This week, my little baby girl turns 1. It feels both surreal and SO real at the same time – I think I’ve done at least a decent job at enjoying all the little crazy moments in the past 365 days with our precious Eleanor. Maybe? Regardless, I’ll definitely add my words to those of so many: the days sometimes go slow, but the weeks and months and years FLY! Our girlie has really grown into a bright little special one, and we somehow love her more than the day we met her for the first time.
So in celebration of all our adventures, it’s time to share the story of how Eleanor joined our family and made us parents – from the very beginning. (Yes, I know, this is LOONG. I just love every detail, and can’t seem to make it any shorter!)
Patience and Family Planning
I have always, always, allwways yearned to be a mama (you can read more about that here). I tried really hard to be patient, though – because, despite some killer baby hunger, we felt it was really important for us time the start of our family right. After a LOT of thought and prayer, we decided to wait until my last semester of college before ditching birth control and going for it. That way, I could get a job to support our family through my husband’s last year of college and, if things went quickly, I could still take maternity leave during his last semester when he could be at home with the babe while I worked until he graduated and found a job.
It was a good thing we planned for that possibility, because once that IUD was out, we had a positive pregnancy test the very next month. Maybe we were just really compatible that month, or maybe we had a very very eager little girl who wanted to be part of our family – we just felt relieved, grateful, and excited.
I’d heard story upon story of first-trimester “morning” sickness (usually more like all-day sickness), getting kicked in the ribs, insomnia and just plain being uncomfortable all the time, so I went into pregnancy prepared for that. But for me… it was relatively easy. Nausea was almost always quickly managed with consistent snacks. (Except after I got food poisoning in Singapore around the end of the first trimester.. that triggered a daily visit to the bathroom for a couple weeks.) The bloat was DEFINITELY real, but my gut and stomach have always had varying degrees of friendship with the foods I eat, so that was manageable. Eleanor definitely kicked me, but that never really hurt, and I ADORED that feeling. It meant she was happy and safe and growing.
We found out that our growing babe was a girl after a trip to Europe with family, and we were excited! It just felt SO much more real to talk to a growing girl instead of an unknown gender child inside of me. And so much easier to decide on a name! My husband felt that our little girl would bring us – and probably many, many others – a lot of light. So we settled on calling her Eleanor, meaning “bright one,” or “God’s light.”
Our Birth Preparations
I did my usual insane amount of research into EVERYTHING. Cribs, strollers, carriers and wraps, swaddles, bouncers, diapers, postpartum recovery tips, and also hours upon hours birth stories and education (thank you podcasts!) during my daily commute to Salt Lake. Of all the information I found, Rebecca Dekker’s Evidence Based Birth (EBB) was THE MOST HELPFUL. I found article upon article upon podcast with easy to understand research and evidence on everything I had questions about – comfort measures and epidurals, big babies, going overdue as a first time mom, eating and drinking during labor, fetal monitoring, length of labor, getting a doula, vitamin K shots … seriously, it was a treasure trove of evidence based information and exactly what I needed.
All that research led me to decide that I really, really wanted an unmedicated birth. I hated the idea of being stuck in a bed with less control over my body, and just… all the risks of getting an epidural really didn’t sound worth it just to handle the pain (a catheter stuck up my urethra to drain out my pee? Slower labor? Potential spinal headaches or losing feeling in my legs? Nooo thanks).
I wanted more than just “a healthy baby and healthy mama” out of my birth experience – I wanted to feel empowered. To have a sacred, beautiful experience. To be respected and supported. Involved in making decisions about my body and birth. For my husband to feel like he also had an important part in bringing our girlie safely into our arms.
I especially wanted to do everything I could to make postpartum go as smoothly as possible – the better I could recover, the better I could take care of our little girl! That meant avoiding episiotomies and large (3rd-4th degree) tears, increasing my chances of successfully breastfeeding, and decreasing my risk of c-section (recovery from that also meant an additional risk for blood clots, which, since I’m Factor V positive and already at a higher risk, I especially wanted to avoid that).
Everything that I researched told me that I would be best set up for success with all my goals if I had a successful, spontaneous, unmedicated, vaginal birth where I could follow my body’s intuition. Don’t get me wrong – my research also told me that interventions (epidurals, episiotomies, c-sections, etc.) exist for a reason, and I tried to be prepared for the case where those would be the best choice, too! But I knew what I wanted most, and did everything I could to prepare to make that happen.
