I can hardly believe my firstborn is five years old!
In honor of his birth, and in honor of women all over the world and through time who have had challenging labors and births, I am sharing Wolfgang’s birth story.
I also write this in honor of the wisdom of pregnant people and birthing people. At this time in the US, the way that the obstetrical medical culture is constructed often undermines the innate knowing of birthing people. Or at the least, we have lost some to the once-natural means to feel empowered as birthers. Our own guidance often takes the back seat to what medical experts or the mainstream pregnant and new parent culture readily feeds us.
We as birthers know much more than we are given credit. We are resourced from inside of our very selves. There in our blood, marrow and DNA are the stores of accumulated wisdom from the 2 million years of humans birthing.
A piece of guidance like a dream can be as helpful if not more helpful than any test of outsider giving advice. In some cases our own guidance is MUCH more valid because, let’s face it, the outcomes of obstetrics are not great right now, particularly so for people of color. In 2011 it was estimated that only 12% of obstetric practices was evidence based, making pregnancy, birthing and caring for newborns the area of healthcare with the least supported by evidence.
Wolfie was in what is called sinciput or military fetal position during labor and birth. In this position, the baby’s chin does not tuck to the chest as normal, and so the widest and hardest part of the top of the head enters the birth canal. When the craino bones line up this was instead of the intended way, it takes a long time for the head to mold or change shape. The mother/birther’s pelvis needs to open more widely than normal, to 11.5 cm or 11.75 cm instead of 10cm.
It is a seemingly relatively rare experience, and in five years of scouring the interwebs for more information about this malposition, I have found only two actual birth stories. So I am adding one more story in the mix, in the case that it might be helpful to someone.
The first sinciput birth story I read was one that I can no longer find on the internet, but it was similar to mine: a homebirth with long pushing, pain, caput, and need for extra recovery time afterwards.
The second story is a case report from a 1902 medical writings in which the doctors tried in vain to move the infant in utero to get it out of the sinciput position; sadly the birth resulted in a stillbirth.
I asked Gail Tully, midwife and fetal positioning expert of Spinning Babies, who was also my doula trainer in Minnesota, about sinciput births. She said it’s not as rare as one might think, and in the hospital it will just be a Caesarean and thus not potentially recognized or counted as being sinciput at all.
The interesting thing to me about this birth is that it was predetermined. A month or so before Wolife was born, I had a dream that foreshadowed his birth, and I was given specific instructions as how to get him earthside (which I speak about at the end of this blog entry).
One Friday evening in December, another pregnant friend and I got together for dinner and hanging out at her place. We stayed up waaaay two late for two pregnant ladies, but it was fun and much needed.
I got home around 12:30 am. Rob, my husband was still up, we snuggled on the couch while watching a documentary about Fleetwood Mac (I am laughing because as I do one last read through before publishing, Fleetwood Mac is playing in the background of the coffee shop where I am working. From “Dreams”: Now here I go again / I see the crystal visions / I keep my visions to myself / It’s only me who wants to wrap around your dreams). Around 1am, my water broke with a big gush.
I had been a birth doula for about 9 years, and I had learned that rarely does the water break in a huge gush like a comical movie. But mine did.
I didn’t have have any contractions, but I felt a distinct hormonal shift. Rob and I got as much ready as we needed to prep for impending birth at our house for about an hour before going to sleep.
We were lucky to have been as prepared as we were, because it was 11 days before the guess date/due date. In fact, I assumed that I would be 10 days past my due date, as first-time, white moms in their 30’s often were. As a doula I saw so many moms/birthers feeling sure were going to be early, then impatiently wait around another 15-20 more days.
The last thing I did before going to sleep was to collect myself. I looked at my face in the bathroom mirror. My pupils were dilated and bright. As I stared into my own eyes, I saw the wildness of birth breathing through me.
I would forever be changed, and this was the crossing the threshold journey of birth. It was the last time I’d be looking at my maiden self.
I woke around 6am with contractions. I floated in and out of sleep for as long as I could, and around 7am I had to raise and move around as the contractions were getting stronger, and I wanted to eat and drink while I still had an appetite.
That morning the doulas came. Labor progressed.
Early evening the midwives came. Still, progression.
In the evening, things picked up and the pain increased.
