(warning, this is a graphic, uncensored natural birth story)
To start Annika's story is to begin with a surprise. We had always planned to have four children. But after Kat, it never seemed like the right time to plan our last baby, and I was getting older, already having fertility issues and coming from a family with a history of early menopause. We couldn't really plan to have one, but every month, I mourned when my period came. I knew I wasn't done having children.
Finally, on Beltane (May Day) of 2015, after a couple years of not bothering with protection because it seemed obvious we didn't need it, I teased my husband, "It's Beltane, and I'm ovulating. You know that we're asking for it."
He replied with, "I'm not worried."
As the time for my period approached and I started getting crampy and PMS-y, I messaged one of my best mom-friends and cried that I didn't want to get my period. She consoled me, understanding that I meant that I wanted to be pregnant, but I thought my husband wasn't on board with that, and I had been spending months mourning the loss of the dream of four. To make matters worse, my mom-sister, the mom of Kat's twin, had discovered she was expecting.
I took a pregnancy test just to get the idea of the baby out of my head. It was negative. But I felt off, no longer like my period was coming, having clear pregnancy symptoms (that I blamed on my mom-sister as sympathy symptoms) and I dug it out of the trash (knowing that anything I saw was totally invalid)... to find a pink line. I started obsessing over the color. Evaporation lines don't have the dye color in them.
My period still didn't come, and I took another test. Brandon came to say good-bye on his way to work while I still had a minute left on the test. I tried to stall him without telling him what I was doing. Finally, my 3 minutes was up, and I looked down at the two pink lines.
I spent the next week freaking out because I didn't know how he felt about it, and I wanted the baby so badly. I finally brought it up and found out he was happy, too, just trying to figure out the logistics of how we'd manage everything.
One thing I knew: as tight as money was, I wanted my midwife from Kat's birth again. I wanted my doula, too, but both were semi-retired. Nevertheless, I messaged both. My doula didn't catch on that I was asking because I was pregnant right away, and immediately offered when she found out I was. My midwife was available for late January/early February. The cost was... daunting, but I knew it needed to be her. I know other perfectly good midwives, but I needed Rachel.
Fast forward through a horrible first trimester that I thought was going to kill me -- not hyperbole, but I was worried that my heart was going to give out under the stress, and I was too weak to walk further than the bathroom and back, prepare food to feed myself, etc. Past the second trimester where things got better, but were still difficult. Through the easy, comfortable third trimester, where I had adapted to the SPD and barely felt pregnant. I was still quite comfortably pregnant, happy to be pregnant when everything started.
Normally, I have a lot of prodromal labor, but I really only had two or three sets of a little over 2 hour sessions of it. I was still having painless Braxton-Hicks-feeling contractions right up through labor. I had a feeling through quite a bit of my pregnancy that she might come early, and this strange idea that it would start with my water breaking -- something that hasn't happened to me before. I also figured she would either be my smallest or my biggest ever baby. I was, however, 'realistically' expecting her at the beginning of February, hoping Naomi wouldn't have to share her birth month.
|Prodromal labor sucks
Annika had other plans.
I woke up on January 20th at 1:20 am, thinking that I was peeing. I quickly got out of bed and hurried to the bathroom, discarding my soaked pantiliner and underwear on the floor. I noted that there was no smell or color of urine and wondered if it was my water leaking. It was a tiny amount, though. I decided that leaving it would let it sit out to smell later to see if I was imagining things. I went back to bed and apologized to my husband that I'd peed in bed, but I hadn't gotten any in the bed at least.
At 2:40-something, I woke up again, and felt a rush of liquid. Thinking that I was peeing myself again, I hurried back to the bathroom. I felt a pop as I crossed onto the linoleum, and I soaked through the Always Infinity pad I was wearing as well as my underwear. The fluid was clear and smelled sweet. I stared at it as I sat on the toilet and waited to see if more came, starting to worry. Where were my contractions?
I decided to call my midwife, feeling awful about it being the middle of the night. I told Brandon that the baby was coming, that my water had broken, as I collected my phone and returned to the toilet to pass more water and call my midwife. It turned out Rachel was in Jefferson City for a conference, which was 150 miles away. In a winter storm of snow and ice.
We talked, and she asked me to check baby's position (as she had spent most of her time transverse up under my ribs, although she always moved down for midwife appointments). I told her I'd check her heart rate with my Doppler, too, to make sure everything seemed okay in there, which made her happy as she'd forgotten I had one. She told me to call her back as soon as I felt the need to call my doula.
