Archive | August, 2016
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The birth story of Carissa Rose

25 Aug

Long before I got pregnant (or even married), I came across the book “The Joy of Natural Childbirth” by Helen Wessel. It was a story of a Christian couple who wanted to dig deeper into Genesis 3:16a, the so-called ‘Curse of Eve’. Although the book does not discount the fact that birth could be (or is) painful, it argues that the verse does not necessarily mean pain in childbirth (the discussion begs for a separate post). Since then, I have prayed that if ever God would bless me to conceive, I would like not only to experience a natural birth but to experience it in a calm and gentle manner. This is our Baby Carissa Rose’s birth story. Everything is by God’s grace. We give all glory to Him and Him alone.

Early labor

I woke up Wednesday morning (March 16) feeling irregular, very mild contractions. Since they were very erratic and very mild I knew that I was not yet in real labor. I had planned on getting a haircut since Monday that week and since I didn’t have much planned for that day I went to our neighbor mall after breakfast to get a pixie. I was on my 39th week of pregnancy that day and I know I could give birth anytime soon.

After getting my hair cut, I window-shopped around the mall for a while as I needed to walk. Walking was my only form of exercise and I’ve been quite sedentary since going on maternity leave exactly a week ago. I needed to be active especially that I’m in the final stretch of my pregnancy. While browsing around the mall, I realized it was a welcome break from my daily routines and gave me a simple form of relief from the daily stresses in life. I have long ago stopped the habit of window-shopping because I already consider it a waste of time (why look at goods if I have no intension of buying?) But that time, I thought, maybe it sometimes does you some good.

Actually, I did buy a few stuff (after window-shopping), some last-minute items that I needed when I go to labor. I then finished packing my ‘labor bag’ when I got home. I can’t remember what I did in the afternoon (I most probably slept) but in the evening Eugene and I had dinner in Galleria with a couple of church-mates during which I noticed I was again having contractions. They occurred a little more frequently than the ones I felt that morning but they were still far apart. I was able to connect to the mall’s free internet (one of the very few times I was able to connect to that mall’s free internet, SM’s Wi-Fi is more reliable) and I downloaded a contraction timer app and found out that my contractions occurred, on average, every 10 minutes and lasted about 30 seconds. Contractions were not yet efficient, I thought, nothing to be worried about. Our two friends were asking if I was okay as I disengaged from the conversation from time to time to do my breathing exercises and relax during contractions. One of them, a doctor, was even more worried than I was. Hello Drew!

The following day, Thursday, I woke up with still mild contractions but a little bit stronger than the previous day’s and although they were a little more frequent, they were still irregular. A cleaning lady was supposed to finish spring-cleaning our house that day since she wasn’t able to complete the chore the previous Monday but she informed me the previous night that she won’t be able to make it. So since my agenda for the day to finish cleaning the house wouldn’t push through, I just stayed in bed. Lazy me. Actually, I found the free time to indulge myself for some rest and took advantage of the last few moments when I could still afford some time to do nothing. When Baby arrives, I know the words ‘free time’ would be gone in my vocabulary.

Honesty, I was in denial that I could be (or that I was) already in (early) labor. I wanted to give birth already (as any pregnant woman who gets impatient and very uncomfortable when they hit the 3rd trimester) but a part of me still do not want to for a couple of reasons. One is because the house was not yet ready. It was only half-cleaned and I didn’t know if I will be able to finish the spring-clean if I don’t have it get done before the baby arrives. Another reason is I wanted for Eugene and me to go out on a fancy date to indulge ourselves for our last child-free days (well, we didn’t get the chance to).

So that Thursday morning, March 17, I messaged my doula, Velvet, that I was having contractions but they were mild and irregular. She said that my body was probably slowly moving the baby to the optimal position to give birth. (I also messaged her a few days before, I think, to let her know that I have lost my mucous plug). The midwife that checked me the weekend before (March 12) said that my baby was head-down but seems to be posterior—not the best position for babies to be born. (Actually, I thought Baby was transverse since my tummy always bulges on my left side, which I thought was the head, and I only feel kicks on the right side of my tummy, which I thought were the feet. As far as I can remember, this has been Baby’s position all throughout my third trimester). I’m aware that a posterior baby means a big probability of a longer and more painful (back) labor. Velvet advised me to do the Miles Circuit exercise to help Baby move into position. When I Googled ‘miles circuit’, I wondered why Baby was (or could be) posterior because the exercises it showed were body positions and activities that I tried to regularly do all throughout my pregnancy. I did forward-leaning inversions almost every day (learned this from Spinning Babies). I avoided leaning on my back. I did pelvic tilts and rocks and posed on my hands and feet a lot (I still cleaned the bathroom up until my third trimester). I slept mostly on my left and used the stairs and walked as much as possible. When I was pregnant I was actually thankful that I had to walk to get to work and back home because it was my only form of exercise. If I didn’t have to walk, I don’t think I would’ve ever exercise at all. Half a kilometer is actually not (barely) enough but at least I get to be moving for at least fifteen minutes in the morning as well as in the afternoon. (Actually, walking as an exercise is not enough). When a generous church-mate lent their car for some time to help me ease my daily commute, I was very thankful because then we didn’t had problems going to my prenatal checkups and other errands. Eugene could have driven me to and fetched me from work (very tempting then, who doesn’t want a comfortable ride to and from the office), but I declined as much as possible because I wouldn’t get to walk and get some exercise. Yes, I still commuted well until my 38th week (taking the bus and the jeep in addition to the walk to the bus and jeepney stops).

