My Birth Story, Part II: Labor and Delivery

If you missed part I, go read it first!

The best way I can describe what a natural birth without pain medications felt like to me is a marathon. If you’ve ever run a marathon, you know what a muscle cramp feels like, and that you can’t think “I can’t do this” or overthink about the numbers. You know what “the wall” is and learn to climb it. You know to rest but not to quit. And you get hooked on the finish line. It means much more to you to cross it than to the person who didn’t run the course and feel the hills themselves.

I had run exactly 3 marathons before pregnancy. I knew my body was strong and healthy. I knew the pain of a cramp and I expected that much, even though I prayed for a pain-free birth.

Contractions to me felt like very very strong cramps. Technically that’s what it is, but if you’ve ever had a running leg cramp, that. Over and over, it’d squeeze and release. After a while, I got used to it. I learned not to flinch and to relax as much as possible, and that helped.

What I didn’t expect was for my labor to start on a Sunday and end on a Wednesday. Yep. That’s one whole day, two whole days, three whole days, and some change.

Prodromal labor is the name of the game. It wasn’t false labor, but it was erratic. Contractions weren’t stronger, longer, closer together. More like 7 minutes then 3 then 5 then 2 then 14 minutes apart. Enough to mess with my head but not to get me to the birth center. Sunday night, I called the midwife line and was very gently told that my contractions didn’t sound strong enough yet, aka I’m breathing through it and still able to talk. That was the first day. I tried to sleep and managed to snooze a bit. Contractions didn’t stop.

On day two, Monday afternoon, my doula came over to work with me. We were hopeful that maybe baby just needed to move a little, and then labor would pick up the pace. By evening, we drove to the birth center to see if I was progressing. It had been almost two full days of stop and go, and I was tired.

We arrived and I was 80% effaced and 3 centimeters. Face palm. They walked me next door to get a chiropractic adjustment, just in case my pelvis was being unsportsmanlike. They decided to give me “therapeutic rest” aka a strong sleeping medicine so I could rest for a little while since my uterus was apparently dancing to jazz and techno. I barely made it to the car before passing out hard for about 4 hours.

Woke up while it was still considered Monday, proceeded to get very little sleep into Tuesday, and that’s when the real deal started.

I was IN LABOR.

I’ll tell you what I remember about laboring at home: Buddy looking shook, calling the doula and the midwife line. I was dropping into squat reps when the contractions hit, because it felt good to move down as they tightened. I started getting vocal. Loud noises and bright lights freaked me out. Buddy couldn’t touch me, but at this point our doula Mary still could. Buddy packing snacks and putting our bags in the car. Buddy trying to get me to eat and nothing sounded good at all. Me drinking at least 2 liters of coconut water, and attempting to eat apple slices. Us walking to the car, me with combs in my hands to squeeze during contractions in the car. Me basically forgetting about my phone and that I hadn’t told my Brazilian family the punchline: oh, it’s happening now.

We arrived at Atlanta Birth Center just after 4pm on Tuesday. We got the Water Room, the one I liked the most. I was the only one there in labor.

Then it all went foggy.

I went to another planet with God. I had coherent thoughts but I didn’t verbalize. I lost track of time and what day it was. I had to ask for the birth details because my eyes were shut almost the whole time.

I remember walking the halls through contractions, and it hurt. I remember telling my midwife that I felt like I was peeing but I knew I wasn’t peeing, so that was my water breaking, clear, thank God. I remember the rests between contractions were peaceful for me, there was no pain between contractions.

I remember at one point nobody could touch me. I was offered to labor in a tub but I said no (I wish I had at least tried it). I felt like this primal beast, spooked but in charge somehow. In my mind, I was praying, no longer for no pain, but for God to help me make space for this baby.

At one point, the midwives switched shifts. With this switch came a fresh energy and determination to get this baby out. Also, I’m sure I looked beyond exhausted and they knew the baby needed to come sooner than later so I could push. I was asked to crawl (yep) on all fours and when a contraction hit, to get into child’s pose. So I crawled, and this really was a turning point. I felt like the baby was really moving down. I don’t remember much in between this and starting to push, but pushing was amazing. I don’t know why movies paint it to be the worst part, it was so exciting for me!

