So, now the nitty gritty stuff, the stuff that even now recedes from my memory in some ways and sits constantly in others. As such, I am interspersing what I remember with our doula’s birth report. That birth report might be the single best thing Sherri ever could have done for us, because there was no way that I could have saved all of those thoughts while going through it all ….

At my last prenatal check-up before giving birth, they checked my blood for Group B Strep (GBS). It’s a common virus that some people just carry in them, and usually does no real harm. But during birth it can be passed to the baby through fluids, and babies cannot handle it yet. It can be bad. So common practice is to check moms soon before birth. If positive, hospitals will often put you on an IV of antibiotics during labor to ensure that the baby doesn’t get it.

I was GBS positive. This shouldn’t make much of a difference in theory, but for me it was a type of devastation. I had spent months reading books and thinking about labor, working with our doula and reading all I could, about labor. Knowing myself a little, all I could picture about labor was movement — me walking, me kneeling on a balance ball, me stretching, me in a jacuzzi tub …. I had already compromised so much of my ideal birth by just being with Kaiser’s HMO and giving birth in a hospital, and now I would have to be attached to an IV? Yes, it was only for thirty minutes every four hours …. But I was anxious. I came home crying to Chad that night. It bummed me out.

At least Gorb was head down and in proper position. That was a huge relief.

But things moved forward.

So, twelve days before Gorb was due, Saturday morning, Chad and I had sex. 🙂 It was becoming more and more difficult to do so, so we joked about it being the last time before the birth. Some people had been saying that I had dropped, that Gorb was soon to be on its way, but people had been saying that for a month, and Jo’s kids had both been late (Jo had Harper by then), so I figured we had some time.

But that night I noticed some weird leaking, only now and then when I moved. I called Jo to ask what it was — could it be amniotic fluid? I consulted all my books and smelled the liquid — it didn’t smell like anything, and the books said amniotic fluid should smell sweet. Perhaps it was just a ripening cervix? Jo had no idea (poor sister, my constant go-to for all things pregnancy) and told me to call my doula. I did, and she had no idea, either. I decided to wait until the morning.

Still leaking that snowy Monday morning, I confronted Chad just a few minutes before he was going to leave the house, dressed in his suit. “I think we have to go to the hospital. I don’t know if it’s amniotic fluid or not, but we should find out.” Chad laughed, we grabbed the packed bags of clothes and other necessaries, half thinking that we would be back, half thinking that this was it. We called Sherri, our doula, and drove to the hospital

March 28, 2011

7:33 am – Amanda calls and relates that she and Chad are leaving for the hospital. She has been spotting with small gushes of fluid since yesterday and is worried that her amniotic sac has broken. She is also experiencing some crampiness, but not having any consistent contractions. Amanda assures me that they will phone when they know more.

Again, I had planned on staying at home as long as possible, until I couldn’t talk through contractions, and then going to the hospital. But if I had been leaking amniotic fluid for nearly 24 hours, that could be bad — another potential infection zone. More antibiotics. DAMN, I kept thinking. This is not how I wanted it. This is not what I had envisioned. And even though so many crunchy granola momma websites and books will tell you it’s not a big deal, the thought of endangering your baby makes you err on the side of caution.

It was all so anti-climactic. You know those movies and shows with people driving desperately to the hospital, getting there just in time, contractions all over the place? So not my experience.

But we got there, and The Baby Place — what they call it at St. Joe’s — had little to no room for us. They put me in a check-up room, not one of the swank birthing rooms we had been impressed with.  Of course, it was amniotic fluid. I still had a decent amount left. Apparently Gorb’s head was right down there, and though the sac had broken, only little amounts would leak through when I moved and Gorb’s head broke the seal.

9:35 am – Amanda calls and says that the fluid was indeed amniotic fluid and she will be admitted to Labor and Delivery soon. Currently she and Chad are in the triage for Labor and Delivery, waiting for a room to open up.

