Today seemed like a good time to sit down and write this one out. We knew that we wanted to talk a little bit about the birth of each of our kids and because today Isabel (Bits) turns two it seemed like a good time to do hers. Maybe we will do each of the kids on their birthdays? If you’re at all grossed out by birth, I’d quit reading right now.
If you read The Story of Us, you know that Isabel was a big surprise for us. We were pretty sure that we were done having kids after Eli, not as sure as I am now, but still sure enough to get rid of every baby item we owned before we moved across the country. I have several friends with surprise babies that will tell you that it’s a sure fire way to find yourself unexpectedly expecting.
I couldn’t talk about Isabel’s birth without going into a little history. I’ll try to make this the shorter version. In 2011 we had made the decision to expand our family, Oliver was only 15 months old and we wanted to have our kids closer together (Zoe and Oliver are 3 years 2 months apart) this time, so we started trying that summer. I got pregnant within a few months, but this pregnancy was much different than the previous two. I felt different. I was much sicker, much more exhausted, just not myself. Around six weeks I had some bleeding which I had never experienced before while pregnant. I went into an urgent appointment with my Midwife practice, they did an ultrasound and some blood work and deemed everything “fine”. We had seen the heartbeat so we tried to relax. I continued to have small episodes of spotting and was assured it was “normal”. By week 11 the bleeding had picked up, and I knew something was not right. We had a miscarriage. It was probably one of the darkest times I’ve been through. I won’t go into anymore detail, because that is a post for another time.
Because of our history of miscarriage, in order to maintain a pregnancy I needed extra hormonal support. This came with lots of things, extra blood work, extra doctor appointments, and the constant worry that we would lose this pregnancy like our other had. I was honestly a wreck, pretty much the whole time.
In fall 2014, we had just begun to settle into life here in Raleigh. I felt like we were getting our bearings, falling into a routine. When we decided to move here one of the “conditions” that we talked about was me not working for a while. We wanted to make sure that I was available to help the kids with the transition, by that fall I had felt like I had done that and I was itching to get out of the house. I was (and kinda still am) a stay at home mom failure. I had begun to explore job opportunities around the triangle, but because I still wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wasn’t making much progress.
One morning in November, I woke up and was instantly nauseous and ran to the bathroom to dry heave. Strange, but maybe I was just feeling a little extra reflux-y due to a spicy dinner the night before. I went about the morning as normal, sent Zoe on her way on the bus, and took Oliver to preschool. Normally, I would run errands but I was feeling tired so Eli and I went home. As he played I did some laundry, then it occurred to me, my breasts were really sore. Something told me I should take a pregnancy test, luckily I had a pack of these on hand, they’re cheap and easy for peace of mind.
I headed to the bathroom to take it. Now this was not my first rodeo, I knew better than to take an early test in the middle of the day, but hormones make you do stupid things. I took it, stared at it for the required 3 minutes and saw nothing but a single line. I tossed it aside on the counter and laughed to myself at my stupidity. I couldn’t possibly be pregnant.
I went about my afternoon, I was in and out of the bathroom cleaning and whatnot. Right before we went to leave I had to pee, so I popped into the bathroom. As I walked in, there on the counter was that test and now there were two lines. WTF. I know as well as anyone who has ever taken a pregnancy test that after the ten minute mark you are not to read them because they are not accurate, it had been two hours. BUT I also know that you can’t detect pregnancy hormones that are not there. There was that nauseous feeling again. Since were about to walk out the door, I didn’t have time to pee on another one.
On the 20 minute drive to school, I tried telling myself all the reasons why the test was defective. They WERE really cheap tests. This was why they told you not to look at them after 10 minutes. I was also thinking about (and dreading) telling Mark about this being a possibility. I think that he was more done that I was. He often mentioned in a joking matter that there were too many kids and too much chaos at our house. How was he going to feel about this? How did I feel about this?
I picked up Oliver and we came directly home and I got both the boys down for a nap. I went into the bathroom and took another test, and stared at it. SHIT. There was the second line again. It was barely there and super faint but it was there. I started doing the math. I was about 5 days until my period was due, so it was super early. I still didn’t feel like this could be a possibility, so I took a third test later that after noon. Still positive.
I did what any mom of my age does, I sent a picture of my pee sticks to a close friend to see her opinion. Clearly I was seeing things. She assured me she also saw the lines, clearly I didn’t have “line eye” (a phrase on every internet forum ever for pregnancy). She asked if Mark knew, uh? NO. I wasn’t going to call him at work and burden him with this. That’s a sure fire was to de-rail a whole work day. I’ll wait until he’s home.
