what we can learn from #aprilthegiraffe

I tuned into the live feed of April, the expecting giraffe, out of curiosity over a week ago. It really worked as a distraction from writing in here, plus I kept reading “breaking news” about it. I searched through the Facebook and once the stream was set-up, found myself somehow calmed by April’s presence.

She’s just a giraffe, in a pen, pacing around. Every once and a while she lifts her tail to poop, and you think— “oooh is this it?” and of course it’s not. She seems to eat a lot. It’s a silent feed so that adds to the zen magic of April. Watching this beautiful creature walking in clockwise circles around the pen (every time I watch her she’s pacing clockwise, not sure if that’s accurate 100% of the time or not) is hypnotizing. Plus, there’s the added bonus of her possibly giving birth at any moment.

So, I tune in now and again, not in any obsessive way, but just to have it on. When I first watched it through the Facebook, the comments were running aside the feed, live and quick.

One should never read public posts like this. It just depresses you. The grammar, the idiocy of people (who tend to be the loudest) and just the misinformation. But, like I said, the video is a quiet still camera shot of a giraffe in a pen, so I read along with the other 90 thousand people watching April and what they all had to say.

“OMG have the baby already”

“That poor giraffe why isn’t the baby here?”

“She seems in pain”

“When are they gonna have the c-section already”

Pretty much all comments had one of those themes.

And I can relate to it.

Two of my three kids came over a week “past due”. Being “past due” in pregnancy is hard, but, having everyone you know comment on it just piles on the stress. I had complete strangers sending me pitiful looks of sympathy at the end of my last two pregnancies. “Oh – you poor thing!” they’d say. “Waiting for updates!” I’d read online. And the absolute worst: “You haven’t popped yet?”

We live in an “on demand” society and it’s totally ok for a woman t0 schedule an elective induction at 39 weeks pregnant because they are “sick of being pregnant”. Somehow, the idea of a due date has led us all to believe anything past said due date is automatically overdue, a term that brings up images of rancid food, moldy dairy and at the very least, a super grumpy librarian charging you late fees.

I watched a video the manager of Animal Adventure Park, the home of April, posted this morning. He seemed tired and annoyed as he patiently explained they had only estimates of when exactly April conceived, and also that she was fine, just pregnant, they weren’t causing her harm or the baby harm by letting nature take her course. And watching April on the live stream, you can tell, the beast is happy. She doesn’t seem bothered by her late-term pregnancy at all.

My pregnancy days are past now, so I don’t have to worry about dodging “whens the little sucker coming already?” comments from everyone ever again, but I will make a valient effort to not bug my friends and family over their upcoming due dates. We need to take a page from April and her caretakers and just let nature be. Baby giraffe will come when it’s ready, and maybe I’ll be lucky enough to see it happen live.

Expecting mothers, be they humans or giraffes, deserve patience and kindness during the last days of pregnancy, not constant reminders of how “miserable” they must be. Pregnancy is tough enough without all the opinions from the peanut gallery.

my valentine day vbac birth story

In celebration of my daughter’s second birthday, I am sharing her birth story. Birth stories are among my favorite blog posts to read, as each birth is unique. I plan to share my other two kid’s birth stories near their birthdays this year as well.

Two years ago, I found myself on my back with many strangers staring at my naked bottom. This scene, with the bright lights shining on my nether regions, was my dream. I wanted and ached for that moment for the entire previous forty-one weeks of my pregnancy, bordering on obsession. It was in my second hour of pushing and feeling like all I worked for, dreamed for, was out of reach.

Having everyone yell encouragement at me kept me up, but things were not seeming to work in my favor …

But let’s backtrack, go to to the beginning.

From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I knew two things. The baby’s gender would remain a mystery until birth, and I wanted to birth this baby the old-fashioned way, out of my cooch: a Vaginal-Birth-After-Caesarian, or VBAC for short. Most of my peers and even some family members thought I was insane. People questioned the safety, the legality of it. But determined, I pressed on.

[if you have any questions about VBACs I suggest you look into vbacfacts.com or join a VBAC support group on FB. I could go into a tirade here about why VBACs are safe and reasonable but this is a birth story post]

To achieve this goal I chose a midwife group with a high VBAC success rate (anywhere between 85-90%!) and focused on my goal. I read VBAC stories from Facebook feeds whenever I logged on, I listened to hypnobirthing nightly, I saw a chiropractor. My husband’s cousin, who is a dear friend to me, offered her skills as a motivated natural birth advocate / doula-in-training for the birth.

