by Krista Cornish Scott, ICAN Chapter Director
photo credit: Ken Stigler
WARNING: the pictures are not graphic but they do have a bit of blood in them, if you are squeamish. Also there are two curse words in the story that are edited but it’s obvious what they are. Please note the dates on the pictures are incorrect due to camera error.
April 4th, 2008
I am waiting. Waiting for this baby. Waiting for Brett to get here. This last week he has been back in Cincinnati, teaching, and the boys and I are still here in Rochester, waiting for this baby to arrive. I am close to 41 weeks and although I know this is normal for me, I still have been hoping foolishly to have this baby sooner rather than later. When we made the decision to come back here to have the baby with our midwife, instead of staying in Cincinnati, we knew that it would be hard and require a lot of sacrifices… but I had no idea that our generous hosts would be the ones sacrificing their own bedroom to us for so long! I can’t help but think, what if this baby doesn’t come after 41… after 42…. how many weeks will this baby need? Brett says not to worry. We’ll cross that bridge later. He is driving now and I can hardly stand it. At last, at midnight, he arrives and all my tension falls instantly away. He is here, and everything is as it should be.
April 5th, 2008
sometime during the early morning hours
I gain consciousness early in the morning, aware of a first, gentle contraction. A little thrill of butterflies flits through my stomach, “stage nerves”, but I roll over and go back to sleep, trusting that this time like the last two times, this is just the slow opening movement of a much longer labour to come. I pat my belly and say “welcome, baby”. I congratulate our smart baby on impeccable timing. Daddy’s here. Time to come.
The boys wake up. We snuggle together in the big bed, I curl up next to Brett thinking to myself that this will be our last morning together before the new baby makes us a family of five. We had planned to go to the public market and we keep those plans. I make sure to have a shower and wash my hair. Janet and Jay and the kids are still sleeping so we head out quietly to enjoy the day. We visit the Empanada Stop of course, our favourite small family-owned business at the market. We know them by name. They teach Aedhan some Spanish every week. And the family teases me about not having had the baby yet. I smile coyly and tell them that I am VERY sure that the baby is coming soon. I think I even predict that the baby will be born “tomorrow”. Of course I am right. We have a picture of this time, and I love seeing how happy our family is in that moment. Living in that moment.
We move on to Strong Children’s museum, wandering among the exhibits and toys. The boys romp around happily and I just groove to the rhythm of those early contractions, one about every 10-15 minutes. I check my cellphone each time I have one, just to see what they’re doing. Slow, lazy day. We go back to Janet and Jay’s. I come clean to Brett about the contractions, and although I don’t want to commit to a statement like “I’m definitely in labour”, we both recognize that this is my familiar pattern. Wegmans is next, picking out snacks for labour (I didn’t eat anything) and snacks for after the baby is out. (Ginger beer! Yum!)
Back to the house. We spend time together. I chat on the phone to a friend who is in the middle of a fight with her husband. Every 10 minutes during the conversation I move to supportive “mm hmms” for a minute. I know she’s going to kill me when she finds out I was in labour during that call, but I feel very private about my early labour. Chat with Janet for a little bit in the kitchen, not ready to let go of my secret yet. Their family heads out for dinner with friends and Brett and I just…. go about our lives. Something that I love about homebirth that It is so normal. Here we are, living our lives, labouring. At some point the baby will come. Until then, I’ll check email, go outside, stack the dishwasher, put away some laundry, hug the boys. I call Meg and leave her a message to call me when she gets in, nothing urgent, but that I’m in labour and she should probably go to bed early that night as I’d likely be waking her up at some point that night. When she returns my call later that night we joke and laugh together. I realize during this third labour how much I really truly like the way my body does things. The long latent phase gives me time to prepare, to set myself spiritually, take time to acknowledge the passing of the old and the coming of the new phase in our family life. And to run to the grocery store, obviously.
The boys go to bed. Things are a bit more painful and I move to the green couch in the little room adjoining the bedroom we are in and flip through a few channels. Now I start to want to move around a bit, stand up and get the hips going. Lean over the pillow… ow. That one sucked. I can wait through a few more, probably. Um, maybe not. Ok I’m going to go downstairs to my birthing room.
This is the birthing room on the day my friends came over to help me set it up.
