Saturday, September 14, 2013

"How to Have a Baby", or "Labour Legs".

Well, it's official.  We have a kid!  In fact, we had one a month ago but I haven't had two hands to type out my thoughts since.  I'll probably have to tackle this 20 times for 20 minutes before I actually get a blog out, but here goes, because I'm determined to fill you in one of life's most interesting events.  How to have a baby.

Read: not 'how to make a baby', that, you can find in great detail elsewhere.

I'll let you know right now, this blog will be long, very long.  I have no brainpower to install it in chapters, so you may just need to make a mental bookmark somewhere if your cookies are burning part way through the read.

If you've read along on my blog or online during my pregnancy so far, you'll know that I've tackled the racing pregnant great divide.  Should you or shouldn't you?  Well, I did and it turned out superbly.  It was challenging at times, it gave me an entirely different perspective on what 'racing' really means, and it helped me stay true to myself.  I'm an athlete, and I'm an athlete no matter if I'm carrying a little bean inside me or not.  Little did I know how useful continuing to train & continuing to push my limits would be when it came to labour & delivery.

So at 33.5 weeks, I did the Vancouver Sprint Triathlon (you can read about here and here) and had a blast.  It was like my retirement race, but for pregnancy, and of which I only had 2 races during said career.  But it felt like closure, I felt like after I had completed that race I was ready to start transitioning to getting my body ready to have this kid.  And of course at that point, I figured I still had 6.5 weeks to go in my pregnancy, so lots of time to wind down & become a pokey 'jogger' on the seawall.

Roughly two weeks later, enter week 36.  A couple of funny things happened.  All of a sudden I felt like I should wash the beautiful clothes that had been given to us for our future kiddo.  Then the next day I really felt like at the very least, I should buy some blankets for the tiny human.  People talk about 'nesting', getting your house ready, I don't know, knitting baby socks or something, but I did not have these feelings.  I was not surprised considering my urges were generally to go out and do workouts.  But now looking back, that was my nesting in a different way.  Iron-nesting.

In any case, I bought blankets, I washed clothes (I did not clean my house).  Friday I went for a run, of which was the first time that I felt, heck, a little stretch break at the half way mark (30min) wasn't a bad idea.  Then I promptly stopped at 1 hr on the dot, and walked the rest of the way home.  Usually I eek out the last kilometre even though I'm tired and it's over one hour.  But that day I decided an hour was my limit.  I could tell I had started to slow down, but ironically, I was breathing better than ever and wished my body would go the whole distance over again. Breathing better, I should have known...

Saturday I swam and made jokes to my good friend about how the baby could really come any day now.  I knew it would be early.  I joked, 'hey, press on it's bum and see if you can help it come out'.  I went for a beautiful swim, slowly rolling along Kits Pool.  I really felt I would be spending much more time here in the last few weeks, also knowing that if I went over due (as people often do), I could be here for 5 more weeks.  I was told swimming could help get the baby in the right position to come out, so I loved being in the water & stretching out my tummy.  That was my last swim of the season there.

Then Sunday came.  I woke up to grey skies.  I felt - flat.  I usually tried to get myself out the door for a workout 'most' days before noon.  I wasn't going anywhere, I read a book instead.  I then got an urge to insist we must buy a baby carrier that day, so we went and spent two hours looking like total fools trying to figure out "what buckles go where", "where does that strap go", and all "that fake baby is totally awkward", and finally "what the heck are we getting ourselves into?".  Well, we got ourselves into a sandwich on Commercial Drive, because I was starving.  And then we went home.  That felt like a max out on 'pre-parenting' for the day.

We were going out to Bard on the Beach, and uncharacteristically, I wanted to lie down for a bit.  I could have actually gone to bed then (oh, how I wish I had...), but we went to see Hamlet instead.  "To thine own self be true"? Good one Shakespeare.  We sat beside a man who congratulated us on our pregnancy & told us this was his first night out since he and his wife had a brand new baby weeks ago.  That seemed so surreal to us, so far off.  At that point, it was exactly 12 hours off.

Now I have to say, before I go on, that I am someone who loved the process of labour & delivery.  Loved it.  So I'll explain what happened because I really wish I had talked to more people about how a labour & delivery goes, but I find very few people want to talk about it.  So, that's why I'm doing what I'm doing.  I want more people to love this process as much as I did, because it is so amazingly life changing, and it really has changed my life in a huge way.

So back to Sunday night...

I made a statement to my husband walking home that I think I could finally identify a Braxton Hicks contraction, as I could vaguely feel 2 in a row.  I think I had felt them running before, but it's hard to tell what's what when you are carting around a baby, constantly need to pee & have sore feet.  My husband has heard me chatter about every single pregnancy symptom (yes, every one) since the dawn of time so this did not ring any alarm bells for him.  I went home & went to bed early.

