Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Elsie's Birth Story

I’ve admittedly struggled at the thought of putting Elsie’s birth into words. It was such an incredible and empowering experience—one that left me head-over-heels in love with all the things my body can and has done for me and with all the people who gave endless support.


There is a tendency to explain empowerment and triumph in a context of disempowerment and defeat. Owning and sharing the latter is hard. They’re also not entirely reflective of the whole experience. Rainbows only come after rain and sometimes the hardest of experiences are the best, most empowering teachers.

I’m a mother. I’ve birthed three babies. My first two babies were born via cesarean section. My third was an uncomplicated, unmedicated VBA2C. How we normally tell these stories is by talking about all the things we did wrong in the past and focusing on how we did the right thing to achieve the outcome we desired. We knew better and did better and were rewarded. Follow the formula and things will be all right. Just trust in the process and you’ll be fine.

But what I learned from my past births is that sometimes things just happen and sometimes they happen in ways we want and sometimes they happen in ways we don’t. More than anything, Elsie’s birth taught me the same thing that Hyrum and Emilia’s did—you need to let go--let go of expectations, let go of anxiety and, most importantly, let go of outcome as the driver of the story.

Nearly four years before Elsie was born, I sat in a clinic room with Ali, one of the midwives at Aurora. I poured out my heart to her about my dashed VBAC hopes with Emilia, about how my changing faith had come part and parcel with the postpartum depression, about the darkness that had accompanied those past couple years but also about how I had grown as a person and a mother. There were lots of tears. We also laughed and talked together as friends. There are few people in this world that have ever made me feel as quickly at home as Ali did. At the end of that visit I knew that I wanted her to be my midwife someday.

But babies have their own timing—both in the coming and not coming--and earlier this year, over five years since giving birth to Emilia, Elsie surprised us with her new existence. After giving myself a few moments to absorb the shock, I fired off an email to Ali on a hope and a prayer that she would still remember me and that her team might have some room around my due date. Getting the phone call from her the that I had been accepted into her team’s care was the first moment I breathed an easy breath since those two lines appeared on that pregnancy test.

Our first appointments were largely spent with me crying—both over the shock of life taking a new turn but also because I was admittedly worried that I would have yet another cesarean birth and/or yet another half-decade of postpartum depression. I didn’t think my heart could handle another round of disappointment or depression. But with every appointment and encounter, I walked away feeling supported. No matter what happened, I knew that this time would be different.

My pregnancy progressed normally and easily. Aside from an uptick in morning sickness compared to past pregnancies, this was my easiest and most comfortable pregnancy thanks to regular chiropractic care, continued workout sessions with my personal trainer, some Spinning Babies exercises and a massive amount of ridiculous body contortions as I cleaned just about every nook and cranny of the house (I’d been told that spending time on my hands and knees would help baby get into the best position for birth. You better believe my floors were cleaner than they’ve ever been).

As we hit the 40-week mark, I started to be concerned that everything was going to fall apart. What if I couldn’t go into labour on my own? What if my body didn’t know how to do this? I had never gone into labour on my own and thus far I was two for two of medical inductions going sideways and I didn’t want to find myself in that position again. Cue some acupuncture, massages, more chiro, lots of walks…and no contractions.

That is, until Halloween night. The day before I’d had a second acupuncture induction session and that afternoon, my midwife swept my membranes. After a nice walk and a good cry, I thought we just might have a baby in the next day or so. After a fun round of trick-or-treating, I came home to too few Reese’s cups and some regular contractions. Figuring that I should keep myself busy and my mind occupied with things, we played games, watched a movie as a family, finished packing the hospital bag and I set about making an info sheet of all the kids’ activities, complete with good-to-knows and addresses.

But there were lots of people around and between visiting grandparents and curious kids, despite my attempts to keep my contractions quiet, people noticed and early labour contractions don’t like spectators. Just before bed that night, they went quiet. No babies would be coming just yet.

