The only thing I knew at first was that I would have this baby as naturally as possible. I knew that before I was pregnant actually. I knew that from conversations with my mother and from witnessing her birth my youngest brother (who is 17 years younger than I). She had him in a cozy, bed-and-breakfast-like birthing center in Austin, TX. But I'm not telling her story. I'm telling mine. I'm finally writing mine down, almost three years after it happened. I hope I remember it all correctly. Of course, some moments of it I could never, and will never forget. March 29th, in the dark of the night, I woke up. I was feeling things I had never felt before. I was getting signals that had only ever been described to me. Like navigating to a distant foreign place, you pass a large tree and wonder, "is this the tree they described?" You go over a hill and ask, "was that the hill?" I felt tightening sensations across my stomach and I wondered, is this going to be it? I relaxed as much as possible and dozed as I could. After a few hours I could no longer sleep through them and I was feeling more certain that what I had been waiting months for was now upon me. In between the rushes of tightness in my belly that were growing more frequent, were waves of excited, nervous energy that ran through my whole body like a chill. I took a bath and repeated my affirmations as I had done many times before, in preparation. I told my body to open up, to work the way it was designed to. I spoke to each part. I invited the baby into this world. I told myself I was prepared, strong and capable.
When I got out, I crouched onto all fours to absorb a contraction. This one was only 5 minutes after the previous one. I told Aaron, who was now awake, "Happy Birthday" and "its time to go". I had chosen a birthing center that was about an hour and a half away, as, unfortunately, there were none in Nashville at the time, so we left a little on the early side, to be safe. I felt most comfortable with the idea of a birthing center over my apartment or the hospital, and I talked to a couple people who had made the drive from Nashville to birth there, and it sounded like it wasn't too much trouble. Now, I would see for myself. We grabbed our "hospital bag", which had been ready for weeks, as our precious angel was showing up 9 days after her estimated due date, and ran out the door at about 8am, pausing on the walkway to breathe through another rush.
In the car, I leaned my seat back and made myself as comfortable as possible, holding Aaron's hand across the console and squeezing it when contractions came. Nervousness was gone; adrenaline and a "lets do this" feeling were in its place. Game face was on.
I breathed deep of the crisp spring air as I walked from the car into the 3 story building which housed the birthing facility. On our way to get checked in, I found myself on my knees with my arms and head on the padding of a chair that was in the hallway. Apparently, this kind of behavior gets you a free pass directly upstairs to your birthing room. Score. After being monitored for about 30 minutes, I made myself at home in my room. I found a place for my bag of snacks, coconut water (which I do not recommend- more on that in a moment), baby clothes and other necessities, and began exploring the range of items provided to make my labor comfortable. I found that by sitting on the "birthing ball" (which is the exact same thing as an exercise ball, but I suppose when used in this context it gets called a "birthing ball") and holding onto the rope that hung from the ceiling, I could ease the pain considerably. I could slow the process considerably in fact, so I alternated between that and walking or kneeling at the side of the bed, in order to keep labor progressing. I think birth is an incredible process, a beautiful thing. I have so much awe and faith in it, which is why I was determined to experience it in its natural form, but I will not romanticize or gloss over my experience. The contractions at this point- several hours in- were incredibly painful. Each is like a mountain- it revs up, hits a peek, and dies down. I hear that we truly do forget the pain aspect of our birthing experiences as time passes (which is why anyone has more than one child), so I'm sure I'm not remembering this precisely, but I do remember that it hurt. I threw up at one point. It was all exciting though; I felt like a warrior. I was so determined and ready to conquer.
I allowed my midwife to check me and she informed me that I was nearing transition. I was amazed! I thought, wow, if I'm in the thick of it now, and I'm managing this well, I've so got this. This is really not that hard. I'm killing this. Oh, how pride doest indeed cometh before the fall. She suggested that she go ahead and break my water, since it hadn't broken yet, and then I could hop in the tub and I should be pushing soon. "Alright, lets do this!" I said.
