Saturday, November 28, 2015

In which I present Junior's birth story.

NOTE: This is a long post. I probably could have shortened it down, but I just dumped it all out here. You might want to take this in chunks. I apologize ahead of time for the wordiness.

Who doesn't love a good birth story? The pain, the joy, the tears, the laughter . . . it's all the stuff that makes for great drama.

I'm not sure about drama when it comes to our story, but it's got all of the things mentioned above--some more than others.

Now, a short disclaimer before I launch into the tale:

Childbirth, while miraculous and life-changing, is not a glamorous process. I'm not going to pull any punches here and I'm not going to use euphemisms or metaphors (OK, I'll probably use some metaphor, but just because I like it) to describe parts of the human body or the process of labor and delivery. If you're squeamish about that sort of thing, or if you don't want to hear words like "vagina" or "perineum" (whoops, got you!) then I'd encourage you to maybe find something else to read. For the rest of you, let's get into the good stuff.

The Due Date

My due date had arrived. Not the due date the clinic had given me (November 7), but the due date that I knew was true. I knew my cycle. I knew the timing of events in my life. I knew that Junior was due to arrive on November 11, 2015.

I happened to have a midwife appointment on that day, and though I'd been having plenty of contractions up until that point, they'd never gone anywhere or gotten any stronger. I was eager to have this appointment, excited to have a non-stress test and listen to Junior's heartbeat for an extended period of time, and a bit apprehensive to have my first internal exam.

Levi drove me to this appointment because, as I forgot to mention, I had the migraine from you-know-where. Seriously, y'all, this thing was a beast. I don't know how I would have made it to that appointment without Levi's help. Being at the clinic office helped take my mind off the pain, but I found myself thinking that Junior better not arrive that day or the next because labor + migraine was not something I fancied trying.

During our appointment, my midwife was excited for us and confident that things were going perfectly well. We all decided that if the non-stress test showed that all was well with Junior that we'd postpone induction at least a few more days. We were eager to meet Junior, but we weren't frantic to get him out of me. My internal exam (not as awful as I expected, actually) showed that I was dilated about 1 cm. and 50% effaced. If you don't know what that means, it meant that I was favorable for labor to begin, but nothing had started in earnest yet.

We got the non-stress test started, and the nurse kindly turned the lights in the room off for us, making my head much more comfortable. Junior's heartbeat was wonderful to hear, and watching my contractions peak on the paper printout was really cool. I ended up hooked up to the test for about half an hour, and I had five contractions during that time. They weren't anything more than what I'd had all along: just some mild to moderate tightenings of my uterus.

My midwife was really encouraged by the contractions, and she told us she really hoped it would be time to go later that day or the next. She let us know that she would have a stretch through the middle of the night where she wouldn't be able to get to the hospital, but otherwise she'd be ready whenever we were. What she really wanted us to do, especially since I had a migraine, was to go home and sleep as much as possible. If labor was going to start soon we'd need all the sleep we could get.

We went home, and pretty much as soon as we got back to our house the contractions stopped. My head was still killing me, so we went ahead and crawled into bed anyway. We ended up taking a significant nap that afternoon before Levi made us dinner. We stayed up talking about babies and future and parenting before we finally hit the hay around 11:00.

It Starts

I woke up feeling funny. By funny, I mean different than I'd felt before. I'd only ever had a tight feeling when I would have a contraction, but this was different. I wasn't having a contraction, but I felt . . . crampy. I'd had these cramping feelings on my period before, but not during this pregnancy. 

I thought I better go to the bathroom, so I sat myself up. 

Ever have one of those moments where you knew what was going to happen a split second before it does? Where you think, "Oh no..." but are powerless to stop it? Like seeing a cup teeter on the edge of a table before it finally crashes to the floor and spills the milk everywhere?

Well, I had that feeling as I sat up, only instead of milk spilling everywhere, my water broke. And not a nice little trickle. We're talking full-on, overly dramatic TV-style water breaking. Right on the edge of the bed. 

Thank goodness I'd taken my mother's advice and put a waterproof mattress pad on our bed!

