This week I celebrate my birthday. Over the last two years I have learned that birthdays really should be a celebration of your mama (and often papa too). So as I reflect on my wonderful mama and the celebration of birth, I’ll share with you Anna’s birth story. Its a little long, so it will be posted in two parts.
The last few month of my pregnancy I became curious and nervous about the actual birth part of having a baby. As a first time mom, I was consumed by all the changes that came with being pregnant, that I thought little about the next step. But knowing that pregnancy was not a forever state, it was time for some research.
In order to prepare, Stuart and I attended a great birth class. The instructor was wonderful, kind, realistic, and offered tons of practical advice. Despite it being the perfect class for new parents, for some reason I left with a ridiculous amount anxiety and felt totally overwhelmed. Looking back I was just so uncomfortable with every detail of giving birth – the noises, the pain, the fluids, all of it.
For a while I just stuffed up my ears and pretend the birth day was never going to come. But eventually a wise man, my husband, reminded me how awesome my body was and how he wanted to support me through it all. I figured I better get over my unfounded anxiety, because the day would inevitably come, and my attitude would either help make the birth a great experience or an awful one.
I tell this anecdote, to explain why I tell my Anna’s story, and hopefully to support anyone else who, like me, just needed a little glimpse of beauty in the midst of a fleshy human birth. During this season of Advent, we are preparing for the birth of Jesus. Mary let her birth story get written down and shared with the whole world in the hope that it would glorify God. I am taking a page from Mary’s book, and making this my hope too. Maybe Advent should also be the unofficial birth story season.
Disclaimer: This is a story about birth, so it ain’t all pretty. I try not to get too detailed, but turn back now if you like.
A history of strong women
To preface my story we need a little family history. I come from a long line of strong women. Women who have moved mountains, fed the poor, raised families, and praised the Lord the whole way through.
In the last two generations, my maternal relatives have birthed 21 beautiful babies. Each child being born through the miracle of modern medicine via c-section. Now all of these wonderful women will tell you that cesarean sections are not pretty things, but these brave mamas would do whatever is necessary to take care of the little ones entrusted to them.
All 8 ladies have attempted to deliver naturally, hoping to bypass the less than pleasant recovery from surgery. But in 21 births and 8 women the tummy incision has been inevitable. Supposedly we have small pelvises. This brings me to my story with Anna. Where I try to beat the odds and birth a baby naturally. In our family it is like being the first to walk on the moon.
We’re late, we’re late, for a very important due date
2 months after our day of wedded bliss we found out we were pregnant. This is probably another story for another time, but we were so excited to announce our pregnancy after the first trimester.
The pregnancy definitely had its ups and downs and I suffered from a good deal of morning sickness (another story for another time). But all in all, it was a great 9 months.
Stuart and I had made our guesses about when the baby would arrive and how big it would be. In my overly competitive manner I recorded our guesses, in order to name a clear winner after the baby arrived.
Our due date came and went and so did every day after that, 2 days late, 6 days late, a week late, then 10 days late. I didn’t think this little one was ever going to make an appearance. We were definitely getting a little anxious to meet our daughter, but wanted to be patient and let my body do its thing. As we approached the two-week late mark with literally no dilation, thinning, noticeable contractions, or lowering, our doctor allowed us to choose an induction date in case my body did not naturally go in to labor.
Aware of our family history, our birth plan was a pretty simple, “do what you gotta do.” We understood that the length of time a mama is without medication is often correlated to the incident of giving birth without surgery. So we took this into consideration with our plan, but really it was tough to make an informed birth plan when you have never had or seen a birth. So we stuck with a simple philosophy, take reasonable steps towards the good of both mama and baby.
With our birth plan in mind, and more days with no change, we decided to go in to the hospital Thursday night to prep the cervix and start the induction on Friday morning. We checked in to the hospital at 6:00pm on Holy Thursday.
When nothing happens
They began a pre-induction process at 7:15pm with cervadil, the goal here was to prepare my cervix for a possible induction the next day. Our physician informed us that this less intense pre-induction can sometime kick-start labor and might help us avoid the potential negative effects of a full on pitocin induction. The cervadil was uncomfortable and caused a lot of irritation and pain for me.