10:00 am – I arrive at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Amanda and Chad are still waiting in triage. Both are in good spirits. Amanda is waiting for her first intravenous antibiotic dose per her diagnosis for strep B. She is feeling some tightening occasionally in her abdomen, but still nothing that seems like labor. Since it has been nearly 24 hours since she believes her water first broke, she is worried that the doctors will insist on artificial induction.

Thus began our quest to jump-start labor. There are all sorts of ways to do so, according to all sources. One of them is to — ahem — have sex. Check.

We discuss our options and decide to try some natural induction techniques while waiting. Amanda sniffs oregano oil

Our room smelled like pizza.

while I massage her feet and press on acupressure points above the ankle that are known to encourage labor. Chad does the same on Amanda’s hands. Chad then cheerfully suggests we should also try nipple stimulation, which is a great for labor induction. Amanda does try this for a short while before the nurse arrives with her IV bag of penicillin. Shortly thereafter, the nurse informs us that our room in Labor and Delivery is ready. We collect our things together for the short trip upstairs.

On the way to our swank room, the hallway was so silent on the way in, though we were surrounded by birthing rooms in every direction. I remember feeling in awe that so many moms were having so many babies in our near vicinity, and that we wouldn’t leave until we, too, had a baby ….

Nipple stimulation was like a magical key or something – an awkward, nervous-laughing type of key, for both me and Chad. I can’t remember the exact feeling of that first contraction, but they slowly began coming, once in awhile. Thank God for nipple stimulation.

11:40 am – Amanda’s cervix has been checked. She is 2 cm dilated, 70% effaced, and the baby is station -1. After talking to the obstetrician on shift, Dr. Pam Campbell, Amanda and Chad decide to help the labor along by applying prostaglandin to the cervix. The prostaglandin will hopefully help Amanda’s cervix to ripen and kick start her labor. This seems to be the least invasive option and still allows Amanda to see her plan through for a natural childbirth. She needs to stay in bed for two hours after the administration of the prostaglandin and decides that she is going to try to rest during this time.

Prostoglandin seemed like the least invasive intervention we could manage. The other option was pitocin, which was like the big, scary baddy in all the books I had read. Pitocin mimics oxytocin, a natural hormone that stimulates labor and all things birthing, but it does so without regard for your other bodily functions. Contractions tend to be too strong, which often leads to an epidural, which can lead to a c-section …. It’s called the waterfall effect in doula and midwife circles, and I just didn’t want to go there. Compromises.

Napping didn’t really happen. I kind of dozed and dozed, feeling occasional contractions, and, to be honest, frustrated that few things were happening the way I wanted them to. I tried to stay upbeat around Chad and Sherri, but I distinctly remember crying while they were gone getting lunch.

1:30 pm – After lunching on sandwiches Chad brought for everyone, Amanda is back on the fetal monitor. Baby is doing great, maintaining a steady 135-145 heart beats per minute. Amanda is now experiencing something that feels more like labor contractions. These contractions are lasting about 25-30 seconds and are around 6 minutes apart. She can still talk easily through them, but it is a good sign labor is moving forward. Chad determines now is the time for him to trade his work attire for more casual wear. He retreats into the bathroom and eventually emerges as the new and improved “Birthing Chad” (aka B.C.). This is yet another natural sign that things are moving forward. We take a walk around the second floor and lobby.

Chad is amazing. Have I ever mentioned that? I should.

2:30 pm – Contractions are remaining a consistent 5-6 minutes apart, 30-45 seconds long, and increasing in intensity. Amanda is back on the monitor. Vitals for the baby are still excellent. Amanda is still in an upbeat mood, joking often with Chad, but talking through the contractions is beginning to become challenging. She requests some Johnny Cash.

3:15 pm – Antibiotics are administered again.

