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Birth & Parenting Stories | Barbara Hotelling

Birth and Parenting Educators

Birth & Parenting Stories

Valerie's Home Birth

Thank you for the good wishes that have been sent our way. We had such a triumphant birth experience.

Our sweet little girl’s name is Valerie Anne Mayella Sultana. She was born at home at 8:10am on Monday, September 5th – Labor Day! She weighed 8 pounds, 3 oz and was 20.5 inches long.

I started contractions on Sunday morning. They were really mild and continued throughout the day. I went to Costco, Trader Joes, the supermarket, Bed Bath and Beyond and a furniture store. (I had my priorities;) It seemed like contractions were 10-15 minutes apart, maybe 10-30 seconds long all day. I didn’t time them.

In the evening I made dinner and played Monopoly with my son. Michael is 8 years old.

I gave our doula and midwife the heads up. My doula asked me to call her before I went to bed and let her know how close contractions were. That was around 6pm. I decided to time the contractions and was surprised that contractions I thought might be 10-30 seconds long were more like 50 seconds. So – all signs of smooth progress.

Around 10 I went to bed, but by 11:30 I realized that I just wanted to doze and didn’t want to bother timing contractions, so I woke my husband Peter up to do the timing. At 12:30 he said he thought we should call the midwife. I asked how close contractions were and he said like 4-6 minutes. I decided I didn’t believe him and said that we should time some more so we had something certain to report to the midwife. He said, “Are you gonna argue with me?” I laughed and said, “yes”. Then I got up to go to the bathroom (seemed like there was a lot of pressure.)

I had 4 contractions pretty darned close and said “OK, call everybody in. NOW.”

At 1:30am the midwife checked me and I was 8-9cm and plus 2 station. 8 years ago with my son Michael I’d gotten to complete, but never more than 0 or plus 1 station. The 8-9 cm was great news ‘cause now I could get in the tub. I did not find out what station I was because I didn’t want it to distract me.

As soon as I got in the tub, I felt the urge to push. I stayed in there for 2 hours, and then got out to see if it would move things along faster out of water.

The baby’s head was “right there” for the next 3 hours. I asked them to stop telling me she was coming because I didn’t believe it anymore. She just sat on my pubic bone for hours and moved down by a hair’s breath with each contraction. I was in every position imaginable. We didn’t know what the hold up was. But her heart rate stayed steady.

Considering I had spent over 13 hours pushing 8 years ago with Michael, my husband figured we were doing fine. I figured, an epidural might be real nice about now.

I asked to go to the hospital. I didn’t think this was working. The midwife said she didn’t think we’d make it.

I went into the bathroom. My doula sat on the toilet, I squatted between her legs and pushed. After about 3 contractions I opened my eyes and saw someone with a lot of hair and very pink shoulders and a smooth back hanging out of me. I was shocked. I didn’t feel this part at all.

I said, “Hey, would you take her out already!” I guess I had told every one to be quiet before this and they weren’t saying a darned thing – so it was sort of up to me to discover this part.

I also think it’s neat that suddenly I knew she was a “her” – we didn’t know her sex in advance.

And so, after a total of 5 or so hours of pushing, our baby came on out, into the midwife’s hands, onto the chux on the bathroom floor. At the same time she was born, so was her placenta and very short umbilical cord. It had served as her “bungy” cord and had kept her from coming down any faster.

She was very quiet and didn’t cry for like an hour. I think I cried before she ever did.

And there we all were…mom, baby, dad, doula, midwife and assistant – very happy – hanging out in the bathroom.

I couldn’t have asked for more!

Valerie = “strong”
Anne = “grace”
Mayella = the last name of St. Gerard (patron saint of childbirth who did such a good job of helping us)

With Love,
Connie

Empathy for a Father

Mother Nurture
© Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac. 2002

Empathy for a Father
Before we had kids, I felt like my husband and I really understood each other, but now it’s almost like we live on separate continents . . .

With good reason, many mothers say they wish their partner sympathized more with their situation. But the other side of the coin is also often true: that a father wishes his partner understood HIM more. Since one of the best ways to receive more understanding and consideration is to give it – and since most of our columns focus on addressing the needs of mothers – let’s take a moment to explore empathy for a father.

