The Sweet Reward (Part One)
by Joy

It is just over 24 hours after Celeste’s birth and I’m lying in bed with her to my right, staring through tears at her gorgeous little face. As the sun rises, I think about how I should have known my labor was going to be as challenging as it was, because after all we did travel to 5 different countries while I was pregnant. We went zip lining and repelling in Costa Rica, continued to do amazing bike rides here in the bay area, rode bikes in Panama and in Switzerland, drove some of the most beautiful roads in the French Alps and Pyrenees (ascended over 120,000 feet in 50 days), and flew back to the states at week 33. To top it all off, I was a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding 4 days before Celeste’s due date. So from the beginning, in utero, I was already challenging her, and she was challenging me.

The following email is from me to my dear friend Laura (aka Lu mama or Lu). Laura was an invaluable part of our birthing team at home. She has recently finished her midwifery program and played the role as our overqualified doula! My due date was September 14.

date: Tue, Sep 6, 2011 at 10:12 PM
subject: Re: hey girlie

lu mama,

thank you for the lovely email and the vit K and eye drop info. that's actually how we were leaning (yes on K/no on eye drops) and your input pretty much solidified our decision.

well, i'm feeling ready, i mean mentally ready...not feeling quite physically "ripe" yet though but getting close. evenings are the most uncomfortable but tolerable. getting in and out of bed requires more brain power than i'm used to. hypnobabies is definitely coming to my aid. i have listened consciously to most of them, although i usually end up falling asleep and then waking up in the middle of one.

the past few days (ever since i stopped working) have been wonderful and full. every day there is something to accomplish, baby stuff is all washed and put in it's place, fridge and pantry are stocked full of food and good eats for a while, and JOY biscuits have been baked (although i would like to bake a few more batches, and 1/3 deliveries have been made)...we have an appt with maria tomorrow along with an appt with a potential pediatrician. i've been going to yoga and swimming which has been awesome as well!

we've watched orgasmic birth and i have to say, i think it's VERY possible with me. in fact i've been having pretty sexual dreams lately and even had one dream that i started to feel contractions with a menstrual cramp like feeling and was like OH this is IT! i've been WAY more attentive to how much moisture i have down there too. nothing out of the ordinary so far.

so i don't know if i told you this, but car's wedding is on the 10th. i'm a bridesmaid, but with little responsibilities. i plan on showing up unless i'm in labor! it's a super low-key-casual-backyard love celebration with ribs and potato salad and karaoke. once the wedding is over, i know i will feel more grounded. now i just feel like i'm in a holding pattern but open to the possibility that baby G will come when he/she is ready. although, just today i was talking to a girlfriend and was feeling and saying that i think baby G will come closer to the due date...only time will tell. i see the harvest full moon is on the 12th-hmmmmm.

btw, i've been envisioning a pretty quick labor (like less than 24 hours from the very first contraction when i know to put on my blessingway necklace to 3rd stage), and way less than an hour of actual pushing. the middle time i've been thinking about walking, enjoying the daylight, stretching, doing all the poses we've learned in bradley and yoga birthing class, and having a fresh, simple but wholesome meal all while listening to my mixes and maybe even watching some bike racing. i've been thinking a lot about when i've had to dig deep mentally and physically and the closest analogy i have is bike racing or long ass climbs where i get into a rhythm and get into the zone.

ok hon, enough for now. time for this mama-to-be to go to bed. if we don't end up going down to mtn view on friday for whatever reason, would you like to head this way? that way you'll have some time to settle into your new abode and environment. a trip to the city for some fresh ocean air will be refreshing and it'll be good to catch up with you in the flesh. also, we can talk about how/when i should contact you once i'm in the baby G birth zone!

love you bunches!
-mama G

Car is my best friend from 2nd grade and I was fortunate to make it to the wedding! Reading that email makes me smile and laugh out loud, especially the paragraph with my envisioned labor and delivery details...HA, if I only knew!

