Thursday, November 22, 2012

Catherine Therese’s Birth

I start with this picture because I get a kick out of the fact that it is a picture of Anthony making bread in the breadmaker for dinner and there I am in the background cleaning up my desk and wondering if the contractions I was having were worth calling the midwives about…Catherine was out before the bread was out. :) 
This was around 3:30 pm on Saturday. Right after this picture was taken I had some “show” which was my first indication that this was “real” labor. I excused myself from the downstairs and headed upstairs to call the midwives and time contractions…to begin the transition to “labor land”. John started setting up the birthing pool while I emailed and facebooked people to let them know to pray and to call in the “troops” (labor support team, child care) all while timing my contractions.The contractions, I realized, were not my estimated 10 minutes apart but were every 4 minutes apart and were lasting for 2 minutes. So I continued my trying to communicate with the outside world, to instruct John and my mom about what needed to happen next (“I need some quiche. NOW. Don’t make the bed yet, just get the pool set up. GET THOSE CHILDREN OUT OF THIS HOUSE! AWAY! Send them AWAY!” Yeah. So much for my wanting them to be a part of this event…sometimes you just don’t know what you want until you KNOW) in two minutes spurts of pain-free existence. It felt stressful.
This is a picture of me trying not to FREAK OUT because the kids were still in the house (and fighting with each other loudly), the pool was only partially filled and we didn’t have any hot water left, the bed was not made with the special sheets and whatnot, I hadn’t eaten yet and it was dinner time and my midwives hadn’t arrived yet. And my water had just officially broken. It is now about 5:00 pm.
Each time my water has broken during labor it has been very quickly followed by delivery…so I definitely had a brief emotional meltdown which John talked me through. In retrospect I can definitely say that if I hadn’t planned on having a homebirth this birth experience would have been very, very bad. I would have barely had time to get into the hospital and into a bed and all of that would have been happening at the very height of labor. As it was even though there was a certain urgency surrounding the beginning of the labor I didn’t actually have to GO anywhere, get triaged, admitted, changed, hooked up. Any one of those things would have stolen the few moments of peace I experienced during this fast birth. Being at home made it possible to have peace in the midst of the quickness instead of panic because of the quickness.
Within minutes after this my “birth team” was assembled and the children had left the building. My midwife Liz had been on a date night with her husband just 20 minutes from my house and so her husband just dropped her off here. My mom was still in town. My friend Christine, a “homebirther” herself came straight from a family gathering and my friend Dale came over bringing with her her own 5 wk old baby who was very conveniently asleep for the entire experience – freeing up Dale to hold my coconut water for me.
Aside: My plan is that her son and Catherine get married because I think it would be a really awesome wedding toast to say, “I was there with you the day you were born and I’ll be with you until death parts us” (sniff sniff). OK, maybe that’s leaning a little heavy on the advanced planning side of my personality but it would be poetic! Amy, the midwife’s assistant (herself a doula and a midwife in training) and my second midwife Nannette arrived shortly after. That’s a lot of people for such a small space, especially when you put a big ol’ pool in the middle of the room. But somehow it all worked!
There was still a fair amount of scurrying around preparing things but now there were plenty of hands to do it. The bed got made (in case you are curious: you put down a set of bedding – fitted sheet, top sheet, bedspread – then a sheet of plastic and then another set of bedding. This enables them to just roll out the used linens and you already have fresh underneath. Plus there are many of those blue chuck’s pads that they use in the hospital). Liz checked my “progress” (the first and last internal check of the entire pregnancy!) and I was at 8 cm.
At this point all I wanted was to get into the pool…I was really needing to find a place to settle into myself and once I got settled I knew I wasn’t going to be changing positions/places again. We were coming round the bend.
So, around 5:45,  after pouring a canners worth of boiling water and running the hose for a few more minutes things were set. It was initially humorous because I was in a pool, looking at my plant in the corner sipping coconut water through a straw (my chosen labor drink because it is high in electrolytes but not a brightly colored sports drink that when you puke it up during transition you think you have tuberculosis), holding hands with my husband…it was strangely reminiscent of our trip last fall to Jamaica.
Physically speaking the water was a great pain reliever. It was like taking down the intensity from an 8 or 9 at its height back down to a 6 or 7…those two points are a BIG deal, let me tell you. It takes you from panic, animal desperation to rational, coping level.
So we went through a handful of contractions that I was still able to breath through without vocalizing. Amy, the midwives' assistant (who is also trained as a doula and did her birth assistant training on The Farm) suggested that I take this time to start to turn more inwards and focus on what my body was doing and to imagine holding and nursing the baby. Very good advice. I was getting to the point that talking in between contractions wasn’t going to work because it didn’t give me enough time to get ready for the next one.
So, we shut the doors and I started to sound like a farm animal or a wounded civil war soldier lying in a field…at least what I imagine that would sound like.
