This is Olive's story. She is Annika's little sister and a HOME BIRTH. Excuse the all caps but Sharon delivered Olive AT HOME!!! After her difficult delivery at a hospital the first time, I am amazed at the way she empowered herself. Sharon is a warrior.
As I sit down to write out my birth story, I feel like I’m embarking on the task of writing the never-ending story, as many times during my birth I wondered if there would ever be an end. It has been a little over 3 weeks, and I’m finally sitting down to write this out because I am already forgetting the details. I think this is Mother Nature’s way of ensuring that our species proliferates…only by forgetting the nitty gritty details of challenging labors can women ever think about birthing again. In fact, in the midst of labor I told Phil we would never have another child; yet within days of Olive’s birth, I decided that I would definitely do this again. After all, it would have to be easier and shorter next time, right?
So, on Friday night around 9pm, I started to notice my contractions were coming on moderately strong and were consistently 10 minutes apart. I had been having contractions on and off that entire weekend (and milder ones for about a month prior) but this time they didn’t go away. I tried to go to bed with Phil around 11pm but the contractions kept waking me up. So, I spent most of the night snuggled with Buttercup on the couch, getting up every 10 minutes to breathe through my contractions. At 2am, I called my mom to start the drive down from LA. I figured we were definitely having our baby soon and wanted to make sure she got here in time to help care for Annika during labor. It took her 4 hours to get here in the pouring rain! In the morning, I called V and told her what I was experiencing. She offered to have D come over and check me out. Later that morning, D came over and determined that I was 3cm dilated. I was a bit disappointed that it was only 3, but happy to realize that it was already more than I had ever dilated with Annika.
Phil told her that I seemed to be having back labor, since I had been asking him to push into my lower back, applying counter-pressure, during many of my contractions. During the exam she confirmed that Olive was posterior and had me lay in several positions to help move her. I lay on my side with my knee hiked up as high as I could get it, and had to remain in that position for 20 minutes, then the same on the other side. She also suggested climbing stairs two at a time which I did later that day. Most of the day my contractions were relatively minor and coming about every 8-12 minutes. By evening, they started ramping up again, both in frequency and intensity. I could not get to sleep Monday night because the contractions were coming on strong, and they eventually got to 2-3 minutes apart for hours. Sometime during the night, I had Phil set up the pool and I spent several hours laboring in it, which felt wonderful. The back pain I was experiencing was growing painfully worse, but it seemed to help when Phil would apply counter-pressure. I frequently had to wake him in the night so that he could help me get through a contraction. After strong, close contractions for hours, we decided to call V as I was sure we were getting close.
V and D arrived early Tuesday morning. D’s car broke down on her way, so her brother had to pick her up and bring her over. The rain was coming down hard, so Phil invited him to wait it out in our house. Annika was quite surprised to wake up in the morning and see all these guests in her home! When V had been on her way, Phil and I had discussed how far dilated I must be and how close we were to having our baby. We were discussing dates and decided that day, December 16, would be a fine day to have a baby. I told Phil that my biggest fear was that I’d only be 5 cm dilated and told him I would cry if it were true. Sure enough, I was checked and turned out to be 4.5 cm dilated! Oy, 15 hours had passed since my last check and I had only progressed by 1.5 cm! I was so devastated, as I was already so exhausted and had experienced such strong contractions, I couldn’t imagine it getting much worse but knew it had to being that I was only halfway there. The midwives hung around for a little while, then I asked if they planned to stay until the baby came. They said it was up to me, that they would do whatever I felt most comfortable with. Knowing that I was not even halfway to pushing time, I sadly told them they could go.
