«I think she’ll be born next week,» said Dr. Graciela. At 39 weeks and 6 days pregnant, it wasn’t what I was hoping to hear. I had stopped working the week before, both my parents had flown in from Hawaii, baby’s room was clean and ready, and her newborn-sized onesies washed. My baby was prepared, too. Since week 20-something she had been in a head-down, anterior position.
To my surprise, I woke up the next morning, her due date, with bloody show. Not long after, I began to feel contractions. My husband and I started tracking them at 8:30 a.m. on December 6. At 11 a.m., we called our doctor to let her know they were consistently 10-12 minutes apart. I continued contracting into the afternoon, but continued my life as normal. I understood that contractions could stop, so I didn’t want to get too excited, but I asked my mom to take some pictures, just in case.
Around 6 p.m. Dr. Graciela came by to see how I was doing. «You’re at 1 cm,» she said. «I’ll be back later.» From the beginning, I loved Dr. Graciela’s calm yet confident nature. When my husband and I were window shopping for obstetricians, she was the first we met. I had found her website when we were just a few weeks pregnant with the search terms «home birth Panama». In a country where the c-section rate in private hospitals is 8/10, I was determined to have a vaginal birth, and it seemed like a home birth was just the ticket, and Dr. Graciela was just the person for the job. Actually, she was the only person for the job. She and her husband are the only doctors in Panama who do home births.
At 11 p.m. Dr. G came back. «You’re 6.5 cm. I’ll set up the pool.» I was elated. 6.5! That’s practically 7! I’m almost there. When the pool was set up, Dr. Graciela invited me in. I was in darkness, in my daughter’s room, contracting in the warm water. In the living room, my mom and Dr. Graciela, along with her husband, Dr. Rodrigo, talked and looked at family photos. For the most part, my husband and I were alone in our little girl’s room, in the dark, waiting for her to come.
I was camped on the edge of the pool, arms hanging over the side, resting on my knees. When I got the urge to push, I told my husband, who alerted Dr. Graciela. «Push if you want to push,» she said. So I did. I pushed when I felt the urge to. I didn’t feel like I was making any progress, so I thought that maybe I was misreading my body’s cues. Still, I pushed when I felt the urge to. I pushed with my whole body.
Dr. Graciela came to check me and said that there was something preventing me from being fully dilated, and that it was preventing my baby from being able to come down the birth canal. I’m actually not completely sure what she said, as Spanish is my second language and I was in labor, but that’s what I understood. She finished breaking my water, which had partially broken while I was on the bed earlier.
Though I was not aware of the time, it seemed hours passed. The sun began to light up the room. «December 7th,» I thought, «My daughter’s birthday will be December 7th.» Dr. Graciela insisted that I drink some juice. «You need energy,» she said, «Take a sip.» I refused. «Take one sip. Now another. And another. OK, finish the cup now.» I didn’t want any of it. All I wanted was to finish the job. Dr. Graciela was right, I lacked energy. But I did not lack determination.
Dr. Graciela encouraged me to feel for my baby. «How many knuckles in?» she asked. I love that instead of checking me herself, she empowered me and made me feel in charge of my labor. «Two,» I responded. After several pushes, we were still at two knuckles. What am I doing wrong, I wondered. I’m doing everything I can.
At the insistence of my mom, my husband Jose got in the pool with me. My tired body rested in the arms of my husband, who sat behind me. With each contraction we pushed together, his hands gripping my legs and giving me strength. Soon some black hair emerged. It was at this point that the pain of the contractions were matched by the pain of my daughter’s head grinding my tailbone as it curled back inside me post-contraction. I don’t know what was worse, the pain during a contraction or after a contraction.
I remember my contractions pausing for some time. When they came back, I pushed with everything I had while my cheerleaders coached me in English and Spanish. I was so caught up in pushing that I hadn’t realized the progress that I had made. «Look down,» my husband said, «Look at her face!» As soon as I looked down she was already swimming out of me like a little fish. Dr. Graciela got her, unwrapped her umbilical cord from her waist and leg, and handed her to me.
Lilia Marie was born with her eyes wide open at 8:30 a.m. on December 7th. 7 lbs, 2 oz and 19 inches long.
I didn’t think much of the unicorn shape of her head then. I knew babies’ heads were funny-shaped when born, and I was more taken by her beautiful face, her precious hands, and her full head of hair than the shape of her head.
When Dr. Graciela came back the following day to check on Lilia and me, she mentioned the obstetrician books say Lilia’s type of birth, brow presentation, is not possible vaginally. I didn’t understand then what I understand now. The diagram below is helpful. The most common presentation is A. Lilia’s brow presentation .
I had quite a long recovery due to Lilia’s presentation, however I cherish the opportunity I had to labor in the comfort of my home, surrounded by my family and two extraordinary doctors, Dr. Graciela Anhel de Aybar and Dr. Rodrigo Aybar.