Birth Story: "How do you describe the ultimate miracle?"

The birth of baby Maia

by Jaime Fleres-Mizejewski

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I’m Late

Like many first time moms, I was fairly convinced my baby would greet the world sometime between 37 and 40 weeks and not a day later.  For some reason, I had it in my head that February 14, our due date, was the absolute last day she might arrive.  This, despite knowing first time mamas often deliver beyond their due dates.

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Week 37 came and went as I racked my brain for additional nesting activities—I’d been off work for weeks and there wasn’t another room to paint, rearrange or clean in the whole house! At this time, my intuition shifted too.  Though I was uncomfortably large (with a rockin' case of pubic symphysis pain) and baby was sometimes uncomfortably active, I had a new feeling she was quite content where she was.  I was unsure she’d ever want to leave her comfortable womb life.  Weeks 38 and 39 came and went.  So did our due date.

IMG_0216Like a slow motion film, the days crept by.  No baby.  Every day felt like Groundhog Day, the same day as the day before… again and again.  At first, I struggled: I was done with winter, done waiting; I was ready to hold my baby, ready to welcome this new chapter of my life.  It was crazy-making to spend every moment of every day prepared for labor and this radical life change to happen at any moment—like knowing an earthquake is going to hit, but not knowing when.

I spent a few days working myself into an anxious mess—I  actually cried through a lunch date, in public, with my hubby.  Nice one, J. I’d hit a low that wasn’t helping anyone and I resolved to forge a new perspective.  So I surrendered.  I simply decided to let it all go—the worry, the desire for control, the expectations, and the detrimental internal dialog.  I stopped telling myself “today is the day,” I stopped expecting labor at any moment, I stopped trying to will labor to begin, I stopped pretending I was in charge.  I just gave my best to surrender and trust in the mystery that is birth.

At about Day 10 post due, we had to start facing the reality that if she didn’t come in the next couple of days, we wouldn’t be able to birth naturally at the birth center.  Though this troubled me deeply, I tried to keep a vice grip on my new chosen outlook.  We had until Thursday February 28 to see if we could get this labor started naturally or we’d be looking at a hospital birth with medical interventions.

Inducing Labor

As of the Friday before, my cervix was showing no sign that labor was coming anytime soon.  We’d spend the weekend taking various natural measures to coax baby into the world (sex, evening primrose oil, taking walks, and acupuncture treatment). No labor.

By Monday morning, my cervix hadn’t changed, so we began the natural induction process.  For 24 hours, I wore a special catheter with two bulbs of water the size of limes pressing on either side of my cervix to help get it to soften and efface (open). The midwives and nurse said that if I opened to 5 cm it would fall out…but it didn’t.  It was an uncomfortable day.

The next morning, Day 12, I was only dilated to 1 or 2 cm, but my cervix had changed some so they removed the catheter and explained the herbal induction regiment I would begin.  This involved taking 4 ounces of castor oil.  The castor oil is meant to irritate the digestive system and so irritate the uterus, ideally prompting the latter into contractions.  I would also be taking some homeopathic medications and an herbal tincture, alternating the two every 15 minutes for 4 hours.

IMG_0247I was very excited and nervous to be starting this induction process, knowing that labor could be just around the corner.  I was advised to take the castor oil with a juice that I wouldn’t mind never drinking again.  I chose grape juice, since the only grape juice I like is called wine.  This combo was like taking a huge swig of motor oil and chasing it with Robitussin.  Yet, I guzzled down the whole concoction like it was a tequila shot and I was back in college.  It could have been worse.  It got worse.  The effect of castor oil is much like the worst food poisoning you've ever had.  Within 20 to 30 minutes or so, I met with something akin to Montezuma’s Revenge and spent much of the afternoon getting better acquainted with my bathroom.  It was quite a prelude to labor.

Early Labor

But it did the trick.  After kicking off the induction process at about 1 pm, early labor contractions began coming every 5 minutes by about 2:30 or 3:00 pm.  Billy and I spent the afternoon in our guest bedroom watching movies.  Well, he was in the guest room and I was mostly in the bathroom.  Labor continued through the afternoon.  At about 6 or 7, we went downstairs to cook a pasta carbonara dinner.  I made much of the dinner, stopping every few minutes to brace myself through contractions, which were still coming pretty regularly but were manageable.

