Monday, January 31, 2011

Gratitude - Miren's Birth Story

The morning of Miren's birth, there were birds. Everywhere - birds.

Somewhere around 6am, I started having painful contractions about 20 minutes apart. At first I incorporated them into what became increasingly bizarre dreams. By the third or fourth, I became semi-conscious and aware that it felt like labor. I didn't dare believe it was real - partly because I was convinced that I would go into labor at night like I had with the other two kids, so contractions beginning in the morning were not part of the plan. I had also been woken up by equally painful contractions several times in the previous month, but they quickly petered out.

When I had the fifth contraction and found myself on all fours begging Robbie for back compressions, I immediately thought of the annoying adage: "When it's real, you just know."

I knew.

Since the contractions were still far apart, we went about our normal routine of getting Emerson off to preschool. In the midst of this, about 7:30am, I had a contraction in the bathroom that ended with some bloody show and a few gushes of water. The good news was that any debate about whether it was "real" were now put to rest. The bad news was, this was the one day that was busy for every single person on our birth team.

When Emerson was born, it was a beautiful but glacial 36-hour marathon in a hospital. We decided to have Fionn at home, and it was only 6 whirlwind hours from first contraction to the moment he was born. This time, my history and the fact that it was my third meant everyone was prepared for a very fast labor.

Feeling like a ticking time bomb, I set about calling everyone to break the news. Our midwife was ready to come the moment the labor "shifted" and the rest of the team promised to get off work early so they could be there by early afternoon. Robbie began canceling what was supposed to be a day of back-to-back meetings so he could set up for the birth. (Let me tell you, there's nothing sexier than a man in dockers and work shirt blowing up a birthing pool in your dining room.)

In the midst of our various preparations, I looked out the window and noticed the birds. The slim ornamental pear tree in our front yard was heavy with red-breasted robins. In the 7 years I've lived here, I've never noticed a robin in the winter. In fact, one of the true hallmarks of the beginning of spring (regardless of what the calendars say) is seeing the robins appear.

At several points the robins multiplied and were joined by other birds, forming a disquieting scene straight out of a Hitchcock movie. They were all descending on the tiny pears that clung to the tree, which made sense. But why and how they managed to organize this sudden feeding frenzy was beyond me. Occasionally, I would look out the window and they would all be gone. Then an hour or so later, they would simultaneously reappear. It seemed odd and significant somehow, but mainly watching them was a welcome distraction from the waiting. As each hour passed, I looked at the clock with relief and repeated my internal mantra, "I cannot go into active labor yet. This is a good pace."

Around 1pm our step sister-in-law showed up. She is a close friend and studying to be a doula, so we asked her to come be a helper during the birth. Emerson arrived home and immediately decided that the pool was a bouncy house. When the boys weren't jumping, they were using my body - draped over the birth ball - as a jungle gym. Needless to say, I was relieved when our friend who had agreed to babysit arrived at 3pm to escort them out the door.

With everyone and everything was now in place, it was up to me to "get the show on the road."

Around 4pm, I retreated to the bathroom to contract on the toilet (sounds gross, but it is the perfect height for a supported squat). Despite having two perfect births under my belt and spending several weeks preparing physically and mentally for this moment, I still felt the fear creeping in - threatening to take root. I buried my head in my hands and tried to formulate my next move. But there was only way to go...forward. The moment I let that thought sink in, things began to happen quickly.

The contractions came closer together and I told Robbie it was time for the midwife to come over and check me. I heard him tell her on the phone, "Cassi says she's physically, mentally, emotionally - whatever - ready to have you come check her." The moment he said the word "emotionally," I burst into tears.

I came out of the bathroom ready to change the tone. I turned down the lights, started my labor music, stopped friendly chatter, and focused completely on the contractions. Within a couple of minutes, I told Robbie to call the midwife back and let her know I was in the "zone." This was no longer a casual check, this was it. She called in her apprentice, a friend who lives a good 45 minutes away, and Robbie set up iChat with my parents so they could watch from Utah.