3:50 pm – We decide to go for a walk again, this time visiting all floors of the hospital. We take the stairs and meander down some odd hallways, mistakenly walking by doors marked with “Danger: Radioactive Free Particles.” Amanda and Chad are still maintaining their great senses of humor, despite the fact that Amanda’s contractions are increasing in intensity and pace. Amanda has only about two or three minutes between each contraction. She is managing them by leaning into Chad and breathing easy, relaxed breaths. They are a great team—much like George and Gracie Burns. Chad is very supportive and encouraging.

The three of us walked around the entire hospital, talking and looking at some of the beautiful photography that St. Jo’s has on its walls. It was fun, in a way, just as Sherri said. Along the way, contractions began to get stronger and more frequent. I had to stop when they came, and would just lean into Chad’s chest and sway through it, the way they taught us in birthing classes.  I can’t describe the feeling; I can’t quite remember the feeling. I do remember the intense focus it would take for me to survive it, though. It was as if I had to surf my own body’s reorganization in massive wave of demolition, or construction.

When we finally got back to the swank room, the doctor was waiting for us.

4:45 pm – Dr. Campbell checks Amanda’s cervix. She is now at 3 cm and 80% effacement. Although labor is progressing, she asks that Amanda and Chad consider Pitocin as an option in the near future.

No way. I was so dead-set against it. I had either a stupid faith in my body’s ability to do this, or just a serious case of stubbornness. Nothing was going wrong; Gorb looked great on the monitor and things felt RIGHT. We let the doctor leave and I said stubborn things behind her back.

Chad was supportive. He was like a smart little boy in some ways. The room had a white board with a pre-printed chart for effacement and dilation marked on it, so the doctors, nurses, and your loved ones could monitor your progression. Chad labeled the whole thing “Mount Gorb” and drew a stick figure Amanda with a huge belly climbing the line. It was great.

Amanda is back on the fetal monitor. Baby still looks great with a heart rate of 140-155 beats per minute. Amanda is gushing amniotic fluid off and on. We decide to try more nipple stimulation as we have been doing off and on over the course of the afternoon. This seems to kick labor into gear. The contractions have increased and strengthened. Amanda is still handling them very well. She seems to retreat into her herself and has a deep, inner focus. She also declares to Chad that she intuitively knows this baby is a girl.

I just knew it. And things were happening so much faster; it was like there was nothing else beyond what was happening in my body.

5:00 pm – Amanda’s regular obstetrician, Dr. Rossi is now on duty. She states that labor seems to be moving along and, with respect to the birth plan, believes that Amanda should just continue as she has been. 

All that worry about midwives and doulas and I manage to get my OB? Amazing. And she ended up being completely supportive of my own beliefs about my body. Rock on, Dr. Rossi. I was so grateful for that support, albeit passive support.

And now yoga came to me. Contractions were for real now. I had spent so much time in yoga in cat/cow, on all fours, swaying. I had felt completely stupid when the instructors first told me to move my body in whatever way was most comfortable, but as pregnancy progressed, I felt less stupid — and it felt good. That ended up being my go-to position for most of labor. Cat – cow – cat – cow – sway – sway – sway …..

Amanda is now managing the contractions by going to the hands and knees position and swaying her hips. This seems to be the most comfortable position for her and works well. Chad is still assisting with nipple stimulation in between contractions as we have noticed that the contractions slow down when it is stopped. He is constantly by Amanda’s side, massaging her back during contractions and providing loving (and humorous) support and encouragement. Contractions have intensified and increased. They are now lasting anywhere from 1-2 minutes and are still spaced only 2-3 minutes apart, not allowing Amanda much of a reprieve. However, Amanda is a force to be reckoned with and powers through them with amazing resolve and stamina. Amanda does shed a few tears after a particularly tough contraction, but still manages to smile and remain somewhat jovial. As the contractions increase in pain, she is becoming much more vocal, which is a good sign that labor is striding along.

6:30 pm – Amanda and Chad are in the jacuzzi. Contractions are still very productive. Amanda still prefers the hands and knees position with Chad massaging her back. Chad has wisely tapered his jokes to a minimum, but remains a constant support to Amanda, offering words of love and encouragement.