One thing to mention before we get to the grand finale is that mentally I did not break. I didn’t say “I can’t do this” or ask for meds. I didn’t cuss out my husband. I said I was tired, and usually that meant to take a break from whatever inversion or crawl I was doing at the time haha. I did not question whether or not it would be possible, nor whether the baby was okay. This whole time her heart rate was perfect. No distress for her, no doubt for me. This, I believe, was not my mental strength but God’s kindness to help guard my thoughts. I firmly believe it was the Holy Spirit filling my mind with scriptures and positive words, like only He could do.

Pushing phase: I did some pushing on the bed, dangling off (innovative haha) and some squatting. My midwife spoke up about tearing being likely in squat position, and I decided I wanted to have the baby in a side-lying position on the bed. My doula and I had talked about this before, and it was the moment of truth: I had the choice of what position I wanted to have my baby. This should be every mother’s choice, and thankfully I chose a birth center that let this be my choice!

I was super tired and could only do about 3 pushes at a time. But I could feel her moving down! Buddy was behind me on the bed, seeing it all. I had my eyes firmly shut.

I pushed for about 2 hours, and with ever increasing cheering by the birth center staff and my doula, the baby’s head came out and… drumroll… her hand came out on her cheek!

Compound presentation baby, no wonder my labor was intense!

To top it off, her cord was around the back of her neck, so her hand kept the cord from squeezing all around. Talk about a blessing in disguise!

In a flash, the whole baby was placed on me, wet and big and mine. 10:40am on the first day of Spring.

The pain ended. There was no tearing, even with her hand making its surprising appearance. I did pray for that during the pushing haha.

The first thing my sweet angel child did was take the hugest dump on me, right on my belly. Nice to meet you too, baby girl.

They showed me my placenta and it was nasty. I could have probably gone without seeing it. My bleeding was normal, baby’s apgar was 9. She weighed 7lbs 10oz and was 20.5 inches long.

After birth, I was able to walk to the bathroom, deal with the hot mess that was all over me, and put on my pretty robe. I had a strong waddle walk and wobbly legs, and I got really wired. It lasted a few days before I could actually come off of the hormonal high that was birth.

I did feel pain but I didn’t feel abandoned by God. I knew He did what was best for me and Emília Grace, every minute of that experience. I felt like many, many parts of this labor and birth were supernatural, especially the way He guarded my mind (I did not have negative thoughts!), kept baby steady throughout the long labor, and then made recovery simple with no stitches. God is faithful!

I am so grateful to the Lord for the safe arrival of our little girl, and for entrusting Buddy and I to be her parents.

There will be a part 3, about postpartum!

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Recommendations:

Doula: Mary Hanks (the best best best) if you want a peaceful, motherly, Godly, knowledgeable doula, she’s it. Best decision we made, she took care of Buddy as well, making sure he ate and didn’t end up too traumatized haha!

Birth Place: Atlanta Birth Center I’m confident I would have had interventions at a hospital. The way the staff at ABC had faith in me and in birth was outstanding. They never gave up on me. I’d have 1000 babies there if I had to have 1000 babies.

Book: Supernatural Childbirth by Jackie Mize- This book changed the way I saw birth altogether.

Affirmations (just have some, read through pregnancy especially!): My Pinterest board

To Brazil

There are tickets in my name for some flights tomorrow, to my country of origin.
Tomorrow, I will see my aunt and grandma, meet my new uncle, and hug a whole whole lot of people I’m related to. I’m ecstatic!

To say I’m excited to be going to Brazil again for the first time in 3 years is an understatement.

BUT…{there’s always a but}

I’ve had to battle a TON of fear and anxiety in the last two days.

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My fear grew into anger.

My anxiety was paralyzing.

I say this because God is so cool and He helps me. But you should know I went through this. You should know I go through these things too.

What were my sources for this?

