Monday, September 19, 2016

Baby Number Four! {A Birth Story}

Well, at least this poor little neglected blog is still good for one thing: recording my birth story!

Before I start, a word about my birth photographer:
I'd been looking for someone to shoot my birth story for a while, but wasn't having much luck. There were one or two dedicated birth photographers in the area who did some lovely work, but were well out of our price range. There were also a few who were offering to do births for several hundred dollars who either a) just didn't jive with my own style of photography; or b) had not ever actually shot a birth (or had maybe done one, or done a shoot in the hospital after baby arrived). I really didn't want to make a huge investment in someone who I didn't feel was going to produce the kind of images I wanted or who had no experience but still felt okay about charging an arm and a leg.

So I started asking around about photographers who were hoping to "break in" to the birth photography scene. I was still willing to pay, but I also was offering to give the right photographer the chance to get that first birth story. As someone who does birth stories, I know how hard getting your foot in the door can be, especially in this area with lots of young, apprehensive, and very modest mommies. 

Enter: McKenzie.

McKenzie is a student at our local university, and she was very upfront about not having shot a birth, not being a mom herself, not having witnessed a birth, and not quite knowing why she was drawn to birth photography, but really wanting to get an opportunity to photograph a birth. I don't know what it was, but I really felt she would be a wonderful fit for capturing our baby girl's arrival. And boy was she! I warned her ahead of time that she would either fall in love with shooting births, or never want to do one again. After our little lady was born, I think she may never want to have a natural childbirth!

You'll see McKenzie's work below. She did a spectacular job, and it was just exactly the kind of photography that I think suits my style. Here's a link to her Facebook business page, so show her some love:

Alright, on to the birth story. 

 A little over a week before baby's arrival, we had tentatively scheduled an induction for 39 weeks, 4 days. I had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, family was arriving, and Rob had some plans that couldn't be rescheduled, so we figured it was best to just go ahead and induce. But at the same time, I felt sooooo close to going into labor. All the signs were there. So, at the last minute, I called the midwife and begged for more time. Because my GD was well controlled, she said another week was fine, as long as I'd come in for NSTs (non-stress tests) every other day. That day, even the chiropractor said he thought I'd have that baby any minute because I was so loose and "moved" so well. I just knew by the end of the weekend, I'd have a baby.

And then...nothing.

All signs of labor totally stopped. Heck, they reversed. No more contractions, no more pressure, no more show, no more any of those horrible TMI signs of labor. My ankles even swelled back up. Rob had given me a blessing that I would have the natural childbirth I wanted, but I was sad, doubtful. I spent basically the entire following week crying every day and trying to get my mind off of it. The midwife assured me that the hospital had been so full, they'd have turned me away on the previous induction day anyway, and that was a sign that more time was a good thing.

I had spent most of my pregnancy bracing myself for the cholestasis from baby #3 to return. I was prepared for the month-early induction, the itching, the sleepless nights, the neurosis. Happily (oh! SO HAPPILY!) it didn't come back. And while that re-kindled my hope of another baby born without induction--another natural childbirth--it also meant that I was already feeling like the baby was a month late, even though she was still right on time.

By 40 weeks, 4 days, with still no signs of labor, and all Rob's family that had come to help now headed home, I was feeling resigned to the fact that it was time to be induced. I wasn't upset really, just a little disappointed. I'd already had my perfect drug free delivery with my second pregnancy, so this was okay. I knew the peace I felt was the Spirit telling me it was time, and I was in the Lord's hands.

I had an appointment with my midwife that day (a Friday) and asked if there was any chance she and the hospital would be open to a Saturday induction, rather than soldiering into next week. After a few phone calls, she said we were good to go. We were to call the hospital at 5:30 AM the next morning to find out what time to report. For good measure, she stripped my membranes, and home I went.

Usually, after having my membranes stripped (a horribly uncomfortable experience for anyone who's never had the joy of that), I spend the rest of the day with very uncomfortable contractions and cramping. I basically just curl up in the fetal position and breathe through them until bed time. This time...nothing. No cramping, no contractions. So to take my mind off of it, I sewed my midwife the unicorn shirt I had been intending to make her, and Rob and I made plans to take the kids out for a nice evening as a last "hurrah" before baby. The minute I finished the shirt, I started cramping.

Determined to enjoy our last night together as a family of five, we went out with the kids and then had a picnic in the park. By about 8:00 I was really starting to have significant contractions, about 4-5 minutes apart. So we headed home, and changed a few plans to have the kids sleep over at their designated friends' houses just in case I needed to go to hospital in the middle of the night. Plus, it was one less thing to worry about the next morning. They aren't allowed sleepovers typically, so they were practically more excited by this than the prospect of their new baby sister.

Once the kids were all deposited, Rob and I got walking. We walked a couple of hours, until about midnight, enjoying the perfect weather and each others' company. The contraction timer told us that they were spaced about every four minutes apart, and they were definitely intensifying. We headed home when I was tired and uncomfortable enough that I felt like they would keep up, around 12:30 AM. By about 2:30, with Rob passed out in bed, I was uncomfortable enough that I decided to take a bath. In the bath, the contractions let up a bit--they spread to about 7 minutes with a little less intensity, and at about 3:15, I laid down and was able to sleep.