Thursday and Friday passed much the same way. Some contractions here and there, some people asking if they were going anywhere and…fizzle. By Friday evening I pretty much begged Brennan to get everyone out of the house for the weekend. I knew the queries were coming from a place of love and support but I also knew I wasn’t going to go into labour while feeling like I was in a fish bowl.

Saturday came and true to his word, Brennan arranged for me to be home alone for most of the day. I puttered around, crossed a few cleaning items off the list and took my midwife, Caroline, up on her offer to come over to the house to strip my membranes a second time. We took some time to visit afterwards, which really put my mind and heart at ease as Caroline was the one midwife on the team that I hadn’t gotten to know very well as she had been on maternity leave for most of my pregnancy. As she left, I had the distinct thought that I felt really at-ease with her and would be grateful if she was there to catch my baby.

As it turned to afternoon, I called Brennan and asked if he would be okay with me arranging a prenatal massage for that evening. While I appreciated the time alone during the day, I felt that I wanted quiet, alone time more than anything and I just wasn’t up to being around a lot of people that evening. He said that would be just fine and almost as soon as everyone got home, I made my way over to Jaime’s (who was also my doula) clinic.

Folks, I bawled the whole drive. Tears for miles. I was so done with being pregnant. I did not want to get to 41 weeks and the extra monitoring, the ultrasounds, the pending appointment with the OB who shared prenatal care with my midwives, the talks of induction or repeat cesareans. There was also a good amount of “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” playing in the background and I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten through that song without crying.

When I arrived at the clinic, Jaime turned to me and but said, “You know, I think you’ve actually been in labour for days. I know you came for a massage but I really think what you need is rest and meditation.” {Cue me giving Jaime a funny look and deciding to go along with it anyway.}

Jaime guided me over to a nest of pillows she had made on the floor, helped me to get comfortable (not easy at a million years pregnant), advised me to breathe deeply, turned on some meditation music and began drumming. The room was warm, the lighting soft and it didn’t take long for me to drift off to sleep.

About an hour and a half later, drifting in and out of consciousness, I became aware that I was having some contractions. I reminded myself that they’re good at fizzling out on me so I refused to get excited just yet. After the skies had completely darkened and the music finished its last cycle, Jaime came over to help me get up. I mentioned that I was having some contractions now but that they were mild. She suggested I go up and down the stairs for good measure and offered to give me a ride home, just in case they picked up. I figured it wasn’t necessary but accepted the offer.

As we drove home, I had a couple good contractions and finally admitted that it just might be possible that we would have a baby sooner than later—probably sometime the next day, I told myself. As I walked through the door, Hyrum and Emilia were still awake. It was 9:30 pm and I just remember thinking that Hyrum needed to get to bed so we could take him to hockey practice at 6:30am the next morning. The kids presented me with a card and a treat that they had assembled and I thanked them but food sounded terrible in that moment.
Because I presumed we would have a long night of interrupted sleep, I excused myself to go and take a bath to relax and to help bring on as much sleep as possible. I drew the bath and poured in the salts from the salt bowl some wonderful friends created at my Mother Blessing. As I lay in the bathtub, I just couldn’t get comfortable. At this point the contractions started to feel very quick and close together. I asked Brennan to dial the midwife’s pager so I could ask what I should be looking for as far as contraction regularity was concerned.

Caroline answered and I described my contractions as being maybe 30 seconds long and coming every minute and a half or so. I admitted that I wasn’t timing them at this point as I was sure I was still in early labour and I was convinced if I timed them that they would go away. As she was talking, I found myself needing to breathe through the contractions. At this point, she suggested to Brennan that my contractions seemed to be longer and more regular than I had anticipated and if I was to the point of needing to breathe through them, it was probably time to make our way to the hospital. I responded that it still felt too early—that I couldn’t possibly be in active labour this quickly. Caroline suggested that Brennan download a contraction timer and to give her a call back in 20 minutes.

