Gabriel’s Birth Story

         It all started when my husband secretly arranged for my Mother to watch our three children (aged six, four, and two at the time) so he could take me to a hotel to celebrate my first month of teaching English at our children’s kindergarten here in Bursa, Turkey.  It was an authentic Ottoman hotel and there was definitely romance in the air!  At dinner he gave me a lovely necklace, a “mavi boncuk”, the Turkish protective evil eye jewel.  I awoke the next day with the certainty that someone else was in the room with us, a tiny little person, a nearly microscopic person who would one day be called Gabriel, our tiny angel (or not so tiny, as you will see!).

         I was a little bit scared as we had both gone back and forth about making the decision to have a fourth child or not.  Our living situation in Turkey encouraged us to lean in the “yes” direction: we have a bigger house here than we do in France , we have a housekeeper (I have never had one before in my life!), and Turkish people love kids (it is so much easier to go to a restaurant with kids in Turkey than in France !).   On the other hand, as our daughter had recently turned two, I was finally starting to feel more “free”; I had even accepted a part-time job.  But even if most of our Turkish friends and colleagues couldn’t believe it, we had “decided” (whether on purpose or simply by acceptance) to go for it!

         My pregnancy was very uneventful (who has time for pregnancy “events” when they already have three little ones?).  The only thing left to sort out was the birth: where, how, and with whom?  As c-sections have unfortunately become the norm among the middle and upper classes in the big cities in Turkey , we felt like we really had our work cut out for us.   Sadly, there are no birth centers or true “alternatives” to the hospital.  Even though I am a CPM (Certified Professional Midwife), I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of “freebirth” (unassisted homebirth) either. We felt that a homebirth was the best choice for us this time, as it had been for our last two children (who were born in France ).  The next question was a tough one: where to find a homebirth midwife or doctor?  The only city-dwelling Turkish medical practitioner who didn’t run away screaming at the mention of the word “homebirth” was Dr. Hakan Coker, who practices in Marmaris.  However, we couldn’t see ourselves moving our whole “circus” that far south (a 7-8 hour drive from Bursa) just for the birth.

         I was truly lucky to have stumbled upon the Natural Birth in Turkey Yahoo! Group, thanks to which I met Kate, an obstetrical nurse who had planned a homebirth in Istanbul a year before.  She put me in touch with Gail Winters Johnson, an angel of a midwife who is retired and now travels the world as a “Midwife Without Borders” and who had helped a family of Turkish yoga teachers in Istanbul have a waterbirth at home two years before.  I contacted Gail and she was available for my due date and the kind couple in Istanbul offered to loan me their birth pool (which had been “waiting” at Kate’s house).  I also interviewed about four or five OB/GYNs in order to organize a reasonable “plan B” (you always need a “plan B”, in my opinion).  I even went to see the head of the OB/GYN department at the biggest and most luxurious private hospital in town (it honestly feels more like a hotel than a hospital).  He really let me down: when I asked him how he would feel about me giving birth in a position other than lying down on my back, he replied “Oh no, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable!”  What do you think?  Is it “his” comfort that’s supposed to come first?  Surprisingly, the most open-minded doctor that we met was “closed”, in Turkish – that is to say that she wears a headscarf.  She is our pediatrician’s wife and works in a small private clinic.  She was willing to accept all of the requests in our birth plan and I didn’t see her eyeballs pop out of their sockets when I told her that I had had two births at home.

         So, life continued on its regular course and my belly got bigger and bigger.  So big that I finally decided to ask Gail to come at thirty-eight and a half weeks, “just in case” this baby decided to come early.  Although I was feeling great, I didn’t need to stop working (it was a priceless sight to see me bouncing up and down to “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” at thirty-nine weeks), and my other children had all come between forty and forty-one weeks, I didn’t want to risk getting caught “stranded and alone”!  That turned out to be completely ridiculous presumption (or “secret hope” perhaps), because we found ourselves having to pay an extra fee to extend Gail’s ticket in the end!  Gabriel was born right close to forty-one weeks, only one day before Gail’s original flight home.

