My wife and I met Elizabeth in the Fall of 2013. My wife, Jamie, was pregnant with our first child, and she’d certainly done her research on all things pregnancy. She knew she wanted to avoid hospitals and doctors. She knew she wanted a natural birth. She knew she wanted a homebirth. She knew she wanted a midwife to be with her through everything.
We couldn’t have guessed it then, but only one of those would come true. We talked with friends, got references and interviewed several midwives. Though none seemed incapable, Elizabeth just felt right. She didn’t bend her beliefs to match our desires. She was just the right amount of firm. And over the next ten months, we became more and more confident in that decision.
Jamie’s pregnancy was the very picture of a perfect pregnancy. Her weight gain each week was spot-on. The baby’s heart tones were always strong and responsive. Her ever-inflating abdomen did so at just the right rate. She practiced yoga daily, went to prenatal yoga classes and read a veritable pile of books on pregnancy, birth, home birth and midwifery. Jamie quite naturally fit every criterion of perfect progress as if she was the pregnancy teacher’s pet, studiously preparing for every test and measurement. And Elizabeth was there for every step, coming to our house on a schedule that worked best for us – bringing her full load of midwifery equipment.
A few days after the due date, when we had the mattress wrapped in plastic*, Elizabeth came for a visit and checked heart tones, but something wasn’t right. The tones had dipped considerably when Jamie was on her back and left side. They came back up when she turned on her right side, but this was obviously less than ideal. On Elizabeth’s recommendation, we went for an ultrasound the next day to see what was up. The ultrasound revealed that the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck – which is the case in about one-third of births and not necessarily a problem – but it also revealed Grade 3 calcification of the placenta. In layman’s terms, that means the pregnancy could not go much longer and remain safe.
Elizabeth conferred with her colleagues and called OU Women’s & Children’s for their opinion. It was unanimous: we needed to come in. This had been Jamie’s fear all along. She was well aware of how births tend to progress when under the searing surveillance of surgeons and hospital administrators. But it’s what the baby needed, so that evening we packed up and headed to OU. We were admitted immediately, thanks to Elizabeth’s negotiations with the midwifery department at OU Women’s & Children’s. Without that, we would’ve had to go to the ER and wait hours for triage.
You’d think at this point that your midwife would politely say, “Okay guys, you’re in good hands. Call me when the baby’s here!” Not Elizabeth. She met us at the hospital.
The first physician we saw once we were in our room was the chief resident. He told us exactly what he was going to do, which equated to a full medical approach starting right now. We explained that we were attempting a home birth and wanted to do things as naturally as possible. He immediately changed his tack and suggested a foley balloon to start labor and contractions without Pitocin. We agreed. Once it was clear that nothing major was going to happen that evening, and the foley balloon had started doing its job, Elizabeth left to get some preparatory sleep.
The next morning began early, and Elizabeth arrived with it. It brought the removal of the foley balloon and the four-centimeter dilation it created. That wasn’t enough though, and they started Pitocin shortly thereafter. Through the first day of labor things went pretty well. Contractions were strong but manageable. Heart tones were good. Spirits were high. Cards were played. Monty Python was watched. Little did we know there was a long, long, hard way to go.
I should pause here and say that, with hardly a moment’s exception, the physicians, students, nurses and staff of OU thoroughly shook our ideas of what the hospital experience would be. They were kind, patient, compassionate, understanding and very professional.
It was 5 o’clock on the second day. Happy hour elsewhere. Known in the hospital as “time-to-break-your-water-cuz-it-ain’t-breakin-itself hour.” So that’s what they did. And that started some serious, undeniable contractions. For this – and every other procedure – Elizabeth offered her priceless point of view. Her knowledge was thorough and well-balanced, making us feel well informed at every juncture. Until now, the contraction illustrator (that’s what I’ll call it), drew nice little hills and valleys. Now it was drawing Pikes Peak next-door to the Marianas Trench next-door to Everest.
If there’s anyone you want in the room for that, let me tell you, it’s Elizabeth Norwood. She had a maneuver for every kind of labor pain, a cool breeze for every hot flash and a simple fix for every spike of pain. And when you’ve spent all those precious tokens, she has some more. Then she has ones to do on a ball, on your side, on the end of the bed, on your stomach, on hands and knees – you get the picture.
Fast-forward six hours. It’s now 11 PM. We’re all exhausted, Jamie more than anyone. It’s been 30 hours and she’s still at five centimeters. She’s spent. Oxytocin does a number of miraculous things – it helps you bond, stimulates the production of breastmilk, triggers contractions and releases endorphins after each contraction. Pitocin does one of those things – it triggers contractions. NO ENDORPHINS. 20 hours of that would wipe anyone out. 2 minutes of that would wipe me out.
So Jamie decided it was time for an epidural. She desperately needed the rest – not to mention the relief. The installation of the epidural was one of two times during this entire process that Elizabeth left our side – and it was simply because hospital policy demanded it.
That night we all tried to get a little sleep – Jamie in bed with a malfunctioning epidural (it only took on one side, and she had a shaking, anxious reaction to the part that did work), I on a mattress-less bed, Jessie on the mattress of previously- mentioned bed, and Elizabeth twisted into a waiting-room-quality chair like some kind of midwifery sleep ninja.
The next morning brought no better news. She was still at 5 centimeters, and the baby wasn’t responding well to cervical checks. We knew what that meant: cesarean. We had fired every other bullet in the arsenal. That was the second of two times that Elizabeth was not by our side. I scrubbed up and went to the O.R., where our precious, perfect healthy son was removed from Jamie via Cesarean section.
Once again, you’d think Elizabeth would’ve seen her “out”, and left us to the surgeons and doctors, but no. She was among the first handful of people to meet the baby. She cared for Jamie after she returned from surgery and made sure the baby got through his first feedings.
I admit, we might have focused more on our plans and hopes for the birth process than how earth-shatteringly perfect the baby would be, and how the birth process quickly becomes almost irrelevant. And it’s important to note that, though cesarean was our “absolute worst-case please god never in a million years” scenario, it still gave us a beautiful new son. And it’s worth noting that, up until very recently, cesarean section assumed the death of the mother. That’s right– it meant sacrificing the mother to get the baby out, hopefully alive and well.
Sure, we didn’t have a home birth, but I have two far more valuable things – my flawless son and the love of my life – my wife. And at every single step, we had the unwavering support and unbelievable depth of knowledge of Elizabeth. I don’t know how anyone ever did it or ever will do it without her. In fact, I want to take her with me to every doctor appointment from now on.
*I’d like to share a trick that will make this more comfortable. Having the thick plastic directly under your sheets makes for hot, sweaty, suffocating sleep regardless of the time of year. Here’s what you do:
- Make the bare mattress with your good sheets.
- Wrap that whole package in the plastic that comes in the birth kit.
- Place a fluffy comforter on top of that (one size smaller than your mattress)
- Put your fitted sheet and the rest of your “throwaway” linens on top of that. The comforter gives you some priceless breathability.