Enduring to the End
The Freebirth of Michaela Audree Counter
by Amanda Counter
July 25, 2003-10:39 a.m. 8 pounds 9 ounces, 19 inches
Michaela’s birth was hard. And it hurt. It hurt in a way that the simple word pain can not adequately describe. It felt like I was inside a tornado. I was thrashed about by painful, erratic contractions, followed by blissful slumber. My heart and soul ached for the passing of life as we knew it, yet I was filled with electrical excitement and anticipation at the prospect of meeting my bellychild.
This birth was about surrendering to what was happening, not focusing on previous experiences or possibilities. I faced challenge with every sensation as I tried to compare it to Daphne’s birth. This birth was intense; it brought me intimately in touch with the wild, primal woman inside of me. I called out to my Savior and my God. I begged to be delivered. I gave the burden up to them. I needed them every hour, in the joy and pain. The sensations of this birth both ripped through me and caressed me, and I knew that salvation could only come if I pressed forward in faith, and endured to the end.
I awoke at 4:00 a.m. the morning of July 25th. I was 38 weeks and 6 days pregnant. Contractions were coming every few minutes. They were the tight low ones that reminded me to think “ooooopen.” I didn’t expect that I was actually in labor, as this was the third time I had felt sensations like this in the past ten days. I had already experienced nearly 20 hours of prodromal labor, and figured that shortly these sensations would peter out. I was hungry, so I went upstairs to have a snack. I had some toast and apple juice. As in early pregnancy, the common denominator about what to eat in late pregnancy had become; “what would be least foul to throw up?”
For a while I walked around upstairs, debating whether or not to go outside for a walk. Instead I sat on my couch, and gazed outside. I talked to the baby and told him (we thought it would be a boy) that I welcomed the thought of birthing him today. As time passed I realized that the sensations were pretty rhythmic, and that the intensity did not seem to be changing no matter what I was doing. I began to think that it might just be “the day”! I was tired, so I went back downstairs and climbed in to bed next to my baby. I wept as I caressed peacefully sleeping Daphne, my first baby bornfree, about to become the middle child.
I stayed in bed for about another hour. A bit before 6 a.m. I got up and started getting stuff ready “just in case.” My husband, John, woke up right around this time. It was Friday, the day he starts his work week. We went back and forth a bit about whether he should go in and tell them that he needed the day off, or if he should just call. I didn’t think that I could handle being alone for nearly two hours, especially once the Jack and Daphne woke up. He ended up staying home and got a hold of someone around 7:00, which is when I got into the bath tub.
It is very dark in the bathroom, so I had some candles burning and some relaxing music playing. Everything felt very serene and I was blessed with several minutes of rest without contractions when I got into the water. When the contractions started up again I was able to relax and quietly work through them for a while. I called my mom and told her to come when she could. This is the last group of events that I can recall being calm and organized within my head.
The sensations quickly began demanding my full attention. I tried to time some of them, but I felt so out of sorts. I could not remember when the previous one began, they seemed to be so erratic. It didn’t feel like they were getting any closer together. The baby was moving a lot. I found that frustrating, like it wasn’t cooperating. A few times I told the baby that it needed to stop playing and work with me. If it would just hurry up and come it would be more fun and we could have the rest of the day together!
By 8 a.m. I was praying that the baby would come by noon. I was out of the tub, I did not want to be active, nor did I want to sit still. I tried every position imaginable. My mom soon arrived and I was beginning to feel like vocalizing. I reminded myself to keep my voice low. She came and rubbed my back a little. I remember her telling me that I looked pretty. I felt my lip start quivering….I wanted to cry because it was hurting. I told her that they (the contractions) were hard. Back labor had begun with a furious intensity. I needed silence. I leaned over and demanded pressure on my lower back with every contraction. My mom and John traded off pushing on my lower back with all they had. They couldn’t push hard enough to counter the pain from within. They said that they could feel the baby moving through my back as they were touching me.
