I have a new niece! I spoke with my sister in the morning of her birth, and, knowing it would be later in the day, I threaded my prayers into every step I took. I found myself thinking about Olive’s birth so much, reflecting on that life-changing event that seems so long ago but is really only 7 months past. I wrote her birth story about a week after she was born, and have been meaning to share it here. I love birth stories — whenever anyone has a baby, I want to know all the details as soon as possible. Birth is always such an incredible transformation for everyone involved, and Olive’s story was no exception. However, out-of-hospital, natural birth is pretty rare these days, so I want to share her story in case folks are curious about that.
This is the story of the birth of Olive Rose, which was a harrowing experience of love, determination, and God’s great grace and mercy. The day before contractions started, Tuesday Sept 14th, I went to acupuncture at Sage Femme Birthing Center, and then to an ODC Fusion Rhythms dance class at the Women’s Building. While dancing I felt immense power in my body, and was very certain that this was my last class! I felt the baby was coming soon.
The next morning, Wednesday Sept 15th, I woke at 7:30am with a painful contraction and thought that my water broke (if you wonder how there could be confusion about this — let’s just say nothing in birth is like it is in the movies). Contractions continued throughout the day, feeling like rushes of strong menstrual cramps. My massage therapist friend Suzanne came over and held acupressure points for me, and we read Rilke & Rumi poems through the contractions.
Around 6pm my midwife called and wanted Joel & I to come to the Birth Center to be sure that it was indeed amniotic fluid, because if it was we were on a time clock, but if not we could chill and see what happened. So we went in and Judi did tests to see if I’d really broken my waters, and found that I had not. We were discouraged because since having our “false alarm” 2 weeks ago, we were excited to know we were definitely in labor, and now we were back to the not knowing. We went home, had a glass of wine and watched a silly movie. I tried to sleep but the contractions were getting really painful and close together. They went on for several hours with Joel timing them before he said “I think this is still really early labor, since they are not necessarily progressing, and you just need to go to sleep.” Easier said than done, but somehow I managed it, and slept for 4 hours or so. When I woke up the contractions were still occurring, but less frequently. Our midwife told me to sleep, but it seemed impossible. One of the best lessons I learned in labor was that even a little bit of sleep helps.
On Thursday Joel went to work, as we were just not sure how long this would all last and he had very little paid time off for the baby. Suzanne came again (this woman should be sainted) and held points so that I could get some rest. At 4pm we went to the birthing center — Julia checked me and I was 1 centimeter dilated! We were really encouraged that at least all the contractions were producing some opening. Our friend Joel T. brought us Indian food for dinner and we watched another funny movie while I did some squats to move the baby’s head down. I got a bit more sleep that night — was still woken up many times with painful contractions but awoke more rested than the day before. However, I started to feel discouraged because the pain was still there but did not seem to be progressing at all, and I saw no end in sight to this extremely long early labor.
On Friday I rested, then went to lunch with Suzanne, my helpful companion while Joel was at work again. That night the contractions picked up again and I started to despair about how long this prodromal labor — which my midwife calls “Pregatory” would continue, as it had already been 3 days! I had a good cry which I think helped me let go into it.
I woke up at 1am on Saturday (which was my due date!) with steady, increasingly intense contractions, and this was the beginning of real early labor, rather than the pre-labor I had been experiencing for 3 days prior. At 6:30am we met my doula Lisa, our friend Amanda, and two of the midwives, Julia & Sasha at Sage Femme. Julia checked me and I was 3-4 inches dilated. I was encouraged by this and headed home to continue early labor. Lisa & Amanda helped me while Joel got some rest. We listened to old Beatles records and they got me to eat and try to rest between contractions. Things got more and more intense and around 2:30pm we headed back to the birth center — I walked the 2 1/2 blocks there, stopping for contractions. Julia checked me, and I was 5 centimeters dialated, so I could stay.
