"This is a holy moment now,
Something of heaven touches earth..."
I had four “prayer requests” I was sending up to heaven. I sometimes struggle, a bit, with prayer. I know it’s mostly the formal title for simply talking with God. I know that even the practice of presenting requests brings peace, just like telling Caleb what is on my mind brings peace — even if there are no “fixes” or “answers” at the moment. The hesitation for me can come when I feel that “going through the motions” script come up. I don’t like seeming fake, even (or especially?) with God.
But I prayed. Or I asked. I took the things on my heart and spoke them, and wrote them, and thought about them and gave them words and said “Here God. Here’s what I care about right now. And I don’t exactly know how to handle not being in control of these cares. But here they are. Here I am.”
My four requests were:
1) That I would have a clear start to labor. (With Rowdy I didn’t and it was all very confusing and I probably didn’t need to be in the hospital as soon as I was, but looking back with the knowledge I had then I don’t know what I would have done differently. My “bag of water” was leaking but hadn’t broken. Yet throughout labor we received varying reports: It is broken. It’s not broken, just leaking. Looks like it is in fact broken! Ah! With that push your water finally broke. I had to be on IV’s for antibiotics and I hated hated trying to labor with an IV in. I didn’t prefer being in the hospital for 34 hours before giving birth. I felt like I never got emotionally or mentally comfortable, and I think my “stress” contributed to labor being so slow. A vicious cycle that began with uncertainty about me being in labor or not.)
2) That we would make it to the birth center, and that I would not have a baby or be in transition in the car. (The birth center we chose was 50 minutes from where we live, which isn’t that bad. But in between us and the center are two highways that house some of the worst traffic in the nation. Once it took 2.5 hours to get to an appointment. So depending on the day and the time we could be sitting in a parking lot while working through contractions in the back seat. And Caleb’s big fear was that I’d deliver on the road.)
3) That there wouldn’t be any complications for me or her. (I guess this is the cry of every mother’s heart. It’s real. I wanted, of course, for everything to just work. For it all to go right. For neither of us to be in danger or to have an emergency arise.)
4) That I would “feel it.” (I don’t ‘feel emotional’ very often. I mean, I’m not a robot. I have a heart. But I’m just not the type who gets overwhelmed or overcome with emotion on a daily or even weekly basis. Throughout the last few years I’ve worked to really make a point of doing things — like writing or reflecting — to help me. If I do feel the urge to cry, I try to remind myself “Go ahead, you don’t have to be tough and hold it back.” My natural self tries to suck it up. I like being strong. I like being able to handle things. I like “putting my mind to it” and not being stuck because of feelings. But I need them. I need the highs and the lows. I need to cry just as much as I need to belly laugh. You can’t spare yourself from “negative” feelings without removing yourself from “positive” ones, I’ve learned. So I try. And I asked. Let me feel it, Lord. I want to experience it in full. My first labor since losing mom. My first daughter. My “dream” birth center birth. All my people I’ve asked to come. The contraction pain. The surety that I’m about to die. The relief. The “falling in love bonding.” The sadness and the joy, the pain and the pleasure.. Help me have the gift of emotional presence.)
“I wanted to really know what the full cycle of this miracle felt like.
It was THE most intense thing I have ever gone through.
After months of studying and preparation it was
everything and nothing like I thought it would be.
It is said that women in labor, leave their bodies, travel to the stars,
collect the souls of their babies, and return to earth together.
It was primitive, anguished, and incredible all at the same time.
It was completely primal in the most beautiful and unflattering of ways.
It is the most empowered and the most vulnerable I have ever been.
I feel like a war veteran of sorts.
In the end, having now experienced both types of births, I know one thing for sure,
no matter who you are, or what kind of birth you have,
there is absolutely nothing like bringing a human being into this world.
Being a women, being a mother, is soul fire.”
