Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Whirlwind

These days, every hour counts. The days are rich and full. To-do lists are as endless as laundry but I am rejoicing in the sweetness of it all. I’m sorry that my posts are sporadic, as my opportunities to write peacefully are few and, like now, usually take three times as long as they used to because I am quietly typing one-handed with a sleeping babe on my lap. But life is happier and busier than ever.

Elijah is now a whopping four months old. My squinty, wrinkly newborn is gone and has been replaced by a cooing, plump, joyful little boy. He is a calm and cerious child, but delights in our time together. There’s just nothing that melts my heart like his smile when he sees my face. For that reason alone, I hope time slows down and that he doesn’t grow up too fast. I know my presence won’t always bring immediate joy, so I want to cherish this time when I can make all bad things go away with a comforting word, a smile, a nursing session. I understand now what it truly meant when my own parents would tell me that if they could have protected me from the hurts of the world, they would have. I would do anything to keep this child’s sense of innocent joy.

He is my life, pure and simple. I never knew I could love this much.

And the rest of our lives is a whirlwind of work and play. We now have 5 working hives, 3 of which are in very good shape, and the other two of which the outcome remains to be seen. Our original hive is struggling with typical bee pests–mites and moths–and we are doing our best to manage the problems organically and without chemicals. It is hard.

My little one is stirring so my time draws short, but needless to say that life is good. God has blessed us, and my heart overflows with gratitude every day. I never knew it could be this good.

My First Mother’s Day

This is my new favorite holiday. We celebrated with cards and gifts, a nice brunch out and I had the joy of a long, luxurious shower while Rob watched dogs and baby. But really, I didn’t need any of those things; it would still have been my favorite holiday. It was my first Mother’s Day.

Elijah Dolan, my beautiful son. We prayed for you for so long. It has been the biggest honor of my life to watch you grow in these short four months. Every day you learn something new. Your eyes see things with wonderment and awe. You are discovering how your body moves and works in the world, how to interact and how to react. There are still things that feel frightening: waking up is sometimes difficult and scary when you have been in a deep sleep. The other day a sudden movement caused your back to crack and that was a new and unexpected sensation.

But mostly your discoveries are exciting and fun. And lately, you’ve been wanting to tell me all about them. You are trying out new sounds and shapes with your mouth. You are enjoying playing with your hands. As often as I can, I try to introduce you peacefully to new sensations: together we learn about soft things, smooth things, cool and warm things, furry things, wet things. We talk about shapes and colors and animals. We listen to different sounds, and I hold things like peanut butter to your nose so you can experience different smells. I never knew that such simple things could bring me such joy.

I know that, when you are grown, you won’t remember these times. But I hope your heart will. I know this is true with my own mother–that I realize now how much my heart remembers. I don’t have a particular memory of being held, cuddled, kissed, changed, bathed, or tickled. But my mom and I have a bond that was forged from those intimate, loving moments. Eli, I hope the same will be true for us. For I love you more than I ever thought this imperfect human heart could love.

My first Mother’s Day as a mom. At least, in the typical fashion. Last year, so soon after the miscarriage, I feared I might never be a mother. But it was five days later that I found out little Eli was already in my womb. So I suppose it’s technically my second Mother’s Day as a mother! Either way, it’s better than Christmas.

Elijah’s Birth Story, Part V

 

The next days and weeks were filled with joys and challenges, as is the case with any new family. Christy and Robin stayed for a total of almost 24 hours, battling exhaustion at the end to make sure Elijah was healthy and ready to spend his first night safely in our arms. Breastfeeding was a challenge for the first five weeks or so due to some TMJ issues that Eli had as a result of his grand entrance. My in-laws stayed with us for the first four weeks (or I should clarify: Rob’s mom stayed for four weeks, Rob’s dad came the last of those four weeks) and helped immensely with our transition. My body struggled a bit regaining its strength and thank goodness that Annette was there to help me with the cooking, tidying, and laundry that was necessary as Rob went back to work. It was a time when we were figuring out what our new “normal” was going to be.

I am asked constantly if I would have made a different decision regarding homebirth if I had known the end of my labor would be so difficult. This question always surprises me–perhaps because I simply can’t imagine a labor and birth process any other way! I loved laboring at home, with my family and my animals and my own room. I loved being able to eat or drink or move whenever I wanted. I loved that medication simply wasn’t an option, and that I needed to rely on my own strength and bodily signals to help Elijah emerge into the world. Yes, it was difficult. Yes, at times it was painful. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s not something that needs to be feared or avoided. I feel so much intimacy with the threshold between being in this world and being in God’s embrace after this experience. In many ways, it is a paschal experience. Birth and Death and Life–and trusting in God to guide us over those thresholds–hold such a sacred, delicate balance.

