I've wondered for years what this story would look like, especially after becoming a Birth Photographer. There are so many possible scenarios for each birth, and while I wasn't particularly anxious about the labor and delivery experience, I was curious to know how mine would play out. After seeing many successful births and weighing the pros and cons of the medical system here in Holland, Kevin and I opted to try for a home birth experience. We'd planned for a home birth since the beginning of this year and, while we knew there was a possibility of needing to go to a hospital for an emergency situation, we didn't really take the preparation for an emergency too seriously.
Hint for the non-interested or non-readers: If you want to skip the details but want the gist of the day, just scroll to the bottom of the page and check out the slideshow from our birth photographer!
I had a relatively easy pregnancy, gained an average to low amount of weight, had no complications, and felt pretty good for the majority of the nine months. I was fairly comfortable until around 36 weeks when the weather here in the Netherlands became unusually warm and humid. Even then my only complaint was personal temperature- I felt like I could have warmed our entire apartment with my body heat alone. It wasn't until I hit 40 weeks that I became truly restless and VERY ready for our little man to arrive.
My mom flew over to begin her three week visit on the 21st- two days before my due date. Due to my (small) size and the perceived (large) size of our son, we were thinking he may come early. We realized the error of our thinking as we easily (though not comfortably) breezed through the 40 week mark. At an appointment with our midwife on Tuesday the 28th (at 40 weeks and 5 days) we decided that if I hadn't gone into labor by the 31st we would try a membrane sweep to see if we could naturally induce labor. The 41 week mark rolled by without any changes, so the next day at 12:15pm we went to the midwifes office for the procedure.
Dilation and effacement were checked and I was 3cm dilated and 25% effaced. When only one minute after the sweep I started experiencing contractions, we were hopeful that the combo of all three things would mean that active labor was soon to follow. As the day progressed and I changed activities though (from sitting to walking to laying), the contractions slowed almost to a halt. Frustrated by the lack of progress, I asked my mom and Kevin to go to the store and find the ingredients for a 'labor inducing cocktail' that many women I knew swore by. When they returned I filled the biggest glass I could find with this concoction and Kevin and I set out on a long walk. We walked from around 6:45-8pm and I tried my very best to finish the drink (but was only able to get about half of it down). As we walked, the contractions that had faded during the day slowly and gradually returned. By the time we returned to the apartment I could no longer walk comfortably through the contractions. We timed the contractions for two more hours after we returned from our walk and decided to call the midwife. She came by at 10:50pm, checked me to see if I had progressed, and to our dismay announced that nothing had changed.
Discouraged, I decided to try and go to bed knowing that if this was truly labor I would be woken up by increasing contractions. Around 1am I woke up with very uncomfortable contractions and was unable to sleep any longer. I got up and walked around the house, got a hot shower, and sat on an exercise ball. By 2am I woke Kevin.
(Side note: I didn't realize until pregnancy how much I relied on him. Even just having him present with me is a comfort and I'm so, so thankful for his constant servant-heartedness and support through my entire pregnancy+labor).
He dozed lightly for about an hour then we called the midwife again. She came by to check my progress and found that things were still the same, but declared me to be in active labor. She decided to come back at 5am to break my water if the contractions continued at the same frequency but I still hadn't dilated. Neither of us could sleep at this point so we both caught up on our Netflix shows for the next hour and a half.
Shameless endorsement time for pregnant mammas: I also decided to buy the cd Hidden In My Heart during this time of waiting to listen to while in labor. This turned out to be the best labor prep-decision I made during my entire pregnancy. We played the CD on shuffle the entire day, and while I wasn't lucid for most of the labor, the songs I Will Never Leave You and I Can Do All Things seemed to come on just when I was most in need of the encouragement to keep going. Confession: I have a very hard time listening to those song now without crying. Dang post-partum hormones.
When the midwife returned and checked me at 5am, she felt what seemed like it may be the umbilical cord between my cervix and the baby's head. She felt that it was too dangerous to break my water as, if it was the umbilical cord, the baby's oxygen would be cut off during each contraction. The best course of action was to move to the hospital. Around this time our Birth Photographer arrived (thankfully, as I completely forgot about telling her we were going to move!). We hadn't prepared a hospital bag so Kevin and my mom made a mad dash around the house collecting anything they could think of that we may need, and we headed to the hospital. When we arrived at the hospital they hooked me up to lots of monitors and make sure the baby wasn't in distress. They monitored him and me through 2.5 hours of contractions, then decided that it was safe to break my water. At this point I was still only 4 cm dilated.
Everything past that point is a blur. I have random intense moments that I remember acutely but the majority of the day I felt like I was in a dream or deep under water. Kevin, ever the note-taker, kept a timeline of events in his notebook and I'm referencing those for timing and details of the rest of the day.
By 10:30am I was 8cm dilated and in the throws of intense back labor. I tried to shift positions many times to relieve the pain but nothing seemed to help. Kevin used what he learned in our birthing class by applying counter-pressure to pressure points in my lower back. I noticed how helpful it actually was when he had to shift positions in the middle of a contraction- I half cried/half yelled at him 'DO NOT MOVE AGAIN!' It was as if a giant vice grip was clamping onto my lower back and squeezing to the point of crushing. The counter pressure helped keep the very worst pain at bay.