I only sat for about a second in shock before half-dashing, half-waddling to the bathroom. As I did, I called out to Levi, "It's time!" I heard him mumble a sleepy, "Time?" from the bedroom. I replied, "Time for the baby. My water just broke!"

As I was settling myself onto the toilet I could hear Levi come fully awake. He stumbled into the bathroom as the water kept pouring out of me. "Is there time for me to take a shower?" he asked. "Well," I said, "I'm not having contractions, so I'd say so. But we need to get to the hospital as soon as we can." I knew that my Strep B status made it important that we get me started on antibiotics as soon as possible, but I also knew that I wanted a shower, too. For some odd reason it was really important to me that I start labor out with clean hair. Go figure, right?

I looked at the clock. It was 12:45. Why must everything happen in the middle of the night?

As Levi got into the shower I realized that it was very, very true that your body just keeps producing amniotic fluid once your water breaks. It seemed like more and more kept coming out of me, and I also noticed some very large bits and clots of blood. This concerned me because no one had really explained what it would look like when/if your water broke.

When Levi was done, I had him give me my phone and I went ahead and called the hospital (which is 50 minutes away). When I talked to the labor and delivery nurse, I let her know that we'd be one our way and that I would need an IV ready. She asked if I was having contractions yet, and I said no. Then I asked her if what I was seeing come out of me was normal. She reassured me that it was all perfectly fine. Grateful for that, I hung up the phone and hauled myself into the shower.

Not even kidding you, the SECOND that warm water hit me the contractions began. They weren't unmanageable by any means, and I was still talking to Levi through them. They were, however, very different than the contractions I'd had before. I could really FEEL my uterus working. I would later realize that contractions feel amplified once your water breaks, so that was part of the reason they felt so different.

I took a lightning-fast shower, and then I stood for a minute in the tub just staring at the bathroom floor and our bath mat. I was unsure of how to get out of the safety of the tub because with each contraction a small gush of amniotic fluid was coming out of me. Finally, I hit upon the notion of spreading out a towel over the main part of the floor, and I went straight from tub to toilet. Levi brought me a clean pair of underwear, and I asked him to bring me a pad.

Wouldn't you know, with ALL of my meticulous planning, I'd forgotten to buy myself any big pads. I had some amazing padsicles ready in my freezer, but plain pads? Whoops.

So Levi hands me this itty-bitty panty liner and I just laugh at it. I put it in my underwear anyway, and then create a sort of stuffing from toilet paper to hopefully manage the rest of it. Levi has been following my list of things to do as we prepare to go to the hospital as fast as he can, and I ask him to add something to the list. A towel for the front seat. I have a feeling I'm going to need it.

Being the vain woman that I am, I actually have the audacity to pull out the hair dryer and get my bangs into shape before we can leave. Then I throw the rest of my wet hair up, put on the clothes that I think will be most comfortable for the car ride, zip up my jacket, and head out to the car with Levi.

He helped my sit my already wet bottom on the towel, and I felt a little bit better. He gets into the driver's seat, and we begin to make the drive to the hospital. I put on my labor playlist (which I've already timed and listened to many times on the drive to and from the hospital's general area) and settle in for the car ride.

Getting There

The first contraction out of the driveway soaks the towel and most of the way up and out of my sweat pants. So much for trying to keep things dry.

Before we even make it onto the highway I'm having another contraction. I have no idea how long they're lasting, but I know that this one was awfully close to the previous one. I'm also to the point where I don't feel as comfortable talking through them and just need to breathe quietly and calmly. I decide that I better start figuring out how quickly these contractions are coming.

Another contraction starts and I look at the clock. 1:25. I breathe through it and then just continue to sit with my eyes closed, trying to lose myself in a dreamworld.

The next contraction begins. I look at the clock. 1:28. That can't be right. That's way too fast. It must be a glitch. I continue with my routine and then silently wait for the next contractions, letting the rumbling bass of my labor playlist wash over me.

As the next contraction starts, the clock reads 1:32. For the next couple of contractions it continues like this. 1:35. 1:39. 1:42.

I finally turn to Levi and quietly say, "Sweetie, just to let you know, my contractions are about three minutes apart."

