Juniper Joy: A Birth Story (Part 3)
42 weeks. 8:30am.
Lindsey arrived first and I could see the tired on her face. She had been at another clients birth all night. A first time mama, who rocked her quick labor and birthed her baby just the way she had dreamed of. Just the way I had dreamed of. We settled onto the couch and I shared with Lindsey the beautiful early hour magic I had just experienced in the garden. I shared with her my heart and my vision and laid it all out on the table. Nancy came soon after and I shared my heart with her as well. All three together, midwives, friends, sisters, we reasoned.
I shared with them my desire to move forward with my plans to birth at home, even if that was without them present. That I truly trusted and believed that this baby would come when ready and that for whatever reason, the timing was just not now. That I believed in the safety of birth after 42 weeks and that I was not afraid to cross that line. I trusted and I was prepared to accept responsibility for my decision. In the same token, I knew that this choice put them in a very difficult position. I was asking them to either cross the boundaries of regulation as midwives, or to leave me without their support as friends and birthing unassisted.
I can still feel the energy in the room from that conversation. The peace and calm I felt was still deeply present for me, but the energy between each of us was palpable. Tense. Uneasy. As we discussed my choice to have an unassisted birth, my dear friends challenged me to think of the greater picture. I was a nearly graduated student midwife, so close to beginning my practice in the community. They are well established midwives in the area, with two different licenses and two different practices and with respect in the community. I was a watched pot. Beyond just our families, we had friends, colleagues, former and current clients and the whole internet world watching and waiting and anticipating the announcement of my birth. They challenged me to think of my future practice and the goal of entering into my practice with a good reputation. They questioned the what if's of labor never happening, for whatever reason, and/or me laboring alone and then transferring on my own as a hot mess with a less than optimal reception from the staff and obstetricians. Did I want to be alone like that? Did I want to run the risk of having a possible shit show experience tied to my future career, tied to theirs, tied to the midwifery community?
With all of those points in mind, I honored their thoughts and considered another potential option. To see if Dr. Stuart Fishbein was available to be my primary provider so that we could move forward with a postdates homebirth. We have worked with him several times with our clients and I trust him. It was the next best option. As the amazing friend and midwife that she is, Lindsey had already contacted Dr. Stu to see if he was available. He told her yes, that he would take me as a client if we hit this point. And here we were. The tension of the room eased, everyone breathed a little and a compromise was found. We would transfer my care to Dr. Stu.
Before we called him or made any final choices, we decided that it would be a good idea to check my cervix again and see where we were at after two more days of intense labor. Because if we were the same, or more, dilated there was a chance we could labor today, this final day, without hiring anyone else to come in. The option of castor oil and breaking my water were put on the table as options.
8 centimeters!!!! I was 8 friggin centimeters dilated. Walkin' around my backyard, singing, dancing, releasing into the flow of the universe, all without a single contraction in those hours....and I was 8cm. A solid 8cm. My mind was blown...what on earth is this laboring experience?! Haha. I was elated, seriously blown away, and so grateful. Grateful that those days and days of labor really did do something, grateful that my body was not a lemon (thanks Ina May), thankful that the idea of meeting my baby was more than just an idea. It was so close I could taste it. We were all so happy and the energy immediately shifted. Ok! Lets do this, lets have a baby. Ryan and I chatted for a bit about things and it felt like we were right where we were supposed to be. Maybe my body just needed that last little nudge and my baby would come? I was not about to do castor oil, and if we were so close to the other side, maybe we don't need to hire Dr. Stu after all, maybe we should release the bag of water.
I will say that I have gone over these choices many, many, times. Because the what if's are so numerous here, I cannot say whether or not we made the right choice. There is no way to ever know those things. I will say that we made these choices with good intention and hope, making the best choice we could, with the information we had at hand, within the guidelines we have been given. I deviated from my intuition of the garden, and maybe that's where I went wrong, there were so many factors and people I was carrying with me in this process. I went with what felt right in the moment after our hard conversations and chose to listen to the wisdom of my teachers and sister midwives. If I could watch my birth story like the movie Sliding Doors and then get to choose which way my birth went, maybe i'd change things. Just like in the movie, all choices led me to my sweet girl. Maybe, like in the movie, either way the story would be what it is, just in different forms. We will never know the answer to that, but this version of the story has grown and changed me and brought so much learning into my life. There is good always to be found in the hard.