On Friday, March 4, three days before my due date, I went to dinner with my sisters. Caleb’s mom had sent us a card and money to do something all together on the anniversary of losing mom. We finally got our schedules lined up and we went! As I was getting ready to leave, and then again at the restaurant, I noticed very clear, very slippery fluid. Both times it was about dime-sized and certainly no gushing, rushing, or leaking feelings. I noted it, but didn’t think much of it.
When I got home that night I told Caleb about the little bit of fluid and that I’d been a little crampy, but nothing intense, nothing trackable, nothing lasting, and, in fact, nothing even necessarily labor related. “I can’t tell if I’m just digesting food or if these are Braxton Hicks or if they’re early contractions or if I’m getting another round of the stomach flu.” A (sometimes) benefit of being such a “thinker not a feeler” is that I’m very convincing to myself. And I was convinced this was nothing. Caleb wondered if I should call the midwife and just ask her thoughts and I practically laughed out loud. “You’re getting too excited. This is nothing. I could do this for weeks.” I went to sleep with no wondering or “hmmm…” in my head.
Caleb says I was tossing and moaning all night long. I woke up the usual 4-6 times, and went to the bathroom twice, and he’d ask me “Is something happening? Are you okay?” “NO. Nothing is happening. I just have to pee.” “Well you’re making an awful lot of noise.” “I am?” “Yes. Are you sure it’s nothing?” “I think I’m just uncomfortable because I’m nine months pregnant with an entire baby. It’s nothing.” ("Darling Lamb Wife" Award goes to me. Thanks for the phrase, Jen Hatmaker.)
When I woke up for good at about 8:00 am it felt like there was coconut oil smeared all over my thighs. This was the first time I had a passing thought that maybe, maybe, we were in the early beginning of something. I then jumped out of bed for an exciting bathroom moment with “the runs.” (As I was hustling in I accidentally bumped Rowdy’s Mickey Mouse training potty, which sings a tune when motion-activated. “Dun dun dun dun DUN. Yay! *applause*” Yay, indeed.)
Now I have to set the stage. I’m not Type A, though I have a growing appreciation for a well-made plan. I like change, I like to “go with the flow,” I like to figure it out and make it work. So, I was as surprised as anyone else that I had arrived to this weekend in March with all my ducks in a row. I had officially finished all photography-related work that was due. I had washed the sheets. Dusted and disinfected the room. Scrubbed the floors on my hands and knees (which was adorable considering I couldn’t even put socks on without help.) All of our laundry was done, and also folded and put away. Baby Girl’s clothes were ready, her blankets were rolled in a little box, the “side of bed station” was stocked. My nails were painted. My hospital bag was packed. The carseat was in the car. And it was the weekend, which was ideal for almost everyone who was going to be coming to the birth. It was a little too good to be true. And, of course, I convinced myself that things never happen “too good” and this was nothing.
But since clear, leaking fluid is what got me admitted to the hospital with Rowdy, I figured I might as well text my midwife and just give her a heads up.
She called me quickly and mostly just asked what I wanted to do. “Do you want to come in and see if it is leaking water? See if your water has broken? Just wait a few more hours and see if more happens? What sounds good to you? I’m here to do whatever you’d like.” I really didn’t want to drive two hours roundtrip to be told nothing was going on, and I didn’t want to be “checked in” too early and have to sit there for as long as I did Rowdy. I told her I wanted to wait a bit longer and just see what happened as I went about my day. She said she was just fine with that, and to stay in touch.
About ten minutes later, though, she texted me and said “Hey, do you want to just see what the leaking is so you have information to work with? You don’t have to stay. But we can just see what’s going on for your sake?” It turns out that after we got off the phone she went and re-read my birth plan and saw two of my biggest concerns: not knowing when labor was starting, and getting stuck in traffic. Since it was 9 am on a Saturday traffic was non-existent. And if there was any information she could give me about labor, she had a hunch it might be helpful.
For some reason when I got her text, I felt peace. And I showed it to Caleb. We both agreed: let’s just pack Rowdy up, see what’s going on, and then we can go walk around the mall and get lunch. Have a family day. Rowdy was starting to stir in his little toddler bed at this point and I called him to come over and get in bed with us. Holding him under the sheets, scratching his crazy blonde hair, I started to cry. It was like my heart was starting to understand before my brain was. We ate, loaded up, I had Katie braid my hair for me (“nothing is happening”), and we were off. I didn’t tell anyone we were going.
