Looking back on all that I have gone through as a woman and wife and mother in the past few months I know I have had so much to share, but for what seems like the first time in my life, I wasn't compelled to. It truly was a special time. I have learned and laughed and cried in the past few months more than I have at any other time chunk of my life and yet all those defining moments are tucked away in my heart (and external hard drives) just for me. Just for us. My family.
I've decided the best way to return to writing would be to share something incredibly personal that is long overdue; Oshiolema's birth story. This day has been playing more frequently in my mind than usual lately as I realize in a few short months I'll be doing some version of this over again. Before I begin, I want to share a few truths about my story. One: I knew well before I even got married that when it came time for me to have a baby, I wanted to do it naturally. Medicine doesn't mix well with me and after lots of research I found that natural childbirth was the best fit for our family. I have no judgements whatsoever on the way mothers choose to bring their baby into the world. Growing a baby and getting said baby out of you is an absolute miracle and I'm a firm believer that the Lord will show us exactly what's best for us if we ask Him and trust Him. Two: this natural birth of mine was successful, healthy and empowering but oh my goodness. It was hard. And painful. And long. Like, really long. If you're pregnant and at all discouraged by birth stories with a twist and turn or two then maybe this isn't the birth story for you to read in this season. Guard your heart, but trust that in the end a beautiful healthy baby boy was brought into the world by a sweaty butt naked mama on a stool;) this is a long one so grab a cup of coffee and some popcorn and settle in for a story.
Early in my pregnancy I had a vision of my birth and my younger sister was there. I have four sisters and this one in particular spent the first half of her life trying to make mine miserable but God is faithful and she is now one of my best friends in the world. I never pictured wanting anyone in the room besides my husband for the delivery-not a doula, not my mother, just us. After seeing this picture in my mind of my sister there, though, I knew it was from the Lord and we planned for her to move in with us for Christmas break (thank you, college, for perfect winter-break timing!) And she would stay until this sweet baby was born.
All went on without a hitch until I hit 36 1/2 weeks of pregnancy and Jackie realized her school started two weeks earlier than she originally thought. Instead of not having to leave until after my due date, she suddenly had to leave us two weeks before it. There was panic, sure, but part of me just knew she would be there. "Don't worry," I told her, "this just means this baby is coming early. Everyone said we were crazy because it's common knowledge that first babies usually take their sweet time, but we decided since she had to leave Friday the 16th the baby was coming Wednesday the 14th." And we were right.
Tuesday, January 13th at exactly 38 weeks pregnant, I woke up especially weepy and had a strange feeling everything was changing. Something strange happens over the course of those ten months of growing a human. At the beginning, for the longest time you can't even believe you're pregnancy. There are weeks (months, even) when you doubt you even are pregnant. Next, you know you're pregnant, you're in love with your pregnancy and feel you can be pregnant forever. Then, of course, you put up the eviction notice and decide you cannot be pregnant for a single second longer and begin begging this sweet beautiful child to get out of you. But for a moment, just a teeny moment at the very end, you realize nothing will ever be the same. This baby that has been so protected by you will now be leaving you. It's a strange stillness, and that morning I was deep in it. My husband prayed with me, wiped me tears and drove across town to grab my favorite biscuits and gravy.
Jackie and I sat by the fireplace for what felt like hours until it was time for our walk around 4pm (Determined to get this child out early had me bouncing on birthing balls, lunging up the stairs and walking miles every day. I was a woman on a mission!) I had been having Braxton hicks contractions for a solid month at this time so I didn't think much of all the cramping on our walk, but when I had to start bending over and taking deep breaths during the pains I realized something was different. We whipped out our phones to start timing the contractions and sure enough, there was a pattern. I decided I'd go home to take a bath and if they didn't stop or slow down then it was go time. I remember the bath being so peaceful, I traced squiggly lines on my belly and watched the baby squirm about. I put on a robe that made me look approximately 700lbs (though I wasn't far off at that point...) poured a bowl of cereal, sat on the couch and at that very moment my water broke. It was 7:22pm and finally time to meet our baby.
We had settled on the Bradley Method of Husband Coached Childbirth for our labor and had planned on staying home until my contractions were 5 minutes apart, but when I called to give my midwives the heads up about my water breaking they reminded me I had to come in immediately to start antibiotics because I was Group B Strep positive. That was a bit of a bummer since my contractions were so irregular and manageable at this point but we were prepared! After crossing off many highlighted lists, loading many pre-packed bags and calling both of our parents we made the five minute drive to the Natural Birth Center, which is more of a luxury condo than a hospital. It has no interventions so if I did decide I wanted any drugs or had to have a c-section I would have to be transferred, but knowing it was connected to the hospital gave me such comfort. It was now 9pm and I remember being literally giddy waking the halls of the birth center. When we arrived, my favorite midwife greeted us and walked us past a roaring fireplace, past a cozy living room and enormous kitchen (where I stupidly pictured baking cookies???) to the triage area for some vitals since I wouldn't be hooked up to any monitors.
