Tuesday morning we thought she was coming. She did not. (Turned out to be Braxton Hicks contractions, very regular for several hours.) Wednesday Dan went back to work while I wallowed on the couch all day and Evelyn watched movies and had several potty accidents (she’s potty trained for the most part, but still needs mommy’s help). It was not my finest hour. So by Thursday morning, as I sat around waiting for everyone else to wake up (not getting much sleep at this point in my pregnancy), I convinced myself that it would be a bad idea for me to be left alone with Evelyn. I did not feel capable of giving her or myself proper care, physically and emotionally. So as soon as Dan’s alarm went off, I went to his side and asked if he would go in an hour or two late and help me get to my parents’ house (hoping my dad wouldn’t mind if I crashed on their couch while my mom was at work…), he agreed. To think, if he went to work as usual, he would have been on the road when I went into labor! I’m brought to tears when I think about how gracious God was to allow for him to be right there with me from the very first contraction!
The morning began in such peace and tranquility – a stark contrast to the day and night before. As Dan joined me on the couch next to the glow of the Christmas tree, not speaking much but simply being there for me, my anxieties began to melt away. I could feel the comfort of God through Dan’s loving arms, and I knew that I needed Jesus to conquer my fears of this impending labor of which the hour was still unknown. And so I asked Dan to read me all the scripture I had written out on index cards for getting through labor. I figured it would be good practice. Little did I know that would be no practice at all, but in fact the only opportunity to hear those verses spoken from my husband’s mouth before holding baby Natalie just 4 hours later…
It was around 7:15am, Dan was having a bowl of cereal in the kitchen and reading his bible, I was sitting on the birthing ball in the living room moving my hips around (supposed to help keep the baby in a good head-down position), and Evelyn was still in bed. I had an itty bitty contraction, very similar to the ba-zillion contractions I had in the past several weeks. Only there was a tiny tinge to it. I glanced over at Dan and said “Hmph. That one hurt a little.” He immediately looked up. “Really?” “Well, just a little. I’m sure it’s nothing. Don’t get excited.” Then there was another. And another. So off to the bathtub I went. Braxton Hicks are supposed to go away in the tub. Well, these didn’t. And that “familiar feeling” that my midwife, Ruth, warned me about came on stronger with each new contraction. I still wanted to deny it though, given the embarrassment of Tuesday, but as Dan watched me completely zone out during a contraction, his eyes really lit up. He knew it was real! So I called Ruth around 7:50 and let her know. She said to call if things changed, but otherwise come on in to the Birth Center anytime after 8:30 since that’s when they were planning to open for the day anyway. My mom arrived to pick up Evelyn and Dan was able to shower and dress. He was so cute and giddy, flustered trying to pack last minute items because of all the excitement. On Tuesday during my make-believe labor, I actually cared enough to brush my hair, do my make-up, and have Dan take the “before” picture in front of the tree. This time, however, make-up was the last thing on my mind! (And not in a “I look crappy but I don’t care. Ba-humbug!” kind-of-way. More in a “God made me beautiful just the way I am, and right now, by His grace, I am having a baby! My heavenly father loves me and is with me now more than ever which makes me feel like the most beautiful woman on the planet!” kind-of-way.)
Allow me to digress a bit and review the 3 main stages of labor before actual birth. First, early labor (0-3cm) which is supposed to be the longest stage, lasting several hours, but also the easiest. I remember this being the case with Evelyn, even after arriving at the Birth Center, in which I was still talking and making jokes and rocking out to music. Next, active labor (4-6cm) in which things get a bit more serious. I could no longer talk during a contraction because it took my full concentration to remain calm. This stage can take an hour or two. And finally, transition labor (7-10cm). This is the final stride before actually pushing the baby out. It’s the most intense but also the shortest phase.
