Today my firstborn is FIVE. On her first birthday I spent time reflecting on the pregnancy and birth of my sweet girl, and today I share it with you.
May 24th, 2012, the day had come to take a test. I hadn’t felt right for the last week—exhausted, sore and crampy, but I hadn’t started my period, either. I took the test and for the first time, saw what looked like a faint positive. When Chris got home from work, I showed him. He didn’t quite believe it. We went out for Chinese food and stopped by the pharmacy for another test on the way home. The next morning I tested again and it was clear—we were going to have a baby! Chris started to get a little more excited at that point.
On May 31st, my 26th birthday, Chris and I had both our families over for my party. While opening gifts, one of them was a baby names book. I opened it last and acted like I didn’t know why I was getting it… and then announced our news! Everyone was so excited. Lots of hugs went around. June 10th was our 6th wedding anniversary. It was also the first day of morning sickness… I threw up before church and ended up going late because I felt so yucky. Unfortunately for me, the end of morning sickness didn’t come until I gave birth.
June 18th, things got a little more concrete for Chris and me. It was our first appointment with my OB and our first ultrasound. We got to see the life growing inside me—even the flickering tiny heartbeat! A due date of 1/31/13 was set.
Pregnancy was not what I expected. I thought it would be some mild discomfort, fatigue, some aches and pains at the end, but nothing I couldn’t face with a smile. However, at 18 weeks along I threw up at work yet again. Hooray for “morning” sickness! At that point I took up my OB on his offer for some nausea meds. Those little pills were my lifesavers. At 19 weeks I began to feel little flutters of the tiny life inside.
At 20 weeks we had our “big” ultrasound—the one in which the medical side is to check for healthy anatomy and the parents’ side is to learn the gender. As I had strongly felt for some time, it was confirmed that we were having a girl. Abigale Madlyn would be her name.
Somewhere around the 25-week mark, I hired a wonderful doula, Carolyn. I had met her while caring for a laboring woman at the hospital and been so impressed with her loving work. We met for lunch and discussed my plans for labor and delivery. I had always imagined myself giving birth unmedicated, without anesthesia. In my mind, that was the way to do it—after all, my mom had given birth three times that way and talked about it as something that was very doable. I was sure I would be a “low-risk” patient in labor, so my plans were to labor at home as long as possible, then head to the hospital when I got closer to delivery. Once there, I planned to let the nurses Doppler heart tones rather than having me on a continuous monitor. I would move around as I felt necessary, I would labor in the tub, and I would deliver in the bed but in a position that would use gravity in my favor. I would also (I imagined) deliver before my due date and it would go quickly, because that was my mom’s experience… and after all, wasn’t my body a lot like hers? This was “the plan”.
Another thing that made me ready to throw the idea of pregnancy out the window was a lovely condition called “PUPPs” which some women develop in pregnancy. It’s basically a skin allergy to pregnancy that makes you break out in an itchy rash, primarily on your trunk. At 29 weeks I had the pleasure of this all over my body, causing me to scratch until I would bleed. The steroid cream I was given by my doc helped take the edge off, but once again the only cure for this condition was delivery. Imagine having the chicken pox for 11 weeks. That’s what it felt like. I became the super-grumpy crazy pregnant woman. I remember telling some of my coworkers that were not yet mothers that they should just adopt. I was dead serious. This whole “growing a human being inside your body” thing was no fun.
At 33 weeks I had a particularly stressful shift at work, and partway through began contracting every 2 minutes. I became a patient for a few hours and with some IV hydration, this resolved. Abbi stayed safe and sound inside me like she was supposed to.
Time passed, and I was finally to 36 weeks. This baby was nearly done cooking, and boy was I glad! It was time for weekly visits with my OB, and much to my chagrin, my blood pressure was high at that appointment. I hoped it was just a fluke—only that I was stressed, tired and had worked all night before I saw Dr. B.
At my 37-week appointment, though, it was still up. Something had to give.My first option at this point was to go ahead and be induced. My answer to that was a swift “no”. As much as I hated being pregnant, I knew that there were many risks inherent in induction of labor, especially when done early. My Dr. and I agreed on a plan—I would go on maternity leave effective immediately, and I would do some labs and an ultrasound to see how safe it was for me to remain pregnant. All of that came back fine, so we would continue to wait for labor.
At my 39 ½ week appointment I was still pregnant, not a contraction in sight. My blood pressure continued to be elevated and I was getting to be rather swollen. Once again, Dr. B and I had to have a heart-to-heart. As I knew I could count on, he spoke to me about the research on Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH). He explained that the recommendation would be to induce at this point—that it was not in my best interest or my daughter’s to continue waiting. The date was set. I would go in to start the process the evening of January 30th. I agreed with Dr. B’s assessment of the situation but as I drove home I cried and cried. I called my doula Carolyn and she calmed me down. She helped me to accept what I knew deep down was the right course of action. During those last couple days at home I tried all the home remedies I could find to kick-start a “spontaneous” labor, but all to no avail.
Chris and I checked in to the hospital on 1/30/13 at 6 pm. Now the real work would begin. One thing that was immensely reassuring about the whole process that lay ahead was that my friends would be the ones caring for me. I was 1 cm dilated on arrival. The pitocin drip started about 7:30 pm. The first few hours were no big deal, just a contraction which was mildly painful, then a break, and so on. About 10 pm, my water broke. I was now 2 cm and still very comfortable. I remember thinking; “maybe this will go quickly for me”. Around 11 or 11:30 pm, I thought I would probably like to get in the tub before long. My labor was still quite tolerable, but hot water sounded very soothing. My friend/charge nurse came in, set up the birthing tub in my room, and started filling it. An hour later, it was finally filled up and I got in, my IV site all waterproofed and my portable baby/contraction monitors set up. It was 1 am on the 31st when I asked my husband to call Carolyn. I still felt fine in the tub, but I had an idea that I would be ready for her support when I got out of the water.
