Monday, August 12, 2013

Amielle West Johnson

August 7, 2013, 4:55 PM - 9 lbs 5 ounces, 21.6 inches long

My main concern in giving birth a second time was not making it to the hospital on time. My first delivery progressed much more quickly than I’d anticipated, and, in fact, was more intense at the time than I’d realized. We made it to Medi Flower then with only half an hour to spare. This time, it was our plan to head for the birth center the moment labor began. But what a difficult thing to determine, the start of labor. 

The morning I delivered my daughter, I had put the laundry out to dry on the rooftop terrace of our apartment building. For weeks of wishful thinking I had been making sure to finish up all my chores in the morning in case I happened to go into labor. I washed the dishes, brewed some iced tea, picked up various of my son’s toys, and put the laundry out to dry. The laundry racks are such that they have to be anchored or they’ll flip and fly in the wind, and you’ll end up with dirty laundry and a mangled rack. So, in our apartment complex, everyone wedges one end into the slats of an available picnic bench, but on the morning of August 7th, my normal benches were occupied. In trying to find another operable bench, I got my rack stuck and had such a physical struggle unsticking it that it collapsed and fell apart, and I more or less did as well. 

My firstborn and I took our morning nap, and when we woke up, I threw a bunch of pillows on the floor and resolved to lay there the rest of the day. My belly was hard with Braxton Hicks contractions as it had been seemingly every second of each of the last month of days. At 42 weeks pregnant, I had gotten used to ignoring discomfort and vague indicators of labor. At 2:45 PM, though, something made me get up off my nest of pillows and sit on the couch. I texted my friend to tell her I thought I might be having contractions. My husband, Dan, was at work, and I didn’t want to call him home for no reason. They were lasting for sixty seconds and just three minutes apart, but they weren’t yet so intense that I couldn’t talk through them. I decided to call and see what Dan thought, but he didn’t answer. I told my friend that that meant I probably was having the baby. She convinced me I was in labor, and our texts escalated into exclamations. I called Dan again, and he started home from work.

Next I did the normal things you do while awaiting the ripening of the cervix, like sweeten the tea while it was warm and freeze my son’s birthday cake, which, because it was his birthday that day, had been cut only to provide him a festive breakfast. I dropped the cake on the floor and spent the next five minutes bent over cleaning it up. I was sure I was having the baby after that.

My husband’s co-worker drove us to the birth center. I clutched the door handle with my right hand and steadied my son in his seat with my left. In between contractions I responded to his curious chatter about the trucks he saw and the drums he heard. We arrived at Medi Flower about half an hour later, roughly one hour after labor had begun. I was so glad to be arriving in relative calm. Ella met us and told me I’d be set up with a ten minute non-stress test. I was 5 centimeters dilated. I laid down and listened to my daughter’s heartbeat as I breathed through intensifying contractions. My son alternated his attention between a DVD in the back of the room and driving cars on the bed next to me. We were left alone until the paper in the machine ran out. I thought for sure they’d just take me off the machine and let me sit up, but, as minutes earlier I’d been only half through complete dilation, they replaced the paper and again left the room. At some point, I noticed I could no longer lay flat and still and manage the pain. I was determined not to spend transition writhing on my back as I had two years previous on the floor of an ambulance, recalling it as the most unbearable pain of my laboring experience. My body took over, and I was up on the bed. Shortly after, I was standing and leaning over the bed. Shortly after, I was hastily shifting my weight from foot to foot, and I told Dan that I thought I needed to start pushing. Dan found Ella. I’m not sure what happened next, but I have a visceral memory of various hands. There was a hand at my left that I gripped with contractions. That ended up being Dan’s. There was a hand at my shoulder, coupled with voiced encouragement. That ended up being Ella’s. I was grateful for both. 

I wondered if someone would offer me a stool as they had during my previous birth experience. Thankfully my brain realized I should communicate instead. A stool appeared. I sat down. Rocking back and forth. I wasn’t sure I should start pushing, so I kept trying to just breathe through the contractions. I couldn’t. I started pushing. It hurt. I said so. A chorus of voices told me to say, “Ha-ah-ah-ah.” I did. It hurt. Soon enough I heard bated breath. I knew that meant it must be nearly over. I heard Dr. Chung ask if Dan wanted to catch the baby. Another push, my face seized, and I felt the release of a tangle of limbs. I opened my eyes and was surprised to see a room full of people. A baby in my arms and someone hoisted me on the bed. I couldn’t stop shaking. Weighing 9 pounds and 5 ounces and measuring 21.6 inches long, Amielle West Johnson was born at 4:55 PM, slightly more than two hours after the start of labor, and two years to the day of the birth of her brother.

If it’s possible, even more than with the birth of my son, we felt everyone’s genuine excitement at the arrival of our girl. Ella was a great encouragement and a practical asset, making sure Dan kept offering me water, commiserating how much more painful it was to handle contractions while kept stationary, and providing translation as needed. I am so thankful to have again given birth in a place that values the mother’s instincts and allowed me to pull myself off the monitor and move freely into the second stage of labor. I have heard recounted so many experiences of mothers being brushed off by a professional opinion, but I was attended to in earnest and with immediacy. I’m left with only good sentiments about the separate births of my two children and the capability of my body to accomplish its most natural task. I cannot thank Dr. Chung and the staff of Medi Flower enough for that.

Sitting up during transition while Joash drives his cars.

Feeling dazed during the post-birth paperwork rundown.
With my girl.
Joash meeting his sister.
She is just beginning to settle into her liberated skin. Any baby who hangs around gestating for 42 weeks is obviously not overly keen on being out in this dry world, and she is out to tell anyone who'll listen. It's oddly endearing.

Waiting to go home the next morning.

Since we've been home, all Joash does is kiss this little lady. I could not be prouder of how he has accepted this monumental life change. I know he's stressed, but he's handling it so well, and he is already a friend and protecter to his little sister. I was patting her back to burp her when we'd first brought her home, a thing he's never seen done to anyone, and he yelled at me to "let go!" And any time he can't see her or doesn't know that we've put a blanket over her or otherwise hidden her somehow, he walks around with his hands in the air, wondering, "Baby? Baby?"

He also very adamantly shares everything with her. He donates toys and food and demands we return to her anything we remove from her belly. He's learning to be a gentler kisser, sure, and he knows now not to tickle her when she's asleep.

So, she's a crier and doesn't especially like to sleep off-person, so I took the picture when I had the chance. Any moment she's awake, even many she's asleep, is spent crying and shouting about. But today she spent a good ten minutes in the evening just peering around at anything she could see, the silence reverberating off the lingering echo of constant crying.

Baby's first chicken nugget!
I love all these people.
Afternoon foot loosing.

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