It began as an ordinary, relaxing Saturday.
We start our Saturday mornings by going to the farmers’ market to pick up our weekly supply of eggs, meat, and produce, with the occasional loaf of homemade chocolate zucchini bread. We returned home and put the groceries away while our toddler bounced underfoot, pleading, “peas, Evie go swing?” So Adam took her to the playground while I made a quick run to Home Depot for some plywood. I came back home, unloaded the plywood, and then we all had lunch. After lunch, Evie and I played and watched TV while Adam napped on the couch.
I’d won a gift certificate to a not-so-nearby spa, so I decided to cash in my winnings by way of a prenatal massage. It was scheduled for 2:45 and since it takes about 40-45 minutes to get to the spa, I hurried off to my appointment as Adam put Evie down for her afternoon nap. About halfway through my massage, I started experiencing some abdominal pain that felt like mild menstrual cramps. I didn’t think much of it, only that I wish they’d go away so I can fully relax and enjoy my massage. After the massage, I chatted briefly with the massage therapist about my upcoming labor. She specialized in maternity massage and also happened to be a doula. I mentioned to her that I was planning on using aroma- and massage therapy during labor to help manage the pain naturally. She suggested a few calming massage oils and techniques for pain management. I’ve been praying and preparing for this labor for several weeks now, watching documentaries and reading everything I could about having a natural childbirth experience in a hospital. I was really afraid of having to experience the so-called ‘McDonaldization’ of healthcare, where convenience and protocol are becoming more and more important than the natural process of childbirth. I remember feeling out of control during Evie’s birth. The nurses had me strapped to every monitoring device imaginable, confined to the bed, laying on my back, which felt like the most unnatural and uncomfortable position to be giving birth. It also made my contractions more difficult to manage. This time, I was determined to be in control of my own labor experience, trusting God, my own body, and my instincts. God’s design is always better than our own, even though we often think we know best.
After my massage, the cramping came on stronger and more frequently. Again, I dismissed it as general 40-week pregnancy discomfort and started the drive home. A few minutes into the drive, I had an unmistakeable contraction, so I started timing them. Each contraction was about 30 seconds long, coming on at 5-minute intervals. I started getting scared… should I just drive to the hospital? Will I make it home? Am I really in labor right now? And I’m driving down the interstate?! All by myself?! Please, please, PLEASE just let me make it home! I prayed. I was going about 90miles/hour at this point.
Forty-five grueling minutes later, I pulled into my driveway, just in time to see Adam pushing Evie in the stroller, on the way back to the playground. He waved and pointed to the park, letting me know that’s where they were headed. I started honking and wildly gesturing for him to come back. He turned around just as I put the car in park, spilled out of it, doubled over in pain, in the middle of a killer contraction. I told him that we needed to get to the hospital, so he loaded Evie and our pre-packed bags into the truck while I ran upstairs and took a quick shower to rinse off (crazy, I know, but I was feeling gross and sweaty from the stressful drive home, and also slippery because of the massage oils on my skin). I threw on some fresh clothes in between contractions and joined Adam and Evie in the truck.
It takes about 45 minutes to get to the hospital and I was experiencing contractions the whole way there, this time at 2-minute intervals. We discovered Adam’s truck can easily go about 110miles/hour. We had our hazard lights on, and Adam was flashing his lights at everyone in our lane… it felt like we were in a movie scene. I focused on breathing through each contraction, trying not to curse the world with every bump in the road. I got mad at every oblivious driver who didn’t move out of our way, despite our flashing lights and 110mph speed.
We arrived at the hospital and got checked in. The nurses gave me an internal exam and discovered I was already 8cm dilated. They proceeded to ask me ridiculous questions, all while I’m experiencing almost-unbearable contractions. It’s a miracle no nurses were harmed in the delivery of this baby. “Do you live in a house or an apartment?” “Do you rent or own?” To which I replied through gritted teeth, “Seriously?! You’ve got to be kidding me!” The nurse sheepishly apologized, saying that this was the worst part, just as another whopper of a contraction hit me. Oh, Nurse Twenty Questions, I beg to differ.
