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The birth story, aka where you came from Harvey

As Dan mentioned in a more timely fashion than me, we up and birthed a kid on Saturday. And now that it's over, let me just confirm how awesome it is to no longer be pregnant. Not pregnant= awesome. Pregnant... not so much.

So on Saturday morning we were getting down to the wire of our home-birth window (Monday would have been hospital induction day). Our last natural induction option was Castor oil. Over the course of the week we had tried homeopathy, acupuncture, strong herbs, and enough painful nipple stimulation to fill a brown paper magazine. At the end of the week, I was feeling like maybe my body was too skeptical of alternative medicine to pull off a hippy home birth. Still, there was good old Castor oil, your grandma's induction tonic, and my midwife was saving it for last, due to the unpleasantness. On Saturday morning at 10am I drank 4oz straight, with a chaser of red raspberry tea (it's a uterine tonic). It tasted like you would imagine drinking a glass of canola oil would taste. I guess you could say I was desperate to go into labor.

We sat around and waited for the effects. Castor oil causes intestinal cramping, which can sometimes stimulate uterine contractions as well. Either way, we knew there was some bathrooming in the future, so we laid around and waited. To pass the time and to mix scientific variables in our induction experiment, Dan helped me with a little manual nipple stimulation. This turned out to be more enjoyable than my previous attempts with the breast pump, and we were just starting to get nice and distracted when my water broke.

How it felt was a uterine contraction accompanied with a snapping sensation, and then the tell-tail goopy stuff flowing down my leg. I ran to the bathroom very excited and called my midwife to describe what I saw. After asking some questions about the amount and consistency, our midwife Rebecca said, "That sounds like amniotic fluid to me. I'll check when I come back at 4." And then because she has a high opinion of us, she added, "You're not sterile anymore, so no sex."

With our hopes dashed for incredibly awkward pregnancy sex, we decided to go for a walk. My water broke at 11:30, and we headed out for a walk at noon, although after only a block I started to feel crampy and turned back. I barely made it back to the house and into the bathroom. Castor oil is a laxative normally prescribed in teaspoon dosages. 4oz is not a playing around amount. For the next hour I alternated between toilet and lying on the bathroom floor moaning. It felt like everything below my ribs was stuck in one constant hour-long contraction. Dan hung out in the next room, and when my verbal descriptions of the proceedings turned into non-stop sobbing, he suggested we call Rebecca again. "Is it supposed to be so intense?" I asked between gasps of air. "Castor oil is intense" she said, "But I'll come at 3 to check up on you." So I had won me an hour earlier of midwife ETA, a good sign we were on the right track.

For the next hour or two we were speeding down that right track without any breaks. I was on hands and knees on the floor of the bathroom regretting I had ever been born let alone chosen to bear a child. Once the castor oil effect wore off, I was having contractions what felt like every minute, yelling through the contractions and sobbing in between. Dan called Rebecca again because I couldn't talk anymore, and she said she would get there ASAP.

Rebecca arrived around 3pm and made haste to shuttle my butt into the birth tub, which Dan had already begun filling. By this time I had had enough of the bathroom floor, especially the first two paragraphs of the Economist's Iran feature that I had been trying to read since noon. Also, in the past hour I hadn't been able to move from my hands and knees, because each contraction forced me back into that position. Despite weeks of hardcore swim training, I was seriously considering the possibility that my shoulders were going to fall off. Fortunately, the warm water in tub instantly felt A LOT better. This was going to be doable! Birth tubs mean no pain, I thought! In retrospect, hahahahaha.

Once I was in the tub, Rebecca asked to check my cervix to see what was going on. She later told me she had expected me to be something like 4cm dilated, but when she put her hand in she actually chuckled and said, "you have almost no cervix left." Then she called the other midwife who was to attend the birth and said "She's almost fully love" which made it sound like we were playing some bizarre game of pelvic tennis.

From there on we headed into the meat and potatoes of the labor, which consisted mostly of screaming and holding on for dear life. I leaned against the side of the tub, biting the edge of the tub or a towel or my hand, as my uterus went nuts. Rebecca kept saying soothing things like "This is your body that's doing this," which didn't mean a lot to me, because of course my body is doing this, I'm just not too keen on the "this" aspect. In retrospect, a more helpful reference point would have been something like "Dysentery is worse" or "You won't be so fat in 20 minutes."

Rebecca also tried to get me to take the screaming down a notch, for my benefit if not that of the entire neighborhood. (Indeed, Dan took the dog for a walk at this point, and later he told me that he could hear the screaming over a block away.) Rebecca kept telling me to use the screaming by putting it down in my chest, like "Oooooh," and I would nod at her and say "OOOOH—-AAAA-A!A!A!A!A!A!A!A!A!A!A!" just like you would imagine someone sounding if they immediately went from having sex to being attached by a bear.

So that went on for longer than I'd like to recount, during which time the other midwife arrived and I kicked Dan and Judy out of the room. Soon enough Rebecca could tell by the change in my grunting that the baby was makings its final journey down the shoot, and she told me to push down with each contraction. This actually felt much easier than before, because the worst pain was out of my pelvis and I could feel progression with each push. After a couple of these, she reached into the water and told me she could feel the head. This made me feel better because it sounded like something you'd hear on the tv. (If hundreds of hours of 80s sitcoms taught me anything, it's that labor is always a clear progression from screaming, to the doctor saying they can see the head, to the baby coming out and the episode ending with some humorous yet endearing comment.)

The two midwives made me turn over so that I was sitting in the tub with my back to the wall, then another few pushes, then a pause in the pushing for some intervention between my legs which was the midwives removing the cord from around the baby's neck. It happens very frequently in normal birth that the cord gets wrapped around the baby's neck, which is fine for the journey downwards because the cord is very compressible. I didn't know what exactly was going on at the time, but I was far too tired to be concerned. My body stopped contracting for a few moments while they were working, and then I got the signal from them that it was time to push again, and although I didn't feel any contractions coming I made something up and finished pushing on my own. In retrospect, this may have been a mistake which lead to a perineum tear, but not all decisions can be winners.

Then came the big pay-off of home birth, when they handed me the baby right away. I was a bit out-of-it from a mixture of pain, relief, exhaustion, and panic, but I could tell right away that this was a good looking kid. Right from the start he was looking around with his big grey eyes, showing off his chubby cheeks, and generally stealing the show. The time was a few minutes after 5:30pm. All in all, the labor took about 5 hours from start to finish.

After all this excitement we had to do some annoying housekeeping with getting out of the tub, getting examined, delivering the placenta, getting more examined... none of which made me too pleased. I got a bit banged up in the birth process, but those details are perhaps a bit too graphic to share in a blog, even for me. Anyway, part of the beauty of labor is that nothing after it is quite as bad. And we finally had our cute little baby, out of my body and into the open air.

So that's the story of little Harvey Douglas Archibald. It's been a wild ride so far, so we expect big things from him soon.

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