(Long, and maybe a bit descriptive for some. Has not been edited for spelling and grammar, and was written by a tired mom to a newborn and toddler. Beware.)
On Monday February 21, I had my first vaginal exam (37 weeks–I requested one) and was 50% effaced, 1 cm dilated, and -1 station. On Saturday March 5, I woke up to two hours of very light contractions, 10 minutes apart. Then they stopped. On Monday March 7 (39 weeks 1 day), I was 75% effaced, 3-4 cm, and lower than -1. During that exam, I had Linda strip my membranes, and she said she stretched me easily to 5 cm. Bloody show came out on her glove, and continued to discharge from me for the next few days. I was getting excited! On the morning of Tuesday March 8, I again had a couple of hours of regular, light contractions–crampy, like menstrual pains, and about 7 minutes apart. They stopped as I drove home from my mom’s group at church.
On Wednesday, March 9, 2005, I woke up feeling disappointed and depressed. I had been experiencing those small signs of labor for days, but it seemed like things had really slowed down. I took Maya to the “Pony Store” (a.k.a. Meijer, where the pony rides are a penny) just to avoid sitting on the couch and pouting. After lunch, as Maya napped, I called Jason and unloaded on him. (See my entry for March 9 to get a picture of how I was feeling.) He was patient and supportive, as always, and said he was anxious for the baby to come, too. I hung up the phone, feeling bad for giving him reason to worry about me while at work.
I watched soap operas on television, not willing to get up and do anything productive. After I heard the mail truck go by, I brought in the mail, hoping for something distracting to read. The best I got was Parents magazine. Halfway through, I felt a big *pop,* as if someone had taken a crochet hook to my bag of waters. Or like the baby had punched her hand through. It was odd. Nothing happened. Was the baby okay? Did my water break? Nah. I glanced at the clock–3 p.m. on the nose. Maya was stirring. I thought I’d go use the bathroom before getting her out of bed. As I got up, I felt a gush of fluid. I rushed to the bathroom, grabbing a clean dust rag in the laundry room on the way there, and stuffed it between my legs. As I sat down, more fluid gushed out. As became the case throughout my labor, I knew in my head exactly what was happening–my water had broken–but my heart didn’t believe it. I smelled the fluid–sweet. I finally was convinced enought to call Jason.
“Hello, this is Jason.”
“Hi. My water broke.”
(I said this surprisingly calmly, in the same way one would say, “I’m making a turkey sandwich.”)
“Really? How did you do that?”
He said he’d get right home and hung up. I became charged with energy, excited (but half incredulous) to meet my new baby. I went upstairs and got Maya, telling her, “Our baby may be coming today!” She wasn’t excited, but neither was she bored with the news. It was like a satisfied “Oh!” As I changed Maya’s diaper, I thought about the night ahead of me. I hoped the baby would be born that day, and that the labor wouldn’t stretch into tomorrow. I called Linda (our midwife) and she said that she’d head home and get her car stocked, then she would go to the store and to an exercise class. I was to call her when contractions started. Then she changed her mind–she’d call me after she got home and the car was ready to go. We’d assess from there.
I also called my sisters, my mother, and my mother-in-law. All would be heading over as soon as possible. My sisters and mother would take at least 1.5 hours; my mother-in-law, probably 2.5, as she wasn’t home when I called, but would be home directly.
Maya and I settled down into the “purple couch” (which is really burgundy) downstairs and began to read some books. Jason arrived home around 3:30 p.m. I still had not experienced contractions. After exchanging excited grins, Jason went upstairs to put the plastic drop cloth and extra sheets on the bed. My first contraction came at 3:41. It wasn’t bad. I walked through it with purpose, grabbing a note pad by the phone to write down contraction times. I found Maya’s blue plastic digital watch and put it on. “Maya wear Maya’s watch? No mommy wear it?” I explained that I needed to borrow the watch today, and she’d get it back directly. She calmed down and seemed to accept this answer.
