Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Birth Story of Frances Philomena

Could it be possible that you will be the last tiny one I will hold against my chest, the last one I will feel moving and shifting inside me?  I have realized this beginning with my second baby, Cecilia, and I know the possibility is there more and more, the older I get.  You are precious to us as a perfect gift from God, and I feel even more blessed as you are a “rainbow baby,” one who came following the loss of the fourth baby we had conceived, Mary Karol, and then many agonizing months of wondering when we’d even be able to conceive again.  That wait was for you, Frances Philomena, and as I sit typing this with you asleep on my chest, I marvel at your perfect round soft little head and your gentle breathing.  It has been a long time since I’ve had a newborn – over four a half years now.  I am relearning everything, yet it is all so familiar and natural to me after having been through this with three babies before. 

Your birth was to be a planned home birth, seeing as our third baby, Lucy, was accidentally born at home.  We had seen a homebirth midwife team for one initial appointment in late 2014 while pregnant with Mary Karol, and I had initially planned on using them for you.  However, two people I know mentioned another midwife, Ouida Sinclair, who lives closer to us and comes to pregnant moms’ homes for every prenatal appointment.  This was very appealing to me, as the other set of midwives, who have a great reputation, were an hour’s drive from our town.  So we set up an appointment to meet Ouida at our local coffee shop, Swift and Finch, once I was about ten weeks pregnant and we had already seen your precious little form with beating heart on ultrasound at about seven weeks.  You see, I had been under the care of a pro-life, NFP-only GYN in Atlanta after many months of inability to get pregnant again after the miscarriage.  Dr. Raviele had my hormone levels checked and, as I had suspected, my progesterone was low.  Low progesterone can not only interfere with the ability to conceive, but it can lead to first trimester miscarriages if you do get pregnant.  So I was on progesterone for the first twelve weeks of my pregnancy with you, and I am so thankful for the support it likely gave my body in helping to carry you through those crucial early weeks of pregnancy.  So after that ultrasound, I felt good about securing a homebirth midwife to care for us throughout the pregnancy up until the birth.

Ouida was very friendly, had been attending homebirths for 35 years, and actually charged $500-600 less than the midwives I would have had to drive to every month – she was everything we could have wanted in a midwife!  So we set our first appointment with her for a week later where we got to hear your little heartbeat come up immediately on the Doppler.  Ouida even came back less than a week later when I was concerned because I had a tiny bit of spotting and was worried about you – so she came back and found your heartbeat for me again, even though her next visit wasn’t supposed to be for three more weeks.  She also didn’t require any payment until I was 38 weeks pregnant!  I can’t say enough good things about her level of care throughout pregnancy.  She was great to have as our support throughout this pregnancy.

announcing our pregnancy at the start of the second trimester in December

My belly began to grow and I insisted on lots of profile photos… when you have lost a baby, you try to make the most of every chance to make a memory with future babies.  I began to feel your ever so slight movements around 12-13 weeks, and then began to feel definite movements around weeks 16-18.  We were so excited to see you and find out that you were a girl at our 20 week ultrasound.  Ouida, and pretty much all the homebirth midwives in North Georgia, uses an OB in Atlanta named Dr. Bootstaylor as her backup OB.  He can order bloodwork and do ultrasounds and anything else medical during the pregnancy and is very supportive of homebirth.  We all went to Atlanta - Ouida met us there too, something else that not every homebirth midwife will do! – and we saw you on ultrasound and learned that you looked just perfect, growing right on track.  The ultrasound tech said she was “over 90% positive” that you were a girl, and over the next few weeks I began to picture our family of all girls and how much beauty there would be in the gift of four sisters all together.  We went out to lunch afterwards at a nearby Jason’s Deli to celebrate!

I continued to see my belly grow and Ouida came for monthly appointments, and once I hit that 28 week mark and knew I was in the last trimester, I began to breathe easier that you would soon be here in a few short months.  Sometimes they dragged by and sometimes they seemed to fly, but your movements inside became even more precious and I cherished the feeling of leaning back on our new couch every evening and feeling you shift and kick.  You liked to have your rear end sticking out on my right side so that I was always slightly asymmetrical.  I could pat gently right there on my belly and I’d see a foot or a knee jut up on my left side.  Your heartbeat was always detected on my right side lower down after about 20 weeks.  You had your head down early on, as all my babies have done.  I loved carrying you, Phronsie, and I glowed with adoration whenever I looked down and saw my swelling belly.  I gladly accepted the backache that came with the loose joints and added weight of pregnancy, because it meant I was getting to grow another tiny human life inside me.  I look down at your sweet round head and soft skin now, almost a week after your birth, and I almost can’t believe that you were in there giving me all those sensations of movement.  I miss feeling you move inside of me now… however, I get to marvel at your movements against my skin now, where you will pretty much live until you become mobile, pressed up close against me nearly round the clock.  You have left the inside of my body to now be attached to the outside, continuing your gestation out here in the world as a helpless tiny one, dependent on me for everything.

