I know, the last time you heard from me was with a pregnancy announcement, but as much as I don’t even find time to scratch myself these days, I do miss writing, and do hope one day I’ll be blogging frequently again.
But Gabriel’s birth story had to be recorded for prosperity since the whole thing was crazy fast! (Labor started at 6:30am, he was born at 11:45am the same day!)
Our little Gabriel was born in Perinatal Laranjeiras (Rio de Janeiro) at 11:45am, on 05/05/15, weighing 8lbs 10oz, measuring 20.5″ and after being 6 days late (my due date was April 29th), waiting and waiting for his arrival, once he was ready he was in a hurry!
I had Ellie in the Philippines (birth story here). If you don’t want to read the whole thing, it was a vaginal birth with epidural, and I even had the kristeller maneuver (when they literally push the baby out of your belly — at that time I didn’t even know this had a name and how controversial this maneuver is). I didn’t however have any issues with her birth and thought it was wonderful. The things that were important to me were all respected (no episiotomy, waiting until the cord stopped pulsating before cutting it, no cesarean) and I was open to anesthesia. Her birth was at 39 weeks, 5 days, after a membrane sweep (per my request), that triggered contractions a couple of hours later, which slowly intensified, and once I started dilating things moved fast.
Exactly 26 months passed, now in Rio, Brazil, and after lots of research to avoid a csection in a country with one of the highest (if not the highest) csection rates in the world (with some private hospitals having over 90% rates!), I chose a wonderful team: Dr Fernanda Macedo, who works with the obstetrical nurse/midwife Heloisa Lessa.
Dr Fernanda is part of a new movement in Brazil called “humanized birth” meaning birth with no medical interventions (unless absolutely medically necessary, but never out of convenience for the doctor because she has other places to go to). Heloisa specializes in home births, but teams up with Dr Fernanda to help those mothers like myself who feel more comfortable in a hospital setting. Heloisa replaces the doula during labor at home (but with the added medical training of an ON/midwife, being able to check dilation and baby’s heart rate, and even deliver the baby in an emergency). She then goes to the hospital with you, where we meet with the doctor, and she assists her with the delivery. I absolutely loved this, as it took away the guessing game of “should we go to the hospital now?”
I was again open to an epidural, but again was going to see if I could have a natural drug-free labor, since Heloisa mentioned that second births tend to go much quicker than the first, specially once active labor starts, and during the pushing stage as well, so this gave me hope that I could handle the pain.
With 40 weeks 5 days, I couldn’t stand being pregnant anymore, I was absolutely miserable. Everything was uncomfortable, I had daily cramps for the last month, insomnia was a constant battle, I was dealing with prodromal labor in the middle of the night for a week, everything would hurt when walking (and we live so far from everything, I ended up spending a lot of time at home), and I was already convinced my body didn’t know how to go into labor without a push, after all, with Ellie I had a membrane sweep to trigger labor. The baby was still very high up, he was already much quieter and not moving as often, which worried me (but that day I had had an ultrasound and baby was doing great).
I went to sleep that Monday night convinced he was never going to be born, and I even mentioned with Karl that I was going to beg the doctor for a membrane sweep next time I saw her. I hadn’t scheduled my next appointment yet because her office schedule was up in the air as she was canceling appointments because everyone else was going into labor (except me, which was making me even more frustrated). I took this picture before bed that night.
But at 3am the next day (40w 6d along) I woke up as usual at this point, but this time with what felt like gas pains. I had taken evening primrose oil, and a quick google search told me it was a side effect from it, and since the pain was constant, with no rhythm, I didn’t think much of it. It was just enough to wake me up and keep me awake, but nothing to make me hopeful.
At 6am, I got up and finally went to the bathroom to see if I could get rid of the gas pains. I was unsuccessful, but when I wiped the pee, I saw blood: finally!!! It was a sign that something was going to happen! I sent a message to Dr Fernanda and Heloisa, that I didn’t have any contractions, but there was blood, so maybe today was the day. I warned my parents to be ready to pick up Ellie, but to not get excited quite yet, and not to mention with anyone because it may not be anything yet, and told Karl who was getting dressed for work that he should stay home.
Half hour later I noticed the gas pains had a rhythm, they started to come and go, so I started to time them. At 6:40, I sent a message to Heloisa saying I thought they were contractions, but they were still very far apart, lasting only 15-20 seconds, would get closer when I was standing or walking, but they would space out once I was sitting or laying down. I told my parents to pick up Ellie as I thought it was the real thing starting, finally!
At 7:20 I sent Heloisa a message that I was starting to feel downward pressure, and the pain was no longer just concentrated on my belly, so I didn’t think it was a false alarm this time (I had a false alarm a week before, so it was still hard for my to believe this may be it). She said she was leaving Barra, and coming to see me. I told her she didn’t have to be in any hurry as the contractions were still short and far apart.
