How do you know when labor is the real thing? When a baby comes, that’s how. Yep, with your fifth kid, you’d think you had it figured out. You’d think that you wouldn’t mistakenly call/ keep your husband home from work 3 times because you thought it might be the real thing that day. Just kidding, false alarm, everybody! Humbling, for sure!
The Short Story
Thursday morning contractions were not quite as mild as they had been for the previous two weeks, so Aaron stayed home from work. Around 9:30, we called my visiting teacher, and as we had arranged, she came right over and picked up Elodie and Hazel (Xander was already at school). That left me free to focus on the task at hand. Things started picking up, so we alerted the support staff. Two amazing friends arrived, one a little before 11 and one a little after 11, and at 11:18am, a perfect little baby boy was born right there in our bedroom. It was a beautiful experience and we feel so grateful that the Lord answered our many prayers in every particular.
Max Raymond Dahle—8 pounds 12 ounces—21 inches
The Long Story
(Read on if you like details about dilation and such. I know I do. If you’re satisfied right now, go ahead and stop reading. I won’t be offended.)
Baby #5, Home birth #1. I hope it’s not the last on either account!
On Leap Year Day, when I was not so secretly hoping the baby would want to come, I was having some mild contractions and just not feeling quite like myself—no appetite, not much energy—and I thought that it might just be the real thing, so Aaron came on home and got the house all ready for a home birth. Home birth. Wow. We were still sort of wrapping our minds around it. What would this experience be like? He put the plastic under the sheets on the bed, around the bed, laid out all of the gear from the birthing kit, like cord clamps, sterile scissors, sterile gloves, and even an oxygen tank borrowed from the clinic. I rested and had only mild, irregular contractions. So I got up to try to get things going and then I had more frequent though still completely mild, easily ignorable contractions. But I was so exhausted that sleep won and nothing came of it. It was like that for almost four days. On the third day of this, we got a second opinion (not that I don’t trust my handsome primary care provider, but Aaron doesn’t exactly specialize in OB/Gyn; he says that rotation made him feel like a fish out of water, especially when women asked him to step out and wouldn’t let him get the experience critical to knowing how to check station and dilation) and found that I was only dilated to a 2, not a 4 as we had thought at 3am when I couldn’t sleep. Which makes a big mental difference. It gave me and Aaron permission to kinda go back to normal mode. By Sunday, when I was pretty much feeling like myself again with my appetite and most of my energy back, I realized that if this had been the real thing, I would have had a baby—this must have been what we call an icky GI virus. The contractions continued to be frequent, irregular, and very mild for the next week and a half. I decided that these were not just Braxton-Hicks, but the first stage of labor kind that only dilate you about 1/100th of a millimeter each. So if I had a 1000 of them, I’d be dilated another centimeter! And the contractions were frequent enough to make us constantly wonder, “Is it going to turn into the real thing today?” but not intense enough to interfere at all with normal daily routines. More contractions when I was up and about, not any that I noticed while I was sleeping at night.
Wednesday was the due date we had calculated, so when it (finally) rolled around, we wanted to get things going that day. Time to be up and about. I made a dish for Aaron to bring to his work potluck lunch, went to library story time, the grocery store, and then to the Clinic to join Aaron for the putluck lunch. While I was at the clinic, we figured I might as well get checked, so we stepped into an exam room. I was dilated to 4 cm. See? I must have had 2000 ultra-mild contractions in the last week and a half! as I was up and about that afternoon, the contractions became a bit more noticeable. I bundled all the kids up and headed for hockey practice. On the way there, I somehow mentioned that I was having a contraction and Xander wondered aloud, “Mom, what if you have the baby while you’re driving me to hockey?” Don’t worry, Xander, it takes a little bit more work than that. It’s called labor for a reason! We picked up Aaron from work and dropped him off at the Church for a Youth sledding activity. Then we made it safely and uneventfully to the hockey rink, and the contractions, though a bit more frequent and a bit more noticeable, were still mild enough that I could just chat through them. Not worth getting excited about. Darn. But as I stood there watching Xander skate, wrestling a squirmy Hazel in her slippery snowsuit, I did occasionally wonder, “why does Hazel feel so heavy all of a sudden?” Then I noticed the correlation. Oh, she just feels suddenly heavy when I’m having a contraction.
