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.

—————

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

Early Spring

Hello, old friend.

Here I am, thinking of all the clichés applicable to this comeback moment. I might as well skip trying to state the obvious and move on to what’s churning in my soul.

I’m sitting at a banquet table, and the Host will not stop putting delicious, much-too-large portions before me. Just when I feel like I couldn’t have another bite, my being somehow makes space to accept another serving. It’s overwhelming in the best way.

I always thought my happiest times, my dreams-come-true seasons would be my loudest. I thought I’d be shouting from every mountaintop, while simultaneously breaking my keyboard with voracious, overjoyed typing. Funny thing that happens when these hopeful planes actually landed: utter, awe-stricken silence.

Here’s a truth that silences the soul: prophecies come true.

I had a dream in 2012 and I told people and even asked them to attempt interpretation of it. I was arriving at a very specific-looking house. In 2015, I arrived at that exact house, which happened to belong to my (now) fiance’s grandparents’. I tried not to freak out, but my spirit was in awe. God’s promises are laid out ahead of time, they just are. You shouldn’t lay awake worrying you’ll mess it all up, because God is so kind. He hides things for us to find. He does it so far in advance to prove a point. He really is God, and He really does reign.

The prophetic hasn’t been a crutch for a weak faith, not for me. I’ve been getting to know a real Person, who is very much alive. He’s more than thin pages, He’s not bound in any way. He loves to communicate and teach. He’s a giddy gift-giver. I get that from Him.

I’m learning to receive in joy the different ways He delivers His goodness. Some of His kindest gifts to me were during tough times. Looking back, my attitude could have been better, since He was right there with me. I could have trusted better, and cruised it with more peace. I could have been easier on myself, and given people less power to rattle me. I could have actually listened when I heard that “it’s gonna be okay” whisper in my heart.

Alas, imperfect reactions and all, here I am. Happy as a freaking clam. Best time of my life thus far, and it’s easy to dwell in the present for the first time in a long time. Hallelujah.

I’m slowly edging back into teaching/writing/pastoral things.

S L O W L Y.

I don’t want to rush this.

I’ve been watching trees half-bloom this spring. They thought it was time, since we had such a warm winter. Then the frost came and they lost their blooms. The cautious ones waited, though it must have been difficult.

I’m gonna edge back in. I’m gonna worship and ponder. I’m gonna finish writing book 2. I’m gonna host groups in my home and make it a place that is safe to worship, to weep, to laugh, to bloom in the heart.

If you’re waiting with me, you’re not alone. The time will surely come.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. [Psalm 27:14]

Why I’ve Been Silent

I used to write about once a week, sometimes twice. I also used to write a devotional every single day. All these things went out to a set list of readers, straight to their email inbox.

Then life got a bit more complicated for me on the emotional zone. I began to feel that this would spill into my writing and change my voice. I didn’t want anxiety or any root of bitterness to seep into a single word, so… well… I stopped writing. I asked God to prune away what needed to go and help me to heal, so that when it’s time, I can step back in and be more effective and fruitful in ministry.

Taking time to pray hasn’t been wasteful yet. Reading the Word after prayer has proven to be both helpful and hilarious, if you’re into that sort of thing. Just yesterday, I was praying for the Lord to help me, and afterwards I found myself in Isaiah  41 reading these very words, like a direct answer:

I took you from the ends of the earth,
    from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
    I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

When these “coincidences” happen, I laugh and cry.

I’ve been silent, also, because I’m praying about beliefs and actions. You don’t have to ask someone what they believe when they open their home and heart for a foster child, or adopt a child, or spend their time volunteering at a community pregnancy center, encouraging and loving others through some of the most difficult parts of their lives. There are people serving in the most dangerous parts of the city, selling their nice homes and moving in to where NO ONE wants to live, to change the damaging culture created by absent fathers, substance addiction, and violent gangs. That’s a lived-out belief, not a hashtag trend. I want to live out beliefs, and that requires sacrifice. Also known as dying to self.

Once upon a time, I sold all my things and jet off around the world and “did that” and I came home all messed up, but with great intentions. I thought I could “do that” here, and I think I somewhat did. I reached out into people’s lives and did a lot of praying with them, and a lot of writing. I planned things, but then I said yes to things I shouldn’t have said yes to, like OTHER STUFF that wasn’t the original “that” I was gonna do. I put my effort and energy in other cookie jars of different causes and I burned out. I mean, I really burned out.

