October 21, 2011

Labor of Love: A birth story

I've grown up here but never seen it so dry. It's harvest time now and there are almost no fields to harvest. Months stretched on with no rain and as my stomach got heavier and my due date loomed nearer Jacob and I talked about whether or not it would rain. My due date had come and passed and I kept delaying my next doctor's visit out of fear of induction.

Tuesday morning I awoke for the first time in a long time to clouds and the smell of rain. Jacob and I talked on the phone about how amazing it would be if Claire came on the day it rained. When I came to join Jacob in Karamoja it had rained breaking a long dry spell. So the name I was given reflected this.

Wouldn't that be meaningful? We talked and gushed and hoped. I had signs that labor was beginning and the braxton hicks I had for months were replaced with ryhthmic contractions that were sharper in pain. I was elated. I relaxed, prayed and waited. Jacob came home that night and they were consistently 7-ten minutes apart for most of the day. We sat on the porch as the heavens broke and rain poured down. We were ecstatic to say the least. We were in labor and it was like our wonderful secret. I thought surely she would come soon. I mean, my mom had VERY quick labors after all and I had been patient for well over twelve hours of contractions.

At last I called my doula just to give her a heads up. We relaxed that evening and tried to go to bed. My pain was stronger and I crept out of bed and climbed into a warm bath to ride out the contractions. After all, this was a thrilling time and I was eager to stay at home as long as possible. Soon the contractions were about 3-5 minutes apart and I woke Jacob. When they were stronger and consistently 3 minutes apart we called the doula at 1 am and said we were on our way. It was still so exciting. The night air was cool and crisp and the smell of rain was still lingering.

As we pulled up the hospital the pains intensified and excitement rushed over me as I thought, "This is my labor! This is the birth of my child!" I imagined her coming in the next few hours.

I was proud of myself for being so calm and breathing through contractions. I marveled that God made labor so manageable. I mean, quite honestly, it wasn't that bad. We laughed and joked. They put me in a room right next to the nurses' station and we made ourselves at home with our birth ball, snacks etc. I got checked and was not as progressed as I had hoped which I had tried to prepare myself for. I was almost 100% effaced and at about a four. Bummer.

Our doula had met us there and excitement was in the air. We joked with nurses as they put in my i.v. port and we discussed my birth plan (I opted for no iv so I could walk around). When contractions would hit I would cling to Jacob and breathe as my doula would press on my back. We had a system down and it was great! I walked the halls, sat on the ball and moved around while sipping on juice and small snacks. Any time now that baby should be coming...

When the night shift ended to say that I was disappointed was an understatement. My contractions had been steady but little more. I kept apologizing to Sara for wasting her time. "I don't know why she's not here!" I kept saying.

My next nurse reminded me of a nurse I had before who put in an iv wrong and pumped my hand with liquids. Something inside of me pulled back and my labor literally stalled. She would stare at the baby monitor (I wanted to be intermittently monitored and be able to walk around) and nervously obsessed about the numbers. I thought of the books I had read which talked about the machine that went beep being more important than the woman and the Monty Python sketch. I felt I was living it out and my heart sank. The nurse would step out and my contractions would resume. My doula comforted us and reminded us that a woman must feel safe for labor to progress. We prayed and asked for a new nurse.

The new nurse was Harriet. Jacob and I looked at one another. This was one of the possible names we had chosen for our baby and we already felt calmer. She was wonderful and encouraging and never once mentioned epidurals or my choice for a natural birth except to say that it was WONDERFUL and that we COULD DO THIS! My spirits lifted.

The hours stretched on. Sara, the doula, kept heating the rice bag and placing it on my back and we kept walking. Up and down the halls we went, pausing only for contractions.

My doctor checked me and said I was 100 percent effaced and almost 5 centimeters dilated. She asked if I wanted my water broken to speed things along. Something stubborn in me said no and we waited. She had a c-section to go and do and she said that when she came back at around 5pm we would break it because I had been going so long. I agreed...

I was exhausted at this point as we had been going at this at the hospital for almost 15 hours and the almost 15 hours at home of early labor. I was in the bed with my doula behind me pressing on my back in the most magical way that made my contractions feel half of the pain they really were. Jacob was in front of me and I held his hand.

All at once it seemed that the contractions were coming closer together. I no longer noticed the nurses coming in and out, and I only caught snippets of what they were saying.

I focused and it really seemed like tunnel vision set in.

In preparing for labor I did the breathing and relaxation exercises and envisioned a garden like the one I saw for years when I taught "The Secret Garden" to students. I had also planned to picture myself on a beach like "The Cay" that I had taught also years ago. But in that moment, when the contractions became stronger and began to overlap... I distinctly remember saying to myself in my mind, you're in the ocean, you're floating in the water and realizing that this wasn't working for me. It wasn't relaxing me... And my mind shifted gears and I said to myself, I am the ocean.. I am the ebb and flow. I let myself feel weightless as I imagined the force of the ocean that can't be stopped or contained.

It sounds crazy perhaps.