Jason came down and took over reading with Maya. I went upstairs to tidy up the bedroom and feel out the contractions. I had another one at 3:50. 3:58. 4:02. They were all very long (45 – 120 seconds) and getting progressively stronger. During the first couple, I didn’t stop cleaning through them. The next few I took on the bed, relaxing. Jason and Maya brought up the birth ball, and I tried a couple on there, on hands and knees, leaning my upper body on the ball. After only 4-6 contractions, I was already having trouble relaxing! I began to get very serious, and inwardly questioned my ability to handle a long labor like this. I tried to relax every bone and muscle, allowing my body to do its work. At some point I decided to try making some noise through the contractions–I moaned, a very low and constant “uhhhhhhhhhhhh” with a loose mouth. I wasn’t sure if it helped, but I didn’t stop doing it. It felt right. Jason asked if he should rub my back, and gave it a shot. I quietly told him to stop, as I don’t like being touched during contractions. I recall this same inward focus during Maya’s labor. No touching, please. As I moaned through a contraction, sometime shortly after 4 p.m., Linda called back. Jason answered, and Linda later told me that she heard Maya excitedly talking and me moaning productively in the background. It sounded good, she said. She and Kim had already decided to head over, and were meeting at the mall in Battle Creek to carpool.
I stayed on the birth ball. 4:11. Two more small ones. Then 4:23–a two-minute contraction. 4:29. 4:33. 4:38. During these contractions, Maya stayed with me in the bedroom as Jason started filling the bathtub. Maya was playing with toys in our room, sometimes paying attention to me. She seemed interested and slightly scared. Though we had explained to her beforehand that Mommy might have to make some noise and feel some pain, it was hard for her to understand. She didn’t like it that I was moaning, and asked me to stop. Jason explained that it made me feel better, and helped to get the baby out. 4:43 (the last contraction recorded on my notepad). Jason and Maya had gone downstairs together to fetch duct tape (to plug the overflow hole on the tub) and were finishing up the tape job upstairs as I lumbered into the bathroom as quickly as possible, stark naked. I needed to get into the water before the next contraction–they were intense now, and I barely knew how I got my clothes off. Necessity does amazing things! I heard Jason say something about the tub not being full enough yet, and he was still taping it up, but I just shook him off and mumbled something half-coherent about needing to get in the water NOW. Blessedly, though the tub was low, the water level was perfect once I was in. I immediately felt another contraction come on. I stretched half on my side, half on my belly, sort of floating in the water (as best as possible in a small, standard-sized tub) and gripped the back lip.
Moaning continued, but I felt myself whimpering and feeling very, very doubtful. I started hoping I would pass out from the pain, as it was intense. I felt another contraction, and I could hardly bear it. Jason and Maya left the bathroom again (I don’t remember why) and I just moaned and groaned through it. When I got a small break, I called out to God in utter brokenness to please give me an easy contraction next time. “Please God, help me. I can’t do this without You. I can’t handle another contraction like that.” The next contraction came…and it was lighter. Instead of moaning, I breathed out “Thank you, God” over and over. Jason and Maya returned during this contraction and quietly watched me.
I had spent most of the labor alone at this point, and that was okay with me. Jason had to care for Maya, and I wasn’t sure I wanted assistance. But the next contraction made me yell, and I actually verbalized my doubts: “I can’t do this, Jason! I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. Oh God, help me. I can’t do it.” Over and over again, my fears and doubt spilled out of my mouth as the contraction took over. Jason assured me that I could do it, and these emotions meant the baby was coming soon. I knew, intellectually, that he was right. But all I could feel was pain and doubt. Every part of my body was tense and taken over by the contraction. I had several like this, and found myself needing to change positions, or something, anything, to make the contraction better. I got up on my knees and wrapped my arms around Jason’s neck, clutching him with every ounce of birth power coursing through me and screaming through the peaks. He asked if I was pushing, and I realized that I just had. Relief!
