This is a personal post, plain and simple. I want to post it where it has a wider audience than livejournal, but still a more personal audience than tumblr, but this is a personal post with no attempts to disguise it as otherwise.
Friday July 5th at 12:59 am I gave birth to my first child, a baby girl we named Kairi Elanor. I started writing it right after she was born, but most of my typing has been done one handed in the last three weeks, with very little time to actually concentrate on anything except Kairi for more than a few minutes at a time, but as she is currently having daddy cuddles while I hurry down breakfast, here is my window of opportunity for finally posting her birth story.
It starts at the end of last October, when after several months with no luck there was finally a “+” sign on the home test. Those months felt like they lasted forever until the wait was finally over, and I (moreso than Billy for sure) found myself in a state of extreme happiness, combined with extreme “ohholyshitwhathavewedone.”
I started my prenatal care with the same OB office several of my friends use, without being entirely certain if I wanted to give birth through that office. I am not a hospital person. I’m not much of a medicine person in general, even for minor things like painkillers or cough syrup. My general philosophy on health care is to eat well, stay active, and get lots of fresh air and sunshine, viewing doctors as a first world luxury in place for when something really nasty breaks past all of those preventative measures. The idea of giving birth in a hospital with an OB where I ran the risk of IVs, constant monitoring, strangers coming and going, not being able to move around, and people trying to talk me into medications I didn’t want when I wasn’t sick…it was not appealing. I have a friend who had her baby with the midwife unit at MCV and that sounded like a good avenue to explore–she had nothing but positive things to say about them–but then my friend Colleen asked me about a home birth.
I’d thought about it prior to even becoming pregnant, but wasn’t really sure where to start with researching it–prior to becoming pregnant you think you have time to answer all of your questions, and then it happens and time starts moving much faster than it did before. Fortunately Colleen is a walking guidebook on pregnancy and childbirth and gave me some places to start, and introduced me to a local homebirth midwife. I stuck with the OB office for another couple of months waffling about the decision: I knew I didn’t want to deliver with the OB, but it was a good place to keep receiving care while I debated between the MCV midwives or having the baby at home. I was never actually worried about the safety of a homebirth, which always seems to be the first place people go when you mention it. We’re about 10 minutes from a hospital so if something really terrible happened, we could get there in the same amount of time it would take to get an OR ready anyway, and I just didn’t really feel like there were any concerns (I guess that goes back to the complete distrust of hospitals and doctors–childbirth, to me, is nothing new, and while I disagree with the *cultural* notion that women are designed for childbirth, biologically we kind of are. My body is hard programmed to know how to give birth whether I ever chose to use that programming or not, and given that my pregnancy was low-risk, I just didn’t see where I needed the so-called “safety” of a hospital. The more I read up on childbirth (from the admittedly biased perspective of midwives), the less I wanted to do with a hospital birth, my fear of unnecessary interventions increasing all the time. Still, there remained the appeal of knowing the environment would be clean, that I wouldn’t be responsible for anything immediately postpartum, and the birth team would have their needs met by the hospital instead of me feeling caught between laboring mom and hostess. The MCV midwives were becoming more appealing, but after meeting again with Mary, our homebirth midwife, and really talking to her, we decided that even with midwives, a hospital birth just ran the risk of feeling too institutionalized for our very, very “trust nature” way of life. We hired Mary, and she took over my prenatal care. (A point of interest, when I first mentioned the idea of a home birth to Billy, his response was “I always kind of assumed you would do that.”)
In order to skip making this any more about my opinions on the difference in attitudes there are surrounding medical interventions in birth (and on birth choice being a huge part of reproductive choice), the only thing I will say about the change in my prenatal care was how much more responsibility was placed on me–and in a good way. At the OB’s office I was rarely asked questions. The doctor I saw was very nice and I didn’t feel bullied by her, but it never felt personal. I think her nurse asked me on my first visit about my birth plan, but even by my last appointment there around 26 weeks I don’t recall ever having a conversation with the OB about who I wanted in the delivery room, if I wanted pain medication or not, were we planning to circumcise if we had a boy, and my feelings on interventions. Mary asked us questions I hadn’t even given any thought to because they’re so far removed from the medical world of birth–what would I like to eat during labor, for instance, and what did I plan to do with the placenta? And that’s not to mention learning about the stages of birth. I’d never heard of “transition,” before. I hadn’t thought about different positions to ride out the contractions since my experience with childbirth is based on pop culture where laboring moms are on their backs and that’s that, and I hadn’t heard of delayed cord clamping. We were planning a water birth because we both love the water and liked the idea of the baby leaving a liquid environment and arriving in a liquid environment, and while it made complete sense as soon as I heard it, I didn’t know that water was also used as a natural pain reliever. I would love to attribute this to my own naivety, but that itself is based on a communal exposure to a birth experience that is more and more out of the hands of the woman actually giving birth.
