Monday, March 14, 2016

Our Birth Story

Little Jonah will be 2 weeks old tomorrow, and I can't believe time has passed by so quickly. I am sure that because so much time has gone by I have forgotten little details and feelings and that my perspective on the experience has changed, but I will try to write as close to what I remember as possible. (And now as I finally finish, he is almost 3 weeks old--it's amazing how little time I have with two hands free to type!)

Skip down to the * * * if you just want the labor story and not everything leading up to it. 

Michael and I prepared for Jonah's birth with the help of my aunt, Heather Zemp. She is a Hypnobirthing instructor and has had three of her own natural Hypnobirths. I had originally asked her to educate me because I wanted to feel prepared in the case that something did not go as I had planned and I would have to do the birth naturally. But the theory of Hypnobirthing really required us to be totally committed--I could do this naturally because that was the way my body and the baby's body was designed. I did not need to feel pain; pain was just a cultural response to birth. I am a self-proclaimed wimp (I have passed out over plain old menstrual cramps), so I had my doubts, but Heather helped me to feel that with Michael and with enough preparation, I really could handle this. It would be manageable.

I had been feeling Braxton Hicks contractions, or practice surges in Hypnobirthing speak, at least several times a day through the last few weeks of my pregnancy. But things were moving very slowly. I had quit my job so that I would have 2 weeks before my due date to get our last minute items on our to-do list done, and once I wasn't working anymore I felt like the baby could arrive any time. Even so, I felt relatively calm and in little rush to get him here up until my due date, February 15th. That day had a curse on it; magically I was no longer content with being pregnant. I was frustrated, feeling huge, and having to pee every three minutes (at least it felt like that).

On February 11th, I was dilated to a 2, and on February 18th I had a doctor's appointment in the afternoon with the nurse practitioner, Ashley. I was surprised when Dr. Rawson came in with her and said that there were both sugar and protein in my urine sample and he was going to send me over to the hospital to do a non-stress test even though my blood pressure was normal. I had eaten 3 or 4 waffles that morning with some very sugary syrup that we had made the day before, so I knew why I had sugar in my urine--whoops. But Michael and I spent the rest of the afternoon at the hospital watching the monitors that showed my contractions and the baby's heartbeat. It took several hours, but I didn't feel at all concerned.

I lost my mucus plug on Friday, the 19th, and spent many hours walking over the next couple of days, going to museums downtown and around the neighborhood. The next Monday, February 22nd, I had yet another appointment. I was dilated to a 4 and was 80% effaced, and baby was at a +1 station. Knowing that those painless surges were actually doing good work was very encouraging; I started thinking that maybe labor really could be a painless experience. Dr. Rawson stripped my membranes again, and this time felt very different from the last; I had to do some deep breathing. Before we left, Dr. Rawson said he would be very surprised if the baby didn't come on his own in the next day or two. We made an appointment for the 24th, hoping that he could strip my membranes for the last time, I would go into labor, and I would have a baby before he was off-call for the weekend. Ashley had scheduled a medical induction at my previous appointment for the 24th, but Dr. Rawson was okay with moving it to the 29th with hopes of not needing that appointment. When I went to bed, those Braxton Hicks were 20 minutes apart, but still not painful.

* * *

On Tuesday, February 23rd, I made eight freezer meals, cleaned the house again, and felt frustrated. I wrote in my journal, "We watched the final episode of Parks & Rec that we were saving until labor--maybe I've given up hope of having a baby ever? :) " I had planned on watching that episode in the early stage of labor to keep me distracted. While we were watching, I wasn't feeling great and felt maybe a little bit crampy, but I just attributed it to being tired and ornery about still being pregnant.

