Kasper’s Birth Story by Johan
I was woken by a gasp of surprise — not from me — but from Lulu. "Holy Shit, holy shit, holy shit!" She said loudly at 2 a.m. Not what you want to wake up hearing, especially from your week-overdue pregnant wife who just 24 hours earlier spent 7 hours getting probed and scanned at the hospital under the assumption that she was having a stroke. Not fun.
Not that the “holy shit” part was all that surprising, and it would have been more welcome had the thought of a brain aneurysm not been on my mind. Being a week overdue, I was eager for some action from her uterus so that we could get the labor going and avoid having the baby in the hospital.
"What’s wrong?! Lulu, what's up? Lulu!" I said. All I got was a few more "holy shits" from her. I looked out the window briefly, as for some reason I thought the building might be on fire or maybe there was an intruder in the room or Kim Jong Un had finally lobbed an ICBM at us.
"I think my water just broke," she said.
Thank goodness, I thought. My mood immediately shifted; I was excited and happy, far from being scared — though I would say I was a bit nervous. Now the real work would begin!
We slept through the night after changing the sheets on the bed. The next morning we woke and let our family members know the good news. Both mothers, Maggie and Suzanne, and my sister Anya eventually came over to help with a few things around the house and to drop off some last minute requests from Lulu.
As Lulu labored throughout the day, the contractions progressed from strong menstrual cramps to full-on body-doubling-over shots of pain by the evening. It was during this first day that Lulu had lots of requests about lighting, what she wanted to watch on TV, music, and other creature comforts about the apartment. I tried my best to tailor her experience as closely to what she wanted as possible. Sometimes she needed heat, sometimes a cool wet cloth on her neck. She lay on the medicine ball, hung out on all fours, dropped over a wicker chair. Perhaps the most effective way to distract her was by slow dancing during the contractions, which we did often.
Another tool we began using, and kept using continuously until the end, was a little plastic battery-operated fan with a built-in water spritz nozzle. She requested I keep it aimed at her face almost the whole time, spritzing her with water during peak contractions to distract her and cool her off. In a way this fan also became my crutch, as it was one of the only tools that seemed to make a difference. I devoted myself to fanning her and made it my job to adjust it to her shifting positions and needs. [I love this. — Lulu]
By the evening of the second day, Lulu was quite exhausted. As was I. I can't remember exactly when Michelle, our midwife, showed up. I remember calling her at perhaps around 1am on the second night. I helped her with her 50lb kit from the lobby of the building to our apartment. She was so calm and relaxed, probably a bit tired too since I had woken her from sleep.
Lulu and I were both convinced she was far along in the dilation of her cervix. We had consistently strong contractions for an hour where they were averaging four minutes apart. But when Michelle checked her physically it was only about 3 cm open! Because it was so shallow still Michelle and I decided not to tell Lulu exactly the diameter. We just said she “had a little more to go” and to “keep working through the contractions.” After this point I don't remember the timeline exactly. We had been up for almost two days with no sleep.
At some point Michelle suggested we take a shower together. Lulu was feeling a very tired and the labor was moving slowly. The shower was amazing, it felt rejuvenating . Michelle put some aromatherapy oils in the tub which helped cleanse and smooth our minds. We hugged each other nude in the shower for probably 30-40 minutes. Then we tried lying down in bed for a few hours to get some rest. Lulu was in a feverish daze at this point, the classic laboring tripped-out vibe as if she was in another planet and not really here at all. I was dead tired and managed to drift in and out of some forms of restless sleep while I spooned her in our bedroom for a couple of hours.
At some point lulu awoke and felt different. I can't remember if Michelle examined her again and maybe helped push aside the last centimeter of her cervix or what, but then there was conversation that the baby's head was having trouble dropping under the pelvic bone. Michelle showed us a stretch we could do to help. I would stand behind Lulu and lift up under her belly and lean my body back like I was giving her a teaser of a Heimlich maneuver. We did this several times to help get the baby's head to duck under her pelvic bone.
