Heron Silvano West
Born September 4, 2013
7 lbs, 14 oz
20.25 inches long
Heron, my perfect Mr. Blueberry Eyes, came into this world after a journey much like life itself—a mixture of sorrow and blessings that are, in the end, more precious than the sum of its parts. Here is the story.
My pregnancy was unusual in that it only got better as it went along. The first trimester I was exhausted in a way I never thought would be possible to sustain on a daily basis. I lived in a constant state of tension based on all the usual difficulties of early pregnancy—plus my difficulty in finding a midwife. My first midwife told me she couldn’t take me on after all because of her partner’s unexpected health problems, and it took me until 18 weeks to settle on another one. Because I had heard the third trimester was even worse than the first, I dreaded it—but besides for a return of nausea and some difficult trips out of state, it went beautifully. I felt flexible and strong, able to go on a 7 mile hike the week before Heron was born. I didn’t have to work, so I was able to complete projects around the house and rest at my own slow pace.
On Labor Day, September 2nd, my friend Amanda had invited us to her house for a pre-birthday party for our little baby, still in the womb. We ate dinner that she had cooked for us, and then, after singing “Happy Birthday” to our baby, ate a rich birthday cake. Before we left for home we set off a “Wish Lantern,” a mini-hot air balloon made of tissue paper. The candle in it made the whole lantern glow as it drifted in the sky above the trees. (What did we wish for? I’ll tell you because it came true—a healthy and happy baby.) Because Amanda is a massage therapist, I had hoped she would be able to help me with back pain that had been increasingly bothering me for the past few days, but the car ride home was even worse than on the way there. I remember thinking, “If it’s this bad now, before I’m in labor, I really don’t want to know what the two hour trip to the birth center will be like.”
We went to sleep immediately, but I was up and down the whole night with early contractions—though I thought it was just indigestion from the cake! I woke up for the final time that morning at around 7:30, and by 9:00 a.m. my contractions were coming every 15 minutes apart. I told Eric, and throughout the morning we timed them 10-15 minutes apart. As I sewed some curtains and fixed a couch cushion, I kept telling Eric, “I’m not in labor!” because I knew this early stage could last days. This just stressed Eric out, though, and after we had snapped at each other a bit, I called my midwife. “My contractions are about 15 minutes apart,” I said, “but they’re not lasting long, so I don’t think I’m in labor.” She seemed non-plussed, and told me to call if anything changed—otherwise, she’d see me at my scheduled appointment tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m.
After lunch, Eric and I went for a walk down by the river. The sun sparkled on the river, and everything seemed just the height of brightness to me. I remember most, though, how good the breeze felt on my skin. Walking felt good too, though by now I needed help getting through my contractions, which were about 7-8 minutes apart. Eric pressed on my back through each one. We walked to The Palisades, a restaurant local to us, and shared a root beer. I have no idea if the servers there realized I was in labor, but it was getting pretty hard to hide. On the walk back I told Eric, “Maybe I’m in labor.” I couldn’t move to the side of the road anymore if a contraction started. Eric was wonderful, ignoring all the strange looks from people in cars passing by as he pressed on my back and I had a contraction.
At home I rested as he made a quick dinner. We timed my contractions some more, and around 8:30 I called the midwife using my best tones of perfect nonchalance.
Me: “Hi, It’s Melissa. How are you?”
Midwife: “Good. How are you?”
Me: “I’m good. I said I would keep you updated if anything changed, and my contractions are coming closer together.”
Midwife: “Good. How close? 10 minutes?”
Me: “About four minutes”
The Midwife could not keep the surprise out of her voice (“Okay…”) as she gently asked, “Do you want to come on in, then?”
Me: “I don’t know. Maybe it’s not the real thing.” I really did want to go in, but I was afraid of driving two hours there and then having to drive two hours home if it wasn’t the real deal.
