Saturday, May 29, 2010

What, you don't have one in your fridge?

While cleaning out the fridge today I spotted an unidentifiable object that piqued my interest. There have been many surprises in the fridge lately because I was bedridden for 3 weeks after Arden's birth, and we've been blessed with friends bringing us yummy meals on a regular basis ever since.

This particular item was a gallon ziploc bag within another gallon ziploc bag, the solid contents concealed in about a quart of red liquid. At first I thought it was leftovers of a vegetable soup somebody had made for us, but it was a slightly different shade of red and I soon spotted the aforementioned soup on a different shelf. I picked up the bag and squeezed it while turning it over and over in my hands. "What is this?" I wondered, trying to see through the red.

I finally caught a glimpse of something and suddenly realized what it was, or at least what I thought it was. "Is this our placenta?" I wondered. I remembered my friend Susan telling me that she had put it in the freezer the morning of the birth, so that made me wonder what it was doing in the fridge. Later on I asked Mark if it was our placenta that I had found in the fridge.

"No, it's a steak I'm thawing out," he replied.

"A steak with an umbilical cord?" I asked.

We both headed to the fridge and I pulled out the mystery bag. I could tell by the look on his face that it was much soup-ier than he expected, and we both knew immediately that he had just accidentally thawed our placenta. I can actually see how this mistake could be made - in its frozen state it must have looked solid and very much like a steak. But not so much once it thawed

"Who keeps the placenta, anyway?" Mark asked incredulously, trying to defend himself.

"Who throws them away?" I countered, "They're rich in vitamins and nutrients. I thought we could plant something over it in the yard."

In traditional cultures placentas are buried underneath fruit trees to commemorate the birth and fertilize the tree. Some people eat them ground up in a smoothie or lasagna (not my particular cup of tea, but to each her own), and some people have them encapsulated (which I considered, but I never got around to finding somebody to do it for me.) It has been shown that ingesting the placenta can help combat baby blues/postpartum depression, insufficient milk supply, anemia, insomnia and postpartum hemorrhage, and in general help the mother recover from the birth more quickly. And it makes sense that something designed to nourish the baby could also nourish other living things. So that is why I, and many other women, decide to keep the placenta. I just haven't decided exactly what to do with ours yet and, if this is any indication of how hectic things have been around here, hadn't explicitly told Mark to expect seeing ours in the freezer (although I could have sworn I mentioned it to him several times offhandedly while I was pregnant...)

So, who wants to come over for dinner? (ha, ha)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Arden's Birth Story, Part 2: The Transfer

After our beautiful birth I got out of the tub and was helped over to the bed to be examined, birth the placenta, and nurse the baby. I was still pretty dazed so it’s all kind of a blur but I remember Jeanne pushing on my belly to see if my uterus was contracting, and the resulting gush of blood each time. I was feeling really weak and tired, losing so much blood. While I nursed Arden, Karen fed me a bowl of yogurt and granola (which for some reason sounded and tasted amazing at the time) and a glass of iced shepherd’s purse tea (which tasted awful, but is supposed to help the uterus to contract and stop the bleeding).

“No offense, Sarah,” I said, “but your tea tastes awful!” “I know,” she replied with a smile, “it kind of tastes like a stable, doesn’t it?” The nourishment helped me to feel a little better, but I was still bleeding and feeling weak. I don’t remember the order of the following, but over the next short period of time Jeanne gave me two shots of Pitocin in my thigh and I was asked to blow into my straw to make bubbles in my tea to help me push the placenta out (so much better than somebody tugging on the cord, as was done to me after Claire’s birth! No resulting pain or surgery this time!)

It wasn’t long before the idea of transferring to the hospital was brought up to me. I could see the concern in everybody’s eyes, and I was feeling so tired that even lying there doing nothing was a chore, so it was no surprise to me. By this time my friend Susan had arrived and was playing with Claire; there was a lot of activity going on around me, but I wasn’t very aware. I remember Sarah putting an oxygen mask on me, but it was so loud that I couldn’t hear what everybody around me was saying. Soon Jeanne leaned over and gently said that she thought an ambulance would be a good idea – there was no way I’d make it down the stairs in my condition. I agreed, and the flurry of activity continued as everybody helped me get dressed, alerted Mark and Susan (who were caring for the kids downstairs), and packed up equipment.

