Just a little forewarning... I am not going to be graphic, but this is a BIRTH story... so I will talk about various things that happen during birth :)
On Monday morning, the 13th of February, my mom and I went to my 39-week appointment at the birth center. We were in a rush to get out the door, because we were late (as usual, in my case). Mom had made me a cup of tea, and I only got to have a few sips before we left. I remember thinking to myself "I'll heat it up in the microwave when we get back in an hour and drink it then."
I had been having contractions all weekend, but this wasn't anything out of the ordinary after 9 weeks of pre-term contractions. They had been getting more uncomfortable, but I was in denial... feeling like this baby was just never going to come out. We got to the birth center, and everyone there was surprised that I was STILL pregnant after all the pre-term contractions, dilation and effacement. I had begun to wonder if maybe my body/uterus was just too tired out after weeks of contractions to effectively go into labor and push the baby out (hence the "this baby is never coming out" desperation). I was starting to get anxious, because my mom had been here for almost a week already and he still hadn't arrived. I was well aware that she only had a limited amount of time with us and I wanted the baby to spend as much time with her as possible.
The midwife, Beverly, was a little late, so we just sat in the waiting room for a while. When she arrived we went in and proceeded to do all the usual pregnancy appointment checks... weight, blood pressure, listening to the baby's heartbeat, measuring the baby bump etc. Then Beverly checked to see how dilated/effaced I was... 3cm and 75%. She noticed the rash on my belly that had been irritatingly itchy for the past week, and went to ask Cherie (another midwife) what we should do about it. Cherie came in and looked at it, measured my belly again, and decided to check me for dilation/effacement as well. As she was checking me, I felt this warm gush of water... at first I had no idea what had happened, and Cherie hadn't noticed either. But then it kept happening and I said "Ummmm... I think my water just broke!" And sure enough it had. Because of my high amniotic fluid level, there was a lot of it to come out... all over the exam table... ha. Beverly and Cherie were running around finding towels! Cherie checked to make sure the baby was all right - there was a slightly higher risk of cord prolapse, because of the high amniotic fluid level and the fact that his head was still floating. Everything was fine though, and Cherie could feel his head had moved right down and engaged when my water broke. It was 10am at this point.
All this happened in the space of a couple minutes, and I hadn't really realized what it meant - we were having a baby today! Once your water breaks, you have to go into labor within 24 hours because of the risk of infection. My mom brought me my phone as I was lying there on the exam table with the midwives bustling around me. I called Thomas, who was at work, and said something like "My water broke and I think you should probably come here!" My mom and I had the car (Thomas had ridden to work with a co-worker), so he then had to get a ride to the birth center. Somewhere in there, I was moved to the upstairs birthing room (which is more of an observation room) and Cherie monitored the baby's heartbeat for a few minutes before sending me and my mom to walk around. The contractions had started almost immediately after I got up from the exam table. When Thomas arrived, we basically sent him right out again to go home and get all of our stuff. Unfortunately a lot of it was still spread out over the house, partly because I was in denial that the baby was ever coming out and hadn't actually put everything in our bags! I knew where everything was, but explaining it to Thomas proved difficult and the poor guy was madly running all over the house trying to find everything on my list.
While Thomas was running around at home, my mom and I were walking. We went outside into the freezing rain, and walked around the tiny little park next to the birth center. Cherie told me to walk right through the contractions, so I did that as much as possible. There was a gazebo in the middle of the park that we took shelter in, and I just walked in circles under the roof. The contractions were about 3-4 minutes apart at this point, and lasting for about a minute. I had to concentrate during the contractions, but in between them I was still in the "excited" stage... texting people and Skyping and facebooking on my phone and talking with my mom. It was really cold - the coldest day of the year so far in Dallas, I think. My poor mom was freezing, but the cold air actually felt good to me as I marched through the contractions.
At about 11am, we came back inside and Cherie checked the baby's heart rate again. He sounded great. She asked me how the contractions were feeling and I said they were getting a bit more painful and the pain was mainly down in my lower abdomen - it actually felt like knives stabbing at my cervix! She told me that once I was feeling pain all over my belly then we would be in serious labor - but that never actually happened for me. Cherie said that I should go home and labor there for a while because I was a first time mom and labor would take about 12 hours. I said "ok" but was thinking internally "I don't think I really want to ride in a car right now!" My phone had died, so we had to wait until Thomas arrived to let him know anything. I continued walking around the downstairs waiting room, and then around the main birthing room as well through the contractions. They were starting to get more intense. I tried sitting down for a bit while we waited for Thomas to get back, but I couldn't keep still - the contractions felt much worse when I wasn't walking.
Thomas finally got there, and right as he was arriving the contractions kicked up another notch on the pain scale. I literally had to speed walk through them to manage the pain. I must have looked so funny - speed walking around the big birthing room breathing deeply through my nose. In between contractions I filled Thomas in - told him that Cherie had said to go home and labor for a while, but that I didn't think I would survive a car ride - I wouldn't be able to walk through the contractions in a car! At this point the contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and lasting for a good solid minute. Thomas went to find Cherie and tell her this, and I guess she said it was fine to stay because we stayed! Somewhere around then the birthing assistant, Debbie, came in and checked the baby's heart rate. She had to listen to him through a contraction... that meant I had to stand still during one, which was quite agonizing. Thomas held me up and put pressure on my lower back with his fists. Debbie came in about every 15 or 20 minutes to check his heart rate.
It was after 12pm now, and I was getting quite exhausted from all the speed walking through contractions. I started having to walk more slowly, with Thomas walking behind me and putting pressure on my lower back. We used socks filled with rice and heated up - he pushed them into my back during contractions while I was walking and that helped. The contractions were every 2 minutes and lasting a minute or more, so I usually had less than a minute to rest in between. It was too uncomfortable to sit down and get up again, so Thomas and my mom piled up cushions on one of the couches in the birthing room and I would just lean against it.
