Photos © 2012 Brian Adams
It's true: after 42 weeks of waiting, Elliott North has finally arrived, and although nearly everything about his birth was not as either I or Brian had expected, it was also the most fun we've ever had. And looking back on the experience, it is similar to how this entire journey has been: it was perfect, in every part, and certainly far more perfect than we could have ever planned ourselves.
Our labor lasted only 4 hours from start to finish, and at the end of it, I had no stitches, no medications pumping through my veins, and a beautiful, healthy boy. I was in very little discomfort; I felt as though I had been practicing some type of misaligned yoga for the past few hours and now was going to feel it in my abdomen for the next several days, but beyond that, I was only blissfully grateful, for both my son and my amazing husband, Brian.
The details of the birth are all below, so for those interested in reading the full account of the evening, please read through the entire post. But for those just looking for the short-and-sweet of it, I just want to say one thing more: I did not birth Elliott alone, and I was not the only person carrying him all of these months.
Brian has been my partner in this pregnancy from the beginning and in all ways. One of my biggest fears in early pregnancy was that Brian and I would become imbalanced in our relationship because only one of us can physically do the huge, amazing thing of birth, and imbalance is just not something that we cultivate. We spent so much time in those early months of pregnancy rearranging our lives so that we felt like ourselves even amidst all of the changes we were going through, and in the end, it allowed us to feel like we did this grand thing together. Brian was part of all of the pregnancy, from all of the little things like reading about births, watching home birth videos on youtube, and going to appointments to bigger things like quitting smoking, walking everyday, changing our eating habits, and just doing everything in his power to make me feel loved, safe, and beautiful everyday. He held me when I was scared, rubbed me when I was sore, helped me put my boots on. The things he did for me and for us during the past ten months number way too high to count.
And that's not even to mention the birth itself. For those of you who read the full account of Elliott's birth below, you'll see that there were plenty of reasons that a laboring woman might start to panic. But with every unexpected event, Brian was my Brian, calmly keeping me calm and keeping the room bright with his smile. When something happened in the room that could possibly distract me, Brian would lean in so close to my face that his face was the only thing I could see. He would stare brightly into my eyes and whisper that he loved me, that I was amazing, that I was doing a great job, that he loved me, that he loved me, that he loved me.
After that final push, when Elliott was in our arms, I felt like the three of us, not I alone, had just done something truly amazing together. When I talk about how pregnant women are so often disrespected in society, it must be noted that clearly this disrespect hurts more than just the pregnant women--it hurts their partners as well. What a beautiful thing it is to be able to share that triumphant moment with the person who started it with you--and truly share it.
Baby Boy Adams' Birth Story
Because the birth stories of other women helped Brian and I so much during the months leading up to Tuesday morning of this week, we wanted to share ours with the world, too. So this post may grow a little long and a little detailed, but I can tell you this: it is a happy one.
We'll start with Monday around 1:30, when we went into the hospital for a scheduled antenatal screening, a routine for mothers carrying babies who take their time like Elliott. Essentially, the results of the test could have been the deciding factor on a great deal of things; if Elliott was not healthy or not tolerating contractions well or if my placenta was no longer properly regulating the amniotic fluid surrounding Elliott, I would very likely be pressured to induce, which is something that Brian and I really wanted to avoid at all costs.
This brings us in a roundabout way to unexpected bump number one, which we had encountered several weeks earlier: We had originally intended to birth our son at home, but at 37 weeks we were told that I had tested positive for Group B Strep. Group B Strep is a bacteria that all humans, male and female, carry and are intermittently colonized by throughout their lives but that can be fatal to newborns whose immune systems are not yet developed. Pregnant women who test positive for Group B Strep after 36 weeks of pregnancy are strongly advised to receive an IV of penicillin during labor within four hours before delivery, which meant that a home birth for us was out of the question. (We could have, of course, declined the antibiotic, but the risks of Elliott becoming sick or dying from something that is quite preventable was out of the question. For those of you who don't know about GBS, go here to read more.)
