It all began on the morning of November 19. Of course, at the time I didn't realize it had begun; I was having the same piddly little contractions that I'd been having off and on for days. That morning I climbed on top of the refrigerator. You see, a friend of mine was once told by a random person in the store that jumping off the refrigerator would get labor started. It has become a fun joke among those of us who have heard this story, so when we reach the point of our pregnancies where we are just DONE and want so badly to go into labor, we climb on top of our fridges and take pictures of our crazy million-months-pregnant selves up there. We don't jump, of course; we climb down as gracefully as a million-months-pregnant woman can.
Later that morning, my mom and I went walking at the mall. We had been doing this for several days, hoping to get labor started. As we walked, I debated with myself over whether or not to buy some evening primrose oil; the prostaglandins in it can help prepare the cervix for labor. (For that matter, prostaglandins are in semen, too, but when you're a million months pregnant, having sex is at least as awkward and daunting as climbing on top of the refrigerator. Just sayin'.) The contractions were still coming, slowly and steadily, and I was beginning to believe that it might be the real thing- so I didn't want to spend money on evening primrose oil if I was in labor anyway.
As the day wore on, I called my midwife (Debi) and my doula (Ashley) to let them know that I thought I was in labor. Debi checked me and I was only about 3 centimeters dilated. Things kept moving slowly and steadily. By the time Elijah was in bed that night, contractions were getting a bit stronger but not much closer together. Debi had gone home to get some rest before my labor picked up, and the house was dark and quiet. Clark, my mom, and Ashley stayed with me and encouraged me; I walked, did hip circles on an exercise ball, did lunges, and even took a shower, but still things continued slowly and steadily.
By about 3:00 AM, I was feeling discouraged and very tired. Ashley suggested that I lie down and get some rest to prepare myself for the more active labor that was sure to come. So I did. Contractions continued as I slept, strong enough to wake me, and I would lie on my side and rock back and forth slowly and breathe through them. Daylight came, and I got up, still feeling discouraged. Clark had taken Elijah to school, and Ashley had gone home to get some rest herself. My mom and Kalia (my brother's girlfriend) were here, and they listened as I voiced my fears, near tears- fears that this wasn't really labor at all, that it was just a terrible case of prelabor, and that it would continue for days before real labor actually began. Debi came back to check on me and mentioned the possibility of natural induction methods. Despite my discouragement, I declined; I desperately wanted this labor and birth to happen on God's timing, and as bleak as I was feeling in that moment, I knew deep down that I would regret it if I did not allow my labor to continue taking its own unique course.
And then she checked me, and I was 6 centimeters. Words cannot describe what a difference it made to know that. All that labor was real. It was doing something. This was really happening! God and my body knew what they were doing. Throughout the morning, contractions became more intense, and by lunchtime, I needed to retreat from the group of people who had gathered in my house. I went to my bedroom with Clark and Ashley. We turned on my labor music- a CD I had put together full of artists and songs that I love and that inspire me, relax me, or bring me joy. Things intensified more, and I had to focus on each contraction, breathing through them, swaying through them. Soon the birth pool was filled with warm water, and I got in.
I hadn't been in the pool long before transition began. The contractions picked up in frequency, length, and intensity. This part of my labor felt almost unreal, like a dream. Throughout the contractions, I relaxed, breathed, even vocalized if I needed to. Between contractions, I rested. My eyes were closed most of the time; I needed to be in my own head without any visual distractions so I could focus and relax. My memories of this time are of emotions, thoughts, sensations, and sounds- Clark and Ashley lovingly putting cold washcloths on my head and neck because I was hot... Clark, Ashley, and my mom telling me how wonderful I was doing and giving me such gentle encouragement... Kalia telling me I looked beautiful... my mom reading the scriptures I had written out for labor. I still get teary-eyed when I remember the beautiful moments when I heard her voice quietly saying, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
Although I was still relaxing throughout the contractions, within myself I was growing weary. "This is never going to end," I began to think. "I can't do this much longer." And then the birth junkie voice in my head said, "Ooooh, saying you can't do it anymore- classic sign that it's almost time to push!" Yet I couldn't allow myself to believe it was really almost over; after all, it had been such a long labor- what if I had several hours of this to go? I didn't want to get my hopes up, and I didn't want to vocalize my feelings that I couldn't do it much longer, because then my midwife and my doula would think it was almost time for me to push, and what if it wasn't? So I stayed quiet, kept the thoughts to myself, and continued to labor, until finally I couldn't keep it inside anymore. I opened my eyes, and looked at Ashley and Clark. "I don't think I can do this anymore," I whispered, my eyes meeting Ashley's. Contractions were close together, hard and intense.
