After a long hiatus from blogging, I return with a story about new beginnings and new life. My son, Keelan Thomas was born on May 20, 2015 at 12:09pm. Delivering Keelan without the aid of drugs or IV was the most difficult, but rewarding and empowering thing I have ever done in my life. Every mama's story is unique and I'm not by any means using this blog entry as my soap box. I'm proud of how I welcomed my son into the this world (and would have been whether I used an epidural or not) and will be able to call on lessons from his birth to guide me through other tough times in life.
The ultimate goal of my birth plan was to deliver a healthy baby. I considered my plan to be a loose guideline for an ideal birth, but kept in mind that there would be things out of my control and if I needed to veer away from the plan, I would do so to keep my baby boy healthy. The general guidelines for my birth were to:
- Have a doula that would support me to breathe through labor at home for as long as possible, and with the doula...
- Give birth at a hospital with the support of my OBGYN
- Have a vaginal birth with no epidural or IV
I had 48 hours of early labor as Keelan was slowly finding his way into this world. Contractions weren't that painful (in retrospect!) but came every 7-10 minutes inconsistently. We stayed close to home knowing that stronger contractions would come soon. And they did on the night of May 19. I was going stir-crazy at home and wanted to go out for dinner and a movie. By the end of dinner, my contractions were stronger and closer but I knew that I wanted to watch the movie because it was going to be a long night. (And who knew the next time I would be able to go to the movies?!)
When we got home at 11pm I called my doula and we labored at home until 3am in my living room. We set up an "obstacle course" of breathing stations to deal with the wave of contractions that were coming every 6-9 minutes lasting 3-5 minutes long. The course consisted of:
- On all fours into cat and cow movements
- Malasana (squat pose) with blocks under my sitting bones
- Standing down dog against a wall
- On my knees, laying with my chest over a ball and swaying my hips
- Walking and pacing around the room
We encouraged my husband to go sleep in the bedroom and my doula shut off the lights, lit our unscented candles (during birth your sense of smell is very heightened!) and we went to the couch. I vacillated between lying on my side to coming onto my knees on the couch with hands on the cushions. My doula encouraged me to try to sleep/rest between contractions.
By 3am, my contractions were 5 minutes apart and I felt ready to go to the hospital. There's no perfect time to go to the hospital and most likely your doula won't be able to tell you when the right time is. As a mom, you just have to know and decide for yourself.
By 3:30am, I was strapped to a heart rate monitor and under some bright lights at California Pacific Medical Center. This was the process of being measured for admittance or not into the delivery room. The admittance nurse oddly greeted me with "so what brings you here tonight?" I was 3 cm dilated but my contractions were strong enough that I was brought upstairs (grudgingly via a wheelchair) and we got settled into the (very spacious) delivery room.
Between 4am and 12:09pm, we labored hard in the hospital. My doula dimmed the lights, set up LED candles throughout the room, and with the wise support of the amazing delivery nurse, we welcomed Keelan 8 hours later. Here are some things that helped me get through the contractions. Oddly enough, I also see these as lessons for whatever else life throws my way:
- Surround yourself with people who believe in you and can support you: Have an amazing birth/support team. Between my amazing doula, supportive husband, energizing and experienced nurse and doctor, my birth plan was executed. Little things such as the doctor using mineral oil to help stretch my perineum while I was pushing (as opposed to an episiotomy) or the nurse following me around with a mobile heart rate monitor so I wouldn't need to be strapped down - all were things that I didn't know were options but were offered to me so that I could deliver my baby how I had hoped and intended.
- Stay mobile: Move around (a lot) Movement was the key for me to find a "comfortable" place where I felt safe and strong to weather through another wave of contractions. I moved through all sorts of positions on the hospital bed, to squatting at the foot of the bed, to the bathtub, to standing and walking, to the toilet even.
- Make sounds and speak to yourself and the baby: It's all a mental game. I did this instinctively, but you should have some mantras or try to go within yourself to find out what you need to hear, or what your baby needs to hear to feel safe to "let go". Whether this was deep OMs, chanting, speaking to myself in the 3rd person or speaking quietly to the baby - you need to keep your head in the game and continue to make the baby feel safe enough to keep migrating south. Some mantras I used a lot were "Keelan, mommy's here waiting for you. I'm scared, but I know you're ready," "Down baby down," and deep guttural "Om".
- Accept the fear and the pain: The pain you feel is your baby trying to come meet you. The more you fight it, the longer your labor will be and the more distressed your baby will become. One of the best things my doula said to me during the labor was "Invite the pain in and then let it wash away."
- Find a sense of calm: Look for a sense of ease and peace in the face of discomfort or pain. Definitely easier said than done, but it's important to breathe and stay calm. Your cervix won't open if you're tense. I also knew that Keelan wouldn't have felt safe to come if I was anxious. I practiced finding calm before birth through yoga and a meditation practice, and also with bi-weekly perineum stretching with a pelvic floor physical therapist (which I highly recommend to prevent tearing!).
- Stay in-tune with your body: Find yourself in a state of meditation or deep connection with your body. If you aren't big on meditation, become somewhat familiar with it - in the sense that you want to be inside your mind and body 100%. You'll be somewhat in a state of hypnosis or light sleep to have this connection. There is no other important time in your life to be totally in tune with the miracle of what your body is undergoing. Anticipating your body changing and your baby having his own will and power to come out to meet you.
- Stay present: Live minute to minute and moment to moment. Don't become overwhelmed and try to stay in the present moment. Becoming obsessed with the clock, or progress on your cervix dilation number can mess with your head. Try your best to always bring yourself back to the present and focus on your sensations and how you are feeling at that second. It's your only defense in the slow centimeter game we call Birth :)
I was textbook in the sense that I was progressing 1 cm every hour. My water did not break naturally, but we did wait until 10 cm for the doctor to manually puncture it with a little spike on her glove. To labor the best position for me was on my right side with my left leg supported up on a pedestal. The nurse wheeled in a mirror for me which was key to see Keelan's head progressing through the canal. At one point the nurse told me to reach down and touch the top of his head. It was unbelievably motivating and inspiring. It was the first time I was touching my baby! It made me concentrate on pushing in a more concerted manner to have him out sooner.
At 12:09pm, with a feeling of warm water rushing out of me, Keelan came out safe and sound at 7lbs 14oz and 20.5 inches long. He was PERFECT. With the cord still in tact, the nurse laid a towel on top of my chest and cleaned him while he was on top of me. Then they removed the towel and we laid there together to meet for the first time. I was in love.
My husband eventually cut the cord, and after a few minutes, Keelan latched on the breast naturally and without problems. We spent the next few days in the hospital in awe of what we had created.
Motherhood has been an amazing journey so far. As some of my wise friends have told me: "The days are long, but the years are short." Keelan is almost a month old now and I can't believe how much he's changing everyday. After our first journey together in pregnancy and birth, I would say little Keelan and I make a great team :)