Seriously! Parenthood is... well, a lot. I think I'm safe in saying that in the last 6 weeks I've experienced the full spectrum of human emotion. It has been a whirlwind! A crazy, challenging, wonderful whirlwind full of victories, smiles, trials and tears. Lucky for me, that whirlwind is settling just enough that I'm able to be a mostly functional human being again... at least in brief intervals each day. :)
Emily's Birth: A Hypnobirthing Story
Our birth story begins at 3:00am Saturday. The contractions (hereafter referred to as "surges") roused me from what was possibly the last deep sleep of my life. They were pretty far apart, (10-20 min) but strong enough to keep me from getting back to sleep. I assumed that I was experiencing another "false" or "practice" labor. That's right, another. Exactly one week earlier I had surged at random intervals the majority of the night, and as that labor had proven fruitless, my hopes weren't especially high this time. Well, practice labor or no, those surges were not going anywhere, nor did they seem to be getting me anywhere.
Bless Cory for staying up with me all through that night.
*I feel the need to point out that this was not the first time I'd experienced contractions/surges, so it wasn't difficult for me to be fairly unaffected by their presence. As early as week 22 of my pregnancy I started having Braxton Hicks contractions, or practice surges. They were usually brought on by the various forms of mundane physical activity that I subjected myself to, (walking the dog, cleaning my house...) and by 38 weeks, 6 days they were as much a fixture of my pregnancy as my nightly bouts of heartburn.
Though I must also sound pretty nonchalant in my references to contractions/surges, I think it would be unfair to other mothers to not note how uncomfortable these uterine tightenings really are. I often tried to describe them to Cory using language such as, "A hand with knives for fingers has clamped down on my lower abdomen, and tightened into a white-knuckled fist."
In fact, as we progressed through our hypnobirthing class during my third trimester, I began intentionally using my Braxton Hicks contractions as labor simulation. When I felt a surge coming on, I switched into relaxation mode by applying the breathing techniques and visualization exercises I was already working to master before the big day. (i.e. slow breathing, visualizing my breath filling a large balloon)
Eventually dark gave way to dawn, but the daylight only brought more surging. Since these pesky surges were proving persistent and seemed to be coming closer together, I decided to humor my body and downloaded an app onto my phone for timing contractions. 7 minutes, 10, 40... far too random to convince me of much. I guess I wanted a sign... like my water breaking or something assuring like that. (Maybe too many movies are to blame here.) Some part of me deep down must have known though, because I kept counting and timing each one throughout the day. We spent the day at home, except for an "emergency" trip to Target. That same part of me that knew this was the real deal sent me into a nesting frenzy. Suddenly acquiring a couple of infant toys and a particular little knit blanket I'd had my eye on became a "come Hell or high water" matter of urgency. Baby's head was so far down into my pelvis, I could barely walk. My surges were noticeably intensifying, and were yoyo-ing between 7 and 20 minutes apart. I had to stop for a rest up against a shelf in the baby isle, where I was on the receiving end of a very strange look from another store patron. (Is it that weird to see a very pregnant lady deeply breathing while leaning up against a metal shelving unit for support?)
Bless Cory for taking me and my hormones to the Target that evening.
The blanket. Yes, it came to the hospital with us. :)
Bless Cory for patiently assuring me just one more time (again and again) that Baby would approve of my arrangement of her toys.
Night time rolled around and my surges were intensifying. After spending far too much time fluffing throw pillows that didn't need fluffed, re-folding already folded blankets and rearranging the bookshelf for the __ time, I finally accepted the nursery as "ready" and allowed myself to lie down on the bed and focus on breathing and relaxing. For all that surging and nesting enthusiasm, I still wasn't completely convinced of my labor's legitimacy. However, sometime very very late that night, without meaning to do so, I accepted it.
Bless Cory for staying up with me for the second night in a row, distracting me from my considerable discomfort and exhaustion, and walking me through my relaxation and visualization exercises again and again.