At some point after that we determined it was time for Pearl the assistant midwife to show up. The sky was turning dark blue, the sun was starting to make its way up the horizon and Lulu was feeling the urge to push. Michelle set up a couple of ropes with handles that could be mounted across the top of the bathroom door. Lulu would hang there and squat as she began her active last labor portion. Before she went into labor, I remember Llulu being very self conscious of the fact that she might poop during the birth. I assured her it was okay with me, and I didn't care — all part of nature’s way. And, indeed, in the moment I was not disturbed or shocked when she did.
Though Lulu had done most of her laboring in the living room, she opted for our bed for the final stretch. She was on her hands and knees on the foot of our bed, for about 1.5 hours while she worked the baby out. I fanned her the whole time right up until Kasper’s head popped out. Michelle told me to come around to the back and get ready to catch the baby. I remember his chunky little head, kind of gray and purple, sticking out of Lulu face up. He looked peaceful, but not alive yet. There was a bit of meconium in the womb Michelle said. He might need some help to start breathing after he came out. I was nervous but Michelle's calm helped ease my worries.
It took one or two more pushes, and his body eased out. Michelle helped me catch him and bring him onto the bed, where he began moving and coughing and crying a bit beneath Lulu. Magic! A healthy baby! Lulu rolled over eventually and we brought him up to her chest. He smelled of myrtle and savory herbs. Perhaps that was something Michelle had used as a lubricant on Lulu's bottom, but I still associate it with newborn Kasper smell.
Kasper's Birth Story by Lulu
Your official due date flew past us, but not without some excitement. The weekend you were intended to be born was record-breaking hot-hot-hot. It broke 100 degrees in San Francisco! In all my time living in the Bay Area, I had never experienced temperatures above 90 in the city. The family spent the weekend up at my parents’ place in Glen Ellen, which was actually hotter than the city most of the time but had a large swimming pool. Though it would have been kind of funny to give birth on Labor Day, I was grateful not to have to labor under such extreme conditions.
A few days later, your father and I were enjoying the tail-end of the heatwave with a late afternoon/early evening trip to Ocean Beach. It was the perfect day. I remember dipping my feet in the cold ocean water and staring out at the ocean and dimming light and feeling the most grounded I’ve ever felt. The ocean is such a cornerstone of my life. I dreamt about sharing it with you soon. Amid this calm, things took an unexpected turn for the worst. After needing to nap on our beach towel, I developed an intense migraine around the time we had planned to leave the beach anyways. By the time we were driving away in the car, I couldn’t open my eyes very much and I began to feel numbness in my fingers and lower face. I was having a hard time communicating the pain and confusion I felt; the words weren’t coming out of my mouth the way I intended. Johan rushed me to the emergency room where I underwent many hours of testing only to determine that I had experienced a “complex migraine”. As we were rushing in the car to the hospital, I thought, “This isn’t how I want to give birth.” Thankfully, you were safe and unaffected in my stomach during this ordeal, and we got to go home after a stress test at the maternity hospital across town (which we got to by ambulance — a free, mandatory ride). The next day, I felt much better, although my head was sore like I had pulled a muscle. Not the kind of strengthening experience I needed heading into birth, but it was what it was!
After being a little over a week late on my due date, my water finally broke a day later at 2:30am on September 12th. Your father and I were sound asleep in bed at the time. I had read in many of my pregnancy apps that having one’s water break wasn’t actually as exciting as Hollywood makes it out to be in the movies. You know the scene: the woman is out to dinner with her husband when her water breaks dramatically in the middle of the restaurant with an enormous gush. Many women apparently don’t even end up breaking their amniotic sac until deep into the labor; some would need it to be broken for them. My experience with this process was really truly thrilling! All was still when I felt (and heard?) a pop and then felt what seemed like many, many cups of fluid rushing out from between my legs, soaking my underwear and t-shirt and all the bedsheets around me. “Oh, shit! Oh, shit!” I jumped up. I knew exactly what it was, but it seemed to come out of nowhere, and it startled me. Perhaps you ran into the membrane with your hand or one of the sharp angles of your long baby body. Johan jumped up in response to my shouting, thinking we were experiencing an earthquake or a break-in.
