Birth #8

“Can I just let my body bring my baby down without pushing?”

Her weary eyes turn to me in this soft plea, as if she is a peddler begging for a bit of nourishment. Strands of her straw-colored hair flow up and away from her face like a wave, framing her flushed face. Every time she speaks, I cannot help but notice the lip ring embellished with flames. She reminds me of fire; not a roaring blaze but the quiet tinder that warms a room on Christmas Eve, bits of ember and ash drifting through the air with a glow.

“Of course you can. Yes, you can do whatever you feel your body needs”, I assure her as I stroke her hair from forehead to temple and then tuck it behind her ear.

In the darkness and echo of the room, I hear a Chorus of Doubts in my head.

“You fool, who are you kidding? She’ll likely have to push for hours, expending every bit of her energy, willing her prostrate, numbed body to force that baby down her birth canal. That is if the Doc allows her ‘hours’ to do so…”

With pitocin dripping into her veins for about 20 hours, and an epidural pricking her spine for 17 of those hours she has been rendered unmovable; a prisoner of a hard hospital bed. A blood pressure cuff adorns her upper arm, the baby’s heart monitor digs into the ripeness of her belly, a catheter tube pokes from beneath her pale blue gown, and an IVline remains taped into her arm (opposite the very bruised one where a nurse tried to insert it prior). I see her heart rate monitor clipped to her big toe and giggle at her perfectly polished bubble-gum pink toenails.

She is 17 years old.

And she exceeds all of my arrogant expectations of a birthing woman.

*********************************************************************************************

When she text-messaged me on the evening of my 31st birthday, my heart sank as I read “They are going to induce me at 4am”.

I spoke with her and she told me that during her ultrasound the doctor had commented that her baby was very healthy but looked to be “small and cramped inside there” and that they’d prefer her baby “grow outside the womb”. “Small for Gestational Age”, they said. Small and cramped? Hmmmm.

She was 38 weeks.

Tempering my tongue, I asked her how she felt about that and with a surprising air of confidence and contentment she said “I feel okay about it, I do. I know that induction will be hard, that it will bring on stronger, longer, tougher contractions. But I am ready to meet her”.

And I could have no other response but “Well, I cannot wait to support you in this birth. You’ll get to meet your baby soon!”

Trying to block the images of a long, painful induction and the raised-eyebrow stares of nurses into the “hospital clock”, and words like “failure to progress, baby in distress, C-section“…I closed my eyes and breathed, breathed, breathed deep. My hand shook, my heart fluttered nervously. I made a cup of hot tea and began to pack my doula bag; in disarray from the last birth I’d attended over 9 months ago.

For me: protein packed snacks, a small breast pump, peppermints and gum, a Nalgene of water, breast pads, cell phone, makeup, an extra shirt, some packets of Honey Vanilla Chamomile Tea. Damnit, I cannot find my Rescue Remedy.

For her: a “secret stash” of sustenance (Emergen-C, Gatorade powder, fruit leather, crackers slathered with peanut butter, raisins), peppermints and gum, an LED flicker candle, massage oils, a rice sock, hair ties, packets of “Mother’s Milk Tea” and some succulent, loose “Joyful Mother Tea” from our local herbal store called Chakra 4.

I was exhausted from an entire day of cranky girls, my youngest of who now seemed to be suffering with some ickiness. I called my back up babysitter to warn her she may have the girls tomorrow morning. And I finally got to bed at midnight. Indigo woke up all night long, screaming and crying and wanting to only be held upright. Thankfully, my client didn’t need me that morning or even that whole day and so I lounged in bed with Indigo until about Noon while my babysitter watched Kaia.

*********************************************************************************************

At around 11:00pm, my client calls me. Exasperated and desperate she explains “Leigh, I don’t know what to do. I am 1cm dilated, they took me off Pit and want to restart it in four hours. Baby is totally healthy, and her heart remains strong. I’m sick of being hooked up to all of these monitors. I want to move around and walk to help my baby. I want to go home and rest. I want to eat. I don’t want to go through this again. What can I do?”

She knows that being bed ridden isn’t ideal for her baby, for her body, for this process of birth. Her insides ache for nourishment and energy. Her spirit is broken, her body drained from forced contractions and dilation. She is ready and done all at once. Again, her intuition amidst her young age slams me with surprise.

I tell her I understand her, that she is so strong, that she does not have to stay in the hospital if she doesn’t want to, and that I will call her right back after I get some advice from a few trusted birth professionals/friends.