Mark came home and I am sure that in hindsight he knew something was bothering me. I wanted to just come out and say it, but I din’t want the kids to know and couldn’t find a quiet moment (remember, many kids, much chaos) to say anything. You know how some women come up with all these cute ways of telling their spouse that they’re knocked up? Wrapped pregnancy tests, t-shirts, funny baby themed gifts? They must be better at keeping secrets from their spouse than I am, because I had known less that 6 hours and it was killing me. I felt physically ill trying to hold it in.
When Mark came down the stairs from putting the last kid to bed and I could feel it exploding out of my mouth. “I think I might be pregnant. I’m sorry.” He was silent for what felt like 9 months, but it was likely only a few seconds. “What do you mean you think, you might be pregnant? How can you not be sure?” (I had never been unsure before) The whole story rushed out in one long sentence as I cried and finished with me taking him to the bathroom to show him my collection of now four tests, all with faint lines. He could see my point, they were cheap tests, the lines were faint.
We decided that we needed to buy a more expensive test to be sure. The First response has never failed us before, and we should wait to take it in the morning. Spoiler Alert: Also positive. So there we stood in the bathroom, while our other three kids ran through the house. “I guess this is happening.” I cried again, a sure sign I was pregnant, because that’s not something that I do.
Because of our previous miscarriage I needed to get into see a doctor ASAP to get on progesterone therapy. Of course it was a Friday morning when I took that final test, but that meant I had the weekend to figure out what the heck we were going to do. We were new to North Carolina, I didn’t have a OB/GYN or a Midwife, I hadn’t planned on anymore kids so this wasn’t something I had looked in to at all. I did have a family doctor that we had all been seeing, so I decided to start there.
I knew that like Elijah, I wanted her born at home. Come to find out, Homebirth in North Carolina is not as easy (or legal in some cases) as it is in Michigan. (You can read more about that here.) At the time there was only one legal provider that served our area along with a few underground midwives. We chose to go the legal route, due to a history of needing a backup OB practice, which only she had. Like Eli’s pregnancy, I was on progesterone therapy for the first 14 weeks.
I spent most of the early pregnancy a nervous wreck. Honestly, a surprise pregnancy is hard but when you weren’t mentally prepared to go through the worry and the extra medial stuff that goes along with it, its rough. One of the reasons I was pretty OK with not having anymore kids was because maintaining a pregnancy was so hard for me. Emotionally I was not there. I was very disconnected with her pregnancy, it never really felt real for me.
I have never been one of those super happy, glowing pregnant people. I was horribly sick and exhausted. I needed to take meds so that I was able to stay hydrated and eat, even then it only took the edge off, I lost almost 10lbs in the first half of the pregnancy. Thank god that Mark is an amazing partner and father, because he picked up all my slack and was compassionate and understanding while I felt like complete crap for 9 months. I still feel bad for all the TV my kids watched just so we could make it through the day. Pregnancy in your 20s is much easier than in your 30s. Other than being sick and feeling like crap the pregnancy was uncomplicated and uneventful.
As an aside, we did not find out the sex before birth. Since we had decided to wait Oliver had come up with the nick name Baby Yogurt. Which is very cute and I almost wish they still called her that.
Preparing for the Birth
One of the things that was new to us with being in North Carolina was that we didn’t have any friends or family here. This presented us with lots of logistical issues when it came to delivery. With our previous deliveries, we had lots of child care options grandparents, siblings, or friends were close by and able to help as needed. We didn’t really know what we were going to do.
We threw a lot of options around, some involved elaborate travel plans for grandparents, but we ultimately decided that because we would be delivering at home we didn’t want house guests as well. Our kids also have come between 37 and 42 weeks gestation, which meant we’d be asking someone to put their life on hold for 5-6 weeks. I didn’t really feel that we could ask someone to do that.
So, what do people do when they live out of state from family and need childcare? Come to find out there is a whole niche business that covers people for that! We ended up being put in touch with Heather at The Doulas of Raleigh who we ended up hiring to be on call, and with our kids during the birthing process.
We had decided that as long as the kids were comfortable we wanted them to be present for the birth of their newest sibling. Having Heather be there for the kids to be able to assure them that the process was normal and what to expect was important to us. She also would then be available in case of an emergency and able to stay with the kids so that Mark could stay with me. Mark also didn’t have to worry about splitting his attention between me in labor and the kids.
I was due July 24th, this was new for us, the previous three kids were fall/winter babies. We also now lived in North Carolina which is MISERABLY hot from May-October. By my third trimester I was very done, very hot, and very cranky. Starting around 36 weeks I began to have contractions, which is called prodomal labor. You would think that being a 4th time mom I would know when it was real labor vs practice labor. Because Oliver came early at 37 weeks I was on high alert that things could happen at any time, because babies do what they want. There were many nights, as I laid in bed, or paced the bedroom in the dark having contractions those last few weeks, that I was unsure when it was actually time to “rally the troops”. There were a few times that I had Mark work from home “just in case”.