I had been so excited about the jacuzzi, but when you are most comfortable on all fours, a jacuzzi is not so helpful. Ah, well. Nice try.

7:00 pm – Amanda and Chad are out of the tub. Amanda’s contractions are continuing to last a good strong minute at two minutes intervals. Amazingly, she is still in good, although weary, spirits. She is effectively using her voice to help her cope with the pain, inhaling deeply and exhaling the tension with strong, audible moans. She has wonderful focus and unbelievable energy reserves. Amanda does try moving to the bed, where she continues to stay on all fours, but attempts to rest on her side in between contractions. She doesn’t have too much success with this. She decides to stay on all fours while being monitored as well. The nurse is a bit disgruntled by this as the belts keep slipping.

Disgruntled? The nurses were awful about this. St. Jo’s is forward thinking in some birthing ways, but would it kill them to get some wireless fetal monitors? This was what I had been most worried about, and the only really difficult (in an emotional way) part of my whole birth experience. I was in the groove! Things were coming along, and Gorb was coming, and I was focused, and Chad was with me, and Sherri was with me, and then the nurse would barge in and demand that I leave my groove so she could check my baby. And it would take TWENTY minutes to do so — meaning I was stuck on the bed twenty minutes, trying to survive at least five to ten contractions without moving. I was so mad. Chad was mad.

9:00 pm – Amanda is on the monitor again. Contractions seemed to have temporarily spaced out a bit – 5-6 minutes apart. Amanda is still on all fours on the bed.

9:20 pm – Cervix has been checked and Amanda is at 6 cm! Dr. Rossi is okay with continuing labor as is. Amanda and Chad practice nipple stimulation once more to get labor moving again. The baby’s vitals are a healthy 125-135 beats per minute.

9:40 pm – Amanda throws up a good amount of water and juice. At Amanda’s request, Chad and I remove the fetal monitors.

Damn nurses.
10:00 pm – Amanda is walking figure eights around the room, dropping to all fours when a contraction hits which is again about every two minutes. These contractions are very intense and Amanda has added some growls to her moans.

So, this is the most vivid memory of all labor, beyond the actual birth. I would close my eyes, being in this labor zone, and I could see this wolf mother. She was tearing up a mountain, over talus and over scree, howling, and she was looking for her little pup. As I would move through a contraction, the wolf would run up that mountain, and at the top the black little pup waited. As the contraction slowed down, down the mountain the mother would go.

The vision was so vivid. A lot of it was just probably because my vocalizations were becoming those growls, and then they were howls. For someone so inhibited in even yoga class, I was becoming very, very loud.

11:15 pm – Antibiotics and fetal monitor administered again. Amanda really wants to get off the bed and back on the floor. We call the nurse and Chad explains that they believe five minutes on the monitor is sufficient. Resident Dr. Hall arrives and discusses with Chad how they need twenty minutes on the monitor for proper reassurance that the baby is doing fine. As the baby is moving down, it becomes increasingly difficult to apply the monitor in the proper position to pick up the heartbeat. We decide to humor the doctors and Amanda endures the contractions on the bed.

I remember some swearing and being angry with those damned nurses and their stupid monitors. We asked them to take them off and the nurse said, “We can’t ensure the safety of your baby without this.” It’s like the worst of fear-mongering. “You take this risk, and if your baby dies, it’s not our fault.”

I know, I know. My husband’s a lawyer, after all. But damn.

11:55 pm – Amanda is up and walking, moving to her favored position on the floor for the contractions. She is beginning to feel lots of pressure in her bottom and the urge to push. We call the nurse and ask that Amanda be checked.