As we were driving I tried to explain to Caleb the weirdness of what I was feeling. I would feel a sharp/stabbing pain once, then nothing, then about a minute of bloated rumbly-ness, then three sharps stabs all in a row, then something like gas, then I would fart, then I’d feel what could maybe be considered a period cramp?, then a pulling sensation (like a rope was tied to my uterus and someone was pulling it out), then nothing, then a nerve pain in my upper hip that would make me hunch over, then two stabs, then some gas, then nothing. It wasn’t timetable “waves” of contracting and they didn't "hurt." It didn’t wrap around to my front from my back. It didn’t feel like “a cramp” each time, or even many of the times. Caleb kept saying “I’m pretty sure these are contractions, baby.” And I kept saying “Well, if they are, they’re nothing like what people describe. And everyone tells me ‘When they’re real, you’ll know.’ And I don’t know.” I thought this was likely a mix of Mama’s Sicilian Chicken Soup making an escape and Braxton Hicks.
We arrived to the birth center and I met Nancy, the student midwife who was actually on OB changing careers to midwifery. She ended up being crucial to my whole labor experience and I’m SO glad she was there! We went back to the exam room to check the ol’ body out. They swabbed me and the test-stick turned vibrant blue in only a few places. This indicted to both my midwife, Jo, and Nancy that my bag of water was leaking slowly but still in tact. They asked me if they wanted me to check dilation while I was there. I hadn’t been checked at all at any appointments, and I kind of didn’t want to know? I was expecting to be one, maybe two centimeters. With Rowdy I had been dilated three centimeters for over two weeks before he was born. I just don’t think knowing numbers early on is actually much useful information. But, hey, I’m here. They’re… there. Why not check. “Okay, yeah. I’d say 6. Could be 7, but I’ll say 6 to be conservative.” I kid you not, the first thing I said was” “Six what?” Nancy laughed and said “Centimeters!” I thought surely she must be doing something else or referencing a different form of measurement or… there’s no WAY I’m “6 or 7” centimeters dilated. I’m not in labor, guys! While I was on the table I had about three or four contractions (I didn’t even realize it — they just could tell from the shapes my stomach was making and how my cervix was moving). I was just shocked.
“Everyone” had warned me that second babies come out much faster than first babies. And every single one of my personal friends who have had second children had that experience: the second babies really did seem to fly out for them. So given that I was this dilated and wouldn’t even consider myself in pain, just uncomfortable — but what’s new when you’re nine months pregnant — I was starting to get a little hopeful! Maybe this will be much easier and faster than last time!
We decided to go get some lunch, walk around, and wrap our minds around what was happening. We went to Red Robin and I got a milkshake and bowl of chicken soup (theme?). I was feeling a little bit panicky because my sister Shannon was in New Jersey for the whole weekend at a soccer tournament. I felt irrationally unable to just “have her miss it” for many reasons. But I had no idea how we could get her the three and half hours from New Jersey to this Virginia birth center. Sitting there at the booth, almost shaky, I sent a Hail Mary text to friends in Pennsylvania (about 90 minutes from the soccer fields) asking if there was any chance they might be able to do the HUGEST, most unfair favor. Before hearing back from them I called my dad and told him our update, and how much I wanted Shannon to be back for this. He told me that I needed focus on the task at hand, and to get my mind ready for what I was about to do. Then he said “Don’t worry about who’s not there.” Immediately my mom’s face flashed into my mind and I started crying over my empty bowl. The ultimate one “not there.” I thanked him and told him I’d try to focus.
We then went over to Target to let Rowdy pick out a special treat “from Baby Sister!” and walk the aisles. It was so surreal. Caleb and I kept saying “I can’t believe we’re really going to have a baby soon. It’s happening. Huh?! THIS is it?!
