Wednesday, March 27, 2013

To Birth a Soul

Baby Gideon Armstrong Toler arrived at 2:28 p.m. March 22, 2013
There are some experiences which defy human capacity to explain. Yet they have such transporting, transforming qualities such to challenge us to try.

Surprisingly and wonderfully, so many are privileged to undergo the miraculous experience of birthing a new soul.  Here I record ours.

I began experiencing strong, contraction-like Braxton Hicks five days before real labor began at 8:00 p.m. Wednesday evening, March 20th.  This while playing the London Board Game (which involves navigating London's complex Tube system and mini history lessons - I highly recommend it) with my mom and Lance.  After a couple hours attempting to block Lance's impending win and coaxing my mom through finding the right lines and stops, we decided to quit so we could all get some sleep if this was the real deal.

I was somehow able to sleep for an hour and a half before the contractions awoke me at midnight.  I spent another hour attempting to doze before hopping in the bathtub to begin my hypnobirthing relaxation techniques and so as to allow Lance and my mom to continue sleeping, knowing it might be a long night and day ahead of us (little did I know how long it would really be!).

Based on my mother's five hour labor and my sister's eight hour labor for their firsts, I anticipated that, as true labor had begun at 8:00 p.m., I would have the baby by no later than 8:00 a.m. that morning (Thursday).  So at 3:30 a.m. when contractions were five minutes apart, I called the birth centre at the hospital to let them know we would be coming.  It took a while for Lance to shower and get ready, but then we were off by 5:00 a.m.

As planned and to help me progress, Lance and I walked the two and a half miles across Primrose Hill Park and the canal directly to St. Mary's Hospital at Paddington, pausing every three minutes or so for a contraction.  It took us less time to get to the hospital than anticipated (chuckling a bit that when rung to let her know to get in a cab to meet us at the hospital, my mom didn't answer until the fifth time we called because she was blow-drying her hair), checking in at 6:30 a.m.

Upon arrival, my contractions had slowed to one every six or seven minutes.  After being examined, I was incredibly disappointed to learn I was only dilated to a two and the midwives anticipated I would not give birth till that evening.

Dejected, we began the trek home.  I wanted to walk a little to get things going again, but not much.  However, rush hour, a rude taxi driver, and unavailable mass transit options forced us to walk most of the two and a half miles back.

That day witnessed slowed but somewhat consistent contractions.  It seems my hypnobirthing techniques were slowing me down, so I switched to "active" techniques, pounding my fist against walls and the bed.

By 7:30 p.m., the contractions had again intensified and were beginning to last 90 seconds rather than 60, I was starting to shake, and felt like throwing up whatever fruit I had eaten that day.  Surely, it was time to go in even though the contractions were only every 5 minutes.  The hospital resisted, wanting my contractions to be much closer together, but, after discussing with my nurse sister in the States, we called a cab and informed the hospital we were coming, arriving at around 9:00 p.m.

There, I learned that the day's labor had resulted in my being dilated only to a three.  Too, upon arrival my contractions again slowed to every 6-7 minutes.  Although policy was that they could not admit until I was dilated to a four, they did not turn me away this time because they were not busy and I believe had pity on me.  Before settling into our room, however, they first sent me to go climb stairs and for a walk.

I did so, this time in the snow along the canal and hospital stairs returning exhausted.  I was encouraged to sleep in between contractions which I attempted to do with little success over the next four hours.  When the midwife returned at 1:00 a.m., my contractions were only coming every 10 minutes or so, but I had somehow dilated to a four.  Progress, but still not what they classified as "active labor."

I was then informed that, with the rate of my progress, I was likely looking at another 24 hours of labor before giving birth.  At this rate, I would need to be transferred (it's a one-way move) to the labor and delivery ward where I would be given a hormone drip (Pitocin in the U.S.) and likely also an epidural so that when it came to the pushing stage, my contractions would be close enough to safely get the baby out.  Too, until then, I would likely be switched to a smaller room without a birthing pool as things were beginning to pick up around the birthing centre.

Facing another night and day without any kind of real rest, I began to despair in my ability to cope.  My active skills were no longer "matching the pain" and I was too exhausted to do much more.  I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and incredibly discouraged.  I determined to give up on my ideal of a natural birth and go for the epidural.  My mother, who had birthed seven babies naturally, told me that drugs were a reasonable option at that point.  I then called the midwife in to let her know of my decision.

She called the labor ward, and I was then informed that it was quite busy.  Because I was coping with the pain just fine (really?), I would need to labor for a while longer before resources could be freed to safely accommodate me.  Why didn't I give it another four hours and see how I fared?  I no longer needed to change rooms because traffic had slowed (they had been transferred or sent home) and I was encouraged to get in the birthing pool, which I readily did.  I believe that the midwife, while aware that I needed to speed things up, was trying to encourage me to stick to my natural birthing plan. I will forever be grateful to her for this.

At this point, my mother also encouraged me to revert to relaxing techniques, as my active skills were tensing me up and making the pain worse.  Without any easy, quick relief, I began praying for some psychological shift to allow me to face my task squarely.

