Friday, November 26, 2010

Flashback Friday: Madelyn's Birth Day

My daughter entered this world in our home on December 14, 2006, 46 minutes before her official "due date."  In the days that followed, I recorded a journal of her birth based on my personal recollection combined with notes my mother made. These notes were important for piecing together the timing and sequence of events, as a woman's mind lost in natural labor doesn't pay attention to such details.

I want to share this story as part of my series of "family history" flashbacks. It is very personal and real. If you're squeamish about childbirth or pain, you may wish to skip this one.  Until today, I'm fairly certain I had not read these words since shortly after they were written. The emotions they stirred in me are powerful and beautiful. I am not only grateful for this most incredible experience in my life, but for the fact that I had the sense to record it in such detail so that I may never forget.  And thus, it serves as the perfect Thanksgiving-weekend tribute.


On Thursday, December 14, 2006 I woke up at 6:40am feeling what I thought might be a contraction.  It was fairly uncomfortable, but I wondered if I just needed to go to the bathroom.  Having never experienced labor contractions, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The same pain returned every 20 minutes, so I was pretty sure they were contractions.  After two hours I got out of bed, and the contractions did not return.  I was a little disappointed because it meant I was not in labor after all.

I did a few things on the computer, read a few chapters in “On Becoming Babywise,” and then played some “Dance Dance Revolution” on Playstation, hoping to stimulate labor to begin.  I talked to my mom on the phone, and she informed me that there was a pretty major storm coming in tonight, so she was going to be staying with Diana and Randy next door since Dad was out of town and she didn’t want to be home alone if the power went out.  She planned to work out at Curves and then watch Diana’s boys so she could also work out.  I called Diana and offered to watch her kids so she and Mom could work out together, but she said Randy would actually be home.  But she asked if I would come over and play with Kaden while she ran to the post office.  So I went over there around 4:00pm, and just before Diana got back from her errand, those pains returned.  While talking to Diana before I walked home, I tried to brush them off, thinking it probably wasn’t the real thing. 

Back at home, I had two or three contractions in a row, several minutes apart, but for some reason I still wasn’t sure they were really contractions.  It sort of felt like a gas bubble passing through.  Gary thought I should call the midwives, just to let them know something was happening, especially since there was a storm on the way.  I thought it was too early to call them, but I did it anyway.  After my first call, the contractions kept coming regularly.  They were already getting quite painful.  After a few calls back and forth with Wendy and Linda, they decided it was time to come out.  Linda was quite concerned about the storm, fearing a downed tree would block our route to the hospital.  To reassure her, Gary drove from our house all the way out to the freeway, reporting plenty of traffic, all the power on, and not so much as twigs on the roads.  He wasn’t worried anyway because we know so many ways to get where we’d need to go.  But I’m glad he made the effort to put Linda’s mind at ease.  Our midwives Wendy and Bonnie headed out from East Portland into rush hour, stormy weather traffic toward our home.

I called my mom to tell her that I was in labor, and things were getting difficult, so I hoped she would come right over instead of going to Curves first.  She was only a few minutes away from home, where the power had just gone out.  She told me she was so glad that she was already planning on staying at the Fairhursts’ tonight, because she had spent the morning getting ready to go and packing, which would have been far more difficult to do now that there was no power.

Gary and I changed the sheets on the bed, put away the comforter and laid out my handmade birth blanket.  We had all our birth supplies set up on tables in our room, ready to go.  I felt as prepared as I could have been for this moment.  And I was so excited thinking that it would not be very long before we’d finally meet our beautiful baby!  We joked a little bit that Madelyn is already showing she’s a drama queen, choosing to be born on the night of the big winter storm. J  In early labor I mostly laid on my bed or leaned over it, just trying to get through the contractions.  I was concerned because if it was already this painful, I wasn’t sure how I’d make it through the really difficult parts! 

It took a while for my mom to get here because a road was closed due to flooding.  I was glad when she arrived, because Gary had left to check the roads to the freeway.  I was so pleased that my mother could be with me for this, even though the idea of giving birth at home was a little scary and strange for her.  Her support by my side meant a lot to me.  I asked her to take pictures, and shared that I would like candid, story-telling shots, not smile-for-the-camera shots.  My mother did an excellent job and we have some beautiful photographs to remember this special night.

