where to begin with the story of a new life, a new soul on the earth. i look into my baby's eyes and think, "hello, old soul." so tiny, yet the spirit inside is big, as big as it will ever be, and it is such a sacred and fear-inspiring task to be bringing up a new human, to be charged with introducing her to life and the world and to give her the tools that she needs to live it. with that, i am so pleased with how the birth process went and i think it will be a good little legend to start life with. so here are the details, Golden Maisie McDonnell, so that you can know exactly how it was, your arrival; and always remember that this is your story, deep within you and deep within me.
wednesday night, august 6th 2008 i stayed up til midnight with my sister talking about labor and birth. i had been experiencing a LOT of pre-labor in the weeks preceding, and i was reading a few good birth books. christy had just arrived from germany the night before, so we were getting to catch up a little, and i was sharing with her some interesting tidbits from "ina may gaskin's guide to childbirth." "are you scared?" she asked me at one point. scared? no. the time frame God has allotted to the gestation period is absolutely perfect and brilliant. by the end of the pregnancy, you are so ready for the baby to be OUT that you really don't care how the labor process will be. you just want to do it and get it over with. but beyond that, i felt really well prepared for this to happen, i had everything that i could control under control and a light enough attitude to expect the best from what i couldn't control. with that conversation, we said goodnight and went to bed. two hours and some minutes later, i was awakened by contractions.
i thought this might not be the real thing, as i had already had at least one night of some long and strong contractions in my sleep. however, something about the way these were feeling told me that i should at least get up and finish packing the birth bag. i was unsure about the validity of this labor start because with sparrow it had begun with a feeling of having to go pee, that was not at all relieved by peeing. only after this sensation had the contractions started with her. but this was already a steady pulsing of waves and i guess it was a little more intense than the previous few nights because after all it had woken me up and i couldn't go back to sleep with them. i called thomas. i told him this might be it but i would take a shower and have a little wine and then call him back in half an hour. a shower and wine is supposed to relax you enough to stop a false labor. besides, i knew if it was real i would have to shower now or never because i would hate to have to go to the hospital all greasy. and from experience, my labor wouldn't allow for too much time to shower. i also called jenna, my doula, and told her the same thing. but once in the shower i knew for sure. this was the real labor, it was happening now, and there was no turning back. i don't quite remember how i felt exactly, some sort of mixture between excitement and steady calm, i suppose.
when i got out i called back thomas, who said he would leave at once, and jenna, who promised the same. thomas was in san francisco in the middle of his first week of 3 weeks of feldenkrais training, and he told me he would hop on his motorcycle to get here asap as renting a car this time of night would be a little difficult. we were anticipating this kind of situation, so it wasn't the end of the world that he was gone and might not make it to the birth. that is why i had chosen a strong birth team: jenna humphreys is a doula-in-training who had introduced herself to me on the beach one day. then i had cybil gilbertson on my list, also training for doula stuff. holly lomelino who has had kids and knows what's up in the hospital and what i would and wouldn't want. and ander, my friend, who was with me during my miscarriage exactly one year ago... also tara jones, my awesome wedding photographer (flare productions.) cybil and holly were out of town so it ended up just being jenna, ander, and tara. and christy of course. oh yes. and sparrow. and my brother as well.
actually we had a pretty full house that night! i was really really bummed when sparrow woke up as i was getting out of the shower. this was NOT in the plan! if it was nighttime she was supposed to sleep through it, and had the labor happened during the day, i would have sent her away with someone. i was just unsure of how she might react to my labor. would she get scared? would she be clingy? maybe not, but i hadn't wanted her to stick around so i could find out! however, now here i was naked, whale-like, in the full swing of labor in the middle of the night; and here she was, being quite as whiny and clingy as i had feared. the reason she had woken up (and why she was so grumpy) was because she was sick with a mean old cold that she had picked up a few days beforehand. hence, not sleeping as soundly as usual. i did my best to get through the rest of my getting ready routine with her crying to be picked up the whole time... this was not going to work! help! i noticed, to my relief, that my brother's light was on and recruited him to read her a story while i got myself together. thank God he's a night owl.
