Those were the words that flooded into my heart the moment I saw those two pink lines appear. The force with which they came impressed me and made me wonder.
Later that day I was at a church conference. Abe and Rose were fussy so Jon and I took them out in the hall. I was walking with Abe when out of the corner of my eye I saw a little girl in a white dress come running towards me. I realized at the last moment that she was going to run straight into me and so I literally jumped out of the way. I had assumed it was Rose (she was wearing a white dress) and so I was stunned when I turned around and didn't see anyone there.
No little girl in a white dress.
Then again I felt that little whisper, "I am a girl."
Over the next nine months Jon and I would both have several more glimpses of this little girl. A dream of a fifteen-year-old with long blonde hair running through a field, "Dad, remember the lilies of the field how they toil not..."
Then there was a prayer for help, offered one night in fear and anguish. I felt the presence of a much older woman-- a very noble and great female spirit-- whisper to my heart, "Heather, you are not doing this alone. I am ready for this. We will do this together." I felt her gratitude and her love. I knew that she was coming to earth for an important purpose and that everything would be okay.
These glimpses helped ease the burden of a challenging pregnancy. My body and heart had been through a lot. My pelvic joint had relaxed so much it was starting to separate and my hips ached under the strain of holding them together. There were some days that just getting in and out of bed was a monumental feat. On top of that my feet and ankles had swollen to an enormous size. I was puffed up like a marshmallow and every day when I crammed my feet into my flip flops, the only shoes that would still fit me, I wanted to cry.
I'd also had to move my family 1,000 of miles away from the midwife I loved and trusted and from friends and family who supported me. I felt alone, scared, and unsure of what to do. There was a part of me that was terrified to give birth again. I had had three wonderful, picture perfect births. I worried that I was pushing my luck to think that I could have four perfect births. Surely, something was bound to go wrong, right? These fears overwhelmed me and made it hard for me to fully settle on any birth plans. Yet, underneath the fear was an abiding assurance that everything was going to be okay. No matter how, where or when she was born. I knew there was a little girl who was suppose to come to our family.
When I woke up on Labor Day I was hoping for a very "labor-ious" day, but no such luck. My contractions weren't any different than they had been for the last few weeks. So I helped the kids pick green beans and set up a green bean and lemonade stand in our front yard. They made $12 in less than two hours! I was feeling lonely that it was Labor Day and we didn't have any family to share it with so Jon told me I could invite some friends over for a campfire in our backyard. We had three families over that night and had a beautiful time. When they were leaving at 8 PM one of my friends said, "So, Heather looks like you didn't get your labor for Labor Day." And I, totally joking, replied, "Well, who knows I still have a few hours left." We all laughed because it was obvious that I was not in labor.
Jon and I got the kids in bed and at 8:30 PM I laid down on my bed, totally and completely exhausted. My hips and my pelvic bone hurt so bad. The bean picking had just been too much for them. I was really hurting.
So of course, that is when labor decided to start.
After I'd been laying down for about a half hour I realized that my contractions were a lot lower and a lot more crampy feeling. They were also coming closer together. Somehow I manged to get my hurting body off the bed and waddled into the bathroom. I sat there for about a half hour, debating within myself if these were "real" contractions or not. Finally Jon came and checked on me and I told him I thought I might be in labor, but I wasn't sure. His eyes went big.
"I am going to go blow up the birth pool," was his first comment.
"No, what if this isn't the real thing."
"Then you can deflate it in the morning," and off he went.
I guess he's been through enough births with me to know that I am really bad at admitting when I am in labor. This time he recognized all the signs of approaching birth and wasn't going to waste any precious time.
So I sat in the bathroom. The last few months had been so physically challenging, what with my pelvic pain and swollen legs and feet, that instead of being afraid of labor I was so ready for it. As the contractions started to increase in intensity I just kept reminding myself that every one was bringing me a little bit closer to having this baby out of me.
Once the birth pool was blown up Jon came upstairs and I told him I thought we should call the midwife. I was still worried that I might not be in real labor, but I figured I'd rather have everyone come than have them miss it. We called the midwife but couldn't get her on her cell phone. We left a message and then called our doula, Mandi. It wasn't until I talked with her on the phone that I was ready to admit I was in labor. It was so hard to talk on the phone! I couldn't form any coherent thoughts. I realized my mind was involved else where and that I should stop pretending I wasn't in labor.
Right after I got off the phone with Mandi, the midwife called back. When she asked how far along Jon thought I was he said, "Well, I don't know but this is how she acts before she has a baby. So I think you should come." That was all she needed to know. She said she'd be there as soon as she could. The kids were still asleep in their rooms. We'd arranged for someone to watch them while I was in labor, but it seemed silly to wake them up now. So we just let them sleep.
My contractions were getting strong and they were very low. With every one I felt lots of intensity in my legs, so much that my legs were shaking and it was hard for me to stay standing. During a contraction I'd hold my belly, bend my knees up and down, and move my hips around in a figure eight motion.
My birth dance.
Oh man, I love that boy.
Mandi showed up and it was really nice to have her there. Even though I am a doula I've never actually had one at my own births. I am usually a very private birther, but this time I really wanted to be surrounded by people. I think it was because I had been feeling so alone this pregnancy that I needed to know that I had people-- especially other women-- who were there for me. I also wore the beautiful tree of life shawl that my Gift of Giving Life co-authors sent me. Wearing it felt like getting a big hug from them all.
As things got stronger a phrase that I'd seen posted on the wall at my chiropractor's office came back to me, "Your contractions can't be stronger than you are, because they are part of you." That really resonated with me. It was tempting to start thinking negative thoughts like, "I can't do this anymore," or "What if this lasts forever?" (I think I may have even said that one out loud) and so I kept reminding myself that my body was powerful. That instead of being afraid of the contractions I should be in awe of the incredible thing that my body was doing. My contractions were strong because I was strong.