My focus now was on encouraging my cervix to fully dilate so I could push. The pressure was tremendous, and all my ideas about what natural childbirth would be like were quickly abolished. I guess I thought the point would be to make me as comfortable as possible, to follow my body’s urges and bear the pain. I did not realize that what I really needed to do was go right toward the pain, almost all the time, to get the contractions to be more and more effective at opening me. The midwives were getting me in the least comfortable positions for me, to intensify the contractions more and more. This was, to say the least, very very challenging. I laid in the tub in these positions, yelling “OPEN” over and over again, in a deep low voice, sounding quite a bit like a Medieval wizard. Things were still progressing very slowly. They had me do laps around the birthing center, which was very painful as the pressure of the baby moving down increased. I started to get discouraged and the head midwife Judi told me “You need to get your head around the fact that this is just what it feels like to have a baby. All this pain and pressure is going to get a lot worse, and you have to accept that.” Anyone who has had a baby knows that this was unbearable. I began to doubt my choice to do this naturally, without pain meds. I went through every possible emotion, and with the support of my husband, found a way to access that determination within me to keep going. At this point the midwives realized I was probably dehydrated, and that I couldn’t pee. So they started an IV, and a catheter. These two things really helped. We all realized that the change in my attitude was related to being dehydrated and not passing fluids. I started to get really serious about getting into the positions I needed to move the baby down. My yoga training and strong body from keeping up with dance all 9 months of my pregnancy really helped. They feed me grapes, bananas, almonds, and tons of coconut water to get my strength up.
Around 11:45pm, I was finally complete at 10 centimeters and ready to push. I had been desperate to do this for ages, as the pressure was so great. Judi taught me how to push by putting her hands exactly on the abdominal muscles I needed to use, and directing my breathing. I pushed in several different positions, with everyone in the room counting for me and cheering me on. Judi found that the baby’s head was in a funky position, and put her hands inside me to move the baby’s head during contractions (extra ouch). I had to be catheterized again, which during pushing was quite painful, but moved the baby’s head down dramatically. I had no concept of time but later learned that I pushed for 3 hours!
I finally birthed Olive into this world at 2:45am on Sunday September 19th, 2010. I was on the birthing stool, with Joel supporting me behind me. When she came up we were so shocked! She was amazingly beautiful and real in our arms! However, her cord was very short and I could only hold her to my belly. Since it was such a short cord, it pulled on my placenta and I hemorrhaged. Judi saw right away that Olive wasn’t breathing well, so she cut the cord quickly and took her over to examine her while Julia had me birth the placenta so she could stop the hemorrhaging. It turns out that on her way out Olive had ingested meconium, baby’s first poop, which they are not supposed to pass until after birth. Judi pumped a LOT of this out of her, and still she could not get Olive’s breathing to stabilize. I was moved to the bed and Julia massaged my uterus to get it to contract. Judi decided we needed to call 911 for Olive. We figured out what hospital to take her to and the EMTS came. In the meantime I got to hold her for about 10 minutes while we waited for the ambulance. Then, before I knew it, my baby and husband were gone, and I was left there, trying to get well enough as soon as possible to get to them. I got to see the placenta, which looked like a beautiful tree, and ate two bites of it to get all those good hormones back into my body — the rest was made into medicine for me to ingest over time, which really helped with my moods in the postpartum period.
By 7:30am I was ready, and I got to General to see the baby. The nurse in the NICU was very sweet, and I got to hold the baby skin to skin. We went home to rest briefly, and in the meantime one of our priests from Holy Innocents sat with Olive. Then we got a call from Kaiser that they wanted to transfer Olive there because of our insurance. Joel went to General right away and I followed. We were very encouraged to be met there by another priest from our church who prayed over Olive. We figured out the details of the transfer and headed over to Kaiser to meet Olive there. All of this was very confusing and emotional. I was also in very bad shape physically — by some miracle I didn’t tear but the 3 hours of pushing had taken their toll anyway — my face was so swollen I was seeing double, and I could only walk a little bit without having to catch my breath. I also had to be very careful about fluids because of all the blood I lost. By the grace of God I found the strength I needed to be in these stressful hospital environments with my baby.
