//O N B I R T H I N G: and what I'd do differently //

DISCLAIMER: this post is in NO WAY insinuating that I am pregnant! 

A good friend of mine came over yesterday.  She's just three weeks away from the due date of her first baby. We talked about timing contractions and packing for the hospital, getting the car seat in the car, and other means of "preparing" for what is quite possibly the most life-changing event many of us will ever go through. Seeing her in all her glowing, blossoming, soon-to-be-mother beauty made me think back fondly to the end of my pregnancy with Johnny. Feeling the weight of the impending labor and delivery that would bring new life into the world and make me a mother. I knew I'd be meeting him soon. I was excited/nervous about giving birth. I had ideas of how I wanted my birth to go, things we wanted to do and things we wanted to avoid.

22 weeks pregnant

36 weeks pregnant

For those who have read Johnny's birth story, you may remember that I had an incredibly long and hard labor (ahem, 50+ hours), and stalled out pushing that left me this close to needing a cesarean delivery. I believe that when it comes to childbirth, you've got to do what you've got to do.  I'm so thankful for the medical advancements that gave me the relief I needed after 48 of labor. But after 9 months of preparing for and envisioning a natural, un-medicated water birth, having to use pitocin, an epidural, and vacuum removal to get my baby out felt like a major defeat.  Don't get me wrong, I'm so thankful we got him out safely! But along with that gratitude came disappointment that I didn't have the labor and delivery I had wanted, and frustration that my body didn't do what it was supposed to do.

Talking with my expecting friend last night got me thinking about things I wish I had done differently during labor: If you're expecting soon, feel free to learn from what I did- and didn't- do.

 I wish I had slept more when labor first started. That was something our Bradley Method of Childbirth classes drilled into us. BE WELL RESTED! But when my contractions started I was so excited/nervous that I couldn't sleep at all! Then when labor became really hard, I was really exhausted.

I wish I had labored at home longer. I was so anxious to get the show on the road, so anxious to meet my baby, that as soon as my contractions were 5 minutes apart we were in the car and on our way to the hospital. I can't help wonder what would have happened if I had stayed home longer.  Would I have been more relaxed? Would labor have progressed more naturally?

I didn't make myself at home in the hospital. I didn't unpack. I was self-conscious about trying different laboring tricks. I didn't leave my room to walk up and down the halls (another Bradley suggestion), I didn't take advantage of the bathtub in my room. I had prepared a laboring playlist in my iTunes library, but I never played it. I didn't want to inconvenience the nurses coming in and out of our room. I never really relaxed!

I wish I had used a doula. As we prepared for the arrival of our baby I felt very strongly that I only wanted family members helping me labor.  I had great confidence in Alex as a support to me, and my mom as a back up for him. I didn't want someone I didn't know and wasn't comfortable with in such an intimate setting. My mom and Alex were great! But it was a really long, really hard labor. Hind sight being 20/20 I wonder if a doula would have pushed me more to walk down the hallway, to climb some stairs, to sit on the toilet longer (all strange laboring tricks). Or maybe a doula would have given me the confidence and freedom I needed to say, "this isn't working, we need to change the plan. I need help, I need relief" a little sooner and spare myself a few (dozen) hours of sleeplessness and laboring.

I'm not trying to beat myself up here. It's hard enough being a woman/wife/mother without any of that. I'm just honestly wondering, was there was a reason my labor was so long and stalled out? Or was it just one of those uncontrollable things? I'm just trying to see what I could do differently next time.

I'm glad Alex and I made a birth plan, I'm glad we were ok with changing our birth plan.  I'm glad I didn't need a cesarean. I'm glad Johnny is ok.

Birth Story Pt. 2: Pushing

3:00 am on Thursday May 30.

When I heard it was time to push I had a great desire to brush my teeth and wash my face. Alex helped me with this as I was bed-bound. I think I wanted to look nice for any pictures that may be taken when the baby was born.  Little did I know that I would not be very photogenic after what I was about to go through. But at least after brushing my teeth I felt awake, refreshed, and ready to work again.

A note on epidurals: Do what you need to do.  If you really can't manage the pain, get one.  If you've been in labor for 2 complete days, get one. But if you can, try to avoid them.  I'm grateful that I had relief from pain and a chance to regain some strength through rest, but having an epidural made pushing difficult and completely limited my positions to the classic on-your-back-knees-bent.

So there I was, on my back, slightly propped up, Alex holding one leg up, the nurse holding the other (because remember, I can't even move my legs by myself, much less hold them up).  As I mentioned before, I still had some sensation. I could tell 


a contraction was coming and


I needed to push. And with the help of our nurse I knew


I needed to push, but my pushing was not effective. I think it was because I couldn't feel the pain and didn't have that sense of urgency.  I asked to be propped up more, sitting in a C-shape, hoping that gravity could play a bigger role in helping baby out. It didn't help much though, and because I was sitting up the pain medication was sinking lower into my body, causing me to feel everything in my back.

