“I want to OWN this birth.” That was essentially my prayer for the last few months of my pregnancy. For me, there has always been some fear associated with the births of my children. Never in my life do I feel less in control or more helpless than during childbirth. For me, it’s as if something is happening TO me, something I can’t control or escape from and the only way OUT is THROUGH. I’ve never looked forward to the birth process and generally fight fear for the 9 (or 10 in my case!) months leading up to it.
This time, I wanted things to be different. For once, I didn’t want to feel as if something was happening “TO” me during the birth of my child. I wanted to work WITH my body, I wanted to know and intimately experience the fact that me and God and my child were working together to bring new life into the world. I didn’t want to panic during transition (which has always happened before) or say “I CAN’T DO THIS!” during the pushing stage. I wanted to feel empowered and connected to God, my child, and my husband through the birth of this, our seventh, child.
This is a story about a birth that started progressing about a week before our baby was born (complete with two calls to my midwife and my best friend/doula, resulting in them coming over in the middle of the night – twice – for no reason!) and progressed so quickly in the end that our midwife didn’t make it for the birth! More than that, it’s a story of answered prayer and a birth without fear even though our circumstances in the end couldn’t have been conducive to fear and panic. (In fact, in an eerie sort of foreshadowing, a few days before our baby was born [on one of the days we THOUGHT we were in labor], my midwife was attending the birth of another woman and I was TERRIFIED that she wouldn’t make it to me in time.)
“I’m getting scared,” I told my husband and mother-in-law, Elaine, as we sat watching a late movie. I’d been having contractions since about 4:00 that afternoon, and when my husband got off work we’d decided to try to get things moving a little bit by binding my belly and having my husband physically lift and push on my stomach during each contraction. Being the “grand multipara” that I am, we were hoping that this would help get the baby in a position where contractions would work to dilate me more quickly. We’d been at it for a few hours, and contractions were getting more intense when fear just attacked me out of nowhere. Suddenly, I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it during the delivery, or that the baby wasn’t going to make it. The cord was going to be around the baby’s neck, or the baby was going to get stuck during delivery, or my uterus was going to rupture when I was pushing or or or… We sat and talked for a little while, and then I got up to call some of my closest friends who talked and prayed me through my fear. Jon and I continued our efforts until the movie was over, and then decided to try to get some sleep.
A few hours later, contractions were waking me up and I couldn’t lay down through them any longer. I asked Jon if we could get up and watch another movie, so we did, again with him pushing and lifting on my belly with each contraction. About halfway into the movie, we decided that things were progressing to the point where I needed to call out my midwife, “T” (initialed for privacy reasons), and friend Michelle (who was also acting as my doula.) For the second time in a week, everyone came to my house in the middle of the night, and contractions practically stopped. T checked me and told me that I was definitely in labor, but that it would be a while and predicted a delivery later that night. She encouraged me to go on to my brother’s wedding that day, but to listen to my body closely and come home when things started to progress. That morning (after having gotten practically no sleep at all, and continuing to have contractions all night long) I honestly didn’t think we’d make it to the wedding, but we decided to get there for pictures before-hand and see how it went. Beyond being a wonderful event in and of itself, the wedding ended up being a great distraction for me, because we made it through pictures and the service afterward without too much discomfort!
When we got home, we decided that rather than continue to try to move things along, we were going to do whatever we could to slow things down and get some sleep! Jon and I headed to bed while Elaine stayed up for a little while, reading. It wasn’t long before I had to get back up again (I still couldn’t lay down during the contractions.) At this time, I took some magnesium and some calcium in hopes of further slowing things down and Elaine and I watched another movie together (or rather, she watched a movie and I watched half of a movie and slept through the rest of it.) After the movie was over, we both went to bed and I was able to sleep for an hour or so before waking up once again to contractions I couldn’t lay down through.
In further hopes of slowing the process down, I woke Jon up and we set up the birthing pool (apparently, the water can work both to slow labor down and to speed it up, depending on where you are in the process, slowing things down in early labor, and speeding things in late labor.) It worked to slow things down for me and I was able to rest in the pool for several hours before going to bed again. About an hour later, I could no longer sleep, so once again I got in the pool. Contractions continued to be about 10 minutes apart and at 6:00, Jon and I decided that I should get out of the pool and he’d start supporting my stomach during each contraction to see if we could get things moving more quickly.
