Once Cindie was settled in, she took my blood pressure, which was good, thank you God! Then listened to the baby's heart rate, which was also a lovely 120-130 or so (I'm assuming, since it was that all through the night and morning). I was now in, as you may recall from Part I of Santi's birth story, pillow-mania position, and was about to be crazily surprised at how far along things were going.
Side note: Two weeks before bebe was born, Cindie asked me during a prenatal appointment if it was okay that she check my cervix. I think I was 37 weeks pregnant or so. I didn't want to be encouraged that labor was "right around the corner" or that labor was in a far away land that I wasn't going to be reaching anytime soon, so I told her, "only if you'd like to!" She said there are reasons they like to at this point, one being because they want to know if they need to ripen or soften the cervix if nothing is happening, since baby is now term and could arrive "any moment". So she checked me, and I was 2 centimeters dilated and babe was at negative one station - which is nice n' low for 37 weeks, and nice n' open for ye ol' cervix. I had been experiencing quite a few contraction-like cramps during the following days, through week 38 and 39, and at each weekly prenatal appointment, they asked if I wanted to have my cervix checked. Each time I told them, "only if you need to" - for the same reason I had mentioned in week 37. I didn't want to be 6cm and get all excited about labor maybe being around the corner, and I didn't want to hear "oh, you're 2.1cm" (meaning only a very tiny and lame-o change since week 37) and find myself discouraged. I just wanted to let my body do what it wanted to, when it wanted to, and wait for labor to jump on me by surprise. And so it did.
While in pillow-mania position, I was feeling very intense contractions. I also started to feel really warm and sweaty, so my mom and hubby started to place damp, cool rags on my forehead, neck and shoulders. Ah, yes, and the delightful hymns had started to play off of our computer. They are truly a God send and helped me focus on my Amazing Father during the beginning of transition. Of course, the playlist wasn't quite long enough, and eventually I was slightly annoyed by the repeats, but that's beside the point! Cindie checked my cervix at this point and, shoot son, it was like a mini contraction having her fingers down there - so, so, so much pressure, but such a beautiful sound when she finished and said, "how does 7 centimeters sound?" Goodness me! Eduardo, my mom and myself were so surprised! I don't know how I was doing mentally at this point, but I remember feeling so glad inside when I heard those words.
Oh, seven centimeters, three to go, time for transition. Bradley calls this transition, going from approximately 7-10, the self-doubt signpost. This is where I am going to be exhausted to the brim, I thought, where I might tell them I can't do this anymore, where I will want to have medication injected into every part of my body to numb the pain, where I will dream of anything but a natural, let-time-take-its-course labor. I tried to prepare myself for it, but within seconds another contraction hit, so I went straight back into the zone. "this does not tell you how close you are to pushing, this does not tell you how close you are to meeting your baby" I had to remind myself this. Because we think of 7cm as pretty stinkin' close, don't we? But I could be feeling regular, insanity-like contraction for anywhere from 1 to 6 more hours! So a quick pep talk went down in my head, whether I noticed it or not, and I just continued to breath out the mountain-peak, body-controlling, muscle flexing in my uterus.
The sensation was really, really low. I whimpered a bit at times, much like a tiny baby, and I did in fact make moaning noises. I definitely pictured myself as a very quiet laboring woman, but goodness me this was not the case. It felt so necessary to make noise with each contraction, like I was somehow able to handle it a little more than the silent Jane side of me could have. Eduardo and my mom were constantly telling me breath, to relax, to drink coconut water even though the thought, taste, and sound of it grossed me out. Really, though, with each noisy breath and each sip or two of liquid, I was able to survive this labor - especially the last few hours before pushing. It was now 6:30am or so, it took me four-ish hours to move from 7cm to.... "Nicole do you mind if I check your cervix again?" Cindie asked me, I nodded. "10 centimeters," she confirmed. And I think she also mentioned baby was at +3 station - (confirm me, mom, if I'm wrong)! Insanity.
Cindie then told me to tell her when I felt like I was ready to push, because at that point she would call the birthing assistant who would be her right-hand girl during the pushing side of labor and during delivery and clean-up. She said it will be noticeable, this desire to push, because instead of a long, deep, steady breath through each contraction, I will make a long, maybe steady breath with a grunting noise at the end, followed by an extreme urge to push. She was spot on right about this, and eventually I felt the first one. You go from "hooooo..." or "mmmm..." to "hooooo uggghhhh" or "mmmmm mppphhhhh" suddenly, like an animal that takes control of your body, and you push with all your might. It was such a huge change to actually work during a contraction, instead of lying their hopelessly waiting for it to pass, breathing deeply.
