A Dream Home-Birth: Fourth Time’s the Charm

This is the intriguing narrative of the midwife-attended, natural birth of my fourth child, Nikolas.  

His birth will be forever connected with my mama, because she fell and hurt her hip the night before he was born.  True to her nature, she didn’t tell anyone about the fall, but simply said that she “wasn’t feeling up to coming over” to see my new baby, even though we lived a mere 10 minutes apart.  That seemingly minor event was the start of a sharp downward spiral for her.  Two weeks later, she fell again and broke her hip.  The surgery that was supposed to replace her hip sent her body into multiple strokes instead, and we never got to hear her voice again.  

We had had a misunderstanding on the phone the day before, and I am so glad that I rushed to the hospital to speak with her one last time before that surgery happened.  We used to talk on the phone for at least an hour, almost every day.  It took me months to figure out how to cope with day-to-day life without her patience and encouragement just a phonecall away.  I grieved a lot when she first got hurt–moreso than lately, almost.  I am still so incredibly upset that I deleted her last voicemail, not realizing that I’d never hear her voice again.  She only got to meet Nikolas once before the strokes happened.

Right, well…  On to the birth story!  It really is a good one, if I do say so myself.  I have very late babies, typically, and Nik was no different.  

Now, I am a self-proclaimed crunchy mama, in all its permutations and possibilities.  If you don’t wanna read about or support natural birth–or if you wanna nitpick and argue with me about how crunchy I *really* am–then maybe just don’t upset yourself by reading further.  =)  

Knowing that I seem to have never-ending pregnancies, we decided early on to be semi-aggressive with multiple natural remedies to support a “timely” labor.  

My midwives also happen to be two of my best friends, and I knew that they couldn’t legally attend my birth if I went over 42 weeks.  

My last baby came at 42 weeks, 6 days–and while it was a natural birth, it was also a stress-filled fiasco that I couldn’t bear to repeat.  Maybe someday I will write about that–but at present I prefer it to be a mostly buried memory, heh.

Due date by my own estimate: Nov 1st
…by my midwives’ calculations: Nov 5th 
…by the 25-ish week ultrasound: Oct 25th

For obvious reasons, we made the “official” due date the latest one that was reasonable–November 5th.  

Nov 9th (a week before): I had been having bouts of semi-convincing contractions nearly every day for at least two weeks already. I’d gotten my membranes swept several times as well, and had been taking labor herbals since 37 weeks. I took 4oz of castor oil, which gave me many more contractions but no luck.

Nov 10th: went to the city and paid out-of-pocket (thanks to my mom’s generosity) for a non-stress test, which showed a completely non-stressed baby, who looked to be due exactly on Nov 5th (so 40 weeks, 5 days at that time), and was supposedly 8.5 lbs already. At this point I was having near-constant, regular contractions, that would sometimes stay at 3 minutes apart for hours and hours….but nothing. (By this point, I was already in an end-of-pregnancy stupor, half-convinced the whole thing was a sham, and that I was never going to go into labor!  Since I was already an hour away from home, I also opted to go eat at my favorite vegan restaurant 🙂

Several days that week, I was up having the kind of contractions that make you go, “hmm…should I call somebody?” but every time I’d go to sleep, they’d either peeter out or stay in a holding pattern instead of getting stronger. Twice I did call my husband home from work, which was making him crazy and not really endearing him to his new boss, either.

Sunday, Nov 15th: I thought it’d be a good idea to take a walk, so I rounded up the kids and stroller and went to the park with the nice walking trail. We walked for about 1.5 hours, ’til it got dark, and then I stopped for an Auntie Anne’s lemonade (YUM), and thought I might as well pick up some more castor oil too. I figured I’d rather try castor oil again, before I’d even consider going to the hospital.  At this point I was 3+ cm dilated, and 50% effaced, and had been for a week at least (?). 