Before bed that evening, I wondered if I’d be able to sleep through these contractions or if they just might go somewhere this time. I got into my nice relaxed state and dozed off. For the first little while, I woke up to a contraction about every 10 minutes, falling right back asleep in between. Then I slept 20 or 30 minutes at a time, and eventually an hour and then two hours in a row. I don’t know if the contractions got less frequent through the night or if I just got tired enough to sleep through most of them. Overall, not a bad night’s sleep. I woke up around 6 and may have dozed a bit more before I got up at 7 to get Xander off to school. Once I was up making Xander’s lunch and such, the contractions were getting pretty regular and Aaron and I were getting pretty excited! Better not go to work today, Aaron! Back in February, when we had all placed our guesses on when this baby was going to arrive, Xander had guessed March 15th. So we sent Xander off on the bus, excited at the prospect of being right and coming home to a new little brother! Maybe. It felt like this was going somewhere, but I could still talk through my contractions and do my normal thing for the most part. Taking care of the girls, folding laundry. The girls got up and had breakfast, but I didn’t really feel like eating. (Good sign.) After a little bit, it got to the point where I had to stop folding laundry to breathe through contractions. Elodie wanted me to read her a story, and I got through a few pages, but the contractions were too distracting. Every time Hazel saw me close my eyes and deep breathe, she started saying, “Mommy, mommy!” and tried to climb onto my lap. That’s when I realized that it was time to call my wonderful visiting teacher, who lives really close and was all set to come pick up the kids. She arrived at around 9:40. I gave up on folding the laundry and went to soak in our jetted tub. At first, I asked Aaron to try to finish folding those whites so they wouldn’t be all over the couch when people came over to help with the birth. Then I didn’t care and told him to just stay with me. After maybe an hour or so in the tub, it was no longer comfortable and soothing, but getting out was hard because there wasn’t much time between contractions and I was to the point where I was really indecisive about what I did want. Tub? I don’t think so. But where instead? I didn’t know. That’s when it becomes Aaron’s job to read me and make decisions for me. Luckily, he’s really good at that! When Aaron had been folding laundry, he had Aaron prayed to know if it was time to call our support staff over, and just after he finished the prayer, one of them called us. Nice clear answer. Aaron told her that it looked like this was the real thing. She was up in Fairbanks, but she offered to call the other two to let them know that it was time to head over. Just after I got out of the tub, a little before 11:00, while I had paused on the toilet to breathe through a contraction, our friend from the clinic with lots of OB experience arrived. In a contraction intermission, I made it to the bedroom where the sun was shining in and I could see the beautiful view of the evergreen trees and the sparkling snow. It was beautiful and peaceful and as I laid down on my side, it felt like the right place to be at that point in labor. I was dilated to an 8 or 9 with a bulging water sac. Which means any minute and we’ll have a baby, pretty much. That seems to be how I work—my water has never broken before I was fully dilated. I like it that way—the contractions seem to get even more intense after the cushiony water sac breaks. Just after 11:00, our other friend, who we know from the clinic and Church and who had two of her own children at home, arrived. I was having the same weird tingling in my hands that I had just before Hazel was born. The contractions were feeling pretty intense at this point—I got to that point that I always get to when I feel like I am not handling them very calmly anymore and I just look at Aaron and ask him to help me and he reminds me that I can push if I want. After a couple more good ones, I did want. The water gushed. A couple more pushes and that familiarly intense pressure down there, and we I had a little baby boy in my arms. Wow! 11:18am. He cried a little, but was kind of stunned from coming out so quickly and had apparently inhaled a bit of amniotic fluid (which was clear this time, no mec), so he was kind of purplish. A little concerning, yes, but he kept reassuring us with his sweet little cries. I held him to me to keep him warm and Aaron’s assistant’s rubbed and patted him while Aaron found his Leatherman multi-tool and used it to get the oxygen tank working. With a little puff of oxygen just in front of his face, he pinked up nicely and I was able to start nursing him.