As I stood up, more amniotic fluid came running out from me. I quickly made my way to the bathroom and stood their in my soaked nightclothes, the star of a wet t-shirt competition for no one. We had already placed a waterproof mattress protector on the bed in anticipation of our labor, so Johan changed the sheets without too much difficulty. We contacted our midwife, Michelle Welborn, to see what she had to say about this exciting progress. What should we do next?
It turned out there wasn’t much we could do then except wait for the main event. It was hard to go back to sleep with the excitement of knowing that I would get to meet you soon, and I had much curiosity for what kind of birth we would have.
The contractions began very slowly and felt like menstrual cramps for the remainder of the early morning. It felt pretty manageable then.
Later that morning, labor was quirky and family-oriented. I spent the morning leaning over various low objects (exercise ball, rattan ottoman) on the floor while the immediate women of my family sat around me in the living room working on their various knitting or crochet projects for the baby. The conversation between my mother, mother-in-law and sister-in-law was convivial; I, on the other hand, was writhing every 15 minutes or so beneath the television, which was showing a muted segment from the Planet Earth series or a really serene nature-as-art film featuring the work of Andy Goldsworthy. I remember elephants. I remember my mother beginning to turn the volume up on the television, which for some reason I didn’t want. I preferred barely audible Cocteau Twins and ambient synth music on vinyl to the jaunty voice of David Attenborough (which I normally love). I had spent a lot of my summer collecting songs on a Spotify playlist for the birth that I never ended up using. I had also stockpiled various things in the apartment with which to entertain myself during the labor, including a supersize canister of bubbles, coloring books with really satisfying markers and crayons, and large pieces of bubble wrap, which I placed strategically around the apartment in case I felt moved in my pain to pop/destroy something. I had fantasized for months about the home karaoke sesh I would have with Johan during early labor. That never happened because I really didn’t feel like digging into music while I was dealing with contractions, as it turned out. The only things I ended up using from that collection of comfort objects were the strips of bubble wrap, which I broke after each contraction, much to the amusement of my knitting relatives.
The morning turned to afternoon and eventually dinner time. By dinner, the women had vacated the apartment and left me and Johan to our own devices. My contractions were ramping up and it didn’t seem like there was much that my gaggle of women helpers could do for me at that point. The pain began moving outside the realm of the familiar, and I began to move into my head more and more to deal with it. Finally the contractions were coming every four minutes and lasting one whole aching minute for an hour, and so we summoned Michelle.
By the end of that night, the pain from the contractions was becoming excruciating. The contractions came often enough to be hard to ignore, but they didn’t seem to be moving my dilation along much, unfortunately. Johan later told me that when Michelle checked me, I was only 3cm dilated, and she didn’t have the heart to tell me at the time (which I can appreciate). I had previously envisioned myself having a more humorous and outward experience of labor: maybe dancing to music I liked, laughing with Johan and Michelle about the follies of birthing, eating my favorite foods, cuddle puddles… But I went further inside my own mind than I have ever been and remained there, necessarily, for the remainder of the birth. I would have never imagined that would be helpful. But I didn’t crave distraction, I sought the most intimate understanding of my pain. I was laboring in every inch of the apartment to manage the rushes: sticking my face into the corners of furniture, hanging off of the clothing rack in the hall closet, leaning my forehead on the giant baby Boppy cushion temporarily placed in our retro rattan rocking chair. It felt good to push and pull things simultaneously.
Michelle suggested Johan and I have a shower together to ease the intensity of the contractions, but the warm water simply framed the experience of the pain differently. Though I will note that being with Johan in the hot water, being held by him, reminded me how lucky I am to have him as my husband, and how profoundly I love him.
