This post is rated "M" for Mature. Be prepared for graphic yet beautiful details and pictures. If you are male and are related to me you'll probably be very weirded out but if you'd like to continue reading, go for it! (All pictures will be at the end of the post so if you prefer not to see graphic photos, just don't scroll to the very end.)
With that disclaimer....
Six weeks ago today my son Zoodle was born. I want to be able to go back in future years and read a long, detailed story of the labor and delivery, and I love to also share that story with others. Here it is.... Settle in with a cup of coffee as it'll take awhile to read.
On Friday, March 28 (1 week before my due date), I awoke very early in the morning with uncomfortable contractions. I had many contractions through this pregnancy but I knew they were getting harder, even a little painful. Excited, I got up and started timing them. Within an hour or two they went away, but before I went back to bed I went to the bathroom and saw a bit of bloody discharge so I knew labor might be close. Later in the day I spoke with Christina, my awesome doula (labor assistant), and she felt that with all the symptoms I was having, labor would be coming soon.
I did not have a lot of contractions Friday. I decided to go ahead and go across town for a ladies' game night. I wasn't driving and figured if I went into labor there, my friend who had driven me could likely get me to the birthing center in time. I had a couple of uncomfortable contractions during the event, sporadically. After the longest game of Yahtzee! in history, we left and returned home some time after 11. The Engineer and I got to bed about midnight.
At around 2:30 a.m., I awoke to a very uncomfortable contraction. (Let me insert something here. Because I needed to be in a positive mindset for natural childbirth, I got in the habit of using the terms "uncomfortable" and "intense" instead of painful. But I'll say it here. Yeah. It HURT.) I knew I couldn't sleep through contractions of that intensity, and I was very excited at the possibility of this being "it", so I got up. I started timing the contractions and soon told The Engineer I might need him to help me through them. He didn't say much. Before long I fully woke him up to let him know I wanted his support through the contractions.
The Engineer was, unfortunately, exhausted. He got up but was in a terrible mood and so tired he didn't feel like he could physically make it through the day if he stayed up. I sent him back to bed. Angry and disappointed, I called Christina. Thank goodness for a great doula. She calmly helped me understand that not only did The Engineer genuinely need rest, I did too. She encouraged me to understand where he was coming from, and to also try to rest myself. Feeling more at peace again, I lay on the couch for a bit then moved into our bed.
Interestingly, after The Engineer went back to bed, my contractions slowed considerably for about half an hour. I think it was my body's response to the stress of being angry. Having been induced with Pitocin with my first child, it was fascinating to see my body's response to natural labor.
After a couple of contractions in bed, I knew that laying down was not comfortable for me. I got up and moved to the tub where I knew I could probably relax better. Laboring in the tub, early in labor, sometimes slows things down or even temporarily stalls labor altogether. At this point, though, I knew I needed as much rest as possible and, knowing my labor with Chickie had been under five hours, I was okay with this labor slowing down.
The water really helped and I was able to rest. My contractions were not too close, maybe an average of every 10 minutes or so. But they were very irregular through the entire labor. I might have a contraction, another one four minutes later, and another fifteen minutes later. I never got into a regular pattern.
The Engineer is the worship leader at our church--he plays guitar and sings. I sing too and I know how singing worship songs can soothe my spirit and relax my body. We had talked about worshiping during labor; I'd even chosen quite a few calming worship songs. Even though The Engineer was still resting, I decided to go ahead and try singing through my contractions. It really did help calm me. The song I mostly sang is one called "You Are My King" by Brian Doerksen.
You are my King
And I love You
You are my King
And I worship You
Kneeling before You now
All my life I gladly give to You
Placing my hopes and dreams in Your hands
I give my heart to You
And I love You, I love You
Jesus, yes, I love You, I love You
Jesus, my King
Let me tell you, my voice is not at its best when I'm in the middle of an "intense" contraction, but I am so glad this was one way I dealt with the discomfort. I felt so connected to God as I sang to him, and when singing required too much concentration as the contractions got harder, I started just praying, crying out to God. Nothing fancy or eloquent, just things like, "God, help me! Thank you, Jesus, thank you. I know you created my body to do this." The intimacy with God through this labor and delivery was precious and amazing. Experiencing something so intense yet so miraculous made me appreciate God as my Creator in an incredible, unique way.
At around 5 I woke up The Engineer. He was ready to get up and support me, and I'm glad he got some sleep so he was able to truly "be there" through the rest of the labor and delivery. The Engineer was already somewhat awake, having been hearing me praying (sometimes loudly!) through the contractions. He was under the impression that labor wasn't too hard yet since I could still "talk through" the contractions. I had to explain to him that the type of praying I was doing was not the same as holding a conversation! It was more akin to "vocalizing" or "moaning"; it just happened to include words. That helped him understand that I was indeed already in an intense phase of labor.