Sunday morning found me well into active labor. I spent most of the morning surging at 4 minute intervals in various positions. I'd lie on my side, then sit on the birth ball with my face buried in the bed side, then back to my side with Cory lightly massaging my back, then standing with my arms around Cory's neck for support... and so on. Sometime that afternoon (my sense of time was completely muddled despite timing each surge's duration as well as the intervals between them) I began to feel an acute pressure on my rectum. Naturally my response was to get to the toilet. Since that effort brought no relief I started to get a little frustrated. I later learned that what I was feeling was not #2... it was Baby's head!!
Bless Cory for holding me up as I made my way to and from the bathroom, and letting me go limp in his arms during my surges.
At Cory's suggestion, I resumed lying on my side on our bed. With Cory next to me, reading through my hypnobirthing visualizations, I focused my efforts on working with my body and willed myself to relax through each tightening of my uterine muscles. I breathed deeply through each surge, imagining I was filling a big, shiny balloon with my breath. My surges were now 2-3 minutes apart, and the sharp pressure on my rectum was there to stay. I closed my eyes and continued my very deliberate though quiet breathing.
Bless Cory for staying right by my side the whole time.
My parents happened to arrive into town and onto my doorstep then. Since I'd expressed a great desire for a chiropractic adjustment just days before, my Dad (who is a doctor of Chiropractic) had specifically made the trip down to provide the care I needed. I was past moving around unassisted, so Cory led them to our room where they found me still quietly surging, eyes closed, putting all my remaining energy into relaxing through each surge. They softly and very respectfully spoke to me, holding my hand and lovingly stroking my hair.
With my permission, and without changing my position, my dad adjusted me right there. Then, recognizing an opportunity, I asked for a Priesthood Blessing from my husband and my father. I don't remember what was said, due to my surges requiring much of my attention at that time, but I felt peace and confidence renew inside of me, and I was able to continue my efforts to remain as relaxed as possible. Moments after they said amen, my water finally broke, and we decided to get to the hospital.
Bless Cory for preregistering for our stay.
Aided by my dad and Cory, I made my way into the hospital. We parted ways with my parents at this point, who left to respect my long-standing desire to have only Cory present during what was to come. Once in our room, Cory helped me change into my gown and get "comfortable" on the bed. I resumed my side-lying position for the final time as the nurse began assessing me. The fun really started when she checked my cervix the first time. Holy mercy, that was one of the top 5 most uncomfortable things I've experienced. Ladies, let me just say that you won't be sorry for requesting minimal cervical checks in your birth plan. Trust me.
Anyway, she was surprised, and almost nervous as she told us I was dilated to 7 centimeters. 7!! I couldn't help but feel gratified. All that laboring I'd done over the past 37 hours had paid off. While I was feeling a deep sense of accomplishment, the nurse seemed to be feeling a not-so-deep sense of "Where the heck is the midwife?!" because she called for her TWICE. For those that don't know, Cory is a nurse, and as such he notices things like this. Nurses don't just call the doctor (in this case the nurse midwife) more than once unless it's urgent.
Bless Cory for his medical background.
Her sense of urgency proved legitimate, because my body had already begun pushing my baby out and there was no stopping this train. I don't know how else to say it. Without any "bearing down" or breath-holding, forceful shoving, or intentional pushing on my part, it was happening. It was as if my body had shifted gears and rather than just contracting my uterine muscles over and over, it was instinctively pushing her through my birth canal. I believe this phase of labor is what they call, "transitioning" and from what I've heard, it's usually the part where most women, no matter how resolved they may be, begin panicking. Well, I guess partly because of my efforts to educate myself on this whole process prior to our big day, I was able to recognize the transition phase before the doubtful thoughts that were creeping in were able to take hold. It took a great deal of mental fortitude, and it was no easy task, but thankfully I managed to block those panicky doubts and soldier on.