We made it back to the birth center around 3:00 pm and at this point I was starting to be able to pick up on contractions better. They still weren’t “painful,” just achey and gurgly and occasionally sharp. A general uncomfortable feeling. Becca and Janet and my sister Lauren arrived right around when we did. We all went back into our birth room where I started bouncing on the ball and pacing the floor. Nancy came to check the baby’s heartbeat and immediately they noticed she was lower than she had been when I left. For the next hour I felt distracted thinking about Shannon, but around 4:00 pm I found out she was on her way and that my friend’s were bringing her. I felt SO relieved and grateful, and like I could start focusing on having this baby. My sister Katie and friend Courtney got to the center at some point early evening.
“Birth is big and it is wonderful and it will probably bring you to your knees. Don’t go into it with a head full of fairy dust. Be prepared. Be real. Learn everything you can. Accept that some pain and unpredictability is a part of the biological process. Respect birth enough to recognize the awe inspiring power that it yields.”
As evening settled in, I was dueling face to face with myself. I started having a lot of fear — not of the pain, and not of having the baby, but about the speed of labor. I “realized” things were going pretty slowly. It had been about six hours since I’d been checked and told I was 6 cm, and I could tell contractions weren’t picking up pace at the intensity needed to get the baby out. I know, I know: every contraction is one step closer. Every little thing is doing something. I just felt this daunting and overwhelming fear that I was going to be in labor until Wednesday (and it was Saturday). I kept telling Caleb and the other people in the room that “it’s not hurting enough” and “I can tell not much is happening.” They all told me they could see a difference in how I handled contractions and could tell they were more painful than earlier in the afternoon. “I mean, they are more painful than they were… But they are nowhere near what I know has to come before she’s out. This is going to take forever.” At one point I asked everyone to leave the room so I could just be with Caleb. I felt so flimsy and mentally stuck. I cried. I vented everything to him. He did his best to reassure me, calm me, and encourage me.
It kind of becomes a blur in my mind the next couple of hours. I know I ate a steak-cheese-and-rice Chipotle bowl like some picky seven year old. I know I started to burp a lot. I know contractions were hurting more, though still not bad enough to satisfy me. I know Shannon got there around 8:15 pm. I know my dad was in and out a couple times which I thought was sweet and funny. I know they checked me and I was only 7 cm dilated but hearing that actually didn’t make me feel too discouraged because that’s what I thought based on the contractions. They didn’t seem like “8-10” types. I felt validated, I guess. I know I went for a walk outside briefly. I know I took a short nap. I know I got in the tub for a little bit, and then got out. I know, after a few jokes from Becca about how we should just find a staircase (walking stairs always made some BH/contractions start for me), that we set up a circle of stools around the bathtub and I walked up and down, up and down. I know that’s when contractions started to hurt more and I did have to focus much harder on really relaxing.
I obviously don’t know what anyone else’s pain tolerance is, and I’m not sure if I have a high or low one. I don’t know if I was handling things well physically or if they just really weren’t that intense. But in my head, I like to make categories for things. So, if there is such a thing as a “pain scale” I was keeping track. Let’s say 1 is something like “Ouch! That hurts!” and 10 is something like “I’M DYING THIS IS THE END TELL ROWDY HIS MOM LOVED HIM I’M NOT SURVIVING THIS.” For most of the day, I wasn’t even on the scale. I was just in the uncomfortable range where I didn’t feel pleasant but I was “fine.” Then it started to eek up to the 1-2 range, with a handful of “Eh, not my favorite but not painfuls” mixed. I said many times “I’m so glad I’m here because if I was at home, I know I wouldn’t have come in for this. Or maybe not even called. It just doesn’t hurt bad enough.” Walking the Circle of Stools I remember thinking for the first time “3” and “This would have made me call. This hurts.”
And then, we reached a breaking point.
