Elliot's Birth Story

Elliot is five months, so this is more than a bit late, but I wanted to share his debut to the outside world before the details become even more fuzzy. Elliot's due date was 9/9/19. I was REALLY hoping he'd be born on his due date because how cool would that birthday be?? But the day came and went, and I was still pregnant. The next day, I was having contractions every five to ten minutes throughout the morning and early afternoon. I did not think too much of it since I had been having prodromal contractions on and off for two weeks. These are contractions that are more regular and stronger than Braxton Hicks, but eventually slow down rather than progressing to active labor. By five in the evening, however, it had been two or three hours of stronger, regular contractions every three minutes. Greg was gearing up to head to his intramural basketball game scheduled within the hour. I uneasily told him I thought he should stay home because I felt the contractions were a bit stronger than before. I did not want to get my hopes up again as other days, and I knew I would feel bad if I ended up not going into labor and Greg missed his game, but we both felt we should play it on the safe side. I called my midwife and explained my symptoms and she agreed that I was in labor. She recommended I labor in the comfort of our home until I couldn't stand the pain anymore. Since this was my first pregnancy, she was not worried I would progress too quickly. I alerted my doula, a close friend of mine, and let her know I would call her as soon as I felt I needed to go to the hospital.
Our Last Supper as a family of two!
By now it was nearly six in the evening and I was not in the mood to cook dinner, so we drove down the road to our local Sea Island.  By the time we got home, however, my contractions slowed down to every ten minutes and I was devastated. Here we go again, I thought. I got excited for nothing. Looking back, I think it was the heavy meal that made my body briefly focus more on digestion than contractions. I had trouble getting any sleep since the contractions were now every five to ten minutes again, but I must have drifted off to sleep for a few short minutes because I remember waking up in extreme discomfort. I was out of breath, hunched over, and tearful from the contractions, a stark increase from previously, so I woke Greg up, called my doula, and within half an hour, we were out the door.

We arrived in the triage waiting room of the Labor & Delivery unit at our hospital and after filling out the standard paperwork, I was asked to dress in the hospital gown. I was checked for dilation and declared  three centimeters dilated by the nurse around 3am. In order to be admitted to the L&D floor, I had to be  four centimeters. So for two hours, my doula and I walked around the darkened hospital lobby and hallways, stopping every few minutes for me to hunch over a nearby chair for support and breathe through my contractions, which were getting more painful. I was checked again by the nurse and --hallellujah!-- pronounced  four centimeters. After the appropriate IV saline lock was placed in case of medications, I was up on the L&D floor roughly by 6am.

 Greg and I are so thankful for the support, encouragement, and advocacy we received from our doula. If you have access to a doula, I would highly recommend considering meeting with a few to find a good fit. She made the whole experience so much better than it could have been. Weeks before this day, we met to discuss my Birth Plan and she had several copies available for the nurses who would care for me during our stay, which made it very easy to communicate our preferences. Our goal was a natural, unmedicated birth. Our hospital thankfully was equipped with a plethora of natural options for laboring, including several rooms with a labor tub (which I requested), birthing balls and peanut ball, essential oil tabs for smelling, and a squat bar for birthing. Giving birth in a hospital equipped with emergency equipment if things took a turn for the worst, while still having the freedom of natural birthing options was a fantastic balance. I chose to  only be intermittently monitored for my contractions and Elliot's heart rate, so that made getting up and moving around (and later getting into the tub) a lot more attainable than if I was strapped continuously to the monitor. My midwife was comfortable with any labor and birthing position I wanted to use, so we had a lot of freedom.

Although my contractions were strong, I was not progressing very quickly, which is typical for first births, but definitely disheartening as the hours kept passing by. Every time I was checked for dilation, I would only move up by one centimeter. I was hoping I'd skip over a few and be ready to start pushing a lot earlier, but alas, that did not happen. I think it felt especially long between four and six centimeters because I could only use the labor tub once I was six centimeters. My legs were shaking uncontrollably despite me being very focused with my breathing during and in between contractions and feeling in control of the rest of my body.
Our doula helped me cycle through different positions for my contractions. My favorite was leaning over the large birth ball as Greg applied pressure to my hips, squeezing them as hard as he could during my contractions, which helped alleviate some of the pain. She also used a rebozo cloth to help during contractions. My least favorite was side-lying in bed with the peanut ball. My hips were open to a degree that made my sciatic pain and lower back pain almost unbearable. I groaned every time we had to try that position again, but I knew it would help to move around and try different positions rather than just staying on my back (although it did feel good to "rest" on my back when it was time for that position.

