I have to say-- before she was born, I just wasn't sure I would have the kind of love I needed for my daughter. I loved her since I found out about her, but I never really felt intensely connected to her when I was pregnant. Don't think badly of me. I just felt more fat and uncomfortable than anything else. But I will never forget the moment they handed me my little girl, and everything changed. I felt myself fall in love with her, and I knew that I didn't have to worry about having a "mother's love." It was already there. My heart hurts just looking at her, knowing she will grow up, knowing she will experience physical and emotional pain, knowing she needs a Savior. Simultaneously, my heart bursts with joy, knowing that she has been entrusted to our care. Yet I have never before struggled so much with fear; and that's saying something, because I have had a lifetime struggle with fear. My head trusts my sovereign God, but my heart asks, "Will she live through the night?" "Is she breathing?" And I hear it just gets worse as they get older. But as every day passes, I love her more and more, and try to remember that she has never been ours -- not really. She has always been the Lord's, and we can trust in His promises.
That's why we chose the name Isabel for our daughter. Isabel means "God's promise," and the verse we chose for her is Psalm 18:30:
"As for God, his way is perfect:
The Lord’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him."
We chose this verse because it reminds us that God's word is perfect, flawless, and can be trusted. What could possibly be more helpful to remember as we raise our daughter, than the fact that God's word is perfect and his promises are trustworthy?! We pray that Isabel would trust in God's promises as well. For those of you who know us, you know we hadn't decided on a name for our daughter until her second day! We just couldn't decide between two names (one of them was Isabel). In reality, neither Mike nor I wanted the other to have to give up the name they preferred. So we went to bed the night after she arrived, and our daughter was still "Baby Girl."
And then that night, our teeny-tiny daughter had to have her heels pricked and her blood tested every two hours because her blood sugar was low. She had to have three passing scores in a row in order to be discharged. If she failed one test, they had to start all over again. Sometime in the middle of the night, as I watched them poke her again after several failed tests, tears streamed from my eyes. My little girl was totally helpless. I was totally helpless. Through my tears, I prayed, and it suddenly hit me-- the meaning of the name Isabel. And I knew that Isabel just had to be her name. What I needed most in that moment was to trust in God's many promises to us; not necessarily the promise that she would be okay-- that was never promised-- but the promise that God would never leave me, that God works all things together for good, that God has ordained all of her days...etc. So in the darkness of that hospital room, I took my hours-old daughter into my arms and whispered, "Hi, Isabel."
So that's who our daughter is: Isabel Catherine. Here is how she got here (hope it's not too much information):
Thursday, May 29th, 2014: 2 a.m.
While I usually wake up around that time to go to the bathroom, this time I woke up because of discomfort. I got back into bed and laid on my left side, thinking that what I was feeling was probably more of the false labor I'd been feeling for the last couple of weeks, and it would soon go away. The pain was in my back, and as I scrolled through Pinterest on my phone, the discomfort made me thrash my legs around in bed, and I realized two things: 1. I wasn't going to be able to stay in bed without waking Mike up, and 2. I was probably in real labor. I felt both excited and nervous. If this was real, then finally what I've been waiting for had come! But if this was real, then I had to actually give birth at the end of all this! So I got up and started puttering around the house. I put together our bags for the hospital, took a shower, and tried to nap. Somewhere in there, I woke up Mike and told him I was probably in labor, but there was no need for him to wake up yet. I'd been tracking my contractions, and they were far apart and not extremely regular.
Sometime between 3:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.
