Self Directed Birth of Zena Joy – Wisconsin, USA

29 Jan
The Self Directed Birth of Zena Joy
Photographs by Janeace Leeder Radtke
* This birth story contains graphic descriptions and photographs of childbirth including female anatomy and plenty of blood. Consider yourself warned.
I’d been having prodromal labor.  Jason had stayed home from work Monday and Tuesday (June 11th and 12th) and the kids stayed overnight with family because I was sure things would pick up any minute, but a whole week passed.  Each day I could feel my body inching just a little bit closer to birthing.  My mind remained mostly in the labor head space, keeping me aware that the process never really stopped.  Zoning out naked in my room or in the bathtub, I didn’t feel an urgency to rush things.  I felt like the baby just needed to get into the right position — and i figured I was much better off if she could do so while I was comfortable rather than during hours of intense, painful contractions.  Mentally, I was deep into labor (a good 5-6cm) but physically, I was pretty comfortable and only about 2cm dilated.  I was sleeping better than I had through the entire pregnancy.  I could have gone on for weeks enjoying the hormone buzz, but when I was inevitably pulled back into the physical world with things like laundry, spilled juice or helping my youngest use the bathroom — and especially when I was asked a question that required a thoughtful answer, I found it difficult to transition.
Despite all the anxiety I had been working through in regards to birthing in the hospital for the first time, I felt very at peace. I wasn’t concerned about the hospital anymore and I wasn’t afraid that labor would go so fast I’d end up birthing in the car, either. I felt like I’d done all the right prep-work, things were starting and would continue to go smoothly. I was ready to birth whenever baby was ready.  I kept feeling like she just needed to click into place… something was just a little off.  I saw my chiropractor several times.  I spent a lot of time on hands and knees, with my butt in the air, sitting on the yoga ball rotating my hips and doing a variety of gyrating dance-like maneuvers that my husband found quite amusing.
The baby was very active.  I could feel her back along my left side at times, then later along my right side. Most of all, when I prodded my belly, I felt legs and arms; she seemed to prefer the posterior position.
With some of the more intense contractions, I felt the urge to bear down, as if I could push her into the right place.  In the bath, I’d check my cervix and each day I’d find a little progress (and a lot of bloody mucus.)  When the internal OS was within my reach, I felt strangely inclined to manipulate it and eventually ended up doing a stretch & sweep on myself.  I wouldn’t have felt right doing it in an attempt speed things up, and I had to question my own motives because it was pretty exciting to be able to feel the amniotic sac and baby’s head within my reach. But physically, it felt amazing — relieving.  My urge wasn’t coming from a desire to rush the process. It just felt right.
On the evening of Monday, June 18 the contractions started to pick up again. I waited til they were consistent, and then waited some more to be sure they weren’t going to slow down again. From about 9pm I was pretty certain it was really  active labor, but I was concerned that the transition to the hospital would slow things down so I did some sharing on Facebook to pass the time and also to see if talking about and analyzing my labor pattern would effect it’s rhythm.  By about 10pm I was ready to pack up the computer and called my parents to tell them we’d be heading out soon (they were going to watch the boys.)  Jason II was spending the night at Nana and Papa’s and Kyle was having a sleepover at the neighbors house, so we only had to bring Logan over.
I was wearing a dress without underwear and sitting on a towel in the car because I felt a lot more comfortable that way, not worrying if I was leaking mucus or pee.  I’d been drinking an enormous bottle of Powerade and even though I peed before we left home, I had to go again at my parents house (less than 10 min away.)
When I called the hospital to let them know we were coming, I was a little disappointed to find that neither of my two favorite midwives were on call.  The midwife on the phone asked me a couple times if I felt like I needed to come in and how far away I lived and I got the feeling that she thought I might not really be in active labor yet.  It was difficult to answer the simple questions she was asking… How far apart were my contractions? I don’t know. 3-5 minutes? was that right? They seemed to be spaced farther apart than that, but I’d had several since leaving the house. How long had we been in the car? I couldn’t do the math.  I was relieved to get off the phone just before another contraction.
