01 February 2012

Austen's Birth Story

This is the story of how Austen Brielle was born. 

austen's birth
Austen Brielle Petermann
Born at home
January 18, 2012 @ 12:19 pm
9 lbs 8 oz, 21.5 inches

* * * * *

I wasn't in labor.

At least that's what I thought. After a week of multiple false starts -- of hopes getting raised only to be disappointed -- I wasn't ready to think, "This might be it!" There had been two or three times in the previous week that we had started timing contractions, only to have them fade out to nothing, and for me to wake up still pregnant the next morning.

austen's birth
Early in labor, hours before I acknowledged it was labor

I had seen my midwife earlier that day (Tuesday the 17th) -- my 41 week appointment. Since I was one week past the due date, we talked about scheduling a non-stress test. I had been hoping to avoid this -- it was the last thing we did before being sent straight to the hospital to have Ewan. She checked my progress and said it could be soon. "Soon" had lost all meaning to me at 40 weeks and 6 days pregnant, but it was all I had to go on. We talked about any fears I might be bringing into the birth -- fears from what we went through with Ewan. I was instructed to go home, lie on my left side as much as possible, and relax.

And that's exactly what I did.

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One last belly shot

James was working late that night and after a day of relaxing, I felt like I had some energy. Realizing a sudden burst of energy was one of the many pre-labor "signs" I had heard about, I laughed to myself. I had had every other pre-labor "sign" in the book over the last three weeks and was quite obviously still pregnant. Inspired and rested, I made a big batch of soup and casserole -- things that would be easy to reheat should Austen arrive soon. I even made a dessert, did dishes, and cleaned the kitchen.

Around 11 pm, I got up to use the bathroom and just before I got there, was stopped by a sudden and intense cramping in my lower abdomen. And there it was: bloody show. I knew labor could be either hours or days away still, so I didn't get too excited. I called James and let him know. And then I started having contractions.

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Very early labor in the tub

Nope, still not in labor (at least I didn't think so).

James came home around midnight and though they were irregular (seven minutes, twelve minutes, four minutes), we decided to start timing contractions again. I walked around, I held onto the back of the couch and squatted down. We put in a movie and I fell asleep between the rushes, waking only to tell James "Contraction," and "Done" when it was over.

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By this point, I'm a believer. Yep, this is labor!

James thought it was labor. As the hours ticked by through 3, 4, and 5 am, I remained unconvinced. I kept looking to the hands of the clock, saying things like, "If I'm still contracting in an hour, we'll call the midwife," and then, "If I'm still contracting by 6 am, we'll call." Then it was 7. Finally, by 6:30 in the morning, contractions were strong and regular enough that I was convinced that I was in labor. James called Kelli, our midwife.

She was at another birth an hour away.

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Michelle applies pressure to my low back through a contraction

Michelle, the midwifery student who had been working with us, came over to check my progress and update Kelli on where I was at. It wasn't until she checked me and told me how dilated I was (around 6-7 cm, if  I remember correctly) that I believed that this was actually it. We were going to meet Austen, finally. After all this waiting! A backup midwife (Kaleen) was on the way.

I continued to labor in the ways that felt best to me: walking around, leaning over the couch, lying on my side in the bathtub. I could really feel how all the moving around was helping things progress more quickly. Every time I changed positions, the contractions picked up in frequency and intensity. James and Michelle took turns giving me juice or coconut water, rubbing and applying pressure to my back.

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Hanging on

I knew I was in transition when it got more difficult to maintain my focus -- I found it difficult to rest between contractions, and not to scream at high pitches instead vocalizing in low tones. I cried in between, yelling for God and my mom. The amount of energy I felt coursing through my body was overwhelming -- though I hadn't forgotten the intensity of Ewan's birth, experiencing it again in this labor with Austen was both incredible and excruciating. I reminded myself to embrace the changes, to allow for the openness that was needed to deliver my daughter.

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James helps me to focus and to breathe

After laboring in the tub for awhile, Michelle and Kaleen suggested moving to the birthing stool. I moved from my left side-lying position in the tub to my knees, using my hands to prop myself up on the edge of the tub. I welcomed another contraction and focused on my breathing, reminding myself that Austen was coming. I kept telling James, "We're going to meet her today. We're finally going to get to see her."

Kaleen set up the birthing stool in our bedroom. It was later in the morning and sunlight was pouring into the room through our open shades, and the warmth of it felt wonderful. As I had experienced and had come to expect, the change in position proved to be powerful. I could feel things opening up more and more, and finally I was able to feel the bag of waters bulging out. I reached down and broke it, knowing it wouldn't be long now. I breathed, moaned, and cried. Though I didn't yet feel ready to push, I was fully dilated and ready to go.

