Monday, April 14, 2008

Amara at one month-- birth story and top 10 list

In celebration of Amara’s one-month birthday, April 11, I’m sharing an abbreviated version of her birth story, a post-partum anecdote and an Amara top-ten list.

Thanks for indulging us!

Janna

PS. We were relieved of our camera, so there is no picture to accompany the update or new photo/video entries on the blog.

Amara’s birth story

We are grateful for a quick birth without complications and, most importantly, a healthy daughter. Labor and delivery felt very natural; I confess that at the time it was nearly anti-climatic. (“What, it’s over? But I didn’t even get to employ my well-rehearsed pain management meditation.”) My body knew what to do for this astonishing miracle and I was prepared to let it. For me the beauty of Amara’s birth was in its natural simplicity and intimacy—Jess and I together ushering forth a new family member where this new life began. But the reactions of others to the story, especially the improvisation necessary for this fast home delivery, have influenced how I’ll remember Amara’s entrance into the world this side of the womb.

We were at home (as planned), so there were no rushed trips to the hospital, no drugs, and no medical personnel buzzing about. I felt peculiarly calm and relaxed. It’s true, however, that the doctor didn’t arrive until after Amara was born. Consequently, there was no medical equipment or pool for a water birth as planned, and Jess served as assistant to the midwife. His role included tracking down a pair of sterile surgical gloves at 1:30am and cutting the umbilical cord with our all-purpose kitchen scissors. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

On Sunday night we went to bed excitedly timing the first contractions. We thought the long-anticipated day had arrived, but although they continued throughout the night the surges were generally mild and irregular (first 3 min apart but later at 15-20 minute intervals). I walked into the office with Jess on Monday morning and stayed until co-workers sent me home a few hours later. (“Janna, caramba chica, I’ll just die if your water breaks at the office! I’m going on maternity leave now if you don’t go home immediately!” to paraphrase one 20-something colleague.) The first strong contraction surged on my walk home, directly in front of the well-established post of a shoe-shine man. I resisted the urge to lie down on the grass and instead leaned against a tree and breathed deeply while he looked on with notable concern.

The contractions gradually increased in frequency and intensity throughout the day and early evening. Around 9pm managing the surges started to require my full attention. The “birth affirmations” shared by Goshen College women friends and supportive words from Jess hung around the apartment. These pronouncements of strength and embracement of the contractions became my mantras. I created a path through our rooms, walking from sign to sign, repeating their messages and concentrating hard on my breathing.

I called the doctor when the contractions were 3 to 4 minutes apart, around 11 pm. The call to his cell phone went directly to voicemail. Jess called the midwife and, after listening to the description of my state, she said that she was happy to come over, but that I was still early in labor and suggested we call back after reaching a few bench marks or in an hour, which ever came sooner. (The early morning delivery she attended the night before may have been a contributing factor.)

Determined not to be the over anxious couple on the first round of childbirth, we (Jess actually—I wasn’t talking much at this point) called her back an hour later. Every call to the doctor went directly to voicemail. I had unequivocally strong urges to push and the intensity of seemingly unceasing surges bearing down on my body had taken my mind to place beyond myself. I remember thinking, “wow, what my body is experiencing down there is intense!”

Out of my earshot an anxious Jess asked the midwife what Plan B was if we couldn’t reach the doctor. She said she had to check me out to assess the situation.

A powerful surge erupted as Diana, the midwife and multi-tasking queen of that night, walked into our apartment. I willed my body to take in air for Amara. Diana observed my management and said, “oh, you can still breathe through the contractions? You must be early on.” My internal response: “Didn’t we prepare so that we could breathe through anything? Really, this is hard work!” But no matter—I was just relieved she’d arrived so I could start pushing. But when I told her as much she firmly told me to resist until she checked how far I was dilated. My internal response: “WHAT? AHHHHHH!” Withstanding the urges felt about as possible as birthing a litter of kittens. Meanwhile Diana and Jess had been calling around to 24-hour pharmacies looking for someone to deliver surgical gloves. No luck. Jess called over to our doctor friend and neighbor, Carol, who did happen to have some. Lucky. He ran around the block to catch the gloves she threw from her third story apartment. Diana had us create a “nest” on our bed and checked me out. I was fully dilated. Ok, she said, you can push! Hallelujah!

It was a tremendous relief to move from management of the grinding contractions pounding my body to being an active agent in birthing our baby. The sharp sensations created through pushing her through the birth canal were welcome; they meant she was advancing. I channeled the power and determination that must unite the universal circle of mothers into those pushes. I was confident, perhaps over-eager, and knew her arrival was immanent. Amara, come to us! Meanwhile Jess and Diana continued efforts to reach the doctor.

