Right now there is a five-day-old gorgeous creature sleeping serenely on the couch. I’ve also got a 2 ½ year old napping in her toddler bed and a 4 ½ year old up to something suspiciously quiet in the playroom: all of them bright and beautiful girls with eyes of the sea. Let’s not forget the happy husband home from work hanging about as well. Our house is not always this peaceful. The decibel level jumps up exponentially when everyone is awake and playing, fighting, singing, dancing, screaming, etc. But it’s always this blessed. It’s hard to even begin to describe how blessed we are to have Sylvia join our crazy home. She has been a part of it already, of course, since we first found out of her existence about 9 months ago. We’ve been watching her grow, feeling her kicks, talking all about her and preparing a place for her. My belly has received lots and lots of kisses from her daddy and siblings, too many to count. But as much fun as all of that was, to be able to kiss her skin and hold her in our arms is a blessing beyond measure. And just like the atoning blood of Christ, we do not deserve such a gift. And so, with a little bit of that off my chest, here is the story of how Sylvia came to greet us just before the sun on Friday, May 10th 2013.
I awoke around 2:45am. My mind took a few seconds to gather thoughts out of dreamland and investigate the cause of my conscious state. What was it this time? Tiny squished bladder needs to be relived for the ba-zillionth time? Another Braxton Hicks contraction? A cramp in my leg? A fly buzzing around? Doesn’t take much to wake a 5-day-past-due pregnant lady – that is, assuming she is sleeping in the first place. I’ve decided it’s two: contraction and have to pee. I’ll just wait till this contraction is done before I get up, I thought to myself. And then there it was. That tingle. That sensation. Faint, subtle, and not too painful… but painful enough to widen my eyes and triple my heart rate. IT’S TONIGHT! I wanted to scream it from the rooftop. That estimated “due date” of May 5th had come and gone and every day and night that passed felt like a thousand years. But now, while the whole house was sleeping – all the people and even the walls and the curtains seemed to be snoring – but me: I am suddenly made very aware that the wait is over. The storm is coming. Not wanting to completely freak out my slumbering husband over one tiny little contraction, I went ahead to pee. Getting up stirs another contraction. Coming back from the bathroom, there is another – each one twice the intensity of the last. By now I am freaked. But still I try to wake Dan in a calm, loving manner (I’m going to need him by my side!), “Honey wake up. It’s happening. It’s tonight. (Insert forced smile.) I’m getting in the bath now.” The bath is supposed to stop Braxton Hicks, but I knew these were no fake contractions. Mainly, I just wanted to wash my face and wake up a bit before having a baby! So after just one more, I called out “Get me my phone. I need to call Ruth NOW.” Again, trying to sound calm, but inside was panic. It was just 3:00am now. I left a message on Ruth’s voicemail and as soon as I hung up, another wave crept in. I asked Dan to time it, and as he scrambled for his watch, I went into my mind’s secret room. As the wave subsided, I exhaled and looked over at him – he said it lasted about 60 seconds (if you don’t know, that’s a long time for an early contraction!). Right then, Ruth called and I explained to her what was going on. I felt a little weird admitting I had only been awake myself for about 15 or 20 minutes, but I was sure this was it and I didn’t want to waste any time. She asked about how far apart they were, I guessed about 5 minutes. Then I had one while we were on the phone—it was not as bad as the last and I remember praying, please let Ruth know that there is no reason to wait! She asked if I had any bloody show yet, I said no, and she thought that was odd. Then she said, “You live just a few minutes away, right? Okay, let’s meet at the Birth Center. I’ll leave now and will be ready for you at 3:30.” Whew, okay. We have a plan! Let’s do this! Lets go!!!
