"God showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand… and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: 'What can this be?' And it was generally answered thus: 'It is all that was made.' It was so small I thought it might disappear, but I was answered... everything has being through the love of God." --Julian of Norwich
Thursday, May 8, 2014
The Little One, version 2: A New Birth Story
Happy Julian of Norwich day!
I don't think that's the official greeting on a saint's day, which usually commemorates a saint's day of death (though we don't know that detail about Dame Julian). But it will do. I can't think of anything better to do to commemorate Julian today than to write about the arrival of my own Julianne, named for this saint who has meant so much to my own spiritual journey. Labour, birth, God's great love, the sense that "all shall be well:" it's all here. At this stage in life, I just love hearing birth stories--even the hard ones--because they are such a testament to the miracle of life. So here's mine:
On Friday April 4th, at 38 weeks pregnant, I had been off work for one week, my fridge and freezer were pretty stocked, and I was beginning to feel ready for this new baby to arrive. I was finding it hard parenting a two and a half year old while heavily pregnant. All the bending down and carrying and sleeplessness were wearing on me.
Lucy and I went out to the store and I picked up a bottle of Mama Goddess's lovely smelling labour massage oil that includes essential oils like clary sage, jasmine and rose to encourage (but not induce) labour. When we got home, I applied it several times, a few hours apart, just enjoying it like a lovely perfume. But baby was good and ready to come. I began feeling pre-labour contractions that evening as I was putting Lucy to bed. It wasn't the first time I'd felt these crampy squeezes in the past weeks and I didn't want to get my hopes up too much if I still had a long wait of several weeks ahead of me, but something about them felt like the real deal. I smiled down at Lucy that night as I tucked her in and said, "Tonight may be the night, Lu. Maybe when you wake up, the baby will be here!" She beamed up at me wordlessly with excitement.
Clint worked a bit late that night and came home after Lucy was in bed. I let him know that it could be time, and we threw the last minute items into the hospital bag just to be safe. I prepared the food I would need to bring to the hospital. I was about to call the midwife and doula just to give them the heads up before anyone headed to bed, but after continuing irregularly for about 3 hours, the contractions stopped by 9pm. So I headed to bed a bit early.
It was good too, because the irregular contractions woke me at 1am, not too painful, but just strong and regular enough that I couldn't sleep. They continued every 10 minutes or so until about 4am, then died away again. I crawled back into bed and Clint woke up with Lucy at 6am or so to let me sleep in. (I had recently read him the lines from Wendell Berry's poem "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front", "Ask yourself: will this satisfy/ a woman satisfied to bear a child? / Will this disturb the sleep / of a woman near to giving birth?" with a meaningful, pointed look. I think I scared him a little bit. Anyway, he was excited about baby coming and especially letting me rest.)
By 10am Saturday morning when I got up, I was a little frustrated that nothing had picked up again. I got ready for the day, notified my friend Karyn that Lucy could possibly be headed her way for a playdate later, and we made plans to go for a walk to get labour moving. It was pouring rain, so we decided to go for a walk at The Real Canadian Superstore (Canada's national equivalent to Super Wal-Mart). We needed newborn diapers and a few groceries anyway. (I was on the fence still about signing up for the diaper service we used when Lucy was born--I foolishly thought I still had weeks to go!)
Contractions started picking up again on the way in the car at about 1pm. I must have been a bit of a hoot to watch as I laboured my way around Superstore, stopping every five minutes to lean over the cart and catch my breath, timing contractions with an app on my (not very) smartphone. By the time we got home at 2pm, they were regular enough to call Karyn and page the midwife (a minute long, five minutes apart). And by the time we put the groceries away and the midwife called back at 2:30pm, contractions were three minutes apart, more than a minute.
"If this was your second baby," she said, "then I'd tell you to come right in."
"I'm a VBAC," I said, "but this is my second baby!"
"Ok, well then come on in!"
We packed an overnight bag for Lucy, dropped her at Karyn's just a few blocks away for a playdate with her best friend in the world Addy, and just like that we were headed to the hospital! I was delighted at the chance to walk in the main doors to labour and delivery, after my hostage situation last time.
I checked in at 3:30 or so, and contractions had really picked up. I didn't bother to time them anymore, I knew this baby was coming soon! The midwife who met us--Liz--said my cervix was already 6cm dilated. She and my doula Michelle (a backup since my primary doula was on vacation, so sad!) were impressed that I was still walking around so calmly. Compared to the contractions on synthetic hormones I had the first time around, these natural contractions seemed easy.
