Our sweet (yet sassy) Della came into our lives a year ago. She came out crying, and we’ve even managed to get her to stop a few times since then.
I knew going from one child to two it would be really tough, and it has been… more than I really even expected. Anyone who has spent even a little time with me in the past year has probably heard me lament about how difficult it has been. And even in saying that it’s been difficult at times to pin down exactly why it’s felt so hard.
Around a month ago, it seemed instantaneously Della went from infant to toddler. She started walking. She started playing by herself occasionally. She slept consistently. She still cried – but it was always easy to tell what the issue was. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was around the time when I started to feel, a bit… better?
Looking back at the past year, it’s all such a blur its hard to see clearly exactly what made it so hard, especially considering we had one kid – and while challenging at times, it never felt like this did. If I had to put it on one thing, I think it was just getting the basics done on any given day most days seemed like a near impossible task, let alone be good at anything. The constant feeling of knowing the best I’d be able to do each day was really not that great, day after day, week and after week really took a tole on me and left me often feeling very anxious and resentful – even if I couldn’t pin those feelings on anything in particular.
I’m so happy those feelings have gone, and I hope it stays that way. I hope I can always feel as grateful and capable as I have been feeling recently. And if I don’t, that is ok too, but I hope I have the capacity to know those feelings will pass. When I really think back – they have before.
The couple weeks leading up to Della’s birth was an extremely anxious time for us – just the not knowing when and how it would happen and if she would be ok – if Sarah would be ok. When she arrived a year ago, I can still remember what that relief felt like (even if it was nothing compared to what Sarah must have felt) – the waiting was over, she was here.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up where we are at this moment – on day 3 of a 2-week plus self-quarantine, during what is one of the craziest most surreal times I can ever remember. I’m so thankful that we are healthy and safe. I’m also taking this opportunity to enjoy time together as a family – truly thankful, even if under poor circumstances. While I am certainly anxious about the state of the world, and the health of those I care about, I can honestly say being unable to escape my family, is not something contributing to any anxious feelings currently. I also know, we will get through the other side. Just as Della did a year ago.
I do have to say, even through the hard times, Dee and I have always had a very special connection that has meant so much to me. Whereas Harvey lived in the ergo – most often worn by Sarah, Della is happiest in my arms. Even still, I would guess I pick her up 50+ times a day and she can snuggle like no other. She occupies a place in my heart that I didn’t even know existed until she opened it up and continues to grow each day. Music has always been a thing that has connected us. From the jams I’d play while I swayed her to sleep during her purple crying days, to the tunes that relaxed her in long car trips this summer, to the head boppers we dance to around the house – music has been our mutual language through her first year.
Having realized that Sarah and I hadn’t been to a North Carolina beach since before we were married, we decided that we had to fix that. Carolina Beach was the obvious choice, as it is host to it’s own State Park, as well as Fort Fisher State Recreation Area down the road.
Simple put, we had a fantastic time as a family.
It was perfect fall weather for outdoor time at the beach. Carolina Beach State Park exceed our exceptions, with beautiful sandy white trails and towering pines. Fort Fisher State Recreation though, was one of our favorite hikes we’ve ever done in the state. The Basin Trail was a one mile out a back through the coastal marsh area between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. The trail was largely comprised of boardwalks and the views and were stunning.
The highlight of the trip, though, was watching the sunris over the Atlantic Ocean. There was serenity, gratitude and humility in that moment, I often struggle to find in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of what our everyday lives have become. In the days since we have returned from the trip, I keep coming back to that moment and spot and thumbing through the photos. Memories like those are why we love to explore new things and in particular the great state of North Carolina in which we live.
We will no doubt be back very soon!
Hike Info – Carolina Beach State Park – Flytrap Trail + Sugarloaf Trail
Carver’s Creek State Park is one of the state’s newest parks – opening in 2013. Long Valley Farm, the main park attraction, was formerly a vacation residence owned by James Stillman Rockefeller. We took the .5 mile hike from the car to the house in the blazing heat (be warned there is no shade!) and were intrigued to see the old 1930’s farmhouse. It was disappointing to see the house had really fallen into disrepair – hopefully they will restore the house one day as is the plan. There had previously been a mill pond on the grounds which allowed for fishing and canoeing as well, but the dam keeping the pond in place was totally wiped out by Hurricane Matthew. Crews were working to get the pond back in place in the near future. Let’s hope so!
