Annika came early- five days before her due date. We assumed Michael, being the second child, would do at least the same. (Are all the parents with two children laughing?) So when I hit 39 weeks, my brain and body both checked DONE and we all held our breath with expectation. Any moment now!
But he didn't come at 39 weeks. And then he didn't come at 40 weeks. And then every single day seemed to drag by like an eternity as my belly stretched and sagged and remained. My parents were coming soon and I started to worry that he wouldn't even be here for their visit. Every morning I looked at my calendar and tried to persuade him that today was the Very Best Day, but he would just press his heel deeper in to my ribs as if to say, "I'm pretty comfy here, thanks." And every night, Josh and I would sigh and iron another shirt for another day at work.
Finally, I started thinking about my options. My induction options. For me, induction was a four-letter word that I never thought I'd say... so I bounced back and forth between strongly considering it and then recoiling in horror at myself. My last resort was to send an SOS text thread to the tight circle of girlfriends who've known me since I was 15 - surely they would tell me what to do.
We talked it all out, all different women with multiple children and a broad range of birth stories that resulted in beautiful, healthy babies and proud, un-regretful mamas. I slowly realized that my greatest fear wasn't that induction was dangerous, my issue was that it wasn't me. It just wasn't the kind of story that I liked best or wanted for myself, so it seemed wrong and a little yucky. And so one dear friend, who knows me deep enough to see through to that, simply said, "You've experienced birth one way, now try it this way. Let yourself go a little."
I laughed. And I felt at peace for once. I acknowledged how much my own stubbornness and control issues were complicating things. It was true, I had experienced a spontaneous labor with Annika. It was also true that I was completely unprepared for the 20+ hours of intense labor that, besides being un-induced and not having an epidural, fell pretty short of nearly everything else on my birth plan. (Including getting stuck with a DUDE doctor with a high rate of C-section.) Was it possible that a carefully-approached induction with a doctor I trusted might actually get me closer to the slowly-progressing, bathtub-floating, Sigur Ros-swaying birth that I wanted?
I called my doctor. She said it was a slow day at the birth center and I could come on in. Like, right then. I texted Josh... he was game. I ran around the house moving things and curling my hair and brewing Raspberry Leaf tea. Today was going to be the day!
I was actually comforted by the thought that making a huge, life-impacting decision on an impulse and a prayer was actually exactly like us.
Josh came home and we loaded up in the car. We giggled about Michael's empty car seat and how the next time we saw it, there would be a baby inside. I rubbed my belly and stared out the window as we exited for the hospital. It was the middle of the afternoon on a perfectly sunny day. I'd imagined this drive a hundred times and this wasn't how I pictured it happening, which made me feel anxious and wrong but I tried to relax and embrace the moment. I prayed to ask God for his blessing, and also his forgiveness, just in case.
We got checked in. I put on a hospital gown and climbed into bed, Josh and Annika got comfortable on the couch. Our plan was to start with a pill that would soften my cervix (which was already 70% effaced) to 100% and then we would leave the hospital and walk around the lake for 2 hours. Hopefully this would be enough to start labor, but if it didn't we could either go home or have my water broken.
I drank my tea and browsed the room service menu. Our excitement was growing as we got more and more at home in the little room. I was just about to order a milkshake when the nurse came in with some shocking news. Another patient had just arrived and they were short-staffed. She was in active labor, I was not. Long story short? I would not be getting my water broken. She kinda-sorta apologized and suggested we go home, rest, and see if the pill alone would put me into labor.
I was mad.
Not at her or the hospital necessarily, just at life. I had finally gotten cozy with my decision and was ready to meet my baby - now we had to go home and wait some more?
I was determined that if the doctor wasn't going to get my labor started, then I would do it myself. We went on to the lake and power-walked around it. I hiked up and down stadium stairs. I did weird squats and stretches in public. I could feel Michael heavier than ever, pressing down like never before, but no contractions. We ate greasy pizza (with labor-inducing pineapple, for kicks) and went home disappointed.
Then a little past midnight, I woke up.
I woke up to pee, which was normal, but I laid awake in bed afterwards because I was feeling low and crampy contractions, which were not normal. I tossed and turned and then felt a small trickle of liquid. I dismissed the thought that my water might have broken until it happened about twice more and the contractions intensified.
I woke Josh up - "This is real. Well, I think this is real." We timed the contractions which were coming on strong. I was able to re-pack and gather up our things between them but had to stop and focus on breathing when they came. They were painful, but I was so excited that I welcomed them and prayed they wouldn't stop.
My water had definitely broken, so we drove to the hospital. We were alone on the road, in the dark, in the rain. I moaned quietly through my contractions but smiled at Josh and said, "This is the drive I've been wanting to make."
