Cora Havan Tucker: Birth Story
Havan and I had been trying to conceive a baby for nine months. I had researched strategies for improving fertility, one of which is not to stress, and that is one of my biggest hurdles in life. We had begun to track my basil temperatures so we would know when ovulation was approaching. In October 2013, I was preparing my fourth grade class for a school-wide production when I suddenly felt extremely faint and my vision went blurry. The principal watched my class while I went to see the school nurse, and the first thing she asked when I described my symptoms was, "Are you pregnant?" Six days later, we drove to Rite Aide after church and bought the test that would confirm that I was indeed pregnant. We were beside ourselves with excitement.
We immediately shared the news with our best friends, Amanda and Patrick Johnson and a few of Havan's closest coworkers, but we kept the anticipated baby a secret from everyone else until we could get the whole family together for Thanksgiving dinner in late November. As it turns out, the Johnsons had their own news only two weeks later, and we found out Amanda and I would enjoy simultaneous pregnancies. In late November the news was out to the family, church, and my students at school. We sent Christmas card announcements to everyone else to spread our excitement about future baby Tucker.
At around eighteen weeks of gestation, we had our second of three ultra sounds where the radiologists studied and measured the growing baby and discovered whether we would expect a son or a daughter. We asked them to seal the results in an envelope which we immediately delivered to our college friends Sam and Allie Garza. The following weekend, Sam and Allie hosted a gender reveal party where everyone we loved gathered to watch us throw darts at balloons that would reveal the pink or blue confetti hidden inside. We instantly fell in love with the idea of our upcoming daughter as soon as Havan's dart pierced the balloon that held the pink colored confetti, and it showered to the floor of the Garza garage.
My pregnancy went very smoothly. I had no nausea, only occaisonal headaches that went away after the first trimester. Havan and I, after receiving advice from the Johnsons, discussed having a water birth at home, an idea I had admired since seeing the birth video of Waylon Nash Johnson in January of 2013. We decided that a natural birth in our own home would be the most comfortable and fitting method of welcoming our daughter into the world. We set up an appointment with Amanda's midwife, Mary Anne Richardson, and after the consultation appointment, agreed that she would be perfect for guiding us through our natural home birth and delivering our baby.
When we had my blood tested during the first trimester, we learned that my blood type is BNeg. Unfortunately, a negative RH factor is a red flag for expectant mothers married to RH positive fathers. If the baby's blood were positive like her dad's, my body would view her birth as an invasion of incompatible blood cells. The risk of harm to Cora was low, but this would likely mean a future full of miscarriages for our family. Thanks be to God that an injection has been recently developed to deter my blood from reacting to the incompatible RH positive cells. I received the RhoGam injection when I reached 28 weeks gestation, and it was a big weight off my chest.
Every other aspect of my pregnancy was perfect. My weight, iron levels, glucose measurements, and uterin growth were all ideal. I ate well, slept well, and had a lot of energy to be productive once the school year ended in May. When the weather warmed, I swam in the pool almost daily and felt like my body was prepared for birthing.
As part of our preparation, Havan and I signed up for a Hypnobabies class (also due to the excellent advice of the Johnsons). The idea of using hypnosis to ease the pains of child birth sounded hokey to me when we first looked into the classes. However, the real principles of Hypnobabies are: 1. You are in control of your mind and how you feel about every situation including child birth; 2. Fear and anxiety serve to slow and complicate a birth, and you can learn to control your fear. This class gave us everything we needed from pregancy health information, to natural childbirth statistics and data, to countless concentration/relaxation strategies and tools. I practiced breathing relaxation and "hypno-anesthesia" to my uterus, envisioning a safe place and a bubble of peace, releasing my fears and building images of my perfect birthing, and thinking only positive thoughts about pregnancy and childbirth. Hypnobabies helped me to feel confident about my natural water birth at home.