Within minutes two men in uniform appeared at the foot of my bed and introduced themselves as Val and John. I wasn’t sure what to expect – I’ve heard of home birth transfers where EMTs and hospital staff are hostile to the mother and her birth team (as if to say, “the hospital isn’t good enough for you to birth in until there’s an emergency, eh?”) But these two men were very respectful and kind. They brought with them a special wheel chair with gears designed for taking patients down stairs, and carefully loaded and strapped me in while explaining what they were doing. “We’re going to do all the work – once we get going down the stairs, you might feel like you want to reach out and grab onto the railing, but don’t. Keep your arms crossed over your chest and don’t worry,” Val continued with a smile, “we haven’t dropped anybody yet today.” I laughed and told him I’d keep my hands in the bus.

Once at the bottom of the stairs we were met by a few police officers who introduced themselves and helped lift me onto a stretcher before wheeling me down our long driveway to the waiting ambulance. It was really nice that they had arrived quietly and without sirens, but why couldn’t they have backed up to the front door? I felt so self conscious like all of the neighbors were probably watching. Just as they loaded me into the ambulance, our new neighbor from a few doors down (of about a week, who we haven’t met yet) pulled out of her driveway and drove past us. What a lovely first impression! Once inside, I looked around and noticed how secure everything was, but I still couldn’t help picturing a scene in the comedy Just Friends where the main character is being transported in an ambulance; equipment is falling off of shelves and onto him with every bump and turn but nobody notices, and his mouth is injured so he can’t talk around the mouthful of gauze. It helped to think of this scene, and to know that we were being followed by Mark, Arden, Jeanne and Sarah. As we rode they took my blood pressure and pulse and inserted an IV, while talking and joking around with me. After calling the hospital with my vitals, Val asked me what our baby’s name was. When I told him we hadn’t decided, he joked that we should name her Valerie, after him (his full name is Valentino.) It was a really pleasant ride, all things considered, and I was so thankful to have gotten such great people for the transfer.

I was also fortunate that a great ER doctor, midwife, and team of nurses were working that morning, and soon I was settled in a labor and delivery bed about to be sewn up. It took about an hour and was very painful, even with 6 shots of lidocaine. But it helped having my support team there with me: Mark nearby holding Arden, Jeanne sitting near the hospital midwife watching her careful stitching, and Sarah sitting next to me the entire time, holding my hand and rubbing my arm. About halfway through, the hospital midwife looked over at Jeanne and said “You made the right call.” I wholeheartedly agree; this was not a minor injury. Susan stayed home with Claire (what a treat! Claire later told me all about the fun she had with her good friend’s mom), and Karen stayed home to empty the tub, throw in laundry, and finish cleaning up.

The hospital was busy so we waited around until 5:00pm to be released. What a long day! It felt so good to get home and back into my own pajamas and bed. It took all of my energy to do this, but it was worth it. The next day Sarah came over to check on us, and on the third day Jeanne came by. The third day is when a blood test will show the true iron count after a hemorrhage, so Jeanne tested mine. It was an 8, on a scale where 12-15 is normal. So it’s no wonder that a week later I can barely make it out of bed, I’m still so weak. I also injured my tailbone during the birth, so sitting was excruciating at first, and now can be done but only for short periods. I wanted to do the whole “laying in” thing, but I had pictured it a little differently!

Even with the transfer and all of these struggles, I am still so satisfied and fulfilled by this birth experience. I had my drug- and intervention- free birth at home, exactly how I wanted it, and we have a beautiful and healthy baby who I cannot stop staring at. I was treated incredibly well the entire time, and continue to be cared for here at home – we have another postpartum visit with our midwives today, and I don’t even have to leave my bed (I felt even worse after Claire’s hospital birth, but still had to make almost daily trips to the hospital and clinic for the two of us). We came home to a clean house, clean laundry, food in the fridge, and a happy toddler.

I had an almost identical birth with Claire – drug-free labor and water birth (one intervention, the midwife broke my water), compound presentation and 3rd degree tear, and hemorrhage. But the recovery after that birth was on the other end of the spectrum. The hospital midwife was cold and harsh; nobody held my hand; I was separated from Claire while they examined me; nurses fought in front of me about who was better at putting IVs in and whether the OB should be called or not; despite my protests, the hospital midwife yanked on the umbilical cord to get the placenta out before the hospital’s asinine 30 minute time limit, which resulted in pieces of it remaining stuck inside of me…and this resulted in 2 weeks of dangerous hemorrhaging which made surgery necessary; I barely slept and had great difficulty nursing Claire for 2 days because the hospital bed was so uncomfortable and I was tangled up with tubes, and nurses came in every few hours to take blood, monitor blood pressure and temperature; I had some very nice and competent nurses, but I also had a few terrible ones and it was frustrating dealing with the revolving door of strangers when I didn’t feel well; because my health dipped so low my milk took longer to come in, so Claire lost too much weight and we had the added stress of a baby headed toward “failure to thrive”. The stark contrast between these two births is incredible, and the hospital version was no safer than the home version. In fact, I’m faring much better having birthed at home this time.