The first sign of things being a little different came to mind at this time. I had worse pain in between contractions than I did during them, right along the left pubic bone. I felt as if the baby was in a weird position, hung up on something. I didn’t think it was back labor, having seen that as a doula in the past. But it was something odd.
The pain in-between contractions made it challenging to relax or clear off the discomfort of the contractions. It was bothersome, and it was also easy to be swept up in the labor process and follow my instincts.
It was painful, but what could I do? I noticed it was odd, and I was also not bothered by it. It just was.
Pushing Part 1
My body began getting that pushy feeling around 8:30pm. In unmedicated, undirected labors, it is more noticeable that the mothers/birthers body begins pushing when it’s ready. The mom/birther sounds and looks “pushy”.
After 2 -3 hours of pushing, the midwives decided to “check”, or examine the cervix. Often in home births, the mother/birther is not checked. But after pushing this long, they had expected the baby to be born. An investigation was needed.
If the midwives were feeling “oh no”, they hid it well. I think they checked me, let me push for a while and check again, to see what was going on. They then checked me during a contraction (“checking” also included seeing the babies head position and how far down in the pelvis the baby has descended).
The midwives explained that the baby was in a funky position and needed some extra time for the head to mold as it came out.
We had a house wide lights-out rest time, possibly for about 60 – 90 mins. I was told not to push, rest as much as humanly possible, let the contractions wash over me.
It was during this time, when everyone was resting and I was enveloped in darkness of 3am in December, that I stepped into a birth energy that was revealed to me in a dream a few weeks prior. This was pivotal in helping Wolfie and I birth him into the world (I will tell that story later in this post).
Pushing Part 2
After the rest, we all had a renewed sense of possibility. But as is normal for labor, when things progress they often get more uncomfortable.
The experience of being in intense pain in between contractions heightened. This pain made me doubt myself and my ability to birth, because I couldn’t push past it – literally.
I recall being in the bathroom thinking I must go to the hospital and get an epidural or cesarean. The midwives didn’t think that was a good idea, or even possible. The baby was already engaged. We had to see it to the end. We were doing well, it was just long and painful.
The pain of that spot was really hard to handle. To this one of the midwives said something that has stuck with me ever since:
Find the exact location of the most intense pain and put all of yourself focus into that spot. Then push into that space with more strength then the pain, like its a keyhole you must get through.
Well, it was still incredibly hard to feel into that painful spot, let alone push into it. But with this directive and guidance to support me, I tired my very best.
Because of the babies head position, the midwives thought it would be best for me to push on my back with my knees bent. I tried and tried, for well over an hour.
The pressure was on. Everyone wanted — needed— this baby to be born soon.
One doula said in my ear, in the sweetest, softest more uplifting way humanly possible: “you need to push even harder, you need to go even farther now, farther than you ever thought was possible”.
The other doula kept bringing me honey on a spoon and bringing water to my lips. I hated this (oh, birthers do weird things, as if being in labor was any better). I tried to deny it, because I felt they both gave me headaches. Eventually she was like, “you need to eat this now. Your uterus needs this energy right this very instant. Accept it.”
The Final Pushes
I had done over 9 hours of pushing. Everyone was ready for this baby to be born.
One of the midwives had a new pushing idea that required a full-on team effort: I start pushing during a contraction on my back, holding knees or feet, then my team helped to lift me into a squat. Because of the baby’s position, a dual pushing approach might be good.
I had tried squatting, but for some reason at the very onset of pushing/contraction squatting wasn’t working well.
This new idea was crazy, and….drumroll…it worked!
After a few pushes like this, little Baby was born.
The Third Stage
I laid back on the pillows in my bed and took a couple of breaths. The midwives had to spend more time than normal checking out Baby. Baby was very blood and scratched, and they had to clean and investigate the severity of the wounds (which were minimal).
This took probably less than a minuet, him laying between my knees, being wiped and investigated. Much much less than in a hospital birth, but in home births the mom/birther can catch her/their own baby and and hold them immediately, minimal cleaning or investigating required.
Then we met, I held my little one and fell in love. Despite the effortful labor, I had the benefit of hormones of giving me energy, clarity, and mostly love and a deep sense of rightness.