The only thing that helped me get through the next four contractions was pushing. It felt like I was being split in two, but not where I thought I’d feel it–I thought I was pushing wrong, and that my bottom would rip. It felt like the largest bowel movement in history was moving through my system, and I wondered if I was pushing against an incomplete cervix. What if I shouldn’t be pushing? I tried to stop, but when I did, the pain was more intense than anything I’d felt yet. I asked Jason if he felt the baby’s head, and he didn’t. I tried quickly feeling myself, but I couldn’t feel anything. My body took over, and I was grabbing Jason without abandon, yelling and screaming with intensity. I could see or feel nothing but the sensation of the baby moving down and out. I was saying, “I can’t do this!” repeatedly, and Jason told me I could. Maya was very scared, and in between his reassurances to me, Jason was looking over his shoulder and tearfully telling Maya that it would be okay; we needed to work hard to push the baby out. His voice was heavy with emotion, and though I was lost in another world, Maya’s fear cut through my haze like a knife. I wanted to help her, but I couldn’t, and suddenly I was pushing again and all else was lost. Jason asked me a couple times if I should move to the bed, and I simply moaned, “I can’t.” Maya thought this meant that I would stop hurting if I would just get out of the water, so she began to plead with a quivering lip, “Mommy get out of the water? Mommy get out of the water!”
During the last contraction, Jason said he saw a head. When I asked him if the baby was crowning, he said it was already sticking out an inch or two. I somehow shifted from knees to squatting. A final push, and our baby was out! A daughter born naturally at home, caught by her father, witnessed by her sister. I’ve never felt such relief. It was over, and she was here. Jason put our baby on my lap, and I grabbed her. “She’s here! I did it! I can’t believe I did it!” We were all crying, including the baby, which reassured me. I flipped her onto her belly and rubbed her spine, as she was still sputtering. Jason suctioned her mouth a bit. She was purple, covered in thick vernix, and her umbilical cord was wrapped around her shoulder across her body. She seemed so small to me–was she big enough? Did I grow a small baby? She continued to sputter and cry, and her color pinkened. Jason hugged Maya, and I hugged our new girl. “The baby came out!” Maya exclaimed, and suddenly we were able to again focus on comforting our firstborn.
I realized that the water was cool. We needed to warm the baby. Jason made a path of towels between the bathroom and our bed (a distance of only 10-15 feet). We wrapped the slippery baby in a receiving blanket and I carefully walked from the tub to the bed, clutching our new miracle. Once settled, I realized that we didn’t have a birth time. We glanced at the clock: 5:18 p.m. We decided that she was born at 5:15. (1.5 hours after my first contraction!) Our midwives arrived within minutes. Jason greeted them, and as they came up the stairs, he asked, “Wanna meet our baby?” They gasped and joyfully ran in, finding us happily wrapped in flannel sheets.
The next few hours passed in a daze. I had so much adrenaline from the birth that I thought I might never sleep again! My sisters, mother, and mother-in-law arrived, and Maya’s emotional day ended with a couple of hours of total hyper excitement. I was told that she ran around the living room screaming and talking as they’d never witnessed before. She had been through a lot–who could blame her?
The baby was checked over. More vernix than they’d ever seen on a baby! 14″ head. 20.5″ long. Her long body ended in short legs, and our guesses for her weight were all around 7 pounds. “Seven pounds, 10 ounces!” Kim exclaimed. All in the room were delighted. She wasn’t small at all–it had just been a very long time since I’d seen a naked newborn! She was perfect, and I had birthed her. After a disappointing hospital birth with our firstborn, resulting in an epidural at 9 cm, this was an empowering and healing birth. I gave birth to two beautiful girls, and each birth taught me something new. I now have amazing experiences to share with my childbirth students.
We announced her name: Ellery Maeve. It suited her perfectly.
Epilogue: Ellery had a long first night. After her birth, she nursed like a pro for 30 minutes! What an answer to prayer! She eventually fell into a deep sleep. After an hour or so, she woke up and remained alert until 5 a.m.! After a desperate late night call to the midwife, we stripped her down and massaged her belly and bottom, helping her to pass some meconium. Whew! Relief! We slept for a few hours before dawn signaled a new day.
In the early morning hours, we realized a large lump was forming on the left side of Ellery’s head. A call to the midwife Kim (who had done her newborn exam) confirmed that this had not been there immediately after birth. After some research and a trip to the doctor with our not-even-one-day-old bundle, we discovered that Ellery has a cephalohematoma–a result of her fast and furious birth. It should subside in a couple of months. Until then, our poor girl has what seems to be a tender lump on her head.
We love her to pieces. Thanks be to God for this blessing!