Today my sweet Adeline turns one year old.
They tell you ‘the days are long, but the years are short’. We young moms roll our eyes and glance at the spit up and crumbs but – we all know it’s true. As I reflected on this last year of pulling up roots, big transitions, and seasons of waiting, I asked myself: “What about motherhood has taught me the most?” Unequivocally, the answer was childbirth.
Some of you are familiar with the story of Adeline’s arrival. I frequently remember that season in awe of God’s faithfulness, but I am also in awe of how much He stretched me in that season. Never has more been asked of me in one time. Never have I been more physically, emotionally, and spiritually tested. And there is no period of my life for which I am more grateful.
Natural childbirth transformed my life – for the better.
Anxiety and Pregnancy
Josh and I found out we were pregnant on our one year wedding anniversary. I was just beginning my travel season as a college recruiter and spent the first seven months of the pregnancy working full time either in the office, on a plane, or at conventions across the Eastern seaboard. I didn’t have time to bask in my pregnancy; I had never been more busy. But I did make sure to enroll my husband and myself in a Bradley class (husband-coached childbirth) and in lieu of regular office visits at my practice, I joined Centering, a small group of women due in October like I was. These women were my support and encouragement during this season. Many of them had had multiple natural births, and their positive, confident outlook reminded me of how equipped I was for what lay ahead.
A naturally anxious person, I knew stress was the enemy of a positive pregnancy and birth experience. Pregnancy demanded I walk closely with the Lord to combat my anxiety. I was tested in many ways – right up to Adeline’s birth.
Childbirth and Giving Up Control
As I was getting ready to go on maternity leave – around the 36th week of my pregnancy – my husband, Josh, received a job offer in Pennsylvania. We were living in Virginia at the time. They wanted him to start as soon as possible. We decided that it would be wiser to move BEFORE the birth of the baby rather than after, with all the adjustments that come with a newborn. So at 37.4 weeks pregnant, I moved with Josh to central Pennsylvania.
Moving in general is stressful. Moving when you could technically go into labor any day… yeah.
I called all the midwives, birthing centers, and birthing centers in hospitals within an hour’s radius of our new home. None of them would take me. I sat at my computer and cried. Where on earth am I going to have this baby? Stress and tension are the enemies of a good natural birth; how could I be stress-free and relaxed when I didn’t even know where my baby would be born, who would be delivering her, or where I should go?
I Googled “midwives near Lancaster” and that’s when I found Shirley. A home birth midwife (CPM) in Pennsylvania, Shirley shared my Christian faith and just reading her biography gave me a sense of peace – despite the fact I had never planned on a home birth, and my previous midwife worked out of a local hospital. But I emailed her anyway and heard back that same day (after hearing five successive “nope, no room for you”s from other practices and practitioners) – she was willing to meet with us when we came to PA looking for housing (a week from our move, we had nowhere to live).
This was by far the biggest test of faith I’d experienced in my walk with God. I – the one who plans everything, from meals to appointments to editorial calendars – couldn’t even plan where to have my baby. I didn’t know where we’d be living. I was four weeks from my due date with nowhere to go but to God. And that is exactly what I did.
The day we were to meet with Shirley, Josh wanted to go look at one more rental in the area. Because a home birth was now on the table, we had to find something that would be conducive to that plan. I thought we had already decided on a location, but went along with Josh’s instincts to look at the one last rental. When we arrived, the landlord asked me where I planned to have the baby. Before I could answer, she said, “Are you doing a home birth?” I hadn’t been wanting to admit that but since she brought it up… “Yes, we are, since no other practices would accept me. Is that okay with you?”
“Sure, if that’s what you want to do!”
I was dumbfounded. Not only was the landlord also a Christian and a wonderful woman herself, she had opened the door for us to have a home birth – without us having to do it on the lowdown. We signed the lease on the house the next day and returned to Virginia to pack.
Fast forward a week: I am unpacking boxes in our new home. It’s 84 degrees, my feet look like bricks, and I’m pretty sure I can’t stretch any larger – even though I’m still two weeks out from my due date. Other than a few cramps here and there, however, I had no signs of early labor.
The Saturday after we moved in, we went garage saling with some friends. Josh found a large exercise ball we thought could be helpful for labor, so we bought it on a whim.
The Birth Story
That Sunday night at 2:30 A.M I went to the bathroom for the upteenth time. I noticed a small spot of blood, and since I’d never bled before during the pregnancy I decided to see what was going on. It appeared to be the mucus plug dislodging, a sign of labor beginning soon. Well nice, should be soon! I thought, standing up. That’s when my water broke. Well nice, sooner than I thought!
The night before I had planned to make some freezer meals and pack up the items for the home birth, but I got distracted and never did it. So at 2:30 AM I bustled around the house, collecting the chux pads, towels, and bowls for the birth, laying out Adeline’s newborn clothes “just in case”. I knew of women whose contractions were irregular for days following the water breaking. I was so unconcerned, I didn’t tell my husband what happened until 4 AM.
“What?! Your water broke?!”
“It’s no big deal – no contractions yet, I just set everything out in case.”
