July is birth story month at the Motherhood Collective. Reading the good, the bad, the ugly and the BEAUTIFUL experiences of other mothers gives us a real appreciation for the strength we have in childbirth. Hopefully these stories will inspire you. Here is Melissa's story:
Of course, Gabriel’s story begins back in November, 2010, when we found out that we were pregnant with him! Our prayers were heard and we were blessed us with a wonderful, healthy pregnancy for both Melissa and the baby. During this time, we also began our journey in childbirth education. And oh, what a journey! Through the Anticipation and Beyond Café (resource for all things pregnancy, birth, and parenting), additional books, friendships, and much prayer, we decided to opt for a hospital birth with the desire to keep it as natural and intervention-free as possible. Melissa continued to surround herself with only positive stories on a natural birth, preparing herself for Gabriel’s birth to come. It only took our first private childbirth education class with Laurie Flower to decide we didn’t want to face this alone. We hired her to be our doula. Doula is Greek for servant-woman and English for childbirth-coach-who-has-seen-all-and-done-all-and-will-bend-over-backwards-to-keep-you-going-strong-woman. She was worth her weight in gold! We thoroughly enjoyed our 1-on-1 classes with her – they gave us new found knowledge and encouragement for a natural delivery that we hadn’t found anywhere else.
Fast forward to Saturday, August 13th (nine days prior to Gabriel’s due date). This day began like any other in the ninth month of pregnancy – dancing in our heads were visions of sweatpants, sleeping in, and enjoying the weekends together before the baby came. Instead, we began the day with major sewer problems, multiple moppings of the bathroom floor, and heading to the in-laws’ for showers. Not the end of the world, but Melissa was exhausted and still experiencing the off-and-on lower back pain she had been having the past week. Her wonderful husband stood in the water and did all of the “dirty” work, while they nervously joked – what if it was today?
Sewer mended, they prepared for an afternoon nap. Futile, because Melissa just wasn’t comfortable no matter what we tried.
And then the phone rang – our beloved doula! We had been in prayer for weeks because Laurie had come down with a terrible virus, one that had her making this phone call from the hospital. She told us that as long as Gabriel held off until Monday, she would be out of the hospital and at our birth. We smiled – we were sure he wouldn’t come tonight or tomorrow. We listened half-heartedly to her describe Barbie, a mother of eight and previous midwife assistant for years, whom Laurie said we could call if we went into labor before Monday. We shrugged. There was no way we were doing this thing without Laurie.
We were reminded to get plenty of rest, but Melissa was still feeling antsy, so we went to Kroger and bought our last (little did we know) pre-natal late-night snack and rented a movie. We met our neighbors, Nick and Molly, at the Redbox station. We laughed with them about how exhausted we were, and said, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if he came tonight?” and, “Hopefully not!”
We tried settling down to sleep again at 12:30am. Melissa crawled out of bed at 1:00am with more consistent and intense back pains. Could it be that these were contractions? She grabbed her exercise ball and bounced around the bedroom, trying not to wake her dear husband. The whole time, she denied she was in labor. The irony of it would just be too much to bear—the one day in weeks that she hadn’t taken a long afternoon nap and the two days in Laurie’s life (it seemed) that she would not be able to attend a birth.
Regardless, Melissa finally woke Andy at 2:00am, more for the distraction than anything else. They put something on to watch, and Andy made his first (of many!) runs to the microwave with the heated “rice socks.” Melissa continued to bounce around on the ball while Andy applied hot pressure to her lower back. Of course, we were still sure that Melissa wasn’t in labor (ha!), but pulled out the stop watch to time the duration of the “contractions” for practice – just like Laurie had taught us. It was strange. We began to notice that they were consistently a minute long, and they weren’t getting any easier.
We finally decided that we needed to talk about a substitute Doula. Melissa had known Barbie from the Anticipation and Beyond Café, but still…perhaps we shouldn’t call her yet since this still could be a fluke. People get false labor all the time…
Eventually, we decided that this was the real thing. Melissa did what she had prayed she could do before going to the hospital—took a shower. She didn’t want to feel all dirty and gross before all the mess of labor and delivery. The shower felt so good that she stood in there for an hour. But nausea drove her out. Right as Andy was calling Barbie at 6:00 am, Melissa had her first of many bouts of throwing up.
This wasn’t good. One of the things Andy and Melissa had been passionate about was keeping food in Melissa to give her energy throughout labor (FYI, women in labor burn 1400 calories an hour!). In fact, the previous weekend they had spent an hour perusing the grocery aisles, collecting every kind of snack that Melissa thought would be desirable during her many hours of contractions. Alas, due to the nausea and throwing up, the food was completely forgotten.
Barbie arrived at 6:30 am, was introduced to Andy, and the new birth team settled down to develop a game plan. Barbie assessed where Melissa was, talked about ways she hoped to help and began joining Andy in the runs to the microwave with rice socks. All of this was reassuring. She was going to be the perfect substitute for Laurie!
