[If you would like to read Part 1 of Griffin's Birth Story first, click here.]
As I said, Christmas came and went with no baby. I was beginning to get very, very tired from six to eight hour blocks of contractions during the day and contractions every ten to fifteen minutes through the night. Needless to say, I wasn't getting much sleep during the night or rest during the day, and I was concerned that I was expending precious energy before my active labor even began. For those who are unfamiliar with labor lingo, "active labor" begins when you are 4 cm dilated and beyond. Most women spend the bulk of their labor dilating from 0-4 cm for their first birth (not sure about subsequent births for this statistic).
The day after Christmas is my dad's birthday, and he was celebrating the big 5-0 this year. We all thought it would be great to have little Griffin born exactly 50 years to the day after his Grandpa Brian, and I was exhausted from a week of on-again-off-again contractions. On a long walk with Oliver through the neighborhood, I gave my midwife, Lisa, a call. I shared my concerns about exhaustion, stress on the baby, etc., and she recommended we come in that day for an exam and to discuss our options.
At about 1 or so that day, we met Lisa at the birth center. During her exam, she found that I was 1 cm dilated and completely effaced (meaning my cervix was thinned out in preparation for birth). Then, as she was checking me, I dilated to 3 cm! Can I tell you, it is so nice to dilate 2 cm without having to work for it! She said that my body was right on the precipice of active labor, but that we had the option for her to strip my membranes to get things going. "Stripping the membranes" refers to a procedure where the midwife/OB-GYN will insert her finger into the cervix, bend her finger, and rotate it around the top of the cervix to separate the cervix from the amniotic sac. This released the natural hormone that is primarily responsible for starting labor. This only works if your body is ready to go into labor, so the risks are very minimal. We decided this would be best in our situation, and she performed the procedure. I've heard other people talk about how painful this is, but I experienced no pain, no cramping, no nothing! Yay! So, she sent us home with directions to have a glass of wine and take a nap because we were going to have a baby tonight!
I cannot tell you how completely overwhelmed and nervous I was on that drive home. I remember shaking in the car from the fear of the unknown, fear of the pain, fear of becoming a mom, etc. etc. Fear was beginning to really take ahold of me at that point. We did as directed, and I took a great nap from 4-5pm.
I woke up in a noticeably different condition...full-fledged active labor. The contractions were definitely more intense and coming quite close together. My goal was to labor as long as possible in the comfort of my own home, so I set to work. As I mentioned in my last post, my dad, step-mom, and 14 year old brother were staying with us for the holidays, so they were here to witness this part of the labor. I remember my dad watching me going through contraction after contraction, and he eventually said, "Why don't you try to get on your hands and knees. Maybe that'll take some of the pressure off." I laugh at this suggestion now, but at that time I was willing to try anything! So, I lumbered down onto all fours and immediately found that it was the wrong position for me...ouch! Immediately after that realization, I realized that I was unable to get up!! If you have seen pictures of my last trimester, you know that my belly got bigger than almost any woman I've ever seen carrying just one baby. Anyway, Oliver and my step-mom helped me to my feet. At this point, I was trying to stay in denial that things were really happening so that I didn't freak out and trying to find what the most comfortable positions were for me to labor in, but it became increasingly clear that I had to confront that the time had come to go to the birth center. First, I was unable to speak or listen during contractions. Second, I began to bleed, which happens with the dilation of the cervix. Third, it became difficult for me to think about anything at all...getting the birth bag and supplies together, etc. Good thing I had that bag packed ahead of time...There is NO way I was coherent enough to do that during that time. As I held onto my step-mom's shoulders through a contraction, she said, "Katie, it's time to go now." I knew she was right, and at 6pm, Oliver and I got ourselves together and drove to the birth center, calling our midwife and my friend, Reilynn (who was acting as my doula [aka. birth assistant]) on the way.
The time had finally come. We were making our final drive as a family of two. On the way there, Oliver and I prayed together for the safe and quick delivery of our son, and God brought a verse to mind to remind us that He has not given us a spirit of fear. He has given us a spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind. Though I struggled with fear throughout the rest of the labor, God gave me the strength to say "no" to it, to turn away from it with confidence in Him.
