Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ellen Cecilia: A Birth Story

I've been working on this blog post, the story of our daughter's birth, for a while now.

It's pieced together from time stamps on photos, midwife records, my contraction timer iPhone app, Nathan's recollections, and of course, my own memory of the events.

Nell's birth story.

It's a long story.

If you think it's long to read about, try being the one in labor for almost 70 hours.


To our little Nell:

Having a baby.  How can something be so ordinary and yet so extraordinary at the same time?

I wrote down the story of your birth because giving birth to you was the most transformative experience of my life, and I want to remember it always.   Someday, you may want to know the story of how it all happened.


On Saturday, May 12 (the day after my due date), I walked across a stage and had the degree of master of music conferred upon me.

a master and soon-to-be-master:

{Nathan got his degree one week later}

Friends for nine years and two degrees together:

{My dear friend Melissa, who is now expecting a baby of her own!}


That night, I went into early labor.

We were planning a home birth... did I ever mention that?  We had done our research, and thought a home birth was our best option for a comfortable and safe birth free of unnecessary interventions.  We were pretty excited about it, too.

All day I had been feeling some cramping and experiencing other symptoms that led me to wonder if labor might begin soon, and sure enough, it did.  After the graduation ceremony, Nathan and Andrew and I went out for Mexican food for dinner, and then came home so I could put my feet up.  Our friend Chaz dropped by and we all chatted for a bit.  I didn't tell anyone except Nathan how I was feeling.  By around midnight that night I was fairly certain that what I was feeling were indeed early labor contractions.  Since I figured most people not in labor would be asleep at that point, I texted my sister in California, for whom it was only a little after 9 pm, hoping she might still be awake.  She called me right away and our conversation basically confirmed my suspicions that this was likely early labor.

At this point, while I talked to Emily briefly, Nathan quietly got up and, instructing me to stay in bed and rest, started tidying up the bedroom and setting up the birth tub we were borrowing from our midwife.  He actually didn't even tell me what he was doing, and he kept the lights out for me.  He was pretty great.  I was still able to sleep some that night, in between contractions, but many of the contractions were just uncomfortable enough to wake me up, or at least to keep my sleep light and not particularly restful.

Early Sunday morning I texted my friend Story, who was planning to try to come be with us for the labor and delivery.  She was in New Jersey, en route from her home in Virginia to her in-laws' in New Hampshire.  In my text, I told her I was fairly certain I was having real live contractions: "They hurt, they woke me up throughout the night, but they were irregular.  Everything from 10 mins apart to almost an hour (unless I managed to sleep through some!)"

Story piled her three kids into the car to finish the drive here (her oldest two spent time with her inlaws in New Hampshire while she and 6 month old Mercy were here with us), and meanwhile, Nathan went to church.

Yes, my husband is so holy that while I was in labor he wanted to go to church.

{Actually, I told him to go ahead and go.}

I tried to rest in bed, but couldn't sleep, so after a while I got up and organized the linen closet.

I now realize how utterly ridiculous that was.  What's funnier is that it took me until a month or so ago to realize that organizing the linen closet in those moments was ridiculous.  I just remember thinking, "Story is coming, and we might need towels or something, and the linen closet must be organized."  I even remember that when Nathan told me to stay in bed and rest, I thought to myself, "As soon as he leaves, I can get up and organize that messy closet."

Okay, I guess it's true that pregnant women can be crazy.  That was my crazy moment.

The contractions were actually farther apart that morning than they had been throughout the night, so I wondered if things were slowing down and the previous night would prove to have been a false alarm.

Nathan got back from church a little after noon, and Story arrived shortly thereafter.  The first thing she said, as she climbed out of her car, was this:

"Sarah, I've decided this baby isn't going to be born today, because if it takes after you, it would think it was just too cliche to be born on Mother's Day."

Well, she was right!  As it turned out, Nell did not want to be born on Mother's Day.

We gave Story a tour of the house (she hadn't seen our new place we moved into last summer), we sat in the sun in the backyard, we chatted, we went on a walk, we had a generally good time.  I was having contractions, but nothing I couldn't relax and breathe through.

I'd have a contraction, Story would say, "Good job, Sarah, good job," and then conversation would resume.  Things went like that for most of the afternoon and into the evening.

