The Story of New Life (and the Uphill Battle Getting There)
** Friendly Disclaimer: This post is going to include some minor graphic details about the birth of our daughter Lily. For the mildly squeamish, and with consideration to my gentlemen readers in particular, I have tried to be as vague as possible without leaving out important details. Just a head’s up, but I do hope you’ll read it. It’s quite the story. **
Greetings, everyone, from the Steinway!
Current population – One husband, one wife, one cat, and one brand new human being. Yes, after a long and mysterious nine months, our little mystery baby entered the world after one of the longest days (and nights) of my life to date. The nights are still long and tiresome, but we’ve made it through the first month of parenthood and we still have a baby and we’re still surviving. Not sleeping, but surviving 🙂
After my last entry, I didn’t know what to expect from the coming week. I know what I wanted to get out of my birth experience. My doctor knew what my hopes were, and being the wonderfully considerate man that he is, he was going to do his best to help my labor and delivery be as close to my plans as he could help make them. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and doctors often get thrown off by mild preeclampsia. The entirety of this pregnancy, I have been struggling with high blood pressure. I had seen the same problem when I was still on oral contraceptives, and it had improved when I stopped them. In this case, the high blood pressure could only be *hopefully* cured by delivering the baby. A surprising number of maladies are cured this way – swelling, heartburn and of course, pregnancy.
Thursday morning, the hubby and I had our 39 week prenatal appointment. Based on the protein levels in my urine and my high blood pressure, my doctor was concerned that keeping the pregnancy going could be risky for the baby’s health and my own. I was about 2 cm dilated. We set up an appointment for some testing at the hospital later that afternoon, as well as a 24-hour urine screening. We both called work and by 2:30 in the afternoon, I was down in radiology at the hospital having a routine ultrasound to check baby’s position, vitals and fluid levels. Other than a very still, sleepy baby who was head-down and ready to meet us, the ultrasound revealed nothing of note.
Next, we went up to the maternity ward and I was hooked up to two monitors – one to monitor contractions and one for baby’s heartbeat. Every 15 minutes, the machine automatically took my blood pressure and recorded it on a printout. We watched TV and quietly waited for the test to end when one of the primary physicians from our office came in to see how we were doing. She looked at the printout and smiled widely.
“Congratulations! You’re contracting! Can you feel those? You might have a baby before you know it!”
Needless to say, I felt nothing other than the occasional kick from our kiddo. The nurses informed us that our doctor would be at the hospital soon if we wanted to wait for his opinion on the situation, so we waited. And waited. And another hour passed. Our patience was rewarded by a breathless doctor who had run up four flights of stairs to keep us from waiting longer. After reviewing my vitals and the printouts from the testing, he was thrilled with how regular and strong baby’s heartbeat was, but still concerned about my blood pressure and excited at the fact that my contractions had begun, even if I couldn’t feel them. He recommended some exercises to jump-start natural labor and gave us a few options for induction if the next day yielded no further progress and my 24-hour panel results were poor.
Fast-forward to Friday, my due date. This ended up being a very, very long day indeed. Not surprisingly, I felt no different than the day before. I was hoping for a quiet, peaceful day at home with Matt, but I was in an awful emotional state all day. I was anxious about my test results, terrified about the future, thrilled at the prospect of meeting our baby before the weekend was up and seemingly upset about every tiny thing that was going the slightest bit wrong. In the midst of all of this, the clinic processing my urine test had crossed wires with the doctor and wanted my sample as soon as possible. This would either mean waiting for the courier to come pick it up from diagnostics, which might take 4-5 hours, or driving a half hour to drop it at the hospital.Amid tears and frustration, we drove out to the lab and then stopped at Wendy’s for dinner. It was our last dinner together before we became parents. Peaceful, reflective and a little melancholy. I began to feel selfish – I was going to miss having Matt to myself, miss having the time to spend pursuing my own interests, miss being “just us”. I also began to feel anxious – what was going to happen? One day we were alone and watching TV and eating dinner together. The next time we blinked, all that could have changed. All that did change. It just took longer than I thought.
On our way out of town headed back home, I received a call from my doctor. He had gotten my results from the lab and wanted to get me to the hospital to induce labor as soon as possible. He wasn’t alarmed, but since I wasn’t getting better he wanted to be on the safe side. We would head home, get ready, and return to the hospital in two hours once room opened up in Labor and Delivery. Weekend staff is short, so we were really being squeezed in. Once home, I was suddenly overcome with a burst of thrilled excitement and stressed efficiency. I showered, finished packing my bag, posted a quick update to Facebook and finished folding my laundry. Things were suddenly happening – after waiting and preparing and worrying and imaging, we suddenly had a set deadline. We were taking home a baby this weekend, one way or another.
