A Hospital VBAC--Faintly Violet: Fragments of a birth
Such amazing birth stories lately! I love this one. The way everything is mixed up is so much how labor happens in my mind. A little here, a little there, some forgotten, some vivid, all combining to make for a baby and a birth and a new family. Enjoy!
This is the birth story I wrote of my second daughter now 18month old. It's very long, and I'm a little nervous about sharing it with the wider world, but at the same time it was such a vividly beautiful experience. My first was a traumatic caesarean, a 27 weeker microprem, we didn't have much choice in her birth, so my second birth I was fiercely passionately driven for a VBAC. I went through our local birth centre (beautiful beautiful women who always greeted me with a smile) but because I was a VBAC we had to use the hospital delivery suite rooms.
My midwife was Natasha.
Alison is a dear friend who agreed to be my birth partner
Talia is the now almost 4 year old big sister (a little over 2 years corrected at the birth)
And Mark is my dear love.
I do apologise for the complete lack of continuity. Somehow I couldn't bind my birth story to a consecutive ordering of events, my first attempt at that just drained away the sense of beauty and wonder my heart was singing from the birth experience. I still marvel that I was at my most powerful and my most vulnerable at the same time.
So here it is.
Faintly Violet: Fragments of a birth
I've been working on the full story in parts, but there's so much of it. So here's a collection of whimsical fragments, tinged faintly violet, just like my laundry I'd managed to leave in the machine the night before her birth with a purple skirt so the dye ran. Somehow discovering my laundry had been dyed faintly Violet was so appropriate after her birth, it still makes me laugh
A very random order of moments.
I was coherent and 'with it' the entire birth. I was blissful and sedate and actively conscious, that conscious awareness and resonance with self and surrounds and company. There was a moment in the bath where I asked Alison to take a photo of me because I'd been hit by this wave of sudden joy, I was just incredibly happy all the way through; I was really giving birth, exactly how I wanted to, with the people I most wanted there with me, so vividly conscious and joyous. The photo isn't great, but I'm so glad that moment was captured, that bliss, so I'll never forget it.
It was so comfy kneeling on the couch leaning against the back of the couch, moaning through if the contraction ached, focusing inwards then coming back out to continue pottering around getting things ready for Talia's day.
I stayed in bed as long as I could through the morning. Contractions had been getting regular from around 2am, though I made a point of not watching the clock. They started getting more intense, yet still I put off calling Natasha, hoping to wait for a more reasonable hour. 5am, or maybe it was 5:30 an intense contraction hit and I knew there was no denying that this was labour and it was time to call Tash. Several rings and eventually she picked up, I started with apologising for waking her, funny the space you enter in labour.
Given the number of things we needed to mess around with before we could leave we arranged to meet at the hospital around 7-7:30 ish, she said she'd be there from 6:30 anyway. Cue calling Alison (birth partner), my mum (looking after Talia that night), Rosie (girl from work to take Tali in to care) and Wendy (my boss, to warn her that Tali would be in the extra day). Then the insanity of attempting to eat breakfast, pack Tali's bag for the day and night, get Tali's dress ready for photo day, sort out her breakfast for Rosie to help her with, interspersed with regular contractions I had to stop for... eventually we got out of the house.
We collected Alison from her house, and she came out with a beautiful stem with three pale pink roses on it, one barely a bud, one in its prime, and another just getting that touch too open and past its best. She'd been hunting around the garden for something to contribute and was just giving up hope when she spied that poetically evocative trio. After the birth we hung the flowers on a mobile in our room to help them dry. We forgot to take them home, but the midwives rescued them for us and took them to one of my follow up appointments. They're now on my labour altar where I light candles for mamas I love as they're giving birth .
As we walked into Delivery Suite one of their midwives said to Natasha in a joking voice "All babies out by 2, 'kay Tash?" I replied, "We'll give it a go. Do I get to use the bath?" Violet was born at 2:30pm, in the bath.
Mum brought Talia in to meet her new baby sister. We were all snuggled down on the bed, a lovely big double bed with a wooden frame, so earthy and home-like. Violet was next to me, maybe she was nursing, it's a little hazy now. I got to give Talia a big cuddle and introduce her to baby Violet, that baby Pip came out of mummy's tummy and here she is as baby Violet. Talia was in utter wonderment, gazing at our new baby speaking barely above a whisper saying "Tiiiiny. Baby tiiiiny. Baby Bi-let tiiiiny." I asked Tali if she'd like some mum milk, and it was so nice to snuggle my big girl against my breast in that beautiful space of love.