{Nathan was amazing.  He had put fresh flowers in our room, and kept the lights low so it was a nice, relaxing environment.}

Dinner time rolled around, and we decided to order pizza.  Andrew (Nathan's younger brother, who lives with us) was still around, so clearly things weren't yet serious enough that he felt uncomfortable or needed to run away screaming.  A little bit after dinner, Andrew left, and we began a long night of labor with no sleep to speak of.  Nathan and I went out on a walk in the dark... I think that was around 10:30 or 11:00 pm, and it must have been our third or fourth walk of the day.

I only had a couple of contractions on that walk.

I had become increasingly aware throughout the day that my labor was not moving in a "textbook" progression.  I remember I had asked Story at some point that afternoon about prodromal labor; we were timing my contractions on my iPhone app, and they varied widely throughout the day: everything from two and a half minutes apart to an hour apart, usually between five and twelve minutes apart though, and everything from 15 seconds to a minute and a half in length, usually around 30-45 seconds long.  Story told me not to think about prodromal labor, that this was the real thing, and not to worry too much about timing contractions or overthink it.

After the walk, back at home, I rested when I could, between contractions.

And the hours dragged by...

{Taken around 5:00 am, early on Monday.}

By this time, Story said I was definitely in active labor.

If things had been a little slow around the time we took that walk (with some time spans of almost 20 minutes without a contraction), by the wee hours of Monday morning they had picked up again and contractions were mostly 5-10 minutes apart, still varying quite a bit within the frame of two minutes to ten minutes.  I tried resting in bed for a bit, but it's hard to sleep for five to ten minutes, only to wake up in the middle of a painful contraction.

Sometime around 7:00 am, I got into the tub.

It would be a lie to say that laboring in the tub felt good, but it felt less bad than other things, so I liked it... relatively speaking.

Interesting fact: that was the first (and last?) time in my life that I've worn a two-piece bathing suit.  I bought a cheap one during my pregnancy for use in the tub if I wanted it.  I figured why not have my first time in a two-piece be when I was looking so good at nine months pregnant?


{Apparently something was funny.  And I was still able to laugh at that point.}

Actually, I think I kept my sense of humor throughout the labor.  I remember still joking around throughout the day she was born.  Go, me.

But we weren't always laughing.

Having a baby is not easy, people.

A tired smile for the camera: 

We watched a movie on Nathan's computer screen while I labored in the tub.  Nathan paused it for the worst of the contractions.  At some point along the way, we got distracted and never finished it.

I labored on my ball some.

I labored on my hands and knees a lot.  Because this baby was not quite in the right position, and we were trying to help her along in any way we could.

Around 11:00 am things were generally not more than five minutes apart for a while.  Around 12:15 or 12:30 that afternoon (still Monday), we called our midwife.

I think K and D (K's assistant) arrived around 1:30.

Story, K, and D took turns applying pressure on my lower back during contractions, as I was having a lot of sacral pain due to Nell's position.

Story kept bringing me light food items to nibble at, and lots of fluids.  I remember occasionally being a brat when I felt people were trying to get me to drink more than I wanted to -- I blew bubbles down the straw instead of drinking up through it.

{Sorry, Story.}

Story also massaged my feet and calves from time to time when I tried resting on my side on the bed, which was amazing.  I would almost go through labor again to get that calf massage.  Just kidding.  Only a the world's cutest baby makes labor worth it.  I'm serious.  Nothing else in the world could make the process worthwhile.  Labor is the worst.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Nathan did some last-minute research in the field of baby names while I labored:

And around 2:30 in the afternoon, the two of us went for another walk.  We came back inside when I had to pee for the 200th time.

By this point I was crying after contractions - but didn't want my wimpiness recorded for posterity, so I tried to hide it:

Oh, there it is -- the weepy red nose.  Wimpiness publicly acknowledged.

So tired.

By this point it had been over 40 hours since things got started.  I hadn't gotten any sleep to speak of since Friday night, and this was now Monday late afternoon.

I don't actually know if the contractions I was having then were harder or stronger or more painful than the ones I had been having in the morning and afternoon, but I was exhausted, and that made it so much more difficult to handle them well.