The contractions hadn't waned, and were getting a bit more intense. I managed them with deep breathing and movement, and in between could still get things done or doze. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. At some point, I called Mom to let her know things were probably starting. They decided to get a flight out in a few hours. I also called my doctor, who thought the labor was probably real. Finally, I called my doula, Rachel, who decided to come over to help me labor. She was prepared with a Mary Poppins bag of labor and delivery assistance, and we were prepared for the long haul. I was excited to have her help, since I was planning on a natural birth. There were a lot of people who didn't believe I could do it, and a lot of people who just didn't think I should. And maybe there was a part of me that didn't think I could either. But the part of me that was determined to do it was bigger. So Rachel came over and we tracked contractions and I bounced on my labor ball. Mostly, it was just nice to have a friend there as things progressed. Then it was time to wake up Mike and inform him that he needed a sub for that day, because I was truly in labor. Mike was a little incredulous, but that quickly morphed into a really good mood. It was cute to see how excited he seemed to be. I called my mother-in-law as well, who unfortunately was at the airport, ready to head to NY for the first leg of their two-week Italian vacation. I couldn't believe the unfortunate timing, and neither could she!! Still, she was excited, and I was glad she was still in the States so we could communicate.
Mike had to drop off the dog and get a few things ready for his sub, so it was just Rachel and me for a few hours. We watched "The Today Show" and continued to track the contractions. Rachel was great at reminding me to keep my eyes open, focus, and try different positions. The simple act of tracking contractions helped an organized mind like mine not go crazy as I waited for the 5:1:1-- contractions 5 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute, for 1 hour. She was a great encouragement that even if the contractions weren't completely regular, they were getting closer and longer, and that was progress. I started to get a little antsy as the contractions got more difficult, so we turned on "SNL" for some giggles. I knew I was making progress when a sketch that used to make me giggle even through the deep breathing of my contractions no longer could make me giggle. Finally, Mike returned, and we decided to take a walk around the complex to get things moving.
11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
We took a walk, and this is where things started to really progress, and quickly. When the contractions came, I no longer could walk and talk through them. I had to hang on Mike's shoulder, with my mouth buried in his shirt, breathing through the pain. Rachel massaged my lower back with these great massagers she had brought in her Mary Poppins bag. I can't even imagine what passers-by thought was happening. I would hope they kind of got the picture. By the end of the walk, about 45 minutes later, the contractions were really pretty intense and definitely closer together. Mike was a pillar of strength for me, and Rachel was a constant source of encouragement that we were making progress and that I was handling the pain well. We figured we'd head to the hospital fairly soon, as the contractions were pretty close to 5 minutes apart and 1 minute long.
I decided to take a shower, which provided some relief. I remember that the contractions were getting surprisingly close, and were so intense that I had to drop on all fours to handle the pain. Still, after the shower I felt it was important for Mike and Rachel to eat lunch (I'm apparently still such a Mama Bear, even when in labor). I remember just rocking on the floor of the living room, waiting to leave. I was in a lot of discomfort, but I figured this was just the beginning and I had many hours of this ahead of me. We gathered up the ridiculous amount of stuff we had packed for the hospital and headed out. I called my doctor to let them know I was on my way, and could barely talk to the operator. I started to feel a little panicked about the pain and getting to the hospital. We left, and I gripped Mike's hand as he drove.
It was around this time, I think (though it was also around this time that things started to get fuzzy because of the discomfort), that I started to do something I always made fun of in the past: rhythmic sounds. Rachel had told me that a lot of women need to find a rhythm to ride out the contraction. She told me about a woman who would chant "Iiiiii can do it; Iiiiii can do it," and I giggled inwardly. Until I had to do it too. Except mine was just more of an exhaling sound, in a rhythm. I couldn't help it. I had to have some kind of outlet for the pain and rhythm to get me through. I remember that we were stuck behind an old couple on the road, and I yelled something about the driver's geriatric sun glasses. Hahaha! We finally made it to the hospital, and because of their ridiculous parking situation (they never prep you on where to park and how to get your stuff upstairs while simultaneously helping the laboring woman!), Rachel and Mike had to park, and I walked up to the desk alone. "Um, I'm in labor," I wheezed as I waddled up, fully aware of what a silly thing that was to say. I headed up the elevator, where I gripped the rail as another contraction seized my body. The strangers in the elevator asked if I was okay, and I, again fully aware of the awkwardness, informed them I was in labor. The man kind of freaked out and told me he'd stay with me until my husband got there, which was really sweet, but the hospital wasn't going to let him do that. Hahaha.
