At long last (does three weeks count as soonish?) here is the sequel to Athena's Birth Story. Catch up on the first half here.
As we made our way out to the car, I had a contraction while leaning up against the gold Honda Odyssey. As it rolled over and through me, I prayed over those people and causes that I had thought up beforehand as intentions.
Intentions? Causes? Praying during labor? Let me explain. No, it's too much, let me summarize.
My sister a year previous had told me about a blog called Carrots for Michaelmas - a Catholic "bookish mama" as she called herself. I checked out the blog, read some posts, checked out some links, and suddenly I was reading a bunch of Catholic bloggers. I never really comment, feeling awkward somehow that I am outside of their very tight online community. But I can honestly say that reading about other women follow their Catholic faith has taught me a lot about myself, my following of my faith, and what religion even is. I learned about Natural Family Planning (NFP), the religious version of Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). It changed my heart and my soul about birth control. I can honestly say Athena would not be here if not for them (well, maybe....I did get pregnant with Enoch while I had an IUD, so perhaps I can't honestly say anything about my ability to prevent or achieve pregnancy). I found advice and solidarity in larger families with small children. Among the blogs I read are Conversion Diary, Catholic All Year, House Unseen, Time Flies When You're Having Babies (her husband is in grad school - she had three girls and a boy in that order - it's like my life, only with more wine and coffee), and Fountains of Home.
Being Catholic mamas, they also talk about labor. As I read about Kendra from Catholic All Year offering up her labor pains for other's intentions, as I read about many of them using many different circumstances in life as a time or place for praying for others, I became intrigued by the thought of turning labor, that is often only seen as something to be suffered through, into something that I could use to spur me to pray for others. Not that somehow I can transfer the amount of pain or effort I expend into "points" that God can then apply on someone else's blessings account. Rather, somethings do not go out, except through fasting and prayer. Sometimes prayers aren't enough, and let me tell you, if labor cannot exceed fasting in terms of effort, then I don't know what would. As well, when we suffer with others in mind, above and beyond ourselves, we can let go of the pain, the hurt, the relentless suffering and (while not escaping it - in natural labor there is no escape) embrace the pain, embrace the suffering and through all of this offer it up to God, offer it up to my child, who without my birthing her cannot gain a physical body - the necessary next step in our progression through life. During my labor with Enoch, when I saw the cross during my labor, for the first time in all of my births I thought of Christ, and what Christ gave for us all. I thought of Gethsemane, and knowing that Christ suffered more than mortal may gave me strength - gave me courage because if he had done such a great thing, then I could proceed in my small (yet mighty and difficult) thing of one labor. This experience helped me especially understand where they were coming from in bringing in religious intentions into labor.
So as I leaned my head against the van I prayed - not fully formed prayers, of course - I prayed for those I knew who were struggling. As Avram drove us through the dark streets of Columbus, I prayed for those I knew who are not able to have children. As each contraction washed over me, starting high up in the Uterus and moving inexorably down, opening a path for little Athena to come earthside, I prayed for others, for myself, for my baby.
We arrived at the hospital and slowly made our way through the parking garage, waited at the doors for them to be unlocked, and then slowly made our way down the everlasting hallway and to the elevators. Remembering my labor is feels like a paradox. I know in reality that we arrived at the hospital sometime around four am. We arrived at the actual reception desk at 4:18 exactly (no, I wasn't watching the clock, why do you ask?). And yet in my mind every moment moved ever so slowly. The entire spinning of the world slowed until all the universe walked some steps, paused as a universe engulfing contraction pulsed through us, around us. We paused, audibly breathed out the pain, prayed, envision Athena, and then the contraction faded away, its energy spent. Since my labors start hard, go fast, and end hard (but fast), there was no real gaining in intensity, or feeling of progress, just each contraction, each endless moment in time.
Finally we made it to the reception desk, where between contraction I typed in my social, and signed my life away. There may be other birth stories that talk about the glories and beauty of labor, and they are there. But....as the receptionist led us back, I cannot lie - a part of me, even after four successful natural labors, had a moment of longing for something to come and take this all away. For a magic button (an epidural?) to just seep the pain and effort away. (For why I do not use epidurals, you can read Elisheva's birth story, although be warned, it is actually a novel masquerading as a blog post. I bet you are shocked). Although a part of me knew that, like every labor I have endured, this one would also come to an end, and not even with a long wait. But perhaps because I have also had to endure it four times, this fifth time still saw me impossibly dreaming of another shortcut or way out.
We were settled into the triage room at 4:25 (the large red digital clock on the wall made it very easy to ignore the passage of time and never keep track of it like a desperate laboring woman keeping track of the minutes of her travail, or anything). The nurse checked me, and I was at a 5. My midwife, blessed Pat, came within a few minutes, and as I asked her to start setting up the birth pool as soon as possible, and to not wait until I was out of triage because I know they take a long time to fill up, and I have quick labors, and I really wanted to have a water birth, and to labor in water, and so please, please go start filling it right now. It is all vague in my mind now, but someone (the nurse?) told me they were not allowing water births anymore, and I believe that Pat asked that the nurses not tell anyone coming in that, because they would be so disappointed at the sudden shock, since this had only been finally decided the night before when at 6:00 pm she had gotten the call. Pat apologized for answering her phone to me, and that I could not have a water birth. Perhaps they could tell I was having the shock - I had birthed Enoch in a Jacuzzi Tub, but I wanted a real water birth, where the baby was born completely underwater and I had more of the buoyancy of water to support me. And although I cared more about laboring in water than this, and I could still do that, this sudden departure from my birth plan shook me.
