Monday, December 5, 2016

The Author's Birth Story

When I posted about my fifth son's birth on Facebook, a friend of mine told me she had a very similar experience with her fifth. She remarked that she couldn't tell if her labor had lasted three weeks or three hours. My post about the last week of this pregnancy sort of bleeds into this birth story for that reason, because I can't quite tell where the "false" labor ended and the "real" labor began.

On the way home from a second false alarm trip to the hospital, I finally identified the most immediate source of of my anxiety, amid all the other anxiety-producing aspects of giving birth: how will our children would be cared for when it's time to go to the hospital? I began the pregnancy with that anxiety, and it stayed with me all throughout. To relieve it, I called a friend and asked her to leave her phone on in case we needed to call in the middle of the night. When I realized how much weight had been lifted off my shoulders after I made this simple request, I resolved that for however many more nights this pregnancy lasted, I would find someone who could do the same. I just needed to know that if I woke up needing to go to the hospital in the dead of night, I could call someone that would immediately be available to help. This was the rather simple solution to a dilemma that had been keeping me awake for weeks: who will take care of our boys when my husband and I cannot? God bless all the good friends who give you permission to call at any hour and, with a good will, rush to your aid.

So we arrived home, after our second false alarm trip to the hospital, at about 9:00pm on Saturday evening. A friend - a different one, and God bless her, too - had actually managed to get our jumpy boys in bed by giving them a stern talking to. What's more, she had put away the uneaten soup I had left in the crock pot and was washing the large pot that, at 39 weeks pregnant, I could barely lift in and out of the sink. Washing that pot! You have no idea how much that meant to me. I think I probably cried a little bit more when we told her what had happened at the hospital, and she was very sympathetic. God bless her again.

In a turn typical of the emotional roller coaster we were riding and couldn't get off, the contractions had picked up again by the time we got home. When I pondered having another night of being half in labor, half out of it, and I began to wonder whether this birth would end in a c-section simply because I was too tired to finish it out. I know it happens. In a sentiment very uncharacteristic of my ordinarily strong feelings about everything having to do with the natural births I desired for my children, I hardly cared at this point. We decided to try an epsom salt bath for relaxation, recommended by a friend who had previously suffered prodromal labor with one or two of her births. The magnesium is supposed to relax the uterus to make the contractions stop. I paired it with a glass of wine, because that's how I get through the painful parts of pregnancy, and because relaxation, right?

Within minutes of stepping into the bath, I could tell that the contractions were gone. Those pre-contraction tingles that make you think another one might be coming were simply not there. I stepped out of the tub fully expecting them to begin again, as they usually did when I was up and moving around...but they didn't. I laid down in bed, thinking that when I was finally relaxed and not thinking about anything else, I would notice the familiar cramping in my abdomen...but I didn't. For the first time in a couple of weeks, I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. God bless friends with good advice.

I woke up two hours later around midnight. I assumed that my body was either telling me to get up and pee or roll over to keep my hips from aching, so I dutifully hauled myself out of bed to visit the bathroom. I sat down on the toilet, but nothing happened. That's strange, I thought. I drank a very large glass of water right before lying down, and normally at least a little bit comes out. I half-remembered that something similar had happened to me at some point around 7 centimeters when I was in labor with my first son, but in my sleepiness, I didn't make the appropriate connection in the moment.

OUCH. What is that? Oh, it's a contraction. That pinched a bit. Better lie back down and see if it goes away, or at least hurts less.

OUCH, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch. That hurt even more. How far apart were those two? Not very. Where is my phone? I should start timing these. Should I tell my husband yet?

I carefully hobbled my way downstairs to tell my husband about the contractions. He said they seemed different to him, too, but we had thought that more than a few times in the last week. We decided to wait a little longer before crying "labor" again. I went upstairs to time them and try to get comfortable.

My contractions, as in labors past, did not follow anything close to a "one minute long, five minutes apart for one hour" pattern. The pattern was frustratingly difficult to discern. Some contractions seemed to have two peaks: a brief, painful one followed by a strong hardening like the flexing of a muscle. These contractions would last one and a half to two and a half minutes. Others were very short, and very similar to the contractions that I'd had for weeks. Sometimes only three minutes passed from the start of one contraction to the start of another, sometimes five, and at least once, almost nine minutes elapsed. The end of the contractions was almost indiscernible as the uterus relaxed ever so slowly and I couldn't put my finger on a true end to it. I was going crazy trying to time them. The only thing new about these contractions is that a good number of them were definitely painful (but not all of them). 