I had started recording the times of my contractions early on so that I would have a record to show the midwives when they arrived.  After a while, it was pretty obvious this was true labor, but my mom helped me continue to record the times anyway.  My contractions remained about 5 minutes apart for most of labor.  Other than that, I had no sense of time.  Labor is a powerful drug that takes you to the place you need to be to get through it.  And that place is in the body, not the mind.  Our power went out a little while after my mom got here.  We got out all the flashlights and battery-lanterns.  It was actually kind of neat to labor quietly in the dark, hearing the winds whistling through the trees outside. 

Diana and Randy stopped in to see how I was doing, which was really nice of them.  I was glad they came over, but because my contractions were pretty painful, it was difficult to enjoy their company.  I was glad to be able to talk to my dad on the phone a few times.  He was a little disappointed that Madelyn didn’t wait for him to come home from his Utah trip to be born, but he was so sweet and supportive on the phone.  It would have been nice if my dad could have been here for her birth, but I have to admit I did not want to wait!

Loki and Kezia were so relaxed; they actually slept through most of labor.  Their presence was very calming and comforting to me.  I don’t know if they had any idea what was happening, but it brought me peace to have them nearby and be able to snuggle with them when I wanted to.

Eventually Wendy and Bonnie, our midwives, made it here through the terrible traffic.  Gary gave them the cozy socks with rubber traction that I had gotten for them for our slick, cold hardwood floors.  After checking on me and giving some sweet words of encouragement, they went to work setting up supplies and organizing.  They listened to Madelyn’s heartbeat during a few contractions, checked my blood pressure and that sort of thing, but were very quiet and slow, mostly observing.

I thought it would feel nice to get in the hot tub, but Gary was pretty worried about debris in the storm hitting me outside.  At one point the winds calmed down and so he helped me get in and stood outside in the cold with me.  After only a few contractions in the hot tub, the winds picked back up, and Gary thought we would be safer inside.  Coming in from the hot tub I was very chilled, but I got dry and wrapped in a cozy robe. 

I would get very hot during contractions, and then in between them I would shiver at the cold.  I kept taking the robe or blankets on and off because my temperature was fluctuating so much.  I remember having no thoughts whatsoever about modesty, my mind and body were just completely focused on the work of labor.  I felt very primal, and tried my best to listen to my body and work with the labor, not against it.  I didn’t have any specific pain-coping techniques that I felt worked well.  I just tried to remind myself during each contraction that it would end soon.  I also focused on my breathing, and tried to relax.  That was the hardest part; I noticed myself tensing my body during contractions.  Another thing that worked for me was allowing my body to make the noises that felt natural.  I needed to moan through the pain.  My mom, Wendy and Bonnie all helped soothe me and tried to help me relax.  Gary was a great labor partner.  He remained quiet and calm, brought me water and juice, did anything I asked of him, and told me I was doing great.  One of the most helpful things was when he put pressure on my lower back during contractions.  That felt really good.
Everyone was quiet and calm, and the darkness was almost romantic.  Gary asked if I’d like to take a walk around the house, so we did.  It was a tender moment for just the two of us to be together.  I went into Madelyn’s nursery and sat in the rocking chair.  That actually seemed to help during contractions, so I stayed.  Then three contractions happened right in a row, without the usual break between.  We went back to our bedroom, but Gary brought the rocking chair in there because I liked sitting in it. 

I told everyone about the three strong contractions in a row, and my mom wondered why the midwives hadn’t checked yet to see how far I was dilated.  Bonnie said that they will check me whenever I want them to.  I was nervous to have them check, because after all the pain and hard work I’d been through, I didn’t want to be disappointed at a lack of progress and get my mind thinking in terms of “labor math.”  But then while I was standing over the bed, I had a really intense contraction.  It made me want to cry it hurt so bad, and Bonnie held me and let me cry on her shoulder.  I believe it was at that time or maybe the next one that my water broke, and the pain was so intense that I could hardly speak, so I remember trying to mutter, ‘It broke. My water just broke,” since I’m not sure anyone could see that in the dark.  Someone quickly cleaned up the puddle on the floor.  I also had a little urge to bear down!  That’s when I decided I wanted to see how far I was dilated, because I was confident that I had to be getting close.  I was so surprised to be feeling the urge to push.  I actually had no idea how much time had passed, but it felt so soon to be getting near the end! 

