Thursday morning-- exactly two weeks before my due date-- I woke up with a dull, crampy ache in my abdomen, lower back, and legs. It didn't feel like labor and so I assumed it was just another one of the many pregnancy aches and pains I'd been feeling the last few weeks. Yet as the morning progressed I realized that these "cramps" weren't going away and some of them were strong enough to stop me in my tracks. I was really confused by them because they didn't feel like labor contractions and they weren't regular at all. Still, I told my husband that we should clean up the house before he left for work, just in case, but that I was pretty sure that these "contractions" would die out in a little while. The baby had been very, very posterior (meaning his face was facing forwards instead of backwards) at my last pre-natal appointment and Jon and I had been doing all the exercise and techniques the midwife had given us to help him turn, but he wouldn't budge. I was pretty sure that the reason my contractions were so sporadic was because he was still posterior and since he wasn't in a good position things weren't really progressing. I had scheduled an appointment with the chiropractor on Monday to see if she could help him turn but I realized now that I might not make it to Monday. So I called and re-scheduled my appointment with the chiropractor for later that day, just in case.
As the day progressed the contractions stayed pretty much the same, varying in strength and having no real pattern or consistency to them. I was really grumpy and irritable with the kids, but besides that it was pretty much a normal day. We cleaned the kitchen and watched movies. By the afternoon I was really confused about what I was feeling because it didn't feel like labor, but it didn't feel like it was going to go away anytime soon. I took a nap and when the contractions still didn't go away I decided to call my midwife and see what she thought. When I explained what I was feeling she said that it sounded like it probably was real labor but that because my baby was so posterior that the contractions weren't really doing very much. She suggested that I put on a movie and hang out in the "polar bear position" (head and chest resting on the ground with your bottom up in the air) to see if I couldn't give him a bit more room to turn around in.
I went to the chiropractors at 4:15 PM and she adjusted my hips and said that they felt really pliable and soft. She also helped loosen up my ligaments and did some things to help encourage the baby into a better position. I only had two little contractions the whole time I was at her office and when I got home around 5:15 PM my contractions were still not very strong or regular. Jon needed to run up to work for a few minutes and I told him that it was fine if he left because I was feeling pretty much like I had all day. I just told him he needed to be home by 6:15 because we were having a Relief Society meeting that night at 6:30 and I was in charge of one of the crafts and needed to get things set up. After he left I put another movie in for the kids (Asher thought he'd hit the jackpot with all the movies I was letting him watch) and laid down on the floor in the polar bear position. I'd been lying like that for about 30 minutes when I felt the BIGGEST and longest contraction ever. It was awful. After it was over I told God that I never wanted to feel another one like that, ever again, and that if that was what labor was going to feel like that I changed my mind and didn't really want to do it.
After that contraction I couldn't get comfortable again and so I got up and warmed up some soup for the kids to eat for dinner. I didn't make anything for me because I was still planning on going to the Relief Society meeting and knew that there would be dinner there. I went up stairs to try to get dressed to go to Relief Society but I couldn't bring myself to put on any pants (I'd been wearing a dress all day)-- the thought of anything touching my belly made me want to scream. It was about then I realized that I probably wasn't going to make it to the Relief Society meeting. I called Jon but he didn't answer his phone. I left him a desperate, angry message (which he got the next morning) and told him he better get home as soon as he could because I couldn't handle things any more. I also called my cousin and asked if she might be able to come get my kids and have them stay the night at her house. I told her that I might might not be in labor but that I would just feel better if I knew my kids were taken care of.
Jon got home around 6:20 PM and I told him that I wasn't going to go to the Relief Society meeting but that I still needed to drop off the supplies at the church or else they wouldn't be able to do the craft. We loaded up the kids and drove over to the church. As I was walking from the car to the church I had a big contraction that took me a few minutes to recover from. It was then I realized that this was the "real" thing and that I should probably call the midwife. We dropped off the craft supplies to the Relief Society president (who was super excited when I told her I was in labor) and when we got back home I called the midwife. She knew how fast my last labor had been and so she said she'd be there as soon as possible. My cousin showed up to get the kids (who were oblivious to what was going on) and she said she was excited that I'd be having a 11-11-11 baby. I looked at the clock and saw that it was only 7 PM and I told her, "Oh, I sure hope this doesn't take that long!".
After she left with the kids I was able to start focusing but I was having a really, really bad attitude about being in labor. I had one contraction on the toilet and it hurt so bad that afterward I told Jon "I don't think that I want to do this." Things were getting hard and I thought that I still had several more hours of labor ahead of me. In my heart I knew that I could do it (I'd already done it two times before) but I didn't really want to do it. I remember thinking to myself, "Maybe I'll just go get an epidural this time because I just don't want to do this again." Looking back now I realize that I was probably in transition but I didn't know that at the time. All I knew was that things were hard and that they were just going to get harder and I didn't know if I could handle that.
