Around 2 a.m. I woke up restless. I was feeling crampy, but this was nothing new. Contractions had been coming and going for weeks.
For anyone new to my blog, here’s a brief recap of my most recent pregnancy: I started bleeding early on and was afraid I was miscarrying. At first, they thought I had a placental abruption, but an ultrasound showed I had what’s known as a vanishing twin. Thankfully, one very healthy baby remained.
Then at 29 weeks I was hospitalized because contractions – according to the monitor; I did not feel them all – were coming every three to five minutes. IV fluids and a shot of terbutaline were able to slow the contractions enough that I was sent home but advised to be on modified bed rest until further notice.
I remained sidelined for 10 weeks. Contractions, sometimes very regular ones that didn’t seem to ebb or flow but only crash into me, continued on and off during the time. Yet, my thin and dilating cervix wasn’t about to give up and stubbornly held our low-riding baby in until 39 weeks and two days.
I started to hear “any day now” at around 34 weeks. At 36 weeks, I was around 4 cm, almost completely effaced, and baby’s head was very, very low. My midwife told me to resume my normal activity and to expect a baby to come soon.
The odd thing was as soon as I was up and about it seemed like the contractions started to slow way down. After a time of physical growth for the baby and spiritual and emotional growth for me, I began to lose some of the peace I’d found during my enforced time of stillness. I started to slightly panic because my husband’s schedule was getting worse, and it was going to be difficult for him to find coverage if I went into labor. I couldn’t imagine welcoming a new child into the world without him. I refused to induce; yet, I was beginning to understand why some women felt they had to move things along. This pregnancy was very humbling for me for many reasons.
Labor Day was quickly approaching. My husband would be on call all weekend. My midwife had said weeks earlier that if I made it to Labor Day, she’d buy me a house.
I didn’t want a house. I wanted a healthy baby in my arms, and a husband standing by my side to admire that new baby.
Patience. Trust. These are difficult lessons, lessons this crazy pregnancy forced me to learn (for the umpteenth time).
I had an appointment on Wednesday, August 24th. I normally don’t like to be checked so much, but I felt like we needed to know where we were because of my husband’s work schedule. My midwife reported I was a little over 5 cm.
“It really won’t be long now,” she assured me.
We talked at great length about if we should encourage things along just by breaking my water. I wanted to wait a little longer, but I also decided that having this baby before Labor Day (my official due date was September 3rd, which I only officially confirmed after the preterm labor scare because I didn’t want to obsess over a due date; I always said I was due sometime in late August) was the only way to ensure my husband would be around. So we agreed to meet on Sunday morning and reassess the situation if labor hadn’t naturally kicked into gear. My husband and I went to Mass on Saturday evening and out to a nice dinner. (My parents had the girls.)
The date was lovely, but I returned home feeling antsy as well as just crummy. An end-of-the-summer cold had zapped my energy. I wasn’t sleeping well from all the snot and because my little low-rider made me have to pee on the hour. I wanted to meet my baby, but I was feeling very rundown, wondering how I’d make it through the physical, emotional, and spiritual feat of natural childbirth.
When I started to cramp early Sunday morning, I prayed it was the real thing. I didn’t think I could emotionally handle anymore false alarms.
We woke up Sunday and headed to my midwife’s office. The three girls were with my parents.
I reported my symptoms to my midwife. She suggested my husband and I stay close by (her office and the hospital are an hour and twenty minutes from our home), walk around, enjoy a lunch, and our solo time together.
She recognized that I was tired and even a little scared. “Trust,” she said.
Dave and I headed to Bass Pro Shop – not the most romantic destination, but he had some reward points to cash in and later when I discovered I’d been carrying a little boy in my womb, it seemed very fitting that my husband was combing aisles for survival gear. Very manly, no?
As we wandered through the huge store, contractions started to come more rhythmically, and I was leaking fluid.
That little word was working.
I was trying to trust, and something was happening.
We went to lunch. My husband asked for the check before we even received our food.
“My wife’s in labor,” he said, smiling.
The young waitress’s eyes widened.
“I’m fine,” I reassured her. “It’s still early.”
Or so I thought.
We called my midwife and gave her an update. She suggested we drive out to my parents’ house, about 30 minutes away, so I could take a nap.
