Starting on Saturday night, June 21st, the anticipation began. A full nine days before Levi decided to make his grand entrance into the Donnelson family. I was up all night with contractions that felt more like labor than any other Braxton Hicks contractions I had experienced. By the wee hours of the morning, I was getting tired of not sleeping, and decided to call Darlene Curtis, my midwife, to see if it was time. I did, only to find out that these contractions weren’t the real thing.
I am one of those people lucky enough to get to feel what labor's like even months before it’s time for the real thing, and so I was not terribly surprised to find out the labor was false. At the same time, my doula, Agi Hunt, who would be my labor support person, apparently awoke, wondering if I had called her. My husband Brandon had strongly urged me to, and I never actually did. He knew I would have benefited from her encouragement, even in the false labor I was experiencing. God must have known I’d need a little prayer from Agi’s direction, and caused her to awake anyhow. I am thankful to know someone was thinking of me at that point, because I was depressed that my body wasn’t ready to perform, and felt like I had disappointed Brandon, who had gotten so excited he'd started a frenetic cleaning spree in our house.
On Wednesday, June 25, I had a check-up appointment with Darlene, who told me I had Group B Strep. This is an infection that can be passed to baby when he is born, so I would need to get antibiotics in my bloodstream as soon as labor began. So that’s why I hadn’t had Levi yet… I needed to know to get to the birth center right away, so Levi would not be in danger! At least that was an encouragement. Darlene then checked to see how far dilated my cervix was, and found that it was already open to 4 cm. and was 75% effaced.
She then asked if I wanted her to strip the membranes to help get things moving while she was checking, so I had to make a quick decision, and said ok. My son Isaac was born the same day my membranes were stripped, so I felt pretty certain Levi would do the same. My daughter Eva had to go to her friend Ariana’s birthday party, so we went, and all my friends were there. It was convenient to then spread the word that the baby would likely be born that night. I also told our friends Rod and Diane, called Brandon’s cousin, Josie, who was also pregnant, and her friend Amy, who plans on being a midwife, because both wanted to be present at the birth. And of course I called my mom.
It was destined that because I'd told everyone on the planet that Levi would be born that day, then of course he was not. I had to cringe when I admitted to myself that the cliché about the watched pot was indeed too true!
The next week was spent joking with my brother Matthew about the different activities in life that might be labor-inducing. We planned to go strawberry picking, and decided that would be a great way to induce labor since it involves lots of squatting. Going to yard sales became a labor inducer… anything worked! Matthew even came up with the idea that if we just didn’t talk about Levi or labor, then he would decide to arrive.
Saturday the 28th , I forgot to take my daughter Eva to a birthday party we had planned on going to all month, so the pregnancy hormones must have really been flowing! We went to all sorts of garage sales with Matt and got lots of good deals, including a 10 cent plastic bib for Levi and a lawn chair so my big pregnant self could sit in the wading pool and cool off. I believed at this point that I would be eternally pregnant, so this was indeed a useful buy. I was very uncomfortable all day, but did not tell anyone. I didn’t want to send out any more false alarms!
The next morning, Sunday June 29th, we skipped Sunday school at church because I was too uncomfortable, but went to church anyways. I shifted and squirmed all through the sermon, which was entirely devoted to appreciating delayed gratification and accepting God’s timing! One of the songs we sang had this refrain “And so I wait, for you, yes I wait for you,” which I promptly applied to the impending arrival of Levi, and the fact that I needed to wait for him and his timing, which in turn would be God’s perfect timing.
By the end of the church service, I had decided that it was ridiculous that I was so impatient about Levi’s arrival, when I had not even reached his July 4th due date yet and determined that I would enjoy myself and just do whatever I felt like doing.
We went to Rod and Diane's for dinner that evening. Brandon had fixed the window and blinkers on the van, which had both gone bad. We needed the van working for when my parents arrived on the 3rd of July, and also for when the baby came. I went in our room and ended up finishing the book I had begun the first day I had strong false labor contractions: One of Ours, by Willa Cather. I thought offhand, wouldn’t it be neat if I had the baby the day I finished the book I had read all through my hours of false labor? That night I again had contractions I was convinced were false labor. Unfortunately, they were uncomfortable enough that I couldn’t sleep, and of course Brandon could, so I decided to clean the house at about midnight.
Matthew was up watching the movie ET, and asked if I always cleaned at midnight. I told him I was having contractions, and that this kept my mind off of them. I said good night to him when the house was clean, and tried taking a bath. That didn’t help much, so I just decided to lay down. I was able to fall asleep until 2:15 a.m., when I woke up with the sensation of a little wet gush coming from between my legs. I went to the bathroom and there was a little bit more. I had never had my water break before, but since it didn’t feel like I'd peed in my pants, I figured I must be in labor this time.
