Isn’t it amazing how a particular feeling can have such power over your thoughts and even behaviors?
Some feelings have the potential to be destructive to our lives.
Despair, loneliness, and grief for example all have the potential to give us terrible thoughts that sometimes drive us to make terrible decisions.
Others however, like excitement, love, and hope can lift us beyond our current circumstances and carry us to a place beyond ourselves.
Recently I was reminded of the power of hope… hope that came in the form of a little boy with a head full of hair! A little boy named Gavin.
Many of you have read the birth story of my firstborn, Charlotte, affectionately known as “Charley.”
(If you want to catch up, click HERE.)
If so, you know that much to my dismay, my plans for an all-natural, birth center birth were smashed when my blood pressure put my and Charley’s life in danger and I suddenly had to be induced in the hospital. Although I began the induction process not dilated or effaced at all, my body responded well to induction and Charley was born three hours after my water broke on its own. I was shocked that labor and delivery weren’t as bad as I thought they would be. Active labor was fast, transition was fast, and I spent very little time pushing.
While my pregnancy with Gavin and his birth hold many similarities to Charley’s, such as the repeated high blood pressure and consequential need to give birth in the hospital, Gavin’s birth was so. incredibly. different.
BACKSTORY and EARLY LABOR
It’s a funny time… the end of pregnancy. You’ve heard moms joke about how the last month of pregnancy is actually years long.
Inspecting it in hindsight, just like the rest of life, I think that pregnancy flies by. But somehow, in the midst of those last few weeks, when you know it’s possible that your baby could make an entrance at any time, suddenly each second ticks slower, each minute amplified by the waiting, the wondering, and the Googling of early labor symptoms.
I kid you not, I asked Google if irritability could be a sign of early labor.
More than once.
I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions throughout most of the pregnancy, but at about 35 weeks, I began having prodromal labor. What is this you ask?
A BIG FREAKING TEASE, that’s what it is!
The contractions would sometimes last all night long, they’d be timeable, strong, and painful… but by morning they would stop.
Because this had been going on so often, my midwives checked me at my 35 week visit to make sure I wasn’t about to drop a baby, and I was pleased to learn that I was already 3cm dilated and 75% effaced!
As week 38 approached, I was still holding steady at that 3cm and 75-80% effaced. I was disappointed to find out that my birth photographer had a trip planned during the middle to the end of my 38th week of pregnancy – statistically the most common time when second babies are born. This was also the same time frame that I had hoped my son would be born – on my late grandpa’s birthday. I had hoped for more amazing birth photos like the ones she took for Charley’s birth, but it was now dashed, and even though it was silly and I had no control over it, I began to stress about this baby arriving when our photographer could be there.
Around the same time, I also learned that it was dangerous for me to go past 39 weeks with my blood pressure being so concerning, and I was told that unless I wanted to take the risk and go longer, I would be induced the day we hit 39 weeks.
Because my birth experience with Charley involved induction with a medication called Cytotec, a foley bulb, and Pitocin, I desperately wanted to know what it was like to go into labor naturally. You hear those awesome stories of women waking in the night and excitedly telling their husbands, “IT’S TIME!”
I had no idea what that was like.
Every day I wondered, could this be the day?
Will I go into labor tonight?
Will we have to call a neighbor to come get Charley? Will we take her with us? Will my mom be here to watch her?
I wonder if I’ll be one of those few women whose water breaks in public…
I had three more days until my photographer went out of town. I felt silly stressing about it, but also, having documentation of the birth of my babies is really important to me. Three days to go into labor on my own, then several days of no birth photographer, and then I would be at 39 weeks and heading to the hospital for another induction.
One way or another, I was going to meet my son in a week or less!
The midwife I’m closest to – and the one that was there for Charley’s birth, Jessica – listened to me text my concerns to her regarding the induction. I had basically been told to show up at the hospital and hospital staff would break my water to get things going. As someone who had purposefully gone to the birth center to build relationships and trust with the people who would possibly help me bring my child into the world without intervention, this did not make me happy.
She later told me that although my week 39 induction day was her day off, she would have personally come up to the hospital to break my water. (Not surprising – Jessica is incredible.)
Not only did this news make me feel better, she offered another option.