Sometime around 1pm, Debbie suggested using the shower as a pain relief method. So I got in the shower and had the hot water running on my back. But the shower was too small to walk around in and I just could not get comfortable without Thomas to hold onto, so that only lasted about two contractions. I got out again and continued laboring with Thomas pushing the hot rice socks into my back while I moved. I was getting too tired to walk, so I just swayed back and forth. Somewhere around 1:30pm, I asked to try the jacuzzi tub, but Debbie said she would have to get Cherie to check me before I could get in - she said they like people to be 5cm-7cm dilated before using the tub because the hot water can slow labor down. So Cherie came to check me, and said I was a good 5cm. I barely had time to think between contractions, but I was a little discouraged at this point. I couldn't imagine going through 5+ more hours of labor at this level of pain to get to 10cm dilated. While Cherie was checking me, however, she also did something - I can't remember exactly what - either she pulled my cervix down or adjusted the baby's head position... or something like that. When she was done, I got up and had the two WORST contractions ever. I hardly knew what to do with myself - the pain was blinding. I was grabbing at Thomas, pushing him away, leaning over, squatting down, standing up... just trying to do SOMETHING to help the pain. (I now know that those two contractions were my body going through transition and dilating almost instantaneously from 5 cm to 10cm). It was now about 2pm. When those contractions were over, the jacuzzi tub was ready and I climbed in and slid my whole body under the water. The pain relief that came with the weightlessness and hot water was incredible. My whole body relaxed, and with the next contraction came an uncontrollable urge to push - my body was shaking with the effort not to push.
I was confused - just a few minutes ago I was only 5cm dilated! I told Thomas to get someone quickly because my body was just pushing. Debbie came in and calmly told me that it usually takes 2 hours for a first time mom to push a baby out, but I just didn't believe her. I knew the baby was coming out right now! I pushed for a few minutes in the tub and then they wanted to check me again so I got out, and was pushing while squatting down (which is one of the best ways to push because it opens up your pelvis). The nice thing about this part of labor is that the contractions don't so much hurt anymore... they just feel like immense pressure waves, pushing the baby down and out. They were very intense, but compared to the pain of the previous contractions these were so much better. I guess the midwife could feel the baby's head because they started getting the bed and the equipment ready. I pushed through two more contractions while holding onto the bedpost, and then the midwives quickly got me on the bed because the baby's head was coming out. I remember while I was pushing at the bedpost, someone asked what we were going to name him - we said we had two options but were just waiting to see him first! A few more pushes on the bed holding my knees back, and his head was out! Immediately followed by a little hand, waving hello to the world :) The rest of him slid out and Cherie handed him to me. There was another birthing assistant taking pictures with our camera, and the picture of this moment is one of my favorite pictures - I had a look of utter shock on my face as I pulled my brand new baby up to my chest! I could not believe I had just had a baby. Thomas got to cut the cord. He was born at 2:32pm, and was absolutely perfect from head to toe. A few minutes later we realized we still hadn't named him, and after a little discussion we decided he was a Judah William!
The whole experience was incredibly empowering in an "I am woman, hear me roar" kind of way. What an incredible process birth is, and I felt like I lived Judah's birthing to the fullest, even though is was just a short four and a half hours. For someone who has often struggled with body image and self confidence, child birth really made me proud of my body and confident in my own capabilities - I look at Judah and I think to myself how my body grew him from one cell to an 8lb 4oz baby, and now continues to nourish him completely by breastfeeding. I know it's not for everyone, but natural child birth was the right thing for me - a great sense of accomplishment fills me when I think back to laboring and birthing Judah. I am grateful that God blessed me with the natural, uncomplicated, beautiful birth that I prayed for.
Thomas and my mom were with me for the whole birth. Mom mostly hovered in the background, bringing me drinks or anything that I needed. Thomas was right there with me from the moment he arrived at the birth center. He was on the massive four-poster bed next to me as our baby was born. We just laid there for half an hour or so with our brand new baby wrapped up in towels and surrounded by warming rice socks, staring at him. Debbie took him to be weighed and measured and everything (8lbs 4oz and 20.5 inches long) just a few feet away while Cherie stitched up my two tiny little tears. Thomas stood there with Judah and held his hand and I just stared at my new baby boy. He was back in my arms after a few minutes and we stayed snuggled up for a while. About an hour and a half after Judah was born, I got up and showered. It felt very weird - my body felt like I had run a marathon - my legs were shaky, and my stomach muscles hurt like I had done 1000 sit ups. The shower felt amazing, though, and I was soon back in bed with my new family.
We were texting and calling and Skyping people all afternoon after Judah was born... we woke my Dad up at 3am his time (he was in Kenya for meetings) and he got to see Judah via Skype at 2 hours old. We texted Thomas's parents (who also happened to be in Kenya) to let them know but they didn't have internet then. We Skyped with them later that night from home.
At 7pm we went home. Judah was just 5 hours old. It felt so surreal driving home with him, less than 12 hours after I had left the house that morning thinking I would be back in an hour to finish my cup of tea! We had a couple of visitors, and then settled in for our first night of baby adventures. Honestly, I hardly slept a wink... I just lay awake staring at him! Newborns make the funniest noises and squeaks and I was just not sure what they all meant so I felt I had to stay awake and make sure he was ok! The first few days are a hazy, magical blur. It was so special watching our newborn take in the world, figure out breastfeeding, listen to his cute little noises, and marvel at his tiny perfect body. It's incredible how fast they change and grow and learn new things. I've just loved every single minute so far.
Our brand new family, with Judah just minutes old.