At first when I heard about the hurricane, I brushed it off because that seemed like what the locals were doing. We had just moved to Florida in April from Wisconsin and hadn't given hurricanes a thorough thought just yet, as we were still wrapped up in the excitement of learning our new surroundings and I was trying to keep my head above water with a toddler and being so uncomfortably pregnant in the stick Florida summer. I asked a friend if she was evacuating and she brushed Irma off as a joke, and this was the reaction my husband got from his coworkers as well. This was Monday, September 4.
As I dropped Jude off at Mother's Morning Out the next morning, the teachers asked if we were planning on evacuating and I spluttered something like "yes I think so..." and ran home to make frantic phone calls to my husband and parents. My parents were adamant about us leaving and encouraged us to pack bags and come stay with them in Illinois, my husband’s and my hometown. At this point, I was 35 weeks and 4 days pregnant and unable to fly! No airline would allow me on a plane, so our only choice was to drive. Driving from south Florida to northern Illinois is about 1400 miles, and we have a toddler, two 50 pound dogs, and a cat. I called my husband and requested him to come home from work, and he informed me that his entire department was closing for the rest of the week and he was already on his way. That Tuesday was spent packing our minivan and making a travel itinerary, complete with mapping out hospitals in every major city and writing down their information to keep in the car with us. Packing enough clothes for a week and a half for each of us was daunting, but nothing compared to putting tiny baby clothes and diapers into a suitcase after they were so lovingly placed on shelves and in drawers in case we would come back as a family of four. All of the nesting and organizing I had spent time on making the perfect space for our baby was dismantled in twenty minutes.
We left the next day after I had seen my midwife for an emergency appointment to get clearance to drive the 24 hours to Illinois. I remember Ryan and I repeating over and over, "I don't want to drive back with a newborn. This baby has to wait until we get back home to Naples." Each time it was said, it seemed to lose more and more promise and determination and become a distant dream. I sat in the front seat, stretching my legs and feet constantly due to Restless Leg Syndrome, adjusting my position because of my aching hips, and alternating sitting up straight to stretch my lungs large enough to get a deep breath and slouching to try to relax. My anxiety level added to my overly pregnant, thin-blooded whale of a human being's sweaty self and my a/c was turned to 62 while the rest of the passengers in the car had their set to 72. And I was still overheated. My baby was rolling and stretching, and while I relished the sweet hellos, they were a constant reminder that we were most likely going to be needing the infant carseat and newborn cloth diapers we had packed "just in case."
When we arrived in Lake Zurich on Friday, we stayed optimistic that the baby would hold off until we returned home so I could have my own midwife and doula, but we were facing reality as we saw the radar of the storm and began preparing for Plan B, which was driving 2 hours north to Madison, Wisconsin, where we had delivered our son two years earlier, instead of trying to establish care in a short time with an unfamiliar provider in Illinois. The thought of delivering at Meriter was a security blanket for me through the entire experience, since we were familiar with it and loved the care we received last time. We constantly watched the news as the storm hit Florida and destroyed our community. We knew then that Plan B had become Plan A, and I contacted a friend in Madison who happened to be a doula, and pre-registered for labor & delivery online and with the help of a UW Midwife determined that the responsible thing to do would be to wait until baby was born to go back to Naples, however inconvenient we thought this seemed. Living out of a suitcase in your parents’ house, sharing your full-sized bed in your highschool bedroom with your husband while huge and pregnant and irritable and uncomfortable is not fun.
We stayed pretty relaxed for the next few weeks, as my husband’s job was on hold because the building had taken some damage. I was more comfortable in the Illinois weather than in Florida and was feeling pretty good, but I had been having prodromal labor since the afternoon of Thursday the 21st. I borrowed a breastpump from a high school friend because we'd left mine in Florida and I wanted the contractions to regulate. The contractions became somewhat regular, not intense, but my mom and husband convinced me to drive to Madison and go to labor and delivery to get checked, so we climbed into the car at 1am on Friday and arrived at 3am. I was checked and told that I was not dilated enough to stay, so we checked into a hotel room and finally got to sleep around 5 in the morning. The next day was spent walking around and borrowing yet another breast pump from one of my good friends in Madison. The contractions didn't seem to want to stick around and the spicy Indian food wasn't helping either, so we decided to spend one more night just to get some rest without our toddler around and left the next day after breakfast.
