Elanor Joy: The Birth Story
Today, to celebrate my sweet Elanor turning 3 months old, I am finally sharing her birth story that I wrote when she was still a newborn. How fast she has grown since then! I know that’s cliché, but it’s so true!
A few thoughts first: sorry if this story seems TMI to you. I like reading birth stories and I know others (mostly moms and moms-to-be) do, too, but if you don’t, well then, this is your fair warning not to read it :)! I also want to say that even though I was so happy to have a natural birth, I certainly don’t think that’s the only right way, and believe every woman should have the freedom and education to choose the kind of birth that best serves her and her baby (knowing, of course, that birth seldom happens exactly as we plan it). And, I don’t want to take any credit for birthing Elanor … I seriously believe this is another example from my life of my being inadequate and fearful, and the Lord meeting me and delivering me. Well, now the story:
Elanor surprised us by being late … very late.
My midwives have a policy of inducing at 11 days past due date, and in my hope to go natural, I wanted to avoid induction. David obliged by signaling he wanted to come out when I was 10 days late, and actually making his entrance into the world the following day. I reasoned that if my first child was 11 days past due date, of course my second would come sooner! Right?
My fallback plan in definitely avoiding induction was that though my official due date, based on an early ultrasound, was June 4th, I thought May 31st was more accurate, so I was counting the weeks that way. On May 31st at 40 weeks, Ben and I went on a date to celebrate and get a little “us” time before the baby arrived. I was already 2 or 3 cm and having lots of strong Braxton Hicks contractions. It couldn’t be much longer …
Perhaps the Lord knew my heart wasn’t ready. With David I had blithely assumed everything would go well since we were so prepared (ahem …); then he spent his first week of life in the NICU. With Elanor I struggled with more fears, based not only on David’s experience but on stories I read and friends I knew who had experienced tragedies in pregnancy and birth. At times during Elanor’s pregnancy, the thought that I would actually hold her in my arms and bring her home with me seemed like an impossible dream, when so much could go wrong.
And to be honest, I was a little torn between my desire for a natural birth and my fear of the pain, now that I knew what I was getting into! That, and my mind was working through an endless number of “what if” scenarios. The hospital where my midwives deliver is 50 minutes from our home, and we would be dropping David off at my family’s on the way. What if my labor came on sudden and strong? What if I was screaming in the car while poor David melted down in the back seat? What if it happened when I was running errands on the other side of town, even farther from the hospital? I was visualizing water breaking in the store aisle, or my cell phone somehow not working when I needed to call for help, or feeling the urge to push in the car, or delivering on the side of the road …
I’d forgotten how hard it is to be past due date. Now I remember … what it is like to wake up crying because I am still pregnant, to have my normal full schedule come up empty, to get so sore I can hardly walk, to watch more stretch marks appear on my belly, to get too uncomfortable to sleep, to sit in the rocking chair in the nursery feeling full-bellied and empty-armed, to feel like every day is a disappointment. Somewhere around June 12th and 13th, when I had never imagined I could possibly still be pregnant, my heart started changing, really praying about patience and endurance, giving up my plans (and my fears), saying “yes” to whatever the Lord had. Thank you, Lord, that I am still carrying Elanor, that she is safe and snug inside me …
My induction appointment was Friday June 15th at 7:15 a.m. Thursday night I drove David to my family’s house so we wouldn’t have to drop him off so early the next morning. I cried all the way home, which was probably mostly hormones and also a real sadness that my life as a mom to just David was about to change. (Mommy emotions can be so complicated.) I woke up at 2 the next morning too sore to sleep, and lay in a contraction-punctuated stupor for a few hours before getting up to get ready. The occasional contractions were no different than any I’d been feeling for the past several weeks, so there was no frantic hurry like I’d imagined so many times. We got in the car and drove comfortably with no contractions all the way to the hospital. I revised on my cell phone my text in drafts from “in labor and going to the hospital, please pray” to just “going to the hospital, please pray.” Then I started crying when answering texts came in, which was ridiculous because I’d been so proud of myself for actually doing my mascara before birthing a baby and now my tears were ruining it.
So I showed up at the hospital not in labor, but at least an emotional mess. I felt pretty vulnerable, wanting to talk to my midwife immediately, afraid some brusque nurse would come rushing me in and hook me up to Pitocin. My midwife Courtney wasn’t there yet, but my two nurses Julie and then Sue were amazing. Julie in particular reassured me that I had a few options and they wouldn’t start anything until Courtney got there to talk things over with me.
I was GBS positive, which I wasn’t too happy about, but that, too, ended up being a Godsend. I got hooked up to the IV antibiotics and just lay there resting. Courtney came in around 8:30 and said she would try breaking my water in a few hours, once I’d been on the IV long enough to protect Elanor from infection. So we had a strange morning of … nothing. After such a short night sleep, I put on my night visor and ear plugs and passed out in the hospital bed. I woke up hungry, and Ben opened our cooler and fixed me a huge bowl of Greek yogurt, granola, and oranges—which was probably not technically allowed in the hospital (shhh, don’t tell!) but was just what I needed.
