Monday, December 5, 2016

The Author's Birth Story

When I posted about my fifth son's birth on Facebook, a friend of mine told me she had a very similar experience with her fifth. She remarked that she couldn't tell if her labor had lasted three weeks or three hours. My post about the last week of this pregnancy sort of bleeds into this birth story for that reason, because I can't quite tell where the "false" labor ended and the "real" labor began.

On the way home from a second false alarm trip to the hospital, I finally identified the most immediate source of of my anxiety, amid all the other anxiety-producing aspects of giving birth: how will our children would be cared for when it's time to go to the hospital? I began the pregnancy with that anxiety, and it stayed with me all throughout. To relieve it, I called a friend and asked her to leave her phone on in case we needed to call in the middle of the night. When I realized how much weight had been lifted off my shoulders after I made this simple request, I resolved that for however many more nights this pregnancy lasted, I would find someone who could do the same. I just needed to know that if I woke up needing to go to the hospital in the dead of night, I could call someone that would immediately be available to help. This was the rather simple solution to a dilemma that had been keeping me awake for weeks: who will take care of our boys when my husband and I cannot? God bless all the good friends who give you permission to call at any hour and, with a good will, rush to your aid.

So we arrived home, after our second false alarm trip to the hospital, at about 9:00pm on Saturday evening. A friend - a different one, and God bless her, too - had actually managed to get our jumpy boys in bed by giving them a stern talking to. What's more, she had put away the uneaten soup I had left in the crock pot and was washing the large pot that, at 39 weeks pregnant, I could barely lift in and out of the sink. Washing that pot! You have no idea how much that meant to me. I think I probably cried a little bit more when we told her what had happened at the hospital, and she was very sympathetic. God bless her again.

In a turn typical of the emotional roller coaster we were riding and couldn't get off, the contractions had picked up again by the time we got home. When I pondered having another night of being half in labor, half out of it, and I began to wonder whether this birth would end in a c-section simply because I was too tired to finish it out. I know it happens. In a sentiment very uncharacteristic of my ordinarily strong feelings about everything having to do with the natural births I desired for my children, I hardly cared at this point. We decided to try an epsom salt bath for relaxation, recommended by a friend who had previously suffered prodromal labor with one or two of her births. The magnesium is supposed to relax the uterus to make the contractions stop. I paired it with a glass of wine, because that's how I get through the painful parts of pregnancy, and because relaxation, right?

Within minutes of stepping into the bath, I could tell that the contractions were gone. Those pre-contraction tingles that make you think another one might be coming were simply not there. I stepped out of the tub fully expecting them to begin again, as they usually did when I was up and moving around...but they didn't. I laid down in bed, thinking that when I was finally relaxed and not thinking about anything else, I would notice the familiar cramping in my abdomen...but I didn't. For the first time in a couple of weeks, I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. God bless friends with good advice.

I woke up two hours later around midnight. I assumed that my body was either telling me to get up and pee or roll over to keep my hips from aching, so I dutifully hauled myself out of bed to visit the bathroom. I sat down on the toilet, but nothing happened. That's strange, I thought. I drank a very large glass of water right before lying down, and normally at least a little bit comes out. I half-remembered that something similar had happened to me at some point around 7 centimeters when I was in labor with my first son, but in my sleepiness, I didn't make the appropriate connection in the moment.

OUCH. What is that? Oh, it's a contraction. That pinched a bit. Better lie back down and see if it goes away, or at least hurts less.

OUCH, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch. That hurt even more. How far apart were those two? Not very. Where is my phone? I should start timing these. Should I tell my husband yet?

I carefully hobbled my way downstairs to tell my husband about the contractions. He said they seemed different to him, too, but we had thought that more than a few times in the last week. We decided to wait a little longer before crying "labor" again. I went upstairs to time them and try to get comfortable.