At about 4:30, the contractions woke me up. They were back to about 4 minutes apart and more intense. I woke Rob up just before 5:30 to call the hospital. They were a little busier than anticipated and had to call us back. The verdict: come in about 10:00 AM. I informed Rob that I didn't think this was going to happen, so he let them know it was entirely possible that we'd show up before that. By 6:30, I said we should go get some breakfast and then I'd probably need to head in. We grabbed some McDonald's but when we returned home, I wasn't very hungry and was feeling that restless labor feeling. Rob insisted that we had to ride to the hospital in his newly acquired '59 he went outside to "start it up." 15 minutes (and 8000 contractions) later, he informed me that it was ready.

Here I am, stopping to have a contraction...notice that Rob (who took the picture) has more car in the photograph than wife.

{I am obviously incredibly thrilled, pregnant, and tired...}

{Rob is obviously incredibly thrilled, well-rested, and not-pregnant.} 

Rob called the midwife on our way to the hospital and we were off. At this point, the contractions were pretty intense, I was exhausted from laboring all night, and I was having a lot of bleeding. All signs that I thought meant everything was about to pick up fast. I was truly envisioning a birth like #2, where things happen so quickly that it makes the birth--and avoiding an epidural--almost seem easy...I was kind of wrong. 

When we arrived around 7:30AM, our midwife, Marie (who I should just interject here is the sweetest, most super awesome lady ever!), was waiting for us. We got into a room quickly, and Marie checked my cervix. Where I'd been only about 1.5 cm dilated the day before, I was now dilated to 3cm. While not as far along as I'd hoped, it was progress that my own body had made, so I would take it! 

We sent Rob off to park the car while we checked baby on the monitors, thinking everything was hunky-dory. Unfortunately, when they hooked me up, there was obviously some concern.

Immediately, there were three other nurses in the room, I was getting an IV, and Marie said, "Baby's heart rate is a little low. I don't think she likes labor too much, so we're just trying to get it back up with some fluids." Apparently, her heart rate was in the 70s when they hooked me up. When Rob came back up, he found a flurry of unexpected activity, and me, suddenly envisioning being whisked away for a c-section, if things stayed in their current position. 


Luckily, the fluids seemed to do the trick. In the excitement of laboring (and walking, etc) through the night, I had probably failed to take adequate care of myself and become a little dehydrated. Baby girl's heart rate bounced back after a little while, and we were okay to get off the monitors and keep laboring. Marie said she'd be back around lunch to check on us, and I was totally expecting to be ~thisclose~ to having a baby when she returned. 

The good news was that the fluids weren't just helping baby; I felt much better, too. I had more energy, got an appetite, decided to watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and even put some makeup on. (Vanity...I gots it.) 

{I requested a plate of pepperoni and cheese, since you're wondering...} 

The bad news was, my contractions also slowed down....

I was still having contractions, but they were less intense and they were now about 6 minutes apart. 

When Marie returned at noon, after several hours of laboring, I hadn't dilated at all. I was still at 3 cm, so we decided to break my water to get things going. Only...more trouble... As she put it, I apparently have a "bag of steel." She tried several times in various ways to break my water, but no luck. My water has been tough to break in all my deliveries, but it had never been unbreakable. 

{Attempting to break my "unbreakable" water...}

After some discussion, we decided it was time for my arch-nemesis, Pitocin, to enter the picture.

The plan was to get me in the tub, crank up the Pit, and get me to dilate. From this point on, Marie never left. (Which was wonderful, and such a difference in the midwife vs. doctor model!) 


I labored in the tub until about 2:30 or 3:00. Because I was on the Pitocin, I needed continuous fetal monitoring. There were a few times that Marie came in to tell me that "Baby isn't liking this so much," meaning were having some decels in her heart rate, and she adjusted the Pitocin to a level that seemed to work. 

After a couple of hours (and much to Rob's chagrin, about 15 minutes before the end of Harry Potter), I decided I needed to get out of the tub.

By this point, I was very uncomfortable. The contractions were doing what pitocin contractions do: they just. weren't. letting. up. I wasn't getting back down to "zero" between them, and I was really starting to think hard about that epidural. I went into the bathroom and told Rob that if I hadn't dilated that maybe it was time for one, because maybe I wasn't relaxing enough to let my body dilate.

This is where Rob totally earned his stripes.

Previously, if you'd asked me how helpful Rob is in labor, I'd have said that my husband is a GREAT guy to have in a crisis...unless that crisis is me having a baby. In that case, he's kind of a hot mess, wringing his hands, looking worried, and generally making me crazy by asking if I need anything.

This time around, we had spent some time talking about what he could do to help. He informed me that his uselessness stemmed from 1) seeing me "bleed like a stuck pig" after baby number one when my placenta wouldn't deliver and I started hemorrhaging; and 2) just not knowing what to do to BE helpful. So I had given him a specific job: distract me. If I started asking for an epidural, don't tell me no, but offer other solutions. Encourage me to get through "one more contraction."

