Anthony's Birth Story - Part 2
Despite my best efforts the night before, I woke up Tuesday morning still pregnant. I just couldn’t believe I was about to walk into a hospital to give birth, while not already being in labor. It felt surreal, hypocritical, and a bit scary. Basically, everything that I didn’t want. I ashamedly complained to my husband as we packed into the car. I needed a divine attitude adjustment asap, anxiety hormones were definitely not going to be on my side to speed up the labor process. Thankfully, I married a man with the complete opposite temperament than me, who in times like these was able to kindly snap me out of it. He pulled the rosary off of our rear view mirror, “Its all going to be okay, you are going to do great,” as he began to pray. Excited and despairing thoughts were at war in my mind, and the repetitive prayer helped put the positive thought battle ahead. We made our way oddly (for me) in silence to the labor and delivery front desk. “Alex DeRose, oh! we weren’t sure if you were going to show up or not…so today is the big day, you are going to have a baby!” smiled the bubbly secretary. That did it. You know the feeling when your emotions are so high that any simple word will trigger the flood of tears. No, no, cried my pride, this really isn’t what I wanted. I’m not in labor, I shouldn’t be having a baby today! My husband continued to answer her questions while I remained a sob mess, and entering through the unit doors came our guardian angel for the day. She immediately put her arms around me and before she could say her name, I saw the tag read, Nancy. Nurse Nancy, the ‘experienced natural childbirth nurse,’ I hope you know I have been praying for you all night. Her warm smile brought me instant comfort, and she kindly listened to me vent while guiding us to our room.
Although her presence calmed me, I was still a nervous wreak, as I changed into the hospital gown and was hooked up to the monitor. A few contractions showed, but nothing regular. Dr. T soon arrived to examine me, 3cm dilated 90% effaced. I immediately felt defeated I had not progressed from the 3cm since the day before. (Note, this is why I refused cervical exams in pregnancy! My experience of being 6cm dilated at 36 weeks with my first and not delivering until 3 weeks later taught me that dilation does not have much reference to my impending delivery, it is more the intensity and duration of contractions, and occasionally effacement.) “So now what?” “Now, I will break your water.” Ah! I’m shaking and grabbing my husbands hand, still not believing this is happening. Nick, let’s change our minds and get out of here right now! Dr. T pulls out the instrument she’s going to use and explains how this is going to be a very gentle procedure, it’s not going to hurt. I really don’t want to see the instrument, I really just don’t want to do this. It all felt so unnatural. This whole idea of inducing my body into something it might not be ready for…and that exposing, uncomfortable, lithotomy position definitely didn’t help. “Take a deep breath, your baby looks great on the monitor, I’m going to break your water and leave you to do the rest of the work on your own. We will just monitor you for 15 minutes every hour, the other 45 its up to you, you can go do cartwheels in the hallway or whatever you want.” I guess there’s no turning back now, “Ok.” And as I squeezed Nick’s hand and held my breath, there she went. “That’s it.” I felt the fluid slowly dripping down my legs. “I’ll be back later to check in, but its all up to you to do the work now,” said Dr. T as she confidently left the room. It was about 9:30am.
This is really happening. The best thing I can do is relax. I couldn’t let my months of preparation go to waste this late in the game. Jesus, I trust in you. By Gods grace, the power of prayer and positive thinking overcame my mental shift. I knew that God would be with me, I knew that I needed to embrace my body, embrace the contractions and embrace my husband’s support. Yet, it still felt uncanny as we walked the halls of the unit together, just waiting for labor to start. (My other two pregnancies I showed up to the hospital ready to push! and although I did have my membranes ruptured with our first, I was then 10cm, 100% effaced, so obviously a different scenario). How long would this take? When would the contractions come? The water continued to leak, with a few contractions here and there, but nothing I couldn’t talk through. I looked over at my husband, who was completely attentive, listening to me, holding my hand, rubbing my back, and I never felt more loved. What a blessing this peaceful birth beginning was turning into. Since our 2 other boys already taken care of, Nick was free to just focus on me and the baby, a drastic difference from our other two chaotic births. I loved his sole attention, I loved him. I wanted to start passionately kissing him right there in the halls, but I figured that might be inappropriate and embarrass his introverted nature…so I waited for our private room. For the next 2 hours, we walked the halls, talked, prayed, and my favorite, did the rock/sway/dance positions through my not-yet-so-bad-contractions! This was again drastically different from our other rushed labors, that when I re-watched labor movies this pregnancy I began to wonder if people even actually did that. God was absolutely using this time of early labor in the hospital to draw me close to my husband in a way I could not have planned.
