Thursday, 29 September 2011

Annabel Grace

The Birth of Annabel Grace
Monday, May 23, 2011 was a day like any other. Until, I started feeling cramps. I was five days past my due date. Could these be contractions? I wasn't sure. And everyone had told me, "Oh, you'll know when it's a contraction!" [Warning TMI]: other than the cramps, I had practically been pooping my intestines out all day. I think my body was clearing out to get ready for pushing! I went to spin class in the morning. People were nervous my water would break on the bike and I’d go into labor during class! Dad came over and helped with some things around the house—including setting up the co-sleeper (which turned out to be perfect timing!). But as the day went on, the cramps became more intense and more regular. It got to the point I was afraid to leave the house for fear of going into labor while I was out. I didn't call Mark about the cramps. I knew it wasn't “go” time and I didn't want to distract him from work. So instead, I called my midwife, Amber, to tell her what I was feeling. I knew deep down, Baby Austin was coming soon! She said it sounded like I was in early labor, but not to worry. She instructed me to continue on with my day and normal activities. So I followed "doctor's" orders and went to HEB to get some grocery shopping done. At the store, I had to pause in my tracks a few times because the pain took me by surprise. On one aisle, a man tried to ask me about where to find Spam. Spam, really? I’m in labor and you’re asking me about Spam, of all things?! I tried to tell him I didn't know as politely as I could. The lady who always pushes the "Meal Deals" stopped me to ask how far along I was. "Actually, I’m five days overdue and I think I’m in early labor!"

Mark got home in the evening and I told him about my day. "You’d better pack your bag!” I said. I showered and shaved in preparation of what was ahead. I made some mango protein smoothies, which I would later be so grateful I’d done for energy. After dinner, we sat down in the living room to watch the premiere of The Bachelorette (shameful, I know). Mark was on the couch; I was sitting on my birthing ball. By this time, we started timing the contractions because the cramps were coming every fifteen minutes or so. During the contractions (yes, by this point, I realized they were definitely contractions!) I had to stop everything and just breathe, bending over to hold onto the coffee table. Mark would knew the contraction was over when I finally was able to speak. We still didn't call anybody to tell them I was in early labor because Amber had told me these symptoms could go on for days. I didn't want to alarm anyone or get them calling for updates constantly. Mark and I retired to bed around 10pm. I tried to sleep between contractions, but when they came on, I was darting out of bed to sit on the toilet (this position just instinctively felt more comfortable) or I’d motion for Mark to massage my lower back. We went on like that until about 2am when I just couldn't take it any longer. I was not getting any relief during the contractions. I couldn't doze off anymore. And I was starting to get a little anxious about the drive to the New Braunfels Family Birth Center. Mark called Amber and told her how I was feeling. By this time, I was moaning in the background. She said it sounded like it was time for us to head to the birth center. I tried to pull on a sundress, but it wouldn't fit over my belly. I thought, Forget about it! And put back on my nightgown. Who cares what I’m wearing anyway? It’s two in the morning and I’m in labor! I put on my flip flops and we were out the door.

We arrived at the birth center about 3am. Amber and Meridian (her apprentice) were waiting for us. They had candles lit and soft spa-like music playing in the background. The atmosphere was so relaxing! I got on the bed and Amber checked me...four centimeters. Not bad! She said it was definitely a good time for us to come. Amber instructed me to walk around or sit on the birthing ball if I felt up to it. Yes, anything to keep this birth moving forward! Mark lay in the bed while I labored on the ball. Once again, when a contraction came on, I was calling for him to hurry and start massaging my lower back. After an hour or so, Mark told me, "Babe, I’m so tired. I’m not sure I’m gonna make it. I really need to try to get a little sleep." I though to myself, Tired, huh? Really? Sleep, yes, you do that. I’ll continue to labor here for the both of us. But I didn't really mind. Meridian was by my side acting as my doula, helping me through the pain. I can still remember her sweet little soft hands. She knew just what to do so I didn't really mind Mark resting. I more just found it humorous that he needed rest for the weary! Amber and Meridian were like little floating angels the entire night. They were fairly hands off at first, allowing Mark and I to experience labor together. But they were with me the moment I needed them.

