Birth Of A Baby Elephant

March 24, 2012

During Sara’s pregnancy we read many birth stories. Some of them were very inspiring and empowering for us. We thought to share our own story in return as a small karmic gesture to new parents-to-be and remind them that even if the events don’t quite turn the way they expect, they are still about to have the most amazing experience of their lives.

The way we wanted to welcome our baby was in an environment of love and compassion. We were planning for a home birth. Simple, natural, unmedicated. Sara had an uncomplicated pregnancy and we had full support from our doctor and team of midwives. We had even sourced a birthing tub and had already checked it for air and water leaks. We were confident we could make it.

Baby Anatoli, however, had a different opinion and hadn’t spoken the last word. What she was planning for was an adventurous and dramatic exit. This is her birth story.

Thursday, March 1. One of the midwives, Mary, checks Sara at the birth center. It’s two days before Sara’s due date. Even with all the walking, all the stairs and the yoga, the baby’s head is still high. Mary is reassuring. As long as the baby’s fine, we can wait. Engagement can happen at the last minute.

Saturday, March 3. Due date. Dimitris, our doctor, had told us we could go as far as 40 weeks and 10 days. The idea of a deadline, however, adds a level of stress.

Monday, March 5. We go to the birth center for a non-stress test. The baby’s heart rate is normal and her activity is good. The baby hasn’t moved down into the pelvis yet. Eleftheria says “it will happen” and recommends some homeopathic treatment.

Wednesday, March 7. A very close friend has her second baby one week earlier than her due date. This increases our stress subconsciously. We go to the birth center at 16.45 for another NST. This time the baby’s heart rate is a bit elevated and she is very active. Evangelia, one of the senior midwives, discusses with Elias about “deadlines”. She tells him that she has seen this happen before. The more a woman wants a natural birth the more likely she will not have one. It is like some strange Murphy’s Law. She then checks Sara. Her cervix is thinning, a signal that labor is getting closer. No progress on the pelvis front though. The NST results worry her a bit and she sends us to be checked by Dimitris.

At his office, the baby is calm with a normal heart rate, the placenta is fine and so is the amniotic fluid. However, we see that the baby is occiput posterior (i.e. facing forward). He says, from now on we will take things step by step. She still has chances to be delivered naturally, but a hospital delivery is more likely now. We leave his office relieved. At least now we know why she hasn’t engaged all these days. One thing we did not know however, was that Dimitris had had a very risky delivery with a posterior baby the day before. The baby’s head got stuck in the pelvis halfway out and his HR started dropping rapidly. Dimitris saved the baby… and he still let us try for a natural delivery with our posterior baby 24h after this incident.

We leave his office and drive back to see Evangelia. She had been in contact with our doctor and knew already. She tells us to see Mary again in the morning.

We arrive home. Around 22.30 labor starts. Contractions are arrhythmic but non-stop. They average at about 1min after 4min of rest. We call Evangelia, she tells us to call back when they get regular. We work on positions and we also prepare a bag in case we need to go to the hospital.

During birthing classes most girls, Sara included, were too shy and giggly to exhale vocally and loudly during the Leboyer exercises. This time it is the real thing and Sara has no problem expressing it. It feels like an earthquake. Elias is deeply in love with his wife just by listening to this sound. It feels as if this frequency was dormant somewhere deep in his brain waiting to be awakened. This is the most mesmerizing sound he has ever heard.

Thursday, March 8. We see Mary at 8.30 at the birth center. Sara’s cervix has made progress, but the baby is still high. Mary sees a slight improvement, but after calling Evangelia, they decide to send us for an NST at the hospital this time. Sara carries on laboring in the back seat.

The NST starts quietly and ends well. Evangelia checks Sara and confirms that the baby hasn’t moved. She shows Sara specific exercises to try. Dimitris comes in and after a short discussion we agree that a hospital delivery is the only way now. They send us home to continue labor.

We drive back. Sara stops at the stairs for a contraction while Elias parks the car. The neighbor’s dogs go crazy at her, barking and showing teeth. She barely makes it in and then pauses… “is that my husband?” Elias has climbed on the fence, is slamming the neighbor’s garage roof with both fists screaming his lungs out at the dogs.

Inside, Elias makes pillow stations for Sara on the bed. A spot for the resting period, another for the contractions. Evangelia calls at 17.30 to see how we are doing. We drive to the birth center once more for another check. Sara’s cervix is dilating. Her whole body is in labor, but the baby is still high. We enter a room with Stavroula and spend the next 1.30h with her. She helps Sara with deep squatting and floor exercises and uses her hands to manipulate Sara’s pelvis and uterus in an attempt to push the baby in place. When Evangelia’s class is over she checks Sara again. The baby still hasn’t moved. The decision is taken. We will see each other at the hospital at 21.00 . Next step is water. We will try to see if buoyancy will get the baby moving.

