Saturday, June 12th, Justin and I decided to relax and enjoy what could possibly be our last Saturday without a child.  We had been looking forward to some new movies coming out and decided to do a double-feature matinee.  We went and saw A-Team and then Karate Kid.  In between the movies I lost my mucous plug.  I was pretty excited, but knew that really didn’t mean too much.  We went home, hung out, watched TV and had a really nice evening.  Went to bed at around 1am.  At about 2am I was woken up with some weird feelings in my lower abdomen area.  After feeling the pain come and go for a while I finally decided I was having contractions.  They weren’t super painful, but they were coming about every 5 minutes for almost a minute in length.  Knowing I’d only been in bed for an hour, I knew I wasn’t in any shape to start labor.  Those kinds of things need to be done with a good night of rest!  So without waking up Justin I took a shower and slowed my contractions down.  I was able to get some sleep but definitely felt some excitement that at least something was happening.

The next morning was church and I decided to go. I was still having contractions; they were not very long or intense and about 10 minutes apart.  I called my cousin Teresa and told her I was having sporadic contractions; she suggested walking around a bit to try to speed them up.  Meanwhile she called my Aunt Lynn who wanted to be here for the event.

After church I walked, I squatted, I hung out on the ball.  Contractions remained steady but not intense.  My Aunt headed to Austin since we figured it was just a matter of time till things got “real.”  I figured I was still in early labor, the phase where things are almost (but not quite) exciting.  I took a walk around the block with Aunt Lynn when she got to Austin and we also went to Target, but nothing really sped things up.  I even made my groaning bread (which is supposed to strengthen contractions, but didn’t).  By the end of Sunday we finally decided that everyone (especially me and Justin) needed to get some rest.  Everyone headed home and Justin and I took a hot shower and tried to get some sleep.  Through all of Sunday my contractions had remained steady, not too painful (usually) and definitely manageable.

At 2am on Sunday night (Monday morning) I woke up with INTENSE contractions.  They were fairly close together but not very long.  I labored for about a half hour (maybe longer) before waking up Justin. I was tired of being in pain and hearing him sleep soundly next to me!  So we got up, relocated to the living room where I sat on the ball (actually leaned against it with my knees on the ground) and Justin and I watched Mad Max.  Contractions continued, nothing I felt warranted waking everyone up, but still pretty strong.  Justin had a major upset stomach (nerves or bad food we still don’t know) and I was still pretty tired.  As I was moving around I found one of the chairs I sat in slowed my contractions down.  Since I knew real labor couldn’t be slowed down I figured I would try and see what happened if I stayed there.  Justin laid on the couch, we turned the TV off and we both just breathed.  Sure enough, things slowed back down enough for us to sleep and we woke up Monday morning at around 8am.  Guess it wasn’t the real thing!  Contractions continued sporadically.  By this point I was starting to get frustrated.  It seemed par for the course that my child kept trying to go into labor at 2am.

Monday we really tried to get things going.  I had breakfast burritos for breakfast and walked around the house.  Squatted.  Ate some groaning bread.  Things started to pick up around noon and we all were a little excited.  I was averaging 30 second long contractions about every 5 to 7 minutes.  I had my Aunt Lynn, her daughter and my secondary coach Teresa, and Teresa’s 11 year old daughter Mandy there at the house with Justin and I working through labor with us.  Things picked up but it was lunchtime and we were all hungry.  Since I was in labor I got to pick the restaurant and I wanted Mexican food.  We went to Los Reyes at 183 and Lake Creek since it’s close to the house and yummy.  We got there and I was at the point I had to lean against something during a contraction.  Everything was getting much more intense and real and I had to concentrate on breathing during the contractions.  While they were increasing significantly in intensity I was dismayed by the 30 second length.  I knew contractions were supposed to be at least a minute long, and I was (as far as I knew) nowhere close.  So we ate Mexican food, I had some yummy enchiladas and I hobbled back out to the car.  I yelped at Justin every time he went over a bump or took a curve too fast.

The contractions steadily got closer together, and eventually did increase to around 45 seconds long.  At that point I was lying on my bed unable to move so I finally told Justin we needed to call the birthing center.  It was about 4pm.  I still didn’t really think it was time to go in yet but I was in quite a bit of pain and it seemed to be real labor so I figured I needed to let them know we might be coming in later.  I had Teresa call for me because I really didn’t think I could manage to sound normal enough to get past the receptionist.  So Teresa called and talked to Jean, the owner and on-call midwife that night for the birthing center.  Jean wanted to talk to me and after a quick conversation she told me to come on in to at least get checked out.  I was so grateful, but at that point still fully expecting her to examine me and tell me to go back home for a while.  My contractions had never really gotten past about 45 seconds long.  We got everything loaded up (only later realizing how much we forgot) and after Aunt Lynn lead us in some prayer we headed to the center.