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Using the birthing stool

I had hoped for a water birth, but since Kelli was wrapping up at another birth about an hour away, I didn't have the option of a birthing tub. I opted to move back to our bathtub, thinking the warm water would feel good. It wasn't long before I felt the intense need to push. I sat upright, pushing for awhile in the tub, but feeling like the pushes weren't at all productive. I cried between contractions, yelling again for God and my mom (aside: I don't remember if I cried for my mommy last time like I did this time. It's incredibly interesting to me what screams escaped my lips in both my childbirth experiences).

Right about this time, Kelli arrived. Though I was incredibly well supported by James, Michellle, and Kaleen, it was incredibly reassuring to see her there. I was relieved and ecstatic that she arrived before Austen made her appearance.

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Laboring in the tub

After a few more pushes in the tub, Kelli checked me. I don't remember how long I had been there (I think about half an hour or so) or how many pushes we tried in the tub, but it was clear to me we weren't getting anywhere. Just like it did with Ewan, there was a swollen lip of my cervix holding Austen back. She suggested moving to the bed and getting in a hands and knees position.

Getting out of the tub brought on contractions even more powerful. I moaned and screamed through it, waiting for it to pass. I relied on the strong arms around me to support me as I climbed out of the tub and moved to our bedroom nearby. Using the stepstool on the side of the bed and the helping arms of those around me, I finally made it to a hands and knees position on the bed. Kelli moved the lip of my cervix out of the way and I faced Kaleen on the other side. She held both my hands as the intensity picked up.

I could tell it was so, so close. 

I clutched Kaleen's hands and screamed all the way through each push and contraction. The difference in how it felt was incredible -- I could feel each push and contraction moving Austen closer to the outside world. I remember feeling the burn of her crowning, having a hard time not pushing between contractions. I remember feeling her head emerge, and the birth assistant showing me a picture of Austen's head that she took with her camera phone. Seeing her face inspired me to put all my energy into pushing the rest of her body out of mine. I pushed with everything I had in me.

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There's my girl!

And then I heard her cry. After seven minutes of pushing, she was out.

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Seeing her for the first time

They laid her on the bed in front of me. I touched her arms, cupped her face, and took all of her in -- every beautiful, pink inch of her. I smiled. I laughed. I looked at her, and I wept. I felt everything: relief, joy, elation. Grief and joy and birth and death and life and pure, sweet, unmitigated grace. Kelli said it well: "You're going to be processing this for a long, long time."

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Surreal doesn't even begin to describe it.

After a short time, they all helped me lie back on the bed. They put a knit hat on Austen's head and placed her on my chest where she stayed for over an hour. No one was coming to take her away. She was perfect and crying and pink and healthy and breathing on her own, and no one was going to come stick needles in her. My left arm grew tired, but I just kept holding on.

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First picture together

Even now, I find it hard to believe that everything went so perfectly -- the pregnancy, as well as the labor and delivery. Throughout the entirety of labor, Austen's heartrate never struggled or wavered. She handled it all so beautifully. I never felt unsafe or like I wanted to be anywhere else. I never felt like I was proving a point or being radical or trying to be a hero, and I never felt like I wished I were doing it another way. For me, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.

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Kelli looks on the mama with her new baby

My daughter is healthy and strong, and I first held her in the place that we call home. And she's still here. That's the part that boggles my mind and astounds my heart every time I look at her: she's still here.

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Father and daughter get a good look at each other

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Michelle in the midst of the newborn exam

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Kelli with Austen

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In her first hat and onesie (that reads "Born at Home")

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Michelle bundles Austen up

Other facts about Austen's birth:

  • From my first contraction to delivery was approximately 13 hours. The first 11 hours or so were much easier than the last 2.
  • Once I got on the hands and knees position on the bed, it was 7 minutes of pushing until she was out. It was incredible the difference it made to get into a different position.
  • She came out with her little fist up near her face.
  • Austen was 3 lbs 1 oz heavier than Ewan, but this delivery and recovery was and continues to be so much easier on me! There wasn't nearly as much tearing this time around, and if it hadn't been for that little fist, who knows?
  • No one believed her weight at first, so we weighed her twice!
  • My total pregnancy weight gain was 30 lbs, meaning Austen made up quite nearly 1/3 of that by the end of my pregnancy.
  • Ewan was born September 18, 2010 and Austen was born January 18, 2012 -- exactly 16 months apart.
  • Austen shares a birthday with my dear friend Christianne.

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Taking it all in (and I still am).