Anyway, so there I was in bed Thursday morning, trying to figure out and make up my mind if I wanted to give birth already or not. I was thinking, “Gusto ko na ba manganak o hindi pa?” Yes, I know that’s weird. I wanted to reach 40 weeks because I know there are ‘finishing touches’ that happen in the development of babies’ brains and lungs during the last weeks of pregnancy (very important) though I know giving birth was already safe from 37 weeks onward. I’m actually very thankful because I have prayed for my pregnancy to reach full-term. It was a big relief when I hit the 37-week mark because the chances of my baby having complications got small then, upon reaching that weekly milestone. But I wanted my baby to be ‘well done’ (parang steak lang) so I was hoping to reach 40 weeks no matter how impatient and uncomfortable I was already then. (Side note: how come if you count pregnancy in months, you only count 9 months. If a complete pregnancy is 40 weeks—but technically it’s just 38 weeks because of the way pregnancy is dated—then pregnancy should be counted as 10 months, don’t you think? The “Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy” (book) actually counts 10 months).

At noon, a group of friends from Church came by for lunch (we call them ‘The Thursday Group’ because they always have lunch in our house every Thursday. Oh, how I miss this weekly fellowship. They have stopped coming over since I got back to work). Anyway, I didn’t even get out of the room to eat and chat with them. I can hear their conversations but I was just too lazy to get up. I actually stayed in bed until about three in the afternoon, after much struggle to overcome my laziness and after convincing myself that I needed to get moving. I didn’t want to have a long and difficult labor so I needed to be active as much as I safely could. I texted Eugene to ask if he could accompany me to do some last-minute groceries (to shop for food to eat during labor) before we go to my prenatal appointment late that afternoon. The contractions lessened a bit and decreased in frequency when I got out of bed so I thought I’m really not yet in labor because I recalled from the things I read (and I read a lot when I was pregnant) that in false labors, contractions go away when you move about but do not if they’re the real thing (but right now I can’t remember if this information is correct). Since the contractions subsided (or they seemed to subside maybe because I lost my focus on them when I got up), all the more that I didn’t thought I would give birth very soon. But then again, I was just in denial.

At the doctor’s office (after doing last-minute groceries), my OB again explained what to look out for and how to determine real contractions so we can plan and decide when to go to the birthing center. (I gave birth in a birthing home with midwives but I still had regular prenatal checkups with my OB as part of my back-up plan just in case things didn’t work out in the birthing home or complications arise and I would need to be rushed to the hospital and have Baby delivered by an OB. We thank God that nothing happened to Baby and me that required emergency medical care. This also meant that I went to two prenatal checkups regularly, one with my OB and one with my midwives. Too much of a hassle, I know). I told my OB that I was only feeling slight menstrual cramp-like pain in my lower abdomen (puson) but it was not like what she had described it to be. She described labor pain/contractions would start at the top of my uterus and radiate downwards wrapping my entire belly and sometimes even reaching the lower back and hips. I said it didn’t feel that way for me, the pain was really just in my lower abdomen. But OB told me not to wait for the pain but to watch out for the contractions—when my tummy tightens—even if it was not (yet) painful. She also asked me if I have a high tolerance for pain. I think she’s concerned I might be on labor already without me knowing it because I’m tolerating the pain well. I said I did not have a high tolerance for pain because I don’t. I’m the type of person who pops an analgesic at the slightest headache, or toothache, or muscle ache, or menstrual cramp, for that matter.

After the discussion on contractions and when to go to the birthing center, my OB then said that she would do another internal examination (IE) on me. Ugh! I didn’t want to have an IE but still consented because I know I wouldn’t be able to get away with it. (I tried the previous week to talk her out of it and requested several times if I could skip the procedure but she said it was “necessary”). You may say I’m stubborn trying to argue with a doctor but one of the reasons why I didn’t want to give birth in a hospital is because I know I would be subjected to routine IEs (and other interventions) and I didn’t want that. (A lot of birth interventions are based on outdated research, meaning current evidence show that some interventions do not offer any benefits or that the benefits do not outweigh the risks. It is difficult to do away with such interventions because they are part of hospital or doctor’s policies). IEs and other interventions may be helpful but only if they are medically necessary. I’ve done my research and I am confident that for low-risk pregnancies and labors that are going well (like mine), routine IEs are not necessary as it doesn’t really tell you how long you still need to go (the reason for doing it). It only tells you how much dilated you are but how much dilated you are does not dictate how much longer labor would or should go (e.g., you could be 1 cm for one week or one hour). There are actually other non-invasive ways to determine a laboring woman’s dilation (e.g., emotional sign posts, the purple line).

Anyway, so my OB performed an IE. I was not really eager to know if I have started to dilate or not or how dilated I am (if I’ve started to dilate at all) for the reason I just stated above (it wouldn’t tell me anything helpful at all). Well, guess what? My OB was not able to feel my cervix (so I actually got my wish not to know if I’m already dilating). She said my cervix was posterior that she couldn’t find it. So that time (Thursday night, March 17) I really didn’t know if I was opening up or not. My OB, however, said that she can already feel the baby’s head which means she’s already engaged or in position ready to make her grand exit from my womb. It also meant that Baby’s birth would be coming very soon and I wouldn’t be able to delay it any longer.

