Friday, May 31, 2013

Why In The World I'd Show You My Push Face.

It's been three weeks since my Ezra Jude came into the world. At 5:09, I felt him turn me inside out, look down at him for the first time and heard that beautiful sound, that healthy, tiny cry. But I'm getting ahead of myself. That's the end of the story.

Wednesday night, I stayed home from church to finish my Art History final online. I was having contractions pretty regularly and had a stern talk with Ezra telling him to stay put for a little while longer. I'd told Jackson I would go on his field trip the next day and I'd told Asher we would go pick out a birthday cake after school.  Thankfully, the contractions spread out a bit and I was able to finish my test and go to sleep.
Thursday, I woke up feeling really restless. Toby and I went to Burns Park with Jackson's class for the field trip. I joked with the ladies in the office before leaving that I'd be driving separately because I was nervous I might go into labor have to wait on the bus to leave. We walked all over the park and as the day progressed, my contractions started causing some pressure and I knew they were no longer braxton hicks. As we left the park and I lifted Toby into the van, I felt what turned out to be my mucous plug. Totally gross.
The boys got out of school at 3 and we went to pick out Asher's cake. Then everything was marked off my to-do list. The diapers were prepped, the bedroom remodel was done, the bags were packed, and the promises I'd made the kids had been fulfilled. "Ok," I thought, "Now we can have a baby."
That night, I described how I was feeling to my friends online and they all replied with a resounding, "I think you're in labor!".  I debated going for a long walk or bouncing on my birth ball, but decided it would probably be best to just sleep and went to bed around 9:30.  I woke up at 2am with contractions every 6 minutes. I laid in bed for a couple of hours and timed them, just trying to rest. I woke Jeremiah up at around 4:30 and told him we'd be meeting Ezra that day. I was sure. It was real labor.
We went back to sleep. When I woke back up around 8, I called and made arrangements for Jackson and Asher to hang out with my dad after school. We called our friends that would be keeping Toby and Jeremiah left to drop him off. We called our moms and told them it was the day. I decided to wait until my scheduled appointment at 10:50 so I could talk to my doctor and be checked by him.  Contractions stayed regular but fairly spaced out, about 6-8 minutes apart.  During each contraction, I'd think "Oh yeah, this is labor" but as the minutes between them passed I would start doubting, thinking it would putter out only to have another contraction hit and I'd be sure. Definitely labor. I kept double checking my bags and pacing the bedroom. We arrived at my doctors office a little early and had to wait what seemed like an really long time. Jeremiah was being goofy and I was laughing, loud as usual, as I waited in the little room with no pants and that tiny excuse for a sheet draped over my non-existent lap. My doctor came in and found me light-hearted and cheerful, and I don't think he quite believed me when I said, "So, I'm in labor".  When he checked me, though, he found me to be 5 cm. dilated with bulging waters.  We did a quick ultrasound to verify that Ezra was head down, since he was still not engaged. Everything looked great and we were sent over to the hospital around noon.

The next few hours were a blur. I had tested positive for GBS and therefore, required 4 hours of IV antibiotics. In my previous births, I'd gone from 5 to delivered in less than a hour so the doctor wanted to keep my water intact as long as possible. I was started on the antibiotics immediately. Our photographer arrived. My mom and brother came to visit. I bounced on my ball and laughed.  The pain was mild. My doctor came and introduced me to Dr. Simmons, who was on call and would be delivering me. He immediately asked us if he could pray with us. I was so tickled for that little instance, to feel reassurance of God's presence and how He orchestrates everything, even the things I think I won't be ok with like last minute doctor changes.   Around 4:30, I was checked and was 9 cm. Up until that point, I'd felt pretty minor pain and pressure. They decided to try to puncture my water bag and let it leak out slowly to avoid cord prolapse since Ezra was so high, but since it was bulging so much, it burst. He helped guide the baby's head down to keep the cord from slipping out.

My pain level immediately went from very low to very high. I went to the bathroom and asked Jeremiah to come with me. I all of a sudden felt so afraid of the pain that I knew was coming. Jeremiah prayed with me in the bathroom and I felt better and more prepared for the work ahead.  We went back to the bed. I was laboring backwards in the bed, leaning against the back. Jeremiah and I were kissing through contractions like Ina May suggests, but I was having a hard time breathing. I kept singing a line to this song (based on the 23rd Psalm) that was stuck in my head. "Surely, Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me" each time a contraction hit. Jeremiah was applying counter pressure to my hips through the contractions and it was all getting very intense. I overheard the doctor talking to the nurse and knew that Ezra was going into distress during contractions. I heard the doctor say "We need to get the baby out now" and this irrational anger swelled up inside of me. All I could think of was that I would NOT have a c-section at 10 cm dilated with my fourth and final child. Then came the pressure and the need to push.

