Helen Faith's Birth Story
Whew, what a whirlwind the past three months have been. Having our sweet Helen Faith join us on April 16th has turned our world upside down in the best possible way. My apologies for how long this post has taken me to write. I’ve been wanting to share and write about this for a while, but someone’s ever-changing nap schedule has been keeping me on my toes and off of my computer.
I’m absolutely tickled to share with you the story of new life. It’s such a blessing to be able to share with you the days leading up to, and a few days after the birth of our baby. I hope you enjoy.
I hope you will respect the decisions we made as a family. Child-bearing and child-rearing are incredibly charged, and incredibly personal. I firmly believe there is no right or wrong, just different. There are as many different options as there are different families. I have a feeling that if you’re reading this, there's a good chance you'll read something in this post that you disagree with …and that is OKAY.
Quick observation: the need to disclaim the conventional medical decisions we made as a family is so interesting to me. I'm still ruminating on this. In our health-is-best world (which I'm proud to be a part of), I have found that there is sometimes a competition for who can be the most “natural.”
In summary: I hope you can read Ellie’s story in an unbiased way. Please consider that I’m sharing these personal details with you, and they are not an invitation for you to share judgement or advice. OR, as Amy Poehler says, “good for you, not for me.”
As I write this, Ellie is upstairs sleeping at my mom’s house. She’s 15 weeks and 1 day, and I can’t stop thinking about her gummy-mouthed, squinty-eyed smile and her chubby chubby legs.
The Days Before Her Birth
Like all birth stories, Helen’s started coming together long before her actual arrival. Her due date was April 25, 2019, which felt early to me. I might be the only first time mom in history who thought her baby was coming late, and wished she would stay inside so I could (selfishly) keep her all to myself just a little bit longer. I had a very easy pregnancy (for which, I'm beyond thankful).
I spent the days and weeks before her birth eating dates and drinking buckets of red raspberry leaf tea. I went on long walks, and did my “get baby in to position” moves on the birthing ball and on the couch. I ate really spicy Mexican food on Saturday night, and decided I was just doing walking for exercise from now on.
On Sunday, April 14th, (38 weeks and 3 days, a full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks) I woke up to what felt like a serious period cramp in my dream. I went in to the bathroom and noticed some fluid, and did a small smile to myself thinking “it’s soon, but this is probably just going to happen for the next few weeks.” I went about my day, and continued to lose fluid slowly—I remember thinking “hmm, I’ve changed my underwear three times today,” maybe it’s time to call someone. I didn’t think my water was broken—I just thought that I was having more discharge as is common at the end of pregnancy.
So I texted our trusty doula, Colleen, and shared with her that I lost my mucus, but also had a lot of fluid. She told me to put a pantyliner on, and then read the research about what would happen if it really was my water breaking. I knew I was group B strep negative, and that within 72 hours the risk of infection was low. Plus, I wasn’t even sure if my water was broken, so I just kept going on with the day. Every time the baby shifted that day, I felt a little trickle, and I just kept smiling to myself thinking it’s soon, she’s coming soon. I even had a massage!
Michael and I went out to dinner on Sunday night and joked about how this might be our last date without a baby, but we both agreed we probably were getting ahead of ourselves. On Monday, Michael left for work in NYC and I stayed home and worked all day. I made a big pot of chili for us to freeze for after the baby, called the dog sitter and asked her to be “on call,” and re-packed our hospital bags. I had the same symptoms going on—slow trickle of fluid, and intermittent contractions—but just thought they were Braxton Hicks that everyone tells you to ignore. They weren’t so strong that I couldn’t just breathe through them.
On Monday afternoon around 5, I took Scout for a walk, and on the walk had a few larger rushes of fluid and at that point I was pretty confident that my waters had broken, and that I would go in to labor shortly. I wanted to labor at home for as long as possible, so I didn’t say anything to anyone…even Michael. When Michael arrived home on the 8:30pm train I said “I don’t want to alarm you, but I think my water broke earlier today.” You can imagine his reaction—he went in to FULL speed mode, wolfing down chili and urging me to call the midwives.
I called the on-call midwife, and explained what had been happening for the past 36 hours. She suggested we come to the birth center for a check—which I was resistant to do since it’s a 45 minute drive from our house. In my mind, I really wasn’t in labor, and therefore wasn’t in a rush. I even asked her “should we bring our bags?” Her response was a deadpan “um..yeah. I would.”
So while Michael packed the car, and I urged him to slow down, I showered and blow-dried my hair. By then it was about 9:15pm on Monday. We left for the birth center, and my sister agreed to take the train out from NYC to CT to take care of Scout for the night. We all laughed about how we’d by home by 2am because this was just a false alarm.
Michael and I arrived at the birth center, holding hands and laughing about how we were totally those first time parents showing up to the hospital way too early. We were sure they were going to send us home.
We got there, and the on-duty midwife confirmed that my water was broken, and that because it had been broken presumably for about 40 hours, she wanted to induce me right away. I asked a lot of questions, including “can I please go home and sleep tonight and go in to labor at home?” I was effaced, but not dilated at all, and I wanted to wait a little longer. She laughed and said, “you can do that, but it’s against my strong medical recommendation.” I switched Dr’s a few times during my pregnancy, searching for a provider I really really trusted, and I really really trusted this group of midwives. So I looked at Michael and said “okay, I guess we’re having a baby tonight.”
Here She Comes!
We settled in to our room, I took my first dose of misoprostol at 12:30, and we both tried to sleep. I told Michael to sleep while he could and that I’d call him when I needed him. I started doing my meditations, and settled in. I could barely settle, because the first dose mostly just made me have to go to the bathroom. I napped, meditated and went to the bathroom repeatedly until 2:30 when it was time for another dose. At about 3am, they checked, and I was two centimeters dialated—making progress, but it felt slow! I woke Michael up and asked for his help at that point.
