Meeting Elsie was one of the greatest and one of the worst days of my life--yet so different than our experience with Ellie. I love how they have two very different birth stories and how both were so right for each of them. I still can't believe she is gone, and we have another huge hole in our hearts that will always miss and ache for both of them. I wanted to write this down with the help of Chris before I forget anything about her birth...
On Christmas day we were a bit sad we wouldn't be celebrating with family as we could not travel, but we had a fun morning alone together and opened gifts and made a delicious breakfast and enjoyed each others company. We then went and celebrated for the rest of the day with sweet friends who adopted us for their Christmas Day (thank you, Chris, Bruce, Amy Grace, Bobby, Emily and clan!). I truly believe that this day with them enabled me to go into labor that night, as we laughed so incredibly much! My belly ached from laughing so hard and when we got home I realized how sore my body was at 40 weeks and 2 days pregnant.
We arrived home at 10:30 and went to sleep around 11:30, and I woke up at 1am to a gush of water. I woke Chris up and we spent the next hour or so resting (and cleaning up!) and then the contractions started coming at 1:30am. I was a bit nervous at this point because I knew I had already been up for about 14 hours (aside from the two hours of sleep before my water breaking) and I had hoped I would be well-rested for the start of labor. Whoops! :)
The contractions were mild and about 8-12 minutes apart all night and we hoped to labor at home until I was much closer to active labor. Chris ended up calling the doctor around 8am to update him, but he wasn't super familiar with our case. He thought at first we should come in right away since my water had already broken at 1, but once he looked over our chart and understood our situation with Elsie, he said we had the freedom to labor at home or come in. My contractions slowed down quite a bit up so at around 11am we decided to head to the hospital to be in a more medically stable environment. One of the big reasons for this is that there is a higher chance of infection the larger the gap between water breakage and birth, and my water was actually meconium stained which indicates fetal distress, but is also common with babies with conditions like Elsie's.
Once at the doctor, we got checked in and I was having irregular contractions that fluxuated between being 3 and 4 minutes apart and 8 minutes apart and back down to 3 minutes apart. The doctors were really great with us due to our situation, and we had written into our birth plan that we didn't want to do any fetal monitoring at all. We knew if she was healed everything would be fine, and that if she wasn't we wouldn't want any distress causing us to make rash decisions. This gave us so much freedom in how we labored with her, and it was wonderful. I was able to bounce on a birthing ball and walk around as I pleased, although I ended up feeling most comfortable laying on my side. My contractions were getting much stronger, but not necessarily closer together which made it really hard for my cervix to dilate as it needed. We aren't really sure why. It seriously fluxuated so much. I started to have a hard time mentally when we hit the 24 hour mark since the contractions at 1:30am and I was still only dilated to about 3 centimeters. They ended up putting a monitor on my belly to try and figure out a contraction pattern, but again, there wasn't really one and the contractions weren't close enough together to make a significant difference, although they were pretty hefty contractions.
We originally intended to have a natural, med-free birth, but definitely did not anticipate the situation we would be in--that my body would end up needing pitocin to get me further along. I continued to labor naturally until the 24 hour mark and when they checked dilation they thought I really needed to start on pitocin to get the contractions more consistent to make sure we didn't continue to risk our chance for infection. Usually they would push the pitocin much earlier than letting us reach 24 hours since the water breaking, but they were seriously so kind to us because of Elsie. Thank you, Elsie!
I heard how hard contractions were with pitocin, but I was definitely not prepared for how rough it was. With normal contractions, there is a sort of "wave" of pain that gets strong at the peak but then backs down. It makes it easier mentally to get through them as you can feel the rhythm of them. My contractions on pitocin were insane. I talked with the nurses later and found out this is pretty much the norm, but pitocin contractions hit hard right away at the "peak" level and plateau at that same intensity until the end. There is no way of bracing yourself mentally for how long they will be as they don't build and release like natural contractions do. Once they hit, Alicia and Chris would run over and do natural relaxation techniques with me, but I felt like all I could think about was wondering how long it would last as there was no indicator at all during the midst of it.
I was determined to labor naturally for as long as possible, even on the pitocin, and I ended up making it about six hours. Good gracious I will never forget that pain! Around the four hour mark with the pitocin, we began talking about an epidural. By the time we had reached the six hours of pitocin (still no epidural), I had been contracting for 30 hours!!! Thank goodness Chris remembers all these timelines-I was mentally on a different planet where time definitely does not make sense.
During those six hours, they were upping my pitocin level every hour by 2 (the max number they could reach for me was 20) and I think I got up to 18 when I hit a real roadblock, and I was so tired I couldn't even think. I had been awake at that point for over 42 hours. We got a very timely email from our friend Sarah that Alicia read to us about there being a time and a place for medication--and it honestly helped me so much. I felt like I needed to give myself a break and it was good to hear it from Sarah, Alicia, Chris, and my parents who were in and out of the room with us. We ended up deciding to go with an epidural at that point and goodness, I felt so much peace about it. I was so happy I could experience those 30 hours of labor naturally with Elsie and I felt like I got the "experience" I wanted. As Chris told me, we didn't want to push it and then have it affect our meeting Elsie for the negative. I wanted to have a sound mind seeing her rather than being focused on the pain ending.