Our plan was to keep quiet until after the birth. We did not share when I started labor as we felt that it would increase the phone calls and texts, and we wanted that time to be solely focused on bringing baby G into the world. The following “waiting room” email is something I sent out to some friends and family to ease the anxiety and excitement that came with the 14th, since that was baby G’s due date. Emails, texts, phone calls, facebook messages, and such were stirring and we felt the need to respond...(Actually, this email was intended for some extra support for my mom and Jamie’s mom-the new grandmas, as they were going a little stir crazy!)

date: Thu, Sep 15, 2011 at 5:20 PM
subject: the "waiting room"

hello loved ones!

as you may know, we are planning a home birth here in the presidio to be attended by our midwife, her assistant, our doula, jamie, eddy, and myself. we realize that since there is no physical "waiting room" it's a unique situation especially for the soon-to-be-grandparents!

SO, consider this your "virtual waiting room" and a little note to say that all is well.

you will find out when baby G joins us via email or phone call (well BEFORE it goes public on facebook!).

please feel free to email or call one another!

we love you all and know that you are thinking of us especially at this time. oh yeah, and if we don't respond to a text, email, or call it's just 'cause we're enjoying each other, and trying to be as low key and relaxed about our little new arrival...


ps. NO, we haven't started labor!!!!

Wednesday and Thursday came and went. But Thursday late late night is when things started happening, like early first stage type of things! In the following email I communicate with Lu to let her know what’s going on, even if she doesn’t read it until later on Friday morning. Judah is Lu’s son (he turns 2 on September 18th) and Eddy is our rescue greyhound.

date: Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 4:26 AM
subject: hillo, good morn!

lu mama,

my third eye is telling me to contact you...

after dinner we watched a moobie, then i went to the bathroom and saw some blood on my undies, mucous plug perhaps? then i saw a small clot in le toilette-it was 11:15pm. we went to bed around 12:30 after i had what i'm pretty positive was my first contraction!

we've been sleeping, although i've been up to pee at least 3x. contractions have definitely started to be more frequent but no 4-1-1 yet.

call jamie when you're up with the sun. baby G may just want to arrive before judah's birthday! jamie mentioned something about you taking the BART over and hopping in a cab (even though your presidigo idea was brilliant), then when you arrive he'll come outside and pick up the tab.

love u,
-mama G

That first contraction was exactly what I heard and read about: a Braxton Hicks contraction coupled with a menstrual cramp sensation. Friday was a beautiful sunny day in the city with bluebird skies accompanied by a light breeze. Throughout the previous night, my contractions woke me. I would squeeze Jamie’s arm once to indicate a contraction was starting, twice to indicate the contraction had finished. Jamie would then press a button on his phone using an application he found for tracking contractions.

When we felt the surges getting more significant, I decided to put on my Blessingway necklace my close friends made for me. Sometime before 5am, the necklace was placed around my neck after I sent Lu the email above. I looked at Jamie and said, “We may meet Baby G at this time tomorrow,” as my intentions were to give birth within 24 hours of putting the necklace on. Ha! My intentions are usually made with a desired outcome in mind, not a specific timeline. How quickly I forgot that Mother Nature couldn’t be rushed.

The morning’s activities were uneventful. We contacted Maria to tell her my contractions had started the previous night. Lu and I texted each other to give updates. Jamie and I walked our dog, Eddy, up Lovers’ Lane in the Presidio to the top of the Lyon street steps. I had gone up and down the upper half of the steps 4 times the day before while envisioning Baby G’s head getting settled into my pelvis with every step. I figured I could do the steps and stop if I had a contraction. I ended up going up and down 4 times again, except this time I had a secret-I was in labor!! I felt an urge to tell everyone, but I held back. My due date was 2 days ago people! So what if I’m going slow?! I had a few mild contractions at the top, which I breathed through with my hands on my knees. I walked up and down those Lyon street steps with a purpose, while tourists marveled at the view and locals did their step workouts.

