Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
**from Ode: Intimations of Mortality by William Wordsworth
Isn't that beautiful? My dad (who, even at 83, has a memory better than mine has ever been) quoted it to me in the hospital as we sat admiring my hour-old baby (his hour-old granddaughter). It was so fitting that it brought tears to my eyes.
How did Wordsworth know those things? How did he feel the same things I've always felt?
“Not in entire forgetfulness”
I guess his own words explain how he knew. . . .
A week ago today I was sitting in the hospital – a heart monitor strapped to my stomach – waiting, wondering, and mostly listening; listening to the steady, reassuring sound of Summer's heartbeat.
During the two days before that, I'd felt like she was coming. Of course, I couldn't be sure that it was any different from the anxiousness I'd had for weeks concerning her impending arrival. Still, I cleaned and got car seats ready. I packed a hospital bag and bought baby diapers. I made sure every laundry pile was put away and every dish was done.
But, despite my presence in the hospital, I wasn't in labor, or, at least, not in obvious labor. I'd woken to lots of blood – far more than it seemed dilating should cause – and had come, at the advice of my CNM, to make sure all was well with Summer.
I was worried. Worried about Summer. Worried, selfishly, about me: about my plans.
I'd wanted to experience a natural childbirth one more time. The idea of a home birth, crazy as it sounds to many, sounded unbelievably wonderful to me. Mike couldn't feel comfortable with it, and that was fine, but, I at least wanted to labor in my own space for as long as possible. Now I was worried about what all this blood meant – worried we'd need to get Summer here quickly.
I wrote a post earlier about my decision to try natural again and what spawned that decision. Currently that post is trapped somewhere on a malfunctioning laptop. I like the idea of sharing birth stories without any judgment. I love that my family, even if they would never consider natural childbirth, have all seemed to understand my motives and wanted to support me; but, I truly don't fall into any one camp when it comes to childbirth. It seems my plans change, almost inexplicably, with each child. I have loved my epidural births. I never felt that I lost control of my experience, and, with pain out of the way, during those births, I felt more able to fully experience the absolute excitement and celebration of what was coming.
It's somewhat more difficult for me to explain my draw to another natural labor. It's maybe sort of like this: my focus, from the beginning of this pregnancy, has been of a much more spiritual nature. I wanted to connect to what was happening during labor and delivery the same way I've connected with this whole pregnancy. There is no reason that should have to require going pain free. I'm certain one could have an incredibly spiritual experience on the operating table during a c-section, but, I'm not normally a meditative person. I'm not sure how to get on that plain easily. I recognized, however, from my experiences with Daisy and Goldie, that getting through childbirth on my own allowed – or perhaps almost forced – me to get to that place; a place where I could feel more connected to things that were happening; more connected to the thinness of the veil; and more connected to Summer. It isn't the pain that does that for me. It's what I need to do to get through the pain – where I need to go – that allows it.
I felt there were things that I could learn and know by going this route one more time even though, as I said, I've had great experiences with my epidural births. I imagine it's impossible to come away from being an intimate part of a little ones very first truly mortal experience; their birth – whatever the circumstances surrounding that experience -- without knowing and understanding things you didn't before.
Still, even though I understood that, I was worried about totally losing the experience I’d wanted this time.
Luckily, after an hour of monitoring Summer, it seemed all was well. I hadn't dilated much, but I'd thinned quite a bit, so it was possible the bleeding had been from that. Under those hopeful circumstances, my CNM was willing to let me head back home and wait.
So back home we went. The bleeding stopped; but the discouragement set in as Mike headed back to work; we went about our usual day of cooking, errands, and cleaning; and I waited for any hint of contractions (after all, as we left the hospital we'd all – nurses included – felt certain I'd be back within a few hours).
I went to bed that night feeling as unsure as I'd ever felt about anything. At 4:30 I woke up and allowed myself a quiet little cry that I still wasn't in labor.
Then at 5:00 . . . I clearly was in labor.