We arrive at the hospital. Sara goes in with Stavroula, she gives samples and gets checked. They go through contractions together while Elias checks her in at the reception. He can still hear Sara’s voice shaking the whole building every 5min and feels so alive and proud. They all meet at the birthing room. Mary is there too. The room with the birth tub is familiar. We had seen it during a recent tour and this makes a difference. We play Susumu Yokota. Sara enters the tub. The water is set at 37.5C (womb temperature). Sara’s contractions grow stronger. The baby’s HR is rather high but still acceptable. At some point it goes even higher. After an hour Sara gets out of the tub. Dimitris comes in. The baby’s HR keeps at pretty high levels. We stop the music. Dimitris breaks Sara’s water to check its color. It’s greenish brown. The baby’s bowel movement inside signals that the she is under stress. He says we have to take her out now.

The anesthesiologist enters the room. Sara is shivering. Taking an epidural is one of her biggest fears. Mary is holding her closely and steadily, forehead to forehead, caressing her hair and talking to her. Sara hums “all my loving”. For some reason this is the song that has stuck with her throughout her pregnancy when she was thinking of her baby. The epidural is successful. Elias and Sara hug and then Sara is taken for the operation. Elias goes out to the lobby.

After 25 hours of labor the baby needs to come out with a caesarean. They wheel Sara in. She talks with the anesthesiologist. He explains everything. He even shows her how a pin or some drops of cold water feel differently on her arm and then on her belly. Sara nervously tries to chat with Mary and Stavroula too. She asks if it was worth waiting for labor to kick in and if the baby will still benefit from some of the good hormones. They reassure her. The sheet is drawn up. Mary is right above Sara’s head talking to her and explaining everything that will happen before it happens. Dimitris teases Mary about her accent. Sara says she is grateful for this accent. Sara feels pressure and movement. The baby is facing up and her head is tilted back. Sara’s body shakes as Dimitris tries to dislodge the baby from her pelvis. She hears the baby’s first cry immediately after she is taken out. Sara cries too and feels great relief. As Dimitris lifts the baby above the curtain, Sara sees her little bottom first. The baby is quickly checked as Sara keeps hearing her cry. They bring her around and place her on Sara’s chest from behind her shoulder. Sara cannot hug her baby yet as her arms are immobilized. They look at each other. She sings to her again. The baby is taken away for further checking and to give Dimitris time to sew Sara up.

Before the baby returns to Sara, they call Elias from the lobby. Elias picks his daughter up from the carrier and introduces himself. They hug, they kiss, they cry and they smell each other. He asks the nurse about Sara. Then he asks about the time of birth. It was 23.55, still March 8, still International Women’s Day. Elias thinks about this morning’s sunrise.

When they bring Anatoli back to Sara, she is still on the operation table. They put her back on Sara’s chest the same way. Mary holds the baby while Stavroula squeezes some colostrum out for the baby to nurse. Sara’s right hand is now free and she can stroke her baby at last. After a while, they take the baby again and Sara leaves the operating room to meet Elias. They laugh and cry at the same time. Sara is withdrawn to the recovery room.

Finally the new family meets at room 209 a while after 3.00 . Elias strips an empty bed, moves the night stand out of the way and attaches the bed next to Sara’s. They don’t sleep the first night. They take turns with the baby sleeping skin-to-skin on their chests.

A friend once told Sara how elephants in the wild encircle a laboring female to create a supportive and defensive barrier around her in order for her to deliver her calf safely. We cannot even imagine what our birth experience would have been like without the love and support of our own circle of elephants.

We, mammals, are wonderful creatures.


5 comments on Birth Of A Baby Elephant

Mark says:

Yours is a wonderful, inspiring story of Anatoli’s birth. I hope she will always face forward in life.

Megan says:

Wow, what a beautiful story! I am sitting here at my work desk with tears streaming down my face. Thank you so much for sharing this. The outcome is wonderful and perfect with everyone healthy and happy, even though the events are not what you had originally hoped.
Much love to the Politis-Latham family, you have much joy ahead…..oh the joy!

Mariam McDonell says:

This is the most wonderful story. Thank you for sharing now all those who were not able to be there feel like we were! All my love to a beautiful little family!

Becky says:

Thank you, Elias. So grateful that you both document your lives so beautifully so we (on the other side of the world) can share in your joy. I love you, all!

Jen says:

Amazing! Thank you guys so much for sharing (the beginning of) your beautiful story with the rest of us! Love to you all from ATX!

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