"Ok," he says calmly, while I go back to my breathing and my dreamworld. Later, he told me that his anxiety went up at that news and he added a few more mph to the cruise control.

At some point I felt prompted to open my eyes, and just as I did I saw the turn-off for the city our hospital is located in. Having made this drive many times before, I knew exactly where my playlist should be at this point, and it was much earlier than that. "We're here already?" I asked a bit breathlessly. "We are," Levi said. "I got us here pretty fast."

Driving toward the hospital, I realized that we were even closer to meeting our little boy. And then I realized that I'd actually have to get OUT of the vehicle, which was a daunting prospect considering I was sitting on a sopping wet towel and gushing a fresh stream of amniotic fluid with each contraction. As we turned into the hospital parking lot I began to ask Levi what he thought we should do, but he beat me to it. "I'm just going to pull up front and help you in. I'll come out later to park and bring in our things. Do you want a wheelchair?"

Since the idea of clutching a dripping towel between my legs while attempting to answer receptionist questions and having contractions every three minutes did NOT sound appealing, I said yes. Levi hopped out of the car and wheeled a chair up to my car door.  He helped me stand up out of the car on shaky legs, and we transferred the wet towel from car to chair. For a brief moment I felt bad doing that to one of their chairs, but I figured that a hospital has seen its fair share of amniotic fluid on its emergency room wheelchairs. I squished down onto the towel and Levi rolled us up to the registration counter.

Now, I don't know about y'all, but what is the point of pre-registering at a hospital if they're going to go through all of that information again anyway? At least, that's what it felt like to me. I wasn't quite sure if that's what was going on because I kept having to close my eyes and breathe deeply every three minutes. Thankfully, the lady behind the counter realized that I wasn't going to be any help, so she asked if we'd like her desk-mate to wheel me upstairs. I gratefully said yes.

Leaving Levi to deal with annoying registration stuff, parking the car, and getting our bags upstairs, I got wheeled up to the labor and delivery area. The floor was quiet and the light was dim. I felt more peaceful as soon as we rolled out of the elevator. The man pushing me took some twists and turns that I didn't register, and then we were pulling up to my room where a nurse was waiting, the light was even more dim, and a bed was pulled down for me.

The lovely nurse helped me step out of the wheelchair, and the state of the towel and my clothing immediately became evident.

"Well," she said, "your water has definitely broken! Let's get you out of those clothes."

It was 2:15 a.m.

Poked and Prodded

Now, when I made my birth plan, I'd imagined a lot of things. I'd imagined that labor would gradually start at home. I imagined that we'd drive me to the hospital with contractions around 5-6 minutes apart. I imagined that I wouldn't have to be hooked up to an IV while in labor.

I had also imagined that I'd change into a specifically picked-out set of clothes for labor. I didn't want to wear one of those uncomfortable and scratchy hospital gowns.

Well, it turns out when your water breaks and you have contractions really close together, all you want to do is get out of your sopping wet clothing and into something dry. After going pee, I didn't even question it when the nurse held out the hospital gown for me. I just slipped into it gratefully as she helped me walk back over to the bed.

She tilted the bed backwards and by the time I was almost flat on my back another contraction began. It felt much worse this time, and as I hissed the nurse said in a soothing voice, "Oh, I know honey. Sometimes lying down just makes it worse." She wasn't wrong about that. She began to strap the same big paddles over my belly that we'd done the non-stress test with, telling me "We just need to establish a baseline for the baby, so we're going to leave this on you for 20 minutes or so." Just as she was finishing with the second paddle Levi walked into the room, bags in hand. Never have I been so glad to see that man in my entire life.

As he dropped our bags off, the nurse left the room and the sound of Junior's heartbeat filled the room. It was almost possible to focus on my breathing and my body. Almost. Hisses were coming out of me more frequently, and Levi's hand on my hand/shoulder was surprisingly distracting. I was positive it was merely the position of the bed and if they'd just let me sit up it would all get better.