Wednesday July 22, 2015
The days leading up to her delivery I had a lot of the usual signs that it was close to baby time. I’ll spare you the gory details, but one of those signs was having the best nap of my life that afternoon. That evening we decided that we would rent a movie for the kids to watch and have a family movie night. The kids picked Paddington, and about 15 minutes in I noticed that I was having consistent contractions that were intense enough that I was having to focus and breath through them. I moved to sit on my yoga ball and quietly timed them. I didn’t want to say anything in front of the kids and didn’t want to get Mark excited.
After the movie was over (which seemed like forever) and the kids were in bed I let Mark see the contraction timer and we discussed if it was “real” or not. We decided that it was best to proceed with caution. We figured that we should probably get to bed at a reasonable hour just in case. I wanted to shower and typically if that slows things down then its not real labor. The shower did slow things down a bit and as I was doing my hair and getting ready for bed I was disappointed. I was still having contractions, but they had seemed to peter out a bit.
I got into bed and was restless and as I laid there I was still contracting enough that couldn’t sleep. I was so uncomfortable. Mark was already asleep and snoring which just annoyed me, but I didn’t wake him up as much as I wanted to just so he could be miserable with me. I got up to go to the bathroom about 15 times and finally decided I was going to sit on my yoga ball and bounce some and lean over the bed. I put some lavender oil in the diffuser (we use this one) and set it to cycle through the light colors to help me focus on something.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
At about 1 am they were getting consistent again and becoming longer and stronger. I timed them on and off while I browsed Facebook, drifted in and out of sleep and listened to Mark snore. They were coming between 3-5 minutes apart and varying in intensity. I still hadn’t woken Mark up yet because I knew we had potentially a long day ahead and I didn’t want him to tell me it was time to call everyone, I didn’t feel like it was really time yet. I was doing OK on my own at that point.
Around 3 am I was a little less sure that I was OK on my own, but still didn’t wake Mark up. I was alternating between pacing in the dark in the bedroom and sitting on the yoga ball. I was starting to get tired. My contractions were still between 3-5 minutes apart, but I was beginning to want to moan through them. I still hadn’t called the birth team because I wanted them to be able to sleep as long as possible.
This is where things start to get a little fuzzy. I am pretty sure that I woke Mark around 4 am and told him that today was the day, he wasn’t going to work. I decided he should go back to sleep for a little while, but at 5 am he was up again and decided that it was time to call everyone. I felt like I wanted to get in the bath while he called. At this point I was vocalizing through the contractions and I had stopped timing them because I couldn’t concentrate enough to do it.
Apparently the info he gave the Midwife was enough that she decided it was time to head our way. (she was traveling an hour) He also called Heather, who also headed here. He decided (or maybe the midwife told him) to try to get me to eat. It was already too late, by the time he delivered my bagel sandwich to the tub I was too far gone and couldn’t eat more than a few bites.
I think he was getting nervous that he would be catching Baby Yogurt on his own. While waiting for everyone he got out all the Birth Supplies and started filling the pool. He’s a good man, he knew exactly what he was supposed to do. I continued to labor in the tub, vocalizing and being in labor land.
Heather was the first to show up, as she was the closest. I could tell by the way she asked when the midwife would be here that she was nervous. Since the kids weren’t awake, she set to work to be a birth doula for me while Mark got everything ready. At this point I was out of the bath and on my knees leaning over the edge of the tub. A little bit later the birth assistant showed up and quickly started unloading supplies. I think that we all thought: fourth baby, probably in late labor, the baby would be here soon. The Midwife was there shortly after.
The house was all of a sudden a flurry of activity, I had moved into the birth pool and was laboring there and vocalizing more and more. It felt like transition to me. The kids were starting to wake up, so Heather headed to them to start their morning routine. After they had gotten breakfast they all came in to say hi. They didn’t stay long, just enough to see what was going on. At one point I was vocalizing and Eli said “Mamas a ghost! She’s scary… Oooooooo!” We all got a little chuckle at that.
I was in lots of pain at this point, I was having back labor, and the contractions were coming coupled. One big one and then on smaller shorter one. I was starting to get really tired, I had been up over 24 hours at that point. I finally asked the Midwife to check me because I needed to know I was making progress. I was 8 cm dilated and Baby Yogurt was high, this was about 9 am. I was feeling lots of pressure, despite it not being time to push yet.
Around 11 am Heather had to leave, and her backup Anna, came to be with the kids. I was so grateful to have them there so we didn’t have to worry about the kids. They played outside, made Birthday cards, did crafts. To them, it was a super fun day.
I was starting to throw up all the liquids I was taking in, a sure sign of transition. I was feeling lots of pressure and she was moving all over the place between contractions which was painful. About 3 hours later she checked me again and I was only 9 cm. I asked her to break my water to see if that would help get the baby to move down the rest of the way. I was so tired and I could see that Mark was too. I had been in and out of the pool a few times. I was trying out different places, on the bed, the toilet, they kept wanting me to squat, but I was too tired and shaky. In my head I just wanted to yell “NO! Why don’t YOU squat??” I’m not very nice when I’m in labor.