Instead, I texted her that Annika was "high transverse" because I felt her just under my ribs, and found her heart high on my fundus, on the right side. She loved being ROT/right oblique, which drove me a little nuts because she used it to sneak back up to transverse over and over, despite me trying inversions, etc. to get her in launch position. I also put on gloves and tried to feel for the baby. In retrospect, I believe I felt her head, although I didn't know that was what I was feeling at the time.
This scared my midwife, who'd just listened to a case about a compromised cord in a transverse baby, and with my meager, painless contractions, she was worried that the baby might have her cord either wrapped around her body (as she was a very active little starfish in there and kept bouncing back up like she was tethered) or about to prolapse. So she sent me to the hospital for a position check and monitoring.
She asked if I wanted her to send her assistant to meet me there, and I did. Once I was done with that, I sat on the floor and cried my eyes out. I didn't want another cesarean. The idea of facing my bedroom stairs, or even trying to get in my house, while recovering from major abdominal surgery, sounded impossible. All my work for an HBAC appeared to be going out the window, and I had to process and deal with all the feelings that invoked. Brandon held me while I worked through it.
"They're going to take my baby and wash off all her vernix and bathe her and do everything without me and not let me see her or hold her," I sobbed in between other fears.
Once I was in control enough to speak sensibly again, I called my doula and told her what was going on and she planned to meet me at the hospital, too. I repacked the emergency bag after removing all my cloth diapers that I knew wouldn't fit a 39-weeker. We got the kids ready and left, exhausted and worried.
On the way there, I berated Annika for her positioning and pleaded with her to move down. With my water broken, there was no way to move her externally. I told her that we would be seeing Rachel soon, so shouldn't she get ready for an appointment? I felt her move down to oblique while we stopped for gas to make it to the hospital. I still wasn't having pain or any intensity with my contractions.
I kept prodding her and pleading as we went in, so not wanting to have her still be transverse when I got checked. I was also scared of how they were going to react to me leaving if she wasn't. I decided to tell them my water had only broken at 4am (it was 5am by the time we got there) so they wouldn't worry too much and harass me. After all, if she was still in that position, it didn't matter. Babies can't come out if they're lying sideways across the exit.
After trying to give a urine sample and only producing a trickle, I was put on monitors, although they messed up the contraction monitor and put it on my flab instead of my fundus. I had my husband, doula and Lexi, the midwife's assistant, there to help me through the most emotionally difficult part of my labor. Brandon waited with the girls while I was checked because the room was very small (they only wanted one person to go in with me, but the look on my face when they said that got me my whole party until it was time to actually do stuff).
I was at a 2, 50% effaced, and her head was down (+2 if I remember correctly). The resident also insisted on testing me for broken waters, which I thought was hilarious and ridiculous. I offered to show her the full adult diaper I'd worn over. I'd already soaked through both my samples and a towel. While baby wasn't engaged, her head was down, and that was a huge relief. And I tested positive for broken waters. They decided that no ultrasound was needed. Then the misplaced contraction monitor made itself a nuisance by not picking up the beginning or end of my contractions and making it look like I was having late decels.
My midwife, in the meantime, unbeknownst to me at first, was driving back as fast as she could through the weather in the middle of the night/buttcrack of dawn, to come up to check on me and be there for me. Lexi texted her everything that was going on and passed on her advice to me (which was to wait and be monitored). When they said late decels, I looked them up to understand why that mattered, on alert to the word "decels" as that's a standard bullshit technique to force an unnecessary cesarean.
When they said 'placental insufficiency,' my BS meter blew up. I'd grown 2 super healthy babies' placentas for over 41 weeks with no insufficiency. I wasn't buying that on a 39 weeker who had shown no problems whatsoever where I had been on a high protein diet and worked to take care of said placenta.
I said, "You're not bullying me into a cesarean, but thanks for trying." They quickly backpedaled and said that they had no intention of doing that and said their cesarean rate was really low (my midwife said that that was true -- although incredibly unlikely that it was their stated '10%' -- because they transferred their high risk patients to another facility). But when Rachel said that I needed to stay and be monitored, I did, even if I was dubious (she was still scared about the possibility of the cord being tangled up, and late decels would certainly mean that something could be up with the cord).