At this point contractions were noticeable but more exciting than painful and I was only 3cm dialated. Oshiomogho sent Jackie home to grab his PS3 so we could watch season 8 of Friends (seemed like a totally rational idea at the time) and I'm not kidding, it must have taken her a total of 22 minutes to go home and come back but the second she walked in the door things got real. I asked to have the lights turned off, for my music to be turned on and started working through contractions as best I could. Needless to say...nobody watched Friends that night.
I spent as much time as I could on the birthing ball leaned over the bed, moaning and praying through contractions. Once they became too strong I decided it was time to switch to the tub. The enormous jacuzzi tub was the best medicine early on. I could swish water over my belly and somehow trick my mind into nearly completely shutting down-focusing only on music and water and breathing deeply. These contractions were so strong and overwhelming that it took all of my focus and attention just to make it through each second. I kept my eyes closed for the most part, but when it felt impossible all I had to do was tune into my husband. Oshiomogho was an absolute anchor for me for the entire labor process. He had studied so hard to be the best support system and I am absolutely positive I could not have made it through without him. He'd be the logic to my emotion, reminding me when a pain or change "sounded like something we learned," that it was totally normal and bringing us closer to our baby. He would anticipate anything I needed before I had to ask and would direct Jackie to grab things so he never had to leave my side, rubbed tennis balls on my lower back, followed extremely poor and skitsofrinic-like direction (push my lower back... no my upper back... nevermind please don't touch me right now...) and He never once stopped telling me I could do it. That I was doing it. And I needed that.
At around 5am the tub suddenly felt like it was caving in on me. My body felt like it was caving in on the baby. Everything was shifting even though I wasn't moving and it was absolutely unbearable. Up until this point I had been calm and focused, but I began to panic and looked at my small team of midwives and nurses and confidently told them I couldn't do this anymore. I couldn't have this baby. I wasn't ready and it was too much. Everyone helped me get out of the tub and move over to the bed to be checked, where I was faced with discouraging news that I was, in fact, only 5cm dialated. 2 centimeters in 8 hours were just numbers I couldn't get on board with. I was heartbroken. Exhaustion began setting in as my body was already so depleted. I hadn't had a good nights rest in at least two weeks before this day. I was low on sleep, low on energy and low on protein. Not an ideal way to start an all-natural labor. The next couple hours were excruciating. I switched frequently between the birthing ball, leaning over the bed and the tub. Each contraction was stronger and felt longer than the one before it and I was just sure that this was good work-progressive work. I was just sure the next time I got checked that I would be at an 8 at least. I was checked at 7am and surprise surprise, still a 5. The nurses and midwives seemed puzzled, but the worst part was that it was time for my team to switch shifts and everyone I had so bonded with and trusted was leaving me. I let my body do limp into my midwifes arm and tried to explain that I just couldn't do it without her. She assured me that I was strong, I was in the best hands, and I was a mother. The midwife that took her place was fine, but I had only met her once before. Just the previous week, actually. She wasn't warm and fuzzy but was instead direct and to the point...I was bitter.
The first thing she told me was that I needed to get out of the tub and wouldn't be able to get back in for the rest of my labor if I did indeed want to do this naturally. That wasn't the best foot to start off on since the tub was the love of my life at that point, but she explained I was only managing pain but not progressing in there and that I needed to get moving, and fast. I trusted her. I also cried.
We moved to the shower where I would sway back and forth draped over my husbands shoulders for the next three hours. I never stopped moving, or moaning, or praying aloud. I played the same four worship songs on repeat and never once stopped to consider that I might have ruined music forever for the nurses in that room. I remember saying the name of Jesus what must have been six million times over the course of those shower hours. It felt something like carrying a baby grand piano in my uterus and with every sway of my hips it was dropping lower and lower. The pressure was something I could never picture and never describe. And the contractions had become so close together that I found it hard to do much of anything besides anticipate, endure, recover, repeat. There was no break. No pause. No relief. I can't remember the exact time I was checked next, but it was then that my midwife noticed that I had been in intense labor for so long that my cervix had swollen a bit, preventing the baby's head from descending lower. She looked at me and slowly explained in what seemed like slow motion to me that she was going to pull my cervix up under the baby's head so that I could progress. It sounded terrifying, but I just couldn't bear the contractions anymore and welcomed anything that would speed this process up. It was as painful as it sounds, but I don't remember that either. (Thank you, Lord!) Shortly after this I was measured and was thrilled to hear I was finally at an 8. The midwife rubbed a mixture of essential oils on my belly and explained that this should help to "get things going." I received two rounds of fluids since I was so depleted and dehydrated...visions of my quick and easy labor had come and gone.