Evelyn’s birth took about 12 hours and followed this structure rather well. (Except for getting “stuck” at 4cm for a while, but with some great coaching and support by my birth team, and by God’s grace, I was able to relax and get things moving again.) So naturally I expected something similar for Natalie’s birth, only perhaps just 8 or 9 hours since second babies tend to come faster. Of course, I also knew God made no promise to give me a birth according to statistics, for He is not a tame lion. My prayer during those anxious times was this: “Lord, if you want me to join Christ in suffering, then so be it. I will rejoice in that. If you want me to have an easy two-hour birth, then that’s okay too. I am excited about what you are going to do, what your good and perfect will is, and I pray that I want only that and nothing else.”
Back to Thursday morning. After getting out of the bath and preparing to leave for the Birth Center, it became apparent that my body decided to completely skip so-called “early labor.” When my mom arrived to watch Evelyn, I had to leave the room during a contraction just to keep myself focused. I know some women like to have their mom with them during labor, but to be totally honest that is just not my preference and let me tell you why. Growing up, my mom was always there for me. I could depend on her no matter what, whether for sympathy-laden chicken noodle soup when I was sick, or a listening ear when I was an emotional teenage wreck. She gave me everything I needed, and more than I deserved. Whenever I was in any kind of pain, she took the pain onto herself as much as she could, wanting so badly to take it from me. I specifically remember getting my ears pierced as a kid and saying “ouch” which then made my mom cry. Now I’m not saying she wouldn’t be able to handle seeing her little girl in the pains of labor, but it isn’t something I care to find out. She has already done so much for me, I don’t need to put her through that, especially when I have been blessed with a husband who has vowed to protect me through thick and thin. She did get to see a few contractions though and I must say handled it quite well! Love you mom!
So from 8 to 8:30 we had just enough time to both bathe, dress, and get last-minute items packed without feeling rushed. Just before we left, I got a text from a close girlfriend saying something like “Great day to have a baby, don’t you think?” and so I texted back “Yes. I’m in labor.” (that was the extent of my social updates during labor ) The car ride was pretty quiet since I already lost interest in talking. After Dan parked and turned off the car, excited to get out, I began having another contraction and told him to wait. After it passed, I told him I was beginning to panic. He reminded me of God’s promises, helped me take a deep breath, and then the feeling dissipated. We got out of the car. All women hit a wall at some point in labor, thinking they can’t go on. I’m still in disbelief how quickly God got me through that moment. Absolutely amazing!
Dan held my arm as we slowly walked into the Birth Center, and Jackie (the doula) greeted us saying “You look a lot different than you did on Tuesday! Now you look like a woman in labor!” I smiled. Ruth (the midwife) checked me in the exam room right away and said I was easily at 7cm. (It had only been 1 ½ hours since that first tiny contraction!) She watched me as I stood up and leaned over her desk, breathing through another contraction and the vibe of the whole office began to shift. I was escorted straight to the birthing room and everyone had a “pep” in their step getting things ready. It was within a matter of minutes that I was completely entranced and my world closed in. It’s hard to explain just how surreal this time is. I could hear voices around me, saying things like “Jenny’s on her way here.” “She’s almost in transition already!” “Great!” And yet, I did not interact with them or even look at them. The contractions came on like waves, creeping up, reaching a peak and falling down. It was extremely intense, but I knew it was pain with a purpose and so I cried out to God to give me the strength I needed to remain calm.
