I was blessed to have a very easy and healthy pregnancy. Praise the LORD for that! It was truly one of my favorite seasons of life. I felt great for the majority of the time, was able to remain very active, and even got relief from my horrible allergies for many months.
I had taken two pregnancy tests that confirmed my suspicions in January, while my younger sister was living with us. I remember the initial shock and disbelief, and even weeks later looking at the first ultrasound, fully expected them to say, “There’s no baby in here; you must have imagined it.” Instead, I saw a tiny pea-sized miracle with a flickering little heartbeat. I was in awe.
I proceeded to do an incredible amount of reading in my pregnancy. I wanted to know it all: the good, the bad, and the terrifying. I read helpful books like “Your Best Birth” and I bought “The Pregnancy Journal” to read about Baby’s daily development. I also watched The Business of Being Born (which my husband was NOT quite ready for). All of that, coupled with talking to one of my best friends about her experience, helped me decide I wanted to give birth without pain medication. There was a birth center located about 45 minutes from us that I thought sounded ideal, but my husband requested a hospital birth for our first experience. Our perfect compromise was to choose a hospital with a great reputation for natural births and deliver with a midwife instead of a doctor. We took prenatal classes there as well, which were excellent in getting us both on the same page and prepping us for what was to come. They educated us on many natural ways of handling pain. I enjoyed meeting to go over our birth plan and the details I wanted to include: a birthing ball, a birthing stool, and my husband revealing the gender of our baby to me.
At that first ultrasound, the local OB/GYN originally predicted Baby would arrive in early August. Since in the months leading up to this pregnancy I had been reading up on Natural Family Planning and keeping meticulous records of my cycle, I knew that I was not that far along. According to my calculations, I thought September 19th would be about 40 weeks. We discussed, disagreed, and finally after the measurements on the ultrasound, the OB/GYN thought September 23 was most accurate. I was only 8 weeks along. I decided to try to keep teaching part-time and coaching cross country up until the baby came, because I knew that would be best for my overactive mind and I had read staying as active as possible helps labor and delivery as well.
I taught on Friday, September 19th and then packed up my things in my classroom. I planned to spend the following week at home and let my maternity substitute take over the teaching. I hadn’t felt any contractions, just very mild Braxton Hicks, so I was assuming I still had many days before Baby would come. I had my 40 week appointment with my midwife that afternoon and found out I was two centimeters dilated and close to 80% effaced. I was thrilled! Two weeks earlier I had been one centimeter and 70%, so at least I was finally making some more “progress”. My favorite moment leading up to birth was at the 39 week appointment when they did a “bone check.” The midwife who performed that complimented my birthing bones. She told me I was fortunate that my small body was lined up well and doing exactly what it needed to do to prepare for birth. I smiled as she told me I would be an excellent candidate to deliver at the birthing center. Maybe next time, I thought to myself. The midwife that saw us at 40 weeks, Betsy, made the comment that dilation and effacing doesn’t necessarily give us an accurate picture of how soon this baby might come, however. So we headed back to Warsaw in that surreal state of knowing that it could be any moment then, or we might have had to wait two more weeks.
Saturday, September 20th, I woke up early and decided to head to the farmer’s market. Maybe this week would be my big opportunity to get some meals in the freezer! Many vendors commented on how I looked like I would “pop any day now,” but I just smiled politely as I thought to myself how off they were. I didn’t feel any different. When I got home, my husband, J., and I planned to go on a nice long walk to enjoy the sunshine and mild temperature. We mapped out a four mile route and began with a nice big bottle of water.
Within the first mile, we had stopped three or four different times, because I was so out of breath and crampy. Each time J. would ask me, “Are you having contractions?” “Are you SURE these aren’t contractions?” “Are you OK, babe?” and I would assure him, “I’m just so tight! I’m fine. It’s nothing.” And then we would continue. As we neared the mile mark, however, it was clear we needed to turn around. I was short of breath and all my muscles felt tight no matter how many times I tried to stretch them out. As we walked in the door, about 4:00pm, we received a text from our friends who had just had their baby boy! We were so happy for them and talked about how jealous we were that they were already holding their precious child.
I soon went to the bathroom for the fiftieth time that day and I noticed that my underwear were pretty wet. “I think my water might have broken,” I said to J, without much confidence. No contractions. No pain. Huh! Maybe I was wrong. It wasn’t the dramatic moment I imagined it being.
