She has changed my life forever but up until just five days ago, I did not even know who she was or when I would meet her.
POP! It started that simple, really. A gush of warm water and my face visibly flushed with immediate anticipation, nervousness, and excitement. It had finally begun – the moment arrived that sent me into the hardest hours of my life with no way out but through. Was I ready? Yes, in as much as anyone can prepare for something one cannot predict. But, no… Not for how these hours would pass – honestly, I envisioned the entire event much different, but I guess that is often how these things go.
It was 8:25pm, one day after her due date, when my body and my baby harmoniously synchronized and gave me the ultimate welcome into the first stage of labor – what I will call the waiting game after my water broke as I sat down on the couch. I spent these first few hours, 5 I think, eagerly and nervously awaiting the first waves of contractions.
Every twinge of pain I thought surely was “it” and found me trying not to hold my breath as I walked the darkened nighttime streets, praying to God to keep the life within me safe, along with myself – staring up at the crescent moon with a peaceful, quiet reverence for the journey I was about to embark upon. Unsure how it would progress but certain I could handle whatever came our way, wanting from this culmination of my pregnancy just to result in a healthy new baby and it’s mother’s perineum and blood volume intact!
It’s such an interesting place to be – waiting for those rushes to hit. Though my water broke with my first daughter I remember contractions came solidly within an hour afterwards, so waiting almost 5 hours this time around was something I was not prepared for. We had called John’s parents right after my water broke and they immediately came over… Alas, I and my houseguests – my husband, parents-in-law, sisters, and one of my best friends – simply waited out each minute with not much else to do. We made small talk but I felt their eyes watching me, anticipating, restless even… I knew my focus should not have been on any of them but I kept asking how EVERYONE ELSE was doing! Causing each one of them, in turn, to remind me not to worry about anyone else but me, but honestly it was very hard to do (I would accept, much later, that indeed it was easiest to entirely focus on myself).
Around 1am, finally I felt the waves begin. I cannot express how relieving it was to know labor had actually started. It was rather full-force from the onset and I had to concentrate hard through each one, about 5 minutes apart, by the time we called our midwife Galyn around 2am. When she arrived close to 3, I remember feeling so relieved and safe to be under her supervision; laboring in front of my family was one thing, but doing it in front of my care provider made the experience that much more official – our home birth was under way!
Now this next part will just be my best assessment of the next few hours – I’m not certain how many hours or even the exact time between events – time stops for the mother, I think… I spent my time between the shower, sitting backwards on the toilet, and the birth ball. My entourage came and went from my bedroom to downstairs where they took turns resting. I look back now and realize so obviously that having everyone around me actually made laboring harder. When I had envisioned our home birth, I had always seen so many faces there – sweet Marianne, my mother-in-law. My dear friend Katie as my doula. My sister to share in something magical with me. My two little girls to watch their Mama have our baby – we had been talking about it and even practicing this together for so long… I thought having everyone there would give me more strength, but it turned out – I see now – to only serve as a distraction. I am not sure if I should be sorry for feeling this way, but serving myself, as the laboring mother, I probably should have given in to my need for solitude much sooner than I did. . .
At some point during this time, between their coming and going, my mood and focus changed from the external world to my own internal voice telling me how to cope – I think God gave me the courage to finally ask the lights be dimmed, and people to be quiet, and i finally shifted inward; I needed this. As I trembled and swayed through each contraction, oblivious to anything other than the pain and breathing through it, it must have appeared that I was in transition – and it certainly felt like it for me, too – and some time after everyone was called back up to our room, I was told I could start pushing! From the bed I moved to the floor, squatting, and began the work of bringing my baby down. Only, she did not want to descend – I would learn that my cervix was swelling and it, “wasn’t yet time” after Galyn checked me (to which I am so thankful my midwife did NOT tell me how far dilated I was) and after she broke a bulging bag of waters at my cervix (ouch!), I was asked to try and relax again; my guests were asked to give me some space.
