Well, I have a few minutes of quiet in the house. (It's rare, you know.) And since it's on the brain, and since there's a fan blowing near my chair, and since I have had a pesky cramp that makes me need to sit in a strange contortion, I will sit and recollect My Monkey's story. :) I'll warn you now--it's long...but (I think) well worth it.
Studious readers may recall that we carried the cross of infertility for four long years. We wanted another baby--just one more!--and it seemed like actually giving utterance to those words doomed us. We do know that we lost our first little Saint in February of 2002, which is about when we began trying. I wasn't in denial, per se, but I certainly wasn't where I am now in my faith. This means that that first loss was mostly swept under my heart's carpet, and only now am I able to reckon with it. It's made losing Gabriel that much more difficult, I think, knowing that we never chose a name for that child, nor did we actively seek out proper counsel for our hearts...I think, though, that it's never too late, thanks be to God.
So many other things happened during those years. I finally pushed for answers to my health issues, and in February 2004 (February is really a theme here...), I had surgery to remove adhesions caused by stage 3 endometriosis. It took me nearly a full year to really recover from the surgery, despite the 6 week optimistic prediction from the doctor. There are still things I'm dealing with today, like altered memory and poor word and name recall, and they stem from the anesthesia. It was about a year after my surgery that we were told we just weren't going to be able to have any more babies...and of course, this was devastating for us.
So we did what any sensible couple would do. We bought a puppy. Something little and warm for me to hold and dote on. Oh, I was convinced that this would help my poor heart to at least begin to heal from this news.
Ha! And Double Ha! HA!!
What I never could have known was just how God was going to use this time in my life to draw me closer to Him than I ever thought it was possible to be. When you think you're in control, and then you lose ALL control, there's something very freeing about just leaning back onto Him and letting Him have His way.
Well, that's what we did.
It was still tremendously difficult to know that there was no baby growing beneath my heart. Day one of every cycle was so hard for me that I would shut down completely, allowing no one in. I spent hours weeping, begging God, like an impudent child, to hear my desires, trying desperately to hear His answer on my heart, but never allowing His answer to be enough. My depression from this brought something like a famine into our marriage, and it was at the lowest point that I found His gentle hand, waiting to lift me up. Following my accident, my Darling and I began praying together, in a way that we never had before--openly, passionately, and directly from the heart. Really, this is something that many Catholics scoff at, likening it to something a little too charismatic to be "authentically Catholic". It's too bad that they see it that way, because it's truly amazing what can happen between two hearts when you lay them completely open at the feet of Jesus. We poured ourselves out in prayer with one another, asking God to heal the schism that we had allowed to form between us.
It wasn't too long after we began this journey together that we discovered that I was carrying our beautiful baby. God had indeed forgiven our sinfulness and rewarded our faithfulness, and continues to do so!
Because of my healing injuries, my pregnancy was very painful. Beginning at about 16 weeks, although the Nausea Bug and the Major had slacked off a little bit on their assaults, the loosening of the joints that happens with every pregnancy was exceptionally difficult this time around. I kept as active as I could, but it really slowed me down.
During the four years that I had to obsess over becoming a Mama again, I had researched my head off about what kind of birth I wanted. I knew I didn't want to go to the hospital again, but I wasn't sure what options that left me with. I mean, only hippies and weirdos and pioneer women actually have their babies at home, for Pete's sake, and heaven knows I'm none of those things. I had met a friend through the Pickle's swimming class, and she mentioned casually that she knew this midwife who delivered babies in this area. There's an Amish settlement just north of where we live, and the majority of her clientele, of course, stemmed from there. I'm not sure, but I think Julie found out about her through her chiropractor. I thought, Well Julie's not a hippie. A little weird, perhaps, but not much more than I am. And she's not a pioneer; she lives in a huge house and drives a minivan! I got Chris' number and gave her a call.
Our first meeting was all it took for My Darling to get on board fully with the idea of actually having our child born in our actual house. He had been a little leery of the whole thing, but after meeting Chris and hearing about her years of experience, he really settled into the understanding that it is safe, that birth is normal, that we would be fine, and that this was a good idea. We began putting together a Rubbermaid tub full of the things we needed to supply for our baby's arrival: a new shower curtain to put under the sheets on the bed--and the bed was the Hide-A-Bed of the love seat that had spent so many years in my Grandma's house. Red sheets, for that matter, so that even if there were stubborn stains, they would never show. A new aerobic ball, which we inflated about a month ahead of the birth. A package of absorbent pads. Olive oil. Alcohol and iodine. A brand new set of unimaginably soft towels, which we washed and dried and vacuum packed so we knew they would be ultra clean for our brand new baby.
