Leighton’s pregnancy, whether it was due to being my third, or due to the pandemic – or both/all of it – was by far my hardest physically, mentally & emotionally. I was sick the longest (until about 15.5 weeks) and throughout, but especially at the end, I was incredibly emotional. In part, because of the external stressors of trying to stay healthy for labor and the intense quarantine we did to that end, and because of being so physically uncomfortable in the last few weeks + going overdue, the last several weeks and the final days were a huge challenge for me in all-the-ways. But, this baby boy came exactly when he wanted to, and as I now can see, exactly when he was supposed to.
Before I get to all the day-of details, it’s important to note that I was initially planning to deliver with a group of midwives back at the same hospital where Margot was born, and my sister-in-law is a labor and delivery nurse. I had an amazing unmedicated labor and delivery there for her birth and was perfectly happy to do that again, especially since they have a Natural Birth Center on the campus and my goal was to deliver there this time. Then, of course, COVID happened. And all of the sudden, no labor support people (aside from the spouse) were being allowed for deliveries at either the hospital OR the birth center on campus and laboring women were being required to wear masks. This stressed me out a ton. I couldn’t fathom going through my third unmedicated labor (in which intense breathing and moaning through contractions is crucial to making it through them) with a mask on my face, and without a doula there for coaching and support. So around 24 weeks I started to think about switching providers to a group of midwives at a stand alone birth center in the area who was being very cautious about COVID, but allowing doulas and spouses and not requiring the laboring woman to wear a mask (even though everyone else would be). I had more than one friend have a wonderful experience there and it was sounding really appealing….so we were seriously giving it thought. THEN, as I approached my 28-week appointment I found out that my current practice was suspending midwifery care altogether as of August 1st – and I was due August 11. So, clearly that was going to be a problem. They simply weren’t able to hire the amount of midwives they needed due to the pandemic, so they were having to put that on hold. This bizarre news served as the perfect confirmation that switching providers and planning to birth out of the hospital was definitely the right move. Aaron and I had peace about it and I was excited to get to know my new midwives.
So, at 30-weeks I had my first appointment at Premier Birth Center and I was so immediately comfortable and at home in the building itself and with each person and midwife that I met. I was so looking forward to laboring in the big, beautiful tub and hand-picking the room I wanted my baby boy to be delivered in. It felt so perfect and right. I lined up my amazing doula (Garland of Riverbank Doulas) who also had a lot of experience at Premier and from that point on just prayed that I would stay healthy and that no complications would pop up at the end of pregnancy that would risk me out of being able to deliver at the birth center. Based off of my history and the previous two labors I had, I wasn’t particularly concerned as they had been low-risk and pretty much without complication, and as far as COVID was concerned, we quarantined pretty hard core from around 37-weeks on to try to ensure that I’d be healthy.
Those last weeks of isolation were hard – as all last weeks of pregnancy are, really – but not being able to go places and see people to distract from waiting on the baby was extra hard. I had passed my due date with both of my other two kids, so I was mentally prepared for that to happen, but it’s impossible not to hope it won’t. Llewyn was 8 days late, and Margot just 2. So, I was really optimistic that Leighton would be similar to Margot and come fairly on time – or *fingers crossed* maybe early? But, alas, the due date came and went, yet again…. the additional kicker is my Mom was already in town, staying with my brother until active labor happened (so that she could be with our older kids), but she also had a deadline of when she had to be back home. So with each day past his due date that he didn’t come, I not only was physically uncomfortable and impatient and emotional, it felt like a lost day with my Mom here to spend time with us and help with the kids/baby. I was discouraged and so, so tired. It felt like I would be pregnant forever, truly.
The morning of August 18th, 7 days past his due date, my Mom texted “Tomorrow is Grandma’s birthday…maybe Leighton wants to share that with her?” My grandma passed away back in 2012, and I was very close to her. I was not happy to still be pregnant, and I was still holding out hope that labor would pick up THAT day, but the consolation thought that maybe he’d come on my grandma’s birthday was a special thought that hadn’t previously crossed my mind and gave me a little hope to cling to. That night, though, as I was going to bed I was hit with a massive emotional breakdown. I felt truly trapped and claustrophobic. Trapped in my body, trapped in life due to quarantine, unable to fathom facing another day still pregnant and so uncomfortable and exhausted. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that at my whit’s end. It sounds silly, but it felt so very heavy and discouraging. I struggled to breathe as I cried and cried and I had to have Aaron pray me through it. As he prayed, my breathing slowed and got deeper and more stable and I was able to relax a little bit and go to sleep. Whenever I woke up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and no contractions were happening, I tried to temper my expectations yet again and not hope for anything to be happening in the morning.
But at about 6:00 am on August 19th, after a pretty decent night of sleep, I woke up with some definite cramping. This gave me hope! I tried not to get too excited, but after an hour of the cramping continuing every 10-12 minutes I decided to believe it was the beginning of the real thing and text Garland and just let the midwife on call know. Since it was my third, and the second delivery was pretty fast, they wanted me to give them a heads up right away – but ultimately not come in until contractions were about every 4-5 minutes apart and much more intense. As the morning went on, contractions got farther apart, but slowly grew in intensity. This kinda threw me, since they’re supposed to get closer as they get more intense. But I shut myself in the bedroom with a show on the computer and snacked and dozed as much as I could to save up energy for when it got intense.
After a couple hours I didn’t feel like I wanted to rest anymore, and I really wanted to help get things going, so I went outside and walked laps around the yard for 20-minutes while Aaron and the kids had a picnic lunch in the yard. I was having contractions as I walked, though still pretty mild, and it was fun to chat with them about how baby Leighton was certainly coming sometime sooner than later and how excited we all were. I didn’t want to tire myself out too much, so after that I went back to the bedroom to do more on the birth ball and relax a little more. By 1:30 contractions were coming in the 5-8 minute range and getting more uncomfortable so I knew the walking had helped and we were continuing in the right direction!
My 41-week appointment for my non-stress test and ultrasound were scheduled for that day at 3:00 pm. Since I was convinced I was in real labor at this point, regardless of how long it would take, I canceled those appointments because I didn’t want to go in for them…then come back home…then go back in active labor. At this point contractions got farther apart, again, but were definitely getting more intense. It was a weird pattern to follow but I just kept texting Garland to keep her updated and tried to focus on the fact that progress was being made even if it wasn’t being the expected pattern.
By 2:45 the intensity was growing enough that I was starting to get shaky and laying down or doing the birth ball were no longer very comfortable. I decided to get in the shower shortly after to labor there since this had been the most comfortable both of the two previous times, and Garland decided to get things together and head my way soon since she was about an hour from my home and had to drop her daughter off first. I put on a podcast, threw in an essential oils shower steamer and tried to relax as the contractions came. As soon as I was in there, they got shorter, but also started coming a lot closer together and growing quickly in intensity. Side note: in the final days of pregnancy Margot would say, “Is Leighton coming yet?” and I would say, “Not yet….but soon, I hope!” and one day she responded by talking to Leighton in my belly and saying, “Leeeeeighton, come out now! The door is open!” This made me laugh, but ironically during labor her sweet little voice and that phrase kept coming back to me. So as I would breathe through a contraction I would think and sometimes say, “Come on baby….the door is open”. Haha. Sometimes the things that get you through labor are silly or surprising, but it will always be sweet to me that Margot unintentionally helped me cope with contractions. :)
After about 35 minutes in there based on the way things were feeling (even though the contraction timing was still odd and inconsistent as they were now coming like 2-3 minutes apart but occasionally one would come farther apart or randomly super close), Aaron and I decided we should just head to the birth center and have Garland meet us there. We called my Mom and got her here with the kids, grabbed our birth bag and headed out. We called to tell Mayanne, the midwife on call, that we were coming in and she started getting everything ready for us. Thankfully we’re only 15 minutes from the birth center so it wasn’t too terrible of yet another uncomfortable labor drive.
We arrived about 4:15 and got settled into our room where Mayanne was filling the birth tub. She took all our temperatures and after an initial faulty read that EVERYONE (including me, Aaron, Garland and the attending nurse) all had fevers she took them again and everyone read normally, though I was just slightly elevated at 99 but that’s still considered normal. She checked me and I was 5-6 cm and definitely in painful, active labor. Getting in the tub was a big relief and Garland kept water running on my back as the tub filled up. I had intense shakes by this point and, for the first time in any of my labors, I threw up. Aaron or Garland would give me a drink of water or bite of popsicle and minutes later I would throw it all up. It was super weird and a very unpleasant addition to labor. After just a little bit of being in the tub Mayanne let us know that Leighton’s heart rate was pretty high. She didn’t know what was going on, but she was going to keep an eye on it. However, if it didn’t come down pretty soon OR if I didn’t progress really fast and get ready to push….we were going to have to look at transferring to the hospital for continuous monitoring for him, in order to be safe. This instantly stressed me out as I couldn’t even fathom getting out of the tub in the midst of contractions, let alone doing a transfer to the hospital. But I nodded in acknowledgement and continued to labor praying that things would work themselves out.
After maybe 30-40 minutes of more laboring (I think? The timeline is a little bit of a blur at this point) his heart rate hadn’t changed and Mayanne wanted to check me again to see how far along I was. I was about 7 cm – which is great and meant I was progressing nicely, but not close enough to be able to push him out, so she made the call that we needed to transfer to the hospital. She called the EMS team and I started crying. This is not what was supposed to be happening. Somehow Aaron, Mayanne and Garland got me out of the tub and dried off and ready to go, and dealt with me throwing up for a third time all while the EMS guys were arriving. They got me on the stretcher and into the vehicle, at which point my temperature was 99.1, by the way. Since Aaron needed to drive our car and follow the ambulance, Mayanne rode inside it with me and Garland also followed in her car.
The 15-minute drive flat on my back in the ambulance and having transition contractions every couple of minutes was nothing short of truly awful. I writhed around in pain and tried to breathe and moan through them, Mayanne calmly encouraging and supporting me each time, and in between I told her in all seriousness….“I’m done. I can’t do this.” In total support and kindness she said, “You mean you might want an epidural when we get there? It’s totally ok if you do.” and I said, “No….I’m done having kids.” She apparently laughed and told me later how hilarious I was even in the midst of labor. Haha. But in seriousness, I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at the hospital. Would we be in a serious emergency? Could I be facing a c-section? I wanted nothing more than to escape from the immense pain and be done with all of this – but I also still hated the idea of a needle in my back.
We arrived at the hospital around or a little after 6:00 pm – right at shift change, naturally. So we got brought into the ER area and checked by one initial team who said I was 7-8 cm. They checked temps and by this point I had spiked to 102.7. Mayanne was with me when we first got in because Aaron was still parking. I remember hearing them ask if I would wear a mask and Mayanne said “No”. I also heard them say that she couldn’t stay with me and only Aaron could, but he wasn’t with me yet so they were taking me away and wheeling me off to my room alone. I was aware of what was happening, but also in such a daze from the contractions and pain and fever. I hated all of this that was happening, but there was nothing I could do. Suddenly I heard one of the nurses say to me, “Unless she’s your doula….if she’s your doula she can be with you….is she your doula?” And I mustered a “Yes!” so they said she could come. Because only one support person is allowed, though, Garland wasn’t able to join even though she’d followed us to the hospital as well. I hated that, but at the moment was just so grateful that Mayanne could stay and Aaron got to the room as soon as they were getting me onto the bed to check my progress.
It was a flurry of question after question – that mostly Mayanne or Aaron were able to answer – as they strapped the monitors to my belly and made me lay on the bed (SO uncomfortable) to check the baby. They did a COVID test on me (sooo pleasant in the middle of contractions….) and said I’d have to wear a mask until it came back negative…but no one handed me one or ever said anything again. A few minutes later it came back negative, so the mask never ended up being an issue which I’m so grateful for! The new doctor and nurse team we now had after the shift change was amazing. They were so understanding of my wishes in coming from the birth center and while they were keeping an eye on everything – not knowing why Leighton’s heart rate was elevated or why I suddenly had a fever – they could see my body was working quickly to do it’s thing and they were willing to let it happen without any emergency interventions. I’ll admit I asked how long it would take to get an epidural because I was so DONE being in this pain – to which they said about 30 minutes. But I knew my body was working fast and that would be pointless. At this point Aaron also looked me in the eye and said, “You’ve got this. You’re so close. You can do this. You don’t need the epidural.” And I knew he was right. I knew this familiar panic feeling was a normal part of transition. After a bit I asked if I could get off the bed because it felt so awful, and they got me a birth ball. Right before getting off, my water broke and thankfully I knew it couldn’t be much longer now. Had a few rounds of contractions on the ball before I got my first urge to push, when I moved back onto the bed. I think was at 9 almost 10, so they helped stretch me the final bit on a contraction or two until they told me to push. They wanted me to lay back but I remember thinking, “What? No….I’m not laying on my back and pushing.” – I was annoyed as if I could expect them to read my mind to know what position I wanted to be in. Haha. So I asked them to sit the bed up so I was sitting and then they held my legs up so I could push against them, and hold the back of my thighs with my own hands as I pushed. I did this position for a loooong time while I was pushing with Llewyn (but ultimately delivered in a different position) so it felt familiar. Now, it took me 4 hours to push with Llewyn, and 30-minutes with Margot. I hate pushing and feel like it’s really hard work and just the weirdest sensation. But knowing that Leighton’s heart rate and my temperature meant we needed to get him out as soon as possible, I prayed for the strength to make it go quicker than ever before. And it did. After 3 pushing contractions (and the help of the Dr. pulling him out) – about 8 minutes total – he was born, at 7:27 pm! If the Dr. hadn’t assisted a bit, it probably would have taken another contraction or two completely on my own – but honestly I was so relieved to have him out and glad they helped it happen as quickly as possible. I couldn’t believe he was finally here! That flood of oxytocin and relief is truly amazing each time.
His temperature was 103 degrees when he was born, which is obviously high and concerning. After the cord was done pulsing and then cut they took him over to check him out and make sure he was ok, and thankfully his temperature immediately began coming down and then stayed down. He was also a whopping 9 lbs 7 oz and 22 inches long – huge compared to our other two and I couldn’t believe that much baby had been inside me! I was totally in love, though, and so relieved to see and hold him finally.
I bled out a bit more than the Dr. was happy with, but they got it under control, and thankfully I tore naturally and only to a 2nd degree, just like last time. I was GBS positive and had gotten antibiotics after labor started back at the birth center, but because I was dealing with some other infection they couldn’t figure out (they said it didn’t seem due to the GBS and didn’t seem like a uterine infection because I wasn’t in pain in that area), they added some other antibiotics to be given to me. In order to monitor the level of infection they took my lactic acid number which was initially 3.3 and I guess that’s high and is a clear indicator your body is fighting something. After some antibiotics it came down to 2.2, but in order to be in the “clear” it needed to be 2.0. So they took it again a couple hours later and mysteriously it spiked up to 4.4. It was a little scary because the Dr. didn’t know why my body would be reacting that way and was concerned something weird could be going on. So she ordered some fluids in addition to the antibiotics and said she’d have a medical group check on me since her specialty is just being an OB/gyn. I battled a little bit of fear of what that could mean, but kept holding onto how grateful I was that Leighton was perfectly healthy and what a huge praise that was. I managed to fall asleep for a little while and when I woke up after getting some rest + the fluids I felt SO much better and my lactic acid numbers were normal and never spiked back up again. It was truly weird, and it’s strange to not have actual specific answers of what was going on and why all of this happened.
The irony of working so hard to be healthy so that I didn’t risk out of the birth center but then having something unexplainable and bizarre happen that forced us to transfer is not lost on me. While I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bummed that I didn’t get to have the total, peaceful birth center experience I hoped for, I can also honestly say I’m ok and have peace about everything that happened. I mean, would it have even been a birth in the year 2020 if something bizarre or unplanned hadn’t happened? It felt very par for the course this year and in a strange way, deep down I expected something unplanned to happen. But in spite of that, there is so much to be grateful for:
1) First and foremost, several weeks back during the pregnancy when I was laying on my bed (on my left side) crying and feeling so exhausted and discouraged and unsure about the pandemic and wanting to be healthy and safe, the Lord gave me a clear picture of Him standing there with me beside the bed – His left hand on my back and His right hand on my belly/Leighton. He told me that He had seen us through this far, and He wouldn’t fail to have His hand on us through the end. I didn’t know what that would mean, but it brought me so much comfort and peace and when things got crazy during the labor and transfer, I had peace because of that picture and that promise. I knew He had His hand on both of us, and the way the whole situation worked out proves exactly that He did.
2) I still got to start my birth at the birth center and because of that, still got to have Mayanne and my prenatal and postnatal care with her and the other midwives, and the support of Garland at the birth center + all the text support before and after from both her and Bethany. I am SO grateful for this. Mayanne was such a gift and I can’t imagine this labor without her gentle, calm and caring spirit. I’m so appreciative that she made the call that was in the best interest of me and Leighton, and that she stayed by my side for all of it. Cannot say enough how amazing she is.
3) I still got to have another unmedicated, non-intervention birth! Ultimately that’s what I had with my other two – unmedicated deliveries in a hospital setting with a midwife. So, really, while my plans were different this time, the result was very similar to my other two which were also great experiences. I have no trauma in relation to hospitals or anything that made having to transfer extra awful aside from just the inconvenience of it. I’m so grateful for that!
4) Leighton was healthy and literally the word “perfect” was used so many times when checking his vitals and labs, etc. WHAT A PRAISE. I don’t take that for granted for one minute, but it allowed my recovery and our hospital stay to be so peaceful because I wasn’t worried about him.
5) The hospital team at Inova Fair Oaks was truly wonderful. I couldn’t have asked to be better cared for or treated more kindly than what we got. From Dr. Jabola to all of the nurses both in labor and postpartum, everyone was so kind and understanding and that is certainly not always the case, so I’m grateful for such a positive experience.
6) My big, beautiful, healthy baby boy was born in his own time, with his own crazy story and does, after all, share a birthday with my grandma. I didn’t even know how special that would be to me until it happened. He also latched quickly and easily after birth and has been great at gaining weight. These are also huge praises from having past worries about weight gain and latching.
If you are one of the few who made it all the way this far, I’m truly impressed. Ultimately I write it all down for my own sake to remember the details and God’s fingerprints through it all. But I hope in some way it brought you joy or encouragement, as well.
I’m so deeply grateful for my sweet third born, and second baby boy. Leighton is the perfect addition to our family and I cannot wait to see who he becomes and how the Lord’s hand will continue to be evident in his life as he grows. Bringing him home to meet his older siblings was so sweet and it was clear from the first moments how much they adore him. I hope and pray they will have close relationships as they grow. Welcome to our family, and the world, sweet Leighton Oswald!