MAX'S BIRTH STORY [OUR PERFECT MONDAY]...
At 9 o'clock on Sunday November 1st 2009, the day before Max's due date, Günter brought me out to the fire escape to show me a beautifully round full moon. It confirmed our prediction that I would go into to labor that night. Three hours later I woke up to Max's excited movements. They were strong, quick and seemed reactionary. It was as if he were trying to tell me, "Wake up mama, it's time!" That's when I noticed the contractions. After months of hourly Braxton Hicks, these surges were much stronger and came with a distinct pressure sensation as if his head were being forced down with each tightening. I lit a candle, grabbed my phone and began to time them.
A Peaceful Early and Active Labor
I remember watching Günter sleeping peacefully, happily even, and deciding to let him stay that way because it would be a long, long time before he got to sleep like that again. I began to practice the slow deep breaths and visualization techniques I had learned. Every cell in my body was filled with complete joy and calmness.
For the next seven hours as the contractions grew stronger and progressed from 5-6 to 3-4 minutes apart, I continued my relaxation techniques, focusing on the candle, talking to Max, and at times swayed on the birthing ball. I felt completely connected to Max and felt my peacefulness become a comfort to him. He continued to move with each surge but his movements were calmer. It was the most peaceful, focused, happy and purposeful 7 hours of my life.
At 7:30 am Günter woke up. As he headed for the shower I said casually, "Guess what? It's time to go to the hospital" He continued to look through his closet for a moment before my words sunk in. Then he did a classic double take and said What? No way!!! He ran to tell his mother who was staying with us in anticipation of the baby. Even as the excitement in our house grew, I felt sedated and calm as if in a bubble. I showered and then, already being ultra-prepared, waited for everyone to get ready. We called Dr. Sassoon. Since it was a Monday morning he was already on his way to the office, so we called a car service headed over to meet him.
It was a perfect New York autumn day. The car was pristine and our driver was courteous and relaxed. He was a cautious driver, and in spite of the fact that it was rush hour, there seemed to be no other cars on the road. We arrived at Park Ave and 77th from Williamsburg in 40 minutes flat (which never happens). In the car, my contractions slowed briefly and picked up again once we arrived at the office. A quick exam confirmed that I was 4 cm dilated and at the beginning stage of active labor. With a genuine excitement, a huge smile and a hug Dr. Sassoon said "Your ready!" and we were off to Lenox Hill hospital which was just around the corner.
Settling in to the Birthing Room
As I sat near the check in desk, the L&D nurse who'd been to our house just 3 days before to give us a childbirth lesson walked in. She paired us with an amazing nurse Ellie, who specialized in natural birth. I remember her leaning in and with a hand on my shoulder, saying "You're going to have a baby today!" I remember thinking wow, she's right. I knew that I was going to give birth but somehow the concept of having a baby still seemed totally foreign. That's when it really hit me that by the end of the day I would have a child of my own in my arms and officially be a mother forever.
Our birthing room was huge, peaceful, airy and filled with natural light. We put my chosen birthing music on and the preparations began. I knew that I would have an IV with antibiotics and Pitocin to protect Max and encourage my labor to progress, because I had tested positive for GBS 2 weeks prior.
I knew that the longer my labor took the more rounds of antibiotics I would receive which would increase our chances of having postpartum problems like thrush or more serious complications. So when my doctor asked if I would like my water broken I agreed. Even though everything felt perfectly timed and unrushed, feeling that rush of warm water was a difficult moment.
The release of that precious water that had cushioned him safely, came a rush of emotion and sadness. For the first time all day I realized that our pregnancy was over. Our sacred time of closeness and the harboring this new life in perfect safety was over. It was now time to face the world as individuals.
Support From All Directions
Günter held my hand, guided me through some of the meditations we'd learned from the Mongan hypnoborthing book. I swayed on the birthing ball while he did light touch massage. I labored in several different positions, but as the intensity of the contractions grew I found lying on my side felt best. Throughout the process Max remained very active so I never had reason to worry about his well being. I continued to practice my hypnobirthing techniques, and the birthing music we played on the CD player was a enormous comfort. It seemed to set a peaceful tone for everyone in the room.
Our nurse Ellie was amazing. She was calm, nurturing and joyful, respectful and supportive of our birth plan and enormously helpful at every step. Dr. Sassoon was also incredibly calm, and offered the perfect mixture of support and humor. His confidence and joy in the process was a constant comfort. The two of them worked beautifully together.
Transition and Transformation
As the intensity of the surges began to become overwhelming, something I hadn't "mentally prepared for" happened. The contractions began to completely overlap without those precious moments to regroup in between. The Pitocin drip was turned down which helped at first but eventually they were overlapping again.
Around 2pm was the point when I stopped talking or moving, I laid still with my eyes closed and made low humming noises as each surge peaked. At that point I didn't want to be touched or talked to by anyone. I didn't even want to hear people talk around me. I just lay on my side with my eyes closed humming and breathing deeply. I remember thinking since it had only been 14 hours of laboring and had felt easy until that point, that I must have at least 7 hours to go.