Being able to share this experience with a midwife is also something that I will always cherish, and the attention and care that she gave us is something that I think every woman deserves. When we were still seeing an OB/GYN, we were lucky if an hour’s wait in the waiting room led to more than a ten minute visit. We had to try to remember every question and cram it in, because obviously he was hurried and had other patients to see. I’ve heard stories from my friends about their OBs not even remembering their names or the circumstances of their pregnancies. Our experience with Christy was so different. She came to our home, and would listen to Eli’s heartbeat while I was laying on my own couch. She would sometimes have dinner with us, and we would talk at length about any question or concern or anxiety I had. She sacrificed many Friday nights with her own family so we could do after-hours appointments that Rob could attend. And in the hardest moments, I trusted her implicitly because we had built that relationship throughout my pregnancy.

Every woman who labors decides how they want to do it, and this is not the forum for saying what I think everyone should or should not do. It is simply my way to express what worked best for me and my family. I hope that every woman gives thought to such a choice. We have more strength than we give ourselves credit for–many women I have talked to have said they couldn’t imagine laboring without medication. And yet in doing so, they sacrifice feeling some of the most undeniably unique and intimate sensations a person can experience. Pain doesn’t always have to equate to suffering. Pain isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s a gift.

These days, I’m enjoying this new world as a mama. Being a witness to my son awakening to the world is a holy experience, one I am honored to experience. I’ve begun to see my relationship with my own parents in a new way, and likewise, with God. Elijah truly is a miracle. I pray that I may learn to gaze at God the same way Elijah gazes at me.

The adventure has only just begun.

Elijah’s Birth Story, Part IV

I was told that from the time the options were presented until the time we made a decision was about an hour. But all I remember from that time was lying on the bed next to Rob, sleeping deeply in between contractions and waking to endure them. I lost all sense of time. I had no idea what to do.

Then, suddenly, I remember waking and saying, “Let’s do it.” I felt a renewed sense of strength, and a decision needed to be made. Avoiding a decision would still be a decision, and it wouldn’t stop any of the discomfort from continuing. All I knew was that something had to change. I felt—albeit momentarily—strong enough to handle whatever consequences would come from breaking my water, whether that meant a hospital transfer or harder contractions. I looked to Rob to make sure the decision was also alright with him. It was.

Within minutes, Robin had checked Eli’s heart rate and then Christy had broken my water. We waited with bated breath as Robin re-checked his heart rate. The moment felt huge, even through my exhaustion. I felt the gravity of the results. Would I have a hospital birth, or a home birth?

Just as it had been the whole time, Elijah’s heart continued to beat strong. This kid was quite the fighter. If he could do it, so could I. We were in this together, and inwardly, I told him so.

I braced myself for the contractions to increase. It was time to move back into the water. The next hour was a blur. The contractions were strong and difficult. I slept in between. Robert, Christy and Robin continued to be my support team, and there were times when all I saw was Robert’s eyes, grounding me. I felt anxious, I felt despair, I felt hope and desperation all at the same time. I wanted to see my son. I wanted it to be over. But I also felt lost.

I stopped speaking. The only way to communicate became through nods or shakes of the head. I had to conserve all my energy, and talking felt like it used up too much. Besides, there were no words for these moments. It existed outside of time, outside of language. It was raw and primal and real, and the only way out was through.

I began to feel an enormous pressure descend toward my bottom. Some say it feels almost like a bowel movement, and in some way it does, but it was also different. The pressure began to increase with each contraction, and I couldn’t hold it back. I was afraid to push too soon this time, and I told Christy so—I told her also that I couldn’t hold it back. I didn’t know what I was waiting for, but I also didn’t know when the risk of re-swelling my cervix would have passed. I held the pressure at bay to the best of my ability.

The time finally came when Christy asked if I wanted her to check my cervix to see if there was any progress. I told her I wanted to wait a few more minutes. I needed to mentally prepare myself, and I wanted to be sure that I held that pressure off as long as possible. But after only a couple contractions, I couldn’t wait any longer. I asked her to check.

Before the check, I went to the bathroom. Christy and Rob talked softly outside. While in the bathroom, I secretly thought to myself, “If I haven’t progressed any more, I might need to go to the hospital. I’m just too tired.” I thought about relief from the pain. I dreamt of having a hospital around the corner. My resolve faltered, I feared the worst. I imagined that Rob and Christy were talking about the same thing (which I later found out wasn’t the case—they were discussing the positive aspects of my progress). I laid on the bed and looked to heaven. Please God, I whispered. Please. I looked once more to the purple letters on the wall. Support me, whatever the news is.