During that afternoon we took Eddy and our neighbor’s dog Kyo, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, to the ball field up the street from our apartment. More walking, yes! This is pretty much what I envisioned with the beginning of labor: a beautiful sunny day being spent outside with Jamie and Eddy. With this walk, we were accompanied by our neighbor who was also pregnant and due 5 days after me! I had a few contractions during the walk and at the ball field with the dogs running around. The contractions were still pretty sporadic and mild (relatively speaking;)), however I started leaning on Jamie during them. When we returned from our walk, I looked at this chart in our Bradley Method book entitled “Overview of Birth and Labor” and something definitely caught my eye. Under the “Needs” column it said to “Keep busy and don’t become too excited. This may or may not be actual labor.” Huh, how long could this early first stage possibly last?!

Later on that day, we decided to go out to dinner. While in the shower, I noticed a bright red blood clot on the floor of the tub. I reached down to feel where it came from, I felt a thick mucous-y substance and saw even more blood. OHH, THIS is the mucous plug! Not that bit of spotting I saw last night. This was definitely more substantial and well, plug-like. There was NO doubt that what I was seeing in the shower was my “bloody show.” Eeeee! A surge of excitement came over us as we got ready for dinner. We ended up walking to La Terrasse, one of our favorite French restaurants in the city. Lucky for us, La Terrasse is a short 15 minute walk from our apartment sans contractions, 20-30 minutes with contractions!

La Terrasse was lovely as always and I ordered my favorite dishes. This could possibly be our last dinner as parents-to-be instead of PARENTS! Again, I felt an urge to tell everyone who we interacted with that I was in labor. And we did, or at least we told the wait staff and the people sitting next to us. Exclaiming I was in labor had a dual purpose that evening: 1. To share our excitement and great news, and 2. To inform people that my occasional deep breathing and light moaning was due to a contraction!

When we arrived home from dinner, Jamie set up our rented Aqua Doula, filled it with water, and put the insulation cover over the water to keep it warm. Ohhh, another benchmark - setting up the tub! My contractions were getting stronger and I was doing cat cow poses during them while still in bed. Jamie started applying pressure to my hips during the surges and we played my relaxing playlist of songs to pass the time. Candles were lit around the apartment to provide a cozy calm feel. Jamie had cut up a Luna bar and put orange segments on a cutting board. The orange was juicy and cool and I ate almost all of it, the Luna bar was too dry and I only ate one bite size piece.

Lu arrived around 3AMish and in her calm and positive way assessed the situation. We got her up to date on my contractions and decided that Jamie should get some sleep while she kept me company. Lu and I stepped outside on our deck with me wrapped up in a blanket. The early morning was cool and the dark sky had a glow from the moon. I told Lu about my friend’s mom back in Panama who has had 7 vaginal births! She says that childbirth is analogous to pooping out a coconut!

The intensity of these contractions had definitely gone up a notch from my contractions when I went to bed. My deep breathing was now accompanied by more audible moans and I had started to feel more pressure in my pelvic floor. There is that coconut pushing down on my cervix and pelvis! I vaguely remember a mosquito buzzing around (I’m horribly allergic) so we stepped back inside. After a couple of hours of contractions, we decided to ditch the contraction app and get a more organic qualitative feel for the surges.

I got into the tub for the first time and the warm water instantly provided relief to my body and mind. I am a bath person, so I knew the tub was going to be a huge asset during labor but I didn’t anticipate it would feel this good! I felt weightless, the warmth of the water brought an aspect of relaxation that one could only know while in labor. I found comfort in leaning back with my head resting on a towel draped over the side of the tub, and from being on all fours with my head resting up against the towel. We put a wash cloth in the tub so that I could cover my chest to keep it warm while I leaned back. After a while we also added an old Brita pitcher to the tub so that Lu or Jamie could pour water over my back while I was on all fours and having a contraction.

