Birth Story for Tristan Mackay Engst
by Tonya Engst

Vital Statistics:
Born: 1/9/99
Size: 5 pounds, 15.5 ounces; 18.75 inches long
Apgars: 6 at birth, 9 1 hour later
Location: Puget Sound Birth Center
Parents: Adam and Tonya Engst
Birthing Techniques: Hypnobirthing, "natural" childbirth, waterbirthing

Tristan was born at the end of my 37th week of pregnancy. I wasn't expecting him early, since the pregnancy had been average and uneventful. I tried hard to eat well during the pregnancy, which basically meant that I ate two large vegetable helpings, two large fruit helpings, four dairy servings, and at least one meat serving per day. By the time I finished all that, there was little room for desserts and I do think that all that good food helped me stay comfortable, plus my midwife commented that it is making my recovery easier.

After considerable self-education, I decided to go with natural childbirth (meaning, to me, no pain reducing drugs, minimal interventions, and a calm birth and post-birth environment). To get ready, I learned hypnobirthing, a birthing technique where you use self-hypnosis to turn off your higher brain and simply remember that "your body and your baby know exactly what to do." With Adam, I also took a more traditional natural childbirth class with Penny Simkin, a doula here in Seattle who has been very active in the childbirth community. In this class we learned all the analytical higher mind stuff about how childbirth works. The hypnobirth technique basically boils down to "you don't need to know anything, ignorance is bliss, so just relax"; Penny's class was more "knowledge is power; know it all so you can relax." Both classes proved valuable.

The morning I started labor, Adam was in San Francisco (I live near Seattle) attending Macworld Expo, a major event for people involved in the Macintosh community. (Adam and I and a few others publish TidBITS, a weekly Internet newsletter about Macintosh stuff) I woke up experiencing minor contractions (and I wasn't even sure if they were real since they were low down and I'd never even felt a Braxton-Hicks contraction before) and having lost a good chunk of my mucus plug. I'd read so many labor stories about women getting this far and it still taking weeks to give birth that I figured there wasn't much point in assuming I was in labor, but I called Adam and told him to pay careful attention to the cell phone, just in case. Adam was very groggy since Macworld Expo is utterly exhausting, involving lots of talking and walking but very little sleep.

I just had time for a shower before the guy came to attempt to fix our roof. It was silly. Here I am up about 35 feet above the ground on our flat roof showing this guy the problems and thinking that women as pregnant as me shouldn't be on roofs at all. I stayed well away from edges. Later, the contractions stopped, I took a nap, and woke up feeling a little dizzy and weak. I called a friend who I was supposed to be making dinner for that night and asked if we could do takeout instead. She listened to all my symptoms and insisted that I call my midwife.

I did, and the midwife said I might have the baby that night or it might be two weeks, but that she'd feel better if Adam came home that night. So, I called Adam and told him to come home. Apparently, when he got the airport and told the ticket person that he needed to change his ticket because his wife was in labor, the ticket person looked at him and asked if he was aware that it would cost $35, implying that he might not want to go home for that price. He did want to come home.

Another friend of mine picked Adam up at the airport and it became clear that I really was having contractions. Adam got home around 11 and because I'd read so many birth stories about women who had trouble with labor because they were exhausted and because Adam was pretty fried, I suggested that we take showers and go to bed.

I couldn't really sleep. Lying down was the wrong position for the contractions.

We timed a few contractions and called Lisa, the midwife. She said Adam should try to distract me and we should get up and move around. We were totally unprepared for being in labor so early, so we put on loud music, packed our bags and cleaned the house a bit, since I'd been really out of it the last few days and the house was messy.

After that, we tried sleeping again. Lisa suggested that I drink a warm glass of wine (first wine in almost a year!) and then take a hot bath and sip another glass.

We then tried sleeping again. I did doze for a few hours, but Adam was mostly awake telling me to relax and go to sleep. The contractions got too hard to manage lying down, so we got up. The next few hours are kind of hazy for me. I know I did each contraction the same way. Lean against the wall or a high counter and rhythmically pop up on my toes and then down on my heels while breathing (usually) slowly. Sometimes Adam had to help me keep the breathing slow.