The mother in me was born with the image of Amara’s head crowning. The sacred of creation manifest in me—my body, a channel for new life! I’m grateful to Jess for asking if I wanted to see and holding the mirror so that I could.

Amara was born at approximately 2:10 AM, about 25 minutes after I started pushing. Unbeknownst to me, the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and she came out blue. Since the cord was still her life-line, she wasn’t breathing and didn’t cry. All this scared her dad, who tried to nonchalantly whisper “everything ok?” to the midwife. She assured him it was. Diana immediately placed the warm, wet little creature on my bare chest. My Sparkle, now a “glimmer of the image of God,” was in my arms.

The labor, from the time contractions were 3 to 4 min apart to delivery, was about 3.5 hours long. They tell me that’s pretty fast. A chagrin Mauricio, our beloved doctor who we admire whole-heartedly regardless of the circumstances, arrived about 10 minutes after Amara did. (His son had borrowed his cell phone and didn’t replace his sim card properly. Mauricio attended to a birth the night before and so was sleeping soundly and didn’t check his phone prior to dropping into a deep sleep.)

Our friends Paul and Carol (mentioned above) came over and joined the “the celebration,” as Mauricio calls it. This consisted of looking at the babe, trying out nursing for the first time, routine check-ups for mother and child, eating together, a shower for me, and clean-up thanks to Paul, Carol and Mauricio. (Having a baby at home is a messier venture than we anticipated.)

Writing this out (in snippets), with one hand as Amara is splayed out on the other arm or while she sleeps or stares into the light, helps me appreciate the blessing and beauty of our birth experience anew.

An anecdote: Janna commits unforgivable cultural violations—for 40 days.

Two days after Amara was born I wanted to get some fresh air, so our family of three ventured outside to walk to our elderly neighbor’s house two blocks away. But our door-women didn’t want to let me out of the building. With her hand keeping the door shut she says in a shocked, scared voice, “Lord have mercy, what are you doing? You are going to get sick, I have 5 children and believe me I know, please don’t go….(etc.)” Amused and slightly perplexed I promise to keep Amara’s head covered as we proceed into the 70 (plus) degree air of a sunny day. A block into our journey a neighborhood friend runs over to see Amara and relays that her mother, looking on from the window, can’t believe we’re out and about all ready. Several steps further a friend who had a baby a month before leans out of window and calls, “Hey, congratulations! When was she born?” We tell her and she gasps, “And you’re outside already? You have to take care of yourself!” We approach our destination and some friends pull up in their car. “We heard Amara was born. Congratulations! But what in the world are you doing out already? Really, you have to take care of yourself. You’re going to get sick. Please go home and follow ‘the diet.’”

By this time Jess and I are a little uneasy. Are we naïve, careless and terrible parents? It wasn’t until later that we realized everyone was concerned about me, not Amara. (We did call our doctor and he reassured us that we were behaving appropriately.) Of course we’d heard of “the diet,” in which a new mother stays at home for 40 days after giving birth, eats a whole chicken every day and allows others to wait on her hand and foot, but we thought this was a by-gone tradition of earlier generations in rural areas. Nope. (Well, okay, eating the whole chicken everyday has fallen out of favor.)

Since I’m still within the 40 day “diet” window, I am still regularly scolded for not “taking care of myself” (read: over-eat and lay motionless on a couch?!?! I would go crazy!). It goes so far as threats such as, “if you don’t follow the diet you won’t be able to have more children” or “you feel strong now, but you’ll have a bad back (like me) or aching joints (like me) by the time your 40 if you don’t take care of yourself.” The reprimands come from strangers as often as friends. For about a week now I’ve been telling folks who ask that Amara is 41 days old.

Amara top 10 list (in no particular order):

  • Snuggling while sleeping (J & J)
  • Kissing her (J & J)
  • Feeling her breath on our cheeks (J & J)
  • Watching her gaze into the light, splash in the bathtub, or just breathe…(J & J)
  • Her baby noises—sighs, grunts, little roars, groans and “ahs” (J & J).
  • Expressions and mouth formations she makes while sleeping (favorite is the smile that gives way to a baby belly laugh) (J & J)
  • When she stops crying after a distressed spell! (J & J)
  • Burping that turns into her sleeping on my chest. (Jess)
  • Nursing, the nuzzling that precedes it, and the way she gazes into my eyes during. (Janna)
  • Joy of Amara shared with friends and family. We had a wonderful visit from Amara’s grandparents Greg and Ellen Bowman and are looking forward to “Nona” June Hunter’s arrival! Numerous families in our apartment building, previously strangers, have come to visit Amara and become friends since her birth. We are deeply touched by the outpouring of love and support from friends and family, those of you over seas and our community here in Colombia. Thank you!

Bonus: Observing Amara’s daily developments—she holds our hearts in her two hands.