“I’m sorry honey, I just can’t help but smiling. THAT is how babies are born!”
I was sitting in my bathroom, braced against the back of my toilet, with my husband and doula at my feet, and my midwife peering through the door, grinning from ear to ear. I had just had a really killer contraction that had brought my midwife and assistant running in from the living room. I looked back up at her in the nightlight glow, smiled back, and said, quite honestly, “Oh, I don’t mind this at all!”
Six days earlier, my due date, I had started to show signs of early, impending labor. I had a day of regular, light contractions, but they had petered out by bedtime. I had to trust what my doula kept reminding me: my body knows what it is doing and will go into labor! She said that she has often seen VBAC moms have a “trial run” or two before the big game, almost like it is taking extra care to prepare.
Olivia had come 9 days late, so I was prepared to go a little longer than 40 weeks, but it was still an intense mental battle, those last few weeks of pregnancy. It was hard to not be disappointed when my contractions stopped and the hours stretched into days without another one to give me hope. People like to tell overdue moms that “You won’t be pregnant forever!” but honestly? At that point, the next five minutes might as WELL be forever.
I had virtually become a hermit, only allowing those closest to me into my mental and emotional space. It was a challenge to go out in public- all the double takes, stares, unhelpful stories, and random comments from strangers. Even the things that were obviously meant to come out as encouragement only served as a further reminder that I was indeed, big, huge, and still pregnant. Yep, I am completely aware that I have a watermelon strapped to my stomach, and that I probably should not still be upright, thanks.
Those few weeks leading up to Malachi’s birth– I could feel myself open and raw emotionally. I could do nothing for others- even small talk and a simple smile were challenges. I was completely turned inward, processing deeply. I think a lot of pregnant women get that way. Going deeply inward so they can fully open outward. I de-activated my Facebook, made Mike the gatekeeper of my phone, and cancelled all unnecessary outings and appointments. I just needed to focus on myself, something that is pretty hard to do as a woman, wife, and mom, but that, at least for me, becomes absolutely necessary in the final stretch of pregnancy.
The Final Week
My obstetrician, at 39.5 weeks, told me that he likes to get a non-stress test and ultrasound for women who are pregnant past 40 weeks, just to check in, make sure the baby is doing well, and continue on (FYI- the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology states that NORMAL, HEALTHY pregnancy can go to 42 weeks! You are not ACTUALLY medically “overdue” until the 42 week point…and even then, you’re pregnancy can go longer and still be totally healthy and normal!)
I, of course, agreed. However, they wanted to get me in 5 days later, when I would only have been 40 weeks and 2 days. I felt strongly that it was not necessary to go in that early. I wanted to wait until I was 41 weeks +1 day…. give me a little leeway, and truly the only reason they wanted it earlier was to accommodate THEIR limited schedule, not any sense of urgency about my health.
I felt that if I went in to the testing too early, there was more of a chance for me to start to feel like I couldn’t do this for some reason, and I was so afraid of a thoughtless ultrasound technician making some comment about how big my belly was and how small my frame is. Like I said, my emotions were in a fragile state, and I didn’t want to unnecessarily risk letting that kind of negativity in, when obviously me and my baby were still perfectly healthy, growing, and on track, and I was already being so well monitored and cared for by my team.
So I had a pretty strong conversation with the head nurse at my OB’s office, and she agreed to let me wait to schedule the ultrasound a little later, fingers crossed I would go in to labor before. Looking back, I am so glad I insisted that we wait on the tests, because things would probably have gone much differently if I had gone in when they wanted me to originally….
The Final Day
Fast forward to 40 weeks, 5 days. I was huge, emotional, and pretty much just hanging out on the couch . And also pretty sure I would never ever go in to labor. As I said, I was turned almost entirely inward, and was having a lot of fears surface. One of them, in particular, was being alone and abandoned in labor. I had felt intensely alone and unsupported in labor with Olivia, and was desperate to avoid that situation again.
I ended up having a long conversation with my midwife and doula at my weekly appointment, expressing those fears. It was incredibly helpful to release my thoughts and fears (and tears). “God’s crystal healers” is what my midwife called them, and went on to encourage and remind me that birth inherently IS a lonely road: only I can birth my baby. But that I would be surrounded and supported, and given tools to overcome each roadblock as I encountered them.
I was also reminded that I would not and could not disappoint or fail them. They were there to serve and support me as I made my way in the labor and birth of my precious son. No matter what outcome, I would give birth, and nothing could taint the beauty of that fact.
After that conversation, I did two important things: I packed my emergency bag, which I had been putting off and putting off for fear that packing it was somehow a signal of defeat, and after that, I journaled. I had several pictures come to mind:
A Wall, A Door, and My Big, Bright Balloons
I had this beautiful picture in my mind of my birth team. It was of Mike, my midwife, her assistant, and my doula, each posted at the four corners of my house, looking on and keeping it safe while I was in the middle. They each had a torch in hand for light. At different times, each one of them would step forward and give me something they had that I needed, and then they would step back to their post and wait until they were needed again. This picture gave me peace- I trusted this group, something I had not felt during Olivia’s birth!
I also imagined labor as an ancient wall, covered in ivy, with a door hidden somewhere in the vines. Everyone who searches for the door and key has a different experience- for some it seems to be so easy: the door is right there and it pops right open and they just walk right through! But for others… they must fight tooth and nail just to get a glimpse of that door. I don’t know why, that’s just the way it is. I seem to be the kind that has to fight for it, and that is why I surrounded myself by this team. I trusted them, and knew that by their support and experience they could help me find my door and key.
Finally, I imagined all my fears and thoughts and ideas about labor and birth as these bright red balloons. I imagined letting them all go, releasing them up to heaven. I filled a page in my journal with pictures of these red balloons, and in each one I wrote a word representing some aspect or thought I had, positive or negative, of labor and birth. Things like: Fear. Failure. C-Section. Natural. VBAC. Empowerment. Epidural. Perfection. Messiness. Loneliness. Joy.
These were all things I either wanted or did not want, but needed to let go of. I came to a point where I realized that I had done everything I possibly could do to prepare, and that the rest was out of my hands. I had to let go of my ideas about labor and birth, my desires, my hopes, my fears, and surrender to the path at hand, knowing I had been fully equipped for whatever would lie ahead.
SO with my heart poured out and my bag packed, I was ready…
Read Part 4 Here