On the day that she was born, part three

And now, the dramatic conclusion... (lol)

I know that physically I have never worked so hard in my life as I did in that final hour of labor. I had my arms wrapped around the side rails of the bed and I was certain I would break them off. Later Curt told me he thought the same thing, and he kept stuffing pillows between me and the rails to keep that from happening. He said that I looked like G.I. Jane--since my belly was underneath me, all he could see was my arms and my back, and every muscle was flexed.

It seemed like after each contraction I asked how much closer I was. It felt like Lena was nearly out, but I didn't know what crowning felt like. I could tell she was moving down more and more and all I wanted was for labor to be over so I could hold my girl and be done with all of the strain on my body. Somehow I thought that Katie would be able to give me an exact timeline, like she could say, "In exactly 7 1/2 minutes, you will push out your baby girl." Of course, no one knew exactly when those final pushes would come, but still I asked over and over.

With Addie's birth, I remember trying to push, but with the epidural I couldn't feel much and I didn't know what to push. I tried and tried and eventually figured out what I needed to do, but it took a long time. Towards the end, I was so exhausted and all I could think of was to pray for strength and help. I called out to every strong woman that had gone before me to come down from heaven, into the room and help me bring out my girl. I told Curt later that the birthing room was filled with angels helping Addie to be born. It was a very spiritual experience that took me totally outside myself, relying completely on divine assistance.

In preparing for Lena's birth, I held onto that experience, did a lot of praying and looked to The Bible for inspiration. I read Mary's Magnificat over and over and thought that I would recall those words in the moments of really bearing down. I planned on that being my mantra, mixed with a little, Out of the depths, I cry unto thee O Lord, but for some reason when it came down to it, none of those words came back to me. This time, I was mentally in a very different place.

With no drugs to provide relief from the pain, I had to go somewhere deep inside myself to get through the agony of giving birth with no interventions. I had to tap into a strength and endurance that I never knew was there. I couldn't rely on my brain to take me where I needed to go, because my thought process would have told me to bail and ask for the relief that I decided long before I didn't want. In letting go of thinking, I went to a primal place of survival. There were a few moments that brought be back to the reality of what was happening, but only for a few seconds. Mostly I was somwhere far away, but at the same time, closer to my true self than I'd ever been before.

There were several times when Katie held the monitor to my lower belly to see how Lena was handling all of the trials of labor. Clearly she was much more calm than her mother, and everything looked great. I know at least once I cried out, "Oh, Lena!" as though she could understand that I wanted her to come out as quickly and painlessly as possible. Whether she could hear me or not, it did help me feel a connection to her and remember that all of this trauma was not happening in vain, but for an incredible reason.

When she finally did start to crown, I knew it because my screames changed. It felt like I was tearing in front. I remember thinking, well there that goes, it's been a good run. But regardless of that realization, I was in my zone. No turning back. I pushed with each contraction and rested in between. As soon as I felt the wave coming, I braced myself against the rails and gave it everything I had. In the end I figured out how to make my body do what it needed to do and I focused all my energy and effort to that one part of me.

I heard voices telling me that I was doing great, that this was her head and she was on her way. Then, the voices changed. Helena's head was out, but something was wrong. Katie told me to stop pushing. When Addie was born, it all happened at once... First her head and then moments later the rest of her body. Why was I being told not to push? Since I was still on all fours with my head down in a stack of pillows, I couldn't see anything.

All I remember hearing was Katie's voice: Stop. Don't push... (then, speaking to Lena) How did you do this?... (and back to me) Don't worry... She's OK... (to everyone in the room) I have to cut the cord NOW...

I kept asking what was wrong, but no one would tell me. Everyone just kept saying, "She's OK. Hang on. Wait. Don't push." After what seemed like an eternity, Katie told me I could push again. With the next contraction, I took a deep breath and felt Helena Marie leave the safety of my body. She was born at 5:30 PM on her due date: Friday, August 20th.

