Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Birth Story (but seriously, if you don't enjoy people's birth stories, skip this post)

People kept sending me birth stories before our little girl was born. Frankly, either they made me nauseous or they made me bored. I just don't enjoy reading birth stories. Or at least I didn't before I experienced birth myself. Maybe I would enjoy reading about birth now. I haven't had time to test this since Irene was born.

I still can't believe, in some ways, that our family of two is now a family of three. I can't believe that this little person I gave birth to is her own separate entity. She has her own birth certificate and her own health insurance card. Tomorrow it will be exactly one month from when Irene Samantha was born. I cannot believe that much time has passed. It's been a blur of bottles of milk becoming breastfeeding, stomachs full of milk becoming laps full of milk, clean crisp diapers becoming soggy stinky diapers, and storms of tears becoming cautious smiles as I gradually begin to think, 'Hey, I could maybe do this parenting thing.'

Anyway, the birth story. By mid-August I was sincerely ready for the baby to be born. No matter that we were still packing up to move and wouldn't be moving until August 30, I wanted this baby out. People kept telling me that it would be easier to move with the baby still inside me, but secretly I thought, It's one baby. I corralled 25 6-year-olds for 7 hours a day all of last year. How much more work could one eensy-weensy baby be? So I went on praying for the baby to come early.

On the night of Thursday, August 28, I was awakened periodically by what I thought were just strong Braxton-Hicks contractions. Only I wasn't sure they were Braxton-Hicks because 1) they were waking me up and my other Braxton-Hicks hadn't done that and 2) they kind of hurt a little all throughout my pelvic area.

I woke up Friday morning thinking, Today's the day! We are having this baby today! I texted my friend Esther who was going to come along to assist with the labor and delivery. She said that was great, but it could really still be a few days yet. I deleted her text and pretended we'd never had that text-conversation.

But she was right. I didn't go into labor on Friday. Mark and I went for a long walk by a nearby lake to try to bounce the baby out. No luck. Friday night, however, I had more strong Braxton-Hicks, which I began to tentatively call contractions. They woke me up every 15 minutes to an hour. By Saturday morning, having not slept soundly between contractions I was a little bit crabby and I felt more uncomfortable all over, like I just wanted to step out of my body and take a break from it for a while. I texted Esther again with an update and again she cautioned me that labor could still be days away. I cried.

Mark did his best to distract me. Though we had been packing for weeks already, (Okay, Mark had been packing for weeks. I had been napping on the couch for weeks.) Mark stepped up his packing speed. I don't remember what I did on Saturday. Probably moped around the apartment wishing the baby would decide to be born already. We went out for lunch to celebrate our 5-year anniversary with Mark's parents and sister and brother-in-law. I was still crabby and continued to get contractions throughout our meal and time with them. I think someone (who shall remain nameless) made a light-hearted comment about contractions and I kind of wanted to smack them.

Mark and I watched a movie in the evening and then headed to bed. Almost the minute I lay down the contractions picked up in speed. We had turned out the light and within 10 minutes I felt the sharp tug throughout my abdomen. I wasn't going to bother Mark yet, but when I got contractions like clockwork for the next 30 minutes I poked him and told him we needed to start timing. We timed contractions and I texted Esther for the next two hours. By midnight the contractions were about 5 minutes apart. We called the hospital and were told to wait until the contractions were 3 minutes apart consistently for at least an hour. Mark and I played cribbage. We called my sister Abby (who wanted to come observe the labor and delivery) to tell her to be on standby. By 12:30 the contractions were 3 minutes apart. At 1:30, we packed up and headed to the hospital. I remember watching the city stream by us, breathing deeply and thinking that if this is all labor was it was a piece of cake. These contractions were a little painful but totally manageable.

Upon arriving at the hospital I was admitted and then brought to a triage room. This practice kind of makes me feel like the hospital is saying, "You think you're in labor? Prove it." Monitors were strapped around my belly and my contractions were monitored for the next 30 minutes. My doctor, who happened to be at the hospital that night anyway, came in, looked at my contractions on paper, and said, "Nice looking contractions. This is what labor feels like, Hillary! I think we'll keep you." And thus, I passed the triage room test. When I got up from the bed to move to my labor/delivery room, we all realized my water had probably just broken too. Enough said.

Despite the contractions. I was excited. We called Esther and Abby to let them know we had passed the triage room test and that they could come whenever. By 3:30 both of them had arrived. We got comfy in Room 7 and then went for a walk around the maternity ward. By 4:30 I felt loopy with exhaustion. We all settled down for a nap.  I woke up at 5:30 and realized my contractions had all but stopped. I almost didn't want to tell anyone. I think I was subconsciously afraid I'd get a response like, "You lied to us?" or maybe "You thought you were really in labor? You wimp! That wasn't labor! Obviously, since your 'contractions,' as you called them, have disappeared."

Needless to say, that was not the reaction I received, but my doctor did say that he was surprised since my water had broken and my contractions were so strong and close. He also told me that if my contractions hadn't returned by 9:30 that morning I would have to start a pitocin drip to help them along. He said that since my water had broken they couldn't send me home and we had to get that baby out within about 24 hours.

