Stephen’s official due date was Thursday the 24th, but the 24th passed without anything happening. Pre-labor contractions had been going on for a long time, of course, but the 24th was normal in that respect and all others. We took our usual trip to the mall to get Sarah walking, taking an extra lap. We got home and I put my keys somewhere where as of this writing I still have not found them.
Wednesday night (Thursday morning) I had stayed up late, hoping to do a little bit of work that I knew needed to get done before the baby came, but mostly working on preparing for an upcoming Bible class I’m teaching. I was up until 3. I knew it was a bad idea for Sarah to miss any of a night’s sleep before labor, because she would need the energy, so I made sure she was in bed and resting. I should have done the same for myself.
Thursday night I had more studying to do, but was in no shape to do it, so I went to bed the same time as Sarah. I was thinking I’d do some of my studying in the morning, and be rested up enough to stay up a little late (not quite as late) on Friday. But that’s not how things went. Around 3 Sarah woke me up, saying she’d been having contractions for a while, and they were coming fast. (If you do the math, you’ll see that between Wednesday and Thursday nights, I got a total of one night’s sleep. That may be significant later in the story. Smiley )
Sarah had never entered labor before (Joseph was induced), so this was a new experience for us. We wondered if this were really it or not. I asked Sarah if I should call April, and she said not to at first. We watched the clock for awhile, until Sarah said that the contractions had been coming for an hour, and then decided it was time to call. April sounded a little groggy, asked for the details, and then asked if Sarah was ready for her to come out or not. I asked Sarah and she looked very indecisive. I could tell she didn’t know for sure, and didn’t want to make the decision, so I told April to go ahead and come out. Somehow before that moment it seemed like Sarah only "might" be in labor, but after that moment it seemed like she definitely was.
The next call was to Sarah’s mother, who had called us the night before at the mall to see if the baby had come yet and if we had forgotten to call her. Smiley I knew from that call that she had camped by the phone the night before, and sure enough she answered immediately. It almost sounded like she wasn’t asleep. She said they would be on their way soon.
Then we started getting the bedroom ready for labor. We still hadn’t changed the sheets and gotten the bed ready, and there were a couple of other small chores I can no longer remember. We got Sarah into the new nightgown she’d bought to labor in. We started timing Sarah’s contractions and discovered they were about fifty seconds long and came about every two minutes. Shocked After awhile my watchband broke, and we decided timing contractions was boring anyway, so we stopped. We put on music. We lit some candles. After awhile I heard the sound of water running, and discovered that actually liquid wax was pouring all over my chest of drawers from a pillar candle. Smiley
April arrived after about an hour, and I could tell Sarah felt better immediately. She took Sarah’s vitals and found that Sarah was dilated to 4 cm. Already we were further along than we ever got with Joseph. Smiley
Speaking of Joseph, our firstborn little boy was snoozing away in his room all this time, with no idea anything was going on.
We settled down for labor and watched the contractions go by. I started getting Sarah a snack every so often, and water. We cuddled up on the bed and she started squeezing my hands with each contraction. Sometimes I would walk her around the room. In that early part of labor, she’d squeeze my back and neck during the contractions. Later on, she didn’t have the energy for back rubs, and in fact it was the other way around. Wink April brought in a birthing ball, which Sarah loved. I think I’m going to have to get her one of these for her next birthday.
Sarah parents arrived around 6. This was their first chance to meet April. Sarah’s father went to take a nap in the guest room, and her mother went to sit in Joseph’s room. Later I learned that Joseph woke up slightly at seven, turned over, and grabbed a stuffed animal to snuggle with to go back to sleep. I wonder how often he does this. But suddenly he did a double take and discovered Nana was in the room, and he popped up! Sometime after Joseph had breakfast, Sarah and I were lying in bed waiting through contractions, and I heard a little boy’s voice chattering and looked up to see Joseph looking at us with interest. Sarah’s mother had brought him down to say good morning. All told, Joseph would see us only about three times that day (after the second, everyone wised up and put the baby gate up to keep him in the living room). After already being surprised to wake up and discover his grandmother in the room, Joseph was surprised to see Miss April in our house. Now he knew something unusual was happening … Nana and Pawpaw didn’t know Miss April, did they?
At some point I called my boss to leave a message that I wasn’t coming in that day, or for the next two weeks.
April informed us that the birthing center was a little short-handed that day, and that instead of apprentices from the center coming to help she’d contacted a student from another center who would come help out. Donnalynn arrived after awhile and introduced herself. Later one of the apprentices from our center came out, and eventually late that night Donnalynn would leave for another birth and another replacement from our center would arrive.