I’ll admit, it was hard to think this was “it” only to lay there and be told, as she checked me, that things were not yet ready. My people all sat around me, even my girls were awakened to see the birth, only for us to be told it wasn’t time to meet our baby. My spirit knew, even despite my disappointment, that I still had work to do. That’s a hard place to be because the mother is tired, in pain, and knows deeply that there is nothing she can do but push through it. No drugs to ease the discomfort. The unique picture of home birth is awesome like that: No measures to invade the process or alter it for her – she must do this, and she alone. I both revere this and hate it, honestly; it proved a beautiful mystery in that way and I felt a power I had never known to give into this truth that the journey was mine alone.
After everyone went back downstairs, even John, (all thinking it would be a while yet until the show went on) it was just Galyn, the assistant, and me.
Laboring in the dark, alone, was the hope to progress things further, so I did this another few hours until again I felt an urge to push, this time while I sat on the toilet. I had asked for John to come back in, and as soon as I saw him I told him we needed to be checked because I felt things were moving down.
Galyn checked me – no change from the previous check a couple hours earlier! Nobody told me how far along I was, but at this point I got the strong sense that things were not moving as quickly as we all thought they would, even though I was definitely in active labor (so I thought). She told John and me that it might help if we laid down in bed and try to sleep between contractions. I think at this point they had spaced out quite significantly and it took everything I had not to be discouraged at the pattern of labor my body was producing. Nevertheless, laying down actually felt more comfortable than anything else I had tried so I pulled up my right leg onto the body pillow and labored on my left side, sleeping between the waves.
Galyn and her assistant went downstairs and told everyone we still had a lot more work to do. Several hours ahead, even. Again, I was kept in the dark about all this (and for great reason – it would not have helped me any to know, of this I am sure – in fact it probably would have made it worse to hold on… indefinitely). She left at this time, as did my friend Katie and father-in-law, followed soon after by sister who needed to be at med school orientation. Only Marianne remained at our house.
When I finally rested my body completely in our bed, I remember feeling the strong urge to hum deeply during the contractions. Something inside me felt encouraged and renewed by the low-pitch tone, and the sensation of it in my breathe actually eased the contractions a bit. It was primal, really, and I am thankful I gave into what my body decided to do – because although they had spaced out, I could feel their intensity increase each and every time a wave came forth. I remained this way for about an hour and then got up to pee and decided to shower once more – the water felt amazing against my back (posterior babies make for wonderfully painful back labor and I had never felt anything so intense in my life). During my hot shower, I remember John sitting across from me on the toilet; he tried so hard to encourage me but I knew from looking at him that he was exhausted and needed to hear his words as much as I did. He told me I was doing so well, and that he was amazed how I was handling all of this… He said he was so proud of me – that felt nice, especially because at this point, my own attitude about it all was shifting to a place where I wasn’t sure I could do it anymore.
What changed in me during this shower was the innate knowing that my body was getting ready – finally. It felt different, the pain. It felt stronger, longer… But I was not yet ready. As much as the build up to this point was drawn-out, ineffectual even, to feel the surges increase in strength and duration, I knew it was nearing time I’d have the hardest work to do. My mind could not cope any longer. . .
John watched me lose it in the shower. I began crying that I couldn’t do it anymore, pleading with him to just let me stop – I needed a break – I needed the pain to go away even though I knew it was just getting worse with each contraction. They had increased back up to about 3 minutes apart and lasting, it felt, FOREVER. I would hum loudly, a deep visceral sound from the very center of my being, and in between these noises I would whimper in protest – everything I had to give was dwindling but this is the final release of control, accepting that this pain would persist until the baby came out even if I felt like I couldn’t go on. Getting to that place was pivotal for me, and I think John could sense something was changing deep inside because I was on the brink of every last ounce of strength I had, ready to succumb – finally.
I remember it even now. . . It was one of the most awakening periods of my life so far because I was in such pain with nobody and nothing to stop it; it was beautiful – really the most I’ve ever felt like a woman, so eager to embrace the gift of bringing forth a life into this world but also so alive and aware of my mortality – a striking and delicate balance between the spirit, that knows it must persist, and the body, so just yearning for the pain to end.
John helped me dry off and we walked back over to the bed. I draped myself over the pillow again and tried to close my eyes. This moment, next, was the pinnacle of self-control and strength for me and I honestly don’t know even now how I managed this. . .