“She can’t go into natural labor exhausted,” she told my husband.
But my husband – who is an amazing labor coach – didn’t think we should drive that far. We also knew the girls would be a distraction and probably wouldn’t let Mommy rest.
So we checked into a nearby hotel. I crawled into bed next to my husband. I faded in and out of a fitful sleep for about 20 minutes, but then my body was gripped with a very painful contraction. Pain is difficult to describe when you’re not in the throes of it, but this was searing and hot, not rehearsal time. Labor was happening.
“I feel like I’m going to throw up,” I mumbled.
My husband grabbed a trash can. He texted my midwife.
He said we should probably head over to the hospital.
“I’m fine,” I said. “We don’t have to leave yet.”
“I think we should just to be safe,” he said.
Wise man knew from my body language and the nausea that things were progressing quickly. I was still in denial. I wasn’t completely trusting my body since it had felt so whacky for so long. I’d been wondering all along if I’d really know when labor was really happening or if it would just feel like all those other earlier contractions that always eventually stopped. I still wasn’t convinced despite the fact that I could no longer happily chat through contractions, despite the way the contractions crashed into me like a fierce wave and didn’t subside as quickly as they usually did.
We beat our midwife to the hospital, but I was so happy to see the nurse that had been there when I went into preterm labor as well as the same nurse who helped deliver Mary Elizabeth a little more than two years ago.
She smiled when she saw me. I smiled, too.
Not long after we’d gotten settled into a birthing suite my midwife arrived. She checked me, and I wanted to cry because I was just 7 cm. I was hoping to be at least 8 cm. One centimeter shouldn’t have made much of a difference, but I was tired and I hate hospitals. I didn’t want to be there any longer than I had to and had wanted to be even further along. (I would love a homebirth, but my medical husband just isn’t comfortable with that because of the small chance of something going terribly wrong. Unfortunately, his training exposes him to worst-case scenarios. However, he is an amazing natural birth advocate for me at hospitals and really fights for as few interventions as possible.)
My midwife suggested I take a shower. “It will help move things along and help you to relax.”
I pulled my hair back and put on a lovely shower cap but before I could do anything further, I doubled over. “I can’t get in the shower,” I gasped. “It’s close now.”
About ten agonizing minutes passed. “I have to push,” I cried.
“Then push,” my midwife said. “Trust your body. If it feels better to push, then do it.”
So with the next contraction, I didn’t lean over. I stood as straight as my tired body would allow, and I pushed.
Then she checked me. “One more push, and you’ll be there.”
I contracted. I pushed.
Fully dilated. It was time. I went from 7 cm to fully dilated in about 15 minutes.
I’d arrived at the hospital at around 3:15. It was now drawing close to 4:30. When I arrived, they had wanted to give me an IV. I declined. I said it would be fast (which was really wishful thinking at that point, but it turned out to be accurate). I asked if they could just give me an intramuscular shot of pitocin after the baby’s birth if they were worried about hemorrhaging. They agreed. They agreed with all my leave-me-alone-as-much-as-possible stipulations, in fact. I joked that I was a non-compliant patient.
They laughed with me.
Now there was no laughing. Only hard work ahead of me. I’ve never been so tired and drained during labor.
I pushed half-heartedly at first.
“You’re scared,” my midwife observed.
(I admittedly kept thinking of that silly comment an ultrasound tech had made about the baby’s head being huge. How was I going to push a humongous head out?)
I nodded. I was sweating. I’d never sweated like that during labor. Then I threw up all over myself. Yuck. That was a first as well. I’d experienced nausea before, yes, but never before had anything that substantial ever been ejected out of me during labor.
“What do you do when you’re afraid?” my midwife asked.
I looked her in the eyes, but I couldn’t answer.
“You pray,” she said. “So let’s pray.”
And she began to pray a Hail Mary. And so did my husband, which was the most beautiful thing, because this is not one of his prayers; he doesn’t know Mary at all. I cried more, but I was happy and hopeful. I prayed through the tears.
One – maybe two; the details are blurred – pushes later, and I heard my midwife happily announce. “The baby’s here. Let Dad call it. They don’t know the gender.”
4:38 p.m. on August 28th, 2011, a new life gifted to me.
