in june 2010, our lives got turned upside down in the best possible way: the birth of our awesome kiddo, john. in october 2013, brother charlie charged into our life to change the status quo again. and june 2016 brought us brother ben to round out our trio.

i'm proud to have "mom" at the top of the list of titles on my resume, but i'm also still a hard-working professional. how does a working mom juggle work and family? ride along with me and see if i can figure it out!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

been thinkin'

i've been thinking about john's birth a lot lately. about what an amazing experience it was for me, and how i wouldn't change a thing about it. then another blogger (c. jane kendrick, of course) shared the story of her own birth, as shared by her mother. and it made me realize, i never fully recorded the story of john's birth.

so, if you're not into birth stories, you can skip this post and i won't be sad. this one is really for me, and one day, for john. but if you enjoy a good birth story (as i do), i am happy to share with you as well.

***

part i: before it was real
when i found out i was pregnant, i sort of kind of maybe felt like i might want to have a natural childbirth, if at all possible. it sounded like a great idea. but anytime i talked about that - or even thought about it - i added this caveat: "but i've never done this before, so i guess we'll see!"

then i went to a seminar about non-medicinal labor pain control, and it was taught by a lady named rene'. rene' is a doula and founder of Birth Help, a doula service here in Baton Rouge. when i heard rene' speak, i remember thinking, "wow, if i had her help i could definitely do natural childbirth." i mentioned it to my husband when we left her seminar, and he said he was thinking the same thing.

so pretty much that day, we emailed rene', told her we wanted to enlist her services, and i committed to having a natural childbirth. and the more i thought about it, the more sense it made for me.

part ii: getting ready
we met with rene' about 6 weeks before i was due, to talk about our ideas of what our baby's birth would be like. basically, i told her that i had no preconceived notions, that i just wanted to go with the flow but have as un-medically assisted a birth as possible. my husband told her that he was sure i could do it and that he would support me however he could. we talked a little about a birth plan, but i never really solidified one - i knew from everything i'd heard that you can't choreograph a child's arrival on this planet.

what we did do was collect pictures for me to focus on to get me through the labor. me, hoisting a canoe over my head as i crossed a tough portage trail (to prove i can do anything i set my mind to.) the beautiful north woods of northern minnesota and the quetico in canada (to remind me of the peace i find there). and we collected objects to help with massage - big socks full of rice. my exercise ball. hand-held massagers. and we packed them all carefully into a bag to be grabbed on the way to the hospital - my natural childbirth go-bag.

if i'm bad a enough to do this, surely i can birth
a child, right?
where i would go in my head to find peace
when it got too tough.
but perhaps the most powerful thing i collected was my story about "african birthing woman." in my mind, i knew that at any given moment, there is some woman in a remote village in africa (or india, or malaysia, or south america - the locale is not important) who is leaving her mud hut. she will walk out from her home and find a tree. she will grab on to that tree, squat down, and quietly and steadfastly bring her newborn into the world. most likely, when the labor has passed, she will swaddle her babe, bring the child inside the mud hut with her, and begin to prepare dinner for her family or tribe. if she can do that, i thought, if she can do that in such unsanitary, unsupervised, uncoached environs, then surely in a hospital with the best medical care i can handle the pain of labor.

part iii: a wrench
on june 10th, when i was 37 weeks pregnant, i went in for my weekly checkup. i was at 3.5 centimeters (had been there for a while). i felt great. but ... my blood pressure was through the roof. i hadn't had an ounce of blood pressure trouble, so my doctor was immediately alarmed. they had me rest, then took it again; it was no better. my doctor disappeared for a few minutes, then came back to tell me she'd made arrangements at the hospital - they were waiting for me to check myself in for 24-hours of observation. if things got bad, they'd be inducing me that night.

i begged for one hour to go back to work and set things straight with my coworkers and boss. and one hour later, i checked myself into the hospital. they placed me in a labor and delivery room. i became more and more certain they were about to induce me. my heart sank.

my husband called my mom in maryland, and told her she best catch the next available flight. we knew this baby was coming soon one way or the other.

the good news was, when i was on bedrest, my blood pressure stayed low. and i had no protein in my urine, which would indicate larger problems (preeclampsia, etc). my mom arrived the next afternoon (friday), and they sent us home for the weekend. perhaps there was hope!

but alas: my doctor was going out of town for the weekend. she would be back on tuesday morning, and she scheduled me for an induction at 6:00am that day.

part iv: always ask
i called rene' to break the news to her: despite my strong desire not to be induced it looked like i had no choice. rene' asked, "why are they inducing?" and i couldn't answer. she said it sounded like a convenience (for the doctor) schedule, so i should call monday morning and ask them why i needed to be induced. and if they didn't have a really good reason, that i should ask to continue on bedrest at home, instead, to see if john would come on his own instead.