I remember feeling the contractions become noticeably regular in the car on the way back to Illinois but was half in denial and half not wanting to jinx myself. We arrived back to my parents' house in time for everyone to go to dinner at a family member’s lake house but I decided not to join because I wasn't feeling well and wanted to rest. I still didn't know I was in early labor at this point, as the contractions were similar to the prodromal labor and I was only mildly bothered by them. Around 6:30pm my family had been gone for an hour and a half and I was timing contractions on an iPhone app and noticed a pattern, so I called the midwife in Madison and she said it was up to me to decide if I wanted to come in. My doula advised me that it would probably be best to leave as soon as possible because the drive was so long and second babies come faster than first babies, so this could either be nothing but another trip to Madison or we could possibly have a baby in the car if we waited too long. By now the contractions were a bother and I had to pause when talking to breathe through them, and I texted my husband that it would be a good idea to come back soon because I didn't want to be alone. I was receiving pictures of him on the boat with our son, and he said he would leave as soon as they got off the water. He brought Jude back to my parents' at 8:30, and I read bedtime stories to him (still not believing it was true labor), and went back to my bedroom to continue re-packing our hospital bags since we had used all of our clothes I had packed the first time. Ryan saw how I was breathing through contractions and swaying and rocking my hips so he took charge and called my parents to come home to be with Jude because he was taking me back to the hospital. His instincts were much clearer than mine, as I was resisting going back because we had just returned to Illinois and I didn't want to make the trip again for no reason. Ryan helped me to the car and packed all the bags into the trunk and waited inside the house for my parents to come so that I could sit in the car with the heated seat, which felt amazing! We left their house as soon as they pulled into the driveway, which was around 9:30.
The drive was surprisingly bearable with the techniques I learned in our Hypnobirthing class. We did have to stop for gas, which allowed me a few moments to panic and worry, but once we were on the road I was able to breathe through contractions and visualize my birth color, which I had chosen as a periwinkle-type blue. In between contractions I was texting our doula, updating her on the timing of the contractions, and reassuring her that she could wait at home and did not have to meet us at the hospital right away. She gently suggested she meet us there and I reluctantly agreed, feeling guilty for taking her away from her children at bedtime and stealing precious hours she could be sleeping (all moms know how valuable each minute of sleep is!), but appreciative of the decisions others were making for me because I had accepted that I was really in labor by now but did not think I was at all close to having a baby.
We arrived at L&D triage at 11:30, and I was checked around midnight. I was "at least 5 centimeters" dilated, so I would be admitted! My blood pressure was slightly elevated, but I attribute that to all of the excitement of the entire situation - evacuating Irma, the first unsuccessful trip to L&D, having to turn around and come back to Wisconsin, actually being in labor, etc. As I breathed through another contraction, I heard the door open and close and thought it was a nurse or midwife, but opened my eyes once the surge had passed and saw Nicole! We all had a good laugh in between contractions and Melody our doula arrived.
We were brought to the delivery room around 1am, and my blood pressure was checked again. It was still slightly high so it was suggested that I get an IV line in case I needed anything before or after delivery, and I liked the thought of having one placed before it potentially became an emergency so I agreed. Two nurses tried to get an IV placed and could not, so the anesthesiologist resident came to place it. I did not know at this point that I was so close to meeting my baby, but I do remember being irritated with how long it was taking for him to place the IV. I could also tell that he was annoyed with me because I asked him to wait as I breathed through another contraction while sitting on a birthing ball.
After the IV was placed I could not stop shaking, and accepted the suggestion to get into the birthing tub. All modesty out the window, I donned a flowy bikini top and no unders and climbed into the tub in all my swollen glory, with my angel of a husband sitting behind me still applying the counter pressure I demanded. The only position I felt comfortable in and felt in control was on my knees with my head resting on the edge of the tub. Melody used the nozzle of the tub to spray hot water on my back, while my husband sat behind me watching me struggle. I owe him a thousand apologies for the expletives hurled in his direction during this phase, but he took it with grace and sat helplessly and silently. He doesn't know it, but him behind me felt like a steady rock. A constant, a sure thing, and I needed an anchor in those moments. With all of the chaos surrounding transition, he was the one thing that didn't change and it was comforting.
