In March of 2012 I went to my ob/gyn for my yearly checkup. I mentioned to my doctor that my periods had been very irregular, and very far apart. I had recently gone about 42 days between cycles. After doing some blood work and an ultrasound my doctor told me that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). He said that it might be difficult to get pregnant and suggested that I come visit him again whenever my husband and I were ready to start trying. This news was heartbreaking. My husband and I have always wanted to have a very large family and the idea of not being able to get pregnant made me feel like I was broken. I was also embarrassed, so I didn’t tell a whole lot of people. I did share the news with my mother and the women on staff at our church and requested prayer for healing. Together, my husband and I spent the next two months in prayer. I prayed intensely and constantly, claiming healing over my body and praying that God would bless us with many children whenever the time was right.
In May of 2012, I suddenly had the strongest desire for pizza. Now my husband adores pizza and could eat it every day. I think pizza is ok. I eat it once and then I’m good for like a month. But every time we talked about dinner, I insisted on eating pizza. My husband was thrilled but then mentioned in an off-hand manner that the last time an “Ashley” woman ate that much pizza was when his mother was pregnant with him. After thinking about it, I was a little curious about whether or not I actually was pregnant. But after being told I had PCOS, and since my husband and I were not trying to conceive, I really did not think that I was.
On May 24th, 2012 I woke up and took a pregnancy test. A line appeared immediately and I thought it was the “control line” so I went to throw the test away. That’s when I realize that there were now two lines on my pregnancy test. It just took the control line longer to show up than the “guess what you’re pregnant” line. I couldn’t believe it! First I was shocked, then I was excited, then I was nervous. I wanted to tell my husband immediately, but also wanted to tell him in a special way. So I ran into the kitchen and made him breakfast. Then I climbed back into bed with him, woke him up to breakfast in bed and said, “Happy Father’s Day!!! Because today is the day you found out you’re going to be a daddy!” My husband was surprised as well. We spent the rest of the morning talking about our excitement, our future as a family, and praising God for this blessing and for healing my body. Because of our experience we named our daughter Eliana, because in Hebrew Eliana means that the Lord answers prayers. Our sweet Ellie is truly our answered prayer.
My pregnancy went by pretty smoothly. I loved being pregnant. I was nauseous for about 4 weeks, but I only threw up 3 times. The pizza craving passed by the time the nausea hit. During the nauseous period I couldn’t stomach anything green, which meant temporarily saying goodbye to my beloved avocados. After that though, things were smooth sailing. I ate whatever I wanted and never experienced any other cravings. I maintained a very healthy diet and continued to exercise, because I was insistent that my daughter was going to have the healthiest prenatal experience possible. I also never experienced some of the dreaded pregnancy symptoms that people talk about. No bleeding gums, no swollen feet, no high blood pressure, etc. I gained 25 pounds while pregnant and was elated to have lost them all by 2 weeks postpartum (Although I must mention…even if you drop the “baby weight” quickly, that does not mean that things will look, feel, or fit the same way they used to!). All in all that part of my pregnancy was easy and exciting.
At 16 weeks along I met with my ob/gyn and discussed my vision for my daughter’s birth. I was very anti medical-model. I wanted to labor at home as long as possible, I wanted to delay the clamping of my daughter’s cord, I wanted to nurse as soon as possible and not to bathe her, I wanted dim lights and music in the room, I was not going to use any drugs, I would not accept an induction or c-section unless there was a dire need, I wanted to eat and drink as I pleased, I did not want to give birth lying down, etc. My list was pretty long and I felt that I had done enough research on my decisions that I was confident they were the best possible options for me and my child. My doctor sort of shrugged me off and told me that I was “young” and “easily influenced” and would likely change my mind in labor. Well guess what? Instead I changed my doctor! It was the best decision I made. I ended up receiving care from midwives at St. Francis hospital. I cannot sing their praises enough. Jennifer, my midwife, was the most kind, caring, attentive, personal, knowledgeable, gentle, supportive, encouraging person. She even came in on her day off and delivered my baby!