The doctor came in shortly after and introduced herself. She noticed the pained and frustrated look on my face as one of the nurses kept chasing me around the room trying to strap a fetal monitor onto my midsection. She told the nurse not to worry about it, that the baby was fine, and to let me labor as comfortably as I could. The doctor then offered to raise the bed so I could lean over it with my elbows, squat, get on all fours, or assume whatever position I felt most comfortable in. Then she started to massage my lower back, squeezing my hips together through each contraction. I was so thankful and impressed by her – I’ve only known doctors to come in at the last second to catch the baby and then hurry out quickly after without as much as a ‘congratulations’. This doctor was a Godsend. All the while, Evie was hanging out in the delivery room, chatting away unintelligibly while Adam tried his best to tend to the both of us. The doctor was smitten by Evie so she scooped her up and walked her around the room, showing her all the medical devices. Then she took her out into the hallway, walking her around, keeping her occupied while I labored in the room. She was absolutely amazing.
I was standing up next to the bed, hunched over, leaning on my elbows, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, breathing through each contraction when I felt a tiny trickle down my leg. Seconds after, my water broke and I was standing in a huge puddle. I kept apologizing as the nurse managed the mess under my feet. She then told me that my contractions would come on stronger and to prepare myself. She was right. The pain went from being somewhat manageable to ohmygodthisfreakinghurtssobadIcan’tdothisisittoolateforanepidural?! She told me it wasn’t too late for an epidural, but Adam knew how important having a drug-free delivery meant to me and quickly encouraged me, saying, “we’re almost there, Babe, you can do it.”
Each contraction was almost too much to bear that I started to panic and resist the pain. I kept repeating phrases in my head, to remind myself that this pain was for a purpose, and that my body is naturally designed to do this. The contractions were so strong, I’d lose focus and Adam had to redirect me to stay in control of my body, telling me to “breathe my baby down.” At this point, I’d climbed up on the bed, and was turning around and around on all fours, trying to escape the pain, like a caged animal. The doctor returned to the room and told me to find the most comfortable position I could find, and I yelled at her, “there IS no such thing as a comfortable position!” I was quickly losing control, letting the pain overwhelm me. I was on my knees on the bed, with my arms wrapped tightly around Adam, crying into his shoulder, shouting “it hurts so much! I can’t do this!”
To help me through the pain, I chanted in my head, over and over again “focus, focus, focus, Jen, stay in control, you can do this. You’re meant to do this. Trust. Surrender. Don’t resist. Breathe. It won’t last forever. FOCUS.” The doctor then told me I could start pushing whenever I felt ready, so I turned around, hiked my legs up and started to bear down as hard as I could. Another killer contraction came on and I pushed as hard as I could. With each push, I was surprised by a primal, horrifying scream coming from my mouth. I just couldn’t help myself, the pain had to escape from somewhere. And Lord have mercy, they don’t call it the ‘ring of fire’ for nothing. It felt like someone doused my lady parts in lighter fluid and set. me. on. fire. (I’m only guessing here, as I’ve never actually been set aflame before). After 3 good, hard pushes, I felt his slippery head, shoulders, and body leave mine. The pain subsided almost immediately.
And on Saturday, September 22nd, at 6:59pm, William Jude was born, weighing in at 7 pounds, 8.6 ounces, and 21 inches long.
The doctor quickly put him on my chest as she delivered the afterbirth. The hospital recently implemented a new policy, where they leave the mother and baby to bond for several hours before running tests, administering shots, and bathing the baby, saying it helps in the transition from womb to world and encourages breastfeeding and bonding. I was beside myself. I came in anxious that I’d have to give up control, but was thrilled to discover that the entire staff was on my side, working to help me through my labor in the best way they could.
I couldn’t have asked for a better childbirth experience. It was every bit as much a mental marathon as it was a physical one. As soon as Liam was born, my body was naturally flooded with oxytocin and I experienced an indescribable high. I’d done it! And it was amazing. I felt like a freakin’ rockstar. I felt amazing afterwards, recovered in record time, and Baby Liam is healthy, thriving, and absolutely breathtaking. Life is good and God is great.