Physically, this has been my strongest pregnancy. But every veteran mother knows no matter how well or prepared you feel, pregnancy brings with it the anxiety of the unknown and the anticipation of discomfort. I don't care if you get an epidural of have a C-section or your husband plays bongos while you sit amidst wild flowers... however you labor, it is just that - labor. Work. The stuff of the cross.
Don't get me wrong...I'm forever grateful for the knowledge of how my body handles birth, but it comes at the cost of knowing that there is a crazy, intense experience coming my way and there ain't.no.way.out.
And generally speaking, I've had pretty fantastic births. Though an unfavorable induction, Baby #1 was born after four hours of drug-free, Pitocin-induced contractions followed by 15 minutes of pushing. I blame Pitocin on my accidental, less-than-an-hour home birth of Baby #2 because Pitocin contractions are a FAR CRY from the real ones, let me tell you, I kid you not. Baby #3 was a bit slower, but three hours of active labor and a wee bit of pushing wasn't bad. Baby #4 was pretty special- after laboring peacefully from 7:30-10:30, I asked to have my water broken and had her about one minute and a push later.
Which brings me to baby #5's birth...aka the mental game. I had kept anxiety at bay with prayer, but I felt like I did in my soccer preseason conditioning days- dragging my feet to the line, mentally imploring my coach to reconsider the ten 120 yard dashes he was making us do. I'm sure there are people out there who get excited to labor...but I just wasn't one of them. You'd think I'd be grateful for my past births, but I was just stuck on the crazy vulnerability that is pushing. I prayed that God would give me the mental fortitude for labor because I sure as heck didn't have it throughout my pregnancy. Was I scared of deadlifting 200 pounds pregnant? Nope! How about birthing seven? Yes!
But, there I was, a couple days overdue and finally ready to get the show on the road. My lovely midwife (more on this lady later) let me come in for a gentle induction- pumping, stripping of membranes, and walking. I came in at 1 cm and, after three rounds of it, left at 2 with no lasting contractions. Afterwards, my husband and I decided to make a day of it and went out for tacos, which marks it as a win in my book.
The next day was St. Bernadette's feast day, and even though it had been ten years since I visited Lourdes, I thought that my little friend would help me out with intercession. I was able to go to daily Mass by myself, spent some QT schooltime with my two bigs, visited a sick mama, and got a mani and alone time with my mom. It was a peaceful day, and with freshly painted nails while sipping on a baby glass of wine with my mom and her twin, I kept noticing little contractions, about every 8-10 minutes apart. Nothing major, but enough to make me wiggle and breathe in my seat.
My better-than-Paul-Hollywood husband had just pulled homemade pastry-ed chicken pot pie from the oven, and as everyone was settling down to eat, I excused myself to go lay down. This is where things got analytical. I've heard so many stories of going in too early, and having had fast births, I was hesitant to go in too late. So I drank a bunch of water, laid down, and tried to time the contractions over din of the general chaos of wrangling four children to the dinner table. It was one of those evenings where excitement was in the air, and it was all I could do to concentrate on timing contractions and relaxing over the pounding of the piano and scraping of plates.
Into my third contraction (now coming five minutes apart but not too strong), my four year old peeked her head around the corner and asked me, "You having contraptions, mama?" She climbed into bed with me and pushed on my belly, and, despite her cuteness, I knew it was time to go. I wasn't in crazy labor, but enough to know that I'd be happier and more peaceful at the midwife center. Plus, my midwife texted me to get my butt over, so I did. :)
Sidenote about my midwife, Ashley: This woman is also a dear, dear friend: she's an across-the-street-neighbor, parenting confidant, exchanger of baby items, fellow quilter and deadlifter (though much, much better), fellow nurse and general kickass woman who has four girls of her own. We've shared many a heart to heart about midwifery and how to raise strong women. We've played countless board games. We've watched our children climb trees together over a shared adult beverage. We've danced to 90s jams with our husbands into the wee hours of the morning. So when she told me if I wanted, she could be there to catch my baby, I said YES!
