My heart poured out raw, open, exposed.
I need to write my story. The story that is hard to adequately put into words. It is the birth story of my third child and third daughter Laurel Grace.
I use to have vaginismus. A very little known condition. I felt most medical professionals had no real idea what I was talking about when I told them that I had it. I struggled with it for many years. To put it simply, it means that for some women nothing can enter the vagina. Some women have it and can achieve entry only with terrible or excruciating pain. I am a survivor of the physical, emotional, and psychological effects of this condition. I was a woman who could not have sex. I had a doctor who did not comprehend me. I had electrical stimulation therapy because they said it might help me. I learned that touching my husband might mean that he would want to go further physically. I often did not have the mental energy to go further physically into something that only felt distressing. I had been broken. I was devastated and hurt through what was supposed to be a beautiful and natural part of life. It could have broken our marriage as it left me numb and hardly a real woman. It was a taboo issue to talk about and left me surviving alone. Eventually through perseverance and tears I began to have an intimate life with my husband. A lot of that changed after the birth of my third child. I am now able to experience an intimate life with my husband that is free of pain.
My third birth helped cleanse my body and soul of some of the things I went through. I also felt extreme guilt followed by a freeing of my heart once I opened up to my midwife of my struggles. I feared my little one would come more than two weeks past her due date which meant that I would have to consider an unassisted birth which I feared or a hospital birth which I feared. My emotions fluctuated from trusting to fearing to excitement to fatigue. I was very happy and excited to add a third child to our family. I left the gender an unknown because I anticipated discovering for myself what God had given us.
At 6 days “overdue” my midwife and I made plans to help labor start with a castor oil cocktail of sorts. I drank red raspberry leaf tea almost every day those last two weeks. I took evening primrose oil occasionally. I really just wanted to experience what it felt like to simply go into labor on my own. I just wanted my body to work on its own. I would not have been so worried about doing all of that if the laws did not state that I would have to give up the care of my midwife at two weeks “past due”. Jen told me not to give up that Tuesday evening when we saw each other and made the plans. I said strongly that I was stubborn and would definitely not give up.
I also had injured my pubic bone a week before my due date by lunging from a chair to help my toddler from being hit by a swing. The bone was moved out of place and caused extreme pain and resulted in me not being able to hardly walk.
Though my chiropractor was thorough in trying to help me, but I still could barely walk out of her office. I feared with an impending birth my natural birth plan could be sabotaged. Well, I slowly began to recover but still felt the soreness even as I saw Jen that night.
I had planned my other two births. I had planned on being at the birth center in the birth tub having a peaceful natural birth. I thought how God did not grant me my wish either time. I had never gotten what I wanted. It had always gone completely awry and dramatically different than I had planned. This time I prayed for a gentle birth, a homebirth safe with my midwives– an easy birth. I prayed I would never be unable to manage the contractions, that I would even wake up in labor and have part of it behind me. I thought my girls might even sleep through it if I had it at night. I prayed I would not tear and have to go get that fixed. I prayed my baby would be strong and healthy and beautiful. Little did I know God was about to grant me everything!
