On Becoming A Mama: The Birth of Charlie
When you're pregnant, you can think of nothing but having your own body to yourself again, yet after having given birth you realize that the biggest part of you is now somehow external, subject to all sorts of dangers and disappearance, so you spend the rest of your life trying to figure out how to keep it close enough for comfort. That's the strange thing about being a mother: until you have a baby, you don't even realize how much you were missing one. – Jodi Picoult
The day finally arrived. My due date.
40 LONG WEEKS.
We all know that babies rarely come on their actual due dates, but after living on high alert for what felt like an eternity, I was so ready to welcome this child. I had a doctor appointment scheduled for that Thursday morning and I prayed and prayed that I would have progressed from a discouraging 0 centimeters from the week before.
It is the strangest kind of anticipation to wait for a child to be born, especially having never experienced it before. My heart was tangled in a web of child-like excitement and the grown-up urge to brace myself for something unfamiliar. Brian and I would often sit on the couch in the evenings and soak in the mystery that our lives would change forever at any moment. It's such a hard feeling to explain. But we felt ready -- or maybe ready or not?
But alas, my doctor appointment revealed that nothing had changed since last week. The Lord had given me such a gift in this doctor -- he was a calming presence, very gentle and full of smiles from the moment he walked in the room. He could sense my disappointment and cheerfully said in his thick Nigerian accent, "His head is very close but no dilation. So what is your plan at this point?"
Plan? Um, I didn't have a plan! I felt like a little girl looking for an adult in the room to help me answer that question. Suddenly the weight of decisions and consequences and control dropped on my shoulders and I felt my peace begin to fade. We discussed some options including going to the hospital that very moment for an induction. The entire conversation seemed surreal and I was unprepared to make any kind of decision. I had prayed for Charlie to come naturally and peacefully -- but now it felt like I needed to react out of impatience.
I left the appointment a little shaken and by the time Brian came home, I was on the edge of myself. Poor Brian couldn't understand why I was so troubled. "I didn't want to be the one to pull the trigger," I said. "I wanted to be in a place of peace when this happens and I don't feel peace right now -- I feel rushed." Brian did a stellar job at calming me down and finding the root of my fears, and after spending some time in prayer we decided to wait another week before we made any kind of decision on inducing. I sent out texts asking for people to pray that he would come by the weekend.
Only a few hours later at 1:30am, my water broke.
I waddled to the bathroom and sat on the toilet in complete unbelief. "Is this really happening? Nah. Oh wait, yes it is." My contractions started immediately at 4 to 5 minutes apart. When I woke Brian up to tell him, "Babe, I think my water just broke," he smiled sleepily and actually laughed. It was a "oh ye of little faith" laugh. :)
We both got showered and he started gathering our bags and called our doula. I went into the living room in the stillness of the early morning and sat on my labor ball and began to pray. I prayed for this day to be set apart, for Charlie to be healthy and strong, for Brian and I to have peace and strength. Each contraction came over me like a wave, each one getting a little stronger. I focused on not being afraid of them, but being thankful for them -- knowing that God had perfectly designed my body to do this great work. I thanked God for answering my prayers and allowing my water to break so I would know for sure that this was the time He had chosen.
A few hours later, it became difficult to breathe and talk through the contractions, we left for the hospital around 8:00am.
My precious doula met us there and she immediately began helping me try to stay ahead of each contraction and stay calm. I began to experience intense back labor in addition to regular "cramp-like" labor. My contractions went from lasting around 60 seconds to over 3+ minutes at a time. I was dilated to about two centimeters when we were admitted to the hospital.
Once we got into our room, I tried to move around to help alleviate the pressure in my back. I had hoped to be active during most of my labor, but as I began to move the pressure only intensified. Brian helped me walk to the shower, but I could only make it to the bathroom door before the pain prevented me from taking another step. I grabbed the doorframe and began to rock and push against it.
Around this time the nurse came back in and requested I get back in the bed so they could monitor the baby's heart rate. After finally making it to the bed, we discovered that his heart rate was dropping during many of my contractions and I would need to stay in the bed until/if he stabilized. I was put on oxygen and I tried to push through the most intense back pain I've ever felt in my entire life. It felt like someone put a blood pressure cuff on my back/butt/leg muscles and kept tightening and tightening until I thought I was going to snap in two.
Brian and my doula were my champions during all of this. Inside I felt the temptation to panic during each long contraction, but they got in my face and helped me breathe slowly. My adrenaline felt like it was going through the roof and my entire body shook uncontrollably. After about 14 hours of laboring, the nurse checked my progress and I was still only dilated about 3 centimeters.
I felt like I was losing the battle and that deeply discouraged me. The pressure kept climbing and I couldn't find any escape. I wanted to jump out of the bed, rip off all the cords and runaway! I never felt a "break" in contractions so that I could rest or catch my breath; they just stacked right on top of the other. I kept trying to reach down deep into my soul and find the strength to keep going but I couldn't find it anymore. I felt trapped and afraid -- the very feelings I was trying so hard not to give into to.