We weren't supposed to start the 35 minute drive the birth center until my contractions were 1 minute long, but they just wouldn't get there, though they were close. Finally, deciding that I couldn't be distracted through contractions, Adam called the midwife and she said we could come in. At this point, things hurt, a lot, but (for you runners out there) managing the whole thing was equivalent to managing running a ton of intervals on a track. I liken it to running 400s at full speed in terms of pain and mental strength, though the breathing is different.

The car ride was harder because I was sitting, but I was also pretty tired and I think I was snoozing between contractions. I was also hoping that I would be pronounced in "active labor" when we arrived, because then they wouldn't send us home!

Things were getting pretty intense, but I cried with relief at being 8 cm dilated and within minutes I was weightless in the tub. The tub was bliss. It was about 8 AM. Adam got in the tub and helped support my head since with each contraction I seemed to want to get into a fairly odd sideways position ("your body knows exactly what to do"). At this point I really was sleeping between contractions, so I can't remember much all that clearly. Our doula was there, plus our midwife, plus another midwife who was assisting. It seemed, though, that I had been in the tub for a long time and I kept waiting for an urge to push. I think I asked several times when I would want to push. Someone checked my cervix and found that a lip needed to be pushed aside. She pushed it and I started to get faint urges to push.

At this point I was guided to the toilet and I pushed for a while there. I leaned forward against Adam with each contraction. It was very painful, not so much the pushing, but some sort of odd pressure on my bladder. I leaned on a railing between contractions and slept. I can't remember this part very well.

Moved back to the tub. Timeless. Sleeping. Floating. Came out of it a bit and declared that I wanted to know when the baby would come because I was getting tired and thought it would never come. Everyone said it would be soon, that they could see the head pop out with each push. Someone had me put my hand down to feel the head. It felt wrinkly and small, more like a warm sponge than a head. I think the sack was still over it. More pushing. The pushing was neither the hardest nor most rewarding thing I've ever done (I believe that's the stereotype), though it was painful and difficult and I was very tired and I do remember thinking that this had been a terrible mistake and I never wanted to have another child. Ever. The problem was that weird pressure on my bladder - perhaps it was being smashed. I did experience a little of the "ring of fire" sensation, but it was manageable. Maybe I got lucky; maybe it was a lot of perineal massage in the last few weeks.

Then, the coolest thing! I felt the head pop out! Another push, hands helping me and they told me to pull the baby up on my chest. I scooped it up and it was the most fabulous moment for me.

The pain just stopped. Adam is sitting behind me in the tub (he'd been coaching me and holding me and positioning me all along). We had this baby. I had always known I wanted to be pregnant, but it was a slight leap of faith that I'd like having a baby. I did like having a baby. He had hair. The midwives had to get him breathing well (apparently this is common for water babies - the transition to air is more gradual and that means they aren't shocked into breathing as quickly). They knew what to do and it wasn't an out-of-control thing, they just had to give him oxygen and rub him and he was fine. About ten minutes later I delivered the placenta (mercifully easy) and someone clamped the cord. Adam cut it.

They then put all three of us in a bed and let us hang out with Tristan. He was very alert, made eye contact, and seemed rather charismatic for a creature so small. (And yes, you do bleed utter clots of bloody gunk - it's pretty amazing, very biological, but they had maxipad/towel things to catch the mess. I didn't care or notice much, and it slowed considerably in just a few hours.)

I had two very minor tears (not even requiring stitches). We slept for a few hours all three of us, I got breast feeding coaching, and then we went home.

I am so greatful that we had a midwife/birth center/waterbirthing option here in Seattle and would do it again this way without hesitation. I also would recommend having a doula - ours was very helpful. Adam did participate fully, but it was the first birth he'd ever experienced and the doula was able to help Adam and me while the midwives focused more on the medical aspects of the birth.

Good luck to all other pregnant women out there - I hope you find this story helpful - I know reading other stories helped me figure out how I wanted my birth to go and gave me a better idea of what to expect.

- Tonya Engst
January 1999

Postscript: If I could do it all again, I wish we'd spent more of my pregnancy researching parenting styles and figuring out what to expect when Tristan was born. We spent way too much time researching what Things to Buy.