After some time in the rocking chair, rocking to the timing of my contractions and falling asleep for the minute between each one, I headed back into the shower since that's where I seemed to have the most progression. It was time to get back to work. My midwife came to the shower and did a concerned look at her watch and back up at me. She was aware I was GBS+, which is most dangerous to the baby in labor. She was also aware that my water had broken many hours before, breaking the protective barrier around the baby. She let me know that if things didn't start progressing quickly that it might be time to start thinking of some other options; which led me to utter the most transparent and foolish lie of my life. "Oh, I'm ready to push."
Oshiomogho was trying to be supportive and protective in the same breath and looked at me kind of shocked, since we both know when it's time to push-you and everyone will know it.
"Wait, are you sure? You haven't said you had to push..."
"Well I do."
"Remember? They say you'll know it's time to push when if you were in the middle of traffic, you couldn't stop your body from pushing."
"Yep. I remember. That's what I feel."
This sweet man of mine shrugged a little bit and led me out to the bed to play out my poor decision. Ladies, don't push when you're not ready. Just don't. I won't go into tremendous detail for this portion but let's just say I still regret this decision today. I tried everything. I laid on my side with my husband holding my leg, laid on my back holding both legs, rolled to all fours...this fruitless pushing went on for about an hour and a half until I couldn't take it anymore. I went to the bathroom just to sit on the toilet and talk to Oshiomogho. I looked him in the eye and held his face and said "I don't want an epidural. I don't want a c-section. And I don't want to do this anymore. I can't do this. Tell me what to do." Soon after that, sitting on the toilet, I felt it. I felt the urge to push, and I couldn't stop. It's the strangest most wonderful sensation ever to know your body is ready to bring this baby into the world! My husband walked me to the birthing stool and I leaned back into his arms. I was a literal zombie at this point and could hardly walk on my own so pushing seemed like Everest. My sister was in front of me and the room had changed from quiet, serene intensity to a buzz of joy and encouragement and excitement. This was it!! It took a while to figure out just the right way to push but once I did things really got going. After pushing for a half hour they said they saw a full head of hair and I knew it was any minute now.
Oshiomogho switched places with my sister and prepared to catch the baby-he went to school to deliver babies before heading to the NFL so this was his biggest dream come true. I pushed with every ounce of life I had in me and felt everything that every woman said I would. The ring of fire is exactly that-there is no better way to describe it-yet I can't put into words how productive that intense pain of pushing is. I would take crowning over a day's worth of contractions any day! I have to be honest and say I blacked out at this point. Instinct took over and I don't remember a thing. I only found out the week after giving birth when telling the story to a friend what really happened! My husband cut me off when I explained that he delivered the baby to say "no, no love..YOU delivered the baby." I was shocked! Apparently this is what happened: with one enormous push Oshiolema's head emerged, followed one second later by a strong punch from his first. That's right, friend. If you're thinking, "that'll leave a mark," it did. So his head, clenched fist and arm were the first to break free, and when I opened my eyes to see this I started yelling "My baby! My baby!" In shock and pulled him out of me and laid him on my chest, Kourtney Kardashian style. I still truly cannot believe this. I feel badly that I took that moment from my love but am also so proud that my black-out instinct was to go get my baby.
(sorry for the cone head, honey...pushing took longer than I thought!)
Just like that, this 8lb 4oz 21 1/2" baby that I had never met but knew so well was finally in my arms. And he was a boy! I was able to nurse right away and we stayed skin to skin for an hour-though I will admit this was a bit of a challenge since I had to be stitched up extensively right away. Running strictly on adrenaline with a new human laid on my chest and trying to stay still for stitches took a bit of the sweetness of the moment away, but it didn't matter. We had our family. My husband, my son and I laid there in awe of each other. In those few minutes, one chapter closed forever and a brand new one began.
This day changed me forever. It was every bit as hard as I pictured-harder even-but God is so faithful. I have a friend who has four kids and I remember sitting in her kitchen asking for some tips on getting through labor and delivery. She told me, "I always just think, 'this time tomorrow I'll be eating breakfast.'" I tried not to react since I thought it was just about the most ridiculous advice I had heard yet, but she explained that she just did her best to realize no matter how challenging the moment was, no matter how trying those hours were, soon she would have her baby and tomorrow would just be another day. This deeply impacted me. I thought about it many times that day cold in January and I think about it now that I'm preparing to do it again. I will admit vulnerably that I was a bit traumatized by labor and it left me needing extensive physical, emotional and especially spiritual recovery. At the start of the year, the Lord put Isaiah 43:19 on my heart as well as my husbands heart on the very same day. The verse says, "For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?" I found out I was pregnant one week after that day. We took it to mean this was the verse that would define our year and I have gone a step further to say it is the verse that will define my pregnancy and labor. I hesitated to write this out on paper but I will cherish this story forever. I'm surprised to know how many details are already fuzzy and so I encourage you, mothers, to write your birth stories out. Read them any time you need to remember just how faithful our God is. (And then please, send them my way! I LOVE reading birth stories!)