Elliott's birth story begins about a week before he was born. It was almost 1 am on Sunday night; Adam and I had spent the evening organizing the house. We had rearranged the furniture earlier in the week; all the finishing chores of reconnecting the computer, tv, phone and organizing the books on the bookshelf needed to be completed. We felt better prepared for a home birth - though the house didn't actually look that different - as we brushed our teeth and used the bathroom one last time.
Just then I realized I had started spotting - apparently those "different" feeling contractions I had had all afternoon really were doing something different, they were softening my cervix.
Adam and I looked at each other with happy excitement, as, internally, we stepped closer to believing I was indeed having a baby and that it was indeed coming soon. The fact that I was almost 40 weeks pregnant felt surprising. My entire pregnancy had been pretty easy and uneventful - totally lacking any of the drama, vomit, midnight cravings, etc. you typically hear about. My main ills were a sprained groin/pelvic floor muscle that looked like it would only heal postpartum, more severe bouts of RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome, it runs in my family), and that I had slept on the couch the last two months because my bed had suddenly become "too hard." There were many days when I even forgot I was pregnant - for a little while, at least.
Adam quickly finished brushing his teeth and suggested we go to bed right away so we would be rested in case more labor signs appeared. He darted out to the front room to get my couch-bed set up as I waddled after him, but we both froze in our tracks when we heard the hooting of an owl right outside our window! A few days earlier, my Aunt had told me and Adam in a phone conversation to look for signs of Briana in owls or hummingbirds hanging around our house before, during, or after the home birth. Briana is my older sister, and a home birth midwife by profession, who died 3 months earlier in a rollover car accident. Her death, and the new reality that she wouldn't be at my birth, let alone any other event for the rest of my life, was something I struggled with and, though I tried not to think about it, I wanted desperately to feel her or see her at this birth - or have some kind of personal experience that testified to me that she was okay, that I was okay, and that we were still sisters. We have lived in this house for 2 1/2 years and never heard an owl - though they are common here. Adam said he got chills. I felt happy and peaceful. We both felt it was a little sign that Bri was watching, that she was aware we were about to have our baby, and that we were trying to feel like we knew what we were doing! The owl stayed in our yard hooting for about 10 minutes while I fell asleep.
The next day and week were filled with last minute errands, projects and prelabor/early labor contractions. On Monday, we had a midwife appointment, I worked a few hours, had a chiropractic adjustment, picked up my mom from the airport (she would be in town about 2 1/2 weeks), and the three of us saw "The Tree of Life" movie in Capitol Hill (it was beautiful, but a bit slow and too abstract for our liking). On Tuesday, my mom and I drove to Whidbey Island to visit a friend from Iceland. Wednesday was my due date (July 20th), I sewed bedding for the baby's bassinet while my mom scrubbed the house top to bottom. Thursday was like Wednesday. Friday morning, we picked up my younger sister, Candice, from the airport. She would be in town until Wednesday, so we hoped the baby would come soon. That night we went to Mukilteo Lighthose Beach with Adam's sister's family. It was fun; I had a lot of energy and was happy. We ate Ivar's fish and chips and I ordered the largest soft serve ice cream known to man:
Saturday seemed likely, but it passed with no increase in contractions - just the same, all day all night 20 min apart contractions I had had all week with varying degrees of bloody show. Sunday seemed even more likely, but it, too passed. It was a nice morning so I walked around the neighborhood with Candice while my mom and Adam went to church. It turned into a hot day so we took dinner to Idylwood park and ate by Lake Sammamish.
I had hard contractions about 4 minutes apart the entire time and had a very soft bowel movement when we got home. I told Adam to set up the birth pool while my mom and sister went 'home' to where they were staying to freshen up and get supplies in case they were up all night at my house.
Unfortunately, the contractions slowed and though we wanted to stay up partying, we all went to bed to rest while we could.
The next morning I had a midwife appointment, so the four of us - the birth team - all went. After discussing some options, I decided to have the midwife (Tracy) do a cervical sweep to encourage labor if it could be encouraged. I was beginning to feel impatient, nervous, and more run-down from waking with contractions all night long. I didn't know if I could do another week of the same thing plus Candice was leaving Wednesday, so encouraging labor sounded great. Adam went to work, but my mom, Candice and I had a plan to go into Seattle and bakery-hop. It was pouring rain, though, so we decided to wait and while we waited we realized contractions were increasing and I didn't want to leave the house.