Unfortunately, the EBB birth class wasn’t available yet, and our college student budget combined with my husband’s crazy school schedule led me to a series of YouTube videos of a midwife’s birth class that we watched as our preparation and education for birth. It was helpful enough, and I did the research to have most of the information I needed to make good decisions, but… MAN I also SO much doubted myself. So, though I mentioned maybe hiring a doula to my husband, and maybe getting a more hands-on childbirth class… I didn’t really push for it like I did to invest in our birth photographer, the wonderful Elizabeth Ashdown.
Overdue and Waiting
My due date arrived during Thanksgiving week. Both our families came into town for the holiday very very hopeful to meet their first granddaughter/niece, and we ate lots of food, walked a lot, and…. nothing. No Braxton Hicks, no mucus plug, no major discomfort – I was just my normal, very pregnant self. I wasn’t worried – evidence says first-time moms go an average of five days “overdue” – but I did do some more research to see if I could do anything to get things going.
It was then that I discovered Spinning Babies. Turns out Eleanor was FAR from the ideal position inside my uterus – instead of facing my back and right side (LOA), she was facing my stomach and angled towards my left hip. But I needed help to do any of the exercises they recommended to shift her into a better position (which would help her drop down more and put pressure on my cervix so it could dilate and efface better), and I still felt unsure of myself. So I just tried to sleep in a good position and hoped she would turn on her own.
My 41-week appointment came, and we were sent to maternal fetal monitoring to do a non-stress test. Everything looked normal as far as fluid levels and movement, but the technician disappeared after the heart rate one to go talk to the specialist. “Good news,” she said when she came back, “we’re sending you over to labor and delivery!” Ben was ecstatic – he had watched me carry our little girl for 41 weeks, and finally, someone was telling him he didn’t have to wait much longer to take his turn to hold her! I, on the other hand, felt my heart drop. Induction usually meant Pitocin, and as far as I’d heard, Pitocin induced contractions are harder to handle than oxytocin ones, and can start the cascade of interventions. I stuttered out a question to ask why, and was told that there were some minor decelerations in heart rate – usually normal, but since I was overdue, they wanted me to be induced. They didn’t see any harm in me going home to get our hospital bags, though, as long as we were back in a couple hours.
So we went home. Grabbed all the last minute things for the hospital bag. I ate something, knowing I probably wouldn’t be allowed to eat during the induction. We talked a little bit about if this was really the right thing to do, and decided it was probably best to go ahead with it. But I was still nervous, caught off guard, and I wanted to be able to walk up into labor & delivery as myself, not timid, but confident. Ready. So I asked for a blessing from my husband (see an explanation on what that is here) – and OH that was exactly what I needed. I felt calm, confident in myself as a woman, and ready to do the work to meet our baby girl.
A Slow Start
So off to the hospital we went! We checked into our room, they had me change into an itchy hospital gown (which I ditched within 30 minutes) and put my other things in another little bag, which I thought was weird, but whatever. Said I could only eat jello and other liquids, like I expected. But I liked our first nurse – she acknowledged the work I’d done in preparing my birth plan, and seemed to want to help me do as much as on there as hospital policy and circumstances would let her.
At that point, I was at a 2 & 80% effaced, so my OB recommended we start with Cytotec to help my cervix open up a bit more and see if things could get moving without too much nudging. I chilled there in bed for a few hours while the Cytotec did its thing, watched my uterus do little contractions on the monitor (something was happening, even if I couldn’t feel anything!), and got in a little nap.
My OB came back, and since my cervix was open enough and I wanted to be free from monitoring as much as possible, she recommended we try breaking my water to see if that would start things up. My intuition said that’d only put me on the clock and since girlie wasn’t in a good position, my body would stall back out. But I appreciated her trying to help me with my goals, and she was the expert, not me, right? So we went for it. It felt WEIRD, not painful at all – kinda like I was peeing uncontrollably! They told us that it was better that the mess was there at the hospital than at home, cause they could clean it up. And we were grateful for that, cause ohhh there was a LOT of fluidy mess that they cleaned up with those itchy hospital towels.
My contractions picked up a bit then, and I could start to feel them. So I took it, and worked HARD to make that work all night long – I stayed upright as much as possible to try and help girlie come down, used the birth ball, walked, draped myself over the bed, everything I could think of. Our night shift nurse was great, too – she tried to keep her checks and monitoring to a minimum, which I really appreciated. I eventually told Ben to get some sleep while the contractions were manageable, and ended up laying on my side for a bit myself towards the early hours of the morning.