I felt the contractions increasing, but still manageable and irregular. It was almost lunchtime and Nick and I both began to wonder if we were on the right timeline. Thankfully, our Nurse Nancy reassured us everything is looking great and going as expected, “you can’t predict how quickly your body is going to respond, but yours knows what to do.” Still a little worried labor was not yet progressing, “Should I be doing anything differently? Should I keep walking, or walk more?” And here is where her wisdom really kicked in, “Actually, I think you should take a nap. Your body will still continue to make progress while you sleep, and it will help to get the rest now and clear your mind.” A nap? I am one of the least relaxed, zero phlegmatic, people you will meet, and if I didn’t intuitively trust Nancy, there would have been no way I would have considered sleep when I needed to be birthing my baby! But this blessed nap turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. Nick went to grab some lunch, I was disconnected from the monitor, and alone in our quiet, dimly lit room. I laid on the bed, glanced at my phone for the first time since arriving to read the plethora of encouraging messages from people praying for me, and miraculously, I feel asleep. Heaven went into overtime, and 45 minutes later I woke up in labor. I felt so refreshed, texted back family & friends a quick update, and felt the excitement of the first strong contraction. Nick was back, happy to hear my update, and Nancy was ready to hook me up for the 15 minutes of monitoring. As soon as I sat up in bed another strong contraction hit, and I knew right away I would not be able to comfortably lie on my back for monitoring this time. Nancy considerately pulled over a chair and positioned the monitor so I could more comfortably sit upright. I asked Nick to hand me my headphones and I listened to Hillsong worship music as I rocked through the contractions. I was thankful I had pre-planned a labor music list, and that I was actually able to use it! I focused on my breathing, closed my eyes and used all the visualization I had practiced. Don’t fight the contraction, see your strong uterus tightening and your cervix opening to make way for your baby. Think of the contraction as a wave, you are riding it high, now making your way down. I felt so in tune with my body, and ready to embrace this birth.
I made it through the seated monitoring, Nancy left, and for the next 45 minutes it was just Nick & I in our room. It was like my labor fantasy. I would tell Nick when the contractions started, and as he timed them he would repeat the birth affirmations I had printed out, you were born to do this, think of Jesus in the monstrance, you are strong, you can do this, and then he would count down out loud when the 30 second mark hit. (The worst contractions are a minute so you can use the 30 second countdown as your mental halfway point. I highly recommend it, was one of the most helpful things for me through this labor, and in the words of my mom, you can do anything for a minute!) As the contractions grew stronger and I wasn’t up for talking, we used a fist signal for him to know when they were starting, and that 30 second countdown was like magic. I labored in every position I wanted, changing with every contraction to pelvic rocking, squatting, on all 4s, etc. When the contraction ended we would smile at each other, feeling so united, we knew we would be meeting our baby soon. “These are getting really close together, should I call back the nurse?” “No, please, I just want it to be me & you now.” One of the most memorable analogy’s from all of my pregnancy reading was when an author compared birth to sex. They are both meant to be private acts, she explained, done in a safe, calm environment where the woman feels loved, respected and surrounded by those she trusts. That is exactly how I felt.
