I read Angie’s birth story earlier in the week on her own blog, Reasons to Dress (I need reminding, so this was a good start), and I was blown away by the imagery and the detail, and the foreignness of it all (Angie is a Canadian who moved to Italy)! There are scary bits involving meconium inhalation but I loved it and I was thrilled when she said I could share it today as part of the ongoing Giving Birth Series. I really hope you enjoy it.
(It doesn’t seem right for me to say something at the end so I’ll say it now, thank you so much for sharing your journey with little Zeno xxx)
Angie’s Italian Birth Story and Meconium Inhalation
I finally got permission to walk around. I had been on 100% bed rest for the last three months of my pregnancy, which would have been fine IF the pipes in our second washroom hadn’t leaked, flooding the apartment below us.
In Italy the apartments are not made with wood and dry wall, but with POURED concrete. So in order to fix the pipes they had to get to them, which meant using a hammer to smash the concrete. They broke the walls in our washroom, hallway, kitchen and the floors and then put them all back together.
So there I was, in my last trimester, with fine dust particles everywhere, lying in bed on my left side 24 hours a day while 4 construction workers broke down walls, smoked IN my house and cook their own lunches in my kitchen. It was the dead of winter, so I stayed under the covers with the windows of the bedroom open.
Finally the work was done, the pipes were fixed and my last month of pregnancy was ending so my doctor gave me permission to stand three days before my due date!!
For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to climb 15 flights of stairs after 3 months of immobility.
The next day I couldn’t walk.
Thankfully that night I didn’t go into labour or I would have never survived. My legs quivered so much I could hardly stand.
The next night my man and I went out around 9 p.m. for an evening stroll. We ran into some friends having an aperitivo and chatted. It was nice to see them since it had been months since I had seen anyone.
Walking home I felt my first contraction. And then my second. And then my third.
We used an app we had downloaded to keep track of the timing.
IT WAS HAPPENING. I was going to give birth.
Giving birth was the thing that scared me the most about pregnancy. It was fine that this baby was growing inside of me, taking over my body and crowding my lungs to the point where I fainted frequently.
Birth is another story. You grow this being, and then it must come out, and that was horrifying. I watched live birth videos (bad idea), did perineal massages (good idea), and practiced proper pushing techniques (another good idea).
I was ready and also NOT ready for this moment. But it was happening. I was prepared, the room was decorated, everything was washed and then covered with sheets so no dust could build up, my bag was packed and we headed to the hospital around 11 pm after taking these pictures.
I needed this pregnancy. I wanted it more than I had ever wanted anything, and now it was happening… my baby was coming.
My contractions were in full swing, and in the car ride on the way to the Sassuolo hospital I found a CD my husband had made for himself many years ago. It had Metallica’s St. Anger on it, and I listened to this on repeat at FULL volume all the way to the hospital.
It felt so fitting to have contractions while listening to Metal music (even though technically I’m not really a metal fan, but I do love this song).
We have a hospital 5 minutes away from our house but I decided to give birth in another town. Sassuolo is about 25 minutes away from Modena and their philosophy about childbirth is right up my alley.
According to their website they have a birthing pool, encourage women to listen to music, encourage natural births, have a lactation specialist on-site and all of the obstetricians are mothers.
When I arrived I was so happy to be there that they almost sent me home because there was no way I could be living through contractions when I seemed so happy. They gave me a quick exam and confirmed that I had started dilating but still had a ways to go.
We arrived at the hospital around 11:30 pm on March 23rd. I remember the first few hours of my labor clearly. I brought my small portable radio, a case filled with all kinds of music, snacks, water, a TENS Machine and had hypnobirth statements recorded on my phone.
Contractions came and I breathed and bounced on a bouncy ball, then bigger contractions came and I asked for my TENS Machine. I put the pads on my hips and lower back and had this little machine on FULL electrifying capacity until the batteries died. I don’t remember how long they lasted because time seemed to have no meaning.
There were no minutes and no hours, there was only periods of pain and periods of less pain.
I was being crippled, no crushed by the excruciating pressure that was my hips separating from the rest of my body.
If I had to describe MY birth pain, I would say it was like swallowing one of Jack’s magic beans and then having the beanstalk rip my body apart while it grew.
I opted for a natural birth and had prepared by doing breathing exercises, abdominal exercises for proper pushing and even stretching.
When the TENS batteries ran out I sent my husband on the hunt to find more batteries and cursed myself for remembering things like disposable diapers, breast pads, and 10 ziplock bags each containing one pyjama, one undershirt, a little pair of socks, booties and a mini sweater for the baby AND NOT EXTRA BATTERIES.
He came back empty handed….it was 4 or 5 am and the hospital store was still closed for the night.
