Friday, December 11

How she got here

WARNING: Long post.

A week ago yesterday Maren made her big debut, writhing into the world in what is proving to be her signature style.

Here’s how it went down:

Tuesday, December 1

Contractions get more uncomfortable. Dani pauses to document the large size of her abdomen.

Increasingly aware of her cervix, Dani passes a restless night.

Wednesday, December 2


A curious flow gives Dani cause to suspect her water might be broken. Having recently read stories of women whose water leaked for three days before they realized what was going on probably contributes to this suspicion.

Conversations with her skeptical-about-midwifery worry-wart father and her overly excited husband compel Dani to call the midwife, against her wishes (Dani is in denial). Midwife doubts the water is broken, but suggests Dani come in to make sure.


Midwife confirms that the amniotic sac is intact, and we’re just seeing the mucus plug work its way out. Dani is dilated to a 4, up from a 3 last week. “You will probably have your baby soon,” Midwife Gina says. Gina and Midwife Ramona stress the importance of not coming to the center too soon, but waiting until contractions are 3 to 4 minutes apart and too painful to talk through. Dani and Mark receive message loud and clear.

Evening, 6:00ish

Contractions get painful enough that Dani stops what she’s doing to talk herself through them. She continues to work remotely in the hope of getting things squared away for her substitute at the office.

9:00 p.m.

Dani’s sister calls and Dani forces herself to talk through a contraction. This is the last contraction she talks though.

10:30 p.m.

Dani finally stops working and gets her PJs on. Thinking perhaps the contractions will subside (remember, she is in denial), she plans to go to bed.


Quite awake, Dani gets in the shower. She asks Mark to please time a few contractions using their handy iPod app. Contractions are 3 to 4 minutes apart.

Thursday, December 3

12:00 a.m. – 2:30 a.m.

Contractions really pick up and Dani is moaning through them. Loudly. Dani and Mark are acutely aware of the thin wall they share with their Coldplay-loving neighbor. They move to the other room. Dani finds the toilet to be the most comfortable least uncomfortable place to be, leaning into Mark’s leg. Dani repeatedly asks Mark if they can call the midwife yet. Mark wants to wait, having been duly warned not to go in too early. Finally Dani convinces Mark to time contractions again. They are 2 to 3 minutes apart. Mark calls the midwife, who advises them to come in. Mark takes charge and packs the car between contractions.

3:00 a.m.

Dani and Mark depart for Holy Family Services Birth Center in Weslaco, TX. Dani kneels on the floor in the back seat and dozes between contractions. The motion of the car seems to be soothing and Dani calms down.

3:30 a.m.

They arrive at Holy Family and meet Gina. Dani is dilated to a 5. They move to the birth room.

Our "suite" -- nicer on the inside than you'd imagine.

4:15 a.m.

Dani gets in the tub, commenting, “This was a good idea.” Contractions are still painful, but the water takes the edge off. Dani spends 95% of her tub time on her hands and knees, forehead resting on the side of the tub. Jessi, the nurse, rubs Dani’s back during contractions. Mark stays by her head. Gina offers encouragement from the side of the tub. Every hour or so Gina has Dani get out of the tub to use the bathroom and walk around.

Every laboring woman deserves one of these.

7:00 a.m.

Dani is disappointed to see the sun coming up. She was sure to have had this over with by 6:00 a.m. She feels absolutely exhausted and wishes she could just lie down and sleep, but hands-and-knees in the tub is the only place she wants to be during a contraction.

8:00 a.m.

Out of the tub again. Despite her ardent desires for a natural birth, Dani is wishing for an epidural right now and thinking if there were one available she’d take it in a heartbeat. She considers what it would be like to transfer to the hospital.

8:15 a.m.

Back in the tub. Dani is hating life. Everyone around her is very encouraging, telling her how great she’s doing. She has been stuck at 8 centimeters for what seems like eternity (but is really probably only about two hours). Contractions are becoming unbearably painful. Gina postulates that an extra healthy amniotic sac is pushing against the cervix but isn’t firm enough to dilate it. Dani and Gina weigh the option of rupturing the amniotic sac artificially. Having read more than is probably healthy about interventions in labor, Dani wants everything to go as naturally as possible. Then she has another contraction, and in a moment of delusion – thinking that rupturing the bag of waters will alleviate some pain – she agrees to have Gina take a look at it.

10:50 a.m.

Dani gets on the bed. Gina “helps” the water break. Dani gets back in the tub. Gina tells Dani not to push until they’re sure the cervix is dilated; otherwise the cervix can swell and then you’re in a world of trouble. Dani envisions an emergency transfer to the hospital for a c-section because of a swollen cervix and tries her best not to push.