I dial Doulala. She doesn’t answer. I hesitate, but take the leap and call the always-busy Jane. She answers – groggy – and I apologize for the rude awakening. “No, it’s okay“, she says in that way that means “hey, you already woke me up anyways, so shoot…” I pick her wise, doula/midwifery-trained brain and then call my client back.

After as much reassurance and love as I can provide via a phone, she decides to stay and see what happens after the next round of Pit. She will call me in the morning.

*********************************************************************************************

At 8:00 am, she calls. She is ready for me. After they had stopped the Pit that morning, my client did some nipple stimulation by pumping 1.5 oz of colostrum! She believes that really got her surges going and I agree. I shake my head in amazement at her youthful/ancient intuition.

I arrive at 9:15am to a dimly lit hospital room, my client propped upright on the bed with a shocking radiance about her. She is aware and calm. Her supportive boyfriend curls up in the dingy recliner, attempting to sleep. Her mother pulls a thin hospital sheet up to her chin, trying to rest in the boxy “transforming bed/chair” next to her daughter’s bed.

I drop my bag on the floor and encircle my client with a hug.

“I am so glad you are here”, she coos with a smile.

Shortly thereafter our nurse arrives to check on her progress and I immediately begin to butter her up.

“I gotta get in ‘good’ with the nurse”, I whisper to my client with a wink. “No worries”

My client is “3-4cm” dilated and this knowledge shifts her mood to an even more hopeful one. She chatters about the baby, dodging text messages and phone calls like crazy. We talk briefly about her plans and hopes for the birth.

“I’m breastfeeding, so no sugar-water, no pacifiers. And I want my baby with me at all times”

“Yes, yes of course“, I concur with sincere appreciation. We’d never even had a chance to speak about her birth plans or even about typical hospital policies. She had researched and developed these requests all on her own. And regardless of whether her choices meshed with mine or not, I swell with pride at her young conviction and protective instincts.

She doesn’t need someone to “tell her what to do”. She needs someone to tell her what she’s doing is perfect.

I take her swollen feet into my hands and offer a massage. She melts into a “Yes, please!” and I glide my fingers over her toes, ankles, and legs. She welcomes the gentle touch and circulation of blood through her numbed legs, which have a surprising amount of movement to them. The aroma of lavender and almond oil waft through the institutional walls, causing our nurse to comment “Oh, it smells so good in here”

I think so too. But I smell hope.

*******************************************************************************************

I stimulate some pressure points as instructed by Doulala in an earlier phone call and my client almost immediately reacts, saying “I can feel my uterus working even more strongly as you do that”. I move to massaging her hands and arms, taking care not to interfere with the IV line. I can imagine how good that intentional and soothing human touch much feel on an almost forgotten body here in the hospital, a vessel hooked to machines.

Soon, the surges of labor begin to intensify. My client’s previously injured back begins to ache painfully and she asks for some Stadol. Inside, I cringe knowing that Stadol doesn’t take away pain, only causes tiredness and a rather discombobulated mental state. The medicine manages to calm her and provides her with a bit of much needed rest. I continue to take notice of her breathing patterns as I casually and quietly converse with her family.

But her working body doesn’t relent and the surges mount. She asks to be flipped from side to side occasionally, knowing that this will help the process and open her body even wider.

And then that moment comes; the moment when you notice the slight shift in energy of the room and know it is time to be fully present for your client. I glue myself next to the bedrail and remain over her for the duration of labor. I breathe in deeply with her and exhale slowly, offering the most hushed of encouraging words. We establish a pattern together quickly: we breathe, she cringes and tightens her brow a bit, I press a firm thumb on her forehead and smooth her brows, she relaxes and breathes out. I stroke her hair as the surges release; she lets out a cleansing breath. Our fingers entangle as she rests between the surges.

I whisper breathy words and phrases into her ear and have no idea where they are coming from. Upon speaking some of them, her head nods in barely perceptible understanding – her eyelids fluttering closed – and so I stick with those.

And it is those moments where ego and heart humbly meet, swollen like a balloon about to burst. Two women, in rhythm to the song of labor, swaying into words and sinking into breath; connected through the pulse of birth.

And when her breath begins to rise again and her teeth begin to grit, I once again place my thumb upon her forehead in firm support. (I recall my midwife at my blessingway placing her hands simultaneously upon my brow chakra and heart chakra. The stable – yet fluid – strength of her touch calmed me at once.)

Thus begins our ritual.