We went to bed about 10:00PM (I think), but I was waking up every fifteen minutes or so to a strong cramp. I thought this might be the beginning of labor, but I had read in books and on blogs that you want to rest as much as you can at the beginning of labor, especially if it is in the middle of the night. So I fell as asleep as I could get between contractions and started timing them on my phone around midnight. They were 15 minutes apart and between 30 seconds and one minute apart--not at all consistent--but they were definitely uncomfortable. Around 1:00AM, I stopped timing them because they were so far apart and not long enough, but by 2:00 I was getting overwhelmed. I knew labor could last for many, many hours, especially with a first baby, and I wasn't sure that I could make it through a whole day of these very uncomfortable contractions. I was trying to breathe through them like I had been practicing, which did help some, but I didn't think I could handle much more intensity or continuing for any long period of time. This brought on stressed-out tears, and I woke Michael up for moral support.

It was at this point that I was no longer able to sleep between contractions, and I felt the time warp of active labor taking over. I stayed in bed with Michael for about an hour, though, trying to rest while he took charge of using my phone to time the contractions and the time between each of them. It felt like I had to pee with just about every contraction, so I spent several contractions on the toilet. I tried sitting on the birthing ball, kneeling on the floor with my elbows and chest on the bed, hanging from Michael's neck while circling my hips, but nothing relieved the intensity. Michael seemed very calm and collected; as we were preparing I had been a little bit worried that I would be annoyed by his trying to help, but in the moment I only ever felt that he helped me to focus and relax. When I started freaking out, he forced me to breathe and to look into his eyes while he told me to be "loose and limp" and that I was "calm and confident," which are phrases from the Hypnobirthing affirmations. He always did exactly what I needed him to do.

I don't know if it was Michael or me who suggested getting in the shower or the tub, but we ended up deciding not to yet--we were going to save that for later on. Michael went to the garage to turn up the water heater, though, so that there would be plenty of hot water when I decided to get in. Then things started moving really quickly. I threw up two or three times and I began shaking between contractions, which I could tell made Michael very nervous. My hands also started feeling numb and tingly, which felt how they do usually before I pass out. At this point, I was in the bathroom, and Michael said it was time to go to the hospital; apparently contractions had been between three and four minutes apart for about an hour. Had I not had him to tell me what to do, I don't think I would have ever made it to the hospital because I was so out of it even between contractions. I could tell that Michael's energy was very elevated. I had the suitcase packed at the foot of our bed, but we hadn't yet packed the daily things like toothbrushes, makeup, deodorant, etc., so Michael was running around trying to get everything into the suitcase very quickly. Every once in a while I would think of something else we needed and send him running again. He grabbed a jacket for me and tennis shoes, and I distinctly remember that it took me a significant amount of brain power to tell him I couldn't put on tennis shoes right then and to get me some sandals.

We got in the car, and I couldn't imagine sitting down, so I knelt in the back seat with my arms resting on the back, next to the little black car seat that would soon have this little person in it. I guess it was then that I realized we hadn't let my parents know that things were happening. My mom had told me several times that she didn't want to just get a call saying that we were on our way to the hospital, and here I was calling her and telling her that we were on our way to the hospital. I just hadn't been sure that anything real was happening, and by the time it was real I was not thinking about getting in contact with anyone. I called at 4:06AM. She told me to tell Michael to send her texts every once in a while to let her know how things were going, but he was so focused on me that he didn't do that either. (We actually both got texts at 10:15AM saying, "I'm dying!! I need to know you are okay! Please send a text or anything." Sorry, Mom!). When I got off the phone with her, I finally turned on the Hypnobirthing Affirmations track and moaned through several contractions. It felt like Michael was zooming around corners, and I asked him to slow down when turning several times, I'm sure because my muscles were trying to do something other than keep me upright when taking the turns. It was surreal watching Rayford Road pass by through the back window, and it felt like it was going to take forever to get to the hospital. Luckily, though, I think we hit just about every green light and it only took about 15 minutes to get to the hospital from our house.