I moved the monitors to better positions (I kept moving the Doppler monitor to chase Annika down, as she was trying to 'run' from it as she had the whole pregnancy, and she was 'running' right into my pelvis, where she belonged), and the contractions started actually being picked up. I noticed that she kicked the contraction monitor at the right moment to cause it to draw what looked like a pregnant woman. Her kick made a boob after a contraction-face while the next contraction made the belly. We got a laugh out of it.
It was obvious before very long that she was quite healthy in there. My blood pressure was insanely high, so I removed a layer of shirts from under it, and it 'magically' dropped (I'll give it a bit of white coat syndrome, too, but it was largely that they were reading me through two shirts). My midwife arrived and talked with the on call doctor about what was going on, looked over the monitors and asked to check me (she asked both me and the OB).
I was now a 3, and she was definitely head down (and going off how I had to keep moving the Doppler monitor, she was moving down with contractions pretty steadily), and my midwife thought she felt a little hand up there, too. My midwife hypothesized that perhaps Annika popped her own water grabbing at things up there, and that was why it didn't accompany my normal contractions.
We decided that everything was okay, and I requested to leave AMA. Before we left, the new on call doctor came and introduced himself in case we would be back later, talked to my midwife, and overall, they were all very nice about me leaving. He just wanted to make sure I was close by (I was 12 minutes from the hospital), and then we left for my house. Tara, my doula, did a food run to McDonald's on the way.
|Last pregnancy pic, 39 weeks, 5 days, by Lilly
|Kat and Tara, who was there when she came into the world ♥
I don't remember how musical care providers went exactly, but we managed to get everyone some rest and had a long day of nothing really happening. We talked about how long we could wait with my waters ruptured, if/when I would want to try something to move things along (blue and black cohosh, which I wasn't on board with because of the blood pressure issues I was having and my ongoing heart issues) and the same with antibiotics (if we entered a prolonged rupture of membranes stage). I kept having a mix of painless and difficult contractions with long periods of nada.
Eventually, we all got some sleep. After everyone left, I turned on Closing Time by Semisonic and tried to dance her down. It's always been a birth song to me. I also painted my toenails, joking that it was "in case she was offended by my naked toes." I'd had painted toenails for every birth. I'd had a nurse during my first labor joke that she always knew when a mama was really in labor when she saw her toenails done after seeing mine.
I tried various sitting, kneeling and lying positions trying to get her to move out of ROT (right occiput transverse) into a better position to come out and to prevent her from getting back up into her favorite spot under my ribs. She was content to take her time. While I got sleep, strong, good contractions woke me up twice an hour. I had also taken a shower before bed to try to tolerate the contractions I was having and relax and stimulate oxytocin via orgasm, but I only got a couple good contractions from that and couldn't tolerate my nipples being touched. Every time I fell asleep, my contractions picked up. So relaxing and sleeping seemed ideal.
The next day, Rachel was quite disappointed that no call for birthing had come in the night, and we resumed our watch. She requested to check me, and I considered it. I asked myself if I could handle knowing that I wasn't progressing as fast as I'd like, or worse, at all, and the answer was a resounding "No." It would devastate me. I needed to trust my body to keep working. So I declined.
We tried some pregnancy tea, double bagging it because red raspberry leaf usually stimulates strong contractions in me. I figured the stinging nettle could help calm down my blood pressure while it was at it. I had a nosebleed at one point while talking to Lexi, just out of the blue, and scared her. It wasn't my first this pregnancy, and I wasn't sure if it was blood pressure or dry, winter air combined with a cold and stuffy nose. The tea didn't really work, and I decided to consent to trying the cohoshes.
Rachel gave me a homeopathic low dose to start, having the full herbs ready if that didn't work. Oh, it worked all right. I went from having contractions every half hour (as they'd been all night) to every 10 minutes. My bestie, Lesley, came over and hung out for a while. I enjoyed all the socialization, but with the cohoshes doing their thing despite me thinking a homeopathic dose would do nothing, I started entering labor land a bit. I was noisy and uncomfortable during the contractions. She kept giving me the doses, which looked like little sugary fish eggs, and labor moved along swimmingly. Placebo or genuinely working, it worked quite well.
Eventually, Lesley had to leave, and by then, I was up to about every 6 minutes. I agreed to an antibiotic push because my water had been broken so long, and I was planning a water birth. I didn't want to take any unnecessary risks. I was also hoping that it would prevent any retained placenta infections this time.
While she was inserting the IV, she almost blew a vein, and I chastised her and told her she got a C because it hurt. She, however, saved the vein and got the antibiotics pushed, so I upgraded her to a B for that, though she'd tried to negotiate for higher. Marks lost for pain in patient. I did have very little bruising, though. So I'll give her a B+.
