A metric ton of the unexpected: Eline Katherine’s birth story, Part I

I thought, when I began this blog a few months ago, I knew where it was headed. I was chronicling our experience with infertility and embryo adoption and would document our continuing navigation of that path, along with our everyday experiences of parenting and transition to life as a family of four.

I titled my blog “A Dash of the Unexpected.” It did occur to me as I typed in the title that I hoped I wasn’t setting myself up for…something.

And now, here I am, sitting in front of my computer, attempting on a very few hours of sleep to document for you the last two weeks that have rocked our world and reshaped much more than the direction of this blog.

Our precious Eline Katherine was born last Thursday, September 13, at 11:27 a.m. She weighed 6 lb. 12 oz. and was 19 in. long. She was born at home, just as we planned.

Eline Katherine Sharp

My labor began around 10 p.m. Wednesday night. Jon and I were watching an old episode of Law & Order. Jon was working from his laptop, as he usually is in the evenings. I’d had plenty of Braxton Hicks contractions for months, but something about these made me take notice. I didn’t say anything at first but just kept an eye on the clock. The contractions were coming about 10 minutes apart. Around 10:30, I casually asked Jon, “So… How’s your work load?” He looked at me for a moment and said, “It would be very inconvenient if she came now.” I said, “Well, that was probably inevitable.” I told him I wasn’t sure what I was feeling was labor, but it was a strong possibility.

Just before heading to bed, I sat at the computer for a minute to catch up on emails. The last one I read was from our donor mom, telling me she had been thinking of me and that it felt like it was TIME. She talked about how certain their family was they had made the right decision in donating and about all the people who had gone into making our baby’s arrival a reality.

Before I drifted off to sleep, I told Jon the contractions seemed to have eased a bit, and it was probably a false alarm. He stayed up for quite a while longer, working from bed. He finally put the laptop away and settled in for the night at around 1:30. I woke up as he draped his arm over my belly. I lay still as his snores began, riding out contractions I realized were much stronger and closer together. I still had an internal debate as to whether this was really labor, but the questions faded further with every contraction. I hoped to be able to get a little more sleep, but the nervous excitement and the increasing strength of the contractions made it impossible. I tried to rest and decided to let Jon sleep as long as possible.

Around 4 a.m., the contractions began requiring active management and were consistently four to five minutes apart. I decided it was probably time to wake my husband. He went to work bleaching out the tub in case I wanted to labor there. I called our midwife, Kathy, to let her know where things stood. I told her we had things well in hand for now, and she could get some more sleep before heading our way. Jon ate a small breakfast, and I had a cereal bar (that I later threw up). Jon got a shower. Our bedroom was lit with candles, and I danced to a Jason Mraz song playing from our birth playlist. I plucked, because who knew when I would have time for that kind of maintenance again? At some point in those wee hours, Jon climbed in bed with me and we prayed together, for a safe labor and for our precious baby.

Laboring, sometime around 5 a.m.

I called my mom shortly after 5:30, when I knew she would be up, to tell her she would be watching her grandson rather than going to work. We arranged for her to come by at 7:00, about the time Corin would be waking up. When she arrived, my contractions were strong and about three to four minutes apart, and I had the shakes, which happened several times during labor. Corin was still sleeping, so she rubbed my back as I lay in bed.

Once Corin was awake, Jon and mom got him dressed and ready to go, and I came out between contractions to tell him good-bye and that Baby Sister would be here soon. He seemed a little confused, but as usual, he was more than happy to go with Grandma. I, on the other hand, fought back tears. In the days ahead, I would think back on that moment and wish I’d had more time with him. As it was, I had to run back to the bathroom to ride out another contraction before sending him out the door.

We called Kathy to let her know it was probably time to head our way. Gaylea, our doula at Corin’s birth, was apprenticing with Kathy, and we texted her, as well. Kathy arrived at around 8:00, and Gaylea pulled up maybe a half-hour later. By then, I was laboring in the bathtub. Kathy checked the baby’s heart rate, and all was well. I remember saying something to Kathy like, “It really seems like there should be an easier way for babies to arrive.”