By breakfast time the next morning (I wanted EGGSS, but they said no), my contractions had slowed down, and I accepted that my intuition was right – she wasn’t coming this way. So, with the arrival of nurse #3, we went ahead and started Pitocin. I agreed to continuous monitoring so we could make sure it didn’t overwhelm my uterus, and, though the constant cord management got a bit annoying, it wasn’t too bad. All the information up on the screen actually really helped my engineer husband – he loved being able to watch to all the data and responded to all sorts of questions for me – from the nurse, from our family, from our photographer. And that was SO helpful, cause I needed to focus almost exclusively on just taking each contraction as they came.
The next few hours are pretty fuzzy. I remember that there was a moment when the induced contractions came too close together, and they turned my Pitocin drip down. I remember really intense back labor, but the INSTANT Ben put his hands firmly on my back (counter pressure), it was manageable. I groaned a lot. They were persistent about checking me every couple hours, and I kept asking if her head had dropped down. It was cold, and I asked for a bagillion warm blankets. They gave me a sugar water drip to give me energy. I ate enough Jello to last me a year. Drank a TON of water. Most of all, I remember very purposefully trying to relax and welcome each contraction and allow my body to open up and bring my girl down into my arms.
On and on we went. I leaned a lot over the bed, sat on the birth ball, knelt on the bed, and did everything I could to keep moving around and leaning forward to try and get my girl to turn and drop lower.
It must’ve been about 2 in the afternoon when my OB came to check me – I was at a 6, and, FINALLY her head had dropped! She then announced that though she’d hoped she would be there when my girlie came, she had to leave to catch a flight to Florida to take her daughter to Harry Potter World, and I was being passed onto the on-call doctor. I told her that, of alll the reasons, Harry Potter was a viable excuse to miss my birth, and everyone laughed. She left, and we got back to work.
Somewhere in the next hour or so, I unhooked my wires and dragged myself over to the bathroom again, thinking I really needed to poop. I sat there on the toilet, relieved to sit down again. After a few minutes of my bowels not doing what I thought they needed to do, I realized that the contractions were CLOSE together and STRONG. In typical transition denial fashion, I thought – dang! The Pitocin must be too high again! (Meanwhile… my intuition said “HEY! You’re in transition and should call Elizabeth NOW.”) I sat there a while longer, just absorbing things, exhausted. I knew that it was nearing that 24 hours since they broke my water – it wouldn’t be too much longer until someone started talking about c-sections, and I remember thinking that maybe that was ok if I could just hold my girl and be done. But at the same time, I felt SURE that if I could be given time and support, finishing it unmedicated would still be OH so worth it. So I prayed, told God how I felt, and dragged myself off the toilet and back to the bed.
Sure enough, the minute I got back and hooked up to my monitors again, our nurse came back in with word from the new on-call doctor. My OB was willing to let me labor a bit longer, but he was less comfortable with that, so he wanted us to start talking about the potential of a c-section. She knew how much I wanted to avoid that, though, and recommended we get internal monitoring so we could see if my contractions really were productive first. I remember looking up at her, leaning over the bed with Ben behind me applying counter pressure, and telling her that I wasn’t sure yet, that the contractions were really close together and I needed to figure out what was happening there first. Ben told me he thought the internal monitors sounded like a good idea, and I trusted him, so I nodded, and she left to get those ready.
When she came back, they helped me to get my exhausted self back up on the bed and I got checked. That cervix of mine was at a NINE, and the entire attitude in that room switched from serious to excited – and all talk of c-section got thrown out the window. Ben frantically texted Elizabeth to tell her to come ASAP. The internal monitors got uncomfortably placed up my vagina, but after that, I had a little more freedom to move around, which was nice.
My husband and the nurse were all excited about the new numbers from the new monitors, but I was riding a new wave of energy – we were CLOSE, and I was going to meet my girl SOON. I tried using the squat bar, but my legs and arms gave out after only a minute, so I switched to my hands and knees and stayed there.
It didn’t feel like much longer before I felt a little bit “pushy,” and when they checked, I was complete and they rushed to get everything ready. Rush hour was in full swing, with the doctor and poor Elizabeth straight in the middle of it, so they got a midwife in the room as I started leaning forward and back, pushing and trying to hone in on what my body felt like doing.
They started coaching me to hold my breath while I pushed, but I ignored them – I wanted to try breathing through it. Eventually, Ben started repeating what they said, and I thought – fine, I’ll try their way, and started holding my breath. Eleanor’s heartbeat must’ve freaked out a bit at some point, because I heard them briefly mention doing an episiotomy and they gave me an oxygen mask to use, but thankfully, that moment passed and I just kept doing my thing. Looking back, it’s amazing how little the contractions hurt during pushing compared to earlier, when I needed counter pressure to make it through each one.