The next 25 minutes before we arrived at the Birth Center were pretty stressful for me. I remember looking at the clock with that first contraction, thinking maybe we’ll still have a nice morning birth, perhaps at 6 or 7am. But with each contraction that followed, my estimated time of delivery jumped closer and closer, so that by the time we were getting in the car, I grabbed a couple towels just in case I’d be catching this baby myself on the way! I knew it was happening fast, but Dan didn’t believe me. He did an excellent job not showing it, and still moved quickly to make phone calls and get all the stuff together. But he admitted to me later that had he known just how close I really was, he probably would have panicked and broken multiple laws while driving… so it’s a good thing. He called my mom, assigned to watch the sleeping sisters, and my on-call birth photographer (and long-time friend) Alicia to let them know YOU’RE ON. Meanwhile, I got out of the bath and had that bloody show Ruth was asking about. Contraction. I threw on my swim suit top and dress. Contraction. I rapidly brushed my teeth. Contraction. With shaking hands and quivering lips, I somehow managed to put in my contacts. Contraction. Slipped on my shoes and grabbed the car key. Contraction. I was heading to the garage when my mom walked in, looking excited and a bit jittery herself. I wanted to smile and I wanted to hug her, but all I could muster out was “Thank you for coming! It’s happening fast!!” I didn’t really make eye-contact or wait for a response, just headed to the car, hands full of towels. Dan was close behind, and off we went.
I was thrilled to be in the car heading toward my safe haven for having babies. Oh, how I love the Birth Center. God himself made sure that I would have all my babies there and I am inexpressibly grateful. Knowing that Ruth would be there, the same incredible woman who caught my other two was particularly comforting. There would be no checking-in, filling out paper work, explaining the situation; no need for greetings or introductions like at a hospital full of strangers and commotion. Just walk right in to this quaint little house full of love, beauty, safety, trust, cleanliness, professionalism and familiarity. So you can understand why my thoughts in the car were mostly “Just get there. Just get there. Just get there…” I had at least one contraction on the way, but my memory verses and prayers were more to help me overcome the worry than the pain. I was beginning to doubt that I’d get to have the “picture perfect” water birth I had been dreaming of, but I was determined to stay focused on God and his promises. You are my hiding place, O Lord... You will protect me and surround me with songs of deliverance… my chant and my song throughout this labor. God reminded me that it didn’t matter if I gave birth in a hot tub or a parking lot; it didn’t matter if there were beautiful pictures capturing every moment or not; all that mattered was that He was with me. He was holding baby Sylvia in his loving hand, protecting her and protecting me.
We got there at exactly 3:30am and Dan held my arm as we walked to the door. I had a flash of walking down the aisle with this same man about nine years ago, and my heart swelled for a moment, thinking about all that we had been through together. Ruth welcomed us and led me straight to the side of the bed that was prepared for my examination. Being “checked” can be a little painful, so I braced myself as her fingers went in. But it didn’t hurt at all and she was quick to announce, “Oh ya, you’re between 8 and 9cm.” Nothing too surprising for me, but I think it caught Dan a little off-guard. He made more phone calls and was back at my side. Since labor just started, I felt I needed to do all the things that women are supposed to do in early labor: walk around, sway, relax my face and “open like a flower”… but in reality, my body was way past the need for any of that. As I gazed longingly at the tub still filling with water, my midwife suggested I lay back down on the bed: “it might buy you some time,” she said.
Within about 15 minutes, Jen and Alicia arrived. I was in a very strange state of consciousness—I could see and hear everything that was going on in the room, yet I felt invisible. I couldn’t communicate except for very short requests like “water please” and “is the tub ready yet?” The contractions were so intense and close together that I just didn’t feel as though I could get into much of a conversation beyond that, so instead I just observed. I saw Ruth spending time on her phone (she was texting Amy, an on-call doula, to come quickly!) and calmly getting her supplies in order at the counter. I saw Jen working to get the tub ready. And I saw Alicia with her camera dancing around the parameter of the room as she snapped a few shots here and there. I knew that everyone was there for me and if I just started to push, they would rush to my side… and yet, strangely enough, my progression felt so fast that I thought “if they aren’t looking right at me, they might miss it!” And I felt like I really could have started pushing right then, but I wanted that water birth so badly that I did what I could mentally to keep the baby in.
