Where to even begin?!
Literally seconds after Izzie was born, all of my anxieties and fears about labor, birth, and parenting her were washed away. Maybe it was the oxytocin, or just the mere fact that her labor experience was behind me... but I felt AH-MAZING when I finally held her in my arms! PHEW - That pregnancy was a doozy!
Let us rewind a bit... :)
After a physically painful last few weeks of pregnancy with what I couldn't decide were either contractions or my baby stretching inside of me to an insane degree of pain, the last piece of my birth story puzzle was in place: My big sister had flown in from Denver to be my birth photographer. She arrived Sunday evening around 6pm. We sat together in the living room chatting until late that night while I boohooed about the "baby moving" and the pain it was causing in my lower back. I also debated if I were having light contractions or not... but who knew. I mean, they FELT like contractions. But I figured, if it was labor, it would really kick in at some point.
Just a few days earlier, I started praying very specifically about my labor and birth experience. So before I dig too deep into the birth story, it's important for me to share exactly what I was praying for. (Spoiler alert, all prayers were answered!) Seriously, to God be the Glory for this entire experience.
Here are the specific requests I wrote out and shared with some of my best friends a few days before I actually went into labor. I asked them to pray with me and the more I prayed, the more I felt ready.
- That labor would begin AFTER I had a restful sleep (Sunday's labor kicked in right at bedtime and I was NOT rested),
- That it would be quick,
- That it would happen during the day (I felt guilty about inconveniencing everyone in the middle of the night),
- That I could do it medication-free,
- That my fear of pain wouldn't stall things,
- And that delivery would be safe and healthy for me and baby.
So I went to bed around 11pm on Monday night. I wasn't in the mindset yet of thinking "will tonight be the night?" because I hadn't even hit my due date yet... and I was believing I would go into labor AFTER I had a full night of sleep. But throughout the night I woke up with the same "baby moving" pain I had on the couch... I'd get up, use the bathroom, and come back to bed. Around 3:45am I thought perhaps these WERE actually contractions and I should start timing them.
I grabbed my phone and laid it next to my pillow. I slept between the contractions and woke up and breathed through them when they came. After about an hour and a half I was confident there was a pattern. 10 minutes apart, 45-ish seconds long. I took a screen shot and texted my doula, Laurie. She told me to go back to sleep and stop timing them. :) So I did just that... tried to rest my eyes and sleep a bit between contractions. That only lasted about 30 minutes until Tommy's alarm went off and I told him we were going to have a baby today. Then I decided to get up and shower and finish packing my hospital bag. I was ready for this to happen, so to comfort myself I decided things would probably kick in a little more once Sunday was awake. You know... a lot of birth is mental. Obviously not ALL... but I thought maybe labor wasn't kicking in because our day hadn't really started yet.
Sunday woke at 7:15am and we did her normal morning routine. I made myself a cup of coffee and checked my email. Contractions were still 10-15 mins apart and things were still moving slowly. As we talked about the plans for the day, we decided this was really happening and we should make arrangements for Sunday. At about 8:45am, my sister began taking pictures and we all sat down for breakfast together.
All this time contractions continued every 10 minutes or so.
After breakfast, Tommy got Sunday ready to go to Romp n Roll for her 10am class. We called his mom to meet them there so Sunday could spend the day with her. After Tommy returned, he and my sister took her rental car back to the airport. I labored alone for a little while and texted some friends with some boohooing about how this was moving SO SLOWLY and why wasn't it kicking in?? I was ready for it to get going! They told me to relax... and that went something like this:
Then I posted the below photo to instagram in between laying my head on the pillow for contractions. I was definitely having back labor again... each and every contraction had me bending over for relief.
My sister and Tommy returned and we started talking about lunch plans... what was the day going to look like? We decided my sister and I should walk to the market - that way I could do some walking, she could learn the way to the market (since she wouldn't have a vehicle), we could grab some lunch and then drop by Laurie's house on our way back if needed. (She lives close to the market.) So off we went. Tommy hung back at the house to do a little work and we said we would text him if anything changed.
The walk to the market was refreshing and easy. We walked super slowly. :) Contractions started getting a bit more intense and I began dreading them as they were coming on, instead of being excited. I had a few while walking around inside the market, but once we got up to pay at the register, I had a really long and intense one. It was at least a minute long and would NOT let up! The poor cashier... she was breathing right along with me. It was super funny. So we left the market and headed down the road to Laurie's house. I was NOT thinking about eating lunch and my sister was starving... but so patient.