Also during the final trimester, I began to drink red raspberry leaf tea… hot at first, then iced as the weather got hotter.  I loved it and hoped it was helping to tone my uterus as it supposedly does, helping with a quicker labor.  I continued focusing on lots of protein for strong membranes… cottage cheese with berries and cacao nibs was a favorite.  I craved orange juice from pretty early on in my pregnancy with you.

As I was in the final three weeks, knowing you could come any time was exciting.  My first three pregnancies had all gone to 40 weeks and Ouida believed this one likely would too, even as people would say, “Are you sure you’ll go to 40 weeks?  You’re really big now; can you get any bigger?”  I got into week 39 and our family attended an outdoor show of Midsummer Night’s Dream, in downtown Rome, where we sat on the grass on blankets, and I began to think I couldn’t go much longer because of how uncomfortable I was getting.  I continued through that last week with plans to stay very close to home.  I started to get a bit antsy halfway through that 39th week, seeing that pretty much everything on my to-do list was crossed off, and knowing that now I was simply waiting… waiting for you, waiting to meet you. 

full term at 37 weeks, and with my last pre-baby haircut!
at Midsummer Night's Dream at 39 weeks and feeling like a beached whale trying to get comfortable sitting on the ground!

Your due date was June 7, a Tuesday.  Ouida came for a prenatal appointment the Thursday before and checked me to find I was dilated to two centimeters.  She felt your position and remarked that you felt right about eight pounds to her.  She also said she’d be in town on Monday checking on another client and that she’d stop by and see how I was doing then.  On Saturday I went out around 10am to run errands, what I thought would likely be my last marathon errand trip for awhile!  I went to Aldi and bought frozen pizzas for “emergency meals” post partum to have something to throw in the oven for lunch quickly.  I actually have never spent as much as I did at Aldi that morning!  Frozen berries, bacon, I can’t even remember what else!  I also went to the local coffee shop first for one last “get a fun drink” trip for awhile and got a decaf java chip frap.  And I did the Krogering.  I felt very close to labor just walking around those stores, moving very slowly.  In the late afternoon we got ready to go to the 5:30 vigil Mass, and I sat through that feeling exhausted and very, very “full” – that’s the best I can describe it.  We went to Bella Roma for dinner after Mass… yes, I had eggplant parmesan to see if the old wives’ take would work!  Last family dinner out for awhile, and it was delicious and we had fun.  On Sunday morning I actually felt better and like labor was not so eminent as it had felt the day before.  We just had an overall lazy day at home.  We did take a long afternoon walk in the heat, me in my end-of-pregnancy maternity sun dress from Old Navy, the only thing that fits comfortably at that stage.  I was hoping some walking would encourage you to get ready to come, and I did have a few contractions while walking.  Lucy rode her scoot bike, and we walked out of our neighborhood across Billy Pyle Road, and all the way down the newer neighborhood road to the cul-de-sac and back. 

Saturday evening, one of the last baby bump pictures!

I woke up Monday at 5:00 AM thinking maybe early labor was beginning because I had a few contractions that felt slightly stronger than the ones I’d been having randomly over the previous weeks.  I didn’t wake Chris up, and they subsided somewhere between 6-7:00.  I slept a bit more and then got up, thinking maybe this would be the day and if I moved around some then they’d kick in again.

Over the morning I hardly had any contractions – maybe one every hour and a half.  I felt like I was just waiting all day, in limbo.  Around 11 am I had some “bloody show” but no increase in contractions.  I had put my mom on alert after the early morning contractions.  Ouida came over about 1pm, and I was surprised to see she had Teresa with her, who is her partner – they back each other up at births so there are two sets of hands and eyes to assist during labor and birth.  Teresa lives in Tennessee and will drive down here to attend Ouida’s births, and Ouida will drive up there to assist at Teresa’s births.  Teresa had come down on Sunday to be ready – which is great because I didn’t know how quickly things would pick up!  So I mentioned the bloody show to them but that I wasn’t feeling contractions with any regularity, but they got excited and said I’d likely be having the baby tonight or maybe the next morning.  I still couldn’t believe it myself, but they knew what they were talking about!  They checked baby’s heartbeat and Ouida mentioned I should take a nap if I could.  They said they would stick close by, even though at that point I felt like it wasn’t necessary… but I am very glad they didn’t leave Rome!  They went and walked around at a few stores in the area. 