Shortly I realized that "nearing transition" and being in transition were two very different things. As I lay on my back in the birthing tub, somewhere between 8 and 10 cm, the contraction mountains got much higher. This is the part that I will not sugar coat- it was excruciating. I don't know how long I was in there. My guess is that it was about 2pm on the same day at this point. I powered through each rush, holding the hands of my mother on my right and my husband on my left. The low moaning sounds I was making as the waves came and went, now turned to- how can I put this- yelling. I fully allowed myself to make the sounds that I needed to, regardless of the fact that the waiting room for the rest of our family was directly on the other side of the wall beside me. I think I only cussed once or twice though. If things had progressed as they should've, I think it would've been like the last mile of a marathon- a tear-streaked, numb, heart-pounding, will-pushing, triumphant blast. It was exactly like that except that as I approached what I thought was the finish line, I was informed that I had to keep running. You see, as I was about to reach the magical 10cm of dilation, things just stalled out, for a still unknown reason. The midwife said that it was as if a thin rubber band remained, and would not go away. She tried every gentle technique that she could to get it to progress. I was at the end of myself. My husband says that I tried to climb out of the tub, as if I could just throw in the towel, give up and go home! My mother says that I looked at her with fear and a pleading look in my eyes. The contractions hurt as they came and hurt as they went, there was only a moment's relief. My body was ready to push and I could hardly keep it from doing so. I think the midwife could see my weariness and so she decided give me an episiotomy to move things along (I'll let you look that one up if you don't know), something that is rare at the birthing center. From what I can remember, I was pushing soon after. Pushing with everything I had. Let me just say that the term "popping out" is incredibly inaccurate, at least as far as my experience goes. Still on my back in the water, I crunched forward and contracted my entire body with each push. And then. Oh then. A moment I can remember more vividly than anything in my life. I reached down and lifted up a wet, warm crying baby, and pulled her to my chest. I cried loudly in relief and ecstasy. The weight of her, the solidity and warmth of her body was the most initially striking thing. She was so real. I held her like I had held her a million times, and everything that had just happened faded into background noise. It was euphoric. And I promise you I am choosing the most accurate words that I can find.
And then we snuggled and went to sleep.
Anyone who has had a baby knows the real life moments that follow that most climactic one. Truthfully, things are a bit of a blur after that. We were helped out of the tub and I was assisted to the queen size bed just a few steps away. Aaron and the nurse cleaned up our baby across the room while the midwife helped me with the second much less exciting birth. I was surprised to find out, however, that it still does come with real contractions, though anything would've paled in comparison to what I had just done, so it really wasn't a big deal. I finally got situated on the big bed with my new precious baby and we snuggled in for our first breastfeeding experience. From what I remember, things went fine, though I would have a visit from a lactation consultant at the house a few days later to work through some kinks. We welcomed our family into the room and they ooh'ed and awed over our sleeping bundle. We spent time visiting and relaxing and then it was time to take care of a little more business (remember that episiotomy? yeah..)
Magnolia was born at about 4:30pm and all of this aftermath went on until about 11pm. I remember passing out at one point for just a moment from dehydration (don't let anyone tell you that coconut water is more hydrating that water. Water is water and it's the best.) They tried several veins for IV fluids, but they kept popping out. So I said I would just drink water for a while. They monitored me and I bounced back pretty quickly. Once I was doing better, it was time to go. I don't remember exactly what the policy of the center is but I know that it timed out just right that there was not going to be overnight staff for us to stay, so we decided to stay at a nearby hotel for the night. Honestly that is not what I would've preferred but it was fine. Overall I was very happy with the birthing center and my choice to use it, even though this detail was not ideal. My mom and sister stayed with us that night and helped me nurse Magnolia every couple hours. It was hard but it has somehow managed to be a sweet, cozy memory.
We made the drive back to Nashville in the morning. It was wonderful to be home in our little apartment. As we were getting settled, I looked at our sleeping baby and thats when I realized- the marathon had only just begun.
The day before, eating ice cream. Just getting settled into the birthing center. We didn't get any pictures between this and after she was born. Aaron helping get the baby cleaned up. Resting with our newborn. At the hotel. Home.