"Half an hour after everyone had said they were so happy
they could only hold one drop more,
the drop came."
- Little Women
Henry Martin Oakes came into the world at 1:59 am on Wednesday, August 7.
It was so different from anything I had expected.
I had been hoping and planning for one of those quintessential, frantically calling my husband, racing to the hospital type deals. I was excited about my plan to go all natural, though I wasn't at all sure what to expect, despite the last months of reading everything I could and talking to every woman who had done it.
The last month and a half of my pregnancy, I had been experiencing intense exhaustion and alot of cramping that sent me to the couch a good bit more than I had anticipated. At my 36 week checkup, the first one at which they check your cervix, I mentioned this to my midwife. My midwife looked up in amazement and said, "Well you are already 3 and a half centimeters dilated!" She told me that women sometimes can be as many as 5 centimeters dilated and still not be in full-blown labor soooo not to get too excited. But in the same breath she said: "Pack your bags. Just in case."
You better believe I got too excited! Once I hit 37 weeks, I did everything I could to encourage labor. I ate the eggplant parm that sent me to the hospital with Will, I walked enough to do Lizzie Bennett proud, I did my Tracy Anderson workouts every freaking day, and I had more than 5 false alarms in 2 weeks. It was kind of excruciating.
Jason took off more than a few afternoons of work in his anxiety that I could be about to drop this baby. We spent one morning just the two of us walking for 3 hours as I experienced steady contractions that just would not intensify.
Meanwhile, each weekly doctors appointment evidenced a good centimeter to my dilation and an equally encouraging amount of effacement.
Frustrated, I read everything I could on why early labor can stall out for this long. I read that sometimes its an emotional/mental problem.
I spent a lot of soul-searching on this one. Was I holding back? Was I too anxious or uptight? I didn't feel that way... I was enjoying every last second with Will as my only baby, but I was so excited to meet this new little person who had been growing inside of me for the last 9 months.
You know what though? Those brutal two weeks of back and forth, start and stop labor, blessed me incredibly. It forced me into a state of prayer that I had not been in before, amidst all of my flurry and bustle and Martha-like excitement. One evening in particular changed the tone of this entire labor... I woke up at 11 pm with contractions that made me too uncomfortable to sleep. Jason was upstairs doing homework, and, frustrated and embarrassed at my many false alarms up to this point, I refrained from calling him to come down and count the contractions with me. I turned on a lamp, paced, changed position... things seemed to feel way more intense than they had before. Desperate to feel at peace and totally relaxed so this labor could get going, I turned on this song that I had had in my iTunes for years; its my favorite Praise and Worship song.
There is a line in it that caught me off-guard, right there in the first verse.
"I'm giving you my dreams, I'm laying down my rights
I'm giving up my pride
For the promise of new life..."
Right then, alone in my room with my contractions and fears and exhaustion, I had a vivid image flash through my head of Jason and I in a quiet delivery room with a beautiful new life - a red-faced little baby - in our arms, tears in our eyes, that unbelievable and incomparable feeling of love and oneness that we had shared in for Will's birth - just as intense and just as new for our second son.
I thought of all I was surrendering for this "promise of new life"... the freedom of my life up to this point, which even with one baby wasn't too infringed upon... my time, my precious sleep, my love of my life exactly as it was right now.
But isn't that the beauty of following Christ? of seeking His will before your own?... life is always new. There is always a new adventure, a new challenge, a new sacrifice - and a new and unsurpassed beauty. It is never old, never stale, because that belongs to the selfish lives. Life lived with selfish fear grows cold, shuts in on itself, withers away. Life lived for Christ first is never predictable.
I remember that night for 3 hours of labor, I felt a bizarre joy as the tears streamed down my face. I felt a closeness to my God I hadn't experienced in ages. I felt this strong desire to humbly hand Him all of my great ideas about what my life should look like... [ and with my love for "the beautiful", this has always been a tough one to swallow. I generally prefer to believe that God has somehow "inception-like" inspired all of my preconceived notions and I don't have to let them go. ]
I wish I could say, that was it! With my holiest of holy prayertime, God sent us straight into labor! But of course it was still a good week before we went to the hospital.
And I also wish I could say I was totally "zen" and perfectly surrendered from that point on until my delivery. But of course I wasn't. I got anxious and over-excited time and again; still, it was a real turning point for me. And I will never forget that night of realizing truly what it means to sacrifice your selfish desires for what you believe God is calling you to... It means new life. And not just in my case, a literal new life - but a whole new way of life for me, Jason and Will, having Henry come. New experiences, joys, sorrows... new loves, new adventures, new mercies.