Nearly complete, with full support from Kathy and Gaylea

I labored in the tub, on the toilet, and eventually in the bed, where I could rest more completely between contractions. Jon, Gaylea and Kathy took turns providing support, allowing me to squeeze the blood out of their hands with each contraction. Gaylea applied heavenly-smelling cool rags.  I’m not sure how long I labored lying on my side, nestled in the pillows, but maybe an hour later labor began to change, and the pushing urge arrived with full intensity. Kathy confirmed I was fully dilated and effaced. Now the real work began.

At first, my pushing was not terribly effective. I was wearing myself out and beginning to hyperventilate. It felt a lot like the point at which my labor stalled with Corin, and I was scared and exhausted. Kathy and Gaylea both proved their worth so MANY times over that day, but it was at that point in my labor that my midwife knew just what to say to change my approach. She told me not to work so hard, but to allow my body to bear down and simply work with it. With that instruction, my approach changed, and immediately the pushing began to bear results. The work was HARD, and it was a bit frightening for me, since I’d never successfully pushed a baby out before. I badly needed the encouragement and soothing confidence of my midwife and doula. They gently reminded me that God had designed my body to do just what it was doing, and that I was fully able to deliver my baby.

My labor with Corin began with my water breaking, but this time, as the baby began to move down with each push, the amniotic sac was still intact. The midwife showed Jon the baby’s hair swirling inside the protective barrier, and I was able to reach down and feel the protruding sac. A few more pushes, and the baby’s head emerged, carefully guided by Kathy’s skilled hand and still protected inside the intact amniotic sac. Kathy pulled the membrane away as the rest of Eline’s body emerged. Our baby girl was born “in the caul,” a rare occurrence that historically was fraught with superstitious meaning. In our case, we believed it was a direct answer to prayer. I had tested positive for Group B strep, a bacteria that in rare cases can cause a dangerous infection in infants exposed during delivery. Kathy would have been able to administer antibiotics during labor if it was necessary, but because Eline was fully protected in the amniotic sac throughout the entire labor, she was never exposed to the bacteria.

Moments after birth

I was able to hold Eline immediately after birth. She did not immediately cry, but Kathy and Gaylea rubbed her down and her wails filled the room. I was incredibly relieved and overwhelmed as I held her to the breast and marveled that our precious baby girl was here. Jon kissed me, and together we counted fingers and toes and looked at baby Eline’s thick, dark hair and chubby cheeks.

We drank in those quiet moments together after Eline’s birth, thanking God for her safe arrival as we held her close. Kathy weighed her and did her newborn assessment, which Lina passed successfully. As it happened, that precious hour or so was the calm before the storm.

The story continues: Part II


Truthfully, I don’t love that term. “Nesting” just sounds so…overly-domestic. But I can’t think of a better way to describe what’s been happening around our house the last week. I have been cleaning out cupboards and closets, donating or throwing away useless junk that’s been accumulating for eons, reorganizing every area of clutter I can find. I feel an urgent need to create as much order as possible before newborn chaos descends upon our household. It must be contagious, because Jon hung a new shelf in the pantry/laundry area to create more storage space, fixed a leaking shower faucet that had been driving us nuts for weeks, and has gotten right into the spirit of moving, reorganizing, and donating or throwing away remarkable amounts of stuff.

If Baby Girl were to follow Corin’s schedule, she would be here in four weeks. A bit shocking, no? Thank goodness we’ve been knocking out that to-do list at a rapid clip. I am THIS close to having the nursery finished and ready for sharing pictures. I hope to have that post ready for you in the next few days.

It probably sounds like all we do around here is get ready for Baby Girl, but that happens amidst the much bigger job of keeping up with our increasingly-active toddler. Corin has turned into quite the talker. We have a running commentary for pretty much everything that happens at our house. It’s pretty fun most of the time. His ability to make a mess has increased dramatically. Toys and household items appear in the strangest places. The other day, he came to inform me, “There is something in the potty.” My hopes of a new potty training break-through were dashed as I fished our dog Tennyson’s rope toy out of the toilet. I have learned to first check the laundry basket (Corin’s or, that failing, the baby’s) any time shoes or other essential items are missing. And oh, the places one finds Matchbox cars…

Corin’s creativity and imagination are developing rapidly, which brings plenty of new challenges. Last week, I heard him banging a toy on what I thought was the floor. Later, I found an alarming area of damage on the dining room wall that clearly indicated the actual location of the banging. When I asked him if he had caused this new mayhem, Corin’s immediate response was, “No, Tennyson did it.” I had to turn around so he couldn’t see me laughing. We then addressed the principles of the matter. A more experienced mother since advised, very wisely, that if you know your child did something, it’s better not to set him up to lie. Clearly, the instinct to blame someone else begins very early. Just wait until he figures out what a great scapegoat little sister makes.