Like his sisters, he nursed like a champ—about 20 minutes on each side like a little pro. After our experience with Dexter not even being able to eat, I had been praying specifically that this little baby would come when he was ready to thrive and nurse well. We felt so much gratitude as we watched him doing just that. He was here and he was doing well! What relief!
Our assistant ran back to the clinic to get smaller tubing and a better suctioning machine, and with that, they easily got all of the moisture out of his lungs that was making his breathing sound a bit “wet” as they called it. We felt so blessed that these dear ladies were able to be there to support us in this adventure of home birth. It took a lot of pressure off of Aaron to have two other knowledgeable, helpful people there, thinking of what to do next so he could be the husband and Dad and not just the medical provider. Though of course, he was all three and did an amazing job at all of them simultaneously.
The whole experience felt calm and normal and perfect as we were experiencing it. Truly, looking forward to it and looking back on it, there is the WOW, did-we-ever-think-we’d-actually-just-give-birth-to-a-baby-in-our-bed factor? But doing it felt surprisingly natural. No big deal in the moment. That’s how it is when you’re in the birthing zone, I guess. Just being home was so much calmer and nicer than having to figure out when to leave for the hospital and endure sitting in the car during labor, which has never been my favorite part. (Those seats make it difficult for me to stay in my hypnobirthing zone.) After he was born and doing well, I just got up while they gathered up the plastic and the sheet that had been over our normal sheets, and I crawled right back in my own cozy bed, holding my perfect little bundle. Aaron, revved up by the excitement of it all, had all the sheets and blankets and his clothes washed and dried just hours after the arrival—thanks to a little hydrogen peroxide, there was no trace left behind. Clean up? No big deal. Pretty impressive.
When it was time for Xander to get off the bus, Aaron walked down to the bus stop to get him. Seeing that it wasn’t me like normal, he asked if he had a new baby brother. When he heard the news, he raced Dad home and rushed into our room with his snowpants still on. He was completely enthralled with his little brother. Priceless, meeting him one on one like that, without the reaction diffused by the presence of his little sisters. I told Xander we were thinking about naming him Max Raymond (the info had been top secret, even from our kids, until his arrival) and Xander in his confident, decisive way that reminds me of his father, said, “Yeah, that sounds like a great name for him!” I had been feeling less sure about the name that Aaron and I had kind of settled on, and Xander’s immediate acceptance helped a little in the process of naming this guy. For days, Xander had been really excited to stay at my visiting teacher’s house (she has 9 kids, 6 of whom are boys, after all) so after he was done holding Max, I asked him if he was ready to go over there. Sweetly, he replied that he wasn’t ready to leave his little brother yet. He just sat by me on the bed and enjoyed the miracle of a newborn brother for about 40 minutes before he was ready to go play and spend the night with friends.
We decided that Hazel would sleep better in her own bed, so just before her bedtime, Aaron went to pick her up. I think she liked meeting her brother. She said “baby” a lot and seemed pretty excited. But then she just wanted Mom’s attention and demanded it rather forcefully. At just 17 months, she is a bit young to quite get what this all means. I’m sure she’ll learn quickly!
Elodie was the last to meet Max. Aaron picked her up around lunchtime on Friday so he was over a day old when they were finally introduced. Of course she absolutely adores him and holds him happily for up to 30 minutes at a time without getting tired of it. She has informed me several times that while she loves everyone in the family, she loves Max the most.
We are so so so so grateful that everything went so smoothly. We felt the Lord’s sustaining hand through it all. Home birth was an amazing experience and I feel blessed to have been provided with everything we needed to make it happen.