She said that I could come meet her at the office in a couple days for a membrane sweep. A membrane sweep isn’t technically labor induction. It is, however, an encouragement to the body to kick-start labor. The midwife uses her finger to separate the amniotic sac from the cervix, which releases a hormone to help get things going. Many people shy away from it as it can be painful and may not even work, but Chris and I weighed our options.
We really didn’t want to go through another induced birth.
A membrane sweep at 38 weeks and 2 days might give us the chance to go into labor naturally sometime in the 5 remaining days before induction.
We decided we’d go for it.
Friday, September 22nd, we met Jessica at the Ferguson Birth Center office, even before her first appointment of the day. She sat and talked with us about our options, including the previously-discussed membrane sweep, and we confirmed our decision to go for it!
It wasn’t nearly as painful as I had heard it was, and I left hopeful that my body would respond well.
I jokingly – yet hopefully – said to Jessica as we left, “See you tonight!”
Jessica was on duty through the remainder of the night, and I was hopeful that she would be the one to attend our birth again. If it didn’t happen tonight, another midwife would be on duty the next day, which was also the last day our photographer would be in town.
I felt like the pressure was on.
I cramped for the remainder of the day.
Aaaaand I was irritable. (*more Googling*)
But the end of the day was approaching, and I still wasn’t going into labor. Ugh.
I tried not to lose hope.
I asked Chris if he’d put Charley to bed so that I could get in the bathtub and relax since I’d felt crampy all day. Once she was asleep, he joined me in the bathroom, and (finally) cut the mop of hair that was on his head and shaved his face. This makes me laugh looking back, because he had grown a “baby beard” when I was pregnant with Charley and shaved it the morning I was induced with her.
Was history repeating??
We crawled into bed at about 10:00PM, still anxious and hopefully anticipating that magical moment when labor starts on its own. By 10:30PM, I still wasn’t asleep. I kept trying to fall asleep, but I was so uncomfortable. Still cramping. In and out of nearly-asleep moments, I tried checking the phone periodically, hoping that the cramps were timeable, because that would mean they were real contractions! They weren’t.
By 11:30PM, I was still awake, and still very uncomfortable.
It got out of bed and went to another room, taking my phone so I could try again to time the cramps.
They’re 5-6 minutes apart.
I immediately called my midwife Jessica, who was still the on-call midwife, to talk to her about what I was feeling. Maybe I was in denial, but I couldn’t believe I actually might be in labor. I had had so many episodes of contractions that lasted all night long and didn’t result in anything, I was afraid to hope that this might actually be IT.
I needed her to speak some reality to me.
I was so uncomfortable that I was having trouble even catching my breath while speaking with her, but for some reason, I still just couldn’t believe it. She told me that it sounded to her like it was time to head to the hospital and she would meet us there. The reality check I needed had been spoken!
In excited disbelief, I went back to the bedroom to wake Chris, who had been asleep the whole time and oblivious to the fact that I had never gone to sleep next to him. I gently rubbed his arm.
“Are you ready to go have a baby!?”
I will never forget his face.
He sat up, as wide-eyed as a kid on Christmas morning.
We got dressed, grabbed our bags, let my mom know (she was staying at the house & would care for Charley), & off we went!
RIDE to the HOSPITAL and ACTIVE LABOR
Throughout my pregnancy with Gavin, I had a nagging fear that we might not make it to the hospital in time.
For one, I had never gone into labor on my own, so I was worried I wouldn’t recognize early labor in time to leave and make the 45 minute drive.
Secondly, I had been teased with false labor so many times, I had learned to not get my hopes up.
And thirdly, my active labor with Charley was so short, I was worried that it would be even shorter this time (as is common for second-time moms).
As we began the drive a little after midnight on the 23rd, my fear started to look like reality. Everything was progressing so quickly.
I was so uncomfortable on the drive to the hospital that I couldn’t even sit on the seat of the truck. I had to push the seat all of the way back and kneel on the floorboard facing backwards. It had become clear to me by this point that these were not cramps… they were full-blown contractions. Each time one came on, I took a deep breath, and put my face into the back of the seat.
Chris dropped a bombshell on me.
“Babe… I’m so sorry. I need to stop and get gas. I don’t think we can make it.”
