Juniper Joy: A Birth Story (Part 2)
May 8th, 2018- 41 weeks and 5 days. Another night of labor, then sleep. Followed by another morning waking up without a baby in my arms. The disappointment was becoming so tangible. My husband by my side, doing his very best to keep me present and peaceful and trusting. Yet, he was also dealing with the back and forth of labor coming and leaving for so many days and the confusion of what his days should look like. Does he go to work? Does he stay home? It was a very seriously stressful part of the equation, because at this point my emotions were really starting to build. Now when I say I was having contractions, allow me to express that I was really having them. When they were present, they were every 3-8 minutes, lasting a minute or more. How many days was this going to keep going?! Prodromal labor is a bitch. They weren't so intense that I couldn't handle them or needed hands on support, with the exception of the alleviating hip rubs. But every morning I was having to wake up and start a day with no baby in my arms, and everyday it was taking a little more out of me. Linds recommended I come down to the office and get checked and pick up some herbs. At this point, she was getting a little concerned about the state of my emotions and dealing with labor on and off like this and thought maybe a little encouragement of homeopathy and/or herbs would do the trick.
Ry took the morning off of work and came with me to the office, at this point I just needed him to be with me and to not be worried about whether or not he went into work. Thankfully, he works with his parents, so we had lots of love and support to do what we needed to do. The other side of that was that we did not intend to share with anyone that we were in labor, and the plan was that if we did share, it would be with the mama's, only to either let them know baby was close to coming or here. So here we are, 41 and 5, a freaking watched pot, and notifying the family about the off and on labor that was happening daily. I felt so incredibly pressured to have my baby. I felt so incredibly overwhelmed with the unknown. I needed to get out of the house and out of my head. So, off to the office we went! I didn't want to see any of our clients, I just wanted to be in hiding, so we did an early morning visit before the client day began. Lindsey checked me and I was 4-5cm and 80% effaced. Sigh of relief! The labor that kept coming and going was working some kind of something and I wasn't closed or a fingertip (how's that midwife brain for you-haha). Hallelujah! Can we please just have a baby now?! Off we went, with our herbs, homeopathy and mild contractions and decided that we needed to just have a break from the outside world, a break from all the questions, from all the pressure.
Ry took the rest of the day off work, we shut down the phones and hand in hand drove to the Fullerton Arboretum for a special day date. It was just what my heart needed! Flowers and gardens and beauty everywhere! It was the perfect spring day and the flowers were greeting us with a smile. My heart filled to overflowing. If you know me, then you know that I love gardens and flowers and trees and plants. I was so thrilled to be having a spring baby, because its my favorite season. Every walk I go on, I am usually looking for beauty, pointing out the mysteries of the earth. My mom and my Gram are the same way, and I hope to pass this gift of earth pleasure to my gorgeous girl. This was just what my heart needed to see, a restart in nature, grounded again by the earth and its beauty. We held hands, took in the gardens, talked about our baby and our future and felt so full of love, the oxytocin was flowing. I felt grounded and peaceful and all that love really brought my contractions on stronger and closer together.
We went on to have lunch, and as we ate they got strong enough that I was having to breathe through them again and decided it was a good idea to head home. At home, we turned on a movie, I sat on the birth ball, and I kept on with my homeopathy. As time went on, the waves waned and were no longer consistent or strong, which was a bummer, but not defeating. We decided to go to bed early that night, believing that labor would come in the wee hours and this would be it!
Remember my dream 6-8 hour labor and birth? Nowhere in that story did I imagine a cervical exam. Because my plan was to just have a baby. My dream included things happening smoothly and without any outward involvement. I even daydreamed about calling my midwives, who I love and adore, as close to the birth (or after) as possible. And yet, some times the best laid plans take a turn and teach us something new. In our practice, we rarely do cervical exams on a laboring woman. Why? Because why do our hands or fingers need to be involved unnecessarily? Because there are other ways to assess the progress of a laboring woman. Because when we sit on our hands, we get to see just how amazing women are and allow the body to do its work, just as it would if we were not there. Of course there may be exceptions to this and there are times that these skills are valuable, but with our clients it's the exception, not the rule. Another exception to this rule is if the client asks us for a cervical exam, because the need to know can feel big. As I said earlier, the unknown and control were some things I was really struggling with throughout my pregnancy. I never thought I had issues with control, until I became pregnant. Haha. I am continuing to learn that control is this elusive power that we actually do not own, at any point in our lives. And that lesson was repeated to me over and over and over again throughout my pregnancy, labor, birth, postpartum and now in my journey through motherhood. All that I can control is my reaction to things and how I will grow in it and through it. All that I can control is the way that I use these lessons to dive deeper into inner knowing, deeper into listening to spirit, and deeper into release.
So here comes the part that has made me analyze my birth story countless times over and again over the past year. Midwives in the state of California are regulated to transfer care of clients if they exceed the 42 week mark. That line puts pressure on all parties involved to get things moving along so that liability and licenses can remain intact. In some states, like Washington, you can make the choice to continue with midwives until 43 weeks with OB collaboration. For us, that arbitrary line of gestation was approaching and it was challenging the plan of my birth team being present at my birth and holding space for me. I understand that regulations are in place so that there is a standard for practitioners and clients, for the goal of safety for mothers and babies. But this rule of timing removes the autonomy of choice for birthing women. It takes away choice for practitioners. It puts the power in the hands of the regulations and regulators, rather than the hands of the woman who's body belongs to her, whose child is hers. It creates a rift in the relationship of the informed client and their midwife. The very system that I have worked within, believed in, trusted, and am getting licensed in, placed limitations on my autonomy as a birthing person and trepidation on my team. This is is something that, even a year later, I continue to process, grieve, and even feel angry about. (A great resource for "post term" pregnancies can be found here: Evidence Based Birth).