6pm-ish: I thought, it was early enough, and I was such a night owl anyway, that I should have another go at some castor oil tonight. I figured if anything happened, it’d be recognizable within a few hours (stupid!). I did NOT want to take the full dose again though, so I only had one ounce. It didn’t even give me cramping, and so I figured it was a waste and went about the evening–dinner, kids to bed, etc. 

***Disclaimer: I have NO IDEA if that 1oz of castor oil did a thing, or if my body was just ready, or WHAT!  I know my midwives were annoyed I didn’t call them when I took it–sorry! *hides*

9pm-ish: I set to work on my college paper–you know, the one I’d procrastinated about until the very last minute. Actually, it was due Monday at midnight–so starting it on Sunday night was some sort of record for me. I had a CD of random Euro-dance music playing throughout the whole night–not my usual style, but for some reason it was what I wanted to hear. All the while, I was having contractions, but no physical feeling of it being different than the last 3 weeks, LOL. On the other hand, I knew the new moon was on the 16th, and I had a curious vibe about that in the back of my mind–but it wasn’t anything I felt like I should share, lest I was wrong again!

Whether it was the labor hormones, the dance music, or just a particular interest in the subject matter, I don’t know–but I wrote a really bang-up paper:  Eleven pages on the problems with America’s public school systems and how to fix them. 

Nov 16th, 4am: I had been having to pause typing to focus on my new, orange tree-of-life tapestry during contractions for who knows how long. I was tired at this point, having walked for 1.5 hours earlier, and given that I usually go to bed around 3am, but I felt like I shouldn’t go to sleep for some reason. I called up my husband and we talked; I told him something might be starting to happen, but not to hold his breath for it.  I stayed up and did a bit of crash cleaning–I think I scrubbed the bathroom floor, even.  (Again, obvious–nesting–why didn’t I really believe it?!!)

5am: I was having to hold onto the countertop to brace myself against contractions as I finished up the dishes. I still didn’t think it was “real labor” though, and I was half-expecting it to go away once I lay down. All the same, I felt like I didn’t want to be alone, and my husband only had one more hour of work anyway, so I called him and he came right home. I sat on the couch folding laundry, and I didn’t look that “serious”, so he played video games for awhile. No, he didn’t get in trouble for that. =)

6am: I was putting away laundry and couldn’t walk across the apartment faster than a 90-year-old.  My husband told me I should call the midwife then, but once I finally sat down, I realized that I barely felt up to talking, let alone finding my phone. I think he called, and then gave the phone to me–I can’t remember….

7am-ish:  My lovely midwives get there, and I’m sitting up in bed looking cranky and feeling sort of like I wish I could go to sleep and do this later! They check me, and I’m at 4-5 cm. Gahh, ONLY?? Things keep going, and at some point I start needing to hum, then moan, then holler through the contractions. They’re not painful so much as they make me want to crawl out of my skin–I always experience labor that way, tho I’m not sure it’s a good description… 

8 or 9am, something: They check me again, cause I’m feeling pushy, and WOO, I’m 9+ cm….but there’s a lip of cervix in the way. Apparently his being posterior made me dilate and efface “crooked”, so I need to change positions to put pressure on this lip of cervix to get it to move. Now this sucks. I can’t push yet, and I have to be in a position that makes me lean forward. The contractions are noticeably more intense this way, so I’m whiney and changing positions with great bursts of energy in between every contraction, and sometimes in the middle of them, trying to “get away” from this feeling. I was on my knees on the floor hanging over the bed, on all fours, on the toilet even–and wishing I could fall asleep in between. 

Almost 10am(??): Finally I’m sitting/kneeling in the middle of my bed and CANNOT NOT PUSH. I think my water broke about then, I’m not sure. They tell me I can’t push the baby out so close to the bed, so I rock forward onto all fours. My sweet husband is holding my hand, in my face whispering encouragement to me, my midwives are behind me with hot oil compresses, and I’m excited now, cause I know it’s almost over. I think I must have forgotten how hard it is to push a baby out, cause Nik didn’t just slip out after his head came–I had to really work to push his shoulders and belly out, too. It was funny, because I was on all fours, they had to pass Nik to me through my legs so that I could sit/lay down and hold him. I have no idea how long it took to push him out, but it felt longer than my others, so I was curious about his weight. 