My contractions, as in labors past, did not follow anything close to a "one minute long, five minutes apart for one hour" pattern. The pattern was frustratingly difficult to discern. Some contractions seemed to have two peaks: a brief, painful one followed by a strong hardening like the flexing of a muscle. These contractions would last one and a half to two and a half minutes. Others were very short, and very similar to the contractions that I'd had for weeks. Sometimes only three minutes passed from the start of one contraction to the start of another, sometimes five, and at least once, almost nine minutes elapsed. The end of the contractions was almost indiscernible as the uterus relaxed ever so slowly and I couldn't put my finger on a true end to it. I was going crazy trying to time them. The only thing new about these contractions is that a good number of them were definitely painful (but not all of them). 

I'm not sure what made me confident enough that we should go to the hospital. Perhaps it was the fact that I had so many contractions during that hour. Perhaps it was that at least half of them were painful. Perhaps it was knowing that we wouldn't have to wake up the whole town for a false alarm, and that only one person would know about our trip to the hospital if we came back without a baby. Whatever it was, we called our friend. True to her promise, she slept with her phone on and hopped out of bed to rush over to our house. I am convinced that one of the best things that anyone can be for a pregnant woman in labor is reliable, and this friend certainly was. She helped me to the car while my husband, unusually animated, ran around tying up loose ends and gathering our bags for the third time in eight days.

It was almost as though my uterus remembered the last two weeks and knew that in the past, this was the time when it stopped its labor-work, right when we got into the car. I started crying (again!), thinking this would be our third time crying wolf and no one would believe me when I was truly in labor. Unlike you, dear reader, I still didn't know whether this was it...

The friend who had recommended the epsom salt bath told me later that she had woken up at about this time, thought of me, and prayed for me. Perhaps it was her intercession that made the contractions pick back up. It's also possible that it kept us from being pulled over by the darkened police car waiting in the median on the highway to catch speeders like my husband. We may or may not have been traveling fifteen over at that point. God bless friends who pray.

I tried to recall all the things that I had asked God for regarding this pregnancy and labor. I prayed that the baby wouldn't be too big. I prayed that he wouldn't get stuck with shoulder dystocia. I prayed that we would know when it was time to go to the hospital. I prayed that we would make it to the hospital in time. I prayed that I wouldn't have to be induced. I prayed I'd have one of those amazing labors that was not painful. Countless times I had also prayed that it would happen now, but so far that hadn't happened. At this point, I was in utter darkness about whether any of these prayers would be answered affirmatively. I was strangely confident of heavenly care upon the whole endeavor. That kind of confidence was extremely unusual given the amount of anxiety I've articulated here over the last several weeks. It was, however, a prayer that some ladies had made for me during my Birth Blessing, and God answers those prayers in good time. Yet even with that confidence in God's providence, it felt like I was walking forward with a blindfold on. I could feel a few things here and there and give an opinion of the situation on the other side of the blindfold, but it felt like a rather uninformed one. 

One of the things that I did feel was that sitting still made the painful parts of the painful contractions bearable, and that moving around made an epidural seem more attractive. (I don't even know what an epidural is like, but I've heard it can feel good). This means that the next forty minutes, upon arrival at the hospital around 2:30 in the morning, took every ounce of energy I had left. Walking from the car into the hospital went slowly, including a great deal of heavy breathing and a stop to lean on my husband's shoulders. Stepping on the scale in triage involved a considerable amount of wincing. Climbing into the wheelchair, out of the wheelchair, into the triage bed, and into the labor room bed felt almost impossible. Lying on my back to get the monitors strapped on and going to the bathroom to change into the hospital gown seemed like a special kind of torture reserved only for women in labor.

I was 8.5 centimeters when we arrived. They asked me if I'd like the doctor to break my water so that baby could be born right away, and I wasn't sure. Am I still in triage? I thought. Is it really going to happen so soon? I think I remember everything hurt more the last four times my water broke, and I don't think I want any more pain right now. I wasn't sure what I wanted at that point except ice chips. Yes, frozen bits of water! Of course that's what I want. No, I'm not ready for you to break my water.

One contraction later, I informed the nurses that I felt like pushing. That had happened an hour or so before my last one was born, so I felt confident that it would be over soon. Okay, the doctor can go ahead and break my water.