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Even in this, I can feel God’s love and pray, but I can also sense a humming frustration inside me that longs to DO things. The “yes” versus the “I can’t right now.” It’s like an injured athlete on the sidelines, watching the game. I want to, but I also know this is a time to heal and a time to be silent. It’s a time to listen and inhale, and wait. God’s truth and love for me are the same now as when I was living in a tent in a foreign country. When I get the green lights from Him, I will gladly spring forward again.

In all of this, I ask for prayer. Prayer to discern WHAT God is asking ME to do, and not do the “holy scramble” that is driven by guilt and fear. Prayer to boldly step into the lives HE is asking me to step into, via friendship or fellowship or service. Prayer to be patient and listen to God’s leading, so that I can know I obeyed HIM and not any external or cultural pressure. Prayer that God will help me “reset” and that 2017 will be a fruitful year after this time of pruning, waiting, and silence.

God will be glorified through this time, and in time, I will see the purpose of it all. I can trust He is working all things for the good, and sustaining me in the silence.

Bitter and Sweet

My warm cup of very caffeinated coffee cheered me on to a new morning. I was so proud of myself for managing to drink it without sugar, only with a heavy pour of unsweetened soy milk. It was a perfect traveling mug of goodness. By itself, that is.

In my lunchbox (yes, I’m four and I take a lunch box to work), I packed another favorite of mine: Greek strawberry yogurt, the whipped kind. It’s wonderfully sweet and apparently a great source of protein? Well, it had me at sweet, but good to know. It’s cold and airy and refreshing. By itself, that is.

I made the mistake, like many of us do, of mixing everything up.  My first sip of coffee was perfect. I peeled back the cover of the yogurt, took a spoon across the surface, and the minute that sweetness hit my tongue, sharp pains flashed to my jaw. I instinctively reached to my beverage, and took a swig… and it was, as you can guess, disgusting. The bitterness was overwhelming. I was stuck, unsatisfied, because one had ruined the other. Two wonderful parts of my morning that were never, ever meant to be joined.

In that moment, I had this light bulb realization that many of my days were ruined by this very concept. Those things were meant to be enjoyed by themselves, outside of a combo. Many of our experiences and memories are meant to be like that, but we keep trying to bunch it all together, into a journey or a process. It is what it is. BY ITSELF.

Wonderful example is the sweetest ring conversation that happened last weekend. Buddy asked me what kind of ring I want, and we proceeded to talk about details. He moved over next to me on the couch, and we were scrolling on his phone, looking at pictures of rings. He even took a screenshot of the one that had the style I liked most. We talked about jewelry stores, and he even mentioned he’d asked around at work for recommendations. YOU GUYS. That memory is perfect and wonderful BY ITSELF. It’s to be bottled and framed and commemorated. And you know what happened? For the next few days, it was like yogurt and coffee in my head. I started to think about timelines and the unknown future (duh, no one has a known future) started to make me anxious. I was CRYING instead of being all giddy, content, and happy. Why I was crying is the funny part: I realized again that life is never ever going to be predictable. Someday he’s going to drop to one knee and it will be a surprise, and it’s okay not to know when that is. I’ll have the choice to cry about all the uncertainties or to be happy. Yogurt and coffee. I can allow a GREAT thing to be a source of anxiety… or not.

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I find that each day I have a choice to practice being thankful instead of confused. I can trust in God or I can wallow in my weak humanity and lack of ESP. I can either choose to consider this day good, like God does, or I can compare it to other days that don’t exist anymore or yet. I can ask the Lord why I believe that a certain situation can trigger my contentment, instead of His presence and His Spirit, and His love. I can ask the Lord to heal my unbelief that I lack something, anything, when His Word clearly says that He’s My Good Shepherd and I lack nothing.

As negative as this sounds, there is nothing on earth that can compare to the goodness of God. There’s nothing temporary that can outshine the eternal. It’s not that we need to remove all value from the temporary gifts we have here in this vapor life, but rather to keep the perspective of the King of Kings’ abundance.