Earlier this year, the park opened a section section known as the Sandhills Access, which boasts over 11 miles of trails. This part of the park was a little better shaded, but still not great. The trails were sandy and landscape was moderately hilly and filled with long leaf pines. It reminded us a lot of Weymouth Woods. Overall the trails were good, and you could tell it was a newer park. Apparently word has not gotten out yet, because we did not see many other people! We did hear a lot of artillery fire (Fort Bragg was just down the road) and one of the themes of the trip was Sarah continually commenting how so much of what we were seeing an hearing was bringing back memories of her early childhood living on a military base. We also saw a snapping turtle on the trail, keeping our wildlife spotting streak alive. Harvey particularly liked the trail we did (Wiregrass Loop Trail) because he loves pointing out all the blazes, and was really into the blue Hexagons (he pronounces (Eck-a-gons). We also spent a lot of the hike teaching him about North Carolina’s 3 regions (Mountains, Coast and Piedmont), and was a fun memory for us all.
After the hike, we drove a few miles down the road to downtown Fayetteville, which I think the last I had been to was a G-Unit concert in 2003. We love old NC downtowns, and it was clear like so many, Fayetteville has had quite the resurgence in downtown businesses recently. Lake Gaston Brewery (weird name choice, yes), had some decent beers and the food was quite good. We loved their downtown space!
Not all parks are created equal. Within 30 second of entering Lake James State Park, I said to Sarah, “Wow this looks like an exceptionally nice park”. Sarah replied, “You literally stole the words out of my mouth”. Our first reaction would prove to be true. The park was exceptionally clean, trails well-maintained and facilities very up-to-date and sleek. We did a 3.0 mile out and back that included Paddy’s Creek Trail and Holly’s Discovery Trail (an interactive trail for little kids). Though there were a lot of folks enjoying the park along with us, we were one of the few hikers. Most people were either kayaking or swimming in what was the nicest looking water for a reservoir I can remember seeing in the state. We will definitely be back someday soon, and this time we will definitely bring our bathing suits!
Just a couple miles down the road from Lake James is Fonta Flora Brewery’s relatively recently opened brewery and farm operation. This has been on our list to check out since it opened and I’m so glad we did. The brewery itself sits on a farm where some of the ingredients used in the beers are grown – we could literally see employees harvesting corn during our visit. There is a permanent food truck on site and a huge open space to roam – it is one of the best brewery locations we have ever been to. Fonta Flora is known for their unique beer offerings and use of local ingredients – the tap list is truly unlike any other you have ever seen. We sampled several of the more unique beers and enjoyed them for what they were, though must confess we were happiest with the Hop Beard IPA.
When Sarah announced (during our Summer 2018 vacation) that we’d be going to Maine for our Summer 2019 vacation, I probably responded with an unenthusiastic something along the lines of “I’m not ready to think about that” or “whatever you say”. Now that it’s come and gone I can say that I’m so glad she chose this spot, and that it was the perfect location for this summer.
The past few months have been quite hectic and trying at times. With two kids, especially with a rather fussy infant, it can feel like a challenge just to get through the basics of each day, never with enough sleep. That coupled with an extremely busy time at work, while I’m not normally the type of person to say “I need a vacation”, I found myself saying it quite often in the couple weeks leading up to it. Even while saying it, I knew this wouldn’t be a “vacation” in the sense that it wouldn’t be totally relaxing and care free. That’s really not what I was looking for, because we knew going into it with a 4 month and 3 year old in tow, that would not be possible (even if we were lucky enough to have my Mom, Dad and sister Ellie join us!) Instead, what I hoped, was that it would be an opportunity to have fun, enjoy my kids, see and do new things in a serene environment away from the daily checklists and duties that can be all consuming. I’m so happy to report that Maine delivered.
The flights both ways were a dream as far as flights with kids go – Della is young enough that she mostly slept and Harvey is finally old enough that he can entertain himself for the most part and sit still. The one time he did get a bit restless, Sarah pulled out her makeup bag and gave him a little makeover for entertainment. The green eyeshadow was his favorite! We had a 3 hour drive once we arrived in Maine from Portland to Bar Harbor. The kids slept, the scenery was lovely (including Fort Knox), we talked, listened to podcasts – it was great! Once we arrived in Bar Harbor and got acquainted with our Airbnb, we knew we had stumbled upon an amazing place to make memories and enjoy each other for the week ahead.
And that’s just what we did. When we arrived, we had exactly one thing explicitly planned for the week – something very rare for any Cain vacation. This worked because everything was so close – definitely why this trip will be hard to beat. Bar Harbor, the primary town situation on Mount Desert Island, approximately half of which is Acadia National Park provided so much fun and entertainment within itself, but going to the park was just a short 5-10 minute drive away. And unlike other towns close to National Parks we’ve visited, Bar Harbor was not overtly touristy or corny. It was simply a beautiful quaint little town.
