In honor of Alethea's birthday today I finally wrote the story of her entrance into the world.
Spring had just begun; the air was clear and the first Poppies were in bloom. For nine months now we'd been eagerly looking forward to the birth of our second child and we knew the time was drawing near. I'd been having contractions for weeks but something about them had changed in the previous days and I hoped that it meant the time would come soon. I also knew those contractions could go on for more weeks and I tried not to get too anxious. But I was ready to meet our girl, ready to give myself to the labor of bringing her to the light. Peregrine would kiss the belly that had slowly edged him out of my lap and talk to his baby, encouraging her to "open her door and come out."
Even though my due date was still a week away I would awaken each morning thinking that "today might be the day". By mid-afternoon I hoped it wouldn't be as I could really use a good night's sleep before going into labor! (Not that anyone can get a good night's sleep when you have a very active little person dancing in your belly.) By night-time I would fall into bed, exhausted, uncomfortable, and eager to meet this baby. We prayed daily for a safe and natural delivery with no complications, a healthy baby, and, as a bonus, that she would come early!
I'd been awake for about an hour-and-a-half the previous night having contractions, some of which were actually painful. My Mom brought us a pan of enchiladas for dinner that evening and Peregrine asked me if we could get our baby soon. Soon, my boy, we hoped it would be soon. We went to bed and Erik and I cuddled and talked as usual. I had a few contractions that felt pretty strong before drifting off to sleep in my nest of pillows. I woke up around 11:15 and was surprised to have three hard contractions just a few minutes apart. I prayed that if this wasn't "the real thing" it would stop so I could get some rest! In answer to my prayer my water broke and I found myself nudging Erik and asking him to go get me a towel! It's amazing how quickly he changed gears from sound asleep to action in a matter of seconds. We got up and called my midwife and our parents. My Mom and Dad came over within a half hour. My contractions were about three minutes apart from the time my water broke and were already quite uncomfortable. I went in to Peregrine's room and, even though he was sleeping, explained that Dada and I were going to the hospital to get his baby and that Papa would stay with him. He looked so big, sleeping soundly, and it seemed like such a short time ago that he was the tiny baby we were waiting to meet.
We left the house about 1AM and drove through the still night to the hospital. A few clouds drifted lazily in front of the bright moon. Settled into our room at the hospital the nurse checked me and said I was only at three centimeters. I think those may be some of the most depressing words a woman in labor can hear. Even though I knew better, there was my secret hope that I'd already be at six or seven and that this baby would be born soon. Erik's Mom, Michele, and my sister Alyssa and niece Jessamyn arrived a little later. Erik and I walked slowly through the hallways, stopping for me to breathe through contractions. I would put my arms around him and rest my head on his chest; he was like my rock, always there, strong, calm, loving me through the pain, in awe of the strength that God had given me to bring forth his daughter. My dear friend Paula drove down from Washington and got there a little after 3AM and not long after that my sister Gloria came too. I was surrounded by many of the people who love me best in this life; each one offering encouragement and prayer and strength as each contraction brought us closer to the moment of birth. They took turns walking with me, rubbing my feet, my back, my arms, reading Scripture and laughing together. I had new appreciation for my Mom who went through this five times, as she said she wished she could take every other contraction from me and share the work!
The pain was becoming more intense and I wondered how much longer it would be. I tried to stay focused on the reward that was to come, thinking of tiny fingers and toes and soft hair. I tried to remember that each contraction was doing its job of bringing her down, down, until the moment came for me to push her out. Around 4 the nurse checked me again and said I was 5-6 centimeters but she wasn't sure so she called her supervisor to come check me again. Once again I felt very discouraged, as at Peregrine's birth that was where I got stuck for hours and hours. The contractions were coming hard and one after another and I didn't think I could last for too much longer. We'd prayed that things would progress normally this time and everyone spoke words of encouragement and strength to me. The head nurse came in and said I was actually at 8 centimeters! I knew that I was in transition and that it was normal to feel unable to cope. At that point Erik and I got into the tub where I planned to give birth. The warm water enveloped me and felt so good on my weary body. My contractions began to slow down, allowing me to rest a bit in between. I felt more able to relax in the water. The room was dim with a light shining on us, my large belly glowing and magnified beneath the water. Erik faced me, and even though we were surrounded by family and friends, I felt like it was just him and I. His love was strengthening me as he held me through each pain. In between contractions we looked into each other's eyes, our foreheads touching, and whispered "I love you".
I remember at one point feeling like I couldn't bear another contraction. They gripped me and held me and I moaned and called on Jesus for help. I began to feel the urge to push, something that never happened in my first birth. My midwife sat at the edge of the tub, ready to help if needed, but mostly offering advice and encouraging me to push when I felt ready. I loved that about this birth: there was a privacy about being in the water, a sense that this was something I was doing, with Erik, and not something that was being done to me. My midwife suggested I change positions so I got up on my knees and leaned my arms on the edge of the tub. Another contraction, and another, and I knew my baby would soon be in my arms. I pushed with all the strength left in me. Erik was right there, ready to catch her: he said he could feel her hair and a tiny ear. Strength flooded me and I felt her little body move through and out of me, into her Daddy's waiting arms. He brought her up out of the water. She was the gift I gave to him and he gave to me as he gently handed me my daughter. Everyone began to praise God for this brand new life, this tiny person, all wet and purple and precious.
Alethea Poppy Joy was born at 5:38 in the morning on March 30th, just six hours after my water had broken. God truly answered all our prayers; my labor was fast and normal and we had a perfectly healthy baby girl who was born six days early. Needless to say we were completely taken by this little one. Her skin was softer that anything I could imagine and smelled sweeter than honey. In the words of Peregrine she had dark "wispy wispy hair and sparkling eyes". My Dad brought him to meet her when she was just a few hours new. I heard him before he got to our room, his red rubber boots padding down the hallway. In he came, looking happy and expectant. He took one look at his baby sister, laid his head on her and said "hello!" She was pink and I called her a little Rosebud, tiny and soft and fragrant. Someone said that babies are a very nice way to start people and I'd have to agree. And if very nice babies become very nice people then we have much to look forward to.