So as I lay here in bed regularly shifting and re-adjusting the pillows holding me up, and sometimes typing one-handed, I am so thankful. Thankful for the wonderful people who have surrounded me and made this the beautiful experience that it was/is, thankful for my healthy family of 4, thankful for the friends who have visited and brought food. I may still have a few weeks of feeling tired and healing my tailbone on the horizon, but physical wounds heal relatively quickly. It’s been 2 and a half years since Claire’s birth and I am still dealing with the emotions resulting from the poor treatment I received. In a way, this experience is helping to heal the pain from the first. What a powerful gift to give a woman.

Arden's Birth Story, Part 1: The Birth

For more than a week before Arden was born I felt like labor was just minutes away. I think my body was just starting to prepare that far in advance, which translated to about 10 days of feeling extra sore, achy, crampy, headachy, and frustrated. Before bed each night I would make sure the house was spotless in case that night was the night, and every day I made sure we had plenty of food in the fridge and that everything was labeled just in case. I wanted everything to be perfect for when my birth team arrived, but after this many nights of anticipation I was finally too cranky to care one night. “I will be the first woman on Earth to be pregnant forever,” I thought to myself as I lugged my belly and aching joints up the stairs. It was only 9pm and the house wasn’t spotless, but I said a quick goodnight to Mark and went to bed.

This, of course, is the night labor finally started.

Around midnight a strong backache woke me from a deep sleep, and I tried to keep myself from wondering if this was it. I had gotten my hopes up so many nights (and days) before. Just as I was starting to drift off again, I felt another wave of tightness in my lower back. This is exactly how Claire’s labor started, so I waited for a few more to establish a pattern, and then woke Mark to give him a heads up. A good plan for labor is to ignore it as long as possible, and to get some fluids, food, a shower, and/or rest in the meantime. And that’s what I would have done, but by 12:20 contractions were lasting 1-2 minutes and were 6 minutes apart; there wasn’t much more I could do than to try and stay comfortable lying on my side in bed, just breathing through them. At this point I told Mark that contractions were “mild, but uncomfortable and definitely there.”

Claire’s labor lasted about 17 hours after this same sort of contraction started, but I also knew that a second labor could be significantly shorter – maybe by half – so we weren’t sure what to expect. It felt too early to call anybody, but by 12:49 I told Mark we should call our team so they could start making necessary arrangements. Mark called our midwife Jeanne (who called Sarah, our other midwife), our doulas Karen and Jody, and our photographer Allison, and then began filling the birth tub. We figured it would still be a long time, but I remember saying “wouldn’t it be cool if this baby was born by 6am, so that Claire could get a good night’s sleep and wake up to her new sibling?” We both laughed and continued with the laboring and tub-filling.

The contractions stayed centered in my lower back, and I tried a variety of positions to see which offered the most relief: side-lying on the bed, on my knees draped over the exercise ball, and leaning on Mark while standing. It was no contest, lying on my side supported by pillows was the best. I was able to completely relax and focus on long, deep breaths which made the contractions bearable. They began picking up, and at 2:30 they were 4 minutes apart and pretty strong, so I got in the birth tub. “Am I getting in too soon?” I wondered. I had only been laboring a few hours, and worried for a second that we were making too big a deal of this too soon. But it felt right and I was too busy concentrating on my breathing to worry for too long. A few contractions later I asked Mark to call Karen and Allison back – I still kind of wondered if it was too soon, but the contractions were getting more challenging and I felt like I needed my team.

I remember when Allison arrived, which according to Mark’s notes was 3:30. I was in the tub, draped over the side with my body floating out behind me. It felt so good to be weightless and comforted by the warmth of the water, and while I was too focused on laboring to do or say much else, Allison’s presence was really comforting. I remember her offering to light the candles I had set out around the room, so that Mark could continue to focus his energy on pressing his hands into my lower back. The counter pressure really helped with the back labor. The only problem was that I needed strong pressure during the contractions, but because my body was floating he was also pushing me down into the water. So I slid around to a long side of the oval tub and onto my knees, upper body still draped over the edge, and was able to get better traction without affecting my relaxation. This also made it easier for him to reach me, which was a good thing because soon I would need this pressure during and between contractions.

