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Jonah Garth Honea – My First Birth
By Kelly Honea
On Thursday morning, May 17th, 2012, I felt like I was having small contractions around 8 am, but I was unsure because I had had absolutely no Braxton hicks contractions. These also had no definite start or stop, just felt sort of like cramps that were sometimes in the front of my belly, and sometimes wrapping around to my back. My husband, John, and I actually got to go and take these pictures that morning with a fellow seminary wife, because he was graduating from Seminary the next day:
By the end of the fun photo shoot, I told John I was pretty sure these were real contractions, and they were definitely getting worse. I still couldn’t feel a definite start/stop. Thank the Lord, one of our sweet teenagers from our church, Megan, came over to clean that day, so while the girls were at day care, she was cleaning our apartment, and that’s my version of “nesting” – hiring someone else to come and clean! I was making sure my hospital bag was totally packed and that I had all of my motivational index cards ready to go. These cards were really helpful over the next day. I made about ten Bible verse inspirational cards, and then I gave John 10 starter sentence encouragement cards and had him fill in the rest (i.e.: I love it when…, You make me smile when…, I like your…). Both the verses and my husband’s written words of affirmation were very strengthening to read. After taking Megan home, it was around 2pm, and I could tell a start and stop to the contractions, which were now getting much more painful, and so we began using the “Contraction timer” on one of my pregnancy apps on my phone. They were about 12 minutes apart then, and only lasting 20-40 seconds in the beginning.
We were so very thankful that our next door neighbors offered to take the two little girls (7 months and 17 months old) we had in foster care then for us while I would be at the hospital. They had watched them a few weekends previously so the girls knew them and were totally comfortable with them. John got the girls from daycare, and I made sure the girls’ bags were packed for a good 3 day stay. It was a huge relief to know they were being loved and taken care of just as well as we would have. It was respite care at its finest!
When the contractions got to an average of nine to ten minutes apart, lasting consistently 30-45 seconds long, we called our parents (because they lived just over 4 hours away, and we had no idea how long labor would take), and told them we were pretty sure it was going to be delivery day. They all came straight away. I had researched midwives and doulas, and we felt that for our first delivery we preferred the gynecological all female doctor team I had been seeing, along with a doula. I called the doula and she headed over. In Memphis, the mother-daughter team we chose were then the only Christian doulas available, and after interviewing a few others, we decided we wanted someone with whom we could pray. The mother, Marcie was on a mission trip, and so the daughter, Katie was our doula for Jonah’s birth. She gave some great suggestions on positions and techniques for easing pain. I am also very modest, and did not want any family in the delivery room and viewing all the extreme nakedness, so it was nice to have an impartial party there who could be supportive and helpful when John needed a break, but that I wasn’t going to be embarrassed to see again.
When our family arrived, I remember labor seemed to get harder. In retrospect, I wish we would have had somewhere else for them all to go while I was in labor before going to the hospital, instead of all being in our small, very crowded apartment with now six adults and an elementary age child. I did not anticipate this being a problem though, because I didn’t previously think it would bother me. However, I was ready to just be alone with John and the doula, so we tried going into different rooms in the house to labor. Family followed us, and ended up convincing us we should go the hospital around midnight. My contractions then were 4 minutes apart and lasting a full minute, and I had been deep breathing and moving around since 2pm. It had been 10 hours of labor then, and my mom (who is also a nurse), really thought I was probably dilated quite a bit.
Riding in the car was by far the most uncomfortable position for enduring contractions. John sped a little down Germantown Parkway, and we did get pulled over by a cop. Thank God he quickly understood as I gripped my big belly and breathed hard and squirmed and John said, “My wife’s in labor, sir.” He graciously let us go quickly! That was pretty funny to everyone except me at the time. We checked in at our hospital. We had a big blue exercise ball with us, because it had been helpful at home with labor, and the nurses did give us some very condescending looks and I heard one say sarcastically, “Oh, she’s going natural,” as if they didn’t really believe me. I’m not sure how many women check into the hospital intending to go natural and then requesting an epidural anyway, but from their tone I guess it happens rather often. I was a little offended. A nice nurse checked me, and said I was only dilated 3 cm. What a disappointment! Hearing that “3” felt like waking up thinking it’s Friday and finding out its actually only Tuesday. She explained calmly that if I was serious about not wanting an epidural I should go back home because they would only continue to make me stay hooked up to the monitors, which was uncomfortable. She recommended we stay home until I was bleeding heavily, or my water broke, or it was just “too much to take.” We were so frustrated, but decided that we would go back home. Luckily by that time, most of our visitors were so exhausted, they all went to sleep around the apartment and John and the doula and I went to our bedroom and dealt with an increasingly difficult labor.