At Kaiser, the nurses were also very nice and helpful. Olive’s breathing was better and they let me try to breastfeed her — up until then they were worried she would aspirate. Once it was clear she was stable at Kaiser, Joel and I went home & slept. I woke up several times to pump to establish milk supply. In the morning we frantically raced over there to be with her again. She continued to do better throughout the day, and they took her off IV fluids. This meant I needed to spend the night in the waiting room so she could breastfeed. Joel went to get the things we needed to sleep in the little couch there.
This whole time, our friends & family had been supporting us so much, and continued to. Joel T., our friend Sydney, our church community — everyone had been so amazing. The following morning we got the news that Olive was okay to go home! Her culture had come back negative — no more infection. She was taken off the antibiotics and prepped to leave. Getting her home was the best experience imaginable. It was the pay-off for the 4 1/2 days of hard natural labor, the chaos and uncertainty after the birth, the difficulty of being in the NICU, all of it was worth it to have our little girl peacefully in our home. We had a sweet period of enjoying her presence — this was what I thought it would be like all along! I never dreamed something would go wrong with the baby, and was shocked to end up the in NICU. I was so happy and grateful to the team of midwives, nurses, and doulas from Sage Femme who helped me birth my baby the way I wanted to, despite all the agony! I was also very grateful to all the doctors and nurses at both hospitals, who helped our little baby get well. I was in awe of my friends, especially Amanda, Joel T., Suzanne, & Sydney, who helped us through this time. And I was of course more in love than ever with my amazing husband, who was my rock through all of this. He is so beautiful with Olive, and we are so happy to be three. This whole experience truly taught me that I can do anything, and that when I think I have met my limits, there is always a bit more, as long as I accept help from others, tap into the spiritual realm, and use my breath. I hope that these are lessons I can pass on to my sweet daughter, as she is the one who led me to them in the first place.
I had to use those lessons sooner than I could ever have dreamed. Shortly after that reverie of gratefulness and reflection, we were called back to the hospital because the blood culture General drew started growing something after 80 hours. I will never forget my husband’s face when we got the call that we had to go back — etched in misery, he got up to pack our overnight bag so we could sleep on the waiting room couch to be as close as possible to Olive. When we got there, they did a bunch of scary tests and we waited… and waited… and waited to see what strain of bacteria was on the culture. In the meantime we were in that extremely stressful environment and baby girl was being pumped full of antibiotics, just in case. After 2 1/2 days of waiting we decided to leave without knowing. Olive seemed so healthy, and staying longer was getting more and more traumatic for all three of us. So, with the doctors’ blessing but without their legal say-so, we left the hospital for our home. The next day we went to the pediatrician and baby was still doing great — already past her birth weight and happy as a clam. We still hadn’t heard about that blood culture, but were happy to be waiting for the result — which was less and less likely to be problematic — at home instead of in the NICU. It was all very distressing and it took a long time to come down from it, which we did by enjoying time at home resting up. We had to make some hard decisions, and in that we started to learn the true meaning what it is like to be parents. Joyous, scary, beautiful, difficult, and so, so worth it.
2 weeks later, General finally told our pediatrician that they are still unsure as to what exactly the bacteria was, but they are 99% sure it was some sort of contaminant in the specimen they took. I am grateful to the hospital for being there to help stabilize her breathing and make sure she was okay, but I still feel a twinge of anger that their mistake with this specimen led to spending Olive’s first week in the hospital, sticking her with uneccessary needles. But I know the experience made us stronger parents, and since then Olive has been so happy and healthy, for which are so glad. If we ever have another one, I will definitely try to go the route of out-of-hospital birth with midwives again. The care I received at Sage Femme all throughout my pregnancy was incredible, and the community I gained out of our classes there means so much to me. I miss my midwives — I wish I could have that kind of intuitive, non-reactive health care for Olive and myself all the time!