” A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”
Just before the final stormy waves of contractions would deliver my baby to “shore,” the sky lightened, as night was transformed into day–a perfect picture reflecting my experience of childbirth.
My labor had actually began early the previous morning. After I got up and continued to experience the sort of cramp-like contractions I usually associate with labor (like a hot, spreading wave beginning deep in my lower back and abdomen and moving outward and upward through my uterus), I called my husband in to the bedroom: “I think today might be the day.” He immediately began preparations. Contractions continued all morning. However, they never got any stronger, and when I lay down in the afternoon to take a nap, they stopped all together. It was so disappointing.
And then, early that same evening, around 6:00 pm, they started up again.
I waited to see if they would intensify, and they did, especially laying down. I called the midwife around 9:00 pm with the news that I believed I was in labor. My husband had already cleaned the house in the morning; now, we arranged the items from the birth kit on the kitchen table, and set up the blow-up pool in the living room. We made sure the bed and couch were both covered with a plastic sheet, and then covered that up with a regular sheet. I ate a snack. I called my parents to come pick up the children, whose suitcases had already been packed for about the last two weeks. We were ready.
When the midwife arrived (along with the doula, and the midwife’s assistant), I explained to her that my contractions were more bearable while I was standing, sitting, or walking, and that they were pretty close together while in those positions. But, one strange thing: I would have two contractions close together, and one farther apart; two close together, one farther apart. I didn’t remember having this pattern in any of my other labors. And another thing: when I would lay down, the contractions would become farther apart, but would be much more intense! The midwife observed the pattern of my contractions for about an hour as I lay on my side, and then suggested she check my dilation. It was about 11:00 pm, and I was only 2 cm. She explained that I might be in “false labor,” given the funny pattern of contractions, and the fact that even though I experienced the contractions as much stronger while laying down, they actually became farther apart. In true labor, she said, it wouldn’t usually matter what position I was in, the contractions would remain consistent. Also, the baby, though definitely in a head-down position, might be turned in a direction less optimal for birth. She decided to go back to her office to rest a while, and allow me the chance to see if I could get some sleep. We would have to see how things went.
Well, I never ended up being able to sleep.
I don’t know that the contractions ever got any closer together, but they did become more intense! It got to the point that every time I would have one, I would ask my husband to gently rub my arm as a comforting distraction, while I would try to breathe deeply and relax through it as much as I could. I eventually began softly moaning (I really dislike that word, but it is accurate) just to deal with the pain (I don’t like that word, either, but it’s accurate, as well). I also felt the baby moving around a lot (maybe she was turning herself into a better position all on her own?), and she hiccuped about three separate times (later, the midwife told me that the hiccuping was a sign that her lungs were preparing to breathe outside the womb). At around 5:00 am I went to relieve myself, and a whole bunch of mucus came out. I called the midwife for the second time. When she arrived, she checked my dilation again, and I was already 9 cm!
The doula and the assistant also returned, and they and my husband began filling the pool up with very warm water, using a hose connected to the kitchen sink. Additionally, they heated big pots of water on the stove. As soon as the water was high enough in the pool to be able to reach up to my tummy, I got in (as they continued to fill it even more), but I left my nightgown on. Soon after, I realized that I needed to relieve myself again (which was happening around every 30 min, or so), and I ended up taking my completely soaked nightgown off so I could put my warm, dry robe on. After that point, I labored nude (another uncomfortable truth).
I had to get out of the pool several more times to go the bathroom, and each time I got up, I would immediately have another contraction. Then, I would have a contraction on the way to the bathroom, and another one while sitting on the toilet. I asked the midwife to stay with me each time, since I knew how intense the contractions would be.
In the pool, I tried several different positions, at different times: sitting on my bottom while leaning my back against the side of the pool, legs extended to the front; squatting while leaning my back against the side of the pool; sitting with one leg under my bottom, the other leg extended, while leaning on my side against the side of the pool; leaning the front of my body over the side of the pool with both feet under my bottom, but not touching it; and finally, going from that last-mentioned position to raising one of my knees up, foot flat on the bottom of the pool, into the semi-kneeling position that footballers assume when holding the ball for kickoff. I had three water births previous to this one, and I hadn’t ever wanted to try very many positions; however, maybe because I was anxious for things to “get going,” and a little bit antsy, I kept trying new positions to see which I liked better. In the end, I birthed the baby from a semi-standing squat, though still low enough for the baby to be born in the water, while grasping my husband’s arms in the front. That was a first for me! I think the force of pushing caused me to instinctively lift my other knee up, too, so that I could use all my strength to get the baby out.