I’m honestly not sure how close together they were at this point but after a few contractions, Brennan remarked that the app was sending alerts, that my contractions were close enough together that it was definitely time to get to the hospital (he later told me that it was flashing that it was time to get an ambulance but figured I wouldn’t be very happy to be carted away in an ambulance, so kept it to himself). I responded that they are always conservative and I didn’t want to spend hours walking the halls in early labour. We would be staying put, thank you very much. He suggested we call Caroline and see what she had to say about the matter.

Convinced she would say we still had hours to go before we needed to head out, I said that was fine--and then I found myself groaning through the next contraction as she answered the phone. He gave a report of the contraction timing and she confirmed that it was definitely time to head out. Brennan then called Jaime (who had only dropped me off about 45 minutes prior to this) and said we were headed to the hospital. Jaime sounded surprised but said she would meet us there.

As we made our way to the car, I told Brennan there was no way I could sit through the whole drive. He seemed concerned but gave into my insistence that I would kneel in the back instead. Thankfully it was late on a Saturday night so the freeway was clear and we made it to the hospital in the south end of the city in record time. My contractions were getting quite intense by now so it gave me a good chance to practice some breathing techniques. I had settled on “rainbow breathing” where you think of objects that are the colours of the rainbow, in order from red to blue. (Just as a side note—I found this a really helpful exercise to help me relax. I can’t recommend it enough! I’d practiced it a few times while falling asleep at night but it was a simple enough of a meditation that it didn’t require weeks of practice beforehand. During most contractions, I wouldn’t even get to yellow before they were over. There were also moments when I would laugh about what would pop into my head. For a good portion of my labour, I would have “Big Red Gum” pop into my head along with the 1990s jingle about fresh breath going on and on. I spent many a contraction trying to remember words from a song I hadn’t heard in a good 20 years).

When we arrived at the hospital, I practically begged Brennan to not make me move. Part of it was that the contractions were quite intense by this point and part of it was that I was admittedly scared about what would happen after walking through the hospital doors. To this point, hospitals and birth and I had not mixed very well and while I knew my dream wasn’t to have a baby in the car, I also really didn’t want to find myself hooked up to miles of wires and rushed down the hall for another cesarean delivery. But, at some point he convinced me to move and we rushed toward the elevator in the parking garage in hopes that I would be on before another contraction started.

Jaime met us at the main floor of the hospital to help navigate us to the next elevator to L&D. Another wave hit me and I said I just couldn’t make it and I was staying right there. Jaime insisted that I shouldn’t have a baby in the hallway and they each took an arm and guided me the rest of the way to the elevator. When we got to the sixth floor, we went to check in at the reception desk but I couldn’t finish giving my name before finding myself on all fours again. I like to call this my “let’s see if we can catch some nasty bug from the hospital floor” moment. 

Caroline met us in the hallway and I was so relieved to see her. Everyone I needed was right there.  

After this point, my recollections of labour are more random memories than timeline. Everything moved so quickly but a few things stand out in my mind.

I remember at one point asking Brennan to grab the necklace of beads made at my Mother Blessing. Emilia had also made me a necklace after seeing the one my friends had made, which I thought was adorable. I couldn’t stand to put anything else on my body at that point, but Brennan held them for me to see because he knew they were important to me.

A little less than an hour after arriving at the hospital, Caroline mentioned that it looked like we were going to have a Sunday baby as we were coming up on midnight. In between the intensity of contractions, I began to recite the poem I learned as a little girl and Caroline mouthed some of the words along with me:

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go.
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living;
And the one who is born on the Sabbath day
Is kind, loving, good and gay. *

* It seems I learned an alternate version of the poem and that Sunday’s child is “bonny, blithe, good and gay.” Whoops! Regardless, it was a sweet moment, a calm in the middle of the storm.

For the longest time, we thought I would labour without Brennan in room the and have him come in only at the pushing stage. During my labour with Emilia there was a moment where he took over pushing on my back during the hours of back labour and I exclaimed something to the effect of “not like that.” He became flustered and I thought I’d hurt his feelings. In the middle of getting a baby out, I was so worried about not hurting him and it really affected how I felt for the rest of the labour. It had been that same evening, as I laboured for a short while in the bathtub back at home, that I told him I really wanted him to be there after all.

We found ourselves in a similar moment this labour where Jaime turned over counter-pressure to Brennan and I exclaimed, “that’s too hard!” Brennan pulled back but instead of me worrying about him or Brennan getting flustered, Jaime showed him how to do it a bit more gently and everything continued without incident. It doesn’t sound like much of a big deal, but for me, in that moment, I knew that he was okay and I was okay. I could ask for what I needed and he could handle it. It was a beautiful moment of reframing how I saw our relationship and ability to work together. I don’t think it’s overstating to say that I was more in love with him in that moment than I’ve ever been.

Along with being a significant moment for our relationship, it was also a huge moment for me. Looking back on my labour with both Hyrum and Emilia, I was so worried about being perceived as high maintenance or needy. Good women are good patients and good women and patients follow directions. They don’t put other people out with their requests. So much has changed in the last five years and one of the major ones is not feeling like I need to apologize for asking for something I need (most of the time, at least. Let’s face it—deference dies hard) and I remember feeling a real sense of gratitude and empowerment in being able to voice my desires. Sometimes they could be accomplished (like less pressure on my back) and sometimes they couldn’t (like when I found out I wouldn’t be able to labour in the birthing pool like I’d hoped), but regardless, I could ask.

There was also a moment when I distinctly remember feeling like enough was enough. This had gone on too long, I was tired and I needed a break. I told Jaime that I was pretty sure I was going to die and I needed it to stop. Thankfully, I could acknowledge even in that moment that this is just what people say in transition. I let my mouth say the words it wanted to say but acknowledged inwardly that I knew everything was okay. Jaime, Caroline and Brennan assured me they were there for me. They wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me. It was enough to calm me so I could doze off in between contractions.

A little before 1 am, Caroline said I was at least 9 cms dilated and if I wanted, she could break my waters and while it would up the intensity, it would also mean I would have a baby really soon. I hesitated for a moment. Breaking my waters had been a traumatic moment in my labours with both Hyrum and Emilia and it was hard to believe it wouldn’t end poorly again. But I was also so ready to be done. I said that would be fine (though the process of breaking the sack was by far the most unpleasant part of my whole labour). After some tugging, a whoosh of liquid and huge surge in intensity, I flopped over to get off the bed to use the washroom and responded almost immediately that I felt like I needed to push. Caroline said that was just fine so I squatted down and pushed. I groaned low and loud and then heard Caroline say rather emphatically that she needed me back up on the bed. Baby’s heart rate had dropped significantly.

I was so confused by the request. The thing I’d been told over and over again was “don’t push on your back!” and here we were, after a fully mobile, unmedicated labour and I was being asked to do that very thing. But, I trusted her and got back up on the bed and laid down.

I heard the nurse call a code green over the intercom and wondered what that meant. I distinctly remember thinking “green means go and go can’t be bad.” Apparently, it’s paging the NICU team to be on hand to resuscitate baby. I’m glad I didn’t know that

At some point in all that commotion, the charge nurse (who just happened to be my friend Erin), the backup midwife the OB on call came into the room—at this point it was quite the party. I heard the OB say something about how they might need to do a vacuum assist if baby wasn’t born quickly and that it would probably be unpleasant without an epidural (now I wish I could have responded more appropriately with something like, “yeah, it’s been a picnic to this point!” or something similarly sarcastic but, alas, that whole giving birth thing). Caroline called out that I needed to push, that baby was definitely going to be born vaginally at this point but needed to be born quickly. I pushed as hard as I could and was overwhelmed at how good it felt to be actively doing something instead of just trying to relax.

With Caroline’s coaching, I pushed again and this time I heard Jaime exclaim with surprise to Brennan that baby was almost here. I pushed again and that was it—Baby Elsie was born! The doctor held her up, we exclaimed that we had a little girl and Elsie was put straight on my chest.


I was fully unprepared for how overwhelming this would be. Even a month later, I still start crying when I think about it. I hope that moment of ecstatic disbelief, gratitude and pure love is forever etched in my mind. I couldn’t stop exclaiming, “Oh my gosh, we did it! We did it!” It was sheer bliss. Little Elsie curled in for a first nursing session and I was head-over-heels in love—with her, with Brennan, with Caroline, with Jaime. I couldn’t believe how supported I felt. It’s still so humbling to think that these wonderful people had all been there for me in exactly the ways I needed them.

In the initial hours after Elsie was born, I was buzzing. The OB stitching me up made a comment that I had a complicated and high tear, that he wouldn’t be able to reach the top with the numbing agent and I’ll probably wish I had an epidural at this point (I don’t know if he was just trying to make conversation or if he just really likes epidurals) and I just responded, “It doesn’t matter because I pushed a baby out of my vagina!” Just about every time the nurse or the back-up midwife made a request with an “I’m so sorry but we need to {“massage” your uterus again, ask you to shift this way, have you use the toilet again, etc.} was met with the same chant, “No problem because I just pushed a baby out of my vagina!” I couldn’t believe that we’d accomplished our VBA2C, without pain meds, and especially so quickly and so easily. The nurse made a comment that it was the most straightforward and easy natural delivery she’d ever attended and I was just over the moon that I’d been so fortunate.

Between some heavy postpartum bleeding (thanks red hair), another client of Caroline’s having a baby down the hall that same morning and the time change causing some issues for charting, it took us a few hours to leave the hospital but we were on the road by about 7 am, a mere six hours after Elsie was born. It felt so good to be leaving the hospital so quickly.

It was a surreal experience to drive through the city, as most people were just waking for the day, sun starting to rise in the east, knowing that our whole world was a little different and a little fuller this morning than it was the day before. Not only did we have this beautiful new addition to our family, I also had a whole new story to inform how I think about myself—fierce, strong, capable and supported. It instilled a confidence that I hope will carry us through the struggles of the first year with a new family member—we will be okay, we’ll make it through this. We just have to take it one moment of intensity at a time.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Don't forget the diaper bag

It was just going to be a short trip. Take Brennan to work, drop him off, drive home. Easy peasy, short, no diaper bag needed.

That last sentiment should never enter into my thoughts.

We dropped Brennan off at work without incident. I noted that it was 9:05, only 25 minutes until my optometrist's office opened. I've been using the same contacts for about 4 months and finally gave them the heave-ho into the garbage can so I wanted to go and pick up more. I've been meaning to do this for months but just hadn't gotten around to it.

I realized I would need to keep the kids happy for 20 minutes until they opened so I did what all good mothers do: I got them junk food (Timbits for the win!) to hold them over. Timbits secured, I drove to the optometrist's office, let the kiddos polish off their poison, and then proceeded to get them out of their car seats once it hit 9:30.

Commence reason for needing a diaper bag

Emilia had a diaper blow out. I don't think this has happened for almost a year so I was completely unprepared...and diaper bag-less.

I considered just turning around. Go home, change diaper and clothes, come back, call it good. But I know Amy Isaksen Cartwright. As soon as she walks through that front door, getting everyone back into the car is far more work than she has energy for.

Thankfully, I do keep babywipes in the car at all time. I stripped her down, wiped her up, and then debated my bad mother decisions: be that who runs inside quickly while leaving the kiddos in the car or take a naked toddler into the optometrist. But then {Ahhh-ahhhhh! singing from the heavens}, I see my woven wrap in the car. If I throw her on my back in a wrap, no one will even know she's naked. Sure, she could pee all down my back in a short trip, but it was worth the risk to end the baby ripping my glasses off my face and/or stinging eyes from old contacts.