(My women friends, knowing that although we have been so warmly welcomed into Janet and Jay’s home, this isn’t really my “space” and I need some kind of way to make it my own, came and helped me decorate what I decided would be the “birthing room”. This is a sunroom at the back of the house with a tile floor (good for easy clean-up!) and a half bathroom. It also has a separate heater from the rest of the house. And it has big windows on three sides… lots of wonderful light. It’s a perfect little space and it looks even better once we put up some decorations, arrange some special items on the table, etc)
April 6th, 2008
I don’t tough it out for very long. A few contractions by myself in the little bathroom and I know I can’t be unselfish any longer and let Brett sleep with the boys. At least I gave him a couple of hours. The room is a bit cold and it’s so nice and quiet. Janet’s family had come in and gone to bed and still I was keeping to myself, needing that privacy in a place where we couldn’t ever really be totally private. I call with my cell phone upstairs to Brett’s phone that I know is beside the bed. “it’s time to come downstairs and set up the birth pool. I need company”. He blearily comes downstairs but once he is in the room, he’s all support and love and business-at-hand. Between contractions I observe him setting up the Aqua Doula but during contractions I’m wanting his hands on my back. Not my lower back or anywhere near where the pains are, but rubbing my upper back. I just want his presence, his physical self, right there with me, but not working on the contractions directly. Those belong to me.
At one a.m. I start asking for Meg. “Let’s wait a little while” says Brett calmly. I protest a bit but know he’s right. Until the next contraction when I say “I just want Meg. I want my mom. Meg is my mom-replacement for my labours you know, that’s why I like the older midwives. I just want my mommy when I’m in labour”. I prattle away. Brett humours me by listening. But it’s true… my own mother is hundreds and hundreds of miles away so she’s not an option. But Meg really does have that mothering quality to her after you get to know her personality. I have a few moments of crystal clarity about birth, my relationship with Meg, my love for Brett, and time stops for a tiny moment. I love this labouring wisdom. And then another contraction and I’m back in the moment and back working through the pain. I call it pain, out loud. Screw you, Ina May! Rushes, my butt.
The pool takes forever to fill. We use up all the hot water. And then wait. Waaaaaait. More hot water. Then more waiting. This takes hours. I’m just as whiney as usual but we’re in a rhythm. I feel like I’m running a familiar marathon this time. I am not afraid of this part. Brett stays close but stays back, if that makes sense. This time he is merely walking alongside me in the journey, not carrying me, dragging me, like last time.
I muster enough piss and vinegar to insist NOW is the time to call Meg. Brett calls and I finally get into the tub, so grateful for the water and grateful too, in retrospect, for the length of time it took to fill up. I am so happy in the water, I am utterly limp and still between contractions, a model of conserving energy. As I type I can hear in my mind the drip of the water as my hand comes out of it. I feel the butterflies in my gut the same way I felt them as I could feel the labour progressing inexorably towards the pain and hardest work of all that would come. At some point in these last few hours, my sounds have awoken Janet. I hear Jay also during the night come out of the downstairs bedroom where the five of them have squashed up together. He and Brett quietly exchange a few words. It doesn’t disturb me at all. It feels nice to know that there are others in the house expecting this birth, this baby.
“Hi Krista, sounds good”. She comes quietly into the space. My eyes are closed but my mind’s eye doesn’t need a reminder of what her face looks like as she enters the holy place, the birth place. She shines. She positively beams light from her whole body, so full of joy to be with another woman in her time of birth. I only wish that I had found my vocation as she has found hers. To have spent her life doing this work, this beautiful, exquisite work of being with-woman. I feel that twinge once again, that sadness that I know I would love this work so much but I could not do it. I’m not brave enough to do it.
“Meg.” In a plaintive little-girl whiney voice. “Meg, I’m not that far progressed because I haven’t seen my mucus plug yet”. That’s OK. We don’t necessarily need to see that. You’re In the water. Some of it could have come out before. She says the right things. My eyes are closed but I am smiling at myself. I could say all these things too, after the years I’ve spent breathing in birth like a fish breathing in water.
“No bloody show either” I say. Meg pauses. HA! I’ve got her there. After the birth she confides in me that she suspected I was probably right, probably only a 6 or so. I knew where I was. And luckily this time I also knew that getting checked would send me into a spiral of discouragement. So after a bit of dithering about it, I said no. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t keep whining about it. “Meg, these contractions aren’t doing enough. They f’ing suck but they’re not doing enough. I’m not fully dilated yet”.
