Llewelyn's Birth Story
I slept in that Thursday morning after a good night’s sleep (a rare occurrence at this point in the pregnancy), but as I rose from the bed and waddled downstairs to make breakfast for myself and Valentine, I was met by all of the aches and pains of late pregnancy. “What’s wrong, Mama?” Valentine kindly asked as i heaved a big sigh. “I just don’t feel good,” I said.
I stood at the kitchen sink, scrubbing up last night’s dishes, when suddenly I felt something I hadn’t felt in five years—the slow crescendo of pain in my lower belly—a contraction. The sensations were subtle, hardly detectable, so I continued on with my work while feeling glad that at least something was happening. At my checkup a few days before, I had barely been dilated at all and it seemed as though labor would still be many days or even a few weeks away.
My sister came over with her two young girls and the children splashed in the kiddy pool while we talked in the shade. The contractions continued rhythmically, mildly, all morning. I briefly considered calling my doctor, or even going to the hospital, before reminding myself that contractions every five minutes with no dilation would be deemed “false labor” and I’d be sent home.
Cathy came over at noon, as she does every Thursday, and we talked and laughed over a hearty lunch. Around 1:00 I realized that the contractions were becoming more difficult to ignore—so after Cathy left I stood in the kitchen with my phone and searched for a contraction counter app. “I wonder…” I thought.
There’s a part of every pregnant woman’s brain that doubts whether she will ever actually have a baby. There’s a certain incongruence between her swollen belly and the newborn babies she sees in other mothers’ arms. And as her pregnancy drags on longer and longer, with no certain date of termination, she wonders if she might just be pregnant forever.
But as the app downloaded, there was an audible “pop!” and a trickle of water down my legs. So I stood laughing, feeling surprised and joyful, knowing that the wondering was over and I was now racing toward the inevitable.
Valentine poked her head around the corner, her eyes wide, glancing anxiously down at the pool of water beneath my feet. I tried to take a step toward her, but more water gushed out. Putting on the brightest smile I could muster, I said, “Guess what, Valentine? The baby is coming today!”
A wave of emotion passed over her face. Tears filled her eyes. I kept smiling. She locked eyes with me, her tears subsided and she smiled. Never before had she been so brave.
I called Logan (one of the most fun calls to make) and then hopped in the shower. In the warmth and the steam of the shower, as my contractions began to come in earnest, I took a moment.
With Valentine’s pregnancy and labor, I had found so much comfort and security in preparation. I read a dozen books, spent hours every week exercising and practicing pain management techniques, and journaled through all of my doubts and fears. During this pregnancy I had been in a different stage of life. Mother of a five-year-old, publishing a book, I had been busy and tired and overwhelmed with all that must be done, which in turn kept bringing me back to my own insufficiency and the sufficiency of Christ. And here, in the shower, I threw myself on him once again. Staring down the pain of labor, the possibility of complications for myself or my baby, and having zero ability to predict or plan for what lay ahead, I prayed. “God, please take care of us. I can’t do this, but I know you have the power to do all things. And I know that you love us and that I can trust you in whatever lies ahead.” Emotionally, I felt scared and unsure, but prayer is a way of reminding oneself of what is actually true, but I clung to those truths in the hours ahead.
Logan was home before I even finished my shower, and it wasn’t long before our car was loaded with bags and we were ready to leave. Over the hood of the car, Logan paused and said, “So…Llewelyn?” I laughed, thinking of how hard it had been for us to decide on a name, mentally rolling my eyes at the absurdity of naming a baby in this frantic moment. “Llewelyn,” I affirmed.
We dropped Valentine off on the way to the hospital. She was so excited about a few days spent with cousins and the fruit snacks I’d slipped into her backpack that she barely spared me a hug and a kiss before disappearing into Abi’s house. But I was glad she was distracted, because in the space of that short car ride I had entered active labor. It was hard to talk or even open my eyes during contractions now and they were coming even more quickly. “I think the baby is going to come soon,” I said aloud.
When I got to the hospital, they made me undress, pee in a cup, get an IV, fill out paperwork, attach monitors to my stomach, all while I could hardly breath from the pain. (In retrospect, I know all of these things were important and necessary, but at the time just felt incredibly frustrating.) Once this was accomplished, my nurse observed my contractions on the monitor and checked my dilation. What she found was that my contractions were a minute apart and I was dilated to a seven. It was 2:45.
Though the nurse said nothing about it, everything seemed to change after that. She got me a birthing ball to sit on, which relieved a lot of pain during contractions. She called my midwife immediately, who seemed to materialize in my room within moments. She brought me cold water to sip and only asked me questions or moved me between contractions. Over and over she thought of exactly the right thing to help me.
