These are the birth stories of three of our children.
The birth of our second daughter, Victoria Grace, was all about timing. Before we all choke over hearing timing and birth (home birth at that!) in the same sentence, I’ll explain. We live in Ukraine as missionaries, and our TN midwife agreed to fly over for the birth. The due date was February 28, 2007. In the plan, our midwife arrived about four days before and left four days after.
Speaking of calendars, that date, the 28th (2007), was a Wednesday. Sunday (the 25th) Debi (midwife) gave her testimony in church. Monday (26th), she spoke at and toured the main birth house in Kiev (I myself was dying to see that!). Then Tuesday we scheduled her to speak at our church’s ladies’ group. The next, and most major engagement for her trip (besides the birth!), was the birth conference we planned on Saturday, March 3.
Yes, I had a plan. Ideally, I would walk out of the ladies’ meeting on Tuesday (27th), go into labor, birth, and then have the maximum amount of time to be ready to lead the Saturday birth conference.
Are we all laughing yet? Keep reading. It gets better.
Yes, I had an alternative plan. Here is it: I was so pumped and excited about this birth conference—my first contact with most Kiev home birth midwives—that, worse come to worst, I was willing to actually birth during the conference at the site. I kid you not. I saw it like this: I’m in the side room quietly laboring, and Debi (the main and only speaker at the conference) could just slip on a glove as she talked, then step over for a minute as the head emerged . . . That was the alternate plan.
OK, even I am laughing now.
Let me add a little more—this is not about timing, but it was important. During this pregnancy, I had two specific fears that I prayed about and gave to God. One was a fear of feeling the “ring of fire,” and the other was a fear of tearing from stem to stern when the head came out. I’d not felt the ring of fire with my first birth, nor had I torn that badly. But these were the particular qualms for this birth.
Back to the timing—it was all about timing. I wasn’t just writing all this on a calendar. I got busy. I took Shaklee’s GLA pills to help soften the cervix (not promotion nor medical advice, just hearsay). Debi arrived as planned and checked me. Oh, very soft, open 3-4 cm. WHOO-HOO! (especially compared to my first cervical state before labor!)We didn’t sit on our hands either. Debi stripped membranes, gave me a tincture to put under my tongue to cause contractions during the days (worked!), and we stayed active.
Tuesday, Debi finishes her talk to the ladies’ group. Checks me (5cm, soft, effacing), strips membranes again, says we can break the water and we’ll have a baby. But plan or not, I’m not ready. I mean, aside from the birth-during-the-conference alternative, I figured I could wait until Wednesday (due date) if it didn’t happen on Tuesday.
Tuesday night . . . we went to bed. To sleep. . . . Whoa. . . . Wake up. . . .
YES! You got it!!!! CONTRACTIONS!!!! It’s 10pm. It’s Tuesday. It’s the plan!
I tell Debi (sleeping) and get in the tub. Debi snoozes on a bit—no need to drive anywhere!
Midnight—Debi’s up now, Vitaliy’s up. Skyla (daughter #1, less than 2yo) is asleep in the other room. I call my missionary-friend-photographer to come.
About 3 or 4am (who can remember?) Debi recommends breaking the water. I’m nervous about that because it’ll hurt more, but I’m also getting tired and want to move things on. So we break waters. I go into transition—I knew it when I said “I can’t do it!!” to Debi. I got in the tub. Oh, I love that warm water.
Pushing starts in the tub. I call out repeatedly “Debi, I’m pooping!!” I actually didn’t mean pooping. I was just speaking in code—that pushing feels like I need to poop. But in the haze, I just kept saying that I was pooping. Debi assured me later that I never pooped. I decoded for her.
Debi quickly decides that the bathroom is too small to birth in—it’s tight even for one person to move around! So I move to the living room.
Psalm 34:4 says, He “delivered me from all my fears.” I pushed in several positions, and while I was on my knees with my forearms on the couch, everyone suddenly told me to keep pushing after one contraction. Her head was out! I didn’t even feel it—no ring of fire!
“It’s a girl! It’s a girl!” I announced to everyone as I leaned back and got her in front of me. Debi asked for time of birth, and my sister (on the webcam, remember) said she’d been born at 5:04am, February 28, due date. Victoria weighed 10.6! Remember the fear of tearing from stem to stern? . . . Just a skid mark, Debi informed me.
He delivered me from all my fears.