Phil was a great motivator and worked so tirelessly to keep me thinking positively. The good news was that I was progressing, however slowly. But the better news was that the baby had moved into an occipital position, out of the posterior one…though unfortunately the back labor did not go away. The midwives had encouraged us to get out of the house and walk around so we took my mom and Annika and headed out to the mall (indoor mall, since it was still storming). Annika and her Safta enjoyed running around and playing, while Phil and I slowly walked around. I was back to slowed down, less strong contractions. When I felt one coming on, I moved to stand by a store window and breathed through it so as not to stand out and look strange to the nearby shoppers. Later that evening, the contractions started intensifying again. I spent many hours of the night alternating between the pool, hot showers and bouncing on the birth ball. Phil was up with me most of the night, preparing food for me and rubbing/pushing my back. Thankfully D had shown him how to use one of Annika’s rubber bouncy balls to apply pressure to my back so that his hands had a bit of a break (I wanted him to push so hard that he was losing feeling in his hands!). At one point, I remember we went and sat in the living room with the French doors open so I could hear/smell the rain pouring down. I was on the birth ball and Phil was behind me, pushing into my back. Phil was such a great cheerleader.
There were moments during labor that I felt hopeless and ready to throw in the towel. He kept reminding me of the reasons we chose this path, telling me how well my body was working and how close we were getting, and what a good job I was doing. I am so lucky to have this man in my life! Later he admitted that he had experienced his own moments of weakness and doubt, but thankfully he never revealed them to me during the labor. At one point, I had even asked him if we could just go to the hospital for a few hours, so that I could get an epidural and feel some relief. I promised that I just needed a few hours and then we could go home. I had also made some mentions of how easy it might be to drive to the hospital and get this baby cut out of me and have this labor business be over with! Thankfully he never let me get too caught up in these fantasies and got me back on track.
On Wednesday morning, we decided to send Annika out for the day with her Safta and to get ourselves out of the house as well. We went to a nice local restaurant that we had been wanting to try for a long time. On our way in, I told Phil I was nervous about experiencing contractions while in a restaurant. I told him that we should ask for a secluded table away from other diners. At this point, my contractions had again slowed, but they still required my concentrated breathing and relaxation and they were coming about every 10 minutes. As we walked in, I was relieved to see that the restaurant was practically empty, except for one table of women. Though the owner was walking us to the opposite, very empty side of the restaurant, Phil decided to say ‘Can we please sit away from other diners? My wife is in labor’. The owner gave a very petrified glance and me and begged, “Please don’t have it here.” Thankfully we had a very quirky waitress that didn’t even notice my ‘strange’ behavior. I ate a hearty steak for lunch, Phil thought it would give me good protein energy for my endless labor. After lunch we headed to the mall again. We walked around quite a bit and even bought a cute pair of shoes for Annika. The mall was crowded with holiday shoppers, but no one really seemed to notice me. At one point, I was leaning over a banister and asked Phil if it would look inappropriate to have him push against my lower back for a contraction, as they were coming on hard again. He did it and I lost interest in whether we would look strange. Things were intensifying, so I asked if we could head home.
Late in the evening, my contractions were strong and close together. I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, not sure I could survive another night of intense labor to only watch the sun rise the following day, still pregnant and in pain. I finally decided that we had to call the midwives again, knowing that I needed their support and had to make something happen soon. I really wasn’t sure how much longer I could do this, as I hadn’t slept in days and my body was exhausted. That evening my dad was over, which was strange because my mom was here too. They were cordial, thankfully, and my dad pitched in by massaging me and pushing my back. In fact, I had trained everyone in the house (Phil, mom, dad, midwives) on how I needed the counter-pressure applied, so that as soon as a contraction came on, I assumed a leaning forward position and demanded that someone ‘push my back!’. D came over late in the evening with her partner midwife, S. I recognized S from a ‘meet the midwives’ event that ICAN (The International Cesarean Awareness Network) had held over a year ago. I remember that I had liked her when I met her at that time. D and S took action, ordering my dad and Annika to leave and my mom to go to bed. They wanted me to get focused and relaxed. Over the course of the night, they alternately massaged and coached me. I was only 5-6 cm dilated when they arrived, which was horribly disappointing. They promised me that my body was doing its work and encouraged me to work through the contractions lying on my side, which was incredibly painful. They said that the more painful contractions were doing the most work, and tried to get me to relax and give in to them.