ander arrived shortly thereafter and then jenna too. i woke up my sister to tell her what was happening. i remember a general hubbub in the apartment as we all got up and prepped ourselves for what was happening. my brother cooking his oddly early breakfast of eggs and toast in the kitchen. various people taking turns reading to sparrow. christy making me and sparrow some toast. ander feeding me chicken. jenna doing the double hip squeeze for me whenever a contraction would come along. i was able also to cuddle sparrow and read to her for awhile. i was able to wander around gathering the last-minute things i would need. i was quite optimistic and able to talk and laugh, although the contractions were getting more intense and they seemed to be coming quite often, close together, sometimes two at a time. i would "sound" my way through them, making my low-pitched droning noise. i would say, "sparrow, mama's going to get down on the floor now and sing a little song," when a contraction was coming on. then i would kneel and groan til it was over, then get back up and continue reading to her...
sparrow actually cheered up dramatically after she ate some food, and she never exhibited fear or anxiety about my labor activity at all. she ended up being quite an asset, actually, because she came over when i was laboring on the birth ball, and began to roll around on the floor with me doing pilates moves! it was great. she also lent me some of her stuffed animals to squeeze in both hands as i tried to concentrate tension in my arms and relax my core. once i had eaten, things were definitely getting more intense. i spent the next 2 hours or so kneeling on the floor and leaned over the birth ball, rocking, sounding, eyes mostly closed, getting deeper and deeper into the primal "coping" state as i dealt with the rock gripping in my abdomen. it was really interesting, actually, to go through it. i felt very "with" my labor this time, as i had been expecting it to go fast and was prepared for what that would entail. it was as if i was observing myself--i WAS observing myself, as i was experiencing the sensations. i thought about my baby coming down and out, what a joy she would be, and how i could handle this and do it for her. i tried thinking of myself as in a sea of rocking waves (as suggested in 'guide to childbirth'). this image didn't work as well for me as a comfort measure, but i was able to deliberately try it out nonetheless. ander was reading psalms next to me and i remember crying at one point as i felt the amazing and intense love of God for his people israel. she has the perfect, calming, soothing voice for a labor reader. i was glad i had chosen to go with this in labor instead of music. jenna settled on a chair behind me and just did her double hip squeeze thing faithfully. it was all i needed.
hahaha! i remember deliriously looking up at one point and noticing my brother sittin' on the couch staring at me, eating a banana. with quite an expressionless look on his face, of course! this is one of my most amusing snapshots of that night. but sparrow amused me as well. she came over and hugged me when i beckoned to her. i wanted to let her know that i loved her so much. i was squeezing her elmo when she decided that she really needed elmo and grabbed him from me! so i gave him up and was handed another stuffed toy to squeeze. she really wanted to be involved and squeezed elmo as i squeezed my toys. i am so glad she was there after all.
at some point when it was getting really intense i deliberately decided not to go to the hospital until i started wanting to push. i had been a bit apprehensive in the weeks prior to labor as to knowing when i must go in to the hospital. but kneeling here dealing with these contractions, it was pretty clear to me that the last minute was the best time. it was all i could do to deal with the crunching in my belly in the comfort of my own home. i certainly did not want to have to handle it in the hospital with their poking and back lying and monitoring. i was getting pretty sweaty by this point and noticed that the contractions didn't seem to be letting up completely in between--there was still pain, it was just a little less than during an actual contraction. and then it felt like they were coming so fast, too, one after the other and not much relief in between, and i thought, "wow, i just don't want to do this anymore!" and then immediately afterward, i thought, "WOW--i must be in transition if i am thinking this way!!" which was such a sweet realization--things were happening, moving along. and sure enough, pretty soon after that i felt the first pushing urge. a small one, but it was there! "we have to go now," i said decisively.
sadly, sadly--and this is one of my biggest regrets about this labor--my sister had to stay home with sparrow. rick had taken off for an early morning bible study just minutes before, and i hadn't been with it enough to ask him to stay so christy could go with me. such a bummer! i mean, this just solidifies that she has to come to my next birth so she can be THERE when the baby comes out.
