Thor Douglas Hawkins
Very early on a Tuesday morning, I wake to the gush of my waters breaking. Alone in bed, I scramble for my phone to call Morning Star. It's truly happening. Two weeks earlier than predicted, our baby is preparing to join us, and while I am indeed excited, I am also stunned.
The night before, Monday, September 24, I worked my regular restaurant serving shift. At the beginning of it I ran into a colleague who on his way out said, "We're going to Chicago tomorrow, so be sure to text us if you have your baby..." I laughed and reminded him that not only was my due date two weeks away, but Randy (my husband) was out of town through Sunday on business; my baby couldn't come yet. Through out my shift two more people- restaurant guests who I didn't personally know- also commented that my baby would be coming soon, to which I replied similarly.
My shift that night should have been easy. It was a typical Monday, not too busy and most guests were pretty relaxed and casual. I was in the section that was easiest to work with everything very close by, not requiring a lot of running around. Despite these things, it was the hardest shift I've ever worked in my tenure in restaurants.
As I changed out of my uniform that night I talked with another colleague about the magic of birth. Having been through three births herself, she spoke of the importance of letting your body take over and enjoying the intensity. Like our colleague and restaurant guests, she too knew that birth was imminent for me and had a twinkle in her eye as she spoke.
I drove home and processed the night finding myself to be finally in a place where I could listen to my body and accept that this baby would likely be coming sooner than later. I came to terms that most of the things I wanted to do in preparation of his arrival would likely remain incomplete. I started to feel excited. I went home, took a bath, called Randy to say goodnight and was in bed by 1am. I had no idea that I would wake up in a few hours to the prospect of imminent birth.
After I called Morning Star and Vickie confirmed that my birth would soon be beginning, I phoned Randy. He was just finishing up a show in Phoenix. While we each had plans in place in the event my labor would begin before his tour was over, neither of us thought we would actually end up putting them into play. Shocked and nervous, he arranged for a flight home immediately and bid his tour mates farewell as they went on to El Paso and beyond.
I tried in vain to sleep and had little luck. In attempt to inspire me, I recounted the Handling Complications class with Myriah and Avril earlier in the summer. During the class it was stressed how important rest through early labor was in order to fend off potential exhaustion later. I am one who has a hard time slowing down for rest under any circumstance, and at that class I knew, if anyone was in danger of exhaustion during labor it was I. Exhaustion, I reminded myself as I tried to sleep, led to care transfer at a hospital, and I very much wanted to complete my birth at Morning Star.
With that in mind, I moved to our guest room, which did bring some sleep off and on until about 10am. I got up and since no contractions had begun, I decided I would tidy up our house (having our house professionally cleaned was one thing I wanted done before the baby's arrival - they were scheduled to come on October 4).
When Randy walked in the door around noon I was unloading the dishwasher. He was taken aback as he half expected me to be in active labor. He gently chided me for not resting. And so the day the pattern of our day was set: me feeling the incessant need to do things that I wanted to have done prior to baby's arrival and my exasperated husband urging me to nap instead.
My 37 week appointment was scheduled for that afternoon and we went to it as planned. We talked with Rachel about the impending events ahead, how to know when it was time to return to the Birth Center and what to do in the mean time (rest!). We went home and attempted to nap, but my mind was racing over what lie ahead and things we needed that I hadn't had a chance to acquire yet (I had a list). I insisted upon a quick shopping trip and a hot fudge banana malt. After much discussion, Randy cautiously relented.
When contractions started it was about 7pm. We were at The St. Clair Broiler fulfilling my hot fudge banana malt request and eating pasta to stock up on carbohydrates for the birth. Our arrival at The St. Clair Broiler coincided with some friends of ours. When they saw us they asked when the baby was coming, I laughed and said, "Tonight!" We ended up having dinner with them and we were just finishing up when my contractions began. I didn't say a word, but I didn't dally over conversation, as I might have typically. When we got into the car Randy looked at me and said, "They've started, haven't they?"
We went home and I labored while Randy timed contractions. I had spoonfuls of honey and yogurt, moving from our guest room bed to our living room sofa and back. I tried listening to music and watching television to distract myself and relax between contractions. However at that point I was agitated; it had been 15 hours from the time my waters broke to my first contraction. During those hours I tried not to anticipate or dwell on what was ahead, but I couldn't help to do exactly that and in greater detail than I'd allowed myself to before.
When contractions finally started, nothing was how I thought it would be. I had looked forward to using the methods Avril taught us in our birth prep class, such as slow dancing with Randy or laboring in various positions with Randy rubbing my shoulders or my back to help me through, but when it all came to a head I couldn't stand to be touched or take any of his suggestions.
