Birth story of Asa’el (finally!)

Birth story of Asa’el
Oct 14th, 2011/ 16 Tishray 5771
6lbs 12oz/3kg  19.5”/50cm
My labor had drawn out over the course of the past month, with the rushes building in intensity each time, but then inevitably petering out at some point. I got to the point of going out for long walks, pushing my 2 year old son around Katzrin in the stroller, etc… in the hopes of encouraging my body to keep the contractions coming.

Thursday was the first day of Sukkot, and I went to shul having strong rushes. Joked with some of the women about how the baby was just going to fall out at some point. I schlepped the up-hill road home, stopping for many of the rushes. When we got home, things calmed down a bit, but didn’t stop completely. I spent the late afternoon at a neighbor’s house chatting while the kids played and wondered if this could really be it.

After Havdalah, we got the kids to bed and the rushes were still coming on. I decided to take a shower and give it another hour. At around 9pm I called Chava. We decided that the best thing to do was for the team to be on alert, but to allow me my space for as long as possible. My rushes continued to come, whether I was standing, sitting, or lying down, but they weren’t finding a pattern and they weren’t consistently strong either. I was feeling concerned that I might be getting “stage fright.” Meaning that knowing that there were people waiting to hear how my labor was progressing was having a negative effect on the labor. So I called my friend Miriam, who has a full supply of homeopathic remedies, and asked her to bring me some gelsemium. She is also a talented photographer, and I had asked her if she would be willing to photograph my birth. So when she came, I think it was close to midnight, she brought several birth-related remedies, her camera, and another friend, Natasha who was going to be on childcare duty (which was light work at the time, since they were all asleep!).
I took the remedy and labored for a while. Yoram was amazing. Every time a rush would come on, he would be right there swaying and moaning with me, putting pressure in my lower back, or massaging my shoulders. At around 1am I called Chava back and she was on the phone through a contraction. Her reaction, “Ok, I think it’s time for us to head over!”

I don’t really remember much of the rest of the timeline, at some point Chava arrived, and then Naomi arrived. Miriam and Natasha were still hanging out and things were going ok. Then Yitzchak woke up. Then Odeliya woke up. They hung out for a bit, we ate fruit, Miriam got some lovely pictures! But then Naomi and Chava noticed that my rushes were spacing out. When the rushes came, they were no less intense, although they weren’t getting stronger, and they definitely were doing the opposite of getting closer together. So the Midwives suggested that Miriam and Natasha go home for a while, and that they take the two children with them. Netanel stayed asleep, but Natasha said to call her if he woke up and she would come collect him. At some point towards morning, he did wake up and Natasha was true to her word. Chava and Naomi made themselves scarce and tried as best as possible to create a private space for me and baby to do our thing.

I started to realize that there was something my body was resisting. I was too alert, too present. In the past, as birth became imminent, my mind would get out of the way and let my body take over. And that’s when labor would get increasingly more intense and I would lose myself to the process and allow the power of Birth to consume me. But I wasn’t going there, and I started to suspect some post-trauma. In my last birth, it was at the point where I did allow my mind to disconnect that everything started going haywire, and I put my trust into a midwife who had decided before she turned up that she was going to find a way to deny me a homebirth. So when she said, “the head is too high” and “I’m feeling swelling around the baby’s head” and “I think we need to call an ambulance” I was unable to respond with what I was thinking because my thoughts and my voice were no longer connected. I wanted to say, “but I’m ready to push.” Or “that doesn’t make any sense.” Or just, “no, I’m not going!” but I couldn’t anymore. I had allowed myself to go to a place of trust and believing that my care provider was going to actually care for me, and instead she betrayed me and abandoned me.

So here I was 2+ years later and even though I knew without any doubt that I had two amazing and trustworthy midwives attending me, and even though I knew that this time was completely different and that I was safe and my space was safe and me and my baby were safe; even though I knew that the only circumstance in which we would transfer to the hospital was if there was true danger to me and my baby (and not the midwife’s bank account), my body wasn’t ready to fully believe that.

I processed a lot of this on my own, much of it after the fact, and some of it with Yoram, and with Chava. We processed some other things also, and did some tapping, and I did some crying. I felt that it helped. My body, however, had its own agenda and that was protection. After 12 hours of hard labor, I was 4cm dilated and my little guy’s head was not engaged. When Chava checked me, she felt that something was off with his position, because she knew from palpating that the baby was head down, but she said that what she was feeling felt more like a knee! That oddity was explained when we finally saw his little knobby head! That got us thinking of different laboring positions to try to encourage the baby to get into a better position and engage.

