03 May, 2016

Merit's Birth Story

On Wednesday, Steven took the day off to have one last day as a family of five since our baby was scheduled to be induced the next day. Gage is off of school for spring break, so we wanted to plan an extra fun day together. Toni had flown in on Tuesday afternoon, so we were excited to include her in our family day.

We spent the morning running a few errands, gave the kids baths and showers, and then the kids did chalk on the driveway while I made lunch. After we ate, I laid Will down for a nap and then I climbed into bed and took a really nourishing nap until about three.

When Will and I were up, we piled into the van and drove to Jamesville to do a quick and easy hike on the loop trail at Pratt’s Falls. We did the .6 mile loop, played in the field at the end of the trail, then took the trail back to the beginning where the van was parked. Driving home, I finally began to really accept that it was okay that my personal plans for this birth probably wouldn’t happen. I tried to just soak in the joy of being with my family and my final day of pregnancy.

When we got home, the big kids went upstairs to play with Steven and Will and I puttered around the kitchen, tidying up and setting things out for my hospital bag. Soon it was time for bed, and we got everyone in jammies, sang, prayed and read scriptures, and tucked everyone in. It took a while for each child to calm down and rest – I think they could feel the nervous anticipation and the current of change that was circulating our home.

Once we’d finished putting them to bed, Toni agreed to listen for them while Steven and I went on one last date. Our good friends had recently suggested an Italian restaurant called Franscesca’s in the village, so we drove down and ordered enormous plates of pasta. We were both totally stuffed by the time we’d finished and could have probably fallen asleep in the restaurant. We stopped by Wegman’s to pick up my favorite smoothie drink (Naked Berry Blast) for the drive to the hospital the next day.

My induction was scheduled for 7:30 the next morning, so when we got home I immediately started gathering the remaining items we wanted to bring with us to the hospital. We wrote little notes for the kids and Toni, tidied up, and went upstairs to go to bed. It was about ten o’clock when I started feeling like my contractions were more regular than they had previously been. I hadn’t had any strong contractions during the day, so I was surprised that these ones were intense enough that I was noticing them.

Then again, every night for over two weeks, I’d had noticeable, timeable contractions. So I ignored them and Steven and I read scriptures, prayed, and chatted for a few minutes. I climbed into bed next to him and remembered that I still needed to brush my teeth and send out an email. “Right after this contraction,” I said. Right then, I felt a trickle of liquid. I looked at Steven and told him that there was a very small chance that my water had broken. As I stood up, I had another contraction and felt more liquid escape.

I went into the bathroom to check the liquid and make sure I wasn’t just peeing my pants. I wasn’t. But there wasn’t a consistent trickle, as I’d heard is the case when your water breaks. I paced around the room, giddily debating calling my doctor. Finally, we agreed that if my water had broken, then the doctor should know as I would be coming in for my scheduled induction in just a few hours. She called me back at 10:30 and advised me to go to bed and try to relax.

I agreed. I was completely exhausted. So we checked on the kids, turned off the light, and laid down to sleep. Steven was completely out within seconds. I, however, couldn’t find a position comfortable enough to relax in, as I was starting to feel some heat with each contraction. I rolled over onto my left side and grabbed my phone to begin timing the contractions with a handy little contraction-timer app.
Around 11:30, I realized that I wasn’t going to be sleeping. My contractions were intensifying and they were almost exactly six minutes apart. I went to the bathroom and was pleasantly surprised to find some bloody show. So my contractions were actually doing something! I went back to bed and tried to get comfortable, but my squirming was waking Steven up and we were due at the hospital in just a few hours, so I got up and took a shower. I knew my friend Hayley in Utah would be up, so I sent her a text letting her know that I was probably in labor and I really loved the flow of excitement between us, even though we were thousands of miles apart.

While I was washing my hair, I reminded myself that I wasn’t in active labor – I remembered from the Bradley Method the signposts of labor. I was feeling excited and giddy, despite the mounting pressure of each contraction. Excited and giddy are not part of active labor for most women. So I knew I had some time to kill before anything was going to happen (if anything did happen before my scheduled induction).

