Monday, November 17, 2014

long-awaited arrival [birth story, part two]

Read part one of my son's birth story here.

I was SO glad to have avoided traffic as I worked through 4 surges on the drive to the hospital at 2:30am. I remember feeling much more alert and aware than I expected to be. The whole drive I had coached myself that when we checked in, no dilation number was going to bother me. I knew I was making SOME progress, and that was enough for me.

We checked in to the hospital around 3am, and it took about 20 minutes for them to get me in a room because they lost all of my paperwork! We gone in to the hospital two weeks earlier to provide copies of my insurance and drivers license, but of course, when we arrived this night, they couldn't find anything! I remember being pretty patient, responding to questions in between surges but Eric was visibly irritated and my doula kept asking if we could just get into the room!

When we finally got into our room, I had my first (ever) cervical exam. OUCH. Part of it was that we had a terrible traveling nurse (I later told my doctor about her and he apologized and said she was no longer at the hospital). She was really cold and didn't seem to listen at all, more concerned with the hospital policy than even my own doctor's orders.

I was positive for group b strep, so I knew I needed IV hookup when I got there, and also that there would be mandatory fetal monitoring. My doula had already been SO helpful up to this point with the thousand phone calls and texts from me - encouraging us when labor was lasting forever, but here is where she really kicked in to gear.  She set a timer and sat next to me adjusting the monitor to make sure that it didn't fall off or move with the baby. When the 20 minutes was up she was bugging the nurse about getting it off me so I could get in the tub. She knew the hospital and staff and got us extra pillows and supplies. She was right with me the entire time, and provided whatever I needed (even when I couldn't vocalize it) in seconds. It made me feel so at ease.

About two hours after arriving to the hospital, I sunk into the tub. It felt heavenly. My doula set up LED candles all over the room, turned the lights way down, and put lavender essential oil on a cloth near my head. This was the best stage of labor for me. I was in the hospital and had been assured I wasn't leaving without a baby. I was laboring really well, although things has slowed down a little bit to 3-5 minutes apart. Everyone said that was normal as the transition from home to the hospital is disruptive. As I waited for my body to kick things into gear, I was still able to talk a little bit to my mom and Eric in between surges.

The awful nurse came back in around 6:30am and made me get out of the tub for more monitoring. While I silently cursed her and waddled back to the bed for the IV and fetal monitor, we found out that my doctor was on a 24 hour shift at the hospital starting at 7am - yay! Our doula went to the charge nurse before the shift change and requested a nurse she loved and had worked with before. By morning, things were looking so much better - I was so relieved about the shift change for the nurses and my beloved doctor being there and I thought things were moving.

After monitoring, Eric and I decided to take a short walk up and down the hallway to keep things moving. It was eerily quiet. I don't know why, but I really thought labor and delivery would be louder and more chaotic. I was conscious of trying not to make much noise when the surges came during the walk. It was so weird knowing that we were in our last few hours of just being the two of us.

Back in the room my doctor came in to check my progress at 8am. He was WAY more gentle than the nurse had been, but he didn't have good news for me. I was still at three centimeters and my contractions hadn't been picking up. He suggested breaking my water to kick things into gear. I started bawling. It seems silly now, but I just remember wanting to avoid ALL interventions and I knew this was going to be the first one in a cascade of them. I was also nervous that the intensity would get to be too much for me. He kindly left us to make a decision and it took me about 10 minutes of crying before we agreed.

Water breaking was so weird: gushy and warm and freeing. Immediately afterward I felt excited because there was no turning back now! With so many false starts and stops, there was something so reassuring about the definiteness of the water bag being broken. Very shortly though, my back labor picked up in intensity. I had been feeling some back pain with each of my surges since I got out of the tub, but it really intensified. During every surge I had my doula, my mom and Eric pushing on me - one on each hip and one on my lower back. It is hard to describe how hard this was. Up until this point I was able to be so mentally present despite the discomfort (okay, PAIN, I said it. it frickin' hurt!), but this was a new level. I was in denial that I was experiencing back labor though, because the sensation was so different from what I expected. The next 3-4 hours are a complete blur to me. I know I was back in the tub for a little, but I didn't like it nearly as much. I leaned on the bed a lot. I wasn't talking at all in between surges and I was groaning loudly and often.