For simplicity, we’ll write as if we were addressing a mother, but a dad can certainly read this piece and see what parts fit for him. We’ll draw on Rick’s experience as a dad and our conversations with fathers to suggest how it may be for your partner to be a parent; this is a composite, a generalization, of a father that will not fit the partner of any woman in every way.

Now I’m a dad—As profoundly as you, he loves the child you have made together. He has many of the same feelings you do, like happiness when the baby first curls her tiny fingers around one of his own.

Yet since he probably spends less time with children than you, it is quite possible that he feels less sure of his skills. Feeling awkward or inept is uncomfortable for many men and makes it hard to ask for help.

Maybe he’s asked you what he could do and been told he should already know. Maybe he’s tried to dive in and help and then been told it’s all wrong. He picks up your underlying attitude about his parenting skills, and the way many mothers talk to each other about their partners is quite disdainful. He may experience you squeezing him out of the parent role while complaining that he’s not involved enough.

Tugged in different directions—He shows his love for his children and you in part by stepping up his efforts as a provider. Yet that tends to draw him into working longer hours when you wish he’d put more energy into your children and home. Unfortunately, his workplace almost certainly couldn’t care less about the needs of his family, so he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.

He’s probably more engaged in child rearing and housework than his own father was. Nonetheless, if you are like most mothers, you’d still like more involvement and help, so he feels uneasy and resentful that he is not coming up to the standard of what you want in a partner.

Married to a mother—He is awed at your ability to make a baby and deeply grateful that you have enabled him to have a child. He probably appreciates your sacrifices more than he has been able to say.

He’s also worried by any fatigue, depression, or other health problems that have developed since you became a mother. But when he offers well-meaning suggestions, like you getting more exercise or using more child care, there’s a fair chance you get irritated, because you want empathy rather than problem solving, think his idea is impractical, or feel he’s trying to make you give less to your kids. After a few rounds of this, maybe he stops trying to help you.

Where did my wife go?—He loves his child incredibly, but his relationship with you is still a priority in itself, not merely as a framework for raising children.

He feels keenly the loss of the attention, energy, affection, and love you have shifted from him to your child. It can easily seem to him that you regard him as little more than a means to your ends. One father said: I go out in the world like a caveman who brings home the meat. I drop it at her feet, she says “thanks” and goes back to our daughter. It’s like I’m not in the room. And this shift in a mother’s attention away from her partner is made painfully concrete by the disinterest many have in sex.

Does my wife understand me?—You cannot make your husband understand you, but you can try to understand him: that much is in your power. You could ask him about the description of a father just above. Or you could simply observe him for a while without any assumptions, wondering how it feels to be him deep down inside.

Since you give understanding to your children all day long, you might have “empathy fatigue.” So it may take a conscious decision to bring understanding to your husband. But if you do, he will notice your interest and appreciate it and be more empathic with you as well. And when the two of you have a better idea of the feelings and wants of each other, you will be more able to solve problems together.

Your Birth Story, Lucina

to Lucina Frances – born July 4, 2004 at 4:04pm
7 pounds, 10 ounces

You were due on July 8th. As the date approached, I was feeling lots of little things that I thought meant labor might be getting started – lots of contractions, increasing back pain and some cramps in my lower belly. But I knew you were more likely to come late than early, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up by over analyzing all these minor symptoms.

On July 2nd, we went to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Westport for a dinner party and to watch fireworks on the beach. I remember Grandma looked at me and said, “You look like you’re ready.” I wanted to believe her, but I wasn’t sure. The fireworks were spectacular, and I watched all the young children on the beach and dreamed about how fun it would be to bring you there when you were older.

The night of July 3rd, Daddy and I went to the movies with Sarah and Robin. I was so uncomfortable in the movie theater, with lots of gassy belly pain and back pain. I wondered if I was starting labor, but when I got home later that night, my theory that it was gas seemed to be true – I passed some gas and felt a lot better. That night I woke up a bunch of times with back pain, but was able to fall right back asleep.

In the morning we woke up and had a peaceful time in bed, knowing that we didn’t have a single thing planned for the day. I remember looking at a folded newspaper on the floor. It was an old New York Times that had an article about birthing options in Westchester that Grandma had given me. The way it was folded and lying on the floor, you could only read two words from the headline: “Perfect Birth.” I remember looking at it and sort of meditating on what that meant to me. I realized I really hadn’t let myself imagine the perfect birth, I think out of fear of being let down or getting into a fixed mindset about what I wanted and not letting your birth flow naturally in its intended way. I said to Daddy that morning, “I guess we’re not going to have our baby on the Fourth of July.” I figured that even if I felt the first pangs of early labor, the likelihood of having you that day was so small.

