I don’t post on this blog anymore, but tomorrow is my sweet baby girl’s first birthday and the first anniversary of her birth. It was a magical and wonderful birth, though not Perfect like Leif’s. I have taken this year to reflect on it and on myself, and I think I’m a bit wiser because of her birth. Life is certainly a lot richer because of her birth, but mostly because of HER. So here it is… the long version. As I recall it, one year later.
Zwischen… Waiting in Readiness
My midwife called it “sensitive” and urged me not to dismiss it. Most people would call my mood at the end of my third pregnancy emotional or hormonal. This pregnancy was different, that I was sure of. Something seemed to be brimming, and with the advancement of my pregnancy, it was overflowing, surfacing as emotions I couldn’t understand or articulate.
Pregnancy was always a spiritual experience for me. It’s a time when I feel close to God and bursting with life and creativity and focus, and then also deeply contemplative, and then sometimes wracked with fear. Birth Without Fear. That’s what we’re supposed to do. Well I could never do it. I tried. So, I had to do the inverse. I had to face my fears head on so they could be conquered.
So now that we’ve established how I am emotional, sensitive, and how pregnancy & childbirth is a spiritual experience for me, you can understand how when on the morning of July 27 it started pouring down large raindrops onto our Southern California home, why I would see that as a kind of an omen. Things were happening in nature—both in the sky and in my body.
This came after a long night that had brought me very little sleep. The Braxton Hicks contractions were coming regularly and kept me up. They didn’t increase like real labor, and by that morning I was exhausted and incredibly emotional.
Before the downpour, I had been walking outside. That was all I knew to do after that horrible night. Andy was worried about me but I felt restless and needed to get moving. As soon as dawn broke I was out of the door, sobbing as I walked the boulevard under a cloudy sky, the scant car whizzing past now and then, leaving me unnoticed, but covering the sound of my cries. When I returned, I felt more at peace. A quick nap and a hearty breakfast brought me back down to earth. I knew now that a night birth like Leif’s was not what I wanted. I am tired these days, and need to labor on a full night’s sleep. So I changed my requests to God, and started asking for something crazy: to labor during the day, after a full night’s sleep, with my children present. He knows my needs, so I trusted that He would give me either rest or unexpected strength. Turned out He gave me both.
This is probably a good time to point out that my babies have always been born either on a weekend or first thing Monday. I really believe this is because my husband has always worked rather far away. I think there is something in my subconscious that has always been afraid to let him get too far away from me, with LA traffic in between.
We went to church Sunday, and when we got home I took a nice nap. My midwife Lisa Marie came over that afternoon for a prenatal visit. She always grounds me and gives me peace. Whenever I start to feel down on myself, she reassures me that there is always good reason for everything I’m experiencing.
This whole weekend I had been walking, walking, walking. It felt good and it felt like I was doing something. The Braxton-Hicks contractions would start and stop, coming with more frequency than they had before. But it still didn’t feel like labor.
Somehow I managed to get a good night’s sleep that night. What a miracle! But I was awoken rather early by the contractions. Again unsure if this was real or not, I once again started doing every trick in the book to either speed them up or stop them. I rested, walked, bathed, ate a hearty breakfast… nothing was changing them now. So I figured I ought to text my midwife and let her know.
She canceled her plans to go to a family gathering in Big Bear that day, and at breakfast I asked Andy if he wanted to go to work. He said he wouldn’t go until he was sure that this wasn’t it. That put my mind at ease and so outside I went for more walking.
I started timing the contractions on the website my midwife had referred me to. It turned out they were shorter and farther apart than I had been thinking they were. This was actually a relief to me. In the past I’ve been a fast birther, but I was in no hurry this time. Birthing waves were increasing though. When I was walking I had to slow down and breathe deeply through them. I loved the feeling of my tightening belly as the sensations rippled through me. And I say “rippling” with intention. My waters were still intact and the feelings definitely had a floating and spreading sensation to them.
In my previous two births, the first sign of labor was my water breaking. I was impressed that my waters were holding up this long—it had already been a few hours of this. I wouldn’t call it painful at this point but I did notice the slowness and increased pressure on my cervix.
