Gwendolyn’s journey from creation to earth side is one full of many unexpected moments ending with one of my most peaceful birthing journeys.
We found out we were pregnant the day before we left for several weeks of cultural training in North Carolina. I had felt a bit queasy and had awful acid reflux and had a fleeting thought maybe I should test before we went out of town. To my surprise, the test came back positive. I ran to get my levels checked and my hcg was 3. Yes, you read that right… a 3! It’s astonishing to me that a home test can even be positive that soon and that I am that symptomatic barely pregnant.
The timing of Gwendolyn’s pregnancy wasn’t the most ideal. We were in the home stretch of preparing for our move to Scotland, and hadn’t desired moving while pregnant. I have horrible pregnancies in case you haven’t read my other stories or followed me on social media (read Aibhlinn’s story here and Cullen’s story here). The timing of finding out before this training was also less than ideal, but tried to push through and make the best of it.
Training went from barely bearable to brutal on me while in the throws of the first trimester. I quickly entered horrible aversions and being very rural and far from groceries or restaurants, it was hard to keep me hydrated. My good ole friend Coca Cola actually made me throw up… and it was then I knew this could be bad. I became severely dehydrated suffering from awful dizzy spells, and having to miss sessions because I couldn’t see straight or handle sitting upright. Christopher ended up finding a mobile IV clinic that would come far away for me, and I received fluids and a Meyers infusion and felt some relief. I wish we had found them sooner!
We made it back when I was in my 8th week, and I had my IV guy basically meet me at our home to give me fluids, vitamins, and zofran. He came out several times over the next month, and I feel like that’s what sustained me and got me through. My MFM wanted me to try a zofran pump again until we moved, but my needle phobia was so severe and the scar tissue so rough from Cullen’s pregnancy that I didn’t think I could mentally do it.
My first set of labs found me with severe iron deficiency, and my functional doctor wanted me to have iron infusions, but said she didn’t feel comfortable doing them on me pregnant. I had recently become interested in learning more about anemia and iron deficiency, and was open to trying infusions before we moved. Once I hit second trimester, I had a midwife friend sign the order, and did my five Venofer infusions before I moved.
Doing the infusions was a game changer for me. I hadn’t realized how many of my symptoms were caused by iron deficiency. By time I completed my infusions, I wasn’t struggling to breathe anymore, my heart rate had slowed down, my dizzy spells decreased, and I wasn’t requiring a daily nap… I felt like I actually had energy. I am so grateful for these infusions, and am so grateful for evidence based providers and information that can help make appropriate choices.
I did my anatomy scan right before we moved as we flew out to Aberdeen when I was 20 weeks exactly… and all was perfect for our new little princess.
We had the name Gwendolyn Elspeth picked out since February of 2019, when we had been to Scotland on holiday. We had been walking in the village of Gullane and passed “Gwendolyn Lane”, and both said that if we ever had another girl, that would indeed be her name. Gwendolyn is Welsh and means fair or blessed, and Elspeth is Scottish and means chosen by God… which for us means our little blessing given perfectly for us from God.
And just like that, we said goodbye to Houston and took off for our new homeland in Scotland.
Moving happened at such a sweet spot in the pregnancy as second trimester is usually just a bit kinder to me, so were able to get settled before the third trimester brought back the strong first trimester symptoms of nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, etc.
I had my first prenatal visit here in Scotland at 25 weeks. My prenatal care experience was less than ideal and stressful. The community midwife for our village was quite young and seemed very green, and I couldn’t tell from appointment to appointment what was actually going through her mind. It was frustrating to me to constantly hear “NHS protocol” as the response to everything. Within the same appointment, I was told I needed a growth scan because my baby’s are too small, and then when my fundal height was measuring larger than expected, I was told my baby was too big, even with all the valid arguments presenting to her of why mine is larger, she continued with “NHS protocol” information. I refused, and got the lovely risk factor of “care outside of guidelines”.
29 weeks my last two pregnancies have brought unkind things to me… with Aibhlinn the reality that a test showed high chance of preterm labor and getting admitted with my contractions and Cullen for what seemed like preterm labor but was actually a bad UTI trying to destroy my kidneys. We were grateful to make it through the 29th week with no issues, and were hopeful that maybe we could make it to 37 weeks after all!
The community midwife for my village was moving to Glasgow so came to do my “home visit” at the very end of July so it was complete. I was just getting my birth pool and supplies in so it was nice to be getting all the supplies and getting things situated and ready for what we hoped was a late August birth.
However, the evening of the 5th at 33.6 weeks, I felt the familiar signs of contractions that were not braxton hicks but the start of our labor journey. We live in a land where I couldn’t find any of my normal “go tos” for stopping contractions, so sipped on some cider in hopes the alcohol would bring sleep and a relaxed uterus. We found the next day that a sleeping medication here has the same active ingredient at American Benadryl, so purchased that to use as well.
I spent the next couple days of that weekend relaxing, and attempting to harvest a bit of colostrum to have for when the baby was born. My uterus stayed quieter, and was able to get some sleep, although not the best rest with the continuous contractions. I quickly ordered preemie clothes online, as well as navigating bottles and preemie diapers and all the things I was not prepared for yet!
Monday, 8th of august, I was set to have my regular midwife appointment. My contractions had picked up again, and I was at the point of wanting a cervical exam. Historically, once I am a good 3cm dilated, I am usually holding a baby 48 hours later. I needed to know if these contractions were doing something so that I knew if I needed to take things seriously.
Mid morning I received a call stating they wanted to move my midwife appointment out two weeks, and I said that actually I was contracting and was hoping to have a cervical check to make sure things weren’t serious. You would have thought my request was the craziest in the world! The midwife was shocked and said absolutely not that you cannot have exams in the GP Surgery because the baby might fall out.
Fall out? Really? A G5 who is a midwife is going to walk into the surgery and just plant a baby right there on your table? I don’t think so.
So I then requested to see if I could please be checked at the Inverurie Maternity Centre, which is like a freestanding birth centre to us Americans, as it was ten minutes from my house, and a lot easier than driving into Aberdeen.
Again I was told no because the baby may fall out and they aren’t equipped for a late preemie.
I couldn’t believe it. No one would just do a quick, gentle cervical check, listen to me, or take me seriously.
The head of the unit said I would have to go to Aberdeen, and I said I would absolutely not go to Aberdeen, that I was not stepping foot into a labor ward with a caesarean rate pushing 60%. That I wanted an exam which is not invasive and not asking a lot, but would continue at home if no one would help me.
Sometime passed and the head of the unit phoned back and let me know she had secured me a bed in the midwife led unit at Aberdeen if I would please then go to be assessed. The midwife led unit is like a birth centre inside a hospital. It’s a lot more freedom, and less interventions. They were not keen to let me be there as I was 34.2, but I had argued that if a NICU was literally down the hall and I have a history of uncomplicated later preterm babies, I don’t see what the problem is.
We arrived at unit in the early afternoon, and found I was indeed 3cm as I had suspected. I requested steroid injections for the baby’s lungs, and the consultant happily obliged. The midwife and consultant there initially were quite lovely. It was decided I should stay and see what happens.
I sent Christopher back home to be with the kids, and a plan was made should I feel he need to come back, someone would come sleep at our house with the kids.
One interesting thing about being in the unit here versus at home was they brought trays of food and constantly asked if you needed a snack or a drink or anything. That was such a pleasant surprise.
Before shift change, the midwife checked me again, and found I was still 3cm, but swept my membranes per my request. I have a massive fear of hemorrhaging as I had a bad one with Aibhlinn when I was left to labor for days before any intervening happened.
With shift change brought a new midwife… which ended up being a male midwife. He was great, but reminded me of the episode of The Office where Pam had the male IBCLC helping her with breastfeeding. So funny.
My contractions got stronger, were coming every 3 minutes. I eventually wanted Christopher because I needed his presence, and he arrived after 10pm. The midwife suggested walking, so we walked and walked. We walked all over the hospital and all around outside, but nothing was changing the intensity of contractions. My hips and back ached, and I was completely exhausted.
Around 2am, the midwife suggested considering a stronger sleep medication to try to see if I could sleep and calm my uterus. I forgot what it’s called here, but when I looked it up it was Ambien. I knew my uterus needed a break and so did I, so I agreed. I slept a hard 3 hours. The midwife set up a bed for Christopher so he could get some rest too.
When I woke, I found my uterus still contracting but much calmer, maybe every 10 minutes.
Everything here felt like it happened fast. The next shift was coming on, and it wasn’t great. I was given an older midwife and a consultant that I did not like. I was being pressured to move to triage where they would keep me until I had a baby. They were pulling all the stops on me, with full on manipulation of how I was taking a bed from someone who needed it more (the unit had been empty when I arrived, and a birth happened next door in the night but no one else there in the moment), and when I continued to not back down the consultant got incredibly ugly with her words. I was so angry, I was crying while I was having to advocate for myself. I finally demanded to receive my second steroid shot right then and there, and said we would be leaving since they needed the bed so desperately. I looked the consultant in the eyes and told her I would free birth before I ever stepped foot into the labor ward because I wouldn’t want anyone like her being part of my labor or being the first to touch my baby. Before we left, the midwife gave Christopher the direct number to the midwife led unit and told him when I became more active to please phone the unit, and they would get me a bed there.