At one point while we were still lounging in bed, I got on my hands and knees to stretch my back, which was still aching. I felt a popping sensation coming from inside of me. I didn’t give it any thought because nothing happened after that. Later I realized it was probably my water breaking.

I was working on my laptop computer in bed a little later and I was adjusting my position on the bed. All of a sudden, I felt fluid coming out of me. I honesty thought I had peed on myself. I went to the bathroom and looked at the fluid. It was clear with the slightest tinge of pink. I smelled it and it didn’t smell like urine. I realized I had broken my water. I confirmed it when I used a test sample I had picked up at a midwifery conference that tells you if fluid is amniotic fluid or not based on the fluid’s acidity. (In retrospect, I can’t believe I didn’t trust my own knowledge that it was my water breaking and relied on a dumb test. But it was good to know for sure that that’s what I was dealing with.) I wasn’t feeling any contractions yet. It was 11:00 am.

I called Saras to tell her the news. She said that Vicki, the other midwife, was out of town and so was Suzanne, a classmate of mine who also covered their practice. We decided to call Terri, a midwife who was my professor at Yale and who I became quite close with during school. Luckily, she didn’t have anything planned that day at all, despite the holiday. I then called Grandma and Sarah, who were my invited birth partners and support people. Daddy and I thought a lot about who we wanted there for your birth. I invited Grandma because I knew she would treasure the opportunity, and I wanted someone other than me and Daddy to be able to tell you your birth story. She and I got so close while I was pregnant with you. Not that we weren’t close before. But believe me when I say that expecting your own first child changes the way you view your mother. Sarah was invited because she is a dear friend from midwifery school who loves home birth and has amazing energy. My favorite birth I ever attended as a student midwife was in Guatemala and Sarah was there too. I knew she’d be an awesome support for me and Dad.

Aunt Katherine came over around noon. She wasn’t supposed to be there for the labor, but she had called right before my water broke and I had invited her over for a quick visit before she got on a train to see friends in New York City. By the time she was there, I was contracting regularly. She helped Dad prepare the nest for the home birth, cutting up watermelon for me to eat, straightening up our clutter, and getting the supplies in order. By the time she left, I was having contractions every few minutes, and I couldn’t talk through them. I called everyone back to let them know things were getting active and they should head over. Then I got in the shower.

Dad stayed out of the bathroom while I was in the shower. I was feeling lots of pain with the contractions then, and was starting to need to hum or moan with the pain, and rock my hips or squat when the contractions peaked. I remember thinking that I must be moving really fast, but I didn’t want to let myself believe that, for fear that I was really barely dilated and was just being a wimp. I started feeling lightheaded after about 20 minutes in the shower, and I got out.

Daddy and I spent some time in the living room working through contractions. He kept asking me what I thought was happening and what I was feeling. I was so conflicted. I wanted to tell him what I was honestly feeling and I wanted to say that I thought I was in transition, the intense part of labor that comes right before pushing. But the superstitious part of me didn’t want to speak these things aloud for fear that that would make them untrue. We had done a childbirth education class together where the teacher talked about all the phases of labor and the average amount of time each part lasted for the first time mother. I know Daddy intellectually thought I must be in early labor – or even false labor – because that’s the way labor is supposed to progress, but intuitively he got what I needed, and he was so supportive.

It turned out that that phases of labor business didn’t apply to me – I had no early labor at all. It is hard to do labor that way, and I know from being a midwife that it is also hard to support women who are going through labor that way. Your body doesn’t have time to adjust to all the new feelings and sensations, and you’re stuck in this mind game where you keep telling yourself that you couldn’t possibly be as far along in labor as your body feels like it is.

I had moved into the bedroom and was rocking on my hands and knees in the bed with Daddy massaging my back when Saras called to say she was getting close and would need some help getting the birth supplies upstairs. I was so scared of being left alone. I was really hoping that Grandma or Sarah would arrive before Saras so that they could help bring the birth supplies up. But when Saras got there, it was still just me and Daddy, and he left me laboring while he went down to let her in and help her. I just zoned out and hummed and moaned with the contractions, finally really feeling like I could let my body do what it needed to do because my midwife was there. When she came in the door, Grandma was with her – they must have arrived right at the same time. Sarah came just a few minutes later.