But first, here’s the part where I tell you that the first time I felt the urge to push I was only 3cm dilated. The second time I felt the urge to push I was ONLY 3 CENTIMETERS DILATED! This, by definition, especially for a multipara with previously swift labors, is called failure to progress (and I wonder, had I been in a hospital, if I’d been given a cesarean for this same reason?) Because I had been laboring at that point for several hours. Because the baby was posterior – we concluded – I was not dilating further. I am so thankful to my midwife for not telling me because I don’t know how I would have done it had I known my body was causing me such intense pain but not doing what it was supposed to do. This, even, after a solid week of prodromal labor and spontaneous rupture of membranes beginning labor already dilated to 1cm! I mean, come on, Christina – get it together, right!?
Anyway, after my shower, laying down again, I felt the shift. I felt the waves intensify to the point where my body began pushing on its own. It sort of came out of nowhere because though I knew I was getting closer, I had lost my confidence to say it was really “it”. Two times already had I said and felt this, how did I know this was different and true? The urge felt soft at first, like that feeling you get when you just realize you have to poop (sorry but it’s the same!) I spent a couple contractions really diving in to my body, intentionally feeling the sensation under the pain. Was it in my bacl, stomach, or butt? When I felt it in my rectum, and the urges coincided with that pressure, I immediately told John to call Galyn because the pushing stage, for me, always had gone extremely fast – and, this time, I KNEW it was “it”. FINALLY.
Because Galyn and her assistant had considered it would yet be a while before things progressed for me, they had gone away to eat and rest and told John to call when things changed. When she got the call saying I felt the urge to push, (I had to tell John to make it clear this time was different) it had only been about two hours from the time they (and everyone else but my mother-in-law, Marianne) had left our house. I went from almost 4cm dilated to complete at 10cm in TWO HOURS (I attribute this to FINALLY relaxing and not fighting my body, and to my baby turning anterior – she was born anterior so we know she flipped and I think she did it during the time I laid to rest).
Marianne gathered my daughters into our room, grabbed the camera and began filming. It was just us like this for exactly 22 minutes (I know because that’s how long the video is – my camera unfortunately died just two minutes before Delaney was born!)
It was just me and my greatest strength, trying to fight the fear that I’d birth the baby by myself with nobody there to make sure we were safe. John sensed my panic and Galyn told me over the speaker to turn from my side-laying position to my hands and knees, with my face buried into the bed – this done in an attempt to get the baby off of my cervix and hopefully reduce my natural urge to push. I’m not going to lie – at this point I began to panic intensely – but I applaud and respect my husband for how calm and together he was! He kept going from my face to behind me, checking for crowning as my body did what it was ready to do, me fighting it with every contraction. He was ready to catch our baby and completely confident that he could manage it – I think his calm demeanor saved me a lot more fear – and I attribute his knowledge and poise to the thousands of birth videos I’ve made him watch with me on YouTube! 😉
These 22 minutes between the time John called Galyn and her arrival were the ABSOLUTE HARDEST MOMENTS OF MY LIFE. Physically, emotionally, even spiritually. The video of this time I can be heard calling out to God to stop my labor, and I screamed at John to call 911 because I just KNEW I could not hold the baby in!
The contractions were about every two minutes as I panted and tried my best to breathe through them, but every few seconds my body would move against my strongest will and push entirely on its own. I cannot express, NEVER, how absolutely intense it was to fight this urge. Every single fiber of my being cried out to relieve this pain and it knew that birthing the baby was the way to accomplish this – how does one fight that? Fight it I did – that strength did NOT come from me (thank you, God!)
At one point John got a text – she was two minutes out – the longest two minutes of my life and during which I had a very strong contraction and expelled a lot of “stuff”, uncontrollably, and in the video you can see the bulge of the baby’s head just behind the opening. Layla shouted from the window looking downstairs, ‘Galyn is HERE!’ and I remember hearing her run upstairs – BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM – with each step. I heard her voice tell me, “It’s okay, Christina, you can push”…
Funny thing happened here and I am not quite sure why this happened… As soon as I knew she was there, me and the baby were safe and looked-after for the birth, I DID NOT WANT TO PUSH! I panicked and it took something deep inside to muster the courage and strength to actually meet my baby. I think I was afraid of the pain, honestly, because I’ve never been a fan of pushing. . .