so monday morning early, i called the nurse midwife i was to talk to in my doctor's absence. she contacted my doctor, and my doctor literally shrugged and said, "sure, why not." they gave me a week: if the baby didn't come by the time i hit 39 weeks, they were inducing.

i never realized before then that you could ask questions like that. don't get me wrong - i won't question sound medical advice. doctors, after all, are trained experts. but if it feels like i don't understand the reason, i will ask until i either understand or change their minds.

part v: waiting
rene' suggested a few herbal supplements to take to ready my body for an easier labor - no induction agents, just preparations. i took them religiously. my fervent hope was that my son would decide it was time, and arrive on his own, before my new deadline.

and then, we sat around. thank goodness my mom was in town. we watched more law and order episodes than any human being should ever consume. i was a horrid patient - i would get up to make tea, my mom would remind me i was on bedrest and send me back to the couch. one day i snuck out to the drug store so i could blow up one of my focus pictures. i don't sit still well.

but sit still i did. and waited.

part vi: today's the day
on thursday night (june 17th) i didn't sleep a wink. i wasn't in pain, just uncomfortable in every position. i had to pee every 10 seconds. i was up and down and walked around the house most of the night.

by the time the rest of the house got up, i told my husband, "i think today is going to be the day." of course, he got a little frantic. "ok, let me call work and let's get ready for the hospital," he said. i calmed him, told him it wasn't time, and that he should head to work. he only works a half-day on fridays anyway, so i told him i would call him if anything changed but he would have plenty of time to get home in any case. the hospital is only 15 minutes up the road.

so my mom and i waited together a little bit more. we watched more law and order, believe it or not. and i found a contraction timer online, so i could hit "s" every time it started and "s" every time it finished, and it would time them for me. they were all over the map - nothing organized yet.

finally, by around 1130, they were consistently under 7 minutes apart. that was starting to get pretty close to the five minute mark they told me to look for, and i knew my doctor's office closed at 1 on friday. so i went ahead and called and asked if they thought i should head for the hospital or not. my doctor was already gone for the day, but the nurse midwife said, "sure, go to the assessment center. the worst they'll do is send you home."

i called rene'. she was at the hospital with her own daughter, who had just given birth to a child with some medical issues. they were at another hospital, but not too far from where i would be. i told her we would keep her posted - to stay with her daughter and grandchild, and we'd let her know when we needed her.

part vii: assessment
by now my husband was home from work, so we piled into the car and headed to the hospital. the contractions were getting faster, so i was glad we were on the way. when we got to the assessment center at 12:45pm, they made my mom wait in the lobby while my husband and i checked in - only one guest allowed with me in assessment.


the nurse measured me, and i was still only at 3.5 centimeters. i was a little disheartened - i thought surely we'd have made progress by now! but no worries, surely they would feel the contractions and now it was getting close to time.


the only problem was, they couldn't seem to get the contraction monitors on me correctly. they could get the baby's heartbeat, no problem, but according to the contraction monitor, i wasn't having contractions at all.


the condescending nurse said to me, "well, we'll just keep you here for a few hours dear, and see if you're actually going to have this baby today." (i know, i know - she probably sees false labor all the time. but a little bedside manner wouldn't hurt!)


they told me to lay flat on my back in the bed so they could keep me monitored. but that was horrifically uncomfortable, so every time they left the room i would unstrap myself and walk around. sometimes i would go sit on the toilet - surely they couldn't yell at me if i had to pee. 


and every time, they'd scold me to get back in bed, tell me they weren't feeling any contractions, and leave again. by now, i was feeling pretty rough. i could handle the level of discomfort i had right now, but if this wasn't even the beginnings of labor, how was i ever going to handle what was to come? maybe i wasn't cut out for this after all. my husband went out to the lobby to update my mom, and to call rene' and let her know we needed her. he could tell my spirits were low, and he and rene' agreed that we needed to get them back up before i gave up.

finally, i went to the bathroom again and there was a lot of blood. i knew this was pretty normal, but we buzzed the nurses just to tell them. their response? "it's probably from when we measured you earlier. get back in bed."

so back in bed i went. they strapped on the monitor, right as another contraction hits (they're two minutes apart by now). the nurse looked at the monitor and said (this is an actual quote): "oh, you're having BIG contractions!" (i bit my tongue and didn't say "no sh@#, b@#*, that's what i've been trying to tell you!") they decided they better measure me quick and see what was happening. so they measured me, and i was at 6.5-7 centimeters - roughly three centimeters or more of progress since i'd arrived. they panicked. they called up to labor and delivery and said i was coming. they didn't even put me in a wheelchair to take me upstairs - just pushed me on the bed into the big elevator, saying 'reassuringly,' "this baby is coming today after all!"

my husband ran to tell my mother to meet us on the fourth floor. then we hightailed upstairs.

