Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A natural surrender: Reba's birth story, in duet form

I love it when I get to do this.

Once upon a time, oh, say, about 9 months ago (plus change), I got an email from a friend of mine, announcing the glorious news of her pregnancy and asking for some thoughts on connecting with a midwife, which in turn inspired this post.

Well, the time has come! The knockout gorgeous bundle of joy has arrived. Very recently, too (just last week), and we already have not just one, but TWO birth stories thanks to both her husband and her doula! I loved hearing the father's perspective, and then seeing the doula's point of view as well. I'll intersperse:


Labor came on pretty quickly and unexpectedly, about a week before Reba’s EDD. At about 5pm on Thursday, we had a prenatal visit with Miriam. Reba began feeling some strongish cramps around then, and mentioned it, but they were infrequent and irregular. We joked while booking our next visit that it might be a post-natal — maybe we knew something! After our midwife left, we went for a walk and picked up dinner (panini from our favorite place in Astoria, Il Bambino)*. We watched the Simpsons at 7 (Secrets of Successful Marriage – a classic, and perhaps a sign of some sort), and by the end of the episode the cramps had become more pronounced and more regular, and were clearly contractions.

I started timing around 745, and they were already about a minute long, about five minutes apart (where they ended up staying for a long time — although they got longer and more intense). We called both [midwife] Miriam and [doula] Colleen to let them know, and then we got Reba into the regular tub for a bath, to relax through the early part of labor. She took two baths, and in between was mainly on the couch sitting upright leaning forward or in hands-and-knees. She began working harder soon there after. By 9 or so talking during the contractions was hard, and they kept gaining in intensity. (The chronology here is a little fuzzy, because Reba was already working very hard, and I was helping her relax during each one and then doing all kinds of stuff, like getting pillows and drinks, futzing with the lights, texting her sister, and timing some of the contractions.)

Around 1AM Colleen came over, saw that we were doing ok, and immediately began blowing up and filling the birth tub. (That took about 45 minutes, and there was no way I could have done it while helping Reba through the contractions).


I arrived in their apartment right around 1am to find Reba laboring beautifully in her living room with Kevin applying counter pressure to her thighs as he wrapped his full body around her back grounding and supporting her through the waves of contractions. The two of them formed an inspirational bubble of chanting sound energy around their space, filled with “om,” “come,” “I want/need this,” “holy” and so it was indeed a very holy sacred space to hold and bear witness. I offered primarily my presence and a reflective source of calm patient trust as Kevin and Reba were in a physical and emotional groove of perfection. They flowed together and I found myself holding space, reassuring, and lending a sympathetic ear to what Reba was feeling; I smoothly found my place easing into the tone of the energy they had set along with their individual needs.

The energy of the rushes flowed through Reba leaving her muscles shaky in its wake. Kevin was always there with steadying hands as one or both of us braced a thigh or alternately gave Reba's strong muscles a loosening massage. My arrival meant Kevin could continue caring for Reba while I took over getting the pool inflated and filled for Reba to try. As I inflated and filled the pool, Reba continued her smooth and speedy progression deeply into her labor; flowing along with its irresistible forces as her chosen birth circle quietly and gently formed around her firmly holding her space.

The contractions kept getting more intense, so I called Miriam, who arrived around 230AM. Both Reba and I were convinced she was about to have the baby — but there was still a ways to go. The main issue was that she was very physically engaged during each contraction, and had a very hard time finding a comfortable position. Hands-and knees, standing and leaning down on the arm of the couch, and sitting on the toilet seemed to be the best. Until about 4AM or so, when she really surrendered, Reba was tiring herself out by not being able to use all of the rests between contractions.


Miriam joined us around 3am and calmly consciously joined me in easing ourselves into the background. We were there for assurance but it was evident every step of the way that Kevin and Reba were beautifully in harmony with their process. Reba was in the pool briefly at this time but soon found her body asking to move around more. She spent time on a chair, on her knees, back on the couch and eventually settled into the bathroom with Kevin. Each wave of intensity brought with it a consistent flow of encouraging support from Kevin. Firm encouragement, steadfast belief and undeniable love were positioned unconditionally at Reba's side. Kevin toned along with Reba and met her right where she was as she coped with the reality of her labor each step of the way.

