Where do I even begin? I have sat and thought how I wanted to write and process Aibhlinn’s earth side journey many times, but the story is so much more than just her actual birthing day. It encompasses days, months, and years of a journey that gave us this precious gift.
After several miscarriages and years of waiting for another baby, we started our IVF journey in May 2017. Maybe at some point I will write out our IVF journey, but I will save that for another post. Our retrieval gave us three embryos to freeze last July.
After several hiccups, we finally got to have our first FET (frozen embryo transfer) on October 18, 2017. My best friend, Hunter, took me. It was a very nerve wracking and surreal experience. The process was like a pap smear. We got to watch on ultrasound as the embryo was “poofed” into my uterus. I was sent home for three days of strict bed rest, and reassured that the embryo would not fall out! I can now say that is true. She did not fall out!
With my boys, I was always pretty sure that the queasy/nausea started from implantation, but of course could not know for sure. I can promise you that I am one of those special people that start to experience nausea at the first drop of hcg production in my body! Three days after our FET, I experienced a couple of dizzy/queasy spells, followed by several bouts of queasiness and a faint positive pregnancy test the next day. Our first FET worked! We are expecting!
I was thrown immediately into a very difficult pregnancy, only I did not know it yet. The nausea came on hard and fast. If I was not working, I was most likely in the bed so sick. I kept counting down the weeks until 14-16 weeks when the nausea should be gone to get me through, except I did not know that the nausea would never go away.
We got the first glimmer of our miracle at 5.4 weeks, and saw her heart flickering on the screen at 5.6 weeks. It was absolutely surreal. We had weekly ultrasounds at the fertility clinic. Every Tuesday morning I would go in, convinced they were going to give me bad news while I could barely keep myself from throwing up.
It was a very anxiety ridden time. The news was always good. Aibhlinn continued to grow ahead of schedule by two days, and we were able to graduate at 12.4 weeks, which was the day after Christmas!
I did a blood test at 9 weeks that was suppose to be 99% accurate at detecting the sex of the baby. We were so excited to find out if we were having a boy or girl, so I was of course pricking my finger to send in the test at 9 weeks exactly. The test error-ed, and we had to wait several more days for a new test. The results came back a couple days later, telling us:
We were thankful for another baby, and I was resigning to being a boy mom. Sweet Silas was very tearful as he wanted a baby sister more than anything. I told him he could always hope and pray that there was some error, and that the ultrasound at 14 weeks would give him different news.
I never expected to be told anything different when I went in for an ultrasound at 14 weeks. I just wanted to have the sex of the baby solidifed for me so that I could really start planning and envisioning.
I was SO shocked when the sonographer said, “It’s a GIRL!” Both sonographers looked, and then confirmed again at my 20 week ultrasound. We were definitely having a girl!
I saw my midwife for our first official prenatal appointment at 20 weeks. I had previously established care with another midwife team for home birth and my other midwife was going to be in case of a hospital birth, but I was not comfortable and my gut said I needed to be fully with Melissa, and that is what I did at 20 weeks. Melissa is fabulous, and I was blessed to train under her when I was an apprentice midwife. I had no doubt that I was in the best hands for my pregnancy and delivery.
My first bout of preterm labor began at 20 weeks. It seemed it was triggered from an infection. I had braxton hicks on the regular. My next bad bout of contractions was at 24 weeks after a stressful job encounter. I could not get the contractions to stop for a couple of days, and it has me worried. I was suppose to go on moderate bed rest at this time. I had a positive fetal fibronectin come back at 29.3 weeks plus I was making small cervical change, which basically said my body was starting the process to go into labor, and I would need to take my body cues of contractions much more seriously.
I had a crazy work week that week, and by 29.6 weeks, the contractions were crazy. They were not intense like a baby was coming, but they were regular, annoying, and strengthening. It was decided I should come in to the hospital for 48 hours of magnesium, steroids, and observation. My cervix had changed slightly, and I was on bed rest while in the hospital.
When I was discharged three days later, my midwife had a serious conversation with me about going on bed rest.
Having a baby at 30 weeks was not at all ideal, and I needed to do all I could to keep Aibhlinn in every extra day we could get. The agreement was bed rest, and that I could be driven to births and be a support and bystander for my mamas.
Bed rest definitely helped. There is no denying that at all. I went from contractions every 2-5 minutes, to 3 an hour at first. We were all happy that they slowed so much after the hospital trip. It bought us some days before things started to creep up again.
At 33.2 weeks, I had a crazy bout of contractions that actually were fairly uncomfortable. I soaked in the bath tub and then stood in the shower, trying to get relief, but nothing worked. After several hours, I finally got them to slow down.
This continued off and on the rest of the week. I was waiting for a sweet repeat client to deliver, and was so stressed I would miss her birth.
I think in hind sight, I probably held out for her. It was a super rough week on the contraction front, but that sweet mama delivered in the early hours of May 24th. I caught a nap, and saw client’s all afternoon from my bed. I just wanted to get some sleep that night to make up from the all nighter the night before, but the uterus had other ideas!
At 230am on May 25th (my birthday!), I woke with contractions. Joy! I was 34.0 weeks. I had an appointment with the MFM (maternal fetal medicine specialist) two days prior, and Aibhlinn’s heart rate was very high, and the decision was made to stop all tocolytics and just let things move how they were going to move since they were impacting her heart rate.
Needless to say, contractions were crazy. I tried a bath, and forced myself to rest as I did not want to be exhausted if labor was trying to start. I finally got about 90 minutes of a rough nap, before being awake for the day at 730am.
It was uncomfortable to rest, so I tried sitting on the birth ball, then alternated walking the house with walking outside with Gideon. The husband was getting anxious because he says I always “wait too long” before calling it, but I knew things were still going to be awhile as I was uncomfortable, but did not feel like I was active.
Around lunch time, the decision was made by the husband and midwife that I should come in. Two days earlier I had seen Melissa, and was still dilated a generous 1cm, 3-4cm external os, thick, and soft. I got to the hospital around 130pm, and waited for Melissa to arrive. Contractions at this point were much more uncomfortable at this point, and I was going to be super upset if I had not made any change.
Melissa arrived, and did my exam around 230pm. I was 2-3cm, 50%, -3 station with bloody show, and contractions every 3 minutes. It was decided I would walk the hospital, and see what kind of progress was made. I asked my doula, Hunter, to come so that she could help me with lift and tuck and some positioning to get things going. If Aibhlinn was going to come, I wanted this process to be as efficient as humanly possible.
Christopher and I walked the floors of the hospital, until they had a room ready for us at 4pm. They drew my labs, placed a hep lock, and did some brief monitoring while they got me in the system.
Hunter got there, and we did lift and tuck. After that I alternated a variety of positions. I would sit on the ball, walk the room, pull out the stool to do captain morgan’s. I had a lot of pressure in my pubic bone. When Melissa came in to do an exam around 630pm, I said I felt like she was possibly acynclitic or something. It was very uncomfortable where I felt the contractions. At this exam, I was 3cm, 50% effaced, and baby was at a -2. Melissa swept my membranes to see what would happen.
Contractions picked up some after the exam and sweep. I continued to do a variety of positions to help try to move baby’s position and to get the show on the road. I am all about efficiency, and if this was happening, I wanted it over with. If it was not, then I wanted it to stop. Hunter suggested open knee chest around 11pm. Normally this position is quite magical for people. This position completely stalled things out! It was crazy. I went from contractions every 3 minutes, to very mild contractions every 5-6 minutes. Melissa checked me, and I was the same. The plan was then to rest as much as humanly possible, and see how things were in the morning.
I walked the halls of postpartum until about 2am before attempting to rest. I had a rough, not restful night of sleep. I would maybe doze for 20 minutes, then be wide awake for an hour. It was rough. By morning, things were the same. It was decided I could go home, with the full expectation that I would be returning some point soon. I was told to keep my hospital bands on so that they could potentially use the same blood work if I returned by Monday.
We went home, arriving about 1030am. I took a shower, and took a nap. I sent my chiropractor, Nora, a text to see if she could adjust me. At my last exam, it was felt that the baby had a hand presenting, which may have been what was causing the pelvic bone discomfort. I went to Nora’s at 530pm, and got adjusted.
I struggled with sleep again that night. I ended up taking a warm, epsom salt bath, and finally fell asleep around midnight. Contractions woke me up at 530am Sunday morning (May 27th). All morning they were coming about every 3 minutes, lasting 50 seconds. The husband and I went to breakfast, and then ran into a couple stores to pick up a few preemie outfits since we only had two, and it was becoming apparent that we probably would need them.
I was uncomfortable by lunch time. My back hurt with these contractions. The husband went and picked us up lunch, and then I laid on my left side in the bed, breathing through the contractions and trying to rest.
Unknown to me, the husband was texting Melissa. He was getting antsy, and I absolutely refused to go to the hospital. Although my back hurt and I was uncomfortable, I knew things were probably moving unearthly slow. Mid afternoon, he insisted he was going to figure out how to check my cervix because he did not want to have the baby in the car. I did not either, but I did not want to make the hour long drive to the hospital again for nothing!
Well the second exam he wanted to do around 8pm turned into quite the antics! he was trying to make sure it was the cervix, and then realized he was touching the baby’s head. During this realization, I began to have a contraction. Lightning fast, he shot his hand out of my cervix and fell across the room, panting as if he has the biggest fear of his life. He began to full on panic, as he exclaimed, “Your vagina tried to eat my hand!” I died laughing, while the poor man kept shaking and freaking out from what he considered a sci fi like experience.
Using the dilation wheel, the husband thought I was 5cm, and let Melissa know. I was still refusing to go to the hospital. Melissa sent me a text a little before 10pm, basically saying not to be stubborn. I reluctantly agreed, and we headed towards the hospital, arriving a little before midnight. Melissa did my exam right around midnight (now May 28th), and I was 5cm dilated, 50% effaced, and baby at a -2 station.
I walked the halls, before losing all my steam. I was wiped. I had not slept decently in over a week, and not had more than a nap in five days between work and contractions. Golden Girls was playing in the background on the hospital TV, while I continued to position myself in different ways in the bed to hopefully help progression, comfort, and rest.
Melissa checked me at 7am, and said I was very thin. Here is where I have to say that when it comes to my personal labors, I really want efficiency and to get the job done. I begged Melissa to break my water Friday, and she would not. With Gideon, my water was broken without my consent at 4cm, and he came four hours later. With Silas, I requested it at 5cm, and he also was born four hours later. After this exam, she said she felt more comfortable with the idea.
I was much thinner, and my cervix stretchier. We made a plan that I would eat breakfast, and she would come back in a couple hours to check me and break my water. NICU team was changing at that point, and it was a better NNP on call. I notified my doula, Hunter, and my birth photographer, Stephanie, so that they could aim to come around my water breaking time.
Melissa broke my water at 915am, and my team slowly trickled in by 11am. Hunter assisted me with lift and tucks to help get things moving.
We continued that until the NNP came in to talk with the husband and I to tell us what to expect and to review question. I labored through stronger contractions on the birth ball while we talked with her.
We loved Adrienne (NNP), who ended up being the NNP on most days, as well as discharge day from the NICU.
After she left, I walked around the room while the husband ran out for some lunch to bring back. My hips were starting to ache during contractions, and I found myself holding on to them for some relief while I walked.
I had intermittent monitoring, so every thirty minutes my awesome nurse would do heart tones through a contraction, and check my vitals every hour or two. I tried to snack on a couple of fries in between contractions, but I am prone to vomiting in labor, and was nervous to eat too much at this point. I did make a point of drinking plenty of water and juice, since I did not have an IV or heplock, which we will discuss later. Just note, get the dang heplock!
As 1pm neared, I decided to make loops around the postpartum unit. The postpartum unit walks were becoming very familiar to me, as I had already spent a lot of time walking those halls! During this walk, was when I could tell things were starting to really intensify.
I had been frustrated that I was not about to have a baby since my boys have always coming four hours after rupture of membranes, but I was determined to keep moving to get this journey complete. I had to stop frequently to blow through contractions. Hunter kept making jokes about the wall art, and telling me I could pretend I was laboring in a meadow.
When we got to the room, I think it was Stephanie that suggested I try the shower since I always liked the water for relief. I changed into a cami, and got into the shower. The warm water felt so good. I thought of a client who I caught her baby in the shower who was using the movable shower head on her pubic bone for relief, and so wished I had that option. However, the hot water on my back helped immensely with the relief for my back and helped me manage the pubic bone pain.
Things really moved into transition in the shower. I really liked my birth play list to help me focus. While in the shower, the bluetooth speaker kept turning off, and that was frustrating me.
Apparently my children were on you tube at my in-laws, and they are connected to my account, so it kept shutting down my you tube. Once that was discovered, then the music stayed on. I *think* Aibhlinn was born to the song “Healer”, which is absolutely fitting to everything about her and her journey.
I remember helping the nurse find heart tones with the doppler in the shower since it was easier for me since I knew where she was. The last time I remember was looking at my watch at 218pm, and knowing I was starting to feel the smallest bits of pressure at the peaks of contractions. I knew it was not going to be too long.
I remember Stephanie being in the bathroom, and I said, “You won’t be able to get good pictures if I stay in the shower, right?” She, unfortunately, agreed with me. I knew I was feeling some pressure, and probably should get out of my ever so comfortable shower since I wanted the pictures!
Stephanie helped get me what I needed, and I dried and changed back into my labor gown. I labored on the toilet, and felt to be sure baby was not super low and deceiving me. She was not.
I walked into my room, and immediately was overcome with the intense pressure that contraction waves bring. I was shaky and light headed, and immediately needed to sit. I rocked on the birth ball, and asked for a heating pad for my back, which Hunter began to use as she applied counter pressure.
I have always spent transition in a birth pool, so I have never experienced the dramatic difference laboring outside of water is like until this experience. Let me tell you in case you needed to know, the water helps immensely!
I have no concept of time at this point. Labor is active, and I know deep inside it won’t be long and she will be here. I remember feeling so emotional, because I had a huge fear of a stillbirth in labor, and that fear would creep up that I would have gone through all of this, just to lose her.
It is funny the different things that ran through my mind in this final half hour of labor. I thought of different women I have labored with through the years. I thought of one who labors quite uniquely, and thought “This is why she tries to run outside naked in transition!”
Everything hurt. There was so much pressure every where, and I was so nauseous which was so unpleasant. Hunter helped dose me with a homeopathy that helps so many of my clients in labor, but did nothing for me.
I had to move. The pressure was getting too great on the birth ball, but when I stood up, I felt like I was going to pass out. It made me wonder how on earth do women deliver standing or squatting. I did not feel strong enough for that. I immediately got into the bed in hands and knees and continued to labor.
I have never been vocal in my previous labors, but there was a lot of moaning coming out.
Once I was in the bed, the vomiting began. Once I start, it just keeps on coming. After vomiting a few times, I took oral Zofran. I figured this was a perk of being in the hospital, and it would be one less thing I have to deal with coping through. Thankfully, the nasuea improved greatly!
The pressure was so intense at this point. Apparently, as I heard later from the very annoyed NICU nurse, they kept calling in saying it would be any minute. She was very annoyed that I was not examined so that she could know my station. Oh well. She can get over it!
According to Hunter, it was 321pm when I exclaimed, “Melissa, Baby!” I felt Aibhlinn descend rapidly into the birth canal, and I now felt burning. I remember asking Melissa if she could see the baby, but I was trying to climb up the bed from the rapid intensity of the pain, so she could not see anything.
I remember reminding myself to calm down and relax, and eventually I did, at which time Melissa began to assist me with birthing the baby.
