Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Birth Story

"OK, this is it, Carolyn. I need you to give me one more good push. Take a deep breath and then push as hard as you can." Dr Laine's voice was calm and even, unchanged after half an hour of coaching. She seemed completely unruffled and, as such, was the perfect foil for the love and panic I saw battling in my husband's eyes.

"You need to push him out now," he urged, then gave my hand an encouraging squeeze.

I could see Carl's purple head in the mirror and hear the too-slow beeping of his heart rate on the fetal monitor. He had been stuck nearly delivered for several contractions and was obviously in distress, halfway in and halfway out of the birth canal. He desperately needed me to shepherd him quickly and safely into the world but I was tired and had felt my efforts grow increasingly less effective with each contraction.

I looked to Scott for support as he and the nurse braced themselves against my feet. I took a deep breath and held it, pushing against their hands as the nurse counted.

"1, 2, 3 ..."

"Push!" urged the doctor, exasperation sneaking into her voice. I could tell from her outburst that I wasn't making very much progress. It took a few more seconds for me to realize that I was pushing more with my feet than with my abdominal muscles. Discouraged, I focused on the mottled bump of Carl's head in the mirror and made the switch.

"6, 7, 8 ..."

"Good! That's better!" Dr. Laine exclaimed over the counting. I screwed my eyes shut and tried to push with all my might. I pushed through the exhaustion and the worry and the self-doubt. I pushed with faith in a promise and waited for it to be fulfilled. Soon my baby would come rushing healthy and strong into our family.

"10," the nurse said with some finality and I felt my whole body go limp.

"No, no, you have to keep going!" the doctor encouraged, her hands poised to catch my little son when he emerged.

With a grunt and the expendature of my last ounce of strength, I pushed. My eyes shut tight, I felt rather than saw the moment when Carl was born. There was a sudden release of pressure as his head slipped out, closely followed by a long, skinny body. I heard his lusty cry and felt his little weight when the doctor placed him carefully on my chest.

I opened my eyes and gathered him into my arms. Carl Anders Duede. Through the rose-tinted glasses of a mother's eyes, he was a beautiful sight. With a surge of joy and pride, I looked for Scott. Our watery eyes met over the head of our son.

"He's disgusting," I murmured. Scott laughed and reached for our slimey, purple, temporarily deformed bundle of joy.


It began twelve hours earlier when I woke up in the middle of the night, sleepless but exhilarated. The bedside clock read 2 am and I was experiencing painless but powerful contractions every 5 minutes. I slipped out of bed, careful not to wake Scott, and snuck downstairs to the dishes.

By 4:30 am, the kitchen was clean, the laundry was drying, the living room was tidy, and Soren's bag was packed. I also could no longer walk comfortably through my contractions, which had been reliably occuring every 3 - 5 minutes. This was it!

I snuck into Soren's room to watch him sleep for a few minutes. Then, between contractions and with bounce in my step, I went to wake up Scott.

"Honey, we're going to have a baby today," I whispered, trying to keep the excited squeak out of my voice.

Eager though I was, I felt no urgency to get to the hospital so I labored at home, curled up on the couch with Scott for a while longer. We watched an episode of Columbo, timing contractions. When each was about 45 seconds long and 3 minutes apart, we woke up Soren, called a friend to watch him, and hurried to the hospital.

Each contraction on the way was more and more powerful, requiring more of my attention and greater relaxation to make it through. Still, I felt marvelously in control of my body and when we finally made it to the maternity ward, I was able to calmly tell the receptionist "I'm in labor."

Too calmly, perhaps. They stuck me in a room and didn't check on me for an hour. I used the time to get comfortable and have Scott walk me through some relaxation exercizes.

Finally, a nurse came. When she checked my cervix, she looked surprized.

"Good girl," she murmured, taking off her gloves. Then she announced, "You're at a 7!"

If I'd felt ignored before, suddenly all the attention was on me. This being my second baby, everyone was certain that I would move quickly to complete (or "a 10") and be delivering very shortly. A technician came to set up all the delivery equipment, I received an IV of penicillin (because of my strep B test), nurses bustled in and out asking if I felt ready to push, and intermittent monitoring was performed on my contractions and my baby.

