Seth Elliott: Birth Story

Seth Elliott: Birth Story

Saturday, May 4. 41 weeks + 2 days.

A gorgeous spring day to start the weekend. We did yard work, planted flowers, raked grass, stacked wood. It was lovely to be outside in the summer-like weather working even with my heavy belly. We went out to dinner and then afterwards had a campfire at home and then went to bed around 11:00pm. About an hour later I began to feel my first real contractions, but tried to sleep through them.

Sunday, May 5. 41 weeks + 3 days.

I awoke as normal, feeling decently rested and forgot for a few moments that I had believed myself to be in labour during the night. I was disappointed when I remembered: another false start. There had been a few days previous, especially Thursday night, when we thought it might be starting, only to wake up in this exact situation. I stayed in bed anyway, resting in case I would be delivering soon.

In the afternoon we had an appointment at the midwifery clinic for a cervical check and a non-stress test to check on Seth’s condition. We spent several minutes listening to the fetal monitor, watching his heart rate fluctuate as expected with his movement and tracking with the tocometer through one decent contraction. Seth was in great condition and I was glad to have had a contraction while being monitored so our midwife could verify what I was feeling. I was 2 cm dilated.

After the appointment I was not feeling ready to go home quite yet and resume that burdensome waiting and boredom we had been experiencing. It was a gorgeous sunny day and the trees had begun to turn green and fresh again with new buds. So Ynze and I took a long drive and listened to music and enjoyed the sun. I was most comfortable in the car and by the time we returned home I felt calmed and peaceful and ready.

Monday, May 6. 41 weeks + 4 days.

On Monday things were still pretty routine. We slept in a little, ate breakfast and relaxed. Ynze did not go to work because I had continued to have sporadic contractions through the afternoon and evening before and my energy levels were much lower than they had been. With the number of days overdue I was only increasing, I felt that Ynze should stay close.

Some friends came over to visit in the afternoon and I hung out with them and Ynze for a few hours, sitting on the stability ball and breathing silently through contractions that came about every half hour. I could feel they were getting stronger. Eventually I went to lie down and rest in bed and practice breathing. I had a desire to be alone, sheltered, not exposed to others or allowing them to see the changes I was experiencing.

Around 5:00pm I took a shower, which re-energized me significantly. We had pizza for dinner and I sat on the couch and breathed and braced myself through contractions, some of which others noticed I was having, and some of which they did not. I was happy about this because I didn’t want to get overly excited or create false hope: those words, that declaration, “In Labour,” had started to have a somewhat negative connotation for me. I did not want to declare it before it was really real. But how was I to know when it was really real?

Around dinner time Ynze and I took a short walk. I was surprised at how less mobile I felt–- it was much harder to take this little walk–- when only days before I had been raking and stacking wood. This change was another indication that things were happening that I kept in the back of my mind.

At 9:15pm Ynze and I took another walk. We started timing contractions and I stood with my arms around his neck and breathed and focused through each one. They weren’t painful, but tight and very strong and forceful. They were about 5-7 minutes apart and 45-60 seconds long. When we arrived home I texted this information to our midwife and she advised me to rest: if the contractions spaced out then I could likely sleep a little; if they didn’t, or intensified, active labour would be declaring itself.

As soon as I lay down, around 10:30pm, the contractions immediately spaced to 10 minutes apart, but also became much more intense and painful. I now needed to be vocal–- breathing was not enough. Around 11:30 I let Ynze know that I now needed his help to work through the contractions. I texted our midwife again, who advised me to focus on resting and relaxing completely between each contraction and let her know when the frequency increased.

Throughout the night the contractions remained intense, but sporadic, ranging from 5 to 30 minutes apart, and slowing towards morning. I gripped Ynze’s hand or arm or wrist or shoulder (and once by accident flailed my arm onto his face) and used a heating pad on my back as the pain seared there as well. Seth moved strenuously after many of the contractions which made it hard to relax in between.

Tuesday, May 7. 41 weeks + 5 days.

Our midwife contacted us around 9:00am, surprised she hadn’t heard from us in the night. I let her know how the night had gone, how little sleep I’d had, and how discouraged I was feeling. She offered to come see us at home right away and I gratefully accepted.