He fulfilled His plan.
God, please use this birth to strengthen my faith.”
That was the prayer God put on my heart early in my pregnancy. And He had the answers all lined up.
The faith lessons had started in the six months we tried to get pregnant. God used that brief time of infertility to convict me of some pride in my own heart, and He also re-emphasized to me the truth that He is the God of life. He really is personally involved in becoming pregnant, each time, no matter how easy or hard it seems.
This pregnancy saw probably the most stressful time period of my life. Andre was conceived in July. In October, our church started a rehabilitation center in our village house, and Vitaliy went there every Sunday through Wednesday. Single parenting is hard, especially because Vitaliy is really, really involved in our family life. Then in December, our Ukrainian nephew came to live with us after he was removed from his home. His mom went to a rehab center, and he came to live with us temporarily. He’s three, and we learned that he has cerebral palsy. He can’t walk normally—his leg muscles are deformed—and he can speak only very little.
I’m glad we took him. It was hard, hard, hard for me, with Vitaliy being gone and winter upon us making it hard to go anywhere—and having three kids and being very big pregnant with a fourth made it hard to go anywhere, too. . . . I think I cried a lot. And I was a little depressed sometimes.
I stopped taking doula clients because my emotions and energy were so consumed by the kids and my own needs that I couldn’t make commitments to others.
Stressful as it was, I’m so thankful and glad I had these trials in my life. God was disciplining me, the way an athlete disciplines himself. He wants to make me stronger and purer. His Word became very real to me. I would read it and cry often. I would go to church and cry during the singing because I was living the truth of the words we were singing about God. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Ps 73:26) My heart and my flesh failed. They were exhausted and perishing. So God was there to be my strength and my portion.
I sinned a lot, I failed a lot, I was a good mom; I was a bad mom. But it was a good exercise for me in general–experiences that are painful to endure but that strengthen.
We were told we needed to move. We hunted for a new apartment. We moved. Extremely stressful events took place in the church.
Our church was also lovely about supporting us, bringing food, babysitting, helping us move.
About a week before our due date, we sent our nephew to live with his mom in the rehab center, and Vitaliy started staying home more. Spring came!
The birth: This was another stressful-but-good thing. We birthed at home with a midwife the first two births. But this time, we aimed for an unattended birth. I was always open to inviting a midwife, but in end, it was always preferable to me just to birth ourselves this time. However, responsibility is responsibility.
And especially because this was the first time we’d made this choice, it was rather stressful. I had to choose what level of prenatal testing I wanted. It was stressful making those choices for myself. (But I’m glad I did it.)
And I really wanted someone to pay attention to this pregnancy because I felt like I hardly had time to think about it with all that was going on. I actually really missed having a midwife to drive to for prenatal visits who would sit and talk to me for an hour about the pregnancy, listen to what I was experiencing, help me focus on the baby, etc.
It was also very stressful because I was afraid to talk about it and be happy about the birth. No one was happy for me, for wanting to birth unattended. And that is exactly how I would’ve responded just a little bit ago. But now? . . . If someone shares that they plan to birth unattended, I will just gush on and on about how exciting it is. They need that support 🙂
Towards the end, I started telling people who asked our birth plans that they had to be happy for me when they heard my plans because I couldn’t handle any more stress, and so they lovingly obliged. I’m thankful for those friends. My mom was really great about it, and that helped. But still, most people didn’t know.
The pregnancy and birth weren’t entirely unassisted. I hired a very knowledgeable “friend” in the States whom I could call or email with my questions, and we did that several times. She was also available during the birth. She constantly pointed me toward faith in God and helping me discern whether or not I was truly sensing a problem, or if I was just being plagued by unhealthy fears.
For this birth, here’s what I was imagining: We’d have this fairly short, romantic birth. It would be lovely and quiet. I had candles, music, scents all ready. It would be so special. . . .
But . . .
HAH!!! . . . . HAH, HAH, HAH TO YOU, ANNE SOKOL!!! (Remember, when you pray about faith, the answer probably will be hard, hard, hard. But very good for you.)