I won’t go through everything we did each day (some of our favorite activities are bulleted below), but I can’t speak enough to how great the trip was. There were young families everywhere, which both surprised us and made us feel right at home. I mentioned before how Della has been a bit of a challenging baby, but she really came into herself this week. For the most part, she was very smiley, easy to please, eager to move and curious about her surroundings! I felt more connected to her than I ever have so far in her life. We went during the busy time of year and were prepared to fight crowds, but were extremely pleased that the crowds were not near as bad as other national parks we’ve been to, and we never had an issue parking. We all felt like we did everything we wanted to do, but that we easily could have stayed another week and never been bored or run out of things to do.
The only negative things about the trip I can think of are 1) Heat – Bar Harbor was experiencing a heat wave our first couple of days (highs in the low 80s), and being that air conditioning wasn’t a thing on the island it got a little hot, but we survived with fans. 2) Euchre – tempers flared, reneges happened, old grudges emerged, Dad got euchred on a loner – it got a little ugly! 3) ER – Harvey busted open his chin on the coffee table… yes I called 911, yes that was not necessary, yes I am very thankful Sarah is so good in those emergency situations! Fortunately we were staying a block from the one Emergency Room on the island, and they were able to glue Harvey up quickly. It was very gross and scary but we didn’t let it put a damper on the trip.
Growing up I had heard that my parents traveled to Bar Harbor Maine while she was freshly pregnant with me. I never thought much of it. With more years I notice my perspective on such things change and I can’t help but wonder about connection and meaning. This was my first trip to Maine, but a part of what would be me had been there before, 34 years ago. Is that why I connected with the place so much? I wonder if Della will share such a connection with California – her first adventure last summer as just a little pea in her mom’s belly. It would be impossible to believe if it wasn’t staring me in the face each day, but now, merely a year later, here we are as a family of four on our first big adventure – on the complete opposite side of the country as last year. We’re a lucky bunch.
Hikes, Food, Entertainment & Adventures
Cadillac Mountain. The high point of the island and you can either hike or drive to the top! We opted to drive (several times), the best being at dawn where we can say we were the first people in the United States to see the sunrise that morning.
Diver Ed. This was a one-of-a-kind amazing and unique trip where we went out on a boat, and a diver takes videos of sea creatures below and also brings some aboard for everyone to see and hold. It came highly recommended by the SODU posse and we saw why! Harvey was just old enough to get some enjoyment, but I would say 5-10 is probably the best age. We were about 15 minutes into the 2 hour trip when Della starting screaming… Sarah and I both looked at each other like uh oh, what were we thinking, because there was no escape on the boat. Fortunately, she fell asleep soon after and we were all able to relax and enjoy the trip!
Land Bride to Bar Island. At low tide a huge land bridge opens up where you can walk to what is an island during high tide. Was very cool!
Shore Path – A ½ Mile path along the coastline of Bar Harbor with spectacular views. Great for running or having a morning coffee stroll.
Ocean Shore Hike – An out-and-back hike (4 miles total) that is one of the most popular in the park because of the gorgeous views. It started at Sand Beach and went to Otter Cliff. Since most of the beaches are rocky, Sand Beach was a rare spot where it was easy to go for a dip, but even in August, the water was way too cold for anything more than a quick jump-in.
Jordan Pond Loop – This was a beautiful 3 mile loop around a scenic pond. Probably my favorite hike of the trip. We even tried to make it up to the top of bubble mountain, but accidentally picked the most treacherous route and sadly had to turn around just shy of the summit as there was no way to make it carrying kids. Acadia has some INSANELY tough trails, so I would definitely recommend looking at the difficulty level prior to hiking.
Beech Mountain – A moderate 2 mile loop – great for hiking with kids. At the top is an old fire tower you can climb up if the ranger is there (which he was). We also discovered loads of wild blueberries on the trail, which contrary to what I would have thought, is totally allowed by the Park.
Eagle Lake Loop – This was a 6 mile loop on part of the carriage trail system the park is known for. There were definitely way more bikers than hikers on this trail. If you wander onto the hiking path closer to the water be prepared for some huge rocks and boulders to walk across – we discovered this the hard way!