Sometime in the late morning, Chava realized that this baby was going to be born sometime on Friday night, so she decided to go home and get her home and family organized so that they could function without her for the weekend, since once Shabbat came in, she wouldn’t be permitted to go home. Before she left, she, Naomi, Yoram and I discussed our options with this labor that didn’t want to kick into gear. One option of course, was to do nothing and leave it alone. Option 2 was to start what I’m going to call a “natural augmentation regimen” of herbs, homeopathics, and nipple stimulation. I was feeling very strongly at this point that my body needed to be convinced that it was safe for me to have my baby right where we were with the wonderful attendants that we had. So I opted for #2.

Chava left with instructions to be called as soon as the labor picked up. Naomi said she wanted me to try to rest for an hour and then we would start. I lay on the couch and allowed myself to savor the 20 minutes between contractions instead of stressing that they were so far apart.

An hour later, Naomi brought out the breast pump and we started 15 minutes of pumping on each side with a 15 minute break in between. She gave me a dose of labor herbs and several minutes later, a homeopathic. I don’t know how quickly it kicked in, but ooooh man did that work! Very soon after that, we were at 10 minutes apart lasting a minute each and knocking the wind out of me each time. I moaned and sang and groaned and swayed. Mostly I would get on hands and knees and Yoram and/or Naomi was right there with me pushing into my sacrum or massaging my shoulders or both. I started to not remember much between rushes and that was a really good sign that I was forcing my body to take over.
 I was desperate to get into the pool, but I knew my newly invigorated labor was still so tenuous so I resisted. Then I started feeling pushy. I said I was going to go into the shower. Naomi said not to let it get too hot and to call her if I felt I was pushing. Yoram stayed nearby and popped in and out of the shower to check on me. The rushes started coming on strong, and on top of each other and I squatted down and knew that if I stayed there I was going to push out a baby. But the sensation was overwhelming and way too strong. I was suddenly terrified and called Yoram to help me get out of the shower. Naomi asked if she could check me since I was feeling so pushy. I agreed. She informed me that nothing had changed internally. She was completely unconcerned by this, and although I was a bit shocked, I took my cue from her and remained calm. She just said it meant I had more work to do before the end.

Something about that made me realize this was all in my head. There was a cloud of fear around me and it was having an effect on the whole process. I needed to surrender, to completely let go. Words popped into my head like hospital and pitocin. Images of fluorescent lights and faceless white-coated people bustling around me came unbidden to my mind’s eye.

I went back to my nest on the couch and carried on with the pumping, and with every rush as the pressure mounted, I pushed into it. I opened up. “Baby,” I said, “this is it, we’re doing this right now!” I pushed into each peak, roared into it, opened up to it, burned into the all-consuming power that was flowing through my body. I let it hurt and burn, but something was still stopping me.

I was kneeling on the floor over my birth ball, and my knees and ankles were hurting. My hips were hurting. These peripheral pains were distracting me. I needed to get in the pool. It was only 2 hours after Naomi had checked me and I knew she would be concerned about the water slowing things down, but I knew I’d passed the threshold, there was only one way to go from here.

Yoram made sure the water was nice and warm and I got in to the pool. The world around me slipped away. I was aware that Miriam had called and that Yoram told her she should come over with her camera. I was aware that it would be Shabbat very soon and I was aware that Chava was on her way back. But that awareness slipped away into the recesses of my consciousness. I was consumed by the Divine energy of Birth in all her fury and vivid beauty and intensity. I felt my baby barreling down through my pelvis and in that contraction my water broke. Breathlessly, I said, “Yoram the baby’s coming and I need a break!” The contraction didn’t stop, pushing wasn’t a process, it was a thing that was happening to me within the span of a few minutes. There was fear in those seconds, and I dispersed. But Yoram and Naomi gathered me in, they re-centered me and I let go. I felt him coming down and the intensity was overwhelming and I roared and thought my pelvis was going to explode! And then he was there, in my arms, slippery and slimy and beautifully pinkish-purple.  I knew he was a boy without checking, he was so present with me and I gathered him onto my chest and heaved with joy and relief! He opened his beautiful dark eyes and fixed me in a stare that was unbreakable. I was smitten.