I thought I could hold out on the pool until after the cervical check, but within a couple minutes I was jumping into the sanctuary of hot water. The midwife arrived around 5pm and a check revealed that I was only 4-5 centimeters dilated. I was shocked that I wasn't further along, but I knew it was a meaningless number compared to how I felt. There were only a handful of contractions before I was begging Robbie to get into the tub with me so that he could put his full weight into the back compressions. He complied, but I still called out for more weight.

"I only weigh so much," he huffed, causing the room to erupt in laughter.

I wasn't laughing...I was silently cursing him for not indulging in more hot fudge sundaes over the past 9 months.

Then suddenly the urge to push gripped me in the middle of a contraction. My moans shifted into guttural growls and I knew the baby had dropped rapidly. Sure enough, by the end of the next pushing contraction, she suddenly crowned. I needed a break, but since her head was already part way out, the "ring of fire" was upon me with all its fury. This is the only unbearable part of labor for me, but in the past it only lasted a matter of seconds. Unfortunately, this time she crowned at the end of a contraction and I had to wait until another one to push her out.

I screamed all bloody hell, frantically groped at her head thinking I could somehow pull it out but knowing I couldn't, attempted a tiny push and realized that was no better, said all the irrational things women say in labor ("I can't do it!" "Get her out!"). FINALLY, I was able to push out the rest of the head and collapsed onto the edge of the pool in total relief. There was a long break before I could contract and push out the body, so I knew everyone was sitting there staring at her head. Since I was on all fours, I couldn't see it well enough to know the color of her hair. I told everyone beforehand that I didn't want to know until I had her in my arms, but I still sat there wondering if they weren't saying a word because it was white. Apparently Robbie did whisper in my ear "she has dark hair," but I didn't hear it.

When the rest of the body came at 5:29pm, he caught her in his arms and pulled her to the surface. In an instant I flipped around and was yelling out "She has dark hair!" before my brain had even fully processed the fact. And then she was in my arms, fat and dark and completely gorgeous. In the months before the birth, six different people told me they dreamt about our daughter's birth and she had brown hair. I was grateful that they shared, but I was starting to worry about why I never dreamt about her birth at all, much less what color her hair would be. Robbie and I both started out the pregnancy sure that the baby would not have albinism, but in the last few weeks, we started to doubt our intuition. Of course, we were prepared for either outcome and would have been equally ecstatic if she had white hair. But the sight of dark curls meant a new kind of parenting experience that we were grateful to be able to experience.

While we marveled over the fact that we not only had a daughter, but a daughter with dark hair, the midwife team set about checking her vitals. Her cord was looped around her shoulder, so it became compressed during the pushing and cut down on her oxygen. She was breathing, but her heart rate was a little low and her face a little blue, so the midwife decided to give her a quick breath with an oxygen mask. After only one pump, she grimaced and gave out a strong, angry scream that assured everyone she was just fine. In retrospect, I am amazed that I didn't flip out since I tend to be...well to say anxious pessimist might be a bit of an understatement. But it happened so fast and our midwife team was so incredibly calm and professional, it didn't faze me at all.

The rest of the night was the usual busy-ness of cleaning up, checking the baby (everything perfect thankfully), checking me (very little blood and no tearing thankfully), calling or Facebooking everyone we could think of, and preparing for her to meet her big brothers. When they finally came thundering into the house, we held our breath and expected the worst. The first thing Emerson noticed was that the pool had disappeared. This led to a lot of crying and anger, but we assured him that we traded it in for a much better present - a baby sister. Surprisingly, they both took to her right away, proclaiming over and over, "That baby is so cute!" They still constantly want to hold her, kiss her, inspect all her tiny parts, and don't even get me started on her baby sneezes - apparently they are hilarious to preschoolers. I'm sure the novelty will wear off soon enough, but in the meantime, we are eternally grateful that they adore their little sister.

