***I started writing this about two weeks ago, but I’ve had to write it in stages since blogging time isn’t something I have much of at this stage of life!
I realized a few minutes ago that tomorrow is Harris’ 1-month birthday, so that means that a month ago tonight I was completely unaware that my life was about to change in the span of three short hours. The past month has been wonderful and crazy and hard and hectic, and obviously I’ve let the blogging slide a little! But it’s definitely time for me to write-out how everything went down, especially before all the details start getting fuzzy. So here’s how I remember it:
(Oh, and yeah. I’m gonna include all the details, so if you think you might get weirded-out then just don’t read it.)
January 12th, I’m four days overdue, my parents are in town to visit and help, and we’re all getting a bit crazy waiting for this little guy to come out. It’s a Monday night, and we all had a great dinner at Olive Garden, put Evelyne to bed, and sat around and watched The Bachelor and 24 until late. Clay and I didn’t get to bed until 1 a.m., and although we had gone to sleep every night for weeks with the expectation that we could wake-up with me in labor, I don’t think we really expected it that night. Lying in bed before falling asleep, we actually had a conversation about whether or not we still wanted to name him Harris. We had decided on Harrison Taylor only about a month or so before, but Clay had been having doubts about if he still wanted to use it. We kinda went back and forth and thought about changing it to our second choice—Kellan (don’t knock it, we still might use it one day!), but I convinced Clay that we should just stick with what we decided on and be glad that Harrison is a strong name that will go with him through every stage of life. Then we went to sleep.
At 2 a.m. Evelyne woke-up crying, and I went in her room and rocked her back to sleep for about ten minutes.
At 3:30 a.m. I woke-up with a contraction. Actually, I didn’t really wake-up, I was still half-asleep when my contraction shot me out of bed and straight to the potty! I was in the middle of a really deep dream about a vacuum cleaner, so I remember sitting on the toilet trying to figure-out if I was having a contraction or just needed to use the bathroom while at the same time still half-dreaming about vacuuming. I figured that I was having a contraction, especially since I hadn’t had any contractions before and this was definitely a new feeling. I went back to bed and was woken-up 15 minutes later by another one. The same thing happened, it automatically shot me out of the bed and straight to the bathroom. I tried to go back to sleep afterward, but 7 minutes later I had another one that made me jump out of bed, and I realized I wasn’t going to be able to just lie in bed and sleep through the first part of it.
So I put on my robe and went in the living room and got on the computer to start timing my contractions on http://www.contractionmaster.com, a website that automatically keeps track of your labor progress for you. At this point they were pretty much around 8-10 minutes apart, and in between I just played Mahjong. After just a couple more, they started coming at 5-6 minutes apart with a few short ones in-between. I called my doula and left her a message saying that I was in labor, doing ok, and sometime in the next few hours I might need her to come over. Then I called my midwife. I told her how far apart my contractions were, that they were demanding my full attention when they came, but I could still talk through them. It hurt, but it wasn’t horrible and I figured I’d be in this stage for awhile. At this point it was 5 a.m. and the midwife, Andrea, told me to meet her at the birth center at 6:15.
During all this, Clay was still sleeping (I wanted him to get as much rest as possible since we had only been in bed for about two hours… and I really wanted to experience the first part of labor by myself.). So now that we had a time-table, I went to go wake him up. I let him know that we had another hour and fifteen minutes to labor at home before going anywhere, and I had another contraction. I told him to go hit the spacebar on the computer so we could time it, but as soon as it went away, another one came. Then I thought I was going to throw-up and poop at the same time, so I ran to the toilet and put a trash can in front of me. I didn’t throw-up, but at that point there was no way I could get up. My contractions started coming every minute or two and lasting for several minutes. I was really confused and kept telling Clay that I didn’t know why they were so strong and so close this early on. After awhile, I told him to call back the midwife and tell her that it seems I was progressing faster than we expected. He also called the doula a couple more times since she still hadn’t called me back. He kept getting her voicemail, so we didn’t really know what to expect as far as her coming to help.
I labored for a little over an hour by myself in the bathroom. That was something totally expected—I really wanted to be open to going with whatever my body was telling me to do in the moment, but I had no idea ahead of time what that would be. Well, apparently my body really liked sitting on the toilet! Ha! My doula had told me before that while some women like lots of comforting touch and reassurance during labor, other women go to the bathroom and want to be completely by themselves. Surprisingly, I turned-out to be the latter. Supposedly it’s also good because your body automatically knows how to relax when you’re sitting on the toilet because it’s so used to it…so, whatever, I dunno, but that’s where I was!