The birth itself was the most painful birth of the three I’ve had. The active labor was 14 hours. (Early labor was about 17 hours before that.) Nothing helped with the pain of the contractions. Not bath or shower, not positions, not massage. I was in a dark place mentally. I kept wanting an epidural, a c-section, to die. (And this is ME, the die-hard, all-natural, doula girl!!) I kept imagining getting to the birth house and trying to get one or more of those things. . . . Good thing I couldn’t figure out a way
I guess if I could change one thing, I would just want a voice telling me that this was absolutely normal, that everything was just great. I needed a positive voice in my dark, negative place. Vitaliy kept saying it, but I didn’t believe him (because how many births has HE seen??). Contractions were very intense, like transition, most of the time, and I felt like pushing a lot. The baby was extremely low and probably posterior. This probably accounts for why this labor seemed so painful compared with the others.
About half way through, I was really confused so we called our friend in the States. I explained that I was having transition-like contractions, feeling pushing-like contractions, but no baby was coming out. She said that women can seem like in transition but not be; she said I need to discern if I’m just confused or if I’m really sensing a problem. And I knew immediately there was no problem, I was just confused.
Back to the birth (as if we could leave that, hee hee): So much for the quiet romance. I power-yelled through all the contractions. I pushed for about 3 hours. It was a lot of power-yelling. Vitaliy is glad no one called the police (we live in a large apartment complex).
(photo: V weighs Andre stapled in a chux pad, of course, and with a fish scale, of course.)
We didn’t know if Andre was a boy or a girl. Vitaliy was pretty sure we were having a boy. It was his faith between him and God. I had no idea. When he came out, it was, of course, wonderful. It was all more than worth it. I was on my hands and knees, and Vitaliy caught him and held him. After his body came out, meconium splatted out onto the chux pad. But he was crying, pink, and breathing.
My constant fear for this birth was shoulder dystocia—that the shoulders would get stuck and he wouldn’t be able to get out. As usual, God delivers me from all my fears. His body slid right out with his head.
Vitaliy gave him to me through my legs and I put him on the bed and started rubbing him—I just did this naturally because he was covered in vernix. I was talking happy talk and noticed right away that we had a boy! We called the girls in quickly—they’d been playing in the living room the whole time.
One thing about natural birth—the greatest hormone-induced “high” is actually just after the birth. I just love that high. I felt so good, so happy, so rewarded. It lasts for weeks.
Vitaliy, poor man, he had all the hard work after the birth. But he did it so tenderly, so thoroughly. He ended up going to the pharmacy several times and all in all, he bought NO LESS THAN 50 CHUX PADS (those are the cotton-on-one-side-plastic-on-the-other square things). He would staple them together to cover the mattresses. . . . It’s a guy thing.
He brought me fruit, flowers, juice, took a bazillion pictures, fed us all for a few days, and generally was awesome. And every hour or so he would come to me and touch me and say, “Wow, honey, you’re amazing—you did it!”
After this birth, unlike the first two, I wasn’t immediately ready to have another baby. Oh, the pain. . . . Although now that I’m 5 weeks postpartum, and I’m so enjoying the baby high, the lovely squishy-ness and cuddly floppiness of a newborn . . . well, sure, I could do it all. over. again. It’s so worth it.
For starters, it became very clear that God wanted us to birth in this village house. And in these last weeks, God was stripping off all my fears of birth so I could enter this experience with confidence that His design works and needs no help in most instances. With Andre’s birth, I knew this but I was still plagued by fears and what if’s. This was the most peaceful entrance into family birth (i.e., unattended birth) for me. And it really affected how labor went.
Some type of early labor started around Monday but Tues, Wed, and Thurs were quiet. Thurs night, early labor started but thankfully we all just went to bed and got a good night’s sleep. I awoke around 5am, which I’ve been doing these last weeks. Things were going more, and I wanted V to sleep as much as he could before all this became intense.
Around 8am maybe I asked him to fill the tub for me. These contractions were just like during Andre’s birth– and he’d been posterior and there was no comfort. But this time the water helped.
Andre climbed in with me for a while and sat by my head or played by my feet. I stayed in the bathtub most of the time.
These contractions hurt so much. And V was sitting next to me and I’d hold onto his hand and groan. … But this actually made it worse. Trying to breathe deeply and vocalize put pressure on my uterus and hurt.
One thing I learned from this birth– every other birth, I’d looked for comfort outside of myself– massage, etc.— someone else reacting to my pain with me. But this birth, I learned to find comfort with God inside myself.
