I hoped she would come early. The entire pregnancy felt so much longer than it actually was. The days were defined by what I ate, finding spots on my sore fingers to prick, and waiting an agonizing few seconds for the forsaken number to pop up on the little screen. I had never worked so hard in my life to make sure what was going into my body was working to my benefit, to her benefit. But in the last days of pregnancy when all you really want to do is lay down, take deep breaths, and wait for your world to change, managing blood sugar is not ideal.
So when, around 4 p.m. on July 6, 11 days before my due date, I felt that telling first contraction, I tried not to get too giddy. If Charlie’s birth taught me anything, it was to think very very little of that first contraction, to go about your day as if nothing is different because it could still be a very long time before an actual baby materializes.
We were in a zoom meeting when I felt it. It was starkly different from the tricky braxton hicks that had plagued me since the 20th week. It started a notch below my belly button and wrapped around to my lower back – a rubber band sort of tension – not painful, but definitely the real thing.
Surprised that they kept coming, I removed myself from the window and listened to the rest of the meeting from the gigantic bouncy ball that had taken residence and way too much space in our living room. Charlie’s birth was nearly 30 hours long and so I had been doing everything in my power to prepare my pelvis for delivering Olive. Including never never sitting anywhere other than the birthing ball. Now it supported me as I swayed back and forth, taking note of the tightening in my abdomen and the quickening of my heart. Will we meet our girl soon? I wondered silently.
Cooper wasn’t convinced. Being the verbal processor I am, I always told him when I was having braxton hicks. When they would continue I would eagerly wonder aloud if they’d turn into something more productive. The first time he got excited (read: nervous and panicky) but when they ceased to be anything more than pesky practice contractions, he’d exhale and get back to whatever he was doing. So this time when I told him I thought these were the real things, he gave me a sideways glance, all but ignored me, and remained attentive to the meeting. Which was a helpful reminder that even if these were actual contractions, it could still be days before we met Olive. I swallowed a dose of reality and settled into early labor trying not to get too excited but still praying she would come soon.
After our meeting ended, I needed to get my mind off of the action going on in my belly. “Let’s go for a walk,” I told Cooper.
“You sure?” He asked, noting I was out of breath just by cleaning up the dinner mess we made.
“Yeah! I’ll waddle slowly” I joked (not really… haha). “If they are real contractions, walking will help.”
On our walk I opened my contraction counting app and started timing them. Our evening walks had become necessary to my regime in keeping my blood sugar down. Charlie was always excited. We ate dinners early in the last few weeks and headed out in her “push” to walk the neighborhood, count chickens, chat with neighbors, and watch all the evening Nepal happenings. While we stopped to watch a tractor (or “digger” as Charlie girl called it), I looked down at my timer pleasantly surprised to recognize a pattern emerging on the bar graph. Throughout the walk, the contractions lasted about 30 seconds, and came around every 10 minutes.
As we got to the last leg of our walk, the immediate urge to pee came over me. Luckily our town is small and we passed a few friends’ homes along the way. We stopped outside one of them and I called Marinda to let her know I was coming in hot. She giggled and told me to come on in, but let me know they also had company. I waddled through a room full of dinner guests to the bathroom. No time to stop for pleasantries. That moment is exceedingly hilarious to me. I hope it provided them with a lot of joy, too.
Bladder relieved and freshly embarrassed to have been the entertainment of the night, we headed back home to find some of our best friends waiting for us in our lane. I excitedly showed Hannah the contraction timer. Her reaction took the little excitement I was keeping beneath the surface and pulled it right on out to party.
“IT’S HAPPENING! YAAAASSSS” I believe were her exact words.
She’d wanted to be present with me in labor, holding my hand and in the action with me, but circumstances were taking them to America earlier than they’d planned and well before my due date. When she realized God might just have said yes to her prayer that it would happen sooner, there was no willpower to contain the excitement!
“I’m keeping my phone on tonight. Call me if things start happening!” she said as she and her little family strollered down the lane and headed back home.
The sun started to set, Charlie’s cue that bedtime was near. By this time contractions were still short, but coming every five minutes. Things were definitely happening. After we brushed teeth, read bedtime books, and said bedtime prayers, we put Charlie to bed for the last time as an only child. She was getting a big promotion the next day.
The fact that contractions started in the evening was the sweetest yes from God. Learning from the tiresome labor we had with Charlie, I had asked him for this so that when pre labor began we could just go to sleep. So that’s what we did. Got the house all cleaned up, called all the people. Then I hopped in the shower to get ready to try and sleep. While I was in the shower I lost my mucus plug. And if there was any hesitancy that she was coming, it was now long gone.