I went into this natural labor philosophy with great optimism. Being sent home from the hospital was a crushing blow to my optimism, but I am glad that we did decide to return home in lieu of accepting medication then. I used my index cards the most during this stretch of time. I also listened to Christian music the entire night, and we even let our iTunes just play from John’s laptop once we got to the hospital. The most helpful song for labor was “Before the Morning” by Josh Wilson. I think I played that one on repeat for about an hour! Music and motivational cards were my biggest helpers besides John and the doula, who took turns massaging, rubbing, hand holding, getting me anything I asked for. Contractions are different for everyone, but for me they were kind of like being trapped in a tornado and squeezed between two semi-trucks. I felt like I couldn’t hear or talk during them most of the time, like they were loud in my head, as if I was in a strange tunnel, and the pain would kind of wrap around my whole belly and often my lower back as well. It was hard, but bearable. I remember moving around my bed a lot. My favorite position was standing next to our fairly high bed, with my elbows on the edge of the bed leaning forward and swaying/rocking forward and back. When I got too tired to stand, I kneeled alternating on the floor and then on the bed with my hands on the footboard. Then I got to the point where I was kind of in child’s pose on the bed, with my arms folded under my head, half falling asleep between contractions, only to be woken up by strong, long contractions constantly. I was having 2 minute long contractions about 2 minutes apart most of that night. Then the contractions got longer than 2 minutes, and were down to less than 2 minutes apart. I was so exhausted, and starting to feel nauseous. I had some bleeding, but not a ton. At 7am, I told everyone I was ready to go back to the hospital. I had now been awake for 24 hours straight, and in labor for 17 hours. I was sure I had to be further dilated.
We endured another painful ride in our van to the hospital, this time in the day light, and I remember sending my principal (I was a first grade teacher) a text asking her to let the faculty know I was in labor and asking for prayers. It is a special thing to feel comfortable enough with all the teachers in your building to let them know personal details and ask for their prayers. She sent back encouraging words: “All will be well! It will all be worth it. Hang in there! You can do this. I promise! <3” Did I mention I really loved working there? We checked in to the hospital again, and met a new team of nurses, and I was only at 5cm. Wow again. At this point, I decided I needed some rest for the pushing later, and so I requested Stadol – a short term narcotic that I had researched as having little to no lasting harmful effects on mom or baby if given at least 2-3 hours prior to delivery. We were all certain I was at least that far away from delivery, so it was safe. My hospital said they had Nubain instead, and it was essentially the same. After a quick prayer, I decided it would be ok. The Nubain allowed me to actually really fall asleep between contractions, and just wake up for the contractions and breathe through them, but feeling a little out of it. It didn’t take away the pain, but helped me to rest despite it, kind of like feeling drunk.
Funnily enough, my dad’s cousin was the person mixing up my medicine and saw my name and realized who I was, and we had a little family reunion the next day! The medicine wore off about 2 hours later, as expected, and I was ready to get up and moving again to deal with the labor pain.
The hospital rules were that I needed to stay hooked up to the monitors for them to watch baby’s heartbeat for 20 minutes total out of every hour, which was mostly spent sitting or lying back in the bed (very uncomfortable positions). This meant that the other 40 minutes I could move around and do as I pleased without the monitors attached at all. I spent a lot of time standing next to the bed, leaning on it as before. I asked for the squat bar to be attached to the bed, and I also enjoyed holding on to that. I kept feeling like I needed to pee, but every time I went to the bathroom, nothing would happen. That was very painful and annoying. Finally I told John I wanted to go for a walk, and he obliged me by holding that pole with my bag of fluid attached, and giving me his elbow to lean on. I was Beta Strep positive at 36 weeks, so they gave me IV antibiotics when I checked in, and I got two full rounds before Jonah was born. We slowly walked down to one end of the hall and back to our room. That walk was helpful! I highly recommend you try that and wish I had been allowed to go further! Soon after getting back to the room I had waves of nausea and threw up. The first time I threw up, I peed all over the floor and John hoped it was my water breaking, but I was pretty sure it was finally just all the pee I had been trying to get out. The nurse came in and checked me, and said, no that wasn’t my water but that I was at 8 centimeters and it felt like my water would break any time now. They kept telling me that after my water broke labor would speed up, so I was looking forward to it. Minutes later I threw up again, and this time it felt just like I was holding a balloon between my legs and someone had snuck up behind me and popped it. That was the water breaking! This was another blessing because sometimes they worry if you are Beta Strep positive and your water breaks then they do want the baby to come out soon after for risk of infection.
