Waiting has always been a part of late pregnancy for me. In letting my little ones choose their own birthdates, I have to give up a large measure of control. And so, as we anticipated when the baby might be born into our arms, we wondered and waited...and waited.
On Thursday evening, at 40 weeks and 6 days pregnant, I had fallen on the driveway in front of my house, and hurt myself. My right wrist was painfully sprained, and I also ended up with an injured right foot and raw, bruised knee. Thankfully, the fall didn't harm my baby at all. However, it did leave me somewhat crippled - even if temporarily. I wasn't able to do very much in the following few days, but I was blessed by a loving outpouring of help and care from my family and church.
Early Sunday morning found me awake with uncomfortable contractions. This had been fairly common during the last few weeks, so although I was weary from the early waking, I resolved to not pay too much attention. I continued to have somewhat regular contractions throughout the morning. "Somewhat regular contractions" had been a pretty frequent occurrence for me during this last month or so - although they generally began in the afternoon or evening. So while morning contractions were a tad unusual, they didn't illicit much notice from me. Happily, my wrist was improving, and my foot was nearly back to normal.
I had a little time to rest after church, and I took advantage of it. During lunch, I began to notice the contractions had a different tinge to them. The dance of practice labor versus early labor had been particularly challenging as I prepared for this, my fifth journey of childbirth. How much to pay attention? How much to time things? And I'd been trying not to get my hopes up day after day.
But these felt different. And even though I had felt distinctions and changes over the past few weeks, something about the contractions on Sunday struck a chord of remembrance for me. They felt way stronger: gripping, even. These definitely got my attention.
After a few hours of this, Jeff and I had a pretty good idea that this was It. Although the contractions varied between 8 and 12 minutes, they were the kind I needed to breathe through. Around 3:00 pm we called my midwife, Katherine. I didn't think there was any reason for her to come yet, but I wanted to give her the news that we thought the day had come at last. Together she and I decided to touch base a little later. We also called Jeff's parents, who live across the city and were planning to come tend to the other kids during the birth. "Don't come yet," we said. "But start getting things in order. We'll call you in an hour or so." After an hour, we called and asked them to head on over. I wanted the kids to be well cared for, so I could have Jeff's full attention and support.
But then things started to slow down. I was still having contractions, but they were spacing out a bit. I decided to go upstairs to my bedroom. (Jeff's parents arrived after I went up there.) I felt like being away from distractions as much as possible, and in my bedroom I paced, trying to keep things going. I also began to pray. "Dear Lord, please help these contractions to keep coming. Please, please let this be the day. Please, may we have our baby safely in our arms tonight...."
I also spoke to my baby. I coaxed him, cajoled him. I told him we were ready for him, and that I hoped he would decide to come that night. I said just about everything I could think of to convince him that it would be a good day to be born.
Another thing I did was speak phrases like "I just want to open up and let my baby out." This idea was inspired by Ina May Gaskin's book Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. Other "Ina May ideas" we used, both in this labor and others, are kissing through contractions, words of affirmation, and mental imagery. And they say that what got the baby in, gets the baby out...
I spoke to Katherine again at 5:50. I told her things weren't really speeding up, and I didn't think she needed to come to our home yet. While we were on the phone, I had another contraction. When it was finished, she said "Well, that's definitely a real contraction. You are definitely in labor." We decided I'd check back in about an hour, unless I needed to sooner. I felt so much better when I got off of the phone with her! It was exactly what I needed to hear.
Finally, after trying various labor-spurring tactics, and mere minutes after I got off the phone with Katherine, things began to move faster. What had been 12 to 15 minutes apart, became 4 to 5. Jeff and I danced through a few more contractions, and then I said, "I think we ought to go ahead and ask Katherine to head over..." It had only been 20 or 30 minutes since I had spoken to her, but active labor had definitely begun. Jeff made the phone call, and soon the birth team was on its way. We started filling the big tub in our bathroom, while I breathed in the scent of my lavender candle and listened to the labor songs I'd chosen.
After they arrived, my midwife checked my blood pressure, pulse, and the baby's heartbeat. She found that I was about 5 1/2 cm dilated, and when she asked "So when do you want to get into the tub?" my answer was "As soon as possible!" So that's what I did; I think it was around 7pm.
As always, the tub was a wonderful change. The warm water felt so good, and really did ease the pain of the contractions. As I reclined in the tub, Jeff was with me nearly every moment. I also had some new members of my labor support team: our two oldest sons. Ben and Kyle spent a lot of time by my side while I was in the tub. In my memory, they were rarely there together, but one of them was present most every moment. Kyle stroked my shoulder. Benjamin brushed the hair off my forehead. Once I'm sure I heard my son whispering in harmony with his father, "You're doing so great, just keep relaxing, let the baby come..." It touched me in a way I have never known before.
I felt strangely self-aware during this part of my labor. I tend to be fairly self-aware anyway, I think (in childbirth, that is), but I found myself with thoughts like: I'm not feeling pushy yet, but I think I will be very soon. I feel like I'm almost open all the way... Once again, I used low tones to help me relax and breathe through the labor pains. "Ohhhh.....ahhhhh..."
About nine o'clock, in between contractions, I felt my water break. It was shortly after that (about 9:08 by the records) that I began to push. My first push was a tentative effort, to see if it felt right. Evidently it did, because I kept going.
In all of my children's birth stories, I have mentioned the fact that I hate pushing. It is always scary and intense for me. This birth was no exception, and I felt a little out of control at times. I yelled, I forgot to keep my vocal tones low. I...just...wanted...it...to...be...over. My two younger children were in their beds at this point, but Ben and Kyle were there, and they told me later that they went into the nearby closet to escape the onslaught of noise. I don't blame them. It was intense.
Thankfully, though, the pushing stage didn't last more than 5 minutes - just like my most recent labor. Unlike that time, however, when the baby's head was born, the rest of his body didn't immediately follow. The contraction ended, and I heard my husband say that the head was out. Katherine told him to check whether there was any cord around the baby's neck, and there wasn't. After a bit more discussion, I decided to go ahead and push again, instead of waiting for another labor pain. I gave it my all, and with loud cry, I pushed my child forth completely.
His father caught him in the water and placed him in my arms. Together we discovered that God had seen fit to bless us with another son!
And then, surrounded by people who love him, our new little boy was serenaded with our family's signature lullaby, personalized just for him.
"Gabriel fusses, Gabriel laughs
The angel who watches says
'Hey, look at that!'
There's your faith, the mountains will shake
'Cause God gladly bends just to hear Gabriel when he prays..."