Saturday, January 9, 2016

Noelle's Birth Story

Dear Noelle,

It has been three weeks since you were born and I am just now finishing the story of your birth. I've been stealing moments, in between naps, meals, and the general chaos of five children, to write down what I felt and remembered. Somehow what I have written seems wholly inadequate, and I'm afraid my words haven't been able to capture more than a portion of the beauty and the joy of your birth. So take whatever you feel while reading this and then multiply it by 10 or even 100.

Yet, then again, I guess you were there; so maybe you will understand.

Oh, my little Noelle. It feels so good to have you here in my arms. I didn't know that I had another little girl coming to my family and you feel like such a surprise, such  a gift. I have to admit that while I was pregnant with you I really thought you were a boy,  the kids and Dad did too. We figured that since the pattern of our family had gone boy, girl, boy, girl and even all the Farrell cousins were in a boy-girl pattern, that you would be a boy. We were all surprised when you were born and you were a girl. Rose had been adamant that she did not want another sister. Yet, once you were here she changed her mind quickly. We all did. Besides, its okay to break the mold every once in awhile, something I hope you keep doing.

You were born on December 19th, your Grandpa Evan's birthday and the day that your older brother Asher was suppose to be baptized. I'd been praying, no pleading, to God all week that you wouldn't be born that day. We'd gone to alot of work to find a day that worked for both the Thomas and the Farrell families and the majority of your aunts and uncles on both sides were going to be able to be there.  In addition, Mema and Grandpa Farrell's ward had also worked hard to accommodate us and I didn't want to put more of a burden on them. I think in the corner of my heart I knew that things weren't going to go like I had planned.

So on the night before you were born I went to bed with a fervent prayer in my heart that labor would not start, and that if you did have to come that day that you'd at least wait until after the baptism. At 2 AM I woke up with contractions that weren't strong, but were consistent. I laid in bed for over an hour worrying about them and praying they weren't "real" ones. As I said, yet again, another silent prayer I remembered the words from a blessing your Dad had given me about a week before. He'd blessed me that I should trust the Lord's timing for this birth. I wasn't sure I understood what that meant. Yet as I laid there in the dark, feeling contractions that I didn't want to feel, those words brought me a lot of peace.

Trust God... Trust God... Trust God.

Finally, around 3 AM, I got out of bed and went into the downstairs living room to sit on the couch. I turned on the Christmas tree for light, wrapped myself up in a fluffy blue blanket and pulled out my laptop. I decided it was a good time to finish the "Five Things for Friday" post I'd started the day before but hadn't had time to finish. I sat on the edge of the couch and tried to ignore the contractions. It wasn't hard because they weren't very strong, just uncomfortable and crampy.

With my other labors I'd never experienced an early labor. Usually my first sign that labor is starting are strong, powerful contractions that don't leave too much room for doubt. These contractions did not fit into that pattern and so I figured that these had to be "warm up" or pre-labor contractions. In fact, two days earlier I'd had several hours of those types of contractions, and had even called Dad home early from work and texted the midwife because I'd thought they'd been "real" ones. They had faded out and I'd felt silly for getting so worked up about them. I was determined that I wasn't going to do that again.

Around 5:30 AM your Dad came in and silently sat on the love seat next to me. He opened the scriptures on his phone and read for awhile. After watching me squirm through a contraction he glanced over and gave me an inquisitive look that asked, "Is this what I think it is? Because you are up unusually early and look uncomfortable." 

I met his eyes and smiled, "I got up at 3 AM with contractions, and they aren't going away." I saw his eyes get big and that excited, "We are having a baby!" look came into his eyes.

"But they aren't very strong," I added in, "they are like they were the other day. I think they will just go away."

His eyes just got wider and a smile began to spread across his face.

"No really," I insisted, "I don't think these are real labor. It feels different from how it usually is."

The smile still stayed on his face.

"Yeah, but this fits your pattern." He said, "Usually you wake up with contractions, spend an hour trying to convince me that you aren't in labor, and then two hours later you have a baby."

"I know what normally happens," I said, "but this feels different." I was feeling a bit annoyed with the smile that wouldn't wipe off his face.

"Right," he said and I wondered if what I said had really registered with him. "Do you think we should cancel the baptism?"

"Jon, just listen to me. Its my body, I know what's going on."

