Hazel Belle Marie!
Giving birth to Hazel was an exercise in thought control, my own thought, that is. Her birth felt like a mind game (and like giving birth!). I had to surf so many feelings of confusion and fear. It also was a wonderful experience of putting what I know and believe about healthy labor into practice, aka being nice and thankful.
Hazel is my first baby to be born before my due date; she was due on Christmas Day. I had hoped she would come early, but I was, of course, expecting her to be “late” like her brothers. The only thing that went similarly to my first two births was the fact that I had lots and lots of prelabor. I knew I was dilated for a long time leading up to the day she was actually born. After a few nights of pretty intense prelabor and a lot of feeling like she was so low she was just going to fall out, I did start wondering if maybe, just maybe, this baby may come before Christmas.
Each night I'd have contractions that would organize and seem real for about 2 or 3 hours, and I'd think about whether I wanted to get up and lean into the labor or go to sleep. Tempting as getting up to run around the block would seem, I always decided to choose sleep. On baby #3, you're no dummy! ALWAYS CHOOSE SLEEP! One night, things felt more serious than usual as we sat in our Christmasy living room and read about Bilbo Baggins in the tunnels of the goblins with a mysterious, phlegmy creature, and I figured that if there was any semblance of continued contractions in the morning I'd see if maybe we could do something about it. In the morning, I was still having pretty consistent contractions even though they weren't very painful, so I decided to check in with Cindie. I had the sense that if I could just get ideal conditions going, like having my children in a safe, happy place, getting everything ready for the homebirth, and spending some relaxed time with Brendan, that maybe the labor would finally pick up.
During our call, Cindie agreed that December 20th would be a great day to have a baby (for all our schedules!), and that maybe doing some walking would be a good idea and that consideration of stripping the membranes could be ok too. We shipped the boys off to their grandparents and decided to go walk around U.Village. Being 5 days before Christmas, it was crispy-cold and glittering with lights and holiday cheer. My contractions stayed consistent and started to intensify a bit. Brendan kept track and was encouraging. After a while, we called Cindie who was very positive that this could be the day. She suggested we eat, and we set up a time to meet Amanda at the office for some checking and cervical massage. After lunch, Brendan and I headed to The Herbalist to buy some last minute supplies like herbs for post-partum baths and witch hazel :). The woman at the cash register asked when I'd be having my baby, and we said “probably today!” She expressed doubt because, of course, I wasn't showing enough, and people who are not you or your midwife know a lot more about your due date than you do.
As we headed over to Midwife Seattle to get checked, I talked with Brendan about my anxiety that it was all going to be rocket-fast and scary or much harder than Ivo's sweet birth and that I wasn't going to handle it well. He reassured me that I might indeed lose it, and that would be just fine. He, Brenna, Cindie, and Amanda would all be there to help me, so I didn't need to keep it together for anyone if I just couldn't. We also reminded each other again and again that day that God is good all the time. Amanda allayed my other fear that I wasn't actually in labor and was being impatient and jumping the gun when she checked me and declared me 6 or 7 centimeters dilated. Hooray! She joked that she was worried I'd just have the baby right there on the table! My contractions did pick up a bit on the way home, and we made excited phone calls to my mom, Bethany, and Brenna, and asked Brenna to come right over.
When we got home, we got right to work setting things up, and Brenna had us call Cindie. I sat down to labor with Brendan and rest, and everyone gathered in my bedroom. Things slowed WAY down, and Cindie checked me. She could easily push me to 8 centimeters, but declared that she didn't think I was in active labor yet. I agreed. It just didn't feel serious enough. I was discouraged and confused, and I worried that maybe I wasn't going to have my baby that day. I also felt like one of my fears was coming true: everyone was there and waiting, and I wasn't performing. I realize, of course, and even realized then, that they didn't mind and that I wasn't required to perform to any specifications, but it still felt frustrating. Brenna and I went on a quick, very cold walk around some blocks to see if we could kick things up. It worked! Still, though, the rest of the afternoon and evening unfolded slowly.
Though very stop and start, my contractions were consistent and escalating in intensity. I finally stopped worrying that I wasn't really in labor and tried to enjoy myself. Brendan and I continued the hug technique that we developed during Ivo's birth, and I enjoyed the snuggling and sitting in front of our wood-burning stove next to my beautifully lit Christmas tree. (Side note: I wondered if I was crazy for setting up a Christmas tree when I knew I'd have a newborn baby when it was time to take it down. I'M SO GLAD WE DID IT. It was such a lovely scene for having a baby.) I ate jelly toast and drank coconut milk and basked in the warm conversation of my friends. Amanda Richards came too :).
When things got more serious, Brendan and I retreated to the bathroom where I labored the rest of the time. If my contractions slowed or I started getting scared (because of the pain or fear that it was going to keep stopping/starting and take FOREVER) we'd come out to get the encouragement of our friends. I was very active throughout the labor and kept making myself change positions. My rest between contractions was somewhat relieving but Hazel was VERY active. I could feel her twisting and turning. I'm no expert, but I'm almost certain that she was in a face-up position (meaning her head was down but her nose was towards my pubic bone instead of my tail bone). I think she was spiraling around to get out in the best direction. Her twisting and turning was pretty uncomfortable, but it did keep me thinking about the prize at the end of the trial!