By 32 weeks along my smooth, easy pregnancy suddenly changed. While listening to Ellie’s heartbeat during a checkup, one of the midwives noticed a heart arrhythmia. From then on, I had to go in for weekly ultrasounds and non-stress tests to monitor Eliana’s heart. They wanted to be sure that everything was ok with Ellie and that she would be able to endure labor. Well during one of my ultrasounds we found out that Ellie was breech! I felt my natural pregnancy slowly starting to crash in on me. I was terrified that I would end up having a c-section. Part of me was also angry. I had been so careful while pregnant, and so diligent about being healthy that I didn’t understand why I was now facing these struggles. I work for Child Protective Services and could tell you a slew of horror stories about things women do while pregnant and end up with healthy babies. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong. I finally came to terms with the reality that I had done nothing, and this was just a trial I would face. My husband and I decided to try something called an external cephalic version (ECV) to flip Eliana. If it didn’t’ work we would have a c-section because in the long run, the health of our baby was more important than the risk of trying a breech birth.
At 38 weeks and 3 days an ob/gyn friend of ours did the ECV. He had to push in very hard and very deep into my stomach, literally grab a hold of Eliana’s limbs, and manually flip her through my stomach. It took 3 tries, but it worked! Ellie was now head down and ready to go. We continued to monitor her heart rate and the specialist not only cleared her for labor, but also felt that her arrhythmia would correct itself after birth. (Which, it did!) After this all we had to do was wait…and wait…and wait.
On January 30th, 2013, I woke up at 4:00 AM to go to the bathroom. When I woke up I noticed that I was having contractions. I had been having them for a few weeks, but they were never very painful, and they always went away. I didn’t think much of it, and I climbed back in bed to go to sleep. But once I was lying in bed, the contractions got worse! I was so uncomfortable! I got back out of bed and that helped. I wasn’t really sure what I should do. I couldn’t sleep but I had to go to work the next day because I kept working up until the very end. I decided to rock on my exercise ball and see what happened. Around 6:30 AM my contractions had not stopped, and I still couldn’t lie down. I decided to call Jennifer. I asked her if she thought I should go to work that day. Jennifer was so excited! She told me that I was finally in labor. She said she wanted me to relax, eat something, and said that she’d call again to check on me. So then I called my boss and told her that I would not be in to work that day…because I was having a baby!
I was still feeling pretty good so I decided to shower, get dressed, and straighten my hair. Hey, it was an exciting day and I wanted to look good! My contractions still weren’t too bad. When one would start I would rock my hips around in a circle, squat, or bounce on my exercise ball, and that helped. After that I decided to drink a glass of juice and eat a clementine. Around 8:30 AM I woke up my husband and told him to call his work and tell them that today was the day! After that he went back to sleep to catch some much needed rest for the day ahead. By 11:00 AM the contractions had picked up and my husband would rub my back during them. I called my doulas, Allison and Sarah, and they told me they’d be over later (since I felt that I was managing fine on my own).
Contractions continued to pick up by 1:00 PM. Nathan continued to rub my back, and made hot compresses for me. Sometimes I would lean over on the wall or over the armrest of the sofa and stick my butt way up in the air. For some reason these positions helped. I was having a lot of back labor, because Eliana was “sunny side up”. By 2:00 PM those weren’t helping as much so I took a hot shower. It felt so good in there that I stayed until I had used up all the hot water. By 4:00 PM, I knew that I needed some more help. The contractions were getting more painful and harder to manage, and I was getting tired. I had been awake since 4:00 AM and hadn’t been able to sleep, because I still couldn’t lie down. Allison called and said she was on the way. I was really glad!
From 4:00 – 6:00 Allison helped with new positions to try. My favorite was to sit on my exercise ball, wrap my arms around my husband’s neck, he would whisper in my ear how strong I was, and remind me that Ellie was coming soon, and Allison would squeeze on my hips. I was still doing ok, except for when I had to go to the bathroom. Peeing had become the most painful thing! Every time I went to the bathroom, my contractions got significantly stronger and worse. They were so bad, that I started to dread going to the bathroom.