I probably had two or three contractions while we were walking from the parking lot to the Control Station in the Labor and Delivery ward. We saw a few people walking through the halls, most of whom asked if I wanted a wheelchair, and I am not sure if it was the fact that I had an audience and wanted to look strong or if the walking really was a huge help, but walking through the contractions actually felt way easier than staying still (and sitting down sounded like torture). I didn't expect myself to be so vocal during labor, but I think right about the time I woke Michael up I started loud, low moans, probably about three per contraction. Walking through the halls of the hospital, though, I feel like the contractions were more manageable and I was much more quiet--I'll have to check with Michael on that, though. Michael got me checked in at the Control Station at 4:30AM. They made me get on a scale (really, you need to weigh me right now?) but I was in the middle of a contraction when they asked me to get on; I was going to step on, but Michael stopped me and said, "She's in the middle of a contraction. We'll wait just a minute." Finally, we were escorted back to a triage room pretty quickly where they had me change into a hospital gown and get on a bed to be checked. I definitely did not love having someone stick their hand up into the place where I was trying very hard to relax. We were told that I was dilated to a 6 or 7 and the baby was at a 2- station, which was disheartening because at my last appointment Dr. Rawson said he was much lower, at a 1+ station.

It was at this point that both the doctor and the nurse, if I remember correctly, asked if I wanted an epidural. I want to say that this was the most difficult part of labor, or at least one of the top three difficult moments. If I was going to get an epidural, this was my chance. If I said no, it was going to be too late to request one. I looked at Michael and just started bawling, and then asked him, "Do I want one?" I honestly don't remember him saying anything and I don't remember answering the doctor or the nurse; it seemed to me that the decision was made by not answering their question. Looking back, if Michael had even seemed to entertain the idea of an epidural, a natural labor and delivery would have been over for me; I relied on him so heavily to keep me on track and motivated.

A nurse handed me a sheet to hold around my backside and she guided us to our room. They had to get me started on antibiotics right away because I had tested positive for Group B Strep bacteria in my urine about halfway through my pregnancy, but apparently they were having problems getting me admitted (still not sure what the problem was), so they put in the IV without the antibiotic at first. They also put the monitors around my belly and needed me to sign some documents (I have no idea what I signed), and I had to lay on the bed through a couple of contractions. Michael suggested trying to walk around, but they were still monitoring contractions and the baby's heartbeat, so the nurse suggested sitting on a birthing ball next to the monitor. I tried that for a very short time and must not have liked it much, because very soon I was back up on the bed.

Sometime between about 5:30 and 6:00AM the nurse checked me again and told us that I was at a 9 and my amniotic sac was bulging. Michael and I looked at each other and both started crying; the relief and release of doubt was so tangible. "I can do this! We're almost there!" That was the first time I have ever seen Michael cry, and at that point I realized how emotional and overwhelming this experience was for him as well.

I am not sure what prompted the nurse to do that check, if I had said that I felt like I wanted to push or if that feeling came shortly after. Regardless, I started having the intense urge to push, and every time I said so I prompted another vaginal check by my nurse, Jennyfer. I felt like she was pushy, but I met her again the day after Jonah was born and she did not seem that way at all, so I think I probably just felt that in the intensity of the moment. Apparently I had a little lip on my cervix that could tear if I started pushing before it got out of the way. Jennyfer said they were going to break my water so that things would move along and I could start pushing, and I was just going to go along with it, but Michael stopped me and said, "Is that what you want?" Oh, right. No. It was not. So we kept moving positions, turning on my sides, getting up on my knees to try to get that lip out of the way; it felt like it was never going to move, so about a half an hour later (I believe), we asked them to break my water. Later, when I was pushing, Jennyfer told us that the bag of waters was actually pushing the cervix open, so when they broke the water and the pressure was not there anymore, I actually went back to an 8. We could not have known that, but it was a reminder to me that my body knew what it was doing, and it probably would have been better to just let it proceed naturally.