My nurse came back and checked me and said, “Oh wow, don’t push ok? You’re at ten and his head is right there! Let me go call your doctor.” Nurses began to appear out of nowhere. I was so excited I didn’t even realize they were taking away the whole bottom half of the bed and my squat bar until they were gone. I asked for the squat bar back and no one really made a move to get it. That is my only complaint about the hospital. My doctor had just left, so a different doctor came in and said I could push if I felt like I needed to, or I could wait, and I told her I’d wait for my doctor. My OBGYN group had 5 women doctors, and I had met them all, and only one really made me feel like she wouldn’t make me get an epidural or perform an episiotomy if I didn’t want one. I had a birth plan and my three biggest desires were no c-section, no epidural, no episiotomy (unless of course in an emergency – I was not going to argue if I felt like Jonah was truly in danger). We had prayed for this to be the one doctor who would be on call when I went into labor. Thank you Lord for answered prayer! That older black woman doctor was amazing, and she followed our birth plan almost to the letter, and even prayed with us after the birth. It was beautiful! I am so thankful for her!
Once my doctor was there I remember thinking – where did they get all those stools the nurses are sitting on? They were standing though – my bed was just raised super high. I was calm and excited and happy and not at all scared. They all had on gloves and their hands were up in front of their chests like they were all going to catch the baby! It was kind of like all of the nurses were nonchalantly putting up a weak basketball guard. I felt a little like a movie star with so many people suddenly in front of me. My doctor followed my birth plan and began doing the vaginal massage. They waited for me to have a contraction and then told me to push when I was ready. I am so glad I did not get an epidural! I knew what was happening, I had no weird side effects, I knew when to push. As I pushed I realized I was making the weirdest noises I had ever heard in my life! I think I sounded like a cross between a cow and an orangutan! John laughed the first few times. I don’t know if I laughed or not. The nurses were great cheerleaders and I remember one saying, “Push harder push harder push harder push harder push harder push harder push harder!!!!” during every contraction, and I thought, “Don’t you think I’m pushing as hard as I can!?”
John was the best though. I remember him getting so very excited and smiling and taking my hand saying, “Baby this is it! He’s almost here! You can do it! He’s almost here!” After about 20 minutes of hard pushing and grunting, my doctor said, “The reason he is not coming out is because you are very tight. I can see you are going to rip some, so I am going to give you a little local, it will feel like a bee sting.” She was right, and I saw John wince at the same time I did when she gave me that shot. I am glad she followed our birth plan though and did that instead of just cutting an episiotomy as some of the other doctors would have done. A few contractions and hard long pushes later they said, “Oh! Oh! The head is out!” I was shocked. I guess because of the local, I didn’t feel it as much as I thought I would. John was amazed and stared despite previously saying he wouldn’t look. I kept laying my head back and looking up at the ceiling and someone said, “Look, mama!” It took me a second to realize they were talking to me, and I tried to see the little head, but the rest of my belly was still very much in the way of my view. John, however, got a good look at the funny spectacle of a little head dangling. The next contraction and grunting push brought out the rest of my big baby boy.
Jonah Garth Honea was 8 pounds, 6 ounces, 21 inches long, and had Apgar scores of 9 and 9. (Jonah from the Bible – we love the story of God’s grace to all people in that particular book, and how God uses and teaches Jonah despite his imperfections. Garth was John’s grandfather’s name on his mother’s side.) Little Jonah’s head was very cone-shaped from all that time with me pushing, but other than that he was perfect. I remember in the hospital he seemed so skinny and had just the biggest nose you’ve ever seen on a baby. I knew nobody could replace him because no other baby I had every seen had such a schnoz! She delivered the placenta, and it was bigger and bloodier than I had thought. She inspected it and said it was a very healthy one. After the birth, I did have to have “a few” stitches. She gave me another local, and I remember watching her pulling that black stitching string a lot and wondering what her definition of “a few” was, but didn’t think to ask how many stitches I was really getting. She said, “Oh you tore just a little, right where I would have cut you anyway.” Thank you Lord!