I also called Christina and let her know I'd like her to come. She said she could be there in an hour to an hour and a half. I stayed in the tub. Contractions were sure becoming difficult. The Engineer was getting ready, showering, getting together last-minute things for the birthing center, and passing Chickie along to a great friend who came to pick her up. I was so relieved when Christina got there about 6:20 because with all the practical things that needed to be done, The Engineer was busy. Christina was able to really support me through the contractions.
Right before Christina arrived, I'd had to poop, and I am apparently not one of those women who likes laboring on the toilet! It felt awful having a HUGE contraction on the toilet, and when she came in I was in the middle of one of my few panicked moments, crying, "This baby's coming!" I didn't feel he was coming immediately but could tell labor was really intensifying. I considered getting back in the tub but decided to try walking around. I found that leaning on the kitchen countertop with Christina using her hand to put lots of pressure on my lower back really helped make the contractions bearable. She was wonderful--knew just how to touch me and talk to me.
We started talking about going to the birthing center. A midwife had told me to come when contractions were 3-5 minutes apart for an hour, but I was still in the middle of all these strange, irregular contractions. They had gotten closer especially once I'd left the tub and were probably averaging 5 minutes apart or less, but there was certainly still no pattern. However, I was feeling that things were intense enough that I would be more comfortable traveling at that point rather than later, so we decided to get going. I wanted to "settle in" at the birthing center.
As we prepared to leave, The Engineer was trying to get everything together. We came outside, and he ran back in to get the video camera. I had a hard contraction leaning against the car and had another opportunity to be so glad Christina was there to help me through each contraction. The Engineer and I got in the car, and he realized I didn't have my body pillow. He wanted to go in and get it and I insisted that we LEAVE instead! Things were really getting intense, but I still didn't think birth was that close because of the irregularity of the contractions.
We left at 6:50 and arrived at the birthing center at 7:10. The trip there was not too bad. I had four or five contractions on the way there. It actually seemed things were a little less intense than they had been, probably due to my body's adrenaline and its unwillingness to have a baby in the car!
When we arrived at the birthing center, I got out of the car and immediately had a long, hard contraction. (I think it had a double peak.) It seemed I was leaning on the hood of the car forever! I remember something odd and beautiful from this moment. I heard birds singing, and I thought about how I would soon be hearing my baby crying. What a wonderful thought to have during a contraction.
As I was having this crazy contraction (which Christina later told me must have been the start of my short transition phase), Roswitha, the midwife on duty, came out of the birthing center. She said with a smile, "Oh, this is the real thing, isn't it?" When the contraction was over, Roswitha and Christina helped me into the birthing center while The Engineer got all our "gear" and came in. Roswitha said we could bypass the examination room and go straight to the birthing room. It was a relief to hear that my labor was obviously "real" enough that I wouldn't be leaving! I was the only person there on this lovely Saturday morning, so I was able to choose which room I wanted. I chose the Santa Fe room. (Pictures below!)
Once we got in the room, I quickly had a couple more highly intense contractions. I asked Roswitha, "Do you have to check me?" Of course she did! She got set up quickly, and I lay on the bed. Roswitha put her hand inside me and got a funny, surprised look on her face. I dreaded hearing that her surprise was due to me only being a few centimeters dilated. Instead, she said, "You're complete! Your cervix is gone! The only thing holding that baby in is the bag of waters."
That was the best moment of the labor itself (not including delivery!) I was so incredibly relieved that my difficult, intense journey was almost over. WOW! On the next contraction I said, "I need to push! I have to!" I had read so many birth stories where women were told not to push, that I felt the need to defend my desire to push! Of course there was nothing to stop me, and I was encouraged to follow my instincts. I began to push on my hands and knees on the bed.
Roswitha was filling up the tub, and I wasn't sure I wanted to get in, but decided to try. Once the temperature was comfortable, I got in. Immediately I knew I wanted to stay; my heavy body felt so much better in the tub. I was still feeling good in between the intense contractions, smiling and excited.
Pushing itself, however, was really hard for me. Many women say pushing is a relief and isn't painful but for me it was very painful, very uncomfortable. It was also amazing, the most powerful force my body has ever felt. While I gave lots of effort to the pushes, my body was pushing on its own with an incredible energy. I was roaring with the intensity of the pushes. I asked if the loud noises were hurting my progression in any way, and Christina and Roswitha suggested that while they didn't mind me making noise, I might be wasting energy that could be helping my pushing. I began to try to be quieter during the pushes, though loud, grunting roars still felt necessary at the end of most pushes! Thankfully my awesome husband was able to cool me off with a washcloth during and between pushes. He was so sweet. I even had him squirt water on my head from my water bottle at one point. (I think his response when I asked for that was, "You want me to what?")