After dinner, we returned to our little labor cocoon upstairs.  I spoke with our midwife, who suggested that I take another dose of castor oil (the opposite of what I was hoping to hear!) but in kindness, she cut my dose in half.  By 10pm, contractions had slowed a little bit, with some coming closer to 7 minutes apart, and I worried labor was waning.  But I kept my spirits up.  Billy and I decided to try to rest a little.

Active Labor

By midnight, labor had shifted from early labor contractions to more intense and frequent active labor contractions.  They were coming every one to five minutes, some lasting a minute, some a little less.  They were much more intense than the earlier contractions and required my focused breathing and vocalization to ride each wave.  Billy, half asleep, offered the verbal support I needed to stay confident and in the moment with each new rush.  Like a narcoleptic running a 100-meter dash, I managed to get through the intense physical exertion of a contraction, pass out for a few moments, and be jolted back into wakefulness with the next wave.   This lasted only a brief time, until I was just up, laboring hard, for the next six hours or so. I did well at staying present for each contraction and preventing mind chatter from adding any suffering to the physical pain.  I was just experiencing and witnessing this awesome primal process.

As morning crept up, Billy called our doula, Greta, and they decided together that this would be a good time for her to join us at the house, since labor was definitely progressing.  Until this point, I’d been laboring solely in the side lying position, which felt good and safe, but I wasn’t sure if it was ideal in getting labor to progress.  I really didn’t want to move, which was surprising since I thought I'd be more active through labor.

When Greta arrived, she suggested we try a few other positions.  We went into our bedroom and I got on the big birth/exercise ball.  I didn’t like being upright at all.  The pressure added by gravity was great and the contractions were more difficult to get through.  My mind began to resist, but I tried to trust that this was helping labor progress.  Since it was morning, we decided the shower might be a good change of positions, though Greta warned that it could bring on harder contractions.  It was hard to stand through contractions, so we brought the ball into the shower.  The shower felt great but labor was really intense so the experience was short.

Afterward, Greta suggested I sit on the toilet and labor there for a while, as it was a good position to keep labor rocking.  I did NOT like this!  It was the discomfort of the ball times ten and I felt too exposed and a little scared.  My mind frantically searched for a way out of this experience.  Something.  Anything.  I tried to negotiate with Greta and Billy—if I could just rest on the bed for a few minutes, I’d promise to return to this godforsaken position if we thought my labor was slowing down.  It worked!

Ah, back to the bed, my safe place. Labor only continued to intensify and I was able to remain in my little cocoon, wrapped in towels and blankets, howling like a warrior woman, with Billy and Greta watching over me.  At some point, maybe around 8am, Billy spoke with our midwife Amy.  Because of Billy’s calm demeanor in the face of nearly any event, he might have under-expressed the state of my laboring.  However, once Amy heard me in the background she likely gained a better idea of our progress.  Nevertheless, she suggested I try to eat something and then we would touch base with them again.   Greta, so kindly, spoon-fed me bites of oatmeal between contractions.  At this point, I remember keeping my eyes closed, totally disinterested in food, feeling utterly exhausted and increasingly nauseous.  In retrospect, I realize I was moving into transition.

Oneness

Whilst feeding me oatmeal, Greta intuitively asked if I was experiencing any strong thoughts or feelings I needed to express in order to move forward in labor.  I thought about it for a moment.  I could feel my dad’s presence very strongly at that time (he is in spirit) and I tried to communicate an ineffable experience.  I commented, “I know this is going to sound crazy, but I don’t just feel my dad around me, in some weird sense, I feel like I am my dad.” This sense of oneness with him makes perfect sense to me—not only were my dad and I really close, but I felt I was experiencing the same utter surrender and need for support in labor that he experienced with his cancer.  I understood him perfectly in that moment.

In the early days with Maia, I also experienced this same sense of oneness with her—like I understood her from the inside and that we were the same person in some way (which I suppose we’d been for quite some time!).  Of course, these oneness experiences all unfolded during the process of my bringing forth a separate being from my single body.  So, in a way it makes sense.  Birth offers a glimpse into the Mystery and an experience of Truth, in this case that we truly are all one, which is often just a pretty concept in my mind.