 One hour of pushing went by, then a second, then a third. Alex and the nurse holding my legs up. Me holding on under my knees, pulling myself up into a C shape, holding my breath, pushing, breathing again and letting go.  Over and over and over. At some point a second nurse came in and they set up a bar over my bed and folded a sheet over the top. I put my feet on the sides of the bar and held onto the sheet, pulling myself up with each contraction. My arms were beginning to weaken, so Alex pushed me up from behind. We were both working so hard. It was a team effort, and there's no way I could have made it with out him.

I didn't realize how much time had passed.  At 7:00 in the morning the nurses decided to call my doctor. She came down and after observing a couple of pushes said that "we can try  vacuum removal, otherwise I have the OB specialist on call for a C-section".  I definitely didn't want a C-section, so I said to try the vacuum. After that everything happened very quickly. All the lights went on, big spot lights and other machines were pulled out of cabinets.  My doctor donned a white coat and gloves. Two thoughts kept running through my mind; one was that I wanted to get our baby out, the other was wondering why my body was failing to do what it was supposed to do.  A suction disc was inserted into the birth canal and attached to our baby's head. Each time I pushed my doctor pulled. I couldn't see, (thankfully) but Alex could. He said it looked like a cylinder of purple harry flesh coming out, and when the doctor stopped pulling it shifted back into a head shape. Later he told me all he could think was "what are they doing to our baby?" I don't know how many pushes we did this way, but on what ended up being the last one my doctor sounded frantic, she told me to keep pushing, don't stop, keep pushing. so I did. And it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I used every ounce of my strength to get him out and I don't think I could have done another push. 7:57 am, on Thursday May 30th, after 54 hours of labor, our son, John Augustine, entered the world.

Alex said he looked kind of blue and was worried because he didn't cry right away. But as certain as the sunrise, he began to cry and kick.  They put him on my chest and all the pain of the last two and a half years of trying for him, seeing everyone around us get pregnant, negative pregnancy test after negative pregnancy test, all that pain was washed away with joyful and healing tears. I was holding our baby, and he was alive and breathing and beautiful. It was the most triumphant moment of my life.

But I was not allowed to have rest yet.  After my final push to get Johnny out my uterus stopped contracting. After 3 days of constantly working, that muscle had shut down, and as a result my placenta was not delivering.  So they had to manually extract it. And yes, it felt as bad --no, worse!-- than it sounds.  They handed Johnny over to Alex, who was thrilled to have some skin-to-skin time with our new little baby, but was crushed to see me in so much pain.  I couldn't feel anything in the birth canal (like the tearing that was a second degree laceration, or the two pints of blood that I was losing) but I could feel EVERYTHING in my abdomen. And getting that placenta out hurt, a lot. There were many tears. But finally it was over and the three of us could rest as a family. 

I realize I haven't given Johnny's birth stats. 9 lbs 7 oz and 21 inches long.  He was huge! And was born with chunky thighs and chubby cheeks. We spent the rest of that day admiring him and napping with him. He was so peaceful and quiet and slept a lot.  He hadn't shown much interested in eating that first day and I had had only a couple successful breastfeeding attempts.  Everyone said it was normal for new babies to be really sleepy to first day or two, so I wasn't worried.  I was actually feeling like we had gotten lucky and he was just an easy baby. It wasn't until the next day that we began to think something was wrong. 

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Birth Story Pt I: Three Sleepless Nights

I was planning on sharing Johnny's birth story at some point, but I figure now is a good time. That experience is so central to who I am now, you won't know me unless you know the story.

I will preface this story by saying that everything about Johnny has been incredibly difficult, and so all the more triumphant. He has been a long time coming and a major answer to prayer. We tried for two and a half years to get pregnant, losing one baby on the way, and two weeks before I found out I was pregnant with Johnny was told I may need surgery to make pregnancy possible.  But we did get pregnant, and I did carry to term.

Me at 38 weeks. We got the garden in two weeks before Johnny came.

Labor started very early in the morning on Tuesday May 28. I woke up thinking I just had some, ahem, gas, but after a while noticed the pain was coming and going in waves. After going to the bathroom and seeing some bloody show (which, by the way, is probably the grossest term ever) I woke up Alex stating that, "I think I'm in labor." We called the doctor, who said to call the hospital, who said don't bother coming down until the contractions are 4 minutes apart.  And so my husband, in true Alex-fashion, downloaded a labor tracking app and we started timing, while trying to sleep between contractions. But with the combination of excitement, nerves, and the mild pain that was already mounting I hardly slept at all.  By morning the closest contractions had ever gotten was about 6 minutes apart, and they were actually becoming farther apart. So Alex went to work and I stayed home and watched

Call the Midwife

.  I know, seems like that would be a terrible choice of show to watch when you're about to have a baby, but it was actually getting me really pumped up and excited to give birth.