A few more of those "hooooo ugghhhh"'s went down before I shouted to Cindie (who was in the other room), "Cindie I'm pushing!" - then I swear more than a dozen contractions went by, with no urge to push in them, and the next thing I know there's another girl in the room, who I had actually met before at one of my prenatal appointments, and I felt kind of bad because nothing was happening. It was still dark outside, so I knew not too much time had gone by, but I really feel like I was boring people to death. How do amazing men and women do this? Just sit and watch a woman labor, when there is almost nothing going on but moaning? Anyhow... I remember opening my eyes often and glancing quickly (in a dazed-out way) at Cindie and Jen, the birthing assistant, and my mom n' hubby. Sometimes a contraction would come and I would look for my Edu or mom and wouldn't find them, which worried me 'cause for some reason I kept thinking they would miss something - but I probably just wanted an arm rub at the moment. They would always appear right away, though, and it was very comforting.
Soon enough, the pushing got real, I don't think I actually went through a dozen contractions, but maybe I did. It was probably 6:45am, based off of how long Cindie told me I had pushed for. Consistent pushing was kind of crazy, I mean, you start to seek contractions, because they mean you can really go for it and give a great push. Cindie, hubby, Jen and mama were often telling me, "great job, Nicole" with certain pushes, and it was very encouraging, but also very confusing, since I thought "great job" meant "you're going to have your baby's entire head visible in about one more push" but it did not mean that. It meant that I was showing progress, that baby was indeed lowering, and that I was pushing correctly (I s'pose).
Jen, the birthing assistant, checked the baby's heart every 20 minutes from the moment she arrived 'till pushing got really intense and showed signs of crowning. Once the baby started crowning, she was checking the baby's heart between every contraction, or so it seemed. She also checked my blood pressure constantly to make sure we were both doing okay and not too stressed out. Stress = bad. But thanks to our Amazing Father, we were both given a, "perfect" or a "sounds great" with each check.
Light started to peak through the windows, but I had no idea since I kept my eyes closed for the first half of pushing, so it surprised me and excited me to see a new day. It really meant, "you're meeting your baby today, Nicole" which was so comforting. Cindie asked me at a moment, probably around 8:00am or so (I'm completely guessing), how I was feeling. I could tell by the look in her eyes that she wanted a very honest answer. I told her I was feeling good, and I was being honest, but that I felt like I was progressing very slowly, and asked her if this was normal. She said as long as I was feeling good and listening to my body, pushing when my body tells me to and not feeling too tired, that the speed I was moving at didn't matter, that I was doing great.
This was very comforting to me, because honestly I felt like I was getting no where. Pushing is, shoot I'm out of good words, intense! It really does take all your energy to give a great, strong, push, and the constant encouragement is amazing, but it doesn't mean you have only 3 more pushes left. I pushed for 3 hours and 45 minutes before my baby's head popped out completely. Cindie asked me again how I was feeling (probably an hour or so before meeting baby). I was definitely more hopeful and perky, but tired and wanted to hold baby. She asked if I had any sports drinks or Gu Energy Gels to eat for the last bit of pushing. I told her we did, but I'm not used to eating something so strong and I was scared of getting sick. She assured me that I probably won't get sick, but that it will give me the energy I need for pushing really well. Eduardo went downstairs and mixed a chocolate Gu with a glass of water and brought it up to me. They tossed a straw in it, and even though I was scared I would get sick, I sipped half of it down and perked up like crazy! It was like drinking the richest chocolate ice cream or milkshake or straight up cake in a glass that I had ever experienced. It was fantastic, and I pushed like a hard-core athlete (oh, the one I miss from my pre-pregnancy days!) from there on out.
I was so alive in between contractions and pushing. I had so much hope and joy in my heart, and the Gu definitely gave me the energy and drive I needed for the remainder of labor. Everyone noticed, too, and gave me amazing, positive, feedback. I was still in my low, lying down, slightly propped up position, and still needed the cool rags all over my body. This was a sweaty endeavor, friends, with such an incredible reward waiting at the end.