I asked Brandon to go take the liner up to the pool, and Rachel said no. I pointed out that I hadn't asked him to fill it, just take the liner up and she took back her no. She just didn't want my labor to stall out, but I knew that it was really going now and nothing was going to stop it.
When I hit every 3 minutes and could no longer keep up reading Facebook posts from friends stalking my labor, I went upstairs before I wouldn't be able to get there. I had to stop on the stairs and get through a nasty contraction, and I felt transition approaching.
I got upstairs, and everyone started preparing everything. I, in the meantime, was miserable. I had been very noisy through my contractions, but seeing the empty pool and knowing I was hitting transition made me afraid I wouldn't get my water birth... again. I collapsed onto the girls' bed, into their pile of stuffed animals, pillows and blankets. I hugged Lilly's giant teddy "Big Bear" and had one last noisy contraction before I surrendered to transition. Rachel said it was time to fill the tub, and I cried that they had waited too long. She assured me that they hadn't, and Lexi came over to monitor me, apply lovely counter pressure and comfort me as I cried into Big Bear, too worn out to be noisy through contractions anymore. I just wanted to save my strength for what I knew was coming.
|I found the contractions became more tolerable when I moved to lie on my side
Lilly, now officially part of my birth team, filled the pool as fast as possible, and Rachel asked one last time if she could check me before I got in. I gave her a grumpy, "No," as I made a beeline for my warm, watery happy spot. The pool didn't look very full, but it was still being filled, and when I stepped in, there was several inches of water that I didn't see, so I was engulfed quickly. It doesn't show in the pictures, but I was perfectly buried in the water. It was a strange effect, but the water was covering my belly except when I stuck it out on purpose.
|These two booked front row seats for the birth, but weren't participating
"She was planning on that," Brandon answered her while I tried to say the same. I echoed him. I got grumpy with my contractions after that. I was quite ready to be done with this stage.
My first contraction in the water I was pushing on her, saying "down, down," and then exclaimed, "The enemy gate is down!"
Brandon said, "I don't think we want her blowing up any planets."
I said, "I feel like a planet!"
"We don't want her blowing you up, either."
"She already did!"
Everyone got a good laugh, and Rachel started talking about how she wanted to make a collection of all the famous quotes she'd heard during labors. Lexi agreed that it would be an awesome book. I continued with my "down, down" mantra, and sang a little Sugar, We're Going Down under my breath. I considered asking someone to move the curtain on the skylight so I could see the sky, but I was afraid it would make the room cold.
This is where things are now foggy. I waited a bit too long to write this part of the story, and birth amnesia has started setting in. Part of that is because I was falling half-asleep between contractions. Brandon mentioned that Rachel had said no passing out, and she said, "She's sleeping. That's different. That's actually the best thing to do right now. We want her to do that."*
I, on the other hand, was now absolutely done with labor. I was howling, "I'm done! I'm done!" during some contractions. Between, I tried, "Some gas and air would be great now."
Rachel replied that we weren't in a state that allowed that (yet), and there was some discussion of that being done in the US, but only in hospitals to start. Another contraction hit, and I returned to yelling about it hurting and shouted, "An eight! My pain is an eight!" quite cranky that no one else had to be doing this part, and they were all having such a good time -- as far as I was concerned, far too good of a time. (Looking back, that's a good thing! Everything was going smoothly!) I kept reaching down to check if I could feel anything yet and bumped against my clitoris. The pain receded, so I started pressing on it and growled, "You want oxytocin? Here! Have it!" It made the pain more manageable.
"Okay, I'll take an epidural now!" I yowled during a particularly awful contraction. Everyone laughed sympathetically.
"Afraid we can't do that," Lexi said.
"Hospital wouldn't either," I said, because I knew I was about to start pushing. The urge to push wasn't obvious, but I recognized that it was time. I had been asked multiple times during labor if I was pushing, which I confirmed with the qualifier that it wasn't time, it just felt good to do. The water was hot again, so they started adding more, which I didn't like. It was too warm, and it was time to push. I rolled around in the water, kicking at the side of the tub and screamed. Rachel chastised me.
"You're going to wreck your voice!"
"Good! I want to wreck it! I don't care! I have to scream. I did with Kat, too. I have to." I babbled frantically. "I don't want to do this anymore. I want off the ride! I'm done!"