Sarah’s parents took Joseph out to IHOP, and we were left alone with April for most of the morning. Sarah labored very instinctually, singing through her contractions, sometimes getting up to walk, once getting up to take a warm shower. (Good thing we got the showerhead in our bathroom fixed a couple of weeks ago. Roll Eyes ) At some point April found that Sarah was dilated to 5 cm, and suggested that while things would probably continue to proceed just fine, Sarah’s cervix was pointed toward the back a bit, and suggested a way she could sit backward on the commode, leaning forward (resting her head on pillows on the reservoir, in fact), such that the cervix would be pulled forward a bit and labor could speed up. Donnalynn came in to time a contraction and said they were starting to last longer, sixty seconds. Once Sarah got back into the bedroom, we found that she had reached 6 1/2 cm.
Several times during the morning, while Sarah labored in silence, I looked up suddenly, thinking someone was talking. Always I found April sitting there silently. (She had an amazing way of entering and being in the room when you thought you were alone.) Eventually I realized that I was catching her praying. We did a lot of praying, too. I was praying for a safe birth, for the C-section scar to hold, for things to go along fast enough for Sarah not to be too worn out to finish, and for Sarah to have the instinctive wisdom to do the right thing at each point.
Somewhere along the line we got tired of restarting our CD’s, and Sarah labored in silence. We were starting to get pretty tired at this point. Sarah was also starting to have lower back pain, which the midwives said was a good sign and indicated her bones were spreading out to make room for the baby. Of course, it didn’t seem comfortable, but we were glad to have good signs. April and I started rubbing Sarah’s back during most contractions. April mentioned that transition should be starting soon, and Sarah might begin to be overwhelmed with rapid contractions. For awhile Sarah and I tried to sleep in between the contractions, and every 90 seconds or so I would awaken and have to press on Sarah’s back. Once I even slept through the beginning of a contraction, and she had to wake me up to see what was wrong.
Sleeping for 90 seconds at a time doesn’t help you rest much, but I did feel a lot sharper after we’d done this for a while. At some point I drank a Vault soda, which also helped.
Late in the afternoon, Sarah was dilated to about 8 or 8.5, and after one contraction the midwives found the bed was a little wet. They did some checking, and announced that Sarah’s water had broken. At this point, they said, labor should speed up and things could go very fast. They asked if I wanted to catch the baby, and I said yes. (We’d decided to put this decision off until the very last minute, to see how we’d feel at the time.) I asked for my next Vault soda, and there were some jokes about me needing energy to catch the baby. Smiley
Of course, Sarah was the one needing energy, and she was getting very tired. She had thrown up a couple of times, and was still eating snacks periodically, but was starting to be a bit reluctant to eat solid food. We started giving her juice.
Sarah was having pains across the front of her belly which the midwives were relieving with warm washcloths. We decided to put her in a warm, filled bathtub to help. I lit more candles, and Sarah labored in the dark in the bathtub for almost two hours. I snacked a bit, and managed to persuade Sarah to share a bit.
When we got Sarah out of the bathtub, it was about 9 PM, and we found that she was still only dilated to 8.5. April discovered that each contraction was causing Sarah’s cervix to pull to the side. Stephen’s head was cocked a little bit, not coming out straight. All of the work which should have been finishing the dilation was instead moving the cervix around to match Stephen’s head, a position from which Sarah could not possibly deliver the baby.
After awhile April offered to twist Sarah’s body during contractions for a while in a way that she said often helped realign a baby’s head in such situations. In fact, she said, it had always worked for her. We went through this twisting for about 15 or 20 minutes (I don’t think Sarah liked it). Then we went back to "normal" labor, although the back pain was getting unbearable for Sarah at this point. April checked, and Stephen’s head had not moved. She suggested Sarah labor lying on the opposite side for awhile, hoping gravity would help pull Stephen down to the trajectory he needed to take.
Somewhere along the line, we discovered that Sarah’s water still seemed to be intact. There was a thick cushion of water under Stephen’s head. Possibly the bag of waters had only broken high up, with a little bit seeping out, and Stephen’s weight was enough to seal up the rest of the water between himself and the amniotic sac.
The hours went by, and everyone involved got exhausted. Progress had stalled at 8.5 for a long, long time. At some point I told Sarah I desperately needed sleep and got her mother to stay with her for awhile while I dozed. I hated leaving her, but I felt like I was starting to get tired and frustrated and irrational, and I didn’t want to affect her mood.