11:00 a.m.

If Dani thought things were painful before, she has another think coming. She goes from controlled moaning to outright screaming at the top of her lungs. Each contraction is accompanied by blood-curdling shrieks. She begs for drugs. After a few pitiful, pleading contractions Gina says they do have a narcotic they can give, but it makes you sleepy. Dani demands it. Gina remains calm and says they will send the nurse to go get it.

11:20 a.m.

Gina, who up until now has only guided Dani, firmly instructs Dani to get out of the tub. Dani is still screaming during contractions, begging for the nurse to come faster with the drug. Surely the entire town of Weslaco can hear her. This is not like what you see in the movies; this is worse. Mark would later describe her as “freaking out.”

11:30 a.m.

On the bed, Dani is screaming bloody murder for the nurse to hurry up. Everyone else is calm. Suddenly Gina says, “Your cervix is gone. You can start pushing.” Dani is in disbelief. She holds her breath while she pushes, asking if she can get off the bed. After a few minutes, Gina says yes. Mark sits on the side of the bed and supports Dani under the arms while she squats. Pushing is hard work, but not as painful as the contractions were before. Gina says, “Your baby’s head is right there.” Dani can’t believe it’s almost over. Impatient, she pushes hard. They bring a mirror over and she can see her baby’s head advance, and then recede, advance, and recede.

11:50 a.m.

Still in denial that childbirth is actually happening to me, Dani gives a final push and the next thing she knows, Gina has caught what has just slithered out, the pain is gone, and Dani is holding a slimy baby against her chest. One word: relief. After a few surreal moments Dani remembers to check the baby’s gender and exhales, “I knew it.”

They help Dani onto the bed, where 10 minutes later the placenta comes out. They wait for the cord to stop pulsing before they clamp it and let Mark cut it. Covered in blood, vernix, meconium, and sweat, Dani holds the baby for a while before they take her to be weighed, measured, and cleaned up. Two thoughts go through Dani’s head: 1) I will never, ever judge any woman for taking drugs during labor, and 2) I don’t know if I can ever put myself through this again.

Total time in active labor: about 15 hours, total time pushing: 20 minutes


One Week Later

A week away from it all, here are my thoughts:

I have thought a lot about the merits of a home birth, but I am so glad we did this at the birth center. I felt such relief when we arrived. I can’t explain it, but it was something about knowing that I was in a place that was designed for me to labor, and I didn’t have to worry about what our neighbor could hear or me getting blood on the carpet.

That last bit, where I was screaming bloody murder and begging for drugs, was transition -- the most painful part of labor but also a sign that it’s almost over -- but I didn’t know it. I think if I had known the end was near I would have borne it better. I was screaming so hard that my throat hurt for two days. For the record, on a scale of 1 to 10, Gina gave my labor a 5 for difficulty and my transition a 9 compared to others that she's seen. Comforting to know that it 1) isn't always that bad, and 2) I am not just a total wuss.

Even though the pain at the end was more excruciating than I had anticipated in even my wildest imagination, I am so glad I wasn’t at the hospital. The consistency and support I felt with the midwife and two nurses was, in retrospect, infinitely more valuable than pain relief. My memory of the pain has faded completely, but my warm feelings toward the women who supported me and the cozy, dark room I labored in have only grown in the past week. Jessi, one of the nurses, rubbed my back during each contraction for four hours. Katie, the other nurse, hung out with us from 6 a.m. until nighttime. Gina gave the best mixture of guidance, support, and direction I could’ve asked for and stayed there the whole time. The room was homelike; the three of us were able to spend our first night together as a family in the same bed, alone and undisturbed. From the happy camaraderie among the nurses and midwives to the way they had gotten to know me personally from my months of prenatal care, it was like being cared for by family.

Gina and Maren

I owe a lot to Mark, of course, who has been 110% supportive of my decision to do this from the very beginning. I couldn’t have done it without him (for lots of reasons, wink wink).

Remember how I said I hoped to have a birth that was “beautiful, empowering, spiritual, and even life changing”? I remember lying on the bed with my baby in my arms and thinking that it was none of those things. The only adjectives I could think of to describe the experience were raw and surreal. The thing I remember most was how slimy she felt when they handed her to me. Really, really slimy.

There’s a scripture in John that I turned to numerous times during pregnancy:

A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. (John 16:21)

I had my birth-announcing blog post all worked out in my head months in advance -- there would be that scripture and a picture of the baby. But as I lay holding her I thought, “I can’t post that because I sure remember that anguish!” It took a little longer for me to bond and forget how painful the whole ordeal was.