Thurston’s Lobster Pound – This was 100% the food highlight of the trip. We saved for our last day, and it was worth the wait. In the town of Bernard on the “quiet side” of the island, here you pick out your lobster (alive), watch them throw it in a boiler, and then eat it just minutes later. We had a 3 pounds lobster and once I was fully convinced it wasn’t still moving, had an amazing adventure eating ever part of it we could.
Quiet Side Café – Probably our second favorite spot was also on the quite side, in Soutwest Harbor. We had lobster pizza, blueberry pie and blueberry ice cream. All unbelievably delicious.
Reel Pizza Cinerama – In downtown Bar Harbor, this place is a movie theater that also servers delicious pizza, beer and other food. Harvey and I went here for dinner the day of his accident to do something chill and saw The Lion King. I wasn’t prepared that this remake was line for the line the same as the original (a movie I watched during my youth probably 50 times on VHS), and to see Harvey so into it and singing the songs, (and perhaps the beer play a role) but I found myself welling up multiple times.
Side Street Café – This place had the best happy hour in Bar Harbor! Drafts were $3 off, so we actually hit this place up twice during our stay. Very kid friendly too!
Jordan House – This place has been open since the 1800s and was sort of an obligatory stop after hiking the Jordan Lake Trail. Food was good and the views of the Bubble Mountains were even better!
Jordan’s Restaurant – Breakfast place in Bar Harbor. Blueberry pancakes were a hit.
Allagash – Located in Portland, this was one of only a couple of Maine brewery’s we had heard of, so it was neat to visit in person. They didn’t serve any IPA’s so wasn’t my favorite, but the sour that tasted like gym socks was a hit with some of our group apparently.
Finback/Blaze – Sister restaurants serving Blaze beer, which we all really enjoyed, the Zip IPA being the favorite. If you go to Finback, get the fish and chips!
Bar Harbor Beerworks/One Off – Great spot with good beer! My mom even found one on her beer bucket list – Sip of Sunshine.
Jalapenos – Ellie who has a seafood aversion and was a serious sport all, just wanted to get some Mexican food for her birthday dinner. They had some good tasting margarita’s and my lobster quesadilla was quite good also!
This is super low quality, but we did a quick upload of some videos from the week!
Raven Rock is one of the better state parks we’ve been to – particularly being less than an hour from all parts of the Triangle. It has a great, new visitor’s center, copious trails, intriguing scenery, and the Cape Fear River. Sarah and I actually came to Raven Rock in November of 2014. At this point in my life, 5 years does not seem like that long of a time on the one hand – we both totally remembered the hike, and how we discussed/argued about wedding planning for most of it. On the other hand, life couldn’t be more different now than it was then though – two rings and two kids later.
The most memorable moment of the trip happened before we even got out of the parking lot. I had put Harvey sitting upright in his pack and turned away from him to rummage through the car, while Sarah readied Della and we both heard a thud and a cry. I’d forgotten to adjust the bar frame out so Harvey wouldn’t be able to teeter, and he had fallen straight back onto the concrete and hit his head and elbow.
Though he quickly stopped crying, and we started the hike, I was so awash with guilt and dread that he might have a concussion (though in retrospect it was clear right away he didn’t) I didn’t really take in as much of the hike as I would have liked. But I remember enough to know we descended about a dozen flights of stairs in order to visit the park’s namesake, “Raven Rock” rock-cliffs just off the shore of the Cape Fear river. I have a feeling if we visit again in 5 years with a couple of elementary kids, life then will seem as different as life now seems to our last visit.
Strava Link (For some reason the last half mile didn’t register)
Starting Point: Park Office (3009 Raven Rock Rd, Lillington, NC 27546)
Having grown up just a few miles from Umstead, and having driven past it literally thousands of times, it is a bit odd to think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually visited the park in my life. I will say, it does have a bit of an “ITB” vibe (will only make sense if you are from Raleigh), and we were definitely a Falls Lake family growing up.
On this Memorial Day, 33rd Birthday, been getting our ass kicked by two kids, weekend – finding something new, but close to home felt like the perfect choice. The thing that struck me first was just how huge the park is, being in the heart of the Triangle. I looked it up and it is nearly 7 square miles. As Raleigh and the Triangle have grown over the last few decades, this park which was once just a forest among forests and farms now stands out a reprieve from concrete and civilization. What an important reminder so close to home of the importance of conservation!
As expected, the park was very busy as compared to almost any other state park we’ve been to – but I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t feel crowded. We chose the 2.8 mile Sal’s Branch loop (part of 20 miles of trails within in the park) and while the trail was heavily traveled, it was also very well maintained and a very pleasant, shaded hike. We were lucky to be joined by our friends Pete and Lindsay, with their little guy Luke! Della slept on her momma the whole time and Harvey rode on my back and took advantage of having a friend by singing and yelling for most of the hike.
