Matias' birth: A practice in faith
Monday, I woke with a gut-deep worry that something was not quite right with Matias. He seemed still and drawn inward in a way I had not yet felt. I called the Women's Health Center and they reassured me that he was moving plenty (5 times in ten minutes-he was always really active). However, I was not placated. My unease stayed with me and I changed my prenatal appointment to early Wednesday.
Michelle, the midwife, listened to my concerns and said everything seemed fine. However, she then checked Matias' heart rate, and instead of the usual robust sound, it was very slow (110 beats per minute, so right below low limits of normal). I felt like I was falling into space. I was terrified. We were sent to L&D so they could monitor me. They hooked me up for ½ an hour, and his heart rate was now great (right in 140-160 hp per minute range), he was moving frequently and responding well to irregular contractions. I was confused, and still felt uneasy, so we decided to do an ultrasound for more information. That is when we realized his amniotic fluid was really low, which meant the placenta was not functioning well. So, his heart rate seemed to drop when I was lying back (like when they initially checked his heart rate), probably because of the pressure on the cord without fluid to float it.
The news was sobering to us both, but I also felt a great sense of relief that we had finally articulated with technology what I had felt as gut-intuition for a while now. Thank goodness I was lying on my back when they first checked his heart rate, or they may have sent me home without detecting the issue!
We were admitted, with the plan to start inducement at 4:30 a.m.
Luis is religious, and I could tell it would help him to pray. So, for the first time in my life, I prayed formally, holding hands with my husband across our respective narrow hospital bed and cot. Luis' face glowed with his faith, and I felt at peace for giving shape to what we were about to face, and for surrendering to something larger.
At 3 a.m., Thursday, we both woke up and looked at each other, not able to sleep any more, and agreed to start. The next two days were arduous and trying to us both, as we went through a series of methods to induce: plug with prostaglandins to “ripen” the cervix, a small balloon in cervix as a mechanical method, and finally, a minimal dose of Pitocin.
I was exhausted, and felt defeated: why was my uterus so reluctant to respond? How did we arrive here after my hopes for a water birth? Only later would I fully understand that inducement is usually slow, as one is trying to condense weeks of change into hours. I was scared to be at the decision point of administering Pitocin, after all the stories I had read and heard about Pitocin being at the start of a sequence that could lead to needing pain medication, and even in some cases a Cesarean. Luis was deeply worried about what was happening, and the sense that we were forcing the process to start.
- A birth team that worked smoothly and selflessly with me (the nurses commented on their amazing “orbit around me as a sun”).
- Maintaining my strength with fluid and small snacks even when I was not quite hungry, as Ellen recommended.
- Being able to take intense short cat naps (yes, even between contractions I would fall into REM sleep).
- My friends and mom “sounding” with me, to help me keep my verbalizations during contractions low and deep.
- Having thought through for myself what are methods that help me when I am tired and in pain and writing that out in my birth plan. This last element was crucial, as it gave me a sense of power and control when everything else was so different than what I had expected.
I knew that movement would help
I shuffled around the halls, moving my hips in figure eights like a meringue dancer-yes, I was quite elegant, with my “Latina” hips and hospital gown. Moving my hips helped me so much that when I was in more stationary positions, I would have Luis, my mom or a friend physically help me move my hips in circles. My mother later remarked that she felt like she had to find her “land legs” again after the birth and so much side-to-side motion. My friends, husbands and mother's physical (not to mention emotional) support was crucial: without it, my birth process would have been really different, and I think I would have had to use pain medication.
Hot water and sitting on the birth balls helped. In fact, at one point, I was balanced on a birth ball in the shower with the spray hitting my back. Spontaneous laughter also really helped: yes, amazingly, in the grueling work of labor, there was deep humor that could be found.
On a minimal dose of Pitocin, my cervix finally began to dilate.
My sense of time has already blurred. I believe that was Friday evening...? I worked with contractions all night. There were several points when I said out loud, “I do not think I can do this anymore,” and I would remember how we discussed every woman reaching that point. "This is progress," I would think. Miriam, or another friend would remind me to stay present, and to work on one contraction at a time.
Friday morning at 7 a.m., the midwives changed shift, and time from that point further was elastic, stretching and snapping back, with no regular sense of hours passing.
Our last trial came right before I began to push
When Penni had my lie on my back to check my cervix, Matias' heartbeat, which had stayed so strong the entire time (Luis would say, “Como un caballo galapeando, like a horse galloping,”) dropped sickeningly again.
I faintly heard Penni call in the pediatric team. Someone turned off the Pitocin. I felt Luis pull within himself and radiate outward as he prayed. I was in a haze of voices, and movement, knowing with utter clarity we were close to doing an emergency C-section. Faintly, I remembered: Matias had never liked this position. “Help me up, it is because I am lying on my back,” I said. They did, and his heart rate swooped back upwards. Relief flooded me, and such tenderness welled up inside: What a strong baby!
It was time to push
I had been concerned I would not have any strength left after days of labor. However, as Miriam explained, “The urge to push is like the urge to vomit,” and it was true, my entire body pushed of its own accord and instinct, with an amazing reserve of strength.
I labored for a while on my hands and knees. Miriam held the oxygen mask to my face, and I would push, and then breath through the next strong instinct to push if Matias' heart beat dropped too low. I pushed for an hour and a half, but time's strange elasticity made it feel like 10 minutes.
My world was selective sensation. Luis and my mother's hands on my back and hips. Penni's voice instructing me to push or pant for each contraction. Miriam's face radiating compassion and confidence in me as she held the oxygen mask. The sound of Matias' heart rate and the contractions that squeezed my uterus like a tube of toothpaste.
I wanted to switch to the birth stool for the final pushes. I could feel Matias' head low and full, and I knew we were close. Miriam held up a mirror and I looked down and saw what looked like a large black olive. A peek of his head! Luis urged me on, his animated voice saying, “Ya viene, he is coming!” My mother sat behind me, Luis and friend to each side, and Miriam and Penni in front. With each push, I knew I had to draw strength from deeper and deeper inside, and to push more and more. I did, drawing on deep internal muscles and strength that had been unknown until then.
I felt myself stretch and sting as he crowned, and then he rushed out in two pushes. I saw him in Penni's arms, and did not even trust myself to hold him, so Luis helped me. I lay my head on Luis' shoulder, feeling the last 3 days bind us as new parents. I was a stuttering, raw mess of legs and adrenaline. I was looking at our son. I was hearing him cry. Matias was born Saturday, March 1, at 2:10 p.m.
Dear women and their partners
Please remember that all births are really different. Our birth process happened to be quite long, a test of faith, and of course, incredibly worth it.
I hope this story is helpful to read. I know there are scary parts in here. I want the message to ultimately be about hope, and what can be accomplished even when the situation is difficult. Remember that your bodies were meant to birth. You all have wisdom and knowledge you have gathered throughout your entire lives that will be brought to bear during your birth. I also think that our prenatal group was a tremendous boon to us all. There were many times that something we learned from a session would emerge into my consciousness: snatches of conversation and advice, all rendered to preverbal, body-level knowledge that would come just when I needed it.
Best of luck to you all, and enjoy the adventure.