I think about 50 minutes later I woke up to discover basically nothing had changed. Sarah’s mother had her walking up and down the hall, which was intensifying the contractions, but the labor was getting very difficult, Sarah was exhausted, and Stephen still insisted on keeping head cocked. April began to talk like we might have to go to the hospital. She even said in a little while she would need us to sign a statement if we weren’t ready to go yet. Our hearts plummeted. April did say that Sarah and Stephen were still doing just fine, their vitals were checking out just great every time, and we could presumably keep going awhile longer if Sarah could handle it. She also mentioned another technique she’d seen done before (and talked on the phone with other midwives about the evening) but hadn’t personally performed, which might be able to bring Stephen back into the right line. There was also the possibility of breaking the waters to try to get things moving again, but this scared us after the hospital experience, and of course it might not work.
I took Sarah out to walk in the hall again, and we stopped at the end and prayed. I prayed about everything: the health and safety of Sarah and the baby, our desire to avoid another C-section and hospital experience, Sarah’s fear about going on either way, Sarah’s exhaustion. I prayed that we would be able to think things through despite our exhaustion and make the most rational decision we could. I prayed about the consequences of another C-section and told God about how we would accept them if it came to that. And we begged God to help Sarah finish up and have Stephen at home so it would not come to that.
We came back to the bedroom, and had asked April to do the manipulation technique she had talked about. The midwives positioned Sarah so that gravity would pull Stephen back into her, and April pressed slightly on Stephen’s head between contractions to move him back up higher in the uterus. One of the apprentice midwives kept a doppler on Stephen the entire time to make sure his pulse was all right. I think this went on for about twenty minutes or more, with the need to pause whenever a contraction came on.
It was the middle of the night and Sarah had labored for 24 hours. We had come to grips with the fact that we would probably have to go to the hospital. We’d already tried one "sure-fire" technique only to be disappointed, and we’d just tried something else that I didn’t expect to work.
But after another hour of labor or so, the midwives found that Stephen’s location was much more consistent when they hunted for him with the doppler. He appeared to have moved into the orientation he needed to be in. And Sarah’s contractions started getting longer and longer. Now we were grabbing new warm washcloths every two minutes to put on Sarah’s back in each new contraction. (We had a crockpot running full time in the bathroom.) Sarah reported for a couple of contractions she felt some burning sensations, which was a good sign.
Eventually April checked, and praise God, the manipulation had worked! Stephen’s head had settled into just the direction it needed to be in, and Sarah’s cervix was no longer pulling to the side. She had also dilated to 9.
Now I was fearful: labor had stalled for six to eight hours while Sarah wore out more. We’d now solved the problem, but would Sarah have the energy to finish labor, to push when we got to that point? I began to pray that if God brought us that far that he would give her the energy she needed, and that he would make things happen quickly. I asked him to please make the pushing go very fast, to cause Stephen to just pop out, so Sarah would be able to finish.
Worried, I went off to take another nap. I asked Sarah’s father to take my place, and to come get me after thirty minutes. I wish I’d thought of taking these naps earlier, and worked it out with Sarah ahead of time. Sarah’s father seemed worried that she wouldn’t want him in the bedroom with her, but I assured him she had said it was all right. Instead of getting me after thirty minutes, he swapped off with Sarah’s mother at some point, and I got to sleep a total of about fifty minutes. I woke up to hear Sarah’s mother tell me that Sarah was asking for me.
Sarah was still at a 9, and things didn’t seem to be moving any further. She was exhausted beyond belief. I could not possibly believe that she was going to make it through this labor unless something happened to make it start moving again quickly. April again broached the possibility of breaking Sarah’s waters. I looked at how worn out Sarah was, and decided that at this point our options were gone. If we waited for the waters to break on their own it could be hours and Sarah might have no energy left to move on. She was also getting very discouraged. If we did nothing, Sarah might not be able to finish the labor and would have to go the hospital. If we broke the waters, it might not work and Sarah would have to go to the hospital. So we decided to try our last option.
April tried to break the sac with her fingers, and said it was very tough and that there was an enormous amount of compressed water beneath Stephen’s head. Then she got a little fingertip glove with a sharp edge on it, and remarked again how tough the bag was. Apparently Sarah makes very strong bags of waters! Finally the bag was broken, and we were committed to this course of action. For the record, despite the fact that every Baptist I’ve ever known has told me that "born of water" in the phrase "born of water and the spirit" means physical birth and that there is a ton of water that pours out, there was actually very little. (And that despite April saying there was a lot.)