It starts to get fuzzy to me from here, but I’ll do the best I can. I was not doing well with my opinionated little head. I think my doubt that this baby was ever going to come was actually impacting the baby from coming. And I even knew I was the one “messing” with myself, but I didn’t know how to stop it. I remember both Becca and Caleb asking, or imploring me, really, to listen to my body. “What do you want to do?” “I want to take a nap, but I’m afraid if I take a nap it’s going to slow things down. It seems like I should be moving and staying upright.” “Kristen. Not what are you afraid of. What is your body telling you to do? What do you really want to do right now?”
“I really want to take a nap.”
Caleb and I climbed into the big queen bed again and I fell in-and-out of sleep. And the best thing happened. (Because, who knew, maybe your gut instinct and “body” actually do know what to do). Sleeping made my brain turn off. It hushed all my doubting thoughts. Apparently I was tossing and moaning, just like I had been the night before, but I was sleeping through most of it. Finally it got hard enough that I couldn’t sleep through it anymore. This was about 10:30 pm. And the game had changed. These were the sorts of contractions I was “waiting” for. Three to four minutes apart. This was happening, and my mind was finally at peace and not fighting the reality.
"Positive mindset, affirmations and relaxation are important tools, but don't rely on them to lessen the intensity of birth.
A few nights ago I was helping a new mum shower a couple of hours after her birth and she looked me square in the eyes and said 'Wow. That was...intense! There's nothing that can prepare you for that.' And she's right. But what we can do is prepare our bodies for very hard work, and our minds for a very big journey. You can do this!”
Becca, my “friend with doula benefits,” took notes for me during the whole day and here’s her timeline after the nap:
11:35pm “Can't relax. Just can't. Doesn't work." -- Restless but leaning into or onto Caleb while someone applies counter pressure help in the moment.
11:55pm lots of “Oh gosh" and contractions are low versus feeling like they're in your stomach only.
12:30am Hitting the wall-- “Too tired, too much left.”
1:30am [A lovely little curse word]
(I have no memory of getting back into the tub, or deciding to, or anything. It’s one serious blur for all these hours.)
2:19am In the tub "I need to stay calm. I just need to stay calm." -- The tub doesn't slow things down this time. Contractions maintain.
2:55am "This is just too hard. She needs to come. She needs to come now."
3:00am Ready to be done.
3:10am "I can't do this anymore. I want to be done. I don't want to do this anymore."
“My friend Kathy is the only person who'll be halfway honest with me. 'Did you ever see a cowboy film, where someone has been caught by the Indians and tied between two wild stallions, each pulling in opposite directions?' she asked. I nodded mutely.' That's a bit what giving birth is like." Marian Keyes
Since I’m, you know, me, I like analogies to explain myself. Reflecting on this labor, particularly the final hours, I associated my experience with hiking. Here’s the scene. A gorgeous, red rock state park. Probably somewhere in Arizona or Colorado. Cloudless blue skies and oppressive hot sun. The hike begins with a walk across the flat ground to the base of the mountain. Arriving at a subtle incline on a walking trail the “hike” gets harder. Three or four or eight hours of walking later… you’re three or four or eight hours more tired and hot and sweaty. But it’s still “just” an incline on a walking path. And then you take a water break (or nap in a queen bed) and wake up to needing to rock climb, and it’s also a race now. So you’re going fast, trying not to stumble and fall, arms are burning, calves are burning, abs are burning, hands are slipping. You’re working, man, you’re working. Once you’re up that rock wall (or into the tub) you find yourself in front of a flat, vertical enormous piece of stone with a one-inch ledge to tip toe across while bear-hugging the wall and grasping white-knuckled onto any fathomable textured surface.
That’s where I was for an hour. Knees buckling, skin ripping, body squeezing itself out like a lemon to find any bare last drop of “humph” left. You are hanging on with your soul-pinky-fingers and big toes, at the highest edge of yourself. Intense IS the word. I remember snorting and flapping my lips like a horse trying to breathe through those transition contractions. I remember the pure bliss of a contraction ending and knowing I had a little bit of time off, and then quickly trying to get mentally prepared for another while my head was thinking “No no no no no no please not yet. Oooooh here it comes.” Relaxing through (or trying to) certainly doesn’t take the pain away, but fighting it and just “going crazy” absolutely makes the pain worse. It’s an awful “rock and a hard place” to be in, but the answer is clear: you have to just keep trying to breathe, relax, and stay calm. Which seems nearly impossible. But you can’t give yourself over to the “freak out” side simply because it hurts sooooo muuuuuch mooooore.