But in those intense moments it was the only place my mind could settle. I no longer saw anything. I zoned in on the side of the bed and my own wrist. I stared intently at the yellow triangle "fall risk" they put on laboring women's hospital bracelet. That hand clung to Jacob's, but that yellow triangle is all I could see. It was a physical anchor as my mind bobbed in a powerful sea. I could hear Jacob speaking to me and my doula firmly telling me to breathe. I would feel that I was holding my breath and I would reach up from that big ocean and take a breath and then sink back down.

They were the most intense moments of my life.

I felt nauseus. I wanted to vomit. My legs began to shake violently and I began to cry uncontrollably. I could hear voices from the foot of the bed and my doula behind me all rooting for me and saying, "Breathe Georgia. You have to breathe honey. You can do this." And I would climb out from the dark place where I was hiding and I would bob to the surface and breathe- trying to suck in all the air I could.

When the contractions would subside I melted into the bed and closed my eyes and I could hear those voices still floating around me, encouraging me and saying, "Georgia, rest. That's right, rest."

I imagined I would be the type of person who wouldn't want to be touched. Jacob and I joked about it after how much I wanted to be left alone during the surgery ordeal in January. But much to all of our surprise, I didn't want Sara to quit massaging my back and for the life of me I couldn't have Jacob let go of my hand.

They were still telling me to rest and I let myself sink down to the bottom of that sea and I slept. I slept for what seemed like ages. I remember waking up with a start, and my eyes flying open. I could see the ceiling and then instantly my eyes focused in on the side of the bed and my bracelet as I steeled myself for more.

"She's having another one," Sara whispered to Jacob. They both gripped me tighter. I could hear Sara praising me to Jacob and saying how amazing it was that I could sleep in between contractions. I heard nurses whispering. I remember feeling like I had rested for years and like I was a new woman, but I couldn't pull myself out of the ebb and flow of the sea.

I remember thinking during a lull about what I had read about transition(the time where a woman progresses from a 6 to a 9 or ten and is typically the most painful part of labor) and how some women shake, vomit and doubt themselves.

Check, check and check.

The shaking began again, uncontrollably, my legs shaking the entire bed it seemed and I wanted to vomit all over again. And for the first time true doubt set in my heart. I dug into my reserves enough to pull into the present and lift my voice... "I can't do this..." I whispered.."I want to go home..." And immediately three or four voices poured over me in soft but stern whispers from Jacob, the nurses and my doula. "No Georgia.. You CAN do this. You are strong. You ARE doing this. You ARE."

And I would sink back down. And all at once, in one of the gripping contractions- my water at last broke and then there seemed to be a repreive. Just as quickly as it had started it seemed to end and I joined the land of the living again.

My transition was over.

It's strange to say, but as an honest account of my experience, it was surreal and as though I had exited myself.. If I could have floated above the bed this would have been the moment to do it. I can't explain how it seemed that I went to a different place where my only focus was breathing through the pain and letting my body work through the metamorphosis it had to work through. And through it all I clung for dear life to Jacob's hand.

Just then my doctor came in to break my water and we all laughed and said it had broken on its own.

My doula praised me for being able to sleep.. I told Jacob it had been the longest ten minutes of my life... "That was two hours Georgia".. he said to me. I was shocked.

It was as though through all of transition time stood still for me. I remember when I would nap that I would melt into the bed and the entire room would go still and quiet. Everyone waited patiently and quietly while I rested. I remember looking up and seeing Jacob, completely spent and clinging to my hand, his head resting on hard bed rail trying to sleep. And when I woke up, he was still there. I remember thinking, "I have the most amazing people with me... He and Sarah sat unmoving by my side for the near hour as I slept and regained my strength." I was amazed.

I apologized to them for sleeping for so long and Jacob looked at me and quietly said, "Georgia.. you slept for only minutes at a time... All combined maybe ten minutes."

Already I was in awe. One of the most intense and painful parts of labor, transition, God had made to feel for me like it lasted ten surreal minutes.. and my seconds of napping God made to feel like hours of refreshing sleep.

My doctor checked me. It was time to start pushing. A new sense of excitement filled the air.

My body was exhausted. When the contractions would hit they would say push. I had wanted to do spontaneous pushing which means you push when you feel like you should and for as long as you feel like you should. The benefit is supposedly that it is more natural and doesn't deprive the baby of oxygen like the directed pushing.

The only problem was, my body was so exhausted that I never felt the urge to push other than at the end of transition (when I had to wait). I didn't tell anyone this though out of fear that it would mean something bad...I just pushed when a contraction hit. These contractions didn't hurt like the others but I thought of them more as signposts that my body was ready to push.

I moved around the room. I leaned on the bed. I rolled on to my sides. I tried everything. When my contraction would hit, everyone rallied around me and everyone quietly cheered me on as I pushed. "Breathe!" "Yes! You are doing this!" They would say.

But at the end of it all, she wasn't moving anywhere. They could see her. But I wasn't getting anywhere...

My heart sank. The room got very quiet.

The minutes stretched on... The contractions came and went. I breathed and pushed and cried and began to lose hope. I cried out to God again and again. Had I come this far to fail? Would my baby be okay?