I woke up to pee.  This is what pregnant women do.  If I was a professional triathlete last year, I'm a professional water release specialist this year.  I went back to bed.  I had almost fallen back asleep.  It was sometime after midnight.

My water broke.


I got up and there was no denying this was what it was.  I got up to tell my husband, who was still awake.  It was quite obvious to him as well what was going on.  Hmm.  So now I was a bit perplexed.

What do you do now?

We just lay there, calmly discussing the fact that we really had no idea what to do except wait.  Well, I waited all of 10 minutes before I definitely started feeling these contraction things I'd heard you get in labour.  Now I don't sit around and mope about cramps because honestly (sorry girls) I just don't get them.  But these quickly became quite identifiable as uterine in nature, except now my uterus was the size of a watermelon & getting more excitable with each contraction.  I timed the first few.  I was told they can start around 15-20 min apart.  They were 5 minutes apart.

So, now being quite thrown off that my water broke and 5 min apart contractions were coming at 37 weeks, we called our doula.  I will explain later how tremendously important our doula was in our pregnancy, labour & delivery.  Nobody likes to call anybody at 1:30am.  She very gently explained that at this stage, it was best for as many people to rest as much as possible (as in me if possible, my husband and her).  2 out of 3 ain't bad I guess.  We said we would call back when we needed her, or didn't know what to do anymore (turns out these are synonymous terms).  My very calm husband tried to sleep, I tried for all of 5 minutes and had to get up.

A good chunk of the labour is quite time-less, as in, time was quite irrelevant to progress.  I tried to get some nutrition in (juice), and was scuppered by reflux.  Oh well.  We had just (I mean 'just', like 2 days ago) gone over positions to labour in (vertical is better than horizontal is the motto), but still find time to rest as you go along.  Lots of people have lengthy labours (I did not - it was less than 7 hours), so need rest to make it through.  Well, I don't care that my labour was short, it was tiring, and I'm glad I saved every ounce of energy I had until the very end.  If you thought your legs were fall down wobbly tired at the end of an Ironman well, they have nothing on labour legs.  Labour legs are hardcore tired.

So eventually I re-timed these contractions, as quite honestly, I was getting a bit tired, a bit scared, and in the dark at 3:30am, a bit lonely.  They were about 3 minutes apart.  Ooookay.  So I woke up my husband.  He asked how he could help.  I said, "I don't know, just stop sleeping".  Useful Gillian, useful.  He started to putter around packing a bag (ultimate procrastinators, we had not done this, but to be fair, 37 weeks....), and continuously checking in on me.

And here is what I'm doing.  I sat on a stability ball & rest between each contraction.  When they came it was like having your abdomen slowly wrung out like a rag from top to bottom, all the while using deep and really long exhalation breathing, just waiting for the peak of each contraction to come so that the next breath feel on a slightly less tightened feeling, which meant the contraction was dropping off & rest was coming.  At this point, anyways, I could actually rest.

I really thought no matter how hard each contraction would be as I progressed, that I would get this wonderful rest period, like going to the spa for 1-2 minutes between contractions.  Well, no.  When I had restful periods, I really didn't need them because the contractions were so light (not that I felt that way at the time).  Towards the last two hours, there just was no rest.  There was no comfortable position, it was just find a space to support your body before you have to get up and move through another contraction.  So, I wish someone had told me that.  Now, saying that, when people say, "oh well, you'll be fit for labour", they weren't joking.  And really, honestly, I was a super fit pregnant person, so I can NOT imagine what labour must be like if you have not been working on your hardcore labour legs for the last 9 months.

You also need hardcore labour arms as well.  Labour fingers also help, as they can dig into a couch with such tenacity that they could make breadcrumbs out of rock solid stale bread.  Luckily for my support team, no one was subject to the wrath of my labour fingers, or else we could have all been admitted to the hospital.

So, at 3 minutes apart, feeling a bit overwhelmed, we decided to call back our wonderful doula, Lolli. She talked to me (briefly as there was no way I could talk with contractions), talked to Shawn, listened to some of my contractions over the phone, and then decided to head our way.  When Shawn said she would be by in about an hour or so, I really did not think I could last that long at home.  But, with really no time to panic or worry with contractions rolling on, I just kept doing what I needed to do.  Which was stand up from couch from weird fetal position (oh the irony), get a death grip on the couch, and start to breathe through each contraction while standing bent over at the hips, until each one settled down.  Repeat that every 3-3.5 minutes.  And I thought repeats at the track were hard.  Ha. Ha.

