Estella's Birth Story
It was June 29th. I had 3 more days left at work and was due in 7 days. That morning I went to work feeling normal. At 10:00 I went with a client to pick up dim sum in Chinatown. On the way back I felt a little wetness, but was wearing a pad so I didn't worry about it. After eating the dim sum with my art group, I finally made it to the bathroom. Sure enough, it was the mucous plug. By this point I was also noticing some contractions that felt different than usual---there was pressure in my lower back. They were coming every 15-20 minutes. I called Yana right away but I waited before calling Nancy because I knew she had been up all night at another birth. I wanted her to be rested in case we needed her later that day. By noon I noticed that I was pretty wet again. When I called Nancy I told her that. She was unconcerned, but wanted me to check in again later that day or if anything changed. I ate lunch and went for a walk up and over Coit Tower. This was a special place for me throughout the pregnancy. It was my time to be alone with the baby. As usual, it was stunningly beautiful in the gardens. That day I felt a special tenderness in my heart anticipating that the next time I walked those steps the baby would be in my arms. The contractions kept coming, but still were 15 minutes apart.
Later at work, a coworker remarked that it looked like the baby had dropped. She asked if I had lost the mucous plug, and when I said yes---she ordered me to go home. I finished up with some loose ends at work and headed home---walking another mile and a half to MUNI. I called Yana to let her know I was heading home and that I'd see her later. I didn't want to overreact when the "real labor" was probably days away. I stopped at Golden Produce and got some fresh fruit. I was glad to be outside in the sun, and I felt really excited that I had finished work and was really preparing to meet the baby. In the 4 blocks from the produce store, the contractions were feeling stronger---I was finally sure that they were more than just Braxton Hicks and I was glad to be almost home.
Shortly after I got home, Yana showed up with bags of groceries. She was so excited and wanted to cook so we'd have meals for the postpartum period. I was really happy to see her and to share this time of preparation with her. It was almost 5 pm. I called Nancy again to check in. She said it sounded like the leaking could be that my water had broken. I was becoming convinced that this really was labor, but I was sure the birth was still a long way off.
Yana was cooking and I puttered around a bit. At about 6:30, my sister Nancy called to tell me that her baby had died in her uterus. It was so overwhelming to hear this news. I cried with her and told her I was in labor. She was able to express her happiness for me despite her tragedy and she left me with the words "you are woman, you are strong". This was her labor chant. It felt good to know her thoughts were with me.
The contractions began to take more of my attention, and I went to watch some Scrubs episodes to try to distract myself from it all. Yana watched with me a bit, but she was mostly cooking furiously in the kitchen. I tried to watch a funny Ben Stiller movie then, and I couldn't focus on it. I was getting up every 10-15 minutes with the contractions and leaning on hands and knees waving my butt around with each contraction. I called Nancy again and we decided that I'd try to sleep. She reminded me that the contractions might just stop. By this time I was writing down every time one came so that I could see when active labor began. Yana went to sleep at 10:30 or so, but I was still doing my hands and knees routine every 10 minutes. I accompanied this with low pitched "open, open, open" chants and I pictured my body opening up like a flower. It all felt really natural and not that painful. There was a feeling of pressure that I imagined like an ocean wave. It built and then subsided in a rhythmic way.
At about 1:15 Yana woke up (or maybe I woke her up). I was relieved to have her company. I was starting to worry that the contractions were still so far apart---none less than five minutes. I wanted to get some sleep and was worried that this was early labor and I'd be so tired when real labor started. Yana called Nancy for me and asked her to come over. I wanted her to at least check to see if I was opening at all.
In the meantime, the contractions were bothering me more. I asked Yana to get a hot water bottle and to press on my back. Neither of these things felt good, but I felt like I needed to try different things.