Active labor

We got home maybe around 7.00 PM from the doctor’s clinic. A friend in church will be celebrating her birthday the following day and her Growth Group (GG) had a little surprise for her so we dropped by their GG for that small celebration (basically to eat). I ate two slices of pizza and some mojos. If there was chicken I’m sure I also ate a piece or two but I can’t remember if there were any that night. That’s the only dinner I had that night. It was already late that I didn’t bother to eat more when we got home since I wasn’t feeling hungry anymore. (My appetite didn’t really increase when I was pregnant. I didn’t have any cravings either). By this time (still in the GG), my contractions started to get back and were getting a little bit stronger that I had to pause while eating until the contractions stop. I guess this was the time I went into active labor. I even joked to our friend that our baby might share the same birthday with her (Hello, Pepay)!

We didn’t finish the GG but went home right after eating. By that time, my contractions were getting into a regular rhythm and there really was no denying anymore that I’ll be giving birth soon. But I thought it would still be after a whole day or more because it’s my first time and people say that first time mothers usually have a long labor. Eugene was supposed to go to a retreat in Antipolo the following day, Friday, and I actually encouraged him to go and told him I’ll just text him if I need him to get back to bring me to the birthing center. I didn’t want him to miss the retreat since he already excused himself from a funeral Service in a wake that day as he said he might need to drive me to the birthing center anytime. You can just imagine how relieved and thankful I am that he decided not to go to the retreat but be with me instead.

Around midnight, before sleeping, I sent a Facebook group message to Velvet (doula) and Pat, my back-up doula, just to let them know that I’m having regular contractions. I sent them a screenshot of the time record of my contractions so they could assess how I was doing. Pat replied and advised me to do my breathing exercises, drink and keep hydrated, and to eat every now and then.

When Pat said to eat every now and then, I got into a dilemma. I didn’t know what to do. I got confused… not because of the pain of the contractions but because I didn’t know what I should prioritize to do, whether to eat or sleep. I had actually planned out what I would be doing when I go into labor. Depending on what time it would be, I said I would either go about my regular activities, eat, or sleep (I even planned to have a very sumptuous meal once labor hits me). I was about to face a very laborious task (pun unintended) and I needed the energy to go through it. I knew I needed both food and sleep but at that time, I just didn’t know what I should do first, whether to eat or to sleep. I only had two slices of pizza and some mojos for dinner (and maybe a chicken). They’re not enough. Agonizing whether to eat or to sleep… these were my thoughts when I went into labor. Yes, I’m that weird.

Side note: I had planned to give birth in a birthing home. The midwives here are highly trained for first aid emergencies but serious complications would require a hospital transfer. My hospital choice is St. Luke’s in Quezon City (since according to my doula, birthing policies here are more supportive of natural birth than the one in Global City, even if it’s nearer from the birthing home). St. Luke’s QC is about 16 km from Shiphrah Birthing Home located in Taytay, Rizal (where I gave birth). It’s far, we all know, because of Manila’s traffic. (Actually, if a hospital transfer is required, Shiphrah brings mothers to Taytay Doctors Hospital. They have an OB there whom, I assume, they have an agreement with to be on-call in case of emergencies. Eugene and I talked and agreed that if it is daytime and it is a quick emergency, I would go to Taytay Doctors but if it was late in the evening or very early in the morning and if it was not an emergency that requires immediate medical treatment, we would go to St. Luke’s QC). Of course, I had to have a back-up plan in case of emergencies requiring a hospital transfer. However, more than having a back-up plan, I needed (and wanted) to avoid an emergency or complication from occurring in the first place. So during one of my prenatal meetings with Velvet, I asked her what are the common complications that would require me to be rushed to the hospital. I was afraid of complications such as pre-eclampsia, placenta previa, cord prolapse, postpartum hemorrhage, etc. because these are real emergencies that require immediate medical treatment (no compromises there). I wanted to know which among these pregnancy and birth complications has the highest probability of happening to me so I could be prepared (at least mentally and emotionally for that matter) just in case I need to undergo medical interventions. Velvet, however, told me that instances of hospital transfer do not necessarily result from labor complications but, most often, result from exhaustion when mothers become too weak to continue on with labor and the eventual birth of their babies. She said there are three things you need to contend with in labor and birth: one is fear, the other is exhaustion. I can’t remember the third one she said. I figured all of these are preventable. To address the first one (fear), I read a lot and have educated myself with how the birth process works and on natural pain management techniques to cope with the pain. So although I had fears about birth (just like any normal pregnant woman), they were not high. I was confident that by God’s design of women’s bodies and how labor (and laboring hormones) work, I will be able to cope with the task and the pain. Plus I have a doula (that’s why I hired her in the first place). I was not that afraid of the pain. But I was dead scared of getting exhausted. That’s why it was a dilemma for me whether I should eat or sleep because I knew both were important at that time and I didn’t know if I should go for one or the other (because you cannot eat and sleep at the same time). This is also why I brought along a lot of food to Shiphrah. I had crackers, liver spread, a bar of dark chocolate, raspberry leaf tea, cheese slices, nuts, a whole bunch of bananas, coconut water (buko juice), etc. I was more afraid of getting hungry and exhausted than the pain.

Anyway, around midnight, while chatting online with Pat, I also texted Ate Lornie, my midwife, to let her know that I’m already in labor. She told me to sleep. I really tried to sleep but with the contractions coming regularly (and with nothing else to do to keep me distracted), it was difficult to fall asleep. But I still tried (not only because they told me to but because I badly wanted to). I relaxed my body and my mind through the breathing techniques I practiced when I was still pregnant. I moaned through every contraction (Ina May Gaskin said moaning relaxes your jaw which helps you dilate faster). I tried to recall everything I’ve learned about birth and how to cope with the pain (which, by the way, was still bearable by that time). I did deep breathes, relaxed my whole body, imagined myself as a flower blooming, referred to contractions as ‘waves’ instead of ‘pain’. I reminded myself that the pain was not because there’s something wrong with my body but that it was ‘pain with a purpose’ and is accomplishing something, it is pushing Baby out. For every ‘wave’ that I felt, I reminded myself that it was one step closer to seeing and holding my baby. Surrendering to the contractions was the key then.