We curled up in bed for Sarah to labor. It was about 6 AM. I knew she couldn’t go on much longer. Praying to God, I asked Him to make things clear for us: if Sarah wasn’t feeling the urge to push by 7, I was going to recommend that we go on to the hospital. I started thinking about the fact that Sarah wasn’t packed and ready for such a trip at all. I mentioned that if and when we got to the point where the baby was ready to come out, Sarah might be so exhausted we might want to just have an episiotomy to speed things up. April looked at me funny, and then said that that probably wouldn’t be necessary, but we would see when we got there.
Presently, Sarah said that she felt burning again. And then suddenly she cried out, "I FEEL A FUNNY FEELING!" "Could it be the urge to push?" I asked excitedly, not daring to hope. And then I immediately thought better of it: I didn’t want to get her hopes up. Sarah heard the two assistants mentioning to her that she would be feeling funny things as the baby moved down. Apparently she didn’t notice the questions April was asking to find out if it was the urge to push or not; she told me later she thought noone was taking her seriously. Smiley
With the next contraction April asked a couple of questions, and afterward checked and discovered that Sarah had dilated to 10! The three midwives applauded, and I praised God. Sarah says she thought it was a little silly that we all got so excited — she already knew she was at a 10 and ready to push, and was waiting for us to figure it out!
At this point I have no idea what happened to my wife. Suddenly the delicate little thing I am married to turned into an Amazonian warrior or something. Smiley Sarah gripped my hands with all of her might and gave long, strong pushes for each contraction. I heard the midwives say they could see the top of Stephen’s head. Morning was dawning, and suddenly I realized we weren’t going to the hospital. The midwives asked again if I still wanted to catch the baby, and I said never mind. My place was next to Sarah. Having my hands crushed by her superstrength, apparently. I decided this woman could beat me up without breaking a sweat and that I never wanted to meet her in a dark alley.
When the top of Stephen’s head started to poke out, I took a look, and saw that his little flexible skull had folded over on itself in an incredible way. Other than thick, black hair, it did not look like the top of a baby’s head. Baby’s heads do not have bends in them like that. Smiley Sarah had always thought it was strange that some women wanted to touch their baby’s heads during delivery, but we had heard during class that doing this actually brought a rush of energy to many women that helped them to finish up. I think she had already received her rush of energy. Touching the baby’s head was interesting (she said it didn’t feel like a baby’s head, either), but you can’t get much more energy than 1000% of normal.
I told Sarah some good news I had just realized: at this point, not only were we not going to have to go the hospital, it was too late to go to the hospital even if we had wanted to. That seemed to really encourage her. Suddenly we had gone from despairing that we had tried everything we could without success to realizing that we really were going to have our baby at home, with a VBAC.
I noticed that Stephen’s head was covered in blood which the midwives kept washing away as they worked to keep Sarah from tearing. I didn’t want to mention the fact for fear of worrying Sarah. I think April noticed I was wondering about this, and she just said, "This looks very normal," without mentioning the blood. Sarah was still going at it with incredible energy, although she slowed down for a little while when she hit a part that burned as Stephen came through.
The midwives mentioned that Sarah was pushing very, very well for a first time labor. Things we going fast. (Didn’t surprise me, given the amount of energy Sarah was putting into crushing my hands.) Sarah pushed for a total of 38 minutes. When Stephen’s head came out I barely had time to mention it before his shoulders and then the rest of him followed. Sarah actually thought she was done after the shoulders and had to be told to push one last time. Sarah says she always expected pushing to be the worst part of labor. But at the time she discovered that it was actually the best. She had such an extremely strong feeling of the need to push that pushing was very satisfying. And the pain in her back finally went away, so the contractions were much easier to bear.
Stephen was born at 7:34 Saturday morning. Check the math: Sarah felt the need to push just before 7. Smiley And Stephen really did just pop out. An average first labor might have a pushing stage twice as long.
And at this point I realized that my hands were in pain, and so was my foot, which had drawn up between us and gotten bent without either of us noticing. During labor, my wife is a very strong woman. Smiley I also found out I was under a stack of pillows and a heating pad (still turned on) that April had removed from Sarah toward the end of the labor and put in the most convenient place, which was on top of me (though somehow I didn’t notice it).
Stephen was born quietly, without crying. He grumbled slightly as he was brought up to lie on his Mommy’s chest, but that was about it. The midwives checked to make sure he’d started breathing, which he had. (They also had me feel the pulsating cord, which was still supplying him at this point. This is an amazing feeling.) After a few minutes Stephen latched on and nursed easily.
We are just in awe to see how God was in control the whole time. We know He didn’t have to let this work. We know that He let us get to the point a time or two where we thought we would not be successful, and we were ready for that if it happened. But we are also in extreme gratitude when we realize how many of our prayers God answered, sometimes in exact detail. All the glory is His.