Before I knew it, morning came and I could see sunlight peeking in through the drapes. While I was happy to see the sunrise, I wasn’t feeling entirely ready to transition into the day. This would mean blowing the candles out, and to me candles symbolize warm comfy relaxation. I wanted the sun to linger behind the trees for a while. After all, I was in my ZEN cocoon: focusing on breathing through my contractions while relaxing in the water and listening to my relaxation playlist!

Sure enough, the drapes were drawn open and the sun rose over the trees, in a few hours sunlight would spill into our main room where the tub was. But I want my ZEN candles and calm candlelit space! Oh well, I can always close the drapes later to achieve the same effect, right? Eventually, I did close them up again to block the bright sunlight, and then Maria arrived! It was just before 8 AM.

That morning was the beginning of Lu providing me (and the whole birth team) with flavorful and wholesome nourishment. I remember the most amazing oatmeal that morning; it was wonderfully warm and agave-sweet with a little sea salt. It was the perfect texture - not too lumpy but also not too watery. I ate my whole bowl while sitting in the tub, talk about comfort! Then I got out of the tub and Maria examined me while I lay on my back on our bed.

It was difficult not to think anything like Please say I’m greater than a 5! or I hope I’m at least a 5 ‘cause that would mean I am halfway there, right? Maria said I was a 4 and I was happy but shocked at the immensity of how much a number can make you feel. That is less than 5! In my fuzzy but somewhat clear mind I remember feeling a little down, my contractions had slowed and they weren’t picking up in frequency. The intensity of them was also pretty inconsistent. Like most everything in the world, my contractions were non-linear and definitely not progressing textbook style.

Baby G was also at station -1 and I was 80% effaced. I quickly calculated and thought about how we were definitely more than 24 hours from when I put the Blessingway necklace on. With my inconsistent contractions, there was no way to predict when I would be fully dilated. My ego wanted to be able to predict and control the process. Oh well, my body will do what it needs to do. It’s not all about the numbers and trying to get that 4-1-1, or is it?!

Maria recommended we open the drapes and get some energy into the apartment! She also recommended walking and squatting to welcome the contractions. We set up a circuit where I would have a few contractions at different “stations” in the apartment. The stations were a good way for me to keep my blood circulating and for me to move about. I sat on the glider and leaned forward on Lu or Jamie while they sat on the ottoman and we would glide in sync. I sat and did hip circles on the birthing ball. I was on all fours on my yoga mat leaning forward on the birthing ball. I did hip circles with one leg up on a chair in the kitchen. I walked into Baby G’s room and leaned over on the crib. I went into our room and leaned over on our bed. I remember the contractions in the kitchen being the most intense. I remember some one's hands on my hips pressing my pelvis together towards my sacrum and really liking it. I started to feel pressure on my hemorrhoids during the surges and we made a witch hazel compress which I placed in between my butt checks. This provided a nice cool sensation and a large wet mark on my underwear!

After about 2 or 3 circuits, Maria suggested that we go for a walk, and get some fresh air. I was to welcome the contractions, do squats, do whatever I needed to do. She said something about energy and that I needed to release, open up, and let the energy OUT. In hindsight, I was still in my ZEN birthing state, and Maria was getting me to transition into the “bring it on” state. She also mentioned something about how I was breathing during the surges and how I needed to really let it out. Huh, I feel like I AM letting it out! Any louder and the neighbors will surely hear me! Our neighbors knew we were doing a homebirth, and I’m not the type who is easily embarrassed. But for some reason I was holding back. Going for that walk was like a slice of cake from heaven allowing me to be as loud as I could possibly be!

