More and more often lately, I find myself missing the days of long-form social media. Remember the early 2000's, before bloggers were replaced by instagrammers and before everyone was trying to be an influencer? I realize I am now hopelessly out-of-date in this regard, but I still cherish the family memories I have recorded on this old-fashioned blog, and I sometimes wish I had time to record things here more often. In any case, since we now have four daughters (four!), it seems that an update of some sort is quite overdue.
Seeing as this little lady has been a bonafide member of our family for over six months, it seems about time to chronicle a few memories of her arrival and earliest moments. Those first moments are such precious ones, aren't they? Difficult and precious all at once; the sort of moments you'd want to live over and over again if it weren't for the fact that while being so wonderful they're sometimes also so hard.
Sylvie Anne joined our family on Monday, April 27, at 8:52 am. She was born at home in our family room in an inflatable tub at the height of a pandemic, and I like to think she'll be all the more resilient for it. She was also born partly en caul (with the bag of waters still intact over her head and body), which is considered a sign of good luck. She weighed 8 lbs, 14 oz (my biggest baby!), and measured 21 inches long.
Her three eager big sisters ran in to meet her when she was moments old, and were immediately smitten with that squishy, slightly bruised little face, her head of soft hair, her delicate and intoxicating newborn scent.
The story of her birth is the first time I have managed a birth without an epidural. Back when Nell, our oldest, was born, I had hoped to have a home birth, but a very long (~72 hrs) labor eventually landed us in the hospital for pain relief and rest. Marie's labor was likewise quite long and also ended in a transfer (from birth center to hospital) for pain relief after about 36 hrs. With Molly, in the hopes of avoiding the postpartum sense of failure that had accompanied my first two, we decided to make the hospital and the epidural "Plan A," and in this way, everything went according to plan, ha!
Early in my pregnancy with Sylvie I sort of figured we would do the same thing again, but by sometime in January I began to find myself toying with the idea of trying once more to have a home birth. It was, frankly, really weird and inexplicable. Even Nathan said, "Honey, your labors are long and grueling and full of unbearable back pain that never relents. Why on earth would you be considering trying this again? Your epidurals have had zero complications and everything has gone really well." And he was right! I couldn't explain the niggling thoughts that I just couldn't shake, that maybe this time we should try home one more time.
By February we had met with a delightful midwife based out of New Hampshire, and we soon booked her services. As you may be able to guess, it wasn't long before we became very, very grateful that we had gone this route. Yes, by mid-March when the United States totally shut down and we were all hunkered at home looking at graphs and charts and watching numbers that rose daily, well... I was quite grateful to think that, if everything went well at home, we could avoid a trip to the hospital and all that might entail amidst a pandemic. If a hospital transfer became necessary, would Nathan even be able to be with me? How long might it be before the older girls would meet their new sister? If I developed a fever or any other symptoms, would baby and I be separated in the hospital? These were all worrisome thoughts, and scenarios we hoped to avoid by just staying home.
After literally weeks (!) of prodromal labor that started and stopped, started again and stopped again, that Sunday night I thought maybe things were actually really going to happen. Of course, I had already thought this a dozen times before, so I was losing some serious trusts in my instincts in this regard. Still, by this point I was a week "overdue," so it seemed like it really did need to happen eventually. When he got home from work that evening, Nathan drove to Beverly and picked up some Indian food for me at my request, and we relaxed and watched a little TV together. A couple of hours after going to bed I was awakened again and couldn't get back to sleep, so I came downstairs and tried to rest on the couch, dozing on and off between contractions. Between midnight and 4:00 am or so, I was able to rest, watch some TV half awake, and generally cope pretty well. But at about 4:00 I remember yelling up the stairs, "NATHAN!" and feeling pretty urgently that I needed his help at that point. He came downstairs groggily, but soon sprang into action and started filling the inflatable birth tub with water for me.
We called our midwife to let her know things seemed to be happening for real at last, and I texted my sister-in-law, who was planning to come be with the older girls during the birth. After that a lot of what happened is a bit blurry for me. Once the tub was filled with warm water I got right in--looking truly stellar I'm sure in a bikini at 9+ months pregnant. As I had an increasingly hard time coping with the unrelenting back pain that is how labor goes for me, Nathan would hold the hose of running warm water right over my lower back for me, which provided some relief.