Eventually, when we (Michelle) realized I had hit a temporary wall with my dilation progress, she gently suggested two options to me: we could either try to ramp things up and push on through or slow it down and try to sleep and revisit the labor in the morning. Given that we were already worn out and running ourselves down (Johan was working almost as hard as I was to comfort me), it was obvious that trying to sleep a little made the most sense. Michelle gave me homeopathic medicine to help open my cervix while I “slept”.
Every ten minutes or so, the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life woke me up from a half-sleep. Poor Johan must have felt every contraction along with me. It takes discipline to relax when you are suffering the worst pain you’ve ever felt; but that’s exactly what I needed to do to allow my body to open.
The details from my perspective became increasingly blurry from that point forward. I remember feeling hopeless, helpless, and frustrated at the slowness of my body to move along with the process. After what felt like forever (but was really a day, I guess), my cervix dilated to nearly 10 cm but kind of got stuck on the last cm. I also began to get the urge to push, which I wasn’t physically ready for. Michelle manually moved the last little bit of my cervix out of the way — I think that’s what happened? I remember agreeing to this procedure because I was so eager to move to the pushing part. Again, this part of the birth is blurry in my memory because I was in some other galaxy from the pain and the endorphins.
I began to feel you trying to descend and sort of running into something at the base of my uterus. Michelle determined that my pubic bone was getting in the way of your path and came up with some elaborate maneuver for me and Johan to try to get you to essentially dive under my pubic bone on your way down to the birth canal. Johan held me up by my chest and squeezed me up and backwards, kind of like he was trying to crack my back. In my labor trance, I must have just hung like a rag doll during this exercise. Johan probably never expected he would be so involved in your birth! I would have been happy simply having him catch the baby, but this level of participation was pretty remarkable!
Apparently this maneuver worked, and you finally dropped down. What a good boy! By the time I could start pushing later that morning, I had a hard time believing that I was actually allowed to push because I had waited so long for that moment through the lengthy dilation process and other hangups. But it really felt good to push! I felt like I had some agency; I was the one in control, and it felt productive. The painful contractions had happened to me, but now I was in the driver seat.
You had meconium in your amniotic fluid, which meant you were experiencing some stress. Not surprising! We were both working long and hard at this. Michelle assured me it wasn't necessarily a problem and that you were probably fine. Still, I was just a little worried.
Ultimately, I was on all fours on the corner of our bed. The inherent desire to push fueled me. Johan occasionally fed me spoonfuls of honey for this aerobic endeavor. I had been more quiet for the last day, but now I was grunting like Martina Hingis during the US Open every couple of minutes whenever I felt a surge. I had never had anything so big pass through my vagina, so EVERYthing felt like we were arriving at the finish line. I kept asking after each set of pushes whether you were crowning. Mostly you weren’t, much to my disappointment. You even peeked out briefly and then slid back in again. Darn it! More pushing. Finally, after an hour and a half of this exhausting game, I felt the top of your compressed head as it emerged and learned you would have a good head of hair. Things opened and burned and felt like they were going to break open. I paused at certain points, per Michelle’s direction, to allow my body to stretch around you more. I heard her ask Johan to come around to behind me to get ready to catch you as you came out. One more epic push and everything released and felt really sloppy and wet.
A few seconds later you were underneath me on the bed, crying in a big pool of brownish red liquid. I stared down between my legs. I assumed I would cry immediately from relief and joy, but I think I was still in a trance. But I could still tell that you were so perfect. And so robust — 8 lbs and 6oz, we would learn. And with an unusually long, skinny umbilical cord from all your wiggling around during gestation.
I lay back on the bed in the same spot where I sleep every night and Michelle placed you in my arms. Your papa came over to lie by my side and we finally had a good, deep cry at the miracle of it all. At the miracle of you! “Do you guys even know what you have?” Michelle asked. We just assumed you were a boy, as we had the entire pregnancy. Glancing down, Johan saw that we were right. Shortly thereafter, I gave birth to our placenta, and a little bit later Johan cut the umbilical cord. From that point on it would be our joy and responsibility to feed you and keep you warm. And to love you forever.