I blinked my eyes and it has been almost 6 weeks with Della as our newest family member. In a lot of ways, it feels like our family has been this group of people forever. I think that is just because she easily made her way into our hearts and we were looking forward to her for so long.
She has been *relatively* easy thus far. We have had no problems breastfeeding at all. She has been doing that perfectly from the moment she was born, and for that… I am very grateful. I do feel like a milk cow every now and then, but I try to remember that this doesn’t last forever and I cherish the opportunity to feed my baby. I have been pumping every day to start storing up the freezer stash. I remember how hard it was to keep up my supply when I went back to work after Harvey was born, so I wanted to get ahead now. I have about 250 ounces of milk thus far (thank goodness we have a deep freezer)! It also brings me a lot of joy (and shameless pride) in seeing her grow big and plump and to know that I am the one responsible for that! She was already over 10lbs at her one month appointment and the pediatrician was very complimentary of her gains and growth.
She is a sweet baby and has started the little coos and squeaks – and has even given a few little smiles when we interact with her (new this week). It won’t be long before she is fully grinning and laughing and I can’t wait! She will tolerate tummy time for a few minutes and has pretty great neck strength! She also tolerates the car (mostly) which is helpful when trying to run errands or go on adventures. She even sleeps through the night!! (yes, we are co-sleeping again so that’s probably why) The hardest part is getting her to calm down when she is fussy in the evenings. I remember Harvey as a bit fussy, but since he was my only child at the time, I had unlimited time and ability to hold him and make sure he never cried for more than a second. Della, on the other hand, has to get put down occasionally and therefore lets out some wails. We bought a baby swing to try and help with these occasions and it works most of the time. The ergo carrier works as well! If Nick and I both had 4 arms, we would be set. But alas, we only have 4 between the 2 of us – so Harvey gets to watch his iPad some and Della has to cry some. When asked what the biggest adjustment has been – I would definitely say that part has been it without a doubt. “Divide and conquer” doesn’t mean that each child gets unlimited facetime with one of us – it means that one of them has to hang out on their own for a bit while we do things like cook, clean, feed the baby, etc. Overall, the transition to having two kids has been about what I expected!
A few things I am grateful for: I want to be sure I make some notes about how we’ve survived the last few weeks…
Lolli and Pop being retired is a HUGE help. The fact that they live so close and have offered so much to us is a real lifesaver. Not only do we see them most every weekend, but Lolli has vowed to come over one afternoon a week so that I can do things like run or go to Target. She then picks Harvey up at preschool and helps with dinner/bath. Monday, his school was closed, so they took him to the zoo and he had an absolute blast!! I will never quite be able to put into words how much it means to have them close by, to have their unconditional love and support, and to have such a strong relationship/bond with them. We literally couldn’t do it without them.
I am sure that most husbands and dads are rocking it out in their own unique ways, but mine is pretty awesome. Nick’s willingness to work all day and come home and jump right in to being super-dad continues to amaze me (even if I don’t express my gratitude enough). His job is flexible, which helps so much, so he can often get some work done at night after the kids go to sleep. Most days, he doesn’t have a minute to himself because he is either working, hanging with Harvey, cooking, or soothing Della. Not to mention, he even gives me the occasional foot massage! He has also discovered that playing records while dancing with her does the trick at night to get her down, so he takes that on while I have a breather in the evenings. He basically works two full-time jobs right now while I am on maternity leave, and I hope that he knows we are all lucky to have him.
My mom was able to take a week off of work after Della was born to help us get settled in the beginning, and that was invaluable to us! She cooked our meals that week, did our grocery shopping, and deep-cleaned the house! She was also a really awesome buffer for Harvey those first few days because he was a bit rocked when Della initially came home. She is coming up again in a few weeks to take him to Paw Patrol Live at DPAC and he talks about it constantly. Looking forward to Mimi time is very special to us!
Raising kids with friends who are also raising kids is hilarious and comforting at the same time. We enjoyed “round one” so much while everybody was entering into parenthood for the first time and figuring this whole thing out. Now, that a lot of us are starting to add number 2, it is really fun to watch the eldest kids become siblings and to talk about how tired and worn out we all are, ha! In a few years the kids will be able to entertain themselves, and we will all talk about how quickly these years flew by… but in the meantime, we will enjoy our playdates 5 minutes at a time. 🙂
I think it is easy to take this last thing for granted, so I want the record to show that I am extremely grateful for my health. I had asked my midwife pre-delivery about getting back to exercise after the baby was born, and they all assured me that if I had a relatively uneventful delivery, I could basically get back whenever I felt up to it. So, I took 3 weeks off and have been able to run since them. My blood pressure is good and I feel strong and healthy. It is important for my overall well-being and mindfulness ability to take this time to myself and exercise! Mamas can easily forget this, so I am glad my village helps me make it happen.