The anticipation and my mood made me feel as though I'd already been in active labor for hours. For this reason, it was around 10:30 we went to the Birth Center. Vickie checked me and unsurprisingly, I was not yet dilated. Deflated, we went home and I labored until about 4:30am when we returned again. This time I was a mere 2, but she let us stay.
I labored all day, in and out of the tub with McKenna and Randy by my side. McKenna's presence was calming and reassuring; without her I think I may have totally lost it. She was constantly validating me, reassuring me all the while reminding me that I could and would do this. I was made to do this. She was like a sister, holding my hand, caressing me- completely calm the entire time.
In the early afternoon, Catherine determined that our baby's head was tilted to the side and recommended a chiropractic adjustment to help things along. Within the hour a chiropractor arrived. Having a chiropractic adjustment during labor was an out of body experience. The chiropractor would work between contractions and when one began she stopped and when it was finished she continued the adjustment until the next one. My eyes never opened during this period, I went to the place we predetermined during birth class for especially trying times during birth: our backyard garden on a beautiful summer day. I have no idea how long this took or who was adjusting me, as I was far, far away, settled in our garden admiring my Dahlias and Marigolds.
The adjustment worked; baby's head was straight on and ready for birth. Soon I was completely dilated. I got into the tub again with Randy joining me this time. I was ready to push our baby out and baby was in position to join us. I pushed and pushed, envisioning him sliding through my birth canal. But it seemed he just wasn't willing to join us yet. This went on out of the tub, in the shower, on the birthing stool, the toilet, the birthing sling and through out the birth center (it was after hours by this point).
At 9:30pm, about 4 hours after I was complete, Catherine checked me and found that my dilatation had regressed to 9. I was endanger of exhaustion and it was determined that I needed to transfer care to hospital. Catherine's recommendation and our goal, was that I would receive an epidural, which would enable me to sleep. After a good rest, we hoped I would once again be completely dilated and could push my baby out.
While it was disappointing to leave Morning Star, I knew it was best. We decided to go to a hospital in Minneapolis that several friends of mine had great experiences with natural birth and I also knew to have a very low cesarean rate. Catherine called ahead to let them know that we were coming and gave her recommendation for my care to which they seemed receptive.
McKenna rode with us to the hospital, holding my hand through contractions and checking baby's heart rate, which was staying strong in the 130s where it had been since my 30 week appointment in early August. Randy was white knuckled at the wheel, working hard to avoid any bumps in the road (they brought on contractions and when he hit one I would call out, "Gentle! Gentle!"). Catherine followed in her vehicle after sending all my records to the hospital.
Randy, McKenna and I arrived at the hospital and were taken to the maternity ward. It hadn't occurred to me that an Ob/Gyn would be handling my care, I imagined a midwife. So when a doctor, accompanied by two more doctors (or perhaps residents) came into my room about 15 minutes after we arrived, I was a little bit taken aback. They greeted me by introducing themselves, and then one of the doctors checked my cervix. Without leaving the room (or allowing for even a beat of silence), she informed me that it was their opinion that I needed to have a cesarean section and they hoped to begin prepping immediately. There was no conversation with me before this, or even just "How are you feeling?" My heart sank. It seemed like such a simple request to sleep for 6 or 7 hours with the help of an epidural, however, knowing what I know about birth in our culture, I was not surprised that this was their answer to my situation.
I told them that a cesarean was exactly what I didn't want and informed them that the reason I chose their hospital was the low cesarean rate. Hopeful that I would once again be complete with rest, I expressed my desire to follow Catherine's recommendation to receive an epidural to allow me to rest until morning. The doctor responded by telling me that my uterus was likely to "putter out" and I would damage it for life if I rested until morning. She would, however let me sleep for two hours and see if I was complete after that. I thanked them and they left.
I was thrown me into a panic. Two hours rest didn't feel like enough and I felt pressured which I knew would prohibit me from becoming completely dilated again. As I was digesting the doctor's plan I over heard talk of inserting a monitor inside me to monitor our baby (in addition to the 2 monitors already strapped around my belly). This, along with the fact that I overheard it rather than was spoken to about it, jolted me to the reality that I was not in like-minded company of any sort regarding birth philosophy. I asked the nurse if I could see a midwife instead and she said that wasn't possible. My mind was swimming; it seemed I had no control over what was going to happen to us and I knew this was not the right place to deliver my baby.