Yet, the truth is that your Dad knows me really well, perhaps even better than I do sometimes. One thing is certain, he's much better at knowing when I'm going to have a baby than I am.

We sat for awhile longer and then I decided that I was going to go get in the shower and see if anything changed. I was still contracting but they were really irregular. I would get a few strong contractions that seemed serious, but then they would completely stop for long stretches of time. It was a bit frustrating.

By the time I got out of the shower it was about 7:30 AM. The kids had woken up and came into give me a kiss. They were excited when we told them that I might be having a baby that day. Even Asher seemed excited, and not even slightly bothered, when we told him that his baptism may have to wait. He seemed to think that a new baby was just as exciting. Mema herded everyone upstairs for breakfast and Dad sat down by me on the couch.

"So what should we do about the baptism?" He asked.

I really didn't know what to do. This didn't feel like any of my labors had before, but it also didn't feel like it was going to go away anytime soon. The baptism was going to be at 11, but we'd have to tell them soon whether or not to fill up the baptismal font. We needed to know if you were going to come that day or not!

Your Dad suggested we pray about it. So we held hands and he said a prayer asking to know what we should do about the baptism. As he prayed I got a really strong contraction and your Dad's words began to get muddled, to the point where he couldn't really remember what else he was going to say. He stopped mid-prayer.

 "I'm pretty sure that this counts as a stupor of thought," he said, "and you just had a big contraction. I don't think there is much more for me to ask. I think we should cancel the baptism."

I've learned from experience that your Dad usually isn't wrong about spiritual promptings, and so I trusted him on this one. Besides, I was uncomfortable enough that I didn't even want to think about having to get dressed to go the church.

Once we canceled the baptism your Dad called Heather, our midwife, and let her know what was going on. I talked to her for about 15 minutes and didn't have any contractions. She told me to try the "polar bear" position, with my forehead on a pillow and my bottom up in air, for at least a half hour. It would either help you move into a better position and get things going, or it would stop them all together. I got some pillows and blankets and set myself up on the couch. 45 minutes later I'd only had two contractions, and was pretty sure my labor had stopped. When Heather called back to see how things were going, I was feeling really discouraged. We'd already canceled the baptism and now I was afraid that I wasn't really in labor.

Heather suggested that we come into the birth center and that she would check me to see if things were moving along, or if these were just pesky early labor contractions. That sounded good to me and so just before 9 AM we put on our coats and grabbed our birth bag, just in case.  As we were leaving Tabitha ran up to Dad and wrapped her arms around his leg. She didn't want to let him go. Grandpa had to pry her away in order for us to leave. As we drove away your Dad smiled and said that he thought she knew her time as the baby of the family was coming to an abrupt end.

Out of all your siblings Noelle, Tabitha was the most excited for you to come. I've felt strongly that you and Tabitha belong together. Ever since Tabitha was born it has felt like someone was missing, and it was because we didn't have you. You and Tabitha have a special bond and I'm certain that you have been, and will be, very good friends. She has loved you for a long time.

We drove the 20 minutes to the birth center and on the way I only had one, medium strength, contraction. When we arrived Heather wasn't there yet and so your Dad and I walked up and down the sidewalk for a bit. Walking gave me one more strong contraction, but that was about it.

Heather arrived, welcomed us in, and asked me how things were going. Everything I'd been holding in all morning burst out, and I started to cry. I cried about how I had really not wanted to go into labor today, how we had worked so hard to find a date that all our family could be at the baptism, how all my family was driving down from Idaho, how I hadn't seen my family for a long time, how I felt like I was letting everyone down, how I wasn't even sure if I was in labor, and how I was afraid we had canceled everything for no reason. Your Dad and Heather just listened to me cry and get it all out. I think I'd been holding your labor back because of all my fears and so crying really helped.

After I cried, and they reassured me that my family would be just as excited about a new baby as they would a baptism,  Heather asked if I wanted to be checked to see if things were progressing and how the baby's head was positioned. She checked me and I was 4 cm dilated, almost all the way effaced, and your head was in the perfect position. She also said my cervix was super stretchy, she could stretch it to 6 cm, and that she could feel your bag of waters bulging. I was glad to hear that I was really in labor and asked if she thought sweeping my membranes would speed things up.

"You are definitely in labor, but things are just going slow." she told me, "You might even make it to the baptism, but if we sweep your membranes you probably won't." 

We told her that the baptism was already canceled. "Well in that case," she smiled, "do you want to have a baby today?"

Of course we did!

She swept my membranes, which was slightly uncomfortable, and when I stood up I could feel a difference. My contractions started in earnest and I knew I was going to meet you soon. Your Dad went out to the car to get the birth bag and we moved over to the birthing suite. I'd been a little worried about how I would feel about not having you at home, but the birth center turned out to be a wonderful experience. It was comfortable, private, and I felt very taken care of, which was what I wanted most of all.

We got settled in and it wasn't long until things really picked up. The first hard contraction washed over me and instinctively I turned to your Dad, seeking out his arms. He reached out and pulled me into a familiar embrace. We'd done this before, four times before, and he knew what to do. His experienced arms reached out and held my shoulders while I grasped his biceps and sank my head deep into his chest. I breathed him in-- strong, steady, safe-- holding me while I bent and swayed through the contractions.

He's my rock.

After several contractions with your Dad holding my arms and Heather rubbing my back. I decided I'd like to get in the tub. I could feel the contractions getting lower and I knew that being in the water would help me relax and open up more. So Heather filled up the tub and Dad helped me get undressed and into my sports bra. Later, your Dad told me that as I was getting into the tub he felt a wash of the spirit sweep over him and he felt a peaceful spirit enter the room. I'd been blessed multiple times in my pregnancy that I would have ministering angels be with me as I carried you and gave birth to you. I don't know who those angels were but I do know that we weren't alone. You had spirits attending you and watching over us as you made your safe passage to earth.

The tub was large and had a big ledge that I put my hands on as I knelt on all fours. Dad poured water over my back in between contractions and during contractions he and Heather squeezed my hips to help relieve the pressure.  Perhaps I have already forgotten how hard they were, but the thing I remember the most from this time in your labor was the feeling of "I can do this." It was hard work but I knew I could handle whatever came, it was just a matter of enduring to the end.

Well, at least that is how I felt until I hit the transition phase. You think that by my fifth natural labor I'd be prepared for transition, but I wasn't. It surprised me again; the tidal wave of power emerging from my body-- pushing and pulling me forward-- and me, completely incapable of stopping it. There was nothing left to do but surrender to it, and it was terrifying and thrilling all at once. I cried out that I didn't think I could do it anymore, to which your Dad and Heather both replied that I could and that I was doing a good job. "I am doing a good job,"  I repeated out loud, just  to reassure myself, and then added emphatically, "I am really good at having babies!" Which made your Dad and Heather laugh, but it is true.

am good at having babies. It's my unsung talent.

Heather could tell I was moving into transition and asked if I wanted your Dad to give me a blessing. So in between contractions he put his hands on my head and blessed me. I don't remember much of what he said, but I remember feeling that what I was doing, in giving birth to you, was really important. I felt reminded of the fact that I was doing sacred, holy work and that I was bringing a new soul through the veil to earth. Remembering that gave me strength and helped me refocus my energy.

I changed position and moved into a deep squat with my head resting on the tall faucet of the bath tub, relishing the coldness against the heat of my body.  It is amazing what your body can do when it is labor. If you'd ask me to squat two hours before, with my big pregnant belly and my aching hips and pubic bone, I wouldn't have been able to do it. Now, with the pressure of a baby and the adrenaline of labor pushing me forward, I was able to manage an impressively deep squat. I reached out and grabbed onto your Dad's arms, leaning into him on each contraction. I felt like I was squeezing his arms so hard that I must be hurting him. I asked him if I was and if he needed a rest. He just gave a big laugh. "Are you kidding" he smiled, " I had a good night's rest and now I'm here helping you have our baby. I'm doing great."

I knew he meant it.

The births of our children have been some of our happiest experiences together, and there really isn't anything we love more than having babies together... which is probably why we have five.

