Tommy and I had decided way back at the beginning of our pregnancy (after an unpleasant and disappointing doctor's appointment at a hospital) that we wanted to take an alternative path for our prenatal care, labor, and delivery. I had this overwhelming sense that God had designed my body to carry and bring forth this child and would empower me to do that and that unless absolutely necessary, I wanted to avoid medical interventions like medicinal pain management, epidurals, C-sections, etc. So, we ended up at the New Birth Company in Overland Park, KS, a free-standing birth clinic that supported women who wanted natural births. After talking with the midwives and doing lots of reading, we decided that we did indeed want a natural childbirth, meaning no medication or unnecessary medical interventions. Our prenatal care was excellent and we felt heard and understood by the nurses and midwives throughout the entire journey. I took a class on water birth as well so I could labor and deliver in the water if I so chose. A few weeks out from the birth, we also decided to hire a doula (basically a birth coach) who would help us articulate a birth plan, prepare as a couple and coach us through the birth itself alongside the midwife. The lady we hired was also a lactation consultant, which was important to me because I really wanted to get nursing off to a strong start. I exercised throughout my pregnancy, in part because I really didn't want to balloon up (in spite of which I gained quite a bit!) but also to prepare my body for the physical demands of natural childbirth.
Anyway, all that to say, we had a plan. A good one. But, we should have had an inkling that things might not go according to that plan when our darling little Josephine completely, and quite rudely I might add, ignored her due date and stayed put in my tummy, even after we expressly told her that her grandparents and Uncle were coming into town. Like I said, rude. It wasn't until Sept. 15th, Saturday night, a full five days after her due date, that contractions began, around midnight or so.
The contractions really weren't all that bad most of the night, like strong cramps. I downloaded a handy dandy iPhone app to help me keep track of the length and intervals. However by the time Sunday morning rolled around, the intensity had been ratcheted up about 15 notches and after several phone calls to the midwife, we left for the birth center around 11am. (Of course, our little PK would be born on a Sunday!!) When we got there, I was so pumped to learn I was already at 5cm. I honestly thought, sweet! We might have this kid by dinner time! Or at least in time for the evening news, lol! Little did I know...
Over the next several hours, we did the typical natural birth thing...laboring in the bath tub, sitting on the birthing ball, using the birth stool, laying down, walking a bit, breathing exercises. I tried to drink some of the smoothie the midwife made me but promptly puked that up, so no more smoothie for me. All the activity seemed to be moving the process along, just like they said it would and by 5:40pm or so, I was starting to push. And push...and push. The contractions started coming more and more frequently with very little rest in between. Tommy was my hero, remaining completely present to me throughout each contraction and physically supporting me, sometimes by bearing my full weight while I stood through contractions.
After about 2 or 3 hours into the pushing (it really is all quite foggy), I could sense that the midwife was getting frustrated that things weren't moving along the way she thought they should. At one point, Josephine started moving a lot and it was excruciating...different than contraction pain because I couldn't push through the pain of her movement. I could only endure it. As I writhed in pain, the midwife abruptly said, "You need to show a little more ownership of this birth." Ouch. Okay yes, I was thrashing a bit for a minute out of mind-searing pain, but her words really shamed me. It made my feel like I needed to apologize for something. What a terrible feeling to experience on top of the intense physical pain! Instead of encouraging me and cheering me on, each contraction became a mini lecture on how I wasn't pushing right or hard enough or long enough. After a particularly horrible contraction, I asked her in sheer desperation, "are we making any progress?" Her answer? "No. None at all." A few simple words and I felt paralyzed, hopeless. If I wasn't progressing, what could be done?
I wasn't aware of this at the time, but apparently after that lovely exchange, my champion husband took the midwife into the hallway and gave her a little "what for" concerning her words to me and their power to build up or tear down. When she came back in, she was much more affirming, for a time at least. During this whole blurred period, another midwife joined us who was considerably more encouraging and empowering, but at that point, I had been actively pushing for over 5 hours and JoJo was not coming. The original midwife sat down on my bed and presented two options: stop pushing and rest awhile (seriously?? that's an option during labor??) or be transferred to the hospital where they would give me pitocin to strengthen my contractions. The first suggestion was not really a viable option at all; it was utterly absurd. Even in my pain-induced zombie state, I knew that the idea of "stopping and resting" at this point in labor was nonsense. Within minutes she came back and said, "You need to go to the hospital now."