Another totally unexpected part of my labor was that I was LOUD! When I had painful contractions during Evelyne’ s labor, I had to have total quiet and concentrate. But that was also early labor…by this point with Harris’ labor, I was definitely in active labor and it hurt WAY worse than it ever did before my epidural with Ev. Just like I had wanted to be open to different labor positions, I had also gone into this wanting to be open to any kind of coping measures that were helpful. Well, apparently my best coping measure was to vocalize through my contractions, something I hadn’t expected or practiced in any way. And it wasn’t that I was screaming from the pain… it was different. It was as though I could more easily ride the wave of the contraction if I expressed some of the energy and pain through my voice. So yeah, it probably sounded like I was dying, but it was actually a really great way for me to stay in control of the experience. From talking to other women, it seems that everyone’s experience is so unique and every woman needs different things to carry her through the pain. Some women need to focus and concentrate on an object or a mantra in their minds. For me, there was no way I could focus on anything outside of myself, I was very IN my body, definitely in a zone. When the contractions came (and really, there wasn’t much break in between, nothing more than a few seconds), the most helpful thing was for me to be fully present in experiencing each one and to release the tension in my body through my voice. I also needed to be totally left alone. I couldn’t talk through the contractions, and I didn’t want or need any help or touching. Clay and my mom kinda stood outside the bathroom door and every once in awhile they’d ask if I needed anything, but I just kinda waved them away and told them that I was ok and they needed to leave me alone. Not what I expected, but whatever, it worked!
So, a little before 6 a.m., Clay and my mom started telling me that we needed to leave for the Birth Center. At that point I was probably in transition (the most painful part of labor), and the thought of moving from where I was, getting in the car, driving down the road, and walking into the Birth Center, seemed impossible. I told them that I really didn’t think I could physically do it, the midwives might need to come to us. (This is why I’m pretty positive that I’m going to have a homebirth next time. With the short labor, it would’ve been awesome to just crawl-up on my own bed and deliver instead of transfer to another location.) Thankfully, Clay had backed-up the car in our garage, started it, and had everything read so all I had to do was walk to it and get in and go. I had another contraction on my way to the garage and collapsed on the floor, and that’s when my parents said that they wondered if I was really going to have this baby right then! After that I had a short break in my contractions, just long enough to get me in the car. Thank God we only live about a mile away from the Birth Center and it was early enough in the morning to where there was no traffic and Clay was driving fast, so we got there in about 30 seconds. I made it inside and immediately crawled-up on the bed.
The midwives had gotten there just before we did, and they had the room set-up with glowing candles and the tub was filling with water. They asked me if I wanted to get in the tub (and having a jacuzzi tub available for me to labor in was the biggest reason we chose to deliver at the Birth Center!), but I was already too far along and didn’t want to move from where I was on the bed. (And it was such a shame that I never got in it!!!)
I labored for about 20 minutes or so on the bed in a position that was part all-fours and part squat, holding onto the bottom bedrail. Again, not something I had totally planned-on, but it was just instinctual, it was the position that my body was the most comfortable in and came most naturally. I had wanted to have an active labor, to be open to moving around and getting in whatever position was the most comfortable and effective, and this was another case in which my body definitely knew what it needed to do. Not many people know that laboring and pushing when you’re flat on your back with your legs in the air (the typical hospital position) is probably the least effective and most painful way to go. The baby is lying on your tailbone, all the pressure is on your perineum, gravity is working against you, your pelvis is 30% smaller than in a more upright position, and from what many women say, it’s often the most painful position to be in. Laboring and pushing in the position I was in was much easier than when I was in a hospital bed delivering Evelyne. Of course all the other conditions were different as well (I had an epidural with her and couldn’t feel my contractions), but I really enjoyed feeling in control of my body this time.
(During this time of laboring on the bed at the Birth Center, my mom said her favorite part was when I yelled, “Where’s the damn doula?!!!” Turns-out, her cell phone battery had died and she hadn’t received our calls, so she never made it. When we did finally get in touch with her, of course she felt awful, but she said that I was her fastest client and she probably wouldn’t have made it anyway since she would’ve had to drive-in from Seattle in rush-hour traffic. Thank goodness I ended-up being pretty hands-off and didn’t really need any help or intervention from anyone, so she probably couldn’t have helped much anyway.)
