epidural was in, I was laying in bed and looking at William when I noticed he was getting very hard to focus on and there were spots of darkness permeating my vision. I tried to focus closely on him but was unable to really narrow in on his face and I told the nurse I was feeling dizzy. Initially she did not seem too concerned but than I really stressed how it was getting worse and they found that my blood pressure was dipping because I had not been hydrated enough after being sick for so long. She immediately gave me oxygen and had me breathe into the mask. This made me sick, however, and she quickly gave me a bag. Unfortunately my blood pressure was not going up and they called another nurse in and had me turn onto my hands and knees. I lost track of what they were doing but I knew things were tense in the room. When I asked where William was and they said he had gone to the bathroom, I became more concerned because he hadn’t left my side once during this whole time, and I knew for him to excuse himself the numbers on the monitors must be concerning. They gave me Ephedrine to bring my blood pressure back up, but unfortunately the baby’s heart rate rose along with it to 186, while it should have been staying below 160. Luckily we had an incredible nurse who kept us all calm at this time and we all encouraged the baby to slow down a bit and waited for the Ephedrine to wear off for both of us.

After that episode, they wanted to wait before adding Pitocin to start contractions and instead let both Akash and I recover. By now it was 8:30 and William and I were grateful for the rest. He fell into a deep sleep almost immediately, while I just enjoyed the pain relief of the epidural. It felt truly incredible to feel my body relax completely for the first time since Tuesday and I enjoyed chatting with the nurse.

At 11:30 they checked my dilation again and we were all excited to find that I was now 9 1/2 centimeters. However, Akash still had not moved down at all and we decided to wait a few more hours to see if any further contractions could help move him along. Since nothing was going to happen quite yet, I decided William should keep sleeping and my mom was able to come in and be with me for a bit. It was truly full circle for us, as she had had a challenging labor with me in the same hospital almost exactly 29 years earlier.

By 3:30 on Friday morning he still had not made any progress and we decided to start Pitocin. The midwife from the hospital had me start pushing around 4 am. By this time Michelle was back and we had our favorite nurse from our first hospital stay with us as well. The four of them were an amazing team and fully involved William in the process.

Michelle was an incredible coach for the next two and a half hours. There were many times when it felt like I was pushing with everything I had but not making any process and the sensations were more intense than anything I’d every felt. I was giving everything I thought I had, but when the sensations got stronger, that’s when Michelle told me to embrace that even more. By this point I had forgotten any sense of modesty and was yelling with a volume that matched the intensity of the sensations I was feeling and had completely lost any sense of myself in this process.

There was one moment in particular when I started to get a bit frantic with feeling like this was never going to happen and Michelle looked me right in the eyes and told me to use my breath and center myself and that I knew how to do this. I quickly realized how far I’d gone from my practice and ability to dive into myself and rallied around her words. I fell back on an old rowing practice and focused on taking sets of ten “power breaths,” taking a break between each set. For each set of ten breaths I gave everything I knew how to give and then quickly fell back on the support of the birthing ball behind me when I was done.

Soon Michelle told me to reach down and that I’d be able to feel his head and when I did, I couldn’t believe it. While I could also feel we still had a way to go, I knew that we were also getting closer. This gave me much needed hope and I again leaned into my breath and gave everything I had.

Before I knew it, William said they could see the head about to crown and I gave a few more of the strongest pushes I knew how to give. All of the sudden I heard the exclamations of excitement from everyone and I realized the baby was out! William had been able to catch him and announced that “Shiva was here” to share that he was a boy, before placing him on my chest. I couldn’t believe he was here and just told him again how much I loved him as I tried to take him all in.

Soon he was making it clear it was time for a snack and we gently helped him find my breast, where he quickly latched on and made himself at home. During these first few moments of nursing I also realized the placenta was on it’s way down and after a couple easy pushes, that came out smoothly as well. While Akash was nursing he was still attached to the placenta and it was truly surreal to see him transition from the connection we had shared for so long, to this new one we were both trying to figure out. Soon William was invited to cut the cord and Akash was at once separated from me, yet attached in a whole new way.

breastfeeding, nursingThe day in the hospital was spent sharing our joy with family and then settling in a bit together. Later, we were surprised to hear from the midwife from the hospital that Akash had actually never dropped significantly and that this was the highest vaginal birth she’d seen. Throughout the day the nurses were all wonderful and helped us give Akash his first bath and showed us a few tricks to help make him more comfortable. After a celebratory dinner from the hospital, they let us go home that night and we went to settle into the cabin together.

This entire experience was by far the most humbling one I have had yet. Even though it seemed like for so long that things “should” go a certain way, our experience was so different and still so perfect and beautiful. We were able to share the process more with family, we received incredible care on all levels, and we both have a new appreciation for how western medicine can be used positively and compassionately. While I initially struggled with feeling like I had failed because of the interventions we chose to use, I now feel we were given the opportunity to have the interventions because I needed to learn to not be attached to the way I think things should be or value one experience over another. We truly have to give our best efforts for all that which we can control, and accept and embrace that which we cannot. I have no doubt Akash will continue to show us this, and so many other important lessons throughout our journey ahead and we could not be more thrilled he has decided to join us at long last.

Submitted by Lily V.

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