File this under “stranger than fiction”

I think I might win the award for strangest pregnancy symptoms. At the very least, these are not ones any pregnant women I know have thought to mention. 

1.) An obsession with brushing my teeth. Any kind of sudsy scrubbing currently brings an abnormally high level of satisfaction, but teeth brushing is one of the highlights of my day. (I should clarify that this was not the case during the first half of my pregnancy, when brushing my teeth was the moment most fraught with risk of puking.) I suppose my dentist would be pleased. 

2.) Suddenly enjoying a few normally-offensive odors. I let Jon take over applying the oil-based primer for Baby Girl’s crib as soon as I realized how strong the fumes were, but strangely enough, I found the smell appealing. I’m pretty sure this has never been the case before. Same thing with the latex paint fumes after her room was freshly-painted. Don’t worry: We ventilated thoroughly and I steered clear. But sure enough, the few whiffs I got smelled good to me. WEIRD. 

3.) Increasing numbness in my hands. I know circulation issues are common in pregnancy because of increased blood volume. I’ve had issues for months with my hands and arms going numb at night. But it does seem odd that now my thumbs and first fingers on both hands are permanently tingly and partially-numb. I don’t remember this from my last pregnancy. 


So there you have it: I am either a pregnancy freak of nature, or these are symptoms people just don’t think to mention. If it’s the latter, feel free to consider this a Public Service Announcement. 

A part of me

Have you seen this post on the long-term presence of fetal cells in the mother’s body? This, my friends, is wild and woolly stuff.

I read through some of the research linked from the article, and the more I read, the more incredible it seemed. There is real poetry here, as the author of the blog post points out. As an embryo adoption mom, it nearly brought me to tears.

This precious baby I carry is biologically unrelated to me, but as I write, her cells are crossing the placenta into my body, becoming a permanent part of my physiology, and perhaps even preparing to someday help me fight illness or injury. Already, we are linked in a bond utterly unique to mother and child.

I know the quiet joy I feel as her little fists pound and her feet jab, that connection that has nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with the role of nurturing a tiny life into existence. But I always suspected perhaps there was more happening in the neonatal processes. I wondered: How much do these nine months of intimate connection influence my baby? Beyond the emotional connection, does the physical bond of pregnancy make us a tangible part of each other? I love that at least in this one way, I can know the answer is a solid “Yes.”

Dog days of 27 weeks

For your entertainment, here’s an exchange I had with another mother after story time at the library this week.

Her: Looking pointedly at my belly, “So how much longer do you have?”

Me: “Longer than it looks like. I’m due October 4.”

Her: Eyes bulging, mouth hanging open, “Oh my. Do you have big babies?”

Me: “Well, Corin was born a little early and weighed 6 lb. 13 oz., so no, not really. I just get big.”

Her: Mumbling, eyes still bulging, “I mean, you look great. I’m just sure you’ll be uncomfortable.”

Me: Smiling as graciously as possible while steering Corin toward the door, “Yes, it will be a long three months.”

Really, I didn’t need this well-meaning mother to confirm that I have hit another growth spurt. Aside from surprising glances in the mirror, the increase in exhaustion and general discomfort has all but assured me: I am getting big. And the third trimester doesn’t even officially start until next week. Maybe I can at least hope it will coincide with a break in the unrelenting triple-digit temps gripping this section of the country.

27 weeks

But there’s plenty of good news. Baby girl is very active, we’ve made some progress on names, and I finished painting the crib this week. I will say this about hand-painting a jenny lind crib: I recommend a sprayer. (Disclaimer: I’ve never actually used one. But I have to assume it would be easier than the pain-staking process of hand coating 52 spindles in one coat of primer and two layers of paint. And it might prevent those couple of drips husband says I should leave but I know are going to eternally bug me.)

newly-painted crib

At last, something to show for all those hours in the garage!