I called and left a message for my friend Melissa. It’s a long distance call, my phone bill shows that it was at 9:11 a.m. Things were feeling terribly chaotic. I know that I had gotten into and out of the bathtub again. John tried to encourage and help me walk around. It felt like my head was rolling off of my shoulders. My legs felt like jell-o. I felt like I was getting very loud, but my mom and John said that I was very quiet, and neither of them had any idea how close I was. So perhaps all of the noise I felt I was making was only in my head. I pulled my hair, I was calling out to God telling him I couldn’t do this alone. I told myself that I could do it, that I WAS doing it. I talked more to the baby and I sang the hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour.” In between contractions I would practically loose consciousness, dozing off wherever my head landed. The contractions still felt erratic, I remember one break between them was eight minutes. I remember John talking to me and me shushing him during one that lasted about five minutes, three peaks within it. I wondered if I could handle the humiliation of being a painless-UC veteran transferring to the hospital for drugs.
I told John he needed to get the plastic and blanket down on the floor. I moved to the rocking chair when he was doing that, right as he finished I realized that was NOT where I wanted to be and literally flung myself out of the chair on to the floor. I landed on my hands and knees and the blanket slid across the plastic. I think I scared John, he told me to tell him next time I felt like moving. I told him to get rid of the plastic, that it was dangerous and we would just use the chux pads. From there I crawled into the bathroom and got on the toilet. John was right there with me. I had him time some contractions, they were coming about every 2 ½ minutes. My mom came in and said, “What are you doing, sitting”? I said “No, but it rhymes with sitting”! It took them a while to process what I was trying to say, and I had to tell them not to watch me while I was pooping.
At around 10 a.m. I was off the toilet and practically in a knee chest position on the floor of my bathroom, in a space about 18 inches wide. My friend Melissa called. I told her I wanted my baby by noon, that this was really hard, and that I felt like bearing down. She said something about how I was a strong woman doing God’s will. I didn’t buy it. After I hung up I had a huge contraction, I know I was really loud, and that I yelled “BAAAABY.” At that point my mom ushered the kids upstairs, and I remember seeing Jack’s big brown eyes looking at me in wonder. John joined me on the floor in this small space. I was up on my knees and with the next contraction he rubbed from the top of my back, down my sides, and over my hips. As he did this he was telling the baby to come.
I decided to check myself. All I felt was something soft and mushy, certainly not a baby’s head. I had no idea how far dilated I was. My first thought was something to the effect of, “I’m not even dilated, yet I feel like pushing.” I decided I didn’t care and that I would just go ahead and push right through my closed cervix. My intuition was obviously one step ahead of me, because what I said out loud was “As soon as my water breaks the baby will come.” What I had felt was the bulging bag. It felt like a huge water balloon.
Once again I got into the tub. I was simply overcome by the absolute need to bear down with the next contraction, and with that my water broke. It literally exploded. The water in the tub was still clear, except there were little white flecks floating all around. It was as if I was looking into a starry night sky. I scooped up some of the water in my hands and looked at it in wonder. (I later realized that it was vernix.) John asked me if I was going to have the baby in the tub, and it felt like I was looking at him as if he was from another planet. These few moments felt very surreal. The water felt too cold, and I wondered if it was deep enough. I felt afraid to actually birth in the water, so I got out and stumbled to my bedroom floor.
I was moaning loud now, “BAAAABY!!” and as I hit the floor there was a gush of brown fluid. I no longer felt contractions or waves, just a furious power steadily boring through my body. I moved over to the rocking chair. I was on my knees on the floor with my hands on the edge of the seat of the chair. (My hands had oil on them, and I can still see where they were.) I began to feel the head moving through me. I could feel just a little bit of wrinkly scalp, then more, then more, and then a little, tiny ear. The head felt huge and all I could do was push to get it out of me. When the head was out I felt all the way around with both hands because I wondered if the baby was posterior. I felt the face toward my bum. It was quite amazing to feel my baby like that. I felt the baby rotate and kind of yelped “Oh rotating!” I told John not to touch it, even though he wasn’t. I had never felt any of my other babies do that and it was very weird.
With just the baby’s head out, I asked for a drink of water. I took a long drink. I was nervous about the shoulders being stuck and somehow felt that a big drink would help. I moved my right leg out into more of a squat. I don’t think the urge to push subsided and I was still completely consumed by the powerful pain that was barreling through me on the inside and wringing me on the outside. The baby somersaulted out. John and I were supporting the head close to my bottom. His hands were there because he had moved the cord. The baby’s body sort of flopped onto the back of my legs.