Well, I haven’t been “home” since January 2012. Before that, I hadn’t been home since 2008. Every single time I go back, I  get a huge dose of culture shock. At first I’m all WOW, then I start to have a broken heart for the things I notice that have worsened or changed. Life goes on without me. New songs play, and people sing the lyrics by heart of songs I’ve never even heard before. Family members move and pass away. Each time I go back, I hug everybody so tight, and just pray they’ll still be there the next time I return. I’ve given last hugs not knowing they were last hugs. My godmother won’t be there this time for me to hug, and that hurts again as if she’d just passed away. It’s been almost 2 years.

It’s like I get a newsletter of everything I knew and came from, and I’m detached until I step on Brazilian soil, and it floods back over me. What I had imagined is usually replaced with something completely different. I see a pace of life that is foreign to my own. I’m… a…. tourist…. in my own home.

That anticipation and expectation in itself is overwhelming. I’ve tried not to think about it, to no avail.

Brazil is not the only ever-changing part in the equation. I’m also completely different than the person who was last there in 2011. I am stepping off the plane with red hair, by myself, and single. Brazilian culture clashes with my lifestyle. I have to brace myself for the ‘when you have a man’ talks and the references to my past. The conversations about my future children, which make my heart swell and ache a little. I have to fight for my contentment and my peace in God’s timing, because the pressure there is unreal. But there is an equal and opposing pressure of the good, perfect, and pleasing will of God pushing away the very things that come against me to discourage me. I trust my God.

I have to remind myself that my age is just a number that marks how long I’ve been on the earth, and that I am not at all tethered to a fatalistic mindset, an orphan spirit, or a poverty spirit. I am eternal, and I am seated with Christ in heavenly places. I’ll be a wife and mother someday, and I will not be dismayed.

Moreover, I am AWESOME and get to experience INCREDIBLE things on the daily. My life is so vibrant, full of adventure, travel, and exposure to beauty. People wait whole lifetimes to do the things I’ve done in the past 3 years, consistently, and sometimes getting paid. I can’t forget what God has done for me in my single years. It’s outstanding. I’ve experienced abundant life, not a monotonous settling into the cultural stereotype of what is expected of a woman ‘my age.’

Lastly, the logistics of it all were stressful. I didn’t have a lot of time, and my sleep is still off. There’s a lot to do, and just one Helena. Leaving my normal busy life for 2 weeks is kind of overwhelming. And it’s not even the 2 weeks that I’ll be gone, but rather the week I return, that is pre-stressing me out. Every loose end will be waiting for me. Super. BUT…. again…. this is why I’m writing this. I’m not complaining, but letting you all know that my life is not just easy breezy. You may be so jealous that I get to go to Brazil for 2 weeks, but do take into consideration that it’s been a bumpy preparation for me.

I’ve been taking deep breaths and singing songs to Jesus out loud. Today at Walmart, I was practically belting out “I’M A LOVER OF YOUR PRESENCE, THAT’S WHAT I WANNA BEEEEE!!” because the tightness in my chest was expanding with every minute that I waited for someone to manifest at the electronics department to help me, for goodness sakes, because I needed to leave within 10 minutes, and nobody came. So if you’re trying to buy electronics in Decatur, go to Best Buy.

I’m learning every single day about how to properly stand in the full authority of my Father. Some days, I find myself slouching, dragging my feet, with my head down. Those are the days, like today, when He counts my tears and promises me that tomorrow will be better, much much better. I wipe my face, sniffle, exhale, and I let my heart agree with His. Unspeakable joy is coming for me, I can feel it. I think of my aunt’s laughter filling the room, and my grandma’s hands holding mine, and God’s face nodding at me. It’s gonna be wonderful.

Okay, Papa. Let’s go to Brazil.

Healing Party

Life is so beautifully full.

For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
Psalm 107:9

My Bethel family is blowing my mind. Last night we got together to throw a birthday party for sweet baby Samuel. Samuel is in the hospital, born premature, and the doctors have given him zero chance. Zero. And we are not gonna take that. We have been praying and his oxygen levels are pretty much staying at 100%, as well as him digesting food for the first time successfully. Tonight we sang children songs, and painted for him. We danced. We made true the meaning of his name, “heard of God” because we are making God hear all kinds of things on his behalf!

samuelpaintings

We thought we were showing up to pray for SAMUEL’S healing, to celebrate HIM, and we did. But then there was more. We had one healed ear, comfort for back pains and chest pains, and my weird-hug-itis got healed. I’m back to being a hugging machine. Come and get it.