When Nancy arrived I was so relieved. I wanted her to check my cervix, but I was scared that I wouldn't be dilated at all. I was really anxious and was probably sounding pretty whiny. Nancy went to wash her hands and I all of a sudden felt a huge urge to push. I yelled to Nancy "I want to push!" She asked me to try to hold back, and she quickly checked me. Sure enough, I was completely dilated. Nancy scrambled to get everything ready. She called Chanti and Maria but let me know that it was OK for me to push and to have the baby even before they arrived. I was in my same elbows-and-knees position and was pushing with every contraction by then. I was so surprised and happy to be done with the opening of the cervix. Nancy told me "you birth like good peasant stock". I felt great. I thought the pushing would be a breeze---after all, this baby was probably less than 7 lbs. and I'm a big strong wide-hipped mama. How hard could it be??
Well, the pushing continued. When Chanti and Maria arrived I was pretty much in the heat of it. I started puking with every push. Yana put a towel down and I ended up resting my face in the pukey towel because I couldn't bear the thought of moving at all. Nancy was really supportive and made me feel like everything I was doing naturally was perfectly right. Finally, Maria suggested that I move to a new position to help me stop puking. I freaked out inside---it felt like there was no way I could handle doing this work other than the way I was already doing it. I surrendered though, and they helped me move to the birthing stool. Once I was pushing there---it felt much better---I felt really powerful and was sure the baby would come soon. Chanti took the heart rate every time I pushed and I was relieved to hear how strong it was. Yana was quietly next to me throughout. It was so nice to be there with her in our bedroom during this intense time. It felt good for me to know that Yana was witnessing this work I was doing. When the baby's head started to show, Yana moved down to get a look. She was so excited and happy---emotions I didn't have the energy for. It was nice that she could express that part of it for me. I began to question how long this was taking. It was 2 hours into the pushing. I thought about stories I'd heard that women push for hours and then get c-sections. Nancy assured me that I was making progress and that the baby was fine. She didn't think I'd need a c-section. I really trusted her.
Every push was so exhausting. I was lucky to have at least 5 minutes rest in between. I would start to feel a stirring, and bring myself into a pushing posture again, and I'd look up to see Nancy, Chanti, and Yana looking so peaceful and sleepy. Maria looked quietly alert throughout. The fact that everyone was so relaxed made me feel that I was doing fine. There was no panic or pressure to go faster. Good thing, b/c I could barely manage the pace I was at. I motivated myself by imagining that I was swimming the butterfly stroke and trying to make it to the end of the pool with each contraction. The visual image of this helped a lot.
At some point Nancy noticed that I looked engorged in the perineum. They wanted me to move again. I had the same overwhelmed feeling that I couldn't possibly do this any other way, but I followed along and moved to the bed, resting back on Yana. It was a nice safe feeling to be there, and the pushing continued. Chanti massaged my legs during the rests and Nancy applied warm cloths that really eased the pressure on my perineum. Nancy and Chanti cheered me on immediately with every push---saying "good---good job Sue" Maria watched silently and didn't tell me "good" until I had pushed much harder and longer than I felt possible. She asked me to give 10% more every time. Her hard line approach really worked. I wanted her to give me that "good".
The head was right there but kept slipping back. I felt so connected with the baby at this point, I was quietly asking her to "stay there Honey, don't slip back". I thought about how she must have felt and I tried my best to get her out. I could see a little tuft of dark hair as I leaned forward to push each time. Nancy was holding my perineum and I was sure I wouldn't tear. Finally I felt the "ring of fire". It hurt, but I know it meant I was close. Yana looked so happy and amazed. She had moved so she could see. Everyone was watching the baby's head when the cat Jingles showed up on the bed. He intently stared at my face. He was reacting to my primal yells I guess. With the next yell, he took off and Estella emerged. Her cry was so strong and loud. She was slimy and pink and I instantly knew she was healthy. I was crying really hard and Yana lay with me as the baby rested on my stomach. I was overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment and relief as well as a huge love and sense of wonder at meeting this amazing and vibrant creature who was still connected to me. I barely noticed delivering the placenta, and I didn't care at all that I had torn and needed stitches. After four hard hours of pushing, this wonderful baby had arrived and changed our lives forever. 7 pounds 10 ounces ---she was perfect.