It has taken me some time to publicly share our birth story- nearly 6 months to be exact! I honestly don't know where the time has gone, but it reminds me to savor each and every moment with our now not-so-new bundle of joy. I had written our birth story in my journal, but I shall present to you a more simplified version (ok I lied, this version is actually pretty long, so brace yourselves):
Before the days of pregnancy, I had always contemplated what the experience of labor would be like. Knowing very well that the curse of Eve and its laboring pains are upon every woman, I felt as though pain medication sounded too good to be true. When I was young, my Mother had told me she birthed the 3 of us naturally with no pain medication for our own benefit. I always respected her for that and wondered if I could do the same for my children.
Fast forward several years (okay, maybe a couple decades), here I was, pregnant. As excited as I was, I could not push back a sense of fear that crept into the back of my mind: the day of delivery will inevitably, but joyfully arrive. I had thought about my birthing options and really wanted to try and have an unmedicated birth. My biggest reason was that I felt as though the Lord had blessed me with this little gift to cherish. I had tried very hard to make wise decisions in my diet and lifestyle for this child. After all that, would I throw in the towel and opt for medication in the end for the sake of myself? Secondly, the thought of a horse needle shooting up my spine did not seem appealing at all.
Now as a pregnant mama, people don't usually filter what they say around you, especially when it comes to their horrid birthing experiences. I welcomed these stories warmly, as I wanted to hear every scenario in order to prepare for the worst while expecting the best. There were some that had wanted an unmedicated birth, but once the intensity kicked in, they ordered an epidural immediately. And because I had a feeling I would do the same when push came to shove, it led me to wonder: how can that be avoided?
I started doing research on the pros & cons of the epidural, natural birthing methods, ways of coping with the pain and the process of labor and birth itself. Who knew there were 4 Stages of Labor? I certainly didn't. Or that a birthing couch called a Doula exists to coach, inform and encourage you through the entire process? I shared my excitement and intrigue with my Husband and he told me he would support me in whatever method I decided to choose.
To make a long story short, I decided I would plan for the unmedicated birth route. It is a personal decision for each mama to make and no one else can decide for her. Whether or not one has a medicated or unmedicated birth does not make them any less of a woman. I decided to choose this route based on what I read and what I wanted for myself and the little person living inside of me. I do however, highly recommend researching on your own because most doctors will not share with you the side effects of the pain medications given (e.g. the epidural can increase your chance of a C-section by 40%). But birthing classes that are offered by hospitals are excellent in preparing you for the day of labor and aftercare for your newborn.
I shared with my Husband about having another person in the delivery room with us, such as a doula to help me during my labor. He was very keen on the idea, as he felt that having another voice to advocate for us at the hospital, someone who was more knowledgeable and experienced in the field, would help the both of us. Surprisingly, my Husband was the one who ended up doing the research and found several candidates for us to interview. In the end, we went with someone whom we felt the most at ease with (Our criteria: if I could not imagine myself naked in front of the person, it would be a no-go). We wanted someone who had a good balance between an unmedicated natural birth and maximizing the benefits of birthing in a hospital (I wasn't comfortable with a home birth, medical technology exists for a reason!). We found the perfect fit for us, and her name was Danielle, or Doula Dani. She was also pregnant herself, and expected to deliver her second child about a month after us. Knowing that she had gone through her first birth unmedicated, gave me a strong sense of hope that she would be a great support.
As my bump started increasing in size, more and more people would ask about my thoughts on the birth day. The most popular question: "Are you going to get the epidural?" My answer was that I didn't intend on it unless it was absolutely necessary. I would say that majority of the people didn't believe that I would have an unmedicated birth based on what they've heard from other labor stories. Sadly, I was able to count the number of people who actually believed in me with one hand. In some ways I felt a bit discouraged, but in other ways, it gave me a stronger motivation to prepare myself for the big day. Throughout the entire time, my Husband stood by my side and told me he believed I could do it. I also wanted to believe those words myself.
And finally, moving onto the actual birthing story....
I was about 3 days past my due date when I went to see my OB on a Friday. She checked me and said the baby was definitely sitting much lower than the previous check-up. I mentioned I had been concerned about being overdue and feared being induced (which requires pitocin, an artificial hormone to get the contractions started, but are much stronger!). My OB did what was called a membrane strip, which is thought to help speed along the labor process. She told me she would be surprised if I didn't go into labor before the weekend was over.
After the visit, my Braxton Hicks did indeed grow stronger, but they were too sporadic and infrequent to be actual labor contractions. My Mom had already been staying with us to help with the cooking, cleaning and caring for the new baby (God bless her, I would've hardly survived without her). That week, I had walked all around town and the Bebe refused to make his grand appearance.We were all waiting for him to arrive. So the following night, I decided to do the opposite. Rather than walking my swollen legs into mush, I decided to soak in the tub. As I was relaxing, I looked at my now large, round tummy and told "Bebe" silently that we were ready for him whenever he felt comfortable to come out. Shortly afterwards, I started feeling stronger contractions. I waited, and another came several minutes later. I called for the Hubby and he asked excitedly for the millionth time, "Are you having contractions?" He timed them and they were 5-7 minutes apart. This was the real thing. My labor began at 10:30pm on a Saturday night.
