As the mother of two sons, when the time came that we were planning to expand our family, I wanted a daughter to add to the group. Back then (35 years ago) I was reading about sex selection, and spent a good deal of time in the UCLA Biomedical library reading up on the latest literature about choosing the sex of your child. We took a scientific approach to the ‘project’, and followed the directions for conceiving a girl. Timing, depth of penetration, no orgasm, position – all were part of the game plan. We were in the middle of moving from California to New York, and within a couple of weeks of arriving in NY, I was ovulating. Our daughter Mariel was conceived that night, and despite the scientific approach, it was a very spiritual moment for me – in fact, the first awareness I had of the presence of spirit in my life. I remember being asked when was the first time you became spiritually aware, and Mariel’s conception was the answer. There was a strong feeling of spirit in the room at the moment of conception, before I had any real awareness of what that actually meant!
Finding Local Resources
After our transcontinental move, we traveled to Europe for a few weeks, accompanying my husband on a business trip. I was in England (where I live now) when I was certain that I was pregnant, and before consumer pregnancy kits were on the market. I never got my period, and started to have food and smell sensitivities as we were traveling, as well as the usual pregnancy symptoms. Once we returned home, I had to find my way around the pregnancy/birth world of suburban New York City in order to find a birth attendant. This time around I was determined to have a home birth, after my previous hospital and birth center births. I knew all the right people for planning a birth in Southern California, but I had no idea who the practitioners were in New York. My first stop was La Leche League, and I started to go to their meetings and asked questions. I was aware of a couple of midwives in New York City who were doing home births at the time, and I contacted them. The problem I had was that one of them didn’t drive. A new friend Heather had used them for her home birth, but someone had to drive down to Manhattan to pick up the midwife and drive her back up to Westchester when Heather went into labor, which just didn’t seem right to me. Through the network of people that I was talking to I found a midwife who lived in Northern New Jersey, but had an office in Rockland County, which was not too far away just over the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Preparing for Birth
It was a healthy pregnancy, and once we were fully settled in our new home, I was able to take rests while my sons were at school. It was luxurious. I began to teach birth preparation again during this time, and learned that a neighbor of mine, Elena, was also pregnant and we could share our pregnancies as experienced mothers. One thing that had to be arranged was a back-up doctor, and we began to interview doctors who I had heard were fairly liberal in their attitude towards home birth. One doctor who I eventually chose was a mature female obstetrician who worked out of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital (now called New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center) in Upper Manhattan, and she knew the midwife I was working with. As a Bradley Method® teacher at the time, I took my nutrition seriously and ate lots of protein and a balanced diet, and gained about 52 lbs., significantly more than I had gained in earlier pregnancies. It could have been the cravings for IHOP pancakes and Carvel ice cream!! During the pregnancies with my sons, both born after the hot summer, my craving was watermelon, and I always had a quarter of a melon in my fridge. As we approached my due date, I felt well prepared and ready for the birth, with everything in place. I had spoken to some friends about being there, and my mother asked to attend too. She had never seen her children being born, and wanted to be there. My dear friend from California had arranged to come and visit and she arrived with her young son on the 4th of February. My due date was the 7th, and we hoped we would have time for her to help me get acclimated for a while before she went home after 2 weeks.
Except Mariel had another plan, to stay inside longer! At one of my check-ups I discussed with the midwife what my options were to help this along, and we decided to try castor oil. Castor oil had been used for centuries to try and initiate labor, and it does this by causing intestinal contractions while the body is eliminating the contents of the bowel. By proximity it sometimes causes the uterus to contract. I went home and drank some, which is not an easy thing to do because the fluid is so viscous – it nearly causes a gag reflex when it adheres to the uvula at the back of the throat as it goes down. After the ingestion, I spent a good deal of time on the toilet to the point where it started to hurt to wipe. It did cause contractions that continued for hours, and I began to call my friends who had wanted to be there and the midwife. The midwife came from New Jersey, my close friend Lana came up from Brooklyn, and Heather and Elena came over too. I didn’t call my mother, which was a good thing because after several hours of contractions, it petered out. The midwife went home and Lana slept over, and the others went to their homes. I was feeling chagrined!
The Real Thing Begins
Days continued to pass, and we began to worry about time running out before my California friend had to go home. So I was raking leaves, sweeping the garage, squatting a lot, and doing other things to try and tamp the baby down into my pelvis. I had been walking around about 2-3 cms dilated for a while, as an experienced ‘birther’. But I wasn’t ready to force another dose of castor oil onto my body after the first try. I was drinking herbal teas to no avail. After seeing the midwife again a week later, we decided to go for the castor oil again, but I would wait until she finished her office hours. And I did. The contractions started again, but this time I did nothing. I went to sleep and was woken up around 3:00 am with contractions that felt different from the castor oil contractions. I took an early morning bath to see if that stopped the contractions, which will often happen if it’s not real labor. They continued. At this point we started to call in all the people who wanted to be there, including my mother this time. And they all began arriving while I was in the early stages of real labor. Strangely enough, I was progressing nicely with contractions that stayed at 10 minutes apart, all the way up to 7 cms. Elena and I took a walk up and down the hill that my street was on and it was a beautiful warm day outside for February. Still 10 minutes apart. So in consultation with the midwife, we decided to break my water (the other two births had started with my membranes rupturing), and she took her amnio hook out and did the deed.