Around then, Michael asked me if I wanted to try getting out of bed, but before I could answer Jennyfer said, "I'm not going to let you do that. I don't want this baby falling out onto the floor." At about 6:30 or 6:45, Jennyfer said that she thought I could push through the lip without there being a problem, and she started telling me how she wanted me to push--holding my breath and directing all my energy toward my bottom, "like you are taking the biggest poop of your life." I had forgotten all about Birth Breathing, but luckily Michael again stepped in and said, "Is that how you want to do it?" Oh. Again. No. I want to try something else. I was trying to push the baby down with my breath like I had read about, and I tried for some time, but it didn't feel like it was doing anything. And the nurses kept saying, "If you want to have this baby, you NEED to hold your breath and stop making so much noise. You're wasting all of that energy and intensity." Birth Breathing did not last very long before I finally started pushing like they told me to. They told me to wait until the peak of the contraction and then go hard. I could feel my body getting incredibly tense with each push, which is something that Hypnobirthing teaches you to avoid at all costs, but I did not feel like I could relax while pushing. I especially noticed how sore my calves were once my feet were up in the stirrups.

7:00AM brought a shift change, and Jennyfer was replaced by sweet Thao. She had a much calmer presence, and I felt more at ease with her. She held and stroked my right leg as I pushed (which, I'm now realizing had not been shaved in probably about a month), told me how well I was doing, and was much more gentle when and asked my permission (or at least warned me) before she checked me. Michael, too, kept me focused. There were times when I felt totally out of control--the image I have in my mind is a horse that whips its head back and forth with crazy eyes--that Michael forcefully said my name, made me look in his eyes, and reminded me to breathe and relax. He was always right by my side, completely focused on what we were doing. In the weeks leading up to baby, Michael had been a little obsessed with the NBA basketball season (the Warriors and Jimmer Fredette, specifically) and I had some visions of him watching basketball clips while I was laboring, but I had not needed to worry about something like that happening at all.

Dr. Rawson had come in at several points while we were laboring in our room. He has a very calm demeanor, and he was willing to let things happen the way we wanted them to. I remember him sitting quietly on a stool near the door for several minutes at a time, going in and out of the room a couple of times between 5:30 and 7:00AM, so when he finally started suiting up with gloves and gown I knew we were really close. The nurses told me that for this last part, I needed to get on my back for the doctor, and though we had talked to Dr. Rawson about delivering in a different position, potentially squatting, I didn't care enough to argue about it. And making that quarter turn from side to back was difficult enough; I didn't really want to try any big movements (though I don't know if I thought that consciously, or if I was thinking any conscious thoughts at that time).

Not long after I started pushing, the room got busy; it felt like there were a lot of people going in and out. The baby's nurse came in and introduced herself (I remember next to nothing about her). Dr. Rawson brought his stool over and sat at the foot of the bed. The bright lights were turned on and aimed so the doctor could see. And someone put the big, rectangular mirror at the foot of the bed. It removed me a little bit from the experience, almost like watching a movie. I could see my own face straining through a push and I could see my body opening to accommodate this little person, but it was hard to comprehend, to wrap my head around. Before long we could see the top of his head, with a little bit of hair, and I felt so surprised to reach down and feel that little soft head that wasn't a part of me; obviously, I wasn't going to be able to feel anything from the perspective of the baby, but I felt like I should have been able to. It was awe-inspiring to watch that little circle of head get bigger and bigger. Dr. Rawson said that he was going to give me a shot of Lidocaine just in case I tore so that I wouldn't have to feel the stitches, and I readily agreed to that. It sounds crazy to say it, but the moment that the baby emerged was over too fast. The "ring of fire" lasted just for a split second, but I think I must have closed my eyes for a moment. I saw the baby's head come out, and then Dr. Rawson moved to my right to turn the baby and deliver his shoulders and blocked my view of the mirror. Now, I wonder if he did it on purpose so I couldn't see how badly I had torn. But it also gave me the chance to turn to Michael and see his expression of pure awe. And just like that, I had a little warm, screaming baby on my chest. Michael and I looked at each other and laughed and cried--I don't have the words to describe that moment when it was finally over and we had made it through together. I think all I could say was, "Oh!" and "I did it!" The first thing I noticed about Jonah was that he squeaked when he inhaled as he cried, and it was adorable. One of the nurses commented that he had big hands, and I also thought his nose looked really big on his tiny little face. The nurses put a diaper and a hat on him, then put warm blankets over him and me.