We called my Doula Danielle to inform her what was happening, she recommended that we both try and get some rest while we can. As I went into bed, I texted my family and told them labor had begun and to ask for their prayers. Once I laid my body into bed, the contractions started becoming uncomfortable. As much as I tried to fall asleep, the contractions prevented me from doing so. I got out of bed and the Hubby suggested that we watch old Modern Family episodes (one of the funniest shows ever after Friends) to take my mind off the contractions. His suggestion worked to a certain extent. As time progressed, my contractions became more intense. I sat on my yoga ball while watching the television screen, rolling back and forth to help move the labor along and taking breaks to breath through the contractions as they came.
After a few hours, I noticed that my legs started to quiver and shake with the contractions. I had read that shaking can occur when a woman is heading towards transition, the last part of her labor. I panicked and wondered if I was coming close to that point, since I had no plans of delivering in the car! I told the Hubby I wanted to head to the hospital and he suggested that I waited because he didn't think I was very far along. He suggested I call Danielle and ask her what to do. I called her and basically told her I felt most comfortable heading to the hospital to check and make sure. She told me to do what I felt was best.
The Hubby went and started packing the car with our belongings, while my Mom came downstairs and prepared my ginger chicken soup (it was going to be the first sip I took after labor- it's a Chinese thing). As I started having another contraction, my Mom massaged my lower back, which was the root of the pain. I could tell that there was concern in her eyes as she hugged me and sent us off.
We drove into the quiet darkness, with hardly a car in sight. At 1:30am, most people in our area were probably sound asleep. It was like a dream. The drive felt somewhat peaceful, even though our circumstances were quite the opposite. The Hubby dropped me off at the main lobby of the hospital while he went to find a parking spot. I took a seat in the lobby and waited while my legs quivered and shook with each contraction. After the Hubby came back, we went up the elevator into Labor and Delivery.
At the front desk, they told us to wait for a nurse to check and see how far along I was. When the nurse arrived, she brought us into the room and hooked me to the fetal monitor. She asked me several questions to fill out in the application while I took breaks to do my breathing during each contraction. Danielle arrived around this time and sat next to me. After all the questions, the nurse checked me and exclaimed that I was 6cm. We were all excited to know that I was only 4cm away from being fully dilated and ready to go! The receptionists didn't think I was that far along because I had managed to smile in between contractions. I had heard that staying positive would be most beneficial for your labor, and that was what I intended on doing. The joy of the Lord would be my strength.
The downside of going to the hospital was that my contractions began to space apart. Danielle explained that this tends to happen when women are at the hospital and no longer in their comfort zone. The body is not able to fully relax and is situating itself into a new environment. She suggested that I sat on the yoga ball after having my fetal activity monitored for 30 minutes, and the baby's heart rate was good. She did some counter-pressure on my sacrum area, which was where I felt most of the pressure from the contractions. It gave me some relief, but at this point the contractions were still quite intense. For the next few hours, we tried walking around, leaning on my Husband for support, rolling on the yoga ball some more, and I even upchucked my dinner at one point.
There was a change in shifts and we received a new nurse- a peppy older woman who was as sweet as your own grandma. She came in and told me she would check me in the next half hour. Danielle gave me a pep talk and told me I may be in the same place I was when I first arrived, due to the fact that my body was possibly still adjusting to the new environment. She had noticed that my contractions started to space apart, and did not want me to feel discouraged. Danielle mentioned that it could all change in a matter of an hour, and to not focus on the number. Sure enough, I was still at 6cm. Part of me felt a bit discouraged, but thankful that I was given a heads-up. At this point, Danielle suggested I change it up by going into the shower to help relieve some of the pressure from the contractions. I took her advice and went in, hoping that the heat and pressure would help. To some degree, there was some relief, but the contractions started to become unbearable.
During this time, my mind began to wander-- I questioned what it would've been like if I had decided to get the epidural. I felt as though nothing could really relieve me of the strong pressure I was feeling in my back. Part of me wondered how much longer it would be before I would be relieved of the pain. I began to pray earnestly for the Lord's strength for the endurance to keep going. I repeated several verses I had read prior to going into labor while doing squats to help the labor progress. The pain did not subside, but it gave me an inner peace that took away the fear that began creeping in. One of them was Psalm 23, another was Philippians 4:13- I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
After I got out of the shower and dried off, the nurse needed me back on the fetal monitor. She was very gracious and had allowed me to stay in the shower longer than they had initially intended. Frequent fetal monitoring is required to check the heart rate of the baby to make sure they are coping well with the labor. As I lay on the hospital bed, my eyes glazed over and I was having difficult keeping my eyelids open. I heard our customized playlist playing softly in the background, which was somewhat soothing (to this day, the Hubby cannot bring himself to listen to this playlist again, lol). I began to fall in and out of slumber while stopping to breathe through the contractions.