Comparison and discontentment are diseases that cripple and paralyze. They fester a bitterness into the sweet moments of life, like an infection. Side effects include self-centered thoughts, envy, and inability to be compassionate, rejoicing or mourning with others. Passion demands pursuit. I think that most people who think they are unhappy now but will be happy when “blank” happens are not using their passion to the fullest. If asked what they’re passionate about, they may not have an answer. They’re looking for a person or event to spark in them what only God can spark, which is true passion. The willingness to suffer for a cause. Ask yourself what is truly important to you. Ask the Lord to show you how you can demonstrate that passion today, in today’s capacities. And like me, stop trying to shove everything together and make a casserole out of it all. It’s gross. Just enjoy one thing at a time, your sweet yogurt and your bitter coffee, each in their own time. Find the goodness in each part, and cherish it. The journey is great, but it can get overwhelming. It’s okay to put the map away and enjoy just one step.

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Even Now

I’ve been quiet because I’ve been waiting. And while you wait and there are no news, why speak up? There are several parts of my life that have been in transition, unanswered. I’ve been praying and waiting. I’ve tried not to complain, or get my hopes up, or become pessimistic.

I am writing this right now from the unknown. Holla if you’ve been there. It feels like there’s a veil or a curtain, and it is keeping the future hidden until the last minute, til I’m to the curtain and past it. I know, from having been in this situation before, that this is for my good. It’s for my protection. God knows how having this information prematurely would affect me. I’d worry about it for way too long, or get way too excited. And He knows what He’s building inside me through this time… yeah… trust.

6If you look at any great story of faith in the Bible, you find that pesky trust thing. Sometimes it takes waiting to build it. Sometimes, you see a war or conflict. God takes the underdog and elevates them to display that He alone can do whatever, and empower whoever, whenever, wherever.

I’m trusting God for exactly this. Not that I will be empowered, but that He is able to do whatever He wants and He will follow through in His will. I get to trust His heart, and blindly lean on His understanding when I’m clueless about what’s coming next.

Whether I’m about to be in the valley or a mountaintop, I want the record to show that I trust Him. He’s taking care of me in so many ways, and I trust that even a closed door will lead me down a path of righteousness. His grace is never lost or late, and I find comfort even in the silence of uncertainty. If I listen closely, I can hear my beating heart, and I know that His Spirit is dwelling within. Just to know He’s present is enough. I appreciate your prayers in this transition. Stay tuned for an update.

Fighting For Peace

There’s a fine, dotted line between letting something go and standing up for oneself. It feels like a seesaw, where it’s not any fun when you’re always letting things go and becoming a bitter pushover, and it’s no fun at all to make a fuss over every bump on the road. A wise man once told me to pick my battles, and that’s still a challenge for me. In poker, it’s the difference between knowing when to fold versus staying in the game to win with the bluff. It’s a skill I haven’t acquired yet, but I’m learning. I’m learning how to fight for peace.

If it sounds like an oxymoron, that’s because it is. Jesus sometimes turned the other cheek and preached on forgiving 70 times 7, but He’s the same guy who walked into the temple and turned tables over with a whip. He’s the same guy who wasn’t afraid to ruffle the feathers of the religious leaders and call them white-washed tombs, and goats, and all these pretty harsh terms. He defended the adulterous woman from the stoners (haha see what I did there). He fought for our peace by laying down His life on the cross, and then rising again. That’s pretty tough and bloody.

I used to think the higher road was the quiet road. I used to think that the stronger person was the one who was able to bottle up their feelings and donate them to Ariel’s thingamabob shelves in the bottom of the ocean, never to be brought up again. I thought that people who stood up for themselves picked fights, and were labeled emotional and ill-tempered. And who would want to do life with those people?

Thinking like that, unfortunately, caused me a lot of harm. I tried to control situations that were never mine to control. I internalized frustrations, which grew to hurt me over years and years. I made up rules in my head of what to say and what not to say, and I believed lies about myself and others. I judged people on the inside and tried to do life with them on the outside. I began to expect failure out of several friendships and relationships, and by golly, I was right. Failures galore. All because I didn’t speak up when I should have. I let problems grow.

When I didn’t have health insurance, I only went to the doctor when I really needed to. Now that I have insurance, there’s this lovely thing called a well visit. I can go to the doctor on a sunshiny day, on a somewhat regular basis, and see just how well I am. It’s maintenance, not repair. Speaking up is a lot like maintenance. Good communication shouldn’t be procrastinated for the crises. It may feel like a confrontation, but it’s normal. Conflict is actually normal, but how we view it is what makes it grow exponentially into a negative experience.