Soon I went inside and the boys were preparing some sort of decorations out of construction paper and string, something to welcome the baby when he or she arrived. I loved this, but tried not to notice, so it would be a “surprise.” I prepared some postpartum supplies and bustled around the kitchen a bit. I checked on our birth supplies and made sure everything I needed was in the box. Then I thought it would be good to try to get a little of work done for my job.
First I headed into the den to play with the boys for a bit and I used the ottoman of our rocking chair to labor on. I loved draping my upper body on it while rocking it back and forth as my belly tightened firmly. Next I went into the living room with my computer and the birth ball. I bounced on it while trying to do a few last minute tweaks on the online course I would be teaching in less than a month. I was hoping to get as much done on that as I could before baby came. I was pleased that I had come pretty close.
I should interject for a moment here that having my children and other people around while in labor is not something I was used to or even an idea I was completely comfortable with. But I had asked God to let me be well-rested for labor and I guess that’s just all part of it. Our housemate David was around all morning and could hear me moaning and such but never gave it a second thought. He said he thought I was just doing a “pregnancy thing.” Ha! And I had to set firm boundaries with the boys not to touch me or talk to me “during the squeezing.” Even hearing them talk was much too distracting. Other than that, having the kids around was actually a wonderful experience. I was glad to be sharing the time with them, feeling their energy, letting them show kindness and love to me without me prompting them. It made me feel like I was doing a good deed for our family by bringing this person in, and in hindsight of course I now know that is true.
Andy was still being the captain of this ship, and he was busy giving the boys tasks to complete and starting to get things ready for the birth. Before long it will be time to move upstairs. But for now I was still sitting here on the birth ball with my computer pretending to be a professor, but not really doing much. Then suddenly I got slammed hard with several contractions in a row—BAM BAM BAM—much more fierce and powerful than they had been up to this point. I knew my work time was now over.
I know I didn’t tell Andy what was happening, but he must have somehow sensed it because he soon ushered me upstairs. It was weird going up those steps knowing I wouldn’t be coming down again for a few days, knowing that when I did come down, I’d be a different person. But none of that mattered now. I stumbled upstairs, pausing as I went, half-hunched over as I climbed the steep stairs.
My midwife Lisa Marie was on her way, and I could tell she was getting nervous that she wasn’t here yet. I never doubted her though! She was texting me for better directions and finally I just gave my phone to Andy. He guided her through while I continued to labor in the boys’ room. He handed the phone back to me and returned to the other bedroom to fill up the tub.
Lisa seemed concerned about labor progressing too fast. She feared she might not make it. I was looking forward to getting into the tub, but she told me to wait. She suggested I lay down on my side to see if the contractions would slow down. I told her I’d try after we hung up. I was actually quite comfortable where I was, but I told her I’d try so I did. I laid down in Peer’s bed on my side and waited for the next pressure wave to come.
Even though labor had gotten quite intense a long while ago, I still wasn’t thinking of this time as painful. I was getting drunk on the overwhelming response my relaxed body had to the pressure. I listened to HypnoBabies a bit and that helped. But when I lay down on my side there was something about the pressure from that angle that hurt like hell! I have been trying not to think of the sensations as pain, which is a HypnoBabies trick. But in my mind I cried out, “Damn you HypnoBabies, this HURTS!” So that idea was over after one contraction. I returned to my previous position on my knees, head down, butt in the air.
Waters still intact. This is crazy. Still haven’t had my cervix examined but that’s ok because the plan was to avoid those checks altogether anyway. Plus the midwife wasn’t here yet. And clearly I’m heading rapidly into transition. Andy was filling up the tub and the boys were bouncing back and forth between the two rooms. I guess if I were in my right mind I’d be wondering if my mom was coming to watch the boys, but the thought didn’t even cross my mind.
By now the contractions were very very strong. I was moaning and swaying with my butt in the air, head down, resting my forehead on my arms, unable to move other than the gentle swaying of my pelvis. I was lost in laborland. All I could hear was the voice of the HypnoBabies lady on the audio track in my ears, but by this time to be honest it was starting to irritate me. The statements of “birthing is easy,” “you are totally relaxed,” and things like that just did not reflect what I was now feeling. That may have been true for the first several hours, but not now. I was still breathing through the contractions and relaxing, but they were so strong that it took every ounce of my mental and physical energy to confront them. It was hard work, very hard. When Lisa arrived I finally just ditched the stupid tracks on my stupid stupid phone.