A few minutes after Allison arrived we heard Claire wake up, so Mark ran in to rub her back and get her back to sleep. I was open to the idea of Claire witnessing the birth – she had watched (and loved!) several birth videos and we had talked a lot about what would be happening, but I felt like sleep was a higher priority for her at 3am. I was glad when Mark returned solo a few minutes later, knowing Claire was getting some much-needed rest. Karen arrived ten minutes after Allison, and I was again comforted just knowing she was there. She knelt down in front of me and I looked up to see her kind eyes and smile looking back at me. Mark was busy adding more hot water to the tub so she casually dipped her fingers in the water to feel the temp, and asked how everything was going as if she did this sort of thing every day (which she kind of does, actually). I loved how relaxed she was about being there, and not having to worry about feeling self-conscious. There’s no time for that nonsense when you’re in labor.

“Maybe we should call Jeanne and Sarah,” I said a few minutes later. I was still in denial that things were progressing so quickly, but the need to have them there was stronger. Mark made the call at 3:52 and they both arrived within an hour. They came in quietly and began setting up the supplies I had organized in big plastic tubs off to the side, and I focused on the light crinkling of the plastic tarp beneath their feet as they gently moved about. What a lovely sound, reminding me that I was not alone. I was able to completely surrender to the power of the contractions without fear because I knew I was in good hands.

Suddenly something changed, around 5:00 according to the notes, and I asked if there was anything I could do to keep things moving along (as if progressing to contractions that are 2 minutes long and 4 minutes apart in 4 hours wasn’t fast enough?) Maybe a better position, or getting out to walk around? I was looking for a concrete answer, such as “get into a squatting position and the baby will magically appear in 5 minutes.” Or something like that. No such luck; they told me that a position change or walking around could certainly help, and asked what sounded best to me. “I just want this baby out now,” I said with a mix of determination and impatience. Walking sounded like the most drastic measure, so after the next contraction ended I announced that I wanted to get out and take a walk.

Working perfectly together as a team they helped me out of the tub, dried me off and wrapped me in a fluffy towel before I set out down the hallway headed for the stairs. I was being driven by some force with the goal to have this baby as soon as possible, but I still don’t know exactly what it was. Excitement to meet our new baby? Knowing that I hadn’t eaten for several hours or gotten much sleep, so my fuel may not last for very much longer? Maybe both, maybe something completely different.

I leaned against the railing during a contraction on my way to the top of the stairs, and instantly there was a set of hands expertly pressing against the small of my back and another hand gently stroking my arm. I think it was Karen who accompanied me down the stairs (things were so intense at that point, and I was so focused on my breathing that I am not quite sure who was doing what), and when I got to the bottom I had another strong contraction. Again, as soon as I got on my knees and leaned onto the bottom few stairs with my elbows there were hands helping me, pressing into the perfect spot on my back and readjusting the towel that was loosely wrapped around me. When it was over I trekked back up and headed to the guest bed which we had prepared in case I wanted to labor and/or birth there. I had a few contractions along the way and spent about 20 minutes laboring on my side in bed with the same constant and caring attention. What a blissful change from my hospital birthing experience – I was surrounded by strong support, both emotionally and physically, and I felt powerful enough to let go and allow labor to take over.

The last two notes scrawled onto the log Mark and Allison kept are:
5:25 – Back in the tub
5:28 – “I think I might feel like pushing.”

I remember saying that, and yet it didn’t even register in my brain until the words had passed through my lips. “I do?” I thought to myself, incredulously. It took a moment but I realized that, indeed, I did want to push. Mark was busy pressing his hands into my back so Karen knelt down in front of me and put her hands in mine. I pushed gingerly at first, still not quite certain that I was really this far into it because I couldn’t feel the head moving down yet. A few contractions and pushes later and I felt it. Things got even more intense, and I felt a twinge of fear creeping in. “Oh my gosh, I’m really doing this,” I thought. For the first time I felt strong discomfort that breathing alone couldn’t manage. With gentle words of encouragement from my team, I kept pushing through the discomfort and heard myself starting to make sounds for the first time. I grunted with each push as I felt the head descending.

Fear took over and I started thinking “I don’t want to do this. Can I just get a little break? I’m not ready yet. This is scary!” Time had finally picked up and I was acutely aware of each passing second. But it was like they were in my head, as if these wonderful and strong women knew exactly what I was thinking. At just the right moment one of them would say the most perfect and encouraging words. Because of this my pushes became more confident. I felt the baby crowning and I reminded myself that the only way out was through it, so I continued to push. Jeanne told me to reach down and feel my baby, but I couldn’t – I thought it would break my concentration – so she did. She later told me that she felt the head, and then she felt fingers…a compound presentation. She also told me later that she saw blood in the water before the baby even crowned, so she knew something was going on. But thankfully I had no idea at the time because of how calm she and everybody else remained.

