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.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Miren Kjerstina
Born January 27, 2011
5:30 p.m.
8 lbs 6 oz and 20.5 inches

Miren (Meer-in) is Basque and means "loved one" or "wished-for child." Since it's a variation of Mary, it's our way of honoring Robbie's paternal grandmother Mary and his maternal grandmother Marion. Kjerstina (Key-AIR-stina) is our way of honoring my mother. She hates her first name, but her middle name came from my Danish great great grandmother Rasmina Kjerstina.

One day, when Miren complains about her crazy name, all I have to say is: "It could have been worse - we could have gone with Rasmina."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

There is a website for everything

I want to thank my midwife for listening to me vent at our appointment this afternoon - and for pointing me to this website that answers the big question I hear several times a day lately:

Have you had that baby yet?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Killing Me Softly

I alternate between wanting to be productive to distract me from the "waiting," wanting to be completely lazy to avoid making the constant contractions even worse, and focusing on purposely making the contractions worse in a vain attempt to coax her out. The result is that 1) not much is getting done 2) I'm going out of my mind and 3) she still isn't here. My strategy for today is to go back to being productive, suck up the pain and stop being so mean to every breathing thing that crosses my path.

During one of my lazier and happier moments this past week, Empo and I made a YouTube playlist together. I'm not sure how educational the music is, but he is in love with it and it killed quiet time while Fionn took a nap. I'm going to share because some of them are from a new-to-us artist that I think is brilliant: Caspar Babypants. Elizabeth Mitchell is another kid's artist that I'm obsessed with right now, but she doesn't have any good videos that I could find.

If anyone has suggestions for videos to add, please pass them along!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Warning: A Whole Lot of Belly

I've been meaning to post these for a while, so thank you for the reminder Mashawna! I didn't take many pictures this pregnancy, but these will at least give an impression of my hugeness over the past few months. Luckily I haven't gained much weight lately and the baby dropped, so my fears of physically exploding while bending over to put on my shoes haven't come true. Yet.

Around 34 weeks

Around 36 weeks

Today (38.5 weeks)
Don't judge the pajamas - they were on sale

Fionn saw my exposed belly and decided it was a fun toy. Especially my gigantic belly button.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Waiting

Found at joe-ks

A million times a day someone will ask me if I am ready to have this baby. And a million times a day I answer "no."

It's half true...mentally I am ready and excited to meet this baby, but I also can't breathe (not an exaggeration) when I think about parenting three little ones and my still long "to-do before the baby comes" list. Physically, I am dreading labor and yet look forward to it as a great adventure. I am in "pre-labor" most of the day these days, which means I am having painful contractions that are more than Braxton Hicks but less than full labor. I know this is my body doing some of the work ahead of time, and I know it's very common for moms who have been pregnant before, but the near-constant pain is incredibly draining. I panic every night because I think it might be the night, and then I wake up the next day disappointed that I'm still pregnant. I burst into tears over everything and I'm constantly snapping at people (no comments please Robbie). I feel like I need to hide under a porch and be alone like a ferrel cat about to give birth.

In short, I am a mess.

I remember hating this waiting time period with both boys, but I forgot just how MUCH I hated it.

This is a time when I am eternally grateful for my intuitive female friends. Yesterday morning, after a particularly rough night, a couple friends had me over for coffee and an impromptu baby shower. They gave me little pink clothes and cards full of baby faces and let me talk (bitch) about my anxiety.

Today, a different friend sent me a poem, which of course made me cry. And it forced me to slow down and refocus on the actual living baby I'm growing - instead of all the hoopla and logistics of bringing her into the world. Here are the first few lines of the poem that have been reverberating in my head all day:

These Last Few Hours
It is important to me that I spend a part of the next few hours here alone with you in the darkness.
You and I will never be this close again.
By morning you will be a tiny person all your own. No longer the kicking, demanding bulge in my body that I have grown to love so well.

- Dee Dee McCall

Tomorrow (technically today since it's 2am) yet another set of friends is throwing us a painting party to help finish the hall painting project that looms large on our list. It's funny how different the "baby showers" for each of the three babies has been. The first time we had a few of the typical showers, complete with games and presents and mountains of baby blue decorations. The second time I had a spiritual "Blessing Way" with all my close female friends. And this time we are painting. Totally different, and yet each time exactly what we needed.

Earlier, Robbie and I got into yet another name discussion, which never goes well. I offered several new options, he at least considered them (which is a positive step) and then rejected them. Then - out of nowhere - he comes up with Sylvia. I suggested Sylvia a long time ago in this process and he rejected it immediately. Now suddenly he is in love with this name. I am skeptical that the love will last, but I mention it because thinking about the name led me to rediscover one of Sylvia Plath's poems that is fitting for this time period.

(Unless something momentous happens, I promise to let this be the last bitch fest until she is born. After that, I can't be held accountable for what I say or do under the influence of sleep deprivation.)


Clownlike, happiest on your hands,
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,
Gilled like a fish. A common-sense
Thumbs-down on the dodo's mode.
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,
Trawling your dark, as owls do.
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth
Of July to All Fools' Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf.

Vague as fog and looked for like mail.
Farther off than Australia.
Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn.
Snug as a bud and at home
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
A creel of eels, all ripples.
Jumpy as a Mexican bean.
Right, like a well-done sum.
A clean slate, with your own face on.

by Xiaohong Zhang, found at The Daily Page