The nurse midwife finally arrived, and quickly checked me again. (Seriously, as few cervical checks as possible = ideal.) She found that I was dilated to 10cm and fully effaced. That was my cue. I sat up on the bed, then awkwardly clamored up onto my hands and knees. (In our hypnobirthing class, we learned that this position opens up the pelvis and allows the baby's head easier passage through the birth canal and out into the world.) Using the hypnobirthing "breathing down" technique, I continued to work with each instinctive push of my body as my baby moved through the birth canal.
I was beginning to really feel the effects of my sleepless 37 hour-labor. I looked down at my arms as they supported my body weight and realized they were shaking. In fact, my whole body was shaking from extreme fatigue. This was the first time I legitimately doubted myself, "How much longer can I do this before my body shuts down?" I wondered as I breathed hard through another big surge. The surge-pushes I'd been having were exhausting, and very intense. They were like contractions, but much much more. With each one, the pressure on my rectum (which had been present since I first felt it at home) would increase as baby's head made it's way down. I needed help, I couldn't support myself any longer, and I was beginning to worry that I'd collapse from exhaustion before this was all over.
I asked Cory to get up onto the bed and hold me. He moved from his position at my side, and sat at the head of the bed facing me. He reached out, and I reached up. I wrapped my shaking arms around his neck and buried my face in his shoulder. With my next surge, I bit his shirt and continued to visualize my baby progressing safely through the birth canal as he continued to assure me as only he could that I was doing a great job.
Our midwife piped up and said, "Do you want to guess if she has hair or not?"
Hair? HAIR. "You can see her head?!"
Yep, her head was visible by now, and boy did she have some hair!
Knowing that her head was visible was more than just welcome news, and it gave me the assurance and hope I needed. The doubts in the back of my mind were gone, no longer fighting my resolve. As I continued breathing down through my surges I could feel baby's progress. Kind of a two steps forward, one step back sort of motion. It was exciting, frustrating and gratifying to know she was so close!
Bless Cory for holding and soothing me while I tightened my hold around his shoulders and panted right in his ear during these final surges.
Things were going smoothly and quickly, but then baby's heart rate started dropping. Alarms started sounding in my head. All I could think about was protecting my little one, and avoiding intervention of any kind at all costs. I'd come too far. I'd worked too hard. My baby's safe, natural delivery was suddenly threatened. My midwife, who was very familiar with hypnobirthing and with my desire to "breath the baby down" rather than forcefully push her out, said that she was so close, and that if I pushed hard, I would be able to get her out in time.
It seemed to go against all that I'd learned and prepared for, but a switch had flipped in my brain. I was in a sort of "I must protect my baby, even from medical intervention" survival mode. When that next surge came, I pushed. Hard. With Cory assuring me I was doing well on one side, I easily ignored the nurse who was now on my other side, and right in my ear instructing me to hold my breath, bear-down and push! Without acknowledging her, I very intentionally and determinedly breathed down deeply as I pushed, and it took every last bit of strength I had, but I didn't stop pushing until I felt that baby come bursting out. She came so fast with that monstrous push, that I tore, and her head and shoulders emerged all at once. Just like that, she was here.
Our midwife untangled my little Emily from her umbilical cord, which had been wrapped around her neck. Knowing the cause of her drop in heart rate was frightening and also relieving. I had done what was necessary to get her into the world safely, and I was at peace with that. She passed her to me almost immediately, and cradling my precious little baby in one arm, I moved into a sitting/lying position and held Emily skin to skin for the first time. My placenta detached quickly, the umbilical cord stopped pulsing, and Cory cut it.
I held my little goop-covered miracle close, and thanked God over and over for sending her to us, and for helping me get her here safely. After 37 hours of labor, and only an hour and 15 minutes of it spent in the hospital, Emily had arrived, and our lives have changed forever!
First picture of our perfect baby girl.
I've never seen a more devoted dad.
Cory loves his baby girl so much.
This is the face of natural child birth. No make up & wild hair. :)
I pretty much felt like I'd been hit by a bus.
(Emily's face wasn't covered by the blanket btw, the angle just makes it look that way.)
Our little love.