Our Son’s Birth Story

Full of surprises. This kid sure has given us a bunch already!

First, we didn’t know we were expecting until I was 15 weeks along – over a third of the way done. No symptoms beyond being tired, and um, with a growing and active toddler, that was life! I’d taken a pregnancy test in mid-February, right before we went to Europe, because I was a couple weeks late and was just starting to wonder. Hey, did you know sometimes you can get a false negative? Also, I’d recommend avoiding CVS generic pregnancy tests!

By April, I was training for a marathon. Yes, once again. (Steve says no more marathons because apparently they make us pregnant.) And I noticed that rather than my runs getting easier and faster, they were getting harder and slower. Generally not the way you want them to go. Also, I just started feeling pregnant. No explanation, because I didn’t have any real symptoms. Finally, I took another pregnancy test, and had an interesting 6:00am “We-need-to-talk” conversation with Steve. Although maybe Thing #2 came along a little sooner than we had envisioned, we were very very happy that we would have this addition to our family! Still, thanks to the false negative test in February, we had the shock of a lifetime when we went to our ultrasound appointment the next week. Our baby was not eight or so weeks old like we assumed, but a perfectly formed, 15-week-old BOY.

Pregnancy went great for the most part. I had very few symptoms beyond swelling and tiredness, and I’d had this feeling the whole time that he would be early. Our due date was September 29, but as we planned out projects and things to get ready for him, I was aiming for being done with everything closer to Labor Day. (yes, ha.)

At 38 weeks (around the 15th), I was having stronger Braxton-Hicks contractions. I’d been having them since August, off and on, but now they were far more regular. Between then and when I finally delivered over three weeks later, I’d had about six “events” of regular, relatively strong contractions for several hours. Two had us packing up for the hospital before they petered off.

I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. My stomach felt permanently clenched. I was so tired.

At my 40-week appointment, we scheduled an induction for the following week. Not my first choice, but I was just ready to be DONE. The plan was to come in on Tuesday the 6th to take cervidil, which would prep the cervix for pitocin the next day. We had a nice, quiet week, finishing up stuff at work, spending time with my parents and Amelia, and resting.

When we got to the hospital Tuesday night, we found out I was already 3cm dilated! So I was not given the cervidil and we were offered the choice to stay there that night or go home and come in at 5:00 the next morning. We choose to go home, which was great because we got really good sleep and felt much more refreshed that we would have if we’d stayed. Fortunately the hospital is only about 10 minutes from our house!

Unbeknownst to me, Dr Knapp had stripped my membranes a bit while she was checking me. She totally gets me; she knew that if I’d known she’d done that, I would have been obsessing over it and overthinking everything.

The next morning, we got up at 3:30 to get ready to leave and by 4:00, I was having regular contractions. By 5:00, when we were walking into the hospital, we had to stop several times for me to get through before going on. We got up to the Labor and Delivery floor, and the nurses weren’t surprised at all to see I was already in labor. Contractions were 5 minutes apart and still not super strong, so I was given pitocin to augment the process. That started around 8:00, and things picked up quickly. I was about 4-5 cm dilated at this point.

Steve was the world’s best labor coach, breathing with me through each contraction. I think one of the things that makes a good coach in anything is the recognition that the person you’re coaching is capable of doing better than they realize they can. Steve was definitely that person for me, helping me through the incredible pain that comes with labor and reminding me to breathe and relax. At some point during this first hour, during an intense contraction, I felt a huge POP, yelled, and my water broke. I think I might have scared Steve with the yell. No, but seriously, this water-breaking-pop is the most messed-up feeling. It’s like you know that there is no WAY that something inside you should pop like that.

Overall, thanks to Steve’s coaching, I was able to control my breathing and not give way to outright crying out. Labor without a doubt brings you to the absolute brink. But I tried to focus on the contractions as productive tools that would eventually give me my son.

Within an hour and a half or so, I was ready for the stadol, a medication I’d taken last time that helps you relax between contractions. We’d already discussed at which point in the awfulness of labor that I’d take it, so I was watching my pain tolerance and the strength of the contractions. After it was administered, I quickly went to a nice happy place that lasted for what seemed like a very short time. (This time it was a claymation village – like Wallace and Grommet. Last time with Amelia, I kept going back to an herb garden. Funny stuff.) Overall, in the back of my mind, I knew this labor was going miles faster than Amelia’s. I mostly had my eyes closed so it’s not like I was watching the clock, but I still had a sense that things were moving quickly. That both scared me and invigorated me. Steve said at one point that we knew we would have the baby today. I’m not sure I verbalized it, but I thought/said back, “Try before lunch.”