So it was this midwife who was helping my overly analytical brain to get to the midwife center. I told my husband it was time to go, and you would think it as Christmas morning because my kiddos were OVERJOYED and crazy excited that I was finally in labor (me too!). We gathered our things and the kids gathered around me and prayed over me. Cue tears.
As we rode along to the midwife center, I had contractions every 6-8 minutes or so, and they weren't that bad...just very different- all in my lower back. It was at this time that I realized I had been waiting for the 'real' contractions to start, but it actually had really started- it just was all back labor. Not being accustomed to this, I was a little nervous- back labor was supposed to be much, much harder than 'regular(?)' labor, and I was none to happy about that. Focusing on the positive, I stopped at St. Stanislaw’s for a quick prayer, and made it to the birthing center around 7:30 and was checked to be 6 cm.
I was anxious as soon as we got to the midwife center- shaky and teeth chattery kind of anxious- as I anticipated the work. I was also worried about the baby- something about her heart rate was troubling me, and the nurses kept coming in to listen to her for longer than usual. "Why do we women do this to ourselves?" I couldn't help wondering. It wasn’t until after we doused the room in holy water, changed into my gown, started praying the rosary, and being encouraged and talked down by my midwife that I was able to concentrate.
Specifically, my midwife gently told me that she was there to watch for symptoms of distress- I was there to labor. I felt a tug at my heart, asking, "Do you trust her?" and at that moment I gave all my worries over- I trusted her (and the Lord's work in her) whole-heartedly. I stopped analyzing every contraction. I stopped looking at the clock. I stopped wondering how it was all going to go down and if I had what it took to do it all again. And that's when peace came. It's a beautiful thing to be given permission to labor.
My labor this time was all in my back, so it was a (very) different way of experiencing contractions. Bracing myself for each one, the contractions also required counterpressure from all parties involved (i.e. my husband). They weren’t terrible, just not as easy to relax through. My favorite part of the whole labor was sinking into a huge tub. While my husband and I sang praise songs, the contractions melted away, and I felt such a surge of peace while listening to my husband's voice. All the praise hands.
Soon though, I knew it was time to get out of the tub. Game time. My husband started to play his Buena Vista Social Club mix (read no further until Guajira en F is playing from your device). I was checked at 8 cm and had my midwife break my water. I labored in bed for a little bit with no feelings to push. I told the nurse and midwife that they could leave (and turn off the heating lamp)- this baby wasn't coming anytime soon, but they amiably refused. I knew I had to stand up and let gravity do it's work. I had flashbacks of my coach telling me to line up for sprints...and, feeling that dread, but also knowing/hoping for the baby at the end of the tunnel, I got up, bounced for a bit on the birthing ball, and was back in bed to push about 45 minutes after my water was broken. I pushed with one contraction, but didn’t put my all into it. In between contractions, Ashley checked me to be 10 cm and I vowed to all (in so many words) that this baby would.be.out.of.me.and.now. The second contraction rolled around, and badda bing, badda boom, I was an unofficial Marmee with four daughters!
Relief, always sweet relief first, kisses (soaked in relief) with my husband next, and then all the love for my super juicy, warm babe with a head of hair. She cried beautifully and snuggled right up, knowing exactly that my arms were where she was meant to be.
Now, two months after the whole affair, I can look back with such gratitude for a peaceful, praiseful birth with the man I love and delivery by a dear friend who knows the grit of mothering four daughters. I'm reminded daily of why women 'do this to themselves' as I nurse my babe, as my daughters fawn over her, as my son whispers "you're my favorite," as my husband makes her eyes dance, and as my elderly neighbor lights up over her smile. I am a fickle woman: I want labor, then hope it ends. I want my kids to grow up and time to slow down. But the Lord reminds me gently that there is no love without the Cross. There's no promise of a baby without the promise of work.