I started watching the clock, still a little concerned that we’d have to turn around and go back home, even though the intensity of the contractions was getting undeniable.  I still thought she might stay posterior or have a hand by her face or something and the labor might be a long one.  At one point I worried that maybe the cord was around her neck enough to keep her from descending… What if she didn’t click into place at all and I needed a C-section even after all of this?
The ride to the hospital in labor was not as bad as I’d imagined. I didn’t feel every little bump.  Actually, in my labor-high, staring dazed out the car windows into the night, I was reminded of riding around with friends after taking Ecstasy as a teenager.
On the drive, I felt baby shift so there was suddenly a lot more pressure on my bladder.  I wasn’t sure if she’d turned, or just dropped lower, but it seemed she’d finally clicked  into place.
When we arrived at the hospital, I had to pee so bad that I ended up lifting my dress and squatting behind the car door in the parking ramp. I wondered if there was video surveillance, but didn’t really care.  I was no longer concerned about the hospital inhibiting me.  I could have walked through the lobby completely naked without caring.
Our doula, Janeace met us at the entrance.  I’d asked her to photograph everything and she started right away!
Here we’re walking into the hospital at 11:28pm
In Triage, I sat for a while on the monitors. Initially, I declined having a vaginal exam. I knew I was about 3cm dilated and was confident labor would continue to progress.  I had no doubts about my ability to dilate and knew it would happen quickly soon. My only concern was about baby’s position and how hard it might be to push her out.
The midwife seemed uncomfortable going without the information a vaginal exam would provide. I thought maybe she was still unsure if I was in active labor, but in retrospect, I think it was all about documentation.  She palpated my stomach and then asked about doing a quick ultrasound…
I could tell she was trying really hard to respect my wishes and get the information she felt she needed. I didn’t know if she felt it was necessary information, or just something she was expected to chart, but given how much I’d been messing with my cervix myself, it really didn’t seem like a big deal to allow her a quick feel. I decided it was preferable to an ultrasound, and told her if it would make things easier, she could do a quick exam.
 June 19, 2012 12:04am
She was grateful and waited when I needed to sit up through a contraction.  After the vaginal exam was finished, we packed up and were lead to a delivery room.  I was asked if I planned for a waterbirth and I explained that I had, initially, but that I didn’t feel comfortable in those rooms after seeing them on the tour, so I’d like to just go to one of the regular rooms. No one reminded me that waterbirths aren’t « allowed » in those rooms, or asked if I was still planning to labor in the tub. I was grateful for that, because I didn’t want to lie, but I knew the truth (that I’d probably birth in the bathtub) would put them in an uncomfortable position since it was against hospital policy.
We got settled in the room and I sat on the bed through a few contractions. Jason hadn’t been sleeping well (I think all of my hormones were effecting him, too) so he found some coffee and food to help with his energy.  The midwife and nurse looked over my birthplan and clarified that we just wanted to be left alone for the most part, that I was okay with intermittent monitoring of the baby every half hour via doppler, and that we’d call them if we needed anything else.
I unpacked the blankets and towel I’d brought to make it feel more like home before setting up camp in the bathroom.
The nurse checked baby’s heart rate.  We told her about our previous births and told her how to find two of them on youtube.  Then she left us alone.
 The contractions were intense, but short.  It’s funny how my sense of time was so altered yet I was still aware that the contractions were significantly shorter than ones of the same intensity I’d had 3, 7 and 9 years ago. Each time one let up I felt like « wow. Already? »
Jason got the video camera going and I tried to tell him he could set it up somewhere, but it seemed like he felt better with something continuous to do, so I left him to it.  We had some issues with the camera battery resulting in the actual moment of birth not getting filmed.  I’m still upset about that, but after I’ve processed my disappointment and I’m more thankful for the footage we do have, I’ll put together some of it to share on Youtube.