Tuesday, 10:00 am.

When our midwife arrived at the house I did not even get out of bed. I was in tears over my exhaustion and lack of progression and the many times we had thought “this is it!” and yet I was still pregnant. It was then that we had our first discussion about moving to hospital, though I had fully planned and prepared for a home birth. Our midwife let us know that at this point a transfer would be completely reasonable and possibly necessary for me because my early labour was becoming days long. Personally I had started thinking about going to the hospital in the middle of the night before as my energy was dropping and the impossibility of rest becoming apparent. We planned to assess my cervix and then make a decision.

We were all surprised to find I was 6cm dilated and 100% effaced. The contractions, though irregular, had done a lot of work through the night. After the assessment I had another contraction and another, and our midwife let us know that they sounded like active labour. She affirmed our options–- to move to hospital or stay at home and try a few things to get labour progressing–- but we had to make the decision soon.

Our decision was almost immediate because the desire for rest and relief had already been in my mind for hours and we’d already discussed making the move. We let her know our decision and she let us know we’d have to go immediately. In the few moments we had to prepare I wavered in the decision to abandon our planned home birth since our midwife seemed to feel that based on my dilation and the sound of my contractions Seth’s birth was soon to be upon us. But Ynze was confident in our decision and I really desired some rest and pain relief so we quickly packed our bag and grabbed towels for my seat and made our way to the car. After all the waiting we’d endured everything was suddenly happening so quickly…

Tuesday, 11:30 am.

The drive to Bracebridge seemed quick. I sat on my towels and worked through the contractions as they came about every 7-10 minutes, and focused on relaxing and enjoying the beautiful and finally green buds and blue lakes and the calming effect of the music we listened to. We followed our midwife the whole way and made good time. Once we arrived at the hospital we walked in together–- I had another contraction in the parking lot–- and waited a bit to register but instead went up to the birthing room because the wait was taking too long.

Tuesday, 12:30 pm.

When we arrived in the birthing room I felt immediately comfortable, and comforted. I got changed and got into bed and they covered me with a warmed flannel blanket that smelled of clean laundry. I was instantly soothed and thankful again we’d made the decision to move to hospital. I was still having contractions around 7-10 minutes apart and our midwife commented she thought we’d be having a baby soon. She hurried to prep the room and monitored me closely, even waiting outside the bathroom door each time I left the room to pee. In many ways though, I was still too tired at this point to get overly excited about the possibility of imminent delivery.

Tuesday, 4:00 pm.

After a few hours of the same spaced out but hard contractions, we checked my progress, only to find a disappointing outcome: my dilation had decreased to 4-5 cm and I was not progressing–- the contractions were not effective. At this point we decided it would be best for me to get an epidural as labour was not progressing at the pace we thought it would, and my energy levels were continuing to drop.

Tuesday, 4:30 pm.

The anaesthesiologist arrived to give me the epidural and started to explain the procedure, the risks, etc. It seemed absurd that he continued talking to me through my contractions: as if I had any ability to focus on or discern what he was saying at that point. The things that I do remember him saying were somewhat disconcerting-– “this is the only procedure that we do blind,” for example-– and I was afraid as I sat up and hunched my spine back as far as I could. They brought a high table for me to rest my arms on and Ynze stood squarely in front of me and I gripped his arms and told him I was afraid. The contractions then required even more focus and seemed to roar louder within me as I was not allowed to move and even feared to move as the needle was inserted into my spine.

After a few minutes of work the anaesthesiologist informed us we should buy a lottery ticket that day as “this has never happened before…” He had misplaced the epidural tube in a blood vessel which meant the whole set up had to be removed and re-inserted, which meant I had to go through the whole process, still through painful contractions and the inability to move, all over again. I felt panicky at this moment but also the sense that now I was in the thick of it, with no choice but to move forward and do as I was told. These times I had to be intensely in the present moment: there was no option but to live through what was happening right now. In some sense fear was diminished because of the impossibility of escaping the thing that was feared.

Tuesday, 5:00 pm.