My doula Lindsay arrived first. I wasn’t planning on having a doula for this birth, but Lindsay was a student and Lisa introduced us. We hit it off right away and since she was offering her services for free, I couldn’t not accept such a kindred spirit at my birth.
Finally the tub was ready and I got in. I must have put on my bathing suit too, but I don’t remember it. By this time my whole birth team had arrived—Lisa Marie my midwife, Lindsay my doula, and Kate the assistant midwife, whom I had meant once and really liked. I was very happy to have these three lovely women supporting me. I labored in the tub for a while. I was really looking forward to pushing because I knew that would ease my pain, but alas I still didn’t feel the urge. When I finally did start to push I remember saying to Lisa, “I guess I’m pushing now.”
Andy was still handling the boys and I was starting to wish he was here. I asked someone to go get him. When he came to me he had to explain himself. “I didn’t want to worry you,” he said. “I can’t get a hold of your parents.” “Oh that’s funny,” I said calmly. I could tell he didn’t expect that response. “Mine are here and they’re playing with the boys.” “Ok good. Thank you.” By that time I cared so little about our plan for who was going to watch the boys and all those details.
Whenever I talk about the birth with Peer, he always points out how he gave me fruit salad, stole a grape from it, and how he rolled a wheeled lego creation all over me like a massage. I can’t remember exactly when in the labor that was, but I do remember being in the tub.
For the rest of the labor, Andy was by my side and never left. He put his hands on me, and Lisa Marie held my hands. Since baby was ROA (right occiput anterior), she had to spin ¾ of the way around as she descended into the birth canal. This meant that for a while she was in a posterior position and that felt like painful back labor. Lindsay helped this situation by giving me counter-pressure on my lower back during the contraction. Soon I couldn’t imagine a contraction without her, and panicked if one was starting and I didn’t know where she was.
So I didn’t want any vaginal exams because I perceived myself as being a “hands-off” type of birther, (and to avoid infection). From an outside perspective there was no reason to perform a vaginal exam or for my midwives to get more involved. But in hindsight if I had been more open to it, or if I could have better expressed what I was feeling, a vaginal exam might have helped me better. My midwife was already getting involved more than I anticipated, and I liked it. I felt supported. Every suggestion, every touch, every instruction that I could hear was received with openness and gratitude. However there were many things I simply couldn’t hear.
Contractions were very strong and they developed a strange pattern. At this stage in labor, contractions are more powerful than they are painful and pushing often relieves the pain. That’s why I was looking forward to pushing. But these pushing contractions were very different from what I expected. Each contraction would begin with intense pain. If I tried to push during that, it would hurt worse. Then the pushing began on its own. Then the contraction would end and I’d keep pushing. I don’t know if I did that willfully or not. Another weird thing was that I pushed very very hard from the first contraction on. Usually a mom starts with gentle pushes that become stronger with time. But I was full strength from push #1.
This time I also didn’t get that paralyzed feeling during contractions. With each push I moved around, pushed my hand against the wall of the tub, etc. This labor felt wild and crazy. I started to say things like “I have to get this baby out.” In fact, that’s ALL I said. Over and over again. I wish I could have just told my midwife what was happening. But it never occurred to me. I think she sensed something intuitively because she did make me get out of the tub at least once and labor on the toilet. That seemed to help. On the birth video I heard her saying things like, “take your time mama…” but I honestly don’t remember that. I think I never heard it. Not a word. For some reason I couldn’t take it in.
I responded to this stage of labor the way I respond to many difficult things in life—with pure strength. No creativity, no flexibility, no asking for help, no communication of my needs. The result: a natural birth…healthy baby… but a wounded mama with lots to learn, and whose journey is far from over.
And by the way, my water still hasn’t broken!
But all this pushing was definitely moving my baby down. Lisa had been encouraging me to reach down with my fingers and feel around. She said I could pop the bag of waters myself if I wanted to. I had been scared to do this (after all I was raised a good Baptist!) but finally I did. It didn’t take much “searching” to feel the bulging bag of waters, still completely intact and then—POP! Not anymore!