At 4, I put on a movie for the kids and laid down.  At 4:30 I woke up partway, noticed I was having a contraction, and dozed off and on through three or four of them until 5.  When I got up, they continued.  Ouida had texted at 4:30 asking how things were going… she knew somehow; it’s amazing to me!  I told her I’d had several contractions over a half hour while trying to nap.  She said they’d be there in five minutes!  I texted Chris and told him it looked like contractions were picking up now, and was he about to leave work?  He said yes, as it was just after 5:00.  Talk about perfect timing for him to get in a full work day!  Ouida and Teresa arrived, bringing in all their supplies, and I finally realized maybe this was really it!  She checked me and I was a little disappointed to only be at 3 cm, but I soon realized that didn’t mean anything because of how rapidly my labor progressed.  I called my mom and she asked if she should leave right away or not, seeing as leaving Atlanta at 5:15 PM on a weekday means you’ll be sitting in rush hour standstill traffic heading north on I-75 out of town.  I told her I’d call her back shortly… Chris got home by 5:40 and things were continuing with frequent contractions that I had to pause slightly through but not yet requiring full concentration.  I called my mom back just a few minutes before 6 and said she should probably leave soon, and she said, “I’m in the car leaving the neighborhood right now.”  So all my support people were there or moving into place, and things started to pick up rapidly and get intense. 

I went to the bathroom and changed into my bathrobe.  Ouida and Teresa had the waterproof mattress cover and the old fitted sheet on the bed before I came back out.  After sitting on the exercise ball a few minutes and then standing and leaning on Chris through a few contractions, they’d gotten strong enough that I wanted to lie down and really be able to relax through them.  I resumed my favorite intense labor position, on my side with one arm behind me, and laid still and tried to release all tension as each contraction came.  Chris was kneeling by the bed near my head, and he was timing the contractions and writing them down… we said before they got intense that he really didn’t need to do that this time – the midwives were there, we didn’t need to decide when to leave to go anywhere… but I said I wanted a record just to see how they played out this time and because all my other births have a contraction log that Chris made!  So he kept track once they began getting more intense at 6:00 and continued for an hour until the point when they became too intense and he could focus better on me.  Ouida rubbed my feet with lotion through some of the contractions and Teresa rubbed my back and shoulders, commenting on how soft my bathrobe was and that she wanted one, and Ouida said she’d get her one, ha ha.  Chris was feeding me ice chips made of tea between contractions… I’d brewed a very strong batch of red raspberry leaf tea and frozen it in ice cube trays a few weeks before, and he went and crushed some up and spoon fed it to me from a bowl.  He also got crackers from my snack basket I’d prepared… Go Raw pizza flavor sprouted seed crackers.  I also had dried papaya spears (I found them at our natural foods store and am addicted!), mini peanut butter sandwich crackers (Horizon brand), and some cacao almond crunch stuff that I made a week prior (recipe found on Food Babe website; she calls it “candy” but it is not!).  Labor was so quick that all I ate was the pizza flavor sprouted crackers, but the others would come in handy afterward. 

the contraction log... there is just one more on the back, only about an hour's worth because she was born 45 minutes later!

At some point I thought maybe I was close to pushing – I had to be, I thought, because I knew I couldn’t take much more of the intensity and said so, recognizing transition this time… and having that sensation in my outer thighs, like I was splitting apart, and remembering that as coming soon before I had to push with Lucy.  I got on my hands and knees and realized after a few contractions that I wasn’t quite to pushing yet and decided to lay back flat into the bed, where I could better relax through these last powerful contractions that would get me to the end.  Ouida checked me again at this point and found I was dilated to 8 but had a cervical lip – this is where the edge of the cervix is over the baby’s head slightly, and sometimes it can delay labor, or sometimes it can move on its own pretty quickly.  So Ouida pulled it back through a couple contractions – which was horribly uncomfortable! – and then said it seemed to be stretching over your head at that point, so she left it alone after that and I was very soon ready to push.  I had gotten quite loud at this point, higher-pitched than I’d ever been in labor, Chris told me later.  I had wanted to push on hands and knees but also didn’t have the energy or motivation to get back onto hands and knees… it doesn’t seem like it would be difficult to go from side-lying to hands and knees, especially when at that same point in a previous labor you have gotten up from a seated position, taken a couple steps, and gotten down on hands and knees… but at that moment it seemed a monumental task.  In retrospect I wish I’d made myself do it anyway because gravity would have helped me push easier.  Nonetheless, it only took five or so minutes of pushing to get you out.  I had that urge, that feeling of something heavy suddenly there, and gave my first push cautiously.  After that, the body starts to take over.  When they realized I was pushing on my side, Chris held my top leg up (and out of Ouida’s face, ha) and I could feel your head coming close to crowning.  I felt that burning sensation as you crowned and remember thinking I hadn’t felt it with Lucy because she’d come out in just two pushes with membranes still intact.  You entered more slowly, but still came out after about five minutes.  No tearing, and hardly any swelling or discomfort afterwards either.  For comparison, I’d pushed for an hour and a half with Caroline, breaking the water in the process, and for 15 minutes with Cecilia, with water already broken.  So Chris used one hand to hold my leg and another to put under you as you emerged, while Ouida guided you out with her hands.  As your head came out, they could see that the membrane was still over your head.  I remember hearing Teresa and Ouida comment right before you crowned that it felt like the membrane was still there and that they didn’t think the sack had broken.  Your body came out completely, and the membrane was tearing around your chin and you were making some gurgling sounds, so they decided to pull it off right away due to that… so I again missed seeing my baby still in the sack, just like with Lucy!  I did have a view of you right after that, and reached down to feel you, and I felt that the membrane was rolling down around your middle.  Ouida put you on my belly and I pulled you up on me.  You were crying loudly and nice and pink.  You didn’t want to nurse right away but were nice and active.  I got my sports bra that I’d been wearing off so you could nurse soon.  I’d thrown off my bathrobe at some point earlier, maybe when I had tried getting on my hands and knees.  You sounded a bit gurgly in the throat so Ouida suctioned your mouth once with a bulb syringe, and after that and I got you calmed down a bit, you began to look for the breast.  We left the cord intact and called the other kids in.