I was so happy to get back home to my kids, and be in my space. I took a nap that afternoon, and generally rested as the contractions gently hung around all day.
As the little two were going to bed, I felt the contractions pick back up, and they were different. They were 6-8 minutes, but quite long at 120 seconds, and intense. As I watched Cullen fall asleep, I knew that it was his last night as the baby of the family, and that Gwendolyn was coming soon.
I took a bath and another dose of the sleeping medication from the chemist, and went to sleep. I am so grateful for that sleep, as I woke at 2am and there was no more sleep to be had. The contractions hurt so much in my hips and my back. I alternated getting in the shower with pacing the room with sitting in the bed. Christopher made me some breakfast so I ate a little for protein, as the waves got stronger. I had him do a check around 5-6am, and he was confident I was a good 5cm. As much as I didn’t want to, I knew he would feel better if we went to the midwife unit, so figured he should probably phone then. Christopher phoned the unit around 6am and was told to phone back in an hour and see what they could do.
I continued with my pacing and showering until the hour passed. He phoned again and was told that the unit was completely full plus it was now shift change, to give it another hour and see what they could arrange.
At this point I felt like my hips were going to break, and I needed to be in water. I got into a hot bath with Epsom salts, and in those moments of relaxing in the water with just the sounds of my birth playlist playing in the background, I knew I wasn’t leaving my house. I did not want to deal with a car ride with these contractions… and I zoned in.
Another hour passed and Christopher phoned back in. I didn’t know at the time what he was told, all I knew was that he was suddenly agreeable to setting up the birth pool and fine with us not leaving. What I later found out was that there wasn’t a single bed available in the entire hospital, and there were 6 women labouing in the halls waiting for a bed… literally “no room at the inn” in the only hospital you can have a baby in this whole medical catchment.
I worked my way out of the bath as Christopher made space for the pool in the tiny bedroom that we had planned to place it in. I worked on setting up supplies for the birth as I could between contractions so that everything needed to make things safe was out and available.
Around 930am, he found me to be 7cm, and soon my waters broke after, indicating to me that we were having a baby today. We notified the doula and photographer, and they were both soon on their way.
I labored on my knees in the bed, leaning over the birth ball while waiting for the pool to finish filling. Someone offered for Aibhlinn to come play at their house, so the house was soon quiet and able to just be in the zone. (Aibhlinn has such fun memories of this day, where she left to play with her friend Toby and came home to a baby!)
I got in the pool around 1030/11, and never left. I got in the zone, and focused on each labour wave as they came, aching more and more in my hips and my back. I would occasionally ask for the Doppler to listen to the baby for peace of mind.
Christopher was a tad anxious and had already been talking to my midwife friend, Rowan, the past few days about things. Once it got passed 11, I told him she may be awake and he could text her if he needed to. She responded and agreed to watch things virtually and guide him accordingly. He had found an old ring doorbell camera that he set up in the room so she would watch from Houston. Still so funny and entertaining.
Time passed… I would move and alternate my position as suggested of me. Everything felt awful. I had already made up my mind that I would deliver semi reclining to make it easier for Christopher to help me even though the recovery last time from it was so awful. So that was a constant thought in my brain through the contractions to be sure I was in that position.
I could feel Gwendolyn shifting and moving, and the slow build of tiny peaks of pushy pressure trying to start. My body wanted to push, but I wanted to let it build until all my body could do was push.
I soon could tell it wasn’t going to be long. My eyes were closed, focusing on the swaying in the pool, the soothing music on my playlist, and calmly breathing through the intensity. The next contraction came and I knew she was coming. I opened my eyes, and I was all alone. No one was there. Not Christopher, not the photographer. I called for them, and Christopher came running, and the photographer had been behind me where I couldn’t see. Seconds later, Gwendolyn was crowning before tumbling into the world into her daddy’s arms.
This photo is one of my all time favorites… I had a birth in 2013 where a photographer captured a similar photo at the birth, and I always wished to have one at my own birth. I am so grateful that this photographer got such a beautiful shot.
Welcome to the world Gwendolyn Elspeth, born August 10th, 2023 at 1428 weighing 5lbs 2ozs, 17.75in long.
Once the big mess was cleaned up and baby’s blood sugars were stable, we phone the midwives who did not want to come and wanted us to go to the hospital. I informed them I would not be bringing a well newborn with no signs of respiratory distress or other issues to the hospital. They arrived 30 minutes later.
It was by far my most peaceful birth. I never would have thought I would have had a free birth, but circumstances pushed us into that situation that we felt absolute peace, and I am certain that if another baby was born here in Scotland, I wouldn’t hesitate to have a similar journey again.
Photos by Emma Lawson Photography.