Around 3:00 am my crew started recommending I push if I could. Nancy had asked a few times if I was feeling pressure low or in my bottom (I wasn’t). I tried a couple times, but I was not even close to pushing in the right place or way. I started to have flashbacks to Rowdy’s birth. I was in the same “10 out of 10” pain scale and had nothing left to give. The nurses had asked a couple times if I “felt the urge to push.” I didn’t. I’ll never forget my mom coming over and whispering to me and Caleb that after seven natural births she never once “felt the urge to push” and each time had to be told “You’re ready, start pushing.” She encouraged me to try to push with contractions and see if I could figure it out, because she was sure I was ready to get him out. Remembering mom's words coupled with the advice of everyone around me was helpful. So I tried a couple times to push. But here was the problem: contractions hurt so bad that I needed to be actively relaxing to make it through them… unless I was actually pushing her out. Since I didn’t “feel the urge” I was having a hard time finding where/how to push. Once it was more of an abdominal crunch, another time was more in the sphincter region. It seems silly, but I couldn’t find that “vaginal canal” muscle. And pushing the wrong muscles through contractions is significantly more miserable than “breathing through” them. So first I got too scared to push — I didn’t want to keep trying the wrong places and having it hurt worse! And then I came up with a “Kristen brain fact.” The reason I couldn’t push her out must be because she just wasn’t low enough yet. I convinced myself I still had hours and hours left, and that she was nowhere near the position to come out
3:24am "Oh Caleb. Oh Caleb. This child needs to come out." -- Pretty much begging for death and scaring Lauren ;)
3:35am Starting to push with effort. Like very obvious you were trying to find her. [I decided to give it one more last ditch effort because somehow the pain kept getting worse, even though I was sure each time it was maxing out the human capacity for pain-sensation.]
3:40am Puking. A lot. Probably signaled your body was doing whatever the last thing you needed to do to be "ready." [I felt my water break while throwing up, but I was too tired to even open my mouth and tell anyone. I hate throwing up — though have somewhat gotten used to it thanks to pregnancy — and I was really bummed to have spent my whole “contraction break” vomiting, only to have to jump into another contraction.]
I think at this point Nancy was starting to really sense the desperation and done-ness I was experiencing. And I think she knew my body was ready… I wasn’t “prematurely losing it.” She suggested to the lead midwife that we check me and see exactly what was going on. They asked my permission and I think I just said “Sure, but not during a contraction.” They waited for one to finish and then, at 3:56 am (almost an hour and forty minutes after getting into the tub and transition starting) Nancy got busy. She said I was 10 cm “with a lip, but you can push through it” and that baby was engaged and ready to go. I was shocked! And then… I felt a contraction coming again. I told her I needed her fingers out of me but instead, in an award-winning, life-saver move, she told me to push her fingers out. BRILLIANT. This was just the help I needed to “find” my pushing spot. It hurt (duh), but I did push her fingers out, the contraction finished and it dawned on me: Wait. This can really all be over? I’m 10? She’s totally effaced? We’re just waiting on me to push her out? Holy cow, let’s get this over with! At 4:03 am another contraction started and she was in my arms at 4:05 am. I was ready to be DONE. I think one of the most fierce and precious feelings on planet earth is feeling your baby's head move down through your body, burst out, and then have her whole body follow. It's a feeling like none other. A human gutter with a bowling ball rolling down. In a matter of seconds to have that entire person in you, then out of you, as you look at each other face to face. It's big.