Christy got a distant look in her eyes as she concentrated during my contraction. Finally, she said, “There’s only a little bit of cervix left, and I think you can push past it. Let’s try on the next contraction. I want you to push when you feel the contraction coming on.” I felt relieved but not out of the woods. As the contraction began, I pushed. “Yep…” Christy nodded. “Yep. The baby was able to move past that last piece. Wow, you’re a great pusher, Stacia. This baby is going to be out in no time.”

Part of me couldn’t believe it. Was it finally time? “So I can push whenever I want?” I asked.

“You’re free to do whatever you feel like,” Christy replied. And it was then that I finally began to really feel what a “pushing contraction” felt like. It was something that I could aid, but couldn’t stop. Some women say that they felt a great sense of relief when the pushing started, although I’m not sure I can say the same. It didn’t necessarily feel “good,” but I can say that I was glad for the change of pace and the sense of progress.

I pushed for a few contractions on the bed. It was hard work, and I began to break out in a drenching sweat. I almost couldn’t believe how much I was sweating! It seemed to seep out of every pore of my body, from my scalp to my toes, dripping down my face and arms. I decided it was time to move back into the birthing tub for the final time. I wanted to give birth in the water.

Strange as it may sound, I could feel Elijah moving down the birth canal. I felt his progress physically, and I felt the emotional connection between us deepen. I would finally see this little man face to face—the one who had been kicking, elbowing, hiccupping, and back-flipping inside me for so many months. This was his final movement inside me, the last page of this first chapter in his life. A new adventure was about to begin.

After about 50 minutes of pushing, I began to feel the stinging sensation of his head emerging. I quickly told Christy and Robin that it was beginning to sting. I remember thinking that Christy seemed surprised for a split second, and then she and Robin disappeared briefly into the bathroom. They emerged quickly after, and Christy stood behind me as I began to push Elijah’s head out. At the time I was on my hands and knees in the pool, and Christy was monitoring Eli’s heart rate every other contraction. It remained strong until his head was halfway out, at which point she told me to flip over after his check. His heart rate sounded slower to me—a fact which she later confirmed—and I needed to reposition. After I did, it went back up immediately. His head emerged fully after two more pushes, then his shoulders, and finally the rest of his body. It was over. My son was born.

Christy caught him and immediately put him on my chest. I felt his little warm body, and was surprised at the thick layer of sticky vernix. It was hard for me to get a good look at him because of the angle he was at on my chest, but in many ways I was filled with disbelief. Was this really my son? Was the labor really over? What now?

During the many months leading up to his birth, I had pictured that moment over and over. I had imagined crying, or saying something like, “My son! My son!” and being flooded with overwhelming emotion. But the truth was, the physical and emotional exhaustion of the experience kept such an outpouring at bay. There would be time to process the emotions later; for now, the main feelings were relief and disbelief. I was looking forward to figuring out exactly how I felt, but I needed a little time.

 Elijah was remarkably calm–one of the benefits of waterbirth and delayed cord clamping. I couldn’t believe it. He was finally here, this warm, squishy bundle in my arms. He was so dependent and helpless, and I was now responsible for making sure he felt safe and protected. I knew instantly I loved him, although it took a few weeks for me to be in love with him. I think this is mostly because it was my instinctive mommy-sense that loved him, but it took a while before I began to know who I was loving. The instinct to love came first, and the choice to love came after.

I held him for about 15 minutes as we waited for the cord to stop pulsing and as the midwives monitored his color and breathing. Then, after cutting the cord, Elijah was handed to Robert and I was helped out of the pool and onto the bed. I felt like I was finally returning to my body, and was aware of its separate-ness from the world for the first time in about twelve hours. My world was no longer my body’s sensations. It was now wrapped up in a little bundle on my husband’s chest.

[The last part, Part V, coming tomorrow…]

Elijah’s Birth Story, Part III

[Note: This part begins a challenging time in my labor. But as you read, know that I do not regret birthing at home or naturally, and will absolutely do it again next time. I don’t believe these challenges were a result of not being in a hospital, but rather were a necessary part of my own journey, my own learning. In retrospect, I feel so honored to have come through such an amazing, formative experience as part of my–and Eli’s–life story.]

Christy did an underwater cervical check soon after that point. Two things were of note: first, she said, I was fully dilated and it would be time to push soon (or so we thought). Second, she had felt the baby’s head. I hadn’t felt my water break, but we speculated that perhaps the water had broken underwater and unbeknownst to me. With those two things in mind, she said that she wouldn’t be surprised if our baby was born as the sun rose on the hillside. I sighed, relieved. It was almost over.