Eugene was helping me time my contractions. I would tell him if one was starting and when it ended and he pressed the ‘start’ and ‘stop’ in the app. He’s been actually bugging me since the previous night (or day) to go to Shiphrah already to avoid getting caught in heavy traffic. (It takes us about an hour or a little more to go there with the average, daytime Manila traffic). I told him that my doulas as well as my midwife hasn’t given me the go signal yet but has instructed me to sleep and rest instead. I also told him that bugging me to go to the birthing center is stressing me out and that my labor would slow down and make them more painful if I get stressed. I needed to feel safe and stay calm and relaxed. I actually also didn’t want to go yet as care providers always advice to labor at home as long as possible because labor (usually) progresses faster at home. And again, I thought I still had a long way to go since it’s my first time. I was also still able to text, browse Facebook, and talk decently. They say you wouldn’t be able to do these kind of things if you’re already in active labor.

A little past 2 AM (that’s about two hours trying to sleep) Velvet responded to the group message and said that my contractions were still erratic and told me to sleep. I told her I was trying. In fact, I said that just a bit earlier I was about to fall asleep when one big contraction hit me which woke me up. Velvet said that I was actually micro-sleeping and that it’s good and that I’m coping well. She said I needed to conserve my energy because transition would really be hard (the part of labor where you ‘transition’ into the pushing stage, when your cervix dilates from 8 to 10 cm. This is the hardest part of labor when contractions come almost every two to three minutes and lasts for about a minute which barely gives you time to rest. This is also said to be the part where most women who plan to have a natural birth ask for the epidural). She also told me to eat and drink. By that time I have decided to sleep and thought that it was more important than eating because I figured that I might not get the chance to sleep when daytime comes (and when labor becomes harder) but I can still eat anytime (a smart decision, huh? Haha). So I put my phone away and stopped timing my contractions and focused instead on breathing and relaxing so I can sleep. I was able to sleep albeit very lightly until…

Around 5 AM, when I woke up with stronger contractions. I woke Eugene up and asked him to call Velvet to ask her to come over because I needed help already. I also asked Eugene to resume timing my contractions. The pain was getting stronger and the pain management techniques I was employing were not enough anymore for me to cope with the pain. I needed help, I needed my doula. However, when Velvet saw the screenshot of my contractions by that time (lasting around 45 seconds and occurring every three to four minutes), she told us to go to Shiphrah already and she’ll just meet us there. The pain was getting stronger and stronger but I tried to remain calm and relaxed (getting tensed or panicking would just make it more painful). I could not talk decently anymore that I sounded as someone giving orders instead of making requests. I ‘ordered’ Eugene to text Ate Lornie and Isabell (photographer) to let them know we were on our way as instructed by Velvet. I also told Eugene to do this, do that, pack this, pack that, etc.

I wanted to take a bath and eat before going to Shiphrah. I made an overnight oatmeal the night before to eat upon waking up. But as the pain was getting stronger and stronger and the contractions were predictably occurring every few minutes (and I also have started to feel rectal pressure), I realized we might not have enough time for me to eat. I was afraid we might get caught in traffic if we leave later than 6 AM. And I was afraid that if I’m still home by the time transition hits me and without Velvet, my doula, I will be agonizing in too much pain that Eugene would drive me to the hospital instead of bringing me to the birthing center. It was okay for me not to take a bath (my last bath was before going to the OB the previous night). But I was afraid of not eating and getting exhausted then needing to be rushed to the hospital. Takot talaga ako sa gutom at pagod. Believe it or not, my biggest fear in birth is not the pain but being rushed to a hospital out of hunger and exhaustion. Yes, I’m that paranoid of giving birth in a hospital. I was going into labor and I wasn’t loaded up (remember I only had pizza and mojos for dinner). I wanted to eat. I needed to eat! (And I’m usually hungry when I wake up so I very seldom skip breakfast). But I was also running out of time! Should I eat and risk getting caught in traffic? Or should I leave without eating and risk getting hungry? Ahh… the dilemma again! I didn’t want to think anymore (because laboring women should be free from engaging the thinking part of their brains, it slows down labor). I needed to be calm and relaxed. So I decided quickly to just pack the oatmeal (I asked Eugene to pack it) and eat it once I get to the birthing center. Going to Shiphrah was my top priority.

So we left around 6 AM after some last-minute packing (mostly the food we bought from the grocery the previous night). Thank God a vehicle from our Church was available for us to borrow. (And another reason we need to leave already was because the vehicle was ‘coding’ that day so we need to be out of the streets of Metro Manila before 7 AM). I knew that by that time in the morning, foot traffic in the elevator (in the condo where we live) starts to build up and I was quite afraid of (shy, actually, of people seeing me) grimacing in pain if a contraction hits me while going down and getting out of the condo. (I did not, as far as I can remember, have any contractions during the ride down the elevator). We lived just across our Church so it was a quick trip to where Eugene was already waiting (he went ahead to bring our stuff to the vehicle). My mother-in-law saw us off and I clearly remember that I had one contraction and leaned on her before climbing in the vehicle (an L300 van which is like a jeep because you sit sideways. Looking back, I think the ride was more comfortable than if I was sitting in a sedan-type car because I was like squatting and holding on to the handrail—a good position to be in during labor).