Catherine arrived shortly after and we told her what transpired. She pointed out a rash on my face, I knew it was from the stress of not feeling in control of the situation as well as my lack of faith in the caregivers at this hospital. We talked, regretting not going to Hudson Hospital for care by Dr. Hartung (neither of us suggested this initially because her recommendation of an Epidural for rest seemed so straight forward). After a few beats of silence I asked if we still could go there, she said she'd make a phone call to find out.
It was Dr. Hartung's day off, but Catherine was hopeful that the on call doctor would be willing to go along with her recommendation. However, when she told him what had gone on at the hospital and the subsequent recommendation of the doctor, he didn't feel comfortable going against their recommendation. Catherine didn't give up, she phoned Dr. Hartung at home.
Dr. Hartung agreed to take me on as a patient and let me sleep via epidural until morning. Though he couldn't promise that he wouldn't come to the same conclusion (a cesarean), however, my familiarity with his reputation in the natural birth community made any recommendation of his (even a cesarean) mean much more than that of a doctor I had never met or heard of before as was the case at the hospital in Minneapolis.
We informed the nurse that I was planning to leave. The doctor(s) came back with a supervisor and I had to sign a form that acknowledging that I was leaving against AMA (American Medical Association) advice. They also told me they couldn't guarantee that my baby and I would survive to our next destination. As I signed the form, I politely thanked them for their opinions and told them why I felt confident I was making a safe decision: my baby's heart rate remained steady in the 130s as it had since August, my blood pressure remained safely in the low hundreds and it had been only 44 hours since my waters had broken so we were well within a safe time frame (the policy of Morning Star is 72 hours). In the middle of this conversation I had to take a minute to ride out a contraction. I saw them exchange glances with each other as I bent over the bed. This only spurred me to move forward to Hudson.
Meanwhile, my poor husband was in a panic of his own. Randy stayed fairly silent through all of this, holding my hand and telling me all would be okay. But he was hearing all the doctors' words at face value. I was in survival mode, taking for granted all that I knew about birth in hospital culture, not thinking to confer with him regarding leaving the hospital in Minneapolis and going on to Hudson. After a quick conference with McKenna, Catherine and I, he seemed to feel better and was on board with the move to Hudson Hospital.
We left, resuming our old positions: Randy driving, me in the passenger seat reclined and McKenna in the back holding my hand and checking baby's heart rate with Catherine following in her own vehicle. We got in the car and realized we were nearly out of gas. Not wanting to prolong my arrival to Hudson, I insisted we could make it, McKenna recommended we stop. We did, and we were all glad for it, as I can't even imagine adding a "Running Out of Gas on the Highway" chapter to the adventure of my birth.
We arrived in Hudson around 1:15am and were brought to the maternity ward where I was given an epidural within an hour. By 3am my contractions, still just minutes apart, felt miles away and finally I could sleep. Catherine and McKenna left us to rest. Randy settled into a recliner and I drifted off to sleep for what was left of the night.
At 7am, I was introduced to the day nurse, Annette and shortly after Dr. Hartung. Having heard lovely things about his practice and commitment to natural birth from many people, I was nearly star struck when he walked in the door. As he prepared to check me I told him how grateful I was to have him for my doctor. He checked me and found that I was complete! "I'll go get into scrubs and we'll deliver this baby!" I was elated. We phoned Catherine to tell her and she was soon on her way back to Hudson Hospital to be with us.
Meanwhile we got to know Annette. It turned out she was an old colleague of Catherine's from long ago and a firm believer in natural childbirth. We talked about how amazing Ina May Gaskin is (she'd seen her speak and recounted her experience meeting her) and the how magical birth should be. This confirmed what I already knew, that I was in the right place and I felt great confidence in the caregivers taking care of us.
During this time I was given Pitocin to start my contractions again. I pushed a little, but it was decided that I should to wait for the Pitocin to be in full effect. By this time Catherine had arrived. She and Annette were on each side of my bed and Randy was sitting near by. We were having quite a nice visit. I'd ordered fruit and scones from hospital food service and while we ate, the three of us told Annette the experience from the night before. Annette and Catherine reminisced over their days working together and Annette talked about birthing calves at her farm. During this time I felt like the luckiest woman in the world: I was in labor with these two strong women supporting and loving me, who had decades of experience with births between them (not to mention the 6 births of their own, collectively). For this time, they were my aunts.
After a while, Randy pointed out that I hadn't had a contraction in about 15 minutes. We looked at my Pitocin IV and found that it had come out of my vein and the Pitocin was going into my into my skin. Because of this there was a large lump on my arm. Annette was horrified but I thought it was hilarious, which brought all of us to a hard laughter that happens only with fatigue and feels greater than anything. As I wiped tears from laughter from my cheeks, I again took a moment of gratitude for having these Aunts by my side through one of the most amazing and important experiences of my life.
