Saturday morning the periodic cramping continued. It wasn't nearly enough to stop me in my tracks or warrant calling the midwife, but we decided it might be prudent to stay in town, just in case. Still we had a sitter, and such a situation should never, ever be wasted! We went out the eat and then to the store to pick up a few necessary odds and ends. I had several more fairly strong Braxton Hicks (or perhaps piddly contractions) but continued to relish my date with Jonathan. In the store it felt best to hold onto the shopping cart handle and keep walking.
That afternoon we put the kids to work cleaning up the front yard. Matthew had some grumpiness to work out and while he tackled the raking, I pulled weeds and pruned the bushes. The overcast, cool morning gave way to a warm sunny afternoon. It was just perfect weather to enjoy outside. After the kids did their chores and played outside I decided to take the older ones to a movie, since I might not have that chance again for a while. The mild contractions continued, but they were very sporadic and easy to brush off. They didn't distract me from what I needed to do, so I thought I'd be fine driving. Melissa and Isaac voted to see the Lego Movie and away we went! During one of the more intense scenes, Isaac got antsy and perched on what remained of my lap. I had some more erratic contractions and began to wonder if today might, maybe, perhaps be the day. Melissa and Isaac thoroughly enjoyed the film, and Isaac, Melissa, and I danced in the aisle all during the closing credits.
When we got home my grandmother skyped with me. As we were chatting, the contractions seemed to get closer and a touch more intense. I didn't want to get anyone excited over nothing, so I didn't mention it. Perhaps my body was still teasing. At this point I guesstimated they were roughly 10 minutes apart. After I hung up with her, I acutely felt the need to be alone and told Jonathan that labor might be starting. He wanted to call the midwife to let her know, but I wasn't so keen on that idea just yet. Labor still felt early, if it was labor! However, I remembered that the midwives Monika and Debra had both requested that I call early enough so they could make the 45 minute drive to my house in plenty of time. I figured I could at least let Monika know that something might be happening and to be ready in the event. Around 6:30 PM I gave Monika the heads up, and then sequestered myself in the bedroom away from the noise and bustle of dinner and bedtime preparations. With 4 children, there is always something, usually many things going on, and I needed solitude.
Alone for the first time that day, and relaxed, my body kicked into high gear almost immediately. I lied down on the bed with a good book and my laptop to time the contractions. The first two were 5 minutes apart and lasting a minute but then the sensations ramped up to 2-3 minutes and lasting a minute or more. Reading during a contraction became impossible. They were starting to get my attention!
After a little over a half-hour I returned to Jonathan and told him labor had definitely started and would he please get the little ones ready for bed while I took a bath? He looked at the timing chart I'd made, "Are you going to call the midwife now?" he asked. "Well, it still seems kind of early...and I did already call to say things might be starting," I responded. "If you don't call her, I will." he told me. "All right. I'll call." My labors tend to speed up fairly quickly and I'm guessing he didn't really want to catch a baby on his own. It was 7:10 PM when I called Monika again and confirmed that labor had started and that the contractions were coming much closer together. "I'll be on my way in 5 minutes." I told her I still thought there was time, but she said she could just be in another room if it was early and I needed the space.
Jonathan and I made up the bed in preparation and then I filled the tub with warm water. The water felt wonderful and soothing. Unfortunately the contractions were spacing out somewhat and I did NOT want that. After a short soak I climbed back on land. I asked Jonathan for a blessing. He placed his hands on my head and a feeling of peace came over me. I knew God was watching over us and trusted that all would be well.
Midwives Monika, Debra, and Brandye, the student midwife, arrived shortly thereafter, around 8 PM. Poor Monika didn't have time for her shower and I felt a little bad about that. Apparently the February and March babies decided to cluster together, and ours was the 5th baby in 6 days to make an appearance. Monika and Debra only had time to check and repack their supplies before receiving the second phone call. Sorry dear ladies.
At this point I was concerned that it was still too early and asked Monika to check the progress. 5 centimeters. Okay then, labor really was happening, and now I just needed time and quiet. The midwives left the room and I suggested to Jonathan that he might want to give Susan a heads up too. She was planning to photograph baby 5. The immediate newborn pictures I have of my children are one thing I really cherish and the time they are so tiny is fleeting.
Jonathan readied the kids for bed and put the littlest two down to sleep. I labored on my exercise ball. It helped to hold onto something solid like the bed rail and to Jonathan's hand.