When all the hub-bub of the birth had died down and we finally got a quiet moment alone with our daughter, I looked at her and thought:

"Love is awful."

I assumed by the third child, I would be a little tougher, more calloused about the whole process. Instead, I stared at her perfection and wondered why on earth I agreed to carve out yet a third chunk of my heart and put it in this fragile bird frame. These past 10 months, she has rustled inside my cupped body, so soft and impossibly small. And then I let her out into the wild, into a lifetime of vulnerability. Now perched just out of my grasp, she turns to face me with a head of downy brown hair, stares with wet dark eyes, and talks in little bird squeaks.

Everyone that came to the house the day of Miren's birth remarked on the birds. I know that, in and of themselves, they have no grand meaning. But in my mind they became a symbol of all that I had gained...and all that I now stood to lose.

I try to immerse myself as much as possible in the constant noise, ruffle three heads of hair, kiss three tiny mouths, and feel overwhelmingly grateful for my abundance. I know in a month I will be standing in line at the grocery store listening to three shrill screams and I will struggle to remember my gratitude.

But hopefully a little bird will remind me.


  1. Absolutely beautiful story! Made me cry! I'm SO happy for you both and for the new big brothers too!


  2. How wonderful! We love you guys so much!

    Just wait until you go to the grocery store with three in tow - and you notice a parent having issues with just one cool. You feel accomplished and laugh a little in your head at them.



  3. Thank you for sharing your story, it's wonderfully beautiful, as is your little baby girl.

  4. What a touching birth story ! Makes me want to have a couple more babies like now :) I am glad I know u Cassi ! Ur a wonderful mom with the most beautiful kids and not to forget a doting and funny hubby :) god bless to all

  5. With tears in my eyes I can just say one word "wonderful".

  6. Cassi, I know I say this over and over, but you are one hell of a writer. What a beautiful story and my god, just like everyone else who's commented I have tears in my eyes. Your kids are so lucky to have such a talented, loving, beautiful mother. Abundance stop already!!! I love you. :)

  7. I watched the whole birth and I still keep pinching myself to be sure it was real! I am constantly amazed at how strong you are and what a terrific mother you've turned out to be. As for my granddaughter she is the most beautiful, perfect little creature I've ever seen!

  8. Congrats! Wonderful birth story :)

    Molly (@the little seedling)

  9. She is beautiful congratulations! It is funny about the hair, the first thing I asked when my second and third where born was, what color is the hair! Although there was little solace in our crew of cotton tops. You have a gorgeous family, this is a very touching birth story.

  10. from one of stacia's/susan's clients to another, and both of us writers...this is beautiful. this...
    Instead, I stared at her perfection and wondered why on earth I agreed to carve out yet a third chunk of my heart and put it in this fragile bird frame. These past 10 months, she has rustled inside my cupped body, so soft and impossibly small incredible.
    congratulations (because it never seems like a strong enough word, yet i can't think of another to replace it)
    i would love to hear about your writing-life, motherhood, etc....perhaps we can keep in touch.

  11. Oh, this made my day! What a beautiful story and photos. She is precious, as are all your children and you all look luminously happy!

    Kelly KH

  12. Beautiful. Just beautiful. In the time that I've known you...from just pre-motherhood to mom of have changed so much and yet so little at the same time. I marvel at how that can happen. How one can be completely bowled over by one screaming infant, sobbing at her lost life...and then a few short years later completely bowled over at her own blessings. I marvel, also, because it's happened to me (of course, then I take them to the grocery store and wonder again about my lost life ;). Beautiful family, congratulations! Wendy

  13. Honestly I got to this blog via very backward way. I was going to express my rage at something, anything. But then I read. Your story was so honest and so breath taking. Thank you for sharing. I believe that the meaning of life is to perpetuate life. You are sucessful and you both are awesome.