Emotionally, I felt positive for most of the day. During contractions, I would either lock eyes with my doula on one side of the hospital bed or Greg on the other and breathe steadily through my contractions. I forced my body to stay as calm and in control as possible, because I knew that if I started letting myself cry out frantically during contractions, it would be hard for me to mentally and emotionally stick with it through the whole process. I would get more tired and anxious and I would likely get more discouraged. What also helped maintain a calm environment were a few things I planned ahead of time: Lauren Daigle's Look Up Child album (which had been balm to my soul for the previous months) and encouragement banners that were taped on all the walls of the labor room. These were basically made of note cards and stationary paper I strung together that each had affirming phrases and Bible verses from close friends. These were so powerful! My top Love Language is Words of Affirmation, which is why I thought this would especially be a good idea for me. Wherever I was in the room, I could look up and see words of strength. When the contractions were too painful for me to keep my eyes open later in active labor, I asked Greg to read a few to me.
Two in particular were like a mantra to me: "Every push brings me closer to meeting Elliot!" and "It's all worth it for Elliot!"
Ok, let's talk about that tub, because it was heaven on earth!!! I was admitted to my room at 6am and was finally at 6cm dilation by 11am and was given the OK for the tub.  I stepped into the tub and IMMEDIATELY my legs stopped shaking and my whole body felt incredibly relaxed. I still had contractions in the tub, but they weren't nearly as painful, especially since I wasn't dealing with the annoying leg shakes. I had to promise the nurse that I would get out of the tub after the allotted hour because a previous woman said she had to start pushing when in the tub, and that is a BIG NO NO in hospital birth tubs. Labor only, not actual birthing. This is partially for CYA (the tubs aren't built for birthing and the nurse, midwife, or OB/GYN could get injured in the birthing process) as well as the cost for cleaning all the birthing mess is pretty astronomical, so I guess I understand, but stillllll. I definitely understood why that woman had to practically get dragged out of the tub so she could start pushing on the bed. It just felt so good in there.

After the tub, I was a 7cm around noon and  since I was so uncomfortable again and I was progressing slowly, I agreed to my water to be broken by the midwife in hopes to speed things up. Five hours later, I reached 9cm and was given Pitocin to further help strengthen contractions since I was starting to get exhausted with labor and had not even started pushing yet. After about an hour of Pitocin to rev things up, I was finally ready to start pushing at 7:30pm.  I really expected that it would go pretty fast at this point since I was laboring so long, and surely I was only minutes away from meeting our little guy, right? Right?? Nope.

After actively pushing for 1.5hrs until 9pm, it was obvious I was not progressing. We were trying different positions, including the squat bar,  side-lying, and on my back. Though I was a fully dilated, there was an obstruction called a cervical lip that was preventing the head from fully descending down the birth canal. The midwife tried using her finger to open it up, which usually works, but it wouldn't budge. Thankfully, his heart rate was steady during all of this, so we weren't worried he was in distress. My midwife left to talk to her supervising OBGYN and an anesthesiologist for advice on what else to try. She came back and said they all recommended I receive a spinal anesthetic different from an epidural since I did not qualify for one because of my low platelet count. The other option was IV fentanyl. The goal was to stall my contractions for a few hours so I could rest while the obstruction cleared itself and then I would ideally be rested enough to push hard and get things going. I was brutally exhausted by this point. I had not slept in over thirty hours, I had been laboring all day, and  I couldn't hold any food down. We had wanted a natural birth and that seemed to be out of the question now. I couldn't trust myself with making the decision because I felt so overwhelmed from the discomfort. Thankfully, my doula asked if her, Greg, and I could have a few minutes to privately discuss the options. She mentioned that she understood I wanted a natural birth and that she had seen women "labor down", which means forcing yourself not to respond (push) during contractions for a short period. She said that if we could try that for fifteen minutes, it may be long enough to help. Greg and I felt this was worth trying first and if it didn't work, we'd consent to pain medicine. I was also very uneasy about medications this late in the game because I knew I was so close and getting either an IV med or spinal anesthesia would require all kinds of orders to be made, nurses to be alerted, the meds to be drawn up, etc. That could easily take an hour or two just to get the meds going, then another two hours to "rest" before pushing.  I was getting very discouraged at this point and felt like I would mentally crash if I had to wait and wait, becoming more negative rather than calm and positive. So we discussed this option with the midwife and anesthesiologist and they reluctantly agreed, explaining how painful this would be.