After the shower, I brought my hair dryer downstairs so that I wouldn’t wake anyone up. While I was blowdrying my hair, the contractions became much more intense. I had to put the hair dryer down, grip the sink and repeat to myself, “This isn’t pain, this is progress. This is just your body doing what it was made to do.” I had stopped timing contractions after the shower, but resumed again at this point.

Once my hair was dry, I puttered around the house for a few minutes doing random things like writing thank you notes and moving throw pillows around. I would have to pause for the contractions and remind myself not to tense up. Finally, I realized that these contractions weren’t going to lessen in intensity, so I decided to lay down on the couch in the family room. Standing or sitting, the contractions were manageable, but lying down, they were much more intense. I moved into the lying down runner’s position that the Bradley Method suggests. While my contractions were intensifying, they weren’t as consistent. They were coming between four and ten minutes apart.
After a half hour, I decided to try to move back up to bed. I was getting so sleepy, but couldn’t get comfortable downstairs.

I climbed into bed next to Steven and was so uncomfortable that I had to jump up from the bed almost immediately. I grabbed my blanket and decided to move down to the other couch, closer to the stairs so I could get Steven easily if I needed to.

Steven came with me down to the couch and got me set up so that I could rest. I should have seen that it was active labor at this point, because the position I chose was to sit up Indian-style on the couch, with my head resting on an enormous pile of pillows beside me. Steven must have seen that this was for real, because he asked me to just call the doctor and tell her what was up, and he went upstairs to take a shower and get ready “just in case.” I fully intended on calling the doctor, but now it was 2 AM and I didn’t want to bug her since my contractions weren’t as regular. I had two really wimpy contractions in a row and told myself, “Brooke, that was a really awesome night of productive labor, but now it’s time to sleep and just be grateful that you could have that experience.” I closed my eyes, and then the most intense of all the contractions hit me, and kept hitting me. I felt stretched and I started to moan a little, and then POP! I felt this noisy, popping feeling inside of me and a burst of fluid gushed out. I stood up and called Steven (even though he was just upstairs) and told him that my water had broken. He came bolting down the stairs and giddily agreed that it must have been my water.

I went upstairs to clean off and he went down to the basement to get Toni. I called the doctor at this point and told her what had been happening since we’d last spoken. She advised me to drive to the hospital and that she would meet me there in a while after I’d been checked in.
I quickly changed, got dressed, threw a few last-minute items into my bag, and went into each of the kids’ rooms to say goodbye. I realized that I was probably in active labor because even though I was excited, I wasn’t smiling very much.

Steven turned the car on so it would be nice and warm, and off we drove.

Sitting up, the contractions weren’t even close to unbearable; the drive was really comfortable. I’d been a little worried because I remembered feeling some major discomfort on the drive to the hospital when I was in labor with Gage, but bumps in the road didn’t bother me at all.
We parked, took the stairs down to the main road, and jaywalked over to the hospital. The security guard, bless him, just told us to head up to the eighth floor.

The nurses quickly checked us in. I was still contracting, but as I said, since I was standing I could totally get through each one without any visible signs of discomfort. They brought me to my room, and soon my amazing nurse Perrin and the on-call doctor came in to check the fluid (yes, it was indeed amniotic fluid), and to see how much I’d progressed.

I was at a three. “Okay,” I thought, “not a lot of progress, but that’s okay.”

I got into my gown, snapped a classy bathroom selfie, and waited for Steven who had gone down to the main floor to check in and get his little ID sticker.

At this point, I was exhausted. I had taken Unisom right around 10:30 because I’d wanted to get some good sleep before getting induced. It was making me so drowsy! I decided to lay down and just take the harder contractions because at least I could close my eyes between them.

It took about an hour, but soon they’d had a good twenty minutes of fetal monitoring (my “basketball belly” kept making the monitor slide down and they’d have to readjust it every few minutes)  and the baby’s heart was just fine, so they let me take off the monitor and get comfortable. At this point, I was having three contractions every ten minutes. I had to stop talking and close my eyes through each one, which was a good signifier to me that they were productive.

At around five-thirty, I started shaking all over. My teeth started chattering, too. Steven asked me if I thought this was transition. We both decided it wasn’t since I was only probably at a four. I got nervous though and felt myself starting to give in to fear. Just fear that this was happening too fast for my body. But Steven, my rock, talked to me calmly and literally stopped my shaking and quaking just by reassuring me that I was still in control, that my body was made for this, and that he’d be with me through the whole thing.