Saturday morning in the Presidio brings a lot of hikers, bird watchers, joggers, and families out to take a stroll, especially on a sunny Saturday morning! Lu, Jamie, and I walked along MacArthur Road. I did a few squats and sure enough, I would have a contraction shortly afterwards. I draped myself over Jamie’s shoulders while he bent his knees (he’s 1 foot taller than me!) and supported me. Lu took pictures and smiled at all the passersby as well. A runner ran by and cheered us on, an older couple passed us and asked if they could do anything. Young families with their strollers smiled while walking by. The runner cheered us on again when she passed a second time exclaiming, “You can do it! I was just there a few months ago!” When we reached the brick bridge on Lovers’ Lane we stopped.

It was at this bridge looking at the eucalyptus trees where I had an epiphany - the visceral kind that makes you laugh and cry at the same time and say to yourself, “I GET it, now I really TRULY GET IT.” The kind of realization where your mind and body grasp that cliché saying to a whole new level of not just understanding, but RELATING TO. Putting this moment into words is a challenge because I know that reading this does not measure up to the intensity of the event. I remember having a contraction and REALLY letting go, virtually screaming and moaning simultaneously - it felt SO GOOD! I was letting the energy out, just like Maria had said. I didn’t care about the people walking by…We are HAVING A BABY!

On our way back to the apartment we decided to do a squat at every lamp post (I am a very visual person, even when I ride my bike I give myself landmark goals). Every squat brought on a contraction that I welcomed with all my being. We ran into Hope, an 11 year old shepherd retriever mix. HOPE! You are EXACTLY what I need! How did you know?! She looked vibrant and had a more than usual lightness to her energy. She leaned on me while I pet her freshly groomed fluffy fur. Our crossing paths with Hope was another sign to me that this was REAL, and just saying her name out loud made me cry. Geez, this is the largest natural high I’ve had since my wedding day. I remember Lu saying my eyes were glassy clear and bright* while we talked in between contractions about my enlightened birthing perspective. THIS is true hard-core surrender…

We returned to the apartment with great news to report to Maria! Even though the contractions were still inconsistent and dependent on the squats, I felt energized. I let my oxytocin-riddled brain drop the desire to know numbers that was Maria’s job. My job was to welcome the surges, rest in between, and go with it. I am OPEN to the energy of birth! Lu prepared poached eggs with avocado and fresh parsley on toasted pumpkin seed bread. I ate a slice and Maria made a proposal: You can rest or we can do some things to bring on your contractions even more, but I need your full commitment! “Can I do both?” I asked. “Yes!” Maria responded.

Jamie and I retreated to the bedroom and napped, I had contractions about 8-10 minutes apart during our nap. I woke up rested an hour and a half later, then everyone got up and we regrouped. The pressure in my bottom was growing during the contractions. It felt like a coconut had come down a station. Maria placed acupuncture needles on the same spots Jamie had been applying pressure to on my body. We started this routine after Car’s wedding. We learned about these points in our Yoga and Massage for Labor class we took with the Marbles at the Mindful Body. I drank an herbal tincture every 15 minutes for just over an hour while I had the needles in my body. I continued my circuit but detoured from the kitchen, as it was difficult to get one leg up on a chair while standing!

I decided to take a shower and try to pee before Maria took the needles out. I drank a lot of grapefruit juice diluted with water, water, and nuun electrolyte drink. I was definitely hydrated and peeing was becoming increasingly difficult. That morning before the walk, I had discovered the only way my body was going to urinate was to stand or squat in the shower with the water running.

Maria took the needles out and I exclaimed that I wanted to go for a walk! I think this surprised everyone. We went a different route and brought Eddy with us. I have, but I was happy to be outside. Eddy would wedge himself in between Jamie and I when I would have a contraction. My water had not broken yet and I started to ask questions. “So I heard that some women experience a slow trickle over time, will I know when my water breaks?” Both Lu and Maria assured me that I would definitely know when my water broke. A “huge gush of warm liquid” was how I recall it being described to me.

* When we came home I looked in the mirror and was surprised to see that despite my crying Lu was right, my eyes were clear and bright. The sclera part of my eyes were milky white, they weren’t bloodshot at all!