As much as I did not want to make the trek to the hospital only to be returned home, I felt like I could not stay home much longer. At one point I demanded Ben vacuum the living room rug because the sight of Wrigley’s fur embedded in the fibers was driving me utterly nuts. I could not concentrate. Ben called the new midwife on call. I can’t remember much about what she asked me other than if I’d slept and saying something along the lines of fatigue being the enemy, which made me feel even wearier. She told us to come to triage because after my appointment on Monday, she did not think I was very far along. Ben packed the car and we left for what we assumed would be a short trip before we were sent back home. I had at least three contractions on our way to the hospital. Houston traffic is miserable in the best scenario, let alone while laboring. Ben said it took 45 minutes to an hour for us to make it to the medical center, what should have been a 15-20 minute drive. Then it took us awhile to figure out how to get to the St. Luke’s entrance. I wanted to be frustrated, but I was too tired. I struggled not to cry as we left our car with the valet. I was excited and nervous to walk through the hospital doors, still very unsure of what it would mean for us. We left our bags in the car and made our way to L&D. Kristi was there when we arrived. They were going to hook me up to a monitor but they let me finish a contraction first. When they came back they told us they were moving us to a room because they were pretty sure I was in labor. I stopped by a scale on the way to the room and could not have cared less had it read one million pounds. Once in the room, they wanted me to hook up to the monitors but another contraction had already started and brought me to my hands and knees. Thankfully our nurse was gracious and accommodating and worked around me. I anticipated the nurse being a random appendage in the whole process, but ours was an integral encouragement throughout labor and delivery. When my midwife came in to check me I was 4-5 cm dilated and as I remember 80-90% effaced and at a -2 station. I could not believe it. Leila had been working all night. The discomfort was not for naught. I was in labor. It was enough for them to keep me in the room.
Things were moving along, but Leila needed to turn. My midwife had me turn on my side and labor in that position, with one leg outstretched and the other bent up to aid in her turning. It was miserable. Unlike walking or leaning there was nowhere for me to physically move through the contraction. I just had to lie with it. After awhile in this position my midwife asked if I’d like to labor in the tub. I wanted to, but I was worried. I asked her if it would slow things down. She assured me that nothing would slow things down at this point, which was the most reassuring thing I could have been told. The tub felt wonderful. At first I struggled through the contractions, but they showed me how I could turn on my side. As nice as it felt, eventually even the tub ceased to be a comfort. They helped wrap a towel around me and I leaned against Ben and did a laboring slow dance. It was so comforting to have him hold me. I wanted to fully appreciate how amazing Ben was, how attentive and prayerful and loving, but the whole labor I had no words. I had no desire to talk and I had no desire to be spoken to – the only thing I could tolerate was brief encouragements to breathe or change positions. My midwife would feed me words of encouragement, telling me that I “couldn’t be doing it any better” or how natural I was. The simple assurances were so comforting. I could not connect to anything beyond what was going on within my body.
The lights remained dimmed, and the room felt like a cocoon. I labored in this sacred space, shared only with this small tribe of the most amazing women and loving man. Prompted by Kristi or my midwife I moved from one position to another. Despite hours spent squatting in yoga, unable to move my inflated body into more limber positions, I physically could not squat through a contraction. My midwife checked me at 6 cm/100% effaced/-1 station and 8 cm/100% effaced/-1 station (when Leila still hadn’t turned) and 8 cm/100% effaced/0 station again (when Leila turned into position). I felt discouraged to hear I was only at 6 cm and that I’d remained at 8 cm. After one of the checks Kristi asked me what I was thinking and I confessed I was thinking about “the thing I didn’t want to think about.” It was not that the pain was unmanageable, but rather the fleeting fear of how much longer this might last. My midwife quickly asked what we were talking about.
“Are you talking about an epidural? That’s okay. Just because you’re talking about it doesn’t mean you’re asking for it.”
It was exactly what I needed. The freedom to let the thought enter my head without the fear that it would lead to a sitcom inspired scream for drugs. I no longer needed to entertain the thought.
I eventually asked if it would be okay for me to return to the tub. This time it brought fleeting comfort. I spent most of the time bent over the edge of the tub, working through a contraction. I would sit halfway back before I felt the need to lean over again. At first I thought I was misreading the end of the contraction, but then I heard my midwife say that I was “coupling.” After about half an hour I got out of the tub and again danced with Ben before moving back into the room. The next two hours felt much longer. My midwife moved me to my side again. I didn’t want to be present in the agonizing contractions, but there was no other choice. They needed me to stay in bed and remain hooked up to the monitors. Eventually I had to move. I got on my knees and leaned over the bed. In the last thirty minutes of transition the pain was so agonizing it literally took my breath. I wanted an epidural, I wanted a c-section – I wanted to know this was going to be over immediately. Through every breath I kept waiting for the guttural change that signaled I was ready to push. I tried to will my body to make the noise, but the contractions were too intense for me to do anything other than survive them. A few times I said I couldn’t do it. It was not so much the labor but the breathing. I would hear a chorus of encouragement to breathe. I needed it. I begged for my midwife to come back in the room and check me. I was 9.5 cm and she thought I could start pushing. She asked me if I felt the need, and I remember hesitating and deciding to answer yes even though I wasn’t sure. Later Ben told me that he caught my hesitation and worried I was lying to my midwife. I prayed desperately that the pushing would only last 20 minutes. I could not imagine enduring two more hours, my body was so fatigued. During the last leg of contractions my leg would shake violently. But it was true was our birth instructor told us, pushing was a relief. I felt so relaxed after my first round of pushing. I only remember pushing four or five rounds, but by the end the constant breath holding made me start to feel dizzy. I wanted to ask if she was close, but I knew it was best to stay focused on each breath. At 6:06 pm, after almost exactly 20 minutes of pushing, Leila made her full appearance. Ben looked at me with tears in his eyes and announced her arrival with wonder. They threw her up on me for a second before taking her across the curtain to be checked by the pediatric team. When my water finally broke there was a lot of dark meconium, so my midwife wanted to make sure that everything was okay. I could tell she was really conflicted about it, but later I realized that it was a blessing. Ben was able to bond with Leila while I could lie back and let my midwife help me through the last part. I will never forget seeing Ben walk out from behind the curtained divider holding our baby as if it were the most natural thing in the world and then tell her he loved her. Our midwife said in 21 years she has never heard a father welcome their baby simply with “I love you.”
Finally I was ready and Leila was ready and they laid her on my chest to breastfeed. I saw Ben overcome with emotion the second she entered the world, but it was the moment that we physically reconnected again that I felt teary eyed and was overwhelmed by what those 9 months and 20 hours and 6 minutes meant. I am a mom, and this is my daughter. My absolute favorite scripture is Isaiah 41:10 – “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I felt that verse in my soul as this most beautiful baby readily took to my breast. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of protection and trust, and gratitude. Later a friend asked me if being a mom was the best thing ever. I told her I didn’t know yet, but I did know that I had never felt more grateful for anything in my entire life.
By 8 pm we were finally ready to be wheeled over to our postpartum room. I felt regal as they wheeled me to our room, holding Leila, the center of the universe. All of the grandparents and aunts were waiting for us. It was a nice reunion. Later Ben and I ate the hamburgers our parents bought. Ben said it tasted like the La Sierra burgers we used to eat when we lived in Kigali – it was not so much how amazing they actually tasted but the context that made them unbelievable. Later that night neither one of us could sleep, so we stayed up reliving the entire labor and delivery experience. It was one of the sweetest nights I’ve ever had in my entire life. If God ever asks me what two days I want to relive, I will say our wedding day and Leila’s birth day. Hands down.