Saturday, April 13, 2013

Honest Story of a Natural Childbirth

*Disclaimer: This birth story was written as much for my own records as to share with others. Because of this, it is a graphic, unreserved description of labor and delivery. Ladies, you've been warned. Men, just quit reading now. ;)

Let me begin by saying that I was extremely blessed with a terrific childbirth experience. I'm still baffled as to why God chose to make it so easy for me, but the blessing was much appreciated and I am excited to share my story to encourage other primigravidas. If you want the cliff notes version, I woke up with contractions at 1 am, was admitted to the hospital at 4:40 am, and he was born at 6:17 am after just twenty minutes of pushing and no drugs. If you want the full story mode version, keep reading. It was a whirlwind experience, and this is as much of it as I remember.

The Real Deal Realization: Tuesday night, April 2nd, I was two days away from being 39 weeks pregnant. For the past week I'd seen normal signs of gradual effacement/dilation (spotting pink at the toilet). I was one centimeter dilated at my last three checkups and 50% - 70% effaced. I began feeling contractions about 8 pm which I assumed were Braxton Hicks since I had not had any of those yet. The contractions were uncomfortable, but I still went to bed about 10 pm and slept until 1 am when I could no longer sleep through them. I lied in bed awake for a while before I realized they seemed to be coming at regular intervals. I began timing the contractions with an app on my phone. They were coming about 5-6 minutes apart. That's when I finally began to think that maybe, MAYBE I'd have a baby by this time tomorrow. We had previously been told that since this was our first child and we lived close to the hospital, we could wait until the contractions were one minute apart to come in to the hospital. At 2:15 I got out of bed and sat on the exercise ball at the dining table making padscicles and perineum spray-- a task I'd been putting off but really wanted to get done before James arrived. The contractions felt much easier on the ball instead of lying down or standing because I could gently rock my hips around to get through them. I went to the bathroom and concluded that what I saw could only be the "bloody show" I'd read about that comes before labor. With the contractions also slowly increasing in frequency, I knew this was the real deal.

Plenty of Time, Right? I woke Bryan up at 3:30 telling him he'd have to take me to the hospital tonight. He just squinted up at me, "Why?" Then he smiled, "I know why..." Still thinking we would wait until the contractions were one minute apart to leave, I told him he had time to shave, shower, and get ready to go. I got ready to go myself, putting on some Depends underwear in case my water broke, and resumed making padscicles on the exercise ball. By the time Bryan shaved and got out of the shower, I was unable to perform any task during a contraction. All of my faculties were focused on concentrating through the pain. Even though the contractions were three minutes apart, I told him we'd leave as soon as he got dressed. I still didn't think I was close to delivery, but I reasoned that by the time we got to the hospital they might be one minute apart, and I didn't know if I'd be able to move at all if we waited much longer.

Well That Escalated Quickly: I made it from my ball at the dining table to the car in our garage with only one stop to wait out a contraction. The hospital was in sight when I felt the first gush of my water breaking. Thankfully the Depends did their job and kept my pants and seat dry! Since it was after hours, we went to the ER. I had to stop again just outside the entrance to wait one out. Bryan said the people behind the ER desk were just sitting there watching us while we stood in the street for a minute. "Labor and delivery?" they asked when we finally got inside. Uh... yeah. They brought me a wheelchair and took me across campus to the maternity wing where we entered "triage", the exam rooms where nurses assess your need for a delivery room or send you home. At this point I got in the hospital gown and forfeited my contraction-timing phone to Bryan. By this time they were two minutes apart and increasing in intensity. The nurses were asking a lot of questions which I had very few windows of opportunity to answer since I couldn't speak during contractions. And when I was able to speak, half of the time was spent correcting the wrong information Bryan had given them. Finally they checked my dilation and I was at 9 cm. Suddenly they took me very seriously. "Don't push!" the triage nurse said, "I don't want to deliver that baby." I remember someone popping their head in the room and asking if I wanted an epidural, and I was able to say no. Knowing that I was already 9cm was a huge encouragement -- maybe that meant I wouldn't have to endure eight more hours of increasingly worse pain! Back to the wheelchair and they sped me off to a delivery room. I realized much later when I opened the door to leave our room that I had no idea how I'd gotten there and needed Bryan's directions to get me back out to the lobby.