they got all my stuff together. "pillows, pillows," i said, remembering last time riding in the car--how it really helped to have pillows to squeeze. "towel!" because i was pretty sure i would be peeing a bit as i sat in the car. we waited for a break in contractions and then hustled down the stairs. i could see the first light of morning. it was shortly before 6 a.m. all down the 2nd flight of stairs i was going through a crazy pushing contraction, and i was groaning really loud right past our neighbors' windows. when i got to the sidewalk, i suddenly cried, "i have to poop--i have to poop right now!" so urgent! jenna was a bit hesitant, but said, "well--ok, i guess you should poop right...here," leading me to a spot just off the sidewalk. i started to get in the motions--i was really gonna do it!--when jenna said, "you know, i think that's actually probably baby wanting to come out." and thank God, by then the contraction lightened up and so did the pooping feeling. i was able to get in the car.
the car ride would have sounded really amusing to anyone listening in. i had read in IMGGtoC (ina may's) that when trying to breathe through pushing contractions it really helps to either blow "raspberries" or to moo like a cow. well the mooing suggestion was the one that really stuck for me, and so i ended up mooing all the way to the hospital. but it was no calm, benign mooing i tell you. this was like life-and-death situation mooing, frantic. every time a contraction would happen i yelled "MOOMOOMOOOMOOOMOO!" all the way through it, straining and desperate. jenna was a chum and mooed with me. evidently she sped all the way there! i guess she even ran a red light. poor thing! was NOT wanting me to have the baby IN the car! she was describing things to me as we drove, too. "beautiful sunrise, no traffic, almost there," etc. but i had my eyes closed the whole time. i barely opened them when we got there to see the "emergency room" entrance sign. i did not look at the parking attendant or at the person who put me in the wheelchair or at the front desk nurse or at the person who rushed me upstairs. "water, water," i panted. jenna gave me some from her own bottle. i was determined not to have to answer any questions. i let my friends speak for me. "what's her name? is this her first baby? who is her doctor?" i could hear the girls fumbling on this one. "i don't know--do you know?" "...no..." inside, i was answering, "it's county clinics, i don't have a doctor!" but i think i remained focused on my mooing, which i continued to do all the way up to the room.
finally there, i got on the bed. hands and knees. the first thing i remember the nurse saying was, "i am going to put an IV in you." "NO! NO IV--I AM NOT HAVING AN IV!" come ON lady--that was like the ONE thing in my birth plan! not that she would have had time to read it, i suppose. so she laid off on that thread. but a few minutes later jenna told me, "she says she really has to put a hep lock in you." a hep lock is a needle with a little tube attached where an IV can quickly be snapped in if it needs to be. i didn't want the hep lock either but was unsure if they would honor this request. anyways the nurse pretty much forgot about the hep lock with everything else going on so fast. she checked me and said i was fully dilated. YES! so the pushing now wouldn't have to be so restrained. the nurse was asking me to try to breathe through contractions--the doctor was on his way. uh-huh, i said. but had other intentions. little did she know i was not the type of customer to want to hang on for the doctor! she asked me to put on the belly monitor and i had the girls put it on me while i was still on hands and knees. i was definitely pushing now! they were still trying to get me in the computer system too and said, "do you have your clinic paperwork?" oh CRAP! i had it in my glove compartment! in my car! in GOLETA! "well someone is going to have to go get it. we need it," said a nurse. ander volunteered and headed out the door. the next thing i knew my water broke, gushing out. poor jenna got wet, and i don't know who else did but i said, "there's the water!" as i surrendered to another crazy pushing urge. the nurse told me i had to get on my back. "can i get on my side?" i panted, and she hesitated but i did not wait for an answer. i flipped to my left side. oh but the pressure! "LEG!" i yelled, and jenna came over to lift my leg. another pushing contraction. out of control!! straining and surrendering. the nurse is saying something about moving me over: "you have to move! scoot onto the bed, your bottom is off the side!" haha, she was really nervous that she was going to have to catch the baby off the edge! i hoisted myself over. stretching! all of a sudden jenna says, "the head is out! WHAT? "praise God!" i exclaimed, totally shocked. i had barely even noticed, i mean, i didn't know it was coming so fast! next contraction, more stretching, i felt i could not do much to restrain my pushing. body out! DONE! there was a baby, lying on the bed, all purple and screaming. 6:16 a.m.
