Friday, January 8, 2010

BIRTH STORY: A Harmonious, Healing Birth

(by Jessica Dempsey, about the birth of Gavin Newton Robertson, born 01.22.08)

Well, my water broke at a trickle at 7pm on Jan. 21st. I was getting off of the sofa and felt a little "pop" in my upper belly. I didn't think anything of it until I stood up and started trickling! After I was sure it was my water and not just me peeing myself (not going to miss THAT finer point of pregnancy!!), I called my midwife, Harmony. Since I had not started having any contractions yet, she told me to go to bed and get some rest. Being as excited as I was, I got off the phone with Harmony and promptly started cleaning my house. After cleaning and making sure everything was packed, I showered. I recall looking down at my pregnant belly while I was in the shower, thinking that this was the last shower I'd be taking with my baby inside of time he would be earth-side.

Around midnight, I finally went to bed. I woke up at 2:45am Jan. 22nd with contractions that weren't bad, but were enough to wake me up and not let me go back to sleep. So, at about 3:30am, I called Harmony back and told her about the contractions. She said "Well, it looks like we're having a baby!" and we made arrangements to meet at the birthing home at about 5am. It was cool outside and lightly raining. We settled in, and waited for my family so they could watch Deklan, then Travis and I holed up in the birthing room. It was so beautiful and relaxing...fresh flowers, candles lit, dim lights, and soft music playing, the bed was turned back and waiting for was better than home! I rocked on my ball for a while, then my back started aching and I decided to get into the bed.
Travis got a hot pack for my back, then we snuggled up in the bed with the hot pack sandwiched between us for a while and just let the contractions come and go. They were painful, but I could easily breathe through them. At about 8am, Harmony checked my cervix and saw that I was at 8cm already! And not only that, but when she checked me, the forebag of waters released with a gush. She called in her birth assistant, Jodi, who rushed to the birthing home, thinking it would be soon...well, my ornery little boy threw us all a curve ball!! I got into the birthing tub and relaxed a bit (by the way, I would recommend water birth to ANYONE!). When people call a nice, warm tub of water an "aquadural", they're not was amazing how much it relieved the discomfort. I had also studied Hypnobirthing, and was loving how it was helping me relax through each contraction.

After a while, Harmony checked me again, I had actually gone BACK to 7cm! I started to get discouraged, which made me lose my focus, which in turn made the contractions seems twice as painful. After one particularly painful contraction which left me wondering if I could actually do this, I looked at Harmony with what must have been a look of utter despair, because she read my mind and said "Jessica, you are not going to have to go to the hospital." I tried vocalizing through the pain, and found that it only distracted me...made me focus on the pain instead of on the relaxation. At one point, Harmony told me (so softly and gently, but firmly) that if I wasted my energy whining, I wouldn't have enough energy for the rest of my labor! Ha! I really was whining, and that was exactly what I needed to hear. I decided she was right, reached down deep and found my focus again, relaxed, and let the contractions do their job instead of tensing up and fighting against them.

As my cervix was slowly melting away, I tried pushing with a contraction to see if it would complete my cervix, but that didn't just hurt. At her suggestion, I got out of the water (she figured it might have been a little too relaxing!) and tried changing positions. Before I made it to the bed, I had a contraction which came with a wave of nausea and I threw up everything that I had been drinking. I tried laying in bed, but that killed my back. I found that the most comfortable position was sitting on the edge of the bed. With contractions, I circled and swayed, which helped. Finally, I just had a rim of cervix left, but that little bit would not go away! Harmony started giving me herbs to help my cervix finish dilating. They tasted terrible, but I drank the concoctions willingly knowing that they would help. When she saw that I was tired and struggling and that Gavin was having some trouble getting into place, Harmony got behind me and supported my tummy with a rebozo with each contraction, and let me rest against her between them. My belly was so BIG (I forget what my fundal height was at my last appointment...48 cm, I think?) that we thought it, along with Gavin, might have been leaning forward in a strange position that might have been inhibiting him from moving down.Since my labor had lasted longer than we had thought it might, and since I wasn't keeping much down, Harmony asked if I wanted an IV of fluids, just to give me a little extra energy, and I said YES! I knew it would help. I wanted to be checked again, but at the same time I knew that if I hadn't progressed, I would get discouraged again. So I told myself that I would have her check after the IV bag was empty. When the bag was almost empty, Harmony suggested that I try to get up and use the bathroom, so I (reluctantly...I didn't feel like moving at all) said O.K., and that I'd get in the water again after I went, and she'd check me in the tub. But when I stood up at the side of the bed, I had a massive contraction and it hit me like a ton of bricks that my body was PUSHING...without me! I remember leaning forward onto the bed, roaring like a lion, then looking at Harmony and saying "I have to push!"