Around 2 am that very next early morning I woke up and thought, “I’m contracting, but I haven’t moved.” I usually only contracted when I rolled over. I came immediately to my hands and knees and thought, well this feels like a labor position. Then I left the bed and filled the tub to the max with hot water. I began to shake involuntarily as I got in. I was very startled as my body kept shaking. I willed myself to calm down and the shaking eventually stopped. Then I began to feel waves that caused me to moan. These continued until my husband finally came into the bathroom. I asked him to get me a bucket because I was going to throw up. He went to the garage and retrieved one and set it front of me and proceeded to leave. I stared at him in disbelief. “What!” he sputtered. “I am not going to sit here and watch you throw up.” I continued to stare thinking he should know what was going on. “What” he repeated. “I am having a baby” I stated simply. “ Oh, ok, don’t get the water too hot.” Then to my astonishment he left the room and shut the door behind him and fell back asleep in bed! I was angry at first but did not have the energy to focus my emotions on that, so I gave up and stayed contracting. Then I abruptly decided I needed to get out of the tub. I did and put on my robe and started cleaning the bathroom counter, but the contractions kept coming which drove me to my safe spot– the closet. There I went to my knees and gripped the closet racks and boxes as I rode them out. Soon the door finally opened again, and my husband appeared all squinty eyed and looked at me questioningly. I said that maybe he should get a clock and start timing. He tried but was no good at it, so I took over and discovered that my contractions were nearly fifty some seconds and two and a half to three and a half minutes apart. Jen had told me to call when they were a minute long and five minutes apart. I thought mine were too close so this must not be regular labor yet. But they just kept coming. I knew I could get through them. It was, after all, only a minute of pain at a time. So I watched the stop clock knowing that when the seconds reached 23 that the worst was nearly over. They must have gotten more intense because I randomly asked my husband to get the pool filled. Then I told him to call the midwife. I did not want to be the one to call her just in case this was not the real thing. I was surprised to hear her answer his call with such clarity as if she had been awake all along. She asked about my water, and then said she would shower and call back to asses the situation. My husband said something about two meaning since two am, but I think she thought he meant I had had only had two contractions. She called back in probably twenty five minutes and I reluctantly answered and told her they stats. Fifty five seconds long and two and a half to three and a half minutes apart. “Oh!” she said “I thought you had only had two contractions. We are all on our way!”
Two midwives and one intern were coming. Three women were making the long trek to my house at 3:30 in the morning. I was, at first, afraid and wanted to take back what I had said to Jen thinking this was not the time yet. But I had barely began to think that when I began to push at the end of my contractions. Then I must have been coming into transition because I thought suddenly and strangely that maybe I needed my mom there and my sister there. Just somebody to make me feel that everything was ok. My husband Matt was filling the pool. I kept saying, “Fill the pool.” And then I would say, “ Wait, not yet!” But he did.
Next thing I know the intern Ann came into the closet where I was laboring. Yes, I was literally laboring in my closet because it is my “safe” place I go when I am emotional in any way. She helped me through that next contraction. I told her I thought I was pushing at the end of them. She laughed nervously and said, “Why don’t we wait for Jen for that.”
I wasn’t sure what to think of that except to wish that Jen was there. She had said not to get in the pool until she got there. Then I saw her come into the bathroom and glance at me. I was pretty vocal through the contractions now I think, just at the part where they peaked.
Ann said that she would like to get me out of the closet. I said I had not moved from there in an hour. I was afraid to moved because I just knew that would increase the intensity. But move I did stopping after only three steps for a contraction. Then Jen says to lie on the bed and she would check my status. Lying down was NOT something I wanted to do. It meant contracting my abs in some way to get in that position. I was a bit emotional at that point and said to all the faces there, ‘’You won’t let anything bad happen to me will you?” They all assured me they would not. I just needed to hear it. So I found a semi lying position with my head still up, and Jen checked me. I don’t even remember it hurting at all. Verdict? I think she was as surprised and happy as I was. I was eight to eight and a half centimeters dilated already!! She says, “There is a cervical lip still hanging on and if you push against it, it could swell and stall labor.” Or she could help hold it back and have a baby now. At that point all I knew was that I was extremely happy to be so far and I just wanted to get in the pool.
I went to the dresser and found my tank top that I had intended to birth my first daughter in the first time I was in a birth pool which had sadly never happened. Then I made my way to the dining room where it was magically transformed into a birthing suite. “Help me,” I asked my husband with earnest. I quickly tried to remove my robe and get into the water. I put on the tank top and then settled in holding my husband’s hands tightly while I stayed on my knees. The midwives had initially been concerned that maybe I should not get in because that water was cold. I had used up so much with my “bath” earlier, and my husband had taken a shower afterwards.
I got in anyway and they, that is Jessie, another midwife who had come, and Ann kept pouring boiling water into the pool with me. Jen settled herself opposite me on the floor in front of the pool. There my pushing really began as she held back the cervical lip. I remember a contraction or two that I was gripping Matt’s hands and as one of the contractions peaked I exclaimed, “Oh, I’m going to die.” I think it was Jen behind me who quickly corrected that statement and said I was not.
