On the day that she was born, part one

"I'm not going to tell the story the way it happened. I'm going to tell it the way I remember it."
Finn, Great Expectations

I wanted to write Lena's birth story pretty much from the moment she was born, but for some reason I felt that I needed time for all of the emotions to settle. Now that I really sit down to think about it and record the event, I realize that some of the details have softened in my mind. But whether it's the version I told hours after I held her for the first time or the version I tell today, it's still her birth story. It is my journey of bringing Helena Marie into our lives and it's part of the history of our family: the good, the bad, the hilarious, the scary, the ugly and the beautiful... this is all my truth, and so it is also hers.

When I gave birth to Addie, I was induced due to complications from a PUPPS rash. I checked into the hospital, was given pitocin, tried as long as I could to go without an epidural, cried out our code word (Frankenstein) as I begged for drugs, felt horrible after the epidural, pushed for over an hour and rejoiced when it was all over and we held our firstborn girl.

This time, although it was my second time around, I felt like I had no idea what to expect. I didn't know what a normal labor felt like. I didn't know what regular progression of contractions looked like. I felt like a total amateur. Indeed, I was.

All I knew was how incredibly difficult it was to manage the pain I felt from pitocin induced contractions. It was horrendous. I was very fearful that I would not be able to make it through labor without interventions and experience natural childbirth as Curt and I had intended. I thought I would need the assistance of a doula to help me along. When I found out my first and only choice couldn't take me on, I cried for two hours.

Luckily, my supportive husband, confident mother and incredible midwife all assured me that I could do it on my own. I revisited all of the relaxation techniques I learned years ago in preparing for Addie's arrival and was determined to do my best, although deep down I still wondered if I had it in me.

As I anticipated, towards the end of my pregnancy I became pretty uncomfortable and was desperate for labor to begin. Any time I felt a strong contraction that was tougher than the normal Braxton Hicks, I wondered if this was it. Up until August 20th, it wasn't.

Around 2:30 that morning, the contractions were strong enough that I couldn't sleep through them. I had a few, then drifted back off only to wake up an hour later to more tightening and more pain. Again, I breathed through them and fell back asleep. Finally at 5 AM I decided to get up and move around a bit to see if it would get things going into a pattern. What did I do? I fixed my hair, of course! I don't know why, but it kept me on my feet and it was a quiet activity that wouldn't disturb anyone else. Besides, if I was really going into labor, it would be nice to look somewhat decent, right? (Ha! Again, with the amateur...)

Things did progress and the contractions became more regularly spaced. At 7 AM Curt got up and drew me a bath. I had always envisioned spending most of labor in the bathtub. I had my lavender scented everything, including a candle and bubble bath all ready to go. I put on a sports bra, twisted my curled hair on the top of my head and stepped into the garden tub, ready to calmly coax our baby down and my cervix open.

Around 7:30 Addie woke up and came in to greet me. Without anyone explaining to her what was going on, she started singing Happy Birthday to Lena and blew out my candle. I think it was then that I knew our Helena would be born that day.

My sister and mom came in to check on us and quickly saw that Addie needed to be occupied with something else so she wouldn't be worried that something was wrong. Trying to find a comfortable position in our large tub turned out to be a lot more difficult than I imagined--it just didn't work for me. I got out of the water and found that standing while facing Curt and leaning against chest proved very helpful during those rough 90 seconds. Very quickly, the contractions fell into a rhythm that was more intense and once they reached about four minutes apart, we decided it was time to head to the hospital.

When we arrived, they took my weight and the attending OB asked how many weeks along we were. Curt said that it was our due date and he exclaimed, "Wow, that never happens!" It does now.

I changed into a hospital gown and was hooked up to a monitor, assured that I would only have to lay in bed for twenty minutes or so. That way they could get a good reading of how the baby was doing and determine if I was really in active labor. Um... Hello! Even me, the total novice, knew that this was definitely the real thing. But, it's always great to hear that tiny heartbeat and feel reassured that our little angel is really OK. All signs indicated that Lena was handling labor really well, and about an hour later I asked that I be unhooked so I could move around.
The woman I had hoped to have as a doula sent me a lengthy email with suggestions for pain relief and I remembered that she told me showering could be helpful. I decided to give it a go, stripped down completely and stepped under the water. Oh. My. Goodness. It was remarkable. The same contractions that I had to really focus and breathe to get through while in bed, seemed softer and more like light period cramps in the shower. Dare I say, they were easy.

A few minutes later, my nurse came in and we made introductions while I was standing completely nonchalantly in my birthday suit. I asked her how long I was allowed to stay in the shower and she said, "As long as you want, I guess." Fantastic.

Now, I have to take a moment and say that I do not consider myself to be an exhibitionist in any sense of the word. In fact, I think for the most part I can be pretty modest, or perhaps discreet is a better word. But there is something that seems to happen whenever I walk through the doors of the Frankfort Regional Medical Center that makes me totally uninhibited. Once I am in the "privacy" of our birthing room I simply do not care which hospital staff sees me in whatever state I happen to be in. Whether or not this happens to all laboring women or just me, I do not know. Whatever the case, I find it a fascinating phenomenon and always laugh when I think about it. The naked laboring woman in room 7? Yep, still naked! Oh mercy...

Over the next several hours, I alternated between spending around 20 - 30 minutes in the heaven of the hospital room shower and taking breaks to give my legs some rest. During that time, I tried using a birthing ball and different positions on the hospital bed. Nothing felt as good as having warm water cascading down my body. There was a part of me that thought we may have gone to the hospital too soon and that I missed out on the experience of going through labor at home. All of those worries were literally washed down the drain with the never ending hot water that carried me through my contractions. I truly can't say what a difference it made!

My glorious midwife, Katie came in at 1 PM on the dot to check on me and I was progressing well (I think I was about 5 cm at that point). She hooked me up to the monitors again for a while and we saw that Lena was still in very good shape and showed no signs of distress. We decided not to mess with a good thing and I continued on through the afternoon in my watery haven. There were several comments made about water conservation ("The KY Department of Fish and Wildlife called... The river is going down!") and at one point Curt said he hoped there wasn't some sort of meter attached that would show up on our bill. Well my dears, I'm all about saving the planet, but after delivery if you don't mind.

During this time, Curt and my mom alternated staying with me in the bathroom to make sure I was OK and didn't need assistance. Katie drifted in and out, but mostly stayed around and once things started to get intense at about 3 PM, I don't remember her ever leaving my side. I'm telling you--I love her.

Finally the time came when the contractions were so intense that I could no longer stand up on my own. I even sat in a shower chair, trying everything I could to stay in that little space of respite. (At one point early on I asked Katie if I could just give birth in the shower. Of course she said I could if I wanted to--it was my birth story. Mmmm... love her.) Unfortunately I determined that it was time to say goodbye to the place that got me so very far, dry off and move over to the bed.

...Stay tuned for part two tomorrow, complete with many many pictures.

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