Made for this: Ira's water birth story

posted on: Friday, February 17, 2017

Ira's beginning spanned a thousand miles by the time he was born. He grew safe and snug through a cold winter in Pittsburgh, and was born on a muggy July morning in south Texas, when the crepe myrtle trees were in full bloom. I remember a short rainstorm thundering through as I held him a few hours after his birth.

I believe birth experiences are worth sharing because these stories help us to learn, and gain courage in the face of one of life's major events. When you're getting ready to have a baby, it seems like all you do is gather information. What helped me get through the experience of a natural birth more than anything were the honest stories of other women. This is my experience to hopefully encourage someone else. I wish I had a beautifully penned reason for wanting a natural birth, but I don't. I wanted a birth that was simple and straightforward, and using a midwife was my path to that.

Three hours after he came.
Our baby boy made his debut July 19 in a birth tub at a Houston birth center just five minutes from our home.  I was able to even chose a birth center because my pregnancy had been very low risk from the beginning, and a water birth because I wanted the baby to have as gentle an entrance as possible. The entire labor was 12 hours long. The active labor was 5.5, with an hour of pushing at the end before he came into the world.  I hear this was a fairly smooth and short experience for a first-time mom, and I think it had so much to do with how I prepared. The months leading up to the birth I focused on getting ready both physically (squats, prenatal yoga, stretches) and mentally (reading a variety of books/web articles/stories). These are the resources I used, along with classes in birth and breastfeeding that my birth center and local hospital offered:

+ Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Breastfeeding
+ What to Expect (mainly good for just keeping up with changes in the baby each week/month)
+ Praying Through Your Pregnancy
+ Ina May's Guide to Childbirth
+ Beautiful Babies: Nutrition for Fertility, Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Baby's First Foods
+ The Birth Partner (helps spouse and YOU understand what's going on before, during, and after  birth with very straightforward info)
+ Birth Without Fear (a treasure trove of inspirational natural birth stories)
+ The Business of Being Born (birth documentary on Netflix)
+ The Milky Way (breastfeeding documentary on Amazon Instant Video; I think it really helps to actually see women breastfeeding before you try it. I wish I had watched this before I had Ira, but I found it later.)

It Begins +

It's bizarre how birth is nearly always portrayed as a sudden event in the media with lots of panicking and hollering - that was definitely not the case here. Birth crept up on me. There is a beginning, middle and end to the birth process, and each phase can be different lengths.

Two days prior to Ira's birthday I had small contractions,  but they were clearly not enough to make me think the baby was on his way. I didn't even call my parents until we were already back home with our boy! I wanted to stay focused, and I now recall that I got very quiet and stayed near home in the few days leading up to July 19. I think I spent my time napping, strolling, and getting his little room in order.

Laboring at Home +

The midwifery model encourages you to stay home as long as possible in early labor. So for the first phase, the ball is in your court. "When you think you're ready to come in," they say, "try to go back to sleep," or, "just watch a movie." We tried those things, and I can tell you I was not really paying attention when I realized Ira was probably on his way.

Just to add a little more crunch to my natural birth plan, I picked Wall-E and Planet Earth to be my "laboring at home" movies, and Cody read us Hans Christian Anderson fairytales. We made it through Wall-E on the 18th, and I slept through the night. The next night was different. Cody read the longest and most boring fairytale I have ever heard, something called "The Bog Witch." When I hadn't fallen asleep during it, we both knew that Ira must be on his way! So we went back to Netflix...not that I watched it.

For the next two hours I stayed on all fours with my face buried in the bed and keeping my voice going in a low hum to stay calm. I swayed through each contraction wave and listening to Sir David Attenborough talk about the lifestyles of exotic birds in Borneo. Cody rubbed my lower back with two tennis balls - the only thing that felt decent - and timed the contractions.

Laboring at home is typical in the midwifery model. They admit when you are 5 or more cm dilated to ensure the best chance of progressing, so that you have the lowest risk of needing hospital transfer in the case of a stalled labor. When you think you're ready to get to the birth center, they listen to your voice on the phone to get an idea of how strong your contractions are getting... because it does get pretty hard to talk towards the end.