Ten minutes later it wasn’t “in case” anymore. The contractions started immediately at 6 minutes apart, then dropped to two minutes apart, and back to 5-6 minutes. They felt like longer, gradual period cramps. I practiced relaxing, just laying on my side in bed with Josh. My plan was to stay out of the tub as long as possible, because the tub can slow labor down if you get in too early. For about 45 minutes I laid in bed on my side until the contractions got strong enough Josh filled up the bath. At 5 AM we called Shirley. She advised us to call again when the contractions became too hard to bear.
What does that mean?! I wondered.
The one thing I HAD finished prior to pregnancy was a flipbook of verses and affirmations to read to myself in preparation for and during labor. I had written out verses about God’s might and strength, His faithfulness, His love, and how to deal with fear or trouble. In between verses I had written affirmations about relaxing – things like “Each contraction brings your baby closer!” I also wrote out some of the prayers from my Supernatural Childbirth book. I had Josh read some of the verses to me while I sat in the bath.
By 6:30 AM Josh said, “After two more contractions like that one, I’m calling Shirley.” They were closer together and more intense: tighter, heavier, and more pressure in my pelvis. The pressure was more uncomfortable than the tightness. With each surge I told myself: This is good. You can do this. You were made for this. Each contraction is pushing her further down. You are making progress. These affirmations helped me relax through each contraction, rather than tense up in fear and fight my body.
Shirley arrived around 7 AM. At this point I was nearing transition – the period between first and second stage labor. This is where the Bradley class came in so handy: because I was completely “present” I knew exactly what my body was going through, and because I had been educated (in the class and through Centering, along with the books and birth stories I read) I knew I was in transition. Signs of transition are throwing up, shaking, and suddenly not wishing to be touched by anyone – including your husband. I had all three of these happening at once. Though it was uncomfortable, I was hot, my legs were shaking and I abhor throwing up, I knew this meant I was nearing the end.
The birthing ball we had bought on the garage sale turned out to be a stellar investment. I rotated sitting on it with sitting in the bath.
After a short stint in the tub again, I went back to the bedroom with Shirley, Josh and Danielle, the second midwife. I had read that squatting during the pushing stage would open the pelvis by 15% more, and since Lord knows I didn’t want to tear, that’s what I did. At about 9 AM I started to push. The contractions were further apart now and I got to really rest between them, then bear down during them. This stage was much more “fun” than the last, because I could actually DO something!
After what felt like 15 minutes, Shirley said, “I can see the baby’s head, Phylicia. Now do short little pushes so you don’t tear!” I followed her instructions, along with another thing I’d learned in Bradley – that arching your back out shortens the birth canal. I wanted that thing as short as possible. Shirley applied counter pressure and also rubbed oil on me while I pushed. At 9:32 her head appeared and at 9:37 Adeline Sophia was born into the world.
My labor was 7 hours beginning to end: very uncommon for a first time mother. Some women labor longer but with more lead up; I had very little lead up and few breaks from 4 AM to when Adeline was born. It was intense and at times difficult, definitely uncomfortable, and there were moments when I felt I couldn’t do anymore. Click here to read what gave this “no pain tolerance” girl the ability to do what people told me was impossible.
You Are Stronger Than You Think
Natural childbirth transformed my life.
I am not the same person I was before. Yes, Adeline changed my life – she is SUCH a blessing and motherhood is a blast! I learn more everyday. But out of everything I’ve experienced in this first year of motherhood, natural birth has changed me most.
Our culture treats birth like it is disgusting or strange. Young women know almost nothing about it until they get pregnant, and even then take little time to educate themselves about their bodies. But it was through childbirth – what most would call the most painful experience of your life – that I understood and embraced my innate strength as a woman. I realized I could do hard things. I was prepared. I was able. I was equipped.
I firmly believe that women who recognize their potential, embrace their body’s ability, and are willing to stand up for the birth they want will not just have a positive birth experience, but will come out of their birth story stronger than ever before. Unmedicated birth stretched me emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. My walk with God and my husband was monumentally strengthened, and I’ve taken those lessons into work, love, and motherhood.
I’ve also learned to appreciate other women more. I am so drawn to women of strength and fortitude, those who stand on what they believe and are willing to make sacrifices – and endure pain – to get there. Pain is humbling, but uniting. It is difficult, but it is strengthening. I allowed myself to experience it not because I wanted applause or because I thought it would be a “great experience”, but because I knew it would teach me to relinquish control. I knew it would force me to grow.
A year ago today I was basking in these lessons as I held my freshly born little girl. I can’t believe how time has passed! In the year Adeline has grown from a tiny, 7-pound babe to a chunky munchkin with twelve teeth, I’ve grown to accept difficulty as a training ground. I’ve learned to press through, not to give up. My entire outlook and nature has changed. I am convinced that childbirth – the most unlikely of teachers – taught me what I needed for our whirlwind year in Pennsylvania and just-as-whirlwind move to Michigan. It taught me to control my emotions and rely on the goodness of God.
And yes, I’d do it all over again.
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