For a solid five minutes I think the only thing I thought in my head was “I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I did that. Holy cow. I can’t believe I did that. I’m so glad it’s over. I’m so glad she’s not in me anymore. I can’t BELIEVE I did that.” 16 hours was better than 34, but still long for this girl! Haha
My three sisters and Courtney burst into tears behind me, and I remember hearing their gasps and happiness. I remember thinking my baby girl looked beautiful. I remember that God-blessed feeling of the placenta coming out and being totally empty. Oh it feels good. I remember being so happy that Shannon (the one who wants to be a nurse, maybe a midwife, just like my mom) got to cut the cord. I remember Rowdy coming over and meeting her while we were still in the water — his crazy hair, sleep eyes, and rosy cheeks. I remember feeling Caleb’s strong arms around us and hearing him say over and over “You did it, baby. You did it!” and “She’s so cute!” At the hospital you sit in the bed you deliver in for quite a while while the nurses clean up and watch bleeding, etc. and then you move to a wheelchair followed by bed again. But since she was born in the tub we needed to move to the bed pretty quickly. It was weird standing up so “soon”! I felt like a bowl of jello! It was a "one of a kind" feeling.
The four of us piled into the queen bed and I was instructed to hold Summer myself, skin to skin, for the next hour. She nursed immediately and well; I was so proud of her! I was exhausted but couldn't sleep. After both births I've experienced a definite adrenaline and hormone "high" where I just feel buzzed, a little loopy, and yet extremely aware. Those minutes are cemented into my head. After the initial hour of clean up and checks, all the visitors and staff left so we could bond as a family. Before long both boys and the little lady were snoring, and I just laid there watching each of them breath while the sun started to rise. Our first morning of, Lord willing, thousands of mornings together. Every one healthy and happy and so "belonging" here.
We made it to the birth center without a traffic care in the world, because I was clearly in labor. There were no complications -- not a single "bad" heartbeat or scary moment. I felt so weak, and yet I did it. I felt support and deep love. I cried more in one day than I did in the entire pregnancy (almost ;) haha). I felt bonding and butterflies in the early hours holding my baby. I felt it all. I went to the edge of the earth with myself and returned to Summer. With Rowdy’s birth I learned how intense birth is physically, and with this birth I learned how intense it is mentally. The mind has power over the body, that is for sure. Four cares of my heart, turned into joys in my life. I feel very aware of God’s hand in this birth. I’ve learned well that it isn’t helpful to point out God’s goodness only when life goes how you wanted. But, man, what an experience it is to truly have a big thing, like birth, go so well and so “how I wanted.” (I mean, it could have gone a *little* faster ;) But. Overall. Very good birth.) I’m tucking away those answered prayers and heard-cares and thanking God for this “easy-to-see” good experience.
- Becca, who was eight-and-a-half-months pregnant, was amazing and the best 'doula' around. During the 13 hours she was there she didn’t sleep or “rest” once. She watched me, “learned” me, comforted me, affirmed me. She gave us space and she gave us support. I really cannot imagine having a baby without her being there because her presence gives both Caleb and I so much peace. Thank you, Becs, for doing that all night long despite your physical discomfort. It meant the world to me.
- Janet, who came with five-month-old Minnie, was also such a help. She took care of her baby in a new place all night while being totally involved. She took all the pictures for me (THANK YOU!). She put heat and pressure on my back, kept me hydrated, and helped the “slow, easy” part of labor be much better with her sense of humor and comments. Thank you for making the effort and dropping everything to come be with us.
- Courtney came ready to help me, especially, with back labor should that happen again (it didn’t) but in the meantime she was encouraging AND the official food-runner with her fiance, Joey. There’s basically nothing better you can do for a new mom than to bring her a cheese-steak bagel sandwich ;) Thank you for being there and sharing in our joy!
- My sisters. Katie, thank you for watching Rowdy all night. He was struggling, I’m told, and didn’t fall asleep. I so appreciate you taking him under your wing and being with him when we couldn’t be. Lauren, you’ve officially cried both times you met my kids and I love you for it. Thank you for your sweet, big heart for my family. Shannon, thank you for coming all the way from New Jersey, and then going back for a second game a few hours after Summer was born. I felt so weepy at the thought of you not being there, and I know you made sacrifices to make it happen. Also, thank you for cutting the cord! That will always be a very special memory to me. There is so clearly someone missing when all “the Snyder girls” are together, but we each carry a piece of her in us. I love being with you, and I think it’s very fitting and special that labor signs started when we were out to dinner together, the four of us. I’m so glad I have you.