My bag of water was strong and did not release easily. I could feel it snapping back like a thick rubber band, giving Lindsey a workout. Once it finally did, copious amounts of beautiful, warm, clear amniotic fluid came out. Within 15 minutes, labor came on fast and STRONG. My birth juju playlist was turned up and my heart was open. I flowed with the intensity of the waves as they came and my mind was no longer at the forefront, there was no more wondering and waiting. I was in my mama power and owning it. THIS! THIS was what I had been waiting for. This moment of intensity that could not be analyzed, only surrendered and leaned into. My partner by my side loving and encouraging me, offering me the most delicious snow cone ice (haha). My friends setting up my birth space and preparing my birth pool. My pup by my side, offering kisses whenever needed. Peace, release, surrender. I moaned with each wave as it came, blown away by their intensity, at times brought to tears because of their overwhelming strength. The energy in the house had shifted and it was so beautiful and so right. It was just what we had looked forward to. It was just as I had felt as I stood witness to, so many times over the years. Learning from hundreds of powerful birthing women deep in the throes of birth. That energy is so incredibly sacred and it was with us.
I got into the birth tub 30 minutes after my water was released, because that shit was INTENSE! I spent most of my pregnancy in the bath tub, or a pool, so it wasn't surprising that this was where I wanted to be. The water felt SO amazing and brought instant relief to match the intensity of the waves. I was surrounded with love and support and able to enter into the universe of labor. In between and during the waves, when I could catch my breath, I was connected to the music and singing along, feeling the energy. Lauryn Hill, Sza, Trevor Hall and so many other music friends, all there supporting me with the flow. The waves that were coming now were vibrating through my body, it was the most intense feeling I had ever experienced and at times it was downright overwhelming. The beauty of working through this kind of intensity is that when you feel like it just might break you, it starts to flow back to where it came from. It absolutely is like a wave, and I rode them with my breath, my moans, my tears, and my song as my guides.
Ryan was the most incredible partner I could have ever asked for, through every single day of prodromal labor and mental spiral, through each and every moment of the pregnancy, and again here during the most intense part of labor. He stood by me through it all and encouraged and supported my breath. At one point our wedding song (Van Morrison's Into the Mystic) came on while I was in the tub and it brought me to tears. Making a baby with someone is incredibly magical and sacred, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude that he was my partner through the journey. I could not be more proud of my choice in a husband and baby daddy.
At around 12:15pm, I started having the urge to push at the peak of the waves. I was surrounded by love, affirmations whispered to me, reminders of my power and ability to work through it. I spoke to my baby, sang to my baby, "please come baby, i'm ready, i'm so ready, please come!" Around 1pm, I got out of the tub to our bed and moved myself into the side lying position. Lindsey came and laid with me and held my hand through the waves, encouraging me through. I asked Lindsey to check me again, not sure why, and she told me I was 8-9. She suggested I get into the open knee chest position and they worked on shaking my hips to try and help baby's position. It was so surreal being the one with my butt in the air, hips being shaken back and forth. I had done this for so many others and now it was me. This trick almost always works, sometimes babies and hips just needs a little jiggle to make space, adjust their head position and make their way out.
I was lost to time, I just knew that I was working hard and was willing to do what it took to get my baby out. I sat on the toilet with the squatty potty, moaned through the waves and said positive affirmations to myself and my baby. Eventually I ended up going outside to get some fresh air, back to my favorite place. Back to my earth connection. I walked circles in the yard, moaning through the waves loudly. I was sure the whole block could hear me and I really didn't care at that point; I just wanted to do what it took to bring my baby to my arms. Ryan moved with me throughout the yard, I swayed my hips, sumo squatted with the waves and continued to have strong waves with the urge to push. Nancy came out with fresh strawberries, walnuts and coconut water for me to snack on. It had been a while since I had eaten and I needed the energy. She encouraged me, brought encouraging smiles and laughs and supported us as we carried on. Like the amazing midwives they are, they gave me arnica to help support my body with all of that involuntary pushing. Around 3:15pm (remember I have access to my chart, haha, I was NOT keeping track of the time...I was in the zone) I ended up on hands and knees on our mexican blanket in the garden. Both the midwives close by offering support, Ryan beside me rubbing my back. We each spoke to the baby and were so ready to meet that sweet face. At one point Lindsey said "lets just have a baby on this blanket!" I was totally up for it and was eagerly anticipating her arrival with each wave and strong involuntary push.