I was unaware of the time except to know that it felt like it was no longer moving either.

Finally, a voice said, "Georgia, we can see her. We see her hair. Give us three more big pushes and she can be out!"

Then quietly, "Or we're all giving up."

Giving up?? Giving up!? There was no way I had come all this way to give up. No way. In that last instant I bore down and pushed like I have never done anything in my life. It was the most bizarre sensation and a complete disregard for self. I had to get my baby out. Time was up. And finally... finally... she came out. I was spent.

Literally, totally and completely spent.

I had imagined that I would cry. Every time I watched ANY natural birth I sobbed like a baby at the wonderment of new life. I'm a sucker for natural birth. But in that moment, the enormity of completely giving myself up and my disregard for my own well being in those last few pushes, and then the unbelievable sensation of seeing this red, crying perfect baby as she was still connected to me shocked me. They immediately and gently handed her to me to lay on my chest. She was in shock too.

Bright red and screaming. "Almost a perfect apgar!" they said. It had been a long and hard journey for her. For all of us. I kissed her again and again and didn't cry. I kept whispering to her that I understood.. It had been awful hadn't it? I understand little girl.. I understand, I whispered over and over again. Jacob leaned in and we were all one. 

The three of us, this new family, had come through this long and exhausting journey together.

In the end, I had pushed for three hours. I'm glad I hadn't known what time it was or I don't know if I could have managed.

I'm so thankful that my doctor honored my wishes (and did she ever). Every nurse I talked to after that was shocked that they let me go so long.

But I'm so grateful.

It was the hardest and most gratifying experience of my life.

I had surprised myself in my weakness and in my strength. Again and again throughout the experience Jacob and I thought of Jesus in a new way... God created life so that we must completely give ourselves over, sacrifice ourselves in a way, for new life to begin.

It's the most selfless and intense moment.

Am I glad I did it naturally? Indefinitely. I know it's not for everyone and most people think I'm crazy. But I'm glad I got to walk through that difficult journey with Claire.

She'll never remember it of course... But I was there. We battled together. People say you forget. But I will always remember.

As we said our goodbyes to our amazing nurse, she thanked us so much for letting her be a part of such a beautiful experience.

Honestly at that moment the "experience" didn't feel beautiful. I felt like old wine skins being ripped apart by new wine. But being a part of God's creation to a small degree was amazing. Knowing that he made it manageable and that only by his grace did we walk away as a new family was touching.

That's priceless.

And that's the story of the birth of our precious baby girl. A day I will never forget.

*Note: There is little emphasis on Jacob in this account but I felt his support and needed him more during this experience than I ever have in my life. He only left my side twice. Once to go to the bathroom and once he left to run to the cafeteria and eat. Otherwise, he soldiered with me for hours on end. Patiently cheering me on, crying with me, and praying over me. I don't describe what he did in detail but it seemed to me during that ordeal that we were one. I knew that he hurt with me and that we joyed together as well. So though it is not mentioned outright, he walked each step beautifully and selflessly with me better than I ever could have imagined another human could.


Brandon and April said...

beautiful, incredible story. What an amazingly hard day (and a half!) So happy to finally know what that day entailed!

Jen said...

So glad you took the time to write your birth story! I can only imagine how exhausted you were after all of that. It's all worth it once you see your beautiful baby, isn't it?

Ronnie said...

What a precious and beautiful story Georgia - God is so good to give us what we need when we need it...

Jay and Amy said...

So Beautiful! Birth is the most incredible experience I have ever been through, as the one giving birth, and the doula. I never cried even once with any of my kids, but as a doula I have to constrain myself from sobbing. It is so incredible to be a part of on the outside. You are quite the trooper. I didn't even make it for more than a few hours this last time before I was wiped out. God is so good! Experiecing Him through birth, and His comfort and provision, is just indescribable.
I can remember with LEvi, I was kept praying, God Help Me! And the nurse kept asking Jay, what is she saying? He'd say, She's praying. I loved His answer, mostly because I didn't even realize I was calling on Jesus at the time.
So happy to finally hear about your story. You are so very very blessed!

Jennifer Mykytiuk said...

Wow girl! I am exhausted just reading that! Even with an epidural my body was shaking during transition and I felt sick. I can not imagine what it would have been like with the pain as well. And pushing for 3 hours! ! I thought 1 1/2 hours was difficult! Thanks for sharing!

The Reeds said...

I'm so amazed that you read it and made it all of the way! I know it's not perfect, but I think documenting it (at least for me) is an important part of the experience. And yes Jen, it is so worth it once I see her! (still very painful though!)And if I've learned anything Jennifer it's that each story is completely different, and you're hour and half may have been more difficult than a woman with four hours of pushing!

Jennifer Mykytiuk said...

Also, I LOVE that you went into labor when the rain came! I think that is such a neat part of your story! Gave me chills. In fact, I remember when you posted that on Facebook and the rain came, and I remember thinking, does she mean she went into labor or that it really is raining... I like that it ended up with both meanings. I think it is so fitting and perfect!

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