Friday June 20th felt like just another day, the last day in the 38th week of gestation. I completed my daily to-do list, relaxed on the couch, swam in the pool, and had fun with my husband when he got home from work an hour early. We called our friends, as we always do, to see what welcome-the-weekend plans we could pull together. Since everyone was busy or wishing to stay home, we purchased an on-demand movie (Monument Men) and settled in for the night. About halfway through the film, at around 8 P.M., I suddenly felt a very strong movement in the bottom of my uterus, and as I started to react in surprise, I felt a gush of fluids. It felt like a gallon of water poured out of me, and I sent Havan running to get towels. He helped me to the bathroom, and liquid continued to leak out of me. I smiled up at him and said, "Guess we need to call Mary Anne."
At this time I felt amazingly calm. I wasn't scared, anxious, or nervous. We called Mary Anne, and she informed us that because our water broke early, without any other signs of birthing time, we were being put on a clock. Without the bag of waters, we would need to be in "hard labor" within fourteen hours (10 A.M.) or we would need to go to the hospital. Even with this news, I did not feel scared, nor did I even consider it a possible snag in the perfect birthing I had envisioned. I simply listened calmly and took notes as Mary Anne described the precautionary methods we should take and the home remedies we could use to encourage birthing time along.
One of the remedies on the list was castor oil, which can be a harsh method that causes unpleasant side effects, so we were encouraged to use it only if nothing was progressing by 2 A.M. We took this time to drive to Wal-Mart and pick up the items we would need if the castor oil became necessary. I had some pressure waves as we wondered around the aisles of Wal-Mart, but they were very light and simply required me to walk a little slower. We arrived home and used some nipple stimulation. Then we began to prepare some of the things we would need for the birth. We made sure the washer and dryer were empty and the recycling bin was cleared. We prepared a litter box for the cat to spend the night upstairs. At this point, the pressure waves became a little stronger and there was a light-pink mucus appearing in my underwear. Around midnight, we listened to the hypnobabies Birthing Day Affirmations CD and tried to get a few hours sleep.
I did not sleep a wink. How anyone can sleep through even mild pressure waves is beyond me. I wasn't in pain, I was simply hyper aware of the changes in my body and the fact that within 12 hours, I would be well on my way to bringing my daughter into the world through one means or another. After 2 hours, I couldn't bear the pressure or the excitement alone, so I woke Havan, who was sleeping soundly, and we headed to the kitchen.
I spent the next two hours breathing relaxation through some strengthening pressure waves. Havan used the counter pressure technique that Leigh Anne Hancock had taught us in Hypnobabies by squeezing the muscles around my hips together as my uterus pulsed and contracted. He also whispered wonderfully comforting messages in my ear about relaxing my muscles and each pressure wave bringing Cora closer to being in our lives. He timed my pressure waves and they were lasting over a minute every 5 to 7 minutes. Mary Anne had instructed us to call her back when the pressure waves were 4 minutes apart, at least a minute in duration, consistently for an hour.
Between pressure waves, Havan busily prepared the house, or rubbed my back, or engaged me in a mixture of heartfelt and humorous conversations about our coming daughter. At 4:30 A.M., he fed me some peanut butter toast and made me a mug of cumin tea--another suggestion on Mary Anne's list of natural induction techniques. Approximately 1/3 of the way through the mug of tea we noticed a huge difference. Suddenly my pressure waves were quite strong, and I had 5 or 6 in a row that were only three minutes apart. At this point I told him to call Mary Anne even though we had not timed the waves for an hour yet. Mary Anne said she we could expect her to arrive at our home within 50 minutes.
While Mary Anne was en route, Havan helped me relocate to the birthing ball in our bedroom. He continued to provide counter pressure during each pressure wave, and I cannot describe the incredible difference I felt each time he squeezed my hips together. Between waves, he would hurry off to inflate the birthing pool and put the hose adapter on the shower head, dropping everything and running to my side everytime I exclaimed, "It's starting!"
