I've tried to write this for weeks now. I had paragraphs upon paragraphs written, with minute, gory detail. Then I decided that some things are better left unwritten on the Internet, and I'd rather just share the extended story in person. So I'll just share a little bit here.
On Saturday before Esther was born, at 40 weeks and two days pregnant, we went to get our Christmas tree. I had written a little list of things I wanted to do to distract myself during early labor, and getting a tree was on the list (along with a Costco run, making a wedding album, doing some online Christmas shopping, and washing baby clothes). I wasn't having any contractions yet (not even Braxton-Hicks, that I could tell), but since we had friends driving up to the mountains to cut down their own tree, we decided to join in. That was an adventure in itself, and somehow we ended up with two trees (longer story).
This was special because last year we picked up our Christmas tree (at Rite Aid, ha) right after we visited our midwives and found out that I was having a miscarriage. So this year, picking out a tree just days away from meeting our baby felt so redemptive.
It's funny... you learn during pregnancy that 37 weeks constitutes a full-term baby, and that you could deliver at any time. I laugh now whenever I see pregnant friends posting on Facebook things like, "37 weeks! Full term today! Come on out baby! We're ready to meet you anytime!" Because... no. Sorry sister. That baby is not coming at 37 weeks. Our midwives told me that they don't start thinking about a first-time mom being "late" until she's 41 weeks and two days (or something like that).
But MAN. You hit your due date, and everyone and their mom wants to know if you've had your baby yet. I got more "happy due date!" texts on December 4 than I do on my own birthday. I started thinking totally illogical things like, "What if this baby never comes out? What if I stay pregnant forever?" Other moms, raise your hands. I know you've had the same thoughts.
I hadn't wanted to be anxious about Esther's arrival, so I was trying to mentally prepare for being two weeks overdue (at which point I'd have to be induced and have a hospital birth, instead of the birth center birth we were planning).
Saturday, December 6 was the full moon, and I'd heard that the moon can often affect the start of labor. So I guessed that it would start that day, but alas, no. Still waiting. Enjoying our last few days just the two of us... plus Butter. As you can see, she's kind of needy (understatement), and doesn't appreciate when she's not involved in familial displays of affection. Turd.
Dave and I had a really great couple of weekends together before Esther arrived. We got our tree(s) and decorated them, watched some Christmas movies (Muppet Christmas Carol! I'd never seen it before! So good!), had some coffee dates, and walked along Lake Washington during the Luminaria (which is beautiful — do it next year, if you're in Seattle).
Early labor started for me on Monday (December 8) around 11:30am, but contractions were manageable and I slept through the night. They picked up on Tuesday, and Tuesday night I was awake all night in this position on the yoga ball, coping through them every 7-10 minutes.
That's Sarah, our doula, with me after we got to the birth center on Wednesday morning, December 10. Once we arrived around 8am, one of my midwives, Christine, checked my progress and I was at 6cm. This was super encouraging, because supposedly, getting to 5cm is really challenging and then your body sort of finds a flow and it tends to go faster from there. So I felt like all my body's hard work since Monday had been worth it.
I was in this position for about an hour or so, and tried some other things, and then I got in the tub (which was amaaaaaazing - they don't call it "the midwife's epidural" for nothin). I finished dilating in there (took another 5 or 6 hours or so, and in hindsight, wasn't that painful), and then started pushing... sort of. The midwives were getting ready and prepping Dave to catch the baby in the tub because it looked like she was coming soon, but turns out I pushed for FIVE AND A HALF HOURS. Note to people who have never had a baby: this is not normal. In a hospital scenario, I would have had a C-section after like 2 hours of pushing.
Also, second side note: I never felt the urge to push. I guess everyone's birth story is very different, because I'd heard over and over that pushing was the best part, and felt relieving. But this was THE WORST for me.
(third side note: I'm really thankful for Sarah and Taylor, our other midwife, who picked up our camera now and again and took some photos for us. Not that these are the most flattering ones of my life, but they're invaluable and I'm glad we have images of that day.)