My contractions became back-to-back: as soon as one ended, another began. So the moment Jen said the tub was ready, I stripped my cute strapless floor-length black dress (that I bought for this occasion and had only been wearing for about an hour) as I made my way across the room. Dan was there to help me get in. It was easy to get comfortable in the warm buoyant water, but all I could think was “how long before I can push this baby out?” And then my contractions started slowing down. And while it was nice to have a few pain-free minutes to breathe normally and rest a bit, it was hard to remain calm and patient. I really just wanted to have a baby, not sit around and relax in a tub!
While we were all waiting for the contractions to start up again, Ruth asked Dan if he was getting in the tub with me. I didn’t realize this, but he had already changed into his swimming trunks. He was sitting next to the tub and holding my hand. He looked at me and asked “Am I getting into the tub with you?” I said, “No.” He looked at Ruth and said “No.” Everyone giggled, including me. That cute little moment brought me joy because up to that point I felt like the tone in the room was too serious (just my perception, which of course was skewed). God gave me a chance to smile right before Sylvia’s birth and I’m so thankful for that. It was hard to put a finger on it then, but now that I’ve had some time to think about it and talk with a close friend of mine who had a water birth, I think what I felt was isolated. With my other births, Dan had his arms around me and everyone felt very close, but in the tub it felt as though there was a force field around me that no one could enter. So perhaps if I get to do it again, I will have Dan join me. It might help the force field to feel less impenetrable. But I was confident in my answer at the time because I wanted the whole tub to myself to freely move around. His offer to get in was enough to make me feel very loved and supported. (For future reference, I was amazed at how clean the water had maintained, which was a concern of mine!)
Ruth was also right there at the edge of the tub on my other side behind me, and I asked her if I could start pushing and she said she didn’t see why not. So I was elated and ready, just waiting for that contraction to come around. My water bag was still intact at this point, so I was (again) hoping for a baby born “en caul,” but just like the others, my water broke with my first big push. I knew exactly what had happened (after all, I’ve had this happen twice before), but it felt so strange in the water because there was no mess or “splash” on the floor. I remember feeling so much pressure right before, that while I pushed I was actually hoping it would break and expecting it to break. But I must have made an alarming face because everyone was quick to say, “It’s okay Lindsey! Your water just broke! That’s all it was! It’s okay!!” I wanted to say, “I know! It’s such a relief!” but I couldn’t muster out a single word. All I could do was breath with my jaw hanging wide open.
What happened next came as a bit of a surprise to me: the next contraction hurt! With my others, as soon as my water broke and I was all set to start pushing again, I could barely feel the contractions. I would (naively) complain about this because I couldn’t tell when to push exactly and ended up with tears both times. So I had prepped myself during pregnancy to just let the baby come out without forceful pushes, even if it meant it might take a while longer, to avoid tearing. And so, I heard a quiet little voice saying, “Take your time, don’t push too hard…” and I wanted to scream back at it “NO! Shut up! I’m pushing this baby out as fast as I can and I don’t care if I tear, dammit!” And so began the real battle for self-control, and honestly it felt like I was losing. God was my rock and I became intensely aware of how much I needed his all-sufficient grace and “power made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Rather than just facing “the wall” once like in my other labors, every contraction now came with an almost irresistible temptation to throw in the towel. I’m not exactly sure how I would do that, given that Sylvia was coming out no matter what I did, but there was a definite spiritual warfare going on for my heart and mind. Instinctively and almost uncontrollably, I made some of the loudest groans and screams I’ve ever made while I was pushing. I wasn’t sure at the time whether it was okay to do-- I was lovingly encouraged to stay quiet during the birth of my first child because it wasted energy that could be used toward pushing. But in this case of the speedy super birth, as I found out later, Ruth believed it was helpful for me to be loud! It was good for me to expend some energy elsewhere and keep myself from over-pushing. So Ruth never told me to be quiet. Jen, however, did say at one point, “Listen! Listen! Listen! Listen to Ruth!” because I think she was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hear anyone over my wailing. I wanted to respond, “Yes, I am listening!” but again could not speak. My jaw had dropped and would not budge. Ruth was mostly very quiet, letting me birth without any intrusion except for checking the baby’s heartbeat, which didn’t bother me at all. She also gently helped me to have a comfortable position with my knees and feet spread far enough apart and was narrating my progress as she saw the baby coming out. She had to remind me a couple of times to stop pushing once the contraction was over, which was hard for me to do because I desperately wanted the baby out in one push and hated having to wait around for that next contraction to push again. I remember triumphantly feeling the head crowning after a push and then as soon as the contraction was over, feeling the head slip right back in. I actually shouted out “She went back in!!” because I was so discouraged. I have read so much about births that I knew this was completely normal and good. It helps to prepare and stretch things out. I think either Ruth or Jen said something like “It’s okay Lindsey! That’s supposed to happen,” but I was just plain irritated and didn’t want to hear it. I continued in wanting the baby out like, NOW.