We waited for the epidural to take effect and I rested under fresh warm blankets. I lay on my side trying to relax as the epidural faded in slowly. The relief seemed to shift from side to side in my back and abdominal muscles, depending on which side I was lying. They flipped me over every half hour, which I found strange considering they wanted me to rest and even try to sleep. While I rested Ynze and our midwife watched the hockey game and we all took a break.

The tone in the room was calm and relaxed. I suppose it had been all along: we were able to maintain a sense of humor and closeness throughout the hours of contractions previous. Ynze even made me laugh so hard once our midwife was unable to get the monitor on me. At some point Ynze left the room to go have dinner and his mom came in, bringing a gift for Seth with her, his first teddy bear. She asked me if it would make me feel better, and I felt so childish as I reached out instantly and hugged the bear close: instant comfort. For a few days after the birth, the teddy bear brought tears to my eyes every time I looked at it because it became such a strong symbol and reminder of my birth experience.

Tuesday, 6:30 pm.

After resting for enough time to ensure the epidural had fully taken effect, our midwife broke my water and performed another cervical check. I felt nothing. I saw nothing. It was strange not to feel this event that seemed should be so significant-– a labour landmark–- and that had been the topic of so many conversations, jokes, and inquiries as I approached and passed my due date. I could finally answer “Yes! My water has broken!” but no one was asking that question anymore.

The goal with breaking my water was to establish a much more consistent contraction pattern with the 2-3 minute intervals needed to deliver the baby. Within the hour this began to occur, with contractions moving to 4-5 minutes apart. I could feel my body gearing up. Starting at this point and until Seth was born, I had heavy back labour and had either our midwife, nurse, or Ynze putting forceful counter pressure at the base of my spine to ease the pain: pain that I could feel intensely and completely through the epidural. Later we learned it was “patchy” and ineffective for my abdominal and back muscles.

Time blurs in my memory from this point on. At 7:30pm there was a shift change and a new nurse came in. At some point our midwife also consulted with the OB on call and I suppose I was transferred to her care. I continued to labour through contractions, feeling every one (but still not sure what I was feeling or what things were “supposed” to feel like, or whether the epidural was taking any of the edge off at all; later I learned it hadn’t been).

Our midwife asked me if I felt like pushing. I didn’t know what that felt like, but she suggested I try and told me what to do. I trusted her completely and was game to try something new and keep moving along the labour trajectory.

What I remember of pushing was focus and pride. My mental process shifted entirely as soon as I had something to do instead of just wait for something to happen. We had been waiting, just waiting for something to happen for months, weeks, days, and hours in varying degrees of intensity. We were done with waiting.

When I began pushing it was somewhat experimental and I had to learn how to direct my energy through the contraction to the right muscles and not tense up muscles that did not contribute to moving the baby. After a few tries our midwife seemed pleased and was very encouraging, exclaiming that I was really moving the baby and doing a great job. She told me to push past the pain, which was very effective for me in understanding how to push and where to focus. The encouraging words were so empowering. I felt so accomplished, so strong and able.

I pushed for three hours. At some point the OB joined us in the birth room and stayed with us instead of just being updated by the nurse. My memory is blurred by the intensity, exhaustion and emotional turmoil as those three hours passed. I remember being given those tiny cups of hospital juice with a straw poked through the foil top and thinking that offering this juice was just the kindest gesture anyone could make at the time. I remember seeing changes in the expression on my midwife’s face-– pleased and hopeful at the beginning of pushing, with concern showing as time went on. I remember hunger pains interfering with my concentration while pushing and growing more frustrated at how hungry and thirsty I was. I remember feeling annoyed with my midwife as she continued to encourage me to push and push harder and bring the baby back down while I was giving it all I had and was just so exhausted. I remember having the vacuum explained to me by the OB and asked if this would be okay to use to try to help Seth out even though it would leave a bruise on his head where it was applied. I remember hyperventilating through a contraction and being given nitrous oxide to take the edge off, which it did not seem to do really but I guess it helped me re-focus on my breathing for a bit. I remember extreme thirst and an absolutely pasty-dry mouth and cracked lips at that dark end of pushing when all my strength was failing and the OB came to my bedside while I kneeled, sweaty with hair falling in my face, and she said simply and gently, but matter-of-fact, “The surgeon and the anaesthesiologist are on their way from Huntsville, and it’s a half hour drive…” She must have said more than that but those words stuck in my mind and with a marked sense of defeat. I remember my tears.