We are counting labor as starting at 1 pm Monday. The contractions brought on a lot of back pain, so my sister would press on my tailbone to counter the pressure from the baby. Here's us on the couch:
I called my friend at church for a back massage, which was great, and the contractions continued. Then my mom and sister had me walk around the block. I had to stop with each contraction to sway or squat or lean on someone until it passed.
Adam came home from work around 7. We live very close to Microsoft - where he works - and my mom had been giving him updates as he finished some final emails. By this time, my back was so tender from counter pressure that I changed strategies to lifting up on my stomach with each contraction. I felt like this lessened the pressure on my back. On the walk, I made my mom and sister promise to fill up the birth tub if I ever made it back to the house. I loved laboring in the warm pool. It didn't make contractions painless, but it made them less intense and more fun - I loved being in the water.
As my sister, Candice, said after the birth, "You and that birth pool could have stayed pregnant together forever!"
Around midnight, Adam paged our midwives to give them a heads-up and see if we should be doing anything differently. My contractions were still the same, about 5 min apart, but it had been that way for so many hours. Valerie was on call and didn't sound too happy to hear I had been in the birth pool for 4 hours eating popsicles! She told Adam to get me out and make me change positions every 20 minutes and to keep me moving. I was very annoyed :)
For me, contractions were an intense, dull pain in my lower back and lower stomach (I later learned that was due to baby's head pulling on the cervix) that gave me a splitting headache and made me want to close my eyes at all times. Before labor, I imagined I would have a ravenous appetite and want to eat all kinds of food. However, in labor, I could barely eat or drink and everything sounded terrible. My crew had to force feed me popsicles, yogurt, little bits of turkey, oatmeal, cantelope, and water.
Here's Adam, calling the midwives:
I tried to follow Val's advice of moving around every 20 minutes even though all I wanted was to get back in the water. At one point (probably around 2:30 am), I remember being out in the middle of the road in clogs and a raincoat laboring backward on a pillow covered dining room chair, hahaha! Adam paged Val again and said he was out of ideas and needed more help so Val sent Tracy to our house because she herself was at a birth at the birth center.
Tracy (above) and Sarah, the student midwife, arrived around 3:30 am. I asked Tracy to check me because I felt like pushing - and it felt good to push - but I wanted to make sure my cervix was ready. She said my cervix was soft and stretchy, so pushing would be fine, but we had a quick panic moment when Tracy said she felt something more like a bum than a head. Then, to our relief, she said she felt fuzzy hair and that the head was coming in crooked (causing the back labor), and was not evenly pressed on my cervix (causing the low stomach pain). My water broke on the bed during the exam, which was interesting. I remember feeling satisfied when the warm water rushed out and pooled around me - something had finally happened!
Tracy suggested I labor in asymmetrical positions to try to straighten out the baby's head. I labored lying down, backward on chairs, on the toilet, and even in the birth tub as long as I kept eating. I remember being in the birth pool while Tracy and my mom sat on the couch talking about feeling Briana close by. I heard what they said, but nothing was sinking in at the moment. For me, my main feeling of closeness was when the owl came to our yard to usher in early labor/prelabor.
Here is Sarah taking care of me in the birth pool:
while Adam caught a 30 min early morning nap. Adam was amazing all during the birth and even after with the cleanup. I loved having him to lean on. He never voiced doubts or concerns, though I'm sure he felt them.
At 6:30 am Tracy sent me and Adam out 'walking.' Walking feels like the wrong word because I only got in about two steps between contractions.
At 9 am Tracy had to leave to be with her children and Val had finished with the birth at the birth center, so we had a midwife switch. It ended up being a great time to shake things up.
Val (above) arrived and got everyone's opinion of how the birth was progressing. I remember her declaring it was weather fit for a lovely October day.
I was laboring backward on the toilet and Sarah encouraged me to see if I could feel the baby's head.