The doctor arrived, and the midwife left. They told me it would be really helpful if I was on my back, so I conceded and flipped over, and was greeted by a bald, red-bearded friendly face. Not 5 minutes later, he told me that they could see the top of her head, and that I could reach down and touch her hair. SHE HAS HAIR? I thought. It felt surreal to touch her little, slimy, hairy bit of head, and to know that she was SO close. I kept pushing with the next few contractions, trying to go kinda slow and avoid tearing, but also SO impatient and anxious to get her THERE on my chest and in my arms. I felt the doctor tugging a little down there – some perineal massage, which I appreciated, but remember wishing he would’ve asked first. And I remember thinking to myself, “MAN This feels WAY more like pooping than I thought.”
Finally, her head came out and stayed out, the doctor rotated her shoulders, I pushed the rest of her out, and they put her precious little cheesy self up on my belly, right at 5:26 PM, still facing that left hip of mine. I can’t remember whether there were tears or not, but I do remember looking at her cone-headed little self, and thinking “we did it.”
The doctor immediately asked Ben if he’d like to cut the cord, and I said, “Wait – delayed cord clamping!” “Her cord is already white and limp,” was the response – and they were right. Ben had no desire to work with the squishy cord business, so I cut it, and she was all mine. Her warmth and weight was on my chest and I felt… euphoric? joyful? content? empowered? elated? accomplished? adrenaline? Whatever it was, it felt beautiful.
One small push and contraction later, a very squishy placenta came out. I looked over at my husband, and declared, “Look! I made an organ!” to which everyone laughed. Clean up didn’t take very long since I only tore a little and needed only a couple of stitches. (#grateful) They brought me food and water and more warm blankets, cause I was super shaky (which is apparently normal).
It was about then that Elizabeth arrived – all the way from Salt Lake, rush hour traffic and all. Everyone else left the room so we could just be with our little girl for a while, and I was SO happy that she got there to capture those special first moments together as our little, new family, though I also mourned that I hadn’t paid attention to that bathroom impression to call her sooner. We admired Eleanor’s little toes and slim little fingers, the cheesy vernix in all her creases, her awake, dark eyes. I had Ben help me pull my bra up (haha my tired brain couldn’t figure out how nursing bras worked at that moment), and Eleanor latched RIGHT on, a pro from the very beginning.
After that glorious hour, I finally let them take her out of my arms to weigh and measure her: 6 lb 6 oz, and 19” long. Then, finally, my patient husband got to hold his little girl for the first time. It made me smile to see that little human being in my handsome lover’s arms.
I got my wish, and recovery went really well. I honestly felt pretty much myself, except my belly suddenly felt like jello. I didn’t even need much to handle the pain after birth like I thought I might – ice and tucks did the bulk of the work on the swelling and soreness down below. I felt SO much myself SO soon, I had to keep reminding myself that I had a huge wound inside my uterus that needed me to take it easy for at least a few weeks.
Eleanor’s blessedly proficient breastfeeding skills from that very first latch, consistent use of Lanolin, and my extremely proficient milk producers (haha I went through a LOT of breast pads for the first few months) also really helped us start off breastfeeding well. Sure, there were some nights without a whole lot of sleep, those stitches got annoying once it felt like everything had healed, and getting back on birth control a couple months in messed with my hormones, but overall, we felt very blessed with a very sweet, sweet girl.
So You Read My Birth Story… Now What?
As a birth nerd, I LOVE hearing and reading birth stories – it always amazes me how each one is SO unique, and there are little nuggets of inspiration in each of them. So, I hope that the time you invested to read mine (thank you!! you’re amazing!!) gave you something – maybe you didn’t know about Evidence Based Birth, or maybe everyone you know tells you that you should get an epidural – because why wouldn’t you? Maybe you’ve only heard that breastfeeding is awful for the first couple weeks, or, like me, that the first and third trimesters are miserable. (Of course, maybe the risks of getting an epidural are worth it for you! Maybe breastfeeding is or will be hard, and maybe not even worth it. Maybe your entire pregnancy will be rough on you. But maybe not!) And, sure, things didn’t go perfectly, but we feel extremely grateful for the way things did go. I felt empowered, achieved most of my goals, and gained new perspective on new goals for next time around.
Regardless, I hope you got to know me – this experience is precious to our family. And it not only gave me confidence in myself but also passion and purpose that I’ve poured into this business. All because our Eleanor came into our world…