Today you turned four months old! Time with you has flown by so fast, and I can hardly remember life without you in it. You are the sunshine of my days and the sweetness of my nights. We've had a lot of milestones over this past month: you love to push up first your front, then your backside and I know you will put them together and crawl before too long. You can sit by yourself as long as you have something to hold on to, and you love holding your own toys to taste and examine. You are such a little lady and always have your hands folded properly. You have strong little legs and can stand without support as long as you have someone to balance you. You are very conversational, especially first thing in the morning and just before bedtime. Even when you don't feel good you are the happiest baby! You love experimenting with new sounds and trying to copy me when I talk and sing to you. Your favorite song is "The Birdies' Ball" and you always break out in a huge smile when I sing it, even if you're sad. You love to look at and talk to pictures of your daddy, and can pick him out of a crowd - you grab pictures of him and kiss his face even if there are others in the picture!
It's hard to believe that you're already one-third of the way through your first year of life, and I can think of no better gift than to share the story of how you entered the world. God was so kind to send you to us a week before your due date. You got to have nearly four priceless weeks with your daddy,
and the first week he took off work and spent almost every minute with you. He came to your doctor's appointment, rocked you and sang to you, changed and dressed you and helped feed you. He called you his "little girl" and his "princess," and when you were too tiny to fit in the clothes we had for you he picked out the cutest little newborn things. He loved to take you on walks around the lake, to church and out to eat, showing you off to everyone. I hope you grow up knowing just how much he treasured you, how fiercely he loved you. He was willing to sit through seven natural birthing classes with me, and was the best coach and support during the 18-hour labor! A week before your daddy went to be with Jesus he helped me write the story of your birth. I've kept it just like we wrote it because it's one of the last pieces I have of him.
**Reader Advisory: This account is somewhat graphic in parts, and not for the faint of heart**
On Sunday, September 7, I went to church while Nate slept in to get ready for his night shift work which was starting that night. I came home with lots of energy and a long to-do list – we ironed and hung curtains, rearranged wall art, and organized the nursery. Nate left for work around 4 pm and I made a big pot of chicken soup, washed and folded a load of tiny baby clothes and crawled around on the floor taping down our entry rug. There was absolutely no sign of labor except for this mad nesting urge; looking back I’m so thankful I got those things done just in time! I went to bed early but had a hard time falling asleep without Nate. I woke up 2 hours later, shortly before midnight, feeling very strange. I had a tightness in my belly and really had to use the bathroom. I had never had contractions before but knew immediately what the tightening every 5 minutes was. I noticed that I was leaking fluid, so I texted Nate and my mom to let them know I was having contractions and might be in labor. My mom had somehow fallen asleep with her phone and called me right away. I didn’t really think I was in labor since I wasn’t due until the 14th, and I expected the early stage of labor to last a long time with me doing most of the work at home. I told Mom that I was contracting every 5 minutes and leaking fluid, and she said I should call the hospital. The on-call doctor told me to come in, which I wasn’t excited about but called Nate anyway. I couldn’t reach him since he was in meetings, so I texted his co-worker and started getting some things ready for the hospital. Soon the contractions were intense enough that I knew we needed to go, so I called the main console and asked the operator to please get Nate for me. He was really excited and went into Nate’s meeting with a huge grin on his face. Nate was in shock when the operator handed him the phone! His first night of turnaround and suddenly he was racing home in the middle of the night to get me to the hospital. By the time he got home my contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and I had to stop what I was doing and focus on breathing through them. He started worrying that we wouldn’t make it to the hospital in time, so we threw everything in the car and got going. On the drive there my contractions were 2 minutes apart and lasting about a minute; at one point I almost threw up because of how intense they were.