When I felt back in control, I decided to lie down for a few more minutes to pack in as much rest as I could before things got really intense. It was during these next three or four contractions that the coolest thing happened. I had studied hypnobirthing and had talked to close friends who had employed some of its techniques into their natural births. Something frequently mentioned had been the concept of an image that immediately relaxes you. I’d tried to think up an image that would work for me, and assumed I’d figured it out. But what came to mind was totally different. It was almost as real as a dream. It was from the first-person point of view and it was my swan diving off of this rocky cliff, flying over a waterfall, a lush green canopy of trees, a vast gray ocean, then landing on a surface of jagged, black rocks on the other side. I had the exact image/dream play out, from the beginning to the end, at least three times and I completely forgot that I was even having contractions until they would peak (right about the time that I was flying over the ocean), but even then they were totally manageable because I was so focused on how amazing it was to fly!

My back started aching really intensely around 6:00. I decided to sit up and that took a lot of the pain away. I mentioned it to Perrin and she asked me to describe how it felt, then she felt my belly and told me  that the baby was posterior, that we needed to get it to turn because I was experiencing back labor. We were going to see if my moving to hands and knees would be enough to do the trick.
But first she needed to get my hep-lock in. I’m not squeamish with needles, but she really had to fish for my vein and my blood pressure (which is super low to begin with) just plummeted. I hate that feeling. I was seeing spots and getting really shaky and nauseated. She realized that this wasn’t working and called in a new nurse to try – she looked but didn’t feel comfortable poking me (skinny veins) and called in Frank, an IV specialist. He was in and out and totally rocked it. I love Frank!

It was around 6:30 at this point, and this is when I started to really feel fear. My blood pressure just wouldn’t improve. It was low and I was low. If you’ve experienced low, low blood pressure you know what I’m talking about. My hearing was going all weird, I couldn’t open my eyes because colors were blending and black spots were taking up most of the room. But the very worst part was that I could handle the contractions IF I was sitting up, but laying down they were really intense. But every time I tried to sit up, I would slump back down because of my stupid blood pressure. A few times Steven tried to kind of toss me into a sitting position right as the contractions peaked, but even then I would slump over, totally helpless. A victim to my own blood. Poor me.

Perrin was concerned about my back pain and tried and tried to help me turn over onto hands and knees to get the baby to turn, but I couldn’t lift my head at this point without coming close to blacking out.

I decided to try with all my might to get to the bathroom and back, just one more time, and will my blood pressure to get better. Steven supported me the whole way there by letting me lean on him, he walked backwards, guiding me toward the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet was the peak of intensity for me. I started praying out loud for strength. I hated that I couldn’t open my eyes and I was starting to get desperate.

Walking back to the bed, I felt the weirdest contractions. There were two of them like this: I felt them up in my ribs. And every time the baby kicked during a contraction, I felt really, really tender up high. So weird. No idea what that was about, but it scared me. “There’s something wrong with the baby,” I told Steven. He talked me off that ledge, but I think it scared him a little bit too. I faced a difficult decision here: get back in bed and lay down or stand up. I started to sink down into a squatting position, but when the room started to sway I knew I needed to get my head down. So frustrating! I stood up, and Steven wiped away the mucus plug that was trailing down my leg. Perrin offered to start me on fluids to see if that would help my BP. At this point, she could have suggested pumping me full of marshmallow crème and I would have agreed. Anything!

The fluids trickled in. I expected to feel better fast. I didn’t. I told her that I needed to get checked because if I hadn’t progressed, I was going to get the epidural. She quickly got the doctor and they came back and told me that I was only at a four! This was about 7:00.

I sat on the side of the bed, hunched over, ready for the anesthesiologist. My back was really, really hurting at this point. And then came the two contractions that changed the whole ball game. I felt like I needed to push. But I wanted to epidural so badly. I wanted more than anything to be completely present for the birth, I wanted my eyes to be open, and I wanted to be undistracted. My back pain was intense enough that I was letting it take me away. I kept debating waiting a little longer to see if my BP would rise and I’d be able to stand for the rest of labor, but the call of complete relief was so sweet. I started praying and praying that my BP would be high enough.