I was so focused on my labor – and outside of my intellectual brain – that I barely greeted them. I remember feeling so grateful for their energy and presence, and it seemed strange that all I could muster up was an exhausted “hi” to each of them. I just kept laboring, moaning and rocking in the bed, while Saras set up her supplies and Grandma and Sarah helped. They brought me juice and water to drink, watermelon to eat between contractions, and cool cloths for my forehead. I was feeling so much pain in my back and couldn’t find a good position to make it feel better.

Daddy was massaging me with contractions and it felt good. Then with one of my contractions, he just laid his hand on my back and it felt wonderful. Then after that, I felt intense heat on my back – Saras had brought a heating pad and had put it right on the spot where I was feeling all the pain. I loved all of them so much – I felt like there was this great team effort, and everyone was focused on what they could do to help me through the intense pain.

I was starting to grunt with contractions and Saras asked if she could check my cervix. When she checked me, she asked, “how dilated would you like to be?” I had been at births with her before and knew that she only said this when the woman was very dilated. Still, I wanted to be fully dilated, and I worried that she was about to tell me I was seven or eight centimeters. I said, “All the way!” And she just said, “Sweetie, you’re an anterior lip!” Grandma rightly said, “Hey, stop speaking like midwives.” Saras explained that that meant I had only a tiny bit of cervix left – not even a centimeter – and I was almost ready to push.

I got up out of bed and started walking around. Saras called Terri and told her to come right away. Only a couple more contractions went by and all of a sudden I was feeling an intense urge to bear down. I have told so many women in labor that they would know when it was time to push because their body would tell them. I had no idea how true that was. The urge developed over the course of a couple contractions, and soon I was bearing down fully with each contraction. I did this standing at first, bending into a squat with my hands on my knees when the contractions came. Then daddy supported me in a squat. My favorite picture from labor was one that Sarah took of me resting between contractions in a full squat with Daddy holding me. I burst into tears when I saw it the first time after you were born.

I pushed and pushed. I had taken only about 2 _ hours to get to fully dilated from my very first contraction. Pushing took almost as long. I knelt for a while, then squatted some more. I loved how it felt to push in these positions, but found it almost impossible to fully rest between the contractions. I decided to get into the bed and try pushing on my side.

I hated this at first, I couldn’t find a good pushing position and got a cramp in my leg, but I was right that I could relax completely between pushes. In fact, I fell asleep. It was wonderful. Still, I was about to give up and squat again, when all of a sudden I got into a groove with the pushing, found a comfortable way to support my leg during the contractions, and finally started feeling the stretching that I knew meant you were really starting to come down. Sure enough, in only a couple more contractions, everyone in the room let out an excited sigh when they started seeing me bulge – a sure sign that your little head was about to follow.

I often tell women in labor that they will feel a second wind – a surge of energy – when it is time to push. I found that this didn’t really happen when I started pushing. But I definitely felt this when I started feeling the stretching and knew you would be born soon. It was like the only thing I needed to do in the world was push with all of my might. And that was true! It was the only thing I had to do. All the wonderful people supporting me were taking care of every single other thing.

Soon we started seeing your little head with each push. Terri held a mirror and I watched you emerge and then go back in when the push ended. Soon I was seeing your head between the contractions, and then I felt the most intense burning sensation and you were in a full crown! My contraction just stopped and I felt the burning as I listened to Saras tell me you would be born with the next push. I knew this was true, and as much as it hurt, I needed to just be in the moment with the pain before I kept pushing. I don’t think much time went by before I got a small urge to push. I pushed and the burning peaked and then all of a sudden… nothing. Your head was out. It is truly amazing how quickly you can go from the most intense pain imaginable to no pain at all.

Next thing I knew you were in my arms. I noticed your little face first, then all the creamy white vernix on you. Then I noticed your thick, plump umbilical cord. (I think that was the midwife in me noticing that!) Then I peeked to see if you were a girl or a boy. My first words to you were, “hello baby!” Then when I saw you were a girl, I said “hello baby girl!” It felt so good to feel your warm body against mine. Daddy was lying next to me and supporting me as I pushed, and he just put his arms around both of us, and that was our first moment together as a family. It felt wonderful.

