Sunday, April 7, 2013

The birth story

Week 41, 2 days: Of course she came late. In retrospect it’s very fitting. Let me preface this by saying that this entry is coming to you from a dirty house with an un-showered mom, a husband who’s bored and a baby who is currently stirring in her sleep as we wait with baited breath in hopes she keeps those peepers closed. Obviously my priorities are out of order. You’re welcome.

Alyssa took some amazing pictures that documented and captured very real and very beautiful moments of this experience. If I was braver I would post them. But I'm not. Also, I feel like so many of the photos were so personal and I want to keep them that way.

So here’s the whole story…

Let me preface this by saying birth is pretty gory. And I’m not just talking about the ahem baby coming out of the vagina part. Hollywood has tricked us all. I can honestly say that even after many childbirth classes, dozens of books and countless stories from friends, I thought that I would be the one. You know, the one who goes to the hospital in wedges and jeans and a cute shirt covering her very nice basketball baby belly. I know I was delusional. At no time during my pregnancy did I look cute…at all. But I think clinging to that Hollywood version of birth was some sort of mental defense, blinding me with ignorance, which is after all bliss, right?

So birth…we’ve been lied to. It’s not glamorous. I’m sure there are women out there (who may as well be mythical creatures) who go to the hospital in heels and jeans, instead of flip flops and yoga pants, but I was not one of them. I could barely be bothered to put on a bra. In fact it wasn’t even a bra. It was a bra-like article of clothing, simply because I thought that’s what I would be wearing when I gave birth in the water like I had planned. My dignity had long gone out the door before I reached the hospital. I was contracting on the toilet with three fairly new friends (Gina, Alyssa and Breia) for what seemed like hours before I got to the hospital. Nothing like baptism by fire, right guys? Labor brings women together though. There’s an instant camaraderie when one of your own is going through an experience that only women share.

I’d like to quickly add that I had also felt lied to by the other end of spectrum. Hollywood makes birth seem glamorous and you can get through it in half an hour with a few good pushes and well-timed screams. Enter a snort in derision here. Not true. However, there are the “horror” stories on that other side of that coin. The ones that make you think this is going to be the worst, most painful experience of your life and you might as well get the drugs or a schedule a c-section because you do not want to feel this. Of course it’s painful. You’re pushing something big out of something small. That’s a given. And most labors are long. But you can do anything hard for one day. My soapbox: educate yourself. If nothing else, do your research. I think we researched what kind of blu-ray player we wanted more thoroughly than we did about our different birth options (until we finally clued into the fact that this is something very important). If you choose to schedule a c-section, great. Just know the pros and cons. If you birth at home, great. Be aware of the risks and benefits. No matter what, education, education, education.

Shameless plug: Watch “The Business of Being Born” on Netflix. Of course it’s skewed to one perspective. Keep that in mind. But it will change your life- it did mine. Or at the very least, it’ll make you think.

Okay, onto the good stuff.

Thursday, Sept 27th: I had been having contractions that were consistently inconsistent. They were manageable, bearable and even a little exciting. I had an appointment scheduled with my midwife, but since the contractions were getting a little stronger, Andy drove me and we went together. Kathrine checked me and I was still only dilated to 2.5cm and about 60% effaced. She kept saying that my cervix was soft and very favorable (which meant nothing to me until I googled it), but of course I could only focus on the numbers and they weren’t what I wanted to hear. That evening the contractions were getting stronger and closer together. We timed them at about 15 minutes apart and I couldn’t even sleep through some of them. It felt like this was it. Maybe Friday would be the day that she finally came (she was, after all, almost a week late).

Friday, Sept 28th: Andy didn’t go into work. The contractions had subsided slightly but we were both on edge. We walked around to see if we could get them going, but by the afternoon they had pretty much disappeared. I was a little disappointed. I kept wishing that they would come back stronger and more regular. That night they did just that and I was immediately regretting my wish. The contractions were about 10 minutes apart and while I could talk through them, they were quite uncomfortable, even bordering on painful. I called my midwife to keep her updated and let her know that it didn’t seem like the baby was moving very much after the contractions so we met her at the hospital for an NST (non-stress test) to make sure Lyla was moving and thriving. She was a rockstar baby. She had a nice strong heartbeat. I had some contractions at the hospital and Kathrine gave me some medicine to sleep through them. It didn’t work. By the time we got home, the contractions had gotten stronger and more regular, but since I was so drowsy from the medicine, I couldn’t breathe or concentrate through them which I think made them more painful. This was night two without much sleep or food, as my appetite had disappeared.
Saturday, Sept. 29th: “Here we go again.” That was my thought going into Saturday. Friday night had ended much like Thursday with consistent contractions that stopped around 3 am. I was so drained by Saturday. I felt like Lyla was never going to come out and I understood why people have scheduled C-sections. There wouldn’t be any waiting. There wouldn’t be any disappointment in seemingly useless contractions.
Saturday morning, Alyssa and Gina came over. I had been keeping them updated with my progress as Gina was going to be my doula and Alyssa was going to be our birth photographer. Gina brought some aromatherapy which actually calmed me down and it was nice to be able to talk to them and get my morale back up a little bit. They talked us into going to the zoo with them. I was anxious about having contractions in public, but at the same time, I was easily convinced by them that I needed to get out and not focus on the labor. Maybe a change of scenery was just what I needed. So off to the zoo we went.