In the Zone: Somehow I got from the wheelchair to the delivery bed. When the nurses realized I also had back pain during the contractions, they showed Bryan where and how to apply counter-pressure and that was a great aid in providing some relief. They continued asking me basic questions trying to complete my check-in, which they never fully finished until after delivery. At one point they asked me to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten. This was the worst pain I'd ever experienced, but it was still manageable and I still fully expected it to get a lot worse. I rated it a seven. The nurses acted impressed, but I assumed it was just their job to act impressed with every laboring woman. During contractions I would clench my fists, close my eyes tight, focus on steady breathing, and see the numbers in my head of my phone's contraction timer counting the seconds away. Between contractions I focused on slow deep breathing and relaxing all my muscles. They tried putting an IV in my arm, but they were only successful in making a bruise 3.5" long since they couldn't find a vein, so they resorted to a vein in my hand instead and began pumping fluids into me. I was grateful for this because my mouth was parched but I was too "in the zone" to ask for ice chips. I wondered at times if I was going to pass out because I felt so dehydrated and so in and out of everything. This is where my memory gets blurry, so the next few bits may not be in chronological order. I know at one point they wanted me to lie down on the bed but I shook my head No because that sounded a lot more painful than sitting up. They attached a squatting bar at the end of the bed which I tried using, but was too weak to support myself. I told them it was getting hard not to push with the contractions, as the urge was almost involuntary at this point. I consented to lie down so they could check me again and I was 9 cm "with just a little lip" which I assume meant "she's close enough". Finally the on-call doctor arrived, laid out an impressive spread of instruments beside her and told me I could push.

Pop! Pop! (No Fizz), Oh What A Relief It Is! "PushPushPushPushPush!" The nurse at my left ear seemed to take as few stops for breath as me during the pushing contractions. The other nurses kept saying what a great job I was doing, but I didn't really believe them -- again, this was something they say to all women in labor, right? Bryan's shoulder was readily available on my right side to collapse onto between contractions. He told me later he'd completely lost feeling in his hand from keeping counter-pressure on my back. "PushPushPushPushPush!" This is all still a blur in my memory. I recall parts of it, like the doctor saying James' heart rate was dropping too much so they put the OR on standby. But then, "baby must've heard that" because his heart rate jumped back up. I think they mentioned having the OR on standby to motivate me to better pushing, but at this point I was exhausted beyond belief and the OR sounded like a nice alternative. I felt like all my pushing was accomplishing zilch, but apparently he was close to delivery each time, but receded when the pushing contraction stopped. I heard something about a vacuum to help him out. Bryan later filled me in on the rest... the doctor used a handheld suction pump which she attached to James' head when it became visible to her. I pushed, she pulled, and Pop! the suction cup popped off and baby receded. Next contraction I pushed, she pulled, and Pop! the suction cup popped off again. Doctor said she could only try this one more time because three times was their limit on the vacuum device. This time I pushed, she pulled, and the head came out! Finally my pushing felt productive! The rest of his body followed quickly, and I never in my life knew true relief until that moment.