When comparing the water birth to my only other drug-free birth I can say with complete conviction that the difference was astounding. Obviously there was a great deal of pain (not just “sensations” or “rushes” but plain old fashioned pain) in both but it was ultimately the difference between those two pain points that make all the difference. With Anthony’s birth 8 years ago I remember hitting a pain level of 10 and then somehow – someway – it got even worse. Both during transition and during the pushing (ring of fire) I was at a pain level of 10 and it was more then I felt was humanly possible. I felt terror and panic and like I was turning into an animal – desperate to escape. Not to put too fine a point on it. The truth is that I have never been able to birth drug-free in a hospital since…there was the amazing after-birth euphoria that followed and I have never regretted going through that but man, it was a little scarring.
This birth, in contrast, was completely different…and all because of those 2 pain points. I never reached a 10 with Catherine…well, not until the first real push. And then it lasted for 1 contraction, I believe. Up until that extremely brief moment I still thought that I “had room to grow”…that pain can, indeed, get worse then this.
Afterwards I mentioned to Nannette (one of the midwives) that I didn’t feel like I even went through transition and she pointed out to me that right before that really big push I had said that I felt slightly nauseous and I had gotten flushed and hot. I felt like, “Oh yeah. SERIOUSLY?! THAT was transition?!” And memories of grasping onto the side of the hospital bed, and begging my mommy to take me home and puking bright read gatorade over and over again filled my mind from 8 years ago. And then I remembered that it had occurred to me in the last couple contractions before Catherine came that I thought – thought, mind you…not screamed into the nurses’ face like last time…”I don’t think this was a good idea. Why am I doing this? I would like to go home now…oh I am home. Hmmmm…these thoughts probably mean that I am going to have my baby soon.” But it was all so much calmer and more peaceful…more humanly possible. I wasn’t an animal in terror, I was a mother giving birth. It wasn’t scary.
There was no coached pushing. No, “now it’s time to push” – my body had been pushing a bit more with each contraction and Liz had said to just go with it so I was when all of a sudden there was a weird popping feeling (like water breaking except that had already happened – it turns out that it was her head popping out from under my pubic bone) accompanied with a TREMENDOUS pressure…my cervix felt like a bowling pin must feel like when it gets hit by the bowling ball. I was suddenly completely and 100% aware that there was a bowling ball and it was coming out NOW. Somewhere within the space of a contraction, maybe two, her head was out and I guess I was trying to keep my legs together – which frankly, makes perfect sense to me as a defense mechanism. The midwives has to literally pull them apart since the rest of her body was still in. I can’t say I really recall any of this with any accuracy. But I have been told that it looks like I was trying to scramble and back out of the pool. To this I say, perhaps…that was the animalian moment and I can’t really recall. I DO recall during this brief period of time that Christine told me to lower my voice into the Amazonian woman range and “grunt it out. Like a poop.” Or something to that effect…it was a very effective thing to say because I dropped my voice to a lower pitch, pushed as hard as a could…and again…and there was the baby on my chest. It was 6:36 pm.
We just laid there for a few minutes breathing really heavily and I felt like we had really gone through something together, this baby and I. We had done it, me and my baby had survived that whole pregnancy, going passed our due date, through labor and now we were done! We had done it together. Buddies. Pals. We still didn’t know if we had a boy or girl and while the midwives were busy making sure I kept the baby’s head above the water, checked her Apgar score and keeping baby warm it just didn’t seem to matter yet.
Christine hazarded a guess…she thought she’d seen some indications of a girl. So, after some awkward shifting and I turned her over and got quite the surprise – my girls would all have sisters – plural! We had been so confident that it was a boy…it was just a guess but so far we had been 4 for 4 on our guesses. John and I both immediately had the same thought separately and told different people that even though we were surprised at her gender we feel like we’ve known her forever. Like she’s always been around. Like, “of course it’s you.”
I also got to cut the cord – which I usually ask my mom or John to do.
It’s a symbolic moment to me. The first step of your child away from you. As a mother you are always in the process trying to impart to your child what they need to survive in this world and get to the next…in other words: to leave you. It’s a bittersweet moment – just like motherhood is a bittersweet experience.
The midwives do “delayed cord clamping”…essentially waiting until the cord stops pulsing blood into the baby before they cut it. This serves to increase the baby’s blood count (especially “clottable” blood which they don’t start producing on their own for about a week) and decreasing the mother’s risk of hemorrhage by giving more of the placenta’s blood a chance to empty out before delivery.
They delivered the placenta in the bed instead of in the water because they can monitor maternal bleeding more easily then if it’s getting distributed through 170 gallons of water. Makes sense to me. Plus, it means that the pool doesn’t get too gross…just in case you are imagining that a water birth looks like alligator attack scene in a swamp…it doesn’t. There was no blood in the pool at all, just a lot of vernix that came off Catherine as she came out…making her a slippery little thing for Liz and Nannette to get a hold of. Come to think of it…I don’t know who caught her in the end. I’ll have to ask someone.
This is Dale and Christine…my trusty friends and future in laws…me hopes. SmileThey helped get the pool set up, did the dishes and the laundry, got me dinner, helped get the kids to bed once they came home…and most important of all – rejoiced with me and welcomed and loved my new baby with me.
My mom had been staying with us all week…waiting (a lot more patiently then I was), cooking, cleaning, child-caring, encouraging…and THANKFULLY Catherine threw her a bone on the eve of her departure. John’s mom, Sarah, his step dad and his brother just happened to be passing by on there way from PA to VA and so stopped in to pick up the free show. I always try to warn people that you never know what you are going to get when you come over but I do think this was one to remember.

