Gwendolyn’s Birth StoryJanuary 08, 2017 by Victoria Strong
Gwendolyn DeBard Strong was born the morning of October 4th, 2007. It had been a warm autumn, with me wearing tanks and skirts most of the pregnancy. We had recently purchased our first house, a sweet 1921 Craftsman right in the middle of Santa Barbara, and spent my pregnancy moving in, fixing up, and getting settled. The house did not have air conditioning, so on really hot days we headed to the beach where Bill dug holes so I could lie with my big belly in the cool sand. We savored this time. We had only been living in Santa Barbara a year, Bill had a new job, we loved our new house and neighborhood, and I was growing our first-born child. Life was good.
My pregnancy with Gwendolyn was picture perfect. I was only nauseous for a few weeks (grocery stores were the worst and the smell of bacon nearly killed me) and felt tired but never had any out of the ordinary issues. We excitedly attended birthing classes at Cottage Hospital and eagerly met some other first time parents. We read What to Expect each week and Bill religiously took photos of my belly growth.
As I got into week 38, I started having false labor contractions. They were more intense than Braxton Hicks, but I could talk through them; the problem was I couldn’t sleep through them and was growing increasingly exhausted. On October 3rd, after nearly two weeks of not sleeping, my OB checked my dilation (which was nothing) and was concerned I would be too tired to sustain labor – especially a first labor. And, since I was now nearly 40 weeks, we knew labor was imminent. She suggested a sleeping aid in the hospital setting to allow my body to rest and prepare. My biggest worry was if I went into labor right after taking it, but she reassured me that if real labor started this drug wasn’t strong enough to stop it and it wore off quickly. We headed to the birthing center at the hospital right after our appointment where they hooked me up to an IV and I immediately fell asleep. After a few hours of monitoring, we headed home, though I first insisted we stop at the grocery store to get some boxes of Annie’s Mac & Cheese. Had. To. Have. It.
Bill put me to bed and I slept solidly for four hours before waking up at 4:00 pm with a jolt and immediate need for the bathroom. I made it to the bathroom door when splash, liquid gushed all over our hallway, just like in the movies. I was confused at first and stood in the puddle calling for Bill, but as soon as he ran up the stairs I smiled knowing what it all was, “My water just broke.” Bill, being Bill, immediately got cleaning supplies and his timer and, with a look of panic, tried to take in that “it was time.”
A sense of calm rushed over me and I knew two things for sure: 1) I needed to take a hot shower and 2) I needed that Mac & Cheese. Bill did not like either of these ideas (our birthing class and the pregnancy books emphasized going to the hospital as soon as your water breaks), but like the sweet husband he is, he put the water on to boil and then called our doctor at home in a panic. She asked a few questions and then slowly told him to take me to the hospital as planned. “You are having a baby today.”
The contractions started immediately, while I was still in the shower, and Bill was timing every one while pacing and urging me to get out. I slowly got dressed between the intensity, simultaneously spooning in that Mac & Cheese and telling Bill I was hurrying. By the time we got in the car, the contractions were hitting pretty hard, though not consistently at set intervals yet, and I was certain I was dilating.
When we arrived at Cottage Hospital, the nurses hooked me up to the monitors and I was disappointed I was only dilated to a 4. (I had wanted to labor at home as long as possible, but my water breaking changed that.) They were increasingly concerned that the baby’s heart rate was dipping with each contraction and had me stay in bed so they could keep her monitored. It went on like this for hours – intense contractions, baby’s numbers dipping, not dilating, me in bed the whole time. At midnight, the contractions were now consistently three to four minutes apart but I was dilating very slowly and was only at a 6, while baby’s stress level was increasing. They decided I needed to be induced and gave me Pitocin, which made the contractions even more intense. I knew then I wanted an epidural. It took forever for the anesthesiologist to arrive, but as soon as I had the epidural around 1 am I fell asleep, waking to the morning hours of October 4th and the good news that I was now fully dilated and ready to push. One leg was still numb from the epidural so Bill held that and helped me sit up, wash my face with some cold water, and get ready to meet our baby. At 8:39 am, after three sets of three pushes, our beautiful Gwendolyn came into the world, sunny side up, looking up at all of us.
They whisked her away quickly to the respiratory team in the room because of the stress monitor readings and concern with her irregular breathing. But, after an assessment and towel rubbing, she was placed in my arms with a clean bill of health. She was crying (after all that who wouldn’t be), but as soon as I said, “Hello little one…” her cries stopped and she turned her face toward mine, blinking and listening contentedly to my voice.
We waited to find out the gender (though everyone thought it was a boy based on my torpedo belly), and with all of the concern I only just asked if she was a boy or girl. “It’s a girl,” Bill said beaming and then everyone asked her name. We spent many nights talking about both boy and girl names, making a list, going back and forth, until one day Bill suggested what became “the one.” We knew we were using my mom’s first name, DeBard, (also a family surname), for the middle and loved how they sounded together. We liked that Gwendolyn was whimsical and yet strong when paired with DeBard and Strong. We also liked that it is a classic name, but not too common. And, though we are not a nickname family, we wanted a name that could be shortened to a name we still liked. It’s a Welsh name meaning “fair (beautiful) and blessed” and we know now that those words definitely describe our Gwendolyn.