A baby born into the light, and I, too, had emerged from the darkness of fear, anxiety, and self-doubt
I don’t remember exactly how my baby ended up on my chest; it’s a fleeting moment, already gone.
But this is what I do remember.
“Look!” my husband said, holding a slippery, wiggly, perfect baby (with a very average-size head).
I looked, and the first thing I saw was a dark head of hair just like Rae and Mary Elizabeth had when they made their big debuts.
“Look!” my husband said again.
I see. He’s beautiful, I thought to myself. I couldn’t speak just yet. I was crying too much.
I looked again, and yes, there was our first little BOY!!!!
Another nurse was in the room now. Someone said this was our first boy after three girls.
“Well, no wonder she’s crying,” the new nurse remarked.
No, that wasn’t it at all, although I was excited to have a boy.
I was crying because here he was – healthy, full-term, strong, my biggest baby yet – a perfect 7 pounds 4 ounces.
He was no longer crying, but I was as he snuggled close.
The camera started clicking. People said I was glowing in those first postpartum photos.
Maybe I was because I never feel more beautiful than immediately after I’ve given birth. My body has accomplished something great. The profundity of new life overwhelms me. There’s a sense of being sealed off from reality. Breathtaking beauty unspools. A heart-constricting love floods through me. Baby bliss. For me a fierce, passionate joy is very real and intense in those first moments with my new child.
Then my newborn baby, fresh from the womb, latched on for the first time, I was flooded with more happiness. Empowered further. He rooted. He cried and spoke a primal language that tugged my heart and forced my body, tired as it was, to respond. I pulled him closer, skin-to-skin. I gently cupped his head, buried my nose in all that soft, dark hair, and breathed in his scent. His squirming, pink body curled around me. He found my breast – miraculous! – and somehow he knew to suck. Those first sucks are always so much stronger than I expect from something so new, fragile, fresh, and small.
My body worked. His body worked. Yet, I don’t fool myself into slipping into superiority. Not then. Not now. This is a miracle, a miracle I had very little do with.
All I did was trust, and sometimes, I admit, it was a stingy, reluctant trust.
It’s not easy – this trusting. But my midwife, my husband, my faith, my body – they all helped me along the way.
Even if things hadn’t panned out the way I hoped, I still would have had to trust. Once after I received my first negative fFN test, which helped ease our anxiety about preterm labor being imminent, someone exclaimed, “God is good.”
Yes, God is good. But He’s good despite the badness in life. He is all goodness even when babies come well before they should or when our bodies fail us, or something doesn’t “work.”
It’s easy for me to be grateful right now. Everything has worked out. But if it hadn’t? I hope I’d still find reasons to count my blessings, to see the goodness.
After his birth, Thomas slept in my arms for a long time. Watching him sleep still and perfect made me sleepy – a new mama drugged with happiness and gratitude.
“I’m tired,” I told my husband. “But so happy. I can’t believe it.”
I couldn’t believe we had a boy. I couldn’t believe he was finally here. I couldn’t believe we had such a happy ending after so many scares during pregnancy. I couldn’t believe I’d only pushed for about 10 minutes (it felt so much longer because I was so worn out). Props go out to you marathon baby pushers.
I couldn’t believe our girls would soon be arriving to meet their new sibling (we didn’t tell them the gender; we wanted it to be a big surprise).
I couldn’t believe here I was again on a new mothering journey with my precious Thomas.
I couldn’t believe that God had once again encouraged me and invited me to trust. I have very little jurisdiction over myself, over my babies. I do what I can. I push when it’s time to push. But first I trust that I’ll even know when it is time to push as well as when it’s time to pull back.
A faithful, trusting heart turns chaos to calm, confusion into clarity.
I humble myself. I give thanks for the life-giving power within me. I may help to give life, but I don’t control it or when or how it comes alive.
As Charlotte recently wrote in her beautiful and divine birth story of Cupcake, childbirth is truly humbling, no matter how it is accomplished.
Amen to that. Amen to new babies, new beginnings. Amen to God’s goodness. Amen to the ultimate symbol of optimism – a newborn who’s just starting to make his mark on the world. Amen to the darkness and suffering and the light and hope that always eventually follows.