My mom had arrived about 7:40 and had come in and found the kids in the backyard (they had gone out there when I’d gotten loud at the end), so she stayed out there talking to them a few minutes and must’ve come back in the house right at or after 7:50, because she went back out and told the girls that she heard a baby crying!  So they came in to see her and they all felt the cord, which we had not yet cut but had stopped pulsing at that point.  Chris cut it a few minutes later and then Ouida felt that my uterus was still very high up, so they wanted me to try to push the placenta out.  I did, and they pushed on my belly on the outside to help get it out as they encouraged me to keep pushing.  I later realized that they were concerned with it still being up so high that it might have bleeding up behind that they wouldn’t see until it came out.  The uterus usually gets lower more quickly than that, apparently.  So I nursed to help it along and pushed it out and they examined it closely under the flashlight from Teresa’s cell phone.  In the ultrasound I’d had an extra little lobe visible on the placenta, but it appeared that it had fused together with the rest of the placenta.  Right after you were born and before the placenta was out, Chris helped me dig into my snacks a little more – I was hungry!  He opened the peanut butter crackers and between me, him, Ouida, and Teresa, we finished off the whole box quickly.  They were good! 

You nursed awhile and then Ouida put you on the scale – you were 8 lbs. 3 oz. and 21 inches long, and your head was 14 cm.  We took some family photos on the bed and Ouida got your footprints on a certificate with your full name, Frances Philomena Lewis, and your measurements on it.  I ate dinner, which had been prepared in my manic nesting cooking frenzy on Saturday – I’d put a dish of chicken tetrazzini in the fridge, intending it for dinner on Sunday and then deciding to switch it to Monday, as Chris was home Sunday to help prep another meal we’d planned for the week, not knowing which day labor would hit!  He had put the tetrazzini in the oven after getting home so my mom and the kids would have dinner all ready for them – that truly worked out perfectly.  And it was a big enough dish that the midwives could eat some too, so everyone was fed!  After the hard work of labor, it tasted so warm and wonderful to me!

first family photo with all six of us

getting weighed and measured

After a bit, I got up to go to the bathtub.  When they’d arrived, Ouida had asked if I wanted to start steeping my postpartum bath herbs so I could soak in the bath afterwards, and I wasn’t sure if I would want to bathe right away or not… but after the birth, I thought that sounded nice, so Chris got the herbs steeping and the tub filled.  I soaked in the tub with you nursing on my chest for awhile, then my mom and Chris took you and dried you off and Ouida pulled out a onesie to put on you.  My mom held you awhile and Ouida helped me out of the tub and to dry off… then it was back into the comfy bathrobe and into bed to rest and nurse more.  The midwives had cleaned up everything while I was in the bath, towels and the sheet had been thrown in the wash and the bed was remade, and everything was nice and comfy.  Ouida asked Chris to lead a prayer of Thanksgiving for your birth before they left and said she’d be back within 24 hours to check on us.

bath bliss!
with Gramma
nursing in the tub

You were here at last, four hours before your due date!  I’ve been swelling with love for you over the past week and falling totally in love with your perfect round head and soft hair and precious sweet skin!  We love you, Phronsie, so very much!!

Ouida with Phronsie a week after the birth.... we forgot to get any photos with her at the birth!
Ouida and me