As she continues to work through her surges, I notice her legs – propped open with pillows – shaking in a kind of syncopated timing with her contractions. The pain in her back increases and so does her frustration. I comment on how good it is that she can move her legs like that and encourage her to continue to do so; hopeful that even that small movement will both help her cope with her pain and incite baby to move down the birth canal. She acknowledges that while her back is “killing her” and she can feel so much pressure in her uterus, she knows that her body is doing the work it needs to. She doesn’t want to be entirely void of feeling in this process. I place a warmed rice sock on her lower abdomen and she melts with the relief the heat brings. It remains there – reheated numerous times – for the duration of her labor.

She asks for more Stadol and for a readjustment in her epidural meds. She gladly receives both.

Soon, the surges come close together and with a force that surprises me (i.e. the fact that she can “feel” them so deeply). She begins to writhe, cringe through some of her breathing, whimper. So I moan with her, heaving my in and out breaths audibly. She follows suit, tension mounting with each surge. Her hands reach out from beyond the bed, grasping for anything. Her fingers dig into my palms. Her eyes search for her boyfriend, who provides occasional words of sincere support. She roars and cries out and sometimes forgets to breathe.

I want to pull her close and shout with joy “I think you are in transition!” but I do not feel fully attuned to the nuances of medicated labor and birth. I know this stage with homebirth mamas or with natural labors: sweat beads on their foreheads, they crawl on the floor aimlessly to distract from the aftershocks of their quaking bodies, they say “I can’t do this, when will this be over, I need help”. But here, I dare not whisper these words for fear I will tempt fate or lead her to believe she is further along.

Instead, I tell her “That’s it, you’ve got it! Get mad! Breathe out that fire! Let it all out, all of it. Get pissed off, yell, let your body open. Transfer that fire down and out of your body”.

And she does. The f-bomb flies a few times, she growls like a bear on a hunt, and tears pool in the corners of her eyes like raindrops clinging to a window. But she is there still; steady and zoned in. I haven’t lost her. I remind her that baby is strong and healthy still.

And when the nurse comes in to check her and proclaims her at 9cm, we lock eyes. I cradle her face in my palms, and leaning in repeat “9cm! Look how much work you’ve done!” Together, we weep softly in that small haven of the room, connected by the magnitude of the moment. Flashes of Indi’s birth flicker before me and force my emotions to peak.

She turns to the nurse taking vitals and says with a mix of laughter, “I’m crying because I’m happy, not because I’m sad. I’m so happy.”

Armed with this knowledge, my client allows herself to fully invest her emotions and bodily sensations into this final phase of her birthing journey. With this comes more intensity and more pain. She mentions feeling pressure numerous times and I urge her to just go with her feelings, to trust her instincts and her body.

“Can I push if I have the urge?”

“You do whatever you need to do”.

Upon hearing this, the nurse in the corner stops in her tracks. Her mostly reserved demeanor stiffens as she peers at us and says “No. Do not push until you are complete. You could get a swollen cervix.”

She is right. And so was I. So, feeling slightly chastised, I rephrase my prior statement “Just keep doing what you are doing, breathing deep for baby, opening that last bit of your door. Soon, you’ll get to work with those contractions and start pushing!”.

We continue our ritual, our breathing, but soon she calls anesthesiologist in again. She waffles between wanting more relief, telling him “It’s mostly in my back, I don’t think you can help the pressure in my lower belly. Plus, I think it will be good to feel that for pushing”. She seems settled on the fact that she’ll just wait it out. He waffles too and then suddenly and without warning he swiftly pushes the remaining dose of epidural cocktail into her back. She cries out in pain immediately and he exits as fast as he can.

“I can’t move! It hurts!” she winces.

For almost 8 hours, she’s been content to having us rotate her from side to side, which had aided to ease her discomfort, provide space for her baby, and evenly distributes the epidural meds. But now, she can’t bear the thought of being moved. She freezes and continues crying out.

“Oh my god, my back is breaking. I think I’m having a very, very bad reaction to that last bit of medication he just gave me. I can’t breathe!” She cries and howls.

I don’t know what to do so I gently rub her legs, hold her hand, and tell her I’m getting the nurse in right away. By the time the nurse arrives, she has calmed down. It has been about an hour since they last checked her progress.

10 cm. Ten centimeters! Sweet relief!

“Baby is looking to the side”, says the nurse “And I think we should give her a bit of time to try and rotate. I’ll come back in an hour and if baby hasn’t rotated, the Doc will come in and rotate her for you.” In a moment of brilliant sagacity, the nurse removes the catheter, giving baby more room to move and rotate.

I imagine the baby rolling her eyes in utter relief and saying “Thank god! That damn balloon was totally cramping my style”

*********************************************************************************************

I place a towel over a peanut-shaped birth ball and wedge it gently between her legs. I cover her with a sheet and give her sips from her boyfriend’s Gatorade bottle.