After coming back from the toilet Alison suggested we try a different position or place as I'd been on the bed all morning (not flat on my back, curled up comfy and relaxed, the back of the bed quite upright so I was more lounging than anything else. Besides, the bed was dodgy and the end section at my feet would slide away if I pushed on it much at all with my feet). There was something luxurious in how I was indulging in my birth, I had this beautiful satin dressing gown that came to mid-thigh on. I didn't need anything else and that was easy access whilst being a long way from anything resembling a hospital gown.
There's something delicious about lounging back in a satin slip, eating grapes in this beautiful peaceful loving heartspace surrounded by two of my favourite people in the world. So I got onto the birthing mat set up next to a lounge chair, on my knees, leaning against the arm of the chair. Mark sat in the chair cooing to me and letting me grip his arm if I needed it whilst Alison set up behind me to give me a lovely gentle back massage, ylang ylang scented oil and her beautiful soft hands caressing my back.
When we'd been in the room about an hour getting some of our stuff sorted out, I wasn't quite convinced that we were having this baby today. I asked Natasha if she was going to check me and she was happy to. 2 days before I'd been completely closed and not effaced at all. Funny how you can convince yourself that you're probably not properly in labour and these regular contractions could well continue for the next three days. So she checked me and said "Well you're 3cm and fully effaced" I was completely caught by surprise and said, "You WHAT?!?!" That convinced me I was actually in labour.
There was this beautiful focused peaceful time whilst in the bath, I was on all fours in this huge bath, facing the corner so Natasha could actually keep track of where we were at. I could hear the others in the room (only Mark in the bath with me, Natasha, Alison, and another midwife to act as a secondary witness for Natasha to confirm that yes, there was no way they were getting continuous monitoring on me at that stage, but the hb was fine right through so this wasn't an unprofessional decision, though I didn't find that part out until a few days later), but my world became this one corner of white ceramic bath, the tiles, DH's arm and a towel. And the water. The clear gentle warm water. Facing the water as I was small details became so clear; a blob of green blue goo from the doppler (Natasha managed to accidentally dunk the first doppler, she wasn't used to a bath that big, the one in the birth centre is smaller), a small string of blood, my necklace hanging down, the occasional fleck of poo (really didn't bother me, I fully trusted the people I was with, it wasn't an issue for me or them).
But what really intensely rang true for me were the ripples in the surface of the water as I breathed. Sometimes they were deep runnels, others just light fluttery rhythmical patterns. Those ripples in the water were a phenomenal focus of my energy, a point to concentrate on for my breath. Many women who have gas in their birth, even on a minimal setting, think it's doing nothing until after they've pushed it away. Personally I think the gas on that minimal setting must work partially as a placebo, but more than that it becomes a point of focus for breath. By watching those ripples in the water I was focusing my breath energy, little breaths so I wouldn't push too hard too fast, deeper breaths when it was getting tiring, holding my breath to contain and use that energy within (I couldn't push whilst exhaling, it let too much of the energy out when I needed to hold it).
I was on the bed in the room, lying on my side, grapes on the table, caressing the birth sculpture Mark had carved. I loved the smell of it, the feel of soft, perfectly sanded wood rubbing gently against my nose and mouth. I'd grip DH's arm through contractions, and sometimes he'd grip mine back which agitated me slightly because I was bruisy from the failed canula/IV line, but pushing him away would have felt like kicking a puppy, he was doing his best to help, and having him there and knowing I could grip his arm as tightly as I needed to was comforting. At one point I needed to hold his arm to my mouth, to just barely press my teeth against his skin because of the depth of the pain. He knew I just needed that touch, that I wasn't actually going to bite him, and even if I had he would have been fine with it. He gave the insight later that he knew I needed that oral stimulation to centre myself, it wasn't about biting, it was about comfort.
I struggled with pushing for a while, I just couldn't get it right, couldn't channel the energy right, I was starting to get frustrated but just when I needed it Natasha told me I was doing really well. Then somehow I stumbled across the energy channel of my spine. My breath needed to take the right path to work, to help me, and I needed to channel the energies the right way to push effectively. And I found that the energy only flowed right when it was channeling straight down my spine, starting in my head, down my neck and down my spine to my baby, any kink in that line and the energy would disperse too greatly and be wasted. Once I discovered that channel it all just clicked into place.