After another monitoring session around noon, my doula suggested a hot shower, which sounded good to me at this point because the shower had one of those removable heads and I could direct the pressure right on my lower back. I wanted a little time alone, so everyone left me in the shower for a little while. Then Eric came in and started to ask me questions about how much longer I thought I could keep going like this. He had been my number one support and cheerleader, but now I could see he was visibly upset watching me struggle. But at that point, I didn't care - I bit his head off.

Our birthing class had emphasized getting through one surge at a time rather than trying to project how many there would be or how long the whole process could last. I reminded him of this in an irritated manner, and then got out of the shower to complain to my mom and my doula that Eric wanted me to give up (e.g. get the epidural).

It was then I noticed that the nurse, doula and my mom were all conferring. They all thought it was time to get some more help. I protested. This was not in my plan! The nurse asked if she could check my progress before I made a decision. Around 1pm - 10 hours after arriving to the hospital - I was still three centimeters dilated. (She was nice enough to say to me that I was almost four). Despite my determination not to be discouraged and to "calmly accept whatever turns my labor takes," (fromt he hypnobirthing tracks) I felt really torn. I wanted a natural birth and I knew that I could do it, but so many things were going wrong - between the back labor, complete lack of progress and not having slept in three nights. I decided to wave my white flag.

It helped that everyone around me, who had affirmed and encouraged my desire for a natural birth, thought the epidural was the best and wisest decision at this point. But even writing about it now, eight weeks later, with my perfect, healthy babe sleeping next to me, I struggle with it. I feel like I gave up, like I didn't get the experience I wanted. Part of me is mad at my body for not cooperating. Part of me is disappointed with myself for not pushing through. Part of me was mad at God for allowing it to be so hard.

I'm still working through these emotions, but ultimately I know that I made the right decision, because I made the decision that brought my son into this world. And I know that this difficult decision was the first of many hard parenting decisions I will have to make on this journey. One decision I will be judged for, among many I will be judged for.

I struggled and fought to bring forth this child, just as millions of women have since Eve, and I succeeded. I birthed that baby and gave him life. I am a warrior mama.

I am a warrior.

I wish I could say that the epidural turned things around, but as it turned out, something else was turned around - my baby's head. At this point that the nurse confirmed what my doula has suspected for days, that the baby appeared to be presenting sideways in the birth canal - asynclitic. This is what was causing the back labor and likely, the lack of progress.

After the epidural, around 2pm my legs got hot and heavy, and I fell asleep for two heavenly hours. I continued to doze and when the nurse came back in to check me at 5pm, I was confident that my body being able to rest and relax would have gotten things moving. Finding out I was only at 5 cm and my surges had dramatically slowed down caused another emotional breakdown. My doctor came back in to confer and suggested we consider pitocin. I was determined to avoid any more interventions, so we started going through every 'natural' labor augmentation technique. I tried using the hospital grade breast pump, my doula tried pressure points on my feet, and at one point my leg was propped up on a table and three pillows to try to get the baby to move. After a few hours, the surges hadn't intensified or regulated, so we agreed to the pitocin, really thankful for a doctor who had allowed me to make these decision at my own pace.

 It was 8:45pm. We all sat and watched the internal monitor to note the intensity of the surges, which at this point felt like braxton hicks again - I noticed the tightening, but wasn't in pain at all. At 10:30pm the nurse checked me and her face immediately betrayed good news.  finally good news! I was dilated to 9cm and about 80% effaced. The pitocin had worked the baby out of his stuck position. She smiled, we laughed and I felt the tension leaving my shoulders for the first time in days. I thanked God for those drugs. I even put on mascara to celebrate.

finally go time!