At around 2am, I was on my knees leaning on the bed with D applying my back pressure and Phil talking to me from the bed. During my contraction, my water broke and when I looked up, V hopped on to the bed. I was so relieved to see her there and to feel my water breaking. I figured finally things would get moving. A few hours later I was checked and was 7-8 cm dilated. I remember questioning them on the 7-8…am I 7 or 8? Am I really closer to 7 but you don’t want to make me feel bad so you say 7-8? I was so worn down and really couldn’t imagine why my body was working so slowly. However, during the entire time the midwives and Phil reminded me that my body was working and my baby was coming. I told myself that this had to end sometime, I couldn’t be pregnant and in labor forever. In the wee hours of the morning I started feeling overwhelming urges to push and started doing so for a while. V checked me and said I was around 8-9 cm dilated but that I had a cervical lip and that my cervix and the baby’s head were swelling due to my pushing. She wanted me to lie down on alternating sides for 30 minutes each and stop pushing. That was the longest hour of my life and I swore they were not watching the time carefully. It was so hard to lay there while my body felt like it was being torn apart and to not push when that’s all I wanted to do. Most of the night the midwives were placing drops of herbs and homeopathic tablets under my tongue.
At one point while lying on the bed, I had the tens unit (electrodes) on my lower back, acupuncture needles throughout my body, and 2 midwives and Phil massaging me and encouraging me. S talked to me about imagining my cervix opening and wanted me to chant ‘ooooopen’ during my contractions. Phil believes this meditation was a real turning point in my labor and says that he finally saw me physically relaxing and giving in to the birth. It was so hard, I am almost in tears remembering these moments. V even had Phil pour me a shot of rum to help me relax. Towards the end, I shouted that I wanted to push so badly and V notified me that I already was pushing. Apparently I didn’t realize that even as I tried to fight it, I was still pushing. I just couldn’t control it. I had been shouting other things throughout this endeavor, some obscenities and some announcements about how much pain I was in. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t woken Annika. Finally, a chance at some relief, V offered me something to take the edge off my back pain. She wanted me to be able to focus my energy more on dilating and less on fighting the back labor. She said she could give me 4 injections of sterile water in my lower back. V said that different women have different reactions to this, some find the pain goes away while others feel no difference. Her warning was that with each injection I would feel intense burning for 30-45 seconds. I figured nothing could hurt more than my contractions and I had nothing to lose but some pain. The shots certainly burned, but nothing compared to the other back pain and shortly thereafter I felt some relief from the torture and was able to put more of my energy towards opening up.
After lying down for a while, I went out to the living room to rock on the birth ball and have V pushing on my back. The midwives had sent Phil to go eat, shower and sleep. My mom was sleeping on the couch when I got to the living room. I was so jealous of the sleepers! At various times in the night, I saw midwives, Phil and my mom sleeping all over the house. I remember thinking how lucky they were to have still bodies, I couldn’t imagine feeling nothing in my body and I wanted to so badly. After the birth ball, V said I should take a shower and then she wanted me to get outside and walk around in the back yard (I believe it was early morning). In the shower, the urge to push got the best of me. I ended up on my hands and knees pushing, and it hurt but felt so relieving at the same time. I got out of the shower and kept getting down and pushing with every contraction. At this point, I think V realized that the plans of delaying my pushing wouldn’t work much longer and that I was really worn down. She asked me if I was ready to do some hard work and I said ‘bring it on’. She said we were going to do something unconventional, some ‘assisted pushing’. Basically, I still had a cervical lip and she wanted to help me push past it. I squatted on the floor with S behind me, supporting me. V was in front of me and had her fingers inside me, feeling through my contractions. She said that I was moving the baby well while I pushed and that I could probably get her past the lip. She was using her fingers to guide my pushing so that I pushed effectively in the right direction to get her moving down. D was next to us, wiping my face and giving me drinks of water and snacks.
