Our long awaited baby arrived in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning!
Tuesday evening, two days past my due date, I felt the familiar tight contractions that had been coming and going, and getting gradually stronger throughout the dark November evenings. It was the night before my husband Evan’s Thanksgiving break, and we watched The Empire Strikes Back, and I thought about how Yoda had a lot of wisdom about labor and not giving into fear.
After the movie ended, I passed what I thought might be my mucus plug, and texted Candace, my sister-in-law and doula, to let her know. And as with all early labor signs, like how I had been 2 cm dilated and 50% effaced the day before at my prenatal appointment, it could mean I was going into labor that day or in two weeks.
But that night the contractions didn’t go away. I went to bed at 9 and slept until midnight, but could still feel the waves of tightness coming and going. It would be the last three hours of sleep I would get for quite some time.
After midnight, I tried to stay relaxed in bed and let Evan sleep. I listened to a meditation, and then I started timing contractions on my phone. They were erratic, short, and close together: a pattern that would last throughout most of my labor. I tried to not get excited, but it was a little bit hard to be simply serenely happy that this might be the day that I would meet my baby!
At 3 am, I got up and made myself breakfast, eating bites of egg scrambler between contractions—my last meal until breakfast the next day. Evan got up then and we spent the next 5 hours just hanging out. We put on Christmas music, and draped some Christmas lights on a bookshelf.
I did a birth yoga sequence, but then mostly used the yoga mat and anti-fatigue mat from my standing desk to kneel over my birth ball. I covered the ball with a fleece blanket Evan’s 8th graders had made, knotting each tassel with a prayer for our baby. I sipped chicken broth and nibbled on a blueberry lara bar, but with such little time between contractions, could never get more than a bite in here and there.
At this point the contractions were strong enough that I was vocalizing through them, trying to keep it a steady low moan.
Around 8, Candace came over (we had called her at 6), and we went for a slow walk in the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having this fall. Even though Candace is one of my closest friends, and trusted family, and an amazing doula, my contractions slowed down when she first arrived. At every transition and entrance of a new person, my labor would slow. On our walk it was amazing to see how I wouldn’t have a contraction crossing a street, or if a dog was bounding along next to us barking wildly. Contractions (especially early ones) are an amazing mixture of something uncontrollable and yet also very influenced by people and the environment.
I had my weekly chiropractic appointment already scheduled for 9:45 that morning, and we all piled into the car for the 1.5-mile drive so Dr. Sara could adjust me, and possibly help speed labor along. Again, my labor slowed down in the car and at the office, but it was wonderful to get adjusted and have Dr. Sara, who has seen me for my whole 3rd trimester once or twice a week, cheer us on.
The next three hours, we all labored at home. I iced my back, and then put heating pads in to help with the chill. I don’t think I had any back labor, since between contractions my back felt fine, but I definitely felt most of the discomfort in the small of my back and wanted someone to rub it during each contraction, which Candace and Evan took turns doing for countless hours.
Candace put out these beautiful affirmation cards around our house, about how my body and baby were strong. One of my enduring memories of labor is standing at my colored bookshelves, crying as I read the affirmation about my strong and healthy baby. I wanted so badly for that to be true; we had every indication it was, but there are no guarantees in birth or babies of health or life.
By 1 pm I decided it was time to go the hospital. Candace took a quick photo of us, the last picture of me pregnant. It was (and I knew it then) a little earlier than I should have gone, but my doctor was leaving that evening for her own Thanksgiving break, and I was hoping to catch her before she left. Leaving and arriving and settling into the hospital somehow took 3 hours.
At home, we packed up last minute things (frozen egg bakes and stir fries to thaw and eat over our 2 day stay), drove the bumpy 20 minutes downtown to the hospital, walked from the ER parking lot, managed to fill out a short form, walked up to elevators to the second floor birth center, and into OB triage. There we met one of our many wonderful nurses, and confirmed that I do not, do not, like to labor lying down and not having someone rub my back during a contraction. I was admitted at 4 centimeters and 80% effaced, which had been what I had said I was hoping for, and I wasn’t too disappointed it wasn’t more.
