Today is Wednesday, just six days after the birth of my third child and first daughter, Lydia Faith. As part of Wednesday's Walk Down Memory Lane hosted by Lynnette Kraft, I would like to share the long story of her journey into the world.
With my first and second pregnancies, I wrote out a birth plan well in advance to communicate my desires surrounding childbirth to my doctors, midwife, and nurses. This time, I finally got around to composing my birth plan the night before my 39 week appointment. As with my previous deliveries, I hoped for a natural birth with minimal interventions. I planned a waterbirth in the same hospital room where Donny and Hayden were born. Though I knew there was a good chance this little girl would be tangled in her umbilical cord like her brothers were, I hoped that maybe I would actually be able to hold this baby immediately after her birth.
My birth plan also included a list of things I wished to avoid: medication, continuous fetal monitoring, pitocin or other medical induction/augmentation of labor, episiotomy or excessive tearing, cesarean delivery, and passing out after delivery (snce I passed out twice after Hayden's birth and gave my dear husband quite a scare). I have often said that I am not afraid of the pain of natural labor - since I know my body is just doing what God intended it to do, and I think it is amazing to experience the sensations of childbirth - but I am afraid of medical interventions. I hate the side effects of drugs, am concerned that one intervention will lead to another, and the idea of being numb for such an exciting moment is completely unappealing. Despite the nervousness that inevitably surrounds impending labor, I looked forward to once again bringing a tiny little person into the world.
On the night of Tuesday June 9, just after finishing my Almost Ready post, I had trouble sleeping. After lying awake for much of the night, I woke up in the morning with contractions - contractions that indicated real labor. Though I did not have any other signs of labor, the radiating pains in my lower back every five minutes were enough for me to ask Don to stay home from work. I packed the boys' overnight bags, and Don dropped them off at his sister's house so that I could labor at home in peace. I planned to wait until the contractions were very intense and close together before heading to the hospital in order to enjoy the comforts of home and avoid any unnecessary hospital interventions.
By noon I had showered, tidied up the house, packed the last few things for the hospital, and done a load of laundry. The contractions continued steadily, but lacked the intensity I was waiting for. After lunch, I took a short nap, figuring I might as well rest while I could. Don and I went for a walk and timed my contractions, which were about three minutes apart. I could still walk through them, but by the end of our excursion, it was more comfortable to stop during each contraction. They lessened a bit when we returned home, leaving me wondering how long this early labor would continue.
In the late afternoon, I decided to check in with the doctor just to see what was happening with my body. I called to make an appointment with my midwife, Linda, and brought our bags along in case I was far enough to stay at the hospital. Judging by the frequency and intensity of my contractions, I expected to be about 4cm dilated. As we drove to Linda's office, though, the contractions slowed down. When Linda came in to check me, she concluded that I had dilated...all of one centimeter. Knowing this, and remembering how long I was in labor with Hayden, I had a sinking feeling that this could be another long labor stretching over several days. Though I hoped we would be returning later that night to check in to the hospital, only God knew when Lydia would actually be born.
I had no desire to go home and cook dinner while in labor, so Don and I went to the nearby Olive Garden, and ate soup and breadsticks while I quietly braced through contractions every five minutes. Back at home, I took a bath and tried to rest, getting a few hours' sleep before contractions woke me up at 3:30am. These were stronger, and seemed to be coming on top of each other, growing in intensity. After a half hour or so I concluded it was time to wake Don up and make the 30 minute drive again. We checked into labor and delivery at the hospital around 5am.
After getting settled in the familiar waterbirthing room, it was time to be checked out. Imagine my surprise to find that despite the intense contractions I was having at home, I had dilated to only 2 or 3 centimeters. I was not even considered to be in active labor yet! "Should I just go home then?" I asked. But Linda and the nurses encouraged me to wait a while and see if anything happened. Don and I walked around the maternity ward, and at my next check, I had progressed to 4cm dilation, so Linda decided to officially admit me to the hospital. She noted that the baby's head was not all the way down, and suggested that I try resting on my side to encourage her to move into the correct position.