I changed into my Pretty Pushers' pink hospital gown (because regular ones feel like trauma triggers after last time), and they gave me a birthing room on the first floor at about 4pm. They are medical rooms, nothing comfy or fancy, but I was prepared for that. I began to lose track of time as they prepared my IV antibiotics (I had tested positive for Group B Strep) and set up the room in the next hour or so.
I got into a great rhythm during contractions, which were steadily more intense. I laid on my side for what seemed a long time while I waited for the IV, but once it was ready, I settled in at the end of the bed, rocking on the birth ball and breathing through each contraction with a long sustained "Ohhh." Just like my favorite parts of labor from the last time around. At probably about 4:30, the pressure from contractions was strong enough to make me feel nauseous, so I said I was going to need something for the pain and they gave me the "gas and air" as they call it on Call the Midwife, more affectionately known as "laughing gas."
And laugh I did. I love that stuff! I breathed it deeply for every contraction. Now deeply relaxed and a little high, I also got all weepy and sentimental at this point.
Tears brimming in my eyes, I told Clint and Michelle, "My body is really doing this! I can't believe my body is doing this! This is everything I wanted with my first daughter's birth and didn't get! This is so wonderful." I'm pretty sure they were holding back a chuckle as I went on and on.
I lost track of time and place and everything. I was focused and present in every instant. At one point I looked up at the clock, which said it was 5, and I asked Michelle if it was really 5 in the morning. She looked at me like I was crazy. It was 5pm. I'd been in the hospital only an hour and a half.
Before long contractions transitioned from painful tightness in my belly to an incredible, unstoppable urge to push. It was a sensation I had never felt in my labor with Lucy, so intense and animal. It was odd to feel so out of rational control and yet so trusting of my body's instincts. They took away my happy gas, but I asked for a bit of an essential oil blend called Balance. Michelle put it on a tissue for me in case I hated it, but nothing had ever smelled so good to me and I sniffed that tissue between pushes as though my life depended on it.
The midwife was with another woman pushing, so the nurse checked to make sure I was fully dilated, and gave me the ok to push. I pushed for about an hour, sweating with the exertion, the hard work of it all. I pushed on hands and knees, squatting, and using a birthing bar. They told me they could see the baby's head with each push even let me feel the little circle of fuzzy hair, but I wondered why baby wouldn't just come on out then already. I was pushing as hard as I could, and felt oddly annoyed and impatient that it wasn't over.
Then just at the point when the midwife wanted me to pant through the next contraction to avoid tearing, baby was out in two pushes. Clint, who had been nervous about how he would deal with the blood and gore, found this birth so much less traumatic (less brutal pain and no scary dips in baby's heart rate, thankfully) he decided to catch the baby and clamp the cord (I was so proud of him!). He handed this tiny body up to me and told me "It's a girl."
It was 7:09, only six hours from the time that contractions really picked up!
I was so surprised. I really thought it was a boy. And yet it was so right. Of course! It was our Julianne! When we chose that name, it was exactly the same as with Lucy. We both tossed out names that the other person hated until we struck on one that we just knew was perfect. And she was perfect.
My first thought was: "she looks so different from Lucy! She's just her own little self." Her eyes were already bright as she looked around. Their gaze and the softness of her skin sustained me through all the stitches (and in the end she came so quickly there were a lot). I loved (adored!) that I got to hold her immediately, all slippery and purple. That her first gurgling cry was in my arms. It was all very intense in such a different, more personal way than the c-section.
I tried not to come into this birth experience with anything to prove. I just wanted to meet our baby, our Julianne, in whatever way she came. I will always cherish Lucy's birth because it taught me so much about God and myself. And Julianne's is the same, with unique lessons about my worth and ability and God's gift of embodiedness. I am so much in awe of bodies now--my body, her body, Lucy's body that suddenly seems so gigantic. All that our bodies have accomplished in birthing and feeding and growing and healing in these last four weeks. What a special miracle.
These weeks have been full of nursing and resting and self-care. And exhaustion and tears and adjustment. Family has come to visit and we had a beautiful little "churching" service of Thanksgiving after Childbirth with friends. Every day has been a blessing, even the hard ones. I can feel myself cherishing every opportunity to put Julianne in a fresh sleeper, the ones so familiar, yet that Lucy grew out of so quickly.
And daily I remind myself: I am so rich in love!