We moved to the laboring room, the baby warmer out as a beautiful reminder that somehow or another we were going to have this baby. Evan and Candace turned off the lights, set up our battery operated Christmas lights, put out our copy of Rublev’s the Trinity, and our portable speaker for more Christmas music. All the doctors and nurses commented on how much they loved the room’s calm vibe (and how they were excited to find out with us if little baby was a boy or girl). Evan texted our closest friends and family to tell them we were at the hospital and to pray for us, and every once in a while he’d read a sweet response out to me.
I got a rather cranky charge nurse who put in the dreaded IV for the penicillin antibiotic. I asked for it to be on my left forearm, and it was put in my right hand. Candace later said I looked extermely sad and annoyed about this, but the nurse was too focused on the IV to notice my face. But it turned out to not be that much of a nuisance, and I didn’t have to see that nurse again. Our first actual Labor and Delivery nurse was amazing, very experienced, and willing to bend the rules, monitoring me for 5 minutes by hand as I sat on a giant peanut ball instead of strapping me to the belts for 20. Sadly, her shift ended at 7, and our next nurse was super sweet, but really new, and followed the letter of the law when it came to monitoring belts and times.
One of the hardest parts of my labor was when I was told that my doctor was already gone, and that I would just have the on-call doctor. I replied that we had made arrangements for a backup doctor, who I had met before and like my doctor was a resident, and that no matter which resident I had, I was supposed to have the same supervising doctor, who I had also gotten to know over the past months. There were lots of apologies, but, I was told that none of them could be there.
I cried at that point (and not happy tears this time!). My labor had really slowed down getting to the hospital, not stopped but definitely slowed, but I felt so disappointed that I had hauled everybody to the hospital early to catch my doctor only to miss her entirely. I knew that the on-call attending doctor would be fine, but I was still disappointed. Labor is about so many things, but for me, the people who helped me were such a large part.
So, then, one of the best parts of my labor was when an hour later, all three —my doctor, my back-up doctor, and my supervising doctor—came in, explaining that there had just been a miscommunication. My doctor was going to be there until around 10, before she was driving to Ohio that night for Thanksgiving, and then my back-up doctor and my supervising doctor would be just a phone call away.
And with that news then my labor picked up. Maybe I felt a lot safer again with people I knew. The supervising doctor gave me this beautiful “we’re here, but we believe labor happens naturally, so we’re going to let you do the work” speech, and I was so glad that I had worked hard to find an integrative approach doctor (or rather a team of doctors).
A little before 8, we decided to try the labor tub. I had been pretty excited about this whirlpool, starry twinkly light experience, but as soon as I got into that tub something shifted. I couldn’t put my right hand in the water (this was the really annoyance of the IV) and felt like I could not get comfortable, and I started to feel out of control. So out of the tub I came, only a few minutes after getting in. Shivering made the contractions worse and we struggled to get me dry and decent enough to walk the halls back to my room. I didn’t know it then, but Candace says that is when she thinks I started into transition.
Back in the room, my sweet but overly meticulous nurse, had me lying down (I did negotiate lying on my side rather than my back) with the monitors strapped on around my belly, a new dose of penicillin dripping in little stingy drips from the IV pole, and my doctor checking my dilation progress (6 cm).
The next four hours are a bit of blur. Nothing was distracting my contractions now! Lying down was really tough, and it felt like I was sort of wildly thrashing about. I remember opening my eyes and seeing Candace looking at me, and in a firm voice, calling me by name and telling me I could do this.
Transition was by far the most altered spiritual and physical state of my labor. I would moan my way through a contraction, and then sort of pass out/fall asleep until the next one. I could hear people asking me questions, but if they were complicated (like more than yes or no) then I couldn’t answer them. (This was one of the hardest parts for Evan, to have me not answer him or the doctors.)