The contractions were strong and were coming about three minutes apart, so I decided to wake up Brandon and to call Darlene. Darlene told me to go back to sleep for an hour because it didn't sound like my water had broken. I felt differently, but debated about calling Agi yet, not wanting it to be another false alarm. The contractions kept coming, and I was irritably rocking in my chair, emptying out my purse and looking for Agi’s cell phone number when Brandon decided I was definitely in labor, and dialed her number for me. He woke up Matthew and Eva, and Agi said she’d come right away.
Brandon called Darlene since I was trying to wait the hour before calling her, and said we’d be leaving at 3 a.m. I'm glad he did, I would have probably spent my labor debating on whether to inconvenience anyone! Brandon did all the phone calling… Josie, Diane, mom, and we were off. Agi had to meet us at the birth center because the pains were getting too strong to bear. I avoided getting into the car till the last minute because it was so uncomfortable, and on the way cringed at each bump and turn in the road. I prayed out loud that no police would see us and pull us over, because I don’t know what I would have done to them if they did! I guess we would have probably just had a police escort to the birth center, but I wasn’t sure I could even handle the short stop a police pullover would be. Brandon drove 75 miles per hour in a 60 mph zone and soon we were in Everett. We were given all green lights until I asked Brandon if he minded if I delivered in the water. Red light. “Well…I would rather not, but if you have to….” was the answer. I had been trying to convince him of the safety of a waterbirth the whole pregnancy, and found he was still not very comfortable with it.
When we arrived at the Cascade Birth Center in Everett, Darlene’s assistant, Micki, came out to meet us. I told her, “I think I’m in labor," because I was convinced Darlene still didn’t believe me. I later discovered that Darlene always tells her moms to wait an hour, so she can determine if it’s real labor, and since I couldn’t wait the hour, I guess she must have known I was really in labor.
I waddled to the back room, where Darlene was waiting for me. She checked the cervix, and said that it was 7 cm. dilated and completely soft. I cried like a baby, and I don’t know if it was because it hurt when she checked me, or because I was fearful of what I now knew was definitely going to happen.
When Agi walked in, I melted and gave her a big hug. She felt like a mother to me and I let myself be the 'afraid little girl' as she guided me through the intense pain that came unrelentingly. I even regressed into childlike talk throughout labor, saying things like, “owie owie,” and “it’s not fair.” I had planned for my mother to be at the labor, but she was not scheduled to fly in until later in the week, so it helped that I had Agi to act as a matronly figure. My body was tense and trembling with the intensity of the labor, and I found that as Agi breathed with me and held my shoulders and whispered in my ear, somehow my body was able to be loose.
Darlene then had to administer the antibiotics IV, and staying completely still seemed impossible, but with Agi breathing with me and helping me be still, it was at least bearable. I moved just a little, and the IV had to be redone. It worked the second time, and I was free to get into the tub.
Brandon put on an instrumental worship CD that helped to calm the mood in the room. I then climbed into the hot water, had a contraction squatting, and lay back. Agi stayed at my head, and Brandon took my hand. At that moment, I thought it was the sweetest, most beautiful hand I had ever seen, and told him tenderly that I loved him. I was glad to have my husband there, and to have Agi there to guide him and to tell him how he could help me.
Diane and Josie had both arrived and were conversing in the background, asking about water birth and its safety, among other things. I found I became irritable with any noise in the room, and tried to drown out any excess conversation by talking louder myself, and complaining. It didn’t work, and finally, during a particularly intense pain, I loudly asked every one to please not talk during a contraction. I later found that Diane was nervous as I was pushing because Brandon had been born with his cord wrapped around his neck, and because Levi was not emerging quickly, she was afraid the same had happened to him. Her talking was a way of relieving her nerves. I also found that to distract myself, I complained loudly whenever someone left the room. I asked incessantly where Darlene had gone, afraid that she might not be there when I needed to push, or would come at the last minute like a doctor would. Micki reassured me that Darlene would be right back. But when Brandon left, it didn’t make any sense to me. They said he had left to go to the bathroom, and I said there was a bathroom right there, and couldn’t he just walk right into it, and wasn’t it dumb that he had left? Later I found out he was just overwhelmed with my pain and sometimes obnoxious statements, and had needed a break.
I soon discovered with amazement that I could actually relax in between contractions. When I was in labor with Isaac, I had been so tense that the pains pounded me down and down, like ocean waves pinning me underwater. Brandon had held my hand the entire time, but since we had not experienced intense labor with Eva’s birth, (I had an epidural) he was just as fearful as I was, and was not able to calm me. I found out that the midwife had read a book as I moved through hard labor when Isaac was born.