We arrived at the hospital and finally found registration. We checked in, and I was wheeled up to our room. Immediately, I was handed a gown and robe and settled into bed. Our doctor greeted us tiredly and briefed us on his thoughts. Since my labor was not progressing naturally, he wanted to first try inducing labor with a drug called Cytotec – while being a medication for stomach ulcers, it is also used for ripening the cervix for delivery. I trust my doctor wholeheartedly, and he encouraged me that results of using Cytotec were positive. I signed a consent form and was administered the pill. After that, it was all a matter of waiting. We got some sleep while we waited for the drug to take effect.
Two hours later, my mom and dad had arrived at the hospital and I began to feel some contractions as we chatted. It was around midnight when my doctor returned to check on my condition. Very little progress had been made, so we decided the next step was to start me on an IV drip called pitocin. Pitocin kicks the uterus into high gear and is supposed to start contractions at an intense rate. I had read some encouraging articles on women who went through labor without pain medication while using pitocin – it can be very difficult. Natural contractions build up and grow in intensity, whereas even when administered in gradually increasing amounts, pitocin can cause contractions to be very frequent and very painful very quickly. Dr. Fernaays acknowledged that he knew this wasn’t what I wanted, but that we would do our best to stick to my plan. My heart was as set as possible on natural birth and no medication, but I was starting to open myself to the alternatives – including C-Section. The thought of surgery terrified me, and I felt that after nine months of waiting and taking care of this baby, I wanted to bring it into the world with as little intervention as possible.
We took some supplies and shuffled down to the suite where I would be for the remainder of my delivery. I was hooked up to an IV of saline and pitocin on one arm, monitors across my stomach and a suffocating blood pressure cuff on the other arm. Tucked into bed, I tried to get some sleep while the cuff inflated every few minutes and the monitors beeped away next to me. I fell asleep to the sound of my baby’s heartbeat. Four hours later, we did an internal exam and there was still very little progress in my readiness for delivery. I had dilated maybe another centimeter, but I could no longer feel the contractions that had been present hours before. With some frustration and consideration of the options, the doctor stopped the pitocin drip and prepared to put me back on another round of Cytotec. That was when miracle number one happened – the monitors registered strong, frequent contractions that had not been present while I was on the IV. We all practically danced – maybe our intervention had only delayed everything and there was still hope of “sticking with plan.” My poor exhausted doctor had to leave for a while to tend to his family and his farm, but he encouraged us in his absence to do everything we could to keep labor going. We walked the halls, bounced on a birthing ball (imagine an exercise ball shaped like a giant peanut), watched TV, talked, ate a tiny portion of lunch (since I was now technically in active labor) and drank more water than I thought I had room for. This went on for a good portion of the morning and into early afternoon.
At around 3 o’clock, my nurse on rotation, Jay, did another internal exam. I was close to four centimeters dilated but still not much further along. Her opinion was that resuming pitocin would get us where we wanted to be. She confirmed with my doctor, and in his absence the medication would be given under the supervision of another doctor on call. They also had begun discussing breaking my water if contractions continued. We got back into my room and back onto the IV and resumed our sitting and talking and monitoring. Matt and I even tried playing a few hands of Rummy in the waiting time.
I want to say it was an hour later – after that many hours of no sleep and not much happening, I lost track – my dad was sleeping in a chair in the corner and we were all joking about his ability to sleep through anything. I had begun feeling mild contractions at this point, and was using deep breathing exercises to work through them. I was sitting in a rocking chair and talking with my mom when there were what felt like two sharp blows to my pelvis, like someone punching me on the inside, and my water broke. Somewhere in this commotion, Dad woke up and we filled him in on all the fun he’d missed. It was then he kissed me goodbye and made his exit – the next part of the show wasn’t really his favorite (I love you, Dad!) I had no idea that those two jabs were going to be the start of the longest (and simultaneously quickest) hours of my life.
For those who have not experienced or never will experience labor, imagine having a bad stomach or gas cramp. Then imagine someone took that pain, applied it to all of your main internal organs from the lungs down, and squeezed them in a vice. It doesn’t do the pain justice, but it’s the closest I can come by. I couldn’t anticipate how quickly the contractions would ramp up – but they did. Rather than just breathing through them halfheartedly and being able to make some conversation, I found myself needing to close my eyes, center myself and really focus on how to get through the pain. Matt did a special compression exercise by squeezing my waist to help open up the pelvic area and my mom would tell me to grasp her hands as hard as I needed and remind me to breathe.
After what felt like only minutes, the weight of all of the pain and sleepless hours began to take their toll. Each contraction would start as a small clenching and then quickly broaden, full force, and last anywhere from only a few seconds to a minute or slightly longer, and then gradually ease off. I would collapse, half-asleep, as soon as I was able to stand it. I had no concept of time passing – only that it was. I didn’t know how long I was asleep. I only heard my mom telling me to rest, and then telling me when the next contraction was coming so I could throw myself out of my chair and stand or squat or lean across my hospital bed and breath and cry out through them. I never actually cried, but I did shout out in frustration to vent my pain. I was terrified of having to get back in bed to be examined or being stuck sitting down while contracting. I didn’t want to be caught without some outlet to work through them.
