*Disclaimer: This may not be the blog post for everyone’s taste. Some of the details that I want to record and remember are beautiful to those involved, but may not be deemed “appropriate” by all readers. Feel free to skip this post :)*
You have arrived. For nine beautiful, terrifying, incredible days, you have filled every waking and sleeping (mostly waking) moment of your Daddy’s and my hearts. Your smile is enchanting. Your Daddy says so all of the time. Your smell is intoxicating. All breast milk and baby. Your dimples melt my heart every time they appear in your ever-rounding cheeks. A gift from your Daddy’s own smile, I’m pretty sure.
You have been a miracle from the moment you were conceived. Your Daddy and I dreamed of you, prayed for you, cried out to God for you, and wondered if we would ever actually hold you in our arms. Now you are here. In the month before you were conceived, Sweet One, the Holy Spirit gently whispered His promise to me: HOPE would be your anchor. Hope brought you through a high-risk pregnancy involving twice-weekly doctor appointments. Hope brought you into the world in the most natural, beautiful way possible. Hope will see you through the coming storms.
But, enough about that for now.
Today, let me tell you the story of the hours proceeding and immediately following your birth. Your Daddy and I were as mentally prepared as possible for what the doctors warned us could be a “very long induction process” or an “emergency C-section.” You see, they were concerned that your placenta/cord would fail with the strength of my contractions, and that your heart rate would not remain steady. We were ready to do whatever it took to bring you safely into the world. The mantra the Lord gave me for your delivery was the words to a song’s chorus: “I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open. / I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open.”
I had no idea what a mountain it would be or how much I would have to surrender.
It was snowing as we drove to the hospital in the dark of pre-midnight hours on Thursday, April 3. We knew that we would not drive back home without first welcoming you into this world. I don’t think we even knew how to begin to process the emotions swirling through our hearts. Excitement. Nervousness. Love for you.
Finally, we had checked into the New Life Birth Center, and my incredible midwife inserted Cervadil (a type of prostaglandin medication) near my cervix to begin preparing my body for birth. At only 37 weeks pregnant, I was not dilated or effaced in anyway. Past midnight now on the morning of Friday, April 4, we settled down for what looked like many, many hours of waiting. Cervadil takes about 12 hours to work and often requires more than one dose. Eventually, we had been told, Pitocin would be used (as much as 24 hours later) to actually begin contractions/labor. Your Daddy slept on the couch, and I dozed off and on through what I assumed were simply more intense Braxton Hicks contractions. I watched the rise and fall of their strength on the monitors, while feeling my body tightening and releasing and wondering what “real” contractions would feel like. Braxton hicks were no stranger to me. Your Mommy had been “taking things into her own hands,” so to speak, in the week prior to attempt to prepare my body to give birth to you naturally even though we had a set induction date due to IUGR. I had succeeded in keeping a steady stream of mild contractions going. Chiropractic adjustment, massage, several acupuncture sessions, large doses of Evening Primrose Oil, Red Raspberry Leaf Tea, and Clary Sage essential oil all played roles in my “plan.” I rubbed pressure points and continued to exercise. Matter of fact, the morning of April 3, I still managed to complete a prenatal workout DVD before picking up your grandparents from the airport. More than anything, we prayed. Prayed for your safety and for my body. Prayed that your birth would be sweet and healing. God heard our prayer.
At around 7:30 a.m. on Friday, I got up from the rather uncomfortable hospital bed and put on some make-up, dressed in a wonderfully-soft hospital dress that a friend had given me, all the while gingerly avoiding shifting the IV line in my arm. Eventually, my nurses Amy and Sally (who I can’t thank enough for their roles in your birth day), cut a large sock and made me a makeshift wrist band to cover the IV and keep me from moving it around. The contractions continued, but seemed to have abated from some of their middle-of-night strength. My midwife gave me special permission to eat (not normally allowed when a c-section is a possibility), and did I ever EAT! My blood pressure had dropped to 80 over 57, and I felt lightheaded by the time my hospital tray arrived laden with eggs, English muffin, cottage, fruit, and tea. I enjoyed every last bit of that breakfast! (Later, I would remember that hunger is a sign of first-stage labor.)
Our hospital room smelled lovely, as we diffused Joy and Lemon essential oils to set the mood for the day and cleanse the air. Later, my Doula Karina would tell me that everywhere we went that day we left a trail of lovely fragrance. I continued to take Clary Sage essential oil by capsule, as well as rub it on the pressure points around my ankles. I truly believe that these oils (and others used throughout the day) made a huge difference in our birth experience.