But that was not to be. Yet. The nurse walked back into the room with the IV supplies. It was time to get the line into me. She took my left arm and did her prep work while telling me that I had funny-looking veins. I wasn't quite registering this as I tried my hardest to breathe through another contraction. Levi pressed his hand on top of mine and I slipped it away from him. "Here we go," the nurse said.

Needles don't scare me, ok? But the feeling of a needle going into the back of your hand is a lot less pleasant than various other places---and a needle going into ANYWHERE is already an unpleasant experience. That needle going into my hand completely distracted me, and the next contraction hit me a bit like a truck. I was trying to breathe but I found myself holding my breath. I was trying to keep my hands open and my shoulders relaxed, but I was clenching my fists and hunching my shoulders. All of these could be explained by the fact that the nurse was now wiggling that darn needle around inside my hand and telling me that my veins were not cooperating.

The contraction let up and she took the needle out. Apparently it wasn't going to work in that spot. She prepped a different spot on the side of my hand and AGAIN managed to time the needle going in with the onset of the next contraction. The same process repeated itself. Bad veins. No breathing. Annoying touches from Levi. Tense body. When the needle came back out she explained to us that she'd have to call in another nurse because they had a policy of not letting a nurse stick a patient more than twice.

We waited for the second nurse to come in and the next contraction began. Levi put his hand on mine again and I, again, pulled mine out of his. I was able to look at him and tell him I was sorry. He told me he understood, and he didn't touch me again, much to my relief.

The second nurse arrived, and, you guessed it, the same difficult veins presented themselves. She stuck me twice. I had two contractions. I held my breath and started whimpering and tensed up. OH! I forgot to mention that it was ALSO made worse by the fact that the lab tech had arrived and decided to go ahead and draw my blood WHILE the second nurse was trying to get the IV into my right hand. With needles poking me on both sides it's no wonder that I was struggling.

When the second nurse finally got the IV in and the lab tech was gone I was still finding it difficult to relax and focus. The second nurse noticed me struggling and, because she knew who my midwife was, asked if I had done any HypnoBirthing classes. I told her that I'd done a lot of reading and preparing with HypnoBirthing. She then reminded me to breathe deeply through my contractions while letting my body relax into it at the same time. Writing this right now, it seems like I would have obviously been thinking about that and trying to get there, but I had forgotten. Her reminder was actually quite helpful, and I began working on bringing myself down.

Weirdly Zen

As I worked on relaxing every part of my body, our original nurse reappeared and told me that she'd called my midwife to put in the order for my antibiotics and that we just needed to start that and let it finish before I could get up and walk around. That sounded fine to me, and I asked her if she could sit me up in the meantime. She raised the bed and I found myself FINALLY sitting up--almost ramrod straight. I put the soles of my feet together so my legs were in a sort-of frog position and began to breathe.

Suddenly, things were much more manageable. I was still having contractions at the same rate, but they didn't seem to hurt as much anymore. I'm guessing they were still just as strong, but they felt much better because I could breathe and I could relax. The nurses would still pop in and ask us things, or Levi would talk to me from time to time. They occasionally had to ask me to repeat myself when I would answer because I kept speaking in an unusually quiet and low-pitched voice. I found my voice coming out as more of a breath, like I was exhaling all of my words in a monotone.

I know the antibiotics were started at some point. I know I watched the clock slip from the 3:00 hour into the 4:00 hour at some point. I know that Levi and I shared some words back and forth and that he got a cup of coffee. I know that some very loud beeping noise started and kept going for about 10 minutes before a nurse came in and shut it off. Good or bad, I know things were happening around me but I didn't register any of them. I just focused on breathing and keeping my body relaxed. I began to focus on a very simple phrase, "You can do this."

After the 45 minutes it took to run the antibiotics through the IV, our nurse came in to ask me if I wanted to try walking now. I was feeling really good in the bed, and I hesitated to answer. She encouraged me to try something new because it would really help keep labor moving. I asked about the tub, and we decided to go ahead and get that filled, too.

Moving Quickly

The nurse got my IV walking stand all ready and draped the cords from the dopplar paddles around my neck (which was immediately annoying). Then it was time to try standing up.