In this blissful moment, surrounded with love and in my favorite place, a change came. At the peak of one of my contractions, with the urge to push, what had been clear amniotic fluid the entire labor, turned into meconium. Shit. (no pun intended). I was grateful that it was not thick and chose to carry on and not let this become a worry for me, my baby sounded beautiful and was 42 weeks, poop happens. I continued to walk circles in the back yard and eventually moved into the house to get back in the birth tub. I checked myself to see if I could feel the baby's head, because I could feel movement when the urge to push came, but I did not feel baby's head when I checked. Steadfast and true, the midwives encouraged me and I let it go. In the tub, the waves started to space out and I started to fall asleep in between them. Honestly, it was a nice break and I appreciated the rest. At some point in that break, I was encouraged to get up to the shower to get the waves to come closer together again. More what if's come into my mind with this moment of the labor, but again, you can't change a thing with the what if's. But what IF we had just let my body rest for a minute. Would she have moved herself into the place she needed to be in that interim space? Was this a physiological shift that needed to happen in order for her to work her way out?
As I got in the shower, my energy was waning, my mind was beginning to come into the picture and I was evaluating myself and my labor. Why wasn't the baby coming? Why was this insane urge to push not bringing baby further down? The waves got even more intense and I was moaning through each one with the water streaming on my body. 6pm. Everyone was still so loving and encouraging, but I could feel the shift of energy in the house. I decided to check myself this time and see what was going on. I could feel cervix and told the girls, I wasn't sure if it was all the way around (its hard to navigate around a big ole' belly) or if it was an anterior lip only. I got out of the shower and wanted one of them to check for me. At first, only an anterior lip appeared to be present. So I was open to the idea of trying to move it out of the way so that we could move forward since it had been so many hours of the involuntary urge to push and intense labor.
NO, NOPE, NO NO NO!!! Thank god for a mind that can forget the distinct feeling of that pain, because all I know was that it was not resonating with my body and it needed to stop immediately. It was the most insane sensation that was not intuitive at all. I moved into a new position and agreed to try again, and this time, with better positioning, we discovered I was actually 9cm all the way around. Baby was still the same station from 9am that morning. With all of this commotion and intensity, thick meconium came out. Thankfully, our girl continued to sound perfect when we listened to her, but things started to feel heavy. I tried to recalibrate myself with all of this information and get out of my head, had some Centered Mama tincture and went through more waves.
And then came the dreaded talk that no woman wants to hear, especially not a student midwife, especially not me. Some key words I remember from that hazy conversation were "42 weeks. GBS positive (I hate that this was even a factor). Ruptured with thick meconium. Hours of active labor with no change. Involuntary urge to push for many hours with no change. Transfer." Fuck.
I went back outside with Ryan, he encouraged me and said he trusted me and would do whatever I felt I needed to do. I immediately called Ruth, one of my dear friends who also happens to be a midwife. I had been talking to her throughout all of my prodromal labor days and I needed to hear her voice, I needed her brain, I needed outside perspective. I know myself well, I need facts, I need full picture objective perspective, I need clear and thought out discussion of all of my risks and benefits so that I can make the best informed decision possible. This is me outside of labor, haha, so in labor its not surprising to me that I used the call a friend option. I'm learning now that all of these traits, while good and appropriate, are also signs of feeling out of control/grasping for control. Something I'm still learning and leaning into understanding. Because when we live there, we can't tap into the intuitive. And oh how I needed the intuitive in these moments to provide true peace, regardless of the circumstances.
I walked in the garden in the remaining light of dusk, and gave Ruth a quick update of the day. In between the information sharing, I was contracting strong and hard and had an insane urge to push. The waves were so immense at this point, it was full body takeover when that peak came. Ruth lovingly encouraged me on the phone as I worked through them. We talked about the risks and benefits of me staying home, the risks and benefits of me transferring, and what I would do or say if I was a client and not me.