Contractions weren't incredibly close – every four or five minutes -- but the bleeding had started in rather heavy again (adding worry to my mind over Summer's absolute safety) so rather than spend a leisurely time at home, I decided I'd labor at the hospital where we could be certain she wasn't in danger.
We stopped by Mike's parents for Mike and his dad to give me a blessing. I'd been praying regularly the past few days for protection to surround Summer and me during this labor, so feeling the power of that blessing was a great comfort.
Still, when we got to the hospital (around 7:00 am), despite how well I was handling contractions, a bit of fear began to sneak in on me. I was dilated to between a five and a six; and, as I said doing fine, but I began to let my mind slip ahead a little to what those last transition-type contractions would likely feel like, and began to struggle with feeling afraid.
I texted my sisters and asked them to pray, specifically, that I wouldn't feel scared. It makes me cry to type that. I have been blessed so many times by the powerful prayers of my many loved ones; and this was no exception. Honestly the fear completely left me, and, in all truth, my labor was . . . kind of a beautiful experience. When I think about it, I feel pretty amazed that it was even possible for a labor to go as smoothly and calmly as mine did.
Physically, I used deep breathing, conscious relaxing of my muscles, and occasional focusing on each sound and feeling around me to help me through. When things got more intense, I really loved pacing slowly in circles with my hands massaging my lower back, or sitting on the birthing ball – arms and head leaning on the bed – with Mike rubbing my lower back during contractions. He did well with my, “you can't possibly rub too hard” directive.
Even more helpful though was where I would go mentally. It's difficult for me to explain the thoughts and visual images I had in my head as I made my way through contractions, but I felt very aware of the thinness of the veil, very aware of being in some ways between two realities – that of this world and that of another – I felt, or envisioned, I guess, almost a force field of power and safety around me as I made my way through. Throughout this pregnancy I have been more sure than ever of the presence of loved ones serving as guardian angels for us. I hesitate to express things that are too sacred, but Jeffrey R. Holland said, "I believe we need to speak of and believe in and bear testimony of the ministry of angels more than we sometimes do. They constitute one of God's great methods of witnessing through the veil, . . ." so I will say that I felt certain of their presence – certain they were there helping me and seeing Summer safely here. In my mind, I felt almost like there was a ring of loved ones – on this side and from the other side – surrounding me and providing a shield, support, love and protection for me and for Summer. It was so powerful that at several points, I actually felt I had to whisper an audible “thank you” so they would know how aware and appreciative I was. As I paced, I also found myself inwardly “talking” to Summer – telling her it was all right, that we could do this, that we were doing great.
With my other natural labors, those last transition contractions have come long and strong and with no more than a 20-second break between them. And, to be honest, with both my previous experiences, no matter how smoothly I'd handled things up to that point, the end contractions were so consuming that they could only be described as terrifying.
That never happened with this labor. Truly. Several times the contractions would come coupled close together, but then they would spread back out – kindly giving me a 3 – 5 minute break even at the very end. When I think back to myself at a 10, grasping for Mike during a contraction, but not minding calm talking continuing on among Shannon (my sister) and my mom; when I picture myself even joking a bit between contractions, I can hardly believe it at all. I can hardly believe a labor like that was possible. It really was incredibly smooth. I don't mean to say that it wasn't a lot of work and focus and difficulty. I only mean that labor never did get to any point of being unbearable or overwhelming. I'm so grateful for how beautifully it went.
I wasn't done when I finished dilating though, and, I admit, I kind of assumed I was. With my other natural labors, the work and difficulty came primarily in managing all the contractions. Once it came to pushing, it was overwhelming, but it was fast and unstoppable. Those babies were coming whether I wanted them to or not.
This whole experience was the exact opposite of that. In fact, when I think back on Summer's birth, it quite literally feels like two completely separate events. One amazingly calm, and peaceful, and almost beautiful -- despite the intense pains; the other . . . agonizing.