A contraction would start, and I would start praying. I would relax my stomach region and start thanking God that this was good, that it was going normally, that this felt good (and it did at some points from all this!), and then just go through a list thanking God for various things. V, who was sitting beside me, actually thought labor had stopped– and I was having my toughest contractions! (But me the doula, clearly heard my change in breathing each time a contraction started– if I’d been the one sitting beside myself, I’d have known every time 😉 )
Vitaliy sent the three kids to play at the neighbor’s for a few hours. And I did tell him that I wanted a C-section. Being the non-doula that he is, he said I was crazy to even consider it, to exchange a little pain that will soon be over with pain that would last for weeks. …. But still. These posterior births are, for me, so extraordinarily painful.
It seemed to go on forever, and I kept wondering if each stage of the increasing painfulness would be the final stage … please … (In all, active labor and pushing was about 5 hours, which is a lot better than Andre’s which was about 14 hours or so, not counting even all the early labor.) Vitaliy liked this one a lot better too because I wasn’t yelling/vocalizing so much– and I’d actually been practicing during my pregnancy dealing with stuff without vocalizing much, so I guess that was good.
OK, so the kids are at the neighbors, and I want to try getting out of the water. I won’t show pics b/c I had no clothes. I tried, and this was the time some sort of pushing started. It wasn’t a clear change from regular contractions to pushing. It was mixed at first during the same contraction.
I was soon back in the water, then back out. It was very disorienting and painful.
When I was more clearly pushing, I got myself to the bedroom and squatted at the foot of the bed with my back on the bed or supported by the edge of it.
The baby’s head moved up and down inside me, coming down then getting swallowed back up inside.
Finally, her head crowned. I felt the stretching and burning, but I also felt her forehead bone against my pubic bone, and it was not coming out. It went back up inside after the contraction ended.
Vitaliy, being the figure-it-out guy that he is, had been feeling the head and looking at it because something was strange. Like not a head.
The bag was over the head, and apparently the cord was actually going over the head, too, like from forehead to occiput (back). He broke the water (he said later this was emotionally hard to do–and that he wasn’t telling me everything in the moment), water released, and I pushed, buddy, with the next contraction, and her head came out! And then her body with the next contraction. How thankful I am now that I wasn’t in a place where the bag of waters is routinely broken during labor around or after 6cm– what would have happened without the bag’s cushion on the cord?!
I have never seen so much vernix on one newborn in all my life! She was pink and breathing great pretty much right away. And oh, did I feel awesome. Yes, I felt awesome right away. It was all so awesome 🙂
Here’s the glowing me minutes after she arrived, still at the end of the bed. Did I mention that I felt awesome? ??!!!??!!!
It was at this point also I noted that we had a girl– everyone who predicted said boy, including Vitaly. I personally have no inklings on the matter.
My parents weren’t at Skype at this moment (it was about 1:20pm here), so we Skyped with my sister in TN about the news. That was fun and fast b/c I wanted to lie down soon. I still want to lie down 🙂
OK, during this painful labor, this is what I was dreaming of– lying down without pain with a squishy newborn next to me:
And that is how I am laying now, too 🙂
I could photograph this view a thousand times.
The kids came home. Andre saw her breastfeeding his milk, and started to cry and refused to breastfeed himself. But pretty soon, he’s become quite fascinated by this baby, who he insists is a boy, and her breastfeeding activities.
We left the cord intact overnight, then Skyla cut it this morning. It’s just easier for all of us to hold her if we cut the cord (rather than lotus-birthing, which I do sometimes fantasize of doing.)
Her name is Una [YOO-nuh]. we think, though we’re not sure. And we’re not sure about her weight yet.
She looks like my littlest baby of all. Though ironically, everyone’s been asking if I’m having twins, I’ve been so big. I answer no, just one big baby as usual. And here she’s not even big! She sure felt enormous inside of me. That was one fear I had, after having two 10 lb babies– that she would be monstrously big and not able to come out. (I kept telling myself that people do have 11-12lb babies and they slide right out…). Well, we can all snort about that one now–she’s a little sweet patootie 🙂
I will close with a quote from my devotional book, the reading from yesterday, Una’s birth day, a fitting piece for pregnancy and birth:
You must hand yourself and all your inward experiences, your temptations, your temperament, your frames and reelings, all over into the care and keeping of your God, and leave them there. He made you and therefore He understands you, and knows how to manage you, and you must trust Him to do it. ~H. W. Smith quoted in Joy & Strength by Mary Wilder Tileston, reading for Aug 29.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever. Psalm 23: 5-6