Sam's Birth Story: 6 Months Later
Forty weeks, four days – it wouldn’t have been my choice, but as God often shows me, His timing reigns supreme over mine. And as he also often shows me, his timing is always worth the wait.
I had been expecting an early baby. For a combination of reasons, really – an early Lucy, at 37 weeks, 5 days; a rather difficult third trimester with lots of pressure, difficulty breathing and enough toning contractions, in my mind, to prepare five ladies’ bodies for birth; finally, I was large – like, I felt like he ran out of room three weeks ago, large.
As the weeks passed, I tried to continue giving myself dates to look forward to – first, it was my birthday. Then it was my brother’s birthday. Then it was Easter. Finally, it was the day the zoo opened. I was fully prepared to give birth after a day of waddling around with my family, and when it didn’t happen, I had a meltdown. I just couldn’t sit around the house for the rest of the day, knowing that killing myself on my feet that morning hadn’t jump started things. It was only the day of his due date, but all reason has a way of getting tossed out the window when you have a baby filling you out in every direction that you so desperately want to meet. So Eric and I planned an impromptu date. Keep going. Keeping finding reasons to be thankful for the life you’re living now and not the life you want to have right now. Looking back, it’s so easy for me to see the beauty in the waiting. In the midst of it, I wanted to cry. I did cry.
And then it happened. Three days later, I had my first sign that labor was beginning. I should have rested. Instead, I nested. I cleaned the whole house, top to bottom, to the tune of sore muscles and toning contractions on top of toning contractions. At night, after Lucy was asleep, the cramping set in. And I celebrated another sign of impending birth. I knew. I just knew he was coming. I should have rested. Instead, I watched TV with Eric until almost midnight. We went to bed, but I knew there would be no sleep. The instant I laid down, cramping intensified and the contractions came on. I waited.
About 45 minutes later, I knew things were going to be heating up, so I woke Eric. He set up the birth pool in our room and called his parents to come get Lucy, while I called my midwife, Rhoda. Rhoda asked me to time out my contractions and get back to her. Three to five minutes apart, about 30 seconds each. “Wait,” she said, “until they are a minute long, and then call me back.” I got into the water. That sweet, warm water that just enveloped me and somehow made me feel so much peace and comfort. We turned on some music. We had easy conversation. I could feel my body working, but I still couldn’t help noting how strangely relaxing it all is when you don’t have to leave your house. It felt like we were just hanging out at home. Except that we were awake at 1:30 am, and there was a giant inflatable pool in the middle of our bedroom. And then there’s the business of knowing our lives would change forever, shortly.
Slowly, those contractions lengthened – 40 seconds, then 45; 50, then finally one minute long. After two of them, around 2 am, I called Rhoda. “It’s time,” I said. And somehow, in those moments (it happened when I called to tell my mom it was time with Lucy, too), you realize your voice must command truth, because there were no other questions, and there was no further discussion. She was on her way.
As we waited, contractions intensified. I tried to have Eric provide some counter pressure in my lower back, but he was just missing the mark. For a few contractions, I tried to help him figure it out, but we were both getting frustrated, so I felt like it was just better to ride them out. Eventually, I found some vocalization helped me to breathe well and work through each contraction. There was no yelling, no crying, no moaning in pain – just enough to keep me from holding tension in my body. It felt soothing, really. Awful, but soothing – as if those two can somehow meld together.
When Rhoda and her birth assistant, Kat, arrived, they instantly went to work, getting things ready, while I continued to labor on my own. One of them would periodically come in to check on the baby’s heart rate and ask how I was, but otherwise, they left me room to work. A surprising amount of room. I remember thinking at one point that I knew things would be different at home than they were in the hospital, but it was amazing how much trust these women put in me and my body to just determine, on its own, the way this birth would go. I remember this feeling both liberating and terrifying at the same time, with more emphasis on the freeing side of things.
Around 3:30-3:45, I began to experience contractions in unrelenting, rolling waves. “I can’t catch a break,” I told Eric. By 4:00, I wasn’t getting any reprieve, and I was having a hard time getting myself to come to terms with the fact that it would continue on that way. At that point, I had Eric call Rhoda into the room – I needed to have some idea for how much longer the process would be, so for the first time, I had her check my cervix. I got out of the tub and moved to the bed, where I trembled in a way that I knew indicated that I was in transition. Sure enough, when Rhoda checked, I was about 8 centimeters. Even though he was still high in my cervix, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. From my labor with Lucy, I knew I was close. Armed with that knowledge, I was able to find the extra strength I needed to make it through.
About twenty minutes later, I felt my water break, and an instant urge to bear down all at the same time. Eric called Rhoda in and she sat on the step into our room. I told her I was ready to push, and she simply said, “Okay.” I remember feeling a twinge of panic, as I realized just how hands off this would be, before I was able to remind myself that this was why I wanted a home birth, and that my body was made to be able to bring a child into the world. After a few contractions and pushing, I could feel his head. Rhoda encouraged me to continue, and to reach down and catch him, but I felt myself hit a wall. I felt, for some reason, like I just couldn’t get my body to push the rest of him out. Rhoda came alongside me and helped me past this point, pulling him right into my arms at 4:33 am. She later shared with me that his hands had been up by his mouth (right where I had felt them through my whole pregnancy), which probably created some of that difficulty.
As I pulled him to my chest, I felt an instant wave of emotion hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s some combination of relief, undying love, affection, and a little hysteria. There was laughter. There were tears. There was a warmth that radiated through me that I’ve never been able to replicate. There was instantly nobody else in the room except for this perfect boy. Those first moments of new motherhood have a way of sweeping you up and making twenty minutes of staring at a ball of human life feel like only two.
And here’s where things became drastically different from my hospital birth. There was no wail from him. There was peace. In fact, within moments, this little one was snoring on my chest in the water. And when I was ready, we moved to a warm bath where, with eyes wide, I floated him in the water, and he nursed for the first time, with such ease.
From there, Sam and I were both checked out in the comfort of our own bed, and then we retreated to the living room couch, so I could get to know him better and decide what his name should be. Up until the week before he was born, Eric and I had settled on the name Jackson Cody. I knew that Eric was really attached to the middle name James, but I had initially been hesitant to give him the initials JJ, as I didn’t want his name to be shortened. After thinking about it for some time, I approached Eric and told him if he was feeling strongly about it, I would be open to his middle name being James. And in response, he hit me with a curveball by asking me what I thought about the name Samuel. As it had never even been on our short list, I instantly dismissed it. As the days went by, however, I found myself being more open to the idea of a name change, and I decided to wait to meet him. After seeing him, there was no denying, in my mind, that he was a Samuel; Eric agreed. And thus, both literally and figuratively, Samuel James Almdale came to be.
There are women all over the world that dream of a birth experience like mine, and it’s not lost on me. I feel so blessed to have been able to welcome two strong, healthy children into the world. Both of my experiences have been very beautiful and powerfully spiritual. While some have expressed awe over the strength it must take to birth naturally, with the absence of intervention, I know that none of that comes from me – my births have been blessed events, with the presence of God being very clear to me. There is no fear, but rather an incredible amount of grace and love. I am thankful not only for my children, but for the way they got here as well.