It's Casper's first birthday today, yay! And in honor of that, I'm sharing his birth story for the first time, yay! And I didn't keep it short, so get cozy and settle in for storytime. It's a good one. (Yay!)
It was a cold Saturday morning in January and we needed groceries. We piled into the car and picked up where we left off with our well-established car ride conversation: baby names. We asked each other if we were leaning more toward boy or girl today (we could both picture it going either way) and confirmed our top name choices for each gender, still leaving room for last-minute changes, because we never like to close that door. A new name could hit at any moment. That’s how we roll.
Since we only make the trek to the city grocery stores every couple weeks, I was pretty sure this would be the last trip with only one little in the backseat. My due date was the next day, but because Hadley was born 8 days past her due date, I wasn’t planning on labor starting any time soon. Maybe by the middle of next week or something. Anyway, knowing this would probably be my last chance at a coffee from Caribou for awhile I decided, “I’m definitely getting one today. Dairy and all. I’m celebrating.” Inside the store, as I grabbed my cup from the coffee counter, a couple of ladies noticed my belly and asked when I was due. “Tomorrow!” I answered triumphantly. I was dying for someone to ask me that question today because it made the baby's coming feel so real and imminent. I walked the aisles of the store and saw people going about their oh-so-regular Saturdays and that made me feel good. Little did they all know, I was due in a matter of hours. I liked waddling around with my coffee and my 9-month belly zipped up tight inside my winter coat, carrying my little on the brink of having a baby secret.
We made the 45 minute drive home, put away the groceries, and spent the rest of the day hanging out, doing the normal nap time routine for Hadley, picking up the house, and I think I may have baked some cookies. Ever since we finished up Christmas-ing my mind had switched over into baby mode. I routinely walked around the house, moving things from one room to another, grabbing onesies or blankets to stash somewhere handy. We were planning another home birth, so I had brought a basket of newborn things and my big exercise ball up to our bedroom. I also had a hospital bag packed, in case we decided to go in. I never gave the date a second thought as we went about the day, but when it was time for bed Grant and I joked about tomorrow being "the day.” Neither of us ever expected anything to really happen. And we certainly didn’t anticipate that we only had a few hours of sleep ahead of us.
I woke up at 2:45 am (Sunday, January 12 — the due date) and sat up in bed. My water had broken. Ok. My water broke. Right? That’s what this is? Already this labor was looking very different from Hadley’s (my water didn’t break until she was being born). I sat in disbelief for a second or two and woke Grant to let him know what I thought had just happened. As I waited for any contractions to start, I thought about how I had basically spent the whole day nesting yesterday, naively thinking we still had a week to wait. Everything we needed to do to get ready to have a baby was done. What a gift! The Lord gave us such a peaceful day of prep. Looking back, I'm so glad that only He knows how the labor timeline is going to play out- I would have been nervous and anxious if I had known how little time we had.
I got up to go to the bathroom and wrap my head around my water breaking. I mean, that's like how labor starts in the movies! I never thought I'd have that dramatic kick-off experience, but here it is! When I came back to bed, we thought we better try and get a little more sleep if we could. Of course, that was not happening. Both of us were awake and the contractions started like clockwork. I am a terrible sleep-through-contractions girl. They were already coming about every 5-10 minutes, but they were not very long or strong. Those sensations... they're very convincing. You know them in a moment. You know what they're up to. Even though they aren't at all easy, they somehow feel natural, like something you have to accept. I think that's why labor pain is so different for me than any other pain- it's not a hurt to try to staunch or an injury being inflicted on me- there's nothing to fight. You just have to bear it.
We finally came around to the idea that the birth was probably going to happen today (which was so strange for us since Hadley’s labor was stretched out over several days) so we got out of bed and Grant started filling up the birth pool and getting other things ready. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, but so many girls talk about a hot shower feeling good during labor, so I opted for that. The contractions weren’t strong enough for me to really need relief yet, and probably were only lasting 30-45 seconds, but I hopped in the shower anyway. And since things weren’t feeling too bad yet, I went ahead and got myself all ready for the day. I wanted to stay busy, and I'm a pro at passing time with the blowdryer. I put my earrings in and thought about how funny it would be to keep them in all through labor and maybe I’d still be wearing them while holding my new baby. (I was.) Crazy, I thought. And crazy that earrings are part of the thought life during labor. Anyway, hair dried, earrings and contacts in, warm clothes on, I carried on with the business of contracting.
At 6:45 am we called our midwife to let her know what was up. We had a little chat and she said she’d be over in a couple hours. I was calm because labor was feeling very familiar and predictable. I had been nervous that my second labor would be more swift and powerful, so I was glad that things seemed to be shuffling along pretty slowly. I sat on the big exercise ball next to our bed and used a contraction timer app to keep track, bouncing through them as they came. Things were steady in the sense that I knew this wouldn’t fade away into false labor, but also sporadic when it came to frequency and duration. Grant sat in our bed and typed away at his laptop, making notes for a substitute teacher. He was planning to take a week off to be at home with us, so he hurriedly got things ready for his class. We knew that Hadley would be waking up soon, so Grant called his parents to ask if she could spend the day with them, because it looked like we'd be busy the rest of the day (wink, wink). They are always so ready to help, and we were so grateful. After Hadley got up, Grant got her dressed and packed a bag, and Grandpa came to pick her up right away.