The drive going to Shiphrah felt… surreal(?). Yes, that’s a question mark, not a typo… because I don’t know if that’s the right word to use. I couldn’t think of any other word to describe it. It was… it was like the feeling you get when you’re about to walk down the aisle on your wedding day. That something you have wanted, planned, and prayed for for so long is finally happening. And I was so overwhelmed and so grateful that things were going on as we have hoped to. Everything I have worried about that could go wrong didn’t happen. (Thank you, Lord!). It felt like the past 9 (or 10 to be more accurate) months just passed by so quickly and I was… finally… going to have a baby!

I was expecting the contractions to slow down going to Shiphrah but it did not (sometimes in labor the drive to your birthing place is registered by your body as ‘stress’ which slows labor down… that’s why I was expecting my contractions to slow down). I continued with my breathing techniques and with moaning and tried to relax my body throughout the drive. At one point I remembered a tip I read to not sweat labor at all and try laughing as laughing releases endorphins (yes, the happy hormone). Endorphins are our body’s natural pain relievers (laughter is, as they say, the best medicine, isn’t it?). So I tried to laugh during one contraction but I sounded like a person who needs to be admitted in a mental institution so I stopped. I didn’t dare laugh again. The pain was building up by the minute and I am just so thankful that the contractions do not come in one continuous blow but come, instead, in waves with pauses in between. So I get to rest. You could always look forward to that break, it makes labor bearable. I also tried singing to distract myself but it didn’t work for me either. I really wouldn’t mind if you tell me I’m weird.

Pushing

It was probably around 7 AM, more or less, when we arrived in Shiphrah. I saw Isabell (photographer) about to enter the gate when we drove outside and I thought, “Great, she’s here”! (I don’t think anyone would have taken our pictures if she weren’t there. I’m so thankful for her). (I actually texted her the previous day just to let her know that I’m having contractions and would probably be giving birth soon. But I also told her that I think it would still be after a couple of days. I’m glad I gave her the heads up). She did not see us, though (and she later confessed that she didn’t recognize me at first because of my new hairdo. The first and only time we met before that my hair was waist-long). I got off the vehicle bringing two pillows with me while Eugene looked for a place to park. Upon entering the birthing home and seeing Ate Lornie, I said a very weak “Good morning” then immediately got down on my knees and slumped on the couch located just at the doorway as a contraction hit me. Isabell came near and rubbed my back to comfort me. Ate Lornie then directed me to go inside one of the birthing rooms. Velvet wasn’t there yet.

Inside the room, Ate Lornie asked if I wanted to have IE. (As I have mentioned, this is one reason why I didn’t want to give birth in a hospital, because I do not want to undergo routine IEs. But the difference here is that an IE here is optional. They ask you if you want one done to you, not impose and say that you need to have one. I think it’s okay to have one IE upon admission in your choice of birthing place, though… if you’re positive you’re in active labor. But frequent IEs would be too invasive for me). I consented because I wanted to know not how far I still have to go but just to know if I have already dilated or not (remember that the previous night my OB was not able to feel my cervix so we didn’t know if I have started to dilate or not). Guess what? Ate Lornie said, “Ay malapit na ‘to, 9.5 cm na!” Whoa! I didn’t expect that! I was supposed to have a water birth but because I was already (almost) fully dilated, there was no time to set the pool up. It takes about 2 hours to inflate the pool, heat the water, and fill up the pool for a water birth. (I badly want to experience a water birth that it makes me think of having Baby No. 2 just so I can experience a water birth. Hahaha!)

Just a few more minutes after, I started to feel the urge to push. Some of the moments during this time are already a blur for me. But I asked Eugene (a few days after birth) how I was during those moments and he said that I was groaning the words “Ang sakit!” I’m glad Eugene was already with me by that time. (He finished unloading our stuff—and we bought a lot of stuff—in the room and joined me just after Ate Lornie did an IE on me). I needed him to be there! I then told him the good news (that I’m fully dilated) and the bad news (that there’s no time for a water birth anymore).

I actually now wonder when did transition hit me (but there’s no sense trying to know that anymore). Ate Lornie and Ate Bel (another midwife) asked me what position I would like to be in giving birth. I asked them if I could kneel on the bed (which is the position I was already in after the IE and after having been told by Ate Lornie to remove my clothing). I didn’t have a specific birthing position in mind since the advice is to try different positions that you would find to be the most comfortable in and the one you feel is right for you. My first choice was to kneel since it seems to be the most straightforward position for Baby to get out with the help of gravity. Ate Lornie and Ate Bel said that I could try whatever position I would like to be in and it would be fine with them. I’m so thankful that my midwives were very supportive of my wishes and for putting my comfort in their priority. My birthing position was one of the items in my birth plan that I tried to negotiate with my OB just in case I needed to give birth in a hospital. I asked if I could try different positions and find which one I think is best for me but she said that the only position I could possibly be allowed is a semi-reclined position on a bed.

A few moments later my water bag broke. The experience was a surprise for me. From what I have learned from the books and web articles I have read, the water bag breaking could either be felt as a quick gush or a trickle (slow flow). Mine was like an explosion. The ‘pop’ was audibly loud and the flow was a splash (imagine popping a water balloon).

I was in the pushing stage for the next hour. And I can now say that the feeling, like having a constipated bowel movement (that’s how mothers describe it), is true. So if you have ever experienced being constipated, you’d know the feeling. Only, it was a bowel movement of something way bigger… a baby! It felt like one big constipation to the point that it felt like the baby would be getting out from my rectum instead of from you-know-where.