Nothing has ever taken as long as waiting at the desk took. Nothing. I leaned against the counter and swayed as the pain got more and more intense. I found it impossible to stand still. Mike and Rachel made it upstairs, and finally they took me into the evaluation room and hooked me up to track the contractions and the baby's heartbeat. I couldn't believe how painful pressing the monitors to my belly was. This was the first time I had to lay in bed while in active labor, and I hated it. My legs thrashed and I kept "punching it out" while holding Mike's hand and making my rhythmic breathing noises. I just kept thinking, This hurts! This really, really hurts! They checked me at that point and found that I was already dilated to 6 cm. (I had been at 2 the day before). Sometime after that, before they moved me to delivery, the pain made tears come to my eyes and I looked at Rachel and told her that I didn't think I could do it. She looked back at me with tears of her own and told me that I was doing it. I was doing it and the baby would be here really soon. Rachel was exactly the kind of coach I was hoping she'd be. I was so thankful she was there, as my doula and friend. And Mike was a dream. He was so supportive and helpful, reminding me to breathe, and holing my hand tightly. I had been afraid he would try to break the tension with jokes, and that I would get angry at him; but never once was I angry with him. I was only thankful he was by my side. Finally, they wheeled me over to delivery. I waved to my friend Nicole in the waiting room, in between contractions. I think it gave the impression I was feeling okay, when in reality, that was just a moment of respite in a storm of pain!
This time is pretty blurry in my memory. It went really fast, and I've pieced together a lot of this from the accounts of others who were there. They wheeled my bed into delivery and promptly had me change into a gown (something I didn't want to do-- I wanted to wear my own pajamas, but I was in way too much pain to protest or think about anything besides survival). They tried a bunch of times to put in the line for an IV, trying to get it in between contractions. That pain was nothing compared to the contractions that got worse every moment. Blood trickled from the IV line. Didn't care. They hooked me up to the saline right away, which they didn't need to do because I had been and still was drinking lots of water. But again, I was in too much pain to protest, and it was happening too quickly for Mike to say anything. The most important thing was that I didn't want pain meds, and they honored that. I remember that Nicole was there, but I couldn't even talk to her because of the pain. I had Mike on my left and Rachel on my right, both coaching me and encouraging me as my legs thrashed and my rhythmic breathing noises became louder and louder. They started to get higher pitched and more panicked, and Rachel was great at reminding me that I had to breathe and calm down. They had to give me oxygen because at times the baby's heart beat slowed. I probably wasn't breathing as well as I should have been, because it was hard to focus on that when all I could focus on was the pain. At some point, my parents made it, but I couldn't really talk to them either.
My dad said he heard me from outside the room, and thought I was in early labor and just being dramatic... until he saw me. He didn't stay long, because I think it was too disturbing to see me in that much pain. My mom was quick on her feet and took pictures. She wasn't going to be in the delivery room at first, because I was afraid I'd get short with her or something. But frankly, I didn't care who was there anymore. I didn't care who saw what was happening. I just wanted it to be over. The nurse went to cover my legs at one point, and I told her I needed my legs free. She said, "Do you want everyone to see?" Didn't care. Just didn't care anymore. I remember feeling like I was going to throw up, but didn't. They turned on the bright lights, and I told them I didn't want that. They brought in surgical tools, and that freaked me out. I remember saying again that I couldn't do it, but again, Rachel told me that I was doing it and really, we were so, so close. Her Mary Poppins bag was going unused (not for lack of need, but lack of time!), but her encouragement was exactly what I needed.