Perhaps in response to this furtive plea, I was able to make a very small decision.  Instead of focusing on what would happen in 24 or 4 hours, I would try to get through one contraction at a time.  I would relax as my mom encouraged me to do, and pray for the strength and help to get through each one.  Prayer became my main coping mechanism.  That, plus acupressure and the birthing pool, got me through the next four hours.

Those four hours were the turning point in labor for me.  With my mother providing minute-by-minute encouragement (Lance, who had been my primary support for the last 29 hours, was getting a bit of a much-needed rest), I began dealing and doing better and my psychology was somehow changed.  I also was somehow able to sleep in between contractions while in the birthing pool.

By 5:00 a.m. when the midwife returned, my contractions were back to 5-7 minutes apart (but intermittently closer).  Not "active" labor, but progress - I was staying positive.  I also informed her that I did not want the epidural after all.  She said I should consider getting my water broken at 7:00 a.m., when she would check to see how far I had further dilated.  Thereafter, if more progress was not made as to the speed of my contractions, I would need to get a drip and epidural regardless.

Determined now not to give up, Lance took over for my mother and I moved a bit more in the birthing pool and around the room for the next couple of hours.  When the midwife returned to check me and break my waters, I had dilated to a five.

pacing the floors early Friday morning
Now that my waters were broken, I would be given two more hours to go into active labor before the dreaded transfer, but I needed to get out of the pool and get moving to speed labor up.  I began pacing the room with Lance in tow to apply acupressure through each contraction while I relaxed into him or the wall, praying my heart out.  As I could no longer rest through labor, I had to apply my prayers to the walking bit, too, as each step was difficult.

We also received a new midwife, Ona, at 7:30 a.m., as I was now down as being in "active labor."

With all of the movement, my contractions became a little more regulated at 5 minutes apart, but not yet at the "established" pace of three minutes apart that had been hoped for.  At 9:00 a.m., Ona did an internal exam and determined I had dilated to a six (glory be!) but that the waters had not actually broken--possibly because the baby's head had plugged the small tear.  In any event, she successfully broke them and I made quick progress.  The contractions then began to intensify, lasting two minutes a piece, and quickly progressed to the desired rate.  My prayers also intensified as the two-minute contractions near overwhelmed me.  I began to pace the room with both Lance and my now-awake mother in tandem - one to apply pressure, the other to lean upon and breathe with me through each contraction.  In between, we sang Primary and nursery songs.

Finally, I was allowed back in the pool just in time for transition.  Utterly exhausted by the now 40 hours of labor, I was grateful that the primal instincts of my body had taken over.  Although the thinking part of my brain was largely dormant, we were still able to joke between contractions.  At the first touch of my baby's head, I was overwhelmed.

Although I had no way of knowing it was abnormal, there was some trauma in the delivery, as I was asked to climb over the high edge of the pool (what?!) with the baby half-birthed to assume a different position allowing for more room for the baby to come out.   I continued to contract and push while being moved. Although his heart beat showed signs of distress near the end, he finally left my body and he was there, on my tummy (his umbilical cord being too short for him to reach my chest--part of the problem of getting him out!).

I knew distantly that this was a momentous occasion.  Yet my slow and steady approach had me focused only on getting through labor and delivery.  I could not yet comprehend what it meant to have a pink, adorable little boy laying on my stomach.  When I had been told that a few more pushes would put a baby into my arms, I could not compute this, either.  I was merely marching forward to finish the task of labor and delivery.  I knew only that on the other side, there was rest for my weariness.

I lay there in a small state of shock and awe that I had made it through 42 hours of labor and delivery.  

I continued to reflect on my fortune through the next day while in the careful and loving care of the birth centre midwives.  I couldn't help but feel that the credit being given me for laboring through 42 hours unassisted by drugs was misplaced.  I had been given a new psychology by heaven's grace.  I was given strength through each and every contraction.  I later learned that many prayers had been offered in my behalf from people of all different faiths--Muslims, Mormons, Anglicans, and Jews--on Thursday without them knowing that I was in labor.  Other experiences too sacred to publicly record accompanied the birth that assured me I was not alone in its accomplishment.

In short, my success at natural childbirth was not the result of one woman mastering 42 hours of contractions.  It was a combined effort of much faith and prayer that provided external sources of strength.  That combined with micro-focus resulted in the ability to endure.

Now that I have had a chance to sleep and process the miracle of making it through labor, I am now able to appreciate the miracle of labor's product, our beautiful son.

leaving the hospital
All ours at four days old.


  1. He's such a handsome little guy! Congratulations!

  2. You are a champion! Beautiful story and lovely little boy. Birthing a soul is the most awe inspiring experience.

  3. What a story, dear friend! I'm three for three on natural births, and the last two were hypnobirths. I'm a huge fan, and I love the peace that can come in those focused moments. Grateful that you and baby Gideon are safe after such a long, long labor! Welcome to motherhood!

  4. Thanks for sharing this. Such detail. God does excellent work. Connie