It was so absurd I just had to laugh. Seriously?!
This was becoming more and more like a scene from a movie.
Taking a chance and stopping our progress toward the hospital to get gas, I reasoned, was better than running out of gas and having a baby on the side of the interstate. It was the quickest fill-up ever, and we were off again! I may have been kneeling on towels in preparation for baby, but I remained hopeful we could still make it.
It was dark. Turned backwards with my face buried in the seat, I couldn’t see where we were going or what kind of driving progress we’d made. I also couldn’t see the clock.
“Babe. How far apart were those?”
Two to three minutes.
Oh my God. We’re not going to make it.
But we did!
We arrived at the hospital just around 1:00AM and Chris, like a bolt of lightning, busied himself getting our bags from the truck, fetching a wheelchair from the lobby, and helping me inside. I was still strongly contracting, but opted to walk instead of being pushed in the wheelchair. I knew there was no way I could endure these contractions seated in a chair. Another contraction brought me to the floor as we tried to make our way to the elevator. A security guard nervously looked on.
Suddenly I saw our midwife in the lobby. Seeing her face brought a wave of peace.
Well, I thought, at least if I have the baby now, we have help, and we’re at the hospital – even if just in the lobby!
We had somehow miraculously made it to the hospital, and now to our labor room, bypassing registration altogether. We had called the staff on our way and they knew that this baby was quickly on his way!
When we got to our room, I asked if I could labor in the tub. It was something that I hadn’t been allowed to do during my labor with Charley, but because I wasn’t on Pitocin this time, they said I could! The giant tub began to fill up and the nurses and my midwife busied themselves getting things ready. Someone joked that I might have this baby before the tub had a chance to fill up. My blood pressure actually remained steady enough not to need medication at this time, but they started a hep-lock just in case. Blood ran down my fingers. Meanwhile, Chris had been busy getting our video camera ready. I had told him in the car, “Babe. When we get to the hospital, don’t worry about me. First thing I’d like for you to do is set up our video camera!”
In those wee hours of Saturday morning, the last day our birth photographer was available, she walked into the room and joined the birthday party. I was ecstatic. Everything and everyone was in place.
Hope rushed in.
This was going to be awesome.
Things began to slow down.
I actually felt relaxed in the warm tub despite regular and strong contractions. Jessica told us that it was normal for things to feel slower, as the stress of trying to get to the hospital in time may have made things more intense.
We all just kind of hung out in the room, the clickclickclick of Rylie’s camera from time to time interrupting the quiet to capture my response to the contractions in the tub.
I was actually enjoying myself.
My midwife’s trained ears began to hear a shift in my groans in the tub and let me know that it was time to get out. The hospital’s policy is that you can labor in the tub, but not deliver. This meant she thought I was close to pushing! As soon as I was able, and in-between contractions, I reluctantly got out of the tub and into bed.
The next part of labor is a blur and I have to rely on the video we captured to even remember what happened.
Things I do remember:
1) It hurt SO BAD.
2) It hurt SO BAD.
3) It hurt SO BAD.
Contractions were more intense than they had been on Pitocin while delivering Charley. They came one after the other. I couldn’t get into a position that helped me deal.
It hurt SO BAD.
Other things I remember:
1) Having the thought to get someone to Facetime my mom (who, even though it was around 3AM at this point, was still awake) so that she could join.
2) Thinking, this baby is NOT coming out.
3) It hurt SO BAD.
We raised the head of the bed so I could kneel and face backwards, gripping the head of the bed.
Anyone who has been in labor and faced transition knows that it’s the time when you don’t feel like you can do this anymore. Contractions are one after another. You can’t catch your breath. You can’t move. You can’t think. There’s a likelihood you may be dropping some choice words. You have the thought, I think I’ll leave now. Maybe go grab a bite to eat…?
In reality however, you’re almost there.
Have I said this before?? – – It hurts SO BAD.
With Charley, I obviously had no prior experience, so I was in transition and didn’t even know it. I just thought this was how painful labor was and was trying to brace myself for hours of this excruciating pain. Fortunately for me, it was almost over by the time I realized how much pain I was in.
This time, that was not the case.
I was in transition.
I wanted to leave.
I was told I was close.
But I didn’t seem to be getting any closer.
