Disclaimer: This post contains gratuitous amounts of detail that may be of no interest to the average reader.
On Tuesday, January 10th, Dave and I hit the sack around 11:15 pm. Before we said goodnight, my sweet husband prayed for me, as I was suddenly feeling extra nervous about labor. Then we exchanged a kiss and rolled over. (And if you know my husband, you know that, for him, "rolled over" is almost always the same as "instantly fell deeply asleep.")
At 11:42, if I recall correctly, I opened my eyes and looked at the clock. I was getting very drowsy and had almost been asleep, but now I needed to use the bathroom. I pushed back the covers and walked across the room. About one step away from the tiled bathroom floor, I felt that strange pop and warm gush that meant my water had just broken. Well, praise the Lord I wasn't in the bed, I thought.
I proceeded to the toilet to get cleaned up. A few moments later, as I rummaged through our closet in search of pads, Dave popped his head up out of the bed. "Is everything ok?"
"Well, my water just broke," I replied.
"Okay then," said Dave. And I could tell that there would be no more deep sleep for him that night.
I went downstairs and called the midwives. This was the first time my water broke before the onset of serious contractions, so I wasn't quite sure of the protocol. The midwife on call, Tara, said that I had 12 hours from the time my water broke to start contracting naturally. So I headed back upstairs, gave Dave the update, put some towels on my half of the bed, and lay down.
Within 10 minutes, contractions began. I lay there timing them from 12:15 to 1:00. By that time, they were about four minutes apart. I decided we should probably call my mom so she could come up to stay with the kids. Once she was on her way, I hit the shower, and Dave got up to dress, call the midwife back, and pack the car.
By the time I was out of the shower and dressed, contractions were strong enough that I had to stop and just breathe through each one. Ouch. Using the bathroom a final time before we left the house took forever because I had to keep stopping. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Big sigh. OK.
At exactly 2:00 am, we were in the van pulling away from our house. The great thing about being in labor in the middle of the night is that you can breeze straight to the hospital with no traffic and hardly any stop lights. The not-so-great thing? Deer on the road. Fortunately, we missed hitting the ones that were in our path. (I had my eyes closed for much of the trip and didn't realize at the time why we suddenly slowed down in the middle of a deserted Rt. 27.)
We made it to the hospital, and I noticed as we parked that there was frost on the windshield of the car in front of us. It was strange to make the slow trudge from parking lot to entrance--the air around us was so cold, yet there was this steady seep of warmth down my leg as a fresh flow of amniotic fluid began.
In through the automatic doors, then a right turn. The doorman asked if we needed a wheelchair. No, please. Anything but sitting down again. Down a desolate hallway. Into the elevator. Up to the third floor where the warmth and quiet bustle of the mother/baby floor enveloped us. Papers, signatures, and then... a nurse appeared to lead us to Labor and Delivery.
We entered our room, and the midwife and a nurse were waiting. "Hi, Cara, I'm Tara," said the midwife, standing (her "ar" the ar in star, so that her name did not rhyme with mine). "I'm the only one you haven't met yet, unfortunately," she said.
"That's ok," I replied. It was true that I never had a prenatal appointment with Midwife Tara, but I didn't care. She was calm, quiet, and attentive without being over-familiar. I could tell I was in good hands.
In a few minutes, I was sitting on the bed with a monitor strapped to my belly and a blood-pressure cuff on my arm. Tara pronounced me already 8 or 9 cm. dilated, which was heavenly music to me. Baby Boy's heartbeat sounded good. He was behaving much like I remembered Matthew behaving during labor--every contraction resulted in wild flailing and kicking, as if he was protesting being pushed out of his snug, dark home. Or maybe he was trying to help remove himself?
After the initial 20 minutes of monitoring, I was allowed to get off the bed and move around at will. Tara asked if I wanted to use a birthing ball (one of those large exercise balls that you can sit on). I replied that I had never used one before but wouldn't mind trying it. So for about the next hour, I sat on this enormous ball, leaning my head on the edge of the bed, breathing through contractions. Dave sat beside me, occasionally rubbing my back, holding my hand, whispering encouragement and being the quiet, mostly hands-off labor coach I need and love.
At some point, Tara encouraged me to try and "empty my bladder" if possible, to free up that space for Baby to move on down. I obediently went to the bathroom, even though I was about 99% certain that my bladder was empty, based on the fact that I had drunk almost nothing since labor began. While I was sitting in there, the contractions/abdominal pressure suddenly became so intense that I wondered if I should begin pushing... or if I was, in fact, pushing already. I'm always a little fuzzy on what's really going on in this phase. I think it's my version of transition.
At any rate, I made it back to the birthing ball and continued to breathe through strong contractions. At this point, Tara needed to go triage another laboring woman who had recently arrived at the hospital. I think Dave and I both could have told her that this probably wasn't the best time for her to leave, but... well, neither of us is very aggressive in situations like this. So Tara stepped out for a few minutes.
The nurse was now at the side of the bed with me and Dave, trying to get an updated read on the baby's heartbeat. I remember her placing the monitor way up high on my belly, near my belly button. "I think he's down here," I told her, moving her hand WAY down to where Tara had last monitored him.
As I recall, it was only a moment later that I knew it was really time to push. Like, right now. I don't know whether I was already standing up or not, but I know that when I started to push, I was standing. I thought of my friend Kia, who recently gave birth to her sixth baby, at home, while standing beside her dining room table. I reached down to see if I could feel the baby's head. I wasn't sure, but another contraction was on its way.
Then I was yelling like an Amazon woman and pushing for all I was worth, and the baby was coming out fast. I reached for his head, not sure who else might be prepared to catch him. Tara, having heard my hollering from the hallway, slipped back into the room, saw what was happening, and urgently called out to me, "Slow down!" I relaxed my pushing just a little bit, and I guess that Tara made it over to me in time to turn the baby and help ease him out. I felt an enormous release of pressure... and there, upside-down and purply-red and bloody and beautiful, was my baby. The nurse called it at 4:08 a.m., a short four (plus) hours after my water broke.
The baby wasn't crying or breathing very well at first, so they spent a moment suctioning fluid out of him. Once it became clear that he was OK, I made a somewhat awkward transition onto the bed. (Awkward because I had an umbilical cord attached to a baby hanging out of me as I tried to maneuver upward. Also there was a large puddle of blood and stuff on the floor and all over my feet.) But I made it. And then I got to hold my little man for the first time.
And I held him.
And I held him.
And I held him.
And he was wonderful and perfect and sweet and whole, and, holy cow, did I just push a NINE POUND, SIX OUNCE BABY out of my body while standing straddle legged and sounding my barbaric yawp?! Talk about feeling like a natural woman!
And I still can't help marveling, whenever I think about it, about the strange and awesome way God made a woman's body to work--and a baby's body to grow within her. No doubt--it's a process riddled with all of the inconveniences and agonies of the Genesis 3 curse--but strange and awesome it remains. And I'm very grateful--and humbled--to have had the privilege of experiencing it four times. And to have four beautiful babes to show for it. Thank you, Lord.