At 28 weeks, we found out that the Monkey was frank breech--and that he was a boy. I went to the chiropractor regularly. She performed the Webster maneuver on me, and within a few adjustments, he was turned to head down. He stayed that way until he was out and dry. Good boy!
As our February (there's that theme again!) due date drew near, Chris began making her visits here, rather than having us drive to her place. The dogs got to know her, the kids got to know her, and she became familiar with our home. About three weeks before the Monkey's arrival, Chris brought the birth pool and we set it up. Considering the injury that my body was still trying to heal from, the pool was a huge blessing. My chiropractor actually came to my house a few times each week, adjusting me as I flopped over dozens of pillows. She would leave and I would immediately climb into the pool and allow the hot water to relax my cumbersome body.
When the time finally came, it was very late on a Friday night. My Darling arrived home from his second job, and I was hanging out in the water.....and The Pop came. It was shortly after midnight.
Now, I happen to have right here in my hands a Purple Folder. This Folder contains all of the information recorded by Chris, beginning with my first appointment (my blood pressure was low then, too!) and all the way up to her final postpartum visit. During labor, she took detailed notes, which are in the Purple Folder. I'll chronicle them along with my memories--her notes in italics, and my memories in plain font.
When Chris arrived, it was 1:45 AM. The temperature was fifteen degrees below zero, and the sky was clear. My water had broken at 12:15, and we had called her at 12:45. We had waited a little while to make sure that labor was really beginning. Sure enough, my contractions began; they were close, and good and strong. I got out of the water and sat on the big ball, which we covered with a nifty pad. When Chris came, she checked my belly through a contraction and listened to the Monkey's heart rate, and then she settled all of her equipment in a convenient place. She quietly retreated to the kitchen, leaving us in the living room to do whatever we needed to do. We had one lamp on through the whole night, and we listened to a CD that I had made weeks in advance and had listened to over and over....it's a great mix.
I was contracting every 3 minutes. The Monkey's heart rate was 130 and strong. At 2:08, I requested chicken soup, and My Darling got busy in the kitchen. The contractions made me hungry! At 2:20, Chris helped me out of the pool. My comment? "I feel like a queen!" At 2:32, my sister called from work. At that time, my sister worked nights in a factory, installing windows on skid steers. I have no idea what made her know that she could call at such an hour--she never had before (and hasn't since, thanks be to God!), and I hadn't called her to say that I was in labor. God bless her heart! We had a lovely conversation. Earlier in my pregnancy with the Monkey, one of her dogs had a litter of puppies, and she had called to say, "Wanna hear the ruckus?" This night, I told her, "I'll call you tomorrow so you can hear the ruckus..."
Chuck brought me the delicious soup that he had made the day before and then heated up for me. I ate it while sitting on the ball. 3:00 came. I mentioned that this was "the nicest labor I've ever had, so far. And if I thought he was low before, he's really low now." Contractions were two minutes apart and lasting 60 seconds. At 3:34 I thought I almost needed to push, but couldn't really tell...he was just reeeealllly low. My Darling wiped my face with a cloth, and we talked about how wonderful he is in labor. Chris said I'm lucky; that not every husband is like that. I said we could rent him out.
At 3:43, the song on the CD was one of my Dad's favorites--"God be in my head," arranged by John Rutter. At 3:50 I couldn't sit anymore.
My friend Sarah came at 3:55. She was going to take pictures. I remember Sarah telling me that this was an incredible experience for her. She's not been able to have her own children, and had never been present at a birth before. Though I was unaware, she became very emotional later on, but did such a beautiful job with the photos...they are such a treasure to us, as is our friendship.
At 4:25, Chris made me get out of the water. The Monkey was posterior, as the Pickle had been. She told me to get on my knees and elbows on the bed. I hated it. The contractions were very strong, and without the water, they hurt a lot. Since we didn't have a snorkel, I had to be on the bed. My Darling and I danced in the kitchen for a while. At 4:55, Chris encouraged me to lie down for a bit and try to relax. At 5:00, I said, "Oh what a good boy; I can feel him turning."