It was during the last part of labor that the sky began to lighten. I was comforted with the thought that as my labor was about to culminate in the birth of my baby, so too, the night was about to culminate in the birth of a new day!
During the whole labor, nobody ever told me what to do (except for the midwife suggesting I lift one knee up for that final, pushing position). I did what I felt like doing, and I think things worked best that way. Nobody told me to push. I pushed when I felt like it. And boy, did I feel like it during that one, last contraction! I couldn’t have helped but push, the feeling was so powerful! I could feel the baby pressing hard down on my bottom, and all my tissues opening up, giving me that kind of burning, “ring of fire” sensation. At that point, I just wanted to get the baby out as fast as I could! I grunted deep and low, and even made some sounds that reminded me of a dog growling (how embarrassing, but completely acceptable while giving birth to a baby through an opening in my body!) I said out loud, “God, help me!” To this, the midwife tried to reassure me by saying, “He will help you.” I then said, “I know He will.” She responded with, “But sometimes, we wish He would help us faster, don’t we” in a comforting tone (she said this in such a nice way, I didn’t mind at all). Yes, that is true, but what I really meant was to ask Him to help me get through this last, hardest part of labor; it was just a simple prayer, that I would usually say inside my heart, but that I almost yelled while in the midst of that last, very long, contraction.
After the baby’s head appeared, the midwife told me to pause from pushing so she could quickly unwrap the cord from around the baby’s neck. It was very hard for me to do so, though I managed to. After the baby was free, I pushed her out the rest of the way, and she came sliding out. She was born in the water slightly behind me, so the midwife gently moved her between my legs toward my front. I sat down then, and received the baby into my arms and onto my tummy. What a relief! And what joy I felt! She was a little purple to start out with, but soon began to get some color.
Almost immediately, she started crying and wanting to suck. But, since my chest was partly under water, and I didn’t want to sit up any farther because I wanted to give the placenta space to be delivered, I offered her my pinky to suck on, which she did, strongly. I don’t know how much time had passed (maybe ten to fifteen minutes?) when I decided that I wanted to lay down with the baby so she could nurse. At first, I tried standing up while holding the baby (whose cord was still attached), thinking that perhaps I could continue to hold her while being helped to the couch, which was only a few feet away; but, it was way too awkward, and I felt weaker than I thought I would once I stood up. So, the cord was cut, and the baby was handed over to her adoring father, while I delivered the placenta right into the midwife’s hands.
But not everything came out that was supposed to come out. Part of the amniotic sac had torn off with the placenta, and the other part of the sac was still inside my body. After I laid down on the couch with the baby, and began to nurse her, I continued having contractions, but none of them were strong enough to get rid of the rest of the sac. It was suggested to me that ingesting a small portion of the placenta in a smoothie could help strengthen the contractions, and help them to be more effective. I had previously been on the fence regarding placenta ingestion, but at this point, I just said, “Go ahead and do it.” I really wanted to do whatever I could to make sure that what was still inside me would come out! And, within a few minutes after I finished the smoothie (a bite-sized piece of placenta, banana, yogurt, and apple juice), I had a huge contraction, and with it, a whole bunch of blood! The midwife asked me to get up, and put one leg on the floor, and the other on the couch. She also asked me to push. As I did, the rest of the amniotic sac came out. Good thing! Just in case the placenta didn’t work, the midwife had been preparing to give me something else to help intensify the contractions. But, I didn’t end up needing it.
I was checked for tears, but I didn’t have any. I hadn’t torn, not once, in any of my water births at home. How is it, then, that during my first two births at the hospital, I was given an episiotomy both times? Maybe it was because I hadn’t been in that nice, warm water. Or, maybe I had never needed them in the first place! I am very thankful that having a midwife attend my births, and having water births, has saved me from another episiotomy, and from tearing.