A Decision and a Beautiful Delivery
I felt my idea of a perfect struggle-free birth slipping out of reach, but I still felt very attached to my vision of the a peaceful birth. That's when something else happened that I didn't expect. I realized that aside from briefly living in the wilderness at two points in my life, I'd never really experienced the inability to control my physical comfort. I figured I had at least 6 hours of labor left and began to fear what lay ahead. The next time my doctor came in, around 3pm, I opened my eyes for the first time in an hour and said those famous words I changed my mind. I want to have an epidural. Like many women who plan a natural birth, it was an unexpected but quick and final decision.
Within 15 minutes the epidural had been administered and although I continued to feel the surges they were no longer significantly painful. I still felt each of Max's movements in my body and there was no numbing, no drowsy feeling. I felt alert and completely normal. It felt completely relaxed and as if I'd returned to the early labor I'd experienced that morning.
Then came the third surprise. At 4pm within 30 minutes of receiving the epidural I was completely dilated and told that I could begin to push if I wanted to. I didn't experience a physical urge to push but after 10 years of waiting and praying to be a mother, knowing now that he could be in my arms in moments, I gave it everything I had. Within a few short pushes his head and shoulders were out. At 4:31pm, Dr. Sassoon guided my hands so I could pull him out and lay him on my chest. After months (and for me years of anticipation) we finally met our little Maximilian for the first time.
In spite of all the books I'd devoured about fetal development, I remember feeling completely struck by the fact that he was a complete human being. Somehow that little couscous grain had become a warm chubby baby with tiny fingers and a head of downy hair. In all of the excitement we realized we hadn't even checked his gender. We were too busy staring at his face.
A Realization & the First Separation
As he huddled on my chest I became aware of his tiny newborn cry. He was alert and his eyes were open. I remember looking at his furrowed brow and thinking "He's crying. He's scared and uncomfortable. Wait...I'm his mother. It's my job to do something about it! I began to stroke his head and talk to him and he instantly relaxed. That was the moment I became a mother and that was the moment my real life began.
Full of an excitement and pride that could only be described as paternal, Dr. Sassoon congratulated us and parted for home. Ellie dimmed the lights and left the three of us together. For two hours we cuddled as a family of three while Max nursed like a pro.
When the nurses came to take him for newborn procedures, they explained that they would bring him back in 2 hours. That first separation was the most difficult 2 hours of my life. All I could think about was Max. I sent Günter to check on him at least 5 times and each time he'd report that he was resting peacefully under the heat lamps. The staff kept assuring us that he just needed to reach and maintain a certain body temperature. After 2 hours and 10 minutes, I broke down. Having a baby is a surreal experience and the only thing that makes it feel real in those early weeks is physically holding your baby.
After carrying him 24/7 for 9 months, having him down the hall from me was completely unbearable. My body was alone again as if nothing had ever happened. I looked at my empty stomach and began to cry completely freak out. I realized now would be a good time to use my visualization techniques again, so I closed my eyes and imagined him laying contentedly in my arms. Within minutes...I will never forget the sound of the bassinet wheels in the hallway, this time stopping at my door finally!
Falling in Love
Günter and his mother left to recoup for the next day leaving me alone with little Maximilian. That was when I fell in love. I didn't want to eat, sleep or shower. I just sat in bed with my knees bent, Max swaddled and laying against my legs facing me. I stared at him in awe for hours, ignoring loud speaker requests for all babies to be brought to the nursery for status checks.
Eventually a nurse came to my room to get him and said playfully, "Hey, you're hoarding him!" Within 20 minutes he was back and wrapped as tight as a mummy. He was very still, eyes wide and staring straight into mine. I knew that he was asking me "What the heck just happened to me?" I unwrapped him and he turned his head and spit up a little foam (Argh! that meant they'd given him formula or sugar water. I didn't want that!) Then I read the card in his bassinet and that explained he'd had the hearing test. No wonder the little guy was weirded out.
From that moment on our time together was uninterrupted. I held him constantly and he nursed every 40 minutes around the clock. I only put him in the bassinet for bathroom breaks or at one point when I was so tired I thought I might fall asleep and let him slip off my lap. The staff at Lenox Hill was continuosly nurturing and supportive. When I turned down the standard meals and asked for fresh fruit and yogurt it was there in an instant. They encouraged me to go to the breastfeeding support class where we got individual help with positioning and proper technique. And twice a day a lactation consultant came to my room to check in, providing advice and a pump to jumpstart my reticent right nipple. They were respecful of our decision to keep him uncircumcised and holding off on beginning immunizations until he was 2 months.
He was a peaceful contented baby and never screamed and turned beet red like newborns in the movies. He truly was a little cherub and to this day I'm filled with enormous gratitude daily for having been chosen to be his mother and being blessed with such an incredible gift.