May 9th, 2018- 41 and 6. I woke up at 2am with strong and consistent contractions. The waves were coming over me about every 2-8 minutes and they were really intense. I was breathing through them, listening to my reiki music and trying to let Ryan rest. I knew that I wanted him to sleep as much as possible, and I felt so overwhelmed with gratitude and joy that they were here. This was it! We were going to meet our sweet baby. I spent the hours connecting and talking to baby, encouraging her to do the work she needed to do to come, expressing my love and joy for her existence, expressing my overwhelm at the joy of seeing that sweet face. I could not wait! And it was happening just as I had hoped! Hardcore wee hour laboring, I would call my friends in the morning and we would have this baby! At 5am, Ryan woke up and I was still going strong. Because he had already missed work the day before, he didn't know if he should go in until I needed him, or if he should stay. Again, his parents were so loving and supportive and told us to do what we needed to do. At 530am Linds and I texted (this is a common thing for us, haha, we are used to wee hour chats). This was it! We were so excited!! We got the living room space cleared for our eventual birth tub set up and I decided that I would put away the last of the baby clothes while I labored it out. Distraction while I work through the intense waves. Lindsey and Dylyn (her daughter) came by that morning before she took Dylyn to school. They sat with me as I contracted between folding clothes. We were so excited. Baby by 1030am? Sure, why not?! Ry and I listened to music, walked through the garden, and eventually turned on National Geographic videos, haha. It was a beautiful morning and I felt so connected to the earth, so connected to my baby and so connected to my body.
The morning turned into afternoon and I started to get tired. The waves were starting to get more spaced out, about 10-12 mins apart at this point. Mid afternoon, I decided to take a nap, between waves, so that I could keep my stamina up. At 4pm, I woke up and was so completely disappointed. I had only had 2 or 3 strong waves during my nap. They had spread out to 20-30 minutes apart. I was so upset. I took to my journal and vented it out. "Why won't my baby come?! Why won't this stay in action?! I am feeling like the most watched pot ever and I need it to be over!" It had been a beautiful day of laboring, and there was so much anticipation, but now I just wanted my baby. I wanted to be at the finish line of this mega intense and unrelenting journey. I wrote "i'm ready to throw in the towel, whatever that even means or looks like. haha." My mind was getting the better of me again. I had worked so hard to trust and release. My mantra all day was "I trust my body, I trust my baby." And for whatever reason, things were not shifting to bringing my baby into my arms.
Ryan saw my despair and asked me what I needed. What did I need besides a baby?! FOOD! Haha. But I did not want to eat at home, we had been home laboring all day. I needed fresh air at this point. So out we went, In N Out was the dinner of choice. I knew that it might have been a regrettable choice if I puked it out later, but I was willing to risk it. I needed easy. While we were out, I called a former client and friend and asked if she could do acupuncture on me. When she walked in the door I was weepy and anxious and tried to tell her the saga that was our labor. She sat with me and listened, offering empathy and kindness, and then she worked on me with a gentle and peaceful touch, just as she had in my previous visit with her the week before. As she placed the needles, I worked on surrender... AGAIN! She parted with a very sweet birth affirmation and offered her support and encouragement. Another day had passed, another night to go to bed, more (spaced out) contractions, I couldn't believe it.
May 10th, 2018
I awoke in the early hours of the morning, many contractions during sleeping hours, to no baby in my arms and not a single wave happening. Despite the change in circumstances, my heart felt different. I was feeling well rested and present. I put on my cozy robe, snuck out of bed, and went to my happy place...in the garden. I examined our plants, felt the frosty cold dew on the grass-which felt like bliss on the intense swollen clubs that replaced what were once my feet. I looked up to the moon in the early dawn light, still between worlds as the sun rose, and played my (amazing) birth playlist. Around the grass I walked, singing, flowing, dancing with the rhythm of the music, connecting with the earth, meditating, releasing. "I trust my body, I trust my baby."
(my favorite birth/mother artwork by Catie Atkinson of @spiritysol)
Here we were. We had reached that dreaded line. We reached the place that I had feared arriving at. We reached the line between regulation and trust in physiologic birth. I'm telling you, in my 9 years of birth work I have only ever seen two other people reach this place. Even in our hands off style of practice, where we do not coerce or push induction, we rarely see mama's reach this point. Baby's usually come before this point. But for whatever reason, this baby had not come and my body showed no signs of it coming in this early morning hour. Ironically, I was completely and totally at peace. I had reached my fear. I was staring my fear in the face. And the beautiful thing is, instead of being a complete wreck, I leaned in, I went inward and listened, and I felt a deep sense of trust and acceptance. I circled that yard for so many songs, so much meditation and singing. I did not leave the garden until I knew in my heart what I needed to do. I made peace with my new plan, woke Ryan up to tell him about it and I waited for Lindsey and Nancy to come over. I was so incredibly grounded and serene, it felt otherworldly.