Not quite sure why it has taken so long to put my fourth birth experience into words… Obviously a little busy around here and New Girl has decided that her awake time will be right after I put the others’ to bed. But I think the procrastination is due to the energy that it takes to put such an intense, amazing experience into words. I’m determined to try, though; and to do so before I forget too many of the gooey details. And “gooey” is just the beginning of the Too Much Information that you are about to ingest, so if you don’t have the stomach for it, you may want to just watch this and call it a night.
Where to start…
So because this was birth number four, I should share a quick run down of the others. Our first-born daughter was a natural birth planned at a maternity center, but because I remained at 6 cm for 18 hours I was determined as a “failure to progress” (which I now know is not an accurate diagnosis since you are always progressing in birth but it may not show in the limited ways the medical culture measures it.) The midwife on duty transferred me to the local hospital and after a mild epidural, pitocin, and a SWEET nap, I woke up at 10 cm. It took 2 1/2 hours to push her out because her fist was up by her face (awesome tear for me, btw), but despite the hospital rule of an automatic C-section after 2 hours of pushing, the midwife advocated for me and this allowed the birth to be a vaginal one. VERY grateful for that.
My next two (boy then girl) were both natural home births and each story was unique and awesome and I learned new things each time. I only wrote the third birth story down, so you can read it here if you are a true birth junkie. I loved homebirth and am a huge proponent of its safety and benefits.
And then we come to this sweet girl and because we moved to SB where everything (including a homebirth) is more expensive, we opted to birth in the hospital here which has a great reputation for being natural birth-friendly. I also think God has some special plan for my life to give me lots of interesting convictions and passions, but to periodically test me to make sure I put my trust in Him more than them. I’m a homeschool mom at heart with a daughter in a Spanish immersion charter school. I wanted another homebirth, but (most likely) ended my birthing career in a hospital. I’m a super health freak who has come a long way to be able to enjoy local Mexican street tacos without obsessing about how unclean the meat must be. As my friend Holly says, “I keep trying to be so extreme, but God won’t let me.”
And you know what? He was faithful. Despite a couple of homebirth-oriented friends reminding me about the insanity of heading to a sick house when pregnancy is not an illness, I felt a total peace about this new development in my birth experiences. And God brought some other friends to give me resources to encourage me at just the right time – one of my favorites being Supernatural Childbirth.
You see, with each pregnancy God has led me to a book that gives me a new perspective and changes the way I think about life. It started with stumbling across the oddly titled Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing at the maternity center which introduced me to a whole new world of child-rearing philosophies, namely attachment parenting, which we still mostly follow to this day. I also appreciated Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way and the “husband-coached” birth class that Luke and I took together. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth was the book that ushered me confidently into birthing at home after reading all the crazy, amazing birth stories that she has catalogued over decades of being a hippy-midwife. It is not for the faint of heart, but she has some awesome tips and tricks that can literally change the course of one’s labor that unfortunately the current medical establishment has let go of in the haze of pharmaceutically induced births.
I was also blessed over the years to prepare for my own births by watching videos of natural childbirths (borrowed from my midwives library collections) that were the opposite of Hollywood’s fear-based, screaming-for-drugs depiction. I highly recommend The Business of Being Born and any other natural birth video you can get your hands on. I still cry every time I see a baby come out. It’s arguably the most precious event this side of heaven. And the perfect antidote for the birth-fear that our current generation has been saddled with.
But this time around, my aforementioned friend Holly (mother of 4 kids all born naturally in the local hospital) handed me Supernatural Childbirth. I’ll start by saying that I questioned a number of things that this lady said, including that it’s God’s intention that childbirth should be pain-free. Holly and I both agreed that God doesn’t owe us or promise us that, but that the take away from this book was that God has more for us spiritually in pregnancy and birth than we can initially imagine. For Holly, she felt that God was telling her that her most recent birth was going to be one marked with peace – certainly not an adjective usually found in the same sentence as “labor pains.” But her birth was astonishingly peaceful and even her birth attendants observed that. And I felt that God was leading me into a joyful birth and, as you shall read, kept His word. As well, it gave me some great scriptures to meditate on before and during the labor.
So speaking of labor, Melanie, can you get to the actual birth story already?! Sheesh!
Okay, yes. Well, soon. Because you also have to know the history behind this particular birth and a teensy bit about the pregnancy. And then I’ll get to it, I promise.
My first 3 pregnancies were all relatively easy and healthy. And then I had 2 miscarriages. I had wanted four kids for a long time and yet there was a season where I wondered if that would actually come to fruition. When I got pregnant this time around, I vowed that I would never be ungrateful or complain about the minor annoyances that sometimes come when another human being is growing inside you and sucking you dry like a parasite. And I am happy to say that I felt quite grateful and positive pretty much the whole time. It should also be said that God was very generous to me since, for a 38-year-old having a fourth full term pregnancy, I felt remarkably healthy, in shape, and energetic. I had some bouts with a struggling immune system, but was even able to conquer those buggies naturally. I am even bouncing back better than I remember with the others. So a big high-five to God for all that.