At that, I knew my sanity was on the verge of breakdown, so I prayed like mad between contractions. I couldn’t recite an entire verse, but instead I found myself softly chanting aloud “You are my God, You are my God, You are my God…” Dan was pretty quiet, but when he spoke it was always so helpful and truth-filled. He recited to me a few times, “You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.” I loved holding his hand and simply knowing he was there and that he loved me, which reminded me of God’s steadfast love for me. I had a flood of emotions that’s hard to articulate, but one thing I remember in particular was how much my expectations for a perfect communion with God were being crushed. Not that God wasn’t there; He most certainly was. But I had expected far too much from myself. I wanted to be this shining testimony of God’s ability to give strength and self-control. In other words, I wanted to be seen as strong and self-controlled. I wanted God to receive glory, but I also wanted a little glory for myself too. So instead, God humbled me and showed me my weakness. In hindsight, I am eternally thankful for the lesson on my need for what Christ accomplished on the cross. It’s arrogant and dumb to think I could accomplish the spiritual piety of a Christian martyr on my own efforts and with the bent of receiving some sort of recognition for it. I need to be reminded that without God’s divine intervention, I am unable to conjure up the “fruit of the spirit” such as gentleness and self-control because once I start thinking I can, I forget why Christ had to die. But in the moment, it did not feel so good and I wondered how in the heck martyrs endured the pain that they did when I can barely keep it together for five stinking minutes.
And so, despite my waning patience, just another push or two later, the head was out and out to stay. The announcement was made and the room filled with joy and anticipation. In a matter of minutes, Sylvia was completely out and before I had a chance to really exhale, there she was in my arms. Ruth had been behind me and helped her “swim” right between my legs and up into my hands. The time was 4:21am. What a miracle! You would think after two, I wouldn’t be so shocked that there was a baby! But I was! Instantly, all the pain was completely gone and I could hardly catch my breath. I was amazed at how clean and perfect she looked, but then realized, well of course, she just had a bath! Suddenly, my ability to talk returned and the first thing I said was, “Hi Alicia!” It was a little silly and made everyone laugh, but I had wanted to say it right when she got there and couldn’t, so it seemed appropriate to me. Then, of course, my focus turned back to Sylvia and even though I was at a loss for words, I tried to talk to her just to let her hear my voice and let her know mommy is here. I kept looking at her and looking up at Dan and looking at her. I really felt like we did it together, because of how involved, supportive and emotionally invested Dan had been. I know how much he loves babies and had loved feeling all the kicks during pregnancy but couldn’t see her or hold her. Talk about patience! I wanted to let him hold her right then, seeing the look in his eyes! And then… she pooped. Right there in my arms! Ha! But I did not care one bit. She could literally do no wrong. It reminds me now of how God loves me and holds me close even when I am filthy. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
She didn’t make a lot of noise except when Ruth was trying to examine her while she was still in my arms. But of course, even her cries were cute. Then it was time to stand up and move to the bed to deliver the placenta. I had plenty of help getting up and out of the tub while I held the baby still attached to me with her umbilical cord. I made a bit of a bloody mess on the floor right when I stepped out, but only felt a little embarrassed because there was really nothing that could happen that would take away from the joy and relief I felt to have Sylvia out. I lied down on the bed and had towels to dry myself and create a sort of curtain so that I could just hang with the baby while Ruth took care of stuff “down there.” Once the blood stopped pumping in the cord and it was apparent to Ruth that Sylvia was no longer receiving nutrients from the placenta, she clamped the cord and asked Dan if he wanted to cut it. He declined, but I jumped in and said I would do it! Something came over me and I decided it would be a special memory to be able to say, “I cut the cord!” and officially gave her the freedom to be her own independent person.
