Apparently it just takes us a few tries to get in the groove of a smooth childbirth. Third time was the charm. Not that my first two births weren't amazing, wonderful and perfect in their own ways, but this birth, Colt's birth, was exactly what I wanted. It was exactly what I needed. It was a beautiful redemption of the trauma of the first two birth experiences.
This is my beautiful birth.
We actually had an appointment at the birthing center that afternoon. It was a rescheduled appointment and they were very busy, so we met with the student midwife. The nurse midwife checked me and I was about 2 cm dilated and the baby was still very high. At the end of our appointment we met Becky, one of the midwives who had come out of retirement to see a few patients every other Friday. We told her Cason's birth story and filled her in on my current symptoms. We told her we thought we'd go into labor that night, for sure by that weekend. She listened and we went home.
We asked my parents to watch the boys overnight so we'd be ready if I went into labor in the middle of the night, as has been my pattern. I spent the evening on high alert, sensitive to every twitch and twinge. At one point I was on my hands and knees doing cat/cow stretches and I just broke down. I cried into the carpet. I did NOT want to do labor and delivery again. I had been anticipating the pain of this birth since the moment we saw a positive pregnancy test and the flood of emotion finally overflowed the dam. The anticipation of labor, combined with the fear of the pain of childbirth, was driving me batty.
We ate our dinner of Pei Wei take out, as has become our tradition when waiting for labor to start, and went to bed fully anticipating waking up to contractions in the dark of the night.
Three A.M. rolled around and I woke up to go the bathroom. That's odd, I thought. I've never started labor that late in the morning. I went back to bed and awoke at 7 am very much not in labor. And so began a crazy dance that would last for more than the next week. Every night I would shower, repack our birthing center bags and go to sleep, certain that tonight would be "the night." Every morning, in the wee hours of the day I would wake up to go to the bathroom and realize that I was not in labor.
At some point during the week, I think around Monday, October 14, prodromal labor started. I would wake up around one A.M. with strong cramps that came every 10 minutes, or so. I'd time them, watch tv on my ipad and wait, certain that those strong contractions that indicate labor would come with the next wave. After an hour or two of cramping the mild contractions would die off and I'd be left wide awake realizing I wasn't in labor. I never had this with Cannon or Cason, so this was new for me.
October 20th rolled around and I was still pregnant. We took my 40 week belly bump photo in the front yard and I muttered under my breath that there had better not be a 41 week belly picture. Physically I was beyond ready to have this baby. I felt stretched beyond belief and was just generally uncomfortable all the time.
I was finally anxious to know if we were having a boy or a girl. I had been so patient my entire pregnancy and for some reason during this last week not knowing the gender was finally driving me bonkers. I had also been very good about alternating calling my belly both boy and girl names, but this last week I gave in to Cannon's insistence that we were having a girl and pretty much only called the baby Marlow. (Colt, if you're reading this, I'm so sorry.)
Despite being so physically worn out and uncomfortable, I was thoroughly enjoying our slow days. Our schedule had been cleared for weeks now and our days were spent going to the park, reading books and taking naps. I felt like I was soaking up my time with Cannon and Cason before the whirlwind of a newborn hit our home.
Monday morning, October 21, I woke up with some bloody show. I thought nothing of it as I just assumed that my body was dilating some more.
That night Danny was tucking the boys into bed and I was working on the computer putting the finishing touches on a Christmas present. It was around 8:30 pm that I started noticing I was cramping (again). "Here we go with the prodromal labor . . . again." I thought. Around 9:30 pm I felt like the cramps might be getting stronger, but wasn't sure and I didn't want to get my hopes up. I decided to wrap up the Christmas project, and shower and go to bed "just in case" this was the real deal. I figured I should try to rest if I was going to wake up in the middle of the night in labor. By 10:00 pm I was laying down in bed but the cramps were now what I considered real contractions and I realized I wasn't going to go to sleep any time soon. I informed Danny that I thought I was in labor and we should probably alert the troops (my parents, doula, birth photographer). I wasn't having to concentrate too hard to relax through the contractions, but I knew it was only a matter of time. He asked if I wanted to go to the birthing center, but I felt like it was too early.
