Friday, August 26th
- Late afternoon - a deep instinct to walk around the house. Repacked the hospital bag. Took a nap. Some lower back cramping, but it was written off as a result of sitting on the couch too long.
Saturday, August 27th
- 1:15am - water breaks at home
- 2:30am - contractions slowly begin
- 3:15am - depart for birth center
- 3:45am - arrive at birth center
- 4:47am - 4cm, 90% effaced
- 5:44am - birth!
- 1:30pm - back home and in our own bed
Looking back there were so many little signs that I probably should have seen labor coming long before I did. Regardless, this one was one for the books, and one of little miracles and mercies.
On Friday we had some friends over for a playdate. They were a very welcome distraction as I'd been struggling with a LOT of anxiety leading up to giving birth - a first for me. I had no idea when labor would begin - my second daughter was eight days early but my third was eight days late - quite the range! After our friends left I had a very intense urge to walk, so I began pacing around the house, just doing laps for no good reason. I walked and walked, and I had some cramps in my lower back but I just figured I'd been sitting on the couch for too long.
I even texted my midwife to give her a heads up in case it turned into anything, though I was sure it wouldn't. After about an hour of pacing - and repacking the bag for the birth center - I laid down and took a nap before dinner. Then I texted my midwife back to say that my back felt better, I had taken a nap and nothing was progressing.
We ate dinner, got the kids to bed, and then, about 30 minutes after they were asleep the power went out. After contacting the power company we learned that it could be up to 4 hours before it came back on. So we pulled out flashlights and prepared for a night without power. Fortunately, the power came back on about an hour and a half later and then I went to sleep.
I woke up around 1am and went to the bathroom. As I sat there I kept thinking, "why am I so afraid of labor? Wouldn't I want it at this point? I can only sleep semi-comfortably in one position, everything I eat gives me heartburn, and I'm tired of being pregnant." The last thoughts of a pregnant lady, I tell ya.
I crawled back into bed - after lamenting all of the above to my husband - and got semi-comfortable. Then there was a bit of pain and some wetness. "Oooh...uh....I'm wet?" I said to my husband. He asked if my water broke and I responded, "...I think so?"
You see, I always laugh at women on TV and in movies whose water breaks in some dramatic fashion. Never in any of my labors has my water broken at home, much less broken before contractions start. In fact, with two of my labors we decided to break my water with the help of the OB. The *one* time my water broke on its own was as my second daughter's head was coming out, my lower half under blankets, and not a nurse or doctor in the room.
I stood up and slowly waddled to the bathroom and sure enough more wetness (and a bit of panic) ensued. The first thing I told my husband to do was call the midwife, then put some towels down so I could walk around without slipping. I was a bit panicked because I wasn't having any contractions and the very last thing I wanted was to end up on pitocin. (mostly because I've heard too many horror stories about it and had been praying my body would do this labor thing all on its own.)
Down went the towels and I started walking laps in our bathroom. We called our friend to come over and be with the kids, even if I decided to stay at home to labor. As it turns out, the midwife was already at the hospital with another mom who was already in labor. Her hunch about a number of her early-September-due-date-mamas going into labor in August was absolutely spot on - our daughter was the fourth birth she attended that week.
I turned on Friends to distract myself and kept pacing, the towels now having a new home in our bedroom in front of the TV. I started having pain in my lower back again, but didn't think I was fully contracting yet. (Seriously, all of my labors have had SUCH different contractions to start that it is hard to know what is what!) We checked in with the midwife and called the back pains contractions, but I wasn't timing them and could still easily walk and talk through everything.
I remembered that someone had given me the visual of being wrapped in Mary’s mantle and it brought me such comfort. As I walked, I grabbed my Mary’s Mantles blanket and wrapped it around myself, asking her help for all that was coming.
My midwife said we should head to the birth center, she couldn't be far from the mama who was at the hospital in labor and the birth center was set up and ready to go. Y'all. I did NOT want to get in the car to drive 30 minutes to the center, despite the fact that I had basically told God in prayer that the only way I'd go was if I went into labor during a non-traffic time (during traffic it could easily take an hour to get there). Well, 3am is about as non-traffic time as it gets, so we grabbed the bag and headed to the car.
As my husband rolled the suitcase up to the van I told him, "whoa, watch out!!" repeatedly. He'd almost run over a toad with the suitcase! He thought I was mid-contraction, but I was worried about that poor little toad. So my husband loaded me and the bag into the car, then went around to the front to scoop up the toad and relocate him before getting in the car to drive away.