Around 7am, the obstetrician Linda works under, Dr. M, came in to check on me. She felt the baby's head, estimated that I was at 5 or 6cm, and wanted to break my water to get things moving. Although I wanted to let labor progress naturally without intervening, the doctor was convinced that the baby would be born in a few hours after breaking the water. With a bit of reluctance, but a desire to get things moving, I agreed. Soon I was leaking fluid, waiting for the contractions to pick up speed and intensity. After all, breaking the bag of waters makes labor move quickly. At least in most cases. In mine, it seemed to make no difference at all.
The morning passed as I walked, rested, and bounced on the birthing ball. I knew it was still too early to get into the birthing tub, since the relaxing water can actually stall a slow labor. I walked as much as I could to keep things moving, but the varicose veins in my legs soon left me sore and longing to sit down. The best part of labor occurred when my husband wondered if he could blow up a non-latex examination glove like a balloon - and he did. We passed time batting the fingered balloon back and forth in an impromptu game I dubbed "High Five," until we finally lost our toy behind the bed.
All of our friends and relatives were waiting for the news that Lydia was here, but we didn't seem to be getting any closer, despite the continued contractions. At noon I thought about calling my mom just to check in, but decided to wait, lest she think the ringing phone was a birth announcement. My self-employed father-in-law insisted on doing his work from the hospital waiting room because he was so exciting about his granddaughter's birth. He kindly offered to go out and get me some soup, and even after he got delayed in a traffic jam, I had plenty of time to enjoy my lunch. My nurse, who started her shift shortly after we arrived, checked me and said I was still dilated 6cm, but she could stretch me to 7. When her shift ended, the next nurse thought I was at 7, but she could stretch me to 8. It appeared that progress was being made - very slow progress, but progress nonetheless.
At one point, I asked for my Bible and opened randomly to Psalm 103. I love that I can always find comfort in the Psalms. I was reminded to praise the Lord, that He satisfies our desires with good things, that He has compassion on His children, and that He knows how we are formed. The afternoon wore on, but I knew that God had a plan for this birth, and that I simply needed to wait on Him.
When the second nurse's shift started, the hospital policy was for me to spend a short time on the electronic fetal monitor, just as I had when we first came in. The nurse noticed a pattern of the fetal heartrate dropping during contractions. Although baby's heartrate always returned to normal, the significance of the drop was cause enough to keep me on the monitor - one of the interventions I had wished to avoid. With the use of telemetry, I was able to walk around the room, but I could feel the pressure mounting to hurry up and have this baby. Dr. M arrived back on the scene and checked my cervix. In her estimation, I was still at 6cm - no change from the morning. Her pronouncement: "You need pitocin, my friend."
I did not want pitocin. I wanted this baby to come out, on her own, in her own time. My sweet husband was prepared to advocate for me, knowing that I wanted to avoid interventions, but the doctor was not easily persuaded. After some discussion, Dr. M finally agreed to let me try natural methods for an hour; if that did not get things moving, we would start pitocin at 5:00.
I paced tearfully in my room, weighing the options. Would I protest the pitocin? I did not want a medically managed birth, yet I seemed to be on the road towards that very thing. The options of running out of the hospital or screaming a refusal of the synthetic hormone, though tempting, obviously would not help the situation, and would also cause stress for everyone. Don encouraged me to talk through my thoughts and emotions, but it was hard to put them into words. I did not like the way Dr. M had spoken to me; she seemed more concerned about getting the birth over with than about how I felt. The nurse was much more sympathetic, but admitted that ultimately she had to follow the doctor's orders.
More than anything, I was deeply regretting that we had come to the hospital so soon. Hadn't my plan been to labor at home for as long as possible in order to avoid this very situation? Why had I experienced those intense contractions that pushed me out the door at 4am, but now at 4pm the doctor claimed nothing was happening? One of the verses I had printed out for encouragement, Isaiah 66:9, ran through my mind: "Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?" says the LORD. "Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?" says your God. I trusted that God would bring this baby forth in His time. But how long would the Lord - and the doctors - allow this labor to continue before bringing me to the moment of birth? Would He grant me the delivery in time to avoid unnatural interventions?