Now for a little interjection about Brendan. He was awesome. Warm, consistent, encouraging, prayerful, and wearing the same shirt he had on when Ivo was born. He's a man of little variation (at least when it comes to fashion). Naturally, he was hungry, and he ate smelly (delicious smelling, but still... smelling) lentils that our lovely friend had brought over. I felt like a saint to put up with it, but it felt good to do something nice for someone else. I'm ALL about gratitude, appreciation, kindness, optimism, and hugging during labor. They help a lot. It's scientifically proven! As it is said in Dune: “fear is the mind-killer.” In other words, fear and anxiety cause the release of adrenaline which makes labor more difficult. Happy, lovey feelings, though, promote the release of oxytocin, a “feel good” hormone which causes uterine contractions. But I digress...
Brendan and I are at our best when I'm in labor. I have to trust him and be thankful, and he has to pay careful attention to me and use his calm, cool logic to encourage me. And I do love the hugging.
My favorite part of the whole thing, though, was at the end of my active labor stage and the start of my pushing phase. The ladies had all been enjoying their night off together in my living room and providing a lovely, warm, camaraderic background to my birth. BUT, just I was thinking these contractions had to be getting close to their peak, I made a very different kind of sound, and suddenly all the ladies were at the bathroom door asking how I was doing. It was so cool. They are so well-educated and experienced. Just hearing my noise change told them instantly that I was ready to push. I think I said something about it feeling different when they asked how I was, and Cindie asked if I was pushing. “Oh yeah!” I thought, “that's what that is!” MIND GAME OVER! It wasn't going to take forever! That was around 10 PM; it had been about 8 hours since everyone got to my house (but still felt to me like about 4).
I hobbled to my bed and did side-lying, gentle pushing only when I had the urge to do so. I had to pull really hard on Brendan's shoulders to get through the contractions, and once I almost sprained his neck; but, he forgave me! Things got very burny/sting-y, and I should have know that I was crowning; but no one really said anything of the sort, so I thought I still had a way to go. On one very strong contraction and with the feeling of fire and brimstone I cried out to God to help me, and I remember Brenna's voice telling me to keep control. It was a good reminder! There was the worst feeling I had ever known down there (remember: 2 prior natural births!), and I was feeling afraid of what was to come. Unbeknown to me, however, I was through the hard part. My baby was sitting on my perineum up to her shoulders because, when I was crying to God for help, Hazel was pushing her head out into the cool air of my bedroom. Cindie said something like, “Jessica, can you lift your leg up, and we'll help get her up to you?” What!? She's out?! I had no idea! Sure, I can lift my leg! So, I did, and she twisted out the rest of the way and was put on my chest. And for all that drama, no tear :).
I was wildly happy and suddenly felt very tired. I love the afterward of birth, especially at a homebirth. Everything is so calm and comfortable (well, except for that you-just-had-a-baby feeling) and fun and relaxed! We had so much fun checking out Hazel's beautiful face, calling parents, and chatting about theology and the amazing grace of God late into the night.
Things got very hard over the next couple of weeks with illness, burst eardrums (mine), two rounds of mastitis, horrible allergic reactions (Ivo's), and a frenotomy (Hazel was tongue-tied, which was not a big deal AT ALL, but I stressed about it). Still, though, we believed and believed and believed that God is good all the time. All the initial difficulty, made everything seem lovely by the time she was 3 weeks old, and I was suddenly on my own each day with my THREE children. I'd say it was the easiest transition yet. I still have trouble sometimes, when I have a rough day, with feeling like I'm just not up for the job. But, that's mostly because I expect myself to be nothing but grateful and thrilled with my blessings from God every day of their lives, and that's VERY UNREALISTIC. Having three (under 3.5!) can be quite a challenge, but believing that God is good and that they are gifts does make a huge difference in my ability to cope.
Now, almost 6 months, later, I'm already sad that Hazie Belle is growing up so, so fast. I keep thinking back to the early, early days of her life when the boys were just getting to know her, and it's almost more than I can bear that those days are already past. I love each day. I may not like the specifics of each day, like the tantrums of my newly minted two-year-old over his not being allowed to play with his poop, the umpteenth talk with my almost-4-year-old about how, even if he IS playing superhero we CANNOT pose in a threatening way at said 2-year-old, the baby who slept 8 solid hours a night at age 4 weeks but only does 2-3 hour chunks now, the dead rats in my hot water heater closet, and the constant, CONSTANT presence of clutter in my everywhere, but with an eternal perspective, I love the company of souls that I keep.
In case you're wondering:
Yes. We think we will have more. We definitely want to foster, adopt, or both, but I also can't shake the feeling that I'd like to have another birth. Lord willing, though, I'll be doing my doula certification over the next year, so maybe I'll get it out of my system by going to other people's births... but I doubt it!