revisiting Emma's birth story

At 9 months old, Emma has officially been out longer than she was in. This milestone has had me thinking a lot about my pregnancy and her birth, so I went back and read her birth story the other day, only to find myself disappointed with what I had written. Or more, what I hadn't written. Which is funny because that was a loooong post. But it read very technical to me... like I went into labor, and it hurt, and then I was in labor some more, and then hours passed and days, and then, and then, and then... what was missing was what I was thinking and feeling during those 63 hours. I think at the time I wrote it I was still very caught up in how it all went down... I felt this great responsibility to document every step of the process, and in doing so failed to capture the emotion of it all. So, here's take 2... the version I want to read when I think about that day, and the version I hope to someday share with Emma...

Oh my god. That's the first thought I had when I found out I was pregnant. We had been trying for months, though it felt like years at that point, and I was in disbelief at what I saw. Two lines. Two lines! As my eyes welled up with tears, I rushed downstairs to tell Jared... We're going to have a baby. What? It's positive? Yes! It's positive. Holy crap! We hugged, we kissed, we cried. Then the anxiety hit me. And there it stayed for most of my 1st trimester. What if it was a false positive? What if these cramps aren't just growing pains? Is that spotting? If there's one good thing about morning sickness (or 8 to 3 sickness, in my case) it's that it's a nice little daily reminder that you are, in fact, definitely still pregnant. Even so, I tried not to get my hopes up until I hit my 2nd trimester. I didn't buy anything for the baby, I didn't start planning the nursery. And then we saw her.

She was just an it at that point... but she was perfect. And more importantly, she and I were both healthy as could be. I could breathe. It was right around that time I stopped getting sick, and got some of my energy back. I was finally feeling well enough to start being that hip mama-to-be I'd imagined I'd be before morning sickness knocked me on my butt for 2 months. I started going to prenatal yoga, laughing with other pregnant women about our aches, pains, and strange bodily functions. I retired the last of my normal jeans and bras. I started rubbing my growing belly all day every day. I was pregnant, and I reveled in it.

It was around that time that I dove head first into the world of natural birth, and dragged Jared along with me. When I first got pregnant I thought Well, maybe I'll try for a natural birth and just see what happens once I'm in it. But I'm so not a "see what happens" kind of person. That initial thought quickly turned into switching from an OB to a midwife, and before I knew it we were sitting in weekly hypnobirthing classes visualizing opening up like a flower and watching videos of hippy women seemingly enjoying labor and delivery. The more we learned, the more we believed that natural birth would be the safest and gentlest way to bring our baby into the world... it was to be the most important physical endeavor of my life and I was training my little heart out.

As my due date approached I grew increasingly uncomfortable. I loved being pregnant, but I was getting more than a little anxious to get this show on the road. I was ready. Well, as ready as I could be. And I felt strong. I felt more connected to my body than I ever had before and I had the blissful confidence of someone who had no idea what she was in for. Jared and I filled those long days of waiting by going out to dinner, seeing some live music, and basically doing all the things people told us we wouldn't have time for anymore once our baby was born. They couldn't have been more right.

The night after Emma was due, I went into labor. We were sitting on the couch watching TV and I started having contractions that just felt different. Before I went into labor I longed to know what those contractions would feel like. How would I know when it was really time? All I can say is that I just knew. They were a little stronger than Braxton Hicks, a little more real. They eased on and gloriously off, making them feel manageable. I sat there secretly timing my contractions, not wanting to get Jared all excited if this was just false labor. After a half an hour or so I decided to pipe up. So... I think I'm in labor.

My contractions were strong, but infrequent. At 10 minutes apart it looked like this was going to take a while, so we decided to try to get some sleep. I knew I wouldn't really be able to sleep. Aside from the pain and pressure, my baby was coming. How could I sleep? Neither of us really slept that night, and by morning my contractions were 7 minutes apart. I figured I'd have a light breakfast, hang out for a couple of hours, and be ready to head to the hospital. This was happening. My baby was going to be born today. But shortly after breakfast my labor stalled. I was disappointed, but I knew this was common with first babies and tried to just carry on with my day and wait for labor to pick back up. We walked. I watched bad daytime tv. We ate. I had a contraction every half an hour or so. We walked some more.

Labor finally picked up again that night, this time more intense than before, especially in my lower back. Alright, now this is really happening. 10 minutes apart again. It was late. After not sleeping the night before we were so tired. We tried to sleep again. We failed again. The contractions were so intense but not getting any closer. I was exhausted and frustrated. Come on already, baby!