Of course, she wasn’t going to believe me. She gently convinced me that things sounded like they were getting serious, and if they weren’t, we wouldn’t have to go home right away, but could sleep at the birth center. This sounded good to me, so I told her we would drop off our dog and be on our way.
After I got off the phone I got this feeling of “Oh, shit. My contractions are three minutes apart. What the hell am I thinking?” I told Eric we had to go, and we were in the car and on the road in about 10 minutes. That man doesn’t mess around. The house was a complete wreck, because instead of using my laboring time at home to get it ready for the baby, as I had planned, I had instead spent it in labor denial. Of course, that was only the first thing that didn’t go as planned.
In our driveway, I realized I had forgotten the food I had made for us to have at the birth center. It was a mark of how serious things were that we just kept driving—2 more minutes to get out of the car and get the food? No, that was too much.
Our friends Bert and Gwynn met us at their door with their daughter Zoe, who seemed a little afraid of me as she offered me a vase of flowers to take with us to the birth center. I thought I had been keeping it together pretty well—but obviously not. I used the bathroom while Eric gave them instructions on Seeker, and we were off.Later, Gwynn told me that she was worried I wasn’t going to make it to the birth center—that I might have the baby in the car!
Laboring in the car was pretty intense, but not as bad as I had imagined it could be. I was already in so much pain that I couldn’t feel the bumps in the road, even a gravel road. I told Eric to leave me alone and drive—so that’s what he did. As I felt each contraction coming, I unbuckled my seatbelt and turned to face the backseat. On my hands and knees, I would chant “Omm.” Eric laughed and said “People are going to think there’s a ghost nearby!” and I smiled too.
Two methods of pain management that I was able to use successfully in the car were visualization and non-focused awareness. I spent some contractions thinking about walking on a path, and other contractions noticing everything around me—not just the pain in my body. (The rear windshield on our vehicle has a lot of smudges, btw.) I tried some other methods I had found in the book Birthing From Within, but they didn’t work for me.
When we got to the birth center at about 11:00 p.m., I hugged my midwife. I was so happy to be out of that car! My midwife examined me and quickly pronounced me “seven centimeters and stretchy.” I was ecstatic! I was so afraid that I was going to be one of those women who go in thinking they are almost there, and they really are only 1 cm. I jumped up, hugging and kissing Eric, shouting, “We’re having a baby!” My midwife smiled and said “A mama is being born.”
Now it was time to really get down to work. The first few contractions were much better than the ones in the car, because now I had people to press on my back and help me through them. As they intensified, I asked my midwife a few times, “Are you sure this is really it?” If it wasn’t, I was going to die. She reassured me, saying “You’ll have a baby in your arms by breakfast time.”
So I labored. Mostly, I labored standing up, leaning over so that the midwife, her assistant, or Eric could press on my back as I held on to someone else. I labored in the bathroom, standing over the toilet. I labored on all fours. I labored in the birthing tub. I walked around, watching people watch me, waiting for the next contraction. I drank water, and whenever I felt a contraction coming, I would give the glass to whoever was nearby, and then get upset because they couldn’t press on me. I remember choking out “Put the water down!” when I was having one contraction.
It was painful, and long, just like I expected. Yet, I still asked: “Why is it taking so long?” My midwife said “It’s taking a long time, but you’re doing great.” I kept going. I knew to keep my voice low, yet I still felt like I was screaming. At some point the back pain became so intense that there was no break from it, even between contractions. I told my midwife “This would be nothing without the back pain.” My midwife asked to check me a couple of times, but I wouldn’t let her. I knew I wasn’t complete yet, and I knew I would lose it if she checked me and I heard anything other than a “ten.”
Finally, when I was in the tub again, I felt the first urge to push. The transition between dilation contractions and pushing contractions seemed to take a long time—and it was really scary. I didn’t know what kind of contraction I was going to have next, and I had a hard time figuring out what to do with that. I also didn’t believe that it was possible for the baby to come out without killing me. I knew these were normal thoughts, and I knew that I had to move past them.