He was doing this gurgling thing, and Naomi said calmly, “it would be good if you kissed him and give him some air,” so I did, and then he let out a reassuring, heart-rending wail! What a beautiful sound! He calmed right down though as I massaged him and we covered him with towels, and Miriam snapped away.

My beautiful little guy had come barreling out with no molding, all 13 inches of his head circumference, so I was pretty sure all those muscles that had done that work weren’t going to be much use in pushing out the placenta. So I got out of the pool onto chux pads layered on the couch. Then Chava walked in. She was in shock that she had missed the birth! She and 

Naomi helped settle me and helped me get out the placenta, and Miriam went out to the Sukkah to light candles for herself and for me.

Naomi encouraged me to allow the baby to just rest on my belly and not to force him to the breast, and I knew what that was about, because I had seen the video of the self-latching babies in my doula course. And he did it! He wormed his way, head bobbing, up my chest and latched himself right on to my left breast! It was amazing!

And even more amazing was the fact that I had no tearing at all – not even a skid! I am so grateful for that! The joints of my pelvis are still a little sore, three months later! So I’m glad that I didn’t also have to recover from tearing.

After a little while I showered and got settled in my bed and Natasha brought the kids back, and Naomi left and we started to welcome our new little light into the world.

I was blessed to have Chava be there as a post-partum doula for the first 25 hours after birth! I don’t know how we would have been able to get through Shabbat without her.

At some point while Naomi and Chava were checking the baby and weighing him and so forth, I had leaned over to Yoram and said, “I am having  a thought about this baby’s name.” “Yeah? I also have something in mind,” he answered. We agreed that as soon as we had some time alone we’d discuss it. Later that night, I was sitting on my bed nursing our new baby, and Yoram was sitting in his bed, and it was quiet. “So what was the name you were thinking of?” I asked. Yoram said, “I’m thinking Asa’el.”

So was I. The last time we had mentioned that name was when we were making a name list during my first pregnancy, so it seemed very clear that when we both independently came back to it at that moment, that Asa’el was our baby’s undisputed name. (It means “God’s work”)

It has taken me almost 3 months to put this story down in words. There was a lot of processing that I’ve gone through in that time. Here are some of my thoughts:

One of the things I had prayed for specifically and consistently throughout this pregnancy was that the birth should be a healing experience for me. I feel that Hashem granted me that in every way. Asa’el’s birth was very clearly a tikkun for the traumatic birth experience that I had with Yitzchak. Down to the minutest details.

We moved into this house at around 33 weeks, which is where I was at when we moved to Katzrin in May of 09. I had a team of 2 fabulous midwives who fully and completely trust birth, women, and themselves. About 2 weeks before I gave birth, I had a true “false alarm.” Meaning that I truly thought I was going to give birth, Chava, Naomi and my friend Tziona who was to be my doula, came out. After a full night of on and off labor, my contractions petered out. But no one was annoyed or upset.  I think my body did that to subconsciously test that this would be different from the last time. And then during my actual labor, which lasted a whopping 20 hours, 16 of which saw no “progression” and nobody was thinking of a transfer. All the indications were that me and the baby were doing well, so there was nothing to worry about. The decision to take action was entirely mine. Chava, who I had considered my midwife more than Naomi, actually left in the middle of labor and missed the birth! I had the experience of her leaving, but knowing fully that I wasn’t being abandoned. Firstly because Naomi was there the entire time and she was amazing. And secondly because it was clear that Chava was loving me and the baby, and that her leaving was to facilitate her being able to be completely present with me when she returned. And then she was with me for that critical post-birth time, which was actually when the midwife had left me at the mercy of the hospital with Yitzchak. Also, something I’m seeing just now in the re-telling is that in the ambulance when Yitzchak was born, he was limp and blue and that midwife actually did tell me to give him a breath, which I did and he pinked up. This time, Asa’el was alert and fine, but hadn’t been too eager to really take in that first gulp of air, and Naomi also told me to breath into his mouth.

I feel a strong significance to all these details and I feel so whole and healthy, where there had previously been a deep chasm. I am so grateful for this birth, for Asa’el, for my midwives, for Yoram. I feel so deeply blessed.
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