This is the birth story of Elizabeth Rose, born Labor Day 2014. I am including my pregnancy as well, but if you’re only interested in the birth then just skip the first section. If you have not read my birth stories for my first two babies, you should read them here for some background.
My third pregnancy was also my most difficult one, physically and emotionally. My memories of that time are mostly bleak and depressing. I always have difficult first trimesters, with the traditional morning sickness that lasts all day and also gives me frequent migraines. Usually, once the morning sickness goes away (17/18 weeks in my other two pregnancies), my mood brightens considerably and I really love being pregnant. However, that was not the case with this pregnancy.
A few things stand out to me. Winter 2014 was one of the coldest and longest winters that I personally have experienced. (It’s Georgia, so we usually only get 2-3 months of cold.) When I was 6 weeks along, my husband came down with the flu. I was barely making it, and now I had no relief at the end of the day. We lived on frozen dinners and soup. Two days after Paul got it, I got the flu as well, though I didn’t go in for a flu swab until two days after that. Since we were both sick, I wasn’t able to rest – one of us had to take care of and feed the girls. I finally turned to our church for help, and they very graciously provided meals for us. I wasn’t yet ready to announce my pregnancy, so they did all that without knowing how bad things really were.
I have a history of loss, so I was naturally extremely worried, especially about how the flu might have affected my baby. My OB assured me that we were likely fine as long as I didn’t get bad enough to be hospitalized. So relieved – I missed my 7 week ultrasound due to being sick, so I had to wait until 8 weeks. When I heard my baby’s heartbeat, I literally cried. It was going to be okay. I had debilitating anxiety in my second pregnancy, but I was able to release that with this pregnancy.
However, despite that, I wrestled with antenatal depression. Even though we had been trying for a baby and there wasn’t any obvious reason why I shouldn’t be delighted, I struggled to get out of bed. I spent my days watching Netflix on my tablet while my older two watched TV. I kept thinking of death and dying, especially when driving,which somewhat scared me. By April (14 weeks), I was really struggling to make it through the day. Normally we get warm weather starting in March, but it continued to be cold. I finally decided to go down to my parents’ house in Florida for two weeks, so that I could have help with the kids and get some much needed sunshine. It was a really great two weeks and I didn’t want to come home.
I stopped feeling nauseous and having major migraines around 22 weeks, but the depression and lack of appetite continued on until birth. As the weather turned warmer, I did start feeling better which was a relief. I was busy getting ready for baby #3. My previous two births were unplanned homebirths, so this time I decided to just plan a homebirth from the beginning. Normally, I would not be a good candidate for a homebirth due to my clotting disorders (Factor V Leiden and homozygous MTHFR). In addition to other supplements, I was also giving myself an injection of a blood thinner every day. Thankfully, my OB backs up some homebirth midwives, so I chose the one closest to me as my care provider and hired a doula, Talitha.
I really enjoyed my prenatals with homebirth midwives – it is such a different model of care! Our appointments were an hour long, and I felt like I really got to know them and they got to know me. I still went to my OB/perinataologist, Dr. Bootstaylor, every month (and then weekly starting at 32 weeks), to check the placenta and make sure my clotting disorders weren’t affecting the baby at all.
At 17 weeks, I went in to my regular monthly ultrasound, excited because I would be finding out the gender of my baby! I was still very much battling depression and was struggling to connect to the baby, and I felt like knowing the gender would really help. I just “knew” it was going to be a boy! However, little “Mulberry” as we nicknamed the baby refused to cooperate. She had curled into a tight little ball and would not let us see between her legs! I was very distraught. They made my next ultrasound for 21 weeks, but I didn’t want to wait that long. I decided to go to one of those recreational ultrasound places a week for another peek.
I enjoyed my visit there. They had trouble seeing the baby as well – I kept shifting positions but then they were able to confirm it – girl! I can’t say I was disappointed but rather shocked! I was SO sure I was going to have a boy! But it was good to be able to use the correct pronoun, to talk about names. I did, however, ask at my next 4 ultrasounds to make sure that the baby was still a girl. ;-)
Around 33 weeks, she dropped and it was very uncomfortable. I could feel her head pressing on my cervix, and I started to get paranoid that I was going to suddenly have the baby right there in Kroger! I was moving very slowly, and starting to get discouraged that I still had 7 weeks until my due date. I felt like I needed to be less active, that I needed to be on bed rest. At the same time, this felt silly because I was not very active – I spent my days sitting as much as possible, even hiring someone to clean my house every other week. I hesitantly spoke to Dr. Bootstaylor about it, and he said the baby and my cervix looked fine and there wasn’t any reason I should be worried.
I still felt like the baby would be earlier than later, though. I was praying she would not come before 37 weeks, because that was the earliest I could still have my homebirth. My dear friend Amanda planned a blessingway for me for September 6th – I was so excited! I had never had one before, though I’ve hosted them for other people. I always felt sad that no one celebrated my other babies because they were all girls and I didn’t need anything. This baby would be celebrated though – with meaningful words, a time of prayer, and just fellowship together with my closest friends. My best friend was even coming to town for it!