Nikolas was 8lbs 1oz, 21 inches long, and born at 10:11am on the new moon of November. I was 41 weeks, 4 days.  (Earliest that I’ve ever gone into labor “on my own”–ha!)

My husband’s dream-premonition of the birth date was, annoyingly, correct. =)  What I didn’t know until then was that the 16th of November is also his uncle’s birthday–the very uncle whose generosity and support for our family was absolutely crucial in the early, difficult times.  We gave Nik his middle name in thanks for that support.  

I am SO THRILLED that I finally got to have a homebirth, and I will be forever thankful to my two dear midwife-friends for making it possible, and for taking such good care of me (or rather, making me take care of myself!). 

After my last, traumatic birth, Nik’s was soul-moving in its calmness and simplicity

I couldn’t have wished for better.


Living with My Dad, Remembering My Mama

I’ve been in an altogether different headspace over the past few weeks, which is to be expected what with my mother’s passing, our move, rearranged living circumstances, etc.  I haven’t forgotten this blog–far from it, I’m simply refining some ideas, and waiting for the right time to execute some changes that will affect the overall vibe of this place, as well as my otherwisequitegood.com site.  Bit of a change of direction is in order for this cosmic traveler and her work!

I’m listening to a song right now (Okay, it’s Panic! At the Disco.  Don’t hate.) that just sang the line, “Hey kid, you’ll never leave this town,” and it’s a funny coincidence, because I was always afraid of being that kid.  The kid who’d be agonizingly stuck in Middle-o-Nowhere, Texas, with a perpetual “present tense” that never changed.  And now, 12 years later, I’m living in my childhood home–and feeling NONE of that whatsoever.  If you’d been able to show me a “preview” of now, even a month or two ago, I would have been amazed.  (Initially, I was going to say “disbelieving”, but quite clearly I WAS able to believe it, because otherwise it wouldn’t have happened!  Ha!)

No, all the bad tidings that I feared a move into this place would bring were really just paranoid nonsense.  We love it here.

No, really.  It’s flippin’ awesome.  An acre and a third out in the country versus a cramped, mildewy apartment is heaven.  The kids are so free and happy here.  We already have gardening plans in the works, and we’re gonna plant a Magnolia tree with Nikolas’ placenta (finally), in honor of my mama.  Magnolias were my mom’s favorite tree, and the miserable ordeal that ended with her passing, started with her falling and breaking a hip–right after my fourth son’s amazingly wonderful home-birth.    (Which I shall post here, straightaway!)

I even like living with my dad.  Three years ago, he wasn’t speaking to me.  Two years ago, he had only recently met my then-one year old daughter, and still wasn’t speaking to my husband.  Now, I brew coffee for both of us in the morning, and he sometimes calls me on my cell phone to ask (jokingly!) about room service…!  Being around the kids seems to energize and mellow my dad, and he’s finally lost the “grouchy old mean-guy” disposition, for the most part–which he even had when *I* was a girl!  He likes my husband, but there’s no weird powertrippy stuff or dominance fights going on either.  And I don’t remotely feel that he’s trying to usurp my power or strongarm my family with his “advice” and opinions–such a nice, new feeling…!

My dad bought himself a motorcycle (!), and he really wants us to ride with him–to the extent that he might even buy a second bike one day.  He wants to travel–or in his words, “disappear over the summer”, and with us here to care for his cats, he can do that without guilt or worry.  Those cats were my mother’s babies–Ginger and Pepper (AKA “The Spice Girls” – Yep, she really did–LOL.), and they are the two most paranoid, skittish Persians I’ve ever seen.