When Dr. Rawson asked Michael, "Are you ready?" a few minutes later, I had no idea what he could have been asking about. But Michael nodded and turned to cut the cord. A few minutes later it was time to deliver the placenta. I felt a contraction, gave a push, felt a big splat, asked if that was it, and Dr. Rawson said no. Michael told me afterward that the splat was a large amount of blood that sprayed Dr. Rawson's front and shoes. With the next contraction, I felt the placenta slide out. After a few minutes, Dr. Rawson held it up and showed us the amniotic sac and how the placenta turns inside out during delivery. He then told me that I had torn and he was going to stitch me up. I asked him how bad it was and he responded with, "Not too bad. Only two stitches." But he was down there for a long time, way longer than I thought two stitches would take. And I could feel him putting in the stitch on my left side, which was not comfortable, but way less painful than I thought it would be. I ended up with a second-degree tear, which I keep telling Michael that I think if that would not have happened, I could have run a marathon the next day. That's definitely an exaggeration--mostly because I've never run more than a consecutive two miles in my entire life--but my recovery has been really relatively painless.

Then suddenly everyone was gone, and Michael and I were sitting in our room with this tiny little person that I had just birthed. Michael changed his shirt, and held his baby for the first time. I didn't even notice, but Michael hadn't felt like he had time to put on a shirt as we were getting ready to go to the hospital. He had just put on his red jacket over his garment top and had worn that until a couple of hours after Jonah was born. My Relaxation and Hypnobirthing playlist was still playing as we got to our room, and I hardly noticed it, but during this hour I asked Michael and he said it had been playing the whole time and he had been wondering what the nurses thought about it--some of the lyrics are a little strange if you hadn't been listening to them for weeks. This was also when we finally let our family know what had happened--the text with a picture was sent out at about 10:15AM (again, sorry Mom!). Time from 10PM on the night of February 23rd to now has been in an absolute warp, but nothing so strange as those hours of labor, delivery, and the first moments with our baby.

I told my neighbors when we got back from the hospital that I just loved our nurses, but especially Thao, the nurse who was there for the delivery and first 12 hours of Jonah's life. I truly feel like I imprinted on her because she was there for some of the most emotional and important moments I have experienced. I watched her help Michael get Jonah dressed for the first time, change his diaper, and swaddle him up. She helped me get out of bed a few hours later to go to the bathroom and clean myself up a little bit, and I honestly thought I was in love with her.

When Thao took me to the bathroom and I finally peed for the first time in many hours, it was one of the most relieving feelings in the world. I had peed about every hour through the last week of pregnancy, and during that time peeing was so disappointing because I would feel like I had to pee so bad and then only a couple of drops would come out and I knew I would have to pee again very shortly. So this post-partum pee was a beautiful thing. And Thao was just so gentle and sweet.
I told Michael soon afterward that I didn't feel like it was an incredibly spiritual experience like I thought it would be. When Jonah came out, I expected to feel an incredible amount of love for our baby boy and to feel the support of the spirits of our grandparents and great-grandparents who have passed away, and I didn't feel either of those in the moment. But looking back, I think it was absolutely a spiritual experience, just in a way that I didn't expect. I have never felt so strong and empowered. I have never been so amazed at and appreciative of my body. I have never felt so much love for my husband.

I called Heather on Friday afternoon when we got home from the hospital and talked to her for a couple of hours. I was feeling a little overwhelmed and embarrassed that I hadn't used the skills that we had practiced. I hardly listened to the Hypnobirthing tracks. I didn't walk around or change positions that often. I didn't visualize my perineum opening like a flower or my breath filling a "magnificent balloon." I definitely felt fear and tension and pain. We didn't have a chance to talk to the nurses about the kind of experience we wanted. Our Birth Preferences page never even made it out of the backpack. But Heather helped me to realize that my preparation was worth it because we did it! Michael knew what to do and say to help me. I labored at home for many hours. I was calm(ish) during labor and abnormally calm throughout my pregnancy.

And now we have a son. He is a miracle.