Contractions sound like they're different for a lot of women. Mine seemed to radiate from the bottom up, and from front to back. I could feel each one coming like water beginning to trickle over a dam before the whole thing came spilling over. I knew if I got scared of each one I felt coming, everything would become harder - birth is a head game like that. We'd taken a class on labor positions and breathing, and it's cool in hindsight to see my body choose a coping mechanism. Swaying on all fours with a low hum in my throat seemed to keep things moving, and kept me focused and calm.

I ended up calling the midwife on duty at midnight and 2 a.m., who told me both times to wait one more hour before we drove over, which was so hard to hear! By the second call I was down to a whisper and hoping I was being convincing enough. I really wanted to get the ball out of my court, and just get the baby out! 

We left for the birth center at 3:30 a.m., and I remember being irritated at how slowly Cody was driving and seeing the crepe myrtles turned a weird orange from the street lights. I was five cm when we arrived, and it was just six hours till baby Ira was out in the world. It felt a lot longer than that to me, probably because six hours is a long time to labor on your hands and knees - the position my body picked for the entire labor. I stayed draped over a big laboring ball on the bed and refused to move anywhere until it was time to get in the tub.

Whenever I had waves of nausea - a common transition sign as the baby moves down before pushing, the midwifery assistant would wave peppermint oil under my nose, and they diffused lavender that I had brought with me. Contractions are contractions no matter what, but the water made it much easier to change position without transferring a lot of weight around. Plus, I got to rest on two giant pool noodles. The pain continued of course, but I never thought I couldn't do the very thing I was made to do, and I believe that made a huge difference.

Arrival +

Cody encouraged me to keep sipping coconut water throughout the entire night to stay hydrated. I never heard much of what was being said between he and the team, but do remember a cup and straw appearing in front of my face every few minutes. Along with loving words and gentle sounds, Cody let me rest my head in hands to keep it above the water. The midwives let me go to do the rest, encouraging me the entire night and checking Ira's heart beat regularly. I could tell he was moving down as they listened to him further down my belly each time!

I rested between contractions, floating and gazing at a stained glass window above the tub. The only intervention I had was one I asked for. My bags of waters never broke on their own, and I asked the midwives to break them to keep everything moving along. In the paradox that is birth, the farthest you feel from relief the closer you are to the finish line. Now it was finally time to push.

Again, my brain was in la la land and my body just picked a position. I ended up half squatting on one shin with the other foot against the bottom of the tub. This let my arms push against the sides for extra leverage. It felt so good to have so many surfaces to push against. When it was time to push Ira out I couldn't remember anything I'd read or been taught, I just did it.

Ira made his way out after a few huge pushes, and I couldn't believe we had done it after the months preparing for this moment. I hope I don't forget that feeling of accomplishment. I've never been awesome at finishing what I start, but with birth of course - what choice do you have? You find a way and you just do it! I remember excited voices from everyone in the room as Ira neared his moment of entrance, especially Cody's so heavy with emotion. Then the baby was out and being brought quickly up to the surface.

I held that slippery, purplish baby in my arms waiting for his cry. Ira came out stunned and needed a few breaths from the midwife (they are unbelievable) to get him going in those first moments. That was all it took before we heard his voice for the first time. Then he lay stretching his arms, long fingers and legs in my embrace, feeling the air against his skin. His wet, black hair plastered to his head was the first thing about him that made him feel like my baby. (Of course, now his hair is light like his dad's).

Then there were three!
I was lightheaded when I got out of the tub to move to the bed and get a small tear sown up. There was no moment to pause and think about what just happened, I was immediately given Ira to feed him his first meal! He was laid on my chest in a warm towel and allowed to nurse for the first time. I can remember his tiny grunts as he learned to eat, with his little hands held tightly held by his head just as he had been in the womb. Later we were left alone as a family of three to rest and hold Ira in that homey room, just yards from the highway.

It took a few weeks for the physical soreness of the experience to fade away, and the memory of it all has softened considerably. Natural birth is beautiful but also very gritty in my opinion, and you're made to totally rely on your own ancient instincts and meet a whole new, powerful side of yourself.  It's literally indescribable. My love for Ira also changed in the weeks after his birthday. It's grown into something deep, but for the first days it was a more set-jaw, determined kind of love that was learning to feed him and keep him comfortable.

Birth isn't easy no matter what road you choose, and it is such a defining point in your life. During that July morning, I joined every woman who has ever struggled and been victorious for the sake of her children, no matter how they were born.


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