Around 4:30 I started feeling hot, then cold, then hot again, then chills.  I thought I might throw up (I didn't), and I tried resting through contractions lying on my left side.

By 5:00 the contractions were strong, long, and often back-to-back.

At 6:32 K. wrote in my charts, "Nathan supporting Sarah really well," which I feel is worth mentioning because it's true -- he was amazing the whole time.

He also made me laugh by saying, after obviously really painful contractions, "that was a good, strong contraction!" like our Bradley class had taught us, even though we both knew nothing felt good about them.

And sometime around this time, I asked Nathan to please call my parents and let them know I was in labor, because I hadn't told them yet, and while I had wanted the quiet privacy of laboring without the rest of the world knowing about it, I suddenly really wanted to know that my parents were thinking of me and praying for me.


I think I got back in the tub around 7:00 pm or so, and was in and out all night from that point until the wee hours of the morning.  I remember I didn't like having to get out of the tub periodically to use the bathroom.  I didn't like having to use the bathroom at all, actually, because every time I went from standing to sitting, or sitting to standing, on came another really strong contraction.

I was getting a little grumpy.  K. actually wrote in my charts that at 8:10 pm Nathan asked me if I'd like to listen to music, and I replied, "I hate music."

I remember saying this, and trying to laugh a bit at my feeble joke.  I knew I was being crazy.

At some point during that night of laboring, I went through some transition-like symptoms: the contractions one on top of the other, the chills, the nausea.  I remember saying to Nathan through tears, "I don't want to do this anymore."

But it wasn't really transition.


Our baby was migrating all around during this labor.  Not long after Story had arrived, she had felt my belly and thought baby was Right Occiput Anterior (ROA).  After a lot of labor -- back labor, which is awful, in case you were wondering -- we determined that the baby had moved to Left Occiput Anterior (LOA), but had done so taking the long route around.  This meant the baby spent a great deal of time posterior, with baby's spine along my spine instead of baby "facing," my spine, which is the easiest way for a baby to be born.

But then, she kept going back to being posterior again.

I guess they call it "persistent posterior," although I didn't know that at the time.  I didn't know a lot of things at the time, things which, in retrospect, I wish I had known.  But I guess you can't prepare for every possible eventuality, right?  I knew about prodromal labor, but I didn't know about this kind of labor (later they called it 'dysfunctional labor') that went on for days without any long periods of rest.  I didn't know back labor could be so completely awful.  I didn't know labor could be so utterly not-what-they-teach-you-in-books-and-in-birth-class.

I didn't know I'd be crying and feeling like such a failure.

A posterior baby can make for a difficult labor.  And basically, Nell's position was why my contractions didn't follow a "textbook" pattern, but instead continued to be irregular throughout my labor.


After those hours that were the worst and the hardest, the period of time that had elements in common with what they say transition is like, I still hadn't progressed very far, and our baby wasn't in position or ready to be born.

The contractions slowed down a bit after that.  I crawled into bed beside Nathan, and I was so, so tired.  And a little worried, maybe.

Fortunately, our baby's heartbeat stayed strong, and I never had to worry that the baby wasn't doing well.

No, it was me that wasn't doing too well at that point.  I was worried I couldn't do it for much longer.

The hardest part was not knowing when it would all end.  If someone could have told me, "Just one/two/twelve/twenty more hours, and you'll hold this baby in your arms," it would have felt different; but of course, labor doesn't work that way.

Around 9:50 pm I must have decided I liked music after all; I requested Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," followed by the 1st movement of Brahms' Symphony No. 2.

At 3:00 am the contractions were still very strong, but farther apart.  Things weren't really progressing.  Since my water hadn't broken yet, we decided to go ahead and try letting my midwife rupture the membranes to see if that would speed things up.  Due to the baby's position, however, it didn't prove possible.


So we started talking about maybe transferring to the hospital to get some assistance, in the form of an epidural so that I could rest, and Pitocin to help things progress to where they needed to be.  The midwives brought it up gently, while assuring me that I was still doing a good job and that the baby was okay.  It wasn't an emergency... it was just an option to consider.