Except, it wasn’t.

Being a first time mom, I simply didn’t know the difference between a pushing contraction and regular contraction. Certainly I was feeling the baby moving lower, and the pressure of this movement began to be more and more uncomfortable. Since I was fully dilated, Christy gave me the okay to push if I felt like it. The trouble was, I felt like it but didn’t realize that I didn’t undeniably, unequivocally feel like it. In retrospect, there is no denying a pushing contraction, but I didn’t fully know what this meant at the time.

So, as the sun rose, I began to push. And push. And push. And nothing happened.

Except, perhaps, the contractions began to get more painful. Much. More. Painful. Which I didn’t think could actually happen at that point. But it did.

I think that if I had been able to push Elijah out at that time, I would tell you now that I don’t really remember the pain associated with labor. I would tell you that I never really felt totally exhausted, and that my emotional state was tired but joyful by the end of it all. But God had a slightly different plan for Elijah’s entrance into the world, one that would test my resolve and become a true testament to my and Robert’s covenant.

By 7:30 or so, Christy recognized that something wasn’t right. Was I pushing incorrectly? She asked to do a check while I pushed during a contraction so she could help direct me if this were the case. But during the check, she recognized that I wasn’t completely dilated anymore. My cervix had swelled 2 ½ centimeters, pushing me back to 7 ½ centimeters dilated. I would have to go through transition all over again.

She asked if she could continue the check for one more contraction and concentrated hard. Finally she said, “Your water is still intact. It didn’t break.” How was that possible, we asked, since she had been able to feel the head before?

She explained that he had descended so far down in my pelvis that the bag had been stretched thin over his head, leaving no water in between the bottom of the bag and his head (thus making it feel like there was no bag present). However, when I experienced a contraction, the water rushed below his head, pushing his head upward into my pelvis. This motion, along with my premature pushes, had made my cervix swell.

We would have to wait until the swelling went down and try to actively get some of the cervical lip to pull back through various positions during contractions.

This news was too much for me to bear. I couldn’t imagine going through transition again. I couldn’t imagine spending hours waiting for the swelling to go down, enduring the ever-stronger gripping movements within my womb.  I just couldn’t bear it. But I knew there was no way out but through. So I cried. And cried. And cried.

Robert held me and tried to get my focus back. He encouraged me to the best of his ability, but I was inconsolable. There was nothing in my mind that could fathom continuing through these contractions for an unknown amount of hours. I had been on the brink of seeing my baby. It had felt so close. Now I could see nothing but the looming pain, and I didn’t know how to break free of that perspective. From a spiritual perspective, I truly entered my Dark Night of the Soul. I felt exhausted and spiritually weak.

Before the birth, Robert and I had put posters up around the room that I had used for a retreat I had led. On the posters were written all sorts of quotes, from Scripture to prayers to the words of saints. The one poster I remember focusing in on over and over during this challenging time had bold purple letters: “Throw your cares on the Lord, and He will support you.” I read it over and over again. Support me, Lord. This requires a strength that I simply do not possess.

I began to feel unbelievably tired. The contractions were taking every ounce of my strength. I began to doze a little between contractions, which gave me blessed rest but also made me feel like no time passed between each one. It gave me both relief and made it seem like time was standing still. No time existed outside of each contraction. There was no yesterday, when this wasn’t happening. There would be no tomorrow, when it would all be over and I would see my son. No, there was only this moment. And this moment hurt.

Christy was a midwifery superhero, constantly giving me homeopathic combinations to help me reserve strength and enhance my emotional state. Her knowledge and study certainly paid off as her remedies helped stabilize my emotions and relax my body. My team encouraged me to eat and drink, but I began to refuse everything. Sometimes I would take sips of orange juice just to pacify them, but I just didn’t feel like anything. I never did eat the donuts my dad bought, save for a few donut holes before the sun rose. Eating just didn’t make sense. At times, it felt like nothing made sense.

Christy and Robin knew they had to break me out of this mindset, and Christy began strongly encouraging me to take a walk around our house in the warm morning sun. At the time I couldn’t fathom it, but she was persistent. Rob also thought it would be a good idea. How could I walk? I thought. How could I possibly walk? But I was beyond the point where I could make decisions for myself, so I agreed. I began to truly understand how women could be talked into anything during a hospital labor. At some point, you just get too tired to know what to do next.