Since I had been in the tub awhile, I knew there was a good chance my labor would speed up if I got out. Making a conscious decision to increase the pain and following through with it by actually getting out of the tub seemed impossible—but I did it. My original thought had been to go to the bathroom, because that’s where my labor had seemed most intense before, but as soon as I got out, I knew I couldn’t labor alone. I walked to the bedroom, and with a couple more contractions and some blood, I knew I was finally complete. The midwife checked me and pronounced me a “ten.” It was about 5:30 a.m. and I was fully dilated.
Now it was time to push. I had looked forward to this part because that meant the baby was coming! I also knew that while the time spent in labor could vary from woman to woman from a few hours to a few days, pushing didn’t take days. I could be done in minutes, or at the very most, less than a handful of hours. Some women even feel their pain decrease when they push. (Not me. It was more painful, and a lot scarier.)
The midwife told me that my back pain should be decreasing now. When I told her it wasn’t, she gave me a saline injection just under my skin, but it didn’t help, and the injection itself hurt.
The urge to push took over until it was the only kind of contraction I was feeling. I don’t think I will ever forget that powerful feeling of bearing down—of being unable to stop it. My body just pushed, and pushed. I had a hard time getting on top of each push, helping it along instead of fighting it. At different points I was on all fours, squatting, and standing. The midwife checked me again and encouraged me to feel the baby’s head. I did, and it was encouraging at first—but the baby would recede after each push, and he just wasn’t getting past a certain point (“0” station).
That sunrise was the most heartbreaking dawn that I have ever experienced. As the sun filtered through the curtains and lit up the room, I knew my baby should be in my arms—and he wasn’t. I was still pushing. I felt like something was wrong, and I knew I was past transition and shouldn’t feel that way anymore.
At about 8:00, I told my midwife I wanted to go to the hospital. “Something’s wrong,” I said. She replied “Sometimes it takes a while. Let’s try for another hour.” I got up on the bed and did some pushing with the midwife coaching me through each contraction. My fear decreased, and I felt more on top of each push. Eric was right there helping me too, and I could see the joy on his face as he saw the baby’s head. “You can do it!” he said. I loved him.
That hour I still felt like something was wrong, and yet it seemed like hardly any time had passed when my midwife said, “Alright, I’m transferring you to the hospital.” The baby hadn’t descended.
When the midwife and her assistant left my side to do paperwork and make arrangements, Eric was left to coach me on his own. I wanted the pain to be over—it wasn’t doing anything. I wanted to lose it and get somewhere that would be beyond the pain, but I couldn’t. I could see my own pain reflected in Eric’s face as he tried to help me. It felt like we were the only two people in the universe.
When the ambulance came I got back into my clothes. Eric turned off the candles in the room—which seemed so sad and final, somehow. Eric and the midwife each went in their own cars to the hospital, while I went in the ambulance.
The ambulance ride was spent wanting it to be over—and knowing it couldn’t be. The EMS technician who rode with me told me that every time I had a contraction he was going to have to check to make sure “God forbid” I wasn’t having the baby then. I told him that wouldn’t be necessary as I was not having the baby, which is why I was going to the hospital, but if I did have the baby it would be a good thing. He let me be, and I truly labored alone.
The urge to bear down was if anything, even stronger, and I worked with it as best as I could. It was hard to do, knowing that it wasn’t making a difference. I found that I had been able to be on top of the pain when I knew it was bringing me a baby—and when the pain kept coming but stopped being useful, I thought I couldn’t take it anymore. Of course, though, I could, because I didn’t have any choice.
Getting to the hospital and being rolled on the stretcher to my room was just like a movie. I almost had to laugh at the way everybody was staring at me. An elderly patient and his nurse stepped aside for us to get on the elevator ahead of them, and before you know it, I was in a delivery room, surrounded by nurses.