I don't think I realized how much self-control he would need for this until after I had delivered the baby, but he was so great. By the time I walked out of the bathroom, I was pretty done. I was ready for an epidural, even though I know how much I hate them, and how much better I recover without them. But I was hurting, and the pitocin is relentless.

It was time for another cervical check. And although Rob and Marie both said, "almost a five!" I had heard their whispers and seen their communicative glances to each other and instinctively knew what would later be confirmed to me: I hadn't dilated AT ALL in those hours in the tub. They were lying to me to keep me from despair. But I knew better.

Then came the horror of trying to break my water again. This time, Marie used one of the baby monitors that screws into baby's head. She had been able to attach it, so she knew it had gone through the bag. Unfortunately, there was no water. Marie posited that it was possibly just that the baby's head was so engaged that all the water was behind her. There was a little trickle, but only for a moment.

I went back into the bathroom (thanks, bags of IV fluid!) and told Rob that I just wanted an epidural. I was done, I wasn't dilating, everything hurt, and I was dying. He encouraged me to just get on the birth ball for a few minutes. When I walked out of the bathroom, I told Rob and Marie, "Let's just cut her out. I'm done now." Marie scolded me for the bad juju and said I was doing great. I disagreed, but, whining, got on the birth ball.

{"Everything hurts and I'm dying."}

At this point, I buried my face into the bed and hardly lifted it, and my memory gets a bit hazy as I entered transition. At some point, I lost my headband, and that is one of the few things I remember...making everyone search frantically for it between contractions, and then realizing I had packed an extra in the bag. Thank goodness, because apparently my wispy hairs were causing more consternation than my torturous uterus.  

{Crying for joy over locating a headband.}

I also know that I tried some good old manipulation on my sweet husband. I turned to him between contractions, and begged, "Pleeeeease, Robbie. Pleeeeease!" knowing that my pain and pleas could break him...but he simply patted me sweetly and muttered something non-committal. (Later, he admitted that this had been the hardest moment for him. He wanted to give in, but kept doing what he knew I wanted him to do.) Apparently, at that point, he had looked to Marie, who had shown him a number 8 and said I was in transition and baby would be here any minute. 

When I was turned down for the epidural after that incredible display of emotional manipulation, I knew all was lost. There would be no epidural, and all the people I thought loved me were liars. I had trained him too well. 

{His name is Rob, and he obviously delights in my torture...}

From here out, most of this time is a blur of pain and despair that no one would give me an epidural. Some things I remember: shaking my head and yelling "No, no, no, no, no, no!" every time I could feel a contraction coming on, and when Marie or Rob told me what a good job I was doing, I would tell them that they were lying and I didn't want to do this. 

"I changed my mind! I want to go HOME!" I kept crying. Now, I laugh about this, and know everyone there was probably laughing too, as though my going home was going to remedy my current predicament in ANY way.

In there somewhere, just before pushing began, Marie ordered me some demerol. It had no effect, so she called for NuBain. This, though I'm not sure helped the pain much during contractions, at least caused me to pass out deeply between them. I think it may also be responsible for my blurry memory.

Soon (according to Rob, about 20-30 minutes after I was tricked into trying the birth ball for a few minutes), it was time to push. At this point, Marie suggested I try to get on the bed, but I couldn't. So I leaned over the bed, the birth ball was rolled away, the floor was covered, and I squatted down to push with each contraction. Thank goodness for my strong husband whose hand I nearly took off by squeezing, and who managed to keep me lifted off the ground for the 20 minutes it took to push out baby. I delivered her standing, and she came very quickly. 

{"No, no, no, no, no, no, no!!!"}

I hope there were no other mommies in the early stages of labor, especially none hoping for a natural child birth. If there were, I am certain that the amount of screaming I was doing convinced them to call quickly for the anesthesiologist. There were many sounds I did not know I could make.

It's funny. I really thought that all natural childbirths would be like my other one. I thought it would be quick, I thought the pain would be manageable. I thought I'd be laughing and making jokes between contractions.

There were no jokes. This birth was very primal. But like all my others, when it was over, there was perfect, pure, relief and joy. Suddenly, there was a new life in the room. She was whole, healthy, mine. I laughed again. Laughed and smiled. Shouted for happiness. Felt a wet, squirming weight in my arms that until the moment she came from inside of me to outside of me, I didn't know I loved so much.

After delivery, we had more thanks to give. When my placenta delivered, it had clearly started calcifying rapidly. Marie also informed me that my water had been hard to break because there WAS no water. I had virtually no amniotic fluid left. If I had ignored the prompting the previous day to induce, there was a good chance that we would have had an emergency c-section, or worse, when I arrived at the office Monday for my 41-week NST and ultrasound.

Blessed. God is good. 

{Extra wrinkly feet from the lack of fluid. Just like I lost weight in the last week or two of pregnancy, she probably had too.}

{Baby escaped with only a black eye. Womb brawler.}

Soon the kids arrived to meet their new baby sister. And just like that, as quickly as she was born, she was part of our family. Kids love so easily, and as soon as they saw her, she was theirs, as much as she was mine and Rob's.

We are so grateful to have our sweet baby girl, the much prayed for baby sister, in our home and hearts!