Suddenly, a whirlwind! The tub was being filled, my IV was getting disconnected, someone was trying to help me get something on for the walk from the bed to the tub (I couldn't stand the feeling of clothes on me, though), and I was trying to make that forever-long journey from the bed to the tub. I really wanted the tub to get filled in time, so I tried my hardest not to push, breathing (well, it was more like a growl, but it worked!) out the contractions while bearing down instead of holding my breath and pushing. I had two big contractions like that at the bedside while waiting for the water to get going in the tub, the IV to be disconnected, etc. At this point, my friends and family, including Deklan, piled into the room, filming and taking pictures. Travis helped me across the room, me almost breaking his neck as a huge contraction washed over me and I curled into myself while holding onto his neck...poor guy! Then I got in the tub, and my first instinct was to get to my hands and knees. The whole time that I was in the water previously, I had been floating on my back and didn't want to move, but the thought of being like that during this phase never even crossed my mind. The water was only about 4 inches deep, not deep enough to give birth yet, so I breathed (growled) thru another two contractions like that. FINALLY the water was deep enough and I could really work with my body and bear down and push...the first or second time I pushed, he crowned. It burned, but I remembered to relax with the burn and stop pushing, to let me stretch. The next time I pushed out his head...I remember Harmony telling me that his head was out and that I could feel it. I remember reaching down and feeling that smooshy little head and being once again in awe of birth. The next contraction, and a push and joy! that crazy squirmy feeling of a baby being born! Harmony told me to get my baby and I reached down into the water and caught my sweet little boy, and held him to me...I did it!The last phase was so much shorter with Gavin than it had been with Deklan. Waiting until my body was ready to push was amazing. I remember in my body and in my mind it was so crazy and intense...the thoughts, the sensations, the feelings seemed loud and rushing and incredible. Yet when I watched the birth back on video, it was so incredibly quiet! You could hear the water swishing as I moved in the tub, nobody talking, only water and me breathing. I had a 3rd degree tear with Deklan, and only ended up with a first degree tear and a couple of superficial lacerations this time. I think the perineal massage really helped a lot with that, and also, when he crowned and it really started burning, I tried to breathe and not push and let his head stretch the tissue rather than pushing his head right out. When his head was out, I had still not torn. But he had a little arm right up by his face (nuchal hand), so with the next push it wasn't just his shoulders that popped out, but an arm too. Travis said that it burst out like a sports fan pumping his fist in the air. When I pushed him out and caught him and pulled him up out of the water and held him to was awesome! I held him in the bath until the cord stopped pulsing. I was bleeding quite a bit, so we decided to go ahead and cut the cord so that I could get into the bed and get a better idea of how much I was losing. So Travis cut the cord and held him while I birthed the placenta. Then I got out (thinking how strange and empty and light my belly felt), climbed into bed, and started breastfeeding him. It was so cool. Travis and Deklan climbed into bed with us and inspected him while he had his first meal. While we were in bed and everyone was gathered around us, Jodi showed us the placenta and gave us all a little tutorial. It was really cool to see the organ that we formed and that nourished and protected Gavin for his first 9 months! She showed us the inside, the outside, the sac that was once the bag of waters, the vessels in the umbilical cord and the "tree of life"...the huge blood vessels that supplied blood to the placenta. They also took placenta prints by pressing the placenta and cord onto paper, and it really looks like a tree!

After he had nursed on both sides (I'm sure he needed those few sips of colostrum after such a harrowing journey!) and I had eaten some fruit and cheese and drank some fluids, Harmony took him to weigh and measure him. He weighed in at a whopping 10 lbs., 1 oz., and was 22 inches long! Big boy! It made sense then why my labor took so long.

After he was checked and weighed and got dressed and all, I was taken back to the exam room to get stitched up. Laying flat on my back was so terribly uncomfortable, although Jodi and Holly tried endlessly to make me comfortable. Harmony mentioned how she loved suturing, and I said sarcastically that I was thrilled to give her the opportunity! After that, I took a shower, then went downstairs and had a bowl of soup and got my post-partum instructions. Then we went home! All in all, it was a long (well, longer than I had thought it would be, anyway!) labor...about 11 hours long. But it was worth every bit of it. It alternated between exhausting and empowering. At one point, I looked at my hubby and said "Next time I'm having a c-section!", and was only half kidding. Long labor can be so taxing, more mentally than physically. But then, just minutes after I wanted a c-section, I was laughing to myself when Travis was asking Harmony why I hadn't had a contraction for a long time...I had had two of them, but since I was quiet and relaxed and focused, he thought I was sleeping!! It's amazing to know that you really have that much control over your mind and be in pain and out of control one minute, and resting and quiet and focused the next. Travis was very helpful, but when things got intense, he got quiet because he was worried for me. Harmony helped me so much, encouraging me and grounding me. She did things for me that no doctor would ever have done. Toward the end, when she was in the bed with me, sitting behind me supporting my tummy with a rebozo and letting me lean back against her and was just a really unique experience. Small things made the biggest difference to when I was sitting on the edge of the bed and circling and swaying until that IV bag was empty, and I saw Jodi sitting cross-legged on the floor at the foot of the bed, silently circling and swaying with me and inconspicuously timing my contractions. Seeing her do what I was doing made me feel like I was doing something right! Even though I'd say that this labor was harder than my first, it was still better. I liked the whole birthing home/midwife experience, and wouldn't have traded it for the world. We learned so much, and with that new knowledge, we are doing things differently this time around, like co-sleeping and babywearing. Gavin is very happy and alert, and is very much attached to us. I think the initial time of bonding immediately after birth makes a huge difference!! Also, the fact that Deklan saw his baby brother "come out of mommy's tummy" helped him adjust easier. It wasn't like we just came home with a new baby. He has really made an easy adjustment and loves being a big brother. And I love sitting and nursing my little guy and reaching back and feeling that soft, smooshy head that I felt as he was exiting me and entering this world, and it just takes me back to that moment. As he's growing bigger and his head is less smooshy, it makes me sad to know that that tangible link to such an awesome part of birth is leaving. I hope someone who loves reading birth stories as much as I do enjoys his birth story! Writing it all down is such a powerful reminder. Now, about that third baby... ;)


  1. Hi, I own The Birth Center of Gainesville, and knowing Harmony as I do, would have a birth with her in a heart beat! You just can not beat the personal one on one care you get with your midwife. Congratulations!! Tell Harmony June says Hi. And, for you let everyone you know what a glorious and beautiful birth you had at a Birth Center where you and your babies health and happiness is what matter.
    Good Luck, and may you have many happy Baby days to come.

  2. To Jessica:
    I loved reading your birth story. Thank you so much for sharing. I hope many more moms have such wonderful experiences bringing their children into the world with Harmony.
    The best to you and your family!