Things were definitely growing more intense at this point. I got to Laurie's right at about 2pm and after some observation she told me... ugh I hate it still... but she said "You are still in early labor."
Do you see it? My face in those pictures? No hiding how I really felt about her observations... aaaaand BAM. My attitude took a MAJOR turn for the worse. Here I am taking in what she just said... and you can't see it below, but I am losing it on her dining room table. Tears everywhere on that table. I just cried and cried.
"I can't do this. I don't want to do this. If this is still the beginning I CANNOT finish. I am only doing this because Tommy thinks I can't. I'm only doing it for him. But I don't WANT to. I just want to go to the hospital and be done with it." AKA get an epidural.
Let me pause to explain here what I meant about Tommy thinking I can't. This was kind of an issue during my whole pregnancy... I was very open and honest with him about my first labor experience and I truthfully told him and the whole internet) that had I been in the hospital, I would have gotten an epidural. For SURE. I had no idea what was coming at me with labor my first time and I felt completely blindsided by the pain. AND the whole experience was SO memorable that I was freaking out this entire pregnancy about the pain of getting the baby OUT. Would I be able to do it again? Tommy was sure I'd get an epidural if I was at the hospital. I mean, I had said those very words myself. He was sure I'd do a lot of things differently if we were at the hospital. And while I didn't know WHAT our hospital birth would look like, I DID know that my opinions and goals were still very similar to the ones I had for my first birth. But he had a hard time really beliving me when I said that. (Also, he still was not completely on board for our hospital birth at this point. But he supported me... :)) So, deep down, I felt in some way I needed to prove myself to him.
A lot of my "deep down" thoughts came out during this labor. Haha. Be forewarned. :) (I am still apologizing to my birth team. Eeek.)
So I lost it right there on Laurie's dining room table. She prayed over me... and in a miraculous, kind and gentle manner she also told me to suck it up. I don't even know how she does that... how she says all the right things to a woman in labor. I'm scared to advise any woman in labor and I definitely don't see myself coaching one. Laurie is my hero for lots of reasons.
At some point during my meltdown my sister reminded me that if I were to go to the hospital and get an epidural, I wouldn't actually be relieved from the pain for probably two hours. That was a good wake-up call for me. I just needed to DO this. So after my meltdown, Laurie made me eat something (apples w/ nutella dip - yummm). By now it was almost 3pm and I hadn't eaten since breakfast at 8:45am. Tommy texted me at some point that he was feeling left out (er, "out of the loop") and I told him to come over ASAP. I needed him.
As soon as he arrived, I remember falling into his arms and crying. He helped me eat a little more and we all had another group conversation about our plans for the day. Should we just go back to my house? What did I want to do? I knew I didn't want to go home... nothing was happening there. For some reason, I was convinced that if I went back home nothing would EVER happen EVER again. So no. I was NOT going home. I said I wanted to stay at Laurie's house until it was time to go to the hospital.
So plans were made... my sister left to go get some food and all of her photography stuff. When she came back, Tommy took the car to get himself some food and our hospital bags. During all of their coming and going, labor really started kicking in. I started focusing and working through each contraction. I turned on my birth playlist and started praying through each one. (Sometimes outloud "Jeeeeesssssuuuuusssssss!!") Also note that as soon as Laurie put her magical hands (counter pressure) on my back during contractions (around 2pm), I didn't let her remove them.
The pictures above were taken about an hour after I cried all over the dining room table. (I never guessed I'd labor at my doula's house... hah!) But before I knew it, Laurie was rushing Tommy. "Skip the food!" We needed to go to the hospital ASAP.
In the picture below on the right I had JUST said "um, I need to go to the bathroom." We all knew that was code for "there's a lot of pressure." Which is code for "get to the hospital." Haha... I love our faces!
So! Off to the hospital we went! (I'm pretty sure Laurie sanitized her table while we were all getting in the car and she was "looking for her phone.") As I climbed into the backseat of my car, I said a little prayer, "Okay, Jesus, please only THREE contractions on this car ride." I also explained to Tommy that driving like a maniac would only make my contractions worse, so please don't rush.
