Griffin's Birth...a trip to laborland!

Birth StoryGriffin – July 22, 2006

Happy family with their midwives-welcome Griffin!

Our initial plan was to give birth at a birth center with a doula, but as we began educating ourselves through a Bradley childbirth class, I began to feel strongly that a homebirth was the only way to have the birth I really wanted – natural, calm, free of fear or intervention. Happily, even though I was 7 months pregnant, Christy had room in her schedule for us, and we made the switch. Wow, what a difference in care! Though we only had a couple of months until the birth, we immediately began to build a relationship based on trust, and I felt none of the anonymity and creepiness of a normal medical encounter. (I’m already looking forward to having a whole 9 months of this tender loving care with my next child!)

I had been leaking fluid very slowly throughout the day, and had an appointment the next morning with Christy if I didn’t go into labor. We ate dinner and watched a little TV and went to bed, but around 10:30 pm I felt a stronger gush of fluid and by 11 I knew I has having contractions, and I woke Soup up to time them so I could focus on them. By 1:30, I was in active labor – my contractions were already 3 minutes apart, and lasting a minute, and I asked Soup to make the calls – to Wendy, our doula, and to Christy and her apprentice at the time, Susi. Then I went into laborland and retreated from the outside world.

At the beginning, I remember being on my hands and knees in the bathtub in the dark, with the warm water raining down on my back. I was so surprised at the intensity of the pain, and the quickness of the contractions. I had barely recovered my breath and returned to a state that more closely resembled calm, when another contraction came – only one to two minutes apart. Each time, I was shocked by the intensity. I kept assuming it would get easier, or more bearable, and kept being amazed that it was not. I met every single contraction with sound, vocalizing moans – I could not have kept quiet if I tried!

When Wendy arrived at 2:15 am, I heard her voice as she began to encourage me. I don’t remember seeing her face, or much of anything at all, during the entire labor; I kept my eyes closed and retreated. I was grateful for her presence, and soon for Christy’s and Susi’s presences as well, but I had a hard time incorporating their voices into what I was feeling. I felt the contractions almost exclusively in my back because (as we found out later) Griffin had his arm wrapped around his chest and his hand on his opposite cheek, so that his elbow pressed against the bones of my pelvis. This pressure of bone-on-bone made for intense backpain, and while I wanted relief from it so badly, I couldn’t bear for anyone to touch me. I kept trying to reach around and massage my own back, but had limited success – I couldn’t do this during the contractions because I needed to hold on or press against something with my arms, and the time in between the contractions was so short, and much of it spent trying to catch my breath.

I moved onto the bed for a while as Soup and the women worked to fill the birth tub, which took up all the floor space in the bedroom. I couldn’t get comfortable: on my knees draped over the birth ball, on my side pulling my knee to my chest. I kept trying to escape from the sensations, fighting to get away from the pain. Around 3:45, Christy checked my cervix, and I was almost fully dilated – and thankfully the tub was almost full. Right after getting in I started to feel the urge to push. The warm water in the tub felt good, but I was nauseous and my legs cramped when I tensed my body against the contractions.

Christy and Wendy tried to help me relax and gather the pain, and this was so counterintuitive and so difficult! While I felt everything physically, the challenge seemed more mental – I had to accept the pain and then will myself to move deeper into it, to embrace it, to be enveloped by it, to actively seek out its depths. This was incredibly hard. But I think I began to understand it when I finally began to push very strongly towards the end (when I had moved out of the tub). This was a whole new skill, something I’d never had to do before – in the rest of life, this fight-or-flight reaction to pain is usually helpful! – and I only had a few hours of (very intense) labor to discover and accept that it was needed, to practice and get better at it.

Soup moved into the tub with me to support me as I pushed, encouraging me. Over the next hour, I moved around in the tub from hands and knees, to sitting, to squatting. Christy and Susi and Wendy kept me hydrated, helping me drink between each and every contraction. It was a hot summer night, and after an hour or so in the tub, Christy suggested I take a break so I didn’t become overheated. I labored on the toilet for a little while to give my legs a break, but I was feeling really tired, so I moved onto the bed in a side-lying position to save some energy while I pushed.

I felt like I had been actively pushing since the first strong contraction, and that I had been feeling that “ring of fire” the whole time, but I was wrong – ha!. I used Soup for physical support more and more as I got more tired, and finally, around 6:00 am I was kneeling with one foot up, leaning over Soup’s back while he knelt on all fours. I did wonder what was taking so long – it felt like I had been pushing his head out forever – but finally Christy told me she could see Griffin’s head, and she showed me with the hand-mirror. “Help me feel it,” I said, and she helped me reach around my still-giant belly to touch his head. Oh, that was the moment I’d been waiting for – it was finally real and I knew it wouldn’t last much longer. I was so relieved that I was getting close, and it gave me a surge of excitement to know Griffin was so close to being born. Catching a glimpse of the morning sun through the blinds was a shock; it didn’t feel like I had been up all night – how could it already be morning? Christy guided my pushing, helping me to not bear down too hard while she supported my perineum so that I wouldn’t tear as I pushed Griffin’s head – and hand– out. Things were moving so quickly that I never got a chance to get back in the tub, and while I had hoped for a waterbirth, the position I chose ended up being a great one, since Christy was able to support me so well.

Reaching down to feel baby's head!

Here he comes! See his hand up on his face?

When he finally came all the way out, Christy wiped Griffin’s face quickly as he lay where he landed on the bed, and then she placed him in my hands as he cried lustily for a good minute. It had been a hard, fast journey for him; his head was very long from being squeezed, and he had a big bruise on the back of his head. He was in such a hurry to come out quickly, he got a bit banged up in the process! Holding him, I simply sat down on the bed, leaned against some pillows and held him to my chest. No moving around, no putting on clothes, no drive home; I was home. And the pain was gone. I was exhausted but elated and the pain was gone.

The milky white cord still held him to me, connecting him to my womb, and after about thirty minutes, the midwives asked if I’d like to sit up in a squat to encourage the placenta to come out, or they could put some traction on the cord. I asked them to pull me up into a squat, with Griffin still in my arms, and the placenta slid out instantly. Susi showed it to us and after a while Soup cut the cord and Susi took the placenta to my studio to make some prints with it. Soup and I were so happy – what a rush! We felt completely amazed at the presence of this new human being, already learning how to nurse.

After a while, Christy asked if I would like to take a shower, and she helped me walk in to the bathroom and supported me while I stood under the water. That shower felt amazing. Christy helped me into my special underwear, instructed me on how to care for my healing parts, and was so tender and kind and loving. She even brought me a beautiful plate of food soon after. I felt completely surrounded with care and support throughout that night, and in the days and weeks following the birth, as the midwives called and visited me and Griffin often. Christy recommended that I rest in bed and avoid stairs for two weeks, and that time was a wonderful cocoon of bonding with Griffin and healing my body. I’m so grateful to have had such a peaceful birth.

Beautiful mama and baby Griffin

Virginia and Pete (“Soup”)