If you had asked me the day of or the day after Maren’s birth if I would do it the same way again, I would have told you I wasn’t sure. I would have told you that I’m not sure there’s going to be an “again.” But one week removed, I can confidently say that I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.

And now what you really want, which is more pictures:

After she was born, someone commented, "Where did she get those cheeks?!"

Seriously? Look at me!

Do I look exhausted or what?
I certainly can't take credit for how attractive this child is (for further evidence, see "About Me" section to your right).

I doubted when we packed the labor bag that we'd get to use this suit. But then it ended up being the coldest day since we've moved here, like 45 degrees outside. Which is great, because this is too cute. And hence her first nickname, Mare-Bear.

I'm grateful for a healthy body and a healthy baby and for the existence of Holy Family Services for giving me such a great birth experience. I hope I can find something similar wherever we end up living when the next one comes.


Jaelynn said...

Thanks for posting Dani. I enjoyed learning about your experience. I like that you could spend the night as a family.

Best wishes to you and your new family!

(p.s. Maren is a cute name!)

Mariley Johnson said...

Great story.
May you quickly forget all anguish and enjoy that cute little girl!

heather said...

I LOVED reading this. I hope this doesn't sound morbid, but I kind of chuckled to myself as I read about the contractions and screaming and remembered my own experience. It's funny how a little perspective (ie: knowing that you're in transition and close to the finish line) can make the difference ... but then again, I don't know if it would. It's still unbelievably the most painful thing to go through - and yet, we do it all for love! And we choose to do it again and again! Amazing that the blessings far out weight the trials ... but then again, that's often how life is, isn't it? I LOVED hearing your story. Thanks for sharing! And I totally want a bathtub next time around! :)

And of course, Maren is PERFECT! Those cheeks are my favorite!

Jessica Gonzalez said...

She's SO cute! I especially love the picture with the blue bear outfit where she's yawning.

I think it's very cool that you got to spend the night as a family.

Melanie said...

What a beautiful little girl. Even though I can't relate to your long labor, I, too, thought I would have done much better through transition (which was basically all of my labor, as I started contractions when dilated to 7 1/2) if I had known the end was in sight.

Good job--your story is wonderful and so real and I'm glad you had a great experience with the birthing center.

Melanie said...

PS love your short hair & bangs--I didn't know you had it short. Very cute.

Christensens said...

Wow, I was anxious to hear how it all went, way to go, I am so excited for you guys! Can't wait to meet little Mare-Bear, I loved that little outfit!

Jancisco said...

I'm so glad you posted all of that, too. I'm glad you had such a good experience, even though it was so painful. She IS adorable.

Charly said...

Congratulations!!! I am so thrilled for you and that things went so well. Maren is beautiful! You should blog about her name...I am curious where it's from or the story behind it...if there is even one. It's a great name.

Tiffany said...

One word: Awesome. It made me reflect on my own experience...I just think this stuff is amazing! (Now I want to write a post about my birth story because I never did!)

Nicole said...

Oh, I think you'll do it the same again. Remember, the second one is easier. I mean totally and completely easier, but it still hurts like crazy, just not for as long.

Glad you are both healthy... and won't judge me for my drugs now ;)

Pinto said...

Hooray! I've been looking forward to this. The internet on the Oregon Coast has been on the fritz for 3 days (insane) and I was so happy when it came back on so I could read.

It's nice to hear the week-later perspective next to the during-pain perspective. Puts things into...perspective.

Melanie said...

I am expecting my first in a month or so and am planning on a natural birth--I really appreciate your insight. Sometimes, the stories I hear regarding natural birth are a little too warm and fuzzy and I really liked the blunt honesty in your account. It freaks me a out, but in a good way. thanks.
and I think your baby is beautiful.

Jerelyn Dunaway said...

Holy Crap Dani, a bruise on your forehead and a sore throat for two days. I may have attempted to run out and retrieve the drugs myself. I really would like to hear Mark's account of the ordeal. Way to go!!! She's beautiful!

Jillian said...

Very impressed with your follow-up birth story. Usually takes quite a while for people to write theirs out so the tone does change with time. Invaluable what you have written Dani. Love the little birthing center too. It looks home-y. My cousin went to one in SLC and that's the feel it had too. Pretty cool... congrats again!

Anonymous said...

I had a lot of fun reading your post. remembering that awful time when you think you are going to die. I remember yelling- My cervix is exploding!!!
Of course... this was when i was at a 3 and on the highest dose of petocin imaginable for 12 straight hours. yuck.

I am so proud of you and I really appreciate your honesty... this isn't an easy thing. But it is special. Thanks for sharing with us.