At the first holy-cow-he’s-coming contraction, I could tell pressure was increasing, and I told Steve. Okay, maybe more like gasped to Steve. He asked the nurse to check me again, and I was at 7. I heard him tell the nurse that I was going to go fast and that they needed to call the doctor. I think it was only about half an hour later that the doctor arrived, checked me to find that I was 10cm, and got everything set up for delivery. During that time, it was everything I could do to focus on not caving into the pain of the pressure. I remember realizing that my body was doing a one-horrible-hard-two-slightly-less-hard contraction pattern and feeling grateful. I remember wondering why I wasn’t screaming, like I did with Amelia.

The nurses were working around me, adjusting the bed and the stirrups while Dr Swan got ready. At the next contraction, they told me to grab my legs and push. But everything was too far away – I couldn’t get a good grip, the stirrups were up to high – and I lost my control (hey, there’s the screaming). When the contraction abated, Dr Swan said, “The head is right here, this can be all over with in the next contraction.” Steve helped me gather my resources, the nurses gave me better instruction, and at the next contraction, with two pushes, our son entered the world at 11:03am. He has a very nice real name, but on this blog we’re calling him Joel.

Me and my little dude

Me and my little dude

Dr Swan immediately put him on my stomach for me to hold because the cord was very short. Steve cut the cord, and I pulled Joel up to me and we just gazed at the wonder of our son. His full head of dark hair. His chin dimple. Just perfect in every way.

The nurses gave us all the skin-to-skin time we wanted as Dr Swan patched me up. After Joel got cleaned up, we started on nursing and to my shock, he took to it right away. As if he knew what he was doing or something. He’s been a champion nurser ever since. One of my big takeaways from this has been that everyone should have a second baby, just so they can enjoy parts of pregnancy/childbirth/parenting that they were too stressed about to enjoy the first time around! I want to exclusively nurse Joel, but I know that if I can’t, no biggie – he’ll be fine.

Once again, we had a great birthing experience at Marion General Hospital. The nurses there are top notch, caring and compassionate, and truly supported our choices to the best of their ability. I definitely feel it’s important for patients to be educated and know what they want before entering into a medical situation, especially childbirth. Recognizing that things can change quickly, too. At one point, the fetal monitor wasn’t picking up his heartbeat, and the nurse asked if we would be OK with an internal monitor (it would go just under the skin of the baby’s head). I was absolutely not OK with that, and responded (I was contracting and somewhat irate), “Nope. Find another solution.” Fortunately Steve was neither contracting nor irate, so he discussed it much more diplomatically. I got up to use the bathroom and by the time I came back, kiddo had shifted and was able to be picked up again on the external monitor. But I am all about being empowered in making health choices. I’m not unreasonable, and if greater intervention had truly been necessary, I would have been more than willing to do so.

And now, we’re home. We have a 16-month-old toddler big sister in addition to our six-day-old newborn. The sleep deprivation is back. The soreness and awfulness of postpartum recovery is back. But I feel calm and relaxed. Each day I’m in less and less pain. Each day I’m amazed by God’s gifts. Each day I’m beyond grateful for a mega-supportive husband, parents who have given so much to us, and friends willing to help in any way they can.

Steve and I are Daddy and Mommy to Amelia and Joel. And well, that’s just so great.

Perfect baby boy

Perfect baby boy

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SHARE 2015

The curse of the second night of jetlag has hit, and I’m wide awake at 1:30am. Steve is too, but thankfully, Amelia is sound asleep. Last night wasn’t great for her, so in this moment of my wakefulness, I’m so glad she’s asleep.

We’re at Hotel Azur in Siofok, Hungary, to volunteer at the SHARE Family Education Conference. SHARE is an organization that helps missionaries with their children’s education needs. A lot of missionary families in Europe homeschool or do national schools, and SHARE helps with testing, learning issues, supplementing, homeschool support, and tons more.

Tonight, we’ll gather in the teen room with our 50 teens and start our time together. This week will be filled to overflowing with games, music, Bible study, deep talks, bonding, laughter, and yup, probably tears. This is the 20th year of this particular conference, and our fourth. Although, our first with Amelia. Kiddo is already a hit! There is nothing like a grinning baby to pull down cultural barriers.

Siofok is a summer vacation town on the shore of Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Europe. It’s definitely not deserted now, but there are a lot of boarded-up gelato shops and resorts and cottages advertising off-season rates. The hotel we’re in is NICE. So much nicer than the place we stayed the previous three years. We’re going to miss wandering around the medieval streets of Sopron and exploring the Roman ruins there, but I also like sleeping on a bed that isn’t hard as a board. And the lake is so pretty.