Jeanne gently reminded me to slow down and birth the head slowly, and to keep breathing. My last few pushes were accompanied by loud grunts as the head made its way through, and then by screams that Mark later described as 3 octaves higher than any sound he had ever heard come out of me. The time? 5:59 am, just one minute shy of the time I had mentioned when labor first started. And suddenly there were hands reaching in supporting the baby under water behind me as I sat kneeling in the water, trying to catch my breath. They slowly guided our baby between my legs to the front and helped me lift it out of the water, and then eased me back to sit leaning against the tub. I was dazed, and just sat there cradling and staring at this beautiful little being; a towel was draped over the baby to keep it warm and Jeanne noticed the cord was a little short so she made sure I held the baby’s face up and out of the water without pulling on the placenta. The baby’s heartbeat was checked, and we lifted the towel so Mark could announce… “It’s a girl!” I was elated! What a beautiful and empowering experience for me, and a safe and healthy way for our little girl to enter the world: in the comfort of our own home, with the support of a team we love.

And just as I had hoped when labor began, Claire woke up a few minutes later so Mark brought her in to meet her new sibling. Perfect timing! She was still a little sleepy and seemed confused by the crowd of people and the new baby in Mama’s arms, but she came right over to inspect her sibling. I couldn’t say much, but I kept thinking, “I have two daughters…we’re a family of four now!”


Some fun facts while I chip away at Arden's birth story...

  • 11-9-7-5-3-1 No, I'm not trying to show off that I know how to count odd numbers down from 11 to 1, these are the girls' birthdays. Claire was born November 9, 2007, and Arden was born May 3, 2010. 11-9-07 and 5-3-10. Pretty cool, huh?
  • The girls are about a week shy of being 2 and a half years apart. Arden is 6 days old and Claire's half birthday is today!
  • Claire shares her birthday with my dad (my sister's is the next day), and Arden shares a birth month with my mom
  • Arden's middle name is Holly, named after my sister. Claire has two middle names, after Mark's mom and my mom: Claire Alicia Julie. Claire's initials are CAJN, so during her colicky phase we lovingly referred to her as Ragin' Cajn.
  • Because of my blood loss after Arden's birth, my iron dropped to 8 (normal level is between 12-15). It dipped to 7 after Claire's (which is the point at which a blood transfusion is recommended by the hospital), so at least it's not quite as bad this time!
  • Arden likes to hold hands with me while she nurses (her hand, my finger), and although she rarely cries she will usually stop if Claire sings to her

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Surprise visit

After finishing dinner, Mark and I were chatting and watching Claire play at her little table by the front window. We noticed a mom with a gang of small children running around at the bottom of our driveway, and some of the kids started coming up towards the front door. This is nothing new, as our driveway is big and has a fun little incline that dumps into a court - very inviting - and neighbor kids regularly ride their bikes and scooters up to the very top so they can coast back down. We've even seen kids make themselves at home at the little bistro table on our porch, while we were just on the other side of the window (apparently the reflection prevented them from seeing us?) Pretty entertaining.

"Are they coming to the door, or just playing?" we wondered. The mom stood at the bottom of the driveway waiting while two of the girls came up to the door, about to ring the doorbell. "Oh, it's Sarah and her kids!" I exclaimed, finally recognizing my neighbor from one street down. We recently met at a local homeopathy class, and bonded because of the neighbor connection and the fact that we were both pregnant. Excited to see her, I started walking over to open the door but as I neared the sidelight the young girls spotted me. With a look of surprise they dropped a piece of paper and something else on the porch and all the kids scattered and disappeared.

Oh yeah, it's May Day!

We opened the door to find a homemade painted paper basket with fresh flowers and little chocolates, along with a crayon-decorated piece of paper. What a sweet surprise! It brought back memories of my childhood when my sister and I did the same thing with our friends, and got me excited about getting Claire involved next year.

Claire thought the basket and flowers were neat, but dove for the chocolate.
What a sweet surprise, and the perfect way to wind down a beautiful Saturday. Next up: filling out as much as I can in the new baby book we got today, and updating Claire's. Oh, the memories! This is probably not helping in the patience department, poring over newborn pictures of Claire, imagining what her new sibling will look like...