Rock Star Mom: It was 6:17 am, roughly an hour and a half since arriving at the hospital at 4:40. James was screaming right away, got a quick wipe down from the nurses, then held in front of me as Bryan cut the cord. The placenta came out, and I was still reeling from a strange combination of exhaustion, adrenaline, and relief when they handed me my crying baby boy. I learned later that here I missed the most special part of the morning -- Bryan said he started crying, too when he saw me holding James for the first time. I was just in awe that THIS is what had been inside me. I asked the doctor if I had torn, and she said I had a second degree tear that was long but not deep and she proceeded to stitch me up. Throughout the morning, three different nurses asked me at different times if we'd taken any childbirth classes like Lamaze, Bradley, etc. (we hadn't). One of them seemed satisfied when she learned I'd been doing yoga. Later one of the nurses told me I was "the rock star of the floor" because I had given birth without being induced or using any pain relievers. Pretty sure I was beaming after being told that. I had three incentives for wanting a natural childbirth: to save money, for optimal health benefits for baby & me, and to impress Bryan. Overall, labor and delivery was hard work, but not nearly as painful as I expected. At no point did I regret refusing the epidural, and at no point did I feel like the pain was beyond what I could endure. Even during the pushing, I kept expecting the pain to worsen but it never did. If I was the rock star mom, James was the rock star baby. 7 lb 4 oz, 20 inches long. Great complexion, no jaundice, a covering of dark hair on his head, and quick to learn the art of nursing even before the lactation consultant visited us. I saw his first dimpled smile while nursing at the hospital, and he actually started sleeping through the night regularly (6 hrs) before he was even a week old.

That's our story. I will definitely attempt a natural childbirth with future children, and there are two things that I advise my future self and other expecting moms to help facilitate that goal: 1) Stay active during pregnancy -- I was jogging 6-9 miles a week up until the eighth month and doing weekly aerobic yoga up to his birth.  2) Drink red raspberry leaf tea daily during the last trimester, supplementing with red raspberry leaf capsules at 36 weeks. Those are the two things I did that research suggests may ease the pain and shorten the labor. I was about to start taking evening primrose oil pills, but I only took one pill before he was born (two days prior, so I can't really say it contributed anything). Right now I'm REALLY enjoying not being pregnant anymore and falling in love with the new little man in my life. Good luck to all future mamas reading this! I hope your experience will be as positive and easy as my own!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Primigravida aka, Noob

At my very first prenatal appointment the clinic confirmed that those pee tests were not lying and I was indeed making a baby. "Since this is your first pregnancy, we refer to you as a primigravida." Basically, they were using a big word to call me a pregnant noob. Bryan and I are ready for this new chapter to begin. We have no fears or big anxieties about being parents or caring for a baby (thanks in large part to 18 nieces/nephews and my 7 months as a full-time nanny), but we cannot deny that we are, in fact, noobs.

Expectations: I always knew I'd have miserable pregnancies because my squeamish morning stomach has given me many episodes of "morning sickness" throughout my adult life. I was wrong. This pregnancy has been (surprisingly) very easy for me. I am currently in the third trimester at 7 months and have yet to encounter any of the usual pregnancy villains, ie: morning sickness, heartburn, constipation, crazy emotions, swollen extremities, or varicose veins. However, I did not escape some fatigue during the first tri (apparently making a placenta saps all your energy), and although my desire for sweets declined in those first weeks, I never got to experience any strong food cravings/aversions.

Milestones: Despite going to bed about an hour earlier every night, everything felt completely normal for the first several weeks. I kept up my regular jogging 3-4 miles 3-4 times a week and my regular weekly aerobic yoga class. At 10 weeks pregnant, certain twisting yoga moves made me aware of a small, immovable rock in my stomach, although no visible bump had yet emerged. At 12 weeks Bryan and I could see a little bump. At 13 weeks I ran the One Heart for Justice 5k. At 15 weeks the bump was visible to others, and a week later I adopted some alternate yoga moves because I could no longer lie flat on my stomach. Although my first ultrasound at 9 weeks showed the little guy heart-beating and limb-twitching like a pro, it wasn't until around 18 weeks that I began to feel the little flutters of his movement. Intermittent flutters quickly turned into regular full-on pokes. At 19 weeks--about 5 months--we had the big ultrasound...