The drive across town was uneventful. I turned on my birthing playlist - a first for me. I've made them for each birth but never used it. We listened to some nice, calming chant, and chatted as we drove, having a few more contractions and gushing a bit more amniotic fluid.
As we pulled up to the birth center I realized we hadn’t yet taken my silly “giant belly” photo, as I have with every other pregnancy. So, in the parking lot at 3:45am, in my pajamas, still leaking fluid, and contracting, we snapped the photo. I clung to my Mary’s Mantles blanket (gosh, the softness of it was so, so helpful!) and waddled in the door. My midwife asked me if I wanted to have a cervical check, but I declined - I knew that if I wasn’t that far along yet I’d feel defeated.
Instead, Anthony and I did laps around the birth center. We chatted, we’d slow during a contraction and we’d keep going. He started praying Hail Marys through each contraction. We started doing that when I was in labor with our first and I love it. The prayer gives my mind something to grab on to other than the pain and the cadence helps me focus on my breathing, even if I’m not praying out loud along with Anthony.
Slowly the contractions increased and became more painful, more difficult to talk or walk through. I put my hair up in a messy bun and put on my new Our Lady of La Leche headband - more Mary in the midst of labor!
Instead of walking, we’d stand, I’d put my head on his shoulder and we’d sway. This was the first labor I ever really moved during - all of the others I laid in the hospital bed as contractions came and went. I found myself swaying and squatting through the contractions, even though I had thought I’d never be able to do anything resembling a squat in labor.
At last I asked for a cervical check - things were moving along and I wanted to know where I stood.
A defeating 4cm, 90% effaced at 4:47am. I wanted to cry but I knew that wouldn’t get me anywhere. Instead, Anthony told me that things could change quickly and not to give up. He wisely asked for advice from the midwife and nurse, ideas for positions that I could labor in that would help move things along.
Normally in labor you could, perhaps, describe me as a stubborn mule. This time, however, I was far more open to ideas. None of them were forced on me and the entire birth center was peaceful. No beeping monitors, free to move, and the quiet of the night provided a much needed stillness. So I took the suggestions and started laying my upper half over a birthing ball while kneeling on the bed. My husband continued the Hail Marys every time I tapped the birthing ball.
As each contraction came I mentally ran through a list of mantras:
Ride the wave
Down and out
Jesus, I surrender myself to You
I reminded myself to keep my shoulders down, to keep breathing, and kept visualizing my daughter moving down and out. Katrice, who I can only describe as a God-send, one of the nurses, began massaging my lower back, providing counter-pressure. At one point I remember thinking, “with the back pressure and the Hail Marys, plus the birthing ball, this really isn’t that bad, at least not in comparison to my other labors.” A crazy thought, I know, but I held on to it. Keep breathing. Down and out. Ride the waves.
In between two contractions, Anthony grabbed the saint peg dolls that are our daughter's namesakes and moved them into my line of sight. He told me I could look at them as each contraction came. A few more came and I remarked to Anthony, “I feel like I’m opening up more”, which he took to mean, “she’ll be pushing in .00005 seconds”. The next contraction I felt the need to push. I didn’t take a deep breath in and push with all my might, I let out a small grunt, squeezed Anthony’s hand and pushed slowly and deeply. As I pushed, I focused on the relief I now knew was coming - a familiar and blissful feeling when my baby would enter the world. At 5:44am, in a single contraction, one long push, Stella Maria was born.
Within seconds she wrapped her hand around my arm and I pulled her in close. The bliss, the relief, the joy flooded my whole being. As I took her in, each tiny hair (so many hairs!!), each beautiful finger, I gave thanks for a labor that was the most peaceful one yet. From the holy water mere inches away, to the namesake saint peg dolls I’d brought, to the quiet of the room, everything was as it should be.
I remember sitting with my midwife a few days before at my 38 week appointment, not believing I’d know how or when to push. It was crazy talk to think that I’d know it was time to push without having a cervical check. Crazy to think that I could push without being coached by a cacophony of labor and delivery nurses as I had in the past. But when the time came, I knew it was time to push. I trusted my body, I trusted the God who entrusted me to grow and birth this sweet soul, and I pushed - no coaching required. Also, Anthony was 100% right - it was possible to go from 4cm to baby very quickly, and with no tearing! I'm so glad he was so encouraging at the moment I wanted to throw myself a pity party.
I rode the waves all the way to the birth of our beautiful Stella Maria, named for Our Lady, Star of the Sea, as well as the stars on the mantle of Our Lady of Guadalupe. May Our Lady be praised and may the glory be to Jesus, now and always.