I reached down to get the baby and said “Give HIM to me. I mean HER. My mom and John both asked, “It’s a girl??” “Yes, it’s a girl, we have another girl. We have a big, beautiful girl.”
I began talking to the baby, “Oh my little angel come here” and I pulled her up to my chest. Her eyes were closed tightly, she was covered with lots of vernix. She was only sputtering a tiny bit. “Come on angel, oh you’re beautiful.” The baby was not trying to breathe. It looked like she was sleeping. I felt like she was having a hard time getting started. I was lifting her to my face to suction her with my mouth, but felt like it would be better to lay her down on her tummy and rub her back. She gave a good little cry when I did this, and I felt like it cleared her of whatever was holding her back. As I was putting her on her tummy I had told John that we may need the bulb syringe, so he opened it, but we never used it.
I came back to reality ever so slightly and realized that she was cold and wet. My mom went and got a towel and we dried her off a bit and snuggled her up. She still looked like she was sleeping. I was lost in her beautiful little face, trying to figure out who she was. I was very surprised to be holding a baby girl, and I just kept calling her “angel.” I was touching her cheek with my thumb and I couldn’t believe how soft it was. I started saying “She’s so soft, she’s so soft, feel how soft she is.” We unwrapped her a bit to look at her whole body. All of us were just enraptured with her, she was totally perfect and amazing. John said in sort of a half-whisper, “She’s glowing.” Her little body was truly giving off light. She really was an angel.
My mom took a few pictures and then asked if she should get the kids. I snapped back to reality and realized that I had two other children! They were very excited to meet their new baby, but somewhat confused about the fact that “he” was not Baby Sam! It took them about a week to stop calling her “IT.”
The baby and I were still attached and I realized what a mess I was sitting in. We got up to get into the tub. As I stood up and saw blood running down my legs I decided that some precautionary motherwort may be a good idea, so mom put some under my tongue. Before I got into the tub I reminded everyone that it was going to look worse than it really was, as far as the blood/water thing. They were grateful that I said that, because it really did look bad. I only stayed in the bath for a few minutes. I got out and headed toward my bed. As I was getting out the baby decided that she wanted to nurse. She latched on perfectly. The afterpains were really unbelievable and I was shaking terribly. The afterpains were really annoying so I decided that I would just start pushing. I did, and out came the placenta. With a mighty “Thank God”. Birthing my own placenta was a victorious moment for me.
Since I was a mess again, I decided to get in the shower. My friend Melissa had arrived and came downstairs just then. I gloated that my baby had been born by noon!! When I was in the shower my mom took pictures of the kids holding the baby, and she and John got everything all cleaned up. After I was done, John and I had a few moments alone together and decided that we wouldn’t have a lotus birth. We didn’t want to nag at the kids about yet another thing to be careful with, nor did we want to have that be a barrier between them and their new sibling. We felt at peace with the decision and everyone began filtering back into the room. Once everyone was there John tied her cord with some embroidery floss that Jack and I had braided, and big brother Jack separated her from her placenta. In the pictures you can see that he is wearing a bracelet that matches her cord tie.
The day went on like a pretty normal day. People came in and out to look at the baby. John’s brother and his family were staying with us, and they came home from closing on their new house. When Jack saw Rich he said, “My mom had the baby, wanna come see?” Melissa said it was so nonchalant that it was like he was offering to share his candy bar. Melissa spent most of the time upstairs and made our family a birthday cake. My dad and sister came by, my brother-in-law brought me a ham and swiss sandwich from Arby’s, and we spent the rest of the day hanging out trying to figure out a name for her. Jack had decided on Mosi, and once I started calling her that I knew I had to get serious and figure out what her name was.
When John woke up the next morning I told him that I thought I knew her name. She was named for my grandpa Mikey (Michael) who passed away on Jack’s first birthday, and John’s grandma Audrey. We went upstairs together and began introducing people to beautiful Michaela Audree Counter, my butterfly, my angel.