Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review and Thoughts on Grief

Having a Kindle Paperwhite has allowed me to read many books in just the past month that I've been breastfeeding. It's a lot easier to hold than a print book, the baby is not distracted by the noise of turning pages, and I can easily read books at 3 a.m. without turning on any lights.

One book I recently read (and finished at 3 a.m. as often seems to be the case) is Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. It is a memoir of a woman who lost her husband, both her sons, and her parents when the tsunami hit Sri Lanka where they were vacationing on December 26, 2004.

I vaguely remember hearing about this tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people across many countries in the Indian Ocean. But as sad as such a news story is, if it doesn't directly effect you, you quickly forget it. As Annie Dillard said, "It hurts more to break a leg."

Wave tells the story of what happened to her family, and of the grief that followed. She is brutally honest about her feelings and her actions in the years following her loss. She doesn't sugarcoat the crazy things she did or the angry thoughts she had about other people. And she addresses things that made her feel guilty--like the fact that she didn't grieve for her parents' loss for a few years because she was so caught up in grieving for her sons and her husband. Something that most people grieving for the death of a loved one don't have to deal with because we usually face them one at a time.

This book made me think about grief and how we all deal with it. A couple of weeks ago marked the 4th year anniversary of my father's death from lung cancer. Two days before that an old acquaintance who touched hundreds of lives died. One day before that my great-uncle died. It was a tough week.

But I have something that Deraniyagala doesn't seem to--a belief in God and faith that we will one day be reunited with our lost loved ones. Knowing that doesn't mean you don't miss them or think it's unfair that they are gone. But when Deraniyagala spoke of her lost family, she kept stating that they were gone and she had to remember that. No hopes or thoughts of a future reunion. No comfort in knowing her family is together. How terribly bleak death must be without that faith.

I do not mean this next comment to make light of what Deraniyagala went through, but her apparent wealth made the process of dealing with what her family left behind different than what my family experienced at my father's death. Just the fact that her family traveled back and forth between different countries often shows she had a lot more than most. And this fact made it so that she didn't return to her London home until almost four years after her family's death--and it was still her home. My family had to leave the home they shared with my father just weeks after he died. Meaning we, and especially my mother, had to deal with the material things left behind right away rather than waiting years. I can't even begin to say what might be better or worse. She also traveled to new places she'd never been with her family to deal with the emotions she faced at each of her children's birthdays.

Birthdays. My family and I try to take my dad's birthday as a time to celebrate his life and remember him. The family that lives close get together and have a dinner of his favorite things and talk about him. I only rarely think about how old my father would have been. I might reflect on it more on the years he would have been 60 or 70. But losing a child fills each passing birthday with thoughts of how old they would have been, how much they would have grown, and what they would have been doing if only they had lived. I cannot even imagine that pain--especially in losing all your children.

As sad as the story is, I highly recommend the book. It is a very human story and I enjoyed her writing. It's one of those rare occasions when something extraordinary happens to someone and their memoir doesn't need to include the name of the person who actually wrote it. Fair warning, she uses the F word about half a dozen times. I can't say I necessarily blame her based on what she was going through, but I know some people would like to avoid it in the books they read.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Baby #3 Birth Story

The birth of my third baby is the reason for my long absence here. As I've said in the past baby #1 was an in hospital birth with an epidural. Baby #2 was a home waterbirth. With baby #3, I was lucky enough to live in a place that offered every option for birthing that I could hope for. (Florida is not a good place for a VBAC though. But that wasn't something I needed to worry about.) I chose another home waterbirth. Here's the short version of birth #3.


I had a midwife appointment at 40 weeks and 4 days. I had been losing my mucus plug for a few days and had been having harder contractions on and off, though they never lasted for more than an hour or two. When the midwife checked me for progress, I was dilated to a little more than a 3. Since I was past my due date, she offered to strip my membranes if I wanted. That is supposed to help get labor going in a few days if you’re close anyway. I felt I really was close to labor this time. After she stripped the membranes, I was dilated to 4 cm. 

At 4:00 p.m. I started having contractions that slowly built in frequency and intensity—until about 9:00 at night. Then they slowed down. I went to bed at 10:00 knowing that if real labor was going to happen, it would happen even if I was sleeping. I was woken up with a few sharp contractions, but fell asleep after them. At 1:00 a.m. they were frequent and strong enough that I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I got up and walked around and bounced on the birth ball. I woke my husband up a little after 3:00 and had him stay up with me and watch the contraction tracker. He was worried about calling the midwife too early (a mistake we made in the past), but I was ready. He called her a little after 4:30 and she headed here.