I was in my own little blissful world and didn’t care much about pushing the placenta out (what a difference from the pushing I was doing earlier!), but when Ruth told me to push, I did and out it came. Ruth examined me and discovered a small tear, but gave me the option of having stitches or not! I decided to not have stitches and let it heal on its own. What a blessing!
It was right around this time Sylvia pooped again in my arms, so Ruth got a diaper on her as soon as she could and we all laughed about it. Then I sat up in the bed a bit, got a shirt on (one of Dan’s button-ups) and got a little more comfortable. Ruth checked my vitals and the baby’s vitals while Jen and Amy worked quickly to clean things up and then left us to have special bonding time with baby. She was ready to nurse right away. She knew exactly what to do (even though she had never done it before!) and nursed for over an hour! It didn’t bother me one bit and I became extremely chatty and social with everyone in the room. I called my mom to tell her the news. I figured she had probably fallen asleep on our couch, but I still wanted her to be the first to know. Dan left a message for his parents, who had already hit the road right around the time she was born (Dan had called them right after I was checked at 8-9cm, so they packed up to leave from their house in Sparks, NV – about a two-hour drive).
Alicia was adamant about having us tell her when to leave the room, but it was hard for me because I was so chatty and wanted to visit with her. Then Dan pulled out a surprise. He told me later he had thought about asking Alicia to leave so that we could be alone, but then thought it might be fun to have pictures of what he was about to do. So he just went ahead, and out of the blue, handed me a little gold box with a big gold bow on it. I was SO surprised! Words cannot express how surprised and ecstatic I was over this little box. It was like a Hollywood movie and could hardly believe it was real. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. So as I was still nursing Sylvia, I opened it to find a little black jewelry box containing sweet little emerald stud earrings – the birthstone for May. I was trying to keep it together, but pretty much broke down in tears. Again, he was showing me how much God loves me: so much more than I expect and so much more than I deserve.
Shortly after, Jen came in with a clipboard for Dan to fill out some information for the birth certificate and records. After that, Dan finally got his turn with the baby! Then Ruth came in and did Sylvia’s exam. She weighed 9 pounds and 4 ounces (both her sisters weighed 9 pounds even, so she was my biggest!) and she measured 20 and ¾ inches tall. She sneezed a few times, so they didn’t ever have to suction her nose with the bulb—she was able to clear up her nose all by herself! I loved watching Ruth examine her because it instantly reminded me of when she examined the other girls when they were born and overwhelms me with gratitude to God for the blessings of these beautiful healthy babies. It was also a blessing not to worry about taking pictures. We just sat back and relaxed while Alicia took care of it for us! I was ready for my first attempt to go potty, since I had been drinking a TON of water all morning. I was pleasantly surprised at how sitting up in bed so soon after birth did not make me light-headed like it did with the other births (especially my first). But I was not able to pee, so I went back to bed. My second attempt a little later, however, was successful! Hurray! (An empty bladder is essential to allowing my uterus to go back into its place.) Meanwhile, Dan got some more play time with his youngest daughter.