I was starting to get frustrated with pushing, that it was taking so long and felt like I wasn't moving our baby along enough. I could tell our Pip was getting lower because Natasha was finding the heartbeat lower and lower, til she was having to place the doppler barely above my pelvic bone. Our Pip started getting close to crowning, I'd push and feel them move down, then slide back. Just as I was getting frustrated Natasha again saved me with wisdom and advice, that the baby's head needed to move up and down in the birth canal to help stretch my perenium to help prevent tearing. It was good, it was normal.
I found myself entering a child-like space. I had no idea of what I was doing, I needed gentle but firm guidance. Natasha's voice was just so right. If I'd been a regular delivery suite patient I would have been getting scared at this point, but I was safe with my midwife.
At one point whilst in our delivery suite room (I was so thankful that it wasn't a room I'd bled in with Talia) I was struck by a remembered line from a book I'd read, where one woman's birth mantra had been "I'm a lean, mean, birthing machine." I mentally applied the mantra to myself and laughed inside, because I so was.
After labouring (not that it was a labour really, being massaged, loved and caressed) a while on the birth mat Natasha offered to check me again. It must've been about midday. So I got up on the bed again, she checked and I was a stretchy 5, up to a 6. It wasn't as much progress as she would have liked, but that was most likely due to the dehydration. She said we'll check again in a bit and if we haven't made more progress she might break my waters. So I asked if I could get in the shower, she agreed. I wanted to send an sms update out but got hit by a contraction so the thought was lost.
I decided to go to the toilet before getting in the shower, and whilst I was sitting there I felt this pop and gush as my waters broke. Terribly neat ;) It was at most 15 minutes after Tash had said she might break them if we didn't progress. Cheeky Pip.
It started getting a little frazzly at that point. The chair they had in the shower wasn't great so I was perched on it, Tash was struggling to get the ctg trace in the right spot, to the point where I was this close to swatting her hand away. And the shower wasn't enough, I couldn't get the water on my lower back and under my belly at the same time. Add in that I could see Mark and Alison were getting splashed (neither had brought spare clothes) and it just wasn't working right. It was going to take them at least 10-15 minutes to get the bath ready. The contractions were coming hard. I was slipping into a child-like space of needing to ask Natasha's permission to get in the bath. I can see why women are so easily bullied into monitoring, drugs and intervention at this point. Maybe that was transition.
I remember Natasha checking the O2 set up in the room to be sure it worked as we were getting close to baby time. Hearing the hiss of the gas made me think it was the pain relief variety and in my head I thought, "Ooooh don't tempt me" but I knew I didn't mean it.
Early on in the birth I asked Alison to brush my hair as I hadn't had the opportunity to that morning. There's something so loving about having someone you care about and trust brushing your hair.
I spoke to our Pip between contractions, asking my baby so gently to work with me, telling them they were doing so well and we love them so much. I loved the warmth of those murmurings, there was no anger. How could I blame my baby for the pain I was in? I was so thankful that they were there with me, giving me the birth I wanted. I loved them so much, and they had no concept of right or wrong, of choice. Who could curse such innocence? So I told my Pip just how much I loved them, that we were working together to get through this.
I touched her head, a little before she was crowning. I think I did. I tried to. I know I felt soft folds of skin within me, and then I was hit by another contraction and there wasn't another chance.
Feeling her crowning, the 'ring of fire'. It wasn't a ring of fire for me, it was a gradual pain that shifted location. I mean, it stung like crazy, but I could feel it move from my perenium up, slowly and controlled as I pushed. I was so tired and wanted to hurry up and finish this thing, so I pushed through that contraction to get the 'ring of fire' done with. Feeling that stinging moving up from my perenium, up the sides, to the top of my opening, and that was the most painful bit done with. Not so scary, not debilitating, painful, but a good pain. I heard Alison gasp a soft "oh!" of wonderment as she saw our Pip's head, that gave me such strength. The next step was hard, pushing her through enough to crest her brow. It still leaves me breathless, the thought of the strength it took to get to that step, feeling her sliding back. Pushing so hard with the next go to get that little bit further. Then I felt the lip of my perenium slip over the brow and I gasped, I'd done it. The next push should be the head. So I took a moment to breathe, steeled my will and pushed again...