In a startled but thrilling moment of fear and excitement I announced, “I did it! I popped the bag, I popped the bag with my fingernail!”
Then immediately I felt a huge pressure on my rectum and everyone knew the time was near. With one more push I felt a slight burn and pushed the head out. My hand was still there and I felt the head emerge into my waiting hand beneath the water. Then, a pause. I breathed deeply, stroking the silky, hairy head of this little being that until now had been only kicks and movements and hopes and dreams. Things were getting real.
I couldn’t believe I was here. From wondering if we would even have another child, to the decision, to pregnancy, labor, and now this moment. I psyched myself up, like an athlete waiting to hear the whistle, like an actor waiting for the cue. I’m going to push my baby out right now. With the next contraction. I’m going to do this and then my labor will be over.
It came, and I gave the biggest push I my life. Every ounce of strength in my body and soul and mind, with the strength of my previous two births, with the strength of every moment of triumph in my life, everything that led me to believe in myself as a strong person—all of that went into this one moment when I cannon-balled my baby out of my body and into the tepid water.
Then release. And eagerness.
“My baby, my baby, where’s my baby?” I found the baby in the water and lifted my baby into the air for the first breath of life. On the video you could hear me saying, “It’s over!”
I was filled with joy, no exhaustion to be found. With my husband at my side, I was so thrilled that together he and I had worked to bring this person into the world. We did it again—three natural births and three healthy, beautiful babies.
And then—oh yeah—the gender! I had nearly forgotten to look.
IT’S A GIRL!!!!!
What another amazing surprise. We have a daughter. I had a feeling this whole pregnancy that it could be a girl. I didn’t want to indulge the feeling though, because what if that was just my desire and not intuition at all?
Mary Joy Wahlquist. Welcome earthside, baby girl.
Mary was born at 39 weeks and 1 day but she did not appear that way. Her placenta was very old and crumbly and she did not have any vernix left. All these are signs of a post-date baby, not one that is born a week before the due date. I think this testifies to the inaccuracy of due dates. It’s much better to think of a 5-week window in which to expect baby. Lisa determined that I must have conceived much earlier than I thought I did. Considering the fact that the number—40 weeks, 41 weeks, 42 weeks—really effects a mom psychologically (and socially), I am very glad I never knew I was farther along and that we never even told people how many weeks I was.
But that is not the end. Oh no, for every end is another new beginning and that beginning is a transition and an initiation.
Remember when I said that there was only a tiny bit of burn and that I cannon-balled my baby out of me? Well that burn was stretching, and since there was very little stretching and a whole lot of force, I tore very, very badly. So badly that my midwife was not sure at first if she was even able to handle such a bad tear.
There was talk of a post-partum transfer to the hospital. Please God, no no NO! Transfer would mean possible separation of baby and I (scary enough), exposure to all those sick-people-germs we were trying to avoid with a home birth, and then of course the cocky attitudes of hospital staff who receive a home birth transfer.
But I got really scared when I heard my midwife mention the possible risk of a tear that didn’t heal properly—a fistula. Now I was getting REALLY scared. She called the office of a homebirth-friendly OB that she knew. He wasn’t very willing to come. 5pm on a Monday is not the best time to travel from west LA to Downey. Lisa was trying all she could to make the best possible choice for me and my health.
When the bleeding stopped, she took some pictures and sent them to other midwives she knew. She talked on the phone quite extensively to a couple of them. Kate the other midwife very wisely brought up the fact that just because we transfer doesn’t mean that we will get a skilled physician or even an OB-GYN to stitch me up. We might just get a standard ER doctor who has never done this before.
Then Lisa made her decision. She would go forward with this job, and stitch me up herself. She had a plan. She could tell that the tear was close to my rectum but not all the way, meaning she was legally licensed to do this, and after getting some wise council from others, she believed she could do this. So Kate and Lisa sat at the foot of my bed for at least an hour, very carefully and cautiously talking over every single stitch. Finally it was done. I really appreciated the attention that Lisa gave to this problem. This is a great example of the superb maternal care that a mom can get from an out-of-hospital midwife. There is no way I could have gotten this kind of care in a hospital from an OB.