Here’s the scale they use to measure…she was 8 lbs, 9 oz….making her our second biggest baby and our “latest” baby.
This picture cracks me up a bit because of my feet…at least my toenails were painted.
You REALLY must try to drink this Orange Mint Tea the next time you have a baby…or breakfast…it’s the best stuff in the world. Christine made it for a brunch a year or so ago and I vowed then and there that it would be my “after birth” drink if I were ever to have another baby. It’s heaven. This is a picture of me drinking heaven.

This is me sporting my fancy thrift store robe that I bought specifically because it’s ugly enough to wear immediately after birth and not care what happens to it.

Now is a series of pictures that I like to call, “In Which Thomas Forgets How to Smile”. Just keep your eyes on him…

Well, this one is at least true to his personality…
Lots of visiting and decompressing and processing the experience…
And suddenly…the kids were all asleep, the laundry was all washed, the dishes were all done…and we were home. Blissfully, peacefully, joyfully home.
And it’s now more “home” then it ever has been before now that it’s been blessed with the birth of a Lovelette.
Hopefully more posts to follow on our first couple days at home, on why we chose a homebirth, on what it’s like to never ever sleep…but we’ll see since, well – I never ever sleep.

This pregnancy, labor and delivery were in a special way consecrated to and offered up for the souls of Joey Howe, Peter Campbell and Sophie More and for the consolation of their families. Life and death are so closely connected and we are grateful for all the life on this earth that God gives us, whether it's Joey's 80 minutes, Peter's 23 years, Sophie's 90 years or Catherine's life just starting out. We are even more grateful though for the life eternal that He offers us when our sojourn here is complete. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


  1. Wow Alexis, beautiful post. What a wonderful birthing story. I am liking the idea of being in warm water, you are so right that 8 versus 10 is a huge difference. I hope that you get some sleep soon, for me that is the hardest part of being a new mommy. Thanks for sharing this with us. Love you and your sweet new baby girl!

  2. Thank you! What a wonderful story. I enjoyed every single bit of it. Your description of scrambling back in the pool sounds like Lydia's crowning/birth - I remember trying to back away from all of it. I'll be praying that you get some sleep, one of these years. :) Happy Thanksgiving. God bless you!

  3. Wow, thank you so much for sharing Catherine's birth story. And thank you for sharing all the beautiful pictures.

  4. Congratulations!!! What a wonderful, peaceful birth and a beautiful baby girl!! ANd I love, love, love her name! God bless you all. :)

  5. SO happy for you and your family! Birthing at home... being at home... is indeed truly wonderful. God bless!

  6. Congratulations Love family! I so much enjoyed reading this. I'm learning all I can about natural and home births and this was very helpful to me. We are going to have a pool too, so I hope it helps as much as it helped you. God Bless you and your sweet baby girl!