So, I learned more. Not about the clinical side of how the baby would move, but the holistic experience–the physical stages of labor, the changes I would feel, the mental and emotional states I could expect.
The last piece before the day of labor, goes back to Colleen. The most important thing about Colleen is that she is that friend you just kind of wake up one day and realize you can’t imagine your life without. We met when all of us were working together at Barnes & Noble, and our stories have woven together since in such a way we didn’t notice until the threads were tightly bound. And, as mentioned before, Colleen knows more about pregnancy and childbirth than Dr. Google, and awhile back expressed interest in becoming a doula. I told her that if she did, I would hire her when I had a baby. It turns out I got pregnant before she made a decision about doula training, so I said I would still be comfortable with her being there if she wanted a sort of “practice run” at doula-ing, and thus assembled the birth team.
Kairi was due on July 1st, though for some reason, all of us thought she would come early. Possibly because I’m very short torsoed and we figured she would just run out of room–I know I thought as much because historically I ovulate early. Partly also because in our group of friends we already had two babies born in July but none in June, and partly because there was a Supermoon a week before her due date. So a lot of factors contributed. And I did have prodromal labor in June that kept me up all night, but then disappeared come daybreak. So June ended. July 2nd I had more prodromal labor–much stronger this time and we were sure that was it, but again, it ended.
I did not want a July 4th baby. I am admittedly not very patriotic, but my reasoning was more that I did not want her, as an adult, to find she always had to share her birthday with Independence Day cook-outs and family traditions–fireworks notwithstanding. So when I woke up to very painful contractions around 7am on July 4th, I could only shake my head, figuring that this time of course it *wouldn’t* be prodromal, given it was the one day in the 5 week range I could deliver at home that I *didn’t* want her to be born. But because the last two times the contractions stopped, I kept trying to convince myself it was just gas–I didn’t want to get my hopes up again that I would finally be able to meet my baby.
These contractions, however, were much stronger, and much closer together than the previous ones. Billy was supposed to go into work at 1:30 that day, and we spent the morning wondering if he would be able to make it. It was becoming difficult to walk around, and I needed his physical support through most of the rushes. By the time he needed to leave, we were both pretty sure this was it, but I sent him into work anyway, promising I would call him if I needed him to come home. During this time I texted Mary, our midwife, and told her what was happening, and at one point she called me and determined by how I sounded on the phone that no, this was not in fact gas, and she would be heading our way. I called Billy to home come, and sent Colleen a text.
The rest of the night becomes a bit of a blur. If I’d gotten to this point of her birth story the day after, or even a couple of days after her birth maybe I could articulate what it was like, but this long after the fact, the experience is beyond retelling. I talk a lot about C.S. Lewis’ essay “Myth Became Fact.” It influenced me strongly in college and I referenced it in my wedding vows, but the basic gist is that you cannot simultaneously describe and experience something–the moment you start trying to describe it, you lose the experience. And I wholly experienced my labor.