After a while, Barbie suggested a walk. Melissa had heard this really helped, so she agreed. The walk was pleasant and refreshing in the early morning. The three of them made a strange caravan to outsiders, stopping every couple minutes to perform the same ritual: Melissa would lean against Andy’s back, while Barbie pressed her hands into the small of Melissa’s back. Melissa would sway and moan, and then take a breath to cleanse herself of the contraction. Then they would continue.
Eventually, we remembered that there were other people who should know we were in labor, so we called family around 8:30 am, telling them this was the day! Barbie then suggested that we start packing for the hospital. Andy frantically began grabbing all of our plastic bags (somewhere between 8 and 12 in all) and stuffing them with labor paraphernalia. Since we kept denying this was the real deal, we hadn’t quite finished packing the bag. We filled up the trunk, got Melissa situated between contractions, and headed for the hospital. At this point, the contractions had been 1 minute long for about 4 or 5 hours.
The arrival at the hospital at 10:30 was exciting to say the least. We had forgotten to call ahead or even talk with the midwife during all this, so they didn’t know to expect us. Andy handled the registration and made a quick run to the bathroom (poor guy had been waiting a while for the chance), while Melissa leaned against the counter, doing her thing.
They were taken to their room and met their nurse, Ashley. Ashley apologized, but could Melissa lay on the bed for half an hour to get monitored? Yuck. Contractions were not meant for horizontal positions. Melissa apologized, but asked if Ashley would set up the Aquadoula (a giant inflatable tub) in the room. This was not the nurses’ favorite task, and Melissa knew it. But she also knew it was one of the major pluses to laboring in the hospital. She also knew it took a good hour to set up. Ashley reminded her of this, but Melissa and Andy insisted anyway.
Thankfully, Ashley ended up being very lenient with our hospital privileges. She measured Melissa at 6 cm then took orders from Barbie. She ran down the halls grabbing every unused washcloth, buckets of ice, an inflatable labor ball, and extra nurses to set up the giant tub. Meanwhile, Andy called family to let them know we were at the hospital.
Finally, the tub was ready! It was like a dream come true gliding into the warm water up to her neck. Melissa had heard about how amazing water births were, and how they had even begun adopting the practice in some hospitals. But water births weren’t allowed at this hospital, so while she was in the water, Melissa began to plot a way in which she could keep the nurse and midwife from knowing when she was ready to push the baby out. Maybe she could have him in the water, and pretend it had been an accident. To put it bluntly, she didn’t ever want to come out of that tub.
Barbie gets props for the best comfort measure (second only to the Aquadoula). She brought our crock pot along, filled it was water and washcloths, and turned it on high. These warm washcloths replaced the rice socks (which lost heat quickly and took some time to reheat) on Melissa’s abdomen and back. She also suggested an ice cold washcloth on Melissa’s face and neck. The two extremes of hot and cold pressure, while alternating positions in the tub, kept Melissa sane, and she even felt she was enjoying herself a bit. Everything was so new, and her senses were so alive and focused on what was happening. Sometimes she liked rocking on all fours, other times she threw herself over a pillow on the edge of the tub (come to find out, the pillows weren’t really supposed to get wet). The sun was streaming in through the window, and Melissa, Andy and Barbie alternated between praying during the contractions, reading Scripture, and best of all, singing. Melissa found that deep, soulful hymns helped her sway and connect with the inner primitive self—something she had been told was essential to handling the pains. She alternated between “Amazing Grace”, “Down to the River to Pray,” and “I Love You Lord.” In an odd way, the combination of these things made everything peaceful for her. When one contraction was harder than another, her groans would get deeper and louder. Andy would notice and look into her eyes, and tell her that Gabriel said “thank you.” It felt good to be reminded she was getting a baby at the end of all this!
The midwife on duty that day was Christina. Melissa’s last prenatal appointment just three days earlier had been with her, and she had very bluntly said: “Most first time Moms go late, so don’t expect him any time soon.” Melissa secretly laughed when she saw her walk in to the hospital room—eight days before the due date. Each time Christina walked into the room, she merely seated herself in the chair and watched the three of them do their thing. She didn’t ask questions or bother us with how things were going. And when the nurse, Ashley, had to go get something approved, she came with the news that Christina wasn’t worried about their progress. She even allowed Melissa to stay in the pool for five hours, when they usually only allowed one.
So things continued on their merry way until about 2:30 pm. Then, Melissa reached transition. She was told she couldn’t be in the pool anymore, and Barbie agreed that she needed to keep moving around. Melissa “groaned” around the room—first walking, then bouncing on the ball, then leaning against Andy, then sitting on the toilet (this had previously felt great). Still, nothing felt good. It was at this point that Melissa said something Andy will never forget: “This isn’t fun anymore.” (As if the rest of labor had just been a pool party!)
After a while, Melissa was starting to feel “pushy,” so Christina wanted to check her one more time. Melissa was a nine! That was encouraging. Melissa was glad it was almost over, but terrified that she was so close to the dreaded part. Melissa had no idea what it would be like to push out a baby. Christina and Barbie both recommended that they break her water, since it was still holding on for dear life, and the pressure of her water kept building. They told her the pressure would be lessened, and so Melissa consented.