Harvey turning 3 and becoming a big brother has been such a joyous time in my life. Becoming the mother to a daughter has been everything I could have ever hoped for. I try to take a moment each day and soak it in. His funny little sayings, her tiny/squishy legs and baby smell… all of it. Last weekend we went on an adventure and Nick and I had a conversation while we were hiking about the relief we feel for having our two healthy children earth-side. This is something I never lose sight of. Not everybody gets this chance, and it is one I don’t take for granted.
We are looking forward to a happy and busy summer!
For our first new state park adventure as a family of four, we wanted to find a place that wouldn’t be too far of a drive, but a also a place that felt new to us. We landed up Weymouth Woods, a Nature preserve in the heart of North Carolina’s sandhills, a little over an hour away from us.
A place like this is a perfect example of the geological diversity our state has to offer. Much of the trails were comprised of crisp white sand, with a view of towering pine trees. Watch out for the roots though – we all almost took a spill more than once!
The park has a nice visitor center, connected to 4.5 miles of trails. In all we hiked about 3.5 miles, a nice loop surrounding the park. We would highly recommend this park. It’s unique views and terrain stood out, and the trails were very well marked.
Strava Link (For some reason the last half mile didn’t register)
Starting Point: Park Office (1024 N Fort Bragg Rd, Southern Pines, NC 28387)
End Point: Same
Length: 3.5 Miles
Approximate Hiking Time: 1 Hour, 30 minutes (2 kids slowed us down a bit!
We also found some other fun activites to do in the area! We would definitely recommed a visit to the Sandhills! (Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen)
Today is Thursday, March 21st and I am sitting on my couch with sore boobs and a baby sleeping on my chest, and life could not be any more perfect than it is in this moment. I wanted to get this down while it is still fresh and raw, but I need you all to understand that nothing I could possibly type will ever do this story the justice that it deserves. The women, and the man, who were in the room when this miracle arrived are the only other witnesses who held the space with me, and who helped usher Della into the world and into our hearts. I am forever grateful for their love and support, and without them, I could not have done this amazing thing that is childbirth.
Alright, let’s back it up a few weeks. Last time I wrote, I was 37 weeks and 2 days pregnant, and I had made a little bit of progress on my own. I was 1cm dilated and 50% effaced and absolutely ecstatic that my body seemed to be heading down the right road this time (versus a preeclampsia induction at 36 weeks like last time). At my almost-38-week appointment, I was 2cm dilated and 75% effaced and got to have an “aggressive cervical check” because my practice doesn’t technically do membrane sweeps until 39 weeks. I had also already lost my mucous plug at this point and was having several Braxton-Hicks contractions a day. So, we arrived at my last scheduled appointment on Friday, March 15th at 2pm while I was 38 weeks 5 days. I got to see one of my favorite midwives at the practice (the last three appointments I had were with my three favorite ladies – and then one of them delivered my baby!!) and she stripped my membranes for me and announced that I was about 4cm. Woohoo!!!! Here we go!!! Things are going to start happening!! Obviously, this was what I was telling myself – there is no guarantee that this procedure starts labor, but I was feeling pretty positive and had felt a lot of pelvic pressure for the 3 days leading up to my appointment, so rest assured I was feeling very… hopeful. I had also gotten all of my ducks in a row at school, and was ready for maternity leave, so it kind of felt like the stars were aligning and my mind was at ease/peace. Lights… camera… action:
Nick and I decided to take Harvey to Pizza Inn (one of our new family favorites) for dinner. We always have pizza on Friday nights, and UNC vs. Dook 2019 (round 3) was going to happen later that night, and we were in an all-around excited mood because we knew one way or the other we were about to meet our baby, or settle in for a nice weekend enjoying some two-on-one time with Harv. Right after sitting down to eat at 7pm, I felt my first contraction. It was light, but definitely NOT a Braxton-Hicks, and I felt a flutter of excitement. I didn’t want to get Nick worked up, and I also wanted to try and maintain a level of calm so as to not run them away with an adrenaline rush. So, we finished our dinner and got home around 7:30, and by that time, I had had about 5 or 6 more in a 30-minute time span. I figured I should go ahead and tell Nick about this, right as he was taking a picture of the pink evening sky and saying that Della was going to be born this weekend. We started to get Harvey ready for bed, and as soon as I realized that the contractions were definitely coming consistently, we tucked him in, texted Lolli and Pop and called my mom so she could start driving up here.