By the time we got to the hospital, I was in very active labor. I paced the waiting room while slow-moving and bubbly nurses annoyed the life outta me with their casual questions and registering. Someone finally came to escort us to the birth center and the walk seemed to take forever, by this point I had to stop and squat or lean against a wall when a contraction came. (Annika has vivid memories of this long walk and how impatient she felt. "It was really hard to wait for you, Mom!")
I don't remember much of getting into the hospital room because the contractions overwhelmed me so completely. Someone undressed me and snapped on a hospital gown, at some point Josh left to properly park the car, I just kept my eyes closed and tried to survive. Next door, a woman was screaming through her labor, crying out constantly in what sounded like another language. I think I sank even deeper into silence to compensate.
I had sworn that I wouldn't labor the same way that I did with Annika, which was sitting quietly on the edge of the bed and not moving for hours, but I ended up in the same position. They brought me the birthing ball I had wanted and I shook my head in complete disgust; There was no way I'd be straddling anything round and huge and bouncy. I didn't even want the doctor to check my dilation because I couldn't fathom getting up onto the bed. I just closed my eyes, held Josh's hand, and shook my head "no" to everything.
Then things began to get weird because Michael's heart rate started dropping. It was usually around 140 bpm but had slowed to 60 bpm and was not recovering. The nurses were getting concerned and apparently the room was quickly filling with them. Josh remembers this much better than me... he was hearing the possibility of emergency C-sections and felt afraid for Michael and me both. The doctor said that I could possibly be in a position that was causing stress on the baby so they asked that I climb onto the bed and get on my hands and knees. I said no. But I heard Josh tell me I needed to do it, so somehow I did.
It helped. His heart rate returned to normal in that position. The doctor quickly checked my cervix and let me know I was 5 cm dilated. For anyone that doesn't know the lingo, that's only halfway there. I remember pressing my face into a pillow and thinking desperately that I simply could not endure any more contractions. When I was in labor with Annika, I still had about 15 hours to go at that point. I tried to find the strength and breath between contractions to tell someone that I wanted an epidural, but the effort to communicate anything to anyone seemed too much.
Suddenly, about 20 minutes later, I started having the uncontrollable urge to push him out. I assumed this was wrong or dangerous because I was only 5 cm dilated, so I cried out - "I can't stop pushing!"
The doctor checked me again and I was fully dilated - I was completely shocked and grateful. The room filled again with noise and nurses. One nurse coached me gently, speaking softly into my ear and pressing hard on my lower back as I pushed through the contractions. These contractions were different, easier in a way... they were less full-body overwhelming and more concentrated down by his head. And there was 5-10 seconds of real rest between them. But the pushing burned and I screamed into my pillow each time, fueled only by my body's insistence, the nurse's firm hand on my back, and the doctor's promise that I wasn't tearing.
And then finally, just a few short hours after we had arrived, Michael slipped softly out of my body and into the world.
The doctor caught him and passed him up to me through my legs. He lay on the bed for a moment, crying and waving his long arms, while I stared at him in disbelief. It seemed my hands were far too cold and dirty to actually touch him. I did though, kneeling upright on the bed as strength and relief flooded my body, holding my warm, wet, crying son. His cord pulsed it's last from the placenta that was still inside me.
They helped me roll onto my back and latched him onto my breast. Then Josh cut the cord and I cradled Michael in my arms as I pushed the placenta out - the last and final effort, and it was over. The whole thing had taken less than three hours.
The woman next door was still screaming, I felt such a conflicting burden for her pain and amazed relief that my own was over.
Everything was surreal.
|We learned later that this wonderful nurse is also a Christian and has been to Thailand and met some of Josh's missionary family out there!|
Josh and Annika soon slept. She promised that she wasn't tired and we promised that if she closed her eyes, sleep would come. Parents are always right - she was snoring in five minutes. (And it was 4 a.m.) I stayed awake until morning, just looking at him and listening to the other women laboring all around me. It felt like the strangest sisterhood, I rooted and prayed for them as I held my own precious reward.
The next day, everyone asked Annika how she felt about being a big sister. She answered everyone the same, she was happy and excited. (We knew the truth- she was mostly excited about ordering breakfast from a menu and spending that next day and night with her best friend.) They asked what she thought about the birth, she informed everyone that she mostly played her LeapPad but heard me scream "It's burning!", so she watched Michael come out and then went back to her game.
We spent that next day ordering room-service and watching World Cup games on cable, passing Michael back and forth between us and napping. It was a little hard to say goodbye to free food and housekeeping.
But home is different now that Michael is here. It is lovelier.
First of all, things are filled. His bassinet, the swaddle blankets, my diaper bag. All of the things that were stocked up and waiting for him are now serving their purpose and an everyday part of our new lives. But mostly, we are a new family. Josh and I have a son, Annika has a little brother. We are all different now.
We are filled.
I had wondered if I could ever love another child like I love Annika and I know now that I can - and I do. It's strange to treasure a little person so much when you know so little about them, but I guess that's part of what makes him so precious. He is a gift and a mystery.
We are so thankful.