I lived and breathed and stressed and prayed and worried about it. Probably more than was needed.

The motivation behind this stemmed from my first son’s birth. When I had him by c-section in 2010, I didn’t really question his arrival. Much. I was overwhelmed in general: a new mom, a new wife, living in a new city, trying to breastfeed and figure out what I wanted my life to look like as a new mom and wife – I didn’t have time to process or really think about what happened at his birth.

But, four years later, with fresh eyes, looking back I realized how plum wrong his entire birth was. I’ll share the entire story on his upcoming 7th birthday, but it’s fair to say I was never given a fair chance at a vaginal birth with him. Even my post-op report didn’t list a concrete reason for the section.

So, I just wanted a chance. I wanted a do-over of the entire “birthing experience”.

My parents flew in a few days before the baby’s due date of 2/7. They were with us, walking throughout NYC, walking the mall, trying to walk the darn baby out. Baby still hadn’t come after about a week, and my parents were planning on flying home when they came down with the flu, which grounded them even longer. I had the guilt of them spending a ton of money on a hotel room and food and airfare, waiting for a baby who apparently wanted to stay in my womb forever. I questioned why I didn’t just schedule a section. Surely that would have been easier.

A testament to them is they never once questioned my desire for the VBAC, never pressured me to just “schedule a surgery” for their sake.

Anyway, while my parents were absolutely miserable with the flu in their hotel room, I went to my 41-week check up on 2/13 at 8:30 am. I had been timing contractions since the previous night, and they felt legitimate. I didn’t really know what “legitimate” meant because with my son I never felt a single, real, natural contraction. I was giddy with excitement: I’d get checked there, and an ultrasound. I was confidant I’d be at a 3 or 4 when they checked me.

We did the ultrasound first, and the technician was very quiet. When I finally asked what was going on, she told me I had no amniotic fluid. I inquired how much I had, and she said, “Zero”. The OB on duty and midwife conversed and told me to get undressed for a cervix check.

She checked me and I was a “barely one” with a “floppy cervix” (whatever that means!). Crestfallen, I asked what was going to happen. She told me I’d have the baby that day, and to make my way to the hospital. I wouldn’t need to go to triage, I’d be admitted right away.

Thus began the rollercoaster.

My spirits dropped. Going to the hospital and getting admitted and induced was never my plan. I knew, statistically, my chances of a RCS (repeat c-section) rose with each medical intervention. The so-called contractions I was feeling obviously were false contractions.

We went home, got stuff together, figured out childcare arrangements for our son, called Alex (the cousin/doula) and I had one last big meal at Burger King. We were admitted around noon. The nurses were in good moods, praising and cheering for my upcoming TOLAC (Trial of Labor after Cesarean). That was nice.

The midwife-on-duty told me we could try a few tactics since I was still feeling contractions. She offered a foley balloon or bulb, or Pitocin. Pitocin is what lead to my c-section with E, so I was adamant to avoid it at all costs, especially early on. I chose the balloon.

The hospital is a training hospital so I let a student midwife try to put it in. They all told me I was so tough during it- she didn’t know what she was doing at all and I kept thinking her botching it was helping me dilate more.With the foley balloon in place, I started to pace and sway through the contractions.

Because of hospital policy, I had to stay connected to a monitor the entire labor. There was a long wire that reached about 6-8 feet and they provided a fitness ball to labor with. My movements were only slightly restricted. I felt like I handled the contractions best by rocking through them, leaning against my husband. The contractions were getting very strong, and after a couple of hours the balloon fell out and I was at a 4.

Progress!

The staff left us alone most of the time. We played relaxing music, the lights were low, and the three of us had our own little bubble of birthing going on.

A few hours later they checked me and I hadn’t progressed. My spirits sunk low. Being a VBAC I knew the OB’s scrutinized every hour that passed without progress. I knew the time bomb ticked away, bringing me closer to the operating room. The midwife offered Pitocin again or told me to try nipple stimulation. I opted for the nipple stimulation.

This kicked up the contractions. Every contraction lasted about 2 minutes, and between them, I’d squeeze my nipples. I ended up with sore thumbs and gnarly red patches from the hours of repeated squeezing. We’d see the new contraction coming on in the monitor, and I’d grab onto my husband and start slow dancing through it. Both of us had achey hips for days after the birth from so much pacing and swaying.