Sunday, August 31st, 2014 – Labor Day weekend. I awoke at 5am in the morning with a *pop!* sensation. I was just about to drift back to sleep when I suddenly remembered that it was VERY similar to the sensation I had when my water broke with my 2nd birth. My eyes flew open and I laid there for a little bit, trying to decide if that is indeed what had happened. I was only 35 weeks and 4 days – still 10 days away from being able to have a homebirth.
I waddled to the bathroom and decided the wetness did not smell of urine, so contacting my midwife was probably necessary. I called her, and she referred me on to Dr. Bootstaylor. Because of homebirth laws in Georgia, if I should need to transfer to a hospital, she could not come with me – I would be transferring care to Dr. Bootstaylor. Thankfully, since I saw him regularly as part of my care, I knew him and he knew me so that part wasn’t as scary.
After several phone calls with my midwife, Dr. Bootstaylor, and Talitha, we decided it was best to go in to the hospital and get checked to see if my water had indeed broken. It was hard to tell – obviously something had happened, but it was not gushing. I had 4 people lined up for childcare, but since it was Labor Day Weekend all but one person was out of town. Fortunately, it was a Sunday so the one person was able to take them (she works during the week). She rushed over and grabbed the two girls while we packed bags for everyone. I had many plans about having overnight bags packed and instructions ready, but obviously I thought I still had a few weeks left so nothing was ready.
Right before leaving to the hospital
We stopped by the store on the way to the hospital for labor snacks (which I was very grateful for later!) and then continued on our way. I remember looking out the window, watching the buildings and trees as we drove down I-85 to Emory Midtown. All I was thinking was, my homebirth! My blessingway! I prayed that I was wrong, that my water hadn’t broken, that everything would be okay. But I knew in my heart that this was it, and I would be holding a baby in my arms soon. I was tired and numb and sad.
Upon arrival to Emory, we checked in. I had never been to the hospital before, so I was a little unsure of what to expect. I was taken to triage and the nurse did the litmus test which did NOT show water broken. She then looked at it under a microscope (negative) and then Dr. Bootstaylor came in and did an ultrasound that showed I still had a good bit of fluid. Since I was still leaking a bit, they had me walk around for about 30 minutes and check again. The second time, the litmus test did show a positive for amniotic fluid. I felt a little relieved because I was very confused about what was going on if it WASN’T my water broken. Dr. Bootstaylor gave me a choice: stay in the hospital for 24 hours of observation, or go home and come back when labor started. We opted for the former for several reasons: 1) my last labor started within 7 hours of water breaking, 2) I have a history of precipitous labor and I didn’t really want to risk an unplanned homebirth with a 35 weeker, and 3) it was Labor Day weekend and there were TONS of events going on in downtown Atlanta that could potentially have REALLY slowed us getting to the hospital (traffic-wise).
They settled me in an antepartum room. I was texting back and forth with Talitha, who was ready to come as soon as I needed her. She recommended I take it easy if I wanted to, to encourage baby to hang out as long as possible inside. I ended up sleeping almost all day. It was so weird to be inside waiting, with so many activities going on right outside. Paul left to get dinner and ended up in the middle of DragonCon. I was jealous! When I wasn’t sleeping, I was watching TV and crying inside about how this wasn’t what I wanted for my birth at all. I wanted my midwives and my family present, I wanted to wear my blessingway necklace and to know that people were lighting candles for me.
The hours ticked by with no apparent changes, no contractions. Around 9 or 10, they hooked me up in these weird boot things that were supposed to keep my legs from getting blood clots, and I tried to get some sleep. I started to make peace with how things were unfolding. I am not sure if I slept, but shortly after 1am I started to feel pressure in my uterus. At 1:20 I couldn’t sit in bed anymore, so I texted Talitha and asked her to come. I also texted Dr. Bootstaylor, who said he was on his way and told me to tell the nurse. The contractions were still pretty manageable at this point, but I knew they were real. The nurse came in with a fetal monitor and told me they needed the 20 minute strip. I was annoyed and not expecting that, but I complied.
After they got what they needed, my contractions were getting pretty intense. They were getting ready to move me to L&D when Talitha arrived. This was about 1:50 or so. We walked the short walk, with me stopping frequently during my contractions. Talitha told me later that they were already 1-2 minutes long at that point. She helped me so much, encouraging me to moan low and deep, which surprised me by how much that helped. When we got there, Talitha immediately got to work dimming the lights and helping me with the contractions. They plugged me into the monitors again, which was really the only thing that annoyed me about birthing in the hospital. I told Talitha I was resentful of everyone else in the room because it wasn’t my homebirth. But soon, I forgot to be resentful. I did a few contractions standing by the bed and holding onto Paul (he’s two inches shorter than me and the perfect height ;-) ) until I said I couldn’t hold myself up anymore. Talitha and Paul helped me onto the bed where I kneeled and leaned against the raised back of the bed (if that makes sense). Talitha was still doing the hip squeeze, Paul was by my face holding my hand, and at some point Dr. Bootstaylor must have arrived because he was doing acupressure on my ankles.