But I also felt like Jesus was really present with me during that time: that my pain and suffering were for a purpose, and that He was with me in it. At one point I remember thinking (or receiving?) the phrases “I am the breath of life” when I would breath in on a new contraction, and “I receive your gift of pain, and it’s beautiful” as the contraction peaked. (This is pretty weird-sounding to me now; it seemed weird at the time, but that is what I remember, overly transcendent and mystical as it seemed.) And while the contractions were intense, very, very intense, they never again overwhelmed me.
It was also a strange feeling to realize I wasn’t really thinking anymore. I wasn’t really even trying to relax, my body simply was sleeping and working and my mind wasn’t really involved very much anymore. That was a strange relief too.
Around 11:45, the on-call doctor came into check my dilation progress. I was still lying on my side, and she that I was completely dilated (10 cm) on one side, but still 7 cm on the other –a rather bizarre situation. I was at this point sort of pushing already, but I was so out of it, I didn’t really know to tell someone that.
After the dilation check, Candace and the nurse left the room for a few minutes, and it was just Evan and me and baby in the room. He noticed that I was in, fact pushing, at the end of my contractions. And in his shining birth partner and new dad moment of labor, called the nurse back and insisted that something had changed, and I needed help. I had no idea how much time had passed, but evidently only 10 minutes after I had been checked the first time I was being checked again. I remember the doctor saying that normally things didn’t change this quickly. But I moved to my back, and low and behold, I was fully, on both sides, dilated. (Candace thinks I was probably fully dilated 10 minutes before, but that it’s hard to check someone on lying on their side.)
So at midnight, I started to push in earnest. My doctors were called, and a whole host of people seemed to be there, the on-call doctor, OB senior resident, my resident (back-up) doctor, and my supervising doctor. I only wanted to push on hands and knees (actually mostly elbows and knees), so I didn’t really see the whole entourage of people who witnessed my hour and a half pushing. There is no dignity in birth, nor did I really care at that point. Actually, one of my great fears going into labor was that I was going to be mean, to say mean things to Evan, like I do when I stub my toe and he’s not paying attention and asks me something (completely reasonable). In the cacophony of many doctors, there was some discussion as to which doctor to write down in the computer chart was my doctor, and I called out in peak of my grumpy labor-assertiveness that I didn’t care who helped me as long as someone helped me.
Pushing was in some ways an easier time, there was a direction to focus and move the energy and pain, but in other ways it was scarier to feel like I might be tearing if I pushed the wrong way. But in the end the only way out was through, and I did tear a little. I think that I might have done better if I had been open to changing positions during pushing (which was suggested, but I wasn’t interested in it), but because changing positions during transition had made everything so much worse, I stubbornly insisted on staying hands and knees because I didn’t want to risk having anything change. My bag of waters broke about half way through the pushing, meaning that the time our little baby was exposed to the dreaded beta strep was very small indeed.
As the baby descended there was a tense moment: baby’s hand was up near the face and there was concern that the shoulder was stuck. I heard a calm but serious voice of one of my (many!) doctors says that an OB doc needed to be called and brought in, but then only a few seconds later, someone said that it was only baby’s hand. (In all the ultrasound pictures, baby loved having that hand up covering our view of the face.)
And then with a great burning push, baby’s head (and hand and shoulders) were out, and the slippery body followed. I flipped over, swinging my leg around the umbilical chord, to see this beautiful bluish dark, elongated head of hair. The chord had been wrapped around baby’s head, tightening just in the last few minutes. The room was quiet while they unwrapped and aspirated the baby a few times, and then there was a breath, and then a cry, and then cheers.
Then baby was on my chest, and Evan said, “Do you know who it is?” I said I didn’t. And he said, “It’s Jackson.”
And I said hello to my son.
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