part viii: labor and delivery
we arrived in the labor and delivery suite at 2:45pm, barely two hours after we got to the hospital. the nurses were running around like crazy - it must have been a quiet day, because there were at least six nurses trying to get me settled in, get an iv in my arm, etc. i have tricky veins, so it took FIVE sticks with the needle to get a line in. just as they got it, in walked rene' and her apprentice, who i'd agreed could attend my labor as well.

one nurse looked at me and said, "oh, you're going natural?" and everyone instantly calmed down. they had been scurrying to try to get me an iv line in, since they have to hydrate you for 30 minutes prior to administering an epidural. without that time constraint, things calmed down considerably.

someone finally let my mom in - she was panicked that she was going to miss the birth. the doctor walked in just behind her - not my doctor, as she was already off duty,  but the on-call doc from her office. i was a little nervous that this doctor might not be as open to natural childbirth, but she checked me out and made it clear that she was going to pretty much let me do my thing.

so i hopped up out of bed - still horribly uncomfortable to lay on my back. the nurses asked if i wanted the labor tub, but it takes up to two hours to get set up and we all agreed that we probably didn't have time. so i walked around a little bit, talking with my mom, my husband and rene'. every two minutes or so i'd have a deep contraction, but otherwise we sort of just ... hung out.

rene' suggested that i might be more comfortable laboring on the toilet - odd as it sounds, the nature of a toilet means that there's no pressure on your bottom, and she was right. it was very comfortable. so for about 15 minutes, we had a party in the bathroom. it was really kind of surreal - four of us in the bathroom, me on the toilet. chatting about whatever. OH WAIT CONTRACTION. now where was i?

finally at about 3:15pm i had a very big contraction, and i felt my water break. the nurses came to check it out, and said - yep, that's your water! thanks for being so considerate and doing that on the toilet, we have much less to clean up!

so back to the bed. the doctor checked me and said i was 10 centimeters and ready to go, so i could push when i was ready. i thought they'd keep me in the bed then, but in fact i was allowed to get back up. i stood next to the bed, and in between contractions i laid my upper body across the bed to rest. my "pit crew" would  race in - rene' with a honey stick, my mom with a sip of water, my husband with a back rub and sweet word.

i could feel the urge to push, but that's a very difficult thing to understand. push WHAT? how? when? so i sort of just kept doing what i was doing, to see what my body told me.

what i didn't notice (i was pretty intensely into the labor process by now!) was that there was a collection of doctors and nurses lining the room. apparently in addition to my support team, we had 8-10 other people in the audience. i wouldn't have minded at all, but i didn't even know! i also didn't know that my husband heard my doctor comment that one day she wanted to have her own children this way - but he felt much better about the new doc as soon as he heard it.

i naturally started to squat a little bit with each contraction, and to let out some pretty primal noises. rene' suggested that the deeper the noises i made, the more engaged my core and diaphragm would be, and the more conducive to labor. it was amazing how good it felt to let loose with guttural grunts and groans. she also said that the farther down i squatted, the more gravity and my natural pushing muscles would help the process.

so on the next contraction, i squatted low. i groaned deeply. and i pushed. i understood now, what pushing was. i couldn't have NOT pushed if my life depended on it. it was a full-body experience unlike anything i've ever felt.

and then it passed, and i rested.

on the third push, i felt what some have described as the "ring of fire," as my son's head first crowned into the world. it wasn't comfortable, sure, but it wasn't like i feared. none of this was like i feared. it was amazing. so difficult, yet so easy. so natural.

one more little push, and my doctor practically stood on her head to catch john as he entered the world at 3:45pm, barely three hours after i arrived at the hospital. i leaned on the bed, resting, while they checked him out. he was behind me, and because of the cord i couldn't turn, but i could hear him, crying. i was in tears of awe and joy and excitement as i was about to meet my son.

my husband squeezed my hand. my mom patted my back. rene' congratulated me. it was amazing.

part ix: after
they cleaned john up, of course. scrubbed him and weight him - the little peanut was only 5lb 12oz. he was all skin and bones and big blue eyes.

i had some minor tearing - my doctor described it as similar to a papercut - so they stitched me up. i barely felt it. i was on a natural high. they did give me a dose of pitocin, then, to encourage the uterus to contract, etc. i guess that's pretty common post-labor as well.

the nurse told me that if i wanted to, i could take a shower to clean myself up. since i had no medications in my system, i could stand up, walk around, bathe myself. she came with me to make sure i didn't get dizzy or weak from exertion, but i was able to take a shower pretty much on my own.

and then i settled into the bed to rest, and to work on nursing my son. and i reflected on how even though i didn't intend to, i really DID channel african birthing woman. right down to the squatting and guttural groans!

for the rest of our hospital stay, the nurses kept asking me if i needed a painkiller. i felt remarkably fine - normal, almost. tired, but that was all. i asked them once if there was something wrong with me that i DIDN'T need a painkiller.

and after the requisite two day stay, we were released to go home. we went home on father's day.

***

and here is what my efforts got me:
well worth it.

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