Lessons Learned in Late Pregnancy
All the time she spent in my belly was wonderful preparation for parenting: I could start to feel maternal instincts slowly emerge, the desire to be more cautious with my body, slowing down, being more conscientious about bad habits (my husband would often remind me, “Is that something you want to teach your child?”)
I also learned the invaluable lessons of letting go and acceptance: as my body gradually changed to accommodate my growing child, I had to let go of the control of my body that I had become accustomed to through diet and exercise. Some activities became nearly impossible in late pregnancy. This change precipatated another lesson – learning to accept help graciously. I realized just how fiercely independent I had been and how I typically acted in a way to avoid receiving help and bothering people. Pregnancy forced me into situations where I needed more help, and luckily, I found that many people were happy to help. I often felt like all the people around me on the street were looking out for me, like I had numerous guardian angels. One day, I was walking speedily to catch a bus, and a construction worker across the street saw me and whistled at the bus driver to stop and wait. It felt like a scene from a movie, and it made me feel watched over and cared for.
At other times, I felt like a circus freak, a creature that people rarely see out in public. Indeed, we don’t see very pregnant women walking around, eating at restaurants, going to yoga classes, too often. As I progressed into the last weeks of pregnancy, people on the street, mostly would either give me looks of encouragement to “keep going”, or sympathetic glances. Then, as my due date came and went, the waiting game began, and even though I knew how silly the idea of a due date was, I could not help feeling disappointed when I became overdue. I felt like I had somehow failed my family who has all gathered for the birth. But eventually, I let go of that too.
Our Birth Story
Labor started on Thursday night with my water breaking, and ended on Sunday just past midnight with the birth of our daughter, Baby Mo. Friday morning, I went to the birth center as my water had broken but no contractions started. I was told to make a “birth cave” and relax all day, waiting for nightfall when labor was more likely to start. Around 8pm, I drank a “cocktail” of champagne, almond butter, apricot juice, and the notorious castor oil. A well-known “labor inducer”, castor oil activates digestion, and usually gives you diarrhea. Combined with the champagne, it was disgusting to drink and gave me explosive diarrhea for a few hours. It did also activate some contractions, but not enough for active labor. You see, there is a window of about 24-30 hours after the water breaks to go into active labor, as there is a heightened chance of infection. So around 6am, after shedding a few tears over my perfect birth center birth with sound healer and all, we went to the hospital.
Fortunately, the midwife Erin, was there with us every step of the way! She put me on a light dose of Pitocin, the mention of which sent fear into my natural-birth loving heart, to kick start the contractions. Because of the pitocin, I was also on continuous metal monitoring, so two straps around my belly hooked up to a machine. This typically limits movement, which can make pain intolerable for many women. But, I did not let the straps, or the nurses who had to come in readjust my straps every 30 minutes, stop me, and I stayed as active as possible. Erin helped by offering suggestions of positions that I could move into that would allow monitoring. The best: On knees with belly against a birth ball against the back of the bed! (That is how I gave birth ^v^)
Regular contractions, about 5 minutes or less apart, lasted about 10 hours, but I had been up 24 hours before that, so it was a long day. Somehow, I got through it with 5 minute snoozes when I could. My husband was there with me the whole time, massaging and encouraging me, bringing me water and snacks. It was really a beautiful experience in partnership. He really came through when it counted, and was present every step of the way.
I felt so blessed to have my parents and my mother in law there as well. They stayed in the room most of the day, going out to get some food or take a walk. My mother, who had had 2 C-sections, was a bit squeamish when I first brought up the idea of being in the delivery room. In the end, she was with me the whole time and amazed by what she saw.
Around 7pm, I had only progressed to about 5cm dilated, so Erin striped my membranes, and found that I had a water sac at the base of my uterus, protecting baby from infection. The water breaking 2 nights before had been from a higher part of my uterus, thus keeping the integrity of the sac at the base. She popped it, and almost immediately active labor started. From then on, it was intense contractions at 3 minute intervals. So this was what everyone talks about!
We tried different positions, singing, and going to the bathroom. As night fell, I needed to be in water I felt, so we discussed taking off the fetal monitors so I could use the shower. After 30 minutes of consistently good heart rate, I was awarded the ability to take the monitor off! I spent some time in the shower which allowed some relief from the intensity of contractions. Now I get the buzz about water birth! I also spent time on the toilet, since I felt like I had to poop really bad. Yes, that was baby pressing down on my cervix. I could feel her and I wanted to see her soon.
The pushing phase was rather short, hastened by my own desire to see my child, and, of course the discomfort of her bearing down on my birth canal. I spent that last 45 minutes on my knees, with the birth ball between my chest and the bed, moaning. Every so often, my father or mother would say a non-sequitor, and I would respond. Otherwise, I was on another plane, totally present, completely absorbed in my body. I was too focused on pushing to really think about the pain or anything beyond that moment. I did ask for the same song, Ek Ong Kar Sat Guru Prasad, to be repeated. It gave me some kind of peace and added some levity to the situation. I was told to push as hard as I could, so with a few hard pushes combined with loud and long screeches of power and pain, our little one arrived on earth, welcomed by gravity and the sound of Snatam Kaur. The head crowned, and with it an intense burning sensation like nothing I’ve ever felt. That sensation passed quickly, allowing a great sense of relief as the head passed the opening of my vagina, followed quickly by the little body that just slid out.
I will never forget the moment my life changed forever. In a second, my world shifted, or perhaps my place in this world shifted. At first, I couldn’t really believe it, that I had birthed a baby. I was on my hands and knees, so I didn’t see her come out. My husband was crying, my mothers cheering, and the nurses and midwife congratulating us. A moment later, I was on my back in bed, and our little baby girl was on my chest, staring up at me. We acknowledged each other’s existence. Automatically, we knew who we were in this world. I was amazed that this adorable little creature, fully formed with hair and fingernails, had grown from a couple cells into this tiny human inside my body. At once, I felt in awe of the miracle that is life in general, and in particular that brought this child into our lives. Without hesitation, she started to suckle at my breast, and I started to feel a deep and overpowering love for her, like nothing I had ever felt before.
I have sensed for years that having children and becoming a mother would greatly impact my life, by teaching me many important lessons and giving my life a shape. For a while, I have thought that my career would be heavily influenced by motherhood, in its content as well as its form. Despite these premonitions, I could not have prepared myself for the full-on reality of actually becoming a mother, and all of the wonder and power in it. I am filled with excitement and joy as I proceed on this path with my family.