Since I am positive for Group Strep-B, I had planned to have antibiotics during labor via a hep lock. They midwives asked me if I still wanted to try to get them in even though it looked like he would be born pretty soon, and I said yes. Well, by the time they had gotten everything ready to administer the meds, I was already feeling an urge to push, so no antibiotics for me! (It’s also important to note that my water hadn’t broken yet, I hadn’t had any vaginal exams, and I had no other risk factors for a GBS infection, so my risk was much lower than a birth involving a bag of waters that had been broken for some time, multiple vaginal checks and other risk factors.)
Maybe about 10 or 15 minutes after arriving to the Birth Center is when I started to feel like I needed to push, so I went with it. (My only vaginal check of the pregnancy had come a few minutes before when the midwife said I was 10 cm. and plus 4 station) One thing that was really important to me going into this was to listen to my body and let the pushing experience come naturally. I didn’t want anyone shouting, “Now PUSH!!!! 1, 2, 3….10!” in my face, telling me to hold my breath, or to do it “harder, harder, harder!!!” Those methods can sometimes compromise the oxygen level of the baby as well as result in trauma to the mother’s body. I just pushed when I felt like I needed to push and stopped when I wanted to stop. Some pushes were big, some were small, some were long, some were short. No one really coached me through it, no one told me when to push, I just did it when I needed to.
I think I pushed for maybe around 10 minutes or so, and that was the only time of the entire experience that I started really losing it a little bit because of the pain. Probably the most painful part of the entire labor was when he was crowning, and I think that’s when I yelled, “Get him out of me!” At that point, Clay had been standing near me up by my head, and the midwife asked him if he wanted to come catch the baby, so he moved to the bed behind me. When Harris’ head came out, Clay was there to catch it. It was actually kind of an odd experience since his head was just sitting there while I was waiting for the next contraction to push-out his body. From the position I was in, I couldn’t really see much, but Clay said in a very incredulous voice, “Emily, my hands are on his head!!! I’m holding his head!” Apparently he was having a real moment there, but all I could think of in response was, “Yeah, yeah, I’m still in pain and working to get the rest of him out! We’ll celebrate when that happens!” Another push or two, and the rest of him was out. Clay caught him with the midwife helping. They immediately asked me if I wanted to hold him, but I was feeling pretty weak and said that I needed a minute because I was afraid I’d drop him if I took him right then.
They helped me get situated sitting back down at the top of the bed and finally passed him to me to hold skin-to-skin and nurse. For the next hour or so, it was all about Clay, me, and Harris. (My mom was in the room when he was born, and after meeting him, she went back to our house to get my dad and wake-up Evelyne so they could come meet him.) The midwives were quiet, gentle, and respectful of the fact that our family was having a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They monitored both Harris and me, quietly sneaking a stethoscope, thermometer, and blood pressure monitor on us without interrupting what we were doing.
(Oh, and there was also the whole pushing-out the placenta part, which wasn’t too fun. Most doctors will give a routine shot of pitocin to assist in the placenta delivery, but we didn’t have that, so I had to push the dang thing out. NOT what I was wanting to do after having just delivered a baby! Apparently it wasn’t coming quite as fast as they would’ve liked, they were looking slightly concerned and telling me to push harder, and finally it came out. Honestly, though, I told Clay later that I really wasn’t pushing as hard as I could because it hurt and I was tired and annoyed that there was more work involved when I thought I was done! I was pushing, but they were pretty wussy pushes, I ended-up coughing it out!) Physically, I felt really shaky. I remember doing that after Evelyne was born, too, I just shivered uncontrollably for awhile even though I wasn’t cold. I guess it was something about my body being a bit in shock, that’s definitely how it felt anyway. I just kept thinking about how a few hours earlier I was sleeping and here I just had a baby in an obscenely short amount of time! It took me a little while for me to physically and mentally catch-up with what had just happened!
After about an hour or so, my parents and Evelyne arrived, and Ev piled on the bed with us to meet her new brother. (Thankfully, we have lots of wonderful pictures documenting these moments thanks to my photographer friend Emily!) When he was around two hours old, they gave him his official newborn exam on the bed next to me. Everything was fine except he seemed to have a bit of an irregular heartbeat. They listened to it a couple of times, and while the midwife thought it was probably just a part of him transitioning out of the womb and would resolve itself, she recommended we make an appointment that day with the pediatrician. Over the next couple of hours, they kept listening to it as did my parents, and by the time we left, it was totally normal, so we ended-up not having to go to the doctor. (And it’s been normal ever since.)