After about 30 minutes of trying to keep quiet next to Cooper, I sent him to the murphy bed in the guest room. One of us was going to have to be stocked up on sleep. A few weeks prior I had talked to a friend about her birth experience. She shared about going through contractions in the night while her husband slept. She’d stare at the clock, talk to God, breathe, dream, while bouncing on the birthing ball. I thought of her every time I looked at the clock trying to make it just another hour on my own. Just another hour. Just another hour.
Around 5 a.m., contractions started intensifying and I woke up Cooper. We alerted the family that the newest May was on her way. Our midwife started making her way to us. And Madison came to pick up Charlie. Cooper got Charlie out of bed. She wiped her eyes, groggy with the last hour of sleep she wasn’t going to get. By the time she was up, contractions were every four minutes and lasted a minute long. She saw me on my knees breathing deeply and trying to smile at her through another one.
“Your tummy huwt mama?” She asked me before she came to rub my back. She was going to fit into this big sister role just fine.
Madison arrived while I was there on my knees – record timing. She prayed with me through one more contraction before taking Charlie for a sleepover.
Cooper and me and the baby working her way down were alone for about an hour while we waited for Brenda. The house was still dark and waiting for the sun. It was quiet – full of peace and anticipation. Cooper lit the mandatory candles, put oils in the diffuser and came to hold me in the quiet of our little home in this little town where we are making so many larger than life memories.
Brenda arrived and things started rocking and rolling. Then Hannah arrived, bringing a fun, less somber mood to the atmosphere. She cheered me on through contractions, made jokes when it was quiet, sat with me in silence when I needed to focus. Cooper walked with me outside, where we paused for contractions and neighbors looked at me like I was insane. The same look they’d been giving me for the past few months, the same looks they’d give me when I went outside one week postpartum.
After the walk and almost four hours of hefty labor, Brenda assessed that Olive would come by the evening. Which was a bit of a blow. This felt hard. It was going to get harder?? I needed to wrap my mind around the fact that there could still be many hours of this, and I needed some alone time (a lot of people, a tiny house), so I got in the shower. I sat there as long as it took our electric water container to run out of hot water, letting the faucet hold me up when the contractions were too much. God and I had a good long talk. I told him I needed him. I told him I couldn’t do this without him. The hot water must have finished right on time because when I got to my room to change, my water broke.
“What happens now?” I asked Brenda while she and Cooper mopped up my mess and helped me into some clean underwear.
“Well, things are going to start to get more intense, and then she’ll be here.”
Ok, I thought. Let’s do this.
I sat on the bed and let Cooper brush my hair into a low ponytail, unable to do anything but work and breathe through the contractions that were now stacking on top of each other and knocking the breath right out of me. I didn’t even need to get dressed. By the time my hair was fastened I was transitioning from working through contractions, to getting ready to push Olive out.
It wasn’t going to be many hours more, but just a few minutes.
I propped myself up on the headboard of our bed. I can recall with visceral certainty what those contractions felt like – different than the others, like fire, like everything was about to change. Cooper knelt in the same position next to me, looking at me like he was willing his own strength onto me. I knew he’d take this burden if he could. His presence, his calm assurance, his tight grip and his friendship was the fuel I needed to get through it. Sweat was pouring from every inch of me, my body was trembling, but it was happening, she was coming.
A few contractions later, and we met our Olive. She came out squealing, purple, and with a head full of dark, soft hair. I held her and felt so safe, so thankful that it didn’t take all day, so grateful to hold her in my arms, all 6 pounds of her. Take that, gestational diabetes.
The rest was just housekeeping: getting the placenta out, getting stitched up, making sure I could pee before the midwives left. While they worked on me, I listened to the sounds in the living room, people ooh-ing and awe-ing over the little girl that just entered into the world. It was just about lunch time and Hannah brought gigantic burgers and coffee flavored milkshakes, everything I’d craved and couldn’t eat the last few months. Olive slept in her moses basket and I stuffed my face with joy.
Gosh. What a day. When I think about it, I’m reminded in full of God’s goodness, that he hears our prayers and sometimes says yes to fast labors, friends being there, and post-delivery burgers. When we first found out we were pregnant, I had a much different experience in mind. But this, in my home in this beautiful country, surrounded by friends and inundated with grace, was much, much better.