File this under “temporarily stumped”

I started looking at baby books the other day, and it didn’t take long to realize there isn’t anything on the market that fits our situation.

There are several very nice baby books out there for adoption situations, but that language –  with sections on birth moms and adoption finalizations – doesn’t work for us. Traditional baby books provide for information about mom and dad and the family tree but obviously don’t include a section on donor families. I am so not up for assembling a book from scratch. I may be tackling an awful lot of DIY for Baby Girl’s nursery, but I know my limits.

Jon and I talked about it and decided to buy a traditional baby book similar to Corin’s – which is post-bound and allows some flexibility to remove or change pages – and customize it ourselves.

I’ve started filling it out, but after copying down the same information I’d put in Corin’s book about mommy and daddy, how we met, and our family tree, I’m a bit stumped. Where exactly do I put information about Baby Girl’s biological family? What does that section even look like? Will it make her feel weird that her story didn’t fit any of the “normal” family templates and had to be cobbled together?

I’m going to be thinking about this for a little while. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

On bonding

I spent several hours yesterday sanding and priming Baby Girl’s crib, a stellar craigslist find, as is pretty much every piece of nursery furniture I’ve ever purchased. Well, more accurately, I started priming the crib and then let my dear husband take over. I also have a changing table to paint, so we’re going to be at this for a while. I will at some point post pictures, provided I don’t totally screw these projects up and find them to be a hideous embarrassment. I’m starting early, because Corin arrived at 37 1/2 weeks to an unfinished nursery. His nursery mural – an awesome functioning Narnia lamp post courtesy my talented husband – was complete when he was about 8 months old.

I’m excited about decorating a girl’s nursery. I’m excited about dressing a baby girl. I’m just excited. Years ago, when I pictured the family I hoped for, I wanted a boy first and then a girl. With all the baby plans that went awry, somehow this one was meant to be. I think I would have been thrilled with another boy, but given the uncertainty of any future family plans, I love that we are getting to experience both a son and a daughter. I love the way Corin says “baby sister.”

I am 22 weeks pregnant and already starting to get uncomfortable. Physically, this pregnancy has been harder than my first. I was more nauseous and threw up for longer, although I still had it a LOT easier than many. (God bless those of you who have had to hang over the toilet for the entire first trimester or beyond.) I have had heartburn on and off for a couple months now. (Great midwife tip: eat almonds to settle the acid!) I get very tired, which I assume is related to caring for one child while gestating another. (Jon read this and questioned whether gestating is a verb in that sense. I assured him if it isn’t, it should be.) At 5’2″, I don’t have much baby room. I grow immediately and increasingly OUT. My sweet girlfriends have been sending me pictures of celebrities who gained a lot of pregnancy weight. My skin is a mess. I have what I guess is a muscle strain from rapid belly growth.

It’s funny, though. Even with all the weirdness and discomforts of pregnancy, I am enjoying it so much this time. I didn’t hate pregnancy the first time, but I think I worried more and felt less at home in my own skin during those nine months. I did feel a connection with Corin before he was born, but I remember thinking the prenatal bonding wasn’t quite what I expected. This time, I am so aware of the bond I feel for our baby. Maybe it’s because this time I know what it really means to have a child to love. Or maybe I’m more aware of that bonding because of my early adoption-related fears on the subject.

In any case, I am soaking up as much as I can of this experience and am so looking forward to meeting this little one. I worry a little about HOW excited I am, because I’m 90 percent sure I’ve forgotten exactly how hard those newborn days are and am unprepared for the two-child balancing act. Hopefully our previous newborn experience will kick in. And please let this baby be a better nurser than Corin was… Also, thank goodness for family. I hope our parents are resting now. We’re going to need them.

The road (WAY) less traveled

It’s been a big week in the Sharp household. Yesterday marked the 20-week half-way point in my pregnancy, and on Monday, we learned we are having a baby GIRL. My heart is full; our bank account is a little emptier. I confess, the shopping has begun. This having a girl is going to require real self-restraint.

But I suppose I have a lot more history to tell.

I am the researcher in our family. Vacations, major purchases, new medical diagnoses: I’m on it. Jon seems to appreciate my ability to dig until we have answers, which has been particularly necessary through our infertility and family planning forays. I’ll admit, though, that sometimes I have an itchy trigger finger. I want to be done. I want to make a decision and have a plan. (I mentioned I am a planner, right?) I struggled the most in our infertility experiences when we came to a crossroads. I hate being in limbo. I always felt better once we knew what our next steps were.