A few hours after he was born, I got out of bed and took a shower. I was a little shaky, but feeling pretty good. They made sure that I ate and drank a lot to regain my strength, and around 10:30 a.m. (about four hours after the birth), we went home! It was definitely a bit odd to come home so soon after such a huge experience like giving birth, but at the same time it just felt right. The birth was totally normal, there were no medications or interventions, and I didn’t have any trauma to my body other than a little bruising. Harris was full-term (four days late!) and perfectly healthy. There just wasn’t any reason to not be home! Since the whole experience was so fast, it was weird to walk in my house and think that just a few hours earlier I had been in serious labor there…heck, that a few hours earlier I had been asleep and now here I was with my baby! As soon as we walked through the door Evelyne said, “I want baby Harris play toys on floor!” We had to explain that, unfortunately, it’ll be a little while before he can get on the floor and play with her! We sat around for awhile, recapped what had just happened, and then Harris and I took a little nap together. Then, well, then we just started our life as a family of four!
Since it’s now been six weeks since Harris was born, I’ve had more time to reflect on the experience, and I can definitely say that it was absolutely amazing. In several ways it wasn’t what I had expected, mainly just that I had expected to labor a lot longer and spend more time in labor at the Birth Center. BUT, in all of the ways that it was different than what I had in mind, it was also wonderful. I remember my doula telling me that a woman’s experience of giving birth is something that forever changes her and her self-concept. It’s a universal experience that women have been going through since the beginning, and it’s something that we were designed to do. “Just as a woman’s heart knows how and when to pump, her lungs to inhale, and her hand to pull back from fire, so she knows when and how to give birth.” (Virginia Di Orio )
One thing I loved about working with my midwives is that there was such a great level of respect for me as the mother. I was the one who carried him, I was the one who delivered him. There isn’t the same sense of hierarchy that there can be in a doctor/patient relationship. Of course, she is the professional, but I’m the one doing the work, and she was always incredibly respectful of that. She was aware that I knew what I was doing during labor. Never was Harris taken from my side. After I delivered him, they didn’t whisk him across the room and start messing with him, they handed him to his parents. They checked his vitals and made sure everything was ok while we were holding him. I didn’t have that feeling like I did with Evelyne, the one where I was so worried about her being ok since I couldn’t see her or hear her because she was across the room having who knows what done to her. (I’m sure it was nothing bad, but I couldn’t see and no one told me what they were doing.) I didn’t have that feeling of, “Please, someone, just give me my baby. Just finish messing with her, and let me hold her.” I knew Harris was ok because I could see it, he was in my arms. And not just for a fleeting minute, but from the time of his birth until we left. Nothing was done to him that I didn’t know about or couldn’t watch. I LOVED that.
Going through it the way I did has definitely changed the way I view my body and myself as a woman. While many women absolutely need medical interventions due to pregnancy and delivery complications or the health of the baby, I love knowing that nothing medically unnecessary was done to me and my baby. I love that I got to experience a normal birth with my body fully functioning in the way God designed it to without any of the common interventions that often complicate or negatively affect the process. I love that I was fully present in my body for all of it. Yeah, it hurt. A lot. But then it was over. And I like that I got to experience the full process in all of its parts. I’m amazed at the way God designed my body, and so many times since then I have been moved to worship as I stand in awe of how, when given the best opportunity, everything worked perfectly. Childbirth isn’t an illness, it’s something that we were created to bear. There’s nothing wrong with choosing pain relief, but the pain is a good and life-giving pain, one that has changed me by experiencing and embracing it fully. It’s a miracle and something to be proud of any time a woman gives birth, but as I compare my hospital induction/epidural experience with Evelyne and this one with Harris, I can honestly say that this one takes the cake. Evelyne’s birth was special because she was my first and I was so excited to meet her, but I didn’t enjoy any part of the labor and delivery process. Of course having a healthy baby is always the goal, but by numbing the pain I was so hoping to avoid, I feel like I missed-out on experiencing a significant gift that labor could have been. I was thrilled to meet Harris this time around, and that anticipation and joy was increased with every contraction pain. I worked hard for him, and in some way, I feel like that has changed my relationship with him a little bit.
I could write much more about this (and I probably will!), but I’ll just end by saying that it was one of the most wonderful and life-changing experiences I’ve ever had, and I see it as a gift that I will forever thank God for.