It was 4:00 am on Monday, August 29th, 2005 that the contractions woke me up. It wasn’t unusual for them to wake me up in the night those last couple of weeks, but this morning was a little different. They weren’t really stronger on that morning, but for some reason, I was more alert. I stayed awake and noticed that they were coming in regular intervals, so I woke Erich at 4:20 am for help discerning if labor had actually begun. We timed the contractions and, sure enough, they were about 5 minutes apart and growing a bit stronger each time. We were pretty sure this was it!
Overcome with excitement and anticipation, we energetically finished packing the suitcase that I had been working on for weeks, cared for the dogs, and ate breakfast, all by 5:30am – a time we weren’t sure even existed prior to this morning.
Erich thought it would be wise to try to sleep more after that to conserve energy for the big event. Though he fell right asleep, I was far too excited to sleep! Plus, the growing strength of the contractions was prompting me to move into some pretty funny positions to find comfort. Kneeling on the floor with my head resting on the foot of the bed and my bottom wagging back and forth worked best. It may have looked a little funny, but the combination of leaning forward plus the rocking motion really eased the pain.
Looking back years later, I am amazed that my body knew what to do. I have seen several other birthing shows where other women did the same thing. It’s certainly not something I remember seeing others do prior to my own experience and decided to copy. I just did it. Just like they did, I’m sure. It’s just neat that we don’t have to be trained or directed through every bit of labor. Much of it just happens if we let it. Now, back to the story! 😉
Once Erich woke back up we talked about what we should do. We had an appointment scheduled for 3pm later that day, but I was definitely too eager to wait that long to find out what kind of progress we were making. Around 7:30 am we had one of the midwives paged. She called back and said that since my water hadn’t broken and I hadn’t yet lost my mucus plug there probably wasn’t much reason to rush in. But she said that we were welcome to come in for a labor check once the birthing center opened. That became our plan.
In the meantime, there were lots of last minute things to do. I had to call my mom to let her know what was going on, we had to pack the car, leave a key so that someone could come care for the dogs, and straighten up the house. (I wanted it in some kind of order before we brought our baby girl home.)
By now, the contractions were becoming intense and demanding. When I felt one revving up, I had to stop whatever I was doing, lean on something and breathe loudly in and out of my mouth until it passed. Then, I’d excitedly resume with the task at hand. Though the pain of the contractions was sharply increasing, they were never unbearable. God generously provided periods of rest between them (which is further testament to His incredible grace – to give rest even in the midst of the curse of labor pain that resulted from Eve’s disobedience in the garden).
As odd as this sounds, I actually found the contractions to be kind of fun. We had just spent the last six weeks learning about the incredible capacities of a mother’s body and the miraculous process mothers and their babies go through leading up to a birth. I knew that my body was working in conjunction with Madeline’s tiny body to bring her into the world. Every pain was the productive by-product of that work. And with every pain, my birthing experience was unfolding. I was finally getting to experience this tremendous and unique even for which we had been preparing for months!
My eyes filled up with tears as we made our way down our neighborhood’s winding hill. This was IT! We were in labor! Today we would get to meet the baby that God had been knitting together in my womb for the last 9 months! What a joyous occasion!
We got in to see Susan Sims around 10am. Between contractions I was brimming with excitement. She smiled through all of my enthusiastic chatter, seeing it as a sure sign that we were only in the beginning stages of labor. Her exam of me confirmed it. Though we were almost fully effaced, we were only 3 cm dilated. In her estimation, we still had a long way to go. But she offered to prepare a room for us if we wanted to stay anyway. There was no trace of my usual indecisiveness. I definitely wanted to stay!
It’s a good thing we did. Towards the end of our exam, things started to happen fast. Every contraction became more serious than the last. And with every contraction I became more inwardly-focused. The task of delivering the baby consumed my attention and the world around me faded.
Though my memories are a bit spotty from this point on, I remember a few things clearly:
- Being cold in our room.
- Bouncing on a birthing ball on our small, private patio under the overcast August sky.
- Wrapping my arms around Erich’s neck and hanging onto him once the ball stopped easing the contraction pains.
- Shivering uncontrollably.
- Feeling the urge to poo and not being able to (repeatedly!)
- Hearing Susan tell me the birthing tub was just about ready though it might still be too hot.
- Smiling with bliss and voicing my delight as I entered the soothing hot water. (There’s a reason midwives call a birthing tub their version of an epidural. What a beautiful thing that tub was!)
- Trying to avoid the intense chemical smell of the water. (That was the ONLY thing I would have changed)
- Asking Erich to brush his teeth after he devoured a turkey sandwich. (Having no idea how long I’d be in labor, we packed a bag of food. Unlike a hospital, the birthing center allows a laboring mom to eat or drink if she’d like. I, however, had no time to eat. )
- Thinking I had finally poo’d in the tub and pleading with Erich not to look.
- Finding out the pooing sensation wasn’t poo at all, but pressure from Madeline’s head descending.
- Being surprised when Susan told me to follow my body’s urge to push. It seemed so soon!
- Repeating the word, “okay.” It functioned dually to notify Erich and Susan of the coming contraction and to assure myself that I was alright.
- Holding onto Erich and not wanting to let him go. (He sat on a birthing ball outside the tub with his arms under mine, holding me up in the water. I had my arms up around his neck. You can kind of see what I mean by looking at the picture below.)
- Telling him that I could actually feel Madeline coming – what a NEAT sensation!
- Moving so that Susan could check Madeline’s heart rate between contractions.
- Worrying that I was making too much noise and was scaring the moms-to-be in the waiting room. (Later, Erich, my mom, Alyson, and a video all confirmed that the noises that seemed so loud to me were all just calm, quiet moaning/breathing noises. )
- Assuring my mom and Alyson as they entered the room that they pain wasn’t too much.
- Seeing my legs float up in the water as I pushed.
- Hearing Susan say that Madeline’s head was crowning.
- Asking if Madeline was okay.
- Feeling her little body slip out as I pushed for the last time.
She had arrived!
Erich, mom and Alyson cried with joy, but I was too busy recovering from the whirlwind of physical sensations to cry. Active labor had zoomed by in only 1 hour and 58 minutes – an enviable but demanding speed! If it had happened any faster, I wasn’t sure I would have been able to keep up. (My fear would be tested 2 years later with Anson’s birth.)
Evidently, Madeline felt the same way because she didn’t cry at first. She just laid peacefully on my chest in the water as things finally began to slow down.
After a few minutes, we moved over to the bed in the room where we stayed for the next few hours until we were ready to go home. The midwife and nurse measured and weighed Madeline a little while after she arrived, but they never took her out of the room. We got to begin nursing almost right away.
I loved the whole experience. Though I told Erich immediately afterward that I was not going to be ready to do it again anytime soon, the memory of the pain faded within hours. I can still remember that there WAS pain, but once it was over, the joy decisively eclipsed the pain. God is an incredible creator. The way He designed the hormones and endorphins and body to all work together is absolutely amazing. I was thrilled that I was able to experience every bit of it!