Each pressure wave came on lightly at first--you could feel them starting, rising and peaking in pressure, and then ebbing away again, very much like an ocean wave as described in some of the Hypnobabies literature. Between waves, I rocked on my birthing ball and watched the sunrise. During pressure waves, I leaned against the bed with my face in the pillows and thought hard about relaxing every muscle in my back and abdomen, allowing my uterus to take control and ease my baby downward for me. Tensing my muscles would only serve to interupt the natural departure of the baby from the womb.
To my surprise and excitement, Mary Anne called Havan when she was 20 minutes away and asked him about the things I did during pressure waves and told him to go ahead and fill the birthing pool. She asked him if I had requested to go the hospital yet or mentioned not thinking I could go on any longer. He said, no, I had not said anything like that, and she informed him that that typically happens a little later on in the birthing process. As soon as I heard water rushing into the birthing pool, I was instantly even more relaxed because I knew the warm water would help the baby come even quicker and more smoothly, and make the effort to keep my muscles relaxed that much easier.
Mary Anne arrived close to 6 A.M., and a huge smile crossed my face as I saw her walking into the bedroom. She immediately got to work filling out measurement charts, listening to the baby, and assisting Havan in preparing the pool. Not long after, Mary Anne's assistant, Becca, and another girl, Tonya, who is training to become an official midwife's assistant, arrived and helped test my vital signs and bring me water. Though Havan had kept me nourished and well-hydrated, the first two times Mary Anne listened to the baby's heartrate she said the variance was lower than she would like which could be a sign of fetal distress. Havan went to the kitchen to prepare a special drink called Labor Aide that I had made in advance and frozen. He came back and I sipped the drink through a straw during each pressure wave.
As everyone bustled around the room getting things ready and preparing supplies, I continued to sit on my ball and concentrate on relaxation with Havan's counterpressure available upon request. What felt like only a few minutes after the girls arrived, I decided to see what Mary Anne would say if I somewhat playfully asked if I could get in the tub yet. I was certain she would say, "no" and remind me that the pool needed to wait until the last minute like a trump card in a card game that will help you succeed right at the end. To my surprise, she said, "yes!" The excitement and relief I felt in that moment was incredible. I stood up and Havan helped me strip down to a sports bra and everyone helped me step over the side of the pool and into the 100 degree water. As I sank down in the water, I felt a rush of extreme comfort and I said out loud, "I feel sooooo good." Havan knelt at the side of the pool and held my hands, and rubbed my shoulders, and talked quietly to me about Cora knowing how to be born, and how I could just relax and let it happen.
At first I sat against the side of the pool, and the girls brought cold wash clothes to me and placed them on my neck and forehead. This was the single most comfortable moment of the birth, and the girls ushered Havan out of the room to go eat something, as it might be the only window of opportunity for him to nourish himself for a while. While Havan was gone I acutally fell asleep for a few minutes on Mary Anne's shoulder. She measured the baby's heartrate again while I soaked in the incredibly soothing warmth. This time, the baby's heartrate was varying perfectly--the Labor Aide had done the trick to keep the baby strong. Mary Anne had told me long ago that when the fetus is "in distress" during birth it is almost always a sign of undernurishment and dehydration. Why deny the baby it's source of strength during a time that requires so much energy?
The birthing pool trump card worked. After the first ten minutes of unsurpassed comfort, transformation started and the pressure waves were incredibly strong and effective, bringing the baby down and causing my body to start pushing involuntarily. The feeling of your body surging and pushing and bearing down on it's own is astounding. While it could be scary for many, I was in awe of it. Mary Anne began talking loudly to me saying, "That is what it is supposed to feel like. Let it happen. You are doing exactly what you are supposed to do." This was exactly what I needed to hear, and it gave me confidence to embrace these powerful sensations. I would let loud moans escape my lips during each pushing wave because it felt right to do that. I would also say things that I could hear or remembered hearing Havan say to myself out loud like "relax" or "peace" or "release." As the waves grew stronger, I instructed each person to help me in the way that felt best. Havan applied pressure to my hips, Becca pushed down on my lower back, and Tonya held my head in her hands so that I could relax my neck mucles and shoulders. I would tell each helper to, "please shift the pressure to the left" or "please raise my head a little higher." Later, Becca told Havan that she had never seen or heard a more vocal woman during transformation. So often, women are overwhelmed and cannot speak during this stage of pregnancy. Mary Anne continued to take measurements and record my comments and reactions to the changes in my birthing waves.