Right about this time a thunder and rain storm rolled in. It was about 2 pm, baby was not coming down. I could hear them talking about me getting too tired, after all, I’d been up since the morning before. I knew it was a possibility that they may want to transfer to the hospital. I got out of the tub again and onto the yoga ball, she started to move down as I bounced but it still wasn’t working for me. At this point I was crying through the contractions, something that I had never done before, I could tell by the look on Marks face he was getting worried and didn’t want me to be in pain anymore.
The Birth Assistant had a birthing stool in her car, and decided to go get it and see if that would help. I moved over to that, but because I’m short, my feet didn’t touch the ground while I was sitting on it. Mark sat behind me on the bed and I put my feet on his. This was a great position, essentially squatting and I could use gravity to help push. I pushed for over 45 minutes, the longest pushing phase of all my kids.
The kids came in when Baby Yogurt was crowning. This was the best part of the labor, and a part I will always remember vividly. Anna sat in the doorway with Eli in her lap, and Zoe stood there looking like she may want to make a quick getaway. Oliver came right in and sat at the midwives elbow, he yelled back to Zoe “Come sit over here! You can see much better!” She declined. As I was pushing, Oliver kept saying, “I can see the baby’s head!” “There’s the eyes!” “I see ears!” It was a great motivator for me, because I knew I was making progress.
Finally the head was out. I tried to push out the body and I was having a hard time. The shoulders were a little stuck. Eventually I was able to get through it. Baby Yogurt was immediately handed up to me and we were covered in a towel. Yogurts eyes were wide open and she was staring at us, blinking taking it all in. No crying really, just observation, taking it all in. A few minutes went by and we realized we had no idea who we had just met. I called Zoe over to see if we had a Strawberry or Blueberry Yogurt. She pulled back the towel and announced it was a girl!
We moved to the bed, Isabel nursed while everyone gathered around and took her in. After a while, the cord had stopped pulsing, so Oliver cut the cord. Mark and I looked at each other and I said “Isabel?” He nodded and said yes.
After we laid in bed a while and nursed, she had her newborn exam. Isabel Mae born at 2:59 pm on her Great Grandpa’s 90th Birthday. She was my second longest labor at about 22 hours of real, hard labor. She was 9lbs 2oz, 23 inches long, and had a big headed like her brothers at 14.5 inches around.
**If you are currently pregnant or gory details freak you out, I suggest you stop reading here**
About two hours later I was examined and they noticed that I had a 4th degree tear (all the way to my rectum) which needed to be fixed in the OR. We think that when she was stuck that she had her hand up under her chin. Unfortunately, that’s not the best way to make your way out, thus the severe tearing.
Both Mark and I ate a little, I showered, and we got ready to go to the hospital. My backup hospital for non-emergent issues is 40 min away so we headed there. My Midwife called ahead so they knew I was coming as a transfer. Surprisingly, I was not as tired as I thought I would be, it must have been all that Birth Adrenaline.
We got to UNC hospital and they checked me in at L&D and I saw the on call doctor for my backup practice. At first they were saying that because the repair was so extensive that they were going to have to wait until the morning to do it and that we would be there likely overnight. I begged them to let me go home. We had no childcare. Our sibling doula was with the kids and she couldn’t stay overnight. We needed time to arrange childcare for the next day.
They let me go home and scheduled surgery with Urogynocology the next morning at 8:30 am. I was so thankful to be able to go home and sleep in my own bed. We went back the next morning and I went back to the OR and got a spinal block and the repairs took about an hour and a half. There is some irony to be found in the whole situation, I had a long, painful, unmedicated birth at home, only to end up with a spinal block afterward in the hospital. Life is funny sometimes.
Recovery was not all rainbows and unicorns, it actually sucked, a lot. It took 12 weeks to heal and probably a good 9 months to not have pain when I was on my feet too long or if I overdid it with heavy lifting. This was not the kind of birth you just bounce back from. I was told at one of the many follow up visits that if we were to want any more kids, they should at least be delivered in the hospital, and preferably by c-section. Any more vaginal births risk rupturing the scar tissue and an even worse tare, which could result in more muscle damage, and have severe consequences. That pretty much sealed the deal for me, Bits was the last baby.
Today Isabel turned two. I still have some unresolved feelings about her birth. Was it the beautiful, euphoric, home birth I was hoping to end my childbearing years with? Absolutely not. But its her story and her birth. This fits with her personality now, Bits does what Bits wants. She doesn’t care what you want. She’s an amazing, funny, spunky two year old and I can not wait she what she has in store for us as she grows.