God also answered that prayer. I rode most of the way in a squat position facing the back of the car and I had two contractions there. Then I turned around and had another. Laurie found some miraculous way to work her counter pressure with my weird travel positions.
And then we arrived!
I proceeded to have about 13 contractions between the car and the door, about a 100 foot distance.
Not really. But it felt like it.
We got inside and I took off into the elevator. I remember pressing the fourth floor button myself and thinking "Wow I have energy!" I really did... this was going fast but I was just rolling right along with it.
We got upstairs to the door and rang the little doorbell to the Labor and Delivery hall. Despite Laurie having called ahead, we had to wait. I was pretty mad about this. Actually I was basically a royal bi-otch throughout my entire labor. I mean I thought I was bad in pregnancy, but this labor experience was a culmination of all 9 months of pregnancy anger built up and exploding.
Don't be fooled. I have no idea where the smile above came from. I guess it's what I do when I see a camera? (Sidenote: You can see half of the clock here. We arrived at 4:30pm.)
So the lady came to the door to let us in and said "Liz, are you ready?" I was pretty annoyed by that question... because um. YES. Then she made me get on a SCALE. What! Because contractions aren't bad enough, now I have to face the truth about what I WEIGH. (I am pretty sure I said all of these thoughts out loud.)
Then I was super insistent she tell me WHERE we were going. The poor nurse. I guess I thought (hoped) I was too far along to go into a triage room. Yikes. After what felt like FOREVER, she told me we were going to Room 7. Yessssss... straight into a room to have this baby. Thank you! (Really... I never saw her again. If anyone recognizes her in the picture below, please send her my thanks! Um... and apologies.)
A few contractions along the way (still having back labor, as you can see - gosh these bending over pictures are SO AWKWARD) and we were in my room.
My midwife, Erin, greeted me and said "Okay, so the birthing tub is not ready. It's being cleaned."
I think that's actually what I said. Apparently another mama had been using it and they were cleaning it up so I could use it. Okay, fine. Nothing I can do about that except be mad. Which I was.
Erin continues. "So let's see if this is the real thing!"
I looked at her frustrated. "Umm.. okay?"
What does she mean REAL THING!!? YES THIS IS THE REAL THING!
"Can you pee in a cup?"
"What? Are you serious?"
"Yes," she says.
"Wait, Erin. I can't tell if you are joking. I need you to be serious."
"I am not joking. I need you to pee in a cup."
So... hello first-time-delivering-in-a-hospital-mother. Okay. This is how this goes. I did what she asked, then I walked to the bed to the monitors. Laurie requested the telemetry unit for me so I could get in the tub later, so the nurse started getting that set up. I mean, I think. I don't really have the slightest idea how all of this went down... I'm just typing as I THINK I recall it. Labor makes you a bit foggy. At some point, Erin warned me that it was time to be checked. If you read Sunday's birth story, you may recall I was never checked in my previous pregnancy/labor experience so this would be my first time. I was worried it would hurt... but I think once you are in labor, nothing really hurts except contractions.
I feel like I remember saying to Erin "If I am less than a six, get me the epidural. Otherwise, I don't want to know where I'm at."
So she checked. I heard "Great numbers, Liz! Great numbers." (Pretty sure that was Laurie.)
I turned to my sister and I said "Am I at least a seven?"
She responded "You are at least a seven." (I found out later I was exactly a seven.)
At that point I said to myself "Self, you have seen women go from seven to ten in thirty minutes. Let's do this."
The next thing I know I'm in the little jacuzzi tub in the bathroom (still waiting for the big tub to be ready). A lab lady comes in and says she needs to take my blood. Well this really makes me mad. (Okay, MORE mad.) I mean, what the heck for?! (Don't answer that.) So I requested for her to wait until I had one more contraction because I didn't want to have a contraction while she had a needle in my arm... I mean, that made sense to me. She waited (not so patiently, but I can't blame her. I was being totally rude). She finally took my blood and I remember complimenting her "Wow, you're good! That didn't hurt at all!" Hah. (Again with the whole - nothing hurts when you are in labor except contractions philosophy.)
Sidenote: Check out the grapes on the side of the tub (below). Again with the grapes, people. I was not eating them well this time around, either. I actually threw a handful of them on the ground in the parking lot. (I am such a brat.)