Rob cut the cord when it had stopped pulsing and turned white. The placenta was delivered in its entirety and sent home with one of the midwives to encapsulate.
While the midwives were still at our home, I had a moment where I drifted off to sleep or a waking dream space. I wondered, “who is this little person?”, and as I closed my eyes I saw an image of a very beautiful German Shepard, who turned to look at me deeply in the eyes.
That sealed the deal about his name: Wolfgang, because it’s German and is associated with a dog. Rob and I are both German, and we wanted something to honor our ancestry. Gang means path or way in German: path of the Wolf.
When I was pregnant I had a dream in which one of my most important helping spirits came to me in a dream, one who I’ve met only once. She first came in a time of intense health and spiritual crisis. I dreamed I was enveloped in a great womb, and felt immense love and security. I looked up and saw her, she said her name was Celia too, and she is here to guide me. She was really the only light in the dark during that time of crisis.
In the pregnancy dream with her, I laid in her lap and she stroked my hair. She told me, “Don’t worry about him. He’s fine. Gabriel is fine.” She was referring to the baby, of course.
Yes, Wolfie’s name was almost officially Gabriel, but in the end we couldn’t agree on it. We talk about it often and say it is his “womb name” or “Angel name”, and he steps into that name often. When Wolife was three he said for along time that his full name was “Wolfgang John Robin Red Breast Gabriel Linnemann”.
I will definitely continue to honor this womb name of his. When I was in the womb, my mom had a dream in which little red fairies came in the room and danced around her belly, and she was told that “Your baby is an angel, name her Celia”.
Early postpartum was rough for me.
After becoming a mother myself, I now see how the early postpartum period is the most overlooked and under-supported part of becoming a mother/parent. I hope we can collectively talk about it more, and create deeper support systems for one another.
Because of his rough birth, Wolfie didn’t have a suck reflex and couldn’t latch on until 14 hours after his birth, which is when a neighbor who was a lactation consultant randomly bumped into Rob while he was taking out the garbage. She volunteered to come over, and I am so glad she did. She worked on his mouth for a long time, and then finally the suck reflex was triggered.
The best thing my dear, dear friend Sarah Jane helped me with is to show me how to hand express milk (hand expression is such a critical skill but we aren’t shown how to do it properly. Bonus: if you learn hand expression you never need to be at the whim of the pump!). At that point, just a few drops of colostrum came out.
I have to take a moment to share my awe about colostrum. To me it is like the mammalian gift. The colostrum was simply gorgeous. On one side of my nipple, reddish brown colostrum would come out, and on the other side (of the same nipple, mind you), caramel colored came out. They swirled together into one shimmery bead, looking like a cosmic Yin-Yang symbol sitting on my fingertip. I tried a drop when I could, how could I let any of it go to waste? It was delicious – definitely caramel creamy. It’s no wonder we go crazy over things like ice cream and caramel topping. Yes, the birth h
When Wolfie was too tired to nurse properly, I would squeeze some onto my pinky finger tip and Wolfie would suck on my finger. With the hand expression I never had to worry that a) my milk wasn’t coming out and thus impacting my supply, b) even if he couldn’t latch, he could still be fed and c) I didn’t need to mess with a pump. The next day I had more colostrum, enough to fill a small spoon, which I could place at his lips and he would suck or drink.
I am sooooooooo thankful of her help and guidance. In so many ways, she helped save our entire nursing relationship and my milk supply. Possibly even more – what if he never really latched on until the midwives arrived the next day? He would try to latch on, but since I was new to this, I didn’t really understand what he was or was not actually getting as a result of that latching. The midwives also trusted me more than usual, because I had been a birth doula and had so called experience with early nursing. During my pregnancy I had even taken a breastfeeding course for my doula education.
Even after he started to latch on successfully, it was obvious something was wrong. My nipples were very sore and both were cracked and bleeding. Sarah Jane suspected a posterior lounge tie, and had her supervisor come over to confirm. Yes, it was a tongue tie.
In that first week, each nursing brought me to tears or nearly tears. The pain was over the top for me.
At the time, I said I’d rather push him out again for 9 1/2 hours than have to feel the pain on nursing. I acknowledge that it was indeed painful. I also acknowledge that it is really easy to feel overwhelmed when things go wrong in that first week.