A few more contractions and I think I hit transition this time because I remember turning to Talitha and telling her I was really scared. At some point I moved to laying on my side because I could no longer hold myself up at all, and that contraction felt very pushy. The next contraction I felt VERY pushy and I was being encouraged to go ahead and push the baby out. I could feel her crowning and it hurt so bad. I was moved from my side to my back, my legs were propped up, and Paul moved to catch the baby.
They were still encouraging me, so I kept pushing and she was out all at once, with her daddy catching her. At this point, it was 3:04am – about an hour and a half after the contractions really picked up. (Talitha said she counted 9 contractions while she was there?) I think that was the first time I realized how many people were in the room. They put her up on my stomach and she was so, so purple and covered with vernix. She was so tiny with stiff arms and legs, fingers outstretched. She looked a little shocked to be out in the world. Like, what just happened?
She was only there a few minutes – I heard someone say they cut the cord 4 minutes after she was born – before they moved her to the warmer. She was having quite a bit of trouble breathing despite suctioning, and she wasn’t pinking up. I knew something was wrong; it bothered me that she was so purple. I was grateful when they took her to the warmer. They gave her oxygen and did other things while I just laid there in a daze, with my tears being repaired by Dr. Bootstaylor. They said her Apgar score was 8, and she was 5lbs 13oz. I remember seeing a nurse wheel in the NICU bed, with its clear plastic and the two holes for hands. That scared me, and for the first time I realized that I had a preemie. After a bit, they said she was okay and put her in my arms again for about 15 minutes before they took her down to the Special Care nursery (24 hour observation, due to gestational age).
Then, accompanied by Paul, my baby was wheeled away and everyone was gone except me, Talitha, and a really nice nurse. Finally around 6:30ish they wheeled me to my room in the postpartum recovery hall. Talitha left at that point, and Paul joined me and took me to the Special Care nursery to see the baby. They said she was doing great with breathing on her own (no oxygen!), and they let me try to feed her (which didn’t happen because she was all about the sleeping – but it was nice to have some skin to skin nonetheless).
First time seeing her in the Special Care nursery
We returned to the room by 7am (they asked we be there at the shift change). I was so exhausted that we both fell into a really hard sleep. Around 10am, my dear friend who had taken my older girls called Paul and said she was extremely sick and needed us to come get them, so he left. By this point I was feeling much better and able to walk around without the wheelchair. I went to see the baby again and attempt to feed her. I got tired quickly and returned to my room to sleep some more. I don’t remember much from the first day except for sleeping and trying to nurse. They started bringing her to me at one point, which was so nice that I didn’t have to trek down the hall. True to their word, when she was 24 hours old, they brought her to me and she stayed.
We could not decide on a name for her. I was hoping that I would know it when we saw her, but that did not happen. We had narrowed it down to Elizabeth (after two dear friends), Rosalie, Juliet, Violet, Eloise, and Amelia. We wanted the middle name to be a nod to Doctor Who, with Rose being my top choice. We finally decided just to pick a name, because every person who came into my room asked me, and I had already sent the birth certificate lady away twice. We chose Elizabeth Rose.
First family picture Savannah drew after Elizabeth was born – she brought this to the hospital the first time she came to meet her new sister!
For the most part, I enjoyed the total 5 days in the hospital, though by the end I felt like a caged animal ready to go home. I was alone most of the time, with Paul coming by with the girls a few times, and a few friends and my sister coming other times. I watched a lot of tv and spent a lot of time trying to feed the baby. She was born on Monday, and we left on Thursday around 11pm. My milk came in Thursday morning, so I was able to pump for her which was good. She wasn’t eating well and her bili levels were really high. She spent about 24 hours under the bili lights and with a bili blanket, which was so hard because I couldn’t hold her at all except for feeding times! It worked though, and I was grateful her levels came down enough to go home with orders to follow up at the pediatrician.
I was so glad when we finally got the green light to leave. Paul came and picked me up and we got home very late Thursday night, almost 4 days after she was born.
So excited to go home!
Physically, this was the best recovery of all my births – probably because I didn’t have to get up and go to the hospital immediately after delivering. ;-) I got to lay in bed a lot the first few days. Emotionally, however, is another story for another day. But here we are, one year later, and we’re all still alive. Elizabeth doesn’t seem to be too worse for the wear with her premature birth. I am still sad about my lost homebirth and never getting a blessingway, but the sting has faded over time and I hope it goes away completely. I have not been able to attend a blessingway since, and I do hope that changes.
All in all, all the complicated emotions aside, the birth itself was short and good. I am so grateful for my doula and my OB and my husband. I’m thankful that we didn’t have any NICU time, and that she has been so healthy.