The Really Long Story
(Read on if you want the background of how we made the home birth decision.)
I know that we are here on this Earth to be stretched and to learn and grow. God tailors our experiences to teach us the lessons we need to learn. As the time of Max’s arrival drew near, it was powerful for Aaron and I to look back and see what the Lord was trying to teach us through this pregnancy and delivery.
Back when we were barely pregnant with Dexter, we tossed out the possibility of having a home birth. Our first two births had gone so well and the doctors had really done so little. Plus, we were students again and I didn’t have health insurance, nor would any private insurance we might find cover maternity costs. So we tossed out the idea. It sure would be cheaper! But through our interactions with other student families in our ward, we discovered the option of Medicaid and were able to go forward with a hospital birth as before. I liked giving birth at hospitals—they had been great about respecting our wishes and letting us have peaceful hypnobirths in a reassuring setting where you know that contingencies are covered. After Dexter was born, not breathing and needing the NICU right away, and then passing away just 3 months later, I reflected on how we had considered a home birth. I was so extremely grateful that the Lord had provided a way for us to have Dexter at a hospital where they could give him every possible chance at life. I could hardly imagine how we would have felt if we would have had Dexter at home and he would have passed away just moments after birth, having only had the chance to take a couple of feeble gasps. How we would have wondered what the outcome would have been had we been at a hospital! How hard it would have been to accept his death and forgive ourselves! The three months we had with Dexter were such a blessing to our family. Our children got to enjoy their little brother for long enough to remember him. We got to enjoy him while we were coming to accept the fact that he wouldn’t be with us very long. By the time he passed on, we were completely OK with it. We didn’t have to endure months after his passing of trying to accept his death and come to terms with God’s plan for him. We feel so blessed that we were guided to a hospital birth with Dexter.
Then came the pregnancy with Hazel. We planned on a hospital birth, because as we saw with Dexter, you just never know when you might need the support you can only get at a hospital. But, with how fast my births have gone, you also never know if you’ll be able to make it to the hospital; a friend in our ward accidentally had their baby at home while her husband was taking a quick shower to get ready to go to the hospital. So we did order a Home Birth kit online, just to be prepared for anything. Aaron had just had his Nursery and OB/Gyn rotations, after all! But we did end up making to it the hospital with Hazel, albeit with only 13 minutes to spare and only the triage nurse and Aaron actually there to deliver the baby. The birth was super easy and Hazel was a healthy little bundle of joy. We could have done that one at home, we thought, with how little the hospital staff had to do! And it would have been so much nicer and calmer at home—the car ride to the hospital was definitely the worst 10 minutes of labor, and I was not too happy with the guy who made Aaron park the car while a stranger pushed me in a wheelchair up to Labor and Delivery, nor with the triage nurse who wouldn’t listen to me when I told her I needed to go straight to a delivery room! Yes, hindsight is perfect and we did enjoy the comforts of the hospital and the “baby honeymoon” with Hazel.
Then, just after moving to rural Alaska, we found out the joyful news that we were expecting another baby! I began talking to all pregnant moms and those with young kids about how they managed with the hospital 2 hours away. Some of the military wives do what they call “storking.” Two weeks prior to their due date, the military pays for them to stay in a hotel up in Fairbanks, so they’ll be close when the time comes. Hmmm, even if that were an option for us, how would you make that work logistically with 3 other kids? Just pull your kid out of school for 2 weeks? And doesn’t your husband still have to work? And who would watch your kids when you do go into labor since you don’t have any friends in Fairbanks? Not sounding like such a good option to me. Several people said that they schedule inductions. Hmm, also not my favorite option, since I’ve heard it’s much more difficult to have a natural birth with the intensity of Pitocin contractions, not to mention the statistics that suggest that induction increases your risk for C-section and other interventions which I’d rather avoid, especially since we’d like lots and lots of kids. So then there’s just hoping that we notice I’m in labor soon enough to get up to Fairbanks and without having to drive two hours there and two hours back for labor that isn’t going anywhere. (We had done that one before with baby #3, but the hospital was only 10 minutes away in Denver so it wasn’t a big deal!) All this was making home birth sound pretty good.
