Eloise's Birth Story
The Story of Eloise.
Sometimes a birth begins with a death.
It’s hard to tell the story of Eloise without telling about how she almost wasn’t born.
Eloise is a rainbow baby, the joy after the storm, a reminder of the promises of God. A magical thing, which cannot happen without darkness, but cannot be seen without light.
Part of me wasn’t ready for her to be born because it seemed like full closure over our little lost Lentil, miscarried at 8 weeks. And then, a few days before she was born, I hugged Geoff and said, “This baby is not a replacement for our loss; that stands on its own. It’s OK to be sad, and it’s OK that there will always be that loss. This is a new and fresh little life.” And though she is separate from Lentil, she could not be here had Lentil made it.
Perhaps it was my tentative feelings toward preparing the way for the child because of my previous loss, and I didn't even realize I had done this until much later, but as I set out the baby's little clothes and diapering supplies in the final weeks before the birth, it struck me. Inadvertently, everything I bought for this child or brought out from the other children's baby days was either black & white, grey, or (as this pregnancy progressed), the color of the sky or the sun. Perfect for my little rainbow.
So you can imagine how meaningful it was to me when I opened a package from my dear mama friend, Sarah Swanson. Sarah and I had our first babies 3 weeks apart and our second babies 3 days apart. She's the one I call when things get tough. She's the one who talked me off the ledge the week we decided to put a lock on Cannon's door for his safety. She's also a very talented and generous knitter, and knitted a beautiful lavender bonnet for Gracy when she was a baby.
Sarah had sent a perfect, intricate, newborn-sized hand-knitted wool sweater.
With orange buttons, because, she wrote, "I remember how much you like orange." And as I admired it in my hands, I poked the little cheerful buttons through the grey, and they seemed just like little sunshines. I cried in gratitude for her thoughtfulness. It meant so much to me to be remembered. And I remember her, too. Through this pregnancy, and through these early baby days. She and Heather will always be my sisters in birth. (Heather and I had our first babies 4 weeks apart and our second babies 3 days apart. Heather has also had her third baby, a girl, also due in December, two years ago now.)
We waited so long past my due date for Eloise. She was due the day after Christmas. On Christmas Eve, our next-door neighbor, Michael, came and told me, “An angel came to Mary and said to her, ‘Blessed are you among women, that you should bear a child, and his name will be Jesus.’ Well, Emily, you are blessed among women, too, to have a baby.” And although his name wouldn’t be Jesus, our neighbors called us Mary and Joseph for weeks…
Well, Christmas came, and Christmas went. And then New Year’s came.
And New Year’s went.
I had really wanted to hold my baby and snuggle him or her by the fire and the Christmas tree. Not that that was a long-time fantasy or anything, it’s just that I had it in my head for months that he or she would be born around the holidays. We left the decorations up for as long as we could stand it, but part of keeping Christmas special is only having it out during Christmastime. The children were long since done thinking about the holiday. Snowmen and paper snowflakes were coming home from school. And the curbside tree pickup was looming. So we took it all down.
This baby just wasn’t ready yet. He or she was waiting for a clear, open space. Not to share anything with any one else.
When I was 41 weeks, we all visited a little stream right at sunset, and Geoff took some last photos of me pregnant. We stayed and played until they were too soaked and chilly, then stripped them down and rode home with the heat (and the music) on. It was amazing to be out the first week of January at a stream that wasn't frozen a foot thick and covered in snow. People here think it's cold, but to me, in Maine, these were the kinds of grateful days in April or May when I'd take the kids to the beach and pick up driftwood with no one around for miles and miles. We'd picnic, and let them fall asleep in the car on the way home, sandy, quiet, past the many little farms just waking up and thawing out. This waiting game...was minute-by-minute...and while it was driving us all a little stir crazy, it forced us to be together and live hour by hour, paying close attention to everything. Every day seemed huge. And it was.
I’d had frequent-ish contractions just before Christmas (two days before all of Geoff’s family was coming) and again the day after one of my last prenatal appointments. But still no baby. During that appointment, January 5, Linda, my amazing midwife, and I had talked about things we could try to help encourage labor. But I wasn’t keen on trying them and preferred to just wait and let things happen on their own. Linda is always very insightful and validating in my choices. She told me about a woman who had once been induced, I think she said due to family pressure, and that she had difficulty staying on top of the pain in labor and a more difficult time bonding with the baby. That sometimes tricking the body into labor can be counterproductive. I did agree to be checked, though, because I had been having contractions off and on, more than previous pregnancies. It was the first internal exam I’d had during the entire pregnancy (by complete contrast to my previous experiences at an OB’s office, where internal exams were the norm. Really loving the natural birth route to prenatal care…). Linda said she couldn’t strip my membranes even if we’d wanted to because the cervix was still too posterior.