I turned back to sitting up in the bed and they installed the birthing bar and started breaking the bed down. I had a few contractions that overwhelmed me and at some point, Jeremiah got in the bed behind me. As soon as I was able to lean up against him, I felt in control again. The nurse was trying hard to get a reading on the heartbeat and I knew that while no one was saying it directly to me, something was wrong, that the heart decels were beyond the normal. There was an urgency to them and I heard the doctor say "She can do this, let's just get him out."

I don't really know how long I pushed. I think 15 minutes or so. This was my first birth with absolutely no pitocin and it was such a different experience. Pushing was a relief and in between contractions, it felt restful.
There's something that happens in that last bit of birth. Maybe it's just so monumental, knowing you're about to meet a person you'll love so much. Or maybe it's being in so much pain and knowing the only way over it is to just get through it. It's just so intense. There aren't really coherent thoughts. Just this instinctual drive to just. get. through. it.

He came out blueish and I looked down and saw him for the first time. His cord was tied in a true knot. Dr. Simmons has been delivering babies for nearly fifty years, and his response confirmed that what they were saying was true. Ezra was a miracle baby. True knots often end in death in utero and in c-sections or complications in many of the remaining babies. The fact that Ezra didn't engage and the fact that my water was left intact kept the knot from tightening up until the very end. They just kept saying it....miracle baby, and as coherent thought returned to me and I saw him turn pink and cry and they called out his apgar score of 9/9, I thought surely, His goodness and mercy has followed me.

During this pregnancy, we decided that Ezra would likely be our last biological child. Because of this, I decided to do a few things I'd always wanted to but never followed through with. I bought newborn cloth diapers. I'd never bothered with them before, as I have pretty big babies, instead opting to use disposables until they grew into the one-size diapers at around 6 weeks. But I've always liked those impossibly wee newborn diapers, and this time I bought a whole mess of them. I decided to get my placenta encapsulated. After the issues we had with Toby's weight gain, I was willing to try anything to help my milk supply. Yes, even swallow placenta. We contacted the ladies at Birth Works and they picked the placenta up a couple hours after birth and returned it, dehydrated and in pill form, by the end of the weekend. This has been the easiest recovery I've had with the least amount of baby blues and my supply has been great. I don't know how much can be credited to the pills, but I feel pretty glad I went through with it.
The thing I wanted most was to hire a birth photographer. I'm a huge fan of the Birth Without Fear blog  and the beautiful birth photography they regularly showcase. Since I first took an interest in natural birth, I've had the idea that I'd love to photograph births and have mine captured by a professional photographer. We ended up hiring Ashley Murphy of Ashley Murphy Images. You know, it never occurred to me that this was a strange desire. I do a lot of things that aren't mainstream. We cloth diaper, we sleep with our babies in our bed, I chose to birth naturally, I ingest placenta. Birth photography seems downright normal if you ask me. The responses I got surprised me though. My favorite was when someone said "Why in the world would you want to show everyone your push face?" I've thought about that question a lot. It even crossed my mind when I was pushing and I knew how awfully animalistic I must look based on the sounds I was making. And it's taken three weeks and a lot of mulling over, but I'm ready to answer.

It's worth it to me to show everyone my push face if it makes natural childbirth seem worthwhile, more normal, beautiful, or important. Because it is all of those things.
There are things our society has deemed outdated, unneccesary. Important things like handwritten letters and homecooked meals around the family table without a tv screen or a phone screen or a computer screen anywhere in sight. These things have been surpassed by technological advances and are just lost in a lot of american homes. Sadly, childbirth has gone the same way.
Today was the last day of school for my big boys and I got my 1st graders school journal back, full of a years worth of entries. There were multiple mentions and drawn pictures of our family at the table, or me at the stove with a big belly and a black skillet in hand and a speech bubble saying "You are a sweet boy".  To Jackson, the extra effort doesn't go unnoticed. It's important.
I've talked to a lot of my friends about their disappointment in their births, in their pushed inductions, in unnecessary cesareans, in episiotomies cut for 7 lb babies. They might not have thought that birth was important before, but after a bad experience, the weight of it hits you.
I believe in natural childbirth, not because I enjoy it (I assure you, I don't), but because I know we are capable of it. Because God made our bodies strong and functional. Because He made mothers fierce. If you have a child and have ever felt the fury of "mama bear", you know the fierceness I speak of. That same ferocity is in you from the start. You are tougher and stronger and more capable than you think. The idea that we need all these medical interventions doesn't take our God-given ability into consideration. That idea says we can't, we need help, we need to be cut or aided with synthetic hormones. But I say we can. I have. I'll show you my push face because I am nothing special. I'm just your average woman, and that's enough. I'll show you my push face so you'll know that I could do it. And if can do it, you can too.