When we arrived, I changed into the clothes I had chosen to labor in. I chose a sports bra and a sort of tank top dress. I highly recommend this combo, although next time I would go with a nursing sports bra for easy nursing post-birth. The birth center atmosphere was just amazing. Our room was very homey, with king-sized bed, rocking chair, couch, paintings on the wall, a water fountain, and various birth stools, balls, etc. Our bathroom was nice and big, with a jacuzzi tub with jets (and handles!). They kept the lights low, the candles lit, the water fountain bubbling, and the mood very relaxed and confident. Lisa checked my progress shortly after we arrived and found that I was already at 6 cm.
[Sidenote: Just minutes after we arrived at the birth center, our friends John and Cora Arenz arrived to have their baby! Since we were both very busy giving birth, we didn't see one another during our time there; however, their sweet baby girl was born almost exactly 24 hours after Griffin was born.]
I spent the majority of my labor walking around the room and around the hallway loop in the birth center. This was the most "comfortable" position for me, and it has the added benefit of speeding up labor. When a contraction would hit (and boy did they HIT), I would put my hands around Oliver's neck, lean my head down onto his chest, squat and swing my hips, and BREATHE! Oliver was so involved in the labor and delivery, and he was wonderful. I've heard so many women talk about how annoyed they were by their spouse during labor, but I had the opposite experience. Oliver was the perfect mix of attentive, concerned, encouraging, strong, confident, emotionally available, and yet not smothering. He either held me up (literally) or held my hand through almost every contraction, and, as I'll write about later, he was able to deliver Griffin and place him on my chest.
During every contraction, Reilynn was there to massage my lower back and hips, and every woman who has ever given birth knows that lower back/hip massage is invaluable and so very helpful to get through the increasing pain of contractions. Rei also prayed for me through every, single contraction, thanking the Lord for another contraction, for progress in the labor, and for strength and endurance for me. She wasn't obnoxious or annoying about it, and I knew that she understood what I was going through, having had 5 naturally herself. She kept me sane during the process, and her presence was so comforting. I turned to her many times for encouragement, and she was excellent at giving it. There were plenty of times where I was so delirious with exhaustion and pain that the notion that I could not do it began to crop up; however, it was Reilynn's prayers that reminded me to focus on the Lord, to draw my strength from Him, to recognize my own short-comings and accept His help, and most of all, to give Him thanks for progress.
People ask what a contraction feels like, and I have heard many different answers. Severe diarrhea cramps/menstrual cramps is one I've heard and can agree this is what the very, very early ones feel similar to; however, active labor/transition contractions are surreal and like nothing I've ever experienced. [Note: "Transition" is the stage of labor where you dilate from 8-10 cm, and it is the most intense stage of contractions. Many people say this is the most painful part of labor, but I disagree. Pushing hurts worse.] I do not want to write a horrifying birthing story here that would scare other women, especially soon-to-be-moms. That is the LAST thing I want to do. Labor is not horrifying or insurmountable...It is just different than any other experience that there is really no way to conceptualize it before you experience it for yourself. I must be honest and say that it was harder and more painful than I imagined, but that is only because I had never done it before and was unable to imagine it. There just is nothing else in life that is similar to the feelings you feel when you are giving birth. When you're doing it for the first time, there is also that nagging fear of the unknown. The key for me was NOT to entertain those fears and NOT to allow thoughts in my head or words out of my mouth like "I can't" or "I don't want to." Keeping those kinds of thoughts out helped me to grit my teeth and get down to business with having that baby instead of torturing myself with my weaknesses.
I did spend a couple of hours in the jacuzzi/birthing tub. They turned the jets on, and I just laid back and tried to relax. Oliver poured water on my belly and offered me water and smoothies to drink. I must say, the tub was amazing. The pain did not go away or lessen much, but I was able to relax so fully between contractions that I actually would fall asleep! ...And the contractions couldn't have been more than 2 minutes apart or so!
At about 10pm, after being in the tub for quite a while, I began feeling the urge to push. At times, I was unable to stop myself. However, my water had not yet broken and I was unsure of what exactly I was looking for that would indicate it was time to push...having never given birth before. There were contractions I could breath through and not push, and there were other contractions that I could not stop my body from pushing on. I decided to get out of the tub and walk some more to "get things going." I was ready to get that baby out!
To be continued...