I noticed that Levi was kicking right at the top of the uterus, even as the space around him contracted and pushed at his little body.
During my entire labor with Levi, Agi was beside me, reminding me to breathe, and that there was someone outside of me to lean on. I was even able to speak lucidly between contractions and to open my eyes. This had been impossible with Isaac.
One break was spent discussing the various distances and speeds everyone had traveled to come to the birth center. One was spent wagering with everyone as to what color hair they all thought Levi would have. Another was spent asking what to do if I pooped in the water. Another was spent asking how I was supposed to situate my body to push.
After that, I must have gone into the next stage of labor, because it was all I could do to breathe and relax against Agi between contractions. The back pain was intense, and she could not help alleviate it, since I was so deep in the water. The heat and then cold of the water was getting to me too, even as I drank cold water between contractions. I pushed and a little water came out. I pushed again and not much happened, and finally my water broke and we could see white flecks of vernix, (the white lotion-like substance that protects the baby’s skin in utero). At that point I became impatient and figured the baby should be born right after that, since Eva and Isaac were both born immediately after the doctor or midwife had ruptured the water bag. I think that was when I decided to get out of the water, surprising myself, and probably relieving Brandon and Diane.
I wanted to push right on the floor outside the tub, since I had found the squatting position relieved some back pain, as it had in pre-labor. The pushing was not productive, and Darlene realized that Levi’s head must be caught on the cervix. She reached inside to push the cervix away, and it was one of the worst pains I have felt.
Agi held me tight as I growled to Darlene, “What did you do to my body!” Everyone suggested I’d be more comfortable on the bed, and I didn’t want to go, but I reluctantly began to crawl there. I must have looked pretty pathetic, so Brandon and someone else lifted me to the comfortable bed, where I squatted again.
At that point, I have no idea who was around me, or what they were doing. I know Brandon kept reminding me to breathe as I pushed. This was a great help, but I finally found that all I wanted to do was to push the baby out so I grunted some deep grunts and felt him moving down the canal. There was finally one intensely drawn out grunt that evolved into a scream as I visualized my body tearing in half as Levi was born. I have heard the crowning of the baby’s head referred to as the ring of fire, and I think that is what I must have been experiencing, because it was the most searing and intense feeling I'd ever had. I don’t remember it being so insane with Isaac. I had probably drawn it out a little more when I delivered him.
Soon, I pushed again and heard a cry, and immediately asked for my baby. He was only born to his belly button, so Darlene reminded me that I needed to push again, and he slid onto the bed below me. I wanted him immediately, and tried to reach for him between my legs. And the labor was over.
At 4:47 a.m., about an hour and 15 minutes after we had arrived, my son was in my arms, and I was lucid, and I was Angie Donnelson once again.
The next two hours were spent joking and reveling in the beauty of the event. I called my mom to tell her about the birth, and Isaac and Eva came in. Isaac said, “It’s poop?” referring to the umbilical cord that protruded from between my legs. Then both he and Eva said, “It’s a baby!” when they saw him. They were picturesquely sweet as they alternated kissing Levi’s head, just as they had kissed my belly when he was in utero. Brandon had told Isaac that Levi came out of my body so he proudly asked me, “Out your body? Yeah?” I had to smile.
Soon the placenta was born and Micki began to massage the uterus. I hobbled to the bathroom, Levi got his newborn exam, and only missed one point on the Apgar scale. He weighed in at eight pounds, four ounces, just like Isaac, and was twenty inches long. His nose looked just like Brandon ’s as did his dark hair. Eva and I had thought he would have dark hair, so we were proud to be right.
Micki examined the placenta for any tears or missing pieces, and pointed out how it looks like a tree. It is often called the “tree of life” with the cord being the trunk and the placenta itself the root system. She showed how all the cracks and folds in the placenta fit perfectly together, and then stretched out the membrane that made the sack to hold Levi those long nine months.
To see the tiny space he inhabited empty reminded me I was no longer pregnant, and would no longer feel his movement from inside of me. It was a bittersweet realization, but I knew I would enjoy even more to hold him in my arms, to smell his baby hair, to count his baby toes, and to hold him to my breast.
I thought of the previous weeks, and how I had so desired to be “not pregnant,” even to the point where I kept forgetting to enjoy the miracle that pregnancy itself was. I must remember this next time, so that I will enjoy each kick, and each hiccup from the other side. Next time these reminders of life should be enjoyed as the exciting hints of the time ahead, and I will treasure them even more deeply.
I am so thankful to have the beautiful healthy children I have, and the enviously smooth labors with which they came into the world. I examine Levi’s tiny ear, with skin so transparent I can see the hundreds of blood vessels that give it life, and I know he is a miracle. I know God has entrusted me with the best gift a person can receive on this earth. I love this child.