So today, we take a deep breath. Five intense days are ahead. We pray for God’s grace to be with us, for His ears and His heart to be ours, and that every child here (114 kids and 50 teens) to know how deeply they are loved.

The shore of Lake Balaton, Hungary

The shore of Lake Balaton, Hungary

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For my Amelia, at six months old

Three months old and smiling like a champ

Three months old and smiling like a champ

(Of course, Amelia, you know Amelia isn’t your real name. I’ll tell you about cyber security someday.)

Congratulations, Amelia! You made it to six months! Whoop whoop!

So, Mommy isn’t great at journaling. She doesn’t scrapbook, and you don’t have a baby book. I’m sorry. What I can offer you is a bazillion iPhone pictures and a mountain of Facebook posts chronicling your baby antics. Maybe a few blog posts, like this one. I’m sure Daddy will someday compile those into an easy-to-browse format so you have some record of your early days. He’s pretty awesome, for lots of reasons.

Amelia, I want you to know how desperately we love you, and even as I type this, I get teary when I think about my love for you. My heart catches in my throat, and I just thank God for you. Mommy and Daddy wanted you to be in our family so badly. We waited for years for you to come! And now you’re here, and you’re perfect. You have been loved and prayed for before you were even born, before we even knew you were coming. We call you our miracle baby. 

Do you like your nursery? Daddy spent almost three days painting that world map. We loved every moment we spent putting together your crib, hanging the shelf and the pictures, and fixing up the chair. We wanted it to be a beautiful place that would welcome you into our home. You like the mobiles best, and seem to enjoy the toys our friends and family gave you. Anything you can swing around and slam into the ground are favorites!

Your giggle is hilarious. A few nights ago, after you woke up at 5:00 and wanted to eat, we brought you to our bed so we could grab a little more sleep. You fell asleep first and started snoring. And then it was like you were laughing at yourself snoring in your sleep: “[snore] …heeheehee… [snore] HEEHEEHEE!” I love that you have a sense of humor at six months. I’m sure you get that from Daddy.

You’re super healthy. I am so grateful for that. Some of Mommy’s friends have had babies who have been so sick. Every day, I thank God that you’re healthy. You’ve only had a cold so far, and you handled it like a champ. Well, okay, babies aren’t known for their coping skills when breathing gets hard. But we made it through! Your chubby cheeks and roly-poly shape are so endearing. And you’re helping Mommy and Daddy get really strong as we carry you around!

You like your Lucy-dog

You like your Lucy-dog

You like being “worn” in baby carriers. Mommy always wears you when we go shopping, and people constantly comment on how cute you look. Daddy wore you last week when he vacuumed, and you loved it. You like to see the world around you. And then you usually fall asleep, after having assessed said world. I started wearing you when you were only a week old, and I’m so glad you like it. I love feeling you snuggle against me.

There are so many things I can’t wait to show you, sweet Amelia. I want to go for walks with you in the woods, take you swimming, and pick up pine cones in the meadow where we take Lucy to run. I want you to travel and see this amazing world. I want you to understand how fortunate you are, and have your heart break for the less fortunate. I want  you to know that Jesus loves you even more than we do. 

Right now, Grandma and Grandpa Hepworth are in South Asia – that’s where Mommy grew up. Grandpa is a doctor and is teaching midwives, nurses, and medics how to help sick people, and Grandma is teaching people to speak English. Grandma and Grandpa Elwood are in Hungary – Daddy grew up there and in Austria and Croatia. Grandma helps missionaries with their kids’ education and Grandpa writes Bible studies and works with churches. (They flew back to the US for Christmas – they couldn’t wait to see you!) Amelia, this is your heritage: your grandparents left their jobs and lives in the United States to share Jesus’ love with people in other countries. I hope I will be able to show you how much Jesus loves the WHOLE world and wants everyone to believe in Him. We’re going to take you with us to Hungary in a couple months. You won’t remember anything from this trip, but at least you’ll be able to brag and say that you flew before you could walk!

One blog post is not enough to contain the many amazing things that is you, Lady Amelia of Elwood. Some of the stories of the past six months will no doubt go down in Elwood family history. (Ask me sometime about what you looked like when you had your first bite of mashed potatoes.) I know there are many more to come! We’re only just beginning, my dear.

I love you, Amelia. For always and ever!