Jean saw me right away, ushered me back to a room and had me climb up onto a table for a quick exam.  As soon as the exam started my water broke.  There was a bit of meconium in the water, but she did a quick ultrasound and ensured that everything looked great and the baby was not in any sort of distress.  She said the bag of water had been putting a lot of pressure on my cervix, which was dilated to about 7cm, but also said that the baby was still pretty high, at a -2 station.  That concerned me a little bit, but I knew that I’d just need to do some walking and squatting to move him down – no big deal, right? Riiiight.

So we get back into the room – it’s beautiful and home for the next 20 hours (12 of labor and delivery, 8 postpartum, but more on that later).  I start off by going to the bathroom, because I know that one of the most important things is staying hydrated and keeping the bladder empty.  As I get comfortable and move around Jean asks me to keep timing the contractions.  I had a contraction timer on my phone that was an invaluable tool, I had Teresa in charge of it and I just told her when to hit the start and stop button.  After a few minutes of Jean watching me she sat down next to me and placed her hand on my bare stomach.  She just sits there and then suddenly tells Teresa to start the timer.  About 15-25 seconds later, I feel the contraction start.  We both feel it fade away at the same time.  Jean looks at me and explains to me that I’ve been starting the timer on my contractions at the peak of the contractions.  The WHOLE TIME I was timing contractions I’d been timing them wrong!!! Turns out all my 40 second long contractions were easily a minute long; I just skipped timing the first half of the contraction because I didn’t feel it.  But apparently it was there, even though I didn’t feel it.  Well, oops!

Jean, Teresa and I

As far as I knew, Benjamin had been in the correct position for birth the last few weeks – head positioned correctly and body all ready to come out the right way.  I spent a lot of the early hours at the birthing center on the squat stool (which basically puts your body in a squatting position but you actually are sitting down on it) hoping to move Benjamin down to where he needed to be.  Since I knew his position was correct (albeit high) I didn’t expect any back labor.  However, as labor progressed my back pain did too.  It was some of the worst pain I can imagine – the only things that helped it were heat and cold.  As the evening wore on I spent less time on the birth ball, squat stool and walking around.  Instead I spent more time in the bed, on my side, propped up with pillows to alleviate the pain in my back.  I had Justin and Teresa alternating shifts where they would apply counter-pressure and heat or cold during a contraction.  They had to have done that for at least half my labor at the birth center.  They were incredible.  Mandy (my 11 year old cousin) wanted to help too – I think she felt a bit out of her element – but she held my hand during contractions and while I tried not to squeeze her hand too hard, I’m sure I did at least once or twice.  She was a great sport about it though!  I tried to remain in good spirits (for their sakes as much as mine), and I know I managed a few jokes when not actively contracting.  I wanted it to be a positive birth experience and knew my attitude mattered a lot.

At one point I told Jean that I really wanted to get into the water. Laboring in water was a major factor in deciding to go to Austin Area Birthing Center for my birth and I definitely wanted to take advantage of it.  After a quick exam (closer to 8cm, Benjamin still -2, his heart rate perfect at 150 and mine still good) she decided that was a fine idea.  She said there was a chance of my contractions slowing down but that she had some herbs to put under my tongue to keep them up.  They filled the tub up.  I gingerly stepped in and as I settled down I literally felt the tension in my back go away.  It was the most amazing and incredible feeling I’ve experienced in my life.  To go from so much pain and discomfort to literally feeling none at all (briefly)… as I sank into the blessed water I said “hallelujah, thank you Jesus” and meant every word of it.

Look, I'm smiling!!

I labored in the water for what felt like about an hour.  I honestly have absolutely zero concept of time at this point in the game, so all of these things are approximations.  Jean gave me several eyedroppers of the liquid herb to keep my contractions going; I had to keep it under my tongue.  She said to keep it in my mouth and under my tongue as long as I could stand it, so she gave me the first one and about a minute later asked me a question.  I answered with the herb still under my tongue and she was shocked! She said most women couldn’t manage the herb that long.  It reminded me of the medicine I took when I was working on getting rid of my cat allergy – it was a similar situation, with bitter medicine under my tongue for about a minute.  I told her I’d be able to manage it just fine.  Eventually my contractions slowed down a little too much and I had to leave the comfort of the tub.  As soon as I got out they picked back up again.