My pain increased and with every new contraction, I felt confident the baby was that much closer to birth. I focused on positivity and good vibes. Several hours passed, and in the dead hours of the night, they checked me again. I’d made it to a 6. It was Valentine’s Day, around 3am, over 16 hours since admittance. But, still, positive progress.

We went on.

Around 6am they checked and I hadn’t progressed. Mentally and physically exhausted with chapped nipples, we decided to rest. I laid down, Alex left to take care of her baby at home, my husband napped too. My contractions slowed down to barely anything and I tried sleeping.

Around 8am on the 14th I started nipple stimulation again. 2 hours later, no progress.

They gave me two choices: Pitocin or section. I agreed to Pitocin only with an epidural, so we had to wait for the anesthesiologist to come in. They kicked everyone out of the room and I can say without a doubt I’d never felt so terrified. The entire previous 24 hours weighed down on me at that moment, the highs and lows of wanting something so bad and feeling like nothing I did helped at all. The Doctor was not friendly, he had zero compassion administrating the epidural, but there was a saint of a nurse who held my hands and then eventually all my weight as I sobbed into her. I gave up at this moment and thought there was no way the day would end the way I dreamed.

Between the pitocin and epidural, around 9am I slept. They woke me up around 1030 and I still hadn’t progressed. Alex was still gone, and my husband and I decided to watch TV. I checked out, completely. They told me I had until noon to progress and since I’d been stuck at a 6 for hours, I just didn’t care anymore.I cried and tried to accept all my hard work was gone. I imagined telling everyone I didn’t do it, the VBAC, and the smug knowing looks they’d give me. I thought of my poor sick parents, stuck here and unable to see the baby because of my selfish desire.

This was the low point.

Alex arrived in the room around 11 and immediately turned the TV off. I argued with her, telling her the induction wasn’t working, and I was just waiting to see what would happen. I told her I had to admit the section was coming.

She slapped some sense into me. She told me it wasn’t over yet. She asked me to give it just one more hour, with concentration, just one more hour to see what would happen. She wanted me to listen to more hypnobirthing tracks, these insanely slow vocalizations with elevator music in the background. I’d listened to them for hours and I think I laughed at her suggesting it again.

But I consented.

Because of the epidural,  I could feel the contractions coming on, a dull pain, but obviously, they were nothing compared to what I’d endured over the previous 24 hours. So I really, really focused on the birthing tracks, on visualizing my body opening up. As each contraction lasted for 1-2 minutes, I would spend every second “in the moment”.

Around 11:30 a nurse in scrubs, with a hairnet covering came in to check my wristband. I could tell she worked in the OR. They were prepping for a section. But I was so in the zone I didn’t let it rattle me. I kept focus.

At noon the midwife came in- the third midwife on duty since we’d been admitted. I felt like she was checking me only out of courtesy, I could tell she had a pre-planned speech about “not enough progress” to give me to soften the c-section blow. She put her fingers in me and looked surprised.

“You are at a 9!”

Those three centimeters I’d progressed felt like miles. I couldn’t belive it. Once again the labor swung in a new direction. Suddenly, it was a real possibility again – I had another chance.

They gave me a few more hours to fully dilate, and I started “practice pushing” at 3 pm.

I pushed for two hours.

I started to doubt myself again.

It had been so long. And I’d read many TOLAC stories in which the mom made it to pushing, only to be brought in for a section after hours of pushing. I worked so hard that I developed a fever -which I knew meant the baby would be in the NICU for 48 hours. But I kept on.

I could hardly believe it when they turned those bright lights on – when they had me feel down to feel the babies slimy, slippery head. The midwife told me the baby was bald, which let me know I’d nearly done it. I had allowed a student midwife, and two nursing students in the room to watch the birth, and all the NICU staff there as well.

But, I did it. I pushed the baby out, to an audience of well over ten people. My husband yelled out, “It’s a girl!” and they whisked her way immediately – she aspirated meconium. I remember crying, throwing myself back in victory, just repeating over and over, “I did it!”. I could hardly believe it. I’d done the VBAC, and it was a girl!

I heard L’s weak first cry and they let me hold her for the briefest few seconds, for a photo, before her transfer to the NICU. The room emptied out and the midwife stitched me up.