By 6:00 PM, I didn’t think things were so easy any more. I told my husband that I wanted to go to the hospital soon so that Jennifer could help me. Allison had to leave for a few minutes, and I really missed her when she was gone! My husband tried to squeeze on my hips like she did, but it was better when there were two people. I started to move around a lot, trying to find a new position that would be more comfortable. I tried another shower, but it only helped a little. Around 7:00 PM, I started to feel nauseous and was losing confidence. I cried for about 5 minutes and told my husband that it was time to go to the hospital. Then I ran to the bathroom and threw up. My husband called Allison and Jennifer. Jennifer said she thought I was nearing a time called “transition” and said that we should come to the hospital. We waited for Allison to get back, and then we left.
We got to the hospital around 8:00 PM. By then my contractions were so strong and close together I had to stop walking every minute or two to deal with them. They offered me a wheelchair, but I was done with sitting! Jennifer met me on the maternity floor and helped me to our room. She had already gotten a room for us, and boy was it huge! It looked like we were in a hotel room. It was such a pretty room, and Jennifer dimmed the lights and kept everything very relaxing and calm. I felt a little excitement when I realized that was the room that my daughter was going to be born in! Jennifer checked to see how far along I was, and I was at 6 cm and fully effaced. Then Jennifer let me get in the bath tub. The hospital tub was great. It was so big and so deep that my whole belly fit inside of it! My husband used the handheld showerhead on my shoulders and back while I closed my eyes and took deep breaths. Sarah and Allison fed me ice chips and apple juice. Being in the tub was the most relaxed I had been in several hours. After being in the tub for a little while, my water broke. It felt so weird! I actually felt something pop, like a water balloon. The water was a little green, so they new there was some meconium in it. They checked Ellie’s heart rate and she was doing fine, so Jennifer was not worried.
Jennifer wanted me to get out of the tub so she could see how far along I was. By that point I was at 8 cm. Lying down was still very uncomfortable, so after Jennifer checked me, I climbed onto the bed on my hands and knees. This position felt better than any other position. I ended up throwing up again. By this point I was not paying attention or talking to anyone around me! I just remember husband holding my hand and putting his face beside by cheek. He would tell me how strong I was, how proud he was of me, and tell me that pretty soon we were going to be able to hold our daughter! Sarah and Allison did everything they could to help keep me comfortable. Sarah rubbed chapstick on my lips and gave me more ice chips. Allison and Sarah both continued to rub my feet, back and legs.
The contractions started to get very painful. Jennifer was beside me and I remember looking at her and asking her to please get the baby out of me! She reminded that Ellie would come soon, and told me to focus on my husband and use his strength to help me. I started making really deep groan/grunting sounds with each contraction. By this point, it was January 31st, 2013, and Jennifer suggested a new position.
I stood up with my husband and he held me and we swayed back and forth. It was almost as if we were slow dancing while we waited for our daughter. We did that for a while, and then Jennifer also had me squat down low with my arms still around my husband, and to push a little when I had a contraction. At this point, I knew you my daughter was coming soon, and I think Jennifer knew it too. Jennifer got me back into the bed and pulled up the squat bar on the bed. She wrapped a cloth around it and gave it to me to hold on to. She had me put my feet on the sides of the bar and pull myself forward with the cloth and push during every contraction. At this point I remember seeing a nurse bring in the bassinet to put Ellie in. I stared at it for a few minutes and then realized that this was really it. My sweet Ellie was going to be born soon and that was why they needed the bassinet! Jennifer started to tell me that when I pushed, she could see Ellie’s hair. Jennifer suggested that she get out the mirror so that I could see what was happening.
