Friday, January 24, 2014

Ella's birth photos, Part 2

All photos courtesy of Amanda at A.R.T. Photography.  Check out her beautiful website or visit the Facebook page.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ella's birth photos, Part 1

*All photos courtesy of Amanda at A.R.T. Photography.  Visit her website and her Facebook page for more examples of her gorgeous work.

Friday, January 10, 2014

after the birth story ends

Recently I've been thinking.   I have shared six birth stories with you over the years.  These stories are important to me, and powerful.   They remind me of the journey we've taken, the way my husband and  I have chosen to bring our children into the world.  They represent a certain rite of passage, and I have read them again and again.  They're not perfect by any means, but they are ours.

And yet, they're only part of the picture of what happens in our home on the day of a birth.  So for those who are curious, I've decided to share with you what happens after the birth story ends.  After the baby arrives, and we see who the Lord has sent to our family.  After we sing the special lullaby with our baby's name.  Without further ado, here's a look at what happens - next.

Nursing the wee one.  Usually this starts pretty soon after the baby is born, often while still in the birth tub.  The earlier the better, it seems to me.  Of course, I did have one baby who essentially yelled at us until I thought to offer him the breast.  I suppose such a thing colors one's perspective. Baby needs nourishment...

Daddy cuts the cord.   We prefer to wait until after the cord stops pulsing for that cut.  Then my husband takes the scissors and does the deed.  He's done it for each and every birth, it's sort of a tradition.

Birthing the placenta.   This is always a slightly annoying process for me, but it's never been too dramatic. The baby is handed off to Daddy, and I get to work with my midwife.  I often have to shift positions and try for a while to get the thing out.  Ella's birth was different, though - I think that placenta was born in record time! (A thousand yays!) I was even prepared this time around with clary sage essential oil, but there was no need for it.  The kids have enjoyed getting to see the placenta which nourished the baby for so many months.  Our second son still talks about how he got to touch it after Gabriel was born.  I don't know much about who studied or touched it this time, and we don't do anything special with it.   I take no issue with those who do, we just haven't bothered.
(Edit: Michele my doula tells me that she did indeed apply clary sage before the placenta was born.  Apparently I was too over-the-moon happy to notice!)

The Egyptian princess routine.  This is my nickname for the process which takes place when I get out of the tub.  Two women help me to stand up, while a third stands ready with a big towel.  They take off my wet clothes, dry me off, make sure I don't feel wobbly (I never do!) and fetch me something to wear.  I always feel like an Egyptian princess climbing out of the Nile, or maybe even a milk bath: pampered and well-attended.  After I'm enveloped in a big fluffy robe, my chux pad and I make our way to the bed, which is a mere few feet away.

The mama exam.  Slightly awkward but necessary.  'Nough said.

The baby exam.  This is much more fun, at least from my perspective.  While I recline on my pillow, dry and happy, I watch my baby get weighed, measured, and checked for a half a million things, from how soft (bendy) his or her ears are to those prized Apgar scores.  They check baby's reflexes and take measurements.  The little one doesn't always enjoy this process, but the ladies have enough experience and tenderness that the process is still fun to watch.  Then the baby is diapered and dressed (my midwife loves to do this personally) and given back to Mama, if I'm lucky.  If not, s/he makes the rounds to be photographed by and with Grandma, Grandpa, Daddy, and the siblings.

I am fed.  Labor makes this mama hungry!  Usually it's scrambled eggs and toast, though all through this last labor I was envisioning a lovely grilled cheese sandwich made with this gluten-free flatbread. I got my heart's desire, and it was absolutely delicious...but I was still hungry, so my doula brought me some warm potato soup.  Lovely and filling!

The kids get acquainted. There is oohing and aahing, holding and kissing.  It's a sweet, sweet time.  And then the kids go to bed.

Everyone goes home. I am given a set of instructions: things to look out for, when to call with concerns, etc.  Then, assuming I have already used the toilet (an important part of the recovery process!), everyone goes home.  Well...everyone except for my wonderful in-laws, who stay the night to wrangle the older kids and help feed us the next day.  They're fantastic, really - but I don't want to make you jealous, so I won't go into all they do for us during that time.  Let's just say, we are very blessed!

That's it.  We snuggle into bed and go to sleep, thankful and exhausted.

And if we're very, very lucky, the baby sleeps too.

*All photos are courtesy of Amanda at A.R.T. Photography.  Please visit her website for more gorgeous examples of her work. HERE is a link to her Facebook page.  More birth photos to come!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Ella's Birth Story

Waiting to go into labor for the sixth time, I tried to be patient...and I think overall I succeeded.  Over the years I have learned that my babies come later than they do for many women, and I've made an uneasy peace with that.  And yet as that 40 weeks mark drew near, I couldn't help but wonder if this might be the birth that would surprise us all - might this baby be a little more eager to leave my womb?

The answer to that question was "no."  And although I started having more and more regular contractions around 37 weeks, the time went on and still my baby remained comfortably tucked away.  I sighed and wished things were different, but I reminded myself regularly that our babies have always come when they were ready, and the healthy, smooth labors and births have always been worth the wait...and of course, the healthy baby.

On Friday night, when I was 41 weeks and 3 days, my husband and I turned in early.  We'd been trying to do that as often as possible, since we well remembered how difficult it could be to be labor while exhausted.  Our last two babies had been evening births after an afternoon of labor, but who could say how this one would go?