Here is what I remember:
When Mary got here, we filled the birth pool, and I discovered that it did not make as huge a difference in the pain as I thought it would (not to say it didn’t help, it just wasn’t a magic cure). The water was not warm enough for me, though I’m pretty sure that’s more because *I* was just so hot it didn’t feel as warm as it probably was. I remember Colleen getting here a bit later and us making jokes over my extreme nakedness. I remember the birth team reminding me to make low moans and horse lips in favor of higher pitched sounds during the contractions. I remember feeling somewhat disheartened that it was taking so long, because after all the prodromal labor and going past my due date I was so sure it meant the real labor would be easier, or at the very least, faster. I remember it getting darker, and hearing fireworks being shot off by the neighbors, and music coming from across the street. I remember feeling very, very weak from needing to eat (I’d had a large, healthy breakfast, which I proceeded to throw up before Billy went to work, and only managed half an apple and some crackers for the rest of the day), and I remember trying to tell Billy how weak I felt, only to have him continually assure that I was strong, because he didn’t realize I was talking about actual, physical drain. I remember being *exhausted,* and trying to sleep in between contractions (which is not that easy to do). I remember feeling disappointed in myself, because I had hoped I would labor more gracefully–quieter, and without the shame of being so darn tired I wasn’t sure I had the physical strength to continue. I remember how wonderful the birth team was with helping me physically and emotionally, and how utterly amazing Billy was the entire time. We had talked about what he could do beforehand of course, and I told him two things–keep me fed so my blood sugar didn’t drop too severely (which he tried to do, I just couldn’t stomach the thought of food), and to keep his hands on me. Billy has the most wonderful hands. Whether I am in a bad mood or not, when he presses his hand against my back, or in my hair, or my face, or my arms, or anywhere, it’s an automatic mood elevator, and I asked him to just do that, because it would help–and he did. He kept his hands on me, and continued to talk into my ear, encouraging me and making the whole thing so much easier. This is not to say anything less about Colleen, Christina, or Mary, only to state exactly how lucky I am and how wonderful Billy is.
My waters didn’t break until well after dark, and it was spectacular. I had been laboring on the bed for quite some time and stood up, and on the next rush, SPLASH! just like on television. And while things did not necessarily get easier after that, it was the beginning of the end. Kairi was posterior at this point so Mary had me try several different (and not entirely comfortable) positions to push through to try and get her to turn, and then, sometime after midnight (at which the others cheered me on that no, I would not have a 4th of July baby, and I wanted to cheer with them but I was *so tired*), Mary suggested I try to urinate–I made it to the bathroom when another contraction hit and it was like somebody had lit me on fire–and so I reached down, and felt something. I called out to Mary and she did a quick exam and said that no, she did not see the head yet, but I knew I had felt something, and that the baby must have just moved back up. Another contraction, more pushing, more of the horrible, wonderful burning feeling, and this time Mary confirmed that yet, that was the baby’s head. So they helped me back into the bed (despite how much we had really wanted a water birth, the water in the tub had gotten cool and it wasn’t quite full and I just wanted to push, to meet this baby who I spent all day working towards), and I pushed and pushed, with Billy behind me, and then there was a head, and then there was a baby.
She cried right away, and they put her on my chest with a towel wrapped over her, and she was slippery and crying and perfect. And someone (Colleen, I think?) asked if we had seen the sex of the child, which we hadn’t yet. I honestly hadn’t even thought of it. I had a baby on my chest and Billy had his arms around me and we were both touching her and kissing her and each other and I didn’t even think to see if we had a boy or a girl. But we looked, and saw we had a daughter, and I couldn’t tell you what was happening outside this tiny little circle that was my family.
Time started again. Billy cut her cord once it stopped pulsing; Mary, Christina, and Colleen cleaned up; Kairi nursed for the first time; they weighed and measured her; and sometime around 4am everyone was gone, and it was just Billy, Kairi, and myself. 40 weeks of gestation, 18 hours of labor, and now suddenly there was a third person in our home for whom we had sole responsibility. I was afraid to sleep, like if I closed my eyes for too long she would disappear, because the idea that this little being I had felt moving around inside of me for so long was now on the outside–whole and separate and so vulnerable–was so surreal. I slept in an armchair with her on my chest, and Billy slept on the floor at our feet–just a few hours, and then naps throughout the next day, and we let it sink it, more or less.
Even now I say more or less because I don’t know if it has fully sunken in. I keep waiting for somebody to come evaluate me, to make sure that we are fit to be her parents. It’s hard to believe that this little person came into our house all of our own decision making–we didn’t have to get permission or prove we were capable beforehand and that just baffles me, because it just feels like something as huge as making a new person should have more red tape involved, and yet–it doesn’t. We made her, and grew her, and birthed her, and now here she is, every day more alert and more aware.
I can’t say enough positive things about Mary and her team, starting from our first meeting where she talked to us about home births. Her knowledge is incredible, as is her support–both at our visits, the birth itself, and the many worried emails she always answered so quickly. If you’re in the Richmond, VA area, I highly recommend her!
