Friday, December 22, 2006

The Birth Story of Naomi Melelani

Naomi’s Birth Story

There is both much and little to this story. Little, because Naomi was simply…born. A beautiful waterbirth; a short labor and very short pushing stage; a beautiful baby, 7lbs 2oz, 21 inches long. Much, because for something so profound, the memory lies for me in emotions, which can never be conveyed whole from person to person, and thus the experience for others must lie in the details; and when my own emotions fade in the hormonal fog of new-motherhood, I will need the details to bring them back.

On the morning of the 21st my waters sprung a light leak – something I did not recognize at the time, but a thin mucous continued its way slowly out of me and when my midwife did a swab while I was in labor, it was definitely amniotic fluid. Still, at the time I was unaware that labor was soon to be upon me, so life proceeded as usual on the 21st. We finally got a Christmas tree, and my children and I spent the afternoon stringing up lights and decorating (finally). Tree decorated and house re-cleaned, we took our baths and headed off to bed – it was as I lay there, wide-awake at 10pm, squished between hot little bodies on a twin mattress and waiting for my children to sleep that my first obviously labor-contraction found me at last, the familiar ache in my back told me that this was it, no more practicing. Still, I did not take it too seriously. Even as it was followed 15 minutes or so by another similarly strong one, and another.

By the time my husband arrived home at around 12, I had decided I was in labor and had begun to get things ready. I told him I thought the baby would be born in the morning. We planned to prep the kit and the bathroom and then try to get some sleep. But contractions picked up significantly as we spoke and cleaned, and at 12:30 I called my midwife and asked her to come over.

Contractions came and went, but I had recently found an analogy that I found very helpful – if I were to take a difficult but pleasant hike, and instead of focusing on the pleasurable aspects of the experience would instead dwell on the unpleasant aspects, even if it was the most beautiful location in the world I would be obsessed by the difficulties of breathing, with the burn in my legs, with the sweat on my back, with the tiredness creeping up as I walked. So it is with labor, and so I enjoyed the time between contractions, talking to my husband, making neat little arrangements with the birth supplies, talking with my baby, or sitting quietly on the couch. Contractions were spaced far apart, and it honestly felt like I had started labor before time began, that they had collected themselves slowly but surely, years apart, then months, days, hours, and finally now, minutes. I don’t know how far apart they were, because time then was unimportant to me. I just know I experienced them, with much time between. A few were more difficult, and I needed to stop and sway and breathe deeply through them, but most were nothing more than a dull ache and tightening.

Perhaps it is some essential but cruel paradox that I, who enjoyed this process, would experience it briefly while for some who find it excruciating it would last days; but whatever the reason, this stage of labor lasted just over 2 hours for me. Somewhere in that time, at around 2am, my midwife arrived along with her partner. They complimented my belly, complimented me, and brought their things in quietly. I agreed to an internal check and was 7cm, but my midwife told me that it was not my cervix holding my baby in, that it would easily stretch to accommodate my baby even if I were to push her out now – instead, it was simply a matter of waiting until my body told me it was time. I was told that I was doing beautifully, that I was handling things so gracefully, and it meant a lot to me to hear these things.

And so I went about my labor process as they prepared and filled the pool, as my husband got the children up and awake and explained things to them, as everyone got settled in. Between (and sometimes through) contractions I continued doing little things, talking to the children, showing my MW where this or that thing was. Somewhere around 2:30 the pool was halfway full and I felt myself to be approaching the climax of labor, so I got into the pool. The warm water was soothing, but I was at the very height of labor, and spent the next couple of contractions with eyes closed, slowly breathing out deep breaths while my husband poured warm water over the exposed portion of my belly. After a gentle suggestion from my MW, I added ever-so-little pressure to one of the contractions and felt my baby move down. And then, it hit me, the *need*, absolute, undeniable, primal, and for the first time in this labor, truly painful – to push. My midwife, who had not forgotten my desire for a hands-off birth and was at that point sitting quietly on the couch across the room, said ‘just go with it,’ and I did, and all at once she was crowning. I reached down and felt her head as it started to come out; I moved my tissues with my hands and sighed her head out of me. In some very distant part of my attention I noted my son and daughter a few feet away (they were sitting on a couch, just a few feet from my own feet) watching quietly and just a little excitedly. A few moments later, a little extra push brought the rest of my baby into the world, and oh the relief I felt; a relief so profound that for a few moments I forget there was a baby there in the water, until my midwife quietly reminded me; “pick up your baby.” I held her and she felt so tiny, and was so alive, so whole and healthy and complete – she turned pink right away, cried that mewing newborn-cry with almost glass-shattering intensity for a few seconds, and then seemed to fall asleep.