I laid down on the bed while Bonnie checked my dilation, and she said I was at about 8 centimeters!  I was so glad, but that meant that I needed to hold off on pushing until I was a little further dilated.  So I laid down on my side to counteract gravity’s effect on my urge to push.  I breathed quick, shallow breaths to keep from pushing, which was difficult.  The lights came on during this time.  Gary placed a cool washcloth on my head, which felt wonderful.  Soon Bonnie checked me again and said that my cervix was ready and it was okay to push now!  It felt natural to just roll up onto my hands and knees for pushing.  Then in between I could rest my head down. 

Pushing felt so wonderful.  I mean it really hurt, but there was something so relieving about it.  I could actually feel her little head moving through the birth canal, and I don’t recall that part hurting very much.  I was able to control my breathing and push slowly and deliberately.  Gary got to see her first wisps of dark hair inside me and watch the birth.  Wendy stayed by my head to give me support, and once again the power went out.
When Madelyn’s head was crowning it was very exciting, I couldn’t believe I was nearly done and she was almost in my arms!  I kept thinking of that reward and so was able to stay focused on getting through this last, difficult part.  The stretching of the vaginal opening burned quite a bit.  Bonnie applied counter pressure to the perineum, and I tried not to push too fast so I wouldn’t tear as much.  Gary told me when her head was coming out, and he sounded so excited. 

After a little rest, I pushed the rest of our baby out with the next contraction.  Bonnie handed her between my legs into my arms, and I was able to sit back and hold the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.  I am crying now as I write this, because the memory is so vivid and wonderful.  I clutched my baby girl to my chest and looked at every little part of her.  I couldn’t believe this perfect little being came out of me.  At the time, I didn’t cry because I think I was still under the power of Laborland.  I was so elated to have my daughter in my arms, and so relieved that labor was over and I did it!

Someone pointed out that the lights were back on, and we realized that the power must have returned near the exact moment that Madelyn’s head emerged.  I attribute that to the arrival of her electrifying spirit.  J 

We toweled Madelyn clean, and after the cord stopped pulsing, Daddy Gary got to cut it.  Then I got to nurse our baby for the first time, with Gary by my side.  That stimulated contractions to push the placenta out.  Wendy showed us how it worked inside me to nourish our precious baby.  The next day Gary planted it under Madelyn’s own Golden Delicious Apple tree in our backyard, so it will continue to nourish the tree and us by its fruit.

Wendy and Bonnie helped get everything cleaned up, and finished the necessary procedures to take care of the new baby and new mommy.  When they were sure everyone was healthy and happy, they left.  At 4:00am, Gary and I, exhausted and blissful new parents, went to sleep in our own bed, with baby Madelyn Bryce Winter finally in our arms.
(Click to enlarge)
Editorial: It's hard to say when labor officially began, but if we assume it was around 4:30 or 5pm when I returned from Diana's house, and Madelyn was born at 11:14pm, then my labor was only 6-7 hours. I recall that I was pushing for only about 20 minutes. There are SO many factors at play in every birth scenario, but I feel strongly that my mental preparation and choice of surroundings was an integral piece in the puzzle of my successful birth experience. Thank you Vivante Midwifery for facilitating this joyous occasion for our family. 


Bridget said...

I have to say, I have read a lot of birth stories, even a lot of home birth stories. But yours is one of the most magical (for reasons both within and without your control). Beautiful.

I should also thank you for being an inspiration to me on the journey to my own natural birth with baby #2.

Amber said...

Kristen, thank you for sharing this story. I've heard bits and pieces from you, but it was so inspiring to read it in its entirety. Was a beautiful, and as Bridget said, magical story.

laais :* said...

*-* your baby is very very cute!

EWery said...

in an earlier post you mention screening birth videos for your little one to watch. We are having a home birth as well and we are due January 5th. I would love the list if you are willing to share!

EWery said...

Ps, the best email to send it to is thanks so much!

Kristen said...

I don't believe I kept any kind of list, sorry. I just searched on YouTube. Good luck with your new arrival and a wonderful home birth!


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