And, sure enough, it wasn't long until I began to feel like I might be ready to push. I changed positions in the water and tried pushing, but it seemed fruitless. It felt like nothing was happening. After several ineffective pushes in the water, Debi told me to get out and try going to the bathroom. Laboring women need to pee, you know. So I did. Something about getting out of the water seemed to speed things up, and I found myself pushing in the bathroom. I couldn't help it; contractions were coming and my body was telling me I had to push, NOW.
Clark and I returned to the bedroom, where I got on the bed. I knew it wouldn't be long now, and I didn't want to get back in the water. I pushed hard during contractions, and rested in between. It wasn't long until his head was right there, and I was able to reach down and feel it. "Oh, God," I moaned- not because I was scared or hurting, but because in that split second, I realized that in another push or two, I would be holding my son in my arms. It was time.
There is nothing in this world like the feeling of birthing a baby. That moment when the baby is actually born is indescribable and amazing, and there is such a wonderful feeling of relief and joy and accomplishment. Labor had been long, and he was born with meconium on him, but I didn't mind. He was beautiful and perfect. I held him close and announced his name to everyone. Isaac Nathaniel; it means laughter, a gift from God. We could not have given him a better name; my pregnancy, his birth, and his life thus far have been a joyful reminder of God's grace, the greatest gift of all.
It was a long labor; it began early on the 19th, and Isaac was born at 4:44 PM on the 20th. But it was exactly the labor he needed; after birth, we saw that he had torticollis, presumably from the way he had been positioned in the womb. I believe that his head was tilted to the side, and that although he was otherwise perfectly positioned, my labor progressed slowly and steadily in order to allow the contractions to do their work while getting him into a better position for birth. God and my body knew what they were doing, and I am so glad that I trusted them.
There is no feeling that compares to the feeling that comes after giving birth to a child, either. I felt so amazed and blessed and empowered and strong. For weeks, it was all I could think of anytime I lay down in my bed with Isaac, to nurse him or sleep beside him- "I gave birth to this baby right here in my bed, wow! What an awesome experience!" So many people in our culture think of fear and pain when they think of childbirth, but that is not how it should be. There is a quote that I absolutely love: "We have a secret in our culture, and it's not that birth is painful; it's that women are strong."
I'm a big believer in a woman choosing to give birth in a place where she feels safe and comfortable, both physically and emotionally, and I feel so blessed that I was able to do just that. It always surprises me when people tell me how courageous I must have been to have a natural birth and to give birth at home. The truth is, for me it honestly would have taken more courage to give birth in the hospital, where I knew my desire to have a natural, peaceful, comfortable birth would have been hindered and discouraged at every turn. Some women feel more comfortable and safe in the hospital, and that is fine, but I am just not one of them. I knew I did not want to repeat the experience of Elijah's birth, which involved the hospital, induction with pitocin, and an epidural, and made me feel so nervous and out of control and medically managed. I felt strongly that my body and the labor and birth processes were created by God, and unless there were true complications (and thank God there were not!), I wanted to let my body work the way God created it to work, and let my labor and birth progress naturally.
The first line in the first song on my labor CD said, "Blessed is this life, and I'm gonna celebrate being alive." That is such a beautiful summary of how I feel about my labor and Isaac's birth. A blessing, feeling so alive, giving birth to new life, and celebrating it all.
Happy birthday, Isaac Nathaniel. You are a joy and a gift.