We also talked about some events and recalculated my due date, but even the latest approximation put the baby due January 2. We agreed that if nothing had happened by Friday, that it might be a good idea to try some of the labor encouragement techniques we discussed.
Monday, January 11, Linda called to see how I was doing. I thought Linda had said I had until Friday, January 15 to start encouraging labor, but apparently, she’d meant the previous Friday (the 8th). Whoops! She talked me into coming into the birth center the following day to try some things. I agreed.
Wow. I was possibly going to have a baby the next day. It seemed so sudden. I mean, it shouldn’t have, I was already past 42 weeks now, according to the original due date. It’s not like I didn’t know it was coming. But to know, well, that was altogether different. With my previous children, I hadn’t known when labor was coming, and it took me by surprise, and I like that element of the excitement. I have to admit, though, the timing of labor with them wasn’t ideal. Labor with Cannon began at midnight after a full day’s work, and labor with Gracy started in the last few moments of putting 2-year-old Cannon to bed. So both times, I’d gone into labor already pretty exhausted. Still, I wasn’t sure how I felt about knowing something ahead of time. I comforted myself knowing that this isn’t induction. Induction is when you go in and you try things to start labor, and you don’t stop until you have a baby. This is more like…labor encouragement. You try things, and if, after a few hours, a labor pattern is not established, you stop, wait, and try again tomorrow. There’s still a possibility we’d be coming home empty-handed tomorrow. I know I should have gone to bed earlier, but I stayed up until 2, working on a video project of our family. I love my family so much as it is. Of course I want it to grow, of course it is God’s plan for me, of course Geoff and I have planned a larger family since long before we were married, as just college kids. And I could not be more delighted. But this is goodbye in a small way to our powerful dynamic of four. So I closed out the world and wrapped myself in that reality one last time, though music and motion and beautiful video clips of our family together…until I couldn’t stay awake anymore, and my daydreams melted into sleep.
The next morning I was a bit stressed, even though Geoff let me sleep in as usual, and took care of the children, fed them, got them ready, packed lunch, and took Cannon to his half-day Kindergarten we love so much. Even though we knew today was the day and Linda was expecting us sometime in the morning, I still had to arrange for someone to watch Gracy (procrastinate much?), and pack a few last items. Geoff had spent the prior evening on the computer, too. So our food wasn’t packed, bags weren’t in the car, and the big bins of Christmas decorations were still sitting around the living room and hallways.
I called Linda, perhaps in a last-ditch effort to see if I really had to try to have this baby today. This was it – I was about to try to conquer my one last fear in this world…med-free childbirth. Was I really ready? My first two births were long but normal vaginal deliveries with epidurals near the end (epidural with Cannon after 27 hours of labor, and with Gracy after 15 hours). I have no regrets about their beautiful births. But I knew I wanted to do this one differently. With Cannon, I was extremely exhausted having not slept in 67 hours and accepted the suggestion of an epidural because the baby was stressed from 28 hours of labor at that point. With Grace, I hadn’t set out to avoid an epidural. I only intended to avoid it until I was well past the point of it potentially slowing labor. I stayed open to the idea of birthing without one, but that wasn’t the goal. I got to the critical point, and the nurse checked me (stuck at 6 cm for hours) and asked me if that was what I really wanted. She and another caring nurse were kind and encouraging and told me I could do this without it if that’s what I wanted, and that I was getting really close. But I still just didn’t have the kind of support I needed to get through the pain. There is only so much pain one can endure when the pain doesn’t lend you any progress. And the nurses just weren’t there to help coach me through labor or provide comfort measures, and I wasn’t sure how to engage Geoff more. In addition, I felt a strong urge to get on my hands and knees but was crippled by the hep lock in my left hand, making it very painful to bear weight on that hand. Avoiding the hep lock is one of the main reasons I wanted to avoid hospital birth. But perhaps the biggest reason was to overcome a longstanding fear of childbirth.