I continued laboring on the ball until around 7am. During that time, I was so thirsty. Meridian kept feeding me ice. I tried to drink water and Gatorade. I even felt a little hungry and tried to eat an orange. But I ended up throwing it all up. I actually threw up several times. So many I stopped counting. I had read many birth stories in Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth that throwing up was common during transition. Vomiting actually seemed to help. Each time I vomited, my stomach would contract and feel like I was pushing Baby Girl down further. The coolest thing during labor was each time Meridian would check the heartbeat; she moved the sensor lower and lower. When I first arrived, she was listening to her heart near my belly button. Several hours later, she was down by my pelvic bone. Such a visual reminder; this baby was moving on down the birth canal!

Mark was so into the entire experience. He kept asking Amber what was going on each step of the way…even during my contractions. I got to the point where when he’d ask a question during a contraction, I’d just shake my head from side to side and wave my hands…obviously indicating for him to stop talking. He didn’t seem to get it, but Amber did. She told him I needed everyone to be quiet during the contraction. He was like, oh okay.

Around 7am Mark called my mom and asked her to come over. I wanted to be sure she'd be present for the birth. We texted friends and family and asked them to be praying. None of them had any idea I’d gone into labor. One friend actually wrote back saying she had woken up at 3am and felt lead to pray for me. Crazy because that was the exact time we arrived at the birth center. God is so gracious to let us get a glimpse of His work behind the scenes!

I definitely wanted my Mama by the time she got to the birth center. Amber had just decided to let me get into the bathtub around 8am when I was a little further along. The water felt so good. Such a relief and very relaxing. I continued to labor in the water. I’d lie back in the water between contractions, but during contractions, I’d pull myself up. I was so exhausted by this point; I would doze off between contractions. My head would bob like a bobble head as I drifted off to sleep. I was still enjoying the spa music, but there was one song that would repeat occasionally that I did not like. I would ask Amber to skip that song each time. For some reason the beat really irritated me! A little later, I noticed Amber and Meridian weren't in their street clothes anymore. They had changed into scrubs, ready to get down to business!

Mark got to asking questions again. I think it was hard for him because he wanted to understand what I was feeling and why. At one point, he started to ask a question right as I felt another contraction coming on. I sharply shouted, “DON’T TALK!!!” He quickly got the not-so-subtle direction. After the contraction passed, I sweetly said, “Babe, I’m sorry for yelling. I just really need everyone to focus during the contraction.” My mom was impressed that I apologized in the moment…so was I!

After a while in the tub, Amber asked me if I felt the urge to push, but I wasn't sure what I was feeling. She said to try to push a little on the next contraction just to see how it felt. If it hurt too badly, stop. If not, keep pressing on. It took me a couple tries before I got the hang of pushing. Previously during contractions, I’d moan out load. It’s a natural response and my sister had told me that the reverberations of your voice travel through your body and help move the labor along. Also, I’d read that keeping my mouth open wide with an "ah" sound is a key to the Sphincter Law (if you don't know what it is, look it up). But when it came time to push, Amber told me to stop making loud noises. Expressing the pain out of my mouth was actually taking the power out of my pushing. I was able to put more oomph in my push if I directed everything south instead. Boy was she right! I started feeling like I was getting somewhere...and yet nowhere at the same time. Pushing is very frustrating. I couldn't feel any progress. Each push felt the same as the last.

I had lost all concept of time. Except it was now light outside. I knew the morning was passing me by. I felt like I wasn't progressing. I asked Amber, "Am I really having this baby here in this bathtub today?" I was feeling like I wasn't getting anywhere and might need to be transported and take some drugs to get things moving. She assured me with a knowing look and said, "Yes, you are having this baby." That was all I needed. Okay, let's do this! Throughout my labor, Amber was so amazed by my baby girl's strong heart. She kept a great heartbeat throughout labor and never dropped a beat! I guess she got my endurance!

I did not labor alone. Mark was up at my head holding my arms. Mom was by my side. Meridian was at the other side. And Amber was at the end of the tub. I could not have done it without them. In order to push, I instinctively flopped my legs of each side of the tub. I held onto Mark's arms over my head. Each contraction, I basically did a giant crunch. Thank goodness for all those days I the gym. I was finally cashing in the work. And boy did it pay off!