I couldn’t have anyone speak to me, so I asked that my parents and Rob’s mom not talk to me as I walked out the door. Thank goodness, they obliged. Christy and Robin had been keeping them in the loop and they knew that this was a particularly difficult moment. Rob took me by the arm and supported me as I walked around our house. The sun felt good on my face and the breeze nice on my skin, but I did think it probably looked quite ridiculous if any neighbors (thankfully relatively far away) saw a 9-month-pregnant lady with nothing on but a fuzzy bathrobe moaning and groaning her way around her house, stopping every few moments to have her husband support her while she squatted through a contraction. 

As we walked around our property, Robert began weave the story of our little boy’s future in our home. “Look,” he pointed. “There is the oak tree where we’ll put a swing. Our son will swing on that swing and have so much fun. And over there,” he said. “There’s where he will climb the back hill and have all sorts of imaginary adventures.” At one point he said, “And that’s where he will form a zip line over the chicken coop,” to which I replied, “That doesn’t sound like such a good idea.” The lightheartedness felt nice, even if it didn’t help to lighten my emotions. I also remember looking at our chickens and thinking, God bless you, ladies, for doing this every single day just so I can have an omelette for breakfast. I didn’t have the strength to make the joke, but I still thought it.

By the time we went back in the house, I felt slightly better. My family had decided that they wanted to give us the opportunity to labor unencumbered wherever we wanted in the house, so they told us they were going to make themselves scarce for a little bit. This turned out to be a good thing, because we moved into the main bathroom for some of the most difficult work yet. Christy wanted me to labor in a few different positions to help quicken the cervical lip as it pulled back. First, she had me sit on the toilet backward, leaning forward. I remember hitting the wall a few times, and I remember yelling “Help me!” I don’t know who I wanted to help me, but it helped to say it. Was I talking to Rob? To Christy? To God? I don’t know. But it helped to ask for help.

After what seemed like an eternity, Christy had me stand next to the tub. She wanted me to do a version of a lunge during each contraction, with my right leg up on the edge of the tub and my body leaning forward. I can’t quite describe why now, but this really, really hurt. It was probably the most uncomfortable way to experience a contraction—or at least as uncomfortable as the typical on-your-back form of hospital laboring. After the first lunge contraction, I was ready to stop. Christy encouraged me to do just two more. “Only three lunges on this side,” she said. After three on the right side, she had me do the same with the left side. All in all, I was probably doing lunges for a half hour. The contractions had slowed to give my body a chance to rest, which was nice, but also made things seem to go excruciatingly slow.

We retreated to the bedroom for another cervical check. We had to see if any of this was working. It was, but only slightly. I was still in between 1 ½ and 2 centimeters from being complete. Christy suggested that we had two options. The first option was to continue to try to labor through the contractions and hope the water broke on its own. The second option was to have them break my water. The second option would certainly speed things up, but wouldn’t be without risk.  There was the possibility that the baby would go into distress from the shock of having the water break so far down in the pelvis. That would mean an immediate hospital transfer. Our dreams of a homebirth would be done, and I would have to endure an hour in the car to get to the hospital. On the other hand, it was highly possible that enduring many more hours of these strong contractions with such slow progress would leave me with no strength to push. We needed to make a decision.

Elijah’s Birth Story, Part II

We awoke with the sunrise and I realized the contractions were still present, although not as strong as when we went to bed. It was unseasonably warm in Tehachapi—in the upper 50s—for a January day. We gathered the dogs into the car and headed to a favorite breakfast spot, a local diner named Kelcy’s. I remember we sat down at 8:05am and I ordered hot tea. We had our familiar waitresses—Terri, a feisty woman who liked to participate in the local community theater, and the Other Lady, who had a hairdo like Alice from the Brady Bunch and a tattoo on her forearm that always surprised me. Breakfast felt warm and intimate. I kept having contractions, and in some ways it felt like Rob and I had this amazing secret that nobody else knew. We were having biscuits and gravy, the people in the booth next to us were ordering banana cream pie for breakfast, and—oh yes—a baby was on his way. Can I have more honey for my tea, please?

By the time breakfast was over, I figured I was having regular contractions every 9-10 minutes. It was still very early, but things were undeniably regular and predictable. My parents let us know that they were on their way up with Annette. I had told Rob earlier that I feared that the excitement of the parents arriving would probably stop the contractions altogether, so when my mom asked if I was still contracting, I replied, “Not really.” After all, I didn’t want to get her hopes up. Or mine for that matter.

We spent the next few hours puttering around the house, joking, laughing, enjoying our time together. The carload of grandparents-to-be arrived around 11am, and we joyfully spent some time catching up with Rob’s mom. She had brought Robert’s baby book, and as we looked through I couldn’t help but wonder what our baby would look like. Would he be dark like Robert? Fair like me? Have a lot of hair? Have green eyes?