Velvet arrived halfway through my pushing. She immediately fed me honey sticks and let me drink cold water. I have actually forgotten all about eating (because I didn’t expect my labor to be that fast). Being fed reminded me of the oatmeal I prepared and planned to eat but did not get the chance to. Ay, takot nga pala ako sa gutom. Haha! So during one of the rests between pushes, when Velvet asked me what I want, I asked for ‘oatmeal.’ Velvet then spoon-fed me. She also coached me by saying to keep my chin down when pushing and to focus. She described how the baby is navigating the birth canal so I have to focus on facilitating Baby’s passage.

I found pushing to be quite difficult (you know how difficult it is to be constipated), contrary to birth stories I’ve read of women who said they enjoyed pushing. But it was actually not painful at all. The first stage of labor (cervical dilation) was the painful part. But pushing was where you need more energy. During dilation you need to relax. But in pushing you need to exert effort. Again, I’m so thankful I get pauses and get to rest in between and I always look forward to those breaks. We chatted in between pushes though I can’t remember anymore what we talked about. I do remember, however, turning to Isabell one time and asking her if she doesn’t get traumatized seeing women give birth. I know the midwives are already used to the sight (it’s their job). And she was probably used to it, too, because she’s a birth photographer and has witnessed a lot of births. I can’t remember what she said, though. The atmosphere and everyone in the room was calm and relaxed—just the way I wished it would be.

Upon Ate Lornie and Ate Bel’s suggestion, I tried different positions. I tried to sit in the birthing stool (the birthing stool Shiphrah is known for). I also tried standing. Standing was the most uncomfortable for me as I felt so heavy and weak that I couldn’t balance my body. I had to hang my whole weight on Velvet. Surprisingly, I found the birthing stool to be the most comfortable (I initially thought it wasn’t). Though I leaned forward come pushing time and leaned back during rests in between contractions/pushes. I’m thankful that I tried different positions as I found kneeling, my initial position of choice, to be uncomfortable, too, because my weight fell on my knees. Eugene stayed on my back providing support.

I was not a good laboring mom. I was noisy. I was loud. I was shouting/groaning/moaning during pushes (but not the kind you see in the movies, honest. Well, I hope so. Haha!). During breaks, I kept apologizing to everyone, saying, “Sorry, ang ingay ko.” My midwives, however, were very kind and understanding of me. They would say, “Okay lang ‘yan. Mas maingay pa ‘yung iba.” They also coached me how to breathe. They instructed me to inhale through my nose and push and exhale at the same time through my mouth while I pushed. I guess I was holding my breath when I pushed (I guess it’s a reflex to hold your breath when you push). There were no counting from 1 to 10. Ate Lornie and Ate Bel were just there, watching me, patiently waiting on me. I’m so thankful I was given the autonomy to birth my baby, the freedom to call the shots in the process, to tap into my inner instincts. Every now and then, Ate Bel would check Baby’s heartbeat with a Doppler after which I would ask, “Normal?” to which she would reply, “Normal.” Thank God baby is doing and tolerating labor well.

Later after Baby’s birth, I got a chance to glance at a chart where the midwives recorded a step-by-step account of Baby’s birth. I think I counted about 6 pushes in the chart with the corresponding time when I pushed but I’m not sure if what I saw was accurate (I just had a quick glance). I felt that I pushed more than that. In my mind, I think I pushed about 10 times. I really found pushing to be quite difficult (who hasn’t had a difficult time when he or she is constipated?) that during one break I looked at my tummy and uttered, “Whaa! Ang laki pa ng t’yan ko!” because I felt that baby was not moving down and that I was not making any progress at all. Apparently, it was just a fleeting feeling because just a little longer later on…

Birth

I finally felt the ring of fire. Ahh, the ring of fire. That’s how they call it, the feeling you get being stretched down there… I knew then that we (Baby and I) were crowning. It felt like a burning sensation (mahapdi) but the actual birth was not painful at all. I told my midwives that I felt like I was going to tear up. But they encouraged me to think positive that I would not. So I stopped worrying about it. (The key to labor and birth is to not be stressed at all).

A renewed strength overcame me. But it was more of an emotional strength knowing that I have made progress and that Baby is about to finally come out! I think it’s the adrenalin rush that books describe will be released into your system just before the actual birth. It facilitates the fetal ejection reflex to actually ‘eject’ the baby.

I was nearly there! Finally! I was in the final pushes of my labor and I can actually feel it. Ate Lornie and Ate Bel said they can already see the head. Velvet gave way for Ate Lornie to take her position. Again, things happened so fast. I knew Baby will come out soon but I thought she wouldn’t come out until the next three or more contractions/pushes. I thought it would be a slow process where Baby would move two steps forward but move a step back. That’s how the books described it to be. But… at the next (or next two or three) contractions/pushes, Baby already came out! She just slipped right out of me. Ate Lornie said, “Thank you, Lord!” And because I still was not yet expecting Baby to get out at that push (it happened so fast), I was sort of caught off guard and felt like I have to say something so I just echoed Ate Lornie and also said, “Thank you, Lord!” The record states Baby was born at 7.42 AM.

And everything was… again… surreal! Like… that’s it! I felt an immediate relief (that it’s all over). But I was still in a daze. Baby’s out. I’m done. Baby’s here. I’m now a mother. Baby’s here. Our life will never be the same again (in a good way). Baby’s here! Ugh, I don’t know how to describe it. It was like I know I’m going to have a baby and now Baby is already here but I can’t believe that Baby is already here. Sorry if it sounds so confusing.