Afterwards, I was escorted to my bed, and the baby was brought to me. Again, she nursed while on my tummy. The midwife and the other women stayed for a little while to make sure I was doing okay, and to help my husband clean up. When it seemed clear that I and the baby were fine, they left, and I and my husband were alone with our new little baby girl.
We both adore her, and are overjoyed to receive, once more, another of God’s very special-est blessings into our life!
As I was giving birth, and afterwards as well, I reflected on the connection between giving birth, and the suffering of Christ (as miniscule as the connection may be).
In Hebrews 12:2, we read that Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” At another place, we are told by Jesus that “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” John 16:21. During childbirth, it is so important to remain focused on the “joy set before,” the end result of all the pain and discomfort of labor, which is the birth of a baby! I had to remind myself over and over to just take things one contraction at a time, and that all of this was about to bring about the joy of seeing and holding my newborn baby. Jesus had to endure the pain of the cross; I had to endure the pain of giving birth. Jesus was rewarded with the joy of gaining victory over sin and death; I was rewarded with the joy of receiving a new human life into my arms.
Remember when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying to God, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42)? That’s how I felt, too! Please God, I don’t want to go through another labor! And yet, I know this child is from You, and that this is the only way to bring this new baby into the world. I wish this “cup” could be removed from me, but not my will, but Yours, be done! There were moments in the weeks leading up to labor that I would experience a sense of panic while thinking about the upcoming birth. I know, you’re probably thinking how strange that is for a woman who had already given birth five times previously, but I think it’s because I knew what to expect, that I felt a bit of dread at having to go through it all over again. When I would feel the panic and the fear creeping up into my gut, I would pray to God that He would give me strength, courage, calmness, and the ability to relax deeply. Afterwards, I would feel comforted, knowing that God was in control, and that I could trust Him to take care of everything, no matter what happened.
Of course, I realize that my “sufferings” during labor are nothing compared to what Christ went through; and yet, I feel a sort of fellowship with Him in His sufferings, in a small way, from having gone through the hardship of childbirth, yet again, in obedience to God’s call to “be fruitful and multiply.”
And, I’m reminded that “to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). Could this “suffering” involve childbirth? I believe it includes all things we do in obedience to the will of God! When we live our lives in conformity to God’s design, there may be hardship, and even suffering, involved. But, everything done in submission to the Lordship of Christ is done “for His sake,” and will bring eternal rewards! So, when we submit our fertility to the Lordship of Christ, and allow Him full authority over our reproductive systems (our bodies are not our own, but belong to the Lord; see Rom. 12:1, for example, where it says we should present our bodies as a “living sacrifice” to God, which is our reasonable service to Him Who saved us), we may experience hardship–but, because we do this in obedience to Christ, we can consider whatever difficulty we go through as a result to be “for His sake.” Isn’t that encouraging, to think that pregnancy and labor can be so noble and spiritual in nature?!
After giving birth to our sixth child, and experiencing God’s guiding hand once again, I am able, even as I deeply enjoy the coming of this new addition to our family, to look forward with eagerness to the next blessing that God may choose to send our way!
**My thoughts regarding labor contractions:
I think that my body had less intense contractions while standing, sitting (in a regular chair), and walking, yet at the same time closer together, because my muscles weren’t able to relax enough in between contractions to build up much force. However, when laying down, I was able to relax my body almost completely, which, I believe, enabled the uterus to gather strength in between contractions. The lengthened time in between contractions may have actually been a benefit, in that it allowed my muscles the chance to recuperate fully before the next contraction. What I feel I’ve learned from this, is that at least in labors subsequent to first-time labor, standing, sitting, and walking are not always as much of a benefit as one might think.
And yet, while in the birthing pool I experienced strong, effective contractions, though I was mostly in semi-sitting positions; but I was able to almost fully relax between contractions as a result of the very warm water, and being able to support myself propped up against the side of the pool. For a headrest, my husband sat behind me on a chair, with a pillow on his lap for me to rest my head on. That helped a lot. Also, sitting on the toilet also caused the contractions to be much stronger because we are used to opening up and relaxing in that position, anyways.
So, it is possible to have 7-8 min in between contractions during early labor, and still be progressing normally. I don’t know how far apart my contractions were later on during labor, since I wasn’t counting the minutes, though my midwife, I’m sure, has everything recorded. However, they still didn’t feel super close together, either.