The next several hours became a blur of back pain and bathroom breaks.  I tried to go to the bathroom at least once an hour… whenever I decided to switch positions I marked it by taking a bathroom break.  I think I kind of impressed Jean; she said most women needed to be reminded and I didn’t.  It was just second nature to me by this point in the game; I’d been peeing so often during the pregnancy that peeing a lot during labor was kind of just par for the course.  Plus I wanted to do everything I could to help Benjamin move down to the correct position.  If he wasn’t in the correct position, he wasn’t coming out.

Justin, being amazing

Midnight marked the changing of the guard of midwives.  Jean was off duty and Vicki came on duty.  Vicki took over my care, but Jean stuck around since I hadn’t gotten an opportunity to meet Vicki during my prenatal care.

Sometime around midnight – I think around 12:30 – I started running a tiny bit of a fever.  It wasn’t much – just a slight elevation, around 100 degrees.  They decided to hook me up to an IV.  I think I started to enter transition around this time.  I remember Justin lying behind me and them telling me they were going to run an IV… I looked at him and just felt so hopeless, so tired, so drained and so frustrated at my lack of progress.  Benjamin really hadn’t moved any at all, and I was so afraid that he wouldn’t move down and I’d get so tired and exhausted that I would have to go to a hospital.  I whispered to Justin “I’m going to have to have a c-section, aren’t I” and Vicki looked at me, smiled, patted my hand and told me “I heard that!” and told me something reassuring (I can’t remember what it was, but her voice was like magic and made me feel better).  I think the IV was the right decision – it definitely made me feel a bit more energetic.  At some point around midnight – I’ve been told before the IV and after (and I can’t remember) I spent a bunch of my precious energy throwing up.  I don’t exactly know what happened, but I was laying there and suddenly knew I was about to throw up so I said “Um, wow, suddenly very nauseous, need to throw up” and then there was something in front of me to throw up in.  It was total magic.  I threw up, switched sides, and promptly threw up again.  Yep, definitely in transition (although I definitely did not recognize it at the time – I was too busy being in pain).

Around 1am I informed them I needed to go back to the tub.  I don’t know that I gave them much of a choice.  Justin said I did have to talk them into it, they were afraid of labor slowing back down like it had the first time.  But I was miserable, I was hooked up to an IV, I had just thrown up, I was *almost* fully dilated but my baby was still at -1 (!!!) and dang it I wanted to labor in the water some more.  So with the promise that I’d get out if I needed to, they let me back in the water.

This time things did not slow down.  And this time the water wasn’t nearly as therapeutic.  There was no pain relief from being in the water the second time around, although it did help and it definitely gave my cousin Teresa and my husband Justin a probably much needed break from applying counter pressure to my back.

This is how the entire experience felt.

Apparently I labored in the water for about an hour before I started pushing, but again, no concept of time.  I remember feeling the urge to push and thinking it was the weirdest sensation in the world.  It had been explained to me as the sensation of needing to make a bowel movement, but to me it was not like that at all.  I know this is going to sound weird and hokey, but to me the pushing sensation was my body trying to center itself and ground itself to the earth.  It was absolutely incredible but not very pleasant.  It was also slightly concerning because I got the pushing sensation when he was still very high.

Teresa tells me that my first hour of pushing was pretty non-committal.  She said I didn’t like pushing and I wasn’t trying very hard.  Things turned around after almost an hour when the midwives brought out a flashlight so they could see what was happening in the water.  Justin was behind me, but Aunt Lynn, Teresa and Mandy all had front row seats to the business end of things.  As soon as they could see the progress I was making they started cheering me on.  And then I got serious.

It’s amazing, the power and strength that I drew from their cheering.  I felt myself working harder the more they cheered.  So they cheered, and cheered, and I remember Vicki asking me if I wanted to feel Benjamin’s head while I was pushing.  No, I told her, I don’t want to feel his head during a contraction; I want to feel his head while holding him in my arms!  She said that was fine but said that a lot of times feeling how close he is can be good encouragement.  So, begrudgingly, I reached down and felt his head.  Apparently my facial expression changed because everyone started laughing at me.  Happy laughter, for sure, and yes it was pretty incredible to feel him – but I still wanted him out!  I knew to get him out I would need to really concentrate on the pushing.  I was making a lot of noise when pushing, and I remember Vicki coaching me to be silent and funnel the energy I had spent making noise into the act of pushing.  So I did and WOW what a difference it made!

There were two things that I actually remember happening that occurred while pushing in the water.

The first is that at some point I yelled at my Aunt Lynn, who kept yelling at me to put my chin down to my chest when I was pushing.  She might have only said it once or twice but I remember yelling a very strained “shut up” and then instantly feeling bad about it.  But I didn’t forget to put my chin down again, so I suppose it worked out.