Eventually the contractions became otherworldly strong, and I had not felt anything like it, as I had an epidural with our first son. I remember begging to stop and to be done and just go home and the room started to be quiet after I would say those things, but it also started to become a flurry of silent commotion. I remember being aware of it but did not pay attention, as I was focusing on trying to keep my voice deep to avoid tensing my body. Instinct tells you to work with your body to open the passageway to bring your baby down, but the pain tells you to scream and I did lose control a few times and could feel the tension hold my baby back. With Melody's guidance, I kept my body relaxed and suddenly felt a pop and a warm gush, which is an odd sensation when you're already in water. I groaned something about my water breaking to the nurse and could hear my husband say, "yeah, something just came out," and I felt my baby's head slam into my pelvic bone. Talking about this moment in the days after, my husband confirmed the THUMP of baby's head, and he says it was the most unsettling feeling for him, as he was still applying counter pressure to my hips.
The way the uterus works is fascinating, first pulling the muscle fibers near the cervix up toward the top of your belly, and then contracting at the top in order to push the baby down. I had never felt this, and the difference is remarkable and was very noticeable. After my water broke, the next contractions began to change from opening my cervix to pushing my baby down, and I remember the nurse asking if I was feeling any pressure. I told her no, but only because I didn't understand what she meant by that. About 3 contractions after she asked, I was pushing and told her yes I was feeling pressure, because I didn't know how else to describe the sensation. The room suddenly became very busy, as the nurse paged the midwife, the midwife began draining the tub because I was not allowed to deliver my baby in the water due to my blood pressure, Melody stoically holding my hands while I had a vice grip on hers, Nicole's camera clicking away, Ryan yelling for someone to help me, and me crying and letting out the most primal roars I have ever heard. The midwife was instructing me to stand up and get out of the water because my baby was coming, but I begged them not to move me. Ryan pleaded with them to let me be, but hospital policy was for me to deliver outside of the water, so the tub was drained and I was too swept up in pushing to move anywhere, so they brought the shower stool for me to drape my knees over while Ryan quite literally held me up from behind. His arms under mine, keeping me from falling backward, I pushed and pushed, and cried and lost my concentration. This is where Nicole is much more than just a photographer. She slipped a red bracelet on my wrist and with unwavering eye contact told me that she was given this bracelet from a dear friend when she needed strength, and now she was loaning her strength to me when I believed I had none left.
After what felt like an eternity, the midwife said my baby's head was out and asked if I wanted to touch it. I quickly said no, and pushed with the next contraction, still teetering on the edge of the shower stool, and after a mere total of 15 minutes of pushing, I felt the rest of the tiny body depart from mine. The midwife quickly brought my baby up into my arms, while I hunched over because the umbilical cord was still attached. I saw my husband rush to our doula and hug her, and I heard the midwife say "he's out!" and I looked at Ryan and asked, "it's a boy?!" and he answered, "I don't know! I didn't look!" while the midwife said, "I didn't look either!" I opened up his tiny legs and shouted "it's a boy!" and could feel my heart grow.
I held onto my baby and sat back in the now-empty birthing tub, and awaited the placenta. The question of what his name is was asked by one of the ladies in the room, and without hesitation my husband answered Seamus Ryan, one of the names we had chosen as a possibility before we left Florida. I felt so much pride in that moment. I don't remember delivering the placenta being quite so painful the first time around, but this time was challenging. The midwife helped catch it in a bowl to give to Melody to encapsulate, Ryan cut the cord, and then took Seamus for some father-son skin-to-skin while I was helped to the bed. I was stitched, cleaned, received some toast and jelly since the kitchen was closed, and Seamus had his first evaluation. He was born at 3:12am on Sunday, September 24th (3 hours after being admitted), 8lbs 10oz, 20", and healthy as they come.
Unfortunately I had low blood pressure after Seamus’ birth and had to stay in the delivery room until I could sit up without losing consciousness long enough to pee, and I received fluids through the IV that was placed a couple hours before. After we were finally settled into our recovery room, we enjoyed snuggling our son, having a few visitors, and introducing Jude to his baby brother. Seamus nursed like a little champion from the beginning, and impressed all of the nurses with his latch. I was pleased that his poop began transitioning from meconium to regular newborn poop while we were still in the hospital.
We left Meriter on Monday afternoon, anxious to get back to Jude. After spending a week resting and enjoying family time, we packed everyone back into the minivan and made the drive back down to Naples. We stayed a night in Nashville and a night in Tallahassee and stopped every 3 hours to nurse Seamus and change diapers for both boys. We returned home on October 4th, just 2 days shy of an entire month away.
This is not a full album, just some of our favorites that we decided to share with all of you! <3