After what seemed like an eternity, I felt like I couldn’t go on any more. In a delirious state of exhaustion, I only had a vague idea of who was in the room. I remember my mom bathing my head with a washcloth, being fed ice chips off a fluorescent green spoon, having my lips smeared with chap stick… It was the second closest thing to an out-of-body experience that I’ve ever had. Finally I felt the slightest inclination to start pushing. I didn’t know what that meant exactly. It’s more of an instinct than anything, but I did know it would mean we were closer to the end than we had been all day and night thus far. With some hesitation, I crawled back up into bed so my doctor could check my dilation. We were set and ready to go.
Pushing, as many mothers will describe and agree with me, is probably the best part of an un-medicated labor. After hours and hours of seemingly endless contractions and pain and fear, you are suddenly handed an outlet for all your pain and frustration. While fighting labor pains is very difficult when you’re trying to remind yourself to work with your body, pushing allows you to actively do just that. It’s finally the time to have all the parts sync up and come together to do what you’ve been trying to do all along – bring a baby out into the world.
The downside of pushing is that you are required to put all of your earthly strength into attempting to move a baby down the birth canal in the time of your contractions. It doesn’t sound like such a challenge, but when you’ve been at it for an hour and you can’t feel your legs and you know your eyes are swollen shut, you might as well have been trying to push a concrete truck through a snow storm. It was hard not to start feeling hopeless – I kept pushing past the end of the contraction and then collapsing back on the table just wanting to quit. Our doctor pulled Matt aside at one point to let him know that it’s not unusual for first-time moms to push for anywhere from an hour to three hours. I think he was worried I was going to run out of steam. It was only by the grace and strength of God that I was able to keep going. I was so weak and shaky and exhausted – I felt like only a fraction of a human being.
Two hours passed, and the doctor and nurses started suggesting alternative positions and ideas for pushing. At one point, they had me try getting on my knees and holding on to the top of my hospital bed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep that up for very long. It was just too tiring to not have the support of the table. Seeing my weariness, it was also suggested I didn’t have to push and could just work through the contractions. That idea was very quickly thrown out when the pain came rushing back. I wanted to keep this baby moving, despite my own weakness. The longer I catered to my own needs, the longer it would take for it all to be over.
By the time we got to hour number three, both my doctor and I were very tired and running out of options. I was starting to think I was at the end of my rope. Everyone kept encouraging me to push down, push the baby out, keep her moving, but I just couldn’t seem to find where I was supposed to push. Baby’s head had been sighted, but she was stuck behind my pubic bone. Every contraction, we were supposed to be almost there and I would push for my life, and then the contraction would pass and I would wither, discouraged and worn out, feeling her slip back to where she was. The dreaded conversation began – what would we do if baby wouldn’t move? The doctor informed me he was calling the surgeon in to be on hand in case we needed to use vacuum suction to help the baby along since her head was swollen and stuck. Nervously, I inquired as to the option we would have to resort to if that didn’t work. Again, we brought up C-section. At this point, all I heard was “put her back where she came from and start all over.”
Something lit in my subconscious. In my fogged, delirious mind, I just needed to meet this baby. I was not going to have done all this hard work to then have to be cut open. With the next contraction, I pushed from some new center. Excited shouts of affirmation came from the end of the bed. I was doing it right – I was conquering labor. Matt, my mom, my doctor, the new nurse who joined us for the night shift, all of them were there cheering me on, holding me, feeding me ice, telling me that they finally all meant it – we were almost there. The worst part of the whole night came when the baby’s head was finally free, but I was forced to reduce my pushing so we could preserve the perineum and keep me from tearing. Blinding, white hot pain was all I knew, and it was almost unbearable. The gentle reassurances of my doctor kept me holding back – we had discussed this in our appointments and he was doing all he could to keep my body together. At long last, he told me I could be strong again, and in a flurry of plastic sheeting and surgical instruments, out came my sweet baby, squalling up a storm. Just like that, like we’d just started, our child was out in the open and ready to be cleaned up. After nine months of mystery, we finally knew that we had a daughter. A sweet baby girl.
My eyes were so swollen that I was seeing double, but as my baby was placed on my chest, I couldn’t believe how far we had come. One day, she was just a speck on an ultrasound and a line on a pregnancy test. Now suddenly, finally, she was a fully realized and fearfully and wonderfully made little human. Now at one month old, I’m watching her sleep in her bouncy seat as I type and all I can do is marvel at how beautiful she is. The best parts of Matt and I, brought together by love and created by a wonderfully loving and almighty Heavenly Father… all in the being of this tiny little girl.
26 hours of labor, 3 hours of pushing, and no medication for pain. By far, one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. And I couldn’t have done it without my beloved husband, my amazing mother, my wonderful doctor, the nurses and the support of all our family and friends.
We are so very blessed, and what a long journey it was. This is just the beginning of our adventure together!
Thank you so much for reading and for sharing my experience with me. Keep a look out for my next entry!