Erika arrived at 9:00 am and checked me over. Everything looked good, contractions were still happening regularly, but laboring had become less intense as the morning went on. I felt a little discouraged and aimless. Like I had lost sight of the end. The hardest part of labor for me is not knowing the timeline- not knowing how much longer I have to bear the weight of the work and make my strength last. Erika told us the baby was a bit posterior and it’s normal to see the pattern of labor be sporadic like mine until the baby gets turned around. She asked me where I was feeling most of the cramping and tightening when I was having a contraction and I told her it was mostly in the front part of my belly. I answered eagerly because I knew right away that was something to be encouraged about. And I was looking for encouragement! She said that was good and that my body was doing exactly what it should be doing. I’m guessing I would have been having more back pain if the baby had been truly posterior. She mentioned a few things to try to help the baby move into position and told us that once things are all lined up, they probably won’t slow down- the end could come quickly. I was feeling strangely sleepy, so I decided to get back in bed and lay on my left side to help the baby turn and try to rest at the same time. Grant used this window of time to make a quick trip to his school to finish preparations for a substitute teacher.
By the time Grant got back (maybe 11:00), I was up and bouncing on the ball again, feeling more awake and contractions were coming steadily 5-10 minutes apart and lasting about 45 seconds. I switched back and forth between kneeling low on the ground, resting my arms up on the ball (letting gravity help the baby turn) and sitting on top of the ball. I read through the handful of promise cards that I had picked for such a time as this. The verse I was clinging to more than any other was Isaiah 41:10 - "Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness." These were the words that I could still summon to my mind, even in the deepest parts of labor. Or at least the first 9 of them. As John Piper says, "When my mind is in neutral, the hum of the gears is the sound of Isaiah 41:10." That is how I felt that day. I'm so thankful to the Lord for giving me His powerful promise to call to mind when I needed it most.
During the 11 o'clock hour, I felt my mind fill with enthusiasm for the goal. No longer feeling bereft or stuck, I wanted to keep working toward the harder parts ahead. And I was glad I had a chance to feel like this before being engulfed in the mental fog of late labor. Erika checked the baby’s heart rate and position regularly and I was so encouraged because contractions were getting longer and closer, and the baby was moving! I could feel the spine that had been nestled into my side gradually work its way toward the middle of my belly. Around noon, I felt things intensify and my adrenaline kicking in. My legs always get so shaky when I get to this point. (my fingers are starting to get shaky and my teeth a little chattery just remembering this part!) It was around this time that I remembered something that I wanted to do differently with this baby: I went into Hadley’s birth with an empty stomach and low energy and felt so weak for days afterwards. Birth really does take a stockpile of strength. So I tried to get in as much nourishment as I could take in between contractions. I drank coconut kefir and ate a couple clementines and some scrambled eggs that Grant brought upstairs for me. I talked with Erika and Grant when contractions weren’t bothering me. I started to need more coping methods during the peak points of the pain- my main one was pulling on Grant’s arm as hard as I could. The ball was still my best friend, too. I bounced and pulled, bounced and pulled. I wasn’t timing things anymore. I was absorbed in the work. Just doing what needed to be done.
I remember looking around our bedroom and getting the sense that Erika was watching me very carefully now. She was not talking, but she was gauging me and worked quickly making preparations around the room. Clearly, she could see I had switched over into the last stages. Erika doesn't check dilation unless there is a reason to, in order to prevent infection, so I wasn't sure how "close" I was, but it was at that point that I realized, I can get in the pool! I like to save that until I really really need it, like when I feel overwhelmed, but it hit me that I'm probably at that point. In fact, I may not even have that much left. Whoa. I told Grant and Erika I thought I was ready for the pool and by 1:00, I was in. The water was soothing, especially to my shaky legs. It didn't take away the pain, but it helped me relax and feel more capable and in control. I felt excited about getting to this benchmark and was waiting to be convinced by the power of contractions about far along we were. I was hopeful that the end was near, but still had no idea how much longer it might be. I sat by the side of the pool, in the exact same spot I had claimed when laboring with Hadley, laying my head on the wall and holding Grant’s hand. I was quiet. My mind was blank except for the work I was doing. Moving around (rocking, bouncing) and praying Isaiah 41:10 throughout contractions was still my go-to coping mechanism. Only half an hour later, I felt the switch from regular contractions to pushing contractions. For me, these feelings are less desperate. They're effective. From that point on, I could feel the baby moving down with each contraction/push. Erika kept checking the baby and me regularly and things looked good- very close. Grant kept praying over me and letting me pull on his arm. I pushed for quite awhile apparently, but it didn't feel like a long time to me at all. It felt like seriously strenuous work, but without the sense of dire urgency that you see on tv. Because there wasn't anyone telling me, "push!", there was no rush. It felt purposeful, slow, and steady, which was what I wanted.
At 2:47 pm (exactly 12 hours after my water broke), our Casper was born! Grant pulled him up to me and we held him in the pool for awhile. He was a perfect peachy pink from the moment he came out. He was never bluish or purplish. His eyes were very alert and he was calm. He didn’t have much hair, but the little bit he had was blond. He was so adorably round- faced and just the right size, with a the cutest nose and full, rosy lips! I have so many sweet memories of our first week with him. Sleepy, cozy, quiet, snowy. We sat for hours, camped on the couch, just admiring his newness and perfection, passing him back and forth and nestling his tiny body on big pillows. Casper Job. Our little winter baby. Our son. We are so glad you're here and so thankful to the Lord! We love you.