I could! It wasn't that far inside, but I could also feel my cervix unevenly positioned around the baby's head. With each contraction, it would stretch as the baby's head descended, but then the head would retreat back after the contraction. I decided to keep my fingers in and hold my cervix out of the way during and between contractions to get more mileage out of my pushing and contractions. Here is Val, watching and waiting:
It worked - the baby's head passed lower, but it was difficult to sustain. After about 45 minutes (10:30 am), I decided to sit on the birth stool and have Val and Sarah take turns holding my cervix out of the way. That worked great, too. After about 3 pushes on the birth stool, the head had quickly moved down in the birth canal (+3 station?) and we all thought the baby would be born soon...but it was about 2 1/2 more hours of pushing until that blessed moment of relief.
Adam sat on the couch behind me and I sat on the birth stool between his legs, leaning back into his arms. I pushed and roared as best I could. Toward the end, there was a moment of both defeat and triumph when I realized that even though I was working as hard as I thought I could, there was nothing else to do but keep pushing until the baby came out or I was no longer able to push. I remember saying, "I'm trying as hard as I can!" "My bones, my bones!" and "Good grief!" Thankfully, the baby maintained a healthy heart rate while it was in the birth canal despite all my pushing. Finally everyone said, "I see the head!" so I put my hand down to feel what they saw and was disappointed because it was a quarter-sized amount of head, but it felt like it was crowning :(
I honestly didn't think the baby was ever coming out, in fact I was surprised when it did! After some debate, I accepted a glucose IV (good thing!) and it gave me the energy to push with and without contractions. I pushed for a solid 10 or 12 min with the whole birth crew roaring alongside me - it was very intense. I felt my flesh split. Then, I heard everyone yell, "The head!" and I looked down to see a HUGE, blue, baby head emerge from my own body followed quickly by a slippery, blue, baby body. "This baby is huge!" I exclaimed! Sarah was in the catching position because Val had been administering the IV, and she passed my baby up into my arms. I leaned back into Adam, who was crying with joy, and felt incredible relief. I was so HAPPY to be finished. I could not believe how wonderful it felt to be done. I held my baby and saw that it was a boy! My intuition had been right!
Adam and our son!
Then, the midwives went into high gear as they noticed I was bleeding a lot. They had Adam cut the cord, take off his shirt, and hold our baby against his skin. With the baby detached from me, they could give me a shot of pitocin in my thigh to stop the bleeding. They helped us into bed and waited for the placenta to come out. I had blue lips, was shaking, and knew I had torn, but I was still incredibly happy. The placenta didn't come out at first, but quickly flowed out when I sat on the birth stool again.
After I was stabilized, Sarah checked on our baby. He was gurgling a bit, but still able to breathe and make healthy noises. She listened to his lungs and sucked out some fluid. His head had been thoroughly squeezed as it came through my pelvis and was misshapen, but I could see that it was going back to normal already. His skin was peeling off in large sheets, indicative of a full term baby. He had huge hands that stayed blue after his body pinked up, making it look like he was wearing oversized zombie Halloween gloves, as Adam said.
Adam carried our baby into the kitchen to look at our name list on the refrigerator and said he felt like the name Elliott was perfect for this little boy. And that was that :)
Val worked with me to get breastfeeding established. I'm so proud of myself for making milk! It's amazing it happens with out even trying!
The little milk monster, just one hour old!
Finally, my appetite returned and I got to eat my celebratory cheese and kombucha I had been saving.
Then, Val stitched me up for about 2 hours...
My mom and sister went 'home' to shower and rest before coming back to finish cleaning up and making dinner. They made a delicious pork tenderloin with asparagus and salad - I had never tasted anything so wonderful!
Sarah and Val did the newborn exam. Elliott was 8 pounds 1 ounce and 21 inches long - much larger than everyone was predicting when I was pregnant! All parts accounted for and in good working order. They left at 6 pm, 5 hours after Elliott was born. We loved having Tracy, Val, and Sarah in our home as our midwives - they did a great job.
As far as Elliott goes, he's adorable and very well behaved (hopefully it'll last longer than the newborn phase!). He loves to be held and look around at the house. On his first night, he squeaked every time we tried to turn off the light for bed, so we finally lit a flashlight for him until he fell asleep between us in bed. He has big eyes from the Barlow side, but a tiny mouth and pointy nose from me! He looks a lot like me and Adam. We love him!
Here is Aunt Candice with her first nephew. What a great labor support, I am so thankful she could come out to help. Elliott and I can't wait to visit her soon!