My doula finally got very close to my face and asked me to tell her what I was thinking.
The tears stung my eyes as I pushed out the words "I... can't... do... this..."
She told me that I had other options and asked how I felt about getting an epidural. Brian came over too and I told them I would be at peace with that choice. My doula went to get everything lined up and Brian held my hand firmly. I noticed tears in his eyes.
About an hour later, the epidural was complete and I finally felt my body return to a state of peace. Joy returned. Anticipation returned. It was definitely the right choice for this labor.
We all rested for several hours until the doctors became concerned about Charlie's dropping heart rate and my lack of dilation. They tried starting me on Pitocin but Charlie's heart rate would drop the second they turned on the pump. I was still only dilated three centimeters and they said if I didn't progress soon, we might need to discuss other options like a c-section.
So I started praying, "God, please help me dilate naturally. And help me progress quickly. Keep this baby boy safe."
And God answered my prayer! In about an hour I reached 4 centimeters, then in another hour I was at 8 centimeters! By this time, my epidural was failing to provide much comfort and I felt the start and end of every strong contraction. Around 6:00pm I felt a lot of pressure and the need to start pushing. The nurse came in and had me try some "practice" pushes to see if his head was appearing. After this practice session, I reached 9 1/2 centimeters. She called for the doctor.
The contractions returned with a force and I needed help breathing through each one. I felt my entire body tighten around this little ball of life and push it lower and lower. The nurses put my legs in the stirrups as swarms of people began to flood into the room. Did I care? Absolutely not. It's so true that all modesty leaves you during this time.
It was such a relief to start pushing. It felt like I was squeezing out every last drop of strength I had, but I couldn't believe we were finally at this point in the story. I remember looking at the clock on the wall and thinking "New life is about to happen; it's about to be my son's birthday..."
Brian turned into a full-blown cheerleader at this point. I mean, next time I will pack pom-poms in the hospital bag. :) Previously we had discussed where he would like to position himself during all the pushing and he was originally fine with staying near my head, but in this moment he grabbed my right leg and loudly praised me for each hard push. I could see the excitement on his face, especially when he looked at me and said "I can see his head! He has a head full of dark hair!" I was so thankful for the wave of excitement that gave me!
During one stretch of pushes I felt some sort of liquid on my face that everyone started wiping away; only later did I ask Brian about it and he said, "Yeah, your nose was gushing blood." I knew I was pushing hard! It only took around 20 pushes total and I suddenly felt all the pressure in my back release. And the room filled with lovely deep cries from our precious little Charlie.
Because I was leaking meconium before delivery, the NICU nurses were present and took him away to suck out his nose and lungs. I watched them wipe him down and couldn't believe those deep little cries belonged to our son. I looked at Brian and we both had tears.
"We did it!" I whispered to him and squeezed his hand.
When they placed Charlie on my chest, he immediately stopped crying at the sound of my voice. My eyes could hardly take in all the beautiful holiness of his face. I finally had a handsome face and beautiful eyes and tiny toes and fingers to dump all this crazy love. He was perfect, glorious, and he smelled so good. I couldn't believe how surreal it felt to finally "meet" this tiny person I felt like I'd known for all these months.
I held him tight and everything calmed down around me.
"I cannot believe I just did that. I cannot believe I just pushed out this little human," kept replaying over and over in my mind. Honestly, the experience was about a thousand times harder than I expected it to be and definitely soul-altering. For the days following the birth, it felt a little like living with post traumatic stress anxiety since every time I closed my eyes I was back in labor again. But those tensions soon untangled into a peaceful gratitude for both the labor and reward.
Charlie is everything I prayed for and more.
And phew -- this love!
I feel like my heart literally tripled in size, busting away all the protective walls I'm used to. It feels absolutely beautifully vulnerable.
“Before I had my child, I thought I knew all the boundaries of myself, that I understood the limits of my heart. It’s extraordinary to have all those limits thrown out, to realize your love is inexhaustible.” — Uma Thurman
And yet, no one told me how having a baby would change the way I love my husband too.
Holding [ahem, squeezing] hands through labor, spending that first night in the hospital in complete exhaustion and bliss as a family of three, gawking at a little one that bears both our image, depending on him to help me clean and care for myself and this tiny baby, the giddy drive home from the hospital, the hugs in the kitchen as I melted into a five-gallon bucket of tears, the long kisses and shoulder rubs, the post it notes and words of encouragement, the helping hand in those long early morning hours, the silent staring competitions we have over this little boy asking ourselves, "What will he become..."
I think I just fell for this man again -- and again -- and again.
For all the 19 hours of hardship during labor, the love I have for my little family far outweighs any difficulty I faced.
Jesus surrounded me with such a thick grace not only during labor and delivery, but every day since. And boy, I've needed it. It's been so helpful to walk back through (and write down) the majority of the story and pay attention to all the graces and prayers God answered.
I never want to forget a single part of the story.
Because it was truly a set apart day.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV)