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Our fourth babe made an appearance a few days before Christmas, just in time for me to be able to enjoy Christmas pies without throwing up! She’s already my favorite! TLDR: She was big! She was stuck! She and I suffered some injuries that physical therapy and time will heal! She is obsessively loved by her older siblings! And she’s a total sweetie snuggler.

I love birth stories. Grace has a whole link up! I love reading about how my friends’ (and strangers’!) children come into their families after growing in their wombs or hearts. I love the scary parts that end in a happy way. I hate the sad parts that end sadly. But mostly I just love this time-old tradition of sharing the miracle of meeting that new baby in our lives.

SuperBoy’s birth story is here, SweetPea’s here, and MonsterTot is here. Gosh, am I really going to call him that on the blog? He’s not truly a monster. Maybe we’ll call him SecondSon? I digress.

I had prodromal labor for about a week before having our little SweetCheeks. That means I thought I was really in labor, we watched the contractions get stronger and closer together, and we headed in to the hospital. It also means after a number of hours there and I never dilated, we were sent home with well-wishes and assurances that yes, she would arrive someday, but that day was not today. The contractions went on and on for hours on end. They weren’t horrible but they did keep me awake. I kept thinking, if I’m exhausted going into real labor, will I be able to make it through the pushing stage?

If you read my last birth novella, you’d find that the pushing part was the worst. It didn’t help his head was over 15 inches around and he weighed ten pounds. I tore deeply and badly and it took almost a year to completely recover from all my various wounds. I’ve spent the past two and a half years occasionally reliving that pushing experience and swore that I would effectively and obediently follow directed pushing and then I would conquer my pushing phobia.

Well . . . we’ll see how that plays out in this tale.

The morning of our daughter’s birth, at about 3am, I awoke to a strong contraction, much deeper and stronger than those of the past week. I knew! I felt it! This time it was *really* happening! AA was sleeping in our guest room as my tossing and turning had kept him up–ironically this first night of attempted non-interrupted sleep was . . . interrupted. I encouraged him to sleep but to also take a shower because that entire onion he ate last night was oozing out of his pores and I might die during labor. Being the kindly husband he is, he did shower. We started heading toward the door about 4:30 after texting my midwife and calling ahead to the hospital. I woke up my dad who was on other-kid-duty. His version of being thrilled? “Go have that baby.”

I was lingering in the kitchen, about to eat some toast, when I had a huge contraction and thought, “I am NOT giving birth in my kitchen–I haven’t mopped the floor in months.”

We bustled out the door in subzero temps. It was too early in the morning for the hospital valet so I slowly lurched into the birth center while AA parked the car. My sister’s last birth, her husband missed it all because he was parking the car. You can imagine how I felt when I went one way and he the other.

We got all checked in. The week before when we checked in, the charge nurse, Kara, revealed she’s a blog follower! I about died! Kara wasn’t there this time, though, so (hi, Kara!!) we made due with the other nice nurses. Triage checked us and yes, 5 cms dilated, almost all effaced, and having a baby today. Our amazing midwife slipped in and said hi before we moved into our room. I think I almost started crying right there and reiterating to her and the nurse who was checking me that I wanted “directed pushing and not to tear.” She was all . . . um hum . . . and off we went to our very luxurious room (felt like a suite!) to dim the lights and start laboring.

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We had studied the Bradley Method from this book before our first babe, and this was our first birth without a doula. I strongly recommend a doula! Unless you have a husband like AA who is basically the best dad-doula ever. He coached me through all my contractions and I felt completely safe and confident as we just polished on through, hour and after hour. The nurse was amazing! And a massage therapist! And a former doula! She would do some back pressure that was so great for a lot of the contractions.

And my trusted midwife was right there, cuing up my birth mix, which, this round, I had only had time to put on four songs: Ophelia, When We Were Young, Let it Go, and I Will Wait. She even threw in some Sarah McLachlan’s holiday album. She would step in for a comfort measure or seven, and was the best company between contractions. We tried a few positions–against the wall, on the ball, backwards on the toilet (cold pipes are great to lean your forehead into!)–but mostly I laid on the bed in the very classic Bradley position of deep relaxation during and between contractions. I even dozed between them! AA doused some of this essential oil from my sister’s shop on a damp cool washcloth for during contractions and I kinda felt like even though I was tired, I could probably keep doing this for a while.

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All was pretty calm for an unmedicated labor. I did keep reminding the two ladies that I didn’t want to tear and wanted directed pushing and wanted to pause when she was crowning. Each contraction I would focus on a different prayer intention for a different friend. It not only took my mind off the pain but I genuinely felt like I could give something back to the amazing community of friends and family who had been indispensable in helping us through this difficult pregnancy.

A side note here: we were expecting her to be 7-8 pounds like her sister. I had gained about the same amount of weight as I had with SweetPea (versus 45 pounds with both boys!) and I was measuring right on. At our 20 week anatomy scan, the tech said she was 50th percentile for size. Great! we said. See, our boys are just big, we said. Boy, were we all so very wrong.

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And yet by 10am, I was ready to move on. Let’s get to the really awful hard part where I’m yelling and swearing! Let’s get to the pushing part where I (hopefully) don’t tear! Let’s get this party moving along. My midwife encouraged me to keep going for a while longer before checking me and possibly breaking my water, and as when she did check me, my cervix still had a lip, clearly she was right to let my body keep doing the hard work before accelerating things with breaking my water. (Run on sentence. Sorry.)

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It was 11 o’clock and I really really wanted to move things along. Both our vitals were good, and when she checked me, I was a 9 and almost 100% effaced, so she broke my water. We had discussed trying all fours as a great pushing position to work to avoid tearing, but almost as soon as I flipped that way on the bed, I was all NO EMILY NO NO NO NO EMILY!! I also started incoherently crying and demanding that she not leave me! She’s been at all our other kids’ births as our doula so she knew this is how I would get ;)

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We found a pretty comfortable upright-ish position on the bed wherein I could thrash and shout but also still be ready for pushing whenever that part came. The nurse who up til now had thought I was a quiet, polite sort, was in for transition-induced-crazy-woman. Anytime I had a contraction, I shouted all the way through it, and then demanded to know if I should push yet. Since my cervix still needed to finish effacing, the answer was NO. I also didn’t like the feeling of her holding it back during a contraction (insert swearing and shouting her name), so I just sat tight through about three contractions until things were all systems ready.

I asked my sweet nurse for nitrous oxide. As I waited for her to get it and hook it up, the thoughts oh this will make everything better!! continuously swirled. This was going to be the holy grail of pain relief for a natural mama. This was going to be IT.

She showed me how the rigid plastic cover went over both nose and mouth, and instructed me that I needed to breathe in and out with the cover over both of those breathing holes. It was like suffocating yourself. I tried to get it on my face, but the contractions were too close together. Noper, as they say. Wheel it away!

My fellow glasses wearers know that when you take off your glasses, and you’re in hard labor,  you really can neither see well or know what’s going on except that your body feels like a stick of dynamite and you really just really don’t want to have to let it ignite (aka, push). So when they gave me the green light for pushing, I was resisting it inside. I just couldn’t fathom the pain I went through the last time and I certainly didn’t want to actually PUUUUUSH the way you are supposed to to actually work with the contraction.

Begrudgingly, I did. AA was right up near my face so I could kinda see him. He told me I was doing it. I was amazing. I kinda believed him.

I also could hear Emily’s voice telling me to push. So push we did. And shout. And shout through the pushes. And consider maybe my neighbor who’s an anesthesiologist at this hospital could hook a sister up. And maybe I could get an elective c-section. And maybe she would just come out in one push, given she was supposed to be average sized and my fourth. I also briefly considered how scarring my shouts would be to a nice lady in the room next door with an epidural already in. God knows she would be seriously concerned about what was going on in here.

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As I felt her crown, I thought, finally! finally! but then she stayed there, crowning, through one push. I kept waiting for that lub dub dub slippery whale feeling when the baby actually emerges. It didn’t come.

Emily’s voice changed and I heard her say through the din, something about special nursery team. In an instant, and I do mean instant, the room felt fuller, even with my blurry vision, and a smallish woman jumped up on the bed at my waist level. She began pounding and pummeling like she was performing CPR on my uterus. The nurse across from her did the same. It all happened so quickly I didn’t have time to say WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING TO ME and instead heard and heeded Emily’s voice to again, PUSH. In mere seconds later, I did a third push, and slowly, finally, felt the baby come out.

Instead of feeling instant relief and excited to have her with us, I felt disoriented and asked AA about sixteen times what had happened. Was she okay? Why did it take so long to get out? Was she okay? She took a few seconds to catch her breath and give a cry while the special nurse nurse was rubbing her vigorously with a towel. The cord pulsed for a while and she lay on my stomach.

I was slowly coming out of the tunnel that is pushing and realized there were, indeed, extra nurses there and they were close enough for me to see their faces sans glasses. My placenta came out no problemo and they started my hep-lock (one they’d put in my arm for just-in-case when I arrived) up with pitocin to clamp down on any bleeding. I held my baby on my chest and cried, sobbing to my midwife that I loved her (the midwife), and AA that I loved him, and the baby that I was so glad she was there, fat cheeks, squinty eyes, and a huge freckle behind one of her ears!

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In the aftermath, it turned out she had shoulder dystocia. She was, indeed, ten pounds, eleven ounces, and 22 inches. SO BIG. And born the day before her “due” date. Shoulder dystocia is when the baby is too damn big to get out easily. My midwife and the special nursery team acted with great speed and agility and used suprapubic pressure to get her unstuck. My symphysis was damaged, meaning it was nearly impossible to walk or squeeze my legs together (or near each other!), and my whole pelvic floor needs physical therapy. I also banged up my tail bone as she was sunny-side up. Walking, standing, and sitting are all painful. I start PT this week and can’t wait to be normal again!! As normal as I kinda was ;)

And my big little love broke her clavicle and suffered some nerve damage to her left upper arm. It was floppy when she was born but even three weeks out, she’s already lifting it! We are fortunate to live in a great city with amazing medical care and there’s a specialty clinic at the children’s hospital five minutes from us that focuses on brachial plexus injuries. The broken bone will heal itself in time. She’ll see specialists to make sure she has the best attention on it moving forward.

We feel super blessed. Your prayers carried me throughout this pregnancy and we are so glad she’s here and we will both be okay in time.

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Don’t panic. Do not panic that Christmas is within spitting distance. I have to admit (in anticipation of early ((hopeful, I know)) labor) I did all my Christmas shopping a few weeks back, wrapped it all up, and barely remember what I actually bought. Then I remembered and was so delighted! We’re doing a minimalist Christmas for the kids (thank God they can’t read the blog . . . yet) so I wanted to share my finds with you so you can see how Grinchy I am  get inspiration.

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YOXO PBS Build It Kit for everyone.

My friend Jeff runs this amazing toy company and shopping small is so important at the holidays! Check out his newest partnership with PBS Kids! And use the code “wholeparenting” for 25% off the whole site!! My kids love his stuff and the fact that it can become many things means it lasts so much longer as a toy of interest.

Dog-Opoly for all of us.

Life changing. Laura’s kids introduced us and I don’t know if my kids will every go back. Dog-opoly is hilarious.

Gel glide crayons for all of them.

We can never, ever have enough coloring utensils around here. People crush them, eat them, peel them, lose them, fight over them. This was a nice big pack.

Baby

Organic footie pj. 

For if LittleLady every decides to be born. She gets something, too!