Around 12:15 am – Dr. Hall checks Amanda and reports that she is 8½ cm dilated and 95% effaced. She says there is a bit of a lip of posterior cervix remaining. The nurse suggests that Amanda try a different position during contractions, reasoning that the baby’s head will be allowed to push more on that lip of cervix and stretch it out of the way. Amanda moves to the bed and uses the squat bar to stand and crouch during contractions. This is a very intense period for Amanda as she is going through transition. She almost seems to be rowing through the contractions as she circles her hips, shaking the squat bar with each turn. She moans and yells with the rush of each contraction. She is incredibly strong in both body and spirit.

Maybe I seemed that way, but that HURT. It was awful. It was so freaking hard. I thought I might die, but I wanted Gorb OUT of me. So I did it.

Amanda is feeling the urge to push again. The nurse asks her to lie back to check her cervix and reports that she sees the baby’s head! The delivery team is immediately assembled, lights are turned on, Amanda’s knees are drawn back, and the pushing begins. Again, Amanda displays her formidable strength and stamina.

Yeah, this was actually the worst part. Nobody tells you about pushing and how utterly difficult it is. Well, maybe it’s different for every momma. But it was painful and hard and I was so worn out by then. I just kept looking at Chad and Sherri and Dr. Rossi and nameless nurses and SCREAMING. Some of the nurses commented on the screaming with smiles, I remember. I think I was a spirited screamer, to say the least.

The baby’s head begins to crown and we see long, dark hair.

My favorite part of our entire birth story: Chad and I have always had difficulty with our cats, particularly gluttonous Iza. Iza wants food when she wants it, which is often around three in the morning. She will just moan and cry outside our door for what seems like hours. One night I had a dream that my baby ended up being a cat. When Chad saw Gorb’s hair, for one split second he said to himself, “Oh crap — it’s a cat.”

After about 25 minutes of pushing, the baby’s head emerges with one hand alongside the face. At 1:21pm the entire baby is out and Chad announces to Amanda they have a baby girl!

Chad told me that she had her left hand on her cheek. I pushed her out with that hand on her cheek …. That feeling of her leaving my body was incomparable — complete relief and yet this emptiness, as well.

And then I had to push the placenta out. Whew. Another slide and losing a large part of my body. The placenta was cool. I had toyed with the idea of preserving it for pills or eating, but thought maybe I had gone over the crunchy line into crazy. I regret that now. If I have another baby, I am keeping that placenta. It’s such an amazing organ, so specialized, and part me and part baby ….
Chad cuts the cord and baby Eleanor is placed on Amanda’s chest. She is a beautiful, big baby with a voracious appetite. After a short introduction, she latches onto Amanda’s breast and has her first breakfast. Amanda and Chad are understandably besotted with their new daughter.

She was beautiful. So aware, just looking around even then. I don’t think she cried at all — just looked at us with theses dark blue eyes. Black hair, blue eyes, red skin, and that hand …. And her smell! It was the best smell in the entire world, coming right from the top of her head. It was like heaven — and vanilla? Ponderosa pine sap? Everything I like best in the world?

After a good half hour of breastfeeding, Eleanor is weighed and measured.

She has always been a good nurser. I’m lucky in that.

It was so amazing to hold that little body and to imagine that, just minutes beforehand, she had been inside me. Watching her as Chad held her, in this rush of adrenaline and relief from having delivered that huge thing, I was content. It was eerie and wonderful.

She tips the scales at 8 pounds, 1 ounce and measures 19” long with a head circumference of 13¾”. Chad gets some special time with Eleanor while Amanda cleans up and prepares to move to their recovery room. Although somewhat sore, Amanda experienced minimal tearing that needed no stitches and is mobile and still awash with adrenaline and oxytocin.

But it was really really hard to pee. The nurses were great help then. I felt bad about cursing them behind their backs. Blood everywhere. Wowsers. Birth is messy.
Despite the slow start to labor and having to resort to artificial (although minimal) induction, I count this birth as a complete, unaffected success. Much credit goes to Amanda’s determination and resolve and Chad’s unfailing support and devotion. I believe that this same strength, love, and humor will continue to carry their family through the many years ahead.

Sherri’s sweet. But birth is a big deal, too.