We got to the hospital about 2:30 and Nate dropped me off and went to park the car. I somehow made it to the 11th floor with my suitcase and checked in while taking lots of breaks through contractions. The nurses got me to an exam room and admitted me when they saw I was already at 4-5 cm. I got excited thinking this wouldn’t take too long since I was already halfway there! I changed into a nightgown and they put in an IV port. Nate had to walk around and distract himself from the needle; he told me later this was the only point during the birth where he almost passed out :) I got in a wheelchair and they took us to a labor and delivery room. I had requested nurses who specialized in natural birth, and my nurse showed me some positions to try. I got on all fours in the bed for awhile, then sat on a birthing ball. She gave me some chicken broth to drink, but I panicked during an especially strong contraction and hopped up from the ball, which made me immediately throw up. I was really scared that I would throw up all through labor, so I focused on my breathing and relaxing as much as possible through each contraction. I walked around the room for awhile and would stop and lean over the counter for each contraction, trying to surrender to the pain and work with it instead of tensing up and resisting what my body was trying to do. Nate was super quiet up to this point and I finally asked him to please talk me through the breathing/relaxing process and encourage me. He was so supportive, just hadn’t known at first if I wanted to be coached or left alone to work :) He helped me get in the tub which helped for a little while but also slowed down labor, so soon I was back to walking laps around the room again. I walked countless circles around that room, which probably amounted to a few miles by the time it was all over! I lost track of time but noticed that the sun had come up and my nurses had changed shifts. The new nurse was optimistic that we would have a baby by lunch time, but when she checked me after 3 hours of active labor I was only at a 6. Three hours later I was barely a 7. There would be lots of really intense contractions, then they would stop almost completely and I’d fall asleep.
Mom had managed to change her flight in the middle of the night without paying any extra; our friend Eric picked her up at the airport and she got to the hospital around noon. I was lying in bed exhausted, hurting and discouraged because I’d been laboring hard since 2:30 am and was still only a 6-7. Mom immediately started comforting me and encouraging me along with Nate, and soon he took a 15-minute power nap since he’d been up all night. Mom read Scripture to me, prayed over me and encouraged me through each contraction. At this point I hadn’t eaten anything since some soup and bread around 3:30 pm the day before, and all I could have was sips of juice and water. I sucked on a few fruit snacks and somehow had enough energy to keep walking endless laps around the room. I remember being really confused because the contractions were awful, but I could still smile and joke between them. I told my doctor a story about a friend who pushed so hard that her baby shot out all at once and the nurses barely caught him by one leg. When she left the contractions got much worse than they had ever been. I stayed on my feet and tried to sink down into each one; I would grab onto Nate and beg God to help me and Nate would breathe with me and remind me to relax through each contraction.
The nurse eventually checked me again (being checked was the worst because I’d be lying in bed helpless and she would check me with a contraction which was almost unbearable). She said I was a 9 but with a cervical lip – she tried to move it out of the way which was torturous but then said I still wasn’t ready to push quite yet. She recommended that I take Pitocin to make the contractions more effective, but I was adamant about no drugs and said I wanted to try for another half hour. She left and I think at that point I fell asleep – the contractions seemed to stall and I was so worn out and felt like this baby was never coming. The nurse came back half an hour later and was shocked that I’d been napping at a 9! She got the doctor, who strongly advised me to take Pitocin since the baby had been in the birth canal all day and my body wasn’t effectively getting her out. I finally agreed and they started me on a level 2, the lowest possible dose. I continued my laps around the room, pushing the IV cart and leaning on it for support with each contraction. 45 minutes later nothing was happening, so they increased the dose to 4. The contractions really started to get more intense then, but still weren’t as bad as the ones I’d had before the Pitocin, which confused me. I kept asking the nurse what an urge to push would feel like, but she just said I would know when I had to push. As soon as she left the room I felt that urge, just once, and my mom raced out to get the nurse. I sat on the bed ready to be checked again, and suddenly felt intense pressure down there. I knew the baby’s head was right at the opening! Nate had gone to get something to drink and was shocked when he came back and I was ready to push.
The room suddenly filled with people; a bright light came down from the ceiling and my doctor appeared at the foot of the bed asking me what position I’d like to push in; she recommended lying on my side. Nate and Mom each held one leg and I started pushing for all I was worth. Everyone was so encouraging with every push, but soon I got incredibly tired of hearing that her head was coming out and going back in every time! Pushing was by far the worst part of labor for me; even though I only had to push for about an hour I was completely drained and just prayed that God’s strength would take over because I had none left. The contractions were much more sporadic at this point, but I would try to push 4-5 times with each one. It was the most intense thing I’ve ever done – almost 3 weeks later I still have a burst blood vessel in one eye!