5:20--I went back to hands and knees to strengthen the contractions and draw them closer together...they had gone back to four minutes apart. At 5:39, I was back in the water. Chris' daughter and assistant midwife, Billie, arrived. Billie had attended another birth that night. We've met the sweet little girl who shares our Monkey's birthday...she's a gorgeous, plump little blonde-haired Amish baby.
I had wanted to push all along--his head was so low--and at 5:50, I was more determined sounding.
5:53--the Frog was up. My Darling said, "Your brother's going to come out soon." Pickle got up, to.
I asked My Darling, "Why did you give me such a big baby?" He responded, "He wasn't that big when I put him in there." :) Twerp.
At 6:00 I asked when I could push. Chris said, "When you get to ten." I asked, "When will that be?" My Darling's response: "After nine." Really a twerp.
Reepicheep came downstairs.
More time on my hands and knees. At 6:30, I was at seven centimeters. The kids were eating breakfast. My darling had called my friend Jenna; she arrived at 6:40.
I cried out to God, "Why are you testing me like this?" My Darling's answer: "Because He knows that you are strong enough." My favorite memory of this labor....I was weary, I was worn; I was on the edge of fear. My head was mashed into a pillow during contractions. My Darling was ever at my side. I squeezed his hand. He brushed the hair from my forehead. He kissed my cheek. He caressed my back. He whispered into my ear and encouraged me. He prayed for me. He sat with me. He was so everything for me at that point that if he had left my side, I think maybe I wouldn't have been able to breathe. I think we could never be closer...in those moments, our souls were speaking to one another. This was transition....and he was a prince.
At 6:50 I asked, "Please can I push now?" Chris said, "With the next one." "Oh, thank you," I said. I threw up--I always do at that point--and I knew I was getting so close. The Frog was with me now, too, with her icy cold hands on my hot, hot back. They felt so good.
The handwriting in The Folder changes now, from Chris' to Billie's.
6:55--I could feel him moving down. It was a relief and not a relief.
6:57--I could feel him moving, still in my womb...I said, "I'm going to miss that." I remember feeling a little sad about this--I think somewhere in my heart I was convinced that this conception had been such a miracle that it would surely be our last. Of course He would never bless us like this again! Isn't it funny how no matter how much He lavishes His love and blessings on us, in our humanness, we still find ways to limit His grace?
6:58--I was on my side at the end of the bed. My Darling held my leg. There was a lip of cervix left, and Chris was holding it back...it burned like fire.
7:00--I pushed, but it didn't feel right. It hurt too much. Chris said, "Just try to rest and breathe through this one while I hold the cervix back." I held Jenna's hand and cried.
7:02--Another push. They told me they could see lots of hair.
7:05--I could feel him kicking, and My Darling said he could see him coming down. It really just felt wrong--there was some irresistible instinct to get into the water NOW and squat. I said something about it, and I think My Darling and Chris and Billie were moving to help me, but I did not wait. My Darling laughs to remember it, saying that I practically did a back flip to get there. All I knew was that my heart was in a panic and I moved quickly from the bed to the pool--they were only about three feet from one another.
7:06--I was in the water, in a full squat, pushing again. My girls were both there. My Darling was at my side. Jenna continued to hold my hand. Chris faced me, waiting.
7:07--I pushed HARD. I could feel him moving right past the Ring of Fire...and suddenly, his head was out. I remember Chris asking me to raise my hips a bit so that she could help his shoulders out.
7:08--I pushed again, once. He was born, up through the water, into my own hands. I brought him to my chest and began loving on him......
The cord was around his neck, twice. My instinct had been spot on. I should mention, of course, that Chris never once questioned or corrected me...she did not panic, she did not falter, she did not look surprised at anything. I cannot help but wonder what would have happened in a hospital--monitors would have gone nuts, nurses would have panicked. Forceps would have made an appearance. Voices would have become loud and forceful. Squatting would never have been an option, and definitely not a water birth. My baby's cord would have been clamped and cut, and he would have been immediately taken from me for assessment. Thank You, Jesus, for the wisdom You placed in our hearts...that our son was born gently, and was never separated from us, even for a moment.
7:09--The umbilical cord had completed its job and began to turn from deep blue to pale grey. The Monkey let out his first little cry, then settled in contentedly. Jenna said, "Hey, a baby, just in time for breakfast."