At this point I started really letting go during the contractions. Just relaxing and trying to let my body do what it wanted. I literally opened my legs with each contraction and just tried to imagine the baby coming down. I remember at this time still being surprised by how much energy I had.
I labored in the jacuzzi tub for all of 11 minutes. Wow, that felt like forever. (Also, woohoo for photo timestamps!) Then it was time to get in the big tub. Thank you, Jesus. Oh! Someone turned my worship music back on at this point (I think?). Maybe that was why I was being so mean prior to getting in the tub... I didn't have my gentle reminders to CHILL OUT that whole time. So anyway, this is where things turned the corner.
Around this time another one of my favorite midwives, Katie, came in to see me and helped provide more comfort measures during contractions. Her hands were ah-mazing! At one point between contractions in the tub I went on a diatribe about how I felt so bad for all of my birth clients. Something like "I mean I know it hurts, but I forgot that it hurts THIS MUCH. I feel so bad for them all." Bahaha. Yah. I said that.
Tommy was holding the hose over my belly during contractions and it felt SO GOOD. We were all chatting between activity, just having a grand old time. Someone (Laurie?) kept trying to turn the lights low to create a calming atmosphere, but my sister kept turning them back up. She said "It's by Liz's request! She wants the pictures to be good, so I need more light!" Hah.. yessss. I NEEDED good documentation of all of this. :) :)
I'm pretty sure the pictures above are documenting the fifty-third time I told everyone that "I am ONLY doing this FOR HIM." He was so confused... and I was clearly not in my right mind. Haha.
OR - This could be the time when he told me his mom was on her way with Sunday and he had asked her to hurry. I responded with "Oh good... my goal is to deliver this baby by 7pm so Sunday can get home for bedtime." He DID laugh at me when I said that... so maybe that's what's going on here.
Either way, both of those conversations happened.
(Okay my sweet and amazing midwives, stop reading NOW.) So, I started feeling a little pushy after about 20 minutes in the tub (the time now is about 5:30pm). This changed my attitude... I was excited realizing I was almost done!! However, I knew the hospital had a policy that you could labor in the tub, but you could not deliver your baby in the tub and that they would make me get out as soon as they knew I was pushing. Having to get OUT of the birthing tub was one of my biggest fears when switching from a home birth to a hospital birth. I never forgot the pain I felt when I had to stand up out of the water during Sunday's birth and I was so afraid of being pulled out of the tub for this birth. So all along, I was hoping to get away with SOME pushing in the tub... if I could. (I never knew how much of a rebel I am.)
After I was confident that these really were pushing contractions, I told Tommy. During the pushes I just breathed deeeeeep and let my body do its thing. It was INTENSE. After a few minutes I let Laurie in on my pushing activity. I felt bad telling her because I didn't want to get her in trouble... she knew the rules!
At this point, Tommy's mom arrived with Sunday! (Photo timestamp says it was 5:49pm.) Aww it was SO exciting to see her little face. We all told her the baby was coming!! She could definitely sense the intensity of the environment, but also that no one seemed to be freaking out. So she remained hesitant but calm. She even showed a few bursts of excitement. It was really precious to see and one of my favorite memories of the day.
After the excitement of Sunday's arrival died down, I was picking up that the midwives were getting concerned about the baby's heart rate activity. One of them asked me "Do you feel like pushing? Because this baby is acting like it's ready to come out." Darn those educated and experienced care providers. :) So right then, Laurie (being the birth genius that she is) asked me to lean back in the tub for the next contraction. Good thinking.
The contraction came and things became a whirlwind! My midwife Erin said "THAT looks like a BABY. Yep. Get out! Let's get OUT of the tub!" So mid-contraction I am standing up and climbing over the side of the tub. I had lots of help at this point. I got onto the bed and had another contraction right away. I IMMEDIATELY felt the difference in the pain and I said it outloud. "WOW this hurts!" Hah.
It only took one push for someone to decide I was not in the most ideal position and they switched things up quickly for me (back to squatting - woot!). At this point Sunday picked up on the intensity again and got a bit uneasy. I reached up between contractions and comforted her.
"The baby is almost here, honey! I'm so excited!! Aren't you?!"
I think she was speechless.
So one more push... and it seemed I required a bit more coaching. "Okay Liz, with your next push, turn your pelvis in." Okay... contraction number three (four?) outside of the water and all of a sudden I hear a flurry of activity.