I was frustrated at the wait between the delivery and when I was allowed to move from my room, it probably only took 2 hours, but I wanted my baby. I felt great, physically, and because of breastfeeding issues I had had with my oldest son I wanted to feed L asap. But I had to wait for the epidural to fade so I could walk.

I rode on a euphoric high for the next several days. The midwife on duty my second day at the hospital told me my notes said they thought for sure I’d be a post-op paitent, but I’d somehow pulled through. This news just added to my pride. I felt amazing, couldn’t believe how much easier the recovery from a vaginal birth was compared with that of a c-section.  My 41-week gestation baby was eight-and-a-half pounds and stuck out in the NICU, and we were discharged after 48 hours.

Looking back, I know the success of my VBAC is mainly due to the support system I had. The midwives were amazing. They gave me every chance to succeed. Having my husband and cousin there supporting me helped push me through the long difficult emotional toll the labor caused. I also have to thank my daughter. Had her heart rate dropped, or had she shown any signs of distress, they would have called for the section. It’s like she was a major supporter of me too throughout it all, even without any amniotic fluid and all those hours of labor.

So, that is the story of my Valentine’s VBAC. I know it is long, but I remember devouring posts just as long in my preparation for birth so I hope it helps someone out there. I had every card stacked against me at one point: no amniotic fluid and no progression for something like 7 hours, but because of the awesome staff, I was able to continue. Planning for my daughters birth taught me why birth matters, aspects of our broken medical system, and also taught me a lot about myself.

If you are even questioning whether or not you want to try for a VBAC, I highly suggest you do. Each c-section is progressively more risky, yet each successive VBAC is slightly safer. My experience was well worth the stress, pressure and drama of the delivery. image3image4

the art of holding one’s tongue (or fingers)

I am a member of many “Birth Month” Mom Groups – groups made up entirely of women expecting a baby the same month you are. Groups vary in size; most of the ones I’m a part of have about a hundred or so other women in them. They are often secret so they stay private.

Going through the pregnancy/ early newborn stage as a member of these groups is so helpful. Especially for first time moms. Any question you have is answered by many other women who have similar issues or feelings. You get close. You share intimate details. It’s an online-sisterhood and I find the relationships and intimacy addicting.

This go-round with H I felt like an old-bag “been there done that”. It’s my third child, my most recent pregnancy was only about a year before, and it was my second time being an active member of these types of groups. There is always a whining mom, a mom with drama (usually relationship related), a mom with serious health conditions, a mom who is a know-it-all, a mom who forces her viewpoints on the other women.

I’d like to think I’m an accepting of all viewpoints type of presence online. Supportive and positive to everyone. I cheer their victories, and I boo their hard times with them. I’m politically correct. I should be a damn Facebook Group Senator.

But I’ve experienced some pretty varied births, and went through major hurdles to breastfeed my first born. I’ve had a c-section, I’ve had an induced birth with an epidural, and I’ve had a 100% medication free birth. I know what to look for in choosing an actual VBAC supportive doctor or midwife. I know that just “trusting” your OB because they are an OB doesn’t mean you’ll have the birth outcome you want. I almost feel like I can pinpoint the women who will end up with an “emergency” c-section just based on how they describe their upcoming inductions etc. I have very strong opinions of this type of thing just from my own experiences.

But where do you cross that line? That line of saying – “watch out”. I’m also in VBAC support groups and I have no issue telling it like it is to women looking for advice or help; but to a fragile, impressionable first-time mom, I don’t want to cross a line that can’t be uncrossed.

Especially when it comes to breastfeeding. It’s fucking hard at first. It can hurt if you don’t do it right. It takes an insane amount of self-confidence to know that your baby IS getting enough milk and your body IS capable of doing it. If you aren’t 100% dedicated to breastfeeding, at any moment you’ll give into the allure of “topping” the baby off with formula (especially if you are sleep deprived). I’m not saying all supplementing ends with a breastfeeding relationship severed, but it can.

But how am I supposed to tell a new mom, oftentimes recovering from serious surgery, to just “trust herself” and that her baby waking up every 1.5 hours is normal and just to get over it? I can’t do it. So, instead, I complain to my husband about it. Or type it up in here.

I wish I knew then (circa 2010, the birth of my first) what I knew now. Experience is everything. I won’t be some “mama hen” to these ladies online, and really, what I ought to do is just log-off and forget about it; but, in a strange way I “know” and “care” about these women. So I just fret about it from afar, behind the keys of my keyboard.