Not long after I felt you move down lower into my pelvis and I began to give little pushes with each contraction, simply because pushing made the contractions hurt less. This was the first time I understood what women meant when they said that pushing "felt good", because this time it really did. A few contractions later I felt a little "pop" and knew that your bag of water had broken. Soon I began to feel the pressure of your head and it scared me. I told Heather that I was scared. The memory of how intense the last few moments of Tabitha's birth had been were still fresh in my mind, and I didn't know if I was ready for that again. Yet I've learned that in labor, and in life, the only thing to do when you are at painful transitions is to push through them. So push I did, and it wasn't long before I was holding you, pink and wide-eyed, in my arms.

 "Where did you come from?"

Those were my first words when I held you. I had carried you for nine months and just pushed you out of my body, but somehow you felt like a complete stranger. It seemed so miraculous that you-- a real person-- had just emerged from my body. You had your eyes open and when you looked up at me I realized I had no idea who you were. You were a brand new person, someone that no one in the world had ever met before, and the miracle of that overwhelmed me.

"I don't even know who you are."  Was all I could say as I  clutched you to my chest, "I don't know who you are." 

My surprise only deepened when I realized that you weren't a boy, like I had thought at first glance. Your little girl parts were very swollen and your umbilical cord had been hanging down between your legs, which had been deceiving at first. I soon realized my mistake and my sense of awe and surprise increased. I wasn't disappointed that you were a girl, it just had never occurred to me that you really would be one. The children had been so confident that you were going to be a boy and I'd just assumed you would be. I'd never really take the time to imagine what it would be like if you were a girl.

Yet, later when we were choosing your name I remembered how months ago the name "Noelle" had come to my mind. I'd never considered it before, nor had I ever particularly liked it before, but it took root in my heart. Your Dad and I never even considered any other names for a girl. The name brought me a lot of joy, and I think that perhaps it was because you'd already chosen that as your name. So maybe I shouldn't have been too surprised that you weren't a boy... but I was.

I held you for awhile but began to have painful contractions again and knew I needed to get the placenta delivered. I passed you off to Dad, who was more than happy to take you, and Heather helped me deliver the placenta, get out of the tub, and get cleaned up. Then I climbed up on the bed, snuggled skin to skin with you, and you began to nurse. You did great, but you have turned out to be the laziest nurser I've ever seen. I have to wait until you scream in order for you to open your mouth wide enough to nurse. If not then you are content to just lick my nipple while the milk drops off it into your mouth. Silly girl.

When you were done eating your Dad wrapped you in a blanket and snuggled down with you on the couch. I got in the shower and then changed into my new nightgown. As I settled back down on the bed to rest I looked over at you and your Dad. I was about to comment on what beautiful hair you had when I noticed that your hair was green! Apparently you had pooped as you were being born and it had gotten smeared all over in your hair... it was really green. Needless to say you got a thorough hair washing right away.

After your hair was washed Heather did your newborn assessment and measured and weighed you. You were 20 3/4 inches long and 7 lbs 15 oz, though we joked that you'd probably been 8 lbs before you pooped.

Your eyes were still open, and hadn't closed for more than a few moments since you'd been born. I've never seen a baby so wide-eyed and curious as you were. You didn't cry or fuss but were content just watching and observing the world around you. When your Dad gave you your baby blessing, a week later, you were blessed with the gift of discernment. That felt like the perfect gift for you because there is real wisdom in your eyes. When I look in them I can't help but feel that your eyes see---and will continue to see-- more than most. Keep them open Noelle.

Around 2 PM Mema arrived at the birth center to meet you and bring us the baby car seat, which we had neglected to bring with us. She also brought me Crown Burger (the best hamburgers and fries ever) which I'd told Jon, after passing it on our way out of Salt Lake City the night before, was what I wanted as my "reward" meal after the baby was born. Food always tastes really good right after you have a baby.

You were born at 11:17 AM and by about 4 PM we were feeling rested and ready to go home. As we packed up to leave I felt such an immense amount of gratitude-- to Heather, to Dad, to you and to God. So many times over the last few months of your pregnancy I'd worried that I was being silly about my desire to travel to Utah to have you. I wondered why none of my birth options in Iowa felt right but why going to Utah felt really good. Traveling 1200 miles in the winter to have a baby seemed counter intuitive in every way. Yet your birth was perfect, I couldn't have asked for a better experience and I'm so grateful that I trusted the promptings that God gave me. The birth center, even though it wasn't home, was wonderful, I had lots of support from family (before, during and after birth), and I was attended by the best midwife ever... she was definitely worth driving across three states for. 