Around 9 a.m., your Daddy and I began a 45-minute walk around the Labor and Delivery quad. Periodically, I had to stop, support myself on the wall, and breathe through contractions. Still, we had been told to not expect anything to happen for hours, and so never considered that I was actually going into labor all on my own hours before the first dose of Cervadil was even supposed to have begun to prepare my body for labor. Your Daddy sipped a cup of hospital coffee, bolstering his energy for the hours ahead. Finally, the contractions required too much of my attention, and we returned to our room, beginning to move into the positions we had practiced to ease contractions and allow them to work FOR my body instead of in contention with it. All the while, you were externally hooked up to a heart rate doppler, which the nurses kept a close eye on. However, throughout my entire labor, your heart rate remained steady and you seemed completely unperturbed by my contractions: definitely a first sign that you are a Hasz -even keel and unruffled. I’m pretty sure your Mama’s heart rate would have been all over the place.
Around 10:30 a.m. I texted our Doula Karina that we needed her, and she arrived soon after. Let me pause and describe how special Karina made that day. She had become a friend in the months of my late-pregnancy, and she was a rock for me during labor. She constantly reminded me that I was strong, powerful, and COULD handle the pain. She stroked my hair and massaged my back. She supported my hips and kept your Daddy eating and drinking throughout the day. I couldn’t imagine that day without her presence and strength. I pray that she is always part of our lives.
Contractions continued, and I felt a rush of warmth following one particular challenging one around 11 a.m.. Moving to the bathroom, I realized that my water had broken. Your Daddy called the nurses, and Karina supported me while my midwife confirmed that my water had indeed broken. Something shifted in the room. All of the sudden, both your Daddy and I realized that I was actually in labor, that you were actually going to be born that day, and that God was answering our prayers: I was going into labor naturally on the day that I was medically required to be induced. Truly a miracle.
At noon, I was only dilated to a 1 and about 50% effaced, but they decided to not administer any medication since my body was very efficiently contracting on its own. The Cervadil at midnight the night before would turn out to be last intervention necessary in your birth day. Soon after I was checked, we moved to a dimly-lit “Spa Room” in the Birth Center, complete with candles, a leather chair (not that I have any idea who would use that or for what purpose during labor), and a large jacuzzi tub. I spent the next hour and a half or so of very intense labor supporting myself in my the tub and allowing the water to ease some of the pain of my back labor. While I was in the tub, you rotated yourself and moved much deeper into my pelvis, positioning yourself into the perfect place for delivery. Your Daddy was always there for me, and Karina kept a steady stream of cool washcloths on my chest and forehead. Nausea had hit with the pain and intensity of your birth. Karina kept reminding me to float above the contractions, and I was trying to allow the pain to work its magic and bring you closer to delivery. Those were hard, painful, transforming hours, as I surrendered to the ever-increasing intensity of what my body was made to do.
Around 2-3 p.m., I knew that my body needed not just a bathroom, but privacy as well. Karina, Amy, and Sally supported me through contractions, as I made my way back to our room and hid myself away for a while. Even now, I’m grateful for the strength I had to endure contractions on my own for a brief time period, so that my body could empty itself in private before delivery. The force and speed with which things were moving had completely taking me by surprise.
The next couple of hours were a blur. What I do know is that I went from being dilated to a 1 at noon to your birth at 4:55 p.m.. In less than five hours, my body completely opened and moved you down the birth canal. “Transitional” labor is a fog to me now, but I do remember your Daddy always being there. I remember the smell of various oils. I remember Amy supporting my head, neck, and shoulders. I remember Karina applying counter pressure and constantly whispering words of affirmation when I doubted my ability to keep going. I remember ice chips being slipped into my mouth, and I remember pain more intense than I could have ever imagined. I was often on my knees and usually using a birth ball for support in some way or the other. My “calming” playlist kept tempo in the background, and I remember thinking to myself: “No one had the chance to change the music to my “active labor” playlist.” Oh, well. It wasn’t needed or missed.