Meg says something. I almost don’t need to listen to the answers. I know what she is going to say to everything I throw at her. We have done this dance before. Weeks later, I read a wonderful article online in the Telegraph by Rowan Pelling with this fabulous line:
“[my midwife] reminded me of a horse-whisperer standing in a paddock while a crazy mare careered round her, knowing that eventually it would stop its jig and walk straight to her.”
I am the crazy mare.
Now comes the time when I have to speak my fears. This is the way I transition. From fear to birthing.
“MEHHHHHHG. I’m AFRAAAAID” ….. “It hurts. My scar.” I breathe a moment. “No, it’s fine. I’m fine”
“I’m scared! I need help” We’re here is the firm reply.
“I want out. I want to go to the hospital.” No, you’re doing fine. That one from Brett.
“I don’t want to do this” No one does.
You’re so strong, Krista. “I’m not! I hate this. Baby come soon, I want you. I want you.”
“DAD! Help me… dad!”
My gut twists and I grip the edge of the birthpool. Help me Dad. A shudder of grief, I wail as I look out the window. I call out for my dead father, asking him to help me through this pain. This pain that will be over so soon, and will soon be forgotten. The pain that pales comparing to the pain of his loss, the pain of knowing that at the end, at the pot of gold, the rainbow-shimmering baby blissed out with love, there will be no phone call to him. No triumphant I DID IT and his kind voice saying Kip, I knew you could. I don’t know if I’m saying it out loud anymore. Dad keep me safe. Keep my baby safe. Help me.
“OPEN THE WINDOW” I order. Fresh cool air streams into what could probably only be described as a funk-filled hothouse at this point. Unaware of smells or sounds I am deep in transition. The top layer of my brain is aware of children outside and the sounds of making breakfast. Colum crying at the door briefly, Brett goes to him. I am unable to wrest my focus away from birthing the baby to worry about my 2 year old. He is safe. He is with friends. He is fine.
“MEEEEHHHHHHHG. I don’t WANNA push!” That’s okay. You don’t have to. Your body will just do it.
“GOOD! Because. I. Don’t. WANT. To. UrrgghhhhuuuhhPUSH!!!” I declare, as my body starts pushing.
My subconscious brain is ticking off its list of Things To Do During Labour. Bring up dead father? Check. Emotionally blackmail husband by wailing please please promise me you will NEVER make me do this again? Check. Test birthing team by throwing out the old I Want to Transport canard? Check. Whining for drugs? Check, check and double check. Oh goodie, here comes Silly Fear of Pushing on a Cervical Lip, right on time!
“Meg I’m afraid of pushing on a lip. I don’t want to push if I’m not complete.” I can check you if that’s what you want. Meg allows herself a little smile, which I do not see. She is sure that I am complete and already pushing in the water. Having already fished out what she later referred to as “the coolest, squid-like mucus plug I’ve ever seen” and other um, birthing products, with the fishie scooper, she’s pretty confident about this. Somehow I manage to get out of the water and onto the floor where I remain, head wedged between the bottom rungs of a wooden chair. I am checked for the very first time during this entire pregnancy and birth. I am complete. I am pushing this baby out.
The household bustles outside the door. Jay is feeding the kids. Janet buzzes around not wanting to intrude but drawn like a moth to the flame of the door. At some point I have told Meg or Brett to go get her, to bring her into the room as I know the baby will be coming and I don’t want to forget to invite her in. I am filled with a supreme sense of relief that I do really WANT her to be in the room with me. I had been so worried that after all she and her family had given up for us to be here with them, all the kindness and friendship she so freely offered to us, that I would be labouring and have it feel wrong for her to be there, and be consumed with guilt about it. Thank God that didn’t happen, and Janet just smoothly entered the space and became a seamless part of the birth. Between pushes I am filled and bubbling over with this amazingly intense love for everyone and everything in the room. The chemical swirl in my adrenal system is on overload. I mew happily at Meg and Janet, I tell Brett how much I love him, how thankful I am that he has made these sacrifices to get me here. Thank you Janet, this is the right place for me to be birthing. I push again. Thank you Meg, I’m so happy you are here, I can’t imagine a birth without you. I push again. The birth amnesia has wiped my brain so completely that I can type the words about how incredibly painful pushing was, but what my body is remembering now, one year later, is that magical all-encompassing grateful, thankful love. Heck, if the OB who’d cut me had been there, I probably would have thanked him for setting me on the path that had brought me to ICAN and all the blessings in my life that have flowed from there.