Plus, Aaron works for a “Mom and Pop” type clinic where they offer “in-house” medical coverage, meaning you pay only cost for any service you receive at the clinic, but the clinic doesn’t deliver babies (at least not planned deliveries) and they don’t provide real health insurance to cover hospitals and such. You can get your own private insurance, like catastrophic coverage, and they’ll pay half of the deductibles, but those private plans never cover maternity, so we’d still have to fork out a pretty penny. Yep, seriously considering home birth.
But, and this is a pretty big BUT, how could I really consider a home birth after our experience with Dexter? There are always unknowns in this life, and what if we had another baby that needed the NICU? All of the testing done on Dexter indicated that his syndrome was a fluke with no genetic component, so it wasn’t likely for it to happen again. But what if? Could I really feel at peace about a home birth? As we prayed about it, I felt reassured that if we planned on a home birth and just continued to be prayerful as the time approached, the Lord would give us that unsettled “no” feeling to tell us to go to the hospital if that was what was needed.
Still, it’s a little concerning to think that the type of hospital birth that we could afford financially was the type of birth that we could handle at home. We’d just have to deal with the finances part if it came to that. (I think Aaron’s mom said that Aaron wasn’t paid off until he was 12 years old since they never had insurance! But we REALLY did not want to do that!) Of course we would still go to the hospital if that’s what we felt like we should do, but to have no security blanket of health insurance was certainly uncomfortable.
Enter Plan B. Just weeks after moving here, a couple of the military guys at Church started recruiting Aaron to apply for the PA position on base (10 minutes south of town) that had been open for a long time. If you know Aaron, you know that he has always wanted to join the military. You probably also know that the answer to that desire had always been “no” when he prayed about it. Until the last year of PA school, when a Navy recruiter came to campus and we went to the temple and prayed and the answer was, “you can pursue the Navy option if you want.” Which we did. And it took forever and got us nowhere and we prayed again and decided to go the civilian route in Delta Junction, Alaska, where you could qualify for a pretty great government loan repayment option. But now here were these great guys actively recruiting Aaron to a pretty great position. and Aaron is always willing to try again and ask the Lord if NOW is the right time for him to join the ranks. Gratefully for me, this option here in Alaska is pretty different from a lot of military options. It’s an active-duty, deployed-status Alaska Army National Guard position. Since it’s deployed status, you won’t be deployed off somewhere without your family, which is what brings a lot of military families up here—they get the benefits of being active duty deployed without having to leave their families behind. So what did we do? Prayed about the option, of course, and felt like it was a blessing the Lord had guided us to and that we should pursue it. So in August, we got all of Aaron’s paperwork submitted to the recruiter in Anchorage and they told us that it should go pretty fast since they could use the same security clearance that the Navy had already processed. We felt like the whole application with the Navy wasn’t a total waste and that the Lord was guiding us every step of the way! They estimated that he’d be in by December—in plenty of time for baby’s arrival. How reassuring; the military has great health benefits, so if we got to the time of delivery and just felt like this baby should be born at the hospital rather than at home, that would be a viable, non-financially-burdensome option.
Aaron, being the man of faith that he is, was totally fine with the home birth option months before I was. I’d start thinking about it and ask Aaron, “are we seriously just going to have this baby right here at home?” And he’d confidently reassure me that it would work out great. He didn’t seem worried at all about attending our home birth. I continued to pray about it, knowing that the Lord would guide us. One day as I was vacuuming (one of my favorite household jobs for some reason) my mind turned to this issue. I thought of the covenants I’ve made at the temple and the power of the promises given there. The Lord promised to give me physical strength to do this very thing. I thought of Nephi’s confident declaration that the Lord will provide a way for us to accomplish the thing he has commanded and felt the Lord telling me that since he had commanded us to multiply and replenish the Earth, he would provide a way for us to accomplish this. I simply needed to trust that he would provide us with the way. God definitely fulfilled his promises to Nephi and his family—he blessed their wives as they gave birth in the wilderness and allowed them to have plenty of suck for those babies through all the wilderness wandering. I felt reassured that we are in good hands and have nothing to fear.