HOW GOOD IS GOD?! He heals us as we pray for healing. He comforts us as we pray for comfort. It’s beautiful to see Him provide like this, pour out like this. It’s like an infomercial… “But wait…”

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As I was canoodling with my new friend Morgan, this wave of God’s love hit me. I looked down at myself and saw that I was comfortably cozy with another human, and mentally realized that my “weird weird” was done. I started crying! My tears just kept spilling, as I realized that God restored me back to feeling things. My weird funk… done! It’s past! It’s over! I’m okay! I’m huggable! I’m kissable! I’m restored to affection again, after a time of sincere aversion to even the thought of affection. Mama Bear is back, just in time. JUST. IN. TIME.

Psalm 107 is rocking my world, I hope it rocks yours. I mean, it should.

LOVE you.

-H

On Baby Fever

My mind is a bit blown right now. I sometimes think that the things I desire are selfish, or that they reflect a lack, or a discontent heart.

In my latest bout of baby fever, watching all the Asian babies in the airport, I felt that pang for children. Oh, the womb.

Ready for this? Jesus stands outside of time, yes? So He already knows my kids. And grandkids. He is OBSESSED with them. Sick in love with them, their hearts, their laughter, their smiles. They are also appointed to fulfill Kingdom work. They are important to Him, and His desire is for them.

Guess how they’re gonna get to earth?
The method He planned before time?

Ding ding ding: me and my future husband.

So…. Think.

If JESUS desires ultimately more to knit these warriors into life, He HAS TO place a desire in me for marriage and a longing for children that mirrors HIS DESIRE that these things take place for His Kingdom.

It starts in His heart, from the beginning of time.

Not my selfishness or lack, or loneliness, but HIS plan of love, His presence, His fullness that will be reflected in the lives of the much-awaited lineage that will succeed me. Made in His image.

They’re His kids first. I’m feeling the pangs of His heart as Creator and Father. He wants their praises, their love. He wants to hold them infinitely more than I do. So it will happen, and my prayers can chill out, because they agree with the Father’s heart. I don’t have to beg or worry.

Mind blown. Thanks, Jesus, for planting Your desires in me, aligning me with Your will, which I long for: good, pleasing, perfect… and adorable.

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Places To Visit in 2014

In no particular order, here are some places I want to do my very best to visit, so help me God, in 2014. Yes. Within the next 9 months.

  • BRAZIL. It’s overdue time to visit my amazing family. I’m due to have a new baby cousin super soon, AND there’s talk of wedding bells in my immediate family aka I need to be there. Hoping that I won’t go alone, ay?? Let me take you to Rio, Rio…
  • UGANDA. My yearly visit to see my people I love so so much, visit my church families and friends and the beautiful ladies of Dorcas Widows. Hoping and praying that in July there will be 5 of us going. We have a meeting on the 11th to plan this thing. Prayers appreciated!
  • CALIFORNIA. I’ve been before, but this time I feel a divine appointment to meet a few sisters in Christ and set up Phylla House in a new location in the Fall. Oh and visit my teammate from the Race who just had the cutest baby boy ever aka hopefully I’ll have a daughter and they’ll marry.
  • THE GRAND CANYON. Come on. How have I not seen this before. Let it be this year.
  • NASHVILLE. Never been. My next getaway destination.
  • TEXAS & ALABAMA & MYSTERY LOCATIONS. Visiting the familia, floating the Guadalupe, hey Summertime road trip to see my besties and stuff. 😉

We will see…. this is a hopeful list, some is certain, some is still up in the air. I’m excited to see what God makes happen in the meantime, and how He puts it all together. He’s the best Dad ever. He’s still gonna take me all over Europe, to Haiti, to the UAE to see Dubai (world’s largest performing fountain, I will be weeping), to Mozambique (again, weeping), back to Asia, and wherever else He sees fit. I rule nothing out, I just know the journey will be incredible.

ImageWhere do you dream to go? Where will you go?