I was shocked that I still didn’t feel the urge to push. Nothing seemed to be changing.
This was so different than I thought it would be. Wasn’t my second labor supposed to be easier?
I was losing hope.
At some point, my midwife suggested that she could break my water. She said that sometimes the sac can be super thick and can actually stall labor.
Between contractions I told her, “It’s so much pressure, but no urge to push!”
She said, “Yep, probably your sac.”
It took me thirty minutes of battling through the constant excruciating pain of the pressure and contractions (along with some choice words and crying out “Help!” and “DAMN YOU, EVE!”) just to get on my back to let her check the bag.
She was right… I had a “sac of steel.”
Official quote of the day!
It was so thick, it was difficult for her to break, but as soon as she did, that sensation I had been waiting for – the urge to push – came.
My body knew.
I immediately flipped over from my back to my hands and knees and my groans turned to roars as I worked to push this baby out. Prepared in the same position I delivered Charley in, I tried with all my might to push this baby boy from my body. I had delivered his sister with just a few pushes.
But this… this felt impossible.
I couldn’t feel him descending.
I was drenched in sweat and throwing up over and over.
I was working so hard! Why wasn’t he here already?
We were worried he would be born on the ride to the hospital, but now, hours later, I was still laboring?
This wasn’t at all how I had envisioned things going. I knew that pain was a part of this process… escaping the pain never crossed my mind. But when my expectations clashed with reality, I felt despair, fear, and even hopelessness.
Desperate, I cried, “Someone give me hope!”
Everything I was feeling and thinking had been sending me deeper into discouragement and hopelessness. I needed something to hold on to.
At the sound of my cry, the room brightened with words of encouragement.
Chris describes it as something shifting in the atmosphere.
Jessica and the nurses began filling my ears with positive affirmations and hopeful words reflecting the reality I couldn’t see.
I continued laboring in my own world of despair while trying to hold on to the glimmers of hope in my ears.
One glimmer came in the form of a settled bet. Chris had guessed that Gavin’s hair would be blonde, but the ladies and I thought it was dark. Gavin was close enough that we were able to settle the bet. The girls won!
But it still didn’t seem like he was coming. I was hurting so bad.
I had taken a moment to rest on my side, and that’s where I remained to push. The pain was nearly paralyzing and unrelenting, and even though we had talked about trying different positions, I couldn’t even move from my side to try something else. I could literally feel his body squeezing through mine. I could picture his head (which I had been told was in the >95th percentile) squeezing its way through my body.
How will I ever get this baby out?!
From the end of the bed, with a smile on his face, Chris said, “His hair is so long. Just wait until you see it.”
There it was.
For some reason, it finally clicked.
In my moment of desperation, I had cried out for help. For hope.
And now, with words from the man who created this life with me, I was reminded of the baby boy I was so excited to see.
My little boy… with that head full of hair!
My Gavin was so close.
On the next push, Jessica exclaimed, “That was a HUGE push! So so close!”
The energy in the room seemed to pick up. Jessica smiled.
“You just needed some inspiration!”
I had it.
I had hope!
In less than three minutes, that beautiful (giant) head full of hair emerged, and in the next push, the rest of his perfect 8lb, 8oz body.
I had done it!!
With the help of our midwife, Gavin Michael Judah was born into the hands of his daddy. He was gorgeous and perfect.
As they both brought him up to my chest, Chris exclaimed through laughter and tears, “You did it! You did it! Oh my gosh! Baby you did it! Oh he’s soooo big!”
And he was!
He cried right away and I laid back into the comfortable pillow of joy and relief with my son in my arms.
Hope had been fulfilled.
Bringing Gavin into the world was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But somehow, in the moments where I was able to grasp hope, it became more bearable. There was light, there was joy.
I may have thought that this baby was never coming, but he was.
I couldn’t see the end, but it was always there.
The light, the joy… sometimes we lose sight of it.
But isn’t it funny, even though we can’t see it, it’s still there.
It’s hope that brings us back.
Gavin Michael Judah
Hawk of the Battle / Gift from God / Who Brings Praise
“…but they who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31
“The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.” – Zephaniah 3:17
Midwife Care by:
The Birth and Wellness Center, O’Fallon, MO