I felt crying a little but I did not.

Baby was, unexpectedly, not bloody at all, just slimy. I was then surprised when my midwives wiped my baby dry with old shirts! Eugene packed and brought those shirts to serve as rags for the water birth I was supposed to have. Basahan ‘yung pinunas kay Baby! They were clean but they haven’t been worn and have been stored in the closet for a long time. That’s why they were brought along as basahan (we were told to bring our own basahan for the water birth). It was a little bit frustrating that my very precious newborn was dried and wrapped in basahan because I brought a lot of flat diapers (lampin) and I have meticulously washed and have them ironed (by my mother-in-law) for that very purpose. But I cannot do anything about it then and I just let it pass and not allow it to ruin the moment. I wanted to savor the moment and enjoy our very precious golden hour!

But how come the Ates used old shirts to wipe Baby dry? Well, because things happened really fast. When we arrived in Shiphrah I was almost fully dilated that we didn’t really had the time to settle down and unpack our bags and give the midwives Baby’s things. We arrived in Shiphrah then I pushed right away. I guess Ate Bel didn’t want to bother us to ask for the lampin so she just grabbed what she saw (the old shirts were just packed in a big non-zippered bag, very easy to see and take).

Anyway, after wiping Baby dry and giving her to me for our Unang Yakap (First Embrace), my first instinct was to check if Baby was normal. I’m in my mid-thirties and risks for congenital defects are high for mothers who are considered to be in an “advanced maternal age”, like me. We didn’t opt for the 20-week anomaly scan to determine if such defects exist because we figured it wouldn’t offer us any benefit (it is not really 100% accurate, thus, it would be an unnecessary expense. Also because there are no conclusive studies yet for the safety of ultrasounds. That’s why you have to have as few scans as possible, having them only when necessary). I’ve prayed so hard for Baby to be normal and I thanked God that moment that she was.

I hugged her. Oh, how precious that first hug was! My baby! My very own baby! The fruit of my womb! We didn’t determine the gender while I was still pregnant so we didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl (yes, we’re old-fashioned). I asked my midwives if they knew the gender and they said they still didn’t know yet. So I lifted Baby up a little bit to check and saw that she was a girl! I was quite surprised because I guessed it would be a baby boy but, lo and behold, it was a girl! I then called her “Carissa” (the name we have prepared in case Baby was a girl. If Baby had been a boy, his name would have been Nathaniel. We got ‘Carissa’ from the Greek word ‘charis’ which means ‘grace’, because our baby was God’s grace to us. ‘Nathaniel’, on the other hand, is biblical and means ‘God has given’. We chose these names because our Baby is truly a gift from God). I also said “Happy birthday!” I smothered her with hugs and kisses. It was bliss, euphoric, ecstatic!

I was actually expecting her to look… generic—you know, like how all newborns look the same (seriously, newborn babies look all the same)—but I was quite surprised Baby looked distinctly different. I can’t describe how she was different. I just think she didn’t look… generic. Sorry. I’m not saying she looked good or better than other newborns. I’m just saying that I think she didn’t look like all other newborns. I tried to figure out who she looks like. But Velvet said she looked like Eugene. Well, almost everyone now says she looks like Eugene.

Baby gave out a very shy cry. It was not like how it’s depicted in TVs where babies cry out loud with a big “Whaa!!!” It was more like “Eh-heh, eh-heh, eh-heh, eh-heh!” A shy cry, I would describe it. I asked if her cry was normal and Ate Bel said it was. Ate Lornie also said, “Hindi ‘to sine” (“This is not the movies”—which means what is often shown in TV is really not a true picture of birth). Baby was also alert, awake, and gently looking around, obvious that it was her first time to see light and to be in a different surrounding. She looked as if an alien found itself on earth, with her eyes saying “Where am I?” “What is this place?” probably marveling at the brightness of being outside my tummy.

About 10 minutes later, I birthed my placenta. Again, I was surprised to birth it that fast. 10 minutes to about an hour was actually normal. And I was actually relieved and thankful to God that it got out of my system already because a delay longer than an hour would mean a probable rush to the hospital.

I was then asked to lie in bed for Baby to lie on my chest skin-to-skin (with her cord still unclamped). A little later baby latched on and I was again surprised (writing this I realized that Carissa’s birth had a lot of good surprises) to find that she sucked quite strongly for a newborn. The moment was just so surreal and precious. And Eugene was with me all throughout to witness and share with the joy!

Eugene is not really the type who openly expresses his emotions. But I guess he was really happy and proud of Baby’s birth because he immediately posted about it on Facebook, before I was able to tell him not to. Actually, while I was still pregnant I’ve been telling him, in passing, not to post anything in Facebook when I give birth. So I was really surprised that he posted about it kaagad-agad. Not even an hour has passed. But I made sure he has already called our respective families to inform them of the good news.

After settling down in bed, we were left to have some private time for ourselves. And we enjoyed this moment. We had a semi-lotus birth so baby Carissa’s umbilical cord was not immediately clamped. Measuring her vitals were also delayed until the afternoon. We also decided not to give her a bath so the vernix (the white, waxy coating babies are covered in) could be absorbed by her body since it serves as a natural moisturizer and is said to have some immunological properties. We enjoyed our first moments as a family in privacy.