At some point, V asked if she could make a call and get an energy circle started. Again, I said ‘bring it on’. When she left the room for a moment, I turned to D and admitted that I had no idea what an energy circle was, but that I was open to anything they thought might help. I later learned that an energy circle consists of people calling each other like a phone tree, and sending positive energy and thoughts my way. Shortly after the circle got started, I was on the bed, pushing on my own and Olive began to crown. I couldn’t believe I was finally here, about to meet my baby. I think all the midwives were surprised at how quickly things were moving, as D suddenly went running out to wake Phil. Poor guy, woken out of a deep sleep and told that it was ‘go time’ he figured we were about to start pushing and that he’d be back on counter-pressure duty. Instead, he walked into the room, still rubbing his eyes and found me there with the baby starting to come out! I was given a mirror to look down and see her and suddenly it was all so real and so close. I asked if I could move on to my hands and knees (I had been on my side with S supporting my leg). It was amazing how my body took over and I just pushed instinctually. I reached down and felt her several times and knew she was almost here. Suddenly I had renewed energy and knew I could do anything. Once I pushed her head out, they had me slow down and push gently to get the rest of her body out. I immediately flipped onto my back and my sweet and beautiful baby Olive was placed on my stomach. She was working to release the fluid out of her throat, and in a few minutes was wailing. It was a glorious moment. I did it! My body rocks. 86 hours of labor and I vaginally delivered my baby! Later, while being sutured, I asked if my cesarean would be considered for future pregnancies even though I had just successfully VBACed. S assured me that I had a ‘proven pelvis’ now. V also said I had a ‘perineum of steel’. I need to get these things printed on bumper stickers for my car!
It was amazing to have my sweet, new tiny baby laying on my chest. She was so amazingly beautiful and perfect. She started nursing within about half an hour and did so like a champ. We quickly called my mom and told her to come home. Apparently she and Annika had just bought ice cream which my mom literally dropped when she got the call. Annika seemed a bit shocked and overwhelmed by what she saw when she came home (imagine going out for ice cream, and coming home to find a bunch of people in your parents’ room and this new bloody/slimy creature on your mom’s chest!). However, by evening she was holding her baby sister and admiring her tiny parts. Annika has turned out to be an incredible big sister who loves to hold Olive and help with her (she helps change her diapers, brings her blankets and picks out clothes for her). Annika has been very gentle and loving with Olive, it is so sweet. She has also grown and matured so much recently. She is getting better at entertaining herself and seems more understanding when her needs cannot be immediately met because mommy is tending to Olive.
I am so blessed and so lucky to have had this incredible experience. And I can’t wait to do it again!!
7lbs 9 oz
Editor's Note: This story was written soon after Annika's birth several years ago. Annika is now a proud sister of a little sister! There is more than just the birth story and I felt the experiences were an important aspect of giving birth and becoming a mother. Thank you Sharon for sharing your story.
On Friday 12/8, I went to the hospital for a routine fetal non-stress test. This is done on mothers past their due dates (I was 4 days past at this point). They want to make sure the placenta (a temporary organ) is still doing its job providing oxygen and nutrients to the baby. Sometimes placentas deteriorate and stop functioning at full capacity. So, the test showed the baby's heart rate was decelerating slightly with minor contractions I was having. The nurse was concerned that my placenta was not doing well and asked a doctor to study my results. The doctor said he was concerned about the baby's heart rate, and wanted to admit me right away and start inducing labor. I immediately broke into tears (as most of you know, we were trying for a natural birth and induction certainly wasn't in the plans). After calling Phil and updating him on the situation, I was admitted to my labor and delivery room, or what soon became known as my jail cell...
I was started on pitocin, a synthetic form of the hormone your body naturally produces to begin contractions. The doctors chose this method because its dosage could be controlled and its administration could be stopped at any time if the baby's heart rate got worse. I was hooked up to an IV for the pitocin and fluids. I was also hooked up to a monitor for the baby's heart rate and contractions. Her heart rate would steady over time, but jumped down on occasion. After about 10 hours on pitocin, I was barely 1 cm dilated. At this point, the doctors put me on cervidil , a vaginal suppository to hopefully soften my cervix. I was on this for 2 doses, lasting 12 hours each. At the end of the 24 hours, I was no further dilated. Argh! At this point, I had been having relatively minor contractions from 5-10 minutes apart.
On Saturday night, they put me back on pitocin and started really amping up the dosage. Thus, I started active labor early Sat. morning, with STRONG contractions 2-3 minutes apart. It felt really good to sit in the rocking chair, bounce on the birthing ball, or stand during the contractions. However, baby's heart rate started decelerating more, so they would often stop my movements and confine me to the bed on my left side, with an oxygen mask on (NOT a good way to deal with contractions). However, at 4:15am my water broke and I lost my mucous plug shortly thereafter. Phil and I were very excited that my labor was finally progressing!