The urge to push began to come with the peak of my contractions, but my midwife Jan continued to assess the situation and help me endure the contractions without pushing. She was a true pillar during the final hours of labor. At times, I held onto her in pain, and in other times I looked to her to tell me to keep breathing, keep laboring, keep going. Honestly, I will miss my weekly appointments with her, and she deserves way more than the wine, chocolate, tea, and mugs that I brought for her. Finally, she manually moved the final lip of my cervix, and you were ready to be born. What ensued was the most taxing, beautiful, painful, hard, challenging, changing moments of my life. I had to help you out of me, and my body had to stretch to allow for your glorious entrance into this world.
Twenty minutes of pushing (I asked later, as it felt like much longer), and you were placed on my chest. At times, I nearly gave up. At times, I would have given up if my body would have been able to stop. At times, I embraced the pain. At times, I fought it. Still, we did it, Sweet Girl. You took your first breaths and were placed immediately in my arms. Jan repaired a minor first-degree tear (all of her coaching and massaging with Vitamin E oil, Almond oil, and Myrrh essential oil paid off), while my body violently shook with the force of the experience.
My favorite memory from those moments is looking up in the throes of one pushing contractions and watching giant tears run down your Daddy’s face. He whispered some sweet words to me about how I could do this and how we were about to have a daughter. He empowered me to keep pushing. His genuine anticipation of your birth gave me the final strength I needed to scream and push. A. Couple. More. Times.
And, then you were there. All 4 pounds, 12 ounces of your beauty. Every 18.5 inch of your length perfect in every way. You nursed a bit in those first two hours, but mainly we just cuddled and stared into each others eyes. You were very alert, and had no pain medication in your system to make you sleepy. Your dark eyes just stared, and your body warmed over my beating heart. I became a mother.
Eventually, your grandmothers came in to meet you and a steady stream of anxious family cried over you and exclaimed over your tiny perfection. Many of these hours are also blurred in my memory, but I will never forget the first sight of you on my chest nor the comfort of your little body in my arms. I love you, Abigail Nichelle. Everything about you. Forever and always.
The next days were a combination of expressing milk (you were not quite strong enough to get much on your own), enjoying family, and gingerly caring for my body. My nursing staff was incredible. Sally taught me to hand express. Amy cried when you were born. Your nurses loved you and went out of their way to care for you. Your pediatrician Dr. Steitz became a calm in the coming days when jaundice would send us back to the hospital and NICU.
Days 4 and 5 of your life were the hardest that I had ever experienced in my 26 years. You ended up needing photo-therapy, as your jaundice level crept way too high. They placed you in an incubator with coverings over your eyes, and I was only allowed to hold you every 2 hours for feedings. Your cries broke my heart. I’m still not recovered from the emotional trauma of those days. Between your Daddy and I, we watched beside your incubator at all times, adjusting your eye cover, and holding your tiny little hands. We cried over with a depth of emotion that I had never experienced before. Even now, tears spill from my eyes, as I relive the pain of not being able to comfort you. You hated not being swaddled and held. Finally, however, your numbers began to improve, and we were once again discharged. I think you had a blood test every day for the first seven days of your life, but we are home now. I’m going to start to recover. With the emotional and physical strain of your second hospital stay, I began to bleed more heavily and swell. Still, it didn’t matter. There will be time enough to rest. I couldn’t even imagine allowing a nurse to stand with you instead of me. It was not even an option in my mind. Even now, I am so thankful for friends who brought me Starbucks tea lattes several times in the course of those 48 hours and other dear friends who consistently texted me encouragement and prayed for us.
At nine days old, Abby, you are the joy of your parents’ hearts. You smile with huge dimples. You feed every 2-3 hours with great gusto. You’ve pooped on your Daddy’s sock, shorts, and hands. You snuggle with me and love to be wide awake in the middle of the night. You like the smell of oranges and grin when I repeatedly wave one under your nose. You are quickly outgrowing the few preemie outfits your Grammy bought for you and fitting into the newborn outfits we own. You hate the feeling of a dirty diaper and usually won’t do anything else (including eat) until we have addressed the situation. You are such a princess. You’ve had your first walk around the neighborhood (10 minutes exhausted me) and ridden in your car seat multiple times. You hated your first sponge bath and truly think it is cruel when we attempt to breastfeed instead of bottle feed. You don’t particular like to work for your breast milk. Thankfully, your Mommy is making enough milk for several babies, and your Daddy has an organized system for freezing and storing it. As you get bigger and stronger, we will transition to traditional nursing, but for now I love the sound of you guzzling milk. You are quite the little piglet.
Abigail Nichelle, you have changed our world and nothing will ever be the same again. We love you.