Somewhere between 11:00 and 11:30 pm the intensity of the contractions shifted. I went from calmly watching tv on the ipad to belly breathing through the contractions. I got up a few times to go to the bathroom and felt antsy, edgy and unable to calm down. I told Danny that it was time, I wanted to go the birth center. In a matter of minutes his phone calls were made. Leslie, the midwife, was on call, and said she could be to the birthing center by 12:15 pm. Jenni, our doula, and Monica, our birth photographer, were getting ready and on their way. My parents were on their way to our house to stay with the boys while they slept. Danny loaded the car. I breathed through contractions. I worried that we were heading out the door too early. I was too calm, too relaxed. What if we got to the birthing center and contractions stopped or I hadn't dilated any more than the 2.5 cm I was at a week ago?
We said "goodbye" to my parents at our home and drove through the dark down a long and empty Greenville Avenue. I wasn't clinging to the overhead handle. I wasn't begging Danny to race through red lights. In fact, I can't even remember if I had a contraction in the car or not. If I did it wasn't significant.
We arrived at the birthing center and the lights were on. Jenni and Leslie were chatting and laughing in the entry way. I felt like I was there to hang out with a few friends. In the past I've arrived at the hospital/birthing center in such hard labor that my eyes were glazed over, I couldn't think straight and I remember seeing or hearing very little as I moved from the car to the bed. This time I was coherent. I could see and focus my eyes on the dim lights, the smiles on everyone's faces, the creaking of the wood floors. It was surreal.
Leslie checked my progress and I was five, almost six centimeters dilated. That sounded perfect to me. I felt like I was far enough along to warrant being there and not so progressed that I would deliver my baby in the next 30 minutes.
We moved upstairs into my favorite room, the same room where Cason was born just 21 months earlier. The lights were low and Leslie already had the birthing tub filling with water. Danny brought our bags up from the car, set up our ipod with my birthing play list, lit candles (Clean Sheet scent), and spread out the yoga mat.
Danny was finally finished unloading our bags, so I decided to settle in and lay down on the bed since that I was what I would have done had I been at home. I struggled through one long contraction laying on my side and it was miserably painful. Enough of that! No more bed. I moved to sitting on the birthing ball. After breathing through a contraction or two, Jenni asked if I wanted to try using the rebozo to squeeze my hips. She showed Danny how to hold the fabric and he used it to squeeze my hips through a contraction. It just didn't feel good, so we put that away. I remember thinking, "Having a doula is AWESOME. She comes with her own bag of tools, goodies and suggestions." Somewhere around this point Monica arrived, and I again thought, "Wow, my birth photographer is here and I'm not screaming and crowning away in the bed. This feels so odd and yet I'm so very, very happy!"
As always, time warped in labor. I simply remember this labor in three stages.
- Stage One was light labor while talking with Jenni, Monica and Danny ( 12:30 am - 1:30 am)
- Stage Two was getting into the water and not opening my eyes or talking much. (1:30 am - 2:30 am)
- Stage Three was uncontrollable pain, transition and delivery. (2:30 am to 3:01 am)
At some point my deep breathing turned to low moaning during each contraction. The contractions were getting harder, longer, stronger. I asked for my scripture cards to put right in front of me on the yoga mat. I remember reading Isaiah 26:3 (You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.) through a few contractions. There is a point in the middle of my labors that I LOVE having scripture to read. Reading a verse gives me something to do and concentrate on during labor. I usually focus on a phrase and repeat it over and over to myself while the waves of contractions wash over me. In this case I just kept thinking "perfect peace" as I took every slow breath.
I alternated between kneeling/squatting at the edge of the birthing tub and reclining back against the side. At some point after getting into the tub I started realizing that my back was killing me. My lower, middle back felt like it was cramping/seizing/spasming with each contraction, but when the contraction ended the muscle spasm continued. The back labor was one of the reasons I changed positions with each contraction. As the back labor increased, and the contractions grew harder, I just could not get comfortable in the tub.
I was still alternating positions probably with every contraction. On my hands and knees, Danny would squeeze my hips and Jenni would hold my hands. Reclining in the pool, I'd rest against Danny's legs and Jenni would hold my hand and fan me. I felt surrounded by support the entire time. Never alone. Never desperate for help. Never frantic.
It was also around this time that I started to feel a little "pushy." Now, I'm not sure if I actually was having pushing contractions, or if I was just so tired of the pain that I started to push to try to get the baby out and end it all. Leslie checked my progress at this point because there was some bloody mucus showing up in the water. I was about an 8-9 cm, so she said if I felt like pushing to just do so gently. With each contraction I would just bare down a little bit. I wouldn't say it made things feel better, but it gave me something new to do and it helped me feel like I was making progress towards meeting my baby.