Two hours later I awoke to the sensation of a warm spurt of wetness between my legs.  I slipped out of bed and got the testing strips my midwife had given me.  Was this amniotic fluid?  The amount and the fact that my testing strip turned blue led me to believe that it was.  A few minutes later I climbed back into bed to wait.  Would contractions start soon?  They did, and with a tinge of intensity which had been missing from the previous few weeks' warm-up.  Still, they weren't too painful yet, so I tried to rest.  My husband Jeff sensed that something was afoot, and although I encouraged him to go back to sleep, he wanted to know what was going on.  Before very long we decided to call my midwife Katherine, to let her know what was going on.  After all, this was our sixth birth - and her instructions said to call her immediately if the waters broke.  We decided that I would call her back when things were more exciting.  I also called my friend Michele, who was planning to join us for the labor in the role of a doula.  She had a 2-3 hour drive to get to our house, so I wanted to give her plenty of time. Around 1:30 AM we called Jeff's parents, who would come for the birth and to watch over our children.  During all this time I continued to have contractions at 9-10 minutes apart (some a bit closer), the low, crampy variety.  I also began to experience loose bowels -- a signal that birth is in the not-too-distant future -- which was to continue through early afternoon.

Michele arrived around 3:00 AM, and my in-laws not too long after that.  And then one of my great labor-fears came true: things petered out.  My contractions grew irregular and less noteworthy, and by 6:00 AM things seemed to have pretty much stopped.  We tried a variety of different techniques to get things rolling again - massage, essential oils, lunges.  And Jeff and I rested a bit here and there.  I talked to my midwife again around 6:00 AM, and then I slipped into the bathroom to shower.  I felt so discouraged at that moment.  What was going on?  Why had my labor stalled?  Had we called everyone here for nothing?  I was horrified.  What had I done?

Katherine came over mid-morning to talk things over.  She felt confident that I was going to have the baby that day, but I wasn't so sure.  I needed to be in labor for that to happen, and at that moment I had nothing going on.  Katherine did a cervical check (I was at 3 cm) and at my request swept my membranes.  We discussed various other ways to get things going: using a breast pump, castor oil.  She ended up going by her office to pick up these things for me to have as resources, and then she left for a while, still feeling positive.  I ate lunch, did a couple of rounds with the Pump In Style, and took a few short naps.  I was having contractions again, but they felt tentative, as if any little change might startle them away.  I felt pretty low; if it was happening any time soon, it was going so slowly.  We were already operating on very little sleep and the day was passing by.  I felt desperate to do something.  

I must stop here and say that I had no pressure from those around me.  My in-laws were cheerfully taking care of the kids (and doing household chores!).  My husband, though weary, was being sweet and supportive.  My doula seemed tirelessly patient in her care for me.  My midwife was cheerful and upbeat.  

But I needed to do something.  And so I did something I have never been tempted to do, something I never imagined myself doing.

I took castor oil.

I don't know if this qualifies as impatient or brave.  Regardless, I felt sure that's what I wanted to do, and even now I don't regret it.  It wasn't horrible, and much to my surprise I had absolutely no digestive side effects.  My dose was small (1 Tablespoon), as per Katherine's instructions.  Almost immediately I began having more regular contractions.  This was encouraging...but two hours later I made the decision (sanctioned by my midwife!) to take another tablespoon.  And this was when things really perked up.  Strong contractions, although not very lengthy, were coming closer and closer together.

I was overjoyed!  I clung to my husband during the surges, wrapping my arms around his neck and leaning into his masculine body.  I dropped to my knees and leaned on my birth ball.  I vocalized over and over with low tones of "ohh" and "ahh."  My children began to wander upstairs to quietly check in with me, and my 3-year-old daughter was adoringly attentive to my needs.  I called my birth photographer Amanda, and gave her a head's up...then not too long after that, I called again and asked her to come on over.  Things were happening!  My midwife was on her way again to my house, my body was back on track.  This was it.  This was it!

And it really was.  By the time my midwife arrived, the tub was filled and I was so incredibly ready to get in.  The candles were lit, Michele had something wonderful in the essential oils diffuser, and the birth affirmations I'd placed around the bathroom were ready to encourage me.  I got into the tub around 7:45 PM, immediately sinking into the warm relief of the water.  I breathed deeply, and as the power of the contractions grew stronger, I listened to the voices around encouraging me.  "Deep breaths, that's it..."  "You're doing great, you can do this." "Just imagine yourself floating over the contractions..."   Hands stroked my forehead. My husband massaged my legs.  And I floated, now firmly in labor land, the land of increasing intensity, of more and more powerful contractions and the strength women draw from within for the task at hand.  I was taking each contraction as it came, telling myself that each surge brought me closer to meeting my baby - my baby!  Because that's what this was all about: this day, this journey, this series of pains.  It was about my baby.  Bringing my baby earthside.  Closer, closer...

My sweet little doula-daughter was back at my side, fresh from a bath of her own.  She continued with her gentle ministrations; her ever-present smile inspired me to press on. 

And then it was time to push.  Pushing, that most hated part of labor.  The most intense, the most painful, the most uncontrollable.  But I was ready.

Even so, I took it slow, waiting for the undeniable cues from my body, pushing during the contraction and waiting to let the tissues stretch.    And then I heard my husband say that he could see the head, and I reached down and ...amazing.  What motivation to feel that little head, to know how close my precious one was, so close!  

A few loud pushes later, I felt her leave my body.  Her daddy caught her in the water, and I soon held her to my baby.  Here.  Together we discovered that God had sent our family a little girl, and we shared her name with those around us.  Ella Sharon.  A beautiful, perfect, healthy baby girl.  

The other children drifted into the room, and we sang our daughter her lullaby. I wept as I reveled in our happiness; we are so happy and blessed by this indescribable gift!

Ella Sharon
8 lb, 2 oz
20.5 inches
December 28, 2013
8:50 PM