Andy and I purchased a membership and it was exciting to think that soon we’ll be able to take Lyla there to see all the animals (this was of course an after-thought, because while we were purchasing the membership I was whtie-knuckling the ledge of the counter for a contraction). The whole time we were there I was having consistent contractions.  I’m sure we looked ridiculous, but I was past the point of caring, uh, two days ago. After we had been there for a few hours, it was time to go home. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was so exhausted from the walking and the contractions. Saturday night was….surprise…the same as Thursday and Friday. The contractions had stopped again around 4 am and I felt so tired and so defeated. There was no way I could have this baby. Lyla was going to be an only child….for sure.

Andy asking if I'm okay while at the zoo. Yeah, sure, buddy.

Sunday, Sept 30th: Sunday morning we decided to stay home from church to see if we could get some rest (because we were so hoping she would be coming that evening). I informed Gina and Alyssa that my contractions had stopped Saturday night (or rather very early Sunday morning) and that they were feeling weaker and further apart. Alyssa suggested that I see a chiropractor from their ward. She asked him if I could see him after their church services and he (blessedly!) agreed. Andy and I drove down to meet Gina and Alyssa at Dan’s office. As soon as he saw me walk in, he could tell that my pelvis wasn’t aligned and that was probably hindering the baby from fully dropping into the birth canal. He adjusted me and almost immediately the contractions got stronger and closer together. He was an answer to our prayers, literally. In hindsight, had we not seen him, I would have no doubt had a C-section because no matter how efficient the contractions were, she would have never dropped.
That evening around 7 or 8, Gina, Alyssa and Breia came over to help me through the strong contractions because as great at Andy had been through the whole process, his skills were lacking. They were with me through every contraction. They were so amazing and I still feel so indebted to them. They stayed with me the whole night and into the morning, sacrificing their own sleep to help me through contractions every couple minutes. This whole time I was keeping in touch with Kathrine, letting her know that the contractions were getting closer and closer and stronger and stronger. She suggested I take a bath. I did and it lasted about 10 minutes. The bath was not helping. At 5 am, Alyssa woke Andy up (he went to sleep around 1:30am to get some rest) and told him that we were almost ready to go to the hospital.  We left around 6:30am and at that point I was sure this baby was coming out fast because contractions were two minutes apart and STRONG!
Going through contractions at home. Everyone was so supportive.

In our parking garage we have a speed bump right in front of the entrance/exit doors. Andy had been practicing going over it since March. He had gotten quite good at driving over it smoothly. But on this lovely morning of October 1st, I told him to floor it and get me to the hospital. Surprisingly, even though I was in pain, so far the labor had been a lot less dramatic than I had imagined. Movies and TV always depict this hysterical, screaming woman and while I certainly felt like the pain deserved that kind of reaction, it wasn’t my natural instinct. And in four days of labor and birthing a baby, I didn’t swear at Andy once…at least not out loud.

The good news is that the hospital is only 2.5 miles from our apartment and only really takes about 10 minutes to get there. The bad news is that the road is riddled with potholes. Not fun. I was sure it couldn’t get any worse than this. And now as I write this, I can hardly believe that I actually thought it couldn’t get worse. It’s laughable. Oh you poor, naïve girl…buckle up, you’re in for a very rough time.

It was exciting to arrive at the hospital. Of course we parked on the opposite wing and it was quite a journey to get to the maternity ward…pay no attention to the contracting woman in a wheel chair people! I was so relieved when I saw Kathrine’s face on the 6th floor—the maternity floor. I was a little unnerved that I had to give them a urine sample and get on the scale for a weight check. This hardly seemed like the time, but procedures are procedures.  So the infamous cervix check was next- I was sure I must have be dilated to a 9. Even this far into labor, I was still thinking I’d be the exception. I’d be the woman that gets to the hospital and gives birth within the first hour. I’m so convinced these delusions are defense mechanisms because if I knew exactly what I was in for, oh boy….I’m not sure what would have happened.

I was at a 3.5 and I couldn’t be admitted unless I was at a 4. Cue defeat.

My midwife suggested that I walk around the hospital grounds to try and dilate more. So off to the hospital gardens we went, jumping and lunging there and back again. It was horrendous. Luckily Alyssa, Breia and Gina were there with us every step of the way. After nearly an hour of walking, interspersed with lunges, we made it to the cafeteria. Katherine, my midwife, was adamant that I eat something. Apparently labor takes a lot of energy or something. But everything looked stomach- churning. I settled on some V8 drink and vitamin water. Still can’t drink them to this day.