There were several moments when I had to sit back and settle into a contraction, concentrating hard on not letting anyone notice. Robert would glance at me knowingly. The surprising thing was, though, that they weren’t going away. I wasn’t timing them and still assumed that they would peter out like the other times. I even convinced myself that they weren’t getting stronger, even though I increasingly had to run to the bathroom or conveniently take the dogs outside to weather them, hunched over, breathing deeply. I figured that I was imagining what I wanted to happen. Certainly they would disappear as soon as I acknowledged them.

Yet there finally came a moment—or, rather, a stronger contraction—that I couldn’t hide. My mom was walking by, and I bent over with a “huhammmmmmmm….” and my mom instinctively just reached over and rubbed my lower back. “I can’t hide it anymore, Mom!” I moaned. “I’ve been contracting all morning!!!” So the cat was out of the bag. And, as it turned out, they didn’t go away. I was in labor.

We contacted Christy and she reminded us to call her again when the contractions were five minutes apart, one minute long, for one hour, and I was unable to talk through them. Rob suggested I take a shower, which sounded like a great idea. The warm water soothed me, and I liked the idea of entering labor feeling clean and fresh. It was in the shower that I had the first contraction that brought me to my knees—literally. It wasn’t that it was excruciatingly painful, in hindsight, but rather that it just felt natural and much more comfortable to drop to my hands and knees as the pressure-filled wave crested within me. Rob stayed by my side, coaxing me to relax and being the rock that I knew he would be—and have known him to be—all along.

Once out of the shower, I decided that hands and knees felt like a wonderful way to have contractions. So we got our exercise ball and a foam gardening pad and I spent time with the family for the next few hours. Every four minutes or so, I would drop, knees on the foam pad and upper body resting or rocking on the ball.  The mood was light hearted, and Robert timed the contractions on his watch while my dad timed them on the computer. It appeared that things were picking up speed.

One beautifully light and happy moment of these hours happened when Rob decided to wear a shirt that I had gotten as a free Labor Day promotion from a maternity shop. The shirt read, “Labor Day, How Hard Can It Be?” Because it was a woman’s shirt, it was very tight and effeminate-looking on my strong, masculine husband—the perfect way to make the whole household erupt into laughter. He was such a good sport, and wore the shirt until late into the night when things got a little more serious.

Finally it came time to call our midwife Christy. She came over and she, Rob, and I went back into our bedroom. She did a cervical check and I was about 2 ½ cm dilated, which showed that we were still very early in the labor process. But the contractions were strong enough, and she could tell things were happening. She suggested that I stay in bed and try to rest for as many hours as possible.  She would probably be back later that night, and asked Rob to keep her updated. By now, it was dinner time and the parents were cooking a roasted chicken in the kitchen. The contractions were getting stronger for me, and as Christy left I asked Rob to let the dogs into the room so I could labor a bit with the comfort of my beloved animals. Sugar, who had become very protective of me throughout the labor, seemed anxious and worried. She kept watch at the foot of the bed while I labored. Zoe, on the other hand, curled up on the bed right in front of me. I knelt by the bed during contractions, and she bent over and put her head on my shoulder. My two dogs, both filling different roles, both looking out for their mama. I was touched.

At one point Rob came in with a plate of chicken and some of the other food from dinner. I remember eating a little, but not being very hungry. I was urged to eat, and I knew I would need strength, but I just didn’t want to eat very much at the time. I tried to sleep a little between contractions. My parents left for the hotel after dinner, and asked us to call when things began to show signs of more progress. Now it was simply time to be patient.

Our birthing tub had been set up for about a week, but we had waited to fill it. Now the time had come, and we took out our brand new food-grade hose as instructed and hooked it up to the water heater. The idea was that the water heater would empty into the tub, we’d wait for it to refill, then we’d empty it one more time (which would fill the tub to capacity). The tub was designed to keep the water warm as long as we needed it.

There was, however, a flaw in our plan.

We had assumed that the hot water heater would actually drain, well, hot water. It didn’t. At best, the water was lukewarm.

The water had reached about halfway up before we realized that it wasn’t going to work. And the heating mechanism in the pool was only designed to maintain heat, not to actually heat the pool up. Frustrated, Rob drained the pool and we brainstormed other ideas. I suggested that we hook up the hose to the shower spigot and try to fill it up that way. It worked, but only partially. By the time the pool was full it was still only about 92 degrees. Not warm enough to labor in comfortably, and not warm enough to birth in. I even tried to get in it for a few minutes, and the swirling hormones combined with the below-body-temperature water made me shiver uncontrollably. We realized that this was probably a mistake and Rob quickly suggested I jump into a hot shower to warm up. I jumped out of the pool, anxious to have hot water warm me up…yet as I climbed over the lip of our bathtub into the shower, we both realized that this time our tub-filling had, in fact, drained the hot water heater. There was no hot water left.