And yet I could not stop and discuss it, or process the information. The contractions came, and in order to not succumb to one I had to keep riding it, keeping relaxing during it. It was like the first time I went to the Ocean, when I was twelve and my family visited California. We spent one day at the beach, and I, lover of all things oceanic, went right in to the water. Where the force of the waves knocked me over. Knocked me under. And I came up spluttering the briney water, got my feet under me - and the next wave did the same thing again. I eventually learned to relax at the wave hit me, to let the force of the incoming water buoy me up so that as the crest of the wave hit my body I was cresting with it, and not trying to dig my heels into the sad and meet it by force, but rather by submission. I did learn the trick, but by this point I was waterlogged enough that I escaped to the sand, where I spent most of the day that was left building sand castles and collected shells.
Except that there is no escaping from the waves, and I knew if I derailed too much, I would fall underneath the tide of contractions and so I receded from the information, and just focused on relaxing, on riding the wave of every contraction. Water labor to me was as for many women getting the epidural is, and so I just focused on that, instead of the hoped for water birth as well. I have realized that although I am not a hypnobirther that I do achieve a state during labor where all my energy is going to relaxing through each contraction, and where I feel almost in my own state of mind. Interrupting this would mean crashing through the water to the sea floor. Hypnosis? Maybe, I don't know.
Pat went and started the water (in the room with the most water pressure, she said. Oh, I loved her). The nurse kept checking the computer read outs of my contractions, and finally Pat convinced her that they should move me, although they were still missing one 'needed' readout (do you want to have the baby here? Pat asked).
At 5:00, per the large red clock I was not looking at, they had me climb out of bed and wheeled me down the hall, the very same hall I walked while in labor with Guinevere. This time I thought of how we were whizzing down the same space I had laboriously walked before. Then a contraction hit, and the discomfort of sitting up made it feel more uncomfortable, harder to relax to. I looked forward to my room, which we arrived in at 5:05 (those large red, completely ignorable clocks were ubiquitous). I stood out of the wheelchair and felt another contraction coming, so I leaned over a convenient table and rotated my hips while vocalizing at the same frequency as the contraction. (Yes, this may sound weird - but if you are ever in labor, I suggest you try it.) This contraction also felt a little harder, but once again I was in a strange position, since my preferred way of laboring is through reclining and relaxing, or best of all through relaxing in water.
They were filling the pool right next to me, with about six or eight inches in it. As the contraction ebbed away, and I heard the nurse asking if they should still have me get back in bed and get the last needed readout (hence why I spent a half hour in triage, and not fifteen minutes, in retrospect, although I was not capable of thinking such things in the moment), I ignored her, and Pat both, who was reassuring her that they did not need it. As fast as a women mid labor can I stripped off the hospital gown and the straps used for gaining the computer read-outs off my belly, and then jumped (in my mind - probably more like waddled to everyone else) into the pool at 5:05 am. I was ready for the relief, the comparative ease of water labor.
I could not get comfortable, and I complained about it. Avram held the hose over my back to try and ease my discomfort. I rolled from one side to another, but there was just not very much water in there. Pat asked if they could put a hep lock in. I said, "No." She asked if I meant no, never, or no, not right then. I said no, and Avram interpreted, "She means, no, not right now, but in a little bit when she has settled in, then you can give her one." And that right there is why Avram will have to attend every labor I ever had, because of course, that was exactly what I meant. Then I had a contraction, and it was hard, it was intense, it was long - and I was pushing. I yelled out that I was pushing, and as soon as the contraction eased Pat had her apprentice Bree check to see how far I was dilated.
I am very much a fan of helping midwife apprentices learn their trade - with Elisheva's birth it was actually the apprentice who delivered me, while the midwife sat right next to her, directing her. I did not mind Bree checking me, and given the same opportunity, I would let her again. But...that was also the longest check for dilation in the history of womankind while you are in labor and that is all. She finally determined I was at a 9 1/2 with a cervical lip, and Pat suggested that getting out of the pool would help remove that so I could fully dilate.
With the help of Avram and Bree I slowly climbed back out of the pool - a mere five minutes later at 5:10 (I have no idea how in the middle of all this I managed to even catch a glimpse of the clock, but my theory is because it is the brightest thing in the room, and about five feet (or six inches) tall). They had laid out a path of towels for me to walk on to the bed, which was just a few feet away. I walked on, two steps, and then another contraction hit - another pushing contraction. Although I was upheld by Avram and Bree, I could not walk, I could not even stand. I sank to my knees, all ability of riding through a contraction lost as I then sank to the floor, kneeling on my knees with my forehead on the ground, in perhaps the oldest submission of all.