My sweet friend Susan did an intuitive reading for me recently, and she said (among other things that were spot-on) that the feeling she was getting from my mom was “ecstatic” – like, almost manic, thrilled, brilliant happiness.  She was almost hesitant to say it…as if a recently departed soul shouldn’t be coming through that way!  My husband (another scary-deep intuitive) actually used the same word about her energy earlier.  Isn’t that curious??

Well, the way that they explained it was that my mom’s greatest desire was always to bring her family closer together.  She ached, those years that my dad and I didn’t speak.  So I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she is “checking in” on us, and feeling like, “HA!  Finally, they get it!”  In a way, her ordeal has healed mine and my dad’s relationship in ways that may never have happened otherwise–and I think she’s enjoying a sort of “last laugh” about that.

She used to say things like “Love will prevail!” all the time.  You were right after all, mama…

My Mother: As Well As I Knew Her

My mama turned 41 the year I was born.  I was her only child, and she doted on me better and more than any June Cleaver or Mama Berenstein Bear ever could have.  I only had 30 years of my life with her…the last of which was very difficult and sad.  Two weeks after the birth of my fourth child, Nikolas, my mom fell in her kitchen and broke the head of her femur cleanly off.  She was slated for hip replacement surgery and was supposed to be walking again within weeks.  However, during the surgery, she started having a series of strokes that took away most of her movement, including her ability to swallow or speak.  She spent the larger part of her last 14 months in a nursing home, with a feeding tube in her stomach, unable to communicate except with her eyes and one of her hands.  In a way, I grieved more in the first few months of her decline than now.  We used to talk on the phone for at least an hour several times a week, about nothing much at all.