Your cord stopped pulsing very quickly and daddy cut it. It was so thick he had to cut several times to get the scissors to go all the way through. You were free!

Pretty soon after that I felt a big gush of hot blood. It was time to deliver the placenta. I didn’t feel any cramps at all, and it was hard to push lying down. There was another gush of blood and Terri gave me a shot of medicine to control the bleeding and help deliver the placenta. Grandma and Saras helped me get up to squat on the bed over a bowl to see if I could deliver the placenta like that. Saras was pulling very, very gently. I remember thinking to myself, “Come on, Saras, you can pull harder than that!” (Saras is a very hands-off midwife, and I was trained to intervene a little more often than she does.) Next thing I knew, the cord had snapped off of the placenta. This almost never happens. I had done it once during the delivery of a woman’s placenta in the hospital and it is a horrible feeling. That woman had to go to the operating room to have her placenta removed by the doctors.

There was more bleeding, and I lay back as Terri gave me another dose of the medicine. Pretty soon, Saras had her hand all the way up me to pull the placenta out manually. I don’t remember many specific moments during my birth, but one that I definitely remember is locking eyes with Saras as she was doing this, seeing the worry in her face, and thinking to myself that I had just had the most perfect birth and now I was about to get in an ambulance to go to the hospital for a retained placenta. I hated the idea of it, but I trusted Saras completely, and knew she would deal with it somehow and if I had to go to the hospital, I had to go to the hospital.

A few moments later, the placenta was out and my bleeding had stopped. It was one of the funkiest placentas any of us had ever seen. Your umbilical cord, instead of inserting into the meaty part of the placenta, went in through the membranes, and the vessels followed the membranes down to the placenta. Seeing this made me feel spooked at first. If your water had broken in a different spot – or if someone had tried to break the membranes artificially (something they do in the hospital all the time) – a major blood vessel that brought blood to you might have broken, which would have been an emergency. But nature had its own plan for your birth, and you came into the world safe and sound.

The placenta also had an extra lobe on it. This isn’t usually dangerous, but it is peculiar. I looked up both of your placenta abnormalities in one of my midwifery books and it turns out both are associated with twin pregnancies. I wonder if you were supposed to be twins, but for some reason you developed into only one healthy, beautiful baby. Daddy and I always wondered if I was carrying twins, and joked about it until you were born. We never had an ultrasound or any other test that could tell us definitively, but I always carried like I was only having one baby so we never really worried. When you were born and the placenta was out (but before we had looked at it and seen the abnormalities) I remember joking, “We finally ruled out twins!” It is a strange to imagine that I might have been a mother to twins. I imagine that when you are old enough to think about it, you will wonder what it might have been like to be a twin.

I loved the time right after the birth. It was a complete joy putting you to the breast for the first time – something I had imagined for months. Everyone was so excited to meet you and there was this amazing energy in the apartment. I felt so proud of myself and I know your birth was an awesome experience for everyone who was there. I really felt like a birth goddess, like my body knew just what to do and you knew just how to be born. And I loved you deeply immediately.

I can’t wait for you to read this when you are old enough to understand it. But I hope that we’ll talk about your birth often enough when you are a child that you grow up knowing your birth story. I feel like everybody should know how they were born. But I know that you will want to have the story all in one place, so you’ll have the details and can share your own birth journey with others when you are ready.

Your Mom, Amy

Cate's Birth

Mary gave birth to her fourth daughter on Friday morning at 12:29 am! Catherine arrived after less than 2 hours of labor, probably one hour of it intense. The midwife and I arrived within minutes of each other—both of us traveling in wild rain from Brooklyn. (I had been with Mary all day, and only got home 2 hours before I got the call that things were cooking). Mary pushed (for about 20 minutes all told) first standing and leaning over the bed, then on all fours. Baby Cate slowly and easily was born into her father’s hands, with 6 year old Nora on Nanie’s lap eagerly watching it all (Nanie is of course ME).

It was peaceful, easy, and simple—just the way it is meant to be. And the dear baby weighed in at 10lbs 2 oz!!! The placenta delivered about 30 minutes later. Her big sisters are ecstatic! They can’t get enough of her. It looks like Cate will have 4 mothers, not just one! I am now the grandmother of 6 granddaughters!!!

Judy