The day I finally went into labor is not what I could have anticipated. My midwife had seen me the day before, and upon discovering that I was 5 and a half cm and a good 80% effaced, and seeing the circles under my eyes, she advised me that waiting until the contractions started coming strongly to come to the hospital could easily result in a driveway baby. She patted my tired shoulder and said, "Look. If you have any contractions, you can just go to the hospital... they will not send you home once they see you're 5 and a half!" And then she turned at the door with a wink to say, "I'm on call at the hospital tomorrow night. My shift starts at 7." (I was 39 and a half weeks at this point).
I went about the next sunny day in hesitant excitement - having a hard time believing that, after the last 3 weeks, this could really be it. The excitement ran as a low undercurrent beneath all my thoughts and actions though. I played with Will. I cleaned the house. I vacuumed and dusted with my obsession, my new Dyson vacuum. My little sister was here, and we enjoyed each other's company in comfortable little chats. Jason had finished his last take-home exam literally the night before, so he came straight home from work. At 5:30, I decided to take a walk by myself since Jason and Will were happily laying on the rug playing with Mega Bloks.
It was the most mellow evening... it was that week we had an unexpected cold-front come through, and to my pregnant shock, it was a crisp 70 degrees. I walked through our tree-canopied neighborhood as people pulled into their driveways from work, old men hobbled out to check their mailboxes, and children laughed in the backyards. I drank in the solitude to my heart's content, knowing full-well I wouldn't get this for a good three months after Baby Henry was here (I hear this post-partum season aptly called the 4th Trimester). As I walked, I felt the contractions start to accelerate and I started to get more confident and excited that this really was happening.
It was so neat that it really did feel like early fall... because what I have kept thinking when I was imagining how hard it would be with an infant and a toddler, and a husband in school, I kept consoling myself that the excitement and beauty of Fall would more than make up for the hard days. And by the time I had made it through those first tough 6 weeks, we'd be in full-blown apple-eating, running-heaven, cinnamon-smelling autumn. So it was delightfully appropriate that the day I went into labor felt abnormally Fallish. My own personal "rainbow from God" sort of thing.
The contractions kept coming. I could still talk through them but they were close together. When I stepped out of the shower and had had an hour long streak of 4 minute apart contractions, it was 7:05, and we called the hospital.
Even though we were going to the same hospital where we had delivered Will, the unparalleled CMC Pineville and its beautiful newly-renovated and expanded Maternity Center, I had no idea what to expect because I had had an epidural the last time, and in my first-timer excitement and distractability, had barely registered anything before the actual labor except that my room was pretty and the nurses were nice.
[I'm sorry this is so lengthy - but I don't care if no one reads this post but me... I want to remember every single detail!]
When we got there, Sage my quiet, older midwife with her delightfully midwiferyish name, met us in our room. (You labor, deliver and recover in the same private room at CMC - and the fact that it is lamplit and has a little private porch alone won my heart the first time.) She checked me and I was 6 and a half centimeters! They put me in a hospital gown and checked Henry's heartbeat with a little thing they strapped around my belly, and satisfied, she told me that we should just walk and try to keep the contractions going and she'd come back to check me again at 10 (it was 8:30 at this point).
I was surprised. I was surprised that I didn't have to fight to not be given the Electronic Fetal Monitoring or an IV. I was surprised that with that, the nurse and midwife walked out of the room and Jason and I were left to ourselves.
The evening was so quiet and clear. I remember the stars were really bright, each time we stopped at the glass doors at each end of the Maternity Center to look out.
I will treasure every minute of the two hours I spent with Jason walking and joking around. There was no one else in the cool, quiet, dimly lit halls of the hospital except nurses bustling around quietly doing their jobs. We'd see the red delivery cart parked outside of different rooms and my heart would flutter as Jason squeezed my hand, hard, feeling a wave of wonder that that would really be us, so soon!
We saw one little baby in the nursery and Jason's voice echoed my excitement as he reminisced walking out to see Will every time they took him to the nursery 2 and a half years ago. We snacked on those amazing corn-syrup-creation orange sherbets that the hospital has. He made me laugh mid-contraction. We had a long and sweetly intimate conversation in that rare uninterrupted time we were given together.