Miriam, Kevin and I were there to remind Reba that this was going to end and that she was doing it on the occasion that her personal mantra shifted into negative space. She was beyond doing it...she was doing with steadfast perfection; walking her own path just as she needed to. Reba meant business about labor and her body was not messing around; this was serious hard labor with only the briefest of breaks between the surges of energy, which at this point were intensified by the increasingly strong sensations in Reba's lower back as her baby descended deeper into her pelvis preparing for birth.


Miriam forcefully voiced her concerns about the amount of effort around that time, so either that got through to Reba or it was just a natural surrender. At any rate, thereafter Reba was in a zone where she was at least still during the breaks.


After a few hours in her bathroom nest Reba gave voice to the growing feeling that she need this to change...she needed something to shift...she needed to step confidently over the next threshold...and so she did. With a shift back to the living room Reba found herself on hands and knees, resting her upper body against the physio-ball between surges as Kevin and I attended to her muscles during the breaks, and grounding her feet against my palms as Kevin voiced encouragement and her body threw itself wholeheartedly into pushing. Around 8am Reba's water spontaneously released and she began following her body's cues to push with all her might.

Time passed with much effort and Reba shifted back into the bathroom to continue pushing. Shortly she was able to reach within her healthy stretching layers of tissue to feel their child’s otherworldly skin for the very first time. Awe and reverence reflected in their eyes. Reba assumed a squat supported by Kevin sitting behind her. She followed her body's own irresistible cues and pushed in accordance, roaring her birthing song in strength and abandon. Continuously in tune and able to voice her desires, Reba soon noted that she would like to move back to the living room.

Finding a supported squat again with Kevin backing up his birthing goddess physically and emotionally, Reba began her final pushing stretch. The babe rocked back and forth in the timeless dance of birth slowly but surely opening Reba’s strong pelvis and tissues easing toward earthside. Miriam applied the soothing radiating warmth of water/oil compresses to Reba’s perineum as she calmly and quietly held the space for Reba to birth her child. Glorious crowning shortly followed smoothly moving toward revealing the babe’s face presenting with a nuchal arm. A push later at 9:38am Reba was reaching down to help bring her triumphantly birthed baby to her stomach and up to her heart radiating bliss.

Around 730, she began her pushing phase, and finally gave birth at 935 in the morning. I was sitting on the couch in our living room, holding her as she squatted just above the floor. Post-delivery, we both got to hold Rosalie right away, which was amazing. Reba was basically completely wiped out, and had to hand the baby over to me almost right away. After about an hour, we moved her up to sitting on the couch, from sitting on the floor where she had been during the delivery. After a few hours, she started feeling better, but Reba was really drained for that first chunk of time post-delivery. Miriam took great care of her.

Really, it was all amazing. I cried a lot during pushing and after delivery, and I still feel a little bit emotional. The labor totaled about 3 hours of gearing up, 11 hours of active labor, and 2 hours of pushing, but those numbers don’t do justice to the simultaneously grueling and amazing physical feat Reba performed.

I guess there are lots of things I could advise, but since even among our stories here the labors are so different, and we are well-prepared from class (really, we are — so much stuff came in handy), all I would say is, to the partners, watch the faces of your midwives and doulas, that will tell you if things are OK; and to all, try to figure out a way to allow the woman use the rests.

I can’t imagine either of us having made it through this wild, awesome, primal experience (to echo some of the sentiments below) without a real understanding what was going on, and that understanding was brought about mostly by the wonderful [childbirth ed] class we took — thanks Mary Esther!

Congratulations to all the new parents, and best of luck to those of you who are next — it is great, and there is nothing like finally having your baby enter your lives.

What an inspiring story, huh? Reba is a dancer, an amazingly strong one (that's how we know each other, in my former dancing life, she and I worked together on a number of projects and became good friends in the process), and it's so fitting to read about how physically engaged she was during her active labor - I can picture it so well. And a nuchal arm! What a challenge, and still, they worked with it so beautifully. Congratulations, new family, and welcome, sweet Rosalie.


Now here's a tidbit for ya: Reba's sister (with whom I've also had the pleasure of dancing and working together) happens to have gotten pregnant at almost exactly the same time . . . and JUST THIS MORNING, her Facebook picture finally changed from a belly to a baby. We eagerly but patiently await the details. Congratulations to little sister too!