Then in January, Aaron had a really tough experience at work. He was on urgent care and one of our friends who is a coworker of his (the one whose kids I had been watching daily for months, who we’ve spent the holidays with up here—birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas—and have become like family) came in with an allergic reaction. While he was attending her, the situation suddenly became intensely life threatening and it was difficult to even get her stable enough to transport her via ambulance to the hospital in Fairbanks. She nearly died in his care and it really shook Aaron up. It was so much harder for him to remain emotionally calm with someone he knew so well almost dying on his watch. Gratefully, she made it and all of the other docs assured him that he had done everything right and that he didn’t need to feel responsible for her suddenly tanking like that. But it got Aaron thinking. How would he feel if he was attending the home birth and something went wrong and either the baby or I died on his watch? He wondered if he’d ever be able to forgive himself. After experiencing how emotionally difficult it was for him with friend, he could hardly imagine how emotionally destroyed he would be if it was his own wife who died despite his best efforts. He told me that he didn’t think he could emotionally handle a home birth. I had just come to the point where I felt good about homebirth, and now he was afraid of the unknowns involved. The tables had turned. I knew that we had to be unified in this kind of decision; I couldn’t just tell him to get over it and get back on board for homebirthing, so we started praying more intensely that the military option would come through before the baby was born.
December had passed and the application was still “in-process.” They said probably January. When they actually started doing something and flew Aaron to Anchorage for a physical, we felt like the Lord was blessing us and that things would be in place in time. Aaron got an email offer for the position contingent upon the completion of the National Guard application process. Things looked good. February came. They told us that we’d have to wait until March for some board review they do in DC. Things weren’t looking so good anymore. We wondered if we should have pursued a different insurance option, gotten catastrophic coverage, at least; had we been too passive in our efforts to be patient? As we pondered that and prayed, we felt like we had been actively following the Lord’s guidance and that all would be well. As March drew nearer and we got to the point that this baby was coming any day, Aaron was blessed with a great insight: the Lord was teaching us to completely trust in him, not in the arm of flesh, just as the Lord whittled Gideon’s forces from over 30,000 men down to only 300 to teach them that their capacity to conquer the Midianites was in the Lord’s strength, not their own. With only 300 men against the numberless enemy forces, they had to trust in the Lord. (Judges 7) As I was studying 2 Nephi 18 (Isaiah 8) just the day before Max was born, that same insight was confirmed to me. Isaiah warned the people that they would not win the battles by associating themselves with other strong nations. Those worldly alliances would fail and they would lose. But if they would ally themselves with the Lord, they would have nothing to fear. That night I wrote in my scripture study notebook: “Relying on the Lord is our only safety; Aaron and I feel like the Lord is giving us the opportunity to learn this lesson with the birth of baby #5. We were hoping and almost expecting to have military insurance by now, but that has not yet fallen into place. we have no worldly alliance in the form of health insurance and are therefore planning a home birth where all we can do is rely on the Lord’s help.”
I share all of this to add my witness that God does keep his promises. When we trust in him, he provides for us and protects us and delivers us from our own fears and insecurities. I know that he hears and answers our prayers and that he does guide and direct our lives through the subtle whisperings of the Holy Spirit, here a little and there a little. He wants to teach us and bless us and responds generously to our smallest efforts to draw nearer to Him. As we look at Max’s perfect face and feel the sweetness of his spirit, fresh from God’s presence, we feel so abundantly blessed and we are GRATEFUL!