And suddenly our baby was born. There was no pause with the head out before pushing the shoulders and body through, just the whole rest of our baby in a series of determined pushes. I was slightly agitated afterwards that noone had told me that the head was out, but the truth was there just wasn't a moment where it was just the head, the whole of her rocketted out. There was some slight confusion as we wrangled me rolling over to sit in the bath whilst Mark tried to manoeuvre our baby up to my chest with the cord going the wrong way, but within moments our baby was on my chest and I was almost crying with joy and pride and wonderment that I'd actually done it. It was a good few minutes before we remembered to check the sex, though I got a faint glimpse as she was being lifted up to me. She'd cried as she was lifted out of the water, but stopped within moments of being snuggled against my skin.
Holding our baby in the bath, Mark right up against me, flooded with elation, a soaked towel wrapped around our baby to protect her from any chill. There really aren't words for that moment, the sense of whole-ness. Looking at her face I knew she was more a Violet Joy than a Kaylee (our second choice name), and it was just Right.
I got a slight tear, at most 1cm long, a little above my perenium, just to one side. It could have healed on its own but there would always be a small loose flap of skin, so I got stitched up once we were back in delivery suite. Natasha thinks the tear was more from Violet's shoulder as she came out so fast, rather than the actual crowning.
They prepared a soft spot for me to sit to birth the placenta, and never once was Violet taken from my arms. I remember musing in that happy haze that maybe we should bury the placenta around mid-summer in Alison's beautiful garden (I don't have a garden I could place a treasure like that). Natasha told me to forget about midsummer and focus on the now with birthing this placenta. It was a good 15-20 minutes before the cord stopped pulsing. I attempted to offer Violet a feed, she wasn't interested just yet. I got the synctocinin (sp?) to help with the placenta, but it still took a good while to separate. Having Natasha tugging on the cord felt strange. It may have been half an hour or more before the placenta released and I was able to push it out. So easy and soft after birthing a baby :D Violet suckled a little, sort of, no rush, it'll happen when she's ready.
After a bit of a rest they helped me to my feet and I slowly shuffled back to our room. She latched on, no pain, suckling beautifully. Photos. Mark getting to cuddle Violet against his chest whilst I was being stitched up, Alison holding my hand. Alison getting a cuddle with our Violet. Doing Violet's measurements. 3.35kg of baby. Just perfect. A perfect birth, a perfect baby. And eventually me getting into a wheelchair to be wheeled down to the birth centre to recover in peace. We were up most of the night talking through the wonder of the experience, Violet snuggled exhausted between us. There was a beautiful cradle in the room, wooden frame that would rock gently, but I couldn't bear the thought of her sleeping alone after being held so close and snug for so long, her first night in the world just couldn't be spent alone. We'd forgotten to bring a muslin wrap with us, so we wrapped her in a violet sarong I'd brought as easy clothes to throw on if I'd needed to pace the halls. My bundle of perfect baby, wrapped in faintly violet cloth, a purely accidental completely unplanned happenstance.
And I adored the softness of my post-birth belly. Soft and velvety, just like her skin, perfect for resting a perfect little baby on. I was so sad to see it fade and retract, halved by 3 days, virtually gone within 8 days.
Throughout my labour and birth I was caressed, supported and comforted by the image of one candle, one candle that became the symbol of all the candles flickering for me. Corrie had described her candle as being lit on a cold, rainy morning in . Somehow that single phrase evoked a beautiful image of a drizzly grey soft misty morning across a moor, a big old tree , the colours faded in the drizzly light, with the warmth of a vibrant strong candle flame, somehow embodying the light of dozens of candle flames burning for me.
There's so much more I could say, so many moments. Those are the richest. Oh such wonder!
It was a few hours after Violet's birth that I realised I'd managed it drug free.
Within an hour of giving birth to Violet I was up in the delivery suite room and I thought "I could so do that again, not right now, but I could definitely do that again." So maybe we will have three children. If not, then I'm sincerely tempted to offer myself as a surrogate mother, giving the gift of helping others become parents, whilst indulging in my own desire to give birth again. If I don't stop now you'll be reading all night.
Though one addition I have to add, is an insight from Mark, the concept of three births. The first is the mother birthing the baby, bringing the baby out of her body. The second is the father's birth, cutting the cord, separating the baby from the mother. And the third is the baby's birth, in finally parting with the last of that cord as it falls off a few days later, completely an independent being.