Finally I gave the hardest push yet and Nate, Mom and the doctor said she was coming out! As she crowned I had the worst “ring of fire” burning sensation and it was all I could do to listen when my doctor said to push slowly to get the rest of her out. It literally felt like I was ripping in half, but a split second later I heard a hearty wail and our wet, wriggling daughter was placed on my stomach for the first time. I’d been prepared for a grey, wrinkled alien-like baby but she was red and alert and absolutely perfect. I couldn’t get a good look at her right away because I had to be stitched up and cleaned and massaged, but Nate stayed right with her and raved about how beautiful she was. She was so awake and ready to meet us; she stared at Nate and held his finger and latched on the minute she was placed on my chest to nurse. She knew exactly what to do! We had been debating on what to name her from the day we found out we were having a girl, but when we met her we knew her name was Elissa Rose – Elissa means “promised of God” and that is exactly what she was, coming so soon after we had lost our first baby, Hope, which means “a confident expectation of good.” Rose is after my sister Christene, who was nicknamed Rose when she was little. Nate and I were both exhausted and running on no sleep and very little food, but we couldn’t stop staring at our sweet Elissa and marveling at how beautiful she was.
Elissa was born at 6:30 pm on Monday, September 8, weighed 7 lbs 1 oz, was 19 ¾ inches long and had an Apgar score of 9. We spent a couple days in the hospital where I worked with lactation consultants and nurses to learn all about caring for a newborn. She passed all her tests with flying colors and I healed remarkably well with no side effects, even though we learned after she was born that she had been “sunny side up” the whole labor and delivery, which no one knew till she came out! I did some research and learned that face-up babies often result in a much longer, often stalled labor and Pitocin is usually needed to stimulate stronger contractions. The c-section rate is much higher, and severe tearing during delivery is normal. I’m so thankful that I was able to have as much of a natural birth as I did, even with this complication. After Elissa was born my first thought was “I never want to do that again,” but since she was a first baby and sunny-side up I have good reason to hope that subsequent births will be easier :) I won’t lie and say that an epidural wasn’t far from my mind the whole labor, knowing that I could just say the word and the pain would go away – but I am so glad that I didn’t give in! Nate and I had rehearsed what to do in the event that I begged for an epidural (he was supposed to pep talk me about how I was in the worst of it and it would all be over soon), but thankfully neither of us even mentioned it the whole 18 ½ hours of active labor.
In the end I can’t take any credit for the whole labor and delivery experience; my own strength was maxed out long before Elissa made her appearance and I know without a doubt that God carried me through the worst of it. We had Jared’s worship playlist on repeat for most of the labor, which gave me so much peace. Mom and Nate read Scripture to me, prayed for me and encouraged me when I felt like I couldn’t go on. They gave me invaluable physical, emotional and spiritual support; I know I never could have made it on my own. Our families and friends were praying for me and checking in for updates the entire time. My nurse, who was on shift for most of that day’s labor, was so kind and agreed with us many times in prayer. After the delivery she gave me a big hug and kiss and asked where we went to church; God was so kind to give me a fellow believer as support! My doctor stayed late to personally deliver me and was so consistent to check in all day and cheer for me; I’d had to switch doctors later in pregnancy and she was definitely an answer to prayer.
Elissa is now almost 3 weeks old; Mom left on Friday the 26th and the transition has been harder than I thought, but thankfully we’ve gotten the hang of breastfeeding, she is gaining weight well and learning to sleep at night – she’ll usually give me 6-7 hours of good sleep which is amazing! Nate is working night shift for turnaround and only gets to see me and Elissa for a couple hours each day, but she adores her daddy and loves to look deep in his eyes while he talks to her – she also saves her special poop explosions for when he’s changing her diaper :) We are head over heels for our princess and so thankful to God for this amazing gift of a daughter!