At about 8:20 I went ahead and called the midwife, who called me back pretty quickly, and I let Nick talk to her because I was having a contraction at the moment the phone rang. It was Amy!!! One of my favorites!! This was wonderful news!! I had loved my prenatal appointments with her, and felt like we had a great rapport, and she told us that she was there until 7am, at which time Stacie (one of my other favorites, yay!!) would come on. She said that she definitely felt like I was in labor, and that when it got to the point where the contractions were getting too painful to talk through, we should come on over. She said since we were 5 minutes from the hospital, to give her a call when we were on our way. It became pretty clear at this point, that we were not going to sleep that night.
By 9pm, Nick’s parents arrived at our house and we turned on the basketball pre-game stuff. My contractions were 3 minutes apart by this point, and some of them were more painful than others. At 9:45, upon Lolli’s good suggestion, we went ahead and left for the hospital, which ended up being a GREAT decision, because I got the last available L&D room at Duke Regional that night. Pop stayed behind to spend the night with Harvey, and the three of us arrived in my room at 10:15pm, where we turned on the game and had Amy check my cervix – 4cm. I asked if she could break my water to “really get the party started” and she said she was happy to do that – right after she finished assisting with a c-section. She said she would probably be back around midnight and that we should settle in for the evening while she was gone. We called my mom to let her know which room we were in, and Lolli started pulling out her bag of tricks for labor (suckers, life savers, and massage tools). The nurse got my IV port in, and I started pacing around the room, trying to keep my hips open while I worked through the contractions, which were still about 3 minutes apart.
My mom got there before the game ended, which was a bummer since we lost… but I actually didn’t care a whole lot because I was about to have a baby… and Amy came in about 12:30am to break my water. We all got to chat for a bit and I introduced her to my mom, and she said that she was going to do her best to be in the room laboring with me as much as she could, but that there was a full house that evening, and 2 more women had checked in to the triage rooms that they have for “overflow” – which made me super grateful for the big L&D room I had. Once she broke my water, I remembered that feeling from the first time – the strange water trickling down your legs, which is pretty continuous throughout the rest of the process, and after this, things really started to pick up quickly.
For 2 solid hours, I was having strong, intense, contractions. They were 2 minutes apart, and really starting to hurt. I was doing a few different things to try and manage the pain, like walking, leaning over things, sitting on the toilet, sitting on a ball, etc. Mimi and Lolli were very patient while I was in pain. I can’t imagine what this process must have been like through somebody else’s eyes and ears… but I picture it as a bit unpleasant. They were so great at talking me through it, and helping me come back to reality after each contraction. However, Nick was the real hero of this portion of the labor. He squeezed my hips, let me lean into him whenever I needed it, and was a trooper when I really started to growl/howl in his ear. I would not have been able to do ANY of this without him, but it was this part that really sticks out in my memory. Babe, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I had made my mind up a long time ago that I was going to do my damnedest to have a natural labor and delivery. This decision had been made before Harvey was born, and reflected in my choice to go to a birth center with that pregnancy. However, that went out the window with my induction, and here we were, so far, so good… I was getting the second chance I had hoped for, after a healthy pregnancy and good start to labor. It was at 2:30am that I started to lose some wind in my sails. Amy had come in, and said the noises I was making were starting to sound like I was “bearing down” and I really couldn’t communicate with words anymore at this point, and I think I said something like, “I DON”T FUCKING KNOW!!” (whilst on my hands and knees on the bed). During the contractions, I couldn’t do anything but focus on getting through the wave. However, when they ended, things were ok and I remember specifically thinking that was different from the last time I was in labor (the Pitocin was making me have non-stop, long and continuous contractions). Once that particular rush was over, Amy suggested that she check my cervix because she didn’t want me to push too soon. When she did so, my heart sank a bit, because I was 7cm. But… this is when my competitive/determined personality kicked in, and I told myself that I was going to start getting through the rest of this “five minutes at a time”, which is exactly what I do at the end of long distance races. The next hour is a blur.