I wasn't the only tired one.  Nathan was so tired he was nauseous and could barely focus his eyes, much less help make the decision about what we should try next.  And since the baby was still doing well, I told Nathan to go to sleep for a bit and I'd keep waiting it out.  The midwives rested, too.  

The contractions got really strong again for a while.  Then they got further apart all over again.  And for a while, I remember being back in the tub, trying anything to get the contractions going again in a strong and regular pattern.  Nothing was really working.

Then I was out of the tub, on our bed, on my hands and knees for quite a while, trying to get the baby to turn.  And I even dozed a little like that, in the minutes between contractions -- when you're that tired you can practically sleep standing on your head.

{Come to think of it, sleeping standing on your head would probably be easier and more comfortable than sleeping during labor.}

My contractions stayed relatively spaced apart for a while, and at some point in the early early morning, I tried to get a little intentional sleep, lying on my side.  For a couple of hours, I slept on and off in between contractions that had slowed way down but not stopped.  But I could get 30 minutes, or maybe more, between some of the contractions at that point.

The sun came up, and when all three midwives were awake, and Nathan was able to think straight, he and I talked about it, just the two of us.  And we decided to go to the hospital.  But I needed to be told that this was a good decision to make, and I remember looking to Story for this kind of affirmation.  She reassured me that she thought this was the best option... that accepting these small interventions now, while the baby was still doing so well, could be the very best thing in the long run, and help us avoid larger interventions like a c-section.

I called my sister, too, a little before 8 am.  She's a doula, and she also confirmed that we were making a good decision.  It was good to hear that from people I trusted; I needed to hear that I wasn't just a total birthing failure or a weak person.  I needed to hear that this was harder than I could have planned for, and that it was ok to change our plans.

I remember Story saying, "This isn't plan B.  This is still plan A, because plan A was to have a healthy baby without unnecessary interventions, and that's still what we're going to do."  And that was so good to hear right then.

Nathan put the carseat in the car, and the midwives helped me pack some things, and I took a shower.  Yes, having contractions in our tiny stall shower was no fun (I vividly remember leaning against the side of the shower and groaning in pain), but I had been in labor so long, and I was tired and felt gross, and I really wanted that shower.  What can I say?  I like being clean.


Story had me eat a hard-boiled egg, and then we were on our way to the hospital.  I don't remember what time it was... sometime around 9 am.

First I climbed into the front seat, and then a really painful contraction came and I was totally unable to move for a minute, unable to settle into the seat or to jump up out of it.  It was awful.  So when that was over, I crawled into the back seat instead, and I think I kind of kneeled back there as Nathan drove to the hospital.  I don't even remember if I was buckled in at all.  I called my Mom as we drove, and muted the phone through at least one contraction, but managed to tell her between contractions what was going on, and asked for her and Dad to pray for us.

Of course, they already were.

I was checked into the hospital and in a bed by 10:15 am.

The nurse on duty was awesome.  Her name was Karen, and she told us she loved natural births, and that whenever people transferred in from home births or birth center births, they sent her to be with those patients.  We liked her right away.

They hooked me up to an IV for fluids, which I would have hated for the limited mobility if it weren't that I knew I'd be getting an epidural soon.

Right after they started giving me fluids, I puked.

Oh, hello again, hard boiled egg.

I'm good at making good first impressions like that.  The hospital staff loved me.

Then Dr. V., the OB on call, came in to see me.  She told us all our options for the ways they could help, including laboring there at the hospital for a while with no interventions and seeing how things went.  But we pretty much knew that wasn't why we had transferred to the hospital, and Dr. V. and our nurse agreed that an epidural and Pitocin were the best course of action at that point, given my long labor and resulting fatigue.

I could have had Pitocin without an epidural, but to tell the truth, I was too afraid.  I was afraid of Pitocin-strength contractions without pain relief at that point, because I was just too tired to breathe and relax through the contractions effectively anymore.  My body wanted to fight them, to tighten against the pain.  I didn't think I could do it well anymore.

Incidentally, when we got to the hospital, the number they told me was two.  TWO.

I cried.

So they sent in the anesthesiologist to administer an epidural.  I was a little nervous about getting one -- as if it could be worse than what I had been going through!

But I joked around with the anesthesiologist, nonetheless.  He said something about me "getting punchy," and Story said, "Oh no, she's always like this."