My midwife was an experienced herbalist and gave me some Motherwort – it works so well in postpartum stress. I added in Skullcap and Ashwaganda. That triad held my hand during early postpartum. In later weeks I added in White Peony, another motherly plant to pain with Motherwort, and to worked well in keeping me calm and soothed.
Wolife had a laser surgery for tongue tie when he was 8 days old. Lo and behold, the leading tongue tie ENT doctor in the world works and practices in Portland. I am grateful for this and truly hope that more people across the country can have access to this level of care before too long. One reason I love Portland is because this is truly a place of pioneering health care in all realms.
Luckily for us, he was getting a ton of milk. So many of the mom’s in the breastfeeding support groups who had the tongue tie also dealt with the baby not getting enough milk due to the disfunction latch, which would result in the vicious cycle of reducing milk supply.
It took many weeks to have painless nursing. But eventually we got there.
I was also so so lucky to be able to have a cranio-sacral therapist come to my home to work on Wolife. There are (no surprise) many wonderful CST who are highly trained in infants with tongue ties. She knew just what to do to help his tongue and palate and nervous system heal and grow strong.
Recovery was also really rough because I fractured my tailbone during the birth. My wise and adaptable body made as much room as possible! Sitting on a broken tailbone and nursing with cracked and bleeding nipples – oh, it was uncomfortable. The best advice I had was to take it one feeding at a time. Stay in the present moment. It helped.
Both Wolfie and I had slices of flesh taken off of us during the birth, probably when we was hung up on the bones and we just had to push through it. He had wounds on his head, and I had them in my pelvis. He needed that much more space. They were surface wounds, no stitches needed. But it added to the discomfort.
Yarrow and Uvs Ursi sitz baths helped — I reserved a little bit of the bath to dab on his head wounds— but mostly he and I just needed time.
Moxa helped too. My dear friend Alison came over and did moxa to my uterus and tailbone…it was amazing.
Before Wolfie was born, I had a dream that gave me specific instructions as how to birth him. I realized during part of the pushing, “Hey! This waterfall feeling is straight from that dream, and I think it’s key in getting this baby born!”. At the time of the dream, I knew it was a powerful dream and it had immense meaning. It had that alive feeling: weighted and electric. But I didn’t put two and two together until I was in the middle of labor.
I dreamed I was floating down a lazy river, head first.
Suddenly I came to rocky rapid and my head got caught between two rocks. In a split second I thought, “This is it! I’m going to drown!”. The water rushed over my head and I couldn’t breathe.
A powerful presence arrived. It felt like the air ripe with a tornado or lightning, and it felt big. It came from the water flowing over the rocks, and they talked to me. They said “don’t worry about breathing, drink from the air pockets held in the water rushing over your face”. I was apprehensive but I did just that: I started to breath in as the water was flowing over my face, and I found air like they said I would.
I rested there for a while, somehow drinking air from the water. I became impatient and worried and asked, “what am I supposed to do now?” I couldn’t live here forever, being underwater with my head stuck between rocks.
A powerful feeling welled up from the force of the water flowing over the rocks. It built and built. It became as strong as the flow of the huge waterfall, and it crashed down around me. This waterfall feeling shook me loose from the rocks. I saw that it would only loosen me if I completely surrendered and relaxed.
After sometime, the waterfall pushed me out to the clear side of the rapids, and I was once again floating down the lazy river, head first.
This situation repeated again and again: I floated down the river, my head became stuck between rocks, I drank from air pockets while underwater, then the waterfall force would build strong until, when in complete surrender, It shook me loose from the rocks.
Once I recognized the feeling of the waterfall during pushing, I had to follow it’s instructions. There was no doubt in my being.
There were times when I had a contraction but the waterfall force wasn’t there, so I didn’t push. Sometimes I had a waterfall force but did not have a contraction, but I was compelled to push.
This was my own guidance that I felt compelled to follow. At times it went against the midwives instructions, but I had to follow it. This force flowed until it flowed out my baby.
Guidance at a Home Birth
The last birth I had attended as a doula was the birth of a dear friend’s baby. Her baby was quite stuck: a real case of shoulder dystocia and almost an emergency situation. I saw during that home birth that a third party guide that can become a real player in the birth outcome.