After getting changed, I decided I wanted to dust the furniture in the living room. Even I should have known this was the nesting instinct! I was moving the couches, vacuuming the baseboards, and periodically stopping to lay on the couch for a few minutes to rest. I still didn’t notice any contractions, but I did start feeling menstrual type cramping in my stomach. I was tired and out of breath. I decided the midwife on call might want to know if in fact my water had broken earlier. I called her, still feeling like I was over-reacting. “Eat some protein, drink lots of water and lie down or take a shower. See if you are able to time any contractions,” she suggested. “Call me back in one hour to let me know how you are progressing.” So, after a long shower and some peanut butter toast I tried to nap for a while. J read quietly on the couch, waiting for me to let him know if and when I needed help.
Pretty quickly I noticed that the “cramps” I had been feeling earlier were getting pretty uncomfortable and making me feel like I had the wind knocked out of me. I started trying to time them (which was way more complicated than I imagined it being!) and realized they were about 30 seconds long and coming about every seven to eight minutes. I would nap in between them, and then the next one would wake me up. I began having to close my eyes, change positions in bed, and consciously breathe through them. I began to get a little nervous that this was the start of labor, and it was already more challenging than I thought to remain calm and in control. I asked J to get the car ready, so he left quickly for gas. When it was time to call Beverly back, they were closer to 45 seconds long and coming about every 4 minutes. She told us to head to the hospital. “But you’re not in a big rush,” she added. She said she would meet us there.
I texted our mothers, J grabbed our bags, and we sped to the hospital at around 6:20pm. The weather outside was brewing something special. The trees swayed violently in the wind and the clouds looked dark and ominous. By the time we were on the road, I was extremely uncomfortable and having to stay in one position was really frustrating. I propped myself up on pillows, closed my eyes, tossed and turned, but nothing seemed to help. “Where are we?” I would ask periodically, hoping to hear we were nearing the hospital. What a patient, kind husband I have! J later noted that he would try to time my contractions based on how labored my breathing got; he quickly realized we might not have much time! I don’t remember feeling any “breaks” between the heavy cramping at this point; the entire 45 minute car ride felt extremely uncomfortable. Neither can I remember any normal conversations at that point; I think I was starting to drift into “the zone” of just listening to my body, periodically freaking out about how tight my stomach was, and then trying to remember to breathe and relax.
As I got out of the car and waddled to the doors, I could tell my contractions were very close together. I distinctly remember being self-conscious, because I was wearing a shorter sundress, but with my pregnant body it all the sudden felt very revealing as we rushed through a crowd of Amish men outside the hospital entrance. Oops! I was so paranoid this whole time that what I considered “strong contractions” were going to be written off as false labor and we would be sent home. My family consistently talked about my low pain tolerance growing up, and my tendency to be overly dramatic, so I think part of me assumed I was not going to do well with birth. I squeezed J’s arm the whole elevator ride, wondering how in the world I would survive many more hours of labor if I think THIS is bad already. We made it to the third floor, and the second that I approached the desk a nurse said, “You must be Alison. Let’s get you weighed and checked in.” She wrote down that we checked in at 7:19pm.
In our room the nurse put monitors on my stomach to check on Baby. I wanted to remain standing because any pressure on my back or sides made me uncomfortable. I knelt on the bed, facing the wall. I stood next to the computer, swaying and bending. I was extremely annoyed by how one nurse seemed to be taking her time, asking me questions, writing things down, and I felt like HOW CAN ANYONE BE CALM RIGHT NOW?! I remember after one particularly strong contraction I asked in frustration, “So am I even having contractions, or am I making this worse than what it really is?!” My soon-to-be favorite nurse, Amy, replied, “Oh, honey, you are definitely having contractions. I don’t need to look at the monitor to tell that!” I also remember saying, in desperation, “I really don’t think I can do this without medication. I think I need something to help.” I looked at my husband, not sure of what I wanted him to say. I truly thank God that Amy jumped right in replied for him. “Well, we talked about this in detail, Alison, and you want to do this naturally. You CAN do it.” And that was exactly what I needed to refocus! One of my most vivid memories of labor is one particular contraction where I was on my hands and knees in the bed and I focused on relaxing my face and my shoulders. I just tried to imagine my body opening, and then I distinctly felt my pelvis open ever so slightly. It was so amazing to feel like my body knew how to do this process even though it was unknown to me.
I remembered hearing that getting in the shower relaxed muscles during contractions, so I told Amy I would like to try that to help with the pain. She asked to check me before I got in, but I was hesitant because I didn’t want to hear that I was less than five. She smiled and half-laughed, “Honey, you’re already an eight at least!” YES. I was shocked! This was when the realization truly hit me: this baby is actually coming. Like, SOON.