Suddenly, it got really intense. Waaay more intense than ever before, and I felt the urge to push. More than just feeling the urge to push, my body just did it. The nurse was like, "You're not pushing, are you?!" But I had to!! My body was doing it, like it or not. I hated the out-of-control feeling of needing to push. Honestly, it felt just like having to go to the bathroom, and I thought I had both peed and pooped myself (didn't, though-- THANK GOD!). My doctor wasn't there yet (they had called him to see how close he was to the hospital, and at that point, I think I was at 8 cm.), so the house doctor had to come in and help. Rachel told me that at one point, a nurse came in, my head popped up, and I said, "I have got to be crowning!!" She didn't believe me... until she checked. Apparently I'd gone from 8 to 10 cm. in just minutes. They told me I'd be pushing at my next contraction, so I went on my side (which was a bit of a relief-- I wish they'd allowed me to labor and deliver in another position than flat on my back, in a gravity-defying position), and before my next contraction, I remember praying out loud that God would help me. I didn't think I could do it, and I needed his help. Then the contraction came.
It was go time. I pushed, and just like you're not supposed to do, I screamed. I was shaking uncontrollably, either from the adrenaline or pain-- I'm not sure which. The next time, I tried to contain it, so the energy would go into the push, but ohmygosh did it hurt. At one point, the staff probably thought I was swearing, but all I could do was scream God's name as a prayer! I remember the sweat beading around my eyes as I squeezed them shut and put all my effort into pushing my daughter into this world. At some point, my doctor showed up, just in time to catch her. I overheard him say, "I thought you said she was at 6!!!"
They told me she was almost here.
And then, with one last push, she was out.
The relief was instantaneous. My eyes closed. Mike cut the cord, and they handed me this tiny bundle, bloody, covered in vernix, and all mine. All I could say was "My baby! My baby!" over and over again. They put her on my chest, and I cried and shook, staring at this human being that was suddenly here. She wasn't really crying, so they rubbed her down, and she made noise. She put her long fingers to her mouth and made her little grunting noises on my chest. My baby was here. 2:27 p.m., 5 lbs, 7 oz, 19 in.
Breathing through the pain
Nearing the finish line
My doctor, barely making it in time!
Just after Daddy cut the cord
2:28- who knows p.m.
She stayed on me for a long time, and I remember Mike's misty eyes as he looked at her, his little girl. It was love. I could finally talk to my mom and my dad. The pain was gone. Delivering the placenta was like a walk in the park after what had just happened. I remember realizing I had done it without any medication, and feeling so thankful and accomplished (even if the strength came from the Lord, not me!). Our new little family was wheeled to a different room with a beautiful view, and as the thunderclouds rolled in, we stared at this new life, completely in awe. God's goodness was overwhelming. This new responsibility was overwhelming. My cup runneth over.
Meeting the most important man in her life.
Our little family <3
I think one of the things that helped me have a great birth experience was that I was informed enough to know what I wanted and did not want. I have Rachel to thank for that, mostly. I knew that I wanted to labor at home as long as possible (good thing we didn't wait until my contractions were 5:1 for a full hour... it may have been too late!), which helped significantly. I knew to not just lie down during labor, but to be active. I knew I didn't want medication or interventions. I knew the medications I could refuse for myself and my child, postpartum. I knew I wanted to deliver at a hospital, "just in case" (thankfully I did, because Isabel ended up needing some extra attention because of her size). Being informed and having a plan (though seldom will things go according to plan, and even more seldom will the hospital staff follow it) made all the difference, I think.
In the end, I learned that childbirth is not suffering. Childbirth is pain with a purpose. Childbirth is extraordinarily painful, but that pain makes the pleasure exponentially greater. Childbirth is something you have a say in (to an extent, since God will ultimately call the shots), and you can choose to make it what you want it to be. I would recommend natural childbirth to any woman. It's possible and you can do it, if you're determined. I would suggest that you have support people who are completely on board (like my wonderful husband), and I would definitely suggest you hire a doula. I would have been uninformed and unprepared if not for her work. You can find Rachel's facebook page here. Whatever your birth story is, I hope it was wonderful for you, too. And if you haven't had a birth story or adoption story yet, I hope you'll make yours what you want it to be, too.
So there it is: Isabel's birth story, a.k.a. The Day Everything Changed!