Nevertheless, I got my face up off the bed and onto my hands and knees and pushed after she checked me and said, “Oh honey, he’s RIGHT THERE! You can push!” (We all thought she was a boy!) Oh the pain. You know, it’s funny. . . People talk about pushing as if it is relief but I greatly disagree – pushing effing hurts SO. BAD. The act of intentionally torturing yourself, that’s what it is. Of willingly causing yourself the most immense, incredible, eye-watering pain. The only ONLY thing that got me through was hearing her say I would meet my baby. That strong urge – to meet this new life – got me to bear down hard enough to crown in one push. In the second breathe of the same push, her head and one of her arms was birthed (she was born with one hand up by her face – the fact of which later Galyn told me probably saved me from having an unassisted birth, “If her hand hadn’t been there, you probably would have had her sooner!” I am thankful for that precious, pain-inducing hand!)
When her head was out, I think I screamed at the top of my lungs for about 30 seconds straight… A soul-bearing scream. The kind that I think can only come from the culmination of the 9 months of work that goes into creating a life and finally watching that journey come to an end – the kind of scream that takes the very heart of a woman and turns her into a mother. I can remember hearing Galyn’s sweet voice calmly tell me that I had to push from my bottom, not from my face (stop screaming!), and that simple reminder refocused me from the intense pain to the actual work of birthing my baby. I think one more push and she was caught by her daddy.
Between the time Galyn arrived and Delaney was born was 3 minutes. 3 minutes was the difference between me having strength to hold her in and me having the courage to birth her safely. Three minutes – the longest ending and beginning of my life.
Incredible. The immediate relief. It is like getting a shot of heroin, I am sure, (I’ve never done that drug but I imagine it is similar) because the pain is GONE as soon as that body is delivered with that warm gush of fluid. I was free. Free from SPD. Free from heartburn. Free from the waddle, the stretchy pants, the kicks to my ribs.
I remember needing a few moments with my eyes closed, just so thankful to be DONE. Then, it hit me. My child was between my legs. John passed her between my knees and Galyn told me to look down and meet my baby. . .
A little girl. The most precious, beautiful, amazing thing I had ever seen.
For this entire pregnancy, I desperately wanted her to be a boy. I had my two girls, I thought – I wanted the experience of having a son. But, God knew what He was doing. The MOMENT, the very split second I saw her face and then looked down and saw her vagina, IT WAS PERFECT. SHE WAS PERFECT. It never mattered, not for a second, that she was my third daughter. It did not matter, and has not for a single moment since her birth – she is EXACTLY who she needed to be, and who I needed, and I honestly cannot even fathom what it would be like had she been a boy.
We spent the next two hours holding her. She got her newborn exam. 8.8lbs of pure bliss. 21 and a half inches long. Perfect from every dark hair on her head to every one of her long ten toes. Layla and Jemma saw the entire birth and kept telling me, “You screamed bloody murder, Mama!” I think they were in awe of it all, and at just 3 and 6, I hope they remember these moments for the rest of their lives. John’s sweet tears when he saw our daughter are something I will never forget, and when he finally held her for the first time shortly after her birth, he was so overwhelmed with love he made his mother cry with him. It was beautiful, the entire thing.
She is beside me now, my sweet Delaney Grace Marie. The birth is now ever behind us, her and I. We worked so hard together, and this sweet baby and me now have a story that will unite us as one forever. She is flawless even when she farts. I look at her body and marvel at God’s vision for our human vessel : Every bone, muscle, and feature is where it should be. Every time she opens her eyes and sees the world. Every time she startles at a loud noise, or coos, or cries. . . In the quiet hours of deep night when I am the only one awake and I have to nurse her with my breast. In the early light of a new day when I haven’t slept. In the afternoon when I balance a plate of food on my stomach and hold her in one arm.