Within an hour I was fully dilated and effaced and started to feel pressure. One of my conditions in getting the epidural would be that it was turned off for pushing so I could feel it. Boy, was that intense. Pushing may have been the hardest part of labor for me - I just was not prepared for the intensity and constancy of the pressure. After an hour and fifteen minutes of the most mind-bogglingly concentrated effort of my life, my doctor came into the room and I knew I was finally close (the nurses and doula had been saying 'you're so close' for thirty minutes, so their word couldn't be trusted). Eric was at my head holding my oxygen mask, a cloth on my forehead and being so amazing and encouraging. My mom and my doula had each of my legs and suddenly the room was full of people. I remembered thinking it was so crazy - one second there was no baby, and then (push, push, push!) there was.

And there he was. White and purple and goopy and squalling. And, a BOY! Eric announced it to the delivery room and everyone cheered. (Eric himself was shocked - he had convinced himself our baby was a girl).

I looked into that baby's eyes in awe and wonderment and I couldn't believe he was just staring back at me like he already knew me. I wrote this to a friend right after he arrived:

In that moment, I didn't feel the elation I expected, I just felt very peaceful. I thought "oh! It's you. Of course it's you."

I had been so nervous about meeting and welcoming a complete stranger into our perfect family, but he wasn't a stranger at all. I had known him all along.

He is our son.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

long-awaited arrival [birth story, part one]

I debated about how much detail to share in a birth story, or whether to share at all, but as I grew to love reading all the myriad ways that babies come into this world, I wanted to share my own story, my own journey to motherhood. Writing about it helps me own the experience, even though it didn't turn out as I hoped and planned. It is my story, and it is E's, and I love it for that.

My last belly shot, taken one week before E was born
Pregnancy was rough for me. Not in the sense that I had any complications, but I just hated being pregnant for most of the 40 weeks. By the time I got to week 39 I was so uncomfortable and overwhelmed I decided to quit working a week earlier than planned. We bought our first house in August and I couldn't take any time off for the move, so life was feeling very chaotic and unsettled - not great feelings when you're in hyper nesting mode, but also physically exhausted from carrying around 40+ extra pounds and a tiny MMA fighter in your belly.

That first morning sleeping in, staying in my pajamas and putzing around the house were glorious. (I wish I had enjoyed them more, but I was certain that the baby would arrive late, and I would have at least a week to get ready.) I spent my days lazily unpacking a few boxes, stressing about the organization of my kitchen and brainstorming furniture arrangements, and sleeping.

On Thursday morning around 1:30am, I woke up to my first "real" contraction. For the past couple of months I had been googling and texting my doula about the difference between braxton hicks and the real deal because I had been feeling BH contractions since around week 20, increasing in frequency. But when a cramping feeling woke me up that night, only an hour after I had been up to pee, I knew it was something new.

Wise people tell you when you're in early labor to just relax and enjoy the last rest before the really hard work and the craziness of life with a newborn, but it's so freaky and exciting - I can't imagine many first-time moms are able to chill out. I turned on my hypnobirthing track and got out my lavender essential oil and starting breathing through each surge. (I'm not a crazy oil person, but lavender was really soothing to me in pregnancy)

This is going to sound nuts, but labor felt SO good at this point. It wasn't comfortable, but I was prepared to handle it, felt excited, powerful, and in control. I tried to remember these feelings later as my labor story twisted and turned in ways I hadn't hoped for. In those moments I was strong and in tune with my body and I was doing it.

After 2 hours I woke up E to let him know what was up and decided to hop in the shower to relax. It felt great, so I laid back in bed with my giant body pillow and then next thing I knew, almost an hour had gone by - we had fallen asleep! The surges started coming very sporadically after that -  sometimes 6 minutes and sometimes 45 minutes apart. I texted my doulas in the morning to let them know what was up and they encouraged me that it was normal, that my body was getting ready to have this baby and that it would happen really soon.