Susan arrived about 9 PM and found Matthew making origami creatures for the midwives and for her. Thank you Susan Kedroski from Hello Love Photography for the lovely photographs.
Melissa and he really wanted to stay up to meet their baby brother, but we told them the baby may still be hours away from coming. They would certainly see their brother soon but needed to sleep first.
I think someone told a joke or amusing story here. I'd asked those present to share anything amusing they had so I wouldn't get too serious. It helps to laugh the baby out. Monika shared a story of a woman who felt her whole labor in her big toe, so when contractions happened she'd yell out, "Ow, ow, ow! My toe!" Debra told an old chestnut of a joke, which I'm afraid I groaned at and panned. Laboring women can be rather blunt, or perhaps that is just me.
Whenever Jonathan needed to leave for a moment one of the midwives would step in to hold my hand. I really needed a hand to hold to feel connected to someone else, and the rail to cling onto to feel grounded.
Hope I didn't squeeze anyone's fingers too hard. I didn't realize till looking at the pictures that I had a pretty firm grip.
In the background, Debra and Brandye folded the clothes in a big basket of laundry set aside. Much appreciated!
At some point the intensity increased and after a while I was curious what progress was being made. I asked Monika to check again. I would have been a bit grumpy if still a 5, resigned to the fact perhaps, but not thrilled about it. Monika exclaimed, "Oh, you will be happy about this! 8 centimeters and fully effaced." YES! The baby had also dropped lower. I then lied down on my side for a bit. It was nice to be pampered. Debra put pressure on my lower back. Monika monitored the babe and I, and she lightly rubbed my leg. I held a warm rice sock below my belly for comfort. The contractions felt a bit more bearable so I rested for a short while.
Little Thomas hiccuped through some of my contractions. It was a strange sensation, my tight belly jumped rhythmically with each little hiccup. Jonathan was amused.
While lying on my side didn't slow things down, the contractions felt a tad less intense. They were still strong, but less strong than they were. I felt I needed to use the bathroom and get back upright to make them harder again. I did not want to prolong things and was so ready to meet our babe.
In my experience, the majority of labor you are on the labor train. You don't have control over how long the trip takes, the speed and duration of the contractions, or how "easy" or "hard" trip is. Pretty much you must relax and allow it to happen, both physically and mentally. Sure there are comfort measures you can use, or outside interventions that may help or hinder progress, but really you are along for the ride.
I really, really wanted to be finished at this point. I was on the cusp of pushing, waiting for the last bit of descent and a cue from my body that it was time to push. The intensity was all consuming. I felt a great deal of pressure down low, but not the irresistible, I-have-to-push-right-now!, feeling. Everything ached in preparation for the next stage. Jonathan was a rock of support through this last difficult part. We make a good team. At this point I'd pretty much lost most of my sense of humor and regrettably never did get to hear Debra's funny story that she was getting ready to share.
Then the water broke! Hallelujah! And I felt very queasy. Having been through this 4 times before, I knew this was a great sign! When that happened, I gave a good push in earnest to see how it felt.
I could tell it was effective and soon instinctively cupped my hand to receive my son's head into my palm. Apparently I roared and bellowed while pushing and Jonathan later said he didn't realize I could even make such a loud noise. I guess I'm not usually that loud in labor! I was completely unaware of this or much else going on at the time. Instead my attention was on the incredible feeling of my body opening up and making way for my babe. Within moments of feeling the crown of his head, I felt his nose and chin under my finger tips and knew his head was out. One more really good push brought his very slippery body under my other hand. At that point I was very glad Monika had a good grasp on his body because I wasn't sure I did. I also felt momentarily stunned and Monika had to remind me to bring him up towards my chest as she passed him up to me. Oh, right. I did that instinctively with the other three standing births, but pushing this baby was even more intense than I remember with the others.
He was born at 11:06 PM on March 1. From the time the contractions picked up until birth was about 4.5 hours.
These lovely midwives kept a watchful eye on the babe and I. Throughout the labor and first few hours they monitored us frequently but unobtrusively to see that we were doing well.
I gave Jonathan a new T-shirt. "Fatherhood: Not for the Weak" I also found a Darth Vader and Son book for fun.
After the birth my only task was to sit back, smell, snuggle, and nurse the baby. The midwives cleaned the linens and tidied up. Jonathan picked up a late dinner. In fact, I got up and was shooed back to bed at one point. Bliss.
There are his eyes!
I'll post some pictures of the rest of the Ellis clan holding their new brother in a blog post soon...