I really liked having the mirror. It was kind of weird, but seeing what was happening was such an amazing experience for me. It was really beautiful to see what was happening my body and with Eliana, and helped me to appreciate what a miraculous event birth really is. It also helped me to push more productively because I could see what was working. At this point they wanted me to push with every contraction. Pushing was a bit of a relief but it was also scary for me. I did not like having to hold my breath while I pushed. It made me even more tired and I felt like I just couldn’t hold my breath any longer. I was tired, in a lot of pain, and determined to be done with labor. All I was thinking about was the chubby little cheeks I had seen in the ultrasound pictures, and how much I wanted to kiss them. I had already talked to Eliana, sang to her, and loved her so much for so long, and I finally wanted to hold her. I pushed so hard. Jennifer started telling me how great the pushes were, and that Ellie were moving down and out so well. I pushed again and felt a burning sensation. I opened my eyes and looked into the mirror and could see part of her head. I pushed again, even harder and let out a yell. Ellie’s head was out, and I could see her in the mirror. Jennifer had me push again and the next thing I knew, I felt her warm body against my chest.
In an instant, all of the pain was gone. Relief, joy, excitement, and love flooded my entire body. I looked down at Eliana. I was in shock. My mouth dropped wide open and I gasped. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. My husband and I couldn’t stop kissing her and each other, and stroking her tiny little body. No one said anything to us while we admired her. It was as if the time had stopped while we welcomed Eliana into our family. We waited a few minutes, until the umbilical cord had stopped pulsing, and then my husband was able to cut the cord. Allison came over to me, and helped me learn how to nurse Ellie. She needed some help at first, but I was so proud of her for nursing right away! She was such a strong and healthy baby! My husband and I were so overwhelmed with love for her, and so grateful to have her in our lives. Eliana was born at 1:34 AM on January 31st, 2013 after 21 hours of natural labor. She weighed 7 lbs 9 oz. and was 20 1/4 inches long.
Slowly people started to leave the room. Our wonderful doulas spent some time admiring Ellie and congratulating us before leaving. Jennifer and my nurse stayed to make sure that we were doing alright. After giving birth, the nurse had to push on stomach to make sure everything came out and to check on bleeding and clotting. This part happened really fast and is still sort of a blur to me, but I believe it was an hour or two after Ellie was born. I remember Jennifer and my nurse saying something about there being too much blood, and that it didn’t seem to be stopping. I ended up having a postpartum hemorrhage. Jennifer calmly explained to me that I was bleeding more than she wanted to see, and that they were going to have to give me some medication and keep checking on me. They gave me Pitocin, Misoprotol, and Dilaudid.
I didn’t realize how serious it was because Jennifer was so calm. But then a nurse rushed in and jabbed me in the leg with a rather large needle! She started to put an IV in my arm. I quickly asked her if the medicine was safe for nursing and she assured me that it was. I remember my entire body shaking uncontrollably because I was so cold. They put warm blankets over me to help. I’m not sure what else happened, except that for the next hour there was a flurry of people in and out of the room and the nurse continually pushed on my stomach to get everything out and to help my uterus contract. Finally Jennifer told me that the bleeding was under control. After all that excitement I wanted nothing more than to hold Eliana. But the medicine had made my head very fuzzy and I was afraid I might drop her. My husband gladly held her right beside my face. She was so content to be held. I kissed her sweet chubby cheeks, and then my husband climbed onto the bed beside me, and we had our first family snuggle.
I now know that postpartum hemorrhages are the leading cause of death to women in childbirth, even in the developed world. I am so grateful to Jennifer and the nurses who took care of me, they did an excellent job. But more importantly, I am grateful that the Lord continued to be present in that situation and again answered our prayers. I know that while I was in labor and afterward there were many people praying for protection and health for me, my husband, and for Eliana. I guess I would say that for the most part things did go according to my birth plan. Although having a hemorrhage certainly was not in the plan! I realize that while my plan was important, in the end having a healthy baby and a healthy mama is what really matters. I still firmly believe that I made the right decisions. And while labor is tough, is doable. It’s not fun, but it ends eventually and then you get the greatest reward of all, holding your precious baby! You can manage almost anything for several hours (or 21!!). And I have a whole new appreciation of what my body is capable of and the strength that I possess. There’s something about giving birth that makes you feel victorious, feminine, and alive. Don’t tell my husband…but I can’t wait to do it again!