Her due date was December 28th and though I had kinda wanted a winter baby seeing as how my current three cover the other seasons, I was not sure how I felt about having a holiday baby. (I’ve gotten lots of tips from you Christmas babies along the way, though, so I’m up for the task.) Plus I got to put my feet in Mary’s sandals and it was a rich experience that made this Christmas the most special one yet.
Luke had expressed in no uncertain terms that receiving the $1,000 tax credit for birthing her before the new year would be much appreciated. And by the time December 27th came around, I was not looking forward to the overdue-ness that my other girls had decided to be, so after ruling out a host of natural induction methods, we just decided to pray that God would bring her on her due date.
Sure enough, at 2:30 in the morning on Friday, the 28th, I woke up with my first rolling contraction. I smiled and thanked God. It felt like – and I kept envisioning – waves. (I suppose that it helps that the Pacific Ocean is about a mile from our doorstep. Another high-five for God.) They were at least 20 minutes apart, so I just snoozed through the rest of the night and early morning. Luke, the kids and I all woke up between 7 and 8 am and I just went about our normal morning business, pausing here and there for a contraction. I slowly packed up the rest of our hospital necessities and we eventually dropped the kids off with Luke’s folks around noon.
I had a hankering for In-n-Out burger (I have craved grilled onions during every pregnancy) so we went there for lunch and then decided to walk on the beach to see if we could get the labor to speed up a bit. While we were walking, we heard a dad call to his daughter to come to him – with the same (fairly unusual) name as we had decided on for our little girl! I took it as a sweet confirmation. The labor did not intensify so Luke suggested we go home and nap just in case this was going to be a longer labor and we would need to store up our energy. My doula, Meribeth, who has been an awesome blessing from the get go, encouraged us to do what we felt my body needed. She said there is no wrong direction for a labor to go and it’s never going to “regress” so listen to your body and obey it. This was a good word for me, because part of the discouragement for my previous birth was thinking that something was wrong that it was not intensifying predictably and I felt discouraged that I had to rest.
So we laid down for a nap at 2:30pm and this was actually the hardest part mentally. The contractions were close enough together that I barely snoozed between them and was awake enough to feel a real spiritual attack of fear. I had known all along that I was going to do another natural birth and I literally had no fear about the potential pain until this moment. I was in this strange awake/sleep state where I was quoting scripture and speaking truth out loud nonstop to combat the waves of fear that had suddenly come over me. My friend Holly had warned me that after diving into the supernatural potential for birth and the promises God had made about it, that she experienced more spiritual attack than her previous births. So I just kept focusing on the promise of JOY that God had given me. And when we woke up around 4:30pm, I really felt I had done a huge part of the work in those two hours (both physically and emotionally).
We decided to follow another friend’s advice to drive to the hospital and walk around there until you feel ready to check in. This seemed wise because my biggest concern with the hospital birth was the timing of our arrival. You don’t want to get there too early because they can start getting antsy and want to “help things along.” Plus, our insurance would charge more the longer we were there. But you also don’t want to wait too long and show up with the baby’s head coming out, which has been known to happen to women who have already had multiple births. But once I was upright, the contractions started coming much closer together (3 by the time I got in the car, 2 on the ride to the hospital, 2 in the parking lot, 2 while in the lobby, etc.) that we just decided to check right on in as soon as we got there (at around 5:30pm).
They offered me a wheelchair ride up to the labor and delivery floor, but sitting down has never been my favorite position to labor in, so I walked myself up there, pausing for the contractions. I was lucid enough to mention my birth plan and our desire to sign the waiver to take the placenta home for encapsulation and then they took me to my room where they gave me the gown and pointed me to the bathroom to put it on. I had 3 contractions back to back before I could get my clothes off and that stupid gown on, but it was never fully secured and kept falling off my shoulder throughout the labor.
The nurse checked my dilation and said that I was at 9 1/2 cm (never been at a 1/2 cm before – must be a hospital thing) and ready to start pushing. This wasn’t entirely true as I still had about 15 more minutes of contractions before I felt the urge to push. (It’s one of my pet peeves about hospital types, btw, that they say detailed statement like “you’re going to have the baby in the next 10 minutes!” or “this baby is going to be 9 pounds!” that you can’t actually know until after the fact. But whatever.) This is also when my waters broke with quite a force like I’d never experience before.
The same nurse also wouldn’t let me put the squatting bar up so I could lean on it during the pushing. I asked twice and she said I wouldn’t need it, but it’s hard to argue when the next contraction hits you like a mac truck. And my doula wasn’t there yet to advocate for me. In hind sight, it was the biggest disappointment about the hospital experience because I was never in a comfortable position to push.
First, I was sitting on the bed and felt like the baby’s head was pushing into my tail bone and wasn’t going to come out because the mattress was in the way, and because of this, my butt was numb for days afterward. So I turned around on my knees and leaned up against the inclined top of the bed. But in this position, I had to bear a lot of my own weight so my legs were tired and shook a lot afterward. I also was unable to do clitoral stimulation (TMI!!!) as effectively as my last birth, which brings blood into your nether regions allowing them to stretch more easily. I eventually told myself that I just wanted her out even if I tore.
