Eliza’s Birth Story
John, our two-year-old daughter Odelia and I had moved to an apartment in San José, Costa Rica, at the beginning of December to await the birth of our daughter. As we approached her due date, the 14th, we still had not decided on a name. Finally I said- This baby needs a name to feel ready to join us- We need to decide tonight! John had been pulling for Gabriella, and I had liked Louisa May- Louisa in honor of my great-grandma Lou, and May for Mary, who had died a year earlier. We decided to let those names go, looked at an old document with name ideas, and almost immediately agreed on Eliza Louise.
On the morning of December 21, Odelia and I were down at the playground. As we walked from one side of the park to the other, I talked calmly to Eliza, telling her- I am strong, I am ready, my body is wise, I love you, I want to meet you. At 2:30 pm I was resting in bed when my water broke. But there were no contractions, so we hung out at the apartment, ate dinner, and got Odelia ready to spend the night with my friend Ana’s mom, Mimi. By 10pm my contractions had started, but they were not very strong and irregularly spaced. I called our doula, Rebecca, who gave me the advice to get some sleep while I could- and not to worry- she had never known a woman who slept through the birth of her child!
By 3am I could no longer sleep. I waited in bed, watching the clock to time the contractions. At 4am they were getting strong enough that I got up to take a shower to see how that would feel- something I never had the chance to do with Odelia’s birth. The water felt wonderful- it almost made it feel like the contractions had gone away. When I got out, however, I could feel that they were still coming on strongly, so we left for the hospital around 5am.
We had chosen Hospital Católica because it was the one hospital in all of Costa Rica that allowed laboring mothers to use a tub. (And our OB, Dr. Paer, was the one doctor in the country who did water births!) When we arrived at the maternity ward, they checked me and I was only one centimeter dilated. Oh no- I had been certain that I was further along. And then I was told to lie down on my back and to not move- with a fetal monitor strapped around me. This combination of events reminded me so much of what had happened with Odelia’s birth that I started crying. I felt like I had totally lost control of the way the birth was unfolding. When my next contraction came and I could not move around with it, I completely lost it. I started screaming and crying- I hate this I hate this! And then I was just screaming.
At this point, my beautiful husband John offered to tell the nurse that I didn’t want to have the monitor on me- a solution so simple and wonderful that I am eternally thankful. The nurse let me go free, although she insisted on calling our doctor to make sure it was ok. They moved me to room across hall and I immediately went in to sit in the shower. Suddenly I could manage the contractions again; I cried with relief and apologized to the nurse.
At 7:30am Dr. Paer arrived and checked me. By now I was 3-4 cm dilated and he told me that I still had a long way to go. So I went back into the shower. At this point I made a poor decision. I could tell that John was exhausted and so I told him he should go try to catch a little sleep on the couch while I sat in the shower. Even though I was the one who suggested this, the result was that I felt alone and unsupported and it was only a matter of time before I felt like I couldn’t continue without drugs. As the contractions got more intense, I called John in to ask the nurse at what point I could get an epidural. –I don’t think I can do this- I told him through my tears.
Around 8am the nurse checked me again, per my question about an epidural, and I was around 4-5cm. At that point Rebecca arrived- and saved the day! She immediately coached me about how to slow down my breathing, which had reached a fast, panicked rate. After I slowed down, Rebecca encouraged me to make a low “ah” sound as I breathed through a contraction. This is what I felt naturally that I should do, but with Odelia’s birth, the nurse had told me not to vocalize during contractions because it deprived the baby of oxygen. I was so glad to hear that vocalizing was, as I had intuited, perfectly safe and incredibly effective at helping me through each contraction. With this one suggestion, Rebecca had given me back my control- now this labor was no longer happening to me, but I was working along with it.
Rebecca helped me back into the shower, and this time, she and John stayed by my side. On my knees leaning on stool, letting the hot water pound my back, I would breathe and relax. I cannot imagine trying to go through labor without that magical water on my back. When a contraction came I would grab and squeeze John’s hand. It was amazing how saying “ah”, and keeping it low in pitch, helped me ride the wave of each contraction. It felt like I was there for hours. John ended up getting completely soaked and practically flooded the bathroom with a misfiring showerhead. The contractions finally became so intense that I could not keep my “ahs” low- they raised in pitch and tightened until I was pretty much screaming. Finally I just broke down sobbing- I can’t do this I can’t do this- I need an epidural NOW! Oh God help me help me! NOW!! Get me out of here!
Clearly, I had been going though the most intense part of labor, transition, because when the doctor checked me at 9:30, I was already 9cm- too late for an epidural and almost there! I was so relieved. Even though the contractions were still so intense while we waited for the tub to be filled, I knew I could do this. And I was so happy that we were so close to meeting Eliza!
I climbed into the tub, and kneeled on my knees and with my head and arms leaning on the side. The water once again worked its magical effect on me and took away so much of the pain. Very quickly the nature of the contractions changed and I felt like pushing. Each time a contraction would come, I would scream with the push and have John push on my lower back for counter pressure. It was the most bizarre thing- in between contractions I was almost like a normal person, and then one would hit and I’d be transported off into some other space-time where my inner two-year-old could scream and demand what she needed- especially if John was not pushing hard enough in the exact right spot. Rebecca was emptying cold water and replacing it with warm water and talking calmly with me, encouraging me. Dr. Paer was hanging out on the couch, playing Scrabble on his iPhone. There were other doctors and nurses in the room also, but I was hardly aware of them. I was in my little nest, eyes closed and breathing.
Once again, I’m sad to say, I got to yet another point where I felt that I could not continue (even though I knew that there was no going back!). My body shook with sobbing as I declared yet again that I couldn’t do this, calling for God to help me help me help me. Just when I thought I couldn’t continue, a huge contraction pushed Eliza right out in a burst of stars behind my closed eyes. First her head, then someone flipped me over, and out she came. Almost immediately I had her in my arms. She was completely covered with a thick coat of vernix- my little Crisco baby. John put his arms around me and we held this little miracle together, our dear Eliza Louise. She was born at 10:30am, December 22, 2010.
What an amazing ride, this completely natural, intervention-free birth. I love that about the only thing the doctor did was raise the baby up out of the water and give me some stitches afterwards. I love that we were able to trust my body and give me the time, space (and water!) that I needed. I love that I had the support of John and Rebecca holding me and steadying me when I felt like I was drowning. There is one thing, though, that I regret. While I was not especially expecting one of these mystical, pain-free, ecstatic births, I was chagrined at how I responded to the pain and the fear of more pain. I wish that I had been stronger. I wish that I had not so often given my emerging child the message “I can’t do this.”
So this is the next step. Eliza and I will together transform that message of “I can’t do this” into something powerful and positive. We just might learn together that sometimes it’s not about what I can do, but what can happen if we let go and ask for help.