I was upset. I hate IVs. I had hoped to be able to move about freely throughout labor and delivery and did not, under any circumstances, want to be attached to a trolley of IV bags. Between 5:30 and 9:30 we tried everything we could think of to stimulate contractions: walking, stepping up and down off of a footstool, lying down, eating, and even thumb sucking. All to no avail however, because by 9:30 a pair of nurses came into my room with the dreaded trolley to get me hooked up. It hurt (more than the contractions, in my opinion) and I was frustrated. I cried harder than I can remember crying in recent history. However, it was done, I was attached, and I did my best to stop thinking about it and get on to the business of labor.

Thanks to my doctor's sensitivity to patient desires, he started me on a very, very small amount of pitocin so that my body wouldn't be slammed with strong contractions and I wouldn't be tempted to give in to taking pain medications. There's not much to say about that Sunday other than that we gradually increased the pitocin drip throughout the day until it was ten times its starting amount. It was a long, very boring day, not at all what I expected my labor to be like.

Because my contractions had disappeared after a nap, I was afraid to go back to sleep that day. I was beginning to be afraid that the baby would never come out, but when I voiced this fear to my doctor, he said, "Oh, don't worry. Your contractions will come back, I promise."

He was right, though. By 9:30 that evening the contractions were back, coming about 6 minutes apart. They were stronger than my contractions of the night before. The contractions of the night before were like playful rib pokes and these were like a clothes wringer. In any case, I spent a lot of time leaning over an exercise ball (dubbed a 'birth ball' when it comes into a maternity ward). I couldn't sit down. I could lean over the ball, I could rest on my knees, or if I wanted to torture myself I could lay down on my side, but I couldn't imagine sitting.

I can't remember when the contractions intensified, but by about 11:30, I guess, I had entered the transition phase of labor, where contractions are mere minutes apart and so intense that it feels like your body is being ripped in half from the inside out at each tightening. My memories of the next two and a half hours are hazy. I remember being drenched with sweat, shaking, and losing consciousness briefly between each contraction at points. (Honestly, I think I was just tired from not getting a decent night of sleep for the past two nights.) Because I was so exhausted, Esther kept offering me honey and I kept trying to refuse. Abby tried to shove spoonfuls of ice in my mouth, which I accepted. According to Abby afterwards, the things I would say during this time were right out of the book for the transition phase: "I can't do this anymore." "Just give me a C-section." I think I petitioned everyone in the room with me at one point or another to let me have a C-section. Needless to say, no one took my request seriously.

I spent most of the transition phase on my knees, leaning over the back of the elevated hospital bed. I felt like I couldn't move in between contractions. Really, any position hurt, but the idea of moving was overwhelming. Toward the end, a bath was drawn for me and I spent about 15 minutes in the tub. The contractions were a tiny bit less intense in the tub. In an effort to help me relax, someone came in with battery-powered tea lights and set them around the tub. It was a nice gesture, but I think if I had had the energy, I would have flicked them off the edge of the tub one by one. Compared to contraction pain they felt kind of pointless.

After a little while Esther came in and said, "Hillary, Erin [the nurse] thinks that the reason you haven't moved from transition to pushing yet is because the baby's head isn't engaged properly. She thinks we need to get you to have contractions in different positions. When the contractions get more intense or painful then we'll know that we're on the right track." My brain had stopped on 'more painful' and couldn't move forward. "I can't do it, Esther," I said. "I just want a C-section."

But somehow I found myself out of the tub a little later having contractions laying on my side, first my left and then my right, with a peanut between my legs.

This kid would NOT be smiling if he had had contractions around this peanut.
I only had one or two contractions on each side. By the contractions on the right side, I suddenly felt a strong need to push. Esther says I said to her, "This is it!" I don't remember that, but I do remember saying, "I have to push! Let me push!"

Pretty soon I found myself on my knees on the bed again, pushing. Compared to transition, the pushing was easy-peasy. It was mildly uncomfortable and a lot of work, but any pain I felt didn't seem like pointless pain, like during transition. I pushed for about 55 minutes, periodically asking, "Can you see her yet?!" Like during transition, I was so exhausted. I was drenched in sweat and shaking, but it was nice to have a crowd of nurse, doctor, Mark, Esther and Abby cheering me on to push. And after all that pushing, pretty soon, I felt the strangest shlooping sensation, and the baby was out, along with a whole lot of fluids.

Someone helped me turn around and sit down and the baby was put right on my chest. She cried a few little cries and then just fussed. Holding her felt so surreal. She didn't look human: all gray-colored from birth and covered in the white clay-like vernix. The doctor asked, "What's her name?" I looked at Mark (because we had two choices for names) and said, "The first choice?" He agreed, and I said, "Her name is Irene Samantha!"

Pretty soon she turned pink. After a few minutes Mark was given some scissors had got to cut her umbilical cord. The doctor stitched up where I had torn during labor, but I hardly noticed. We basically spent the next hour staring at Irene. I nursed her for the first time. I couldn't believe that after all the craziness of birth she could think about eating.

We are so thankful for our little Irene Samantha. Irene means 'peace' and our prayer is that she will come to know the peace of Christ. Samantha means 'the Lord hears,' and we are thankful that God heard our prayers for a baby and answered them with a 'yes.' We are excited to get to know our little Irene Samantha. Even though the last month has had its share of parenting challenges, we are still loving our little girl and I'm still marveling at the miracle (and hard work) that birth is.

Irene, a few hours old.

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