The next thirty minutes were some of the hardest I have ever endured. There are no words to explain how painful it was to not respond to my body screaming "PUSH!!!". The best way to describe it (sorry if this is TMI) was like holding in the world's largest poop when you really have to go, which was ESPECIALLY hard since I had to use the bathroom multiple times during the late stages of active labor, including this time of laboring down. My whole body ached like never before and I squeezed every fiber of my being to not push. Greg later said this was the hardest part of my labor and delivery for him because he could see and hear how utterly uncomfortable I was. I pleaded for him to read some of the Bible verses and affirmations as well as to pray for me when I felt I couldn't hold back the pushing any longer. I can't remember which Lauren Daigle song was playing, but I asked for it to be turned up and I sang along with tears streaking my face.

I managed to stay alive after thirty minutes (I am being just slightly dramatic), was rechecked, and ---another hallelujah!!--- the cervical lip had cleared and I was ready to push again. I pushed and pushed, but every time his head descended low enough to be barely visible by my midwife, nurse, and doula, but as I would recline in pure exhaustion between the forceful pushing during  contractions, he would slip back up. Two steps forward, one step back. So I eventually was asked to try to rest upright while in squatting position, which was the position I was making the most headway in (pun intended). I got increasingly worn out and my lower back was killing me since he was resting so low for so long. It was unbearable at one point so I asked to start pushing while reclined on my back for a while. Everyone kept saying "I can see his head! You are so close!" but no one would tell me how many more pushes would do the trick! It was frustrating because it seemed like it would never end and I wanted someone to just tell me, "One more push and he's here!" but understandably, no one could predict exactly how many more pushes it would take. At 11pm, I remember asking everyone, "Do you think this is going to be a 9/11 Baby or a 9/12 Baby?" Basically, I was trying to find out if they thought I still had more than an hour of pushing, which at that point, seemed like an eternity. I had pushed 1.5h, labored down 30, then pushed over another hour by that point; I desperately wanted to be done. I think it was the midwife who said she thought it would still be a 9/11 Baby and that really encouraged me. My positive attitude was waning at this point and I would go from saying "I can do this!!"  to frantically looking at Greg and asking "Can I do this? I can't do this!" And just when I thought I could not be in more discomfort from the lower back pain, during one of my last pushes, a searing pain like nothing before hit me and I said "I think that was the 'Ring of Fire'!!!", which was, despite being excruciatingly painful, still encouraging because that meant I was super close to the finish line. I think I had to push one or two more times after that, and then, at 11:38pm, out he came!!
The next few minutes are a bit of a blur. He came out bluish and I could see a worried look on my midwife and nurse's faces as they quickly started unwinding the umbilical cord that was wrapped around his neck. They rubbed him and he quickly pinked up. As he was being handed to me (with Greg on the side of my bed), Elliot peed on both of us, which was an initiation into parenthood --- and impressive aim to catch us both! It was great comic relief after so much pain.

Once we were both stable and Elliot had some skin-to-skin during the "Golden Hour" right after birth, his vitals and Apgar scores were measured:  healthy 7lb15oz. After the most grueling, yet also empowering day of my life, I was beyond exhausted, but so overjoyed that Elliot was healthy and finally in my arms. Greg soon had an opportunity to have some skin-to-skin time with Elliot as well, and it was pure bliss to see the love of my life holding our precious son.
We were moved upstairs to the Postpartum floor where we spent the next two days to rest. We had explained to both of our families that our wish was to not have any visitors while in the hospital and that they could visit us at home as soon as they were able to. We really wanted to have that precious time  alone so we could focus on initiating breastfeeding and recovering after birth without worrying about visitors while I was in such an exhausted state. Our families graciously and respectfully honored this request, which we were so grateful for because our hospital stay was so peaceful and quiet. 
Since I gave birth at nearly midnight, it was almost around 2am when I was wheeled up to the Postpartum floor and then nurses came in for assessing both me and Elliot, so it was impossible to sleep. I had been in the hospital for twenty-four hours and had not slept in probably thirty-six hours, so I could hardly think straight, I was so tired. I managed to get an hour or two of sleep eventually that night. I was worried that Elliot wasn't latching on correctly and that he was in such a deep sleep, he wouldn't wake up to feed every two hours. The nurses and lactation consultant were very helpful in alleviating my concerns. That next morning, I took a shower, which was probably the most refreshing shower I have ever had. My sweaty hair was on its way to becoming dreadlocks, so it wasn't fun combing it after the shower, but I felt like myself again. Once we were all awake, I had a nurse snap a photo of us, our first as a family of three.

We stayed in the hospital until the following day, and as our discharge paperwork was getting written up, I snapped a few more photos of Elliot with a few props I brought from home.

That was the clean version without too much mention of anything to make the average reader too squeamish, I hope! We loved our doula, midwife, and hospital staff, and will use them all again if we are able to have more children. Elliot has grown so much since then, so it was fun to revisit these photos and thick back at the day that changed our lives forever.

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