We went back inside, Ruth on the phone, contractions still coming fierce and gave a nod to the new plan. I hated the new plan. I hated the turn that this was all taking and I began to spiral. What was once a totally manageable pain became unbearable. Unbearable because all hope had gone out the window for me. My thoughts were spinning and I was just trying to cope with the unsettling of my mind, the insane urge to push, and the preparation to go in. The OB we were transferring to was kind and gracious, requesting that we please do antibiotics before arriving to the hospital, for my GBS positive and ruptured status. I conceded, because what else was I going to do? Fight that? I had no fight left. I was fighting the urge to push and fighting the defeat that was closing in on me. Ryan moved swiftly to pack the bags and get the car ready for us to go. I stood in the bathroom, staring blankly into the mirror, breathing and talking myself through the waves. It was the only thing that worked anymore, I had to shut off and just coach myself, separate from my emotion. My intuition knew that this was going to end in a c-section. I think thats why I spiraled so hard. I had no hope that an epidural would work for me. In my mind, thoughts of "how can I be a homebirth midwife as a c-section mother" raced through my mind. "I can't be a midwife, I hate this, I hate everything."
The ride to the hospital was absolute, sheer, torture. Our car is the most bouncy SUV i've ever been in and the bounce with an urge to push and a defeated and struggling mind were not a good combination. Lindsey was in the back seat with me trying her best to encourage me and make me as comfortable as possible, but nothing made me comfortable. At one point, I looked into her eyes through a wave and growled "I AM SUFFERING!!" Knowing that those words would relay to her exactly where I was in that moment. My poor friend. I know that those words were a dagger to her soul. Here she was supporting one of her dearest people and seeing my dreams dissipate, trying to keep it together while we are breath to breath, telling her the depths of my despair. She held me and let it be. There was nothing that could be done, we just needed to get to the hospital and get me an epidural so that I could breathe and recalibrate.
As we walked into the hospital, we passed our OB who gave the ok to bypass triage, a room was waiting for us. I gave a little wave and continued to walk full speed ahead to the elevator, no time for chatting, lets just get there. I remember standing outside of the labor and delivery unit, waiting for them to open the door, contracting and involuntarily pushing so intensely. The only way I could get through it was if no one talked or tried to comfort me. I just needed someone to stare me straight in the eyes and breath with me so that I could make it through. The staff kept us waiting until a nurse saw us waiting and pushed the button again and tried to talk some sense into the staff on the other side of the door. When we got into the room, we were greeted by an incredibly kind and understanding nurse who gave me no shit and took care of her duties swiftly and respectfully. I had no mental space to do anything but breathe and, very loudly, involuntarily grunt. Thick meconium continued coming out with each push. Much of this portion of the labor is hazy to me, but I know that when the nurse checked me, I was still 9cm, with some swelling, and when a monitor was placed, the baby's heart rate was still good.
The anesthesiologist came in within 15 minutes (around 9:15pm) and gave me an epidural and a sense of relief started to kick in. Its amazing how few shits are given in this time and space. In that moment, I loved that anesthesiologist and I let him know it. I never imagined being in the hospital, I never imagined an epidural, but in the shift from dream birth to dreams crushed, I could not be more grateful for a moment to recalibrate and adjust. As we settled into the room, we got through all of the logistics that I bypassed on my way in. Its amazing how time just warps in labor world. At some point, my best friend Mandy came into the room and was a huge breath of fresh air to see. I had no idea she was coming, but Lindsey texted her and told her I would need support. I was so grateful to see her smile and have her lighthearted spirit in my presence. Since I was 15 years old, she has known how to back me off a ledge with some good ole fashion humor and positive thinking. Its interesting, because though I have never been hospitalized, I felt completely aware of myself, my baby, and the flow of the labor and delivery room. I chock that up to the many doula clients i've gotten to be with over the years. I didn't feel scared anymore, I wasn't in pain anymore (which sure does help). I was so beyond grateful to have Lindsey and Nancy there, speaking to the nurse, consulting with the OB, helping and integrating us into this new experience.