 Janeace got a bowl of ice water to keep the washcloths in and Jason made sure I always had fresh cold one.  He had really good timing laying them across my neck and back.
I brought some flavored honey sticks, which tasted awesome (I think I’ll be stocking up my doula bag with those next time I have a birth to attend!) I held off the nausea for a little bit, but I didn’t get through labor without throwing up… I guess that would have been expecting a lot after morning sickness had lasted right up to 39weeks!
I think Janeace could tell I was getting close to pushing. She asked  if we wanted to call in the midwife at any certain point. I figured they’d hear my birthing groans and come in when their experienced ears told them I was pushing.  I remembered births I’d attended, where everyone just seemed to swarm into the room right before the baby was born.  If they didn’t come in on their own, I told her, there was no need to call them right away unless there was a problem we needed help with.
I felt overwhelmed during contractions. I felt like bearing down, and resistance to bearing down.  I really wanted to shut off my brain because I kept wondering « should I push? should I hold back? » and my mind kept trying to compare the labor to my others (something I knew was a mistake.) I was moaning and panting and grunting and huffing all in the same contraction — pushing a little at the beginning then breathing through the rest.
It still felt good to manipulate my cervix. I remembered during my other labors how my curiosity had to overcome the fear of discomfort before I could check dilation because the self-examination would set off a painful contraction… But this time was so different. I felt a calm come over me as I gently stretched my cervix — even through a contraction.
 I was listening to my body, but my mind still wouldn’t shut up. Was it worth the added risk of infection from fiddling around in there? Was that too much blood? It didn’t look like too much, but with my other births I hardly bled at all til the placenta was born and since I was still looking for there to be a reason this one needed to be a hospital birth, I asked Janeace to call in the midwife for another opinion.
 The midwife and nurse came in.  They weren’t concerned about the blood.  The nurse told us she’d seen Jason II’s birth on youtube.  She checked on baby with the doppler again and they both quietly left.
In the weeks leading up to this, I’d been so eager to give up control. I had, mostly… but in the intensity of the pain my mind spun like a wheel in mud trying to gain traction but just splattering stuff all over. Should I push yet? How much longer could I hold back? Would it hurt more once I started pushing? I was still concerned that pushing her out would be difficult and take a long time.
It’s funny how I can look back over each of these moments and in retrospect they are all beautiful and amazing and empowering — even every bit of pain. But in those same moments — some of them, anyway — I was just consumed by the pain. I feared it. I wanted to crawl out of my body and run far away from it…
And then a contraction would end and everything was okay again. I didn’t fear the next contraction like I had in the peak of my other labors. Maybe it was because they still seemed unbelievably short.
The urge to push became undeniable and the wheels in my head stopped spinning. I pushed with my body and there was no space to wonder if it was right.
I was getting pretty loud and a few times I wondered if they could hear me out in the hall.  Though I was mostly unaware even of Jason and Janeace who remained beside me in the bathroom, something drew my attention to the doorway. I wasn’t thinking about it really, with all my energy turned within, but for a second I had an awareness that lead me to believe the midwife and nurse were waiting behind the bathroom door — they must have heard me and come in anticipating the birth.
My water broke, and I reached in to feel her head.  I could feel  her hair and I was thrilled because I knew she looked just how I’d dreamed.
 It was just a few minutes, but with my thoughts quiet and focused only on my body sensations, time seemed to move in slow motion.
I could feel her moving down. I had to support my butt with one hand. I hear a lot about « perineal support » but I think anal support would be a more accurate description. I really had to hold on to the whole hole!  Feeling like my butt was going to turn inside out was one of the most memorable sensations from when Logan was born, too.
I could feel her head crowning.  It seemed like I could feel every inch of her. I felt my vagina stretching to make room for her. I’d never noticed, what other women describe as « the ring of fire » with my other births. This time, it was undeniable.
