I open my eyes after the fourth or fifth contraction in the car and see the hospital sign. We couldn't remember where we needed to go for Labor and Delivery (of course), so we ended up at a random entrance and they had to call someone to escort us to the right wing. They brought me a wheelchair. I needed to walk. I wanted to walk. I had to pee. Nearly each contraction brought on the incredible urge to pee! I was so surprised by this! This is the stuff you don't read about. We get to what I guess is the "triage" area where they check you before admitting you. It hit me. We're here. This is it. I didn't wonder anymore if I was a 3 or a 5. I didn't care. Eli was coming... that I knew now. I have several contractions while we sign paperwork and they strap me to monitors, take my blood pressure and a bunch of other procedural tasks which became really annoying amidst the pain of contractions while in a semi-reclined position. I needed to walk. I needed to pee!
The pain at this point was getting intense in the position I was in on the bed. Hard to get through. Luckily, I still had about 5 minutes separating them. I look away from the contraction monitor and... Ahhh! My midwife! In that moment, I had never seen a more beautiful face! She was delightful, as usual, and thankfully, already at the hospital anyway! I was so grateful I didn't have to pull her in on a day off or in the middle of sleep. It was perfect. I was tired. She was energizing! She made me laugh and comforted me. I felt at ease with her. She checked me. "Lindsay, how much do you love me?" she said musically with that beautiful accent. "So much!" I replied. "You're going to love me even more when I tell you that you're an 8!". WHAT?! An EIGHT! EIGHT centimeters dilated?!?!? Impossible! I wasn't even in labor remember?!? Oh how amazing! I look at Chris and we both erupt into laughter! We couldn't believe it! She told us we should have a room shortly and that we could go for a walk as soon as they unhooked me from all the wires and monitors. Joy! Everyone left the room. Chris looked at me and smiled. "I'm so proud of you!". He was proud of me. I was proud of me! I felt myself getting excited. A feeling swelled up in my chest that I've never quite experienced before. We were hours from meeting our little guy.
After excited phone calls to our family and to Lindsey, we were freed from the annoying monitors and I headed straight for the bathroom! A couple of contractions later I emerged ready to walk the halls. We spent our time waiting for our room walking, holding each other through the contractions and saying brief prayers. It was different here at the hospital, not uncomfortable, but not home. I couldn't stop thinking about 8. How could I be an 8?! Shouldn't I be belligerent, tearing my clothes off, rocking back and forth on all fours and yelling obscene things at my caretakers?! That was everything I had read about "transition" from 7-10 cm. The contractions were definitely tough at this point. But we were getting through them.
We were showed to our room and excitement coursed through me! Here we go! We walk into the roomy space, dark wood, shades drawn, low lights. It was as close to home as a hospital could be. I was grateful. I looked around and saw the inflated birthing tub, empty. We would have to wait for our midwife before it could be filled. Hospital rules. I wanted in. I could imagine the warm water hugging my huge tight belly and that it would have to be at least a little relief.
Chris held me through a contraction and I look up to see my sweet friend Lindsey had arrived! I was so thankful she could be with us, and in that moment I remember thinking how much we've been through... from high school dances and boyfriends, to moving each other into college dorms, to standing beside each other as we each married the men of our dreams, and now to my joining her as a mother... and a mother of a boy (she has 2 beyond precious boys of her own - both of which she delivered naturally). I love this girl, and her presence was comfort instantly. "I can't believe you're an 8, and you're just standing here talking to me like everything's normal!", she laughed. We couldn't believe it either. This was nothing like we thought it would be! When does anything ever go how you expect?