We’re technically supposed to consider conflict a joyous thing, if you want to get Biblical about it. Conflict comes into the picture carrying a little silver tray, to serve you with maturity and depth of character. Your character shows. Do you get scared? Do you yell and say horrible things? Do you hide? Do you get defensive? Do you listen? Do you speak with kindness? Do you look for exits of grace, ways to move forward? Conflict reveals what’s in your heart, because it usually flies out of your mouth and circles your thoughts. It can turn into a well visit with God, or a surgery down the road, if we keep ignoring the problem.

dac738fc0d99f3fd891635167f44f0cdMy latest heart check revealed that I am a scaredy-cat. I have also grown a bit into a pessimist. Maybe I’ve been watching the news more than letting my mind dwell on what heaven is doing? With every layer, I find myself having to forgive people from my past, over and over. I never realized how much of an influence their actions and those events still have over me. The fear of those things happening again? Ridiculous. Wanna know what I learned from it, though? Every time we increase in trust, we also have to increase in courage.

Courage and trust are besties, inseparable. When we get moved up a notch with the Lord, and He asks us to surrender bigger pieces of our hearts and dreams, we have to ante up with courage. Match the bet. Cough up those chips to play the round. We have to remind ourselves that we have been given a Spirit of courage, not of timidity. We weren’t made shy, but confident. It’s not a bluff play. If you’re suddenly feeling more fearful, you might be swimming in a deeper pool. It might be a good thing. You might have gotten upgraded in faith, and you may have to accept the fact that yes, you will need to grow, and yes, you will need to get braver.

The Lord is within her, she will not fall. He is with you wherever you go. He has your right hand. He doesn’t let your ankles turn. He hears your voice. He speaks to guide you. He strengthens you. He gives you rest. He takes those heavy burdens from you and carries it like a total pro. It’s easy to Him. He can reach it. He overcomes it.

I pray you know how and when to speak up, that you don’t let yourself wilt inside. I pray you don’t let problems grow because you’re scared to rock the boat. I pray you know that God is not trying to torture you or hurt you in any way, because He delights in you. If anything is trying to steal, kill, and destroy you, it’s not Jesus. He’s the fullness of life Guy. He’s the complete joy Guy.

That’s all I have for now… I pray God multiplies it and applies it where you need it.

Ebb and Flow

Life has been vibrant and wonderful. I’ve been trying to understand what Jesus meant by “fullness of life” and not get it twisted with “obligation of life” or “busyness of life” or any other kind of misconception of the meaning of FULLNESS.

My walk with God has gone through natural periods of ebbing and flowing, increase and decrease, like breathing. Times when I feel very full indeed, and times when the only normal thing to do is empty out. Open-handed. Clean slate. Reset, please.

God has been stirring my heart to increase praise capacity. It’s the praising “more and more” like scripture calls it. The praise from yesterday is no longer a measure for today. Just like His mercies are new, so are praises and thankful expressions of my heart. I get excited when I hear a new song that resonates with where I am in Him, a lyric that “reads my mail” if you know what I mean. And sometimes the only way you can understand how you feel is when you hear it in a song, and go “THAT is exactly what’s going on” and you find on the outside what you couldn’t identify on the inside, just by the way your heart jumped out toward it.

compassI started the year fired up to empty out, and I did. Then I felt the need to press pause and just watch for a minute. It’s pointless to operate on old orders, by the way. God is doing new things all the time, and there are some of us that are so obedient that we get busy “obeying” and forget to TALK to Him. We’ve got our heads down obeying what He told us years ago, when He may have something new to say today. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever, but you better believe He is a God of restoration, redemption, and redirection. He’s a rebuilder. Obedience is a lovely thing, but it’s like a liquid. It needs to flow and conform to His leading, and not be so obstinate as to miss the turn on the road and keep going the wrong way for miles or years.

My new orders are to fill up. I ordered 10 books today. No joke. I got 2 textbooks for my birthday, and 4 books for Christmas. My brain and my heart just want to learn. I’m learning about the ways of God, and also about transfusion medicine and genetics, which in my opinion are altogether hilariously laced with gospel paradigms. I’ve been studying for a certification exam, and praying for God to open doors. I am hoping that after this season of filling up, a brand new outpouring will follow.

Just wanted to give you an update of what I’ve been doing now that I’ve been off the grid a bit more. I’m extremely happy. I’m increasing in praise. I’m filling up, focusing on the fullness of life. I am pressing pause on a few things I’ve been doing, so that I can adjust to God’s leading in my life, and in all things, He is good.