My mother had struggled with insanely high blood pressure for years, starting when I was a small child.  She had horrific side effects from most of the medications they wanted her to take.  Once, inexplicably, her leg swelled up to over twice its normal size, and did not return to normal for many months, even after stopping the medication.  She had to go buy skirts because none of her jeans fit, and the doctors were baffled.  A regular blood pressure reading for her in those days was in the neighborhood of 250/190.  The doctors thought it was  a marvel that she was still alive.  
After more than a soap opera’s worth of different combinations of meds, she finally decided that the side effects from any of the pills were so despicable that she would rather deal with the problem on her own.  She became (and remained, until the feeding tube was installed) a strict vegan, eating only the most natural, highly nutritious foods; I have never met anyone with such dedication and rigid adherence to a diet like she had.  However, she also had a habit of skipping sleep, due to her compulsion towards cleaning.  Four hours a night was “normal” for her, and of course that’s not healthy.
My mother was a textbook case of OCD, although it was never diagnosed.  Her home was immaculate and precisely managed, down to the last can of cat food.  There is a single square of vinyl flooring in the middle of the kitchen that gleams and shines in contrast to the others around it.  In her zeal, my mom had actually  cleaned the finish right off the entire floor, and then, one night, had spent a full 30 minutes buffing that one square, just to see how nice she could make it look.  She was so proud of that square, and she would point it out every time we came over.  I see it now and it makes me smile to remember how happy it seemed to make her.  
My mom never worked a day in my life, and I never once was left with a sitter.  She would bring me any snack or dinner that my little spoiled heart desired (probably on a TV tray, with a soda), and I had every Barbie, My Little Pony, and Fisher-Price toy you could imagine.  She was so devoted to me that I initially had no idea how I would cope with parenthood, cause I was clearly never going to be emotionally capable of living up to that standard!  I was probably six years old, and still asking to be carried when we went to the mall.  My mom would have roped the moon for me if I’d asked….and I never even understood how lucky I was.  I thought all mothers were like that.  
However, for all her maternal dedication, my mother was most definitely her own woman.  She held over 100 jobs in her life before I was born, from court reporter to airline stewardess.  She bought a house as a single woman in the 1970s–AFTER she’d worked to help her parents to buy their own home in the 1960s.  She was deeply passionate about vegetarianism, having been veg on and off since roughly the age of 10.  More than once, she told me the story of her purchasing two yellow chicks at the dime-store for ten cents each…how she raised them in her bathroom, kissed them, loved them, and played with them until they were so big that they had to be sent away for slaughter. 
My mom was raised Catholic, and spent the first 6 years of her formal education in a Catholic school, taught by nuns who would rap you over the knuckles with a ruler if your cursive was a bit sloppy.  She was a deeply spiritual person, and adhered to many religions and belief systems in her lifetime.  I know at one point, she was very into meditation.  She taught me several chants when I was little, and I wish I could still remember them.  At one point, she felt strongly that it was immoral to kill bugs, and she actually tried to minimize driving her car on the highway in an effort to protect them.  When I was little, I was not raised in any religion.  My mom read me stories from a children’s bible, but beyond that, nothing specific was discussed.
When I was 13, my grandparents came to live with us, and life was forever altered for all of us.  Our home was suddenly like a nursing home, and I felt very displaced and abandoned.  The following year, my grandmother passed, and my mother nearly came unhinged between her extreme grief, caring for her father, and raising me.  She renewed her commitment to ethical vegetarianism then, and dove back into Catholicism as well.  She also had an insatiable need to read and listen to psychics.  I guess she needed to know that she’d see her mother again, that there was an “other side”.  
My mother was a Democrat, and very opinionated on politics, especially for someone who didn’t vote!  She and my father would argue endlessly about Bush, Clinton, Bill O’Reilley, and even Oprah.  I think it was bonding for them.  I know my dad misses her so badly, even though she couldn’t argue back for the last 14 months.  
The sickening irony is that my mother was also an impassioned supporter of….Jack Kevorkian.  She never would have chosen to live out the last 14 months of her life in the way she did.  There are many regrets.  A DNR could have been signed sooner.  But then, perhaps that 14 months of silent purgatory were something that she needed to live through, for her own personal/spiritual reasons.  There’s no good to come of speculating on what another person’s Life Plan is really all about, of course.  Some things are simply not for us to know.  
What I do believe is that my mom has made her peace with her life, her choices, her reality.  I know that she was truly ready to move on to the next life, as she would often say; I know that she was unafraid and welcoming of the new frontiers that lay ahead for her.  I wish I had been able to tell her, to get her to understand, how much I loved and appreciated her…..and how fortunate I was to have her as my mother.
In loving memory of Emma Louise Davis:  September 3rd, 1940 – January 19th, 2011.  

Cracked Christmases of the Past

So it’s the holiday season, which highlights yet another way that I tend to differ dramatically from the average human being.  We’re not a Christian family, and yet not really a secular one either.  I’ve never encouraged my kids to believe in Santa, which tends to get a lot of raised eyebrows.  However, this year, I’m noticing that apart from all the differences that are just a part of Who I Am, I have actually always had a “different” sort of holiday season, even as a child.  This notion was recently inspired by various comments from others about their own childhood holiday memories, and now that it’s occurred to me, I can’t believe I wasn’t bothered by this as a kid.  One blog in particular, Alice’s, of From the Fox’s Den , posted an entry about her childhood holidays that sounded so appealing to me, despite the fact that it really wasn’t that kind of mushy, adoring post.  So why were my holidays so cracked?  Allow me to elaborate…

I am an only child, and have very little extended family.  Further, my parents have always been painfully anti-social, and now that I’m an adult, I’m pretty sure that both of them are textbook cases of at least one acute personality disorder each.  My parents did not “do Santa Claus”, and I think this was mainly because at age three or so, I cornered them and demanded to know HOW Santa could possibly get presents to everyone in the world all in one night, and anyway, WE didn’t have a chimney.  Caught off-guard, they admitted the truth, and thereafter I am sure I was *that kid*, ruining other children’s blithe illusions of Santa Claus.  In my defense, I was three.  And raised by antisocial people.