Watermark's song came on the radio and I rocked on my knees to "Waiting Here for You" thinking how glorious it was to waiting for this baby, how beautiful it would be to meet them and "hallelujah" to God for creating life. "Ho Hey" by the Lumineers also came on and I remember feeling so excited. "This is your song baby! We've thought of you ever single time we've heard this since the day we announced you were coming!" And I knew we were close. I knew it was almost time.
I was ready for labor to be over. The pain was finally unbearable. I was no longer quiet during contractions. I was LOUD! I turned over one last time so that I was sitting with my back against the side of the birthing tub. I was ready to push. I pushed through one contraction and for the first time I felt my body push with me. It was this great surge to get this baby out. I remember Leslie shining a flashlight through the water, trying to see if the baby was coming yet.
As odd as it may sound, I always ask if the baby is crowning. There is so much going on "down there" and the pain is so overwhelming that I can't sort through the sensations to feel where the baby is or how far down the baby is in the birth canal . . . until the ring of fire.
I had one distinct memory from Cason's birth while I pushed. Cason's head crowned but never receded and those were the most painful moments ever waiting for the next contraction. I was determined not to let that happen again, so when this baby crowned I pushed again. I wanted to birth the head and then give myself a little break in between contractions before birthing the body. Well, the baby's head was born and there was NO RELIEF. The little one had their hand up by their face. And so I did the only thing logical for a crazed woman in labor. I screamed, "Get it out! Get it out!"
Several things happened all at once at this point. Leslie told me to push, Danny and Jenni grabbed my knees to help pull them up to my chest, and I'm pretty sure the contraction ended. But I pushed anyways. I was not going to sit there with a baby halfway born. I pushed from the very depth of my being. And Colt was born. In one long contraction and about three pushes, my baby was out.
Leslie told me to reach down and grab my baby. "I can't. I can't. I can't." I replied. For some reason I felt frozen in that moment. My eyes were closed and my body was gripping the tub. "I've got it." Danny said and he had that baby on my chest in a second.
Danny and I just stared at our new baby boy. After mulling over our two names for him, we finally settled on Colt Shepherd. It just fit. A small name for a big boy. A strong name for a strong baby.
Not long after everyone left, Debbie, the birth assistant had me get up to go to the bathroom. I passed numerous blood clots and heard Debbie call anxiously for Leslie, "She's bleeding!" Thus would start a crazy cycle of several hours of hemorrhaging.
I'll spare you all the details, but for my memory, let's just say it was a traumatic cycle of Leslie massaging (that's putting it very gently) my stomach followed by her manually scooping out blood clots. Basically, a post-partum mama hemorrhages when her uterus doesn't contract and return to it's normal, non-pregnant size. Well, if it's filled with blood clots it can't get back to it's normal size. And if it's not contracting down, then it keeps bleeding and forming clots. It's a vicious circle.
Finally, after an our or two of massages, exams, ivs and feeling oh so weak, I couldn't be brave any longer. The pain was too much, I hadn't held my baby in two hours and the tears poured down my cheeks. I couldn't calm down, Leslie couldn't stop the bleeding and there was momentary talk of having to transfer to the hospital. I was finally given nitrous oxide to help me calm down. I hated it. I don't think I breathed enough of it to do any good. The instant I started to get loopy I took the mask off. I was scared of how it would make me feel.
At some point Carol arrived to see her morning appointments and came up to see us. It was so reassuring to see her. She felt familiar since she had helped delivered Cason in that same room. She held my hand and reminded me to breathe while Leslie worked one last time to get my uterus to contract while at the same time making sure all of the blood clots were removed. I'm fairly certain I planted my foot squarely on Leslie's thigh and kicked her in the midst of the worst pain. (I'm not sure there are enough apologies and Starbucks gift cards to make up for being kicked on the job!) I felt like this post-partum experience was almost worst than any of my labor and deliveries.
After an hour, when I hadn't passed any more clots and the bleeding had slowed, I was allowed to rest. I had finally gotten to nurse and hold Colt again and I dozed as the sunlight streamed through the window. Danny and Kristen, the nurse, chatted quietly.
We never anticipated the post-partum craziness. It's surmised that my week of prodromal labor combined with delivering such a large baby resulted in a uterus that was just too worn out to keep contacting after Colt was born. Apparently, I just don't do calm, peaceful births. Those Stiller boys . . . always a flair for the dramatic. That's okay. They are my birth stories. They are my babies. And they are perfect.