Chris and Lindsey helped me to the toilet and as soon as I finished peeing I felt a "pop" and more fluid gushed out. "I think my water just broke!", I said excitedly as I looked at Chris who was knelt beside the toilet holding my hand. I had read that once the bag of waters is broken labor typically speeds up. We had been here for about 2 hours at this point, and I was going on about 19-20 hours of labor so the idea of speeding things up was a relief! "The contractions will be more intense now that the cushion is gone", Lindsey warned. I started to psych myself up for that just as another was coming. I was still on the toilet and moaned and mooed with my head leaned against Chris' chest as the contraction ripped through my midsection and all down my back. Definitely tough, but not a huge difference from the previous contractions. It didn't seem as long, which was such a relief as they had been about 1.5 minutes on average. I felt comfortable on the toilet and decided to labor there for a while. It was just Lindsey, Chris and I and our labor and delivery CD. I was in the zone. I was ready. We were close. I remember thinking "I'm doing it... I'm really doing it". But, there were small flashes of fear... I knew the hardest part could be yet to come. What would pushing be like? What did the "ring of fire" feel like? Could I handle that un-medicated? What was I doing??... thoughts of doubt, and fear are a natural birthing mama's worst enemy! I needed to stay positive. I tuned into Chris. "You're doing awesome, love! You're doing it!" I was doing it. I stopped thinking about what was ahead.
Things got more and more intense from here. I remember not long after my midwife checked me I was in the tub again. She asked me if I felt any pressure. I told her I didn't, just tougher contractions. She told me to try a push at the peak of the next contraction (I had been complete when she checked me on the table) and if it felt better to push, then keep pushing, but if it didn't then I wasn't ready for that stage yet. So, at the climax of the next contraction I gave a little push. It feels good to be doing something, I thought. So, I kept pushing. And I pushed, and I pushed, and I pushed. Lindsey and my midwife warned it might take some time as a first time mom and to not be discouraged, so I pushed some more. I pushed in the tub and pushed on the toilet and I even pushed a couple of times standing with my legs spread in route to the bathroom or back to the tub. I remember thinking it felt very strange to push... it wasn't like I expected. It was hard to focus on pushing like I normally would for a bowel movement when you knew it was the other hole he had to come out of! It just didn't feel right. I wasn't helping myself in my head... thinking all these weird things. I felt like every time I pushed I was simultaneously clenching my pelvic floor muscles... slightly counterproductive eh? I wasn't sure how to stop it... and for some reason, I felt mute. Why couldn't I talk to anyone about what I was thinking... I was so tired. I just wanted to sleep. I snapped back to reality with a super strong contraction and remember beating the inflated tub violently as I pushed through it.
I'm back on the bed... most horrid labor position ever. My midwife tells me I have to get serious. "I know you're tired, but I need you to push for me". I pushed so hard my hair hurt. "Good girl!" she said... keep that up I can feel his head!" She could feel his head?!?!? "Chris come look", she squealed, "I can see it too!" Chris looked, and said "Wow, amazing!" but it didn't sound right. I wasn't convinced. I think they were playing mind tricks on me. I couldn't think too hard about it though cause I was in the blows of another contraction. They were coming about 2 minutes apart now and I was pushing with everything I had each time. Then I was out. Then I would push. Then I would "sleep"... push, sleep, push, sleep. I vaguely remember wondering how much time had passed? Was I doing ok? Were we close? I couldn't speak. I was so tired... so so so tired.
Lindsey's voice snapped me out of my "sleep" and I opened my eyes to ask her to say what she just said again because I didn't believe it. "Eli's birthday will be January 16th!" WHAT?? How is that possible? My head flopped back on the bed, eyes closed. How had I been pushing for 2 hours? Hadn't I imagined myself only pushing for 20 minutes? How had it gotten to be past midnight? Was I ok? Could I do this? What was I doing wrong? I don't remember thinking much after this. I think I allowed doubt considerable room in my mind, and my body began to respond to that doubt.
As I was in and out of awareness over the next hour I remember the nurses face. The dark room. My midwives voice. The ceiling. The pain. The screaming. The screaming?? When had I started screaming?? Yes, I had gone from no sound at all, to tame mooing, to full on tribal screams in the span of 4 hours at the hospital. I don't even remember telling my throat to let those out. What was happening to me? I knew the screaming couldn't be productive, but WOW it hurt down there when I pushed! "Come on Lindsay!" my midwife yelled. "He's so close!" How close? I needed to know how close. How much longer would I have to do this? "Do you want the mirror?" she asked. I nodded... I needed to know what they were seeing down there... was he really close? NO! I couldn't see but a dimes worth of his head! I was "gone" again. Back to that dark place. In and out.
