The birth story begins about 2 1/2 weeks before she actually arrived. It was then that I began having regular bouts of contractions, a week and a half before my due date. With many positive signs of impending labor (increasing contractions, crampiness, slightly elevated blood pressure, a baby that was sitting incredibly low, etc.) we all thought that labor was likely to begin at any time that week, my midwife included. And so we waited...
And waited... and waited. After over a week of continued contractions but no labor, I was discouraged. It had been the hottest week of the entire summer (a true heatwave for our area), and I was literally wilting, between the heat and the discomfort. As I reached my due date I was really struggling with maintaining a positive attitude, and with the feeling that my body had deceived me somehow and that everyone's life had been put on hold waiting for me (my husband with his job, my MIL who had stayed with us the entire week, etc.).
God had some work to do in my heart. I spent last Friday incredibly emotional, just so eager to be done and so frustrated at having spent over a week and a half sitting on pins and needles, expecting labor at any moment. How I wished that I had prepared my heart for her arrival at or after her due date, instead of putting so much hope in all of these "signs" that she was coming. By Saturday, after much prayer, I finally felt at peace waiting for God's perfect timing and we resolved to busy ourselves with fun and productive activities as we waited.
When I saw my midwife on Tuesday morning, the day before I was one week overdue, she checked me and found that I was 3, almost 4 cm dilated and she couldn't believe how low the baby's head was. She had discussed with me the week before that perhaps all of the contractions were due to a herbal prenatal formula I was taking, and recommended I stop taking it for my own sanity. I had obeyed and been off the herbs for an entire week, and yet the contractions had continued, even increasing in intensity, and were obviously doing work but were not kicking in to a regular rhythm of labor.
As she was headed out of town that weekend (having expected me to have my baby a week or more ago), we discussed that we might try something to give my body a nudge. She performed a membrane sweep that morning, and we agreed to give it 24 hours to see what it would do. Well, even with a loooong walk that evening, it didn't do anything. So the next morning she gave me permission to go ahead and try the castor oil cocktail that had worked so well for me with our son.
Wednesday morning dawned with some contractions, but nothing more promising than usual. I decided to go ahead with the cocktail and took it at around 9:30am, allowing Ryan enough time to to make a quick trip into the city with the kids to pick up something for the business. By about noon, after I had been lying down trying to catch one last nap, contractions started coming but they were still quite mild and spaced out. They picked up a teeny bit by 12:30, when I gave up trying to nap and starting puttering around the kitchen. I pitted and dehydrated a couple trays of ripe plums from our neighbors, did some laundry, washed dishes, etc. until 1pm.
Ryan took the kids to his sisters and then went out for coffee with a friend (only 5 min. away, cell phone in hand!), and about 15 minutes after he left I decided it was worth calling the midwife, just to let her know what was happening. Since she was in the area, and since she thought my labor could possibly go fast (if this was indeed labor) she decided to just pop over and see where things were at. She arrived by about 1:40, and just observed me for awhile. She decided to read a book on the couch while I mopped my kitchen floor, and shortly afterwords she cleaned out my fish bowl for me, LOL! Fun times with Anne!
Around 2, contractions were coming a little closer together and I was starting to feel it in my back (a good sign for me that things are happening, as I always have back labor). Ryan came home shortly after, and while I continued to labor fairly easily, we had a great discussion with Anne (an Orthodox Christian) on early church history in between contractions. Each time one came, I would just lean forward onto the back of the couch or the dining room table, close my eyes and sway my hips, then pop back up again to continue our conversation!
**Obviously this is earlier on in labor, when a cracked joke would still make me laugh! :) My MIL said this picture would give a false impression of labor being easy, but I think it shows that labor isn't all hard work or pain. There can still be sweet and memorable moments, and yes, even fun!**
By 2:30, I had started applying a heat pack to help ease the back ache, and Ryan and Anne were occasionally coming to give me back rubs. Contractions were about 3 minutes apart, and very manageable but becoming more intense. By 3:00 I started talking about taking a hot shower, and Ryan decided to call our friend Ange who was coming to serve as a doula for us (she had also helped with our first daughter's birth).