         Right from the very start, this labor was not like any of the others.  For the first time in any of my births, my water broke before I had any contractions, during breakfast to be exact.  As my boys were calmly crunching their cereal, I was squeezing my knees and trying discreetly to ask my housekeeper to bring me the whole roll of paper towels; it did make quite a mess!  I told my sons that they should go ahead and get their bags ready for sports summer school because Mommy was getting ready to have a baby.  Fortunately my daughter was already at a friend’s house.  Then I told my midwife the happy news and she replied “Oh, great… well, I guess I’ll just keep reading until things get exciting – you just let me know when you need me”.  After that I finally called my husband and told him to please hurry back home and start filling up the birth pool; he had not been at work very long, it was only about nine o’clock in the morning.  And then I waited.  After about half an hour the first contractions started coming.  They started “squeezing” to describe my feelings more precisely.  I quickly ended up naked in my empty bath tub (lucky for me it is a large corner one) because I didn’t feel like wearing a pad and after every contraction I lost a good squirt of amniotic fluid.  I turned on the shower every once in a while and that did help my lower back.  I hung a little bit on the glass doors and even managed to squat every once in a while (though that did increase the pain!).  At one point while my husband and our gardener were filling up the pool in our bedroom (we had been staring at it in the middle of our room, empty, for about a week already), my housekeeper came in our bathroom to see how things were going.  I just didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t feel like telling her to just go away, but neither did I really need her help.  I think I might even have managed a small smile and a “well, you know, it hurts” kind of comment.  She was married at the age of fifteen and gave birth to her only daughter on the same day as her own birthday only a year later.  As in interesting side note, she told me recently that she and her husband have decided to have a second baby (their daughter is now twelve) and she would really like to get pregnant before we leave Turkey so that I can help her.

         I was really glad that we hadn’t decided to “freebirth”, because sometime while I was in the tub I think that I would have decided to transfer myself to the hospital!  As this was the first time that my water broke early in labor, I just wasn’t comfortable with the color of the fluid I was losing: it looked overly “greenish” to me.  Gail reassured me that everything was within the scope of normal (there was no significant meconium at birth) and I was able to continue working on breathing with an open, round mouth and trying to stay calm; birth is an experience that tends to make you want to freak out!  After about an hour in the tub, Gail asked me to get out so that she could listen to the baby and check my dilation on the bed.  I was at about five centimetres or so.  I was hoping for more, but I knew how long these things can take… or not.  What I mean to say is that, as a mother and a midwife, I have my own opinion about the length of labour considering which baby is coming. 

A first baby always takes what feels like an eternity, because nobody knows what’s going on: not the mother, nor her body.  The second baby is often like a freight train because although the body knows now quite well what it must do, the mother still hasn’t figured it out.  My second baby was born with only one long push in a gush of water as I was kneeling next to the side of my bed (the “Dear Lord!” position, as I like to call it).  I think my midwife started to open her mouth to tell me to try and slow down a little and then changed her mind and decided to “ride the wave”.  She was a very “close to nature” kind of person.  My husband didn’t even have time to catch the baby (he had been so looking forward to that as this was our first homebirth)!  My son really just flew out, nearly!  That was a big change to my first birth, which I had wanted to have at home, but for numerous reasons involving insurance issues and the risk evaluation made by my midwife at that time, ended up taking place in a cold post-war Parisian clinic (not an altogether happy experience for me as you can probably infer).  The doctor had estimated the baby’s weight at more than four thousand grams at thirty-eight weeks and this had “put the fear of God” into my midwife and doctor.  He “only” weighed three thousand nine hundred fifty when he was born at forty weeks.  I hate, I abhor, ultrasound weight estimations; I think that one of the plain stupidest and most poisonous things you can ever say to a pregnant woman is “Oh, it looks like a big baby!” because it doesn’t change anything about the way you are going to approach the birth and neatly sabotages the mother’s subconscious faith in her own body.  My view is, “if the baby doesn’t come down, it just doesn’t come down” and you’ll know early enough to make a safe decision; I subscribe to the school of thought that says that shoulder dystocia is a myth and can be solved by changing the mother’s position.

         In any case, baby number three and onward is where things get interesting: the body is a real professional and the mother knows a thing or two as well.  What this means, Ladies, is that we have a greater impact on the process and we really have to be in “the right place” (both physically and psychologically) to allow the birth to occur.  My third labor was nearly my longest.  It began in the car on the way to my favourite restaurant on the Champs-Elysées.  I told my husband, above all, to keep going; the baby was not going to interrupt the Lebanese dinner that I was so looking forward to (I think you have to have more than one child to understand this mindset).  I still remember my husband asking the waiter to please hurry up with the bill because his wife was going to have a baby, and with his wonderful rolling accent, the waiter replied “Are you kidding me, sir?  Have you seen the way your wife is eating?  There is no way she is going to have a baby tonight”.  He was right!  We got home after dinner at the same time that our midwife arrived (still another – I have had four blessed children and four blessed midwives) and things just never really got going.  We tried homeopathy and a walk around the neighbourhood, but around midnight, I told everybody “Listen, I know I am dilated to five or six centimetres, but I am really too tired to go on right now; let’s sleep on it!”.  And so we did (I slept good, in fact), and it took my own Mother getting my other two kids out of the house (my husband cringed every time he heard me yell up the stairs things like “His green socks are in the top drawer, Mom!”) for things to really get going.  That meant that although my labor had “technically” began around six in the evening, you couldn’t really have called it “active” until about ten o’clock in the morning the next day.  I should mention here that my second and third children were born two years and two days apart; I was certainly scared to take the poor middle child’s birthday from him as well as his position as “baby”.  In the end I managed to start my labor on the day after his birthday and hold out for one extra day!  So, just three and a half hours after my labor became “active”, and after having a few sips of my favorite Belgian raspberry beer in our outdoor Jacuzzi (our midwife was willing to try anything at that point to “get things going”), our daughter was born into my husband’s loving hands in the doorway of our “summer room”. 

