While I'm basking in the sweetness of my new baby, I've asked some friends to share their birth stories at This Heavenly Life. Danielle of Sugar and Snails shares her story today and -- as usual for sweet Danielle -- it's beautifully told. Be sure to make her feel welcome and then hop over to her blog to get to know her better. You'll be so glad you did.
I had my first baby in a hospital.
The labor was 36 hours long and in my humble opinion, it was arduous and harrowing.
My baby girl was healthy. I was healthy. By most accounts it was a successful birth, if not entirely perfect.
Two years later, I was expecting our second child and my husband, Nick, and I decided we wanted things to be more relaxed and peaceful than they had been at our daughter’s birth. We chose a free-standing birth center with a midwife instead of a hospital in an effort to improve our odds of having a natural delivery in a tranquil setting.
We had a plan and a place; now it was all about timing – waiting for our baby’s birthday to arrive.
The following is the story of how the timing part got in the way of our best-laid plans and how I learned a new way to measure my own success at delivering a baby.
Here is my birth story:
It was a Saturday evening in late May and summer in north Florida was just starting to kick into high gear. Nick had left that morning for one final business trip to Dallas before our baby’s due date in three weeks.
I had settled our then 2-year-old, Liliana, into her bed and curled up on the couch to rest.
I scooted the old white T-shirt of Nick’s that I was wearing over my belly to reveal the tiny elbows and knees rolling under my tightly stretched skin. I laughed at the prenatal gymnastics going on in there and got to thinking about how soon this baby would be in my arms. Then, realizing how tired I was, I decided to head to bed.
A few hours later, I woke up in a puddle of warm fluid.
For a good five minutes I lay in bed, vacillating between shock and denial at the labor-prompting development that had just happened. When I just couldn’t ignore the discomfort anymore, I rolled out of bed, grabbed a towel and called our midwife to ask if this slow, continual leak could be something else – not real labor.
She said no, this was indeed the real deal and that I needed to get my husband home pronto. That was bad news, for sure, but it was the next part of the conversation that was the hardest for me to come to terms with.
My midwife told me that if I delivered within the next 48 hours, I would still only be 36 weeks pregnant, which isn’t actually considered full-term. She was not allowed to deliver pre-term babies at the birth center, so I would have to have our baby at a hospital -- the type of birth I had so hoped to avoid.
I tried not to panic while I called Nick and started thinking up a new plan.
I packed a bag and made a list of friends to call in the morning to arrange for care for Liliana and a back-up labor coach should Nick not make it home in time.
The hours ticked away slowly as I tried to rest and not freak out.
By mid-morning, my contractions still eluded me, which was a blessing until Nick came home. Then, I would have done anything to feel those comforting, familiar pains of early labor. At this point, the longer we waited for labor to begin, the greater the risk of infection to our baby without the protection of amniotic fluid.
Nick and I ferried Liliana to a friend’s house that evening, and we went out to dinner. I ate spicy food and walked and walked. Still no contractions. By 6 the next morning – day two of our situation -- I felt like we needed some help.
We had to go to a hospital.
It was Memorial Day, so the labor-and-delivery floor was pretty quiet – no scheduled inductions or C-sections on account of the holiday.
We filled out reams of paperwork, and then a nurse led me to a triage room, where I was coerced into removing my favorite Counting Crows concert T-shirt in order to don a hospital gown.
This was really happening now.
The doctor who was in charge of my care introduced herself and she seemed competent and caring. She also had some good news for us. Since I was already five centimeters dilated, a little Pitocin would jumpstart some contractions and the baby would be out in no time.
Soon there were needles in my arm, antibiotics and artificial hormones pulsing through my veins and two bulky heart-rate monitors strapped uncomfortably around my mid-section. I couldn’t see how I was supposed to have a natural delivery under these circumstances. I wasn’t allowed to get up or to eat and I was discouraged from moving at all, so as not to disrupt the heart-rate monitor feeds.
Tears pooled in my eyes as I stared at white hospital walls and waited for the contractions.
Then, there was Nick.
While the nurses settled me into the delivery room, he had run to the car to grab the portable CD player and my favorite pillow. He even smuggled in a granola bar for me when the nurses weren’t looking.
It had seemed to me that no one else was thinking of my comfort, but Nick was.
In the next few hours, the contractions finally started and I felt the real work of labor taking hold. It was welcome pain. Within an hour, though, the Pitocin-spiked contractions reached a new level. They sent a hot, searing pain to the core of my body, the intensity of which I had never felt before.
In a desperate attempt to gain some control over my body’s reaction to the pain, I found Nick’s eyes again and he reminded me that those intense contractions meant that we would meet our new son or daughter any minute now.
I started to moan and yell and twist, and my body started to do on its own what I wasn’t capable of telling it to do.
When I realized what was happening, all I could say was: Push. Push. PUSH!
In an instant the doctor and nurses were around me, animated and loud. The lights seemed so bright and I didn’t want to be on my back for another second, but I couldn’t gather enough words to tell anyone that, so I just continued to push.
I pushed from my soul, from my toenails and from the very depths of my being once, twice, maybe a third time, and at last, our baby emerged.
He was a perfect, 5-pound squalling baby boy with spiky hair and fuzzy, bird-like limbs.
When the nurses placed my son in my arms and with my husband at our side, the hospital and all of its cords, lights and beeping noises drifted far away from us.
Here was Calvin Ray and he was perfect.
I nursed him. I swaddled him and kissed him. I touched his dark hair and held him close. I was in awe of the beautiful thing that had emerged from this ugly situation.
The doctor congratulated me and remarked at how well I had handled the pain. She told me I had made it look so easy and that Nick and I should teach classes on how to do that.
I hadn’t felt like it was easy. I hadn’t felt comfortable with anything that had happened to me that day. I had wanted it to be so different. But when I heard the doctor tell me how it looked from the outside, I realized why it had seemed so effortless: I had been forced to relinquish my control and something greater had taken over.
The pain and the momentum of the labor forced my strong will to get out of the way, and to let my body do its work.
Our children don’t know it, but they’re always teaching us things. My tiny Calvin showed me that some of our most treasured moments happen in the midst of messed up circumstances.
His entry into the world taught me that sometimes I need to let go and that doesn’t mean everything is going to fall apart on us. There’s something bigger holding us up all the time.
I also think whatever happens to us in childbirth tells a story about how we might handle adversity as parents. I hope Calvin’s birth story has prompted me to step out of the way when what I have planned just isn’t working for us.
I also hope that it will remind me to let Calvin be who he’s supposed to be, because I’m certain it’s a whole lot more remarkable than anything Nick and I could design on our own.