Then came the mean stomach mashing from the nurses. That really hurt when they mashed my stomach a whole lot right after labor and delivery and I remember making faces and hollering a little, “Ow! Ouch!” The nurses by this time were so impressed with us though, they said with apologetic looks, “I’m sorry, most women don’t feel this either with the epidural.”
One nurse who had been very brusque with us when we first arrived came up to us later and said, “Your birth experience tonight was a real blessing to me. Your inspirational music playing all night, and your calm, polite attitude was so nice. Thank you for letting me be a part of it.” I smiled. I knew she was one of the ones who had thought, “Haha, no epidural, yeah right, we’ll just see about that.” I was surprised though at my own calmness. I had planned to go natural but expected more complaining and swearing from myself. I mostly preferred to endure the contractions quietly though once they really got bigger. It was about 2:25am when I finally looked over at the clock, so I estimated that Jonah had been born 15 minutes ago, and told everyone he was born at 2:10. It wasn’t until the next day when I told someone that and John said, “No, it was 1:59.” So it had been exactly 24 hours of labor. 2pm Thursday to 2pm Friday – and Jonah was born on his due date, joining the 5% club of babies who need exactly 40 gestational weeks, no more, no less, go figure!
I got taken upstairs to the recovery room in a wheel chair, and the nurses on that floor looked wide eyed and said, “Wow, we don’t see this much anymore! Go mama!” I smiled. I was so tired. John was too. He was such a wonderful support and never once said, “Just get the epidural.” He was awesome and did whatever I told him to do. Although he did draw the line at biting. I bit down on his hand really hard during one contraction at home and he informed me that was not going to be allowed. Haha! I don’t blame him. He stayed with us at the hospital until almost 5pm, but then had to go home to eat and get ready to go graduate at 7. A birth and a graduation in the same day is a little rare, but seems just typical for our busy family. John’s side of the family went with him to see him walk across the stage, and when they left it was just me and my mom in the room and then the lactation consultant walked in. She tried to come up and tell me all about breast feeding and I just kept falling asleep. My mom apologized for me, and she came back later. At some point that night, I took my very first “selfie,” with my new little baby, as my heart exploded with love for this tiny person.
I slept a lot in between feeding and snuggling Jonah. I enjoyed my stay in the hospital and was a little scared to bring this precious little bundle home with us and being responsible and not able to just page a nurse. However, the photographer said, “I remember feeling like I just showed up and someone handed me this baby, and I was like, whose baby is that? Where did she come from?” Well, I did not feel that way at all! I worked so hard every minute for that baby, and he had my big nose. I knew exactly whose it was and was still feeling where he came from for weeks!
The car ride home was the first time I cried in the whole experience. I remembered the 2 painful night rides to the hospital and how awful those trips had physically felt. Now I was sitting in the back next to his car-seat, unable to take my eyes off of his beautiful little sleeping face. The tears just streamed down that sunny day. I hadn’t cried in labor or delivery at all, but I sure was weeping on that drive home! John looked in the rear view and said,
“What’s wrong babe?” I stammered,
“I’m just so so so thankful for him!” He smiled. Then it occurred to me what my husband had witnessed, and I asked
“Do you think I’m gross now?” He didn’t even have to think before saying with confidence, very sweetly,
“NO! I am more in love with you today than I have ever been. You did great!” I smiled through my tears and kept crying almost all the way home.
It was back to reality pretty fast though when we arrived home and got the girls back the next day. My mom stayed for a week and then John’s mom stayed for a week, and then it was hello mommy life! The first 6 weeks were pretty rough with three kids under 2, and Jonah cried a lot. Now I know we probably held him too much because he doesn’t really like to be so cuddly. He’d rather be propped up and looking around at everyone. Once he learned to smile at 5 weeks though he became a much more friendly baby.
Thank you, Kelly, for sharing!
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