Shawn ate a bowl of cereal.  It seemed funny to me at the time, but it was a very smart thing for him to do.  I wasn't eating anything.  I really envisioned that during my 2 minute spa breaks I'd be able to eat like, a banana? A gel?  What else do they have at the aid station? Gatorade?  Nope.  Not happening.  I continued on with the breathing & moving until Lolli got there.

It was so comforting to have someone experienced show up at this point.  Until then, both of us are just brand spanking new to this whole process, and while doing a good job, we really didn't know what to expect.  There was a point in between calling Lolli & her showing up that I understood why women would make the decision to get an epidural.  So I can sympathize with that completely.  But there are no epidurals in my living room, and that is exactly why we wanted to labour at home as long as possible.  And having her there meant that I could just continue on with what my body needed to do, and leave the 'when to get to the hospital' jazz up to her suggestion.  Because if it was my call, we'd be there looong before we needed to and knew that could ultimately lead to less desirable outcomes for us.  And in the end, I had a natural delivery without any need for interventions of any kind.

Connecting with our doula was the best decision we made in our pregnancy outside of actually deciding to get pregnant.  If you don't know about what a doula is or does, you should learn.  You can read in more detail how Lolli helped us here, a testimonial to her wonderful skills as a doula.  You should learn if you're thinking of becoming pregnant, are pregnant, or have friends or relatives that are pregnant.  In my eyes, they are absolutely essential in positive prenatal & perinatal care.  They are someone that helps educate you in your pregnancy, prepares you mentally & emotionally for labour & delivery, and supports every aspect of pregnancy you can think of, and even those you can't.  They fill in every gap of doubt, uncertainty, fear, unknowing-ness, and help you focus on your strengths & desires for your birth plan, how you want your labour & delivery to unfold.  If all your prenatal care is going to the doc's to pee in a cup, get weighed, measure your belly, listen to the doppler, take your blood pressure, and be asked if you have any sadness or blues, then you are really missing out on a huge piece of the pregnancy pie.  Not to say those things aren't useful, but they check the boxes of a medical pregnancy, and no matter who you are, your pregnancy is so much more than a medical thing.

I could go on forever on the usefulness of doulas and labour support, but for the sake of my 20 minute typing periods, I'll hold off.  I would strongly suggest though, if you have questions or comments, to get in touch with me, either on this blog or elsewhere, as I would be happy to answer to them all.

So we are still at home, with our doula, and let me tell you, I am making some pretty weird noises at this point.  Dying dairy cow would be appropriate.  And I don't say that to scare you, I just say it because it was a noise louder than I thought a human could make.  A little bit awesome actually, that I had that in me.   Amazing also, that likely my whole neighbourhood heard it.  I have my angry cycle commuter shouter voice which I thought was pretty bad-ass, but this labour voice is a whole other level.

So there is that, and between those noises are incredibly forceful inhalations where I swore my VO2 max capacity had doubled.  It felt like I could draw in twice the amount of air into my lungs as I had all through pregnancy.  Maybe I could.  But I knew I definitely needed that amount of oxygen to get through each contraction.  There must have been a huge demand internally for a person to breathe like that.  And in essence, I suppose the uterus is working so forcefully it needs oxygen, as does your placenta, because your baby to be needs it as well.  It was not lost on me at this point that I was happy that I had done speedwork intervals up to 32 weeks of pregnancy and had exposed my little bean to mild stress that it could adapt to in labour.  It made me feel safer knowing that this kid was tough & fit, like his mumma. (Not that we knew he was a 'he' yet).

Eventually Lolli asked me to get up and move to the bathroom (I can't remember why but I'm sure she had a plan).  The whole, "oh I'm worried that baby is going to fall out into the toilet" jazz? Nooo way is anything going to fall out of you, I guarantee.

Now, for any male who has made it this far in my blog, firstly, I salute you.  Secondly, I'm going to start talking about fluids, so hang in there.  As the baby descends down through the pelvis, it does so in a turning type motion, which means there are times when more amniotic fluid can pass past the baby's head as your cervix dilates.  And at this point, as I got up to walk, there was a whole lot more fluid coming along and hitting the deck.

I'll also say that at this point, I had stopped making eye contact with either Shawn or Lolli, as I was so inwardly focused that I could distract myself with anyone else's emotions. I also had no idea if I was 1cm dilated, 5cm dilated, or more.  I had no clue.  For me there was no feeling of quantity of dilation and no real feeling of a cervix anyways.  All I could feel was contractions, which were definitely descending in location, which means, yes, you start to feel like you're going to deliver a baby out of your butt.

And I've just lost all male readers.

That's ok, they don't actually have to deliver a baby, but women do, so I am willing to bet there are still some women reading this.