There is not a single moment I spend with her that is not worth every single contraction. Every single moan and scream. Every single moment I thought, ‘I cannot do this anymore’ and I secretly wanted to race to the hospital to get every pain killer known to modern medicine. Every single thing. . . She is worth it all and so much more, and our lives are forever changed because she is here.
Home birth was something I deeply desired and something I believe in, more so now that I have been through it. The comfort of our surroundings gave me the ability to eventually relax into it and allow my body the freedom it needed to birth our baby. There was nobody there to discourage me. No intrusive glances, or unwanted insistence to do interventions we did not want.
We didn’t even leave our bed until well into the evening and she was born at 9:46 in the morning that day. . . Home birth is amazing for that.
Our midwife and her assistant were the professional team that gave me strength and encouragement – even something as simple as her hand lightly rubbing the top of my leg through contractions, or her kind gentle spirit reminding me I could do this – the care they provided all of us is something I will never forget and will be grateful for forever. I would not do it any other way if given the opportunity again; choosing this was right for us, and I am thankful I had the endurance to go through with it, and where I lacked I know God had my back, just like my husband and my entire support team that was there just to see us through.
Delaney came exactly as she needed to. In her time, in her way… It hurt, it tested my limits and pushed me way beyond my own strength, and it brought me to a place where now I know I can do anything – that is amazing. It was amazing.
Now, onto the next chapter of our lives.
Every person experiences it when the second arrives. It happens in an instant. Everything anyone ever told you before that moment will just not do it justice to when you feel it – truly experience it – for yourself: When we became parents, we finally, absolutely understood about unconditional love. The blossoming of a soul happens in the blink of an eye, from one final push to the first breathe of a brand new life; we change from merely grown-up children into parents – we see life in an entirely different light. The light of our children.
When it happened for me, nearly five years ago now, I was 24. Many people whispered about the joys of parenthood, and the challenges that would accompany them. From those conversations, I recognized it would surely be love, but quite honestly, nobody is ever prepared… The love overtakes you. It truly does.
Now, I am edging closer to 30 than I would like, and Layla has a sister in the throes of the wonderful, dreaded two’s, and together, they hold my heart in their small effectual mouths – Jemma screams because she wants more candy, and big sissy tattles on her, as if I did not know what drama was unfolding already she feels it her duty to inform the authorities. I am mother; Jury, Judge, and Pardoner. I am the see’er of see’ers, the do’er of do’ers, and the final axe to the grindstone. Reverse the rolls, however, and who are my children to me? My greatest reward, the most tenacious challenge, and the purest example of God I have ever known…
I am, in all ways, entirely, and absolutely in love with my children – I never knew love could be so deep…
Which inevitably speaks to the reality that my daughters, my precious, tiny baby girls – well, they’re growing. Where once I held a wee-one whom relied on my every move to sustain and keep her safe, now replaced by two opinionated, loud, and reliant beings.
I loved them both, wholly and without fear, the moment they were born – one January 19th and the other August 27th – on those days, I celebrated life, and the motherly pursuit of infant bliss wrapped safely in my arms.
Now, they are heaping sacks of burning coals; they keep me warm and motivate me to move, but sometimes, I am so burnt out it does not make sense that tomorrow, I will have to get up and start the same day all over again. Now, they are not babies anymore – I am both reverently nostalgic about this and at the same time overjoyed that we enter into new stages of development constantly.
Layla understands multiple languages. We can speak to her in Arabic, French, Spanish, and English – she translates words when I do not understand what she says, and she is teaching me things I am not familiar with. She can write the entire alphabet, and all her numbers, and she understands complex emotional problem-solving situations, expressing herself articulately and with little frustration when an idea is new or foreign. She speaks eloquently, uses cordial language, and knows about respect and honesty. She loves to dance and sing, play dress up, and dig in the dirt. She loves to look through books and hear stories… And she loves to cuddle her family. She is FOUR.
