DISCLAIMER: the following is a pretty detailed account of Susannah's birth. If you're uncomfortable with risking TMI, you might want to stop reading now. I won't be offended, I promise. :-)
It's been more than a week now since our sweet Susannah made our little trio into a quartet, and there's so much I've wanted to get down on paper (or blog, as the case may be) before it starts getting fuzzy around the edges. Her birth was both the most difficult and most beautiful experience of my life, the pain and the love all tangled together now.
Susannah's birth story begins on Thursday night, the 19th. After nearly two weeks of false labor and a lot of discomfort, I was really ready to have this baby. Aaron and I took a long walk around the nearby mall, then met Mike for dinner at Ol*ve Garden. As I got ready for bed later that evening, I pulled out a clean t-shirt to put on - my old Calvin Streetfest tee from my freshman year of college. It was the shirt I wore during my labor with Aaron, and I sort of chuckled to myself as I fished it from the back of the drawer... "Wouldn't it be funny if after all the long walks and visits to the chiropractor, all it takes is this shirt to get my labor going?"
My sleep that night was amazingly peaceful. My bladder only woke me twice, and my two year old, who'd been waking from bad dreams with some regularity, didn't make a peep. With most recent nights full of tossing and turning and hours spent on the downstairs couch, this was a welcome break.
My restful sleep was disturbed at about 6:30am. "Did I just wet the bed," I wondered in a sleepy haze? As I waddled into the bathroom, it began to dawn on me what was happening. My water had broken, the slow trickle announcing the imminent arrival of my baby. My t-shirt had done the trick! I called downstairs for Mike, who was just about to leave for work, and together we managed to mop up my leakage and call Hillary, our midwife.
"Good morning, Hillary, my water just broke." Her reply made my smile: "Oh, thank goodness!" I wasn't the only one getting impatient. With no contractions yet, I asked her if I should send Mike to work, but she insisted he stay put, and she would come right over.
The party slowly grew as the morning wore on. Hillary arrived and checked my progress: 3cm, 80% effaced. Contractions had started, but were light. Tera, Hillary's wonderful assistant, arrived soon, too. Aaron helped Mike inflate the birthing tub, and he really wanted to go for a swim as Mike began to fill it with warm water. He eventually stopped trying to take his shirt off and settled for letting his rubber ducky float around in his stead. Before long, he headed to the Anderson's house for the day to play with James and Eli. Photographer Eileen finished a session and hurried over. LeAnn got to work to find her database way behind schedule, and when all the work she could accomplish for the day was done, her boss graciously let her go for the day. My birth team was fully assembled! Mike and I took a walk through the neighborhood (it was an unusually bright and warm day for mid-November), pizza was ordered for lunch, and the girl talk was interrupted only every 7-8 minutes by my contractions, during which the room got very, very quiet . I was having too much fun for my body to be very productive, so Hillary sent me upstairs where it was quiet.
By 2pm, things had taken a more serious turn. Contractions were stronger and required more of my concentration. I tried reading, but had to put the book down before long. The tub was ready for me to sink into, but I wanted to save it for when things got harder, so I sat on the floor, moved to the bed, got into the shower, then finally turned to the tub for some relief. If my body got too comfortable in any one place, things would slow down a little, and Hillary would encourage me to change positions again.
Mike put on his swim trunks in the early evening and helped me into a second shower. I'm so glad he was there for support, since Transition happened, and I was hit by some of the most intense contractions of the night. It was wonderful to have him there to rub my back and stroke my hair, assuring me that I'd get through these hard moments. LeAnn stood in the bathroom with us, encouraging words at the ready. This shower is where I also started to sing during contractions, and I was amazed at how much that helped distract me from the pain. As a contraction grew, I'd life my voice as best as I could: "The Lord is my shepherd / He makes me lie in pastures green / He leads me beside quiet waters that wash over me..."
Now back in the tub, sitting on the birthing stool, I had just a lip of cervix that wouldn't give way. As I worked through contractions, about 2 minutes apart now, Hillary would try to help move it out of the way. Yes, this hurt a lot. I started to "sound pushy," Hillary said, so at 8pm, I got off the birthing stool and began to push. This was the hardest work yet, but it was amazing that I could actually feel my baby moving down with each good push. I'll always remember the feel of Mike holding my left hand and LeAnn on my right, giving me support and encouragement and letting me squeeze against them when I needed to. "I wish we could each take a little bit of the pain," LeAnn had said earlier in the afternoon, and this was the moment she was able to. Having such loving friends around me did help ease the pain, and I am so thankful to have had them there. They each were God's grace for the moment.
Susannah finally slid into Daddy's hands ("9:17, folks," LeAnn called out with much excitement), and he lifted her out of the water and onto my chest. The relief was immediate, and Mike and LeAnn joined me in singing the Doxology over her. Our beautiful girl was here, pink and healthy. As I got out of the tub and into bed, I watched Mike cradle this tiny new person in his arms. I watched my husband fall in love with another girl, and I enjoyed every moment of it.
Susannah brought a few wonderful surprises with her. First was the fact that she weighed nine pounds! When Mike first slid her up into my arms, I thought "Oh, good! She is tiny!" None of us could believe what the scale read just an hour later. I was also surprised by how well she nursed right from the start. With Aaron, we'd had so much trouble with feeding, and I was mentally prepared for the same battle with this little one. But she latched right on as soon as I was out of the tub and warming up in bed. What a happy discovery that was! Finally, I think I was expecting her to look a lot like Aaron, but she looks totally different. It's a good reminder that she's her own person with her own story.
This was a difficult birth - much harder than birthing Aaron. Being at home, in my own clothes, my own space, my own bed, on my own terms, really gave me the extra strength I needed. I loved looking at photos of my family hanging on my bedroom walls. Loved listening to my birth mix on my iPod (and discovering that Hillary, too, loves Over the Rhine, almost as much as I do). Loved being able to invite anyone I wished to be part of the experience, then watching God orchestrate all the details just perfectly for us. As hard as it was, I could not have wished for a better birth experience.
This week together has brought a lot of laughter and tears. The tears have mostly been mine, thanks to the hormonal roller coaster I'm now riding. But the laughter surely outweighs any sad feelings. It strikes us with much humor that one of my internal organs (placenta) is double bagged in our freezer. We've learned to duck and dodge Susannah's poop squirts, which happen regularly as soon as her diaper comes off. The first incident took four hands and 30 minutes to recover from, but now we've learned to take cover. Aaron has attached himself to one of the fuzzy pink blankets Susannah received as a gift, and he now sleeps with it and carries it everywhere. It's pretty hilarious to watch our two year old boy parade around with his pink blankie, but if it helps him to feel more connected to his new baby sister, we're all for it. And our Wednesday evening trip to Me*jer ended with the van pulled to the side of the road so I could nurse Susannah while Mike fed newly purchased cottage cheese to Aaron. Both kids had a total hunger meltdown, and it was tempting to berate ourselves for being so adventurous. Instead, we chose to laugh about it. "This is just how we do things, right" Mike joked at the height of the stress. "We do things together."
Susannah Grant, we're so glad you're here. So glad we're all together.
Eileen of EM Photography captured Susannah's birth in the most beautiful way. To see the slideshow, click here. I've edited the images included, so there's nothing too graphic.
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