I dragged myself back out of bed once the monitoring was complete - baby's heart rate was great and I was ready to continue moving along. This time, Danielle suggested that the Hubby and I "dance" while revisiting a joyful memory we shared by having him retell the story of how we got engaged. As we swayed back and forth in the dimly-lit hospital room, I could no longer fully maintain my own body weight. With my arms around his neck, I relied heavily on my Husband to hold me through the contractions. At this point, any joking he proceeded to make was heard but ignored. My focus was in another place and I had little energy to even muster a smile.
Before I knew it, I was back on the fetal monitor, but this time Danielle suggested that I rest so that I would have more energy for pushing later on. I felt myself doze off, but maintained light sleep as the contractions were too strong to sleep through. The sun was starting to rise, and Danielle told the Hubby to take a break and grab something to eat. After he came back, they swapped places so that she could take a break as well. I had been laboring through the night and everyone was feeling the effects of it. As struggled to relax and breath through the contractions, I felt my Hubby stroke my arm in hopes of soothing the pain. In my delusional state of consciousness, I heard him lift up a prayer for me out of desperation as his voice cracked. I sensed his fear and helplessness in watching me go through the pain. I was saddened for him to see me in this state, but knew there was nothing else either of us could do but to wait it out.
I remembered what a mother of five children had told me as she went through each birth unmedicated: She said that being in labor was like running a marathon, you don't dwell on the number of miles you have remaining, but rather focus on the small victories you've completed. Focus on one contraction at a time and getting through that next one. This insight was indeed helpful and allowed me to have a positive outlook on what could have seemed like a never-ending task. The end goal would be a newborn baby, and that was enough inspiration to continue moving forward.
As I entered through transition, the last stage of labor, my body began to push involuntarily with every contraction. I remembered that I wasn't supposed to push prematurely, but the urge continued and I needed to fight it off each time. This was perhaps the most difficult part in labor, and there was nothing I could do but to focus on breathing and intentionally avoid pushing.
It began to get to the point where the nurse felt utterly sympathetic and checked to see how far along I was. The moment she said 10cm, was by far the greatest thing I had heard all day! She told me the doctor on call was finishing up with another patient but would arrive shortly. I told her I couldn't wait any longer and she gave me the okay to push.
Pushing was a tremendous relief after all the waiting and from what I remember, did not cause me any pain. For once I could feel productive and see progress. I would be coming closer to meeting our little one very soon! The nurse started transforming the bed for delivery while I began pushing. The Hubby stayed by my side and held my hand throughout, and I heard them say I was beginning to crown. The doctor ran in and put on her gear as I finished the second push. By the 4th and 5th push, the baby was out, kicking with glee. After a total of 15 hours in labor, he was finally here. It was instant relief and utter shock all at the same time. My legs began shaking like a leaf and the nurse wrapped a warm blanket around them. It was all over.
The doctor mentioned that there was meconium in the waters, so a medical team rushed in to take the baby before we had a chance to do skin-to-skin. All I could see from my view were his little hands, raised and slowing pawing at the new world around him. I was a bit disappointed to not have met Bebe right away, but wanted what was best for him. After they removed the liquids from his lungs and ran several tests, he was good to go. Baby's heart rate remained strong and he was such a lil trooper! The Hubby went over to cut the umbilical cord, even though he had said he didn't want to beforehand (he was still in shock). Afterwards, I was finally able to hold the baby and see him up close for the very first time.
I felt slightly awkward as they put Bebe in my arms. I remember asking if I was holding him correctly, supporting him in the right areas. I felt like such a newbie, which was quite the truth. In a matter of minutes, I had become a Mommy to the little person resting in my arms. No tears were shed, but I think I was in a state of shock and exhaustion- both the Hubby and I were on the same page. I still couldn't believe I was holding the person living inside of me for 9 months in my arms at that current moment. It wasn't until we went upstairs for the hospital stay in which I was able to fully experience our new baby, undistracted and in the privacy of our new little family. I was overwhelmed with love for this tiny, wrinkly baby. Every little detail on his little body was a miracle from God. To this day, I am still amazed by the whole process and find it unbelievable that this baby once lived inside my womb.
Looking back at this experience, I wouldn't have changed a thing. The whole process was challenging, intense to say the least, but worth every moment. Together with my Husband, our Doula Danielle, the hospital team and our gracious God orchestrating the entire event, I was able to deliver unmedicated with no other forms of intervention. I felt empowered as a woman, seeing how my body knew exactly what to do at the right moments was amazing. This was living proof that with our God, anything is possible. Of course as with any birth, nothing ever goes completely according to plan, but these were the components of our birth story, and it's the little details that make it beautiful.
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for at his command they were created,
and he established them for ever and ever--
he issued a decree that will never pass away.