By about 4:00 in the afternoon contractions were pretty consistently 4 or 5 minutes apart, and they were becoming more painful, so Alex came home and we were on our way to the hospital by 6:00 pm.  In the car and getting checked in I kept thinking, "This is it! We're going to see our baby soon" but by the time I got into a room and had an examination I was only dilated 3 cm.  We were told that we could go home, but if we wanted to stay in the hospital overnight they would have to give me some medication, either morphine or vistaril, for insurance purposes.(Lame.)  We had taken Bradley Natural  Childbirth classes, and my goal was to have an un-medicated birth, so these options were very frustrating. I didn't want to go home because I knew I'd be too nervous to sleep. But I also didn't want to be given medication when I didn't need any.  Our nurse told us that she had been given vistaril during one of her labors and it was almost like taking tylenol. She said it is very mild, if anything, it may help me sleep a little better.  So vistaril it was

Well, I hardly slept at all! The contractions kept marching on steadily through the night. As soon as I was able to doze off after one, the next would start up. By around 2:00 am I was no longer able to bear the pain by myself so I woke up Alex and together we worked through labor for the rest of the night. In the morning I was anxious to have a cervical exam because I thought after all that work surely I had made some progress and things would pick up.  So I was utterly discouraged when the nurse said I had gone DOWN to 1 cm! How can that be? After 30 hours of labor? I was however almost completely effaced. We learned that sometimes when effacement speeds up dilation can come to a stand still- or in my case, go backwards.

The nurse called my Dr. and we talked about some options.  Epidural? Pitocin? Morphine to try to sleep? Although I had wanted an intervention-free labor and delivery, after two night without sleep some of  these interventions were sounding pretty good.  I knew that if I didn't get some sleep soon I wouldn't have any energy to push when the time came. We decided to go with the morphine, which sounds super scary.  Our nurse said that sometime getting a few hours of good sleep can help labor to progress. She also said that morphine will sometimes stop labor entirely, in which case we would go home and rest and hope that the next time it starts up it would move more quickly. Our nurse that day, whose name was Phoebe, gave me such great care and was the embodiment of what a nurse should be.  She drew a hot bath for me, and when I got in put hot blankets around my shoulders. She gave me the shot of morphine while I was in the tub, and as it started to kick in, and I was finally able to relax, I thought, "Yes, this was a good move."  Then she helped me into bed, more hot blankets, and I drifted off into sound sleep.

After a few hours I became aware of pain in my back and abdomen again.  I felt better after getting some sleep, and another exam showed I was back up to 3 cm. My mom had come down to the hospital and for the rest of that day she and Alex helped me labor.  I did lunges, I squatted, I sat on the toilet for as long as I could bear. I bounced on a birthing ball, I tried to eat, I drank a ton of water and by evening I had made no further progress. I felt frustrated and weary. Later my mom told me she could just see my strength running out. The prospect of a third sleepless night was too much.  I decided to get pitocin and an epidural. As someone who had often touted the benefits of natural childbirth this decision was spirit-crushing.  I knew it was what I needed to do, but that didn't stop me from experiencing feelings of shame and guilt, like I had been defeated.  I kept thinking, "how will I ever tell our friends in the natural childbirth world? How will I be able to face them?" The nurse we had that evening, Jessica (who, I might add, was very crunchy) told me that when she had her first child she had wanted to do home birth, but after laboring for three days at home her midwife said she needed to go to the hospital for an induction. She got an epidural, and her baby was born just a few hours later. That was exactly what I need to hear in that moment, that I wasn't the only one, and that it was ok. By the time the epidural was up and running, it was 12:30 am on Thursday and I was at 5 cm.

Alex and I went to sleep, he was sawing logs within a few minutes. I did not sleep so soundly.  Having an epidural is a very strange sensation. I was totally limp from the waist down and had to be turned by someone else. I couldn't feel pain, but I could still feel my uterus tightening with each contraction, so my sleep was broken and disturbed.  At around 1:30 am I felt a warm sensation. My waters? I called out to Alex, but he was sleeping too hard. I threw a pillow at him and called louder, this time he woke up and helped me check.  Yup, my water had broken.  I think that helped speed things along because when the nurse came to check me at 3:00 am she said "Oh!! You're fully dilated and his head is all the way down. We need to start pushing!" Alex jump out of bed, wide awake. Finally, we would be meeting our baby....

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