It was around 4:30 pm that Melissa climbed onto the bed. The head of the bed was elevated, and Melissa got down on her hands and knees, and rested her head at the top of the bed. She slowly began pushing during the peak of her contractions, whenever she felt the onset of the urge to push. The strangest part about this time was that her contractions were still just as long and strong, but had extended to six minutes apart! Her body must have known she needed the rest after no sleep in the last 34 hours, and no food in the last 18 hours. So she slept between contractions. It felt surreal that her body could do this, but she was literally woken each time with the urge to push, and would fade back out at the end of it.
Extra nurses arrived to begin setting up tables of equipment, and Christina stood at the foot of the bed watching Melissa’s progress. At one point, Barbie asked Melissa if she wanted to feel Gabriel’s head near the opening. Melissa was surprised to know that he was that close! She reached down and received all the encouragement she needed. She could do this, and she wanted to do this! She wanted to hold her baby! He was almost here!
Right at the end, Christina told Melissa to lay on her side to prevent further tearing. Melissa slid down, and a few pushes later, he was out! Melissa couldn’t believe it. On the last “push,” they’d even told her to just breathe through it, and out he came. It was such a beautiful sensation—not painful or something that made her want to scream out. And before she could process anything, he was there, in her arms, eyes roving about. As soon as Melissa started speaking, his eyes locked with hers. The bond that Melissa felt, the surge of love that expanded her heart to make room for another person, was overwhelming—something she will never forget. According to Barbie, Melissa kept saying, “My baby…this is my baby. My baby! My baby…my baby.” Not exactly waxing eloquent, but full of wonder. Then Andy was there, speaking to Gabriel. And he turned and looked his father in the eyes, knowing Andy’s voice as well as his mother’s.
The next hour was a blur. Nurses were suctioning Gabriel, giving him oxygen, and doing his APGAR scores. As desired, he was able to stay on Mommy almost the whole time! During this hour, Barbie also helped Gabriel nurse for the first time. This was such a sweet moment of intimacy to see the comfort he received from his mother and the tenderness she was able to express so naturally.
As far as Melissa’s postpartum goes…she experienced the worst part of labor and delivery—the midwife putting all her strength into compressing Melissa’s uterus. This was the part in the whole process that she wanted to scream, curse, and chop off someone’s head with an axe. No one had told her they would do this to her. She received the wonderful news that a nurse would be stopping by every 15 minutes to perform the same action. The midwife also began stitching Melissa (who had unfortunately suffered two second-degree tears). Come to find out, the bright overhead lights that are used for this were out…so the midwife had to take her time, and kept calling out for the nurses to go fetch other lights, finally settling with a flashlight that she kept in her glove box. This was, needless to say, a very apprehensive time for Melissa. You don’t usually want to hear your medical professional complaining of vision problems while performing such a delicate task on a very sensitive area.
One of the highlights of this time for Melissa was the food that Andy fed her while all this was going on. The Little Debbie’s Banana Nut muffin that she ate was, by far, the best tasting and most rewarding thing she had ever eaten in her life. Gabriel was happily enjoying his mother’s milk for the first time, and Melissa felt like she was tasting food for the first time, too!
Eventually, Melissa was able to get out of bed and use the restroom. Thankfully, she had kept enough fluids in her to be able to go to the bathroom. She put on a robe and got situated in the wheelchair. Gabriel was placed in the cart, and they were wheeled to the postpartum room!
Reflecting on the 16 ½ hours of labor, Melissa would have to say that everything she experienced was fully worth those moments of looking into her son’s eyes, knowing that she had done everything in her power to give him a beautiful and safe entry into this world. Perhaps she was lucky—she did not consider her labor to be “painful” or something that threatened to send her into screaming hysterics, as some describe their labors. Unpleasant? Yes. Throbbing, uncomfortable pressure that she couldn’t talk through? Most definitely. But in the grander scheme of things, a lovely, pure process created for women entering motherhood. In talking with Melissa about the birth, Laurie Flowers made the comment that she’s always interested in what keeps women going through with a natural delivery. There’s quite a bit of conviction that must occur to keep refusing an epidural that’s so easily within arm’s reach! On the practical side of things, Melissa would most definitely agree that she wanted to keep the delivery natural for optimal health of the baby. Emotionally and spiritually, Melissa wanted to experience this rite of passage, to know at the purest level what it means to bring a child into this world, to make this first motherly sacrifice of love.
In summary, we are so thankful what we desired most of all: a natural, safe delivery of a healthy baby weighing in at 6 lbs., 11 oz., and 21 inches long! Although a few things that we had taken for granted didn’t go “according to plan,” we were blessed to see the Lord’s grace in every way.
From the moment Gabriel Joshua Kan was placed in our arms, we have been so full of gratitude to have this boy. We truly behold His glory in the son that we behold on a daily basis.
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