I remember Chris smiling, so strong for me. Lindsey's comforting hand. The pain. My hamstrings and quads we on fire from holding them up in the "stirrups" position through every push for the past 2 hours. It felt like I was running. Lindsey had prepared me for a marathon, and here I was running one. Legs blazing.
I'm mildly aware of some whispering going on. I look up to see my midwife talking to Chris off to the side. I look at Lindsey, she smiles reassuringly. Chris is back, then Lindsey goes to talk with the midwife voices low. I didn't know what they were saying but I knew it wasn't good. Why couldn't they say it in front of me? I look at Chris, he has a hint of fear in his eyes, but his smile is warm and wide. He squeezes my hand with one of his and brushes my hair back from my forehead with the other. He leans in, kisses my forehead and whispers, "You're doing awesome. I'm so proud of you". I believed he felt that way, but I sensed concern in his voice. Lindsey and my midwife returned. "Lindsay, I need your help" my midwife begged. "I need the next 30 minutes to be the best yet. We are already past where the hospital feels comfortable with the pushing phase and I won't be able to keep the Doctor from intervening if Eli isn't born soon." She was serious. "What kind of intervention?" I croaked. "If you can't make significant progress, he'll have to use the vacuum." I closed my eyes. For a brief moment I thought... just bring him in and let him suck him out... I can't do this anymore. But, in the same split second I shook my head and thought, no way! No one is coming in here to take my baby out with some vacuum! I can't let that happen! "Why don't we pray over her?" Lindsey suggested. So, my midwife, Chris, Lindsey and our nurse laid hands on my belly and their voices rang true and clear. They each begged God to give me strength. I begged God to give me strength. I wish I remembered their words because they were so comforting. I felt renewed.
Good thing because it wasn't two seconds and I was having another contraction.
"Ok Lindsay, give me everything!" I threw my head forward pressing my chin to my chest, held my breath and closed my eyes tight. I don't remember having pushed this hard ever, and I didn't scream. I was focused. "Yes!" squealed my midwife. Out of nowhere in the middle of me giving all I had, I gave more! "That's my girl!" she yelled. Somewhere deep in my gut came this extra surge of muscle power... the urge to push? "That's the power of the Holy Spirit!" She praised. I flopped back on the bed and remember feeling the energy in the room shift... nurses were moving things around and preparing for E's arrival. My midwife was suiting up. One of the nurses came and asked me how we wanted the baby to be cared for... bath? Erythromycin? Chris and I took turns answering as I continued to "power push". In between contractions I remember a fleeting thought... why are they preparing? Why are they asking me all these questions? Don't they know he's never coming out? He will never be born? I truly felt in that moment that he would stay right where he was and I would continue pushing for all of eternity. I snapped out of it at the rise of another contraction and at the peak there was an intense burn. "Ok Lindsay" my midwife coached, "like we talked about. When I say stop pushing, stop pushing and breathe through with short little breaths." This meant he was crowning! He was really coming! I looked her dead in the eyes when I pushed this time and OHHHH how it burned! She was massaging and stretching as much as she could but the area was so swollen from all the unsuccessful pushing, she was fighting a losing battle. I felt a tiny pop... it didn't really hurt considering I was still in flames, but I remember thinking briefly, I just tore. I couldn't think about it long because she was commanding me to push again... then stop...hee hee hee hee, I breathed... then push... then stop... hee hee hee.... Ok PUSH, and I felt the most exquisite relief I've ever felt. "Oh my gosh Linds, his head is out!" Chris and Lindsey squeaked almost in unison. I gave one more strong push and I felt his shoulders and the rest of his slippery body twist and slither sliding out like butter.