Shivering, I crawled back into bed and covered myself with blankets. The contractions were getting quite strong now, and we were getting close to the time when we would need to call Christy. Although I’m sure his composure felt inwardly rattled, Rob suddenly transformed into a super-human birth coach. In the hour that followed, he managed to help me through the threshold toward more powerful contractions, decided to try to add boiling water to the pool, and kept Christy updated right until she walked through the door. Annette put a pot of water on every burner of the stove, and together she and Rob poured pot after pot of boiling water into the pool in an attempt to warm it up. Rob was determined to make sure I could labor in the tub.

It worked.

And, in retrospect, I feel it important to note that without that tub, my labor would have been much, much harder. That tub was my epidural. And my husband and his mom made sure I would have it. I will always be grateful for that effort.

Christy arrived at the end of their boiling-water efforts, and from this point on the details begin to feel a little hazy. I remember the lights being dim, but Christy suggesting we dim the room even more. I remember also getting into the pool almost immediately after her arrival. A little while later, the assistant midwife Robin also arrived. I felt very tired when she walked in, and managed a weak hello.

Shortly after Robin’s arrival, I realized I wanted my mom. It didn’t matter to me whether or not she was in the room, but I needed to know she was in the house. I needed to know she was there. They called my parents, and soon my mom came in to help Robert encourage me. It lifted my spirit enormously.

At some point, we decided to switch from dimmed lights to candles. We lit the candles on our wall, and the room suddenly had a reverent, intimate glow. At times, I labored quietly and at other times needed to moan loudly. The contractions were getting closer together and more powerful. Throughout each and every one, Robert knelt by the pool and coached me through them. Sometimes he would hold my face, sometimes my hands. Sometimes I would simply hold onto him. He soothed me and encouraged me with soft words, telling me he loved me and that I was doing a great job. He worked through fatigue and concern and his own discomfort from kneeling.

We spent several hours this way. Every few contractions, I would moan “ooooowwwww,” and Robert and Christy would remind me to say “ooooohhhhh” instead. They reminded me that the contractions were strong, but not painful. The contractions were strong, but I was stronger. I would be okay.

Most of my nighttime labor was in the tub. We only took a few short breaks for me to jump out, towel down quickly, and run shivering to the bathroom. I felt the pain and the power both—they blended into one another and did not contradict. I still managed to crack some jokes and make the midwives laugh despite pleas for me to rest and sleep. But I loved the experience, I loved the intimacy of that room. I wanted to relish in it, to wrap my soul with it and savor it. Laughter seemed most appropriate.

Sometimes, when the contractions got strong, I would take Rob by the hand. “You ready???” I would say. “Here we go!” It really felt like a team effort. At one point, Rob had me visualize a ski slope. “It’s just like one of the most challenging runs you ever did,” he said as the contraction began. And as it continued, he helped me to visualize the thrill and exhilaration of the slope, right down until the end when I slid to a stop. I wasn’t one for visualizations, and in fact that was the only one I did. But it worked.

As dawn approached, we began to experience what were the strongest of the contractions to that point. The midwives agreed with my suspicion that I was reaching transition, the shortest but most painful part of labor when the last of the cervix dilates. My mom came in and asked if I wanted my dad to get donuts, and I thought that it was a good idea. She let slip that it was about 5am, so the donut shop should be open—at which point both midwives seemed to slap their foreheads, as they had gone to great efforts to keep me from knowing the time throughout the night. I smiled inwardly, knowing that my mom hadn’t meant any harm. And I liked knowing that the night was almost over.

Elijah’s Birth Story, Part I

Elijah—his name means “God is The Lord.” His middle name, Dolan, came from the beautiful late Sr. Peg Dolan, a living saint who frequently reminded us that each one of us is “a Word of God spoken only once.” This is the story of the day that this Word, our little Elijah Dolan, was breathed into the world.

It was a day that we had been waiting for—and although officially we had been waiting for many months, both of us had truly been waiting for it all of our lives. Eli’s technical due date was January 21st, 2011, although I had a suspicion all along that Eli would arrive a little early. Hints of contractions began on the 10th of January, appearing and then disappearing. Our hopes would grow, and each morning as Rob went off to work, we looked at each other and said, “Today could be the day!” I think each of us half expected every single day would bring some sort of dramatic moment—the water would break, the call would be made for Rob to rush home from work, and there would be an official moment when we could declare that Eli’s journey was underway. In reality, his adventure would begin much more slowly.