When we got back to Mema and Grandpa's house your brothers and sisters were so excited to see you. When we'd called them from the birth center and told them you were a girl there had been, almost instant, fighting and tears. This is because I'd told Rose that if you were a girl she and Tabitha would have to switch rooms with the boys because they had the larger room. Rose had been adamant that she didn't want a sister because she didn't want to change rooms. Apparently, Asher also wasn't so keen on the idea of changing rooms either. Yet, by the time you got home they'd seemed to have adjusted to the fact that you were a sister and you were greeted by an instant fan club.

You've sort of been the celebrity of our family ever since. The best Christmas gift we could have asked for. In fact, I think it is appropriate that we all got a surprise when you turned out to be a girl and not a boy. Christmas is all about the birth of a baby, the joy of gifts, of opening the unknown, and rejoicing in new life. You have been my Noelle-- my surprise, my unexpected gift-- and I'm excited to spend the rest of my life learning who you are.

Welcome little one.




  1. Such a sweet birth story. Our last little one was born on Christmas Day. She was the best gift ever. Enjoy your new little spirit.

  2. So beautiful! I will live vicariously through you and your wonderful birth stories! We couldn't have kids for 11 years and then when I did have my daughter she was 16 weeks early so I had to have an emergency csection and be cut both ways. If another little one does join our family I have no choice but to have a csection at 36 weeks. My dream was to have lots of babies and at home. Funny how His plan is perfect, right?! So keep sharing! I love it!

    1. Thanks! And you are so right, things don't always go how we plan but just how God knows they need to be. And, I'm not sure your whole situation, but you might be interested in this birth story from Mandy Williams (the one who did the artwork for my book) she had two C-sections and had an inverted "t" scar and has gone on to have three vaginal births since then-- she just had to find the right person to care for her. She shared her story on the gift of giving life.

  3. Beautiful! I had my surprise girl on the 16th and you've inspired me I should write down my birth story. Every birth is a miracle. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Was Heather Johnston your midwife? If so, I really liked her. I'm pretty sure she's the one who came and sewed me up when my midwife couldn't do it. I'm glad you had a wonderful experience and got your little one here safely. What a joy to have a new baby in the house. I miss it so much.

    1. Yes, it was Heather Johnston! She is the best, and I bet that if you needed to be sewn up it was her that came-- she's pretty much amazing at it. She's been at all my children's births except for Tabitha's :)

  5. Heather Johnston! She was my midwife too for two of my births. :-) she's great!

    This made me tear up. I'm not a big crier and don't get weepy often, but birth stories get me everytime. They are so magical. I loved your first thoughts of her! The first thing I said to my last baby when she was placed in my arms (a week overdue and the hardest pregnancy yet) was "hey you little punk. Why didn't you out come earlier?" It's sounds harsh, but I assure you it was a term of endearment. I adored her from the start, and not surprisingly, she seems to hold the same type of humor in her personality as I gave to her when she was first born. Sarcastic and sassy. :-)

    Congrats! She's beautiful!

  6. Welcome earth side, little Noelle!! And congratulations, mama! You are superwoman!!

  7. Beautiful, Heather! Thank you for sharing this and little Noelle with us. Discernment is a powerful and challenging gift. I pray she bears it well. ((Hugs))

  8. For a second when I realized you were in Utah to have this baby i thought maybe you had moved back and I was so excited because I thought I could hire you as my doula again! Do you have any good recommendations? Because I need a good one, but I am pretty sure no one could be as good as you!

  9. Really loved your honesty and openness in sharing so graciously your birth experience. Your baby is beautiful and your family obviously such a blessing so thanks for sharing your joy. I live far away from you in England and it is so hard to find oneself amongst religious people here who celebrate the spiritual moments of labour and childbirth. All my experiences in pregnancy and childbirth have been fraught with so much sickness and trauma but I have always felt that God never robbed me of the Holy Ghost in feeling His presence close and His great joy and interest in giving charge of His precious children into our care. Always an earth shattering experience being a co-creator. Hope your baby goes from strength to strength and from joy to greater joy!

  10. I love what you write about Christmas, surprises, and life. I'll think about it now whenever I see Noelle.

  11. I love what you write about Christmas, surprises, and life. I'll think about it now whenever I see Noelle.