Side note: It was beautiful, because Cindie was constantly humming along with the hymns playing on the computer, and it really gave me peace knowing that God truly placed her in our life for the birth and prenatal care. To have a believer there, a sister in Christ, was a blessing. God placed our baby's life and my life in her hands in that moment, with the help of the birthing assistant, Jen, and the support of my family. The team was all such a delight and worked together perfectly!
Once the head started showing, Eduardo and mom got really excited. Cindie asked if I wanted to see the baby as they started crowning, and I said I did. She asked if we had a mirror, but we didn't, so she used her iPhone and gave me a peak the next time I pushed. Black hair, just like his papa. But oh goodness, when they say "crowning" they don't mean "the entire head is almost out" they really just mean "oh look, first glimpse of baby, but it's an itty bitty glimpse". It was still amazing, though!
Anyhow, this is getting pretty detailed, but the end of pushing was my favorite part. Each contraction meant baby was closer, I pushed with all my might, but felt mad pain after the push, I was breathing more rapidly and heavily after the push, while the contraction trickled away,and sometimes moaned or whined. I just wanted to meet the baby so badly. At this point I was pushing more than once each contraction, even if the pain was close to unbearable. I averaged 3 really good pushes each contraction, sometimes four and once or twice I recall a fifth, but it wasn't comfortable - just filled me with hope.
Woah man moment: there was pee with a few strong pushes, there was poo, there was amniotic fluid - it got pretty messy. And my words over the past few months were being crushed: "Yeah, home birth, but I won't be all naked and squatting in my kitchen or anything...." when Cindie told me I could take off my bra so bebe could be placed right on my skin once born. Off the bra went, and I lie there, all naked like a newborn baby, and I didn't care one bit! It's funny how all your cares fade away, even with a camera on you!
Once I could truly feel the baby's head really crowning, exiting my body, pushing was a joy, I was actually working hard and feeling the results instantly - even when the baby's head clearly slid back in a little bit, I knew I could push harder next contraction and get more of the head out. The hardest part was toward the end - when I had to hold a push and wait for the next contraction. I was 2 contractions away from seeing our baby for the first time, and the ring of fire greeted me softly (sharply). You have to sit there, legs open in some way (in the air? I think mine were, as I grabbed them with my hands, felt a little bit like a caa-razy yoga pose!) with a child's head half way out of you, half way in, and are told to hang tight. Ha - real tight. Your "lips" burn, your heart races, everyone around you is so very excited for what's about to happen, and you breaaaath. Or at least that's what I was told to do. So I did. For those last two contractions, and it was glorious insanity.
Eduardo was recording this section of the birth for my hopes of eventually making a birthing video, and I would love to post it but there is a lot of boob and too much visibility in the lower parts department than I am comfortable with sharing. You all understand, don't you? So I'll just describe that last push as the most wonderful part of our life.
"One more push, Nicole, you're doing great!" Cindie, my midwife, Edu and mom were all assuring me. With one last push his incredibly huge head popped out, blue as the deep sea, swollen as a balloon. Cord wrapped around his neck twice, but I wasn't aware, since all I did was immediately start screaming "a baaaaby a baaaby!!" hardly able to believe my eyes.
**photo edited to cover up the goods! let's keep this family friendly, shall we?***
Welcome to the world, our gift: Santiago James. As he lie on my tummy, everyone is cheering and smiling, tears started flowing and I continued screaming silly things. Eduardo yelled, "it's a girl!" and I, for some reason, wanted him to double check and said, "que es?!" (what is it?!) and we opened the little legs to find ourselves: 100% boy parts. "It's a boyyy!" Eduardo shouted, we all repeated after him, "a boooooy!" and continued smiling and crying.
Bliss. Joy. The most wonderful blessing we could ever have imagined. God truly placed every person that was present at the labor and delivery with such a purpose - including the Bradley Method book. It was such an incredible experience to birth at home, in our comfortable bedroom, with no rules or stress or time restrictions. No medicine was offered to me in my delirious time of 7cm-10cm, no forceps or baby-extracting vacuums were mentioned when I was pushing for 3 hours and 45 minutes - it was all about listening to my body, and taking this birth minute by minute, so freeing!
Newborn check up:
I am reminded:
Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given to us
From the fullness of grace we have received one blessing after another
Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.