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!

—————–

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

My Birth Story, Part I: Pregnancy and War

You wouldn’t think the two would go together, pregnancy and war, but oh, they do. From the minute I started even thinking my body might be hosting a new life in the near future, I started preparing. I started taking prenatal vitamins 4 months (yes, pretty much right when we got engaged) before the wedding, because I knew we’d talked about babies and I wanted all that folic acid and all the iron and all the goodies because I’m a scientist and a planner.

Each day a tiny reminder that I hoped it would happen, months before trying.

Then the wedding came and those long conversations took place that were so exciting: we were on board for a baby, so help us God.

Even though I’d never tried for a baby before, and never had the experience of something going wrong, a part of me was still afraid. Maybe because so many close to me had struggled with their fertility, waited months or years, I was trying to be logical and excuse any possible delays. But God answered on our first plea with the faintest pink line. I was pregnant!

And then immediately, I was a secret-keeper! Boo!

They forget to tell you this part, it’s the unwritten instruction after “two lines means positive” on the pregnancy test, it goes “tell only the people who will be your support system in case of the M word.”

The M word. Literally the first grenade chunked at a mama who just learned there’s a tiny, tiny human in her womb.

Everything can just end, Helena. Those first weeks. We don’t schedule appointments til you’re 8 to 10 weeks. Oh okay.

Let’s do math: baby count starts at first day of last period aka 2 weeks before conception ish, then you have to wait till about 4 days before the next period is due to get a positive with those overpromising fancy sticks, so that’s “3.5 weeks” when I knew I was pregnant.

You mean to tell me that the next 4.5 to 6.5 weeks are just a blind waiting game? Bring in Google, what can I eat? What shouldn’t I eat? Is it okay to exercise? No rollercoasters. No hot tubs. Just be very careful in general, there’s no recipe for how to keep a baby in there, just know all their organs are forming so be the healthiest you can be, ever. Good God, okay. God help me.

Meanwhile, there are negative symptoms everyone says will happen, like a one-size-fits-all misery poncho I was supposed to wear. But I felt okay. I was extra sleepy but not nauseous. I was picky with what sounded good to eat, but I could eat smaller meals and I felt fine. I was excited in my secret, giggling with family and my best friends. I decided I wasn’t going to believe everything they told me, because I was already experiencing something different, answered prayers for no nausea, no sickness.

I began at this point to stop thinking of the M word and just to pray. I was referred by two Godly mamas to a book called Supernatural Childbirth by Jackie Mize. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’ve seen God do miracles in front of your eyes, you can handle this book. Basically if you’re been scuba diving with Jesus and you’ve read the book of Acts and thought “I believe it,” then Supernatural Childbirth won’t sound crazy.

I began to pray for a pain free childbirth with no complications, no tearing, no prematurity, no hemorrhage. I prayed for 100%. Not 90, or 85, but the full birth miracle package. Why not, right?! It’s Jesus, for Christ’s sake. By the time we announced the pregnancy, both Buddy and I were sold out on a supernatural birth. I got really quiet about this, because it sounded crazy banana sandwich. Also, I didn’t want people who didn’t have that experience to feel like I thought I deserved something they didn’t have. I didn’t want to invalidate their trauma, especially if part of their healing was to share their story. Even if it was a terrifying, unique story that would clearly cause fear to a first time mom! I learned to listen with a filter.

Every time I got “advice” about pain or complications, I rebuked it in my head haha, like someone had just spoken death over me. I thought “that’s not my story.” My thoughts stayed the course, believe it or not. I trained my mind for war. Birth was gonna be my victory, my Jericho, my Valley of Berakah. I recited and memorized birth affirmations. I told my body it knew how to birth, and that birth was a normal thing, a common rite of passage designed by God, who is kind. He designed sex and birth. I signed up for both and thanked Him.

We decided that the birth would be very private, and chose a Godly, wonderful doula to be with us (Buddy and I only, aside from birth staff). We chose Atlanta Birth Center as our birth location and prenatal care provider. We chose a midwifery model of care. We did minimal testing, aside from gender DNA (I was way too curious). We only had one ultrasound at 20 weeks, and no cervical checks before labor began. No family in the waiting room, no immediate visits. We safeguarded that space for rest and recovery.

I can say now that pregnancy was wonderful. I was healthy. I had a virus that made me achy for 4 days, but that was it. I had to learn how to SLOW DOWN in the end, lest I’d hurt myself trying to get up too fast. I didn’t swell, nor had back pain. I slept well, even with the frequent bathroom trips. I wore my rings until it was the day to have the baby. I gained about 17 pounds, no diabetes. Baby was head down when she needed to be, my placenta was not in the way. All those answered prayers!

I prayed for supernatural birth. God’s answer, though not exactly as I asked, was even better. Here comes part 2!

The Pursuit Blog

Here’s the deal: chivalry is not dead.

