I spent the nine months of my pregnancy reading books about natural childbirth, practicing breathing techniques and mastering different positions to ease labor pains. And while I told myself I had no "plan" and would just "go with the flow," deep down I had decided that I would have the perfect unmedicated labor and delivery. Those complications that other people experience? Not going to be an issue for me! Well, as usual, I was taught a very valuable lesson about attachment.
My labor started on a Tuesday, exactly 6 days before I actually gave birth to my daughter. Every evening, like clockwork, I would start having excruciating contractions that lasted between 2 and 5 minutes, about one or two every hour. And while the intensity of the contractions was severe, the labor never progressed. During the day, I would have very light contractions or none at all. The first two days I assumed I was in early labor, and started practicing all the techniques I had learned... warm baths, pranayama, stretching, foot massages from my husband. We called our parents, assuming things were going to progress soon. Wrong! Thursday evening, we did everything we could think of to get labor started. Long walks, eating pineapple and spicy food, walking up stairs, the salad from the local pizzeria rumored to induce labor. Nothing changed, and our frustration grew. I was now into my third sleepless night of intense pain, with nothing to show for it. This continued through Sunday, when after two trips to the hospital to get checked and consult with my midwives, my husband and I decided we had had enough. This baby needed to come out soon, as 6 sleepless days and nights were taking its' toll on us. We knew if we didn't induce, there was no way I would have the energy to push and we'd end up in the OR for a c-section. We consulted with our amazing midwife, and I asked her to induce me. We agreed that because I had been unable to sleep for almost a week, I should receive pitocin and an epidural (the epidural more so I could rest than for the pain). Honestly, that was the best decision we made. Even with the pitocin, it took over 12 hours for me to dilate from 4cm to 10cm. Along the way, I had the most compassionate care in my nurse Karen and midwife Shadman. They were so encouraging, so sweet and so understanding. I felt no judgment, and completely supported in my decision. After a restful evening (no sleep, but at least relaxation), at 7:00 a.m. I was still only 8cm dilated. The shift changed, and my sweet nurse and midwife were replaced with a much tougher team.
My new nurse Donna came in and saw my progress and decided to up my pitocin by 2 every half hour instead of 1 every hour. While this made me much more uncomfortable (even with the epidural I could feel each contraction), I was happy to finally be progressing. She and my midwife Susan were much more aggressive, and by 9:00am I was ready to push. Because of the epidural, however, I couldn't feel what my body needed to do. After consulting with Susan, it was decided my epidural would be turned off. Within minutes, sensation returned to my legs. After another hour, Susan came back and we started the real work of getting this baby out. I won't detail what followed, as there is nothing pretty about the birthing process, but suffice it to say, it was the most intense experience of my life (quick sidenote to apologize to my amazing husband, who I'm afraid I wasn't always kind to... nurse Donna passed him a note during the pushing stage that said "women are usually fussy at this point - don't take it personally". Bless her!). An hour and forty-five minutes later, the NICU team was summoned as Juna approached the outside world (when my water broke, there was meconium present). Again, thank goodness things worked out that way, because when Juna came out, the cord was wrapped twice tightly around her neck. A quick cut and she was whisked away by the NICU team to be suctioned, stimulated, poked and prodded. Two weak cries were all I heard, and I saw nothing. Dashed again were our intentions of having her placed directly on my chest for skin to skin bonding, breastfeeding and my husband cutting the cord. At this point, all our original ideas had to be shelved as we prayed and hoped for a healthy baby.
Ten minutes later, Juna was given to me for all of 60 seconds. My savior, Nurse Donna, thought to take a picture, which I will treasure forever, as Juna was then whisked away again for a stay in the NICU. Two hours later, I insisted on walking to the NICU to finally spend some time getting to know my little girl. She had oxygen tubes in her nose, and monitors on her chest, with pinpricks on each tiny hand where they tried to find a vein to give her fluids. We were only able to look at her before I was taken back to recovery. My husband stayed to watch over her, and called awhile later to say we were going to get to hold her. I asked if we could try breastfeeding and was told that I could, but if I gave her a bottle instead they would discharge her and let her room in with us. Not exactly the start I was hoping for in our nursing relationship, but we agreed as we so badly wanted her off the monitors and in our arms. At seven o'clock that evening, Juna arrived in our room, pink and healthy.
It was a long process that required compromise, understanding and detachment on all sides, and though this was not the birth experience I envisioned, at the end, we walked away with a healthy baby and a healthy mama. There were moments that I felt extremely sad that I had not been able to provide her with a completely smooth transition into the world, and that is when it became imperative to call upon my yogic reserves and remember that attachment to what has transpired in the past is not productive. As the sutra says, excessive attachment to one idea presumes that there is only one way to achieve happiness, but when you enter into a situation with an open mind and heart, and follow the course of action that is necessary in the present moment, naturally the situation will resolve itself and you may learn a thing or two on the way!
As Pema Chodron says "To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again." To me, this means becoming unattached to outcomes, and be fully invested in the process. My illusions of having the perfect transition into parenthood are gone, and as I relinquish more control this lesson is reaffirmed. We learned it again bringing baby home to meet dog... after watching "The Dog Whisperer" and reading up on the subject, we had a plan on how to introduce the two. Unfortunately, as soon as we walked in the house, Juna had a complete meltdown and we forgot the dog even existed. So much for our peaceful first meeting! I had also assumed that we would have a calm, relaxed, mellow baby... we spent nine hours yesterday trying to calm our colicky infant. Letting go of attachment is easier said than done, but as soon as I accept what is really happening, I see with clarity and can better care for my daughter.
The name Juna was inspired by the character of Arjuna, the spiritual warrior in the Bhagavad Gita. I come back to this text often to remind myself not to cling too tightly to material things, to desires, or to ideas. These are lessons I hope to pass on to my daughter. The Bhagavad Gita tells us that "the person whose mind is always free from attachment, who has subdued the mind and senses, and who is free from desires, attains the supreme perfection of freedom from Karma through renunciation." I am now going through the process of freeing myself from needing to be the "perfect" parent, instead focusing on the child in front of me. I am trying to see her clearly for what she is (fussy, unpredictable, adorable, fascinating...) and not what I assumed she would be. Doing this now will ensure that later on in her life, when she inevitably makes a decision I don't agree with, I will be able to accept and love her for who she is and not who I wanted her to be. Loving unconditionally leaves no room for attachment, and it seems to me that the "perfect" parent sometimes makes mistakes or disappoints, but always chooses to love completely and without judgment.
We are so blessed to have Juna Meredith Anderson as our child. On the day of her birth, July 18, she weighed seven pounds, three ounces and was nineteen and a half inches long. She is a joy in every moment and we couldn't be happier!