Love, love, love. But yet… I still had to push the baby out. Dang! It hurt so much. I pushed on my left side, my left foot digging into Meg’s leg or hip or the couch or something in that general direction. Eyes closed. I bark “hold my leg!” to Janet and she holds my right leg up while I push. No one does anything at all, except be in the space with me. Not a single person speaks to give me advice on how to give birth. My head is crammed into the space under the chair. I lift my right arm up over my head and grab the back of the chair as I push. Words fail to describe how good that felt. It was exactly right. And. I. Pushed. Just me this time. No one told me when or how to push, I just did. And I could actually feel a baby coming down. OMG! I feel it, the baby’s head, it’s right there, it’s…… sucked back up???? What the hell? That is not FAIR! I push again, fiercely. Get! Back! Down! Here! The head comes back, I feel the pressure, my pelvis opens… and SCHLUUURP! Back up it goes. Now I’m pissed. “FINE! I’m not pushing you OUT then, you can STAY in there…..” oops here comes another contraction aaaaaaahhhhhh!!! I am PUSHING you OUT!
Something important to me this time was waiting to feel “The Urge To Push”, which I hadn’t in previous births. Very official sounding, isn’t it? And it really wasn’t what I expected, but my body just started pushing without me. It started as a little involuntary sensation, kind of like a little tickle in your throat will produce a cough, except from a quite opposite orifice. At the end of my “I don’t WANT to push” complaints, would come a little grunt and…. a push. Just a small one. And then it would get more powerful. I remember a woman on the ICAN list describing the pushing urge as “reverse throwing-up” and it is really remarkable how accurate that phrase is to describe what was happening.
The most important thing was, this birth was mine. Yes, it was nice to have Brett there to set up the tub, to affirm love to me, to be quiet support. But I didn’t NEED him there, not the intense need like Colum’s birth where I hung on him like a drowning creature, flailing and crying my way through. And Meg, blessed saintly earthy wonderful Meg… she was with-woman all right, but I didn’t need her. And such a joy to come from this birth, to understand that I really could do it, I could give birth, I was a normal, ordinary birthing woman. Priceless. Breathtaking.
And here she was. Turning anterior to come out, with her chubby fist up beside her head, my daughter was born into the world. My fear of shoulder dystocia was completely brushed aside. Her head came out, she turned herself, and I knew, KNEW with utter 100% certainty that she was fine, that I was fine, nothing was going to happen and she would come out. And she did. Received by the hands of her daddy. Witnessed with joy by people who loved her. Meg, Janet and Aedhan.
Thanks to Meg, Aedhan was there to see her being born. He was so anxious to be there, had reminded everyone around who would listen that he wanted to come in. I was still ambivalent about It at the time of pushing but Meg, knowing me and knowing Aedhan, prodded a wee bit to remind me. And Janet went and got him so he got to see his sister’s joyful birth.
My memory fades as to how it all went from there…. She’s a girl, I have a girl! Oh it’s Kenna, Kenna Joy is here, my sweet baby girl! It is instantly clear to me that her name is Kenna which means born of fire, and not the other name that we’d still been considering. Her cord was shortish so I reached down to smooth her hair and snuggled her close to my hip as her daddy cooed over her and Janet and Meg and Aedhan grinned. I had touched her head as she was crowning, it was so soft and wrinkled, like a wrinkle-dog, I thought to myself at the time. How incredible it was that she was here, the relief of knowing the work was done, the pain was done, was DONE! Hallelujah is there any greater feeling than the relief of that babe having come out of your body, of the Oldest Work being done and joylovethankfulness pouring, sweeping around the room, the steaming room smelling of blood and s*** and sweat and my body in release, on the cool tile, on the blankets, on the hard rung of the chair. I am spinning, I am so grateful for this gift, this woman’s work. The pictures of me at this time show stupor and not the radiance I am feeling. I am surprised to see them later as in my mind I am shining and powerful and Juno-like in my serene strength. Instead I’m pale and my hair is messy and I look like I could use a sandwich. Or two.
I am so glad that I am finished the hardest part.