My body was really shaky and my forehead was just covered in cold sweat. Perrin was like a mom to me. She kept pulling my hair out of my face and squeezing my hand.
The anesthesiologist took my blood pressure and miracle of miracles, my BP was high enough that he went ahead with it.

He left the room right after 7:30. I turned over onto hands and knees at this point to help the baby turn. As I did, the heart rate seemed to droop quite a bit. “This happens sometimes with epidurals,” the nurse said. But she looked concerned. We tried a few different positions, but the heart rate was best when I returned to hands and knees, so I stayed there for about thirty seconds before the doctor (new doctor at this point – Doctor Brown, who delivered Will) rushed in. “Do I need to be worried?”

“Nope. If I’m not worried, you don’t need to worry. Let’s check you.”

I flipped back over to my back and he barely checked me before saying, “That’s why. Fully dilated. Babies’ heart rates decrease when they’re descending through the birth canal. I think it’s time to have a baby. How long did you push with your last one?”

“You don’t remember?” That’s the first time I’ve ever made Dr. Brown smile (and I’ve tried a lot). “Twice.”

I didn’t feel the urge to push yet, but about a minute later, I felt it. I love that feeling. I told the nurse, and they told me to hold on for just a second. Haha.

A contraction came and I started pushing. “Good enough, let’s wait till the next one,” Dr. Brown said.

“It’s still going. I need to keep pushing.”

And push I did, right up until Dr. Brown told me to blow, blow, blow. I felt that magnificent, triumphant relief that comes when the head has emerged, and I let myself relax while the rest of the baby wiggled out.

I don’t actually remember what Steven said word for word when he told me that we had a new daughter. I just remember asking him if he was sure, because apparently I had subconsciously been quite sure she was a boy. Or I was so overjoyed at the thought of another daughter that I wanted to confirm it before believing it.

This is when things get sad. I had been anticipating, since Will’s birth, that tremendously powerful, sweet spirit that accompanies birth. But it wasn’t there. Instead, there was this feeling of urgency that I’d never felt before. They handed her to me for a short moment and I barely saw her, I just kept looking over at the doctor and the nurses, who were quickly delivering the placenta and telling each other to do things. I looked at Steven, he didn’t seem concerned so I told myself to be present.
But I just wasn’t. I realized that we were not skin-to-skin. My stupid bra was in the way, so I frantically pulled it off and tried to snuggle her close, but the nurse was reaching over us using the bulb syringe in her nose and mouth. The baby was screaming at this point, but it wasn’t a happy, joyful newborn waaah, it was just different. I felt really worried and sad, and totally guilty and confused that I was feeling that way.

“I need to take her for a minute,” Jill, my new nurse said. I handed her over.

Within seconds, this team of people came rushing into the room; I couldn’t see what they were doing. Steven was trying to figure it out, but everything was noisy and hushed at the same time. I asked my nurse what was happening. She told me that Baby wasn’t breathing very well, and to hold on.
I don’t remember details here, except that the PA who was in charge of the NICU team quickly told us that we didn’t need to worry, that with quick deliveries like ours, babies sometimes have trouble “transitioning” into the real world and that they would have her back to us in a couple of hours.

I felt so robbed. I just sat in the bed, completely confused. What had just happened? Steven could see that I was distraught and reassured me that everything would work out. All the routine stuff happened. I ordered breakfast, had my IV stopped, walked to the bathroom and tried to pee, changed into a clean gown, and then got wheeled to the recovery room.

And darkness really descended here. Steven was allowed to go up to the NICU to be with the baby. I was alone in the room, except for my stupid roommate who was fast asleep on the other side of the curtain.

I tried to eat, but mostly cried. I hate to sound ungrateful after such an amazing delivery, but I felt so deeply robbed. It felt so wrong to be anywhere without my girl. I felt useless and empty. I didn’t even want to try to feel better.

Jake McNinch came to help Steven give the baby a blessing. I cried. Jake came by to say hello. I cried. The nurses came in and checked my belly and asked how I was feeling. I cried. I tried to take a nap, but couldn’t because I couldn’t stop crying. I was such a mess. A flood of hormones, disappointment, worry and fear, and I’m sure the adversary, were making me a total mess.