A little later, Eugene went out to buy food (for me and for the staff). He bought Chickenjoy from a nearby Jollibee. I also asked him to buy cake to celebrate Carissa’s birthday. It is literally her birthday. He fed me when he came back. Baby later on slept. In the afternoon, baby also slept and Eugene also tried to take a nap. I wanted to also take a nap then but I was just so awake and alert and I guess too much adrenaline was pumping in my system that no matter how hard I tried (and wanted) to, I just couldn’t fall asleep. I was so envious that Eugene got to take a nap because I know that from that moment on, a good sleep would be so elusive. (In the evening when we got home, that’s when we felt the exhaustion. It felt like we were drained of all our energy).

From time to time, Ate Lornie or Ate Bel would come in to ask how we were. We were fine.

Mother-baby pairs who are doing well and healthy are usually sent home from Shiphrah after about 6 to 8 hours. But the vehicle Eugene borrowed from our church was ‘coding’ for that day so we asked if we could stay a little longer and go home about 6 PM. In the afternoon, we did the usual routines with Baby. Eugene cut the cord, she was then weighed and measured, and she was injected with Vitamin K and BCG (all other newborn routine vaccines and exams, e.g., hearing test, newborn screening, etc., were done the following day/s in St. Luke’s QC/by her pediatrician). Carissa weighed 2500 kg (5.5 lbs.) and measured 19 inches. Baby Carissa also passed the meconium (babies’ first poop) in the afternoon and it was only then, after I cleaned her up, that we put on a diaper and clothed her. Since Shiphrah is not a hospital, Eugene also quickly drove to Taytay’s Civil Registry to process Carissa’s birth certificate.

We just passed time for the rest of the afternoon.

We left at 6 PM, bidding the midwives there goodbye while they said, “See you next year!” Haha!

End of birth story.

(PS. I still want to experience a water birth).

Praise items

It took a lot of preparation to have the birth that I wanted. But the most important ‘preparation’ that we did was praying. Actually, it was not an ‘achievement’ but God’s grace. Everything is God’s grace. We give all glory to Him. And I’d like to count a few of our prayer items where we thank and praise God for in our journey in starting a family.

A natural conception. It took us four years to conceive. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which makes it rather difficult for me to conceive. We consulted the doctor for a work-up but realized it was expensive so we did not buy any of the prescribed pills.

A healthy pregnancy. Beyond the usual discomforts during pregnancy like experiencing heartburn, peeing every 30 minutes, leg cramps, difficulty having a good night sleep, etc., I did not have any complications. All my blood and urine exams were also within limits.

A full-term baby. I was quite afraid of having a pre-term baby so I really prayed hard to have a full-term baby (to reach at least 37 weeks. I gave birth at 39 weeks).

Right timing. We traveled to Shiphrah Birthing Home early in the morning while traffic was not yet heavy. We are also thankful that a vehicle was available for us to borrow.

A relatively ‘quick’ labor. I thought it would take me more than a day to labor and give birth. While I prayed to have a water birth, I am very thankful that when I got to Shiphrah I was almost fully dilated and did not have to labor more before pushing. In an hour after reaching the birthing home I was able to give birth.

An un-medicated birth in Shiphrah Birthing Home with no complications. There were no emergencies both for Baby and me that required a hospital transfer.

A healthy baby with an average weight. I was a little bit concerned that Baby might be too small and would require admission to NICU, thankfully she was not nor did she exceed the 6-lb limit I have personally set for ourselves. All newborn screening tests done to her were normal.

Provisions (material and financial). It is expensive to give birth. We thank God for the people He used to bless us with provisions.

Acknowledgement

God has blessed us through a lot of people and we want to thank them for how they have been a blessing.

Thank you to the groups who threw out baby showers for us. There were three groups in our Church who organized three different showers for us and one from my workplace. We received almost all the things Baby needs from these showers that we hardly bought anything for her at all.

Thank you to all the other people who generously gave us their babies’ hand-me-downs. I love hand-me-downs and I’m so grateful for them.

Thank you to our church-mate who lent their car for some time during my pregnancy to help us in our daily commute.

Thank you to those who gave monetary gifts. They were a big help in our finances as we start our family.

Thank you to the people who continuously gift us with disposable diapers. Until now (Baby is already four months old) we haven’t actually spent a single peso to buy disposables and we still have a few packs in stock.

Thank you to everyone who prayed for us. We believe in God and that God answers prayers. The entire journey from our marriage to pregnancy and birth has been a story of God’s faithfulness and His answers to our prayers. And we know that we were not the only one who prayed. A lot of people prayed for us and with us. Thank you so much to all of you.

Thank you to everyone who sent their congratulations and well-wishes and for those who visited us at home to share the joy of having a new baby.

Thank you to those who gifted us with food during my early postpartum days.

Thank you to my birth team: my midwives Ate Lornie and Ate Bel, Velvet, my doula, and to Isabell, my birth photographer. Thank you for making my baby’s birth a beautiful experience to remember. Thank you, Isabell, for taking good pictures.

Thank you to my mother-in-law. I wouldn’t know how would I survive without her. She cooks for us and watches Baby for us when I need to do some chores.

Lastly, and mostly, I’d like to thank you Eugene, my husband. Thank you for all the help and support you have given me. Thank you for driving me to my prenatal appointments (double effort as I had check-ups with my OB in QC as well as with my midwives in Taytay). Thank you for supporting me in my desire to give birth in Shiphrah (I know you were hesitant at first because it was risky). Thank you for praying for me, for believing in me, for having faith that everything will go well, and for being present with me.

We are humbled by how all of you has blessed us because we know that we do not deserve any of it. We are very grateful and we wish that somehow we would be able to be a blessing to all of you, too. God is glorified with your acts of kindness and generosity. All praises to Him!

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