Sylvia and I both got some clothes on and Ruth came in with a gift bag for me! Again, I was blown away. How was it that I kept getting gift after gift?! I wanted to be the one handing out gifts to all these amazing people who had helped me during this huge event! Maybe with my forth, I will have figured out how to plan ahead and have gifts ready to pass out after having a baby. But anyway, Ruth gave me a pink shirt and hat for Sylvia with The Birth Center logo and some candy goodies. She then began going through the folder of papers, and as she started, we saw the family members pulling up through the window. So she tried to speedily go through it all (how to get the birth certificate, information on breastfeeding, newborn care, new mom care, etc.) and said she knew I knew it all already. Just as Ruth was finishing up, my mom came in with big sisters Natalie (2) and Evelyn (4).
Natalie walked right in, but Evelyn got a little scared or shy and would not enter the room. I was a little disappointed, but I knew she would warm up with time and tried to just enjoy a little time with Natalie. She was adorable, saying “Hi” to everyone and getting up on the bed to “hold” her new little sister. Of course Sylvia turned out to be a little heavier than Natalie was expecting, so she didn’t hold Sylvia for too long (just like the day Natalie was born and Evelyn tried to hold her). My mom was cute when she saw Sylvia because she didn’t realize I was holding her when she first walked in the room. She squealed with delight and got to hold her for a few minutes before Dan’s parents arrived. It was so fun seeing Sylvia get passed around and enjoyed by so many people who loved her already. She slept like an angel, drunk in what I call a “milk-coma.” Everything felt very relaxed, as we all just hung out and enjoyed each other’s company. It was perfect to have gotten a chance to nurse before everyone got there: she had full belly, I was happy for the little break, and everyone else was happy to “have a turn” with her.
I knew I couldn’t keep Alicia forever, though, so we made attempts to get Evelyn in the room for a family photo. She had finally warmed up in the lobby area with Dan’s mom and Sylvia, and had begun playing and acting more like herself. But she still didn’t want to come in the room, so the family photo has her hiding behind her teddy bear. But that’s just real life and I knew that there would be plenty of other opportunities to get pictures all together. (In fact, it was right around this time that Alicia surprised me with another gift: she would come to our house and shoot a newborn photo session in one week! What a treat that was.) So after we got a few more pictures of Sylvia with everyone, Alicia went home and we began making plans to head home ourselves.
My mom took the “big sisters” out to breakfast at McDonalds. It was around 7:30am that Dan began packing and getting Sylvia all buckled up in the car seat. Then Ruth helped me to sit up and stand, and after some evaluation decided to have me sit back down. I had lost a significant amount of blood by this point and was starting to feel the effects of it, particularly when standing or trying to move. So she decided to have me sit on a special walker they have and wheeled me out to the car instead of having me walk. Ruth gave some final instructions about having Dan help me to the bed and making me rest all day. I thanked her and she thanked me for having beautiful births! Dan’s parents followed us home, but stopped at McDonald’s drive-thru to pick up some breakfast for all of us (we aren’t usually big McDonald’s customers, but it sure was a blessing on this day!) We were home by 8am, and I began texting my friends the news as I enjoyed my smoothie and Egg McMuffin!
It all felt like a dream, like I had somehow just woken up with a baby. I loved how God orchestrated the timing of it all, for me to have suffered the pains of labor in the night but then to have those beautiful first rays of morning shine upon a new baby, welcoming her into the world. It reminds me of the psalms that speak of terror and darkness in the nights followed by mercy and light in the mornings. Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” When I started writing, Sylvia was just 5 days old, but now that I’ve finally reached the end, she is 6 weeks old. Once I started recovering physically, it became harder and harder to find the time to sit down and write since there is always so much to do with three girls! But more than that, I needed to take some time to fully process and accept the shortness and intensity of the birth. I’m glad I did, and I can now honestly say that I am thankful for the experience God has given me. To Him be the honor, glory and praise!