It was no different as we explored our options for Baby the Second. I was a research machine. And honestly, I felt ready before too long to go the traditional adoption route. I found an agency I liked. I had the initial paperwork in hand. I wanted a plan. So when Jon first brought up embryo adoption, my initial rejection was at least partly about resistance to more research…and more limbo.

We knew Bethany Christian Services offered embryo donation. (I should pause to explain terminology. I have been casually using the term embryo adoption because it may be less confusing. However, this process is not technically an adoption. Adoption law does not apply to embryos. Embryo donation is really the more accurate term.) I did a little online research, wrote out some questions and put in a call to our local Bethany office. I connected with the young woman who handled embryo donations. She provided some basic information, and with every minute of that phone call, my interest grew.

I’ll admit: The initial motivation for my interest was financial. That probably sounds terrible. But anyone who’s been through it knows how much of the stress of infertility is financial. By the time we conceived Corin, we had spent the equivalent of a decent year’s salary. Thankfully, we had a lot of help from incredibly generous family and friends. Even so, by the time we were looking to have a second child, we had precious little in savings, and we were now living on one salary. The cost range the woman on the phone gave me for embryo donation was about one-third what it would cost for traditional adoption or the shared risk IVF program. So yeah, my ears perked up.

The local Bethany office directed me to the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville for more information. The NEDC manages embryo donations for donors and recipients from around the country. I spoke for a long time with the embryologist, and by the time I got off the phone, I was pretty certain this was going to be our new plan. Jon was predictably a little more cautious, but we both had a growing sense of excitement.

It’s hard to talk about our reasons for choosing embryo donation without seeming to criticize other options. We are probably also opening ourselves up to criticism of our own motives. All I can say is that infertility and the choices couples make as a result are incredibly personal. We prayed hard and made the decision we felt was best for us. I believe God led in that process, but clearly, these decisions are not easy. All I can tell you is how we made our choice.

We ultimately felt embryo donation had several advantages over our other options:

  1. The lower cost.
  2. The profile of the biological parents. We felt that embryo donors were likely to be relatively stable, to have taken care of themselves and to have done all they could to ensure the health of their embryos.
  3. The opportunity to experience pregnancy and childbirth again. This might be a downside for some people, but there were several reasons this was a positive for us. Perhaps the biggest was that it put us in control of the prenatal environment and offered us that time to bond with our child. It also allowed me the potential opportunity for the natural birth I still hoped to experience.
  4. The potential to provide life to a child who otherwise might not have that opportunity. The number of embryos available for donation currently outweighs the number of recipients by a significant margin. This is a different scenario from traditional adoption, where couples wait for months or years to be chosen by a birth mother and know their selection means another couple is still waiting. The ratio of embryos to recipients also meant we would be able to choose from available donors, again giving us more control of the process.

There were risks and drawbacks, too, of course. We would once again be spinning the medical roulette wheel, with no guarantee of a baby. We talked at length about the type of relationship – if any – we envisioned with the donor family and about potential challenges for the child. We grieved the loss of another biological child, of seeing ourselves in our offspring. But in the end, we both felt an undeniable pull. The advantages, for us, outweighed the risks.

Once we processed all of this, we decided one more step was necessary. We talked to both sets of parents to gauge their feelings about what would certainly be an unusual route to a new grandchild. We were pleased but not surprised to get their full support. Our families have been an invaluable source of strength for us through the ups and downs of our family building adventures, and they seemed to clearly understand why this option was so appealing.

And so just a few weeks after Jon first raised the subject of embryo adoption, I found myself sitting at the computer, filling out an online recipient application form for the NEDC. From there, the process moved fairly quickly. We had an initial medical consult at the clinic in Knoxville in September 2011 and were medically cleared to proceed. Although embryo donation is not legally an adoption, most organizations who offer it require recipients to complete an adoption home study. We found a wonderful local agency to handle ours and had the final home study report in hand by October 2011.

Once the NEDC received the home study report, we were ready to be matched with a donor family. But I think that part of the story deserves its own entry.