i laughed and laughed; i felt SO exhilarated. oxytocin, endorphins. sheer relief at how well it had gone. "that was AWESOME!" i said over and over, "that was SO cool!" poor ander had only missed it by a minute. this is another of my regrets (WHY did i forget that paperwork?) but i was SOOOOOO happy that the doctor had not gotten there in time. it was perfect. perfect!
the nurses tried to cut the cord, but i asked them to wait til it stopped pulsing and they left it alone. she was attached til the doctor came in to deliver the placenta, actually. the doctor had to stitch me where i had torn in four places. little tears, he said. so--not as bad as last time. i had honestly tried to control my pushing as much as possible! with sparrow i had felt more the capacity of control during the pushing stage, i think, because it was slower. this time it had just--blitzkrieged, basically. so it had gone pretty well under the circumstances. the doctor sure could have been a bit more gentle with his sudden poking and prodding, though. geez! later on, holly told me that she had heard that doctor is notorious for his bad bedside manner. it was not dr. green, to say the least. i was even more grateful to have avoided him for the delivery.
the nurse who came in to complete the paperwork was so nice--her name was robin and she was super excited and supportive about my wanting to let the baby climb her way up to the breast. but first they had to take her off to the side and suction some fluid out of her lungs. she was a really "wet" baby, having come out so fast, and so it was inevitable. but jenna suggested i talk to her and tell her what they were about to do before they took her off my belly. she screamed, but they got the fluid out. then i got her back and she got to wriggle around on me for the next couple hours and find the milk! what a cool thing that babies can do. she screamed the whole time, too. (the nurses joked that she should be joining the choir--she had quite a loud voice on her!) but i knew it was making her stronger to get to find it on her own, and let her struggle on to complete the task. this method of letting the baby find the first meal is also the parent's first lesson in letting go, in allowing the child to learn things by doing, by discovery, independent. it is also truly amazing to watch. it is miraculous how perfectly made they are.
in the nursery, they said that she was going to be a blondie. really? yes, see, her eyebrows are light and so are her eyelashes. i could not for the life of me tell who of us she looked like. not distinctly like either one of us, but also not like sparrow. she was herself. later it dawned on me: she looks like my mother. little ilse. ...well, we'll see. but it is precious to me to have that as the current most obvious family resemblance. the baby was confirmed to be 8 lbs. even! i thought she was smaller than sparrow (who'd been 8 lbs 7 oz), but i think the closest guesser had guessed seven-something. and she was 20 inches long. (sparrow was 22) having come out 3 days early and sparrow 3 days late, this weight made perfect sense. they gain half a lb. per week in the last few weeks.
thomas had been sporadically texting and calling on his cold, long motorcycle ride down from san francisco. he sent me a picture text msg. of his happy face when he heard the news of the birth. i texted him a picture of his new baby. the girls stayed with me for quite a few hours. i got to look through tara's shots on her camera. we discussed the birth over and over. liz koppa came by and brought me a peet's mocha. mmmmmmm! this is becoming a birth tradition for me! thomas finally got there around 930--yaaaaaaaaaaay! i was so relieved to see him, all cold and road-weary with a pillow stuffed into his jacket and wearing 3 pairs of pants and 5 sweaters. reunited and familiar. he had done well.
and there are the details. there is a lot more to say about the stay in the hospital, the drama of choosing THE name (which we couldn't settle on til a week later), and don't even start me on the horrible process of trying to get discharged. it was like the frickin' CIA, as rod would say. (with all the bureaucracy and security measures--just to simply let a mom go home with her baby! it seriously took ALL DAY.) but more on all that later, perhaps. here we are, exactly 3 weeks later. with our baby, our golden. golden. it feels so nice to say. after all these years of having that name in my mind. she is perfect for it. a good little, plump little, soft little blondie of a baby with that peachy downey baby smell still lingering... she is golden.