I had had enough. I wanted to get checked, admitted, and cut open. I did get checked. I was barely at a 4. I did get admitted. But my midwife insisted that we talk before I got cut open. Party pooper. She said my uterus was so exhausted from contracting for 4 days that even though the baby had finally dropped (thank you chiropractor Dan!), the muscles were so weak they couldn’t move the baby down to put pressure on the cervix to make it dilate. Listening to someone talk about this stuff a year ago would have really grossed me out. Not so anymore.

I had two options.

#1: Go home and rest (ha!) and wait until I dilate further.

#2: Get an epidural so my body could get rest. An epidural would also slow the contractions down a little so my uterus could get a break.

After 4 days of prodromal labor, option 2 please!

Side note: Prodromal labor is NOT to be confused with false labor. I got really annoyed whenever I would tell people Lyla’s birth story and they’d say something stupid about how common false labor is and how it’s okay, all first time moms experience it. Prodromal labor IS early labor with contractions that range from mild to painful that never culminates into a birth for various reasons (like a uterus tired of trying to fit the baby into the pelvis when the baby isn’t engaged yet).

An epidural was not in my birth plan. I wanted to be all “I am she-woman, hear me roar” and do an all -natural water birth at the hospital with my midwife. We had practiced the correct breathing and focusing exercises for months. But I was a week and half past due, so I wasn’t too upset that nothing was going to plan. It had all been blown out of the water 9 days prior when September 22nd passed me by.

Honestly, getting the epidural was the worst part. I was having contractions every 60 seconds and then the dumb anesthesiologist (who was man and couldn’t possibly have the sympathy required to calm a laboring woman) tells me to sit up, hug a pillow, lean forward and hold still. Oh yeah? I’d like to see you do this while the insides of your body feel like they are being gripped in a vice. And to top it off, he had to do it twice because he hit a blood vessel the first time. Idiot. Apparently if you stick a needle in my back the wrong way, I hold a grudge. Go figure. I'm sure he deals with hundreds of hysterical women all the time, so I guess I should appreciate his efficiency. But he really could have been nicer about the whole thing.

While the experience of getting and epidural was pretty awful, the epidural itself was exactly what I needed. I napped almost immediately after receiving it and when I woke up, I was dilated to 7cm and my water broke a few minutes later. My body needed that rest so badly.

Because I was so on board with having a natural birth, I didn’t push the epidural button when it ran out. I felt really strongly that if I could feel the contractions during transition and during the pushing stage, I could work with the natural instinct of my body, thereby not pushing for longer than necessary. And while I remember it all being painful, it’s mostly a blur. I’m pretty sure I was transported into another world during those last couple hours. I ended up pushing for about an hour, which isn’t too bad for a first baby (or so I’m told). During the pushing stage, I finally understood why it’s called labor. It is seriously hard work. It’s so exhausting. The next day, my arms and legs were so sore (and those were not the parts of me I was expecting to be sore!) from holding up my legs to push. Apparently I needed some extra motivation, so they moved a mirror down there. I thought I’d be really horrified of the goings on of birthing a baby, but it was really pretty surreal. I mean, that was my baby that I was finally seeing!

Andy says that I started hemorrhaging quite a bit so a nurse was pushing on my stomach to get the baby out faster. Honestly, I have no recollection of that, so I’m just going to go ahead and say that it happened.
When Lyla finally arrived at 8:13pm on October 1st, she was all squishy and cone-headed, but she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She didn’t cry because she had swallowed some meconium during labor, but we knew this and were prepared to not be worried when we didn’t hear that magical first baby cry. The nurses were so fast and in a matter of seconds she cried….loud. It was awesome. We also discovered that she had a knot in her umbilical cord. My midwife told us that it’s pretty rare and it’s a symbol of perseverance and luck.
The umbilical cord
 Since she was 10 days late, I was certain that she was going to tip the scales at 20 pounds or something. Okay, not 20, but you can imagine my relief when she weighed in at 6lbs 15oz.

Newborn Lyla
 As soon as Lyla was out I felt normal! I got up out of the hospital bed 30 minutes later and I told Andy that I wanted to run a marathon. I’m sure it was the adrenaline talking, but it felt so good to be ME again.

We took her home after two blissful nights in the hospital with nurses to answer all my paranoid concerns and a cafeteria that prepared and delivered our meals. That was when the real labor began. Sigh. Now that is hard work. But it’s the best kind.
I feel like the end of this story is pretty anti-climatic. Everyone says "oh, labor is this and labor is that." It's all people talk about. No one talks about bringing the baby home and what life is like. Maybe people are too exhausted to talk about it. Maybe no one would have siblings if people talked about it because let me tell you, THAT is the hard part about having a baby. Anyway, I always felt the end of Lyla's birth story ended upbruptly. But I realized, just now, that it's because her being born isn't the climax of the story. It's just the beginning. Cue cheesy music. El fin.


AlixSteele said...

Lovely story Alianna! Go to the chiropractor every day with your next pregnancy!

Andy and Alianna said...

It's on the top of my list-probably before a dr.'s appointment! Never again will I go through pregnancy without a chiropractor.

Melinda said...

I love birth stories, you told yours so well! I felt like I was there with you! I love the pictures, truly your sweet girl is one of the prettiest babies I've ever seen!