The moment my feet hit the floor I knew it was a mistake. Pain and intense discomfort shot through my whole body, and I sat back down on the bed saying, "Nope, nope, nope. I don't want to walk." The nurse said OK (perhaps a little reluctantly) and asked if I was ready to try the tub. Despite the fact my deepest desire at that moment was to sit back up in the bed, I agreed to try the tub.

The nurse helped me walk to the bathroom because it was important that I empty my bladder during labor, especially since I hadn't gone since we'd arrived. I got onto the seat and seriously, y'all, nothing would come out! I mean, it wasn't like I didn't have to go to the bathroom. I knew I had some pee to give. It simply would not come out of me, no matter how long I sat there. Finally, after the barest trickle dribbled out, I decided we've have to call that good, and I headed back out of the bathroom toward the tub with the nurse's help.

After some maneuvering to get my legs over the sides of the tub, I sank into the warm water and immediately felt better. I could feel that a contraction wasn't far away, so rather than sit back in the nice water I stayed on my knees and took a deep breath to prepare.

As soon as this contraction hit me, something was different. This strange, uncontrollable urge hit me. Kind of like the feeling of needing a bowel movement, but also sort of like the urge to throw up--except down THERE. I had no idea what it was, and I was positive that it couldn't be time to push yet. It was only a little after 4:00 a.m. We'd only been at the hospital for two hours! Shoot, my water had only broken just over three hours ago!

Even though I was sure it wasn't time yet, I went ahead and told the nurse, a bit frantically, "I think I have to push!"

I wasn't paying much attention to the faces of the two nurses on either side of me, but Levi tells me both their faces registered frank disbelief. To their credit and my everlasting gratitude, however, they decided to go ahead and check me to see how far along I was. This meant getting back up and out of the tub and into the bed again. With four extra arms helping me and supporting me I ended up back in the bed flat on my back. The second nurse began to check me. As she felt around, she turned to our first nurse and said, "It's so thin. It's just so thin." The first nurse said, "Well, that makes sense. Where would you say we're at?" And the second nurse hesitated for a second before saying, "Well, I've gotta say we're at an 8." The first nurse's eyes widened in disbelief, then excitement, and she looked down at me and said, "I'm going to call your midwife because we're having a baby!"

The Final Stage

In all of the descriptions of labor you read, everything happens in neat, little increments. But this last part of my labor all seemed to overlap. Transition overlapped with the intense need to push, which overlapped with birth. It was all happening so fast.

Levi and the second nurse helped me back into the tub (I was going to have a water birth after all) after I let them know that was where I preferred to be. The first nurse hurried off to call my midwife. A few contractions came, each a bit more intense than the last. When our nurse came back she knelt down next to the tub to talk to me.

"Your midwife can't make it right now. She didn't expect it to go this quickly, so we've called in the midwife on call. She's wonderful, and you're in great hands, but I need you to resist the urge to push until she gets here."

Now, aside from the fact that I was disappointed that my much-loved midwife wasn't going to be present at Junior's birth, I kept hearing the words, "resist the urge to push" repeating over and over in my head. Resist the urge to push?! How in the world was that even possible? I truly did not have control over what my body was doing. Did they just expect me to use magical brain power to hold it all back?

It only took the back-up midwife 20 minutes to arrive in my room, but those 20 minutes felt like an eternity. The contractions I felt during that time were powerful, and holding myself back from them seemed so WRONG. I began to struggle, and Levi and the nurses continued to encourage me to hold on and wait just a little longer.

If I was relieved when Levi came in the room a few hours ago, I was ecstatic when the midwife arrived. She walked straight to the tub and knelt down next to me. After telling me her name and that she'd take care of me, she told me to push when I needed it and just let her know if anything changed.

I could finally give in. I could finally let my body do what it wanted to do.

It was about 4:55 a.m.

I'm not sure if anyone will believe me when I say this, but those pushing contractions felt amazing. There was pain in there somewhere, but it's the kind of pain that comes from hard work. Good work. Satisfying work. I know that I began to emit grunts and sounds of pain as the contractions continued. I know that my breathing became less controlled no matter how hard I tried. I know that I said out loud a few times, "It hurts. Oh, it hurts." But I can also tell you that it felt so good to have my body making those final pushes to bring Junior into the world.