7:11--His heart rate was in the 120s. He was so calm...we two were just looking into one another's eyes, falling in love.
The kids all commented: Frog said, "He's the latest one of all of us!" (The big three all came before their due dates. Monkey came the day after his.) Pickle said, "My first brother!" (He didn't stick around for much of the birth, preferring to spend his time playing Legos. I think it's a boy thing. We have one picture that includes him...that's all the time he spent there!) Reepicheep said, "He's just a newborn!" (An astute observation for a just-turned-six-year-old!) They each kissed their new brother...and then Pickle disappeared back up to his room to play Legos again.
The handwriting in The Folder goes back to Chris'. Billie busied herself in the kitchen and bathroom. She laid out the supplies for the newborn exam on the kitchen table, and would later draw a hot bath for me. At some earlier point, Chris had put a cheesecloth-wrapped packet of herbs onto the stove to simmer, and they would be added to the bath.
7:15--The cord is cut by the Frog. The pictures show me relaxing in the birth pool, exhausted but happy...the Frog is glowing as she makes a life-long memory.
7:20--Into Daddy's arms in a warm towel. At some point, either Chris or Billie had put the new towels into the dryer to warm them up. When my arms began to get tired, I handed my beautiful son to Chris, who held a warm towel. She wrapped him and gave him directly to his Daddy.
7:37--Chris helped me out of the pool and onto an improvised birth chair. I sat with the Monkey and he nursed for the first time. Chris brought me Tylenol for the after pains--I hadn't delivered the placenta just yet, and the contractions began to build again.
7:45--I had some time alone with my little son. Chris and My Darling prepared a bowl of oatmeal for me...apparently, that's what I wanted. Also at this point, Jenna took the Pickle and the Reepicheep along with her, leaving me and My Darling and the Frog. It was so nice to have this done for us, so that we could rest and focus on the new wee one.
7:57--The placenta came. I love that there was no pulling, no rush to help it along. Chris knew that the best way to encourage it was for me to nurse my baby and let my body do its job.
8:10--My Darling began calling our families. I said, "The baby's busy; don't weigh him yet." He was nursing. This peeved some of our relatives, who were told, "We don't know how much he weighs yet. He's busy getting his breakfast." SO not mainstream medicine. I love it!
8:40--I got hot chocolate. Mmmmmmmm................
8:45--I was helped into the herbal bath by Billie, and the Monkey was given his newborn exam on the kitchen table by Chris, with My Darling and the Frog at his side. Monkey weighed in at 8 pounds, 3 ounces, and measured 22 inches long. Holy Moses!! If you're keeping track, that's a full 2+ pounds bigger than the Reepicheep had been, and bigger than either the Pickle or the Frog had been, too. Chris' assessment shows that he appeared to be a week overdue: he had firm ears, deep sole creases in his feet, peeling skin, and not a smidge of vernix.
9:15--I am tucked into bed with my baby. Chris had finished the newborn exam and given Monkey either to My Darling or the Frog. She went into the living room and cleaned everything up--she removed, I kid you not, everything and then made the bed. When we had made it up before the birth, we put a full set of sheets on, covered them with the shower curtain, then put the red sheets on top. Chris removed the red sheets and shower curtain, and changed the pillow cases. She tucked a couple of blankets in, and when I was done in the bath, she and Billie tucked me and the Monkey in snuggly. They cleaned up the bathroom and kitchen, and tossed in a load of laundry.
9:45--Chris and Billie were ready to go home.
I love having this Purple Folder. I love having the photos--they aren't graphic; they are respectful and modest, and wonderful. I used many of them together with some of the music from the CD I had made and put them together into a Power Point slide show. Monkey loves to watch it, and to listen to the music. He calls it "Baby Water". It's astounding to see his demeanor change when he watches the scenes surrounding the moments of his birth. He is immediately calm and glassy-eyed. He comments often, saying things like, "Here comes the baby. The baby doesn't cry. That's me. I'm looking at Mama. Now I'm getting Ohs." It's beautiful.....
I find that I am daydreaming often about how this next birth will go.....I never thought I would feel this way, full of anticipation and longing for birth. I never knew it could be like this, though, here in my home, with my family, with my friends, with such love surrounding every single aspect of it.
This time around, The Folder is blue.