You asked for this blog and here it is. Let the women rejoice. Ring the alarms. End your bad relationships. Throw a party. Write in your journals about hope. Pray fiercely with faith. Men of God are not extinct. They’re real. They’re out there. You’re not delusional.

:: small tangent rant::
Single woman:  you’re not crazy for having a standard! The people who made me feel like an idiot for having a high standard were wrong! And they need to stop giving young ladies poor advice! I’m glad I didn’t date just anyone. I’m glad I turned people down. I’m glad I didn’t panic when people mocked God’s faithfulness. It’s time to stop making excuses and quit listening to people who don’t believe God is big enough, including but not limited to older/married people in your family or church who may be believers but just can’t seem to watch their mouths. Bless their hearts, though.

How do you spot those people? Easy. They give themselves away. Here’s their tell: they NEVER ask about what God is doing in your life, or how He’s speaking to you, or about your personal growth as a powerful daughter of God. Instead, they are more concerned with your “window” and whether or not you have a boyfriend. They can’t seem to help themselves but remind you that “someone will come for you” and that you just need to hold on for dear life. UGH! Somebody already came for you, and His name is Jesus.

NEWSFLASH: if God has you single right now, then you’re better off single right now. God is not a jerk. God might be doing something in your life or the life of your future significant other that is best done when you’re not in each other’s lives. This is okay. This is actually great.

Please don’t let your significant other find you desperate. Please. Let them walk into your life and see you chasing the Kingdom and reaching for the hem of Jesus’ robe. Let them find you powerfully preaching, with a smile on your face, finding purpose in Him and not adding to your secret Pinterest wedding board. Please rise up and thrive as a single, like you’ll thrive in any status. Pretty please? Thanks.
::end of tangent rant::

Now… the kind of man you await is not a unicorn, a vampire, a werewolf,  a cartoon, or any other kind of mythical creature.

How a Man of God Pursues:

 

First of all, THEY DEFINE THE RELATIONSHIP. They’re not afraid of saying “Hey, I have feelings for you. May I have more of your time? May I call you more? May I get to know you with the intention of dating you?”

A big difference between a boy and a man, is that a boy will try to sneak into your life, message you at odd hours, ask you weird questions, and not give you their intentions. They simply take. They’ll try to kiss you without asking. They’ll push your boundaries without asking. It’s selfish, and it’s not thoughtful or well-meaning. It isn’t for your good. Oh and if you let them, they will. Put your foot down and then boot them out. You are a woman of dignity, and you should hold on to your dignity. Tell them “I don’t like to talk this late.” or simply don’t respond. Tell them “I think you’re pushing the line of friendship here. What are your intentions?” and see what happens. Boys run away and shut you out.

Secondly, THEY ARE STRAIGHT-FORWARD. Gentlemen don’t make you wonder if or when they’re going to call you or text you. They don’t make you wonder if they want to talk to you. They don’t make you feel weird for texting them, or make you feel like you’re annoying. They definitely don’t tell you to “play hard to get.” These things have happened to me in the past, and I was very confused, wondering if something was wrong with me. Truth is that you’re not supposed to ignore each other to make the other person like you more. That’s not how relationships go. Gentlemen don’t make you feel rejected. If you’re feeling rejected, guess what? That feeling doesn’t go away when you’re married to that person. You don’t want that kind of marriage. Wait for someone who values you, who says “I will talk to you tomorrow” or “I’ll call you after work” or “text me when you’re done” and doesn’t make communication into a guessing game. There’s security in knowing what’s going on.

 

Thirdly, THEY ARE THOUGHTFUL. Honestly, gals, it’s not rocket science. Flowers. Making dinner. Opening doors. Planning a sweet date. It’s not tough, but it goes such a long way. Be careful when you can tell that someone is not being thoughtful, or that they’re pretending that they don’t know what they could do to express their feelings for you.  It’s common sense, and it is kindness demonstrated. It needs to be there. Holidays, birthdays, and sweet gestures are important to me. If they’re important to you, hold your ground.

Fourthly, THEY ARE PROUD OF YOU. Not just in the sense of supporting your dreams and who you are as a person, but also that they don’t hide you. They don’t hide you from anybody. They’re excited to take a picture with you, they talk about you to their friends, and there is nothing about your relationship that is hidden. Players hide you because they don’t want to blow their cover with the other girls they’re talking to. They want to continue to get attention from girls who like them, and to flirt with them, and that’s why they have a tendency of hiding relationships and making girls feel like dirty little secrets. Let me just remind you that this should not be the norm, and that you don’t have to tolerate that. The person you date should be proud of you and feel lucky to be with you.

Last but not least, THEY INSPIRE YOU. Looking at this person, you see someone whose life you admire. They walk in grace and truth. They seek righteousness. They talk about what they’re learning about God’s heart and character. They uphold your purity and set good boundaries. Their life is a good example to others, and they carry traits you’d want imparted on the next generation.