This part is going to be short, because it felt like time stopped and was elongated all at once, and it was the most surreal hour of my life. My nurse suggested that I use the peanut ball to put between my knees and lay on the bed for a bit. She said that I could try a few contractions on one side, and then a few on the other side, and that this trick was one that usually worked to get women to 10cm. I’m not going to lie, I pretty much spent the next 45 minutes screaming because the contractions were actually “coupling” which meant that I was having one big contraction, followed immediately by a smaller one… leaving me no real break in between. I was getting close to giving up. In fact, I did at one point. I told the nurse I thought I needed the epidural, and she said she would check me to see if I had made progress. Around 3:15am my L&D nurse checked my progress, and announced that she didn’t think I was much past 7-8cm. Damnit… not done with transition yet… I was crushed. I said I needed the epidural, and she went to call the anesthesiologist. The last hour had been spent with me howling, my moms taking turns holding my hands and rubbing my back, and Nick coaching me in my ear while I used him for physical support as well as emotional.
The nurse and my midwife came back into the room and said that relief was on the way. I, at one point, began to go from a deep groan into an all-out hysterical scream, and this memory is one that I am going to remember for the rest of my life. My L&D nurse got really close to my face, and took my hand in her hands and squeezed it and said very calmly, “Sarah, you’ve made it this far and you’ve worked too hard to lose control now… you’ve got this, come back to this.”
And then… all of the sudden… BAM!!! I felt the baby move down. I don’t know how to describe this feeling, other than exactly that… I could literally feel her body move down through my body, and it actually felt like the relief I needed. Nick said that was approximately 3:25am… and I yelled it out to the room, “I JUST FELT HER MOVE DOWN!” Amy then said, do you think you need to push? And I said “YES!!” So, she gently checked me because I was on my back at this point, and she said, “Sarah, she is right there, I can feel her head.” The room lit up… literally. I was so freaking elated. Amy then quickly got a gown on, while I pushed for the first time. I felt her head coming and I said to the room, “can you see her?!” and everybody said “yes!!” So, I pushed again and this time it started to burn a bit, and I could really feel her head coming out. I waited here for a minute while I panted a bit, and dang if that didn’t burn… but then with the next contraction, I pushed for a third and final time, and she was out at 3:36am!! HOLY SHIT what a feeling of release and accomplishment. I had done it… and I was in disbelief!! She was laid on my chest (after they unwrapped her chord from her neck) and she was absolutely perfect. The first thing I thought about her was that she had so much hair. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I remember feeling/thinking this when they laid Harvey on me, and I swear in that moment (just like the cliché Grinch story) my heart grew two sizes. What. A. Miracle.
Those first few minutes of Della on my chest were magical. I felt so alive and so present. I actually felt the oxytocin coursing through my body. The pain completely ended. I kept saying over and over, “I can’t believe I just did that… that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” It was true!! I remember being thirsty and feeling like the cotton mouth was intense, but Mimi kept the water and the straw close by – phew! Amy told me a few minutes later that my placenta was ready to deliver, and I pushed that out easily. We were actually doing it. All of the postpartum things I had wanted with Harvey… immediate skin to skin, delayed cord clamping, all of it. There was no rush. I felt like I was the one in charge of this whole process, and that my midwife and nurse were just listening and waiting for me to tell them what I wanted and needed. I truly cannot say enough good things about this hospital and this practice. They are absolute rock stars.
For the next 3 hours we were all on cloud 9, getting Della cleaned up a bit, weighing her, snuggling her, staring at her. She was so alert and sweet. She latched on within 2 minutes of being born, and continued to nurse throughout those first few hours. I was in complete awe. This next part, although it is an important part of her birth story, I want to write about another time because it happened after Harvey was born as well, and I want to have a conversation with Amy at my 6 week appointment about it – but I did have a postpartum hemorrhage. Long story short, it was 30 minutes of some quick maneuvering by the nurses, midwife, and doctor… and I am perfectly fine on the other side, but it was a bit nerve-wracking right before we moved to my postpartum room at 7am. More on that later!
Now, it has been five days of pure bliss. Harvey is very sweet and interested in his little sister, and she has been an extremely easy baby. She is eating like a champ, pooping, sleeping, and cooing. I feel like we won the lottery. How did I get so lucky? Just a short 31 hours after Della was born, we were discharged and on our way home. It doesn’t get any better than this.
I am choosing to share these photos with you all because although they are pretty intense and graphic, they are so important to me. I grew a baby in my body for 9 months, and then I birthed her in what were the most incredible 8.5 hours of my life. I hope you all can appreciate this story and our journey. We have been so grateful for the outpouring of love and support from our village, and we cannot wait to see what the future holds for our little family of four.