When I was the age Gracy is now, 3, our Sunday school teacher read to our class directly from the King James version of the scripture about Adam and Eve and how women were now forever punished by having “pain in childbirth.” Since that moment, it seemed inevitable that birth would be painful, and not just any pain, but one so great it was guaranteed by God as a punishment and written about in the Bible, right up front in Genesis. That sounded extremely daunting. Over the years, those fears were only compounded by imagery of traumatic or painful birth through television and books. It got so bad that when time came for the video of live childbirth in our 7th grade health class, I got so shaky and nearly cried of fear, and the teacher mercifully sent me on a long (probably unnecessary) errand to the office to deliver something. Even stories of my own birth from my mother made it sound terrifying. Of course, the part where I was briefly switched at birth was kind of funny, and she always said how worth it it was. But still…yikes. And then all during my first pregnancy, everyone told me birth horror stories about bleeding and hemorrhaging and emergency C-sections and scared me to death. Before Cannon was born, I was scared of dying during childbirth. And of course I was scared of birth. I didn’t conquer this fear with my first two babies – to feel all that birth had to throw at me from start to finish. And I wanted to conquer it…my last remaining fear in this world. I have been through things in my life I really don’t want to talk about. But I’ve overcome them. And I wanted to overcome this, too. I wanted to do it not for praise, not for a contest, not just so I can say I did, not for “a medal” – no, no. It was for me. And I was no longer afraid of dying, only of my baby dying. I think this fear came from unresolved grief over Lentil.
Perhaps it was because of the last-minute things we needed to do, or perhaps, really, it was my lingering 2% of self-doubt and fear about something I’d never done before. Whatever it was, I ended up crying on the phone with Linda that morning! She gave me the option of coming in tomorrow…but at that point, if I didn’t have a baby, she said she felt strongly that we should schedule an induction at the hospital for the next day or Friday. Oh, boy. That really put things into perspective. Linda has a way of helping me make good decisions with gentleness, experience, and plenty of information. I knew what I needed to do, and I felt solid about it. I kind of wanted to avoid the 13th as a birthday if given the option (I am hopelessly superstitious, even though I know it doesn’t mean anything), but I definitely did not want to run the risk of being induced. Linda suggested I write down things I needed Geoff to do. That made a lot of sense. I had a moment of growing up in that phonecall, and I realized Geoff probably had a lot going on in his mind, too. So I made the call to Kara, wrote down directions for Geoff, and added a short list of things I needed him to do. We agreed I would go to the birth center by myself to get a head start. He would get everything we needed into the car, pick up Cannon at 1:00 when Kindergarten was out, and drop him and Gracy off at Kara’s house for however long was necessary. It could have been a few hours, or it could have been until bedtime, or it could have been all night. I packed bags for Cannon and Gracy just in case, told her she got to go play with Rosalie, and left. (According to Geoff, Gracy basically didn’t take a breath between that moment and when he dropped her off because she was so excited to go to Rosalie’s house she never stopped talking. Haha!) I kissed Gracy goodbye, and then kissed her again through the glass on the front door. Remember Lot’s wife, I told myself…but then I forgot something, of course, so I went back, and I kissed her one more time. And then I left. Finally. And I got into the van.
This is it, I thought.
What a strange moment.
The van, which I had had detailed in a nesting frenzy a few weeks prior, looked so pristine. I hadn’t been in it since that day. There was the blanket I’d set out for myself for the ride home, perfectly folded on the chair beside me. And all three car seats behind me.
On the way, a song from high school - All Star by Smash Mouth - came on the radio, and I was taken back to a time when we all wore blank chunky Steve Madden shoes and even cheap items had sleek designs. Has it really been 15 years? Half my life ago since I’ve been physically able to have a baby? Wow. So much has happened since then, yet it still feels like my life is just beginning. These are, in my mind, the best days yet. Though I feel that way every year.
I walked in by myself, wearing what I’d wear out for the day –a royal blue top (my favorite color to wear, and my favorite color to see my husband wear), and my long blue chambray skirt I’d bought last January in Maine and worn all over France this summer. So many happy memories hung from that skirt, of walking dusty paths past wine grapes and little children hugging my leg just so. It makes me happy to be in it. I carried an espresso coffee drink Geoff had made for me that morning (because I was too terrified to try the castor oil cocktail I’d been out to buy the ingredients for the night before!). And I carried my pocketbook and a camera. It looked as if I could have been showing up to shoot a photography session. I still felt the force of my everyday self enter the room; I could have carried on a conversation at that moment just as easily as I could have at a day job. I hadn’t let down my guard yet and entered the mental zone of…birthing. But at least I’d shaken the sadness and anxiety. Much like many times before, I’d turned it into resolve by letting go and focusing on what needs to happen.
Linda saw me come in, and helped me bring my things in to the birthing room I’d chosen. A week or two before, she asked me if I’d decided which room I’d like, and I chose this deep purple one with ornate furniture and a large tub in the corner. Two windows flanked the large bed.