When it was time to push this little person out, I can hardly explain what happened. I don’t really understand what happened. When I think back on it, I literally feel so overwhelmed that I almost start to cry.
Somehow, once it was time to push, I could no longer make heads or tails of obvious contractions to work with. All I knew was that some consuming pain had come over me and that I was drowning in it. I didn't feel I had the ability to do anything that those around me encouraged me to do. Everything was impossible. I truly felt completely overcome. No relief came in pushing though I had to push. Attempts to fill my lungs and hold them as I pushed would just erupt in half sobs, pleas for help, and cries that I couldn't do it. It seemed I was sinking in pain and nothing I did was changing anything or bringing her any closer. My face and hands began to grow numb and I knew I was hyperventilating, but felt powerless even to slow my breathing down as I could hear loved ones instructing me to do. With my more difficult labors, the pain of dilating contractions was awful, but it was simply something that happened to me; something I simply had to hold on through. With this pain, it was completely overwhelming and terrifying; but I knew that I had to do something with it. I knew that the only way to ever make it end was to dive headlong into the pain and do the very things that made it impossibly worse. I could hear my sister calling out to me – encouraging me that loved ones were near and would help me; I could feel Mike, always solid, always a rock of security, by me. I knew his hand was gripping mine tight, but it was . . . so so scary that I am crying again as I type this. It really felt it would never end – that I'd never be able to do what was required to get Summer here. The terror that there was no escape – no way out but through -- was very real. At one point I recall – almost as if I was watching myself from the outside – my head falling to the side, tears streaming down my face, over the hopelessness and pain, over my work producing no progress.
I have no idea how short or long it was.
I'm not sure what was going on – why it was so difficult. My CNM said she turned as she came down the birth canal. Maybe her facing the wrong way was enough to cause all the extreme difficulty? I don't know. I do know that I have such a new found empathy for my ancestors and the many women through time who have had to face each and every birth this way. I feel such a new awareness of how completely different each labor can be – how impossible to predict. Had I combined the labor I had with this baby with the delivery I had with Goldie – a quick scream of “I need to push something!” and out she came; I can see thinking birth was no big deal. But combine a long labor – contractions like I've had with my other natural births but lasting much longer – with a delivery like this? I ache to think of what some of my ancestors went through; the fear they must have felt and what they sacrificed in bringing life into the world.
I'd been thinking the past few weeks of all things being a “type of Christ” -- thinking of the atonement and its symbolism with birth. Earlier in the week I'd read Alma's retelling of his conversion to his son Helaman. I've always loved those verses. He describes the mental agony he waded through and then, the overwhelming joy and peace and light that replaced it when he caught hold of the idea of Christ and cried out to him. I love how he describes to his son how his soul was filled with joy as absolute and “exceeding” as was his pain. There was definitely some beautiful symbolism for me to think on at the end of this experience as I waded through such misery to the relief of her birth.
My mom stayed so close to me – through out and after. She told me later how much it shook her and how she was praying through the entire ordeal that she could please be allowed to take some of it from me. It makes me cry thinking of that because I never want to experience that pain again, but I would in one second if it meant sparing one of my children from it. I guess that too gives us a pretty good idea of the type of love our Savior has for us.
Anyway, my goodness, that was a long story, wasn't it? I tried to type it several times in a way that was brief and laid it all out perfectly and prettily. I couldn't though. In the end, I knew I'd never get it down at all if I didn't just let it all come spilling out.
Anyway, she's here! In fact, I think my strongest and happiest memory came when they placed her on my chest, and I felt a little jolt of shock as her little leg kicked against my stomach from the outside! I feel lucky to have been so intimately a part of her first mortal experience. I feel in awe of the beautiful labor I was able to have; and grateful for the increased understanding and empathy the delivery gave me. I also am struck by how every birth is such a completely unique experience. I suppose that's exactly how it should be – these entries into the world.
Welcome to my Summer! I love her. So so much I love her.