I never really pushed. I think I gave one or two pushes once she was crowning because my smallest baby burned the most, and I wanted her out. It was not long, thank God! At 323pm, Aibhlinn came into the world, with great Apgars and breathing so well for a 34.3 weeker!
A few days later, the NICU nurse who was in for delivery, had to comment about my delivery. She said, “Mrs. Stellhorn, I have NEVER seen a woman deliver the way you delivered your baby.” She was mortified by how “different” my delivery was, since I did not have an epidural nor did I deliver in the standard lithotomy position.
Aibhlinn was on my chest for several minutes while we got skin to skin time waiting for the cord to stop pulsing. Everything was very calm and peaceful. Once the cord stopped pulsing, Melissa clamped the cord, and the husband cut the cord.
The baby went to the warmer for her vitals, while Melissa delivered my placenta. When people had asked me over the weeks of preterm labor about how I felt about my delivery, I had made peace with a possible hospital birth, and I fully trusted that God would have me delivering where it was safest for Aibhlinn and me. That I would find the purpose in the birth journey that God was orchestrating for me.
I never in a million years would have guessed that I would have any complications from my delivery. That is the easy part for me. It is the pregnancy that is difficult. This journey decided to change it up.
The baby was back on my chest, as the placenta finally delivered. With it, came a water fall of blood. I remember feeling it pour out of me, and I was trying to guesstimate my blood loss from feeling, and was guessing 1000cc.
Stephanie told me weeks later that she can still hear the blood “squirting” out of me, it was so much and so fast. All of a sudden, Melissa’s hand went up my uterus and caught me off guard. I remember asking her if something was retained, and in her quiet, but if you know Melissa, “panicked” voice tone, she said, “No tone.” I suggested Christopher take the baby, asI knew this would be awful. Hunter supported me to help me stay calm, while Melissa attempted to force my uterus to contract. Blood kept pouring. Nurses were scrambling. Someone gave me a shot of pitocin, and then methergine. Another nurse began to start an IV and IV pitocin, while Melissa inserted cytotec. My uterus finally began to contract, and the bleeding stopped. My EBL ended up being 2600cc by weight.
The blood loss soon began to hit me. I normally feel pretty “drunk” after delivery, but I had felt so alert and well after this delivery until the bleeding. I began to shake uncontrollably from being so cold. Nurses brought in warm blanket after warm blanket, but it was never enough. I felt sick, and in so much pain. I eventually agreed to stadol about two hours after delivery because nothing was helping the pain. The stadol knocked me out for an hour, and when I woke, I felt much better.
Melissa helped me latch Aibhlinn, and Aibhlinn breastfed like a champ before the golden hour was up, and she had to go to the NICU. It would be several hours before I would get to see her again, as I was too weak to even get out of bed.
Welcome to the world, Aibhlinn Noelle, born earth side on May 28th, 2018 at 323pm, weighing in at 5lbs 7ozs, 17 3/4 inches long. Her name is Gaelic/French and means “long awaited (Christmas) gift” all together. We worked and prayed so hard for her for many years, and God gave us our long awaited gift after many years of trials and storms, and our rainbow is here.
She is an absolute delight of my life, and the sleep deprivation and being covered in baby spit up are very much a gift and a blessing after losing so many babies and waiting so long for this baby.
Many, many thanks to my WONDERFUL tribe and team who helped me at various spots in this journey.
Dr. Jason Griffith at Houston Fertility Institute, Willowbrook location, and his wonderful nurses.
Melissa White, CNM, at Women’s Care Center in the south Houston area, delivering at Bayshore Hospital.
Hunter Clayburn, doula and one of my best friends. She was with me during my FET since my husband had to stay with our kids, and with me as I birthed my rainbow.
Nora Pacha, one of my awesome chiropractors.
Stephanie Shirley, my amazing friend and birth photographer, of Stephanie Shirley Photography. So thankful she was with me, and captured our special day.
Kelly Richman, my wonderful maternity and newborn photographer of Lifetime of Clicks Photography.