I also owe so much of Kairi’s birth story to Colleen, not just for being there, but for being supportive of a home birth from the beginning. On my own, I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to make that choice, but, despite the anxiety leading up to her birth of wanting to make sure the house was ready for me to labor in, and the time immediately postpartum of thinking that yes, it would be nice to be in a place where someone else was here to clean up at all times (that thought didn’t last long, as my mom came into town the next day and did so, so much to help us), a home birth was definitely the right choice. I don’t know what would have happened in a hospital. The only thing I feel certain of is they would have broken my waters well before they broke on their own–from there, who knows? Maybe that would have sped things up. Maybe it would have caused labor to stall. Maybe they would have tried to put me on pitocin, or I would have caved under the exhaustion and asked for an epidural. It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day I had a successful home birth, where Kairi and I are both completely healthy, and I know that my daughter got to control every aspect of her birth story. Having a home birth is empowering, and in a way, a political statement. My success story is proof that women ARE capable of bringing a baby safely from the womb to the world regardless of how interventive medicine wants to be, and while I know it isn’t for everyone, and people make decisions for any number of reasons and this doesn’t make me better or worse than any other mother out there, I like that I will be able to tell my daughter that her first experience of the world was in her home.
And finally a note on her name. While she is not named after the character, I fell in love with the name Kairi (pronounced ky-ree) years ago when I first heard it as one of the main characters of the Kingdom Hearts video games. I know that her entire life she will be called Carrie, or people will assume she is named after the character, and for that, despite wanting to name a girl this for years, I hesitated on actually giving her the name, but Billy really liked it as well and talked me into sticking with it. And given that Kingdom Hearts is a collaboration between Disney and the company that makes the Final Fantasy games of which Billy and I are both huge fans, there’s nothing wrong with people drawing what I understand is an obvious conclusion.
Elanor was more of an 11th hour decision. Billy has always wanted to name a girl Xen (pronounced Zen), and for the longest time that was the middle name we had agreed upon–during most of this time, we were both certain we were having a boy, so I wasn’t as concerned. Then an online friend told me she had dreamed we were having a girl, and I started thinking more about that idea, and it really started to feel right. I had two dreams in my entire pregnancy where the sex of our baby was revealed, and in both of those dreams we had a girl–and in one of them, we called her Ellen. As Elanor was a name I’d benched anyway, it seemed significant, given that Ellen is a derivative of Eleanor. After that dream I brought up the idea of changing the middle name–while I didn’t necessarily have a problem with the name Xen, it seemed harsh–K and X are both very solid consonants, after all. And then there was the dream. So taking a cue from another friend, I wrote the names on our bathroom mirror, and in time Billy agreed with me that Kairi Xen just didn’t look quite right, and he consented to Elanor. The name itself comes from Tolkien. Elanor is a golden flower that grows in Lothlorien, and is the name Samwise Gamgee gave to his first daughter, allowing him to name her something Elvish, while keeping with the hobbit tradition of giving little girls flower names. Sam Gamgee is my mom’s favorite literary character, so it felt like giving her a name for her maternal grandmother as well. Then when looking up information on it one day I saw that Lenore is also a derivative of Eleanor–and my particularly geeky friends might know that Lenore is the name of another favorite video game character of mine, Rinoa, in the French translation of Final Fantasy VIII. Finally, Elle is a nickname, which is also a nickname of one of the key characters in Final Fantasy VIII, as well as a nickname for a character in a story I’ve writing. So really, with all of the built-in acknowledgements in the name, it stuck pretty quickly. Then a week or so before she was born, another online friend had a dream that we had a girl, and that her name started with an E–this was after we knew Elanor would be her middle name, which really just reinforced we had made the right decision. It did take about a week after she was born for me to really feel we’d made the right choice, but now I can’t imagine her having any other name.
So that’s Kairi Elanor’s birth story. The day after she was born I didn’t think it was possible to forget just how painful labor was, but now, it is. Three weeks later even the soreness is gone, and going back to Myth Became Fact, the pain of both labor and the healing afterwards are things I experienced so greatly I can barely describe. I know it was painful because I can say that it was, but the experience of the pain is gone. I’m not in a hurry to relive it anytime soon, but it is only a memory. The present now is Kairi looking at me while she nurses, or her sleeping on Billy’s chest, or the little noises she makes when she is waking up. It’s frustration from helplessness and sleep deprivation at 3am when I can’t figure out what she needs. And it’s a deeper love than I have ever experienced.