In the weeks previous, I had spent literally HOURS sorting through our iTunes library and making different playlists, and I was obsessed with keeping the iPod charged and synched ready to go. And wouldn’t you know it, Dan forgot to pack the adapter cord to plug it into the stereo. But silence was exactly what I needed, and I really didn’t want to be bothered with questions like “what kind of music do you want to listen to?” So even though Dan kept apologizing for forgetting the cord, I was immensely thankful! God working even through the little things…
The people around me were so incredible, so supportive. I can’t say this enough. The vibe in the room was freeing, knowing I could literally do whatever I wanted and they would do their best to accommodate and support it. But at the same time, I knew these women were highly trained and would keep me from doing anything that would hurt the baby or me. And they were always right there giving suggestions whenever they saw the need. So when I said, “I think I want to try the shower” to no one in particular, I was gently guided in there, the water was put to the right temperature and Dan was showed how to spray the water on my belly in circles. I could hear them talking to each other “Lindsey’s in the shower now” “okay good” but again, stayed in my world. For whatever reason though, my gaze was down and I saw Dan’s shoes getting wet. I muttered “oh no, you’re getting all wet” and began looking up, expecting to see a frantic trembling face, wondering how he got himself into this mess. Instead, I saw the most calm, loving eyes in the whole world. He said “it’s okay,” but he didn’t have to say anything. I could tell from those eyes and the sweetest little smile that he didn’t care about the water and was happy to be by my side. But then I told him, “just give Jackie the shower head, so you can go call your parents and change your clothes” and he jumped on it! He promptly returned, barefoot and swim trunks on, ready for duty. He wasn’t able to reach his parents, but he said he left them a message.
I’m not sure how long I was in the shower, since I had no concept of time, but I’d guess around 30 minutes. I decided to get out and dry off, had a couple of contractions standing up, and then saw their comfy queen-sized bed and thought it looked really nice. So I said I wanted to try lying down, again to know one in particular. “Okay, let’s go to the bed!” “Lindsey wants to lay down!” “Okay!” “Lindsey’s getting on the bed!” After I was escorted to the bed and had help lying down on my side, the first contraction came, and WOW. It was like in The Princess Bride when Wesley is hooked up to the “Machine” and Prince Humperdinck storms in and cranks it. Well maybe not that bad, but it was certainly turned up a notch or two! Then I said something like, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea!” Then Jackie told me that the first contraction after changing positions is always going to be the worst. Hmph. Some useful information to have BEFORE deciding to lie down!
I should mention at this point that I do not sound like your stereotypical woman in labor. The movies portray us as screaming bloody murder, shouting obscenities, and grabbing our husbands by the throats saying “YOU did this to me!!” Now as tempting as this may be, here are the three main reasons I try to avoid this tactic. 1) Screaming causes tension and tension causes “certain muscles” to close up – “certain muscles” that are supposed to be opening in order to fit a baby through them. Thus: longer labor. 2) Pain + Tension = More Pain. Just plain pain is painful enough, I think. 3) 1 Peter 3:8 does not say “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble, unless you are a woman in labor.” At least not in the New International Version.
So what do I sound like? The best person to ask would be Dan, but I’ll do my best to recount. In the beginning I made low-pitch groans to get me through contractions. But as labor progressed, groans just weren’t enough and I began to improvise. Now that I think about it, it probably has a lot to do with my background in jazz. When soloing on your instrument, I was taught that if you hit a “wrong note” just play it again, over and over and over, in syncopation with a couple other notes and you sound like a genius who knows how to play “outside the box.” So maybe that’s what I was thinking. Who knows. But as I felt a wave coming on, I would blurt out some nonsense word like “aboogaboo” and rhythmically chant it over and over, getting louder (crescendo) as the wave hit it’s peak, then getting softer (decrescendo) as the wave came down. The last “a boo ga boooooo…” would then get slower and fade off like a great sigh of relief (fermata). I know there were other fun words I came up with but I can’t remember them now. And while on the bed, right after my most intense contraction, having just chanted some ridiculous word straight out of a Dr. Seuss book in COMPLETE SERIOUSNESS, the inevitable happened. I caught Dan laughing. I must’ve given him one evil-looking glare, because he immediately shut up and apologized profusely. I just rolled my eyes and tried not to think about it anymore. But we sure had a good laugh about it afterwards!