And then contractions started. I think my body knew I was relaxed and at the hospital, David was taken care of, and I was good to go now. Contractions were 10 minutes apart, then 8. I am so grateful the Lord gave me that reassurance that my body could go into labor on my own. I didn’t need it of course, but after waiting for so many days and weeks, it meant a lot to me!
Courtney broke my water around 11:45. The story looking back would be “after that everything went fast and Elanor was born 3 hours later.” Of course it didn’t feel that way at the time. I was sure breaking my water wouldn’t work and that I would need Pitocin anyway. The pains I did start experiencing every few minutes didn’t feel like real labor contractions at all. At first I thought they were intestinal cramps, then it just became really bad lower back pain, like a kidney infection and worse. I hadn’t had back labor with David, so I wasn’t sure what was going on.
Ben and Courtney were both amazing. They got me relaxing in the bathtub with pillows fully submerged in water, and whenever a contraction came, Ben pushed on my lower back really, really hard. Meanwhile my favorite worship songs were playing through the room. “You are stronger, sin is broken … this is the air I breathe, I’m desperate for You … if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?” I think my all time favorite labor song has to be Michael W. Smith’s “Healing Rain,” with the line, “I’m not afraid! I’m not afraid!”
I’ve talked with some friends about hypnobirthing, and I think the closest that I get is trying to fully focus on worship songs, or to visualize other positive thoughts/memories/experiences, during contractions. It’s true that during labor your body is busy, but your mind is free to either focus on fear and tense up, or to latch on to something more healthy. My birth playlist was really helpful in almost turning birth into a worship experience for me, and giving me something to focus on other than my pain.
I first met my midwife Courtney during an office visit when she was wearing a flowing floral dress with very large sleeves, and she seemed everything that a midwife should be. Now in her doctor uniform, she was kneeling by the tub and talking to me. I was more fearful than I was with David, and kept needing someone to state the obvious and reassure me that yes, considering I was having strong contractions every other minute by this time, I probably was in labor and would be holding Elanor soon.
Finally I felt the urge to push and got out of the tub. Time kind of stopped when I was in the bathtub, but now I could look up at the clock and see it was 2:30 in the afternoon. What followed was a very intense half hour. David had been born at 2:56 in the morning, and I distinctly remember my nurse at the time encouraging me by saying, “I think you’ll have this baby out by 3.” I looked at the clock and told myself the same thing this time: “I want to have Elanor out by 3.”
For whatever reason, pushing did not come easily. I wanted to try the birthing stool—I mean, that sounds so natural and midwife-y, doesn’t it? It totally didn’t work for me. Courtney said I was 9 cm and I started wailing that I really wanted to be 10. She looked up at me right as “Healing Rain” was playing and said, “Just like the song says, it won’t be long. You remember what casts out fear. Perfect love.” I didn’t even know that Courtney was a believer, but her saying that meant a lot to me.
The next position I tried was on all fours in the hospital bed. That was pretty horrible, too—I did not have any strength to hold myself up. Next Courtney recommended lying on my side, and that didn’t work either. By this time I was pretty frustrated—contractions were really painful, I couldn’t push, nothing was working.
Ben said, “Let’s try what you did with David,” so we tried the position that some natural birth advocates shake their heads at, and that was sitting in the hospital bed. Finally I could push, and within four pushes, Elanor was out (face up, which explains the back pain). It was 2:54 p.m.
One of the sweetest moments of my life was looking down and there was Elanor, gray-skinned and all covered with blood and vernix, finally out! That moment of seeing her so fresh from the womb will always be ingrained in my memory. She opened her mouth and gave a good cry. I got to hold her for a moment, and then the nurse and Ben worked with her beside the bed while I peppered them with questions, “Is she okay? Can she breathe? Is she all right? She doesn’t have to go to the NICU?”
And she was perfectly healthy. After the initial wailing, she opened her dark blue eyes and peacefully looked up at us. So much bliss! So, so worth it!
|Ben holds Elanor moments after the birth. Don't you love the blood stains on his T-shirt ... hmm ...|
|This is the "thanks, Mom, for birthing me" look.|
|Me with Courtney.|
A couple closing thoughts on natural birth … I choose it because I like the sense of empowerment and participation it gives me in the birth process, knowing that birth is something that God creates and enables my body to do. It’s like completing an athletic event—you have such a sense of achievement when it’s done! I also think it can possibly help a newborn be more alert and healthy. Of course, none of these statements are absolute and there are plenty of exceptions. Any birth story in which the mother and baby both live should be a happy one, and I am so grateful for hospitals and modern technology that have saved so many lives in the birth process. I would only recommend trying for natural birth if your midwife/doctor, hospital staff, and husband are all supportive, and if you are emotionally and physically prepared, but if you are, go for it :)!