I felt a strong urge to go to the toilet as the intensity of the contractions increased, and I grabbed my husband by the shirt and took him in with me. I started making groaning sounds that made the midwife shout from the bedroom next door, “stop pushing!” I said to her, “I’m not pushing, I’m shitting!” By the time I made it back to the bedroom, I was fully dilated! I was making noise that I can only describe as ‘howling’. I learned later that it was making my mother nervous to hear me howling, so my friends were trying to coax her into the kitchen to help them bake a cake. She stayed perched on the stairs not far from where the action was taking place. Now I was pushing. I was strong and pushed in a variety of positions, but didn’t seem to be getting very far. Mariel was presenting POP – persistent occiput posterior, or back to back. In a supported standing squat position, with my back arched and my neck extended, I pushed; some time after, I noticed that this position was all wrong, and my back needed to be rounded and my chin down to my chest to push effectively. After a couple of hours, I said to the midwife: “talk to me, ___”, and she said “what do you want me to say?” Wrong answer!! I had seen a glance exchanged between the midwife and Heather (who was also a Bradley teacher) that expressed worry. At that moment I knew we had to take another tack and that if we were going to move it needed to be before there was a problem. As we began to discuss going to the hospital, the midwife expressed some concern that if we went to Columbia Presbyterian with my back-up doctor that I would likely end up with a cesarean. She suggested we go with the doctor that backs her up in New Jersey, and she called him to say we were on our way. The look on my mother’s face as we were leaving was pure bewilderment.
Transfer to Hospital
So in the back of the midwife’s VW Rabbit, with my head in my husband’s lap, I blew my way to New Jersey. Thankfully he kept me informed of each landmark we reached – “we’re on the Major Deegan, we’re in the Bronx”, but as we approached the George Washington Bridge at early rush hour the traffic was moving slowly. “We’re in New Jersey, we’re in Englewood (where the hospital was), we’re at the hospital” and we parked the car. Someone came out to the car with a wheel chair and I climbed in sitting on one cheek because the baby was deep in the vagina. As we arrived on the floor of the maternity unit, I asked where the delivery room was, which was at the end of the hall, but they moved me into a room to the right to settle in. I waited for the doctor to arrive and he examined me. He asked what kind of anesthetic I wanted for the forceps delivery, and I chose a local pudendal block, because I didn’t want a regional anethesia (epidural) that would require me to stay overnight. I was wheeled into the delivery room and the forceps were applied, and my daughter was pulled out still facing up. When she emerged they told me that I had a girl! I was so deliriously happy that I kept shouting “I have a vagina! I have a vagina!” People looked at me strangely (duh!), but Lana, who had followed us in her car in order to drive us back home, heard me shouting this and couldn’t understand what on earth was going on in the delivery room! I was ecstatic, but not getting my words right. Mariel Aviva was born on February 18th weighing 10 lbs. 7½ oz.! Her nose had been stuck on my pubic bone, which is why the pushing wasn’t working, and she was unable to turn. Her nose had milia all over it. And I had petechiae (broken capillaries that bleed under the skin) all over my face from all the unproductive pushing that I did.
Negotiating My Exit
We moved together to the recovery room, and I was determined to go home as quickly as possible. We were told that the pediatrician would be coming to examine her before we left. We waited, and waited, and waited, but no doctor. Apparently he had been delayed and left a message with the nursery staff, which we never received because we were in the recovery room and never left. In the meantime they were suggesting that we stay overnight because Mariel’s blood sugar was low (which is common after birth, and even more so when the baby is big). I said no, “I didn’t want to be here in the first place, so tell me what you would do here that I can’t do at home.” They said they would give her a bottle of dextrose solution, so I said “give me the bottle”, and I gave it to her. By the time the pediatrician arrived her blood sugar was normal and we were discharged. Lana drove us home and there were still a couple of friends there to greet us. My mother had left after we did, and Elena had taken my children back to her home to play before returning to our house at bedtime. I was exhausted, so after a glass of champagne, we settled in for the night in our family bed. My beautiful daughter was home, and I was thrilled. She looked like she was about 3 months old when she was born. We only had three days together before my California friend had to leave, and we savored each moment.
It was a real lesson for me to be transferred from home to the hospital. I took action before there was a crisis, and I’m glad about that. It also taught me to appreciate the importance of back-up when you need it. I needed a forceps delivery to assist my daughter’s birth, and was grateful that it was possible to arrange that in short order. I made positive choices to go for the least potent form of anesthesia that would allow me to go home as soon as possible. I wasn’t thrilled with the midwife, but I was astute enough to take charge of the situation. My understanding of the circumstance was I could push out a 9 lb. 5 oz. baby, but not one that was 10½ lbs. That belief was transformed 7 years later when my last child was born at home. But that’s a story for next time!