"You HAVE to get a picture of this!"
"Oh wow, Liz! It's what you wanted!!"
The baby's water sack was STILL in-tact! Whaaaaaat! So cool! But that whole "Stop pushing" thing? Yeah. That lasted until I had that one final contraction and I felt the baby come alllll the way out.
I turned to take a peek and Erin held her legs wide open for me. "It's a girl!!!"
As soon as I saw her... I am not lying, you guys. The relief I felt... every mean and ugly hormone that was inside of me (the. whole. friggin. pregnancy.) was flushed out and replace with pure oxytocin... joy... happiness. GLORY HALLELUJA!
Oh and by the way... if you don't like baby slime, ask for your water to be broken before the baby comes. This was the slimiest, most wet baby I've ever seen.
Sunday cried when Izzie cried. She didn't appreciate how loud her little sister was being. :) She also was VERY concerned that Izzie was nekked. It just wasn't appropriate... "She needs clothes, mama!"
I settled into the bed and we all snuggled up together to explore Izzie's features and ooh and ahh over everything that had just happened. Our local hospital has changed a lot of their policies since Sunday was born and we were given a solid hour of bonding time with Izzie before she was taken for her measurements. It was so nice!! I held back tears a few times... I was just overwhelmed with appreciation and love for every person that was there with us. It was truly amazing. A wild and fast ride, but so amazing. I was so happy.
My amazing, saving grace throughout the whole labor was truly God... between the worship music I was able to meditate to during contractions, to the dialogue I had with Him throughout the whole experience... I truly believe He brought me through it. He gave me relief when I needed it. He gave me energy and courage when I needed them. During each and every contraction I felt His presence and was comforted. Dare I say... I genuinely enjoyed the spiritual side of the whole experience.
But I also could not have done this without the hard work and unconditional love of my birth team. Tommy, Laurie, Erin, Katie and my sister... and my sweet and patient nurse, Megan. (Well, everyone was patient with me. :)) I haven't had an adult hospital experience until now and WOW... our medical professionals and care providers are top notch. I had no idea. I loved my hospital experience, I really did.
Now that it's been almost seven weeks, I can honestly say that Izzie's birthday was one of the best days of my life. I accomplished a feat I had been freaking out about for months.Yes, it was a whirlwind... I was the biggest brat EVER... I hated doing it... and there wasn't much "pretty" about it. But you know what? I did it. I CHOSE to do it (eventually :))... I leaned into God more than I have in a long time... and I finally allowed myself to really feel empowered by birth. I did it despite my fears and my horrible, horrible attitude.
However... my biggest take-away, by far, is that the term "beautiful birth" has a new definition for me.
I used to think the most "beautiful" birth was calm, dark, and candle-lit... mama was quiet, peaceful and HAPPY. And yes, those ARE beautiful birth stories. But more importantly, I now KNOW a real, beautiful birth is when a mama feels safe, respected, and emotionally comfortable throughout her labor and delivery experience. While my journey as a birth photographer has been teaching me this all along, it didn't click for me until Izzie's birth. I didn't need to have her at home in my living room in order for it to be beautiful. My whole hospital experience was so perfectly ME... I felt safe and secure in my surroundings... and that is what made it beautiful.
I am so excited to have experienced both a home birth and a hospital birth now. I learned a lot by having two totally different experiences and the education alone was worth all of the drama surrounding the BIG DECISION to switch things up. If any of you ever want to have a conversation with me about the differences between a home birth and a hospital birth and my opinions about them, I am an open book. Shoot me a message or let's have coffee sometime. I can talk birth for hours and I would be honored to share more details with any of you!
You came gently, quickly, and beautifully. Everything I had prayed for and more. Your birth story is truly as beautiful as you are. This experience we shared redeemed my love of birthing and gave me a new courage to do it again and again in the future. Wether you have younger siblings or not is still to be revealed... but thanks to your birth I am not afraid of the process anymore. :)
I love you so much, already more than the moment I saw your face and held you in my arms the first time. I hope some day when you read your birth story that you can sense how much faith I had in God to get me through it. But more importantly, I pray this is only the very first of many stories of faith to come in your life. My daily prayer for you (and your sister) is that you will come to know the love of Jesus and seek Him in everything you do. I love, love, love you and cannot wait to see who you will grow up to become.