There was nothing in the world but that moment. I could feel time slow, hovering, lingering, begging me drink in the wonder of it all. I did. I gasped, tears rushed, blurring my sight. "He's perfect!" I managed to choke out between sobs. They were the only words that fit. He was perfect. His eyes wide, searching. His tiny hands stretching open receiving this new home. His sweet juicy mouth, the perfect doorway for those precious cries. I was hypnotized by those virgin sounds. Lungs filled with first breath, communicating the only way he knew how. It was the sweetest sound I'd ever heard. It was eternity... all in one moment my heart grew to love this new human being, slippery and warm on my breast, and somehow also allow more room to love the man sobbing next to me in new and impossibly strong ways. I looked up at him. "We did it" I cried. "You did it." He replied, laughing and crying at the same time as he leaned over to kiss me. A kiss charged with so much love and emotion it was almost hard to bear.
We did it! We really did it! I was amazed at the whole experience. I've never felt more in awe of God and His creation in my life. Every part perfectly designed to do it's job. My boy... MY sweet boy, was already snuggled, sleeping sweetly on my chest. His Daddy cut the cord, and immediately after, the hands that delivered my sweet baby were now diligently trying to repair the "damage". I was done. The only glimmer of life in me was pure love and adrenalin. I felt weaker and weaker as the moments passed but I was trying to keep my eyes open and fixed on this beautiful boy I just birthed! I was losing blood. Lots of blood. They took Eli so they could give me an IV and finish stitching me up. It was impossible to think of letting him go, but I had no will or voice left in me. It comforted me to know Chris would be right there with him. I tried to fix his face behind my eyelids, his big beautiful eyes.. they were extremely worried about my level of anemia and the blood I'd lost. I was apparently seconds from a transfusion. Still not sure how that turned around for the positive, but I didn't care at the time. I could hear sweet cries as my new son was being dressed and swaddled. Chris brought him back to me, emotion surged fresh. I was so in love with those two boys! He gave the little bundle to me and he looked straight at me, eyes curious. "Hi baby!" I crooned. I looked at Chris and then we both looked at E. Here we were, a new family. We had just been through the most trying and incredible journey of all of our lives to date. I've never felt closer to any human beings and it's a feeling I can't imagine will ever go away.
We spent the next hours ooohing and ahhing with our families over our sweet new son and it didn't even matter that it was 3:30 am before they all started leaving... it didn't matter that I had labored for 24 hours and been awake for 27... all that mattered was this boy. Finally we were settled in our mother/baby room and it was just the 3 of us. The 3 of us.. we are a family of 3! This sweet little lump of love was ours to call family... our son! It was unreal. But, we eventually felt the exhaustion setting in and knew we needed to rest. So, our nurse helped with our first try at nursing - could barely get E to wake up, and he didn't really latch, but he got a few drops of colostrum which the nurse considered ok for the first try. He was tired too poor baby! He had worked just as hard to get out as I had getting him out! We dubbed him our "hero man" because he stayed cool as a cucumber through the chaos that was the pushing phase. Not one time did his heart rate waiver to the point of concern. Had it, we would have surely ended our story in the OR instead. All in all I pushed for nearly 3.5 hours and my little dude handled that stress beautifully! The 3 of us were a team.
We couldn't bare to be apart... so somehow the 3 of us ended up in the same tiny hospital bed to get some sleep. And sleep we did. A few hours later the sun started to peak through the windows and I remember seeing a nurse sneaking in to write her name on our board as our new caretaker. She looked at me and we smiled at each other. I know she probably wanted to tell us that might not be the safest way to sleep but her smile said the moment was too precious to disrupt. I wish I had asked her to take a picture of us because that precious memory lasts only in our minds. How I wish we could show that image to E one day... Chris and I turned in towards him, our new little boy snuggled sleeping soundly between us on this teeny tiny bed. I will never forget it.
I've thought about my birthing experience a million and a half times in the 8.5 months since, and there are definitely things I would do differently... say maybe wait for the urge to push? But, it was the most incredible experience of my life and it changed Chris and I forever. I am in awe of the female body and am encouraged that even though it wasn't what I expected, he was born healthy, and happy and that is all that matters! It may sound strange... but I can't wait to do it again :)