I have shared all of that with to you to say that although labors sometimes can seem “long” for babies numbered three and after, once the mother has finally made up her mind, they are actually quite fast!  I was feeling quite ready to meet our fourth baby and things continued on at a steady pace after that first hour in the tub.  The birth pool was nice and warm and I was dying to get in and stretch out.  It felt so good to “lose myself” in the water.  Although I had labored some in our outdoor jacuzzi for our third child, being in a birth pool and “planning” to give birth in the water was another experience.  I stared at the roses on the wallpaper and told Gail (who was still reading her book on my bed, like a good non-bossy midwife) that it really hurt.  “Why, why is it so darn strong?” I kept repeating.  Gail soothingly replied, “I know honey, it just is, I know… you’re doing great.”  My husband was a bit disappointed because I told him that I didn’t want him to get into the tub with me.  I had just enough room to put my back against one side of the pool and stretch my legs out completely straight; I felt most comfortable in “my space”, I suppose.  That didn’t mean that I didn’t need his support, however.  I also greatly enjoyed floating on my stomach with my legs slightly bent, resting my head on his warm fuzzy forearm (which I occasionally squeezed during the really hard contractions!). 

         Once I got in the birth pool it felt like things moved rather fast; the birth came less than two hours later.  I went from five or six centimetres to the “transition” stage in what seemed like a heartbeat, and from then on I checked my dilation on my own.  When the baby’s head got really low in my pelvis I started to go into panic mode: “What can I hold on to?  What position do I get into in this pool?”  I hadn’t tried any birth positions when I first got into the pool, so I really felt lost.  Plus, the baby was coming so fast!  I ended up in a “floating” sitting position, putting all my weight on my arms, which were behind me.  As Gabriel started to crown I felt like I didn’t have enough strength to push him out - it was so hard - I screamed for the only time during my whole labor, “I can’t do it, I can’t get the baby out!”  Gail, who was leaning over the side of the pool with her arms between my legs, said “Don’t panic, just push, the head is already out!”  Then she told my husband to put the camera down (he was trying to get a good picture of the baby’s head under water) and come catch the baby.  Gabriel’s body slid out much easier than his head and my husband gently nestled him into my arms before picking up his camera again.  The photo that he made of that moment is one of pure bliss; everyone tells me that they cannot believe that I had, just at that instant, given birth.  I felt so happy and it shows.  It wasn’t until a few hours later, when we weighed and measured Gabriel that I got a clue to why I might have felt like he was really hard to push out: he weighed four thousand seven hundred grams and measured fifty-six centimetres!  Gail half-jokingly blamed it on too many Starbuck’s frapuccinos.  I don’t honestly know why he was so big; all my other children were between three point seven and four kilos (a pretty good size already).  Gabriel was a well-proportioned, big fourth baby, I guess.

         About forty-five minutes after the birth, my Mom came back from lunch with the kids and all three of them were very happy to meet their baby brother.  Comments such as “He’s so tiny!  He’s so red!  He has so much hair! His toes are so cute!” abounded as everyone took turns “discovering” the newest member of our family.  Then my Mom took the big brothers and the big sister to a friend’s house to enjoy the water park that they have in their apartment complex while the rest of us took well-deserved naps.  That was actually not such a good idea; the kids, and my Mom, were so over-excited that they came home with multiple cuts and bruises.  You live and learn!  We learned some more when Gabriel was only three days old and I left him sleeping on a blanket on my bed.  While we were eating dinner downstairs, we heard a strange noise.  Gail was the first to react: she went running up the stairs and met my three year-old daughter halfway up who was carrying her baby brother in her arms.  “He was crying - he needs Mommy!”, she insisted, though whether or not he had woken her up with his crying or he was crying because she had woken him up remained to be seen.  Our bedroom door stayed locked for the next few months, until we felt that “big sister” understood exactly what her role was.  The big brothers rapidly accepted the new baby and all that his arrival entailed with a lot of grace; they were already used to having to “share” Mom.

         Number four grows up very fast; faster than all the others.  Gabriel is fifteen months old and I am finally writing down his birth story.  He can walk, babble, color, hold a fork, imitate our dog, and entertain us all with his bouncy dancing style (probably due to “head, shoulders, knees, and toes”?).  Every once in a while, someone asks us the inevitable question “And when are you having number five?”  But that, my friends, is another story!

June 2008 - Bursa, Turkey

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