By Sunday (12/10) early noon, I was barely 2 cm dilated and the baby was still high up in my pelvis (-2 station). I was NOT progressing. Baby's heart rate was not looking so good. A doctor came in to talk to us and said he was concerned that the baby was in distress. I was barely progressing, and would probably need at least 10 hours of more labor (I had been going for 50 hours at this point). He suggested a c-section. He didn't know why the heart rate was decelerating, and wouldn't be able to tell until after baby was born, but he wanted to err on the safe side. Additionally, the pattern of the decelerations was increasing. He said that I could easily go 10 more hours of laboring and wind up with baby's heart rate dropping lower and ending up with an emergency surgery. If I continued laboring, I would have to do it in the bed with the mask the whole time. Obviously, our baby's safety was and is our primary concern, so within 2 minutes of talking it over, Phil and I agreed to the surgery.
From this point, life moved into overdrive. Within moments, a team of people came into the room. They ordered Phil to pack up our things (we had practically moved in after 3 days there) and put on scrubs. I was wheeled into the operating room, a brightly lit place with masked people moving all around me. I was still contracting and had started shaking uncontrollably (due to the hormones). Within moments, I was given a spinal epidural and felt my body go numb. Phil was there quickly, in his purple scrubs, holding my hand. Several minutes later, I asked if I was open yet, and they said that I was and baby would be pulled out any moment. Sure enough, they told Phil to stand up and he took a picture of baby being pulled out. He announced, "It's a girl!" They then held her over the screen so I could peek at my new daughter, and then whisked her away.
While I was being stitched up, they cleaned and assessed the baby across the room. I could not see her, but could hear her strong, healthy wails. Then Phil carried her over to me and brought her to my face so I could kiss her. We were both streaming tears, and I am doing it again, just writing this today. I was then taken to post-op recovery, and thanks to our birth plan requests and a terrific nurse, they did not take the baby away to the nursery as they usually do. Instead she stayed with me and nursed for a healthy 40 minutes! We were then taken to my post-partum recovery room and baby got her first sponge bath.
The next few days were a haze. I slowly recovered feeling in my body and became more able to move around and care for my baby. She had some difficulty nursing, so we got some special help. As the lactation nurse put it, our baby is 'a drama queen' and wants instant gratification when she nurses. If she doesn't get something right away, she quits sucking and SCREAMS. We got lots of help, learned many cool tricks, and have been experiencing better nursing with every day. We don't know where she inherited her hot temper and impatience....?
I was released from the hospital on Wed. 12/13, after SIX days in the hospital, only to discover that my car had been stolen from the hospital parking lot. It was a nightmare. We had to file a missing vehicle report with hospital security and SDPD. We had to beg a nurse to teach us how to install the car seat carrier without the base into Phil's car (My car had the base already installed, and even inspected by the sheriff's dept.). In my car had also been our fancy new stroller, and our house key and home alarm control. So, the past few days have been spent changing locks, deactivating the alarm controller, and calling insurance companies. The good news is that we finally got the baby home and have been recovering ever since. We are completely sleep deprived but otherwise doing well. We lost meaningless material things, and instead came home with an amazing miracle.
In the end, we found out that the baby was being pushed through the birth canal at an angle (asynclytic) rather than straight through. Even though she was not far down, she was born with a major side sloping cone head (getting rounder every day!) It turns out my strong contractions were shoving her down a hole she couldn't fit through, thus stressing her body and her tiny heart. The doctor said that she never would have been delivered naturally. This made us feel better, knowing our decision was the best one for our baby. The best news is that she is healthy and not impacted by the stress cause to her.
And now, introducing: Annika Story. Born 12/10/06 at 2:23pm. She weighed in at 7 pounds, 11 ounces, and measured 21.5 inches (long baby!). Initially, we planned that if we had a girl, her name would be Annika (pronounced like Monica, without the M) Tenzin. However, Saturday night, the night before she was born, Phil was catnapping and had a dream that we had a girl and named her Annika Story. When he awoke and told me, I was blown away and loved the name. Of course, we wouldn't know we were having a girl until the next day, but then it was pretty clear that Phil's foreshadowing dream would come true, and we would have a daughter named Annika Story.