Nancy returned to see me making obvious progression, and within no time Dr. T arrived. I made it through the quick, uncomfortable exam, 6cm dilated, 90% effaced. “Great progression, I’m thinking we will have a baby within a few hours!” I tried not to look at the clock, but it was 2:15 and I knew Nancy’s shift ended at 3pm. Lord, I really wanted Nancy to be here for the birth. You know how invaluable the nurse can be to the series of events, and I wasn’t in the mood to build a new rapport at that point. Well, never doubt that God hears the smallest of our prayers. As soon as Dr. T left the room, the contractions came on with vengeance. This was it! There is nothing like facing those moments you prepare for, you cannot reenact the pain, but the mental power proves critical. I couldn’t get comfortable, I couldn’t talk, I was sweating, and I was focused. Nancy positioned the bed upright so that I was kneeling on the bed, propped up holding onto an array of pillows. Nick continued to whisper prayers and affirmations to me, and by 2:30 the worst had come. “I’m going to need the epidural. I can’t do this anymore.” “You can do it, you don’t need the drugs,” he confidently assured me just as we had practiced. “No, this time I really do, I can’t handle it anymore.” Nancy stepped in, “I would have to start running fluids through your IV now.” I don’t know how I overcame the temptation, but I knew how deeply I wanted another drug free delivery, and somehow I knew I could do it. “No, don’t run the fluids.” I subconsciously knew this was the point of transition! Nick continued to recite my positive affirmations, think of Jesus on the cross, don’t be afraid, you were born to do this, and I focused all my might on my uterus and the baby. A dear friend had recommended offering labor for a specific intention, and at that moment I called to mind what it was I was offering. 5 minutes later I had transitioned off the pillows to all 4s rocking on the bed, off the monitor, and suddenly surprised when I knew what this was, “Nick, I have to push.” “Let me check you to see whats going on before I call the doctor,” said Nancy as she looked over from her computer screen, “No, I don’t want to be checked,” I adamantly mustered as I knew I didn’t want to be touched, I was in the zone. Moments later over a deep breath, “I’m pushing.” One push, I felt his head come out. I could hear Nancy running over & telling Nick to push the code button for help, but because I was on all 4s facing the bed I couldn’t see them. Second push, he was out! Praise God! I felt amazing. It was a rush of relief and adrenaline, and if there was any pain, I couldn’t feel it. I heard our baby boy’s beautiful cry, born at 2:47pm, and painlessly asked, if I can have him on my chest. “Hold still, hunny,” shouted the onslaught of professionals, including Dr. T, who had arrived late to the scene. They were all wonderful, and worked to maneuver me to my back while respecting my wish to keep the cord attached. “Congratulations! He is beautiful, what is his name?” “Anthony,” proudly responded Nick. And unlike us to change anything last minute, we quickly agreed to change his middle name from our planned Paul to Thomas. Thomas had been on our boy list, and after a text from a best friend reminded Nick that today was the doubting apostle’s feast day, it was a no brainer. St. Thomas had intervened through my every doubts on this birth. “Anthony Thomas.” I pulled him onto my chest and smiled at Nick. Our unwanted hospital induction had turned into as low intervention, peaceful, home birthish in hospital birth than I could have imagined.
Even after this long post I am still processing the events of the day, and the lessons I want to remember. Trust, acceptance, surrender. The power of prayer. The power in community. The power in suffering. The importance of visualization and positive affirmations through labor. The gift of my supportive and loving husband. The gift of my own mother’s encouragement and birth wisdom. The gift of my faith. The gift of my faithful friends prayers and affirming texts through the day. The handpicked by God staff present that day. The divine attention to every detail, and the lesson in humility to accept it.
There is power in sharing our birth stories. What we pass on to our daughters, our sisters and our fellow women about birth matter. Share the suffering, the unexpected, the joys and the tragedies. Every birth and every child leaves us stronger than before, leaves us with another mark as a female warrior. My prayer is that in whatever way God unfolds His plan for the birth of your child, you trust and embrace it, and remember the words of my dear friend Mary Haseltine, “You were made for this.”