My midwife stood by my side and held my hand through the contractions that continued, unrelenting, after the C-section decision had been made and Ynze left to go get scrubs on. I remember feeling as though suddenly no one was paying attention to me anymore as the flurry of preparation for surgery blossomed around me. I remember asking what to do with the contractions that seared steadily through my body with that long-awaited regularity, now abandoned. I think I was told that I could continue to push if I wanted to, if it felt better, and there was a hazy hope in my mind that Seth and I would surprise everyone and deliver before we got too much further down the road to surgery. I did a few pushes then but they were weak and ineffectual and my mental and emotional reserves were spent. I begged to know how many more contractions before the spinal block was administered, and I surrendered myself to the waiting, to doing only what I had to in order to make it through each contraction and retreated, eyes closed, face buried in the pillow and body curled, to a deep inward place, not of strength or fierce womanhood, but of self-preservation.

I was moved from the birthing bed to a gurney and wheeled through bright hallways to an elevator. Ynze was there. The nurses were upbeat. I worried about being seen outside of the birthing room in this completely broken, vulnerable state. We got to the OR. I was parked by a wall. It seemed there were about a dozen people talking casually around me. The anaesthesiologist came and talked to me through contractions again, asked me questions again, and it was absurd to me again. The surgeon came the same way, and I tried to be sociable with her, but then a contraction hit and she talked to Ynze instead. Time seemed to pass so slowly and the contractions roared through my whole body. There was no rest.

My epidural was discussed-– perhaps just upping it would be enough? This was a terrifying suggestion and I was panicking inside at the thought of it and told someone urgently that it hadn’t worked the first time. But this was a different anaesthesiologist and he didn’t seem concerned. They upped it and I began to feel tingly again in my legs and then in my belly. I was soon frozen up to my arm pits.

I was moved to the operating table and could see our nurse and midwife prepping the warmer and could sense the anaesthesiologist standing behind my head. It seemed there were about a hundred other people in the room as well, all busy and bright, but I did not know what they were doing around or to me. I felt alone and forgotten, ironically, again.

The freezing from the epidural brought on a claustrophobic feeling for me, rather than a sense of relief from the contractions or pain of Seth’s vigorous movement or the feeling that he was stuck. As my emotions peaked our midwife was at my side again. I think I asked her a question but can’t remember what I said; she must have seen the distress in my face and held my hand. I might have been heading towards hyperventilating again, because she started to talk to me very quietly and said, “Lots of people are praying. God is good. Just trust, right?”

Ynze was allowed in the operating room soon after. He held my hand and got me to focus on his face. I was shaking uncontrollably in my arms and face, a result of my body being in shock and the prep for surgery, which alarmed him but focusing on him helped. More time passed. It seemed like hours but was probably only a few minutes. And then there he was.

Wednesday, May 8. 3:30 am.

Seth was pulled from me at 3:30 am. I heard someone shout out the time, and we heard his cry-–strong and healthy-– and I saw his body being lifted through the air under the bright lights. I felt relief. I thought he had big feet! I craned my neck to see him as he was cleaned and assessed on the warmer. A long time seemed to pass before they brought him to us, bundled in hospital blankets with the yellow knit cap we’d chosen in the birthing room so many hours before on his head. His eyes were open. Ynze held him close to my face and I nuzzled his skin, but was speechless. Our midwife encouraged us to talk to him but I just didn’t know what to say. It might have been something like “Hi, baby…” that came out in the end, but not much more.

The process was quick after that and I was soon in the recovery room with just our nurse and midwife and Ynze. They laid Seth on my chest and he was so warm and heavy and close. He was wearing the yellow hat and a diaper and his perfect skin melded with my skin and we were one again, just for a few moments more. They moved us to our hospital room and he was weighed there, screaming. 9lb 1oz. He measured 21.5 inches and his head circumference was 37.5cm, which everyone exclaimed was huge for a newborn and our OB later mentioned was closer to the size of a 2-month old’s head.

It was 4:30 am when our midwife left. She had tears in our eyes and told me how strong I was and how happy she was for us. I whispered “thank you” and clung to Seth.


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