At 8:40 I sent her another message saying I had forgotten how much it hurts! But if the British princess could do it, this peasant could too, right? (This was a mere week after Kate Middleton gave birth.) I knew then that it was definitely not false alarm, the pain was starting to radiate towards my back. Like last time, while I was timing them, none of my contractions lasted longer than 50 seconds even though they were only 1-2 minutes apart. They would still pick up once I got up, so I kept myself seated on the couch.
My parents arrived to pick up Ellie, and Heloisa arrived around 10:30am already talking about going to the hospital — say what? I thought she was going to spend time with me at home and only go to the hospital closer to the delivery time? Thankfully her experience and intuition are strong — if it depended on me, I would have ended up with an unplanned home birth!
Karl went to walk Lily before leaving, and she checked my dilation and I was 5cm — so all the pain was doing something! I remember going “great, so this baby will definitely be born today or tomorrow!” And her looking at me and saying “Tomorrow? He’ll be born today!”
The baby was still super high up and hanging out on the left, and I mentioned how with Ellie it was the same, I got to 10cm and she still hadn’t dropped so I had to lay on my right side to help her turn and drop for a couple of hours. This information was super valuable to her — I didn’t know it, but she already knew that without anesthesia and without laying down, once I hit 10cm this baby would come down fast. While usually it’s the baby’s weight that helps reach full dilation, with me I dilate first, and the baby drops after, so checking how high the baby is cannot be trusted (she told me this after the birth — she was super call
and had total poker face throughout labor).
I didn’t know it until after Gabriel was born but she was texting the doctor “hurry up as this is going to be a quick one!” With me she had total poker face.
Heloisa looked at me and asked “Where is your beer?” She had asked me to but my favorite beer so I could drink a glass before leaving the house to relax a bit, as I was too in tune and controlling and I needed to let go. Karl got back with Lily, brought me a glass of Hefeweizen (ah, 9 months without it!) and she said once I finished we would head to the hospital. Karl went to take the bags down and pull out the car.
This whole time Heloisa was in touch with Dr Fernanda, who was also coming from Barra (they had a delivery early morning) and that Dr Fernanda Satty was on her way to the hospital to check me in in case Dr Fernanda Macedo couldn’t get there in time (because Brazil has such a csection culture, it is important that the doctor arrives before the patient, since a doctor who is on call would likely send her straight to surgery, or if she’s far along enough, perform a vaginal delivery but with what here is called “obstetrical violence” performing automatic episiotomy, kristeller maneuver, forceps, woman laying flat in bed even if she wants something else, sometimes even refusing anesthesia even if she asks so she will be persuaded to a csection, etc).
Around 11am we left home in the way to Perinatal Hospital in Laranjeiras, with Karl driving veeeeery slowly because the contractions had already picked up and were pretty intense (sitting down no longer helped!), and any bouncing movement made it hurt like hell.
We arrived, left the car with the valet while Karl grabbed our things and checked me in. Dr Satty was already there so we went straight in. In the elevator, Dr Fernanda walks in with us, so I’m much calmer: everyone is here!
The contractions start getting more intense while we were waiting for the elevator, in the elevator I already start feeling intense downward pressure. I’m no longer speaking.
We need to go to the changing room and Dr Satty helps me change to the hospital gown. There are too many people that work in the hospital there, talking loudly, laughing, and despite both doctors and the midwife asking them for silence, they don’t quiet it down. The humanized birthing room is not quite ready (all other rooms are for cesareans, only one is meant to labor in, thanks to Brazil’s high c-section rate), so they put us in a small dark room at the end of the hallway to wait. A strong contraction hits me so I lean over the bed and as soon as it’s over I say I need to pee, something I had already mentioned a couple of times. Dr Fernanda asks to quickly check the baby’s heart rate before I go, she uses the doppler while I’m standing, baby is still high up but already centered on my belly (he had been on my left still when we left home).
I go to the small single bathroom next door, at the end of the hospital hallway, Heloisa follows me and closes the door, waiting for me on the other side. The bathroom:
I sit down, and hear a “ploft” with something falling and hitting the toilet water hard. I’m unable to pee but suddenly I have to poop. I open the door, while still sitting on the toilet, and tell her “I want to poop, but I heard needing to poop sometimes could be something else…?” She says “ok” completely calm, closes the door then seconds later she comes in and squats to my left, Dr Fernanda comes in right behind her and squats to my right, they turn off the light and leave the door ajar with just enough light from the hallway so they can see me and Dr Satty stands right next to Dr Fernanda at the door.
I start saying that it hurts, I don’t want to be there, I don’t want to be on the toilet though I have no strength to get myself up, intense contraction follows, I find out what the “circle of fire” means, I want everything to stop. Karl hadn’t even arrived yet, he’s still registering me downstairs!