So, my sense of humor was still intact.

And then this guy became my new best friend.

Okay, I figured out why people like to get epidurals.

It wasn't long before I couldn't feel my legs, my feet, my toes.  I couldn't feel much of anything.  I could sort of tell that I was still having contractions, but they didn't hurt anymore.


I'm not advocating for medicated birth.

I still believe that natural childbirth is a wonderful thing.  It's what we had wanted and planned for and hoped for.

But we don't always get what we want in life, do we?

So there I was, with an epidural, and under the circumstances, I was so glad for that epidural.

There were some annoyances, like not being able to drink any water, and having a stupid blood pressure cuff squeezing my arm tightly what seemed like every minute (but wasn't actually that frequent, of course), and not being able to move even to turn myself from side to side without assistance, oh, and wearing a hideous hospital gown.  But compared to the previous hours and days, this was pretty good.

I called my parents to update them on the situation, and texted my sister.  And then I went to sleep.


Finally I was able to get some rest... I mean real rest.  Nathan lay on a chair/bed thing beside me, and I lay on my left side facing him, and he slept, and I slept, probably for about three hours.


Around 3:45 pm I awakened to a leaking sensation.  I wondered if I had wet the bed, and I called our cheerful nurse.  Karen had gone off shift and now we had a lovely, friendly young nurse named Jenn.

No, I hadn't wet the bed.  I think I had forgotten that at some point in labor, your water is supposed to break.  And sure enough, Jenn confirmed that my water was leaking, and I was at 8!  Baby was turned properly and at position 0!  WE WERE FINALLY MAKING PROGRESS.

I remember thinking how weird it was, that all that natural laboring had seemingly gotten us nowhere, and now the meds were doing everything for me while I had just slept for three hours.

But mostly I wasn't thinking much of anything except how relieved I was, how happy I was.  I texted Story, who had gone back to our house so her baby Mercy could nap, with the good news.  She texted back: "jumping for joy!"

She arrived at the hospital shortly thereafter to be with us again, and I think I rested my eyes a bit without really sleeping for the next few hours.  

The time seemed to go by really quickly at that point.  There were some 'pockets' in the epidural, so I could feel my contractions again, and could feel pain in my lower abdomen, but it was nothing I couldn't handle easily.  I could stay relaxed.  I wasn't fighting these contractions like I had been when I was so fatigued and in so much pain.  That's what an epidural can do for you when you need one, I guess.

Around 7:15 pm Dr. V. told me I was ready to push.

Our homebirth midwife K. was there again (we told her to go home and rest while Nathan and I slept in the hospital), Story was there, and another nurse, Angela, was with us (there had been another shift change).  

Story was on my right side, and Nathan was up by my head, brushing my hair.  Yes, brushing my hair.  It was soothing.  I remember him saying, "I don't want you to look all disheveled for pictures with our new baby!"  So he brushed my hair out in between contractions and pushes.

Story coached me through the whole thing, and to this day I wonder if Nell would ever have been born without her there.

When I felt like the baby was never going to come, Story was there saying, "You're going to have this baby, Sarah.  You're going to have this baby."  And as obvious as it sounds, the whole idea of having a baby had become so disconnected from the hours and hours, days even, of pain and hard work and sleeplessness, that it was hard for me to imagine that a real live baby, our baby, was indeed going to be the end result of the whole process.  It was all so surreal.  So Story kept telling me exactly what I needed to hear.

The first thing we knew about our baby was that he or she had a full head of hair.

After the head, it was just one push, and then a wet, slippery, perfect, beautiful, amazing baby was placed in my arms.  It was 8:17.  That time pushing had felt both long and short at the same time.

Someone said, "Look and see if it's a boy or a girl!"

And I looked down at the baby in my arms, and cried, "I knew she was a girl!  I knew she was a girl!"

I held her in amazement, with Nathan there beside me gazing at her.

It's the kind of moment you can't even imagine.

Oh, the love.

The whole experience was completely transformative.  That's the best word I know to describe it.  Having a baby is transformative.

And that single moment when you first hold your baby in your arms?

That's indescribable.