So, eventually I heard Lolli say, "Shawn, I think we should think about getting going".  And I thought, 'sweet relief, I may actually be getting somewhere here'.  But still, in my mind, I really could have been 25 or 50% of the way there, I had no idea really.  And I really never had time to think or worry, as I said, because the contractions are really all consuming and that is actually really great, because you really should't be thinking about anything else than each breath of each contraction.  You have to be so present in what you're doing to get through, and that is essentially why it is so hard.  We have so many hang ups, mental blocks, whatever they are, that can truly scupper people in labour.  The bottom line is that your body knows how to do this.  Our minds mess with it and the body has to spend extra energy convincing you to just leave it alone & let it do it's job.  It's hard.  It's harder than hard actually, but it's completely possible.

I was supported.  I was safe.  I felt like I was doing the right thing & had all the confidence in myself to continue.  That said, I needed reassuring words & touch through each contraction, but with those, I could keep going, keep working, keep focusing on bringing this baby down.  In my eyes, this is how you have a good labour, regardless of the path that you choose.  If you have these pieces in place, the rest just comes naturally.

We drove to the hospital around 6 am (water breaking/labour had started around 12:30).  We were relatively quickly escorted up to the maternity ward (this is where cow noises will get you somewhere in a hurry, as will cascades of fluid on the floor).  Some nurse asked if I was going to deliver in emergency - I thought to myself, no thank you very much I'll hold it.  And then I thought, woah, could I actually be that close to delivering a baby.  Nah.  I bet there's more.

So, zoomed up to maternity, very comically on all fours on stretcher facing backwards making said noises in my actual place of work (luckily no colleagues work at 6am), and into the maternity ward.  I noticed I was bypassed past the assessment room and all of a sudden found myself in an actual ward room where you deliver.  Interesting.

Even more interesting is when they asked me to get on the bed to be examined to see how far my labour had progressed, and have them tell me that I was fully dilated.

Get real.

Quite literally, this was all getting real in a fast way.  The on-call doctor was called.  Our delivering doctor didn't have a chance of making it.  It felt like quite a long time until said on-call doctor came.  At this point, I really didn't mind who delivered this baby, because they were essentially the catcher, while I had my team on either side of Shawn & Lolli telling me everything I needed to hear, and being my voice to any requests or comments from the health care team (I heard nothing they said, could have been the 'zone', could have been the 'cow').

Finally, the doc shows up.  Not long after, I ask if it's ok to push this baby out now.  The answer was of course, yes.  I will say, at this point, I am both a combo of totally racked with shaky labour legs but also feeling the most powerful I've felt in any athletic endeavour in my life.  Like I could rip a steel bar in half powerful.  So when they said push this baby out, that was music to my ears.  So push I did.  As I tried to recollect the experience, it felt like I maybe was pushing for, I don't know, half an hour?  I checked in with my husband on that one.  He thought more like 7 minutes.  I said, no way.  I couldn't remember how many times I had to push.  He thought about 4, maybe 5 times.  The delivery was again, like labour, timeless to me.

It is, the coolest feeling to deliver a child.  Does it hurt?  Of course.  Does it matter?  No.  Does every minute of your labour prepare you for this?  Absolutely.  The body knows what to do.  It is totally manageable.  Of course there are some people that have unforeseen complications & that messes with the rhythm of the thing, and I am eternally grateful that I didn't have any of those, because I know lots of people that had.  So physically, the pain is quite manageable, but it is feeling strong & confident & supported that is the tricky part.  I had that in spades, and I had the greatest labour & delivery I could imagine.  I truly loved it.  In fact, I thought I could totally do it all over again.  Not every woman's thought immediately after having a child...but I wish it was.  I like this article for it's explanations on the psychology of giving birth, Childbirth: The Ordinary Miracle. So much truth.

And just like that, you hear a cry.  And it certainly wasn't my own because I had no extra energy to divert to crying.  And just like that, you can feel an umbilical cord against your leg, and Lolli helped me to turn over (I decided to deliver backwards just to keep the staff on their toes?), and I was handed our brand new baby boy.  My husband had tears in his eyes.  Neither one of us could talk, all we could do is just stare at this new child in amazement.  It is a feeling like no other.

It is absolute love.

It was amazing.  It has taken a long time to sink in, and I'll reflect back upon it for the rest of my life.  It has inspired me to be a different person & to seek out & learn new things.  It has changed my perspective on so many things.  I couldn't have asked for more support.  I couldn't have done it any better.

And the end result is this tiny human who looks at us with his big eyes with all the trust in the world that we're his people, and he belongs with us.  It melts your heart.

Now where I used to be lining up morning workouts, I'm pretty happy with warm morning snuggles instead.  It's an amazing time.

And for the 30 minutes I ran this week, for the first time feeling like I was floating on air and soaking in the feeling of driving my legs & arms into fatigue, I say watch out to whoever races against me in 2014, because I've got some new supermumma powers I can't wait to unveil.