I also saw that although contractions are a powerful bodily force, they not the only way to get a baby out. My friend was compelled to push and push and push at the end, for what felt like minutes on end, regardless of contractions. That’s how her baby was born.
Contractions are functional and for a reason, but other, invisible forces can be just as real.
During Alison’s birth, in the middle of a house-wide rest in the dark after a couple hours of pushing, I entered a waking-dream/journey space and called for help but saw that help was already there. It looked like it was doing some sort of medical Qi Gong on the mom and baby. My friend Alison and I met in Chinese medicine school, so this kind of cosmology felt natural.
Once I felt the presence of a greater spiritual force, I held it in my mind and body. When her baby came out, blue and not breathing, midwives talking very loudly (aka yelling), getting oxygen ready and about to call the paramedics, I could see how my friend and her baby were connected to a greater golden thread of support.
One midwife said in a composed panic, while running the sharp tip of her fingernail up the baby’s spine to arouse it, yelled/said, “Talk to your baby! Talk to your baby, now!”. Mama said, “hello, welcome, I love you”, in the most reassuring, calm and natural of voices.
Not a quiver of fear.
As she started to speak, I touched her left forearm and saw liquid gold flow from my palm from the heavens into her veins, through her body and out her other hand that stroked her infant. I will never forget Alison, like some sort of fiery Goddess, with the golden veins, just having squatted out her baby. He breathed and in that instant it was assured everything was OKAY.
When it was my turn to look for midwives I instantly thought of those at Alison’s shoulder dystocia birth. I knew those were tricky births, often (excuse the violent language, but it represents the truth) mangled in the hospital. They require a high level of skill. The midwives were also really kind to me, which I noted because doulas are sometimes flies on the wall, and not paid attention to. A few days after, they called me and checked in, and said they were there if I had any questions. A complicated birth can carry more potential for vicarious trauma for the birth workers, and they were very helpful in providing trauma-reduction.
As for my doulas, I asked them that if it felt needed, would they pray for me? Would they journey for me? Would they hold faith against all odds? They agreed. I think they did during the birth, in their own way. They said as much. That meant the world to me.
Thinking back even further, I can’t help but wonder if I was set up to attend home births and home births only when I moved to Portland. I tried to make it as a doula here, after getting a number of births under my belt in Minnesota. But I was turned down for every hospital birth that I interviewed for. After 10 or so rejections, I thought maybe I wasn’t meant to be a doula.
I did, however, have the wonderful opportunity to attend 6 home births in a row. After 3 home births, I kind of “got” it. I saw how different home births were than hospital births. Someday I’ll go into that, but the most marked difference, beside just the comfort factor, was that the mother/birther and baby were trusted to take their course as they may. The birthing wisdom was honored.
As I see it now, with new eyes, perhaps it was important for me to be guided into the home birth direction. I have been a part of the birth doula community in Portland for 9 years at the time of writing this. Just recently I was talking to some birth doulas at the monthly doula organization gathering about home births, and they all were mystified. None in that group had ever attended a home birth, not even the busiest, most long term doulas. It’s not typical that home birthers use doulas here.
How did I end up attending those home births? I didn’t advertise or seek them in the slightest, they just fell into my lap. I was, however, really really working hard to attend hospital births, but despite my determination, it never worked out.
Why was this predetermined? Will I ever know? Probably not. But I do think some things in our lives are set up for us, so why would birth be any different?
And was our birth process because Wolife had to be born this way, or because I had to birth this way, or both? Or neither?
This birth expense is deeply connected to me, for sure. Years later when I was working directly with ancestors (who, interestingly, came during a re-birthing experience) I found that an ancestral helping spirit was water flowing over rocks. I was happy and very thankful to know that they were they ones who showed me how to birth Wolife.
Step by step, I am starting to unravel this story. All these parts of our lives are the fibers that weave through this existence and beyond.
It is a little nerve wracking to speak openly about the “out-there” and spiritual sides of this birth. But A) everyone already knows I’m “weird”, so no shocker there. And B) if everyone else started talking about the odd coincidence of their own birth stories, we’d see that this is indeed commonplace.
Dreams are part of our ability to survive. They seem otherworldly and spiritual – and they are – but they are mostly mundane and simply giving help.
Thanks for listening.
Much love and blessings,