“Maybe this little contraption will help open your pelvis up a bit more and let your baby rotate even easier“, I explain.

My client gladly complies, giggling at the sight of her legs propped high in the air.

We converse about the pushing stage, how she can let her breathe push the baby out if she wants, how she can continue those amazing deep breaths for baby.

And this is when she asks: “Can I just let my body bring my baby down without pushing?”

She manages some deep minutes of sleep during the following surges as we hold vigil for the next stage of the process. I hear her slight snore and feel warmth blanket my heart. I know – I just know – that it is her body and not the meds is giving her this respite. And for some reason, that knowledge provides me comfort. I reflect on the hours I’ve spent with her; so grateful for the fact that no Doc has come in, that we’ve had the attention of a singular nurse, that the room has been peaceful and darkened. Earlier, after a surge, she gazes at me rubbing her legs and says with the raspy and breathy voice of birth: “I am so glad you are here. I feel like now my baby will be born into peace instead of stress”. How is it that my heart could break and amplify all at once?

Her resilience is enviable, her trust impenetrable. She receives solace and surges like the open palms of supplication. Her faith is unshaken – only rising and setting like the sun. She is preparing to rise again.

*********************************************************************************************

An hour passes and the nurse arrives to check her yet again.

“Her head is right here! Time to have a baby!” the nurse announces with a grin.

I could have practically pumped my fists in show-boat manner when she said this. After almost 36 hours since being admitted to the hospital and hooked to machines that inhibited her ability to move, my client had brought her baby down the birth canal without pushing, just as she’d intended. It was a beautiful, victorious moment; her body like a Trojan horse hiding a divine secret.

The nursery team arrives and sets up the warmer and tools in the background. The lights are still mostly dimmed in the room. The nurse quickly breaks down the bed as my client’s mother and I each support one of her legs. I was shocked as the nurse had her “practice” a push and… lo and behold strands of dark, wet, baby hair were visible. The nurse nervously laughed, aghast at how adept my client was at pushing through the meds of the epidural. This baby’s head wasn’t even receding. She was ready to greet us.

My heart and head reels as I say a silent offering of gratitude for such a sacred moment. “No hard, exhaustive pushing for hours on end. Who is the fool now?!”, I think to myself.

As my client’s boyfriend holds her hand, he makes giddy comments about how he can see their baby’s head and “Ohmygosh, she’s coming! Look!” My client lifts her head and has us adjust the mirror. Her eyes widen and she leans her head back into a satisfied and tired smile when she notices her daughter’s squishy, sweet head peering through her Center. Two more pushes and baby’s head is almost fully crowned. The nurse kindly, but urgently, demands “Stop! Oh, stop. The doctor is almost here.” We wait. And wait, and wait. My client breathes through a few surges, growing understandably impatient.

“Oh, I promise he’s right down the hall. Just wait…”

A doctor arrives. He barely says a word as another nurse ties on his gown. He pulls up the stool, asks her to push and baby’s head begins to squeeze through slowly. As I try to secretly balance a video camera near my hip (no video allowed during the birth!) I peer down and notice the head looks quite small and for a moment I have to force myself to calm the sense of panic that arises in me. I think of birthing Indi bum first and seeing my yoni stretch wider and wider and wider, and then compare it to this baby’s head…which looked like the size of one of Indi’s butt cheeks! One more push and baby’s head emerges.

“Okay, stop!” requests the doctor as he swiftly suctions her passages. And just as he finishes the task, Kierra Lynn’s body emerges wet and slippery and oh so perfectly tiny at 3:53 pm. Not a single tear or bruise on my client’s incredible yoni.

The entire room seemed to breathe in and out on itself like a living being, swirling with the incredible energy of birth.

She is held up for her mama and meows like a brand new kitten. She is pink and healthy and beautiful. Daddy cuts the cord and Kierra is laid upon her mama’s welcome chest.

After being there all of three minutes, the Doc leaves. My client looks around and says in an eye-rolling kind of way “He got paid the big bucks to be here just for THAT?” We all laugh. “Yep, that’s what ya call catching”, I comment.

Baby latches on shortly thereafter and I watch mama and daddy cuddle and ogle their 5 lb 9 oz, healthy baby girl. She is content and happy in arms, bundled like a wet burrito. I marvel at her teensy size, never seeing a baby so small, and am reminded of the quote “Great things come in small packages”. Her cries are as soft as the dawn but she can form her luscious lips into the most bittersweet frown I’ve ever witnessed. It takes all of my will-power not to nuzzle her head into my palms and keep her for awhile, singing lullabies and breathing in the smell of her freshness. Instead, I look into her dark eyes and say “Welcome, Kierra. We love you so much” and I hum a low and quiet OM near her elfin ears.