When it was clear after a while that I was not going to give birth in the tub, they got me out of the tub and on a birth stool next to the bed. Dave sat behind me and supported me, holding my shoulders and whispering encouragement all the time. I can't even describe his love for me on this day — it overwhelms me still to think about it. It deserves a story all its own, but it's hard to wrap my mind around how to even share it.
This was a few minutes before I actually gave birth, so maybe 8:30pm or so. I had been in labor for so long (something like 58 hours since my first contractions, although not all of that time was super intense), and had been pushing for much, much longer than anyone anticipated. At one point, Dave was concerned about how tired I was, and that I might not be able to endure until the end (I hadn't had any drugs at this point, because, BIRTH CENTER). The midwives said their three criteria for transferring to the hospital were 1) baby is in danger 2) mom is in danger or 3) mom is totally losing her coping mechanisms. And none of those things were happening, so we stayed. Also, I couldn't conceive of getting in a car and driving 15-20 minutes to the hospital while the baby was in the birth canal.
But then the baby's heart rate did start to drop, and so things got very urgent very fast. I summoned some kind of reserves from I don't even know where and pushed Esther out, head and body all at once. She screamed right away, her color was great, she was perfect.
After that, things got even crazier and I lost a lot of blood and the paramedics came and it was all very dangerous and scary, mostly for Dave. I was too out of it to even really know what was happening, but it was bad. Because this is a blog, this is going to sound like I'm exaggerating, but I'm telling the truth when I say that the midwives saved my life.
You hear unbelievable things, sad and tragic things, about childbirth 100 years ago, or even right now in the developing world, but you really don't expect that it will happen to you in 21st century North America. We're all thankful that I'm here and well and raising beautiful Esther Natalia with my husband.
And the real truth is that the hand of God was protecting me and Esther throughout the whole day(s). When her heart rate dropped, it was down briefly and then came right back up again. When she was born and I hemorrhaged, everything happened in just the right timing so that I didn't have to transfer to the hospital, and was stabilized there at the birth center. He preserved both of our lives and rescued us.
I can say all this in hindsight, because honestly, neither Dave nor I really "felt" the presence of God with us during labor and birth. It just felt quiet. I keep thinking about that cheesy "footprints in the sand poem," and as I reflect on December 10, I know that God was with us, carrying us, even if we didn't sense it right then. It's one of those times where faith and emotion are pretty separate. Sometimes I want to "feel" something to count it as a spiritual experience, but this taught me that it's not always that way.
We stayed at the birth center longer than normal, because of the post-delivery complications, and headed home around 6am. I was on bed rest for about 10 days, and was so thankful to have the help of our families, especially our moms, for that time. And to have a husband who lays down his life for me... Dave is such a servant, and I was humbled and overwhelmed again by his love for me.
And I'm still a HUGE midwife fan, because ours were awesome, and gave the best best best care. They did many of our follow-up visits at our home, so we didn't have to get out the door with a newborn. Esther nursed (still nurses) like a champ and was above her birth weight 8 days after being born. Way to go, baby girl.
My mom flew in two days after Esther was born and stayed for 10 days to help out. Our original plan was to have time as a new family to bond, just me and Dave and Esther. But we didn't anticipate needing so much hands on help for Esther AND for me. I couldn't get out of bed to do anything without lots of assistance (aka Dave carrying me by the armpits), and pretty much just lay in bed and fed Esther for 7 straight days. I was starting to feel crazy by the end of it, but I know that was crucial in my body's healing, which still took several more weeks.
Esther slept through her whole first bath, and then pooped in her towel while my mom was holding her. : )
So we're coming up on Esther's two-month birthday, and starting to find our rhythm as parents. I already can't believe how big she is, and how fast she's growing. It sort of blows my mind that she came out of me, equal parts Abby and Dave, and that she's growing JUST from what I'm feeding her. It's amazing, and I'm sure my mind will continue to be blown in the coming years.