I think Linda must have given me a few minutes to settle in, though I only remember the quiet in the room and contemplating what was ahead. Visualizing holding my baby, wondering if it was a boy or a girl…
I had had four contractions on the way over, but much like my other two labors, this had been going on for hours and wasn’t developing into much of a pattern yet. With my previous babies, it took a good 8-12 hours before I established a regular pattern. Doing things to encourage early labor to develop more quickly would help preserve my energy for the more challenging phases.
I began by taking a dropperful under my tongue and holding it for 30 seconds -- of blue cohosh at the top of the hour (around noon), black cohosh at the quarter hour, blue cohosh at the half hour, and black cohosh again at quarter of. I coupled this with using the breast pump for 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off. It was quite a bit to keep track of. Linda left me alone. “Privacy will be your best friend,” she said. She was right. Contractions came around every 7-10 minutes or so. It was quiet, cloudy out off and on, and the sheers were drawn and the blinds closed. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds of the pump. Depending which sound you start listening for a pattern on, you can make it sound like many different words. But my mind at this point was kind of beyond interpreting much of anything for long.
During the second hour, 1:00, I think, we switched from blue & black cohosh to cotton root bark. I took a dropperful under my tongue for 30 second every 15 minutes, and this time used the pump each time the minute hand pointed to a number. I pumped until a contraction came, then stopped, and started again when the minute hand reached the next number. The goal was a contraction every 5 minutes. After about 20 minutes, this was mostly accomplished. Contractions came more frequently and were more powerful. I leaned my head against the wooden bed frame. I noticed that the shape at the top of the wood frame around the mirror over the chest across from the bed looked a lot to me like the female reproductive system, complete with fleur de lis-style embellishments under the ovaries. Between contractions, I felt the baby flipping and moving around quite a bit, then make small adjustments of his or her little feet and elbows. I’ll never forget feeling the little toes flex at the top of my womb in that moment, a gentle reminder that somebody’s in there…someone tiny and sweet.
I closed my eyes and realized how reclined on the bed I was, nearly flat. In my mind, I had a vision. I went back to the memory of that wet summer day when we took a chance on the weather and traveled an hour south to Lewiston, Maine. We drove under a thunderstorm and emerged into hazy late afternoon light, shimmering pavement, and the smell of carnival food. The hot air balloon festival. I could feel the weight of my camera around my neck and the giant grin on my face as Gracy held my finger and we all made our way to the big grassy field of deflated balloons. There was much debate as to whether balloons would fly that night with the weather. A contraction came to me, and I envisioned my womb as a hot air balloon, inflating there on the ground, then deflating as they did, fluttering in the sunset. Over and over, quietly so. I envisioned Gracy’s little blonde curls, lit by the sunset, bouncing along as she toddled through the balloons in her baby blue ruffle-bottom sunsuit. I felt…almost high. I laughed for seemingly no reason. Every thought that came to my head seemed blithe and funny. A sense of euphoria washed over me. I envisioned all the pleasure of two sweet, beautiful children, plus one more.
Linda came in again, and this time, the world around me seemed smaller and everything in my mind seemed large. We talked about how things were going, and I continued with the cotton root bark and the pump…although it wasn’t long before I was having a contraction before it was time to use the pump again.
Geoff arrived soon, bringing food and a presence from the outside world. I was still able to talk to him, and we learned poor Kara now not only had both our little ones, but her little Rosalie was sick. She certainly had her hands full. Still, I knew they were in good hands. I was fairly sure this was going to be it at this point, though, and that this really was labor, and that I was probably going to have a baby. Linda seemed to think it would happen sooner than I did. I thought probably some time in the middle of the night or the next morning. I continued with the pump and cotton root bark. Geoff started tracking my contractions on an app on his phone. Every 4-5 minutes now. More predictable, more strong, more…overpowering. I went back to my vision of the hot air balloon but it was harder to go there now with an audience. Eventually, that balloon blew up much tighter than I knew it could! Then, at some point, my mind couldn’t go there anymore, nor much anywhere.
At some point, Linda came in and quietly removed the pump. And the cohosh, and the cotton root. Nothing was said about how I’d moved past it, but I noticed this quiet acknowledgement and felt proud of my achievement. She set up a few things, and again, left us alone. Contractions continued, and I enjoyed the comfort of lying on my left side to endure the pain. Geoff gave me the turkey sandwich I requested (which was the first thing I ate after Cannon was born, which had tasted like the best thing ever).