MonsterTot (2.5)

Massive Excavator.

Usually I’d just hit up Goodwill and see what toys they had around for even cheaper, but given my pregnant rumbling self, Amazon it was.

Cardigan.

Yes. It looks kinda like I’m a total hippie dressing my son to be a total hippie. Yes.

SweetPea (4.5)

Horse Bucket.

Yes, I’m trying to breed horse love into each of my kids like I have it! SweetPea has a number of other horsey toys so these will dump nicely into those buckets.

Sweater dress.

I try to buy something they can wear, along with something to play with.

SuperBoy (6.5)

Blokus game.

He loves games! This kiddo loves a mental challenge. I’m pretty sure he’ll do this one for a while.

Cardigan.

Yes. Matching. Nerd. Yes.

Adults

YakTrax.

For my insane distance running husband who loves to go out at 4 dark 30 even when it’s icy and snowy. But these are good for people who have to walk around outside a lot anyway! No slippage, folks!

Cotton Undies & Nighttime Nursing Bras.

Yes, this is what I gave myself for Christmas. And if that doesn’t say mom-of-many, I don’t know what does. But I hadn’t purchased new underwear in . . . ?? And the nursing bras had been through three kids, all of them well over a year.

*amazon & yoxo affiliated links means . . . you know the drill . . . I get a small percentage if you shop through me.*

How do you handle gifts for the holidays? Is it a deluge of wrapping paper or do you slowly open one a day? Or do you do a few or a ton? We also bought a bunch of small gifts to give to a giving tree thing through our parish. It’s nice for the kids to see that giving is more important than getting at Christmas.

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I love to plan. Not because I’m type A (more like B+), but because I love to know where I am going so that little anxious part inside of me can take comfort. At least I made a plan, I’ll think. Even if it goes awry. At least I wasn’t caught unawares. At least I had some chance to brace myself for it, whatever it it may be.

Babies and birthing are one of those mysterious areas of life where preparing and planning, while crucial for informing our reactions, are somewhat negligible.

I firmly believe in taking a childbirth education class, unless you were raised around midwives and picked up on birth stuff. Most of us never have had any exposure to anything remotely birthy beyond a “rush to the hospital, scream, and push” scene in a movie.

I’m a big believer in doulas, a hired labor support person above and beyond your partner.

I’m a big believer in writing out a birth plan, reading as much as you can, watching documentaries, and asking women about their births.

Yet. And yet. All that planning and preparing and honing your instincts and setting your expectations to a much lower dial doesn’t mean things will go as you ever imagined them.

So while I sit here, 39 weeks pregnant, in deep anticipation of this coming labor, I still have to tell myself that ultimately, I’m not in control. I’m just not. My capable midwife, the nursing staff, the surgeons if I need them down the hallway, my loving husband who is the best birthing partner, we none of us are in control. We do our best, but birth is its own beast. We hope, we pray, we trust with an open heart.

Maybe our daughter won’t survive birth. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll have a c-section. Maybe we will both have major health complications. Most likely everything will be just fine and as smooth and ordinary as my other labors.

So instead of worrying and wondering, I’m trying to actually clear my mind this round. We’re practicing our Bradley Method breathing. I’m warning that I want directed pushing so I don’t just blow through crowning. I’m facing the excruciating pain of labor as my job, my part to play to bring her into this world. It’ll happen. And then it will be done. It’s a finite activity. And nothing can be harder to recover from than my last baby’s birth, nor has any pregnancy felt more physically taxing than this one, so either way, no matter how she comes out, it will be done.

It’s Advent, a time of preparing and preparation. A time of stunning joy and sheer gratitude at our amazing Creator God Who sends His Son to save us. A time of true blessing for my little family as we prepare to greet our littlest member. I have no idea what it will be like to have four kids. I have no idea what her personality will be like. But I’m embracing the unknowns here, and simply waiting without a firm plan but with a lot of faith.

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