Transition

Anyhow, labor started to ramp up once again and it felt like my contractions didn’t end—they just went from a ten down to a seven and then back up again.  I was deep in a place within, tapping my inner reserves for all the strength and energy I could muster.  As things got really hazy (And loud!), I experienced something new: pushing.  At least two of my contractions on our guest bed went from “regular” squeezing contractions to all-out involuntary pushing.

“I’m pushing, you guys!” I was surprised and for a moment thought for sure I was going to deliver this baby right there on the bed!  I actually reached down to see if I could feel her head.  It felt that close.

It was really time for us to go.  But that was the very last thing I wanted to do.  The idea of actually getting up and going somewhere seemed ridiculous if not completely impossible.  “Please just call the midwives and ask them to come over,” I begged. They had to come to us; there was just no way I could move.  Despite my certain belief that I was immobile, I had such full trust in Greta and Billy that I complied when they insisted we go to the birth center.  They swore that I could do this.  I had to do this.

During pregnancy, the transition phase of labor made me nervous—I’d heard it was one of the most challenging times in labor, those moments when you were most likely to feel defeated, if not certain you were going to die.  And here I was looking at the prospect of actually getting in the car and travelling to a new place during this phase of labor.  Birth brings you right into your fears, forces you to look them dead in the eye, and offers you a chance to move through them.  When I knew that I needed to go (and go now!) I rallied and did what I needed to do.  I decided that after a contraction subsided a little, I needed to run downstairs and out to the car.  I was completely paralyzed during contractions, so this was the only way it would work.

Greta and Billy somehow dressed me, and I was ready to make a dash.  I only made it to the back door, before a contraction forced me to collapse on the floor for a couple minutes or more.  After it slowed down, I jolted up and ran through the backyard’s bright morning sunshine, hoping to at least make it to the car before another one started.  Just barely.  I jumped in the car, pushed the seat all the way back, and another double overhead transition wave came crashing all around me.  This one lasted, no exaggeration, the entire 5 to 7 minute ride to the birth center.  It just never let up.  I didn’t think, I just howled like mad through the contraction and hoped that the baby didn’t pop out on the floor.  Once we arrived at the birth center, I had a moment’s break to run to the door, through the reception area, into the birth room and on to the bed.  I barely made it.

At the Birth Center

We arrived sometime just before 10 am. Through a hazy half-glance, I saw Jill, our fabulous nurse, prepping to check my cervix.  “Jill, you better tell me I’m at a ten,” I muttered.  She checks and chuckles, “Oh yeah, you are there sweetheart.”  It was time for me to push (some more!).

I had a few more super intense contractions on the bed, as people came in and out of the room, preparing for the birth.  I was happy to see the familiar faces of Amy, Amanda, and Monica, our midwives, and I felt complete trust and peace in the situation.  I was in good hands and right where I needed to be.

Water Birth

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They drew a bath and suggested I get in for the pushing part of labor.  I was happy for this choice, as I wanted to deliver in water if it was a good option for us.  Though it felt a little scary to move, I made my way to the tub and got on all fours.  I labored like this for a while, as contractions turned to full force pushing.  Everyone was around me; encouraging me and helping me focus my energy during each intense wave.  Pushing is no joke; it’s like trying to move a mountain.  I resolved to give it every ounce of my strength and energy, giving way more than I ever knew I had.  Like contractions before, I had a good couple minute break to gather my strength in between each pushing wave.

My water broke in this position, and the team told me there was meconium in the water.  Meconium is poop the baby released in the womb, which can impede their airways as they take their first breaths.  Amanda calmly explained that it was going to be okay, they were going to suction her right away to clear her airways and then they’d hand her over to me.

maiabirth_0011I changed positions another two times, once to a reclined position the long way in the tub, with my hands bracing myself up and my legs spread.  (Fantastic birth tub, by the way!) Then, Amanda suggested I get into that same position the short way in the tub, so I could really open my pelvis and bring my legs up.  I was in this position for another half a dozen or so pushes, I think, before Maia was born.  Those last couple of pushing waves were the ultimate finale to labor—I gave everything I could and tried my hardest to push her out quickly but not too fast.  Greta later told me she felt like I had this amazing protective energy surrounding me and that I was in a deep place somewhere slightly removed.  Looking back, it feels like one of those dreams where you are hovering above your body watching things happen to you.