Let’s get back to the story. I’m lying on my side on the bed, Dan lying next to me and after just one or two contractions, I get the urge to push. I’m told there’s a little bit of cervix left so I need to hold off on pushing, and to do that, pretend to blow out birthday candles. Those were some flaming imaginary candles, let me tell you! It was more like blowing out a forest fire! Jackie was so sweet, just saying things like “Yes, just like that! That’s great! Only… maybe not so fast… we don’t want you to hyperventilate…” It was working so well that while I was busy huffing and puffing, I didn’t hear them say it was okay to push. Because before I knew it they were asking me where I wanted to have the baby. I remember them asking me this with Evelyn and I just thought “Where? I don’t care! Just get it out of me!!” (Yes, in that moment, I referred to my baby as “it” in my mind. Sweet Evie, please forgive me. Maybe someday you’ll understand.) At that time, I didn’t really know what to do, so they suggested the “birthing stool” and that’s where Evelyn was born. And so this time, I just had it in my mind that the birthing stool works so why mess with it? I requested the birthing stool right away and they got it ready and helped me up onto it in no time.
Right before I got on the stool, when I was between contractions, Ruth asked if I would like for her to break my water (if you’ve been paying attention, this hasn’t happened yet!). She explained that it might help things move along, since I was so close and my body was ready, but it was totally up to me. She saw that I was just giving her a blank stare, saying “umm… hmm... I uh...” so she said I didn’t need to decide right then. This is just something interesting for me to note, since it is becoming a trend. My water didn’t break until the first real “push” with Evelyn, too! We think it has something to do with my mack-truck-sized pelvis. Breaking my water right at the end might make going from transition to pushing easier, and I’m curious what contractions would feel like after it’s broken. But… I would just love for the baby to be born “en-caul”— born still inside the amniotic sac! It is an extremely rare occurrence, and becoming even more rare with the onset of interventions and the common practice to rupture membranes to speed things along. I was just reading on Wikipedia that being born en-caul was considered good luck in medieval times, and people believed possession of a baby’s caul could keep you from drowning. For this reason, women would sell their baby’s caul to sailors for a hefty price! I wonder what it would go for on eBay… (just kidding!)
Wouldn’t you know it, my water broke with that first big push on the stool. I actually got the chance to reach down and feel it before it broke. It was just like a water balloon! And it popped just like a water balloon too! I don’t even want to think about the mess it made on the floor. But no one complained. I knew they were all just too excited.
So there we were. Dan sat behind me and cradled his arms around me. (Oh, those wonderful, loving arms.) And all the women were in front, ready to catch and examine this creature coming out. Jackie had our camera and was taking pictures, which was a little odd for me but I had asked her to have it just in case the baby was born en-caul. I sat there, trying to regulate my breath and stay focused, waiting for the next contraction. I glanced at the clock and could not believe my eyes when I saw it was only 10 or 10:30. Less than 2 hours since we arrived! I even had a flash of that morning, sitting on the couch by the Christmas tree. I thought to myself, not that long ago, we were just sitting there not knowing when we might meet this little girl, and yet here we are just moments away!
But the contraction I was waiting for – intense just like the last one I had on the bed accompanied by the overwhelming desire to bear down – never came. Just the tiniest little tingle and I had to keep asking, “Am I having a contraction now? How about now?” I wasn’t hooked up to anything, but Ruth could tell me by feeling the hardness of my belly. I knew that if I pushed at the wrong time, I would tear, so I desperately wanted to just ease that baby out during the contractions. Ruth was great and encouraged me, but looking back I wish I had asked for more help because I had no idea what I was doing. There was only one push I remember really using my full strength (pretty sure that’s the one that got the head out!), but otherwise I only did small pushes. I know it must sound strange, but I did not experience much if any pain during this phase. I think my whole body was numb from the events leading up to it and my endorphins were going crazy! It was an exciting time, yet an anxious time. I remember having the head out and then having to wait for another contraction to push the rest of the body out. Those few seconds felt like a lifetime! But not at all in a “get it out of me!” kind of way. More of an “I can hardly wait to see her!!” kind of way. So amazing!