Once my midwife Kristen arrived, I felt a huge sense of relief. When I first saw her in the room she was dressed in athletic clothes and was calmly gathering her silky blonde hair into a ponytail. She always spoke with calmness and confidence, but also seemed to actually listen to me. In fact, there in that delivery room she was asking me questions between every contraction. “What position feels best?” “Does it help the pain when I press on the small of your back?” “What would you like to happen right after the baby is born?”
But it wasn’t long before the contractions were almost more than I could bear. With Valentine, there had been hours of calm breathing, of relaxing in the tub and listening to soothing music. But now, only minutes after arriving, I couldn’t find a position that helped, couldn’t find my breath and felt alarmed at how painful it was already. In my head, I assumed that my labor would be as long as Valentine’s, and knew without a doubt that I couldn’t maintain composure for four more hours of this. It already felt as painful and unsettling as transition.
That’s because it was transition.
The next time Kristen checked me I was dilated to a nine and had the urge to push. I was on my knees on the bed, leaning on a peanut ball and swaying my hips. Kristen had checked me in this position, but said that if I could lay down on my side, she could slide back the lip of the cervix and get me to a 10. Anytime I had laid down the pain intensified exponentially, but I wanted to start pushing and so I laid down on my side. Once the next contraction started, however, it was so painful that I began to scream and shake uncontrollably. They quickly helped me back onto my hands and knees. “I wasn’t able to move the lip,” Kristen said.
We tried the same thing all over again, but this time with a squatting bar attached to the end of the bed. I had a similar reaction and got right back onto my hands and knees. I could not keep my composure during the contractions now and my moans turned into yells. “Don’t forget to breath,” Kristen said, and then Logan, who had never left my side, began reminding me to breath, leading me with his own breath.
“I’m scared,” I whispered.
Logan heard me. “Don’t be scared. You’re so close to the end.”
And that’s when I stopped feeling worried about how long labor would be. I trusted my body, that it was telling me it was time. I trusted Logan, the voice of reassurance.
When Kristen checked me again, I was at a ten. As I started to push, a sound rose up from my throat that I had never heard myself make before, a roar that could rival any war cry. From behind me, I heard Kristen’s voice, “Next time you have a contraction, instead of making that loud sound, I want you to make this sound…” and she made a low, long grunting sound and i knew exactly what I needed to do.
I pushed through a few more contractions before Kristen said, “The baby doesn’t like this position. She’s not coming.” And with that she flipped me on my back. The pain blasted me, but then the next contraction started, Kristen said, “Push!” and I pushed. There was a swell of pressure and a burning sensation. “Push! Push! Push!” I didn’t stop, not when it hurt, not when I ran out of air, not when it seemed I didn’t have one more ounce to give. There was a sudden release, I felt the baby slide out of me amid laughter and exclamations and the most blissful disappearance of pain.
There on my belly was a baby, covered in creamy vernix, a head of tousled brown hair and the biggest eyes blinking up at me. I was crying, laughing and shaking uncontrollably, but I held her to me as they covered us with warm blankets. It was 4:03 pm.
I met eyes with Logan, whose eyes were also filled with tears. “She’s so amazing,” he said.
Kristen was still working seriously and quietly. When the baby was born, she had noticed two things. The umbilical cord was abnormally short (probably the reason the baby didn’t come out while I was on my hands and knees). And second thing was that the cord pulsed once and then went dead. She told me the next day that if the baby hadn’t been born at that moment, in 30 more seconds she would have been under distress and they would have had to intervene.
I had asked to delay all activity on the baby for that first hour, so it was just her slippery body on mine, warm under the covers, Logan’s eyes dancing between the two of us, and her own eyes, so wide and watchful.
Soon, she began to grunt and squirm on my chest and we watched in awe as she found her way to my breast and started sucking.
“I’m sorry you can’t hold her yet,” i said to Logan.
“Don’t be. This is better,” he responded.
Gradually, the nurses finished cleaning up and left the room. The lights were low and it was quiet. Logan adjusted the bed and the pillows around me so that I could hold the baby securely and yet be able to relax completely. My body felt exhausted and yet vibrant with life, buzzing with energy.
“Llewelyn,” I whispered. After watching her for awhile, I looked up at Logan. “Even before we decided on the name, I would call her Llewelyn in my head. And I would picture her, and she looked exactly like this.” She was familiar and dear and more than we’d hoped for.
Logan sank down even closer so that I could feel the nearness of him and he laid his hand over the baby’s body. I closed my eyes and rested.