We wait until the cord has finished giving Kenna all the stem cells and other goodies intended by nature for her immune system. Once it has stopped pulsing I’m eager to cut the cord as that means that she will be free to come up into my arms. Like last time, my placenta is taking its time to detach and I am more than happy to wait and not have to push anything out for a while. After about 45 minutes it comes out easily and then I pass an “awesome” blood clot according to Meg. It’s huge, bigger than my fist, and anyone who has the interest In such stuff is pretty impressed. Of course that means I’m feeling woozy so my first attempt to get up onto the couch ended with me lying back down on the floor for a minute. I was perfectly happy on the floor. I closed my eyes and Meg goes “Krista? Can you hear me?” and I just laughed. Can’t knock me down that easily, I think. Just get that baby nursing again and I’ll be fine. (Oh yes, and after my natural childbirth I’m ALL about some extra strength ibuprofin to help deal with the afterpains. Lest anyone think I’m a “martyr” or whatever other insulting term women birthing without drugs get labelled with nowadays. They did hurt but not worse than I remembered from Colum’s birth, for which I’m thankful.)
I gave Janet free permission to call in the women. And in they came. Bringing gifts of food, fresh flowers, soft blankets, big smiles. They enter the birth room, strewn with used chux pads and still smelling of birth, and they go to work. Julie, Amanda, Katie, Caren. The birth pool is emptied into the side yard to nourish the grass and plants there. The mess magically disappears. My placenta is inspected and admired by Amanda the student midwife. Kenna is approvingly welcomed into the circle of women. The little girls, Margaret, Olivia, Jasmine, circle and hover around the couch, staring at the baby, touching her with one finger, running back outside to play and coming in again ten minutes later to be on the periphery of the women. The boys proudly call our family. In the busy-ness I forget to grieve my father’s absence from the parade of phone calls. I did my grieving for him during labour. I tell Brett to change my Gmail status to “baby is here!” to let my ICAN sisters know that my 41 week wait is finally over. The day is so bright and sunny and the birth room is filled with light and smiles and love. I am humbled and grateful for the love of my friends who I have missed so achingly these last nine months. I think of how lonely this day would have been had we stayed in Cincinnati and know that we made the right decision.
Meg stays for hours. The carrot-cake arrives and we all have a happy birthday piece in celebration. Someone is cooking eggs and bacon, others have brought food. I am ravenous and eat and drink and hold my sweet baby and she has not been apart from me for one single solitary second. Even when her temperature went down a bit, the answer to that was for us to be skin-to-skin and pile on the blankets. We are still as united as we were the day before, only now I get to see her face and her seeking eyes find mine.
The women chat and laugh. We tell other birth stories. Janet tells me that before Kenna was born she was still healing from her last, difficult birth, but now after having seen this babe born, she knows she can and will do it again. I am surprised to hear her say that as I am still fresh in the memory of how hard birth can be. I am still describing it as hard but the passing minutes and hormones are allowing me the memory instead that it was a Good Birth. It WAS a good birth. A normal birth. It was mine. I love that I can look back on it and know that what happened was I birthed my daughter and Meg, Brett and Janet watched. The way it should be.
The second VBAC was easier for me. But it wasn’t without fear. I will always have this scar on my uterus. I will always have what I refer to as the “CNN Ticker” running along the bottom of my mind’s eye. I know the complication rates. I know what can go wrong, in every possible scenario. I have dear friends who are living the truth of those abstract numbers and statistics. I know. Yet I can still trust, can still do it despite all that. “Do it afraid” we say on the ICAN list. If you can’t get rid of all the fear, then just do it afraid.
I am tucked up in bed. Food and drink are brought to me, I have pillows and soft blankets, I have company when I want it and naps when I don’t. I fall in love with my Kenna Joy. She is a wonderful nurser and I can’t stop patting her sweet fat body and kissing her head. We still haven’t given her a bath, she came out pretty clean, no vernix just like the boys, and I love her wild other-worldly scent. There is nothing to disturb our blissful babymoon. No strangers, no beeping machines. No protocol. Meg comes to visit several times over the next few days, and I get used to the idea that I will have to leave Rochester soon and endure the 8 hour car ride to Cincinnati. It is April, Cesarean Awareness Month. What wonderful timing. I am so lucky, and so grateful. And I know, possibly moreso than those who have never had a surgical birth, how precious and important this normal birth was.
Our dear friend Janet who so generously opened up her home to us so we could have our home-away-from-homebirth.
If this birth story touched your heart, please consider joining ICAN.