After awhile, Linda checked my progress. I was already 1 cm when I arrived (hooray!), and now I was 2 cm dilated. No progress is bad progress, and given my previous 33-hour and 17-hour labors, I was not disappointed with this after several hours of work. However, my cervix was still in a pretty posterior position, which meant that although I was doing all this work, the position of the baby was such that the head wasn’t pressing down on the cervix and moving things along more quickly. It was instead pushing at the bottom of the uterus, past the cervix. Well, shoot. Now what? Linda told me to try 2 contractions lying on my left side, 2 on my back, 2 on my right side, and 2 on my hands & knees. And then to repeat that cycle. Geoff helped me keep track toward the end of the second cycle, as the pain became more intense and I got more distracted from keeping track of positions and more focused on moving into and out of the rushes. This baby moved so much during the process. I joked that we were going to need to lay out a gymnastics mat for this child, because he or she was going to roll out, tumble across the floor, and win a medal. He or she wins the prize for most movement during labor! During this time, I felt nauseous, so Linda gave me a whiff of peppermint and a little basin just in case. The peppermint helped and the basin went unused.
After these 2 cycles, not much progress, but she told me I could get up and move around more. I was beginning to get a bit tired already, so I knew this was time to crystallize my resolve and energy. I knew once I gave in and got out of bed, it would be easier.
I had to go to the bathroom a lot, and almost every time, a contraction hit. This kind of scared me, because with Gracy’s labor, some of the most painful contractions were in the bathroom, to the point I became scared to go anymore and panic began to set in, with no one in there to help me or talk to me. I didn’t want to be touched or talked to then. The memory of that butter-yellow-tiled hospital bathroom is so vivid to me to this day. With this labor, though, the second time a contraction hit in the bathroom, it suddenly came to me that all those comfort measures for labor—you’re supposed to use them during contractions. You might think this would be obvious, but really, is it? No one ever pointed that out, nor does it ever say that in any of the birth books or websites I’ve read or birth stories I’ve read or birth films I’ve watched. But in that split second, the rolling pin seemed like a good choice, and my gracious, what a relief that feeling was when Geoff came over and rolled my back! Wow! It was amazing! It’s hard to describe the exact effect, as it didn’t make the pain go away, but it matched or distracted from the pain. It gave my brain another place to go to receive messages of feeling something. This was a major turning point for me in my ability and confidence to move through labor. The fear of that past experience melted away with every roll of the rolling pin.
Something I’ve needed to work on for most of my adult life is asking for what I want or need in my personal life (though I’ve never had an issue doing this in my professional life). I thought, “This is my chance to practice asking for what I need.” When people do nice things for you, it just seems more valuable if you don’t have to ask, you know? But with so many people in our house, I realize I need to speak up, just as I’ve been encouraging Cannon to do – to tell me what’s wrong so I can help him … And in labor, although I couldn’t always ask politely, Geoff didn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, even though I wasn’t looking at his face much of the time, with my back turned toward him or my eyes closed, I could hear in his voice a happy confidence that he was involved and knew how to help me. After awhile I decided to not think of myself as barking orders but as feeling empowered just saying what I needed, and each time I received what I needed I felt less guilty and less self-conscious, more able to enjoy receiving what I needed, and more able to relax and truly receive. This was a turning point for me as a person. I realized that it’s OK to ask for what I need, that Geoff really does want to help me, and that just because he can’t read my mind doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. Sometimes people just can’t see my needs because, kind of like this baby, they’re (somewhat) hidden.
Geoff was so attentive to me, watching my every move and expression, that he could anticipate not only when contractions were coming, but much of the time, which comfort measure I would prefer. He was there to meet me at the bathroom-area wall with the rolling pin before I could even ask, on more than one occasion when a contraction hit faster than I anticipated it. Linda had really just left us alone for the most part, and Geoff and I were doing this together. He was needed, and he stepped up and owned his role as a powerful and compassionate birth partner, in tune with me and our baby before he or she was even born. I was the rhythm, he was the harmony. Our baby led the way.
Contractions were coming faster and faster. I moved from the bathroom to floor at the foot of the bed, though before I could sit, another contraction hit, and I gripped the bedframe and groaned. Then, for some reason, it just felt right to sit up as straight as an arrow, with pressure at the bottom of my pelvis. Linda brought me a padded mat somewhat like a gym mat. That was great! I moved through several more rushes there, and Geoff came behind me and supported my back. Even though I hadn’t asked him to, this was exactly what I needed. Rushes were taking me over more and more deeply, and I needed to rest in between them now. He touched me and held my arms and kissed me. I closed my eyes and went to the ocean this time, to the summer I was 11 and swam out far, far past where I could see my family, in a streak of bravery. I was especially strong and lean and tan that year, my hair bleached salty white and my face full of sandy freckles. I treaded water for a long time, far past where I couldn’t touch the bottom between the waves. Instead of swimming to jump over the waves, I began to swim under them. This is where I was in labor, this time with Geoff as my raft between the waves. But I had to swim under.
