At 6:42 AM on October 28th, I woke up with a labor pain.
The morning before, I had gone to see Dr. Giannina, who told me I was experiencing contractions. I shrugged it off, as I hadn’t felt anything, and went home. Throughout the day, I experienced small cramping pains on and off, told my family, and chalked it up to Braxton Hicks.
At 6:42, I woke up and knew. This was real. I was going to meet the little person whose back I had been rubbing, whose elbows and knees I had been feeling for so many months.
I woke Mario up, stepped out to say hello to my mom, fear and excitement both filling me.
We went on a walk, hoping to hurry things along, and engaged in many “Is this it?” “Could this be the day?”s. My mom left for work, my sister sat on standby, eager and ready to rush over, and Mario and I began the day hoping and praying labor would be smooth and uneventful.
At 11:00 that morning, my midwife arrived. Despite having regular contractions, 5-7 minutes apart, I was only 40% effaced and dilated 2 centimeters. Baby was stubbornly high, so I was sentenced to a day of resting and preparing for the baby to come—but warned to expect a long day and night ahead of me.
At 1:00, Mario and I went on our last date sans baby. We went to red lobster, my bladder and mucus plug both making frequent appearances, and I worked to relax through contractions ranging anywhere from 2-7 minutes apart, from 45 seconds to 1.5 minutes long.
At 2:45, the pain was a little too much and my lack of bladder control made venturing out embarrassing, so plans to run several errands were scrapped and we instead headed home.
As the day wore on, contractions grew more intense and longer, some as long as 3 minutes, but remained stubbornly distant from one another. Despite the pain, my midwife delivered the unfortunate news that, at approximately 10:00 PM, Tenika, Mario, and mama in attendance, that while I was making progress (60% effaced and 4 centimeters), the progress was too slow to warrant my midwives’ arrival, and I was promptly instructed to get into bed and sleep—or rest, the best I could, through painful, every-two-minute, two-to-three-minute-long contractions.
I was able to drift in and out of sleep, already exhausted, as my body worked to cope with the pain and relax through the contractions.
The pain was unlike anything I’ve ever felt; rather than the vague discomfort of cramps or the sharp pain of a wound, the pain wound around me and seemed to breathe into my veins—not fire, not ice, but something else entirely—a whole new kind of pain that seemed to be as much mental as physical.
It was at this point that I first felt the hints of transition.
I felt discouraged, deflated; I had envisioned being an angel throughout labor, gracing my family with a peaceful, joyful, excited woman who, despite the pain, was grateful for the ability to bring a little life into this world.
I was not that woman.
Instead, I begged Mario to press deep into my back, had to be constantly reminded to breathe and relax through the pain, could only cope with the contractions by repeating Philippians 4:13 over and over. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Mario called Mary again, told her about my pain and she arrived, only to tell me that, while she expected our baby to be here by morning, I was in for a long and potentially difficult night. This was around 2 AM, and my pain was verging on unbearable. I moaned and groaned through each contraction, eagerly stepping into the warmth of a shower, sinking to my hands and knees, or bouncing on my birthing ball—anything to take my mind off of the pain and to cope with how frustrated and unprepared I felt.
All of my months of classes flew out the window, and I just wanted support, comfort, and rest.
Three things that were just out of reach.
Fortunately, Mary permitted me, finally, to fill the labor pool.
Lowering myself into the hot water provided me with the sweetest, most beautiful relief. Though it by no means deadened the pain, it made it so much more bearable.
This soon passed, however, as my contractions began to come one on top of the other, lasting minutes at a time, offering me no rest, no reprieve. I lost control, lost my cool demeanor, and felt like a failure. The pain seemed to be everywhere and never seemed to ebb. My scripture refrain, though initially helpful, was not enough anymore, and I relied heavily upon the support and encouragement of my husband, my mother, and my sister. In the middle of my contractions, I looked into the concerned, hopeful eyes of my sister, my mother, and my husband, and all I could think (and say) during the worst of them was “Help me. Please help me.” Effectively breaking their hearts. Finally, I just began to say God’s name. Over and over, breathing Him in. I remember being taught that the name Yahweh was a meditation, a breath. In and out. Yahweh. Yahweh. Yahweh. Handing myself and my pain over to Him, looking into my sister’s eyes as she cried, smiled, and encouraged me. Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, I AM. The One and Only. The God of the bible–my Enough. It was all I could do—both beg and praise God in the midst of my greatest difficulty and greatest physical pain. I was completely overcome in those moments—overcome by God’s beauty and His grace and His mercy—and the incredible joy He gives women, to feel life roll and kick and grow in our bellies. This and the help of my family sustained me until Mary returned, checked me, and determined my water had finally broken while laboring in the pool. I was 7 cm dilated, and fully effaced.