So although we were disappointed at first, Brian and I decided that we would deliver at ANMC instead of at home, but that we would create a very detailed birth plan so that we could still have the natural, gentle birth we wanted to have for our son--one without any unnecessary medications for induction or pain relief, without any unnecessary incisions like episiotomies, and basically without any unnecessary intervention of any kind. We didn't want to have one of the overly-medicalized births that have become so commonplace in the West; Brian and I believe that labor and birth are natural processes, not diseases, and that the fear that has surrounded birth in our country is sad, not warranted.
So it was with these thoughts that we arrived for our antenatal appointment on Monday at 1:30, scared that today was the day that, after all of our preparations and hopes for a natural birth, we would be told that an induction was necessary. When I arrived in the screening room with the nurse, I was already in tears, but the doctor assured me that this was just a screening, that no one will make us induce if it's not necessary, etc, though I wasn't prepared to believe her until the screening and tests were complete and she gladly said, "There is absolutely nothing wrong with this baby. And, I can't be sure, but judging by your contractions, I'm fairly confident that things will happen on their own pretty soon."
Brian and I were so relieved that we became silly, giddy, and even ridiculous for the rest of the afternoon. We would look at each other and say, "There is absolutely nothing wrong with our baby!" over and over again. We walked eight miles that day as usual, and we even found ourselves skipping a little bit in the woods.
I believe with all of my heart that it was this resurgence of confidence in my body and baby that propelled Elliott and I to go into labor at about 10:00 that night. (Future mothers and pregnant women: do not underestimate how testing positive for a test like GBS can affect how you feel about your body, and do not underestimate the importance of believing in the strength of your body and baby. Many midwives will tell you that many things about labor are 97% mental, like sex, and after going through the process, I am inclined to agree.)
At 10:00 that night, Brian, Roland, and I were sitting down to enjoy the first episode of the new season of Mad Men that had aired the night before, and one minute into the show, my water broke. At first, I wasn't sure if I was in labor, so I said nothing and just walked around the house, went to the bathroom, and came back to the couch, where my labor contractions immediately began. Within the next five minutes, Brian and I were in the car with our bags and on our way to the hospital, smiling and cheering Elliott on the whole way.
My water ruptured several times from that first time before we reached the hospital, then once again when we exited the car in the ANMC parking lot. I was filled with energy at excitement, even though my contractions were less than two minutes apart. I ran up the two flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator to OB-Triage, where my water ruptured again. I wasn't sure how far along my labor was, but when we were being admitted, I told the nurse, "I think I am going to have a baby soon." I cannot explain quite what that meant to me at the moment, except that I felt like I urgently needed to receive my antibiotic soon to make sure that Elliott was immunized before passing into the canal, a moment which I felt was imminent.
This brings us to unexpected bump number two: when we arrived, there were no private delivery rooms available or even beds available in the labor and delivery ward--everyone had decided to have their babies on the same night! As this was the case, Brian and I were shown to a reclining chair in the corner of the OB Triage Unit, where I labored for a full hour while my contractions were being monitored by a machine. I didn't mind that I was in a chair in the middle of a busy ward instead of a room; I made my primary concern to smile, breathe, and stay calm. My contractions were becoming longer and increasingly strong, but Brian knelt by my side and we just continued smiling and breathing together. When the nurse returned to check my progress, she said, "They're already about 1 minute apart--is this your first baby?" I told her that it was, and then watched as she and several other nurses and staff members met with one another, quickly whispering and obviously trying to find a place where I could have my baby. I was getting excited: this must mean that my baby was coming soon!
Although it wasn't a delivery room, the nurses and staff were able to move patients around and ready an exam room in the OB Triage ward for us. We moved into the room, and for the first time in the labor so far, I felt a bit overwhelmed; my contractions were very intense, and there were many questions being asked of me that were keeping me from giving myself over to them. I began feeling the need to bear down and moan, and soon after, our midwife finally was able to make it to us. She watched and talked to me for several minutes, and I could tell that she was trying to assess where exactly my labor was. It was clear to me that no one yet realized that I really knew that I was going to have a baby soon. The midwife checked my cervix, which was already at 7 cm, and the feeling in our little room began to change. The nurses were brought in, my IV of penicillin was started, and now it seemed that everyone knew: I was going to have a baby soon!