- Bethy and Caroline: THANK YOU for being the kinds of friends who I can ask ridiculous things of, and for actually considering it. Getting Shannon to Virginia was no small thing and I’m not sure you’ll ever understand what that meant to me. I’m scheming ideas to really thank you ;)
- Dad, thank you for helping get Shannon to and from the birth center and back to her tournament. And thanks for popping in a few times to see me. Mom would have been proud and happy that you did that ;) “Your girl” is going to love her Pa very much.
- The NOVA Birth Center Staff. There are five midwives and throughout my time at the practice I had appointments with four of them, but somehow missed ever meeting with Jo. “Of course” she’s the one who was on call when I went into labor. But it worked out so well. She’s a very laid-back and non-intrusive type. She has a blunt yet casual vibe to her. I appreciated how she just let things roll without being domineering. She very much trusted and respected “my body” and “the system” and never wanted to or suggested speeding things up, breaking my water, etc. She was very comfortable letting the process unfold just as it needed to. She also sat with us while we ate breakfast after Summer came and just talked, hashed out details from the birth, and made us feel very welcome and “not a bother.” Plus, our daughter shares part of her name. So many cool things. Nancy, the OB-turning-midwife, was the one more hands-on and involved in my labor and made some crucial and helpful suggestions/decisions along the way (as I mentioned earlier). I’m SO grateful she was reading me the way she was, and that she had the wherewithal and grace to let me be most of the time, but to also speak up at the right times. She was my lifesaver! And to all the other midwives I met with along the way, Mayanne, Natasha, Kelly and Kate: thank you for your time, attention, detailed meetings, “coaching” and cheerleading through this pregnancy. I felt significantly more healthy, prepared, and educated thanks to you.
- Mom. I missed you. Thank you for everything you gave me. I wish we could have shared this together, but I know we have lifetimes ahead to enjoy. You would love this little girl.
- Caleb, my number one. Thank you for believing in me. This entire pregnancy you’ve been so vocal and affirming about “how I was doing.” You told me time and again that you can tell I’m more prepared, more ready, that I’m doing great, and that you know I’m going to deliver so well. While I was starting to lose it in labor I only wanted you, needed you. Thank you for not letting me quit, for helping me relax, and for letting me almost wring your arms off during the worst contractions. You don’t “annoy me” or bother me during labor, you really really aid me and make me feel safe (unless you’re eating Nacho Doritos in my face. Which, thankfully, you didn’t this time! *smooch*). You make motherhood such a joy because you shoulder so much in your fatherhood, without fuss, fanfare or complaint. Thank you for being by my side this whole pregnancy, the whole labor, and now in the newborn stage. I love that you’re the one who does all of this with me. I adore you. And I love having our babies together. So much.
Becca sent me her timeline she kept with a little note at the end. It meant a lot to me and I wanted to save it with this post:
"You were amazing. Tough. Impatient. Strong and determined. You did everything you needed to bring her safely and as quickly as your body allowed. Without your mom it was almost as if you became her. I just could see her *in* you. The way you labored and paced and did it 'yourself'--though you and Caleb share a connection and he supports and understands you in unique ways."
Welcome to your life, Summer Jo Lee. It was the greatest challenge and greatest joy to grow you and get you outside into our arms. But I've loved you for a very long time, and dreamed about you even longer. You're my girl and you will always belong here. As my mom wrote in my baby book: "I hope you never feel like you need to prove yourself to me, or earn my love. You have it, unconditionally. I pray you never doubt that." With all my heart, Mama.
Ps. At a further date I'm going to post a few thoughts I have about my different experiences doing natural-with-midwives at the hospital and natural-with-midwives at a birth center. They really were so different! And both mostly very good. But different.