Once the midwife arrived, the room took on a surreal quality. It was dim and completely silent (any plans of playing my music went right out of my head) except for the sound of my breathing and the lapping of the water as I moved in the tub. Levi, the midwife, and the two nurses were gathered around the tub, sitting comfortably in a loose semi-circle, simply watching over me as I labored and letting my body dictate what happened. When a contraction would end a soft chorus of encouragement would come from everyone.

About 15 minutes after the midwife arrived, I began to feel more than simple pain. It was a stretching, stinging sensation--affectionately called the Ring of Fire by pregnancy websites. Whatever you want to call it, it was clear that Junior was about to make his appearance. I let the midwife know what I was feeling, and she pulled out a mirror to check my progress. Since I was on my knees and bending quite far forward on the edge of the tub I couldn't see anything that was going on.

"You're right there, Mary Beth," she said. "I think three more contractions and we'll have a baby."

My heart started to race when she said that, and it was hard to believe that any second now Junior would be joining us. The next contraction started, and it was a doozy, let me tell you. The stinging sensation became a burning sensation.

"He's crowning, Mary Beth. One more and we'll have a head."

The next contraction began, and I could feel my body make the most massive push it's ever made.

"We have a head! Now just hold on for the next contraction. He's fine. He's getting oxygen through his cord. Just push on the next one and the rest of him will come out."

As she said these words, a weird giddiness welled up inside me. It wasn't quite exhaustion, but it definitely wasn't abundant energy. I half-laughed and half-cried as I buried my head into my arms. The next contraction started and I could tell the pressure wasn't as intense, so I helped with my own strength as much as I could. Suddenly, with a big push on my end and what felt like a yanking on the other end, Junior was all the way out. I heard a baby's cry from behind me, and Levi leaned over to my ear and said, "He's here, sweetheart!"

Then the tears started in earnest. I tried my hardest to look over my back, and the nurses helped me perform a small gymnastic maneuver to get my leg up and over the umbilical cord so I could sit in the water and hold my son. As soon as I was turned around and sitting, the midwife placed Junior as far up on my chest as he would go.

It was 5:16 a.m. and Junior had arrived only four and a half hours after my water had broken.

It was the most amazing feeling. The cord was still pulsing blood and oxygen to his little body. He was smooth and wet from the water. Besides his initial wail he was hardly crying at all. He was just so small and fragile in my arms, and I wanted to stay in that spot forever.

But, of course, there were things to do, so everyone helped me stand back up and get out of the tub, all while holding Junior in my arms. As about three sets of arms supported me in the short journey from tub to bed, my entire body was gripped with massive and uncontrollable shakes. I looked at one of the nurses, and before I could even ask her she said, "I know. It's totally normal. The shaking will go away soon."

I was dimly aware of the nurses in the background, already chatting excitedly about what had just happened. Only four and half hours of labor! Only three pushes! No pain meds (which I probably wouldn't have had time for anyway, no matter what I wanted ahead of time).

The midwife examined me as I held on to Junior and the nurses covered us both up with warm blankets. She informed me I had one, small tear (which I now know was from his little superman fist that he just HAS to have up and out all. the. time.), and that we were ready to deliver the placenta.

I'm not sure if I just didn't care or if I was tired or if I suddenly realized that none of it mattered to me anymore, but I didn't even try to look at my placenta when it was out. I didn't even make a comment when the midwife said she'd give me a few stitches to help the healing go a bitter better--even though I didn't really need them. It didn't even occur to me to do those things at that point. All I could focus on was the man beside me and the tiny, little boy wrapped up on my chest. I couldn't believe that he was HERE and that he was OURS to care for.


The learning curve began immediately after Junior's birth, and it has been steep, steep, STEEP so far. Sometimes I can't believe how much we've already had to figure out in the two weeks he's been here, and sometimes I'm a bit paralyzed when I imagine just how much MORE there is to learn in his lifetime. But that's a separate blog post. This one has gone on long enough!

Keep it real, y'all, and hope to see you next week,

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