I took another dose and then my contractions really began. I meditated and breathed through them, sitting on a ball, and walking around our room. I leaned on Michael, and made lots of noise!
At 4:30, it was time for another dose. I swallowed the dissolved pill, and promptly began feeling incredibly nauseous. The nurse stayed with us for a while this time because I was really nauseated, and Michel had to hold a vomit bag up to my mouth, which I had to use during a few different contractions. I kept trying to think “our baby is coming…each contraction is bringing her closer to us,” as much as possible. Due to the medication and my own natural labor, things started to happen hard AND fast!
At that point, I asked for some help. I asked to try some nitrous oxide, to help with the pain. We went for a few more hours like that, and I decided that the reclining chair that was meant for Michael to sit in was the most comfortable place to be. At 6am, Michael called our doula and asked her to come. They put me back on the bed at 7am and checked—I was about 8 centimeters. and still feeling very nauseated. A nurse said “you might feel less nauseous if you have an epidural.” That did it. I decided I wanted to have an epidural, so they tapped me in to some fluid. I looked at Michael and said “I don’t want to feel this anymore.” He said “I know. You’re doing so great.” I just kept trying to visualize waves on the ocean and tap in to my “I was made to do this mentality.”
After the fluid, I needed to stand, so I was leaning against the bed, and Colleen, our doula walked in. She said, “wow you sound quite pushy; I hope the anesthesiologist gets here soon.” She started to massage my back but I screamed “NOPE!” because the pressure on my lower back was too much. She said okay, but proceeded to rub my back until the anesthesiologist came around 8:45 am.
They said I could keep one person in the room, and I chose Collen, (sorry Michael), who held my arms and let me squeeze her as tight as I needed to until my back was ready for the epidural. It was pretty darn neat (in retrospect) but also NO JOKE in the moment. The Anesthesiologist reminded me that I needed to “HOLD REALLY STILL.” Of course, I logically understood the importance of this, but YOU DON'T FEEL WHAT I FEEL. I managed to hold it together while he inserted the needle, tube, then medicine, with Colleen’s help. Glorious relief swept over me and the nausea disappeared immediately.
I wasn’t able to sleep, but I was able to rest. I was able to have a snack and drink some water (I wasn’t able to before because I kept throwing up). Michael came back in, and Colleen put on some soft music and massaged my arms and legs. She told me to tell her when I felt like it was time to push and that I’d know.
Around 10:30, I said, “I’m not sure if it’s time to push, but with every contraction, it feels like things are opening.” She laughed and said, “geez you really need some convincing that you’re in labor, huh?” She said, “I bet you just went through transition, let me get the nurse.” The nurse came in and confirmed that it was go time!
And then my mom walked in the door. The night before we had called her to tell her I was going to be induced, so she took the first flight out in the morning, and my brother and sister picked her up at the airport on their way up to the birthing center.
While the nurses got me ready (they wanted to empty my bladder and set up a pushing bar) to push, Michael held my hand and head and we laughed and cried together that we were about to meet our daughter. Colleen told me how I would push, and asked me where I wanted everyone.
Our sweet nurse held one leg, Colleen held the other, Michael held my head, and my mom cheered me on. That's when I started shaking …almost uncontrollably. Was I cold? My Mom kept asking if I wanted a blanket, but the shaking continued. I think it was adrenalin. I was at the starting blocks, waiting to hear the gun fire, ready to listen to my coach and book it down this sprint (maybe marathon?) of meeting baby.
After about an hour and a half of pushing, the nurse called the midwife and the OBGYN because she and Colleen thought it was close. The midwife and dr put on what looked like the hospital version of fishing waders, which they both said they don’t put on “until we’re really close because they’re REALLY hot.”
All I could hear was “you’re doing so well. She’s almost here. Oh my god there’s her head!” as I pushed, and talked to our sweet Ellie. I kept saying, “come on baby, you can do it!” I really really believe she was working just as hard as I was.
Finally, I screamed “It HUUUURTS,” and Colleen said “I know. That means she’s almost here.” And she was right. Two more giant pushes and her head was out, and then one more push and the midwife and dr helped her shoulders turn and then “that’s it!” I couldn’t lift myself, so Michael lifted my head, and Colleen unbuttoned my gown, and our sweet Ellie was on my chest for the first time ever.
She was so wet, covered in white vernix, and immediately calmed when she nestled into my bare chest. I just kept telling her she did such a good job, while Michael told me I did such a good job. We waited until her cord stopped pulsing, then Michael performed his Dad honor of cutting it. I just held and marveled at her while the team finished up their duties.
I remember a few minutes later, another small contraction, and then the placenta was born. They literally caught it in what looked like a metal mixing bowl from our kitchen. Michael said it looked like a mix between a steak and a squid! Colleen loaded the placenta in to her cooler so she could take it home and turn it in to pulls for me.
After that I saw the Dr and midwife still between my legs, and gave them a questioning look. They said, “you have a small second degree tear, so we’re going to stitch it up.” They numbed the area and a few stitches later were all done.
My mom and Michael hugged, we all cried, and shortly after my brother and sister came in to meet their new niece!
The last part of the story is the shortest. Michael and I settled on her name long before she was born, but we didn’t really want to share it with any one until she was here. We named her Helen, after Michael’s mother, who was an incredible feminist and strong strong woman. We gave her the middle name Faith, after my grandmother, who lived life on her own terms, and didn’t let fear of judgement or recourse dictate anything. We call her Ellie so she can have her own sweet nickname.