Jon started setting up the birth pool and I went into the living room where I turned off the lights and turned on some relaxing music. I knelt on the floor and leaned up against the couch. With every contraction I'd rock back and forth making scooping motions with my head. I was doing a good job of handling the contractions by myself but I was still having a bad attitude. After every one ended I'd think, "I hated that. I don't want to do that again. I don't think I can do this." I knew that I needed to change my self talk to something more positive (just like running a marathon labor is really about 10% physical and 90% mental) but I just couldn't seem to do it. It was about this time that Jon came in and randomly picked my scriptures up off the shelf and opened it to where my bookmark was. He read me,
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." (1 Corinthians 13: 11-13)I don't think he could have read anything better to me at that point. I'd been working on memorizing that chapter (which is all about charity) the last few weeks and as I had been memorizing I'd been pondering on how giving birth is one of the greatest acts of charity that can be performed in this life. Charity "suffereth long" and I knew that I was willing to "suffer" as long as was needed to bring this little child into the world. I realized that like Paul said I was "seeing through a glass darkly" and that at the time the pain and the discomfort did not seem worth it. Yet I knew that if I endured I would soon see this baby "face to face" and I then I would know that it was all worth it. After that my attitude changed and I started telling myself that even though I didn't want to do this I was willing to do this. I was willing to feel everything the Lord had prepared for me to experience in order to bring this little one to the earth.
Changing my self talk helped a lot, but it didn't make the contractions any easier to handle! They were getting harder and harder. I found that I was holding a pillow in my hands and that as I rocked back and forth with each contraction I'd brush my nose against it. Jon was sitting on the couch next to me holding my hand and whenever he'd try to say something I'd tell him to be quiet. I just needed him there. As the contractions increased in frequency and intensity I found my mind groping around for another thought that would help me cope with the contractions. I found that an essay I had written for our book "The Gift of Giving Life" called "The Breath of Life" came into my mind. In the essay I wrote this:
It is by God's grace that we take each breath and breathing is a constant reminder that He is with us, sustaining us, every moment that we live. At that point in my labor I knew that I couldn't make it through to the end without God's help. The thought came to me that I could use my breath to give me strength and to remind me that God was with me. I continued to rock and scoop my nose on the pillow with each contraction, but I'd take deep, deep breaths and focus on sending the air down to where the contraction hurt the most. I imagined that there was a fire in my uterus (which is what it felt like!) and that with each breath I was sending air to blow it out. I also told myself that it didn't matter how much stronger the contractions got-- how big the fire raged-- because God had given me an unlimited supply of air. God would always be more powerful than the pain and he would always have enough air for me to blow out the "fire." That was a really profound lesson for me to learn and, even days later, it still gives me an incredible sense of power and peace when I think about it.
"...in the Book of Abraham we read how after God formed Adam’s body from the dust of the earth he took his spirit (which had already been created) and put it into him. At this point Adam’s body and spirit were separate but then we read that God, “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul.” (Abraham 5:7) It is our breath, the breath of life that God grants each of us, that unifies our body and our spirit together and allows us to become, like Adam, a living soul. When we die we loose our breath and our body and spirit again separate, waiting until the time when they will be resurrected and inseparably unified as a soul. Our breath is the glue that holds our body and our spirit together. The more conscious we are of it (and the more we are able to express gratitude for it) the more we strengthen the connection between them and increase our soul’s power. Breathing is a truly one of our greatest gifts from God."
After about a half hour of handling the contractions like this I suddenly felt the baby's head move down into the birth canal. Jon, who was still holding my hand, says that I calmly said, "Oh, not yet!" I thought that I would still have at least 3 or 4 more hours of labor and I was surprised to discover that I was already ready to push. A few contractions and pushes later and I felt something crowning. I thought it was the head but it turned out to be my bag of waters. With my other babies I've always been in the water when my water broke and so I never realized how much water there is! After it broke I reached up and could feel the baby's head -- and was frustrated that it was still pretty far up-- but three contractions later his head was out! And with the next contraction the rest of him slid out into Jon's arms.
It was a really sweet experience for Jon to "catch" this little baby. He said that as soon he saw that it was a boy he felt a voice whisper "Abraham" and he knew that was what this little boy's name was. We'd never even considered the name before and so when Jon asked me what I thought of the name "Abraham" I was really confused. Yet after hearing his experience and basking in this little boy's spirit for a day the name just felt really right. It was like he came with a name tag and wanted to make sure we read it!