I rolled to my side and reached out to hold my baby girl. Katie put her on my chest and I was so relieved that she was out of me and in my arms. But the relief was clouded by a sudden feeling of fear. Lena wasn't crying. Her head was blue. "Come on, baby. Cry for Mama. Come on, Lena. Cry, baby. Cry." I was pleading with her and gently rocking her against me, desperate for that first wail while Katie was making sure everything was alright down below. Then she took Lena from my arms and I think she said she was going to clear her airway.

Curt sat with his face next to mine, holding me while Katie had our daughter under the lights across the room. It's amazing how fast you can start to bargain with God. In what was only seconds, but felt like hours, I made promises that I would do anything, just make my baby OK. Whatever it took--my soul, my life--anything... Incredible that I would offer up my entire being in exchange for the life of someone I had just met. But I would. I begged... please, God...

Then, we heard it. Any mother will tell you that the best sound she has ever heard in her life is the first cry of her newborn child. There is nothing like it in the entire world. It grips the pit of your stomach and pulls the air out of your chest. It sends tears down your cheeks and lifts gratitude beyond measure up to the heavens. It reminds you why we were put on this earth and fills you with a crazy kind of love that nearly bursts your heart into a million pieces. Lena was crying. She was OK.

Katie brought her back to me and I held her, skin to skin, chest to chest for so very long. Really, I don't think I let anyone else have her for at least thirty minutes. My baby was out and she was in my arms. She was OK and she was mine. (And finally, I was covered--no more naked lady in room 7!)

This is what true love at first sight looks like:

We snuggled up and shared a language of love through tears and cries and being so close. Unlike her big sister, she wanted to nurse almost right away. Oh, there is nothing better.

She was surrounded by love from the moment she arrived.

That day, we were the happiest people on Earth.

Finally I felt safe enough to let her go and have her meet her daddy...

Then came Memere...

And Pepere...

And Papaw...

When it was time for us to move into a regular hospital room, Daddy took Lena off to give her first bath.

Later that night, she got to meet her Aunt Emie.

The next day brought a huge moment that I had been waiting for, almost as much as Lena's arrival itself. Mom & Dad brought Addie to the hospital to meet her baby sister. We worked so hard to prepare her for this transition and we were all so nervous and excited to see this magical introduction.

Immediately Addie climbed into the bed and took off her shoes.

First, she gave me the biggest hug and said, "Hi Mommy! Good to see you!"
(I tell you, I've made it this far along without crying, but that still puts a giant lump in my throat!)

Addie was extremely excited and very proud. Our oldest grew up so much in those quick passing moments. She was finally a big sister.

She took to her new role right away, immediately speaking to Lena in baby talk, making sounds I had never heard before. She kissed her and told her that she loved her. This is what happiness looks like:

We ate cake, sang Happy Birthday and celebrated our newest family member.
Welcome, baby Lena!

Our journey to bring Helena Marie into the world was so much greater than I could ever have imagined. It didn't come without pain or struggle or hard work. It came in spite of all of those things and the most glorious of contentment and peace followed the gush of outrageous emotion we felt just seconds after her birth. I am so grateful for her presence and that God has trusted us with the gift of her life.

Thank you for reading and sharing this adventure with me. Truly, it is only the beginning.

**I have to say one ginormous thank you to my husband, my mom, my nurse and my midwife. You all saw me in my most vulnerable place and you lifted me up through the trenches. I can't say enough how thankful I am that you were the ones there with me in the room, by the shower and next to the bed. I couldn't have done it without you!

And one more thanks to my sister Em, who took care of my oldest babe while I labored in the hospital all day. You made it possible for me to focus on the task at hand and let go of worrying about Addie--I knew she was in the best of hands. Oh, and thanks for helping me edit these photographs. It's only because of you that I look somewhat normal. Many thanks, love!**


Kate said...

Sara, Thank you for sharing Lena's beautiful and blessed birth story. I've always known that you are an amazing and strong woman, but your experiences giving birth to my two gorgeous nieces just amplifies your amazingness and strength. I am so proud to be your sister and I can't thank you enough for your passion and desire for sharing the honesty of your motherhood experiences with the rest of us.
much love,

sara said...

Oh sister, you make me cry! All I can say is that I can't wait to one day read the words you shape around the birth of your own babes. love you so much...