And so finally, with relative ease, she was born. And right at that moment, Dan’s cell phone rang. We all laughed! It was Dan’s parents returning his call. But it was also like processional music welcoming Natalie to the world! Ruth immediately lifted this sweet, slimy thing to my arms and I held her for the first time. The cord was a little short, so I had to hold her more in my lap than at my chest. Dan reached his arms around to hold her and me. Soon after, Ruth clamped the cord and asked if either of us wanted to cut it. We both declined. (I said, “we’d rather leave it to the professionals”… yes, just gave birth and cracking jokes already). So Ruth asked Jenny if she wanted to do it (Jenny is a new nurse to the Birth Center and in-training). It took her a couple of cuts to get through it, and I could tell she was nervous. Moments later I thought it would’ve been so funny if I had said “Ow!” right when she cut! Mwahahaha. So sad that I missed the opportunity. But at least I can play back the moment in my head and have a good chuckle.
So there you have it. To recap, at 7:15am I had the first teeny-weeny contraction, 7:50am I called my midwife, and 8:45am we arrived at the Birth Center, 9:40am I felt the urge to push, 10:15am I started pushing and 10:42am she was born. She was amazingly calm and hardly made a sound. She was examined while in my arms, and then wrapped in a blanket while I was helped back on the bed. Then she was handed right back to me while I got examined. Ruth was surprised to find that I did in fact tear even though, as she put it, I “eased that baby out so beautifully!” I’ve gone over it in my mind and wonder what I could’ve done to prevent the tear – asked for more guidance of when to push since I couldn’t feel contractions, not pushing so hard when I got the head out, or tried giving birth in a different position like on the bed lying on my side? I know I shouldn’t beat myself up over it, as Dan has reminded me on several occasions, but I just can’t help but wonder… and maybe if there is a “next time” I can do something differently.
And so our first blissful moments together as a family were slightly disrupted by the stitching-up procedure, but the overwhelming feeling of relief easily trumped the discomfort. I also got to nurse her right away on the bed, and what a different experience than the first time I nursed Evelyn! Having 20 months of nursing experience now under my belt, I guess I must’ve been more prepared because all those mushy baby-mommy bonding feelings came rushing back. It is so amazing how Natalie knew exactly what to do even though she had never eaten before – just given nourishment through her umbilical cord straight into her tummy. God’s hand is on everything and I can’t think of a time when that truth has been more evident to me than right after giving birth.
Dan and I were then given some “alone time” with the baby. In a sense, it felt like we were kids being entrusted by their parents with a new puppy. Only she was a baby person. And she really was our baby, not theirs. Although, she’s not really ours either. She belongs to God and He has entrusted us with her! What an honor!
Then the staff came back in and Ruth examined her in more depth. First she measured her to be 20 ½ inches long. But then she weighed her at exactly 9 lbs, and I said, “Wow. Just like Evelyn. Are you sure she isn’t 21 inches?” So Ruth measured her again, just for fun, and sure enough she was 21 inches. (It was hard to stretch those little legs out all the way the first time.) I think even her head circumference was the same as Evelyn’s. Not to mention, they were both due the day after Thanksgiving and both 6 days late. (Evelyn was born December 4th, 2008, also a Thursday.) And so we all said I had twins two years apart. And they really did look identical except for the hair and skin tone. We were all stunned by the amount of dark hair on Natalie! Her name, Natalie Anne, was then made official. We had decided on it just a few days prior. Natalie was a name Dan & I both just loved since we heard it, we thought it was very pretty and feminine. It also happens to mean “Christmas” which is appropriate for a December baby! Anne is my middle name, as well as my mom’s middle name, so it was special for me to get to pass that down.