With the next contraction, I informed them that it would not be necessary for the doctor to break my water, as it had just broken on its own. The nurse looked down at the bed and confirmed, with surprise, that I was correct. 

With the next contraction, I informed the nurses that I could no longer avoid pushing. 

With the next contraction, my husband remarked, "There's meconium," and when the nurse looked down, she said, "Oh, and there's baby's head!"

With the next contraction, one of the nurses gave me some kind of instruction about pushing. I actually can't remember if it was "push hard" or "stop pushing," but fortunately it didn't matter in the end. I heard the words "nuchal cord," panicked just a little bit, and then couldn't help one more big push. Baby came all out. It was 3:10 in the morning. (It turns out the nurse was mistaken about the nuchal cord. His cord wasn't around it neck. What she had seen come out with his head was his hand. His hand!). I have no idea whether the doctor was there or not.

From the time I was awakened at midnight until the time he was born was three hours. I suppose I was finally convinced that I was in labor by the time we got out of the car at the hospital. The realization was not really a moment I could put my finger on. It was more of a slow slide into the stupor of labor, in which I half-chose and was half-forced to stop thinking so much, and then it was over. He was 8 pounds, 10 ounces and maxed out the length chart at 21 and 3/4". That's just how I grow them, apparently. He was born at exactly 39 weeks gestation. Baby chose a great birthday for himself, the Feast of Christ the King. He'll have to accept supernatural royalty by association on his birthday, though, since he'll have pretty stiff competition for the role-play kind in the games his brothers play.


A mere hour before our little man came rushing into the world, I was uncertain of whether any of my prayers about this baby's health or the birth would be answered. I walked blindly. By some gift of grace, I had become just barely confident of God's care for us in the eleventh hour. For the last several weeks of pregnancy, though, my emotions had wandered here and there, and mostly in the direction of fear, anxiety, and tears.

Yet each of those prayers, it must be said, was answered in a definite way. The baby was not "too big," whatever that means. At least he was not too big to find his way out. We did not get stuck in shoulder dystocia. My husband and I knew when to go to the hospital, though we didn't know that we knew it at the time. We made it there in time and I didn't have to give birth on the side of the road. I was not induced. The "now" for labor eventually came, even though it wasn't the first two dozen times I'd asked for that moment to come.

And the pain? Well, it was painful, but the nurse noted that part of the reason they were not prepared when he was finally born is because I just didn't seem like I was that close. I was not anxious. I was not saying that I couldn't do it, as I had in other births. I was not acting hysterical. I did not give the Amazon-woman yell that my husband and I have come to expect when I'm pushing. As my husband put it, I "surprised the nurses with a composed and stealthy delivery." I was so calm, the nurse said. As with the gift of confidence in God's providential care, so too a gift of grace enabled me to avoid the telltale signs of transition such as doubt, despair, and fear. If you have read post after post about the anxiety this pregnancy has inspired in me, you might appreciate that such a calm can not be said to be natural - at least not natural to me, not to this pregnancy, and not to most Type 1 diabetic pregnancies I've observed in these last eight years. A very special group of friends prayed for me to have a "peace which passes understanding" during labor this time, and I truly did. It wasn't painless, but the physical pain did not disturb my spirit. I think that comes pretty close!

I'm about as tired and in pain now that the baby has been born as I was before, but I can at least say that now I am happy. Happy! Pregnancy was pain and anxiety, but it is nearly forgotten now that baby is here. I will always be happy for your life, little man, even when I feel utterly incapable of giving you all you need and deserve.


  1. Love this!! He is beautiful - great job! Too funny - I also wrote up my brth story today :) Bst wishes for a wonderful rest of the year <3

  2. Ugh yes, the pain getting on the scale, the pain walking from the car, waiting for the nurse to come take me to triage... the worst! I ended up not being able to sit in the one position i like while laboring because Edith's heart rate would dip waaaay too low :(

    And while I didn't give birth in triage (impressive!!), I *also* ended up with the "don't push!" instructions after my water broke!

    John Paul told me he can't decide if our baby or your baby is cuter, which is high praise from him ;)