Though Dr. M. was technically on call that day, Linda had been keeping tabs on me and had left instructions to call her when things picked up and I was ready to get into the birthing tub. While I was pacing the room, Linda called at Dr. M's request to explain things in her more gentle way. Pitocin, she said, is just a synthetic version of oxytocin, the hormone my body was already producing. She felt confident that I would only need a small amount, and that with ten to twelve good solid contractions, the baby would be on her way out. She also offered to stay with me until the baby was born, which was a much more comforting prospect than having the pushier Dr. M. attend my delivery. In addition, the nurse assured me that I could be in the tub even with the IV and fetal monitors required when administering pitocin. By the end of our conversation, I agreed to start a small dose if Linda would be there, so she said she would finish with her patients at the office and then join me at the hospital.
I was shaking - a sign of transition for some, but by the nurse's estimate, I was still less than 8cm. Don and the nurse started filling the deep birthing tub, and then it was time to insert my IV for the pitocin. The nurse tried to insert it in my left arm, but the vein kept rolling away, and even a second nurse could not get it to work. After a few painful jabs, they inserted it in my right wrist instead. Don assured me I was doing the right thing, and soon the tub was filled with hot water, ready for us.
As usual, Don put on his bathing suit and climbed into the tub with me. I am surprised to learn that most fathers do not get in the tub; for me, having my husband there to put counter pressure on my back is what makes contractions bearable. It was a bit awkward to get settled, with the IV hanging from one arm, the fetal monitor around my abdomen (continuous monitoring is required while pitocin is being administered), and frequent blood pressure checks (another requirement for pitocin). I managed to find a position where Don could push on my back during contractions, and my body remembered the familiar feeling of laboring in the water. Despite the intensity of the contractions, I could tell I was not close to the end yet - as I said to Don and Linda, I know that when I feel like I cannot possibly endure any more, that means that it is almost time to push. I had not yet reached that point, which told me I was not yet in transition. In addition, I found it strange that my stomach kept growling. I had read that once in active labor, most women lose their appetite. But as Don pointed out, my body was not following the books.
Between contractions, when I had to stop to close my eyes and breathe, I chatted with Don and with Linda, who was seated beside the tub, just as she had been for Donny and Hayden's births. Don commented that he and I should teach childbirth classes, since now we had done everything. I silently hoped that we would not actually experience everything in the realm of childbirth possibilities...after all, I still had never used pain medications or had a cesarean birth, and I was happy to keep it that way.
The warm tub water was soothing and freeing, but the monitors kept sliding around, forcing me to basically stay in one position so that my contractions and baby's heartbeat would register on the machine. Finally the nurse was having trouble finding the baby's heartbeat in any position, a problem that was reminiscent of my labor with Donny, but this time I didn't have a baby crowning. I did not mind getting out of the tub; I figured that I could always get back in later when it was time to push. Once I had dried off and was wrapped in warm blankets, Linda checked me. I was still at 6cm.
And according to Linda, instead of thinning like it normally does during labor, my cervix felt thicker. Baby's head was not pressing against it as it should have been, and without the pressure from baby, the cervix was not going to dilate enough to let baby through. A 10cm opening is required for birth, but for whatever reason, my body seemed to be stuck at 6. Linda thought perhaps the umbilical cord had tangled in such a way as to prevent baby from descending any farther. Knowing our children's history of umbilical cord entanglement, Don and I agreed that could be possible. I laughed when my gymnast husband suggested, "She's practicing the aerial silks with the umbilical cord." Meanwhile, the baby's heartrate continued to drop during each contraction. We decided to give it one more hour, but in the meantime, I breathed through each contraction as we all discussed and prepared me for the likely possibility of a C-section.