The contraction ends and Dr Fernanda asks me to scoot over to the edge of the toilet and they help me do so. It’s very uncomfortable, I complain that it hurts, I don’t want to be there, I have no strength, I ask for the birthing stool I had heard of, please get me out of there, I can’t handle it. I ask them to take off my underwear, since it’s still halfway down my legs (after all, I only went in for a quick pee!).
A super intense contraction hits seconds after and I scream that I want to squat, grab onto Heloisa and I squat while holding onto her neck for leverage, in front of the toilet, I start screaming like a mad woman that it hurts, to make it all stop, I want my epidural (though deep down my rational side tells me it’s too late, the head is coming out, I don’t even have strength to move, there’s no way I can get any pain relief at this point but yet I keep asking for it).
And I keep screaming “AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH” between an “I can’t! It hurts! It hurts” I can hear loud noises from the hallway and they are making the pain more intense, Dr Satty keeps asking the hospital staff that’s chatting to be quiet to no avail. I know Karl is missing the birth. I’m aware that everyone can hear me scream like a wild banshee, but I couldn’t care less, the yelling helps push the baby down, it gives me strength to push, the screaming is coming like the baby: without my control! I have never been so out of control of what my body is doing before!
When the second contractions after I had squatted hits, I push with an incredible force to end this once and for all, and he comes out, followed by a huge “ploft” sound as my water breaks wetting our feet and the floors. His body slides out and Dr Fernanda catches him and immediately hands me the baby, and I keep holding him and kissing him, saying “oh baby, mommy had you in the bathroom, I’m sorry!”, while his eyes are half open and letting small cry out. I am still wearing the hospital gown, still squatting with them helping me balance while I am holding the baby, and I can’t believe that I gave birth in a hospital hallway bathroom while squatting in front of the toilet (that was definitely NOT in my birth plan!). It is all very surreal.
I look down at the lit hallway and see Karl running towards the bathroom and I just say “I had him in the bathroom, I couldn’t wait for you” while he’s looking at his son and crying.
Heloisa and both the doctors help me get up from the very slippery floor, full of amniotic fluid and blood covering the tiles, and I am left with absolutely no strength, holding the baby on my arms, the umbilical cord half in half out, and they help me wobble back to the little dark room next to the bathroom. I am terrified I’m going to slip and fall and drop the baby!
I lay on the bed with their help, Karl cuts the cord when it stops pulsating, Dr Fernanda helps me deliver the placenta — and that hurt like hell and took longer than the baby to come out! It felt as if I had given birth to a cheese grater and now the placenta had to get through the grated areas! I didn’t tear, just had some grazes (and later found out that the recovery is way more painful than when I tore with Ellie!)
They help me put the baby against my bare skin, and change the hospital gown to a clean one (I was still laying in bed). Gabriel — who was still very much unnamed at this point — doesn’t nurse right away, but about 15 minutes later latches easily, him very calm, but as startled as I was from the whole thing. I don’t have one picture right after his birth because there wasn’t any time for anything. Karl had changed as fast as possible while hearing primal screams that he wasn’t sure if they were coming from me.
It’s been almost a month and it’s still all very surreal. When I think of his birth story, that I had him squatting in the bathroom, 15 minutes after entering the hospital I still can’t believe it. If I had any clue that would happen I would have freaked the fuck out.
I would never have been able to do any of this if Dr Fernanda and Heloisa didn’t believe in me, giving me encouraging words when I thought I couldn’t do it. They gave me strength when I had nothing left of my own, and kept calm despite the speed in which everything happened. Not once did they try to get me up or move me from the bathroom (I don’t think it was physically possible at that point, but the fact that they didn’t even mentioned it certainly helped!). And special thanks to Heloisa that let me grab onto her neck with all my strength and to all three of them for putting up with my screams in that tiny bathroom! Their ears were probably buzzing for days after that! And I’m thankful to Heloisa’s great intuition that everything was going to move fast, and amazed that they maintained their sense of humor despite everything! They even joked “When Heloisa texts you to hurry up, you run!”
I cannot recommend my birth team enough. They were incredible, and actually makes me want to live through the experience again — ring of fire and all — because of how spectacular I felt afterward.
I never understood the whole natural birth movement, epidurals a exist for a reason! But after giving birth both ways I understand what is all about. I’m not better than moms who haven’t experienced the pain of drug-free delivery, but I felt so incredible afterwards. You’re left on a high as if you can do anything, conquer anything. It’s hard to put into words!
Ellie has been smitten with her baby brother since! I was so afraid of jealousy but followed all the tips to make her included and luckily it works, she just loves this little boy!
And of course, he went from being this tiny little thing…
To 3.5 months old by the time I put this post together. Oops.