But the story is still not over. I bruised my bladder pretty bad during the birth and couldn’t pee for 2 days. I begged for a catheter and almost received a second one.
I felt like a prisoner. The fears that I had during my pregnancy came rushing back—here I was, trapped upstairs, severely wounded, barely able to walk even from my bed to the bathroom, in incredible pain, not able to care for my children, just like I feared. Luckily we did have some help, but feeling like I didn’t have any say in their care was still very frustrating for me.
Add on top of that the feeling that I had failed, that I had done a bad job with this birth. This was my last birth and I blew it. I didn’t relish it or enjoy it. Instead of savoring the sensations of my baby moving through my body and marveling at the power of it all, I simply “had to get the baby out.” I did a bad job with the birth, and I had the wounds to prove it.
By the third or fourth day things were really getting better. The tear still took a solid two and a half months to heal, but it was not a painful recovery. After a few days I also started to recover emotionally. I fell in love with my baby and I began to accept this birth experience for the strange and wonderful thing it was. My midwife prayed with me. I learned a lot from the experience, and I knew that throughout this year as I pondered her birth, that I would learn even more.
Then at 4 weeks postpartum, something strange happened. We went for a nature walk at El Dorado Nature Center. I overdid it a bit with this, and started bleeding and cramping again. I also had intense cervical pain that felt like dilation. Then I passed a large, meaty clot. It was so strange. I took pictures of it and sent them to Lisa. She told me to fish it out and freeze it. She would send it to the lab for biopsy to find out what it was. It turned out to be a “product of conception,” which kind of means it was part of the placenta. My placenta appeared whole when it came out, but I think this was tissue that is usually absorbed throughout the pregnancy but didn’t. Tammy my postpartum doula remarked how amazing it was that my body just passed it. What a smart uterus I have!
Oh but there’s more…
Breastfeeding was not really going well. My breasts were not bursting with milk like I thought they ought to be and my right one seemed to be withering away. Since I had had an undiagnosed thyroid problem throughout my pregnancy, I was afraid my hormones might be completely out of whack. I started using galactagogues (food and herbs that boost milk supply) and that did help. But I was worried. I imagined myself as the La Leche League leader who couldn’t nurse her own baby. And that this precious girl, whom I had longed for, might be the first of my babies to have formula. I really did not want that to happen. Mary’s weight gain was moderate and so were her diapers. I thought it could be better, but she wasn’t in the danger zone by any means.
I thought the problem was either my hormones, or it could be tongue-tie. The frenulum on her upper lip was awfully thick and when she nursed she couldn’t seem to flange her lip out the way she needed to. Like a dummy, I didn’t call the IBCLC friend I have because… I’m a dummy and I blamed myself. And I was in denial.
But then when she was two months old I led a La Leche League meeting and my co-leader who is an IBCLC was there. I eagerly had her look in Mary’s mouth and she confirmed the tongue- and upper lip-tie. I was relieved. I knew this would be a simple fix (though not cheap), and I prayed to God that things would improve.
I had to wait a while for the appointment and until then I continued to drink tons of water, eat lactation cookies, oatmeal, and take More Milk Plus supplements. We got by.
My dear friend Helen watched the boys for me when I took Mary clear out to Riverside for her appointment with the laser specialist. Dr. Jesse fixed the lip tie, but said her tongue was in normal ranges. I still question that part of the diagnosis. She cried during the 5-minute procedure, but after a walk around the building she fell fast asleep and stayed that way for the whole car ride home!
After that—thank God—everything did get a lot better! That whole week I felt overly full as my milk supply returned to normal levels. It felt great! Mary started putting on weight like a sumo wrestler and remains in the 90th percentile to this day! In hindsight, my mother’s instinct was right. I should have listened to it sooner. Another lesson that bears repeating.
I am so grateful to have this beautiful child in our family. She brings us so much joy every day, and we have such wonderful dreams and curiosities about the type of girl she will become. I am so grateful to have given birth to her at home, that I got to really live every moment of her entrance into the world. The good the bad and the ugly, we were there together for it all. I didn’t miss it. It’s just sometimes hard to see the forest through the trees. I was present, in all my imperfection.
And that much I can promise you always, Mary Joy.
…HERE’S TO MANY, MANY NEW BEGINNINGS