Since it had finally started to feel real, I tried to accomplish my To Do list at a little faster pace during the day, getting the hospital bag packed and making sure things were ready with the baby stuff and a bed for my mom to sleep in when she arrived. All day the surges were coming and going, but not consistently or as intense as they had been at night. After dinner we went on a long walk and got the car seat installed. Things started picking up again during the walk.  My doulas encouraged me to take a warm bath and drink some wine to relax. We have the world's tiniest bathtub, so it wasn't exactly comfortable, but a candle, a little bit of wine and warm water were so soothing and I dozed on and off.

I headed to bed still frustrated at the tease of labor, but determined that I would get things started the next day. I woke up two hours after falling asleep to a good strong cramp, and they increased again. I woke up Eric more quickly this time and had him start timing the surges. We put on instrumental music, I leaned over the ball and got in my groove. WIthin an hour surges were 3-4 minutes apart, though they weren't terribly intense yet, and I decided to call my doula. We talked for about ten minutes, she could tell I wasn't working too hard yet, and we agreed that I would labor at home without doula support for at least a little while longer.

Meanwhile, all Thursday evening I had been in touch with my mom in Chicago trying to figure out when she should come out and I was getting kind of freaked out by the not knowing if it was going to be a few hours or a few days before the baby decided to make his/her appearance. At this point I called her and told her to definitely come TODAY.

My doula recommended a shower again to keep my body relaxed, so around 4am I got in again. But (of course!) things slowed down and by the time I laid down in bed, I was back to 30 minute breaks instead of 4-5.

By 8am Friday morning, I was feeling so pathetic (I had woken everyone up and kept them up half the night for no reason) and so discouraged. But I still had determination left in me. I put shoes on and marched outside and started climbing our back porch stairs to kickstart things again. Up and down, up and down for about 45 minutes. (Which is a really long time to climb up and down only about ten stairs.) Then E and I walked about a quarter mile to our local donut shop and had to stop about five times to breathe through the surges. I felt good but didn't want to get my hopes up. The next 24 hours passed much like the previous 48 - speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down, but never stopped. I would lay down to try to rest, and invariably get woken up shortly after with a series of surges close together again. Once I got in a rhythm, they would slow.

My mom arrived and tried to help keep my mind off of things by helping me reorganize some things in the house and unpack a few more boxes. Everyone encouraged me to go on with life while I waited, but it was impossible. I couldn't do anything out in public without having to bend over, grimace and breathe slowly for a minute, every 15 minutes!

Saturday evening E went to a friend's birthday party on his own while I stayed home and pouted. He brought back some leftovers which I ate and then couldn't fall asleep. The surges were coming back, about ten minutes apart. At this point, I was on auto pilot. Get out the lavender oil, exercise ball and relaxing music, open the contraction timer app on my phone, get on my hands and knees and moan. Legitimately wonder if I will be in early labor for the rest of my life. Moan some more. Lather, rinse, repeat.

At midnight things had picked up to 3-5 minutes apart and I decided to wake up my mom. It felt a little different and just a little more intense, so of course I was willing myself to believe that this was it. This had better be it! We called my doula and asked her to come over. At this point I wanted someone experienced with labor to evaluate the situation. After observing about an hour and a half of consistent, strong surges, she suggested we head to the hospital. Our hospital has tubs in the birthing rooms, which sounded really good at this point, and we could avoid traffic if we went in the middle of the night.

At this point I was in complete denial that I would ever have this baby and was loopy from three nights without sleep, so my doula needed to reassure me, over and over again, that I was going to have this baby and I was going to have it today. Everyone ran around grabbing last minutes items, snacks, etc while I hung out on my bed moaning, and then...


(oh, but this story is not over. Not even close)

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