As we were chatting, we could hear that her heart rate was dipping. I was still 9cm, there was still thick meconium coming out, and now heart tones were changing. The nurse was kind and gracious and helped me switch onto my other side to see if that would work to bring them back up, but it only made them dip lower. We then tried a semi reclined position on my back to see if that would do the trick, and nope, didn't like that either. So back to my left side it was. The drop in heart rate continued to happen every few contractions and sometimes more frequently. My sister came in a little while later and I got a few minutes in to say hi to her, feel the comfort of her presence and then take her hair tie for my wild mane.
At some point, Lindsey came to me and had a hard and loving conversation with me. She encouraged me to think critically as a midwife for a moment. If I was hearing heart tones like that at home, how would I feel. What would we do? She encouraged me to go inward, connect with my intuition and with the baby, and draw a line for myself in the sand of vaginal birth and c-section. Her concern was that we would continue to push forward despite decelerations and risk an emergent c-section and/or a NICU baby. I really appreciated that perspective. I appreciated the reminder of my power to make choices for what I felt was best for me and my baby. I appreciated being reminded of my connection with the baby and my inner knowing. I appreciated being given perspective of how much worse it would be to go through all of this and then have a baby who was not ok on top of it all. I thanked her, and eventually we decided it was best for Ryan and I to have some time together alone. I asked for an hour of alone time and sleep, so that we could just be for a moment.
About 5 minutes into that time, her heart tones dropped very low (to the 50's) and stayed there. A flock of nurses came rushing into my room to take care of us. Clearly, consciously, and fully empowered, I told Ryan to call Lindsey and Nancy and I asked the nurses to call the OB, "I need a c-section." I moved into hands and knees, despite the epidural, and tried to explain to the new nurses what had been happening, because my nurse was on a shift break. "Oh honey, you don't need a c-section just yet, lets just change your position." My baby's heart rate continuing to drop a slow beat on the monitor, still in the 50's, thick meconium still coming out. They wanted to move me to the right side, since I had been on my left, and I tried to explain that we had done all of this before and if nothing is changing even in hands and knees, then my baby needed to come out. No one was calling the doctor. Thankfully Nancy & Lindsey called the OB on their way back up to the room and explained what was happening and my request. They got back into the room and it was chaos with multiple people trying to perform multiple duties. All the while, heart tones remained in the 50's. New IV placed, I think it got pulled out or something, I don't know? Someone shaved me. Its all a whirlwind. I do remember, however, a little uterus pin on one of the nurses pocket and I smiled and told her about my friend Brooke, another midwife, who also had that pin. I was surrounded by my people in spirit and in the physical.
As they wheeled me back into the operating room, I remember asking if a midwife could please come in the room with us and for delayed cord clamping. The staff was refusing to let any midwives back into the OR with me, but thankfully in the end Nancy pushed herself in there, with the OB's permission, despite the nurse protesting, and with Lindseys camera. At some point in the OR, I looked at the monitor and her heart rate had returned to normal and was staying strong and consistent. I laid there thinking "fuck, did I just make a huge mistake, the heart rate is ok now, can I say just kidding at this point and go back to our room?!" I was beginning to have feeling back in my legs and told the anesthesiologist. The anesthesiologist then gave me more medicine to increase my epidural and it was AWFUL. I felt like someone was sitting on my chest and throat, like I was being choked. I couldn't breathe very well and I was shaking, teeth chattering, unable to make it stop. Ryan was by my head and rubbing my hand. Which mind you was in the martyr/cross position. I hated being in that position, I hated the heaviness of my chest. It was the strangest, hazy, moment. Adele played on the radio...yes a radio station with commercials...and then Katy Perry. Retrospectively, I wish I had asked to play some more calming music. I mean I love me some Adele and Katy Perry, they always get me fierce and dancing, but I wonder if a softer reiki music would have helped the immense shakes stop and allowed me to ground myself? Music is a very big deal to me and my soul.