I moved over to the rocking chair, my knees on the floor, and gripped the spindles on the back of the chair, my head hanging down. I rocked through the rush, Geoff keeping the rolling pin in place as I rolled under it. I envisioned a drawing of a woman in this position in the Penny Simkin book illustrating various labor positions from women around the world through various cultures and time periods. This position said something like, “Georgia, USA, 1800s” and the woman’s hair was all pinned up in a loose bun so properly, yet, just like all the other illustrations, she was nude. Birth unites women across all generations and places. It reduces us, empowers us, builds us up, and binds us together likes pages in a book, each story unique. I feel connected to every mother through this experience. At this point, I was closing my eyes and staying in that position, waiting for the next contraction. Rocking over and over. I was less conversational, and more focused, although my mind was still processing most of what was happening.
Afternoon wore on, and Linda offered to check my progress, which I was curious about. 4 cm now. 5 with help. My cervix was still in a posterior position – just the position of the baby. I was still coughing quite a bit from being ill last month, and coughing during contractions was completely unbearable. Linda offered a couple different options – some peppermint (I think it was peppermint) oil in the diffuser, or rubbed directly on my chest. She let me smell it. I chose to have it right on me. It helped me breathe deeper and relax.
I continued – bathroom, bed, rocking. Linda was still mostly giving us space, though it grew darker outside, and she came in and set up some things. I remember seeing the oxygen tank roll in and think, “This is getting serious; I must be getting closer.”
I became more fond of just leaning over the bed and squatting a little bit. Linda came and rubbed from my back, down my hips and legs during a contraction, and it felt just right. I later described this to Geoff, and I think Linda showed him, too, and he continued with this comfort for me.
In a bit, she said I could get in the tub if I needed to. Ahh, that sounded lovely, but I was still managing the pain on my own now and didn’t quite feel I needed to go there just yet. I was hesitant because I know a tub can slow your labor, and I didn’t feel like I was that far along yet; I was not really giving myself credit. She brought me a warm rice sock, which was simply wonderful. I went back and forth from lying on the bed to standing and leaning on the bed and to the bathroom and back, and after awhile decided it was indeed time for the tub.
I admitted that this was the pregnancy where I'd done everything wrong - eaten lunch meat, eaten unpasteurized cheeses, drank unrefrigerated milk..." and Geoff said, "and rode a bike..." We talked of our beautiful days in the south of France at the start of the second trimester biking through wine country, a dream I'd had since I was 16. I began thinking about that day we drove to Marseille and about the first time I took the baby into the ocean...our first time in the Mediterranean. Geoff was building sand castles with the children, and I walked out into the ocean, just walked, as if it wasn't there at all, until I felt I would float if I turned around and fell over. I closed my eyes and took a big breath in and floated up. And the baby and I...we floated together, a pool within a pool. I spread my limbs out and felt huge. Huge. Like a big, bloated, floaty thing. I thought about how the Earth spins at 1,000 miles an hour and that maybe the surface of the ocean dragged along slower than the ocean deep down, like a sloshing glass. But I'm afraid it works more like a wheel, where the outside edge moves faster than the parts toward the middle. We're rotating and spinning and revolving through space with no more control than little starfish.
I floated in the tub. It felt warm, just the right temperature, and I moved through three contractions. I floated for a moment, in what felt like the eye of a storm – bliss with a known ending, where you spend all of the peace preparing for the battle. One more contraction, and I gave myself a check. I could not feel my cervix at all, and I got out of the tub and asked to be checked again. I didn’t want to keep laboring if I wasn’t making progress.
Linda checked me again, and still, just 5 cm. She held my cervix forward through a contraction or two or three, until I could no longer stand it. She and Geoff stayed with me as I labored on my back from 8:00 to 8:30 in an attempt to get the baby’s head to position itself on the cervix. This felt like one of the longest half hours ever. During this time, I started using lower tones when I cried out to help push out the energy of the pain instead of high-pitched noises, which can tighten you up. I gripped the headboard. I rubbed the towel on my chest. I shouted things like, “Pain is OK! Pain brings a baby!” in a chant-like way, mostly to myself. And as I was rubbing the towel on my chest and kind of chanting this super-loudly, the other midwife, Amy, came in. And when the contraction was over, I was like, “Oh! Hi Amy!” We all laughed.