*********************************************************************************************

She did it. Of course she did it, I remind myself. As my first teen client, I didn’t know what to expect. But what I certainly didn’t expect was that I’d bear witness to a cub morph into a lioness before my eyes; that this dragoness would reach inside, touch the flame of her very heart, and send that fire down into her belly. I admittedly didn’t expect her birth to be so…uneventful amidst the interventions. I couldn’t have predicted she’d be so strong, both in spirit and constitution and in the force in which she birthed her baby.

And while she birthed her first child upon that bed, I birthed a newfound sense of respect for birthing woman of all kind: a respect that bows its head in solemn greeting, wiping clean the slate of past and future births. A greeting without judgment, without knowing, without expectation. And invitation to simply behold.

 

 

17 thoughts on “Birth #8

  1. That is an amazing story, I wish I had had something like that available to me 12 years ago when I had my daughter at 19. It is amazing she is alive today, considering all the trauma of her birth. Thanks for all that you do!

  2. What an amazing beautiful woman. Such inspiration to me right now, Leigh, thank you for sharing her birth. Thank you to her for allowing you to share it. I am in awe of how perfect the subtle birthing body works to become the roaring birth goddess..at any age…if encouraged.

    I know you speak of how she was so in tune, and she was. but you are also such good support, such a calm breeze, a solid stone. Your work is so important, refreshing. You are such a natural doula. I wish you could be here with me in…we few days? weeks? hours?????who knows.

    I love you so much.

    mb

  3. Oh Leigh,
    That was so beautiful! I am thrilled that her birth turned out so well. This story is exactly what I needed to read after the birth I attended yesterday. It was long and more medical than the mother had wanted, but it was a good birth.
    I’ve found myself getting frustrated with birth lately. Hating the system that seems to constantly make victims out of women and their babies. Being annoyed with the women who buy into this system, allowing “care providers” to decide what’s best for their bodies & babies.
    This birth story reminded me that women can still remain powerful no matter what the medical system throws at them, no matter how many times they are told to ignore their body and their instincts.
    Thank you for this beautiful reminder.

  4. What a beautiful story. Especially the parts about you – all the mixed emotions of attending birth. To trust that we are enough, just as we are, with all of our doubts and uncertainties and even when we say the ‘wrong’ things. We are still worthy of being there and supporting women through birth. It is the not-doing, the witnessing and holding of the space that matters most. It is giving the birthing woman a container so SHE can do the work, honoring the real hero in that moment instead of being there just for ourselves. Your compassion and support and love for her is a beautiful thing.

  5. I shuddered and quivered and goose-bumped and shivered as i read. And sobbed. For the power, the beauty, the connection, the love, the passion the circle of Life. What a beautiful story, written with heart. Thank you for sharing!

  6. An awesome, inspiring account. You are so awesome for being a doula. I am totally impressed – a beautiful story of strength and love and everything in between. My best to your client and her new family…

  7. wow. what an amazing woman and an awesome, empowering story. thank you (and her) so much for sharing it. i hope you will share it with her someday. :)
    she was so lucky to have you there for her, leigh. you truly are an amazing doula and an amazing writer. i could read your stories about birth all day long.

  8. Beautiful, beautiful! How blessed this mama was to have YOU with her. It certainly gives someone like myself (who is likely going to have another hospital birth, if we get so lucky as to have another baby someday) — HOPE and inspiration.

  9. I found you without looking for you, but you are exactly what I needed today. Next weekend I am attending an intensive workshop to start my on my path to doula-dom…and I was getting apprehensive, scared, untrusting of myself and my abilities in this role. And in reading these birth stories (all of them!) you have helped renew my knowledge that I can do this work. This story, especially, is incredibly moving–it is my goal to work primarily with young/single mothers, and this gives me so much to look forward to, so much to strive for.

    Thank you for your words, your stories, your inspiration. I am so excited to get started!

    Any reccomendations for someone just beginning? You seem so sure.

  10. Your words and stories are inspiring and beautiful. I am just beginning my journey towards becoming a doula and am more sure than ever of my calling. I found your friend, sweet and salty kate, through a baby loss website and found you through her. I am delighted that I did. I will come here again, hopeful and wanting to read your words. Valerie

  11. Pingback: Imprints: The Morphing Cub | This Holy Work

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