Then Lynn, my angel nurse, slipped me a note that said, “A private room is opening up. Pack your things and we’ll move you soon.”

After Steven's visit to the NICU, in my shared room.

When Steven came back from visiting the baby, he told me that I was cleared to go up too. I rode in the wheelchair and when we got up to the NICU slowly walked over to the tiny little incubator bed where she was laying. By this point, it had been almost three hours. I hadn’t bonded with her yet. I just ached inside. Not to mention the fears that were nagging at me – no skin to skin, her cord was cut way too early, we hadn’t nursed yet, she had been in this sad, cold, lonely place with no mommy to love her… how would any of this work out?

We sat beside her and held her hand as much as they would let us, but soon they asked us to leave so that they could do a blood test – a test that would make it so that she would have to be admitted for at least forty-eight hours. I was so sad.

Face timing with Gage later that night
We moved to our new room and the kids came by to visit. That was also sad. They were all so heartbroken that they couldn’t meet their new baby. Gage and Steven went up to the NICU but were quickly told to leave, because of flu season they weren’t letting siblings visit. Gage was crushed.
I tried to cheer them up, but being so down myself, I just couldn’t.

Soon they left, and Steven and I spent the evening and much of the night up in the NICU. Our new nurse, this sweet man named Julio, was exactly what we needed. “Have you held her yet?” He asked us, as he watched us eagerly and giddily change her diaper and take her temperature. We told him we hadn’t, “Would you like to?”

I about jumped for joy. As soon as she was suitably warm (they couldn’t find a hat to fit her head since the NICU babies are usually so small), he placed her in my arms. Tears just rolled down my cheeks. I was so sad and so happy. I still felt robbed of everything I wanted. It was a bittersweet moment. When Steven held her, he emanated the pride of a new parent. I wanted that. I stood up and started bleeding on the floor – of course they told us to go to bed and recover, for crying out loud. So mournfully, we went back down to our now-private room, and cried. We prayed and prayed that she would just get better and be with us soon, but right before leaving the NICU we’d asked the doctor what kind of timeline to expect.

“I would say about a week.”

“A week?!” I felt big tears welling up in my eyes. I didn’t even consider the other parents who had babies here for months and months.

I felt so empty that night. No baby in my arms. No nurses checking on her constantly. Just me and Steven, alone.

I did sleep, thankfully. And morning was less daunting. As soon as we woke up, we rushed upstairs to see her. Our new nurse, Karen, was amazing. “Let’s get her home as soon as we can. Are you up to nursing her?” Baby had had a miraculous night. She was breathing nearly perfectly and had been for hours.

I immediately started tearing off my hospital gown, but she told me to wait and eat breakfast first, while she did the final checks to make sure Baby was breathing well enough to start eating.

I ordered the largest breakfast ever, and ate every bite of it, praying non-stop that my colostrum would come in. I’d been pumping like crazy the day and night before, hoping for a miracle. I had to be able to provide her with enough substance that her blood sugar wouldn’t droop after being taken off the IV fluids. This was a first test and would determine a lot.

They told us to wait until 10:30. I paid some bills and tried to keep myself occupied for that last half hour before practically sprinting up to the NICU. Finally, it was time and we couldn’t stop smiling as we thought about how there was hope, now, that she would be home with us sooner.

When we saw her, we both felt so many sweet things. Steven was nearly overcome with emotion when he held our little baby – with no breathing tube – in his arms. Something about seeing her whole was what he needed.

She latched really well, and we nursed and nursed behind the privacy screen they’d put up for us. Though at that point, modesty was out the window and I would have nursed on national TV if that’s what they required.

Tiny drops of colostrum were leaking from each side as she ate, and I felt so much gratitude for those little drops.