I thought of how pain and suffering are different, and I continued to focus so that my pain was productive and not suffering. Two nights before, I’d read in Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth about how women in China will “chung” the mother, or vigorously shake her arms and legs. I asked Linda and Geoff to shake my arms for me, and, this may sound crazy, but it did really help! I told Linda I was ready for her to help me out during contractions again, even though I knew it would be painful. I was ready to make some progress.
I reached a breaking point. I almost cried. Linda looked me right in the eye and told me gently, “You’ve been through a lot of things in your life. You are strong. And you can do this, too.” I saw Geoff nodding in agreement. This meant more to me that she knew. She was so right, and although I’d never told her some of the things I’ve been through, I felt I could have; I trusted her completely. But…I didn’t have to. Without me even going into detail, she just knew. Credit and validation for difficult times behind me, permission to let it be difficult now, and love for the difficulty ahead. These are the gifts she gave me, in my most vulnerable state, just the right time. And even better, Geoff’s agreement. Geoff, who DID know everything I've been through. To be completely vulnerable in front of the person you love, to tell them, I'm in pain, and to have them say, "I see your pain, and I acknowledge that this is hard for you" is incredibly empowering. It doesn't fix it, and it doesn't need to. It just loves, and love conquers all.
Oh, my. I didn’t tell anyone, but it was growing more apparent in my voice. I was feeling the urge to bear down and…push. I thought for certain, there’s no way I’m that close to birth…I wasn’t ready to give myself credit for all I’d done. So I didn’t say, “I feel like pushing.” I just stood up. In the process, I said, “If I was at the hospital, now would be epidural time.”
I asked for some pillows. “How about a pillow or three?” I joked. Geoff and Linda stacked up 3. I pushed my face into them and groaned through a contraction. They smooshed down pretty flat. I popped back up. “How about four?” We laughed. I said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I said, “Can I quit now and come back in a couple days and finish up?” Linda said, “If I could think of a way to make that happen, I would make a million dollars!” Haha!
I rocked back and forth, and Geoff was rubbing down my back and hips and legs again. As everything intensified, contractions now came nearly twice as quickly as I anticipated them, and I could no longer get out a complete sentence; I could only think and direct (mostly I could get out my directions in time before the wild, long rushes). I saw blood under me now, and I felt a hard movement, a repositioning of the baby. My voice was getting more high-pitched and I drew up on my tiptoes as each wave swelled. Linda reminded me to ground my feet and push down, down, down. The pain was incredible, and I felt like crying but couldn’t expend the time or energy. I felt like saying, “This isn’t worth it!” But just couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud. This was my baby, after all. A sweet little tiny baby! Linda reminded me of this, too, saying “You’re going to be holding your baby soon.”
It wasn’t long before I suddenly thought birth was imminent. Still, part of me couldn’t believe it was really about to happen. “We’re getting close,” I heard. “So, what, 3 or 4 more hours?” I asked. “Oh, no. We’re going to have a baby before 10:00.” I looked up and saw that it was 9:40.
Contractions…it’s really hard to even call them that anymore – it was really more like an overwhelming force – came over me, and all I could do was try to catch a deep breath in between pushing. I pushed once. Blood. I pushed again. If I could have spoken, this is when I would have said, “I think it’s crowning!” But I couldn’t. I reached down and felt the baby’s head.
What an incredible moment. I’ve never felt such an other-worldly high. I felt like crying and flying at the same time, and through this, a small, round, crystal-clear lens of practicality appeared, and I looked through it and said, “Somebody catch my baby!” I was apparently really concerned about this! I heard Amy say, “Linda is putting on her baby-catching glove!” I said (or at least thought), “Does it look like a catcher’s mitt?” And I was going to laugh. I don’t remember the third push, and it seemed involuntary, but I did feel that the baby’s face was turned exactly to face Geoff, who was standing a bit behind me and to my left. A small warm leaking feeling -- the bag of waters – I saw dripping quickly and buried my face in the pillows, and that was the last thing I saw. One final wave, a giant oceanic push, a goodbye wave, stranding my body ashore safely. A solitary second suspended over me in this crystalized infinite moment between catching my breath and pushing it out. And when I did breathe out, I heard, “The head is out.” Another involuntary wave, and I heard other voices, and in that mashup, “9:45 and 48 seconds.” Baby! My baby! My baby! Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! There it was! Little arms flailed out as it was handed right up to me! On me! Right now! Wiggly and wet and warm and wonderful. Oh, oh, oh. Linda had caught my baby and passed her directly to my chest while moving the four pillows out of my way. I stood long enough for the clearing and they turned my back to the wall and the headboard as they laid the baby on me. It all happened so fast. I caught my breath and my mind came back to the world. Oh, how I’d forgotten how they smell just slightly like bleach when they’re fresh!