It was pretty rough having contractions DURING the epidural procedure (eek!) but our anesthesiologist was seriously wonderful and about fifteen minutes after he started the meds I was praising the good Lord for modern medicine. After getting the epidural and even after the birth when the nurses and doctors were fixing me up--they would warn me before they thought I would feel pain (i.e. messing with my IV, pressing on my stomach, etc.) I remember that every time they did this I thought to myself, "It can't be worse than pitocin," and it surely never was. Thank you, pitocin, for increasing my pain tolerance! Ha! Once the epidural kicked in I finally felt like I could relax. He did such a great job with the dosage as I could still feel each contraction and I could still move my legs! I was so happy about that. I did NOT want to be completely numb.
I started being able to doze off between contractions and Chris got some sleep, too. My contractions were really progressing and were getting pretty regular. At around 11 I told the nurse that I was REALLY feeling the contractions through the epidural and wondered if that was normal or if I was no longer getting the proper dosage, and she felt like we needed to have the doctor come check me because that could mean that I was about ready to push. At 11:10am I was checked again and super surprised to hear that I was fully dilated and ready! We were so unprepared that Alicia wasn't even with us--she was a couple miles away at our house trying to grab a bit of sleep! Chris got in touch with her and she rushed over after I had pushed just a few times. I was so glad they didn't have to tell me when to push as I could feel the contractions coming. I felt very in control of the situation and it was so so good. Alicia made it there and I pushed for about 45 minutes before Elsie made her grand (and fast!) entrance. I was so surprised to find out I pushed for 45 minutes as it really felt like 5. The team around me was SO encouraging and made me feel so good each time I pushed, and I was getting more and more excited to meet Elsie.
When she came out, they placed her right on my chest, and I knew at that point that she wouldn't be staying with us for very long. The first thing I noticed about her were her big beautiful lips--a trait that I absolutely admire on her daddy! :) Through tears we showered her with loving words and watched as she wiggled her arms and moved her lips and blew some bubbles as she tried hard to use those little lungs. After a few minutes I knew she had left us. We wept and wept and told her how much we loved her and how jealous we were that she was with Jesus and Ellie and the team worked around me to fix me up and make sure all was well with my body.
My eyes could barely leave her. She was the most beautiful girl and I was so deeply in love with her. We gave her millions and millions of kisses. We had family and some friends come in in small batches to see her and to love on us, and it was a really sweet time. After a while, we were transferred to a room in the post-partum unit and the two of us were able to snuggle her alone starting at around 3 or 4pm and through the night. We didn't keep Ellie through the night when we had her, and this time we knew we wanted to keep her with us. I was so glad we did this. I slept from 11pm to 5am and when I woke up at 5 I was so happy I could walk over to her little bed and bring her back to bed with me. I layed her on my chest and we snuggled until we were discharged from the hospital (except for when her daddy would steal her away from me. Oh how seeing the two of them together made my heart ache and rejoice at the same time.) I tried not to imagine what it would be like to be taking her home with us alive as it was just too painful to bear, but I made peace with the fact that I was snuggling her physical body as long as I could, and that her spirit was already experiencing all of the most wonderful things. It felt so amazing to warm her body with mine under blankets and to rub her all over, trying to memorize what she felt like in my arms.
I have to say that in this entire experience, physically leaving her in the morning as we left the hospital was so much more painful than any other part of the experience, even greater than when her spirit left the earth after she was born. I knew we were just leaving her physical body--but it was tremendously heart wrenching. I wished so badly I could carry her around with me and snuggle her and kiss her lips whenever I wanted to. We said our painful goodbyes and headed home around 9 in the morning--not even 24 hours after delivering. So great to be sent home so quickly. What wonderful hospital staff we had taking care of us!
Obviously there is so much more I could say, and my heart feels so many things, but the pain is unreal. I forgot how much a heart could hurt. The one thing that brings us comfort, and has always brought us comfort in this journey with Ellie and Elsie is that this life is so brief. It is going to freaking suck not to have them with us. Total crap. Total total total crap. But as we told Elsie so many times as we held her, "We'll see you in just a minute." We wonder what it's like for her and her sister being outside of time--when we get there will it be like no time had ever passed? What wonderful things to ponder. In the meantime, we have to live in the reality that we are experiencing time and moments and breaths without our sweet daughters. But just as last time--we know that healing is going to come and going to come swiftly.
Thank you, Jesus for my husband. Thank you for my Ellie. Thank you for my Elsie and the life and joy and growth and strength they have brought to my life. Thank you in advance for healing our hearts. Thank you for the gift of eternity where we will be reunited with our loves.
And now we are confident that we WILL see the goodness of God while we are here in the land of the living. Bring on the goodness, Jesus.