At 10 A.M. I heard Mary Anne approach Havan and whisper to him that it had been fourteen hours since my water broke, and we clearly didn't need to go to the hospital because we were so far along at this point. Next she asked him if she should use an IV to administer antibiotics to prevent infection, which is a risk when your water breaks early on in the birthing process. I heard Havan respond with the exact words I would have wanted him to say, "Unless you think it's absolutely necessary, I think that would simply cause more stress for the mother." It was so amazing to have a birth partner who knew exactly what to do and say during the entire birth.
Up to now, I had been pushing on my hands and knees with my stomach hanging into the warm water. Mary Anne told me that to make my pushing much more effective, I was going to swtich to a squatting position with my back against the side of the pool. Havan put his arms under my shoulders to hold me up, and I squatted as low and wide as I could like I had practiced during my prenatal exercises for months. With Havan and the water providing support, I was able to shorten the birthing canal substantially in this position. Mary Anne gave me a supply of oxygen through a cord in my nose that would help make it easier to take large, effective, breaths.
Mary Anne told me in a few minutes the urge to push would suddenly feel more constant, growing stronger in waves, but never really going away between them. She told me that instead of taking long slow breaths like I had been, I should inhale deeply twice and then hold my breath and push voluntarily to help usher the baby down the birthing canal. If I could give at least three big pushes during each pressure wave, bearing down and holding my breath as long and strong as I possibly could, the last push in each group would bring the baby further down.
This is what I did for the next however many minutes. I would breathe deeply, then hold my breath, bear down, and push. I have never put all my strength into something so thoroughly and completely. After three incredible pushes, I would come briefly out of my squatting position and stretch my legs out until the next wave began. As the pushing continued, a mirror was placed in the bottom of the pool allowing everyone, including Havan, to get a good view of the progress my uterus and cervix where making. After a few more strong pushes, I heard someone say,"Look! She has lots of dark hair!" as the baby began to crown. Havan squeezed me close and said, "dark hair!" in my ear in the most heartfelt and astounded tone of voice. I took a quick peek at the hair during the next set of pushes and then closed my eyes again to concentrate. I chose to look at the mirror very little. I told Havan later that I was busy convincing myself that every single push could be the push if I could just give it everything I had. If after each push I had seen only centimeters of progress in the mirror, I might have felt defeated, but instead I surged onward, knowing that with my body's strength and my hightening will power, the baby would be in my arms soon.
Pushing continued and during each set the women and Havan would say "Ohhhh!" and "Wow!" and "Look at that!" to remind me that things were happening, and I should keep at it and not allow my strength and determination to wane. As Cora's head eased out of my vigina, a little bit at a time, my perineum stretched to make room. Occasionally, I would make a comment like "It hurts!" or "It stings!" but I would quickly remember that I wasn't supposed to say those things during my positive birth, so instead I remembered all the times Havan help me practice stretching my perineum and how it stings some at first, but it goes away as you adjust to the sensation. After every stretch, I would focus on adjusting to the new sensation and was quickly able to alleviate feelings of "hurt."
In the next few minutes I could tell that Cora's head was well on its way through my vagina, and Becca kept saying, "I think the next push might be it." This was incredibly encouraging, and I decided to give each set five of my strongest pushes yet. A few sets of pushing later, I felt a release of stretching as her head slid all the way out, and I heard gasps of excitement from everyone, Havan loudest and most excited of all. With the next set of pushes, at 10:27 A.M., Cora's body slid out and Becca snatched her out of the water and put her in my arms. My whole body sank down into the water, and I relaxed and stared at the purple human in my arms. Her head was covered in dark hair, and her facial muscles squeezed as she started breathing in quick little pants. The first thing she did when she was born as stick her tongue out the side of her mouth and Tonya said, "Wow, who has the long tongue in this family?" and I laughed and replied, "That would be me." Becca placed a warm fresh towel over the baby as I sat in the water holding her close and staring.