“Let’s see!” Linda and Amy were smiling at me, and Geoff joined beside and behind me a bit on the bed.
“Can I peek?”
“Yes!” They nodded with enthusiasm and excitement.
“It IS a she!”
A girl! Oh, a GIRL!
And we said, “Eloise!”
Our first baby born under the stars, she is light and wonder and love, a reminder that God is good…all the time…
After the birth, I remember delivering the placenta, that a warm heat lamp was placed over the baby and me, that we got a blanket, that Linda and Amy looked after me, and that I got the shakes very badly. I remember well these shakes with my previous two births. They lasted for around a day or so. The hospital nurses during both births told me it was the epidural wearing off. I can assuredly tell you now that that is not what this is. Linda told me that my body just went through something dramatic and this is its way of responding to the shock. Amy gave me some really tiny pellets that helped stop it, and more later, and honestly, between the pellets and the knowledge of what it was and the presence of mind to relax into them and let them happen, I think that completely got rid of them.
After a little while, Geoff cut the cord. It made a clean, scissoring sound as we all watched.
During that first hour with our baby, Linda and Amy cleared the room as soon as the baby and I were stabilized and comfy. Honestly, I can’t remember them leaving. Geoff and I just stared at Eloise and admired her. I just laid there thinking how lucky I was and how incredible she is. She latched right away with no difficulty, within the first hour some time. Geoff disappeared to call his family, and I had to call proud papa bear back into the room! Linda and Amy came back, and although it seemed like only 10 minutes to me, apparently it was closer to an hour.
Eloise weighed in at 7 lbs 2 oz and measuring 19”! She got a 10 on her APGAR score and had her Vitamin K shot. I watched her get her little tiny foot prints done.
I had terrible afterbirth pains – contractions that are constantly painful for 1-2 minutes – for the next 12 hours, and somewhat for the following 12 hours. All told, this birth resulted in very little damage – only a 1 cm very light tear, no stitches. No pregnancy stretch marks, no painful hep lock to remove, no bruising. Still, with the afterbirth pains, I was definitely not ready to leave even a couple hours after the birth, and it was almost midnight, so we ended up staying the night with Linda there down the hall.
I reached up into Eloise’s swaddling blanket and felt for her feet. Her little foot met my hand immediately, and I molded my hand to its shape. It felt just exactly like a little goldfish, tender and fluttery. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes and envisioned the giant fish tank in a restaurant at the beach my parents had taken us to the summer I was three. In my memory, everything else was dark except this larger-than-life tank. I wanted so badly to reach in and hold one of the pretty fish. And in that moment, it felt as if after circling it all my life, I had just dunked my arm in to this tank of dreams and pulled out everything I ever hoped for.
It didn’t take us long to figure out that had I delivered at a hospital, this would have been a different birth experience. If a nurse or OB at the hospital did both realize and share with me that my cervix was posterior, no one there has the time to attend me and help me in the manner Linda did, which was the best, most productive way to help me. What would have likely happened instead was I would have battled labor that wasn’t as productive as it could have been, the pain would have gotten on top of me, and I either would have had an epidural or I would have suffered. It’s possible that if the labor was unproductive enough, I would have been given Pitocin, increasing the likelihood of an epidural, because there is only so much pointless labor one can endure. Instead of this scenario, I had Linda to tend to me, and my labor progressed from 4 cm to a baby in an hour and 15 minutes. This experience also gave me a new respect for myself and my previous births now knowing that a posterior cervix could have been a player in my long, slow-to-start labors and stalling for long periods in active labor. I battled a lot of pain for little progress! But this time, we identified and fixed the culprit.
Geoff went to sleep. But I could not. I was so exhilarated by my new baby daughter I couldn’t possibly sleep a wink. I was feeling so empowered from birth, and in between the pains I felt like I had conquered the world. I couldn’t quit looking at our baby. I couldn’t put her down. I swaddled her in a blanket Oma had made, leaned her back into my hands, and she just fell asleep, right there in my hands! Oh, what a sweet little tiny! I LOVED her so immensely and so immediately. A wash of pure love took me under. I never could have swum over that. Under was the only option.