For the most part, I was able to ignore bustling staff; my attention was completely focused inwards. I felt calm and in control of myself, able to relax through my contractions and enjoy the breaks between. I repeated key phrases to keep in the right frame of mind. It's not pain, it's work. Relax and let your body work. With Scott to coach and encourage me, I felt strong and capable. You can do this. This is a woman's work; you were built for this. Each contraction was a mind-over-body challenge. When my mind conquered, I could feel the pain melt away.

I labored through the diminishing hospital procedures until it was only Scott with me in the room. Between contractions, he read from Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox. Then, when I felt the tell-tale pressure in my abdomen, he would hold my hand and guide me through.

Around 9:00 am, a lone nurse came to check my cervix. I was excited to see what progress had been made during the long hours of mental and physical exertion. I expected to have progressed two more centimeters in the two hours since my last check.

No such luck. I was still only 7 centimeters dilated.

All of that work and nothing to show for it.

It was time for a new strategy.

Scott and I began roaming the hospital hallways, hoping gravity would supplement my body's efforts. But that was a completely different way of laboring, for which I was unprepared.

My loop around the maternity ward was punctuated with intense pain. Each contraction was a surprise, rushing upon me mid-step, then leaving me strained and exhausted. They no longer felt like the simple action of an underused muscle; they felt like my uterus contracting to the size of a black hole, pulling every surrounding bit of tissue with it. Still, I told myself that it was work--surely effective work now!--and that soon I would be through it.

Each time we passed my room, we stepped in for a check and to endure a few contractions in relative comfort. But with each painful circuit and each pronouncement of "still a 7", it became harder for me to maintain the control I so desperately needed.

At noon, I gave up walking and collapsed on the hospital bed. Although my body felt wrung out, it was my mind that was beaten and exhausted. The contractions would flare up, completely out of control, and I would groan, "It's not working. Nothing's working. Tell me how to make it work."

The nurses gave me two options, although I knew that there really were three. They said that I could be administered pitocin, which would speed up my labor. They also offered pain medication, in the form of an epidural, which would help me relax and continue to labor's natural end. The third, unmentioned option was to carry on in the frustrating manner that I had been enduring for the whole morning.

I knew I wanted to avoid pitocin at (almost) all costs. I also knew that the epidural was unnessecary, that I could finish what I had started in the natural, normal way. But what had begun as an exciting challenge with countless reasons to persist was fast becoming a trial I had no energy to complete.

I knew I wanted my baby to be safe and healthy. I knew that natural childbirth was the surest way to bring my Carl safely into the world. But I also knew that the odds of epidural-caused complications were minute, especially if I could avoid all other interventions. If the pain medications would improve my labor without harming my child, I wanted them.

"Tell me what to do," I asked Scott, but he couldn't.

"Tell me what to do," I asked God, but he wouldn't.

Still, I could request a hint. So I asked Scott to administer a priesthood blessing. He laid his hands on my head and spoke the words my Father had for me.

It was a beautiful blessing, endowing me with all the tools I would need to successfully complete the birth, whichever choice I made. If I chose to continue naturally, I was blessed with the assurance that I would be successful and that I would have the energy I needed to endure the long work. If I chose to receive medications, I was blessed with the knowledge that they would not adversely effect my son, that he would be healthy, strong, and delivered soon to my arms.

That made the choice easy. We summoned the anesthesiologist.

Although the relief was administered by a professional, I know it was a gift from a loving God. The pain eased and I clung to His promise, all worry and tension melting away.

I spent the last hour of my labor resting, preparing for the delivery. Scott and I talked about the years we had shared together, about our memories of Soren's birth and infancy, about the changes that would be coming to our family that very day. When the nurse finally announced 10 centimeters and time to push, I was refreshed and ready.

Dr. Laine assured me that I would not have to push for 3 hours, as I had with Soren, but I found it hard to believe her. So it was a happy surprise to be holding my sticky son only 30 minutes later. There had been a few tense moments at the end of the delivery but I had never doubted his safe arrival, only his prompt arrival. Suddenly he was there with me, lying on my chest and screaming. My heart swelled to encompass him, to love him just as I loved Scott and Soren, as well as my parents and siblings. He was my child and he was finally here.

That day, God had promised the safe delivery of our boy into the world. He had promised mortal life and health to my son, for which I will always be grateful. But three years earlier, when Scott and I were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple, He had promised me an eternal life with that son, with all my family. I look forward with faith to the fulfillment of that promise, which seems to me the greatest joy God has given me.