Birth of Stella NovaI became pregnant with our first baby at twenty-nine, about two-and-a-half years after my husband, Tommy and I were married. Twenty-nine is a far cry from when my teenage self would have thought I would have a baby. At thirteen, it was easy to think I would be married and have my first child by the time I was twenty-two and thinking about a second by twenty-four! It seemed like a good age--not too old, not too young; after all, my mother was twenty when she and my dad had me. But what do we really know as adolescents about babies?—about pregnancy, giving birth, post-partum care, and then raising them? In my young mind, when you became pregnant you got this beautiful big belly that you could adorn with a wrap-around bow, like the gift that it is, and then after nine months you “have the baby”, bring him or her home, then dress them in cute outfits and love on them--right? Sure, I had seen some of my aunts after delivering look a little tired, maybe with blood-shot eyes, and had heard one had to deliver via surgery, but never did I come close to understanding what bringing life to this world would be like until it was my turn.
Through the years that followed, I at least gleaned a little better understanding about what bringing babies into this world is really like, thanks to some very candid friends who blazed the trail before us. Tommy and I were given unforgiving descriptions of things from “poo-cidents” (incidents where baby poop can explode out of the diaper and smatter any number of places—on you, the bed or even fly out and speckle into your shoes hanging on a shoe rack by your changing table-true story!), to parents climbing into their baby’s crib as a last resort to getting them to fall asleep, to not leaving the house for weeks after baby was born so, “eat out as much as possible now!”, to “you better start rubbing oil and stretching ‘down there’ because tears can be really brutal!”. As painfully descriptive as it was sometimes, I am so thankful for these insights we received from our friends and family as we prepared to make the same journey. It gave us a more realistic expectation and sense of preparedness than if we would have gone in simply thinking “it’ll just happen.” Now, that may be over-simplifying it a bit, but I really wonder how many of us get pregnant without really having a sense of the ins and outs of it—quite literally! I would listen to the stories and insights told to us as if the person telling us was our modern-day “bard” or wise ancestor that everyone would have gathered around as they sought entertainment or wisdom from the stories they would tell.
When I was in college, I read the book The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, and I loved it. I loved how the women in the families from Biblical times were so close and shared their knowledge amongst one another, passing it down from generation to generation. Each woman, when it was her turn, would give birth to their babies in the red tent. One woman, in particular, might be the more skilled midwife, having learned the trade from the woman relative before her, who learned before her, and so forth. I thought it was amazing and beautiful how they could care for one another in that way. Then, the women would tend to the new mother as she recovered and learned how to care for her baby along with the wisdom of the others. This made me want a “red tent delivery”--I wanted to feel that comfort of being surrounded by a familiar place with just the ones you are close to. I found my red tent with modern midwifery, thanks to a friend, Emily, who recommended it after her experience with one, and was blessed to be moving to Colorado, where they allow midwives to deliver in the homes of their patient-mothers. I truly believe all mothers-to-be should have the choice to deliver in their home, especially if it is not an “at-risk” pregnancy. Once Tommy and I discovered we would be moving to Colorado, we flew there from Florida to house-hunt and midwife-hunt! At that point, we had just learned we were a little over a month pregnant!
My husband setting up the labor pool in our room.
4:06 a.m. Saturday, September 5th, 2015: my first logged contraction in my Contraction Tracker App. I remember waking up to the tight pulling of my belly and anxiously awakening Tommy to record the time…it was happening! The next one came at 4:15, then 4:24 and 4:36…I remember thinking, “Okay, what is the rule before we call Dotti? 5:1:1—contractions are five minutes apart, lasting about one full minute, for more than one hour. They weren’t five minutes apart yet and although they were consistently coming from the moment of the first, they were very sporadic-some eight minutes apart others over thirty minutes apart all day and into Sunday. Just when we thought they were getting closer, they would spread out again. By Sunday night around 6:38, I was having several back-to-back-- about ten minutes apart…until another thirty minute gap left us thinking we may be having her on Monday, Labor Day, rather than that night. Several friends and family had made a guess for Labor Day, and since I was born on Independence Day and my sister on Memorial Day, I did think it would fun it we kept the “tradition” going. It was finally early in the morning on Monday, probably around 1:30, that we called Dotti. The contractions seemed to be coming along more frequently and closer to the 5:1:1 rule and at that point, I had also lost my mucous plug. Dotti came to our home and did my first exam at 2:30 a.m. She announced I was about 4cm dilated and one-hundred percent effaced. It couldn’t be much longer, I thought, but about an hour later, my contractions spaced out again , only coming in about six minute intervals. Dotti told us she was going to go back to her home, which was conveniently down the road from us, that I should try to rest as much as possible and notify her again when the contractions got closer together. At that point, I felt like my body was playing tricks on me! The contractions had finally been coming closer together at the right intervals after almost two days of having them, I called for Dotti and then they spaced out again. All the while, Tommy had been diligently tracking my every contraction and helped keep me calm. Neither one of us had been able to sleep that good once my contractions started Saturday morning, and every time another one came, we anxiously logged it in anticipation that the next few might be the ones that came closer and closer together.
Around 8:00 a.m. they finally did. When Tommy called Dotti to let her know it may be time again, she informed us that she had been called to another labor but that she would send her back-up and return to us as soon as she could. By 8:30 a.m. Ramona arrived, and even though it wasn’t Dotti, to me, she was like another one of the skilled women of the red tent. Preceding Ramona was intense back labor that came at me like a sharp knife being dug into my lower back with every contraction. They were so strong that I couldn’t keep down a protein shake or even a dry piece of toast. When Ramona arrived, I was kneeling on our bedroom floor leaning against our bed while Tommy squeezed my lower back for counter pressure against the back labor. After the contraction, Ramona did another exam on me and found I was still only around 4 cm dilated and she couldn’t clearly feel the suture lines of Stella’s head. It almost felt disheartening; that I had been having contractions for over two days and still seemed to show little progress. Although my contractions did begin to get closer together again and lasted about a minute, I felt like I had been deceived by that before, and felt like my contractions were just going to continue with no change. Around 9:05 a.m. the back labor was so strong that I voided everything I had (which wasn’t much) in my stomach. I lowered myself into the labor pool Tommy had set up in our room; the warm water was a relief to my tensed body, but after forty minutes I slowly lifted my heavy body out and voided once more. Shortly after, Dotti and Dr. Partridge, my chiropractor, were joining me in my room.
Dr. Partridge did some adjustments on me to try and aid my body into positioning itself for labor. Again I voided, and I remember beginning to feel weak—I felt completely empty at this point, aside from my big belly in front of me with the one thing I wanted to come out. My midwives made me “laborade, or labor-aid”—I love that name—a lemon juice concoction with honey, baking soda, emergen-C, water, and salt. This helped to give my body a little perk of energy that had increasingly been waning. It was the only thing I could keep down after the back labor started. It was going on 12:00 in the afternoon and although I wanted to do anything I could to speed the labor, I didn’t have much energy to muster to do more than slowly trekking up and down our stairs from the bedroom to the dining room. Every three to six minutes I would feel another contraction coming on and I knew the shooting back pain was coming with it. I would signal to Tommy, sometimes with, “it’s starting” other times just with a nod and a moan. He so faithfully came to me contraction after contraction to offer his help in one of the only ways he could, by applying counter-pressure on my lower back, but it is a big part of what got me through the long labor. Had I not had that every single time, I know I would not have lasted as long as I did. Close to 1:00 I climbed into our bed on my left side to try and rest my body in whatever way I could, methodically curling up with each contraction and wincing with the pain that seemed to try and take whatever strength I had left.
Once 2:00 rolled around I think Dotti began to realize I might not be able to continue on at the rate my body was going, or wasn’t going. She expressed to Tommy and myself that if something drastic didn’t happen soon, I may want to start considering our options: getting back in the labor pool, letting her induce me, trying an incline/inversion to get Estelle more in position, or transporting to the nearest hospital for an IV of fluids to help rehydrate me as a minimum first step with the option to receive Fentanyl to take the edge off the pain and give my muscles a chance to relax. Even though I was feeling exhausted, I said I wanted to get back in the labor pool first and then try the inversion. When I got into the pool that time, I remember thinking through all the possibilities of what could happen and wondering if either I could stay strong enough to follow through with having a natural birth, or if I would even have that option if I continued to not dilate. Sometime between the labor pool and Dr. Partridge coming again, I had a break down. I began sobbing; I was having a really hard time not being mad at God—I was trying to have a home birth, trying to have her natural, but yet wasn’t progressing, couldn’t eat, hardly got any sleep the past two-and-a-half days, had back labor to top it off—why did He seem to be making it harder than it already was? Deep down, I knew He wasn’t really to blame, but in that moment I had a hard time believing it. I felt reassured by Tommy and Dotti and a lingering strength within me.
For two hours, from around 4:00 p.m. until around 6:00 p.m. we tried inversion. Ramona would make sure I had enough laborade while Tommy and Dotti assisted me with the inversion at our couch in the living room. Each time I felt a contraction was coming, I was to signal Dotti and Tommy who would then help lower my forearms down to the floor while I sat on my knees on the couch. My head touching the floor, I had to stay bent down until the contraction was over, then signal Tommy and Dotti to lift me back up until the next one came. Surprisingly, although there was certainly a level of discomfort to this, it was almost a relief to have my body strained in a different way. The idea with the inversion was to get Estelle to move into a little better position on my pelvis to help instigate a smoother delivery. After the two hours were over and Dotti checked Estelle’s heartbeat, it did seem she had transitioned more into place. From 7:20 p.m until Dr. Partridge arrived at 8:05, we tried the next method. For myself, I will refer to this next method as “N.S.” and I couldn’t believe how effective it was…it was a little too effective. After a ‘round’ of N.S. my contractions came much stronger and closer together. With how exhausted I already was and still feeling the back labor, after a few rounds I just could not take any more of it. This was really when I started to feel at the end of my strength. Exhausted, I wanted Dr. Partridge’s adjustment to be just what I needed but at the same time, I was uneasy about active-labor hitting me while I felt completely drained.
That is when Tommy and I seriously discussed transferring me to Memorial North Hospital, thankfully just a few minutes from our house, to allow me to get rehydrated and make sure I could carry on with the labor safely since I still wasn’t showing any real progression. It was 10:30 p.m. when Dotti followed Tommy and me to Triage, where I was shown into a room with Julie, who got me checked in; think of worst waiting room experience ever! I was contracting, writhing and shivering from pain and crying while we had to answer questions about our personal information. Finally, after what seemed like hours, I was checked into a room at 11:00 and Dr. Puretz gave the “okay” to hook me up to an IV of fluids and Fentanyl. I was told to enjoy that first hit of Fentanyl as it would feel the best and any subsequent doses would have a milder effect each time. As soon as the drip started, I could feel relief, like someone had come and wrapped a warm blanket around me. My body was finally able to relax and I managed a little nap while lying on my side with the “peanut” between my legs. My nurse was Yvonne, or “Ya-Ya”, middle-aged with grey, short hair. She had been in the profession for over thirty years and definitely seemed confident about what she was doing, and also confident about any intervention that could be given to me. I was thankful for her but also thankful that Tommy and Dotti were there to advocate for me during my weakest moment. They knew how badly I wanted a natural birth if possible and were constantly encouraging me that I could do it. My mind also drifted to the times my mom told me about when she was giving birth to my sister and me, and how my dad told her, “If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the baby.”
Sometime between starting the IV at 11:05 p.m. and around 2:00 a.m., I was in a kind of delirious fog. I would close my eyes and wince through the contractions while trying to get some rest, rotating from my left to right side with the peanut ball until I finally asked to ditch it because it was making the pain worse. During one of the first doses of Fentanyl though, while my body was able to relax, I felt a warm liquid escape from my body. I remember telling Yvonne I was sorry because I thought I had just wet the bed. “No, you didn’t wet the bed, you’re water broke!” exclaimed Dotti with excitement. This was an uplifting piece of news—both because I hadn’t just peed myself and because at last there seemed some progress! Just when I thought this might move things along, it wasn’t. As noted by Dotti, at 3:29 a.m. I began sobbing, “Why does everything have to be hard?” followed by another dose of Fentanyl; but Yvonne and Dotti were right, it wasn’t doing much for me at this point except maybe a little placebo effect. What happened next was a blessing and a curse in the moment. Around 4:25 a.m. I felt pressure to start pushing! I was still lying in the bed and as much as I wanted to bring about the labor, I also couldn’t bring myself to push very hard because it made the pain so much worse. Some people have told me they were relieved to push; I did not have this feeling! I began to start thinking about getting an epidural; I thought I wasn’t going to be able to finish…but deep down I knew I would. Whenever I would express hesitation and anxiety to Tommy, he would reassure me, “You got this. You are almost there. You’re doing great” and was there for every contraction to help with the counter pressure.
At 5:20 a.m., knowing I was having trouble moving the labor along in the bed, Dotti asked me if I wanted to use the birthing stool. She was confident that using it would work with gravity to help encourage Stella to come out. I had never actually seen a birthing stool but I welcomed it because I knew just lying on the bed was not moving things along any faster. As soon as I sat on the stool I could feel the pressure intensify where I had the sensation to push. A contraction would hit and Dotti and Yvonne would tell me to push. I still tried to hold back from the pain… and that’s when I felt a sharp burning as Dotti used her hands to stretch me. I screamed for the first time and I know I gave Dotti a look of fury. “Don’t get mad at me, get mad at the pain and puuuuuush!” she retorted. I needed this. I needed Dotti to get forceful with me otherwise I believe I wouldn’t have pushed hard enough to progress. So with each burning pull from Dotti, I mustered up strength to push and I could feel this was it. “That’s the way!” Dotti would assure me. A few pushes later, Dotti and Yvonne shrieked with excitement, exclaiming they could see hair—a lot of hair! What a relief! I could feel how close we were to meeting our baby girl and that encouraged me. But then I was instructed I needed to return to the bed, that I would need to finish the delivery there for when the doctor arrived. When it came to pushing again in the bed I struggled again to really push with the strength I needed.
I vividly recall Dotti coming up really close to me while I was lying in the hospital bed, with this penetrating look and direct tone: “If you don’t get this baby out they are going to want to move it along another way. Do you want a C-section?” When she said that, I knew I needed to give whatever I had left in me to deliver Estelle. When the next several contractions came, I pushed with everything I had, through sweat and tears, and when her head began to come through, in what is known as “the ring of fire”, it took the last of what I had to push through the most wrenching burning sensation I have ever felt. “Just one more big push, come on, that’s all!” I remember hearing them say. So one more big push it was as I put all of myself into that last push and with it the beautiful release of our baby. Tired and expended, the picture Tommy captured of them laying Stella on my chest for the first time says it all. Stella and I both have this look of, “that was so rough and exhausting, and I’m glad it’s over and that we are together now.”
What began on September 5th around 4 a.m. was finished September 8th, 2015 at 5:53 a.m. My contractions were really never less than four to six minutes apart, except for the time I did N.S. I did get a second degree tear, but I neither felt the tear nor the stitches, and I was told the cord broke, which called for the doctor to do a manual removal of my placenta—not fun, but we got through it.
Estelle Nova Getz was born, weighing eight pounds seven ounces, 21 & ¼ inches long and healthy. We chose the name Estelle Nova or “Stella Nova” because it sounded like super nova, and we figured she would be our “new bright star”; coincidentally, I discovered recently that the Spanish phrase for to give birth is dar a luz, which translates literally as “to give light to”. So it seems I did birth a little star. Tommy and I were in love. It was a beautiful exhaustion and after she was born it felt like we were in a different dimension, where time was more abstract and our senses and focus were all tuned into this little vulnerable creature. I’ve never felt like I’ve had something more fragile in my possession. I think Tommy and I both feel like Stella stripped us to our core and made us bring out stronger in some ways yet gentler versions of ourselves. I think the cliché, “a baby changes everything” is true; there are definitely sacrifices to be made, you become less selfish, it takes twice as long to do a lot of things but you somehow do twice as much (the first month you stay home but then you get going again), and you see the world through new eyes. You get to be excited about things that excited you as a child, as you introduce them to your baby, and you grow a stronger bond with your spouse-your helpmate- as you work and play together, bringing up this little culmination of your selves—this little being that has changed everything.