Do not lose hope. Do not settle. Do not slow down your Kingdom pace. Do not put up with *insert strong choice words that are so very not my style but appropriately express what I’m trying to say.* You’re worth it. You’re worth it. You’re worth it.

Keep seeking first the Kingdom, pursuing your passion and dreams, and soon enough you’ll look around and see that someone is standing in front of you, with that look in their eyes you’ve been waiting to behold.

God is Love, and through every season, He is Faithful.

Comparison vs Compassion

The best friends I’ve ever had are the ones who are selfless enough to celebrate with me when I am rejoicing and who are compassionate enough to mourn with me when I am mourning. There’s scripture that tells us to be this way, and I can appreciate so well the inclination of the hearts of these precious friends, to wherever my heart is.

Because isn’t that what it is to be a friend? To incline the heart toward another?

Even in their worst funks, my best friends would sincerely scream “YAY” with me and jump up and down. They found sincere joy in my victories. We share life like that. I win, they win, even when they’ve been personally feeling that deserty, rough patch. They’d reply back with 15 exclamation points, and several smiley faces, and I could feel the genuine happiness for me. FOR ME. For the thing I’ve been waiting for, or waiting on, or breaking through, or learning. My baby steps are just as exciting. They’re in for the journey, celebrating my mile markers.

On the other hand, from the heights of their mountaintop experiences, they have come bounding down to my valleys, to comfort me in my heartaches. They’d set aside their time and listen to me. They’d hold me. They’d cancel plans. They’d make me food, and watch movies, and tell me the best jokes they had. It’s the most loving thing I’ve ever experienced, truly, when one steps away from their non-crisis life and steps into someone else’s pit to sit with them. Like Job’s friends sat with him, no words are needed. I have friends like this.

They’ve taught me to mourn with them, to lay aside my free time and get my butt to a funeral, and to experience the intimacy of a mourning family. I’ve had the honor of being brought into such a precious fold of trust. I’ve cried for people I hadn’t met, but I met them through my friends’ tears, words, and stories. They were my people too.

They’ve taught me to celebrate them, to lay aside the female tendency to compare and despair. I’ve stood by them as they became wives and mothers, heard those phone calls of “he’s the one!” and those calls of “we’re having a baby!” and my singlehood was so outweighed by sincere joy that I couldn’t help myself but feel HAPPY! Truly truly happy, because I was gaining with them. Their additions were my people too.

I haven’t had to censor myself or make my friends censor themselves out of joys and sorrows, because of fear of the reaction. I didn’t have to hold back good news or bad news, because we have this compassionate flexibility of sensitivity. It’s unspoken. It’s a ‘come as you are’ and a ‘what’s really going on’ relationship.

ON THE FLIPSIDE… I’ve lost friends who couldn’t do this thing, this compassion thing. When I’d come by saying “HEY GUESS WHAT!!!” they were Eeyores, ya know? The  grumpy donkey from Winnie the Pooh? They just couldn’t muster up a smile. They would “hmm” and I could tell they didn’t care or believe my excitement was valid. Party poopers, man.

Big rain clouds on a parade are the people who compare themselves instantly and cannot stir up joy within themselves to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. They miss out on a TON of joy, a ton of laughter, a ton of smiles, and a ton of parties. They don’t get invited, and a lot of people stop “wasting their time” trying to have a two-way-street friendship with these people. Then, they feel rejected, even though they reject others CONSTANTLY by refusing to have empathy. It’s a sad thing. Eeyores gonna Eeyore, I guess. I wish they wouldn’t.

Comparison is a nasty thing. It’s a nasty lie. It says that because someone has a blue kite, you’ll never have a blue kite. THERE IS MORE THAN ONE BLUE KITE, PEOPLE. It says that because one friend found her love, that you won’t? What? That makes no sense at all. These are the people who are like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, the ones who sit outside a party, sulking,  because they just don’t understand who they are and what their rights are as children of a GOOD Father. THE GOODNESS OF GOD DOES NOT RUN OUT. He pours and pours and pours it down. Then, He keeps pouring, because there’s still more. If you believe this, it will show. If you don’t believe this, it will show. Our faith can only go as far as our awareness of God’s goodness (Bill Johnson).

You can rejoice for other people, I promise. You can stir up that trust inside you, and when your time comes, which you must believe it will, people will rejoice with you as well. You won’t be the lonely, sad, rusty, old one to the side, not unless you choose to act that way by pushing away anybody who is happy, and make ‘choosing out of joy’ a lifestyle. How would you feel if people treated you the way you treat them? If you had the good news instead? It’s okay to celebrate. It’s okay to trust God’s timing. It’s okay to be happy when it isn’t for you or about you. It’s okay to incline your heart, it’s made to do that.

It’s okay to have compassion, even when your cup is running low. The overflow of another might just spill into yours.