I sat on the toilet through one contraction as they got the water ready, and then got in the shower for a few more. I was so annoyed that the water felt like ice and I didn’t want to sit on the chair. In frustration, I looked down at my stomach and realized all my ab muscles were contracting and pushing, but I wasn’t doing anything consciously. I instantly felt like I was going to be sick. As soon as she heard me say that, I heard Amy yell to another nurse, “Um…we’re going to need the midwife NOW!” She asked me to start getting out of the shower. Everything was happening so fast! With the help of J on one side and Amy on the other, I made my way across the hospital room and to the birthing stool. This is the first time I remember seeing Beverly, our midwife. I felt my body pushing without me doing anything for the next two or three contractions. I loved the reminders from Amy to breathe and moan in a lower register to make each sound and push productive. Just when I felt like I might be tearing or might not be able to do anymore, Beverly told me I could touch my baby’s head! J whispered in my ear as he supported my arms behind me, “You are so close. I can see Baby. You are almost done.” I reached down and felt the soft tiny hairs on top of Baby’s head and it gave me the energy to try one more push. I felt instant relief as Baby’s head was delivered. With two more pushes, Baby entered the world! As I grabbed Baby and towels were brought to keep us warm, all of the sudden the detail I thought would be so important (son? daughter?) was the last thing on my mind. The emotions I felt at that moment were absolutely overwhelming as I felt a slippery little person wiggling in my arms. I remember the midwife asking, “So, is it a girl or boy?” and I laughed as I realized I didn’t even let my husband check. He told me we had a daughter! All I could say was, “Thank you, God, thank you! Mommy and Daddy love you so much, Naya (n-EYE-uh) Renee. God loves you so much. You are such a miracle.” She was quiet and wide awake just staring up at me.
They asked me to push again for the placenta, and I literally could not have cared less to listen to them anymore. I just held my baby and closed my eyes and loved my life. Favorite-nurse-ever Amy even grabbed my cell phone and took the only pictures we have of that moment: me on the birth stool, J behind me, Naya in my arms with exhausted, naked, and relieved smiles.
Only after I made it back to the bed and got cleaned up did we look at the clock. It was exactly 8:00pm, 41 minutes after our arrival. I needed just two stitches, which Beverly later told me surprised her for it being my first delivery, using the stool, and it going so quickly. J texted our parents, grandparents, and siblings, but didn’t reveal the gender of our daughter to my parents, since they really wanted to visit us in the hospital. They drove nearly two hours and arrived just after I nursed her for the first time. Her grandparents walked in the room and J handed a tiny bundle to them as he said, “She’s just falling asleep.” Their eyes lit up as they exclaimed, “A girl?!” Later, the nurses weighed and measured her next to my bedside. She was 6 pounds 14 ounces and 19 inches long. We praised God, snuggled our daughter, and soaked in the best night of our lives.
The rest of the time in the hospital is truly a blur. I healed quickly and was able to be up on my feet later that evening. Naya nursed well, but it was very painful for me, so the lactation consultant visited with us and helped me learn a few pointers. We had visitors the next day, and we left the hospital Monday morning to head back home. When Betsy came in to say “Hi,” she could not believe that I had given birth so quickly after seeing her two days before. She complimented me, encouraged me, and fawned over Naya. Self-conscious as always, I commented, “Well, I guess God knew I was a wimp, so he gave me a quick labor that I could handle.” Beverly kindly interjected and said, “Each birth has a certain amount of intensity. If you were here for hours that intensity would have been stretched over that time. Instead, you went from nothing to everything in under four hours. Be proud of yourself!” I still replay those words from her when I feel “less than” others.
I know now that I was likely having contractions all afternoon and just didn’t realize it at the time. I also realize that God was incredibly gracious to me throughout the entire process in allowing it to go quickly and almost exactly as I had asked of Him. I praise Him daily for that. I genuinely loved my experience at the hospital with the midwives. I know many people who want to birth without pain medication fear that hospitals will push you into something you don’t want, but I just encourage everyone to find a hospital with a good record of supporting natural childbirth. Naya’s natural hospital birth was everything I wanted it to be and we were so comfortable with every decision, suggestion, and response during her delivery and our recovery stay. She continues to amaze us each day and we are so thankful for our pregnancy, delivery, and life with her.Read more on Alison’s blog, here.