I have to admit that the word that best describes how I felt when I held Abraham for the first time is -- shock. I just couldn't believe that he was already there. All day long I'd tried to convince myself that I wasn't really in labor and so it just seemed so surreal to me that he was actually really there... in my arms. It was also a little surreal because he was covered, and I mean covered, in vernix. He couldn't even open his eyes it was so thick on his face. He looked like a little white polar bear! Yet the midwife reassured us that babies who are born early often have lots of vernix. And the amazing thing is that we didn't wipe or wash any of it off and within an hour after birth his body had re-absorbed most it! It was pretty amazing and made his skin super soft.
After the birth we waited for my placenta to be ready to come out. Yet after about 35 minutes I hadn't had any cramping or contractions that indicated that it was ready to release. The midwife and her assistant tried pulling (gently) on the umbilical cord and massaging my uterus to see if they could encourage it to come, but it wouldn't. The midwife tried a wide range of techniques to try to get the placenta to detach from the uterine wall but nothing worked and she was concerned about being too aggressive with it as she didn't want parts of it to rip off and cause me to hemorrhage. After about an hour of trying to get the placenta to detach I could see in the midwife's face that she was really concerned. She said that it was really rare to see a placenta behave the way mine was. I asked, "Are we going to the hospital?" She said that we might have to because my membranes weren't releasing at all and that I might need a fairly serious procedure to get it all out in one piece. I actually felt a lot of peace about having to go the hospital and was willing to do what ever I needed to do. The midwife said she'd try again but asked Jon if he would give me a priesthood blessing first. Jon gave me a blessing and in it I was told that I would be able release, that everyone present would have the wisdom and knowledge to know what should be done, and that my placenta would come out whole and complete. After the blessing the midwife tried again to get my membranes to release but this time my body gave two big contractions (the first it had done since the baby was born) and the placenta slid out--in one complete piece. The midwife was astonished and we all just stared at each other.
We knew we had just witnessed a miracle.
After further inspection the midwife said that my placenta was completely intact and that she didn't think that any membranes had stayed inside me. She didn't think I needed to go to the hospital. I'd been prepared and willing to go, but it was so nice not to have to! The midwife was still concerned though that I might hemorrhage and so she gave me some medicine to help prevent it and watched me really carefully. The second part of the miracle has been that I've hardly had any bleeding during my postpartum recovery, which is remarkable considering what my placenta went through! It has been such a testimony to me of the power of priesthood blessings. I know that without that blessing things may have turned out much differently.
Afterwards the midwives got us cleaned up and tucked into bed (which in my opinion is the best part of giving birth-- having people take care of you!) Abraham nursed for the first time and chomped down like a champ. I'd forgotten what a sweet experience it is to feel little lips tugging at your breast for the first time. There is nothing sweeter. After we were done nursing Abraham had his newborn assessment, which he passed with flying colors!
After the assessment I got in the shower to clean up. As I rubbed soap over my belly I couldn't help but think how strange it was that just earlier that morning, in the same shower, I'd rubbed soap over a full, pregnant belly. Now it was empty. I thought to myself, "Wow, where did it all go!" and the then the phrase "He is not here" pierced my heart and I found myself remembering another part from our "The Gift of Giving Life" book. In her essay "Birth in Remembrance of Him" Robyn Allgood writes,
"The Atonement was not complete until after Christ voluntarily suffered and then demonstrated His power over the grave by rising from the dead. As the women approach His tomb, they said to each other:Just like Jesus left his tomb empty when he rose again, so did my little boy leave my womb empty when he was born. The symbolism between birth and the atonement is so incredible and as I pondered on that phrase "He is not here" I realized what a miraculous thing I had just been a part of. I'd just given one of God's precious sons his mortal body. A body that, because of Christ's resurrection, would live eternally and had the potential to become a God. The full magnitude of that knowledge has overwhelmed me and I over the last several days I've found myself looking in awe at my deflated belly.
Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre they saw a young man . . . and he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here; behold the place where they laid him. (Mark 16:3-6)
The empty tomb symbolizes the power of Christ and new life through the Atonement. It symbolizes joy and wonder and even possesses mysterious significance. In like manner, the mother’s empty womb symbolizes the power of creation made possible through our Heavenly Father. It is a sacred event as is the Atonement and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It symbolizes physical life offered to a spiritual being. It offers joy, wonder and mysterious significance. Mysterious because it is easy to ask, “How is this done?” The only answer can be through God, through His infinite wisdom and power."
"He is not here".
No, he isn't because I'm holding him in my arms
and what a blessing that is.