The hours after her birth are a bit of a blur.  There was the baby gazing, of course, and kisses and laughter and tears of happiness.  We marveled at how she smelled good, and how could a brand new baby possibly smell so good?  There were pictures and phone calls and texts.  There was joy and relief and overwhelming love.

I remember thinking how odd it was that the world had gone on turning all that time I was in labor.  That people's lives carried on as usual while my world ground to a halt.  That other people were in the hospital.  That other babies had been born that day too; that birth could be such a normal part of life and yet so extraordinary.

Andrew came, our one visitor while we were at the hospital, and brought me Pad Thai.  Oh, and I drank about five small bottles of cranberry juice.  (Yes, really.)  And someone gave me some vanilla ice cream, too.

Nell stayed with me, in my arms, for a long time.  Then the nurses briefly took her a few yards away to weigh and measure her, and then she was back in my arms.  I held her or Nathan held her until they wheeled us from labor & delivery up to a recovery room for the night.  She stayed with us, in that room, all night, and never left our sight.

We stayed at the hospital for just that first night after she was born, and then we checked out the next morning, "against medical advice."  They even sent a social worker to try to talk us into staying for the full 48 hours, but we just wanted to be home as a family where we could all rest comfortably.

And Story took such very good care of us, making delicious meals and just doing everything imaginable to help.

{Everyone needs a friend like Story.}



I had no idea how hard it would be.

Sometimes I think back on it all and wish I had been more prepared.

But then I remember that I had read books and watched videos and talked to midwives and friends and taken a Bradley class and done yoga and walked and swam and tried my best to be prepared.  I hadn't been afraid.  I had been so excited.

So maybe you can never really be prepared.  Maybe you can never really know what it will be like.  I had hoped that with my preparation, good health, positive attitude, and great support system, my labor would go smoothly.

But sometimes for all your best efforts, you just get the birth you get.

 I got a posterior baby with military presentation, I got back labor, I got what they called "dysfunctional labor."  Because of the baby's position, the labor just wasn't working effectively, and because the labor wasn't working effectively, the contractions weren't helping the baby get into position.  It might have all worked out eventually without the Pitocin, or it might not.  It's one of those things I'll probably always wonder about.  There's no way to know.

So, like I said, I couldn't have imagined how hard it would be.

But I also couldn't have imagined how amazing it would be in that moment when Ellen Cecilia entered the world, and they placed her immediately into my arms, pink and slippery and squawking and oh, so beautiful.

It was all infinitely more than worth it.


  1. Beautiful, Sarah! I must admit, I cried while reading this. What an amazing story and what an amazing husband and friend you have!! Thank you for sharing this. What a saga! I loved Story's comment, "This isn't plan B. This is still plan A, because plan A was to have a healthy baby without unnecessary interventions, and that's still what we're going to do." That is awesome. And so true. The pictures are wonderful. I've never allowed pictures while I was in labor and sometimes I wonder if that was a mistake. That one with you and Nathan while you are in the tub is wonderful. Ok, enough superlatives!

    And if you are ever in the situation where you need pitocin again, might I recommend getting the epidural again too? I've labored without pain meds and with pitocin and I would NEVER EVER EVER do it again!!! If I had to have pitocin again I would get the epidural immediately - and given my birthing history, that is really saying a lot!

  2. MY NAME IS SARAH MARIE, TOO! Not that it's a terribly uncommon name, or even name combination...but I had to go read your birth story because--WE HAVE THE SAME NAME!

    But seriously, what a precious story, and what a beautiful, beautiful baby girl! I love's Story explanation of Plan A and B--SUCH a great point. Thanks for sharing your story :)

  3. This is wonderful. What a rough labor with a beautiful outcome. I love your attitude toward everything!!

  4. Melodee, I do hope you have 'your turn' someday, as it is an amazing and rewarding experience. You will be a wonderful mother! No need to be scared. I actually remember thinking, as I was laboring, "This sucks, but this is not going to be the hardest part of being a parent."

  5. Thanks Grace Marie -- I had turned it off before and hadn't realized it was on again. Oh Blogger. I never see the need for word verification, so thanks for letting me know it was turned on somehow.

  6. What an amazing birth story!! WOW. Thank you for sharing it. You are so blessed. Someday Nell will be so glad you wrote it all down.