At around 7:00 in the morning I called T and Michelle to let them know how the night had gone. At this point, contractions were still 10 minutes apart, and lasting about a minute, but they weren’t getting any closer together so I felt it would probably be a while before the baby came. I asked Michelle to come out anyway, because I felt I wasn’t handling my contractions very well (I was having a tough time relaxing during them, and finding a position that wasn’t causing a “pinching” sort of pain, which we were associating with baby being face-up rather than down where we wanted her to be.) Over the phone, Michelle suggested that I get on my hands and knees during contractions and said she’d be right out. I did as she suggested and immediately felt better, so we continued on this way, me with my head in Jon’s lap during each contraction and him rubbing my back.
It didn’t take long for Michelle to get to our house, and she supported me through my contractions and helped me to relax a little more. At one point I asked her if I should try getting in the birthing pool again and she advised against it, afraid it was too early and it would slow things down again (at this point, we were ALL still thinking it would be several hours before the baby was born!) Not long after this, she suggested that we try a type of maneuver to open up my pelvis with the next contraction (still thinking the baby was face-up and wanting to turn her), so we did as she suggested and I’m pretty sure that this is when the baby dropped because it wasn’t long afterward that everything changed and I was urging my husband to call our midwife!
At that point, my contractions were still every ten minutes apart but not long after this pelvic maneuver took place, a familiar thought crossed my mind: “I can’t do this anymore!” I didn’t say it out loud, and I wasn’t panicked or shaky as I usually am during transition, but something about that contraction and that thought gave me the feeling that we were getting very, very close. I asked Jon to please call our midwife and he urged me to wait to see what happened during the next contraction (I think, after having her come out twice for false alarms, he was a little worried about having her there too early!) The next contraction, although 10 minutes from the previous contraction, lasted a full 2 minutes in duration. “Jon, CALL T RIGHT NOW!!!” I said once I could talk again! I can’t remember ever being afraid, but there was a feeling of urgency to have T there – not only because I didn’t relish the idea of an unassisted childbirth, but also because, I (illogically) felt that she could somehow move things along more quickly, and less painfully! (On a humorous note, Jon had told me the night before that if we really wanted to slow things down we should call T and Michelle to come out, because that was practically guaranteed to stop our progress.) As he was getting ready to call the midwife, I had another contraction and suddenly felt the urge to push! Jon turned to his mom and said “plan B!” They’d been considering it for days – what would happen if the baby came without our midwife, and had asked T to give them detailed instructions in case of such an event. I think he must have had a feeling about it, because I can’t remember him having ever made plans like that in the past.
Jon got T on the speaker phone, and we proceeded to have our baby while she was on her way to us! Never with any other delivery had I ever been so aware of everything that was happening in my body during this stage of labor. Normally, at this point I can’t focus on anything except trying to listen to the instructions of those around me. I usually have very little idea of what is going on and don’t pay much attention to anything except trying to breathe and push during contractions. Not so, this time! I felt, intimately and powerfully, the baby make her way into the world. I didn’t always know where she was in the process (I frequently asked if Jon could see her head, because it sure felt like he should be able to!) but I could feel her move further along with each contraction, and I felt her slippery wet body come out with one last push as she made her way into the world and into her Daddy’s arms.
Also unlike any time before, I wanted this baby in my arms immediately! I vividly remember my first homebirth, with our third child. After she was born, our midwife asked me if I wanted to see her, and I said “no.” I wasn’t at all in my right mind and couldn’t focus on anything – even my baby! When my sixth child was born, my husband and midwife had to physically lift me onto an air mattress where I lay, shivering, and unable to move for what seemed like a very long time. They kept urging me to try to hold the baby and to nurse, but I just couldn’t. But when this baby was born, I immediately asked to hold her. Jon and Michelle tried to pass her to me, but I was afraid I would drop her, so Michelle suggested I turn around, step over the umbilical cord, and sit down and they’d hand her to me. And I did! Here I was, minutes after having a baby, practically doing yoga in my living room in order to get into a position where I could hold my baby. :) I sat there in my living room floor with her in my arms and nursed her while pushing a couple of times to deliver the placenta!!! It was amazing.
Equally amazing is what my husband experienced during our daughter’s birth. I’m hoping he might write about his experience someday, but for now, he’s still processing everything and isn’t ready to talk about it much. He has said that he feels closer, somehow, to this baby than he has to any of our other children and with a certain amount of awe in his voice he said to me “I was holding her when she took her first breath.”
God answered my prayers about this birth in ways I never could have imagined. It seems to me that this entire year has been a time of God pouring his love over our family over and over again, showing me just how great His desire is to bless us. “The LORD be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant!” (Psa 35:27)
After several days of prayer, we have decided on a name. Her name is Avigayil – meaning “joy of the Father.” I think it suits her, in more ways than one.