She is a beautiful angel, and we are deeply in love with her. Annika's doggy brother and sister love her too, and greatly enjoy sniffing and trying to lick her. When Annika cries, they come running and want to make sure she is okay. We are a VERY happy and blessed family.
Today marks one week that we've been home from the hospital. It also commemorates the toughest week of our entire lives. You heard the first part of our 'Story', it only gets better....
Annika's nursing was greatly improving by last weekend. She was latching on and suckling like a champ. However, we knew something strange was going on by Sunday evening when she was extremely fussy, having difficulty eating and sleeping. We visited with the lactation consultant on Monday morning (she's our 'breast friend') and she did a quick physical inspection of Annika (who had gained 5 ounces over the weekend!!!). She noticed that her nipples, particularly her left one, looked quite swollen and red. She took us over to see our pediatrician, who then determined that Annika has neo-natal mastitis. Mastitis is a condition that nursing women often get, when their milk becomes backed up in their breasts and an infection begins. It is quite painful. Sometimes babies get this condition because they are receiving the same hormones that their lactating mothers are producing. So, this causes their poor baby breasts to try to produce milk, which cannot be expressed, gets stuck, and causes an infection. It is quite uncomfortable and requires 10 days of antibiotics. Apparently this is a rare thing to see in babies, and even less common in females (males tend to be more sensitive to estrogen from their mothers). However, Annika was our pediatrician's 3rd case of neo-natal mastitis this week! Poor baby is now on antibiotics that she has to take through a syringe twice a day. She is such a trooper, and chugs along to make herself better. We give her warm compresses throughout the day to relieve the discomfort. Unfortunately the meds are making her sleepy, causing more difficulty with feeding.
As if mastitis wasn't enough for our family, we had yet another challenge. I have been feeling some tightness in my chest/shortness of breath since we got home from the hospital. I called Kaiser and was asked to go in and be seen. We went in yesterday morning at 11, and the doctor decided she wanted me to have a CAT scan. Apparently my symptoms were similar to those I might experience if I were having a pulmonary embolism, some sort of blood clot that can be caused by abdominal surgery. So, I was sent to ER for hours. We freaked out, not wanting Annika in the ER with all those germs, but not wanting to separate from her. On top of this, I had to be injected with iodine for the CAT scan, and could not nurse Annika for 24 hours, until I flushed it out of my system. So, Auntie Rachel to the rescue! She met Phil at home and took over care for Annika, bottle feeding her, changing, snuggling, etc. In the meantime, Phil came back to the hospital to keep me company while waiting for my test and results. I had some major blood work done and a chest xray in addition to my CAT scan. The hardest part was being away from Annika, we missed her so much. Thankfully Auntie Rachel was taking good care of her, cradling her while she slept in her arms. After 6 hours in ER, we finally got the results we were eagerly hoping for. I had no embolism! They did find a cyst on my liver and my spleen was enlarged, so I have to follow up with my regular doctor on Friday. We rushed home and couldn't get Annika back in our arms fast enough. She's been taking the bottle decently, but doesn't love it, which is good because she should hopefully get back to breastfeeding well by tonight. I can't wait!
Another strange event: Phil spent 4 hours in the Kaiser Hospital security office last week watching 6 days' worth of grainy surveillance video. Through grueling hours of rewinding and fast forwarding, he was able to find the spot where my car was stolen. He had to sit and watch the video of two men stealing the car, one acting as the lookout while the other popped the hood and got it running. They took off within five minutes. We are working with the PD to hopefully get this figured out.
We had a follow up pediatrician appt today to check on Annika's mastitis. The doctor said she's looking better, with less redness. The doctor squeezed her poor baby nipple and actually expressed a few drops of milk. It was the strangest and saddest thing, and made Annika quite uncomfortable. The doctor thinks she's healing and will re-check her in a week. In the meantime, we're continuing antibiotics and warm compresses.
Editor's Note: Annika is healthy and will not be producing milk until she is a mother in the far future, but not too far, she shouldn't make her mother wait forever to become a grandmother.
7 pounds, 11 ounces