Tara Zawadi Kihara was born 5 days before her due date on Friday, December 18th, 2020 at 10:21 am at the El Camino Los Gatos Women’s Hospital with the Bay Area Maternity Midwifery Practice. She weighed 7 lbs 8 oz and was 20.5 inches long. Here is the story of her birth, from my perspective (I’m sure her side and Ngugi’s side of the story would be told a little differently...).
On Wednesday, December 17th I spent the day making the final push to get ready for maternity leave. I finished uploading content and lining up auto-emails to send out so my online membership site could run on its own for a few weeks without me. I had my last session with a client at my occupational therapy job and had one more staff meeting scheduled at work for the next day before my maternity leave officially started. The nesting instinct came on strong so I cleaned the house again and cleaned the hard-water build-up out of the tea kettle (something I have been meaning to do for quite literally a year but never get around it). When I sat down for dinner that night I told her, “Okay baby, we’re ready now. You can come anytime.”
My water broke around 10pm on Wednesday night. It wasn’t a dramatic gush, just a small amount of clear fluid. I wasn’t sure anything significant had happened, but decided to call the midwife on the after hours line just to be sure. Christine, one of the midwives, told me that the membranes had in fact broken and that contractions would likely start on their own within the next 12 hours. She encouraged me and Ngugi to try to get some sleep before they started and to call back in the morning.
Contractions started about an hour and half later, around 11:30pm, and needless to say I did not get any sleep. At first, the contractions were inconsistent, coming between 7 and 20 minutes apart from each other - just long enough for me to doze off for a second before getting woken up by another contraction. I layed on the couch, focused on my breathing, talked to Tara, and listened to meditation recordings all night.
By the time Ngugi woke up on Thursday morning, the contractions were consistently about 8 minutes apart and 30 - 45 seconds long. We called the midwife again and she told us to come to the hospital when the contractions progressed to 4 - 5 minutes apart or said that she would call to check-in around 2pm. We labored at home all morning in the living room. Ngugi packed the car and I ate some soup. We started listening to my “Best of 2020” Spotify playlist, which would be on repeat for the next 24 hours (thank you Trevor Hall and Jai Uttal for getting us through). Ngugi used an app to time the contractions and helped me through each one by pressing on my lower back (I felt a lot of pressure in my lower back on each contraction and would later find out that I was having back labor because of the position of the baby).
Around 1pm I got in the shower. Brittany, the amazing midwife who would deliver our baby girl, called while I was in the shower to tell us to meet her at the hospital at 2:30pm. The contractions had only progressed to about 6 minutes apart, but she let us know that she did not want my labor to go on for too long since my water had already been broken for about 16 hours and there is an increased risk of infection for the baby once the membranes have been broken.
The drive to the hospital was better than I thought it would be. We drove about 40 minutes on Skyline Road and down highway 9 to Los Gatos. I had my eyes closed most of the time and made it through about 6 contractions on the drive just fine. I was nervous about going inside the hospital because the results from my COVID test weren’t back yet (I got tested the day before) and I thought they were going to make me do a rapid test or not let Ngugi come in or something, but they didn’t do that. The hospital was quiet, relaxed and welcoming (there are only 6 beds at this hospital, it felt like we were the only ones there!), check-in was easy, and there was no issue around the COVID testing. Brittany and the nurses got us set up and they checked to see how dilated I was (2.5 cm). I felt safe, relaxed, and respected right away.
In the hospital delivery room, Ngugi dimmed the lights, set up our electric candles and playlist and we labored through the afternoon and evening. Labor was progressing well - the contractions picked up in frequency and intensity on their own. Ngugi was by my side for every contraction, holding my hand, pressing on my lower back, and reminding me of my breath and my affirmations (I told him before labor that the only affirmations I was interested in using were “I trust my body, I trust my baby, I am safe, Baby is safe”).
Somewhere between 2pm and 12am on Thursday, my recollection starts to get fuzzy. I didn’t open my eyes much but felt Ngugi there the whole time and felt the contractions. I remember changing positions - standing, squatting, walking, leaning - and lots of primal screams. I remember vomiting uncontrollably all over the floor next to the bed. I remember Ngugi helping me to keep my screams low instead of high-pitched. I remember Brittany telling me to get in the shower (Ngugi says it was around 10pm) and someone rubbing lavender oil on my chest. I remember how good the warm water felt on my back and wanting to stay in the shower forever.