The second thing is that for weeks Justin and I had been joking about Johnny Cash’s song “Ring of Fire” because we’d been told that is the sensation you get as you’re pushing the baby out.  At some point during pushing I felt Benjamin make a little progress and knew immediately the sensation they were describing.  I looked back at Justin and told him I felt it.  “Felt what,” he asked.  “The ring of fire!”  He just gave me a tired (but slightly amused) smile.

Through all of this laboring and pushing they had monitored Benjamin pretty regularly.  After pushing for an hour and a half or so his heart rate started to go up.  He was probably pretty tired of being squeezed and ready to be out.  And I was definitely ready to have him out!  We relocated to the bed to get me into a different position and to hopefully calm Benjamin down.  It also gave the midwives better access to deliver him.  Justin was by my side the entire time and my 3-person cheering section continued their vital work cheering me on.

I could hear the anticipation and excitement in their voices and knew only a few more pushes and my son would be here.  I gave it everything I could.  I pushed and groaned and tucked my chin to my chest and closed my eyes and heard their squeals… I felt some pressure and felt something slippery and strange going on and suddenly I heard his cry and the rejoicing of my cheering section.  I felt him on my chest.  I opened my eyes and saw my son.  It was 4:29AM on Tuesday, June 15th, 2010.

He's beautiful!

The world became massively busy and I took everything in at about 50% capacity.  It was like everything had gotten very dim and far away except Benjamin and Justin.  I could see Benjamin crying, I glanced up and saw Teresa smiling and in tears and she said I had just made almost everyone in the room cry.

I heard something about a little tearing and felt someone press on my stomach.  One of the midwives commented on the crazy amount of molding to Benjamin’s head.  I remember looking at it and thinking that it was really misshapen, even for a newborn’s head.

I heard Jean ask Justin if he wanted to cut the cord after it stopped pulsing.  He had told me that he didn’t want to, initially, so I was shocked to hear him say yes.

I remember them telling me to push out the placenta and I remember groaning because seriously? I had just pushed out a baby.  How can you expect me to do anything else except lay here?  But I did, and I stared at my son and was happy.  I certainly didn’t forget all the work and pain I had just experienced like people say you do, but I definitely wasn’t concentrating on that.  I only had eyes for this baby on my chest.

The world around me continued.  They had to give me some stitches for second degree tearing, which if you need stitches is the kind of tearing to have.  I absolutely expected to tear, but I think I could probably have prevented it had I not gotten so impatient and overzealous with my pushing at the end.  But honestly, with him having been in there for so long and his elevated heart rate I think everyone was happy I delivered him when I did.

After labor a lot of things clicked for the midwives.  They had been puzzled by my back pain since he was in the correct position to birth.  They had also been concerned and confused at him being so high even though I was so dilated.  When he was born and they saw the size of his head it all made a bit more sense.  My back pain had been because of the size of his head, and he was so high because his head had to mold itself (via contractions and my pushing, apparently) to fit through the birth canal.  He also appeared to be about a week overdue, even though my estimated due date was the 16th – the day after I actually had him.

Because I pushed him from -1 all the way out and molded his head along the way he came out looking pretty rough.  But luckily because his molding all occurred within those 2 hours of pushing it pretty much went away by the end of the first day.  He was 8 pounds, 7 ounces, 21 inches long.  They measured his head – I can’t remember what it was – but it was a pretty good size.  The midwives were all impressed.

After I got stitched up they helped me breastfeed and get situated in bed.  Justin took off to call his parents to give them the good news.  Sometime that morning the rest of the family left – I don’t know how long, but I know it was before any of them had a chance to hold him.  We were all so exhausted I think they figured sleep first, baby later (when there was less chance of falling asleep holding him).  We prayed again, thanking God for his safe arrival, and had one of the nurses take a picture of us.  We all look pretty tired!  Before they let me sleep they said I needed some food, so Jean fed me a fruit and yogurt parfait from Chick-Fil-A that they’d gotten for me the night before.  Jean had gotten off at midnight but had gotten so invested in our birth that she stuck around and helped out.

Jean and Vicki were absolutely amazing and I couldn’t have done it without them both.  I couldn’t have done it without them, or my family being there, and especially without Justin.  The midwives watched over us like guardians, guiding and pushing us towards the best birth experience possible.  My aunt and cousins cheered me on, gave me some bit of distraction and laughed at my lame jokes I attempted while laboring.  Justin was, and always is, my silent strength.  He is the yin to my yang, my lover and my best friend and just having him constantly by my side through everything made me a stronger person.

I went into this wanting a beautiful birth experience but I had never really nailed down specifics.  I think it was everything I could have wanted and more.  It was intense and emotional and painful and beautiful all at the same time.