At that point I was having mild contractions, not even noticing them, every 6 to 8 minutes and although I was a tad bit thinned, there was no dilation at all. Some of our family came by for a visit that night and we felt lucky to have them with us in these exciting hours before we would be holding our baby. That night we attempted to stay busy hoping something, anything, would happen. I worked on our little one’s Christmas stocking and took some laps around the labor and delivery floor. I remember we had The Oh Hellos, Through the Deep Dark Valley album playing on repeat.
At the end of the night, the cervadil insert was still causing me a lot of pain and I was offered an oral pain medicine to help. Our physician suggested taking a bit of sleeping medicine to prepare my body for the big day ahead. Despite the doctor’s well-intentioned advice to get some sleep, I could barely sleep a wink, I was too anxious and excited about meeting our daughter soon. Rookie mistake!
By the next morning, I still was not dilated at all, or even a bit soft. We didn’t want to start flooding my body with pitocin and inducing labor if it wasn’t ready yet. This meant that we could not continue with our plan to start pitocin (the contraction inducer) that morning.
From 7am-9am we were discussing options for our next step. Our doctor recommended trying a second round of the vaginal softener, explaining that in many cases the second dose can get things started. I felt discouraged at the thought of another round of cervadil, because in my mind, it did nothing, except cause pain, the first time and it would be the same thing all over again. Despite my negative thoughts that my body just did not know how to get this baby out, we followed the wise doctor’s advice. Little did I know we were soon to be surprised.
When a little bit brings a lot of hope (and a lot of pain)
By 1pm, we still had not induced. I had dilated to a fingertip and was having sporadic but very very real contractions every 3-5 minutes a part. I know that many woman walk around for weeks at a 3 or a 4, but a fingertip felt like a miracle to me. I guess it wasn’t as miraculous to the nurses because they continued to say, “still not much progress, just hard and high”. On top of the strong contractions, the cervadil was not my cervix’s friend at all, my canal was so terribly tender and irritated. To help ease the discomfort I took another oral pain medicine and applied a little olive oil and lidocaine near the cervadil insert.
By 4pm I had made it to a centimeter and a half (yahoo!) and was having strong regular contractions every 3 minutes, which were, to say the least, not fun. Stuart would hold me hand and tell me the contraction wave was on its way down, even before it truly was. Such a kind lie. Although we were excited about the tiniest change in my body, at 1 cm, it felt like 10 would be a million miles away. We continued to take laps around the labor and delivery floor and more family members arrived to greet the baby on her potential birth day.
Our physician team decided not to begin another cervadil round or pitocin, and to see if my body could begin to go on its own. I was so proud of my body and baby, this is not an option I thought we were going to have. My body had taken steps toward the delivery of a baby. It gave me hope that maybe I really would be able to beat the odds, and have a no surgery birth. It being late afternoon at this point, I had given up hope that our baby would be born that Friday, it looked like it would be another day before I could see my sweet girl. I laugh at the picture below, because Stuart took three in a row, the first 2 we all smiled and the third was taken the moment a new contraction hit. You can see it all over my face.
But then around 5pm contractions began to get even stronger and more routine. They were pounding on me every minute, with literally no break in between. I really disliked the pain, and nothing seemed to help. I couldn’t remember a single method our child-birth class had taught about managing the pain. Looking back, the two main pieces of advice we were given were to stay relaxed and take a deep and full breath at the beginning of each contraction. Lo and behold, these were exactly the two things I was not doing. In the midst of all the pain and non stop contractions I was panicked and holding my breath as each new contraction came on.
As I loudly made known my dislike of these contractions, Stuart reminded me of an image that our child-birth instructor had offered us at the end of our class. An image of Jesus at the cross. She told us to think about surrendering all the pain at the foot of the cross. On Good Friday, this message of surrendering was a huge help between the tears and screeches.
Check back tomorrow to see if I am able to beat the odds of my family’s history and how I am named a superhero.