Sunday, January 30th began like every other Sunday does in our home. We are gentle in our waking on Sunday mornings...the children emerge from their rooms on a natural schedule, rather than being rousted. Mass isn't until 11:00, and we leave here at 10:00 to get there in time to calm ourselves and prepare our hearts.
Somewhere around 7:45 or so, My Darling and the Squash begin making the pancakes. Squash pulls his youth chair over to the counter near the stove. My Darling hauls out the cast iron griddle, which takes up two burners on the gas stove. They mix the pancake batter in the old Tupperware pitcher, and joust just the littlest bit with their spatulas--"tings" Squash calls them, because "ting" is the sound they make when their flat blades collide. He helps Daddy to flip the pancakes on the griddle, and then flop them into the stoneware bowl from which they are served at the table.
That Sunday, I was feeling a bit nauseous, and couldn't eat even a bite of the delicious pancakes. I think Squash was a little sad about it, but he was cheerful nonetheless.
As I dressed for Mass, I was just not feeling quite right--a little off, but not enough to make me think I shouldn't go to Mass, for Pete's sake. Mass is the one time I get out of the house these days, and I wasn't going to miss it for the world!! The drive in was mostly uneventful--My Darling took us past the scene of the Great Truck Roll, and we could clearly see the imprint of the truck door and window, and we could see the place where the mirror would have been...
I was very uncomfortable all during Mass. I could not concentrate very well, and I could not sit still. Things were beginning to happen, and I knew I was in early labor. I rejoiced, thinking, "All of the saints and angels are here, and I get to begin the joyous work of meeting my baby here at Mass!!!!" What an incredible blessing!!
I had to get up and move a little bit. I used the ladies' room, and then stood in the back of the nave, just swaying from side to side...just a little, subtle dance that I was sure no one could possibly notice.
That's not really how it works though, is it? In a parish with so many large families, there is always someone who knows. And in our parish, there are midwives, doulas, and Mamas of Many--and their husbands, who have watched their wives go into the beginning dances of labor. It nearly surprised me when, after Mass, my dear friend who is Mama of Eight asked me, "You're in labor, aren't you?" Actually, she didn't really ask me, so much as she made a statement of observation. I said, "I am totally in labor!" We grinned about it, and as she hugged me, she said, "My husband pegged that about five minutes into Mass."
So much for subtlety!
We intended to shop for groceries after Mass, but I informed My Darling that we had better reconsider. It took him forever to head for the parking lot to drive the van up to the door--the parking lot, being a block away, was not in the cards for me. The entire ride home, I found myself having to very quietly vocalise through each contraction, and the timing of them and the intensifying of them told me that this was true labor, that it was moving along very well, and that it would likely be just as wonderful and enjoyable as my labor with the Cuppie had been.
When we got home, I went upstairs and spent some time dancing around in the bedroom...swaying, rocking, lunging--just as I had done on Thursday. After a fashion, I thought, "I'd better get a little rest. I'll lie down for a bit, and then I'll fill the tub," which was, after all, where Gingersnap was going to be born.
I did lie down for a bit, and since I hadn't really felt a ton of movement through the morning, I poked and prodded my belly a little bit. I talked to my baby, saying, "I get to meet you today! I finally get to see your sweet little face!" I was a little gun-shy about it, since Chris' comfort level for a home birth is normally 36 weeks 4 days, and at that point I was only 36 weeks 3 days...but I knew she wouldn't split hairs over it.
As I was going in to fill the tub, I felt a big thudding movement from the baby--and that was the beginning of the drastic change in my labor.
I filled the tub and got into the deliciously warm water. Good thing, too, because the contractions changed and became more intense...and began to radiate way more into my back than they had initially.
I suppose it was around 2 or 3 in the afternoon when that happened--I don't really know, because though I'm sure I glanced at the clock as I passed it, there isn't a clock in the bathroom, and that's where I remained for most of the labor at that point. My Darling came and went between me in the bathroom and the kiddos downstairs. I had no idea what they were up to, but he let them know what was going on, and they seemed to be just as good as gold. Don't know what they had for supper, or what movie they watched...don't know what time the boys went to bed--the girls stayed up for the duration.
What I do know is that by the time My Darling called the midwives and they arrived, it was about 6:30 in the evening. They were cold and so comforted by our heated tiles in the bathroom! They brought in their equipment and put things where they needed them to be. They began chatting with My Darling a bit....
.......and my labor slowed tremendously. I moved between the tub and the loo, and really thought it was *time*--but when Chris checked me, I was only at 2 cm.
I was so frustrated. It was about 10:00 in the evening, and this had officially become my longest labor...and I was only at a 2?
I sat on the edge of the bed and cried...and breathed through a few contractions. They were really spaced out though. Chris said to lie down and get some rest...maybe things would pick up again in the morning.
The midwives left.
I tried to lie down, and got gobsmacked by a contraction. And another one. And another one. And good grief did they hurt in my back!!
I got into the bathroom as quickly as I could, but had two contractions between the bed and the tub. By the time I got into the water and had it warmed up again, the contractions were like sledge hammers smashing against my spine.
So much for the peaceful, enjoyable labor I had envisioned. This was serious work, and having had two back labors before, I knew it wasn't going to be any easier until it was time to push.