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I was able to reach down and feel Maia’s head a few minutes before she was born.  It was indescribable.  I held her, crowning, between a set of pushes, which the midwives said would help my tissues stretch.  I remember my strongest motivator at this moment was Billy—I could hear the joy in his voice as he caught the first glimpses of his daughter and I wanted so badly to give him the experience of seeing her.  It was a selfless and pure wish for him.

Maia is born

maiabirth_0021I pushed her out with the next wave.  Maia was born at about 11:11 am on Wednesday February 27, 2013.  It was an intense physical experience, but I was in the haze.  This haze makes it hard to describe with accuracy what happened next—and so many things seemed to happen all at once.

I remember seeing Amanda holding Maia up by her feet.  Maia was crying.  I didn’t see but I know they suctioned her.  Also, the umbilical cord burst when Maia was born, sending blood all over the place.  They clamped it, and before I knew it she was on my chest.

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I don’t know if I have words to describe the feeling of first holding Maia.  I mean, how do you describe the ultimate miracle?  It was pure joy, and awe, and wonder; I loved her instantly and intensely.  She was more beautiful than I could imagine.  I was meeting someone I’d waited my whole life to love.

Little Emergency

But the tub seemed to be getting darker and darker with blood, so they asked me to hand Maia to dad and get out of the tub.  I was still completely in the Birth Fog, so I just followed other’s directions without much thought.  But as soon as I got out of the tub, saw blood pouring all around me, and the flurry of action on part of the birth team, some distant part of me became a bit concerned.  As they helped me to a birth stool, I recall asking if everything was going to be okay, but the Fog blocked true worry from my mind.  I birthed my placenta, but my uterus had a hard time contracting as is necessary to avoid excessive blood loss.  I was bleeding profusely. So I received the full treatment—a couple of injections in my thigh and a gritty pill in my mouth, lots of painful pushing on my belly, buckets being filled with blood and tissue—and after a while, the hemorrhage emergency seemed to subside.  (Thanks to the competence and quick action of the birth team.  Total rock stars.)  This experience scared the bejeses out of poor Billy.

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Holding new life

I was helped to the bed and -- after a little more serious pushing on my uterus to ensure the bleeding has ceased -- I got to hold Maia again.  After that, she was really all I could focus on.  I was so exhausted and weak but I just wanted to hold and discover her.  Greta helped me learn how to nurse her and we worked on different holds for a while.  Maia was a fantastic and eager nurser from that very first try.  I am so grateful for that.  Billy and I snuggled in to stare in wonder at our new little love.

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The things going on around me are a little blurry in my memory.  I recall Amanda bringing over the placenta and showing it to us (she later encapsulated it for us).  I recall Amy telling me lots of important and helpful information I instantly forgot :).  I remember Greta offering me a tropical tasting drink and more water.  I ate pizza from Pizza Luce.  They gave Maia her first physical exam and she was healthy as could be (though they heard a heart murmur that would resolve itself in a matter of days).  Maia weighed eight pounds exactly and was 20 inches long.  She had a good cry from the start.

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I soon discovered another cause of my profuse bleeding—I had torn badly—through my inner and outer labia and a little on my perineum.  Apparently Maia stuck her hand up by her head as she was making her grand entrance and it ripped through my tissues.  Amanda also told me her head had rotated around as she came out of the birth canal, creating a wider space upon passage.  Amy spent at least an hour stitching me up—it took at least 40 stitches to get the job done.  She did a great job. This birth was beautiful but very physically taxing.

maiabirth_0079In all, we stayed at the birth center about 5 hours after the birth.  We left at about 4:30 in the afternoon and headed home.  We had great hopes of sleeping soon, as we were told babies usually sleep 6 to 8 hours at home after the birth.  Well, she didn’t exactly get this message until the next morning.  Eventually, after lots of exhausted activity I cannot really recall, we slept from about 4am to maybe 10am, the longest stint of sleep we’d have for weeks to come.

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But alas, our beautiful baby girl is in the world.  We had an amazingly beautiful birth experience and came out stronger than I thought possible.  Billy was so proud of me in the coming days; it was the greatest feeling in the world.  Maia and I did it.  We did it together surrounded in love and support from some truly remarkable people.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  I am so grateful.

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Most photos by: EyeSpy Photography