After one really hard contraction Mandi gently asked me. "Heather, where do you want to be when the midwife comes? Do you want to be here or go get in the pool?" She told me later that she could see that I was nearing the end and thought it might be good to get me down into the pool. I really wanted to get in the water, but I just couldn't bear the thought of having to move. The ball was working for me and so I just stayed there.
Oh, and I guess with all the excitement Asher woke up and asked Mandi who she was. "I am here to help your Mom have her baby." "Oh," said Asher and closed his door and went back to sleep. I guess he wasn't too excited about the whole idea.
At around 11:50 PM the midwife arrived. She came in and checked the baby's heart beat. The baby was doing great. I knew this because I'd been feeling her move around inside of me the whole time I was in labor. My other kids seemed to quiet down during labor and just be born. Not Tabitha, she moved and moved the whole time. She was, by far, my most wiggly baby.
Right after that I had a contraction and my water broke. When the midwife saw the water she immediately started to get everything set up for the birth. But I was not quite ready for the baby to be born. I still had my pants on and I didn't see how I was going to be able to move my body off of the birth ball. It hurt so bad to move. But I really didn't want to have the baby right by the air conditioner vent, and I really wanted to make it to the water.
So Mandi and Jon helped me to stand up and to start moving downstairs. I made it to the top of the stairs before I had another contraction. This one was really low and I could feel the baby's head moving down. "I'm not going to make it to the water am I?" I asked Mandi. But we kept moving and I made it to the bottom of the stairs before I had another contraction. This one felt super low. I knew that if I wanted to have this baby in the water I'd better get to the pool soon. So after the next contraction I sprinted-- well, as much as a woman in labor can sprint-- to the birth pool and got in the water.
It felt heavenly.
I didn't really feel the urge to push, but I was feeling a lot of intense pressure. I reached up and could feel her head not too far up. The midwife encouraged me to try pushing and so on the next contraction I gave a huge push and felt her head come down into my hands. I'd told the midwife that I really wanted to deliver-- as in "catch"-- my own baby. I had done that with Rose and Abe and I loved the fact that my hands were the first things to touch them as they came into the world. But as soon as her head came out I lost all rational thought.
Really, I did.
I sprang forward onto my hands and knees and, in Jon's words, "howled" like a crazy woman, "Just get it out of me!" I guess that I had pushed so hard that I had pushed her head and her shoulders out. Since she was such a big baby her shoulders didn't fit through nice and easy, and so for a whole contraction I was stuck with a shoulder wedged baby. It was the most intense sensation I have ever experienced in my whole life. I couldn't think about anything--anything at all-- except that I all wanted in the whole wide world was to have this baby out of me.
Jon said that this might have been one of his favorite moments of me, ever. I am usually a very quiet and calm birther, and so my howling totally took him my surprise. "I think you were howling out just more than a baby there," he said, "that was nine months worth of bottled up emotions coming out." I think he was right. I got a lot more out in that howl than just a baby.
On the next contraction the midwife reached over and helped adjust her shoulders and out she came, yelling just as loud as her mama.
And I was delivered.
All of it-- the worry, the fear, the uncertainty, the confusion, the loneliness, the aching--everything I had waded through the last nine months.
I have never felt so much relief. It washed over me in waves and I felt like a millions pounds had been lifted of my shoulders and my heart.
"Heather... Heather, go ahead and take her," the midwife urged as she handed me a screaming little body.
I grasped her in my hands and quickly checked between her legs.
I turned to Jon and smiled, "It is a girl."
Our eyes locked and in that moment my joy was complete. I knew that everything I had felt this pregnancy-- all the promptings, all the dreams, all the glimpses-- were real. I knew that I had not been left alone, but that God and this beautiful spirit had been with me the whole time.
When it was time for the placenta to be delivered Jon cut the umbilical cord. When the cord was cut I felt it. Not any physical sensation, but I felt that connection, the literal rope, that held us together separate. For nine months we had grown, struggled and learned together and in one moment that was gone. With one snip she was no longer a part of me.
I held her head close and whispered, "Now you are your own person."
That noble and great spirit I had felt in my prayer, was here, in my arms.
Apparently, some time during all this Asher had woken up and was standing on the stairs. It took a little coaxing but eventually he came down and met his little sister. He was really excited and so curious about everything. It is funny to me that he has-- unintentionally-- been at both of his sister's births. I hope that those experiences will someday prepare him to be a good husband and father when it is his turn to bring children to earth.
Jon took her while the midwife helped me deliver the placenta. And as that last remnant slipped out of my body the midwife smiled and said, "There, now you are a free woman."
"There could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were may pains. Yea, and again I say unto you... that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as my joy." (Alma 36:21)
Giving birth is exquisitely hard. There are really no words to describe what it feels like, just as there are no adequate words to describe the type of joy it brings. It is more than happiness, more than relief, more than freedom-- it is deliverance.
Divine, exquisite, soul changing, deliverance.
A reminder that no pain or sorrow will last forever.
Tabitha has already brought so much joy into our home. It is hard to remember life without her. Looking at her makes me grateful for every ache, every tear, every prayer, and every contraction I went through the last nine months, because they brought her into the world.
It was so worth it.
And sometimes when I hold her I feel overwhelmed at the thought that the noble and great female spirit I felt in my prayer is now...this tiny baby.
She has forgotten who she is.
But I remember.
And it is my job to remind her, which is a job I very much look forward to.
(Our doula also made this beautiful video of the birth, don't worry nothing graphic)
Pictures by Mandi Hardy Hillman @ Gentle Beginnings