I had never taken a shower during labor before, but I did find it quite relaxing and helpful to have the hot water beating down on my back. I had put a folding chair in the tub, hoping I could sit on it backwards but it turned out to be too tight of a fit. Instead, I just leaned over and held onto the chair and stood up again once the contraction finished. My thoughts centered around relaxing and opening up, and letting my body do it's job so baby could come more quickly. Once I got out, maybe around 3:45 or so, Anne decided to check me and said that I was definitely 4+ cms and she thought things were progressing well (I think more from other indications than just how much I was dilated).
Our friend Ange arrived just before 4:00, and I was so glad we had called her when we did. Soon after her arrival I found that I was starting to need a lot more consistent coaching and counter-pressure on my back. Being upright was too much to handle, so I spent almost the next hour on the living room floor, leaning over a birthing ball. Ryan and Ange took turns doing my back, and Ry coached me on my relaxation and breathing, while Ange fed me bites of Labor-Aid popsicle in between contractions. At some point during this time, Anne also gave me water injections for my back (just sterile water injected in 4 sites in the lower back), to help relieve some of the back pain and allow me to simply focus on the contractions.
By 4:30, I was starting to have a more difficult time relaxing. Contractions were coming 2 minutes apart and were quite intense at their peak. I was still feeling very calm and peaceful, but was also very focused on the work at hand and needed to use all my concentration to get through each one. Gradually, they become more and more difficult to handle, and I found myself repeating a phrase over in my head that I had read in one of Crystal's birth stories a couple years ago... "He endured the Cross... He endured the Cross." Focusing on what Christ had endured for me gave me more strength to focus on this far smaller trial that He asked me to endure for my baby.
Towards 5:00, the birth pool was ready and waiting, and they asked me if I wanted to get in. My husband said that he knew I was definitely in transition at this point, as almost every question they asked me was met with a sigh and a tired sounding "I don't know". I sat and drank a small glass of water first, and noticed that I was trembling as I did so. I got in the pool and sank into the blissfully warm water. It felt wonderful for a moment until the next contraction hit and I suddenly felt out of control as I struggled to find a new position that would work for me.
Nothing seemed comfortable at all and I found myself quite restlessly moving around, trying different things out. During contractions, Ry noticed that I couldn't seem to relax at all anymore and I know that my breathing had become more shallow and I was starting to make low moans during their peak.
Within a few minutes, I began to feel low pressure, though I was unsure of whether I was really as far along as I felt that I was, because I hadn't been checked since I was 4 cm. I do vaguely recall hearing Anne say "You're going to have your baby soon", though I didn't quite process it at the time. In the next two contractions, the pressure increased and I felt my breath begin to catch in the midst of the contraction, something I remember reading about as the Hoquet reflex, which signifies a crossover into Stage 2 (pushing).
The next contraction, I could not hold back at all as my body began to push with all it's might and I felt this little baby barreling down. It was incredibly painful, much more than I remember pushing my last baby to have been, and my husband later told me that it was the first time in 3 births that he has ever heard me actually scream. By the end of that contraction, her head had already been born! As the next one began, the rest of her body was born, and suddenly this beautiful, wet little creature was up on my chest!!!
We spent a full minute or two just rejoicing and admiring her before we actually took a look to find out whether she was a boy or girl (although as soon as I saw her face, I felt sure that she was a girl). We were overjoyed to learn that we had another daughter and just continued exclaiming how perfect she was. I sat with her in the tub for a good 20 minutes, while keeping her mostly under the warm water and waiting for the cord to stop pulsing. When it was finished, Ryan cut the cord and took her, while they helped me out of the tub to birth the placenta.
It turned out that the reason it hurt so much to push her out was because the little munchkin had her hand up beside her face. Didn't slow her down any, but it was definitely more uncomfortable! Fortunately, I had only 1 small tear that didn't require stitches, so all's well that ends well. :)
Overall, I could not have asked for a more wonderful birth! God really answered my prayers for a peaceful and calm birth. It was definitely hard work and had some challenging moments, but it was short (from active labor to birth, a little over 3 1/2 hours) and very sweet. Having Johanna in the water was definitely a positive experience, and I relish the memory of those first 20 minutes spent just relaxing with her in the warm water.
**Our wonderful birth team, Inya (assistant midwife), Anne (midwife) holding Johanna, myself, friend Angela, and Ryan, a couple hours after her birth**
Our family, enjoying Johanna together once the kids came home to meet her. They're just adoring their new baby sister, and they are both so loving and gentle with her. What a blessing!
I couldn't have asked for a more incredible birth and I am still a bit in awe of it all! God is so good!