Well, Hello there! This ultrasound was much more in-depth than the first one. At 9 wks he was just a vaguely baby-shaped blob. Now, just ten weeks later, the same technology showed distinct bones and features. We were impressed enough by that, but then the technician switched to 4D imaging and we were in awe. My bump was still not very big at this point, but that image showed an actual living, moving human being in there. We always knew there was a fetus in that bump, but now there was a face. A perfect little face on the monitor moving his arms and legs and even stretching his lips to grin at us. We told the technician we wanted her to seal the gender image in an envelope and not tell us what it said. We told her our plans to give the envelope to my sister who was planning a gender reveal baby shower for us. Our technician had the brilliant idea to prepare two envelopes--one that showed the baby's gender, and one that showed the baby's legs crossed where the gender was undetectable. Brilliant. We gave my sister the fake envelope first and let her suffer for a couple hours thinking that they could not determine a gender before giving her the real envelope. At the shower we found out it was a boy, and we announced that his name would be James Alan.

The Alien Inside: I kept trying to get Bryan to feel James kick, but the movements would stop anytime he placed a hand on the bump. Finally at 23 weeks Bryan felt the kicks. He immediately spoke of the movie Alien, saying he half expected something to tear out of my stomach like the alien did to Sigourney Weaver's character. About the same time we began to actually see the kicks, too. I try to play with James and poke back where he's poking me. These days he moves quite often sticking his bum up and stretching his legs out and somersaulting about. They're nice little reminders that he's doing ok in there.

Annoyances: Ever since my bump became visible, it has felt 10x bigger at night when I move from one side to another. I've been sleeping great except those moments when the chore of turning over the bump briefly wakes me up. I started having some back pain in the second tri despite my continued exercising, and my bladder might as well be as big as James'. I can't jog as fast or as far as I used to go. I have to sit down to put on shoes. In yoga my arms struggle to support my increasing body weight and my bump resists any twisting movements. I'm at or below average on all the weight gain charts, but I feel huge and I've already been asked if I'm sure it's not twins. Although I feel extremely blessed that these are the only things I can complain about so far, I fully expect these discomforts to continue getting worse as I progress. At just 7 months pregnant, I'm already ready to not be pregnant anymore. I can't wait to feel and move like my normal self again.  **Edit: 9 mos pregnant now, and thanks to a new memory foam mattress my back pain has improved and I'm still sleeping through the night! I stopped jogging in the 8th month when I began to feel pressure on my pelvic floor, but I can still do most of the moves in our weekly yoga class. My ankles finally began swelling just in the last few days before James was born.

Nursery: Who knew that preparing a room for a baby came with such high expectations? I blame Pinterest for making everyone (including myself) expect a complete HGTV-style room makeover full of unique and special ensembles and color schemes that would make any interior designer proud. I've heard of pregnant women experiencing "nesting urges" when they want to prepare their home with every possible practical comfort for the baby. I'm still waiting for those nesting urges to kick in. I managed to paint our nursery room a nice charcoal color, but that's it. The grand ideas in my head are quickly giving way to the cheaper, easier alternative of just keeping the existing wall art and window treatments. It's kind of a mess in there too, with a half-assembled crib, disassembled changing table, and a glider piled with baby gifts. But hey, we've still got about 13 weeks and that's plenty of time, right? Right??

Looking Ahead: Last week the hospital called to pre-register me for delivery. That was a shock. Surely they had me confused with one of those other Sara Andersons, because it was way too soon for them to be calling ME about that. I went home that day and watched several YouTube videos about labor and delivery. Then I got on the treadmill and jogged a while just to feel strong again. I'm not really nervous about childbirth because I know it's what my body is made to do and I know whatever happens, it will all be over in about 24 hours. (I'm more nervous about regaining my figure afterwards!) But like any sane woman, I just dread enduring those 24 or so hours. (And the following 2-6 weeks of postpartum downers.) I'm not opposed to using drugs or epidurals during childbirth, but I will try to deny them if I can. I just keep thinking about all the women in history--so many less fit in body and mind than me--that have had natural childbirths. Even our Lord's sweet young mother gave birth in a stable without any medication or even a midwife. (And I'm sure well-meaning Joseph was not much real help.) But I may warmly invite the wonders of modern medicine when I actually experience the pains of intense contractions first-hand. We'll see. I do know that when it's all over we're going to bring home a tiny person who looks a lot like Bryan and colors our lives with vibrant hues we never knew existed. In the words of C.S. Lewis, "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."