An anesthesiologist was able to insert a new IV and the Pitocin flowed again. It was now 11am on Thursday; my waters had broken 56 hours ago. I could feel my contractions coming back though not super strong yet. Around noon I decided I would take a nap and rest up for the big event. Randy was able to go into an empty hospital room to nap also. I woke up an hour later to stronger contractions and a quiet room. Beside me I spotted Catherine napping on the floor. My heart swelled seeing her there. No longer under Morning Star's official care, she stayed by my side through it all, likely with less sleep than I, always even keeled and full of love and support. Lucky me.
I sat there for a few minutes, sending love to our baby and reflecting on what lie ahead, focusing on a beautiful birth. Catherine woke up and went to get Annette. I started to push. Randy came in around 1:45, Dr. Hartung followed around 2.
Through out my pregnancy I looked forward to the point in my birth when I would have the opportunity to feel our baby's head or see it with a mirror. Sadly, when the time finally came I couldn't do either; I didn't want to tease myself. I had been laboring for so long, at times I wasn't sure if he would ever come out. The day before I would have, but at that point it had been such a long road, it was too much.
As I pushed it became clear that our baby was still not quite ready to join us and so it was suggested to me that forceps might be necessary to get him moving. I had no problem with this, in fact I was kind of hoping for it. As Dr. Hartung explained to me why and what that would entail, I interrupted, "No, problem, let's use them!" he smiled, but finished explaining and told me what I could expect.
The forceps were inserted and a few pushes later, finally, at 2:41pm, on Thursday, September 27th, just shy of 60 hours after my waters broke, Thor Douglas Hawkins arrived! He let out a cry, which quieted when he was laid on my chest. We were in awe. I was in disbelief that I was finally holding and meeting our baby. I rubbed the vernix into his skin as I looked this little person over, Randy and I held hands, and Randy sobbed.
My placenta came out soon after. After such a long labor with our baby in position for so long it felt like nothing. After the remaining blood pulsated into Thor, Randy cut the cord. I was very excited to see my placenta and Dr. Hartung kindly showed it to me pointing out the different parts and complimenting how healthy it was. Catherine took photos of it for me.
I asked if I tore, when I was told I didn't perennially, I credited Ina May Gaskin (the Sphincter Law chapter) and everyone laughed. I did however have a small interior tear, which Dr. Hartung sewed up with one stitch. Soon after Thor was weighed, measured (6lbs, 4 oz.; 19 inches long) and had his newborn screening all just a few feet away from us. When all was finished we bid our farewells and gave gratitude to Catherine and Annette and we were left alone for as long as we wanted.
There was a birthing tub in the labor room. I asked if it would be all right for the three of us to take a bath together before moving into our room (this was something I was sad to be missing by not completing my birth at Morning Star). Enthusiastically, the nursing staff approved. And so about an hour after birth, the three of us climbed into the tub and we started to get to know our sweet little son. He was alert and taking it all in. We talked and sang to him, floating him on his back while looking over his perfect little body. We were in complete bliss.
The next few days were chalked with family making the trek from Minneapolis to Hudson in order meet Thor. We enjoyed this magical time and fell into life as a family. Initially we planned to leave the hospital the soonest we were allowed (24 hours after birth), but in the end, we decided to stay an additional night as was recommended by Dr. Hartung.
The hospital stay was really enjoyable. Staff was very respectful and loving (we were lucky to have Annette all 3 days) giving us our space and only coming in to check our vitals as required. Our room had a bed for Randy and boasted a fantastic bathtub that enabled me to take 3 or 4 baths a day helping me heal and the staff had a nice supply of bath salts, which they shared generously with me.
While we were ready to head home on Saturday, it was bittersweet. We enjoyed the staff so much as well as the hospitality of the hospital. Annette walked us to our car, hugging us both goodbye and waving as we drove away. As we drove home, I sat in the back beside Thor. I couldn't stop staring at him, thinking about the week's events that brought him here.
We are told that doctors know best and discouraged from questioning them. If it weren't for the prenatal care and education we received at Morning Star in addition to having McKenna and Catherine by my side, I don't know that I would have had the courage to follow my instinct to leave the Minneapolis hospital in order to receive the care I knew was best for us. I am grateful for this and for having such a loving and supportive partner who trusted me and my ability to listen to my body and know what was best.
When Randy arrived home from Phoenix Tuesday morning, we joked that Thor's birth would be marked with Dad flying home for the birth. Little did we know then that Dad flying home would be just the beginning.