I felt so tired after nursing her and Steven stayed and held her while I laid down to nap. When I woke up, it was nearly time to feed her again. Steven and I had been talking a lot about what it means to “submit cheerfully” to Heavenly Father’s will. I had this aching fear that upon entering the NICU with all of our hopes and dreams and giddy smiles, that we’d find our little girl surrounded by a team of respiratory therapists, that they’d shoo us away and all our progress would be lost. I said out loud to Steven, “I hope we get good news, but if not I’m still going to try to have a good attitude.” I’m sure I would have failed, but I know that Heavenly Father knows my heart, and he knows that I desired to have a good attitude no matter what. And I think that matters to Him.

My fears were all for naught. Our little girl was doing even better. Her blood sugar was almost eighty (it needed to be at 50), and she was still breathing like a champ. It was during this feeding that we decided to name her Merit. Both of us had been thinking of a different name the night before, but during the day had been thinking, independently, that perhaps this little girl’s name was Merit. When we told each other, we felt that the deal had been sealed and proudly told the nurses around us, who wrote her first name on the ID card on the bassinet.

Those happy hours in the NICU were a treasure to me. I learned so much about life. I realized that in every circumstance, every day, we can feel robbed or we can feel added upon. No matter what is happening. I had let myself fall prey to the adversary’s cunning lie that I deserve what I want. And that if I don’t get what I want, I’ve been slighted. The reality is that our Heavenly Father loves us and throws us lifeline after lifeline as we navigate the perils of mortality. He won’t take away many of the perils we face, because adversity is what refines us and molds our character, but He will never leave us alone, He will always present many, many tender mercies and He doesn’t stop sending them just because we don’t see them.

I learned with a new gusto that gratitude is the antidote for despair. I glimpsed into the worth of souls as I sat, rocking my baby, watching the many other babies around her who weighed a fraction of my own healthy baby. Whose parents couldn’t be with them because of work or living long distances away. I heard a young mother explain to a doctor that this baby, the one in the NICU, had been a twin. And the other hadn’t made it. I felt love for this woman, for her baby, for her doctor, that was sweet and healing.

Steven went home that afternoon to see the kids and help them settle in for the night. While he was gone, I fed Merit, and was given the most beautiful news by a very grim-faced woman named Jill, who was some kind of boss in the hierarchy of the NICU. “Take her off the IV, just take it all out. She’s going downstairs. She’s fixed,” She told our nurse, Laurie. Laurie acted with lightning speed, and within a couple of hours, I was in my room, holding my precious baby girl.

I called Steven at home and facetimed him and the kids so that they could see our newest family member without an IV.

And then I had a couple of quiet hours, just Merit and I. I prayed out loud during this time for acceptance and understanding. I felt the weight of sadness as I thought about dreams unrealized – that first day without my girl had been traumatic for me, and while I felt much better, I didn’t feel the peace of the Savior that my soul really needed.

I prayed and prayed and cried and while I still do feel a small ache for those first hours that were so lonely, I feel now as I felt then in that little room, that “nothing shall be lost.”

Merit was named after verses of scripture in the Book of Mormon that refer to the merits of Jesus Christ. One of which testifies of “relying wholly on the merits of Him who is mighty to save.” I can’t look back at this and wish I’d relied more on the Savior throughout the whole process – of course I wish I would have – but instead, I can learn from this. That when calamity strikes – small or great – that I must rely wholly upon my Savior. Rely on him, knowing that the past has already been atoned for. That the future is secure, that the present is truly a gift from Him. My present moments can be real and true and without distraction or guilt or preoccupation with regret and worry. Because the Savior merited that through the atonement and then gave it to me, as a gift with no strings attached, except that I use it.

I can testify that when I began to remember the atonement and to remember to use it, my burden was lifted. I felt hope in the future, I felt the healing balm of comfort begin to coat the past, and I felt gratitude and love pour into my heart. I don’t want to forget any of this experience, I want it to consecrated for the good of my soul and for my family.

“That they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and finisher of their faith.” (Moroni 6:4)


  1. I loved reading your birth story. I just realized I never had a chance to sit and really hear the whole thing. I'm so glad Merit is healthy and well now! She is a beauty.

  2. She is beautiful. So precious. I love hearing your testimony through this experience. You are an inspiration to me, Brooke! I love you!

  3. So glad I found your blog again! Congratulations on your newest little family member! I'm glad everything worked out and that your sweet Merit is happy and healthy!

  4. Such a beautiful and touching story! Thank you for sharing.:)


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