Around 12:00pm I had the intense urge to push. For the next hour and a half I tried to push through each contraction. Around that time I started begging for anything to help with the pain, and subconsciously I knew that when women got to that point they were usually hitting transition. I was, in a very weird and not actually helpful way, encouraged. At this point I was completely passing out between contractions. It was as if I had taken a drug that put me into a coma. I could hear things around me, but I was unable to open my eyes, move, or speak until the next contractions started to rise. Around 1pm they checked me again and discovered that the baby was facing up and I still hadn't dilated past an 8. This was the cause of the intense back labor and needing to push so early. I begged for them to just knock me out and do a c-section, but the midwives kept encouraging me that I was close to delivering and to push through.
Through the whole labor, my mom and Kevin were by my side encouraging me, giving me water or ice, rubbing my head, feet, and back, and putting cold washcloths on my forehead. My mom's presence was such a calming influence and her ability to read each situation and know what I needed at any given moment was an incredible relief. I'm so, SO thankful she was able to be here during my labor.
Finally around 2:00pm, after many shifts in position, the baby turned. Thirty minutes later I was given a port in my right wrist and they started a Pitocin drip to try and encourage me to complete the last two centimeters and to carry the contraction's frequency through pushing. When the back labor stopped my mental and physical demeanor changed noticeably. Everyone in the room could see that things had shifted for the better. I felt like I had finally come through 'The Valley of Death'. I was able to continue into the last stage of labor without the intense panic that I had been feeling with each contraction before.
At 3:08pm they checked me again and discovered I was fully dilated and was ready to start pushing effectively. They attached a monitor to the baby's head, and I discovered later that Kevin and my mom were using that as a guide to tell how far the baby was moving during each push. Being in labor is a very strange thing to describe. I felt like I was both unable to think or communicate and also very alert in my subconscious mind. Each time I pushed my subconscious mind was thinking 'My poor mother. I'm going to break her hand. I just know I'm going to break her fingers. Kevin can take this because he's a man and his hands are huge but my moms hands aren't any bigger than mine!' I NEEDED her to stay and hold my hand, but I felt really sorry for her at the same time. I had many very clear thoughts but was unable to fully process or express them.
At 4:30pm Kevin was able to see the baby's head with each contraction. Even though the baby was getting closer to being born, they started saying that if he wasn't born within the next 15-30 minutes they would need to call for a vacuum to assist in the delivery. That was the only phrase I heard with complete clarity during the entire pushing phase, and I was absolutely determined not to have the vacuum as part of the delivery. For each of the contractions during the next 15 minutes I pushed even harder and more intensely than I thought I was even capable of. I begged and begged the Holy Spirit to lend me extra strength.
At 4:45pm I finally heard the words 'One more contraction and he'll be born!' I was both relieved and determined and so, so thankful that the end was so close. With the next contraction I pushed three times, breathing in short panting breaths as the midwife guided the baby slowly into the world. Kevin helped her catch our little boy and bring him immediately to my chest. The cord was wrapped around his neck so he didn't breath for his first couple of seconds earthside, but after a little bit of rubbing and encouragement he let out some very heart-hurting, incredibly relieving cries.
I felt so many emotions. Most of them were bathed in an incredible and profound sense of relief that everything was over. I didn't feel the rush of motherly emotions, and I'm learning now that for some women it takes time and getting to know their new little one for those feelings to grow. That afternoon though holding our son, watching his father cry and love this little boy that he was finally able to connect with for the first time, watching his grandmother hold her newest legacy, my heart was full. I was tired, so tired, but so full and so profoundly at peace.
I held the baby and slept intermittently for the next 5 hours. We decided to try the name Wilder David out on our new son for the next day to see if it fit him. I was feeling pretty nauseous after the delivery but I tried to drink some broth, tried to eat some bread and butter, and was told that I could go home as soon as I could shower without fainting. I attempted once to shower at 8pm but almost fainted when I stood so we decided to wait a couple of hours and try again. Determined to not have to spend the night at the hospital, I worked up to showering by 10:00pm, was able to successfully sit in the shower and not faint, and was finally headed home by 11:00pm.
Crawling into my own bed was a type of relief I can't even describe. Knowing I was home, knowing my son was healthy and our life together was beginning, and knowing I had the support of my mom for the next week allowed me to forgo the normal terrified 'what are we going to do with this new human' stage. Kevin couldn't stand to put him in his crib so instead let him sleep on his chest that first night. We were all finally together.
The next morning, after studying his little features and tracing his lips and nose and eyes thousands of times, the three of us (Kevin, my mom, and I) decided that our son was most definitely a Kevin. We named him Kevin David Lowe III after his father and grandfather, and the name fits him like a glove.
As the days and weeks have progressed, the 'horrors' of labor have faded rapidly and the joy and love for my son have overshadowed its intensity. Our little boy is a joy to us. The tiredness, the constant feedings, and the confusion of new-parenthood become a non-issue with one look at our baby Kev. Even in the frustration of 'what does this cry mean?!' we can't help but love this amazing little gift that God has entrusted to us. We are so, so thankful for him and looking forward to what God has in store for his life!