A thousand things started happening at once as our doula (who was fabulous through all this) started packing the car and Tommy called the hospital to make sure we could go to the Overland Park Hospital since we were Missouri residents and in the process of applying for Missouri state aid for health coverage for pregnant women and children (we have no maternity coverage). The midwives compiled our files and gave me a stack of papers to bring along to the hospital. How I held onto to those papers I'll never know, but with the assistance of the doula and Tommy (and maybe the second midwife...I have no idea), I made it to the car and Tommy drove the four miles to the hospital with our doula following behind in her van. We all agreed it would be faster for him to drive than to wait for an ambulance to come and pick me up. They couldn't have done anything anyway so off we went in the Scion, through a major construction area I might add where every bump rocked me to my very core.
When we arrived, we were rushed right in and tended to immediately. I was past the point of "managing the contractions" and was gasping and writhing through every contraction, which resulted in an oxygen mask strapped to my face in no time flat. The doctor came in to check me and was very blunt with us: "You've been pushing for a good deal longer than is normal to push. We can try the pitocin and give you another hour but really, I think the best option is a C-section." C-section...one of the main things this "natural mama" had wanted to avoid. But there wasn't much time to really process all of the emotions, regrets, fears, question, etc. at that moment. Tommy looked me in the face and encouraged me to make the choice, but we both knew; it had to be the C-section. I was so tired, so empty, so utterly drained physically, mentally and emotionally. The contractions were still coming strong even as we tried to make the decision. I looked into Tommy eyes and found an anchor there. I signed the paperwork and locked onto that anchor in my husband during those excruciating minutes as I waited for the nurses to come and take me away.
Within minutes, I was wheeled into the OR where the anethstesiologist began the process of giving me a spinal, another intervention I had wanted desperately to avoid. As I hugged that pillow as tightly as possible waiting for the needles to go in, I felt a contraction coming on and prayed as fervently as I could that God would stay the pain so I could be still. He heard my prayer as the contraction faded away and the medicine took effect almost instantly. There was a great deal of hustle and bustle around me, but all I could do was lay there and soak in the sweet relief that can only be experienced when great pain has finally subsided. It was like a gust of fresh air blowing straight into my lungs. I could have kissed everyone in that room, I felt to full of relief and elation. Soon, Tommy was at my side and the doctor began his work. Tommy held my gaze throughout, talking to me and asking me questions to help me focus on something other than the fact that I was being sliced open behind the ominous blue sheet. There are no words to describe the strength that I gathered from my sweet husband's presence and steadiness during those moments. There was no fear, just a sense that I was loved and that all would be well.
As I laid there on the table, the doctor brought Josephine out into the world, but we didn't realize it because she didn't cry, not a single peep. The room, which had been pretty light-hearted and all-around quite lively, became very serious very quickly as they tended to her. But the silence didn't last long and before we knew it, we heard our precious girl let out her first cry. Only after she was out and safe did the doctor tell us that Josephine had been firmly lodged in my hip and wouldn't not have been able to descend without intervention. Not only that, it was providential (read: God's grace) that she was stuck because the cord was wrapped around her neck twice, hence the heavy silence as she emerged. Had she not been stuck, she likely would have suffered consequences from the cord being wrapped around her little neck, a mental handicap perhaps or worst case scenario, she could have been stillborn. It wasn't until the next day that I fully appreciated the gravity of the doctor's words. So many things that could have happened but didn't, by the grace of God alone. So many things that fell into place, like that health care aid we applied for, for which we were approved the day after Josie was born and they back-dated our care to Sept. 1st, which means that our C-section is covered. We could have gone into major debt (a huge hindrance in ministry, particularly cross-cultural ministry), but the Lord provided. So many things...and God remembered us through it all.
So no, nothing went as planned. Nothing at all. But we did get to experience the goodness of God in a thousand unexpected ways. I would be dishonest if I said that this profound spiritual experience wipes out all the pain, both physical and emotional, that I experienced at the birth center. It doesn't. I am still disappointed and somewhat angry at how I was mistreated and shamed by that midwife. In the weeks and months to come, I will still have to wrestle with the fact that I did not have the birth I had hoped and planned for and remind myself that I did not fail. I did my best and ultimately carried and birthed a beautiful baby girl, even if the delivery wasn't "natural."
Ultimately, just down the hallway sleeps a sweet baby girl, Josephine Bradley Lobdell, a little bitty human entrusted into our care that we are getting to know and love more each day. So in the end, all truly is well. Thanks be to God.
At the birth center
Sweet baby cries!
Skin to skin with mommy....so precious.
Daddy changing the first diaper!
What an amazing husband and father he is!
I am blessed beyond measure by this man's love.