One of my earliest memories was pleading with my parents to set up the Christmas decorations.  I had no idea that other families had a tree up from turkey day ’til the middle of January, because ours went up whenever my father’s resolve finally cracked under my whining.  He’d get all the cool boxes down from the attic, usually a few days before the 24th (This is when we celebrated Christmas from as early as I can recall.  December 25th was mainly this annoying day on which you’d want to go spend your Christmas money, but all the stores were closed!).  Then my mother’s OCD would kick in:  everything was full of germs.  She’d argue with my dad about how we needed to throw it all away because it was hazardous, toxic, and probably full of bugs and dirt too.  The decor was always double-bagged (by my mother!), and carefully, air-tightly packed away in the attic.  But every year we’d go through the same weirdness.  I lived in constant fear that she’d throw out my favorite ornaments or garland.  Oh, and we couldn’t have tinsel because the cats would choke on it.

I never had a concept of a Christmas dinner until I was an adult.  We didn’t do that at all, because it was “a repeat of Thanksgiving” and therefore, too much work….?  Sometimes we ate out, at the Kettle…and if you don’t know what the Kettle is, think one step above a greasy-spoon diner in the middle of nowhere.  Not terribly festive.  Sometimes we’d visit my dad’s widowed mother, or track her down, more likely.  She was often found playing bingo at her usual haunts, and a little thing like Christmas Eve wasn’t going to deter her!  She always gave me gifts, and I was happy to get them, even though they were usually oddball items that made me wonder where she found them in the first place.  She did always buy the best European Christmas cookies though, in a blue tin.  I loved those blue tin cookies.  My mother, a self-proclaimed “non-domestic”, might have baked something five or six times in her entire life.  We never baked cookies for the holidays, and this is probably why that’s an important tradition that I have with my own children now.

The presents, wow.  That part of my childhood Christmases, looking back, was just unreal.  I would circle things from the Sears Wishbook  and totally expect to get the majority of the items.  Since I had dispelled the Santa myth at a tender age, my parents didn’t try to hide who the presents were from.  My mom was always a catalog shopper, and while she might have missed the mark in a lot of ways, she did put in incredible effort to get me the most mind-blowingly awesome presents I never even knew I wanted.  Sometimes I appreciated this, and sometimes, I would have rather gotten that Bob Mackie designer Barbie doll I’d circled….  However, I haven’t met too many other people who could say they got gifts like a pottery wheel, a concert-style keyboard, a telescope and microscope, a doorway trapeze bar, and multiple Lego sets.

I’ve only touched upon a few points of how odd our holidays really were.  (Not mentioning the traditional spectacular fights my parents had!)  However, I think it’s better expressed in terms of what we didn’t do…or maybe, what we didn’t feel.  Nowadays, I aim for a very simple holiday season with my children.  I loathe the commercialized, overblown nonsense that is pushed at us by the stores.  I don’t “do Santa” in the traditional sense with my children either (although my three-year old is really excited about the idea of Santa right now…we’ll see where that leads!).  I do, however, plan a Yule ritual with them.  We sing Christmas carols and do crafts.  Cookie baking is absolutely essential.  We pick one lazy December evening on which we all bundle up in the car with pajamas and hot cocoa, and drive around to see other people’s holiday lights.  I put up a nice tree as soon as the kids get excited about it (and I try not to let on that I really don’t enjoy setting up the tree!).  We have a nice dinner, with mulled wine, at least two desserts and several courses, just for the fun of it–even if it’s on some random day in December due to my husband’s work schedule.

Mostly, all these things I do with my own children are to give them memories of a holiday feeling….an emotional joy to the season that cannot be measured or isolated.  Family and love, generosity and selflessness, are not really the words I’d use to describe my own childhood holidays…but hopefully that’s how my kids will recall the season:  full of love for family.