And so, Naomi Melelani was born at 2:50 am on December 22, 2004.

Her cord was long; longer than my legs, but very healthy. She remained attached to me, anchored still to my uterus, for long minutes while I marveled at the small sleeping body on my chest. Her head perfect and unmoulded, her fingers long and graceful, hair dark, her body still largely covered in a thick layer of vernix. I noted as if from a distance that there was a lot of vernix floating around in the water, but not a drop of blood. I felt my abdomen and could feel the placenta there, quite large actually, and my midwife had a moment of worry over a possible twin (yes, it was really large – plus I had a muscle spasm at just the right moment to worry her), but that worry quickly faded. I had to push out the placenta – it did not simply slip through as the placentas of my other children had. But it came out without problems.

My midwife clamped the cord and my DH cut it. The water was now very bloody and I was ready to get out, so I did get out and showered and half-dressed while DH and the kids held and loved the baby. When I got out of the shower I was shivering and my midwife and her partner brought me some heat packs and warm towels, and we set up in bed. I asked to be checked – no tearing! And Naomi was checked, too, and checked out as perfect as I thought her to be. We lay there, naked skin to naked skin, for a long time, visiting and then nursing, my new daughter’s 7lb, 2oz body sticky with vernix in places, smooth and warm in others. Just before my midwife left at 4:30 she put on Naomi’s first diaper and wrapped her in a warm blanket while I put on a night-shirt, and then we settled in for the night; my children, my husband and I, all snuggled up in bed. We called a few relatives with our news (some of them disappointed we had not called during labor so they could be there, but we were happiest by ourselves), and my 4.5 year-old daughter Rebecca wanted to talk to everyone and tell them about how when she got older, she wanted to have a new baby in the water just like mommy. But finally we settled in and slept far into the morning, all warm and happy and together.

There is more, much more, that I could say, the story of Naomi’s birth growing into the story of her first days and my recovery; but I will end the story-telling here. I will note instead that there is nothing negative to say. Naomi is astoundingly healthy and astoundingly happy; she cries when we take off a diaper but never otherwise, she hasn’t shown even a hint of jaundice, no bruising or trauma, is eating and sleeping and pooping and peeing and everything a newborn is supposed to do. Sometimes she opens her eyes and seeks out the voices she hears, studying the faces of those she has spent months hearing from the womb. But mostly she sleeps, most comfortable laying on her side with one fist to her cheek, the other arm flung up, shielding her face. She spends hours deeply asleep in her daddy’s arms, and more hours sleeping curled up next to me in bed. She is such a peaceful child, and I wonder sometimes if it is that she has had such a peaceful birth, free from the traumas small and large that my others experienced during and after their births. Or if simply being at home, her family unstressed and peaceful, means that she can’t pick up on the stresses of others the way that my other children so obviously did.

I cannot sing the praises of homebirth or waterbirth loudly or strongly enough. After this experience, I look back at the natural-but-hospital-based births of my two older children and resent anew every blood-pressure reading, every washing (Naomi hasn’t been ‘washed’ yet, her skin is soft and smooth and clean without the ‘benefit’ of soap and water and scrubbing), every needle-prick-just-in-case. I look back and loathe the feelings I experienced, the self-consciousness, the powerlessness, the be-a-good-patient-submissiveness. If my son’s birth came close to everything a hospital birth can be, then my new daughter’s birth comes close to everything that birth itself can be, with nothing to look back upon and wish different. Three days later, I still feel like the most blessed person in the world; high and happy and ever-so-much in love.

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