When I got out of the shower around 11pm, Brittany checked to see how dilated I was (5.5 cm). By this point I was so, so exhausted and still had a long way to go until it was time to push (I had been awake since Wednesday morning, so about 36 hours with no sleep). I tried to nap but I could not stay awake and could not fall asleep because the contractions were too strong to ignore. We started talking about pain relief options so that I could rest before I had to push. The only time I felt fear in labor was related to pain medication because pain medication, especially epidurals, scare me. After talking it over with Brittany and Ngugi, we decided to try a fast-acting IV pain medication so that I could take a nap. It worked, but only for about an hour. When the medication wore off, we talked it over again and I decided to get an epidural around 12am. I was scared when the anesthesiologist came in to put the needle in my spine, but I knew it was probably the best decision to be able to have enough energy to continue with a vaginal birth and I never felt pressured by anyone to choose the medication.
The feeling of numbness and paralysis from the epidural scared me, but eventually I fell asleep for a few hours and it was exactly what I needed. Ngugi slept also. By 6am I was 9.5 cm dilated and it was time to push. The epidural had worn off enough so that I could move and feel my legs more. More nurses came into the room. A nurse for the baby, a NICU nurse, and a few nurses for me. An angel nurse with bright blue eyes that I felt like I knew from another lifetime was to my right chanting and humming, gently pressing on my third eye, and doing mudras over my body. Ngugi was to my left holding my hand and grounding me through each contraction. Brittany pulled up a mirror so I could see her head (and all her hair!) coming out.
I pushed for 3 hours without much progress. Her head was stuck (Brittany would later tell me that Tara came out in a less than ideal orientation, the occiput posterior position, or “sunny-side up”, so she was having a hard time making it under my pubic bone to come into the world). They gave me a little bit of pitocin to strengthen my contractions as labor had slowed down because of the epidural. Brittany got the on-call doctor and prepared for a vacuum delivery just in case. The doctor who came in was a small, lively, hilarious woman and the vacuum she brought with her was tiny - not at all the looming male doctor barking orders and monstrous vacuuming machine I was picturing.
I pushed for another hour and a half with Brittany and the doctor coaching me through the pushes and massaging and stretching my perineum. No one rushed to the vacuum. At some point, the angel nurse with blue eyes and said, “Are you ready? Does she know you are ready?” I talked to Tara and let her know we were ready to meet her now and it was safe to come out. Soon after, at 10:21am on Friday morning, her head crowned and the rest of her body followed in what felt like half a second. There was no need for the vacuum. She screamed and cried right away - the best sound in the world.
Brittany laid her on my chest and Ngugi and I got to meet our daughter. I was shocked, relieved, and so in love. Ngugi cut the umbilical cord after a few minutes and I pushed again to deliver the placenta and Brittany stitched me up (I had a first degree tear - the smallest type of tear - and needed 3 stitches) with Tara on my chest. She wiggled around on my chest and latched quickly (Ngugi says she looks like this scene from Breaking Bad when she is hungry) and the 3 of us took each other in. The first few hours and days of the postpartum period were intense, beautiful and challenging...a story for another time.
I am so grateful to Brittany and all of the amazing labor and delivery nurses and staff (Lucia, Sherry, Anita, Dr. Connors and many others that I wish I could remember by name) for keeping us safe and getting us through. I am so grateful for Ngugi and Tara, who were just as much an active part of the labor process as I was. In the entire 36 hour labor, Tara’s vitals stayed steady and there was never any concern about her wellbeing - I believe this was because Ngugi was able to keep me so grounded and out of fear. With my body calm, Tara’s body could be calm too. The 3 of us were such an amazing team and I am so proud of us. It was the most beautiful way to start our family.
We brought Tara home 2 days later, just in time for the winter solstice and for Christmas - both so fitting for her name. TARA: Sanskrit - "star", "guiding light", "light of the soul", Hindu and Buddhist goddess; Irish Gaelic - "hill", the place where ancient kings reigned, mystical place for the gods and an entrance to the otherworld; ZAWADI: Swahili - "gift", Ngugi’s little sister's name. She is our greatest gift and the light of our lives. Thank you for choosing us to be your parents, Tara. We love you so much.