Then another contraction hit, and the water temperature pissed me off, and I yelled to turn if off, that I didn't want it as I flipped over to the half-squat/kneel that I used to bring out Kat. I reached down again to feel for her and support my perineum as I shouted "I'm serious! I'm done!" and pushed. I yelled that she was coming and felt her hit my perineum. I could feel her on the other side from above my vagina down to my anus, and thought, 'She's huge!'
Then I went down to hands and knees and pushed harder, and she popped out. I was filled with amazement as I felt her soft head fill my hand. Her tiny soft head. It had seemed so big a second ago. I had pushed her to the cheeks, I heard someone say. Rachel was instructing Lilly on how to help and to reach and feel. I moved off the jelly feeling stuff (probably the caul) from her head and pushed again, still on the same contraction that I started with. The rest of her head popped out.
I sighed in relief, "That's better." Everyone laughed, and someone reminded me that I wasn't over yet. I replied, "I know, but that feels better."
|You can see Lilly's hair next to Rachel and her arm reaching to feel the baby
I think Rachel asked me to push some more, and I mumbled something about physiological pushing and that I wasn't quite ready yet. I moved around and said, "She's stuck." It felt like minutes passed while I wiggled and pushed, and then there was a little pop, and she exploded out of me.
There was a lot of talking at that moment that I don't remember. Then Rachel said that they were passing the baby to me, and I moved to reach down and grab her, fall back and pull her out of the water in amazement. I think people were telling me what to do, but I just reacted on instinct.
She looked like she wanted to go to sleep, so I coaxed her to wake up and cough and cry out the fluid in her lungs while wrapping the towel around her that I was passed and rubbing the amazing amount of vernix she was covered in into her skin to both rub it in and stimulate her. I'd never had such a 'cheesy' baby, but I remembered worrying specifically about the hospital taking that experience away from me.
It wasn't long before I was coaxed out of the water onto the bed so I could birth the placenta. Lexi reported that she was born at 5:55, and that her head had come out at 5:54. So it had been much faster than I experienced, although I had known the whole thing happened very fast. It was within the space of just two contractions. I only pushed four or five times.
We all gathered around and said hello to the baby. Crawling onto the bed, I was very aware of the cord still inside me and cautioned everyone to go slowly so it wasn't pulled on. Shortly after, I pushed out the placenta, but the membranes were kind of stuck inside. We waited and worked them out, hoping nothing was left inside (a bit was, but we managed to avoid an infection, and I passed them a few days later, and then the rest a few days after that). I think they probably got stuck on my scar.
I asked that we wait to cut the cord until the placenta was out so I could see her attached. There wasn't a good angle for me to get a picture this time, but that's okay. I'll spare you readers the placenta pictures I did take. Brandon hid while we went over all of that. Naomi was offered the cord to cut, but as she'd gotten to trim Kat's, I thought it was only fair Kat get to cut Annika's.
|I was so happy to have my baby
We had already announced her name during the labor to the birth team, but Brandon posted on Facebook when she was born for us, announcing it to everyone. She was very tired and went to sleep rather quickly. I tried to get her to nurse, but she wasn't interested. She woke up to cough up the stuff from her lungs, and I tried some more to get her to nurse. Finally, Lexi said something about my finger, and I remembered having to get past babies started with the finger, and I pestered her into sucking on that. Once she did, I pulled it out of her mouth and offered to nurse, promising that she would like it. She took to it quickly after that.
Brandon left to get me a celebratory turkey sandwich from Subway. When he returned we got Annika's weight and other stats. She screamed a little monkey scream at being taken from me, but calmed down okay. Lexi and I were guessing she'd be high 6lbs or low 7lbs. Rachel weighed her and said, "You fail! Seven pounds, thirteen ounces." Annika was 20 3/4" long. She's my tiniest baby.
From waters fully broken to birth was 39 hours. I was in active labor for 5 hours. It was a long couple of days any way you look at it, for such an amazing little package, who decided she would come at a surprise time to meet her grandma as soon as she could, as she was passing from this world and had held out all this time to meet her.
She was my longest labor, my tiniest baby, and is my best nurser. She's a calm, happy little baby who loves practicing her smiles already. My long awaited last baby, who came into the world with, of all things, amber-brown eyes that turned blue, facial bruising that healed up quickly and an elfin/Vulcan ear on one side and 'goblin' ear on the other. Welcome to the family, Annika Shuri! ♥
*Quotes are approximate based on my memory