With each contraction, I would squat and lean forward and grab onto the water spout. I sang a very loud song of opening, and tried desperately to focus on anything. After a few contractions like that, I began hanging onto My Darling's hand with each pain. I squeezed the very lifeblood from two or three of his fingers...I figured it was the least he could do. ;)
At one point, during a break between the pains, I slept. Actually, I slept what felt like a good bit between each of them, though My Darling says I only had about 30 seconds between the end of one and the beginning of the next. But at this particular point, Our Lady came to me. She said to me in the most beautiful voice, "Look there...do you see my beloved Son? Do you see His suffering? I am bringing you to Him, to His cross. Be there with him in your suffering and know that He suffers with you, for you. I will remain here with you." I have never experienced anything like this in my life....and I will never forget it. No song could ever be as sweet as her voice was. It was like the scent of heaven, but in a sound...and to even try to explain it with words makes it sound coarse and jagged.
I was also beginning to see, in the tile on the wall, the face of a lion. The face was gentle, but strong, with an open mouth and eyes. Something in my spirit said, "As with the Lion of Judah..." and I began to think, "I can roar my baby out like a lion." I really needed to--the pains were so incredible, so powerful, so much bigger than anything I had ever experienced, I could not help but roar.
My Darling called Chris to come back at around 1:00 in the morning. My labor had begun 13 hours earlier, and I was lost trying to get from one pain to the next. My Darling held the phone out as I roared through yet another contraction, and Chris said, "Tell her she needs to calm down...I'm on my way!"
This time when the midwives came, my labor did not slow. When Chris checked me, she let me know that I was at 6 to 7 cm, with a bulging bag of waters. It wasn't too long after that that I needed to give a push...and the bag burst. It was such a strange sensation, one that I could never adequately describe. It felt like a balloon bursting in my lungs, or something near to that. There were about 2 or 3 contractions after that during which I felt relatively little pain--Gingersnap's little head was descending from where it had been floating in her watery world...and when it finished descending, the pain came right back again.
The time came to help her to leave her little warm home and come into our big, open world...there was no position I could find that felt good or right. The world was entirely pain. Everything was pain. I could not believe the amount of pain I was in. It felt like my body was being torched with a fire that burned but did not consume. An unbelievable amount of pain which I never imagined existed was now banging against my back. I kept trying to see Our Lady and her beloved Son, and it was all I could do to keep that vision in my mind's eye.
I begged for an epidural. My Darling said, "I left the stuff for that at the shop..." I implored them to just knock me out. One of the midwives said, "I don't think that's a service we offer..."
Well, then, somebody get this baby out, because I can't!!!
Finally, Chris suggested that I stand. I did, and I leaned over her shoulders and gave a mighty push to help my baby's head come forth. Chris had me lower back into the water, and as I did, there was my sweet little Gingersnap. She was looking right up into my eyes, which is, of course, why my back had felt during my entire labor exactly like forty-two legions of soldiers were marching up and down my back, as though it were a battlefield, and stabbing their spears into my spine with every step.
2:34 in the morning, January 31st, thanks be to God!!
She was so tiny--and I was so surprised that she was a girl! I really thought there was a little boy in there!
Oh, she was so beautiful, and so very, very tiny...I could barely feel the weight of her.
Reepicheep and Frog and Cuppie came up from the downstairs to see...I believe Reepicheep was the one to cut Gingersnap's umbilical cord, which had a true knot in it. By the time I was ready to get out of the tub, Frog was holding Cuppie, and My Darling was tucking Squash back into his bed (he and Pickle had made a cameo appearance to lay eyes on their baby sister) or something--so Reepicheep was the first one to hold my little Gingersnap for a minute.
The midwives got me and Gingersnap tucked into the bed for a little while so that they could clean up the bathroom, get my herbal bath ready for me, and prepare for the newborn exam. As I soaked in the tub, Chris readied to measure and weigh my little Gingersnap. I had already guessed that she wouldn't even come near six pounds. But she was pretty long--I couldn't wager a guess at how long she was. Chris measured her, and scrunched up her face--"That can't be right!" she said. She measured again, and looked at me with a puzzled expression. "Twenty inches long?!" she exclaimed. That's my longest baby yet! "Maybe she'll surprise us with her weight, too," Chris said.
Five pounds, four ounces. Tall and thin!!
She scored well on her apgars, 9 and 10 I think.
She nursed beautifully, and pooped even before the midwives left.
By 5:30, we were all tucked into our respective beds, my girls finally collapsing into their beds, although I'm fairly certain Reepicheep didn't sleep until late that afternoon.
Everything went very well...until Thursday, when I began to feel so low I could have crawled underneath a snake's belly wearing a top hat. Every single muscle in my body was doing it's dead level best to remind me what I had done on Monday. My back and my legs were in a screaming match, and the rest of me felt like so much jello.
Thursday night, I was beginning to notice a twinge in my side. It seemed to come on with the after pains, which were pretty substantial, but not unendurable. But by Friday mid-morning, this twinge had begun to hurt. By lunch time, it had begun to throb. And by early afternoon, it was getting so severe that I was getting a little scared about it. I began to feel feverish, and my gut told me that this was something substantially wrong.
I called My Darling to come home. He did come just as soon as he was able, and by the time he got home, I could not stand up on my own. I couldn't straighten out, couldn't lower my right knee from my chest. We got Gingersnap dressed, and My Darling brought me pants and socks.
We headed out to the hospital just like that.