After Cora was born, everyone helped me up and out of the tub as I concentrated on holding the baby securely and in a position where I wasn't pulling the umbilical cord. Cora and I climbed into bed and I placed her skin-to-skin on my chest while the cord sent a few last pulses of blood into her body, and her skin changed from purple to pink. Havan climbed into bed next to me, and we stared together at our new daughter. Mary Anne prepared the cord to be cut, and Havan snipped the baby free from her old lifeline. Tonya measured my vital signs, and gave me an herbal concoction to drink that would help the placenta to detach and be born. After a while, with one last push, the placenta came out in one piece, and Becca massaged my stomach to help my uterus contract and stop bleeding. This part was not uncomfortable at all, and I just stared lovingly at my new, beautiful baby and thought about how she looked exactly like the baby Cora I had pictured so many times during my self-hypnosis sessions.
Havan soon got a turn to hold the baby while I relaxed next to him, and Mary Anne checked my perineum for tears. I did have two incredibly small tears that were minimal thanks to the stretching exercises and the saturation of warm water. Mary Anne said they were both so small that she would normally let them heal on their own, but they happened to be positioned in such away that my vaginal opening looked a little bit deformed. I gave Mary Anne permission to suture the wounds as she promised that in two weeks I would be back to "looking like a porn star." Havan and Becca examined, measured, and weighed the baby while Mary Anne tenderly and precisely stitched my tears back to normal. The stitching would have been the scariest part for me, but Mary Anne gave me a few shots of local anesthesia, and I didn't feel a thing. In fact, at one point I asked her to let me know when she started and she said,"Oh, I'm halfway done."
Cora weighed 6 pounds, 12 ounces and measured 22 inches in length. Her color was beautiful, her vital signs were perfect, and her reflexes were sharp. She passed her hearing test on both sides. Becca collected some of the blood from the cord, took a heel prick, and gave the baby a Vitamin K injection. Later the cord blood results would show that Cora has ONeg blood and is, in fact, compatible with all the blood types. After her exam, Cora was placed back on my chest and Becca coached me through our first breastfeeding experience. Havan's mother and father arrived at 1P.M. to visit with us and the baby and receive post-partum instructions from Mary Anne. Mary Anne and her assistants cleaned up and made me a helping of lasagna. Cora, Havan, and I rested the remainder of the day, and Minh-Triet sat in our room the whole night to hold the baby and help with diapers, outfit changings, and temperature monitorings. The first couple of feedings were slightly difficult as Cora and I tried to learn exactly which angles and positions would successfully express colostrum. Since then, she has become a feeding champion, eating well and regulary, and has already learned how to latch correctly without much help.
I stayed in bed, as instructed, for the first 48 hours with Cora sleeping or bonding with grandparents nearby. Now, six days later, I am up and about, feel energized, have a furious appetite, and am shocked at the complete lack of pain as my vagina and cervix recover completely. I only have 7 pounds to lose to return to my pre-pregnancy weight and breastfeeding should accomplish that for me in no time.
Cora attended her first pediatrician's appointment on Tuesday and she was found to be completely perfect aside from a small bout of jaundice which is not significant enough to treat medically and requires only short daily sun baths on the deck.
I am blessed to have a perfect family. I have the most loving and supportive husband, and the most gorgeous and healthy baby girl. With faith in God, determination, relaxation, and the help of some talented midwives, we accomplished all of our birthing goals and had the birth we dreamed about to bring out new daughter into the world. Though I will readily admit this was the biggest, hardest challenge of my life, it was in no way scary and never seemed impossible.