In the tub I began pushing on my hands and knees, and Roswitha and Christina then suggested I try pushing sitting down. I sat, leaning back in the corner of the tub and pushed that way, and it felt like a good position. I remember repeatedly putting my hand down there to see if I could feel a head. Finally after perhaps 15 minutes of pushing during contractions, Zoodle was crowning! Here is where I am so, so thankful to have been attended by a midwife who is skilled at helping to keep women from tearing. She told me to stop pushing. Let me tell you, that was difficult! My body and mind wanted to push, and by that point I just wanted the baby out. But I was able to follow instructions, and when she guided me to push his head out, it came out gently enough that I did not tear at all. Hip hip hooray! Let me tell you, I have sure been glad for that blessing these last six weeks!
It was odd, sitting there with the head out. The contraction was over once the head was out, so I needed to wait for another contraction to push the body out. And there was my baby's head, sticking out of my body, underwater! Very strange! I asked, "Is he okay?" I was assured he was. He wasn't breathing yet, and he was probably more at peace in that warm water than he would have been with his head just sticking out in a cold room! (Interestingly, the head came out sideways! Zoodle never got around to "anterior" position and always stayed in the left-facing position he'd been in for months.)
On the next contraction, I pushed out his shoulders and his body. What an awesome sensation. I still remember the feel of those shoulders emerging from me, followed quickly by his little body. I am so glad to have experienced that, since I didn't have a lot of sensation with my first birth, due to the epidural. Zoodle was born at 7:45 a.m., 35 minutes after we'd arrived at the birthing center, and he immediately cried when I pulled him out of the water.
I could tell you my first feeling upon Zoodle's birth was joy, but it wasn't. It was relief! After the difficult contractions and the incredible intensity of pushing, I was so relieved that it was over. That was immediately followed, however, by delirious joy. Seeing the pictures, I must have been bawling, though I don't remember that. I just remember saying things like, "Thank you, God! Thank you for creating my body to do this! Thank you for this beautiful baby!"
They quickly wrapped him in a towel and put a cap on his head, and I think they let the water out soon thereafter. I held him joyfully. The umbilical cord stopped pulsating, and they clamped it so The Engineer could cut it. My memories are a little hazy at this point. I know that at some point they dried off Zoodle better and handed him to his daddy, who held him with joy and pride. I delivered the placenta without a problem, and they helped me out of the tub and onto the bed for a very successful first nursing session.
In between the delivery of the head and the rest of the body, the postpartum assistant, Tori, arrived. (Postpartum assistants usually also act as labor assistants, but she couldn't get there quickly enough!) Christina and Roswitha both lovingly helped support me after the birth, and Roswitha filled out paperwork, weighed Zoodle, and did other tasks unobtrusively. After a couple of hours, both Christina and Roswitha left, and Tori stayed with us.
Tori was amazing. She encouraged The Engineer and me to cuddle in bed with Zoodle to get sleep and to bond as a family. While she of course took care of necessary tasks such as taking vital signs and helping me take a shower, I sensed that her top priority was helping us settle in and bond. What an amazing post-partum experience!
With Chickie after the initial thrill of the birth, I quickly felt disconnected from her. I think the medicated birth combined with the "clinical" hospital atmosphere both contributed to that. I gradually bonded with her over the first few weeks and thankfully that disconnected feeling did not last. But with Zoodle, the birth itself and the post-partum care were so intimate and beautiful that I felt bonded with him from the first moment. I can't tell you how special that was.
After about 7 lovely, peaceful post-partum hours, we headed home.
I remember saying after the birth, "Well, I'm so glad I did it naturally, but I'm glad I don't ever have to do it again, since this is our last baby!" It was so intense and, yes, painful. But now that I've had six weeks to mull it over, I am of course experiencing a little amnesia when it comes to the pain, and I find myself a little sad that I don't ever plan to experience birth again. Our family feels wonderful with four people, so it's not that I am finding myself wanting more kids. It's just that the amazing intimacy I felt with God and with my baby at birth won't ever be replicated by any other life experience. I am so blessed and thankful to have had such a beautiful birth.
Now for pictures!
The beautiful Santa Fe room at the beautiful birthing center:
Happy in the tub (BETWEEN contractions!)
My awesome husband wiping my forehead with a cool washcloth:
The Engineer continuing to support me, after I'd changed positions:
Giving birth to the head--you can see the face pointing to the right (my left):
Joyfully crying over my perfect little boy:
Getting to know Daddy:
Our first nursing session. Isn't that the face of a happy mommy?
Me, The Engineer, and Zoodle before leaving the birthing center: