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One Last Hurrah: The Birth of Andrew Noble

It would seem this is our last birth story, which is sad for me because in my ten+ years of blogging, my kids’ birth stories have been my very favorite to write.

img_8912I had no reason to believe this baby would come early or quick; I am a proud member of both the Marathon Birthers’ Club and the Post-Dates Club. The last 5 weeks of my pregnancy were physically very challenging with a diagnosis of Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD), which for me included pain while walking, climbing stairs, and getting in/out of our bed or van. As we neared my guess date, I was full of hope; going post-dates was a real challenge mentally and emotionally.

On Palm Sunday, baby turned from anterior (optimal position for birth) to posterior, the position Grace had been leading up to her birth, in which I labored on and off for four days. I became very concerned and worked hard to help my baby turn with Spinning Babies techniques and chiropractor visits.

 

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Easter Saturday brunch with the Thomases

My actual due date was Maundy Thursday, March 29, and I visualized having my baby on Easter, but Holy Week found me still pregnant though happy to participate in worship services with my family and church community. Monday morning dawned and Jon decided to begin paternity leave. Jack and Grace were on Spring Break from preschool that week, so we spent it all together, enjoying quality time as a five-family. I began a daily Instagram series, #40weeksXdayspregnant, documenting just how pregnant I still was. It was a frustrating, tiring week. The mental challenges would continue.

 

 

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Last pic with just my three kids!

In the early hours of Thursday, April 5, I began having regular painless contractions. I had a biophysical ultrasound scheduled that morning—Minnesota Birth Center protocol once I reached 41 weeks—and was convinced this was the beginning of labor. Tommy also had a fever and rash on his belly, so we called my parents who packed up all 3 kids and took them to the pediatrician for his strep test (of course, it was negative). 

At the ultrasound, we learned my fluid levels were perfect, baby was totally content and had turned back to an anterior position (hooray!), I was 2cm dilated, and everyone we saw said I was “on my way.” I stopped by the front desk and asked if I needed to schedule a follow-up appointment. The clinic coordinator smiled at me knowingly and asked, “Do you think you’ll still be pregnant in three days?” We left without scheduling anything!

Jon and I headed home and spent the day trying to induce labor. I pumped, we walked (I limped) around the lake where strangers gaped at my belly, I made spicy Indian food for a late dinner and even froze some for later! I passed my mucus plug (my second—my body had passed one earlier in the week and then MADE ANOTHER because I was STILL PREGNANT). We got ready for bed and contractions had quieted, so I sat on the edge of the bed with my hands on my belly and talked to my baby, telling him how safe and loved he was, how ready I was to meet him, but how I trusted him to come at the right time.

I woke early the next morning, Friday, April 6, with insomnia around 4:00AM and was awake until 6:30AM when contractions began that were instantly painful. I cried tears of sheer, sweet relief: It was finally my birthing day. I was not, in fact, going to be pregnant forever! I could let go of the guilt that I’d been wrong about having the baby the day before, and I could stop worrying that we sent the kids to my parents’ too soon. I timed contractions for an hour and found they were 5 minutes apart as long as I lay still in bed, but they spaced out whenever I moved or got up to use the bathroom. I was excited to greet Jon with something cute like, “Let’s have a baby today!” I texted our doula, my best friends, and my mom to update them. Jon woke just before 8, in the middle of a particularly painful contraction, so instead of greeting him sweetly, I just kind of growled: “Hey, I’m having this baby.” His eyes widened and he woke up pretty fast!

We called the midwife around 8:00AM to give lots of lead time. Toni was on call, and though I’d only met her once, I’d felt instantly comfortable and at peace with her. Knowing she would guide us through this birth made me feel secure and confident—I trusted I had a true ally in this process. She said she’d head in to the birth center immediately, and I felt a little alarmed that it was too soon. Everyone seemed so sure this birth would progress quickly—everyone but me.

I got into the tub since I knew the water would help me cope with the contractions, which were coming every 5-8 minutes, lasting 1 minute. It didn’t feel warm enough, so Jon began boiling pots and kettles of water to bring up the temperature. This was the first of many, many examples of how he was a true partner to me in this birth.

img_9223Our doula, Mary, arrived just after 9:00AM and talked me through many waves until the water wasn’t helping anymore. Mary suggested some rest, so we all went upstairs so I could lay down. She rubbed my legs and feet, comforting and encouraging me. Jon put on my birth playlist full of familiar worship music, held my hand, and timed every contraction. and I practiced relaxing all my muscles through every wave. When that grew difficult, I sat up with my legs in a butterfly position. Mary made sure I tried positions that kept my pelvis open. By 11:15AM, contractions were still not in a consistent pattern—there were large breaks between waves. I appreciated the rest, but something seemed off; this was not the way I expected things to progress. I wasn’t sure if my expectations just needed adjusting or if everyone else sensed something was off—not wrong, but just not the normal progression of labor. I tried to express this concern verbally, but in my labor fog, I wasn’t communicating very clearly.

img_9224We decided to go downstairs and I willingly ate some spaghetti. In previous births, my support people have practically had to force-feed me, so I joked, “I should get an award for eating this!” Contractions spaced out even further; Mary asked if I thought I could sleep between them, so Jon and I went upstairs to nap. At 12:00PM, Jon let Mary know contractions were getting longer, closer together, and more intense. I was vocalizing more, and we planned to go back downstairs for some rebozo sifting. As I got into a hands-and-knees position, I had a big emotional release during a wave. This shift signaled to Jon that it was time to relocate to the birth center. It felt too soon to me, but I trusted Jon. As we walked out the back door, Mary remarked, “You’ll come back home with your baby.” I felt that truth sink down into me, and cried even more. I felt so ready to meet our baby.

We got to the birth center at 1:10PM, about 2 minutes after a baby was born in the next room! Toni came to greet us and asked me if I felt pushy, and I felt a drop in my stomach—I wasn’t anywhere near that point yet. I got into the tub and relaxed immediately. The waves spaced out again, so I got out just before 2:00PM.

Toni returned soon after and I asked to be checked for dilation. She agreed, but after completing the exam, all she said was, “Let’s focus on getting baby to descend.” I felt a bit discouraged but I did not press her for the number. Instead, and more unhelpfully, I spent way too much mental energy ruminating on it, guessing how dilated I could be, calculating how much longer I might be there, wondering if things would devolve and I would have to get transferred. I was really not in a good place mentally, but I didn’t let on to Jon or Mary right away.

We did some abdominal lift-and-tucks, rebozo sifting, and a series of side-lying releases to open up my pelvis even more. Contractions were still every 6-8 minutes. Feeling a little hopeless, I finally asked through tears if they thought my baby would even come today, or whether I might get transferred. Sweet Mary, full of gentle wisdom, said, “There are a lot of hours left in the day.” At 3:15PM, she suggested Jon and I spend some time just the two of us to get some oxytocin flowing and help my contractions become more productive. She stepped out and Jon and I made out for a while ;)—and the oxytocin worked! Contractions got closer together and I had a brief moment of feeling like pushing. Mary called Toni back in and she checked me again at 4:30PM. This time, she said, “Oh your baby has come down nicely. Your baby is going to come. Why don’t you do some stairs to help him come down more?”

I’ll be honest, the last thing I wanted to do was walk the stairs. I was tired; I wanted to skip this part and get right to the pushing. I just wanted to meet my baby. I wanted the payoff without the work, which isn’t how birth works! Reluctantly, I agreed to lunges on the stairs. I opened the birth room door and bumped into Heide, another midwife I’d seen several times in my final weeks. She looked surprised and asked, “Where’s your baby?!” I smiled ruefully, “I’m working on it; want to pull him out?!” I dragged myself to the stairs and began saying, “Come down, baby, come down” at the peak of each contraction. It was cold on the stairs, I stared out the window at the cars and buses and all the snow. We worked on the stairs for 30 minutes until I asked to go back into the room. I worked on the birth ball for a little while until someone suggested the shower. I didn’t realize how cold I’d become until I got under the hot water. Once I got in the shower, I warmed up, felt less tense and more relaxed, which in turn inspired more intense contractions. Jon stayed by my side in the darkened bathroom, his face peeking around the shower curtain, coaching me through each new wave. I declared proudly after one particularly challenging one: “I didn’t fight that one! I just let it happen!” I could feel Jon was proud of me, too.

Toni came to visit me while I was in the shower. She mentioned that we could check me again and even break my water. “I think the bag of waters has a purpose,” she said, “but I know this has been mentally challenging, and breaking your water would ensure this happens today.” In my exhausted state, I was game for it, of course, but Jon reminded me that our goal has always been fewer interventions. He suggested warming up the tub and trying that before getting checked again, and I thought that was a GREAT idea. They warmed up the tub, and as I walked out of the shower, I got one of those world-ending contractions right on the heels of another and I said aloud, “I recognize these from Tom’s birth.” What I really meant was, “HOLY CRAP THAT HURT A TON AND I REMEMBER THAT THESE ARE THE KIND THAT HAPPEN RIGHT BEFORE THE BABY IS BORN.”

This felt like familiar territory now; I remembered these sensations from Tommy’s birth, and I knew what to expect for this next phase. I got in the tub around 5:45 and just a few minutes later I told Jon and Mary I was feeling so much pressure. I put my hand on my belly, just over my belly button, and felt a leg move under my fingers. Bewildered, I told Mary and Jon, but even then, it didn’t compute that this meant the baby was posterior. Had I been able to put two and two together, I would’ve understood why things had been so spaced out and erratic all day. With the next contraction, I pushed at the peak, felt a familiar pop, and announced, “There goes my water. Jon, text Mom.” “I already did,” he responded.

img_9226Toni came back and didn’t leave again. Jon got in the tub on the corner, where he sat during Tommy’s birth. I turned to face him and wrapped my arms around his waist, assuming the position I’d had for Tommy’s birth; he rubbed my shoulders and reminded me how strong I was, and to surrender to the waves. Toni checked one last time to make sure I was fully dilated; my body was pushing on its own now.

These final 25 minutes I can recall with picture-perfect clarity because Mary filmed it all for us at our request. We spent my entire pregnancy discussing birth with our kids, watching water birth videos with them, and I wanted to be able to show our kids and remember it more clearly myself. Reading birth stories and watching birth videos—watching other women birth their babies—was a huge part of my birth “reeducation,” helping me to see birth as a normal physiologic process rather than an over-dramatized Hollywood production. I want that for my kids, too, and while we considered having them there in person, I’m grateful to have the video that we can watch together. My kids know what birth looks like and sounds like and that’s a gift I am glad to be able to give them.

Back to the birth (the home stretch!): I followed my body’s instincts and ended up reclined in the corner of the tub, supporting myself with my arms—my muscles and shoulders hurt the next day! Jon got in the water to catch our baby, with Toni close by and nurse Rachel supplying ice-cold washcloths for my head. I pushed half-heartedly at first. Unlike at Tom’s birth, I knew exactly what sensations the coming minutes held for me, and felt nervous. It’s comical to me now: I kept saying, “I just want it to be over, I want to see him now” and yet I would stop pushing and think “Ehhh, I’ll just wait for the next one; I want a little break!” Any time I said “This hurts!” or “It’s so intense!,” my team gave me gentle reminders: “Strong and steady,” You are this strong,” “Say a little prayer—he’s almost here.”

My mom arrived (with six minutes to spare—way to take the carpool lane, Mom!) and I was the only one who heard the doorbell at first. I was in my labor fog and had trouble verbalizing what I’d heard, but had no trouble going totally inward when my waves came.

The last few waves were so intense and overwhelming, I started to feel panicky. Toni encouraged me, “Stay in control, mama,” and I used my breath to focus on the work, regaining control and birthing the top half of his head. Toni observed, “He’s actually coming out OP, turning to ROT,” and then, “His chin’s just stuck; shoulders are tight.” I’ve seen enough episodes of Call the Midwife to have a healthy concern about shoulder dystocia, which this was not, but I did pay attention when I heard the word “shoulders.” Toni asked me to lift up my butt and give another strong push. “Dig deep,” Mary coached, and I did. I birthed his body in three small bursts as Toni guided him into Jon’s and my hands at 6:29PM.

From what I’ve noticed from my four births, the room and those in it mirror the tone and mood of the laboring mama. When Tommy was born, I was nervous, emotional, and weepy, and the space felt equally quiet, weighty, and sacred. This time was different. I was ecstatic!

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“My baby is here!” I exclaimed as I brought him to my chest. “Your baby is huge!” Toni responded, and we all laughed in celebration. It was over and I was jubilant; I kept saying, “I did it! YES!” Jon greeted our son by name, “Hi, Andrew!” I rubbed my face against his, kissed him, and told him how long we’d waited for him, how glad I was that he was here. The whole room celebrated Andrew’s arrival and my hard work. Jon cheered, “You crushed it! New record; 12 hours!”

 

 

 

 

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As my labor fog began to clear, I asked, “Okay, Toni, what were those numbers when you checked me?!” “A 5 and a 5,” she replied, “but I read your birth plan—I knew not to tell you the numbers.” Apparently, I’d written that I could ask to be checked but didn’t want to know the number—I’d completely forgotten! Here’s to a midwife who supports your birth wishes even when you don’t remember them!

I birthed the placenta without trouble in the tub and was delighted that Toni took the time to show and explain it to my mom. This was Mom’s first vaginal birth experience; I was proud to invite her into a space in which I felt strong and powerful and to share with her what I’ve learned about the birth process I love so much.

 

 

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Jon cut Andrew’s cord after it stopped pulsing and took Andrew for their first skin-to-skin. I climbed out of the tub and headed to the bed. Toni examined me; while I had a mild tear of my previous scar tissue, it didn’t need to be repaired—my first birth with no stitches! Jon gave Andrew back to me and we allowed him to successfully navigate the breast crawl. He latched right away—and is still going strong, three weeks in!

 

 

 

 

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I laid in bed and watched the room bustling with women at work. I was struck by the role each of them played and their beautiful harmony working alongside each other. I was overcome with a profound gratitude for everyone’s role in my labor and birth. I thanked everyone and told them I couldn’t have done it without them, and everyone said a version of the same thing: “Yes, you could have, but I was glad to be here!”

 

Nurse Kate refilled the tub for a healing herbal bath, Mary heated up the wild rice soup we’d brought, and nurse Rachel brought us the homemade bread with butter and local honey that the Minnesota Birth Center is known for. I told everyone, “This is the best meal of my life!”

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While I ate, Toni gave Andrew his newborn exam. She said, “Let’s take bets how big he is!” Trying to be conservative, I said 9 pounds. Toni guessed 9 pounds 10 ounces (and I thought “no way!”). He weighed in at 9 pounds, 7.5 ounces—just 2.5 ounces off Toni’s guess.

We FaceTimed with our kids and introduced them to their brother. We had not shared with them his name, wanting to make it a surprise (and not wanting to saddle them with the responsibility of keeping it quiet from family and friends). My biggest wish was to be able to tell them ourselves, and it brought me such joy to see them smile and try out his name for the first time. Even Tommy sounded out “Andwew Noboh Keller.”

 

Jon and I decided Andrew’s name the day we learned he was a boy. Andrew had been on our short list, and Noble was Jon’s grandfather’s middle name, a family name we had not yet used. After Googling it, we discovered Andrew meant “manly” or “masculine,” which honestly rang a little hollow for me; I questioned bestowing that name on a child given this time in our culture and the climate of this year in particular. But the more we discussed it, the more fitting the names together became, as they encapsulate our hopes for him: We want Andrew to redefine what it means to be manly in this culture of toxic masculinity. What matters to us is that our child becomes a person of noble character.

 

img_9196We’ve been joyfully introducing Andrew to family, friends, and our church community for 3 weeks now, and I’m struck by how our kids are surrounded by people of noble character. We are grateful for the community our kids are growing up within, and for the privilege of raising four beautiful kids.

On that note, this pregnancy was physically very taxing, and we feel really good about not asking my body to do that again. Now it’s time to focus on healing and strengthening this body which has worked so hard—I’ve been pregnant and/or nursing for over 6 years! That work has taken its toll, and for the sake of other mamas reading this, I want to be really open about it: I’ve been referred for pelvic floor physical therapy which will also help with resolving my lingering SPD. I think it’s important to talk openly about our postpartum physical healing, just like we would postpartum mental health and healing.

Before Andrew was born, I worried that I wouldn’t feel peace about whether this would be our last birth—or worse, that Jon and I wouldn’t be on the same page. But with this labor and birth, I can say with confidence that I left nothing on the table-—I did my best work and am proud of myself. It’s a cliche, but this was a great note to go out on.

img_9249I want to end with an observation of how birth has changed Jon. Six years ago, we didn’t know what we didn’t know, and there was a lot we didn’t know! But Jon has now walked, held, swayed, carried, sung, cried, laughed, and celebrated with me through 99 of the rawest hours of my life, and he is a true Birth Partner to me. He can read me when I’m too deep in my labor fog to form words and can speak the words of encouragement I need at precisely the moment I need them. He provides every kind of support I need: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. We have grown closer together through each birth experience, especially the ones that didn’t go as planned. As with every other endeavor, he is my biggest cheerleader. I’ve also watched him become quite comfortable and familiar with birth (he’s no fainter!), and pushing Andrew out into his waiting hands was a true privilege for me. I’ve had 2 births with epidurals and 2 births with no pain meds and my “secret” isn’t that I discovered my inner strength, but that my partner knew I had it all along and called it out in me. That and a giant birthing tub.

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Things I Was Never Told About Parenting

This week I shared this photo on my Instagram.

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It sums up life with three toddlers pretty well: one is touching you, one is calling for you, and one is crying. In my caption, I said I’d write a book on the things I was never told about parenting, so we’re going to manage all of our expectations and start with a blog post.

You’re going to be touched.

Someone is going to need to touch you, climb you, be on you at all times. There will be days your husband gets home and the guilt washes over you because all you want to do is wrap yourself up in your bedsheets so no one can touch you the rest of the night. In fact, the touching will be so much that although it was your top love language prior to becoming a mom, it has been replaced by Acts of Service and Solo Trip to Target.

Rest Time isn’t for them; it’s for you.

When your kids age out of guaranteed naps, afternoons are going to get tough. Some moms are going to tell you how their kids still have Rest Time: at least an hour on their beds reading books (actually looking at pictures) in silence, but don’t worry. Your kids will scream bloody murder at that prospect and if you try to make a deal with them involving DQ StarKisses and screen time in exchange for Rest Time, they will thrash their little bodies and clock you in the head. Then the Holy Spirit will descend on you in the form of otherworldly patience and you will set them down and say calmly, “I can’t let you hit me. My job is to keep everyone safe, and you’re not keeping me safe.” And then they will go after each other. So you will pick up their little bodies which have suddenly gained an enormous amount of strength despite the amount of protein and vegetables they are decidedly NOT eating at dinner and wrangle them into their bunk beds, and then you will drastically reduce your negotiation demands (it’s called being realistic): they don’t have to sleep, they don’t have to stay in their beds, they don’t even have to stay quiet, they just CANNOT leave the room until the timer has gone off.

Then you’ll go downstairs and set a timer for 15 minutes and turn off the monitor to their room because you don’t care what mayhem happens in that room, as long as it doesn’t involve you. You’ll sit on the couch and stare at the wall (and maybe also your phone—no judgment here) and then 15 minutes will end and you’ll realize you haven’t heard anything and you’ll think, “maybe they fell asleep?” but don’t be fooled—your brain just blocked out the sounds of jumping feet. Then before you have a chance to go upstairs, you’ll hear a voice calling through the air register on the floor of their room, “Mom, can we come out now?” And you’ll feel ready to take it all on again, so you’ll say yes. Or you just can’t face them yet so you’ll say there are still 3 minutes left. Either one.

You won’t go back upstairs until bedtime, and then you’ll have to sit down because of what happened in there during Rest Time. It will take a while to sort everything back, but there were 15 minutes where no one was touching you, so it’s all okay.

Watching your kids sleep causes amnesia.

Don’t freak out; it’s not to a dangerous degree. But watching their full, piglet-like eyelashes flutter and listening to their hilarious snort-breathing will erase all the hard parts of the day. You will look at them and realize God didn’t design our bodies to need sleep because it’s good for us, it was to keep mothers from devouring their young. Watching them sleep will remind you of all the sweet, all the precious, all the funny little things about them that make you marvel, “Who is this creature and how did I get lucky enough to be their mom?” Then you’ll wander into your room and snuggle with your husband because finally, you can handle being touched again.

 

Friday afternoon

When I hear Thomas’s stirrings on the monitor, I leave Jack and Grace to their pretend play and climb the stairs, listening to the cartilage in my knees crackle. I don’t remember when my body got old. I fell down the stairs last week and it wasn’t the embarrassment that hurt—she fell down the stairs!—but the purple bruises on my right butt cheek.

I push open the door to the kids’ room. Truthfully, it’s the first time I’ve ever put the baby down in the crib. He’s spent these past six months on me and next to me, then in the swing, the pack and play, the rock and play, and now, on the guest room bed. But he naps in a crib at daycare so what the heck. I tried it today.

I near the crib and see his mouth turned down, not wailing, but not too far away. He is still blinking awake; I’ve caught him in the tiny window in which he can be nursed back to sleep. I lift him—all 22 pounds— to my left shoulder and begin to sway. It’s automatic. I have been swaying for four years.

We sit down in the blue chair and I lean all the way back, then rock us forward with the motion of my head. He latches blindly. I can’t remember when nursing became effortless with him. Third child and the roughest start to nursing of all my babies, saved only by a lactation consultant. When did I stop needing both my hands, four pillows, and a burp rag? I’m glad for the ease with which we now move together.

His eyes close and he leans heavy into my elbow. He is snort-breathing. I pull away from his nose to help him breathe through this cold he’s had all month.

Pretty soon, I hear the kids on the stairs. Someone is crying; it’s always Grace these days. Please don’t wake him. I shoot laser beams toward the door with my eyes. Jack creeps in on all fours; he’s a puppy. He sees my wide eyes—the Mom Look I have perfected—and backs out of the room, keeping Grace out.

It doesn’t last. Soon she’s in the room, with books from the guest room, toys from downstairs, and an old medal from one of Jon’s marathons—Where does she get this stuff? She’s insisting she doesn’t need to nap now, but if she waits until later, there will be Dire Bedtime Consequences. I’m solo today and pick my poison: A no-nap afternoon makes for many dinnertime meltdowns, but an easier bedtime.

Thomas wakes in my arms. He is always happy to see me.