Morning arrived and my contractions were still 7-10 minutes apart, still intense, still shooting through my lower back. Another call to the midwife, and a new theory that our baby was posterior - meaning she was head down, but facing my tummy instead of my back. Super. Apparently when this happens the body will stall the labor to try to give the baby time to turn. We learned a variety of tricks and positions to try to encourage her to turn, but nothing was feeling like it was making a difference and my contractions were getting stronger but not closer. Nighttime rolled around and I'd now been in labor for 2 days. Any hope I had of today being the day was quickly waning. The midwife on call instructed me to do whatever I needed to do to get some sleep. She told me to try Benadryl and a bath, and if that didn't work to come into the hospital and they'd give me some morphine to knock me out. I went to lay down after I got out of the bath, and of course, not five minutes later my contractions finally started to pick up. Well, if I'm not going to get some sleep I guess I'll go have this baby. We made the call to go to the hospital. Either I was going to have the baby, or I was going to get some drugs so I could sleep.

We got to admitting, where I proudly refused the wheelchair. I remember thinking, I may have been in labor for the past 2 days, but I am not crippled. Gee, I wonder where this baby was getting her stubbornness from. We sat in triage for what felt like forever while they hooked me up to the monitor and measured my contractions. All I wanted was for them to tell me this was really happening, admit me, and get me to my room - the room where we would finally meet our baby. Something about my calm demeanor had the triage nurse thinking I wasn't very far along, and she made it clear she thought we were wasting her time. We didn't care for her very much. Finally a midwife came down to examine me. The moment of truth... She asked me how dilated I wanted to be, to which I responded, More than 1… please just let it be more than 1. She replied, How about more than 5? I was 6-7 centimeters and I could have kissed her. I was so relieved to know that I'd actually been making progress the past 2 days. I heard the triage nurse mutter under her breath that I wasn't acting like I was 6-7 centimeters dilated. Yes, that's because I am strong, and brave, and I don't feel the need to make a big dramatic production out of each contraction no matter how intense they are. That, or I'm just very very tired.

We checked into our room and they started prepping the birthing tub. Jared and I walked the halls while we waited. I wanted nothing more than to get into that warm water. But sadly, my nice peaceful water birth wasn't meant to be. Being in the tub was slowing my labor, and no amount of pain relief was worth dragging this thing out any longer. So we went back to walking the halls.

The hours passed so slowly. Each contraction was more intense than the last, each one requiring Jared to press even harder on my lower back as I breathed through it. I was making progress but it was so slow. Around 7am I called my sister. I couldn't even get a full sentence out. I heard her voice and I lost it. Tears were falling. I can't do it. I'm so tired. I'm trying so hard to be strong, but it's too hard. Her encouragement and support in that moment meant more than I can ever say. I gathered myself together, and Jared and I had a heart to heart about our options. My midwife was starting to get very concerned about my exhaustion... would I have any energy left to push after 3 sleepless nights? But I'd come so far. As a last ditch effort to move things along, Jared and I agreed to let them break my water. Please let this work. I know I said I'd be okay with getting drugs if there was no alternative but I'm too proud for my own good I really really don't want them. I felt an almost immediate difference. My contractions had become all consuming, but closer together. About 20 minutes after they broke my water I started feeling the urge to push. This was it.

I'd heard that for many women the pushing was easier than labor. Not. Even. Close. I don't know if it was because I was more exhausted than I'd been in my entire life, or because our baby still hadn't turned fully anterior. But pushing was hard. Without a doubt the most intensely challenging and painful experience of my life. But it was good pain. It was miraculous pain. It was pain that was giving life. I pushed for over an hour. I kept looking at Jared feeling like I was letting him down. He'd been more than I could have ever asked for. I could tell it was nearly unbearable for him to watch me in so much pain, and I wanted so desperately to relieve him of that. But I don't want to push anymore. I can't. I have nothing left to give. Somehow with each contraction I went deeper inside myself and mustered the strength to push longer and harder than I thought I was capable of. Finally, our baby was crowning. They told me to reach down and feel her head. I couldn't. If I stop now I won't be able to keep going. I just want to keep going. A few more pushes and her head was out. And then her body. They laid her on my chest and time stopped. Hello, my love. She was a wonder. We took in every tiny wrinkly inch of her. Our Emma Rose. I remember being so surprised at her full head of dark hair. She was so uniquely her, and she really was perfect.

We held her in disbelief that she was finally here... that after 9 months and a seemingly endless labor, we were a family. I looked at my husband holding his daughter for the first time... filled with more love than I ever imagined possible. It had all been so worth it.