I had been in labor for two days, and there was no end in sight. With my membranes ruptured, there was an increased risk of infection as time wore on. I was stuck on the bed, hooked up to monitors and IVs, because it was the only way to make sure baby was safe. There was a good chance that the stress of continued labor could cause fetal distress. As much as I had never wanted to have a C-section, I was ready. The week when she was in breech position had given me a chance to, in some way, mentally prepare for this possibility. And now I wanted to be done with the painful contractions that were getting me nowhere. Don and I were sick of labor; we were ready to hold our baby girl. And we wanted to make sure she was safe. So I agreed to the cesarean, knowing that it would be the best - and possibly the only - solution for baby and me.
Even more than the thought of being cut open, the idea of an epidural always scared me - and of course, that was the anesthesia of choice for this operation. Thankfully, the anesthesiologist was friendly and reassuring. Sitting up to have the epidural inserted (and still contracting every few miutes) was the most difficult part for me, but it was not long before my legs felt warm and fuzzy. The anesthesiologist administered some anti-nausea medication, gave Don his scrubs, and by the time I was wheeled into the operating room, I was completely relaxed. When someone asked me how I felt, I could only reply, "Sleepy." In fact, when we got to the OR and all the people dressed in blue were introducing themselves and bustling about, I asked, "Can I go to sleep?"
The operation itself was painless. Dr. M performed the surgery, while another OB, Linda and several nurses assisted. Don stayed by my side, peeking over the curtain to watch his wife being cut open and his daughter lifted out of the womb. Within a few minutes, a newborn cry told us that Lydia was here. Finally. The little girl who was tangled in her cord and "sunny side up" was born at 9:36pm, right on her due date - June 11, 2009.
Don took pictures of our baby girl while the doctors sewed me up and congratulated us. Soon we were recovering back in the waterbirthing room, the room where both of our boys were born. I was still sleepy, but I stayed awake long enough to call my parents with the news and to nurse my sweet newborn. She latched on right away, and I rejoiced that finally, something was going right!
We had planned to name her Lydia Joy, using Grace as the middle name for our (Lord willing) second girl, and possibly others like Hope and Faith in the future. Yet in the hours and day following her birth, I was unsure. I still loved the name Joy and thought it sounded pretty with Lydia, but another name kept coming to mind: Faith. Honestly, the end result was the only part of this process that really involved joy. And even then, in the first few moments of life, Lydia was already scowling at the nurses - not exactly the perfect picture of Joy!
On the other hand, it was faith that brought us through this trial: Faith in a loving Father, faith that Lydia would be born in His perfect time, and in His way (which in this case, certainly was neither my time nor my way!). Afterwards, Linda told me that when they cut me open, my uterus was so thin that they could almost see through it. Had I continued to labor for many more hours, it could have ruptured, causing a life-threatening emergency for Lydia and me. No one had suspected this problem, nor would they have known about it if a C-section had not been performed, but God is His wisdom worked everything out for good. Though the method of birth was not what I would have chosen, it is clear that God's hand was in it - perhaps even holding Lydia back from the birth canal in order to spare our lives.
I thought I needed to trust God to persevere through the pain and intensity and unknowns of labor. And armed with a printed sheet of Bible verses, I was ready to do so. I never expected that He would test my faith in other ways; instead of just seeing how patiently and long I could endure regular contractions, He forced me to face my fears of medical interventions. Instead of trusting my body, and knowing that I wouldn't trust doctors, I had to place my hope in Him alone. And in the end, the Author of Life, the One who forms us in the womb, carried me through, and placed Lydia Faith safe in my arms.
Shortly before Lydia's birth, I read the birth story of Mrs. Parunak at Pursuing Titus 2, a similarly long and intense labor with a different ending. In her story, she mentioned 1 Peter 1:7, and it was snippets of this same verse that came to my mind in connection with Lydia's birth:
These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Despite my best laid plans, in the end, I got most of the things on my "wish to avoid" list. (I obviously avoided tearing, since I never got to the pushing stage, though I certainly was cut open! And I did not pass out after delivery, probably because it was a full day before I felt well enough to even attempt standing.) Maybe it was not fire, but this labor was certainly an exercise in faith. I am so thankful that the Lord protected both of us and blessed Don and me with a beautiful, healthy daughter. May the praise, glory, and honor be forever His!