In hindsight, the nurses or doctor should have offered warm compresses or olive oil to help with stretching instead of just standing their waiting. And I can’t figure out if Nurse No was just too lazy to get the squatting bar out or what, but this I know: my homebirth midwives offered helpful natural remedies during the pushing and never said I didn’t need something I wanted because they trust the intuition of a birthing mom. Just sayin’…
On the upside, once my doula got there she had perfectly timed encouraging words, anticipated my needs (wiping my face with a cool wet rag, asking if I wanted water or ice chips, etc.), and communicated to the nurses and doctors with ease. She is known among birthing moms to have a special God-given favor with the hospital staff. She also came and cleaned my bathroom as an afterbirth blessing. #doulasarerockstars Thank you, Meribeth!
One of the odd things about my last hour of labor was that the active contractions through transition were super fast and the most efficient of any of my births, but the pushing was slow and had long pauses between urges. At one point, it seemed like baby girl was just about to come out so they ran and got the doctor (who was going back and forth between two labors.) But when she got to me, I had such a long pause before the next push that the whole room was quiet and she eventually asked me if I had any urges to push yet. To which I briskly shook my head ‘no’ thinking what every birthing mom thinks, “believe me, you’ll know when I have the urge to push.” It is such an uncontrollable, instinctual action that your body just does it without your permission and you have no other choice than to just go with it. It’s a really unusual feeling.
Luke told me later (and I remember) that I was smiling between pushes. I was thinking that I couldn’t believe that she was almost here and I was going to get to meet her very soon. I was so excited. And Luke noted that he didn’t ever have to encourage me during the labor process because I never got discouraged about the pain or looked at him with that, “Is it too late for the DRUGS?!” look in my eye. That was my experience of God’s joyful presence over me.
So on the next push, she came out – I cried, of course – at 6:39pm, just over an hour after we had checked in. I felt a small tear down under and I remember thinking it felt somewhat explosive – fast and wet. (TMI!!) I turned back around, trying not to get tangled in the umbilical cord, they put her on my chest, wrapped one of those ugly, scratchy hospital blankets around her, and I just gazed at her chubby cheeks. (I had put in my order for those specifically.) She didn’t look much like any of my other 3 and we are still trying to figure out who she looks like (besides Chris Farley in the cheeks/double chin region.) We are also 4 for 4 on the full head of hair. I don’t know how we’ve managed that.
The afterbirth took longer and hurt more than I remember as I birthed the placenta, my OB sowed me up, and I bled too much. It was a little hard to focus completely on her with all the poking around down there. They had to massage my uterus (which is exactly what you DON’T want to feel after you just squeezed a baby out of it), give me two shots of oxytocin (which caused me to throw up) to finally stop the bleeding, and lots of follow-up blood pressure/bleeding check ups (which caused me to have the most interrupted night’s sleep EVER).
I’m honestly disappointed that I bled as much as I did, because I had taken some herbs the last 5 weeks of pregnancy that really helped me not over-bleed with my last birth. I do admit to not always remembering to take the herb capsules as often as I was supposed to this time around (because I still have some left), but am thankful that I never needed a blood transfusion. And I will sing the praises of coconut water because I nursed two bottles of it right after the birth was over and many of us were surprised how quickly I got my color back and the bleeding stopped. It has naturally occurring electrolytes minus the artificial colors and sugars of Gatorade, Vitamin Water, etc. In fact, it has even been used as an effective form of intravenous hydration. (Another God high-five, no?)
So the New Girl nursed pretty quickly afterward and, though I battled minor thrush, a couple scabs on my nipples (TMI!!!), and she has had a handful of projectile vomits from my milk coming out too quickly, we are both doing well in the breastfeeding department.
The rest is kind of a blur. Kids and grandparents came to visit and were thrilled and wanted to man-handle her right away. They transferred the 3 of us to a new room which looked like it belonged in a Hilton hotel. Luke went with her to get measured and poked and bathed. (All things that are done far less invasively and less immediately in a homebirth, FYI.) Our nurse for our time there, DoraLisa, was AWESOME. We had to watch a couple of educational videos and sign a bunch of papers. Pastor Dale and Amy came to meet her. The food was mighty tasty. And Luke watched some ESPN.
Because our insurance was going to charge us another $1,000 to stay another night, we checked out the next evening around 9pm. The hospital staff kept saying, “Don’t you want to stay for another night on your mini vacation?” And I would explain the insurance costs while thinking, “Why would I want to spend $1,000 to have half the staff continually interrupt my sleep?!” That night, even New Girl let me have a 4 hour stretch at home. I felt like a new woman.
Alright, I gotta end this somewhere. I’m sure I’m forgetting some amazing detail that you can ask me about in the comments. Or not. There are probably enough details here to satisfy your birth story fix for a long time to come. Overall, we are so grateful for the JOY (her middle name) that the Lord has brought us in this new life and as I have written in my various thank you cards to those who have kept us in prayer, given us gifts and brought us meals, “They heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared in her JOY.” Luke 1:58b Thank you for sharing in our JOY!