I laid there and slowly died, until Cristiana, one of my obstetricians, touch me with her magic hands. She is not a small woman and used all of her force to give me the deepest and most pain relieving massage I have ever had in my life. She massaged until she was exhausted and then my husband took over. I told him to massage me harder and harder, and later he told me that he had never used that much force on another person. I had bruises on my back and hips for WEEKS after I gave birth.
Which leads me to believe that during birth women lose the ability to make rational decisions!
Then there was Gaia, the other obstetrician, beautiful and petite with big brown eyes. I asked her if there was a shower and she led me to the private washroom in my birthing room. I turned on the shower and got underneath fully clothed.
I don’t know how many hours I spent under the boiling hot water. I have only bits and pieces and fragments of the hours that passed. All I remember is everywhere being flooded in the washroom AND out of the washroom in the birthing room. No one was wearing shoes or socks and they had to continually mop so that no one would slip.
The water was boiling hot and I wanted it hotter.
I remember hearing an animal, maybe it was a wild beast that was just slain. It moaned a loud, deep and constant howl that echoed throughout the whole hospital. When my husband heard it he was terrified and shocked, and doctors and nurses from all around came to see which animal had made that horrific sound….and then I realized IT WAS ME.
I didn’t YELL so much as howl throughout the whole ordeal. My thighs turned bright red from the boiling water in the shower. I played every music CD I had brought and then demanded silence. I went from being fully clothed to being naked……. I went from being a human to being an animal.
And finally poo came out.
In the shower I looked down at my feet, “what is that?” I asked Gaia. “Did I poo?”
“No”, she answered “but the baby did, we have to move you to the bed, we’re going to attach a heart monitor to you to see how he’s doing, maybe he’s a little stressed. Listen very carefully, we’re going to give you some oxytocin in your I.V. to help move along the contractions. If he’s not born within 15 minutes we have to help him.”
Help him? That means cut me open. He’s dying, he’s pooed and is breathing his own poo, he’s suffering.
So they moved me to the bed.
I asked to use the birthing pool for a water delivery and they told me it was “broken”. I think that’s what they say to women who don’t qualify for a water birth due to complications.
O.K., I said, I can do this.
I laid on the bed and arched my back into one of those backward gymnastic crawls that young girls do in elementary school.
I wanted to give birth LIKE THIS. The only position I felt comfortable in was in a backwards arch, up on the tips of my toes, holding up all of my body weight and balancing myself on the narrow bed. I looked something like this, but with a big belly, naked and on a birthing table.
Image from WikiHow
I breathed, I paused and I pushed, then breathed then paused then pushed.
And slowly doctors and surgeons came in and they all gathered around waiting for something to happen…. Or not to happen. I realized later that these were the emergency C-section doctors who were waiting to slice me open if I took too long to give birth, but thankfully it happened.
He came out.
Like a big, purple, still fish.
He didn’t cry and he didn’t move, and they whisked him away.
I grabbed my husband and told him to take his picture, I was worried they would change him for another baby. Boy, those post-birth hormones do start acting up quickly.
My son was born with meconium inhalation and couldn’t breath so they had to resuscitate him and vacuum his lungs and pump his heart. And they saved his life.
One more minute, one more second and maybe it wouldn’t have gone so well.
I never held him in my arms. I just laid there calm and hungry. I sent my husband to the bar to get me two Paninis and two cappuccinos and a chocolate.
It was 10:04 am and I had been in active labor for 12 hours.
At some point I slept and when I awoke I was in my room and my husband was there, he led me down the hall (I could hardly walk) to where they have the incubators and there he was.
A kitty cat.
Everyone loved him, he was so small and perfect and cute.
He has red hair and the light fuzz that covered his body looked like gold thread and when I held him he seemed covered in gold.
He spent the first ten days of his life in the hospital, taking an antibiotic for his meconium inhalation to ensure no infection would ensue.
I don’t even want to get into the difficulty faced when you have a newborn that has to live attached to a respiratory machine, heart monitor and I.V., I just thank God that it only lasted ten days. 10 VERY long sleepless days.
I never closed my eyes, not once, the whole time he was in the hospital. Everyone told me to relax, that this was the last chance I had for a “break” because in the hospital the nurses were here to help me and once I got home I would have to do it all.
They don’t know me very well.
I love doing it all, and I hated having him away from me.
After 240 hours of being nervously awake I was ready to bring him home and start our life together.
My mom and sisters don’t live in Italy, no friends came to help, and my husband went back to work after a few days. Since he was born I’ve only left him a few times in two years and I am fine.
He is the person with whom I have the most fun, the person that makes me laugh the most, the person who has taught me the most about life, and living and love.
On March 24th, two years ago I gave birth to Zeno, he is my sunshine.