I continued to shake as they began the procedure. When it came time to see our baby come out, the anesthesiologist held the mirror for us and they moved the drape down. We had waited all of these months and days to meet this baby and to know who this little person was. At 2:20am, I looked over the drape and saw that we had a precious baby GIRL and couldn't believe it. Ryan laughed and I said "how is that possible, im shocked?!" We were both convinced it was a boy, especially during the labor. We only had one boy name picked out and hadn't even talked about girl names really, despite having those dreams of a baby girl coming! Mind you, we did not intend on having to decide on a name so quickly. We thought we would have plenty of homebirth resting time to decide what our baby's name should be. It was a joyful moment, even if I was still unable to stop shaking, even if it wasn't what we wanted. Our girl was here and we were so thankful. I'm so grateful that Nancy got some short clip video footage of these moments for us. When you're drugged up and running on insane amounts of hormone, everything gets very foggy. I have looked at my birth photos and videos hundreds of times, replaying it all over and over again in my mind.
Eventually, Ryan left my side to go and be with our baby girl as they placed her in the warmer. I didn't get any immediate skin to skin time with her. I wasn't even asked or given the option. I wish that it was offered. I wish that it was a given for a mama to have her baby immediately laid on her chest so that I didn't have to wish this. I laid on the table, shaking uncontrollably, elephant on my chest and feeling very alone, and started to spiral again. Thoughts racing, "I don't love my baby, oh my gosh what if I don't love my baby, I can't be a mom, I hate everything right now" and then Nancy came back over and looked me in the eyes and brought me back. She gave me mini updates of what they were doing with Junie, telling me that Ry was right there with her. It was a very dark and heavy moment for me, lying there alone...my baby on one side of the room with my husband, my body open on a table with people standing around it, engaging in small talk. I couldn't smile, I couldn't talk, all I could do was shake and try to calm and quiet the storm of my mind.
But then.... the most glorious thing happened! Ryan brought my GORGEOUS daughter over to me and I got to fully see her and meet her face to face for the first time, after all of that waiting. 8 minutes after she was born. All despair and fear and doubt dissipated immediately. THIS IS MY BABY GIRL!!! I wanted her right next to my face, cheek to cheek. I wanted to kiss her all over. I was so in love. Of COURSE I love my baby, I AM her mama. She was so calm and peaceful and she looked around the room with those beautiful big eyes of hers. She stuck her tongue out and showed off just how insanely long it is, just like her mama, and we all laughed. My shaking started to calm for a brief moment as I got to enjoy my family and examine and kiss my baby's face, listen to my husband and take in that moment. She had a full head of curly wet hair and was absolutely gorgeous. My husband was so precious with his daughter. I loved them both so much.
As they sewed me back up, the staff began to talk about their families and the anesthesiologists recent trip to Japan. Insert eye rolling emoji here. I get it, they have to pass the time. But this was the most monumental moment of our lives and they were shooting the shit. Looking back, if i'd had the frame of mind to do it, I think i'd ask the staff to not chat away while I lay like a martyr with my belly cut open. And again, peaceful music. Its key for me. At some point in the repair, they asked everyone to step out of the room and I was alone again I don't have any memory from this point to the recovery room, but I very hazily remember being in the recovery room and wanting my baby on me skin to skin. I was so grateful that Nancy and Lindsey were there to take care of me in that moment, because I was completely defenseless. I could barely feel my arms, I was laying flat on the bed because of the epidural and couldn't help my rooting baby latch onto my breast, or even hold my arms up to support her well. Each of them took turns helping get her on me as I lay there. It was not the first moments of skin to skin that I had long awaited or dreamed of. It is not how I envisioned we would begin our breastfeeding relationship. The rest is hazy. I remember having a very deep voice, feeling incredibly exhausted and out of body, and so deeply connected to Ryan. We had just been through the most insane thing of our lives and we pressed into each other in each moment. I was so grateful he was mine.
What I do remember clearly, as the drugs wore off, is finally settling into our postpartum room. The room was very low lit, nearly dark, Ryan was resting on the couch and I finally had a moment of peace. I finally had my baby in my arms. I was able to sit up and hold her and look at her and smell her. SHE WAS HERE! The most beautiful and precious and perfect creation of all time. My most favorite person ever. I breathed her in, examined her, kissed her, and Ryan and I shared our awe of this perfect baby. In that moment, at 5am in our room, I knew that I had done everything that I could to bring her here. And I knew that she was worth ALL OF IT. Worth every single minute I had to wait, every single minute I labored, every single urge to push and worth opening my body and soul for.
Juniper Joy Sourapas was here! She was ours, and I could not have been more in love.