Jemma is hilarious, a total cheeseball. Her comprehension of language is vast, and she can speak more articulately than most children her age. Her ability to pick up and carry a tune, after hearing a song a handful of times, astounds all those whom hear her do it. She loves people but especially her closest family, and when she spies someone she loves, she always comes running with a big, gap-toothed grin. She can sing songs in French as if she was singing the plain old Itsy Bitsy Spider in English – in fact, today in the drug store, she sang “Frère Jacques” to a complete stranger whom just so happened to BE a French woman – and almost made the woman cry she was so impressed! She is TWO.
I am not certain where the time has gone. I really do not comprehend it myself and I am the one who has lived the past four years as their mother.
We have lived a hell of a lot of life together – these girls and me. I can go back through pictures in my mind and remember when I told two different men that I was pregnant, and I can remember the day both chose to walk away. I remember becoming a single mother once, then twice, and the heartache Layla endured because Jemma’s father was so demanding and hard on her. I can think of the cries my second daughter had when daddy wasn’t there anymore – she was only 6 months old, she could not have understood. The joy and heartbreak I have known with these children in-tow, I believe, is what has made my love for them more fierce and true than anything else I have known.
I choke back tears now when I think of the sheer fabrication of it all – how it created the kind of mother I have become – and why most of the time I allow my children to act as they please because I feel I owe them at least their individual freedoms… But there is no sense in regretting any time spent and gone; I did the best I could, but at least I know that time, loving them throughout the struggles, has made me realize why our bond means so much to me. Still, though, it feels rather crazy – how fast the time has gone – and how true it is that one cannot stop nor slow it down…
One of the common threads that always accompanies the inevitable phrase, “you have no idea how much you will love your child…” is this, “… But just wait – it goes so fast – do not blink!”
I can remember holding both of my children for that first moment of their lives. I recall staring down at this pink-skinned, squinty-eyed newborn baby and falling into a consuming love. It was like nothing I had ever known. I have been fortunate enough to experience this twice.
As I sit and remember that, for both Layla and Jemma, I almost tear up at how much has already changed. But, it is for the best – I have to remember that – because growth, and change, are really the only things we can earnestly count on in this life. They have to grow. If they stopped, that means death. I would never dream or want anything, then, but their continued maturity.
But I am slightly feeling bittersweet at the pace of it all.
One day I found out I was pregnant and then, poof! Five years later, here they are – these little people who like Dinosaur Train and Super Why on PBS. They love yogurt and cheese and ice cubes. They prefer to shack up in my bed than sleep with each other in their own room. They fight but then hold hands. They scream at me for reprimanding them but then chase after me to cuddle. They can enrage me sometimes too easily when my patience meets its end, but then, I feel immediately remorseful and crave closeness to get us back to what feels optimal: Love.
Relationships take work – it does not matter with whom. They ALL do.
But, with children, it just feels so worth it to give them all of me. It feels so natural – almost as if I was born to do it. And no, I do not mean merely in the biological sense because I have a vagina, but in the belief that Layla SaMaya Roberta and Jemma Anne Ileen were meant to be my daughters. That they were placed with me on this earth so we could teach each other about life.
They remind me to slow down, but to be honest, I do not do it enough. I cannot even recall the last time I wrote something purely about parenting or simply about/for my children. Life gets in the way so often. Priorities change – plans change. A year ago I would never have guessed I’d be in this beautiful home with a wonderful man and my daughters all together. I never imagined I would be here…
My girls were once my babies. I was told I would love them, but man, do we ever under sell THAT experience!
To love them is like breathing. Absolutely essential. That is what it feels like; I could not ever imagine life without them in it, and I do not want to try.
As they grow, I will only love them deeper – we encounter challenges together, we laugh, and we cry. They will watch the lines around my eyes deepen and my hair change color, as i too watch them grow to one day soon become women, and someday, I pray I get to tell them how much they will love their own children. I will hold the memories of having my precious tiny newborn daughters in my arms, as I watch them give birth to their own tiny miracles. Then, and only then, on that special day, will they ever know how much they mean to me. How much I love them… Nothing I would or could have said will do it up until then. Unconditional love is not explained, it’s born.
- Babies! (timothymessenger.com)
- How Many Is Too Many? Michelle Duggar Says She’s Trying for Baby Number 20! (thebump.com)