I felt the need to push, so sharply, and my midwife instructed me to move to the bed; despite the slow progress throughout the day and night, I progressed from 7 to 10 at a remarkable pace.
I climbed onto the bed with the help of my wonderful family, happy to finally be able to push—a desire that had been overwhelming me for hours. I was finally able and encouraged to bear down. To meet my little person.
My sister was equipped with a camera, filming the remainder of my labor, while Mario and my mom held my legs back for me, supporting me as I pushed. Mary kneeled at my feet, applying warm rags and olive oil, eager to prevent me from tearing. For thirty-forty five minutes, my body curled into itself, every last ounce of strength I had going into pushing, pushing, pushing. Each contraction, three pushes. Pain, but a more manageable pain, a more helpful pain, a sweeter pain.
Although I struggled getting through contractions before, I felt almost dizzy, exhilarated with this new pain, and eagerly welcomed the opportunity to push—though waiting between pushes felt like torture. Several times, Mary stopped me, massaging me, pushing against me, ensuring my skin’s elasticity. My family spurred me on, letting out excited and awed exclamations as my baby’s little head began to descend. As his head reached the entrance to the world, I was instructed to reach down and feel a fuzzy little head—an experience that felt more strange and unnerving than anything else. And then I was pushing a little head into the world, entering the ring of fire, so ready to have our baby in my arms. So ready. A little head emerged, so quickly, then little shoulders fought their way past, and the rest—arms, fingers, navel, knees, toes came pouring out, my body suddenly slack, nearly drunk on relief. A tiny, slippery body was put onto my breast and into my arms, a joyful, happy sister telling me “He’s a boy. He’s a boy.” And I looked down, shocked and relieved and scared and in love and exhausted and joyful to see this little body that I had carried with me for ten months finally here and against my skin. All I could think to say was “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, he’s a boy”—followed quickly by “He’s so slippery” as he slid down my belly. I hefted him back into my arms, looking down into his little eyes, already open wide, alert. He cried, the shouts of his little lungs loud and clear, filling the room.
Mary cleaned me up, took Eli from my arms to quickly wipe him down, to have Mario cut the cord, to get him a hat and blanket, and he was placed against my skin once more, our bodies covered in a blanket, and just like that, the curve of his back I had stroked so many times in my belly was laying flat against my palm, and the little face I’d seen once in an ultrasound looking up at me, blinking big blue eyes.
I was (and still am) startled to see not Mario’s face and coloring as I had expected, but my own features and coloring staring up at me. It was strange, feeling this tiny person who had literally been connected to me, a part of me, here and feeling like he fit into an Eli-sized hole in my heart I hadn’t quite realized was there.
Eli Asher was born at 4:57 on October 29th, 2014, after over 22 hours of active labor. He weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces by my midwife’s estimation, and was 20 ½ inches long. He was born free of medication, free of the glare of heavy hospital lights and was welcomed into the world in a loving, peaceful home, filled with people who have loved him from the moment he was realized. He spent the morning with mama and daddy in bed, Aunt Tenika close by, and was able to immediately feel the warmth and comfort of his mama and daddy’s skin, and the comfort and sustenance of mama’s milk.
Four weeks later (now seven), we are getting to know him, his faces, his cries, the way he shuffles gently in the morning, touching my face or reaching for my skin to let me know he is hungry. We are getting to know the small warning cry he offers before he is prepared to let a full cry start, to tell us he is hungry, wet, or tired. I have the beautiful, beautiful privilege of seeing his sweet little face as he nurses, his hand set against my breast, his sweet little face so bent on finding a lost nipple, his lips tight in concentration, mouth stretched in a half-smile. We love watching his eyes as we go on a walk—around the house and the neighborhood both—so alert and eager to take in his surroundings. We get to see his body stretch and grow long, his legs and neck already eager for independence; he uses his legs to climb from my belly to my neck, head held up, rooting for milk. We got to spend his first two weeks together as a family, with Mario home and helping us get food and sleep, and my own family constantly close by and ready to help and love on him and we are so very very in love with a tiny, obstinate, curious, sweet-natured little boy.