When Sage checked me next at our appointed meet-up time of 10:00, I was 7 centimeters dilated. However, I still felt like my contractions were too easy and painless. We decided she should break my bag of waters to really get things going, especially since it was already, as she called it "bulging" (meaning it would break soon). Sure enough, within 15 minutes, I was getting legit contractions. Jason and I kept walking for about 45 minutes. But then I wanted the privacy of our room.
Even in our room, for the next 2 hours, I marveled at the privacy we were given. When I entered transition, I hardly even noticed when Sage and our nurse came in to check on us. Sage often just sat quietly in the corner taking notes.
The whole thing was just Jason and I. My husband's style of coaching was gentle and calming, and reassuring. He kept looking me in the eye and praising me, telling me how proud of me he was, how I got this. He kept asking me so gently, "Is it ok if I touch you like this? Is this helping? Do you want me to do this?"
Transition was no joke - and I want to talk more about that later, maybe in another post. However, even though I was not myself, and felt terribly uncomfortable the entire time, I distinctly remember telling Jason, "I love you so much, thank you!" several times. Not once did I swear or snap at him (one of my worries). Though I did leave a few nail marks in his strapping shoulders. For some reason it really helped to squeeze something really hard, and he was what I picked. He says I even grabbed his stomach at one point, poor guy.
I do have to say though - I don't know what people are talking about when they say they chose natural delivery because they want to be "more aware of everything". Yes, early labor was fantastic. Up until 9 centimeters, every minute was this beautiful clear experience. But everything from transition to that Baby being placed on my chest is this weird blur for me - whereas with the epidural I was able to be total clear-headed and aware of each detail. When you let your body do its thing, the hormones that are released are more intense than strong drugs, in my opinion.
But gosh am I grateful to God that I had the grace to decide to do this labor naturally... Henry was almost 10 lbs, and even with the urge to bear down, and the freedom to change positions and stand/squat, I had to push for 23 minutes. Had I had the epidural with him, been frozen to my back and had to have been coached when to push since I wouldn't feel the contractions (at least, I didn't with Will), I think it highly likely he could've gotten stuck and I might have had to undergo an emergency c-section... something that really would have upset me.
I have no idea how he got that huge! Though I have since read that its the first tri gain that counts most toward the size of your baby, and I did gain a hefty amount this time, due to my carbo-loading! I only gained a total of 25 lbs for the pregnancy, but I really did gain a pound a week for the first 13 weeks! Also, the placenta was really big apparently - and I think this was contributed to by all my exercise (the placenta's development is directly affected by your oxygen intake - and I sure did alot of cardio-intense, breathing-hard lap-swimming!).
Pushing was surreal. Again, I look back on the whole thing and its hard to remember any details. I have never been on a "drug trip" but it sure felt like it! Weirdly vivid and blurry at the same time.
When he finally came out, he was so quiet Jason and I started freaking out. But the nurses quickly reassured us, "No - he's responding just fine! He's just... not a crier!"
Not a crier? Was that even possible??
This chunky little "butterball", as my delivery nurse kept cooingly calling him, was from the first second serious, an amazingly good eater ("He came out having read the book on breastfeeding, huh?!" was the exclamation of more than one nurse), quiet, and (though its funny to use this adjective on a newborn) - he really is reserved!
Check out those cheeks! And that golden peach fuzz!!!
He kept getting a milk mustache around his rosy lips the first couple days from the colostrum. It was the cutest thing.
When it was time for us to leave, I was checking out and the nurse at the front desk said, "Oh you're Henry's mom?! Aww he's leaving?? I just lovvve looking at those little chubby cheeks!"
I felt so at peace and surrendered the entire time, from when Jason and I checked in to when we checked out - and even the past few weeks of blurry sleep-deprivation.
God gave us such a gift. This new life is quiet and peaceful. It isn't easy, but it is full of sweet moments.
And his big brother is doing amazing. Its been a bit emotional for me to let go of Will being my baby, but he soon slipped into this new role as my little companion and Number 1, my relied-upon eldest child. He helps me when I need him to find me things like my glass of water, or the diaper, etc... and he has been sweet and cuddly when I needed some company and cheering up from the inevitable occasional blue afternoons.
We have had plenty of meltdowns, from each of us! But this new life is as happy as it is challenging, and I wouldn't go back for one minute.
My heart truly expanded when Baby Henry was placed in my arms - with his soft little fuzzy head and his melt-in-your-mouth back fat as I caressed and nuzzled him. As complete as our family felt before, he is our one drop more.