This second hour was by far the most difficult part of my labor, and the one I'm least proud of. My contractions were overwhelmingly strong, so much so that I felt that all of the bones in my pelvis and back were shaking under the pressure and would soon all break simultaneously. I screamed out several times that I wanted an epidural, a drug, an anything that would take the pain away, but luckily for me, I had Brian there, reminding me that no, I didn't want that, that I could do it. My midwife chimed in, "You know that this is the point where every woman wants the epidural, right?" This didn't help me for the last ten minutes of that second hour, where I really felt myself caving under the pressure. (Side note: I am so glad, in retrospect, to have experienced this, and to understand why many women--and especially those with long labors--sometimes request an epidural. The power of those last contractions before the baby's head passes through the cervix is something that I was surprised to have stored within my body, and if I had had to stay in that place for longer than an hour, I'm not sure that I could have endured it if I hadn't gone through the experience and learned that the next part is actually much more bearable.)
When I looked at the clock next, it was midnight, and I was now kneeling, hugging Brian, and calmly breathing without a sound. I felt strong again, like I was going to do this after all. (Trust your midwife; she's probably usually right.) Elliott's head was making its way through my birth canal, and although I could feel it, it didn't hurt. It merely felt like I needed to push.
And now for unexpected bump number three: while I was kneeling, Elliott's heart rate started to drop until it was beginning to cause concern. My midwife suggested that I try different positions, but every position I tried (standing, kneeling, squatting, and side-lying positions) made his heart rate go low. And so, I ended up in a weird, tantric bow, something of a folded lawn chair--on my back with my hands on the backs of my thighs, pulling my chest and my chin forward while pulling my thighs and knees back with every push. It sounds weird, but it was the only position that kept Elliott's heart rate high and healthy. And so I pulled my thighs back, brought my chest to my thighs, and breathed as much as I could between each contraction. Brian supported one of my thighs while a nurse supported the other, and together, we all folded my body with every push.
We worked like this for the remaining two hours, the last of which was spent almost entirely on pushing Elliott's head out of my body. This could have been unexpected bump number four, but because of my midwife's skillful, gentle, and patient hands, I was spared the episiotomy I undoubtedly would have been given in most facilities. Elliott's head sat quite a bit too low at the perineum, and my midwife told me that although she is not inclined toward episiotomies, she could make a small incision and allow Elliott's head to finally emerge. Otherwise, she informed me, I would really have to work to get his head out and she would work with my contractions to bring his head upward so that it could emerge without tearing me. (Addendum: Elliott was born sunny-side-up, which is likely why he was so low coming out of the birth canal.)
I was ready to work. I pushed--sometimes even when I didn't have a contraction--while she carefully ran her fingers around his head and with every push, easing his head upward for most of that final hour until it was down to the last final pushes. "It's time to have your baby," she said, and at this point, several other nurses had come into the room, some watching from the door and some moving in closer to assist. I had been quiet for two hours now, but with my last several pushes, I unleashed a sound I have never heard or felt within myself--Brian said that was the loudest and most powerful sound he had ever heard. ("There was nothing behind that but pure, human emotion," he said later. "It was amazing.") I screamed three primal, warrior-like cries, not out of pain but in response to some instinct that I felt within myself, accompanying each with a push, until Elliott's head, shoulders and upper torso were now entirely out of my body. I saw my son, closed my mouth, and with one final push, Elliott North was born.
The moments that followed immediately afterwards were consumed by the overwhelming gratitude I felt. I was shaking a great deal for about 10 minutes after the labor--a result of the physical marathon I'd just performed and the release of hormones--so I was covered with warm blankets while I waited to deliver the placenta, which came about 5 minutes after Elliott was born. Because of his fluctuating heart rate, Elliott had to be whisked away to be examined (we had intended to have delayed cord cutting, but under the circumstances, I clearly no longer cared), and I wanted Brian to stay with him, so I was alone with the midwife and amazing nurses who had assisted me during my labor. Our conversation was small but victorious; it had been a beautiful birth.
Brian returned moments after I delivered the placenta, and placed Elliott in my arms. The three of us had done it. Brian and I laughed, kissed each other, and just wrapped ourselves around our son. He was healthy, beautiful, and like everything about that night and our journey, he was unplanned--but perfect.