I actually felt like I was going to rip open. I was sure I’d tear this time. (I didn’t)
Then I felt her shoulders turn and emerge.  A wave of relief washed over me as I lifted her from the water. She was here. My baby girl.  And I wasn’t pregnant anymore. All the challenges of the last nine months were behind me.
Time was still moving in slow motion for me. These photos were all taken in the same minute, but it seemed like a long time waiting for her to breath.  I never felt afraid that she wouldn’t take that first breath, even after all the things I’d worried about during the pregnancy, but I became aware that something was in the way…
I looked closer.  The cord was wrapped around her neck. It was buried beneath her folds of skin, so it isn’t visible even in the picture below where I’m discovering it. (Above you can see part of it between my arm and hers.)
Time sped up again.  I unwrapped the cord quickly, without thinking. I heard her gurgle and sensed the life rushing into her.
She cried a little, then sank into my arms.
 I felt like hundreds of pounds had been lifted off my shoulders.
It wasn’t until I was ready to get up, and Janeace offered to call in the midwife and nurse that I realized they weren’t watching quietly from behind the door.  In fact, she said the nurse looked quite surprised by the announcement that the baby had arrived. I still don’t know if they accidentally missed the birth because they expected us to call… Or they didn’t know to come because they didn’t hear me… I know that them knowing I was an experienced unassisted birther & the fact that not many people were working at the time were factors. I exchanged emails with the midwife a few days later and I think she understood me more than I’d initially given her credit for, but I wouldn’t come right out and ask if she intentionally missed the birth, because I respect the delicate position that would put her in.
Notice how the cord hasn’t gone limp yet…
We waited for the placenta.  No one tried to rush it, or mentioned Pitocin. I wasn’t touched except to take my blood pressure.
We tried out nursing and she had a good latch right away. She was gulping and squeeking from her very first nurse!
I was eager to get the placenta birthed, so I tried pushing.
The midwife looked and said she could see it « right there » so I pulled gently on the cord with the next push (something I wouldn’t have done with an unassisted birth)
The midwife stood back and watched, and looked over the placenta with me when it was out.  She asked if she could check me for tears — there weren’t any.
I saved the shoelace that had been used to tie Kyle’s (my first baby’s) cord and dad used it to tie Zena’s; then he cut it.
We did some snuggling before I handed her to her dad and he carried her across the room to be weighed.  We both guessed her weight was about 7lbs.
She was 6lbs 15oz.
We wanted to go straight home instead of to a recovery room.  Since the pediatrician wasn’t there at 4am, to sign Zena out, they called one down from the NICU.  She went over all their recommendations, including vaccines, eye goop, vitamin K shot and blood sugar test (because I didn’t have the glucose test during pregnancy.) and we had to sign a couple of waivers, but she wasn’t pushy and we were on our way home by 5:30am.
Zena Joy at home in our own bed.
My intuitive feeling that Zena’s birth needed to be in the hospital was not confirmed by any major complication.  But just like each of my childrens’ births, I know it couldn’t have been more perfect.  I can speculate about the reasons, but I don’t need proof of what could have been to know that following my instincts was the right call.
Special thanks to the UW Midwives and everyone at Meriter Hospital who helped us achieve an autonomous hospital birth, something that sadly, isn’t common.
Thanks to Janeace for providing your services as a doula, photographer and friend.
And thanks to you — members of my community, readers of my blog, Facebook friends, fans of Self-Directed Childbirth and Youtube subscribers — for your support and virtual companionship through the challenges of this pregnancy and the process of planning for Zena’s safe and joyful arrival!

Une Réponse to “Self Directed Birth of Zena Joy – Wisconsin, USA”

  1. Sarah 30 janvier 2013 à 14 h 12 min #

    Fabuleux!!!! Les images se suffisent a elles meme sans avoir le besoin de traduir ce texte pourtant en anglais. Que d’emotions… Que de verité la dedans, que de respect. Je suis veritablement touchée par ce temoignage…

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