At 4am on Saturday morning, January 15th, I woke up to some mild cramping. I remember feeling so ready: so ready for labor and so ready to transition from pregnancy to parenthood.  My body was feeling tired—I was tired from late pregnancy pains, tired from the inability to sleep, and tired from the emotional anticipation, the unknowing of what was to come. I felt like it was time.

I remember lying in bed, feeling the mild cramping, and deciding to pray. I prayed for the intercession of Sr. Peg—and I imagined what a conversation with her would be like at that moment. We’d be sitting in her small on-campus apartment, sipping tea. She would smile knowingly, encourage me to be patient. Throughout the whole pregnancy I had had these types of imaginary conversations with her, seeking her wisdom with each new challenge or anxiety. On this particular morning, I felt her presence comfort me as I waited, wondering, feeling the tension of being suspended between two distinct phases of our lives. Once the moment arrived, the moment we were waiting for, everything would change. Some things would end. Others would begin. And some would simply change, forever different—not necessarily better or worse, but never the same. Was this the day?

As the sun finally rose, I told Robert what was happening. I thought I had also felt some very mild contractions. Or had I? I wasn’t sure. Was I making it up? Did I just want it to happen so badly I was imagining them? Maybe. Maybe not. I couldn’t be sure just yet.

We got up, and I knew things felt a little strange. By 8am, I was certain that I was feeling contractions, irregular and far apart, but there. I wasn’t sure, though, if they would be any different than the contractions that had gotten us excited throughout the week, so we decided to continue our plans to drive down to Bakersfield (about an hour away) and shop at Lassen’s and Trader Joe’s. We piled the dogs into the car and set out down the hill. By the time we were halfway through our shopping, I was needing to pause during contractions. Sometimes I would lean on the cart, and other times I would lean on Robert. At one point I remember saying to Robert, “Maybe we should hurry up and get back home!” I had no idea what a “strong” contraction felt like, or how I would feel when those strong contractions got close, and I didn’t want to be in Bakersfield—or worse, the car—when those hit.

We got back home close to lunch time and things felt a little easier. Nothing was particularly timeable just yet—everything was spaced between 7 and 10 minutes apart. But something in me said that this was the start of the real thing. I was so certain, in fact, that it seemed like a very good time to bake a birthday cake—and so we did. We found a recipe for a yellow cake and took great joy in baking it together. I felt like dancing, I was so excited. Could this really, really be the day?

Robert’s mom was arriving from New Jersey at 5:30pm that night, and my parents were scheduled to pick her up at the airport two hours away. The plan was that she would spend the night at their house and then they would all drive up to Tehachapi on Sunday morning to drop her off for her month-long stay with us. The irony was that we had planned for her to arrive the week before my due date so we could cook and spend some time together—after all, Eli wasn’t due until the following Friday. But as this Saturday afternoon wore on, it became clear that she might arrive just in time to see her grandson’s birth.

By 3:30pm, we needed to make the call whether or not to tell my parents to pack their bags and continue on to Tehachapi after picking up Annette. We gave them the heads-up about the possibility, but told them to wait for our call later in the day to know for sure. We had been in contact with our midwife, Christy, all day. She agreed to come check my progress around 5pm so we could tell them what to do; and by that time it seemed apparent that although I was certainly having contractions, progress wasn’t being made quickly enough to warrant their trip up to us just yet. She advised us to all get a good night’s sleep, relax as much as possible, and try not to anticipate whether or not this was “it.” After all, the excitement of the evening, combined with my parents’ enthusiasm, had already slowed down the contractions a bit. We told the grandparents-to-be to head home and assured them that we would call them if anything seemed like it was progressing quickly. Otherwise, we’d see them in the morning.

Rob and I spent the rest of the evening enjoying one another’s company. He made eggplant parmesan for dinner and then we decided to go out for ice cream. The contractions continued, but we didn’t feel the pressure for them to lead to anything. When we got home, we watched an episode of one of our favorite comedies, and I realized how exhausted I was from a day of mild contractions. I began to doze halfway through it, and by the time it was over, I was more than ready for bed. We were asleep by 9pm.

I slept really well that night. Robert held me close, and I felt my big belly—and all its associated aches and pains—more acutely. I wondered if it would be the last night I would lie like that, with my belly hanging low, my legs propped with pillows to help cope with the hip pain, with my arms falling asleep after 10 minutes on either side. With his little feet stretched far into the right side of my stomach. With his hiccups keeping me company in the 2am moonlight. And yes, in fact, it was the last night of these things. Something new awaited us.