I got into the bathtub to help me relax through the contractions as they were getting much more intense. I was handling my contractions better than my past labors. The key for me this time was using the time between contractions to relax and enjoy the break instead of spending the time between contractions being tense and fearing the next contraction. This worked so well, especially early on that when the midwife got here (a little after 5:00 a.m.) my blood pressure and pulse were really low and made it seem as if I were relaxed instead of in labor. When the midwife first checked my progress, I was hoping to be dilated to a 6 (that’s a number that indicates real labor—you can walk around for days at a 3 or a 4). I was an 8!

I definitely wanted to labor and birth in the birthtub and since contractions were getting more difficult, I was hoping to get in soon. But the midwife said his head was a little to one side and it would help if I labored while lying on the opposite side for a while. So I did. It was nice to labor in a resting position, but hard to do it without warm water or movement to help. Eventually I moved to the birth tub. 

I’m not sure of the timeline from that point. But the contractions continued to get harder to get through, though I kept telling myself that they were good because each one got me closer to baby. 
I remember being tired and wanting a nap (I’d been awake since 1 a.m. after all). I asked the midwife how much longer it would be so she checked me and said I was dilated enough, but that the amniotic sac hadn’t broken yet. It was bulging with his head right behind it so she asked if I wanted her to break it and speed things up or if I wanted to try some pushes during contractions to see if I could get it to break. I pushed through three contractions. When the midwife checked, my water still hadn’t broken, so she broke it for me. Thankfully, it was bulging enough that she could do it between contractions instead of during one.

Things definitely sped up after that. I can’t remember if I threw up before or after she broke my water. But I knew it was a good sign when I did throw up because I had thrown up during transition with both my girls, so I was kind of waiting for it. I was upset that I did it during a contraction though—it just seemed unfair to have to deal with both. And not really possible to relax through a contraction while you’re throwing up bile.

I moved into a kneeling position with my husband kneeling outside the tub to support me. I won’t sugarcoat it—pushing a baby out without any pain relief is excruciating. I did notice with some curiosity that once the burning pain of the head crowning begins, the band of pain around my lower abdomen (which is where the pain of most my contractions are felt) was gone. Just replaced by the horrible burning sting that they call the ring of fire. My legs also felt like they were burning.

So why would I choose to give birth without pain relief? Without getting into benefits vs. risks of medical intervention, I have two main reasons. 1) With my first I couldn’t feel what was going on—which meant I couldn’t work with my body to push the baby out. Feeling pain meant I could also feel what I needed to do and when my body needed to push. 2) Relief and happy hormones come once you push a baby out without pain medication. When I couldn’t feel pain, I couldn’t feel any of the good hormones either. I still felt numb, both emotionally and physically, after my medicated birth.

I remember them telling me to try to relax in between contractions. But here’s the thing for me with pushing—there is no in between. There are waves of more and less pain, but they crash into each other relentlessly without giving you a break. The only way they end is to get the baby out. Which was motivation for me. Since I was more in control this time around, I was able to actually bear down and push with my body. I also had a chance to reach down and feel his head when it was partially out, which helped me realize how close I was to being done.

His head was out but his shoulders were stuck so the midwife told me to put one of my legs up. In the moment I couldn’t comprehend what that meant so she grabbed my leg and set my foot down so I was only on one knee to try to open my hips and help him out. This didn’t work so she told me I needed to lay back. I understood what that meant, but couldn’t comprehend how I could possibly change position in the moment. Somehow they moved me so my other leg was up and I was laying back. As I pushed I felt a definite tug as the midwife pulled and helped me get his shoulders through. The cord was wrapped around his neck a few times so it took a moment before he could be brought up to my chest.

When he was brought up, he was blue. Which is scary, but I could feel his heart beating and I knew it was common for babies to need help getting that first breath. The midwife and I rubbed him for a bit, then she took him and laid him face down while she rubbed his back. That still didn’t work so she got the bag and mask and gave him a few pumps of air. She asked the assistant what time he had been born and realized that only two minutes had passed even though it seems like an eternity when your baby’s not breathing. After the bag and mask he started coughing stuff up and breathing.

I held him and the family gathered around to see him. The placenta came out soon after and a little while later, Daddy cut the cord and baby got out of the water. Daddy and big sisters cuddled the baby in bed while the midwife and her assistant helped me out of the birth tub and to the bedroom. I had only a superficial tear and I was allowed to decide whether I wanted stitches or not. I chose not to and had to be really careful the first few days, but the recovery has been so much better without stitches.

Baby #3 was born at 8:55 a.m. after 6 or 7 hours of labor and only 14 minutes of pushing. He was my biggest baby weighing in at 9 lbs. 7 oz., 22 inches long, and a 14.75 inch head.

I absolutely do not want to do it again--I'm content with #3 and neither my husband or I feel that we'll have anymore. But if I did, I would still choose a natural birth again.