When Carolyn arrived, I gave Chris the go-ahead to get some rest in the recliner. He’d been awake about 20 hours by that time, and since I had another support person present, I wanted him to get that sleep. Carolyn warned me before I got out of the tub that I would feel very heavy when I got out. She was so right! I had no idea how weightless the tub had made my big pregnant body feel until I stood up out of the water. Suddenly I felt as if I had a lead belly and Jell-O legs.
With Carolyn at my side, I did some laps in the halls. I tried sitting on the birthing ball and sitting on the toilet. I tried squatting during a contraction and that one didn’t go over too well. Eventually I got back in the tub. It was my one safe place.
Around 6 am, I was in the bed and Dr. B came in to see me. He checked my dilation and called me a 3, which of course was much less than I wanted to hear. Labor was getting intense. He said he still felt a water bag and asked if I wanted him to break it. I said yes, desperate to move things along. (Looking back, I probably would have done that differently.) Once he’d ruptured the forebag the pain became crazy-intense. I was crying and writhing in the bed. I asked Carolyn to wake Chris up—I needed him, too. Chris got up immediately to be with me.
This was the turning point in labor, the place where I could not have done it without help. I started using some language that I don’t normally use. I realized that, although I had said previously that my sister and mom could be present for Abbi’s birth, this was no longer good for me. I had Chris call to inform them that they would need to stay home until the baby was born. Frankly, I was embarrassed at myself. Funny to say that I could have felt embarrassed, because I was stark naked with more than just my husband in the room and that didn’t faze my normally modest self. No, what embarrassed me was the pure rawness of labor—I had little control over the words I spoke and no control over the sensations that I was feeling so strongly. I was dizzy but I didn’t want nourishment. I was hot and then instantly cold, and then hot again. I felt as if I was splitting in half or dying, although Carolyn reassured me that neither was true. I spent most of the morning in the tub because there was just no coping happening when I was outside it. I would vocalize during contractions—sometimes using words, sometimes just moans. Some time around 9 am, I started to feel intense pressure in my bottom and a need to bear down. When my nurse checked me, I was still only 5 cm dilated. I returned to the tub and as I could not stop myself, was pushing some with each contraction. I worried aloud that my cervix would swell shut since I was pushing “too early”. Once again, Carolyn kept me going. She said, “But Aimee, are you trying to push or is it involuntary? Because if it’s involuntary then your body is doing what it needs to do.”
A few hours later, I was checked and I was 7-8 cm. I finally began to feel as if we were getting somewhere with all that I was going through. My body continued bearing down during every contraction. I was exhausted and yet couldn’t stop. That pressure created an irresistible downward push. Each contraction I sat cross-legged, leaning forward in the tub with my head resting on the side. My shoulders and back rippled with muscles held taut. Each brief break was spent leaning backward with my legs stretched in front of me.
Some time after noon, half out of my mind and unwilling to leave the water, I checked my own progress. All I could feel was the top of my daughter’s head, about an inch inside! I told my nurse, my husband, and my doula. I showed Chris on my finger how far in Abbi’s head was and said, “we’re about to be parents!” It was becoming real that this pain had a purpose. There was a light at the end of this tunnel.
I began pushing in earnest. I had pushed a few minutes when I asked my nurse if Dr. B would be coming soon. Mind you, I would have kept pushing either way, but it seemed like it would be nice if he were there. She got him and he came strolling in, nonchalant as ever. He said, “Well, Aimee, I guess since it’s you I will let you stay in there to deliver.”
My reply, between pushes and breathing and splitting pain was, “Well, no offense, but I wouldn’t be getting out anyway.” We were getting very close to birth. I started to feel the “ring of fire” that we warn moms about as her head stretched my perineum to make room. Finally, in one big push, head & body were out! Never in my life have I experienced as good a feeling as that when she was finally born. As I was on hands and knees in the tub she was behind me. Dr. B placed her on my chest and I kept saying over and over, “Oh my baby! Oh my sweet baby!” Unsurprisingly, Chris, Carolyn and I were crying. We allowed her cord to stop pulsating before it was cut, which Chris got to do.
As I held my baby for the first time, her naked slippery body against mine in the warm water, I knew a love so deep I couldn’t have fathomed it before. It was fierce and raw and primal. I knew that I would do everything in my power to protect this beautiful child. I knew I could be proud of having birthed her in such a gentle manner—letting her pass from the warmth of her mother to the warmth of the water.
A few minutes passed, and everyone helped me get up into bed. Dr. B got me warm blankets, to which I smiled and said, “Isn’t that a little below your pay grade?” Of course, it made me feel very loved. Once they had me all bundled up and gave Abbi back to me, I said, “God is so gracious.” I will tell you now; I have never been so assured of the love of God as I was in that moment.In going through all that I did to become a mother, I feel so much closer to God. I feel like on a certain level, I finally understand the love Christ has for us—that He would lay down his life and His body for those He loves so desperately. That is what a mother does, too.
It took me time to really process and make peace with our birth experience. Just after I was taken to the postpartum unit, I remember telling my nurse there, “I was pitiful” in labor. It took me talking to others who had been present for the birth to finally believe that I did a great job. Hearing others tell me how strong I was, when at the time I had felt weak, or how controlled I was when at the time I had felt lost, really changed my perception of the experience. It made it something I can now look back on and feel proud of, rather than embarrassed.
My precious husband helping me
Abigale Madlyn finally in mama's arms
So many loving people surrounding us-- Chris, doula Carolyn, and my OB doc. My nurse Amy took this photo.