Like a boss, I got her up on my back, good and covered her nakedness (which was probably preferable for the little gal. It was a little chilly today), and took the kids into the optometrists office...

Only to discover that it's a long weekend and they are closed.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Hiatus over

The Cartwrights were without a camera for too long. Hyrum stepped on our point-and-shoot and the lens stopped retracting. I was left taking pictures on our tablet which had pretty terrible photo quality. Cue Brennan being Mr. Extraordinaire at work and getting a bunch of acclaim points, enough to have this friend join our lives

So now we have decent pictures! Some day I might even learn how to use it without the auto settings.

Life right now is pretty predictable. Work has calmed down a bit for Brennan which means we get to eat dinner as a family most nights. The weather is getting nicer and we're heading into summer. I really love living in Calgary but winter is L-O-N-G. So, I'm pretty stoked at the prospect of much more outside time, park dates, canning, gardening and all things fun. You know, days that looks more like this.

These photos were taken at a little playground near us. Last year it was damaged in the flood and we were so excited to see it open again this year.

Since it's been a while since we last updated, here are a few things about what the kiddos are up to right now.

Hyrum loves playing with his trains, especially his Trackmaster set. Unfortunately for Hyrum, Emilia also loves playing with it. This does not usually end well...

Hyrum could run all day long. I'm not even sure that's a joke. When people told me that three year old boys were just one big ball of energy, I completely underestimated it. With constant running comes cuts and bruises. This one was obtained today during nursery when Hyrum kept ramming a push toy into the wall and apparently smacked his head in the process.

Hyrum loves to watch construction workers, fire trucks, going to the zoo, putting his hands into all thing gushy, playgrounds, Dora the Explorer, singing silly songs and reading Robert Munsch books. His current favourite is "Seeing Red," affectionately known as The Ketchup Book. Oh, and he likes ketchup. It's pretty much the base of his diet right now.

Big Smiles

Not eating supper. Notice the lack of ketchup.
Being a Super Hero!
Pretending to be asleep so he doesn't have to go to church


15 months might be my favourite age ever. If only she would sleep through the night, it might be heaven. I love how she copies things that we do from spitting in the sink after pretending to brush her teeth to mimicking song actions. So much fun and exploration!

Some of Emilia's current favourite pastimes are climbing, using forks (she's kind of obsessed with them), playing with any and all of Hyrum's toys, singing silly songs, nursing (I don't think this girl will ever wean), and going with mommy everywhere. She has a few words: Mama, Dada, duck, bath, hi and bye (accompanied with waves), go, and barking like a dog.
So serious.

An so silly

Playing with playsilks

Baby Esmeralda!

Playing peek-a-boo

Drinking Mommy's tea. She loves the stuff.

Angry because Daddy told her she couldn't play in his salad

When I'm not chasing these rugrats, I've been doing some writing and blogging and was recently accepted as a perma over at The Exponent II. I'm pretty stoked about it. I really enjoy writing for YMF and will probably stick around for a little while longer, but I'm really excited to be a part of that community and forum. I also started sewing for a mama who owns a home business of converting woven wraps into wrap conversion mei tais and ring slings. It's a nice way for me to make a little bit while also doing something that I love. It's also gotten me back into the sewing habit which means lots of fun things for the kiddos in store.

The fabric is super thick and after literally holding my basic Brother machine down while also trying to sew a seam, I finally broke down and purchased this oldie but goodie of a workhorse machine. Huzzah! Here's to a machine that doesn't try to dance off the table in the middle of sewing a seam!

Also, Emilia really likes to help me in my sewing endeavors.

Sitting on a pattern

Trying to reach my pins

Got poked by a pin...

Laying on top of my fabric

Needless to say, I do most of it after she's asleep.

Well, that's it until next time. Have a wonderful week!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Cartwright Family Pictures

We took some family pictures while in Utah.  The following are some of the better ones.  (Sometimes better just means funnier)