Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Finish Line - A Birth Story

To start off, my labor did not go at all how I had hoped.  I pretty much had to throw my birth plan out the hospital window once I arrived.  I can laugh at it all in retrospect, but it was definitely hard at the time.  "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps" (Proverbs 16:9).

After my due date had come and gone, and Josie was still enjoying her time in the womb, I had some tests done to make sure everything--and everyone--was still doing well.  As it turned out, I apparently had a low amniotic fluid level, which meant Josie didn't have enough swimming space.  After drinking copious amounts of water and a second test the next day, I had to be induced immediately.  I'm not entirely convinced the test was accurate, and it seems to be one of the current trends in obstetrics, but after a quick trip to Jamba Juice to fuel up with a Peanut Butter Moo'd smoothie, I reluctantly went into the hospital to induce labor.  There went my desire to labor at home as long as possible, out the window.  It's sort of like bad weather on the day of a triathlon--it's not how you want things to go, but it's beyond your control.

And so, at noon on Wednesday, July 7, I was induced.  The first attempt to start labor was a very unpleasant and awkward process--a foley catheter was used like a balloon to encourage dilation.  This took about four hours, and Scott and I grew bored as we waited in the hospital room, nice enough though it was--we hadn't brought enough stuff to keep us occupied.  We even called my mom to bring us a board game, though by the time she arrived I had finally reached 4 cm, and the catheter fell out.  I was so excited and relieved!  Labor had finally started.  To keep it going, they gave me pitocin.  I cried as they hooked me up to the machine (my hormones certainly didn't help).  And because of the situation, they had to continuously monitor Josie, so I was also hooked up to a fetal monitor.  There went my desire to dance with my husband, out the window (though we did attempt it at one point).

Once contractions grew more intense, I did everything recommended in the books and classes:  walking, using the birth ball, changing positions, getting into a water bath, breathing, focusing, etc.  After about ten long, excruciating hours, I needed something more to help with the pain.  A trusted friend (whose sanity I now question!) had recommended saline shots in the back for pain, so I thought I'd give it a try.  You know when you read about those blood-curdling screams in books?  Well, after getting the saline shots, I think I may have curdled my husband's blood.  As well as the two grandmas' in the waiting room.  And the nurses' in the hallway.  Perhaps even my own, it was that bad.  You could have recorded my scream and used it in a horror film.  I would say it was worse than labor.  It may have helped for about an hour or two, but it wasn't worth it to me.

Once the shock of the saline shots wore off and my contractions grew closer together, I reached my limits not of pain tolerance, but rather pain endurance.  It was very discouraging when, after two hours, I had only dilated one more centimeter.  Had it been a triathlon, I would have quit the race.  But that isn't a choice with childbirth.  So, at 4:00 am and 7 cm dilated, I opted for an epidural.  I felt defeated.  There went my desire for a labor without pain medication, out the window.  The anesthesiologist came in and administered the epidural.  I call him my "epidural angel" partly because he relieved the pain, but perhaps more so because he was a collected, caring and calm presence right when I needed it most.  Of all the medical professionals involved with my labor and delivery, I would say he (and my nurse Heidi) was one of the best, and he was only present for a few minutes.  Though he did come back after Josie was born to see how I was doing, and to say congratulations.

As part of a baby shower gift, my mom had given me a silver heart with an inscription that read, "I can do all things through Christ" (Philippians 4:13).  I thought this verse would help me endure the pain of childbirth without pain medication, but instead it became the verse to help me do what was even harder than that:  give up my own desires.  I wasn't throwing them out the window after all, I was giving them over to God.

After the epidural, I slept for several hours.  It felt incredible.  I had no idea how exhausted I was until I slept.  When I awoke, I felt like I had just run the longest race of my life.  Only I still had farther to go!

I began pushing at about 9:30 am.  With the epidural, this was actually one of the easier parts of labor.  Forty-five minutes later, at 10:17 am on Thursday, July 8, Josie was born!  Scott ended up catching her (with the midwife's help) and cutting the umbilical cord.  He was such a great support throughout the entire course of labor, and I wouldn't have wanted to do it without him there.  He's my superhero husband.

My first reaction to Josie:  utter and complete awe.  Outside of Josie and my husband, the world around me blurred (and not just because I wasn't wearing my glasses).  I knew things were happening--nurses cleaning everything, a surgeon stitching my tear, someone observing Josie, etc.  But my focus was on my new daughter lying on my chest.  Newborn babies can look rather strange--even ugly--but to me Josie was the most beautiful thing in the world at that moment.

And Josie's first reaction to the world:  She pooped.  On me.  *?@! happens.  But the love I had for her washed all of it away; it simply didn't matter.  I imagine it's much like how God's love for us washes away our sin.  When we become his children and are cleansed by the blood of Christ, our sin simply doesn't matter.  It's still there, but in God's eyes it's out-of-focus.  His is a lens of love.  "Love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).

I have now experienced childbirth.  The pain of labor is an enduring pain with intermittent bouts of intense pain--all day and/or night.  It is more like an ironman than a sprint triathlon.  But with labor, there is a much better, incomparable prize at the finish.

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