Around 6 or 7 am our midwife arrived together with her assistant and a young midwifery student who was doing her clinical hours or... something. Like I said, a lot of this is blurry for me. In any case, they bustled around on the sidelines getting things ready and I hummed and moaned and occasionally screamed from the back pain in contractions. I tried turning on my hypnosis recordings and soon yelled, "HYPNOSIS IS A BUNCH OF CRAP!" Well, it was nice until things were really serious anyway, which by now they were. I kept waiting for my midwife to say something nice and definitive, like "Oh, honey, this is transition and it'll be over soon," but failing to hear these exact words while feeling that surely I couldn't take any more of this, I said things like "I want to go to the hospital! I need all the drugs! Nathan, these mean women won't listen to me! You need to take me to the hospital right now! I want my Mom!" And my midwife, calm and serene, replied, "This is all a very good sign!"
At some point when it all felt pretty unbearable -- oh and also, I had almost drowned myself a couple of times by dozing off in the tub in the brief moments between contractions, utterly exhausted, and slipping my face down into the water only to wake with a nose full of said water -- I told Nathan I urgently needed to use the bathroom and tried to stand up to get out of the tub. Our lovely midwife calmly said, "Or maybe you're going to have a baby!" When I insisted, she was ready and willing to help me out of the tub; but of course she was right and I sat right back down in the tub and promptly delivered that baby.
Later my brother-in-law, who had quietly arrived with my sister-in-law and their sweet little toddler in the midst of all of this, would be able to laugh with me about that endless horrifying "five-minutes-without-stopping-for-breath" scream that had accompanied the birth. "I thought you had mastered the art of circular breathing!" Ha! It's a good thing this was my fourth baby and family is family; somehow I didn't die of shame having them one thin wall away from all this drama unfolding.
As soon as Sylvie was in my arms I just collapsed with relief and happiness. I ugly cried (I have pictures to prove it), and then the girls came running right in as soon as Nathan fetched them and they were utterly awestruck by the magic of it all, meeting this newly born human being who would be their sister forever and always. A massive rainstorm had been going on throughout the labor but my midwife tells me that at precisely the moment of Sylvie's birth the rain stopped and the sun came out and the world was clear again. It was almost 9 am but somehow it felt like the wee hours of the morning, and all was calm and still and messy and perfect.
For the labor itself, at any given moment I would have probably preferred to be laying in a hospital bed with an epidural and a popsicle. But the minute it was over, I would have done it all over again. I was so grateful to be home, with family. It was so wonderful to rinse off in my own shower, rest in my own bed, and eat food from my own home. The pampering I received from my family (and, in subsequent days, friends) was far beyond hospital food and care! And the moments the girls got to spend with their newborn sister were priceless.
Like her big sisters, we chose for Sylvie a middle name that connects her to the music of the church, which is her Daddy's occupation and great love. St. Anne is the tune name for the hymn "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past."
Back in January when I began to contemplate the idea of a home birth, I couldn’t quite identify why I wanted to change my model of care mid-pregnancy, but in light of Covid we consider it a divinely-inspired nudge. Born amidst a pandemic, it seemed a fitting time to recall with Christians across the ages:
“Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while life shall last,
And our eternal home.”
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while life shall last,
And our eternal home.”
Today this sweet six-month old is sitting beside me as I type, all gummy smiles and sweetness. Of course, we already can't imagine life without her.
The older girls requested that we listen to music by the Peasall Sisters earlier this week, and when Nathan heard "I'm That Sparrow" come on, he commented, "I would think you'd be scarred by this song!" I listened to it while I was in labor with Sylvie. Oddly, I don't feel 'scarred' at all, but it does make me feel a little teary, remembering that dark and stormy night -- and the sunburst of a sweet babe in our arms.
Never has a baby been more adored than this sweet child, and even a pandemic and social distancing can't change that. It's true that many people in our wider community haven't yet even met her, but I think her adoring immediate family and the close friends we've seen almost makes up for that (but not quite, of course -- we wish so much she could meet her grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends). Her sisters clamor for her attention, and when she was a newborn I practically had to get in line to hold her, so eager were her big sisters to snuggle her. And last night, as happens almost every night right now, she lay asleep beside me when Nathan came to bed. He lay down beside her and just gazed at her sweet sleeping face for a while, alternately smiling at her and at me like the giant sap of a Dad I'm so proud that he is. We both looked at each other in the dim light and we didn't have to say it because we both knew-- we're the luckiest people in the world.
Of this one thing we can be sure after a long day of parenting: however short the naps were, however long the tantrums may have been, however extensive the mess, and however many times I may have lost my temper, when the day draws to a close and the baby is finally asleep, we can put all the other stuff aside and be what we should be: profoundly grateful.