Sitting pretty at six months

Sitting pretty at six months

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2014 Monumental Half Marathon Recap

Or, I Can’t Throw Away My Throwaway Sweatshirt.

I’ll delve into that part of the story in a minute. The Indianapolis Monumental was just overall an awesome racing experience with LOTS of cool moments. It all began over a year ago…(cue flashback music)

When we found out I was pregnant last October, I was training for last year’s marathon. In fact, I’d run 18 miles the day before. Even though I had my doctor’s OK to run the race, Steve and I made the decision for me not to run. I quickly became first-trimester tired and we had concerns about possibly hurting the baby. We’d been trying for too long and gone through too much to risk anything happening to her. So, I FB messaged the race organizers and told them I wouldn’t be running and why. I wasn’t looking for a refund or anything, I just wanted to let them know. They very kindly offered me a free deferral for this year! A couple months ago, I downgraded to the half when it became quite obvious that I wasn’t up to running the full.

(And return-to-present-day music)

Packet pickup

There was no race-day packet pickup, so on Friday afternoon (Halloween) we drove down to Indy. Our friends Phil and Judy had offered to watch Amelia that day and during the race, and our dogs are puppy buddies, so we swung by their house to drop off the little creatures before we headed downtown. We found parking pretty easily, right across from the expo in the convention center. It was really crowded, and we weren’t really in the browsing mood since we wanted to get back to the house, so we just grabbed my packet and split.

We had a really nice evening with Phil and Judy – and a few trick or treaters who were braving the horrible weather. We had grilled kebabs and veggies, green beans, rice, and this tasty yogurt/coolwhip/fruit salad. An excellent pre-race meal. We hit the hay pretty early since I was planning to get up at 5:00 the next morning.

Breakfast buddies at 5:00am

Breakfast buddies at 5:00am

Steve took Amelia’s first feeding so I got mostly unbroken sleep, which was a HUGE blessing! I was able to pump, have breakfast (banana and peanut butter toast) and get almost all ready before she woke up again. I fed her right before we left, hoping she would give Phil and Judy a couple more hours of sleep. I should have been more worried about the dog instead; she has a tendency to howl when she feels abandoned, and apparently, howl she did right after Steve and I left the house.

We headed back to downtown and parked about five blocks from the start line. I had brought along my pump and made sure I was as empty as possible before we left the car. Experience has also taught me to wear two sports bras for runs longer than an hour. (Breastfeeding and running are not without challenges,  but we power through!) I was also wearing my running skirt with capris, wicking t-shirt, and two sweatshirts. My First West Olson sweatshirt from my FRESHMAN YEAR was going to be my throwaway layer. It was SO cold – 30 degrees and windy. On our way to the starting line, I hopped into a Panera to use the restroom. Yay for avoiding the porta-johns!

This was my first big race – over 15,000 people were competing in the full, half, and 5K. All my other races had fields ranging from 50-1500. The starting area was packed. I scooted in towards the back, but Steve said there were easily 1,000 people behind me. As we stood there trying to keep warm before the start, we started randomly talking to another lady, who had given birth just three months before! She gave me a great tip, too – take Advil a couple times during the race. She even shared her Advil with me, and gave Steve the rest of the bottle since she didn’t want to haul it with her. And it really helped, too! I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before. I didn’t realize how much pain I’d just been enduring.

Rachel at Half Marathon Start

Elite by association?

And We’re Off!

Mile 1: It took me 10 minutes to reach the starting line because there were so many people ahead of me. For the first mile, I was just happy to warm up. The course wound around downtown, past Lucas Oil Stadium, Monument Circle, the Murat Theatre, etc. A really great course. Although it was a little odd running past the area where the IPD parks their crime scene forensics vans. Fastest mile: 9:11 pace. 

Miles 2-3: I was warming up and took off my hat and gloves (one of which went MIA, bummer.) I started thinking that soon I would have to pitch my outer sweatshirt. I seriously spent at least two miles saying goodbye to this sweatshirt, which dated from my freshman year of college. I thought about how lonely and foreign I felt that year, and how those girls on my wing loved me despite my issues. That sweatshirt, with First West on the front and Hepworth on the back, really symbolized a shift in my heart, when I finally allowed myself to belong here in this country. And then, within a couple years, my name changed when Steve and I got married, and there was a little grief with no longer being a Hepworth. Obviously, I have no problem being an Elwood, but I think many women who take their husbands’ names can identify. But this sweatshirt was a physical symbol of my pre-married identity. And then I thought about my friends from the wing, how we have gone our separate ways…I haven’t seen them for a long time. Anyway, maybe you can see why this took me a couple miles to come to grips with!