Finally, family arrived so that we could show her off. They had to wait a bit in the lobby while I attempted to go potty (also a trend for me to have a very difficult time going pee after giving birth), but finally my parents were able to come in and brought the proud big-sister with them. Evelyn exclaimed “Mommy! Daddy!” and after seeing what was in my arms, “Baby!” Her eyes got so big as she studied her and I knew that she knew this was the baby we’ve been telling her about. The same baby she got to see at the 3-D ultrasound a couple of months ago. The same baby that was in mommy’s tummy that she hugged and kissed every day. Honestly, it’s hard enough for me to understand this whole concept, so for a barely-two year old to get it is so remarkable. She climbed onto the bed and cuddled with Daddy, and our whole family was united for the first time. Then I handed Natalie to my mom and Evelyn got really exited, seeing that other people could hold her too, and immediately held out her arms and reached for her. We tried putting the baby on her lap, but I think she must’ve been expecting something lighter like a doll because she quickly wanted her off.
Then Dan’s parent’s arrived which was such a treat since they had to drive in from Reno to get there. Dan’s mom held Natalie for a long time and was so excited to have her take her “first nap” in her arms! I was so happy for her, especially since they ended up driving back that night, in the snow, so at least she could have that special memory to make the trip worth it. We were all set to leave except that I needed to empty my bladder before they would let me go home. Sadly, we had to resort to a catheter. I’ll try not to go into details here, but let’s just say my breathing and focusing techniques came in handy during the insertion of that stupid thing. And so it wasn’t until 4pm that we were able to get out of there and finally go home. Ah, the comfort of my own bed! I know it’s corny, but there really is no place like home.
The entire experience was such a testimony to God’s grace and sovereignty. I’m blown away by how much He has taught me in just that one day. And even now, weeks later, I’m still learning so much through that labor and delivery. I’ve talked to women who have epidurals with no complications and from then on, didn’t feel any pain. To be completely honest, it has crossed my mind that maybe I could’ve just gone that route and spared myself. But that thought quickly disappears because I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. (side note: I’ve also known women who have had complications, however, so I know it is not always so black and white. My main motivation in going natural was to avoid interventions that put my baby and me at risk. I’m not at all condemning those who have chosen hospital births, but I do believe the education of those risks in this country is lacking.)
In those moments of pain, I learned what it means to trust God and lean on Him on a whole new level. If I ever doubt His power to get me through something difficult, all I have to do is remember December 4, 2008 and December 2, 2010. It gives new meaning to the verse “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”. I think He must’ve known my tendency to give up when things get hard, because I need that reminder a lot. It’s taken me some time to put the pieces together, but I’m finally beginning to see how He can give me strength to get this house clean and children bathed, dressed, and fed without completely losing my mind just as He gave me strength to give birth. Just the other night, I was up at 3am with Natalie, totally exhausted and wanting her to just go to sleep dag-naggit, and God reminded me that He was there for me then just as he was there for me during labor. I wrote in a journal that night:
God answered my prayer! Remember this. Before I cried out, I was selfish, wanting her to sleep and stop bothering me, with minimal effort on my part. I would wake up in a panic finding her face buried in the bed or my arm over her face… God undoubtedly saved her from me. But after finally soothing her by getting up and doing what needed to be done (diaper change, swaddle, carry her around the house, sing lullabies, rock in rocking chair, look at her and care for her, admire her and stop caring so much about ME), it became a temptation to pat myself on the back: PRIDE again! Remember God softened me and helped me! That is why she is sleeping now. Because of Him.
Learn from my labor: do not worry about “how much longer will this take?” or “will this hurt?” or say things like “I can’t do this, I want to escape this.” None of those thoughts will do any good! They only slow things down and increase the suffering. Trust God, cry out to God, focus only on the task at hand (don’t worry about the past or the future), do what needs to be done.
For Labor and Life: Pray (God I need you), Learn (what do I need to do to honor Him?), Pray (help me do that!), Do (do what He says and shut up about what I wanted to do, He knows better), Pray (thank you God for helping me, and help me to stay humble).
So like I said, God taught me so much though the birth of Natalie Anne, and continues to teach me more every day. I guess that’s why it took a month to write about a 3-hour birth.
Lindsey and Dan have had 3 babies - and all born at The Birth Center! They welcomed Sylvia, their third, on May 10, 2013.