The next few minutes were filled with contractions that had me pushing. I felt an incredibly powerful pressure deep between my legs. it was amazing and overwhelming and scary and just intense. But each time I pushed well and correctly Jen’s voice said it all, and it gave me the courage to keep pushing through it. The feeling felt so powerful as if it could rip me it two. Jen said that if she could see right now, I would be crowning. Next thing I know she says she feels two inches of head. I remember two extremely powerful pushes that were right on top of each other. Then Jen says that the head is born. I could feel it between my legs. I wish I had touched her but I was afraid that mentally it might hold me back as I would discover something so large coming through me. It was part of my vaginismus that I struggled with even as I was giving birth. I thought the baby would slip out almost immediately but she didn’t. I turned abruptly and said, “ Oh, what are you doing. Don’t touch.” I physically felt sensitive down there. Jessie was down at the pool at that point, and Jen said she wasn’t touching. It was my baby. And indeed it was. Her legs and body were rotating as she tried to maneuver out of me. Jen then tried to help and asked me to give a big push. I thought for a second that her shoulder might be stuck, but suddenly she was swimming between my legs and I moved and caught her up to me! I looked at her and her eyes immediately held mine. She was beautiful. I said, “Is he ok?” But as I looked at her I just thought, this is a girl. She is so beautiful. Ethereal was the word that came to me as I gazed at her. “So, what do we have?” Jen asked me. I tried to look but it was too hard. The cord was very short and pulled between the baby’s legs obscuring the real proof. Someone moved it for me, and I saw my girl. I really stared a little longer stunned since I had believed, because this pregnancy was harder and so much different than the others, that I must be having a boy this time. No, I had my third girl! Secretly I had kind of wanted three girls in a row..
Jen suggested cutting the cord. It had already stopped pulsing. Matt leaned in and cut it for us. Then my baby was free, and I was holding her. “Don’t let me drop her.” I said to those around me. It was slippery in the pool. I wanted hands there just in case.”Oh, I am so happy!!!!” I kept saying. I pushed out the placenta. I did not need one drop of medicine for blood loss. I think Jen was convinced that because my stress level had been so high that I would possibly lose a lot of blood. But I was never in danger of that. Jen wrapped me in a towel and led me to the bedroom. I just held my baby and tried to nurse her. “So that’s what nursing feels like.” I said as she latched for the first time and all the memories came flooding back. The intern did the newborn check while I used the bathroom. When I came back to my own bed wrapped in my own robe and settled in to look at my baby. She weighed in at 8 pounds and 6 ounces, 14 and a quarter inch head, 14 inch chest, and 20 inches long. She was born at 5:15 AM. That was thirty minutes after getting in the water and only 47 minutes after Jen had arrived. I was blessed. So blessed indeed.
We called her Laurel which was symbolic to me for victory. In ancient Greece they would crown their victors of great feats with a wreath of laurel symbolizing their triumph. And her middle name- Grace. Well, God had certainly granted me grace through it all by answering my prayers. I had always failed at everything in life. I failed in society due to a crippling anxiety. I failed at being a woman because vaginismus kept me from having sex with my husband. I failed at birth because my midwife transferred me from the birth center to a hospital where I was traumatized by my first birth experience and had a flashback of it at night. I failed at nursing because it hurt so much that I just let her cry instead of feed her. I failed at motherhood. I slipped into what I can only assume was postpartum depression. I drank excessive amounts of caffeine. I remember once being afraid to go to sleep at night because I felt so weak, and my heart rate so low that I thought I might close my eyes and never wake up. I began to have panic attacks. I eventually sought help for my depression.
But this birth– This birth was victory! A cleansing I desperately needed!
I had never experienced such a birth. A birth where everything happened on it own. No medication, no needles, no fighting for birth plans to be followed, no bright lights and strangers and touching hands where I am most vulnerable. Just respect and security and gentleness. I am awed that I could birth this way. It was hard, but it was also easy. It was normal and natural and beautiful. When I was in the water pushing, I remember a verse in Psalms saying, Through God we shall do valiantly. Valiantly. I rolled that word off my tongue silently as I thought, I can do this valiantly. And indeed I did. But only because God answered my prayer.
I am so blessed and so thankful. The midwives emptied the pool, cleaned a bit, and started the laundry. Jen suggested pineapple juice every two hours for the afterbirth pains. The Amish swear by it, she said. They left me happily holding my newborn in my arms in my own bed.