I’ve heard it before, but now know for myself: giving birth has a lot of similarities to running a marathon. You have to go the distance. And although you can try your best to prepare, you won't really know what it's like until you experience it yourself. You have to be rested, hydrated, and well fed to have the strength to endure. Unfortunately, unlike with a marathon, you have no idea when the gun is going to go off! The infamous "wall" in a marathon showed up during birth except this time it was a "ring of fire." Just like the wall (around mile 19 for me), I knew it would be waiting for me. I’d read all about it and was expecting it. Once I first encountered the wall, I thought, I can't do this! But I knew I had to. I had no choice. This baby had to come out. I’d been preparing for nine months for this moment. And I couldn’t turn around. The ring of fire was not going anywhere. I had to face it. And if I didn’t jump through it, I’d just keep beating myself up against the wall. And that hurt! I didn't want to feel the pain anymore. So at some point, I just determined myself to blaze through it. I couldn't stop or else I knew I wouldn't start again. Both the marathon and birth are total mind over body experiences. And both have sweet victory at the end.

Amber told me she could see the baby's dark hair. She had me reach down and feel the baby crowning. She said I’d never feel anything like this again. At this point, the baby's skull was collapsed (praise the Lord!) so it could fit through the birth canal. The skin on the head was all scrunched up and fuzzy. I thought I might be giving birth to a Shar-pei puppy! Feeling her head was so encouraging to know how close I was. And with the final push I determined it would be my last. Oh my goodness...there was her head. The most bizarre thing to look down and see a head between my legs! The hard part was over. I barely remember pushing her body out. And then Amber said, "Get your baby, Sally." On May 24 at 11:08am, I reach down and lifted her to my chest and said, “Well, that wasn't so bad!"

I will never adequately describe my feelings. Most women talk about this instant love greater than they ever knew possible. I can't say I felt the same way until later. Right then, I just couldn't believe this little person came out of my body. Who are you? We’ve only just met and yet we've been together for so long. You belong to me. You are mine. You’re coming home with me. I’m responsible for you. She needed me and more than the way I’d been passively parenting the last nine months. I was her mother. Mark was crying (even if he won't admit it). Baby Girl heard his voice and looked up right at him and grabbed his finger as he extended it to her. I guess she recognized his voice from all the months of talking to my belly!

I was surprised how little I hurt after all my body had just been through. I guess it was the endorphins because the pain did kick in later. I just continued to lay in the tub while Meridian changed the water and added some healing herbs. I held my baby and we just stared at each other. I could not believe how alert and calm she was. Everyone else was bustling around. Mark was texting photos. Mom was talking to my dad, my sister, and my niece. Amber and Meridian were scurrying around taking care of things. I was just sitting in amazement. She latched onto my breast right away without any trouble. And I gave her first bath. Amber showed me what to do to try to get some of the sticky white vernix off her body. Once I got cleaned up and got in bed, I realized I was starving! I asked Amber when I could eat something. The first thing I had was a banana (of course!). Baby Girl weighed in at 7.6 ounces and measured 19 inches long. A surprisingly smaller baby than I’d expected since Mark and I were so big. But no complaints here!

After tying up all the loose ends (literally...I got two stitches!). My family said their goodbyes. Amber had Jason's Deli delivered. It was the best sandwich of my life. When Amber told me they were ready to leave the birth center, she asked me if I had any questions. Questions? You’re leaving already? Alone with our baby? First time parents. We have no idea what we're doing. Uh, no. I wouldn't know where to begin. So I just thanked her and said, “Bye!” Mark and I just stared in amazement at the sweet baby between us on the bed. We were so tired, we slept a couple hours. Mark’s mom came to see Baby Girl right before we left. On our way home, we stopped by Mark's parents' house so his dad could meet our little one. We also stopped by his brother's house so his family could meet our new addition! Everyone was so amazed I was up and around. I said, "I gave birth, I’m not incapacitated!" Of course, I do think I was still running on endorphins because the pain and tiredness set in later. But it was all worth it. I can't imagine giving birth any other way. I’m so thankful God gifted me with such a wonderful birth experience!

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