I vaguely heard Bree talking with Pat about me moving, or not, I heard people doing things behind, around me. I did not notice, but just vocalized to the point of screaming through the never-ending pushing contraction, my forehead on the cool, ground - a counterpoint to the fiery heat (pain?) everywhere else. I yelled about the pressure, and Pat miraculously did something. And then, and then...she came. At 5:14 am, two hours and around fifteen minutes after my very first contraction, Athena entered the world. She was squalling (perfect!) and the Pat wanted to hand her up to me, but I was still kneeling on the floor. We finally managed an underhand pass, and I brought Athena up to my front, where I held her. The midwives helped me stand up with Athena, and then get into bed.
Athena in her first couple of minutes of birth. Notice that she is actually on a couple of towels on the floor.
After all, it was a good thing that I couldn't have a water birth - I am not sure birthing in eight inches of water would have been that great, anyway.
I got to hold Athena until the cord stopped pulsating and beyond, and then Avram cut the cord - he is never really sure why they want him to, but they always have him do it. I nursed her. Athena was Pat's 1000 delivery, and so I put on a real shirt instead of the hospital gown they had put on me after the birth. I had known Pat was nearing her 1000th birth - at the midwive's office they had put up a sign a couple of months before that was counting down the births. And then a week before my due date, two weeks before Athena came, the sign listed 999. I hoped Athena would come early, and get to be her 1,000th. But no baby came (see previous story). And there were three other midwives as well, so my chance of even getting Pat was not great anyway. But, it turned out that was a very strange two weeks for deliveries for Pat - one woman had an emergency c-section (which doesn't count). Another first timer got to the hospital and then before Pat could get there (which she came immediately) had her baby. And mostly no one was going into labor at all during her shifts.
During the middle of the night when I went into labor Pat had woken up, seen the clock, and thought that there went another shift without her thousandth baby, since her shift only went to 7:00 am. And then I called a few hours later, and two hours past that we were getting ready to take a picture of Pat and I and Athena.
Pat and her thousandth birth!
In less exciting moments, my bleeding was off, and with the anemia I had during the pregnancy, they had to give me a bag of pitocin. After five babies I had finally had a labor where I managed not to get a heperan lock for the epidural that never came - and then after Athena they had to give me one anyway, and it felt like one, long continuous (but lower level) contraction for as long as the Pitocin dripped. But even all that could not dampen how wonderful it was to not be in labor any more, to have Athena here, she whom I had known was coming (not just any baby, but Athena, a girl, a real person who had always existed as herself through eternity), and now she was really here with me.
I feel really great about the labor. My last three labors have had the transition moment where I have felt that I could not do it, but perhaps because I was moving rooms during transition, I did not have had a transition moment of giving up at all. Of course, it was my shortest labor, and I felt very focused during it, which helped as well. I love natural labors, but I admit that I am not a good poster child for them, because they are so short, so although they are intense, I cannot truly understand what it is like to have a long and intense labor, or even a long and easier labor. Enoch was my favorite labor, until I had Athena, and now hers was my favorite. I take that as a good sign - that I keep feeling better about my labors. I am too the point where by far I would rather have another labor (ten more labors!) than have morning sickness. Too bad I can't figure out how to overcome that....
As far as my worries about having Athena in the same hospital as Guinevere - it really wasn't a problem at all. Having a supportive midwife who showed up almost as fast as I did (instead of fifteen minutes before delivery) made all the difference. Otherwise if she had taken her time, I almost certainly would have delivered Athena in the triage room with a nurse catching the baby. So it goes to show it is who your care is as much as the hospital you use. So for those in the Columbus Area, the OSU midwife group is who to go with!
We gave her the middle name of Luthien because Avram really wanted to have a Tolkien name. He loves Tolkien - when we lived in England we even tried, and eventually found, Tolkien's grave. On Tokien's Grave is his name, and then underneath in the same size font, "Beren." On his wife Edith's grave it has her name, and then underneath, "Luthien." Tolkien called his wife Luthien, and himself Beren, after the mythology he created in the Silmarillion. In it, Luthien is an immortal elven maiden, daughter to a powerful elven king. Beren is a mortal, a man who sees Luthien dancing in a glade, and loves her immediately. Her hair is dark as the shadows of twilight, and her eyes were gray as the starlit evening (Athena's hair is dark, and her eyes may yet be gray - I keep hoping). Her father forbids her from marrying Beren, but he finally consents that they may marry if they capture the silmarils - the elven jewels that held the light of creation - from Morgoth's iron crown (Morgoth is Sauron's boss, and in the story Luthien even roughs Sauron up). They manage to do so, and marry, but Luthien must pick mortality and death to be with Beren. She does so, losing her immortality and elvish nature so that she may be with the man she loves, although he is far below her.
The fact that Tolkien called his wife Luthien, and himself Beren tells you much about how he felt about his wife, and what he felt she had given up when she chose him. (I believe his son references this in her conversion to Catholicism when she married him).
So, Athena gained the name Luthien, in honor of Luthien in the Silmarillion, as well as the living 'Luthien,' Tolkien's wife.
And here she is (You can tell she is thrilled to enter this world, too).