Miles 4-5: Mass Ave is a super fun street, and I really enjoyed running through that neighborhood. I passed a guy wearing a kilt. A guy not in the race decided to try to navigate through the wall o’runners and almost took me out. A blast of cold air made me decide to hang on to my sweatshirt for a bit longer. Then, I heard from the sidewalk, “Yeah, First West! You got it, baby!” Well, that just made me want to keep it even more! Favorite signs: “Sweat is sexy!” “Worst Parade Ever!” “There’s beer at the finish!”

Miles 6-7:  At the 10K mark, we ran over a sensor mat. I’d signed Steve up to get a text at that point and he texted me to say that I was on target for making my 2:30 goal. But I knew I was getting tired and couldn’t sustain that pace. Coming towards the halfway mark, the marathoners split from the rest of us. We were in a more residential neighborhood with lots of pretty houses and churches. I was so impressed at the way the faith community was represented. At least two aid stations were in front of churches (probably because the parking lots made setup easier) and about six churches had live bands or spectators cheering. I stopped at every aid station. I needed the walking breaks. I was super glad I’d used the bathroom before the race; at every porta-john station, the lines were like 10 deep. Nope, nope, nope. The sun was out, but it was windy and I was feeling chilled; my sweatshirt was going nowhere.

Miles 8-9: I was still feeling pretty good. I laughed as I passed the 9 mile mark. My longest training run had been only 8 miles, so with this mile mark, I surpassed all my runs for over a year! I knew I was going to come in well after 2:30, but I was OK with that. I focused on enjoying myself, thanking the police officers who were blocking traffic for us, thanking the volunteers, and soaking in energy from cheering spectators. Also, at this point, we were joined back up with the marathon course, and the elites were zooming by next to us. It was SO cool! I saw both the male and female winners. Very inspirational to be left in their dust.

Miles 10-12: Things started hurting. I was taking more walking breaks. My toes, my knees, my hips all were aching. But at this point, heck, Imma keep my sweatshirt! I’d had several more people call out, “Go First West!” during the race and I mean, that’s just fun. I noticed an older runner wearing a tshirt that said, “In honor of my wife and running buddy.” Underneath was her name and dates of birth and death. Very moving. Then another older dude wearing what appeared to be khakis and and old-man jacket powerwalked past me. Nice.

Mile 13: I stepped to the side and tied my sweatshirt around my waist so my number was visible. The number of spectators increased as we got closer, and they were so encouraging. Coming into the finish line area, I scanned the crowd for Steve, finally spotting him waving at me. I did some kind of weird victory gesture and crossed the finish line.


Volunteers handed me a hat, coverup, and medal. I tried to catch my breath and got a little teary. I couldn’t believe I’d just run 13.1 miles, five months after giving birth. I’m so lucky. I have a beautiful daughter, amazing husband, and supportive friends. AND MY FIRST WEST SWEATSHIRT!!! Stained, ripped pocket, and 14 years old, I just couldn’t give it up.

I grabbed water, chocolate milk, a couple bananas, a cookie, and met up with Steve. After also taking three small Jimmy John’s sandwiches, too. Seriously, eating is the best part of running. We walked (I hobbled) back to the car and headed back to Fishers to retrieve our small creatures. What an awesome race.  The organizers were top notch and volunteers and police were the best. I would totally run this one again!

A monumental medal

A monumental medal

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The Pre-Race Nerves

The Elwood circus – Amelia (Baby E’s bloggy nickname) and Lucy and all – are heading down to Indy tomorrow for packet pickup before the race on Saturday. So tonight, I’m puttering around the house packing a bit and trying to think through what I’ll need for the race. It’ll be 30 stupid degrees out when the race starts at 8:00am. We’ve had such a nice fall, I haven’t run in temps that low for a LONG time. Pack the gloves, the hat, funky Swedish neck warmer….

Oh geez. Between getting sick and my body still recovering from Amelia’s birth, my longest run was eight miles. So, honestly, I have NO idea how I’ll do when I run 13.1 on Saturday. I know I run faster when it’s cold, so I have that going for me! I have high hopes of finishing in 2:30, but that means maintaining a 11:26 pace, and my most of my paces have been far from that. 2:40 is probably more realistic.

So here come the pre-race nerves.

I try to convince myself to just run the race and not worry about pace. To celebrate the fact that I can even run, especially five months postpartum! To just enjoy what the day will hold. To run it with gratefulness for the innumerable blessings God has given me.

But the seductive numbers still chase after me.

Now to make sure I don’t forget socks.


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