I'm not sure what made me confident enough that we should go to the hospital. Perhaps it was the fact that I had so many contractions during that hour. Perhaps it was that at least half of them were painful. Perhaps it was knowing that we wouldn't have to wake up the whole town for a false alarm, and that only one person would know about our trip to the hospital if we came back without a baby. Whatever it was, we called our friend. True to her promise, she slept with her phone on and hopped out of bed to rush over to our house. I am convinced that one of the best things that anyone can be for a pregnant woman in labor is reliable, and this friend certainly was. She helped me to the car while my husband, unusually animated, ran around tying up loose ends and gathering our bags for the third time in eight days.

It was almost as though my uterus remembered the last two weeks and knew that in the past, this was the time when it stopped its labor-work, right when we got into the car. I started crying (again!), thinking this would be our third time crying wolf and no one would believe me when I was truly in labor. Unlike you, dear reader, I still didn't know whether this was it...

The friend who had recommended the epsom salt bath told me later that she had woken up at about this time, thought of me, and prayed for me. Perhaps it was her intercession that made the contractions pick back up. It's also possible that it kept us from being pulled over by the darkened police car waiting in the median on the highway to catch speeders like my husband. We may or may not have been traveling fifteen over at that point. God bless friends who pray.

I tried to recall all the things that I had asked God for regarding this pregnancy and labor. I prayed that the baby wouldn't be too big. I prayed that he wouldn't get stuck with shoulder dystocia. I prayed that we would know when it was time to go to the hospital. I prayed that we would make it to the hospital in time. I prayed that I wouldn't have to be induced. I prayed I'd have one of those amazing labors that was not painful. Countless times I had also prayed that it would happen now, but so far that hadn't happened. At this point, I was in utter darkness about whether any of these prayers would be answered affirmatively. I was strangely confident of heavenly care upon the whole endeavor. That kind of confidence was extremely unusual given the amount of anxiety I've articulated here over the last several weeks. It was, however, a prayer that some ladies had made for me during my Birth Blessing, and God answers those prayers in good time. Yet even with that confidence in God's providence, it felt like I was walking forward with a blindfold on. I could feel a few things here and there and give an opinion of the situation on the other side of the blindfold, but it felt like a rather uninformed one. 

One of the things that I did feel was that sitting still made the painful parts of the painful contractions bearable, and that moving around made an epidural seem more attractive. (I don't even know what an epidural is like, but I've heard it can feel good). This means that the next forty minutes, upon arrival at the hospital around 2:30 in the morning, took every ounce of energy I had left. Walking from the car into the hospital went slowly, including a great deal of heavy breathing and a stop to lean on my husband's shoulders. Stepping on the scale in triage involved a considerable amount of wincing. Climbing into the wheelchair, out of the wheelchair, into the triage bed, and into the labor room bed felt almost impossible. Lying on my back to get the monitors strapped on and going to the bathroom to change into the hospital gown seemed like a special kind of torture reserved only for women in labor.

I was 8.5 centimeters when we arrived. They asked me if I'd like the doctor to break my water so that baby could be born right away, and I wasn't sure. Am I still in triage? I thought. Is it really going to happen so soon? I think I remember everything hurt more the last four times my water broke, and I don't think I want any more pain right now. I wasn't sure what I wanted at that point except ice chips. Yes, frozen bits of water! Of course that's what I want. No, I'm not ready for you to break my water.

One contraction later, I informed the nurses that I felt like pushing. That had happened an hour or so before my last one was born, so I felt confident that it would be over soon. Okay, the doctor can go ahead and break my water.

With the next contraction, I informed them that it would not be necessary for the doctor to break my water, as it had just broken on its own. The nurse looked down at the bed and confirmed, with surprise, that I was correct. 

With the next contraction, I informed the nurses that I could no longer avoid pushing. 

With the next contraction, my husband remarked, "There's meconium," and when the nurse looked down, she said, "Oh, and there's baby's head!"

With the next contraction, one of the nurses gave me some kind of instruction about pushing. I actually can't remember if it was "push hard" or "stop pushing," but fortunately it didn't matter in the end. I heard the words "nuchal cord," panicked just a little bit, and then couldn't help one more big push. Baby came all out. It was 3:10 in the morning. (It turns out the nurse was mistaken about the nuchal cord. His cord wasn't around it neck. What she had seen come out with his head was his hand. His hand!). I have no idea whether the doctor was there or not.

From the time I was awakened at midnight until the time he was born was three hours. I suppose I was finally convinced that I was in labor by the time we got out of the car at the hospital. The realization was not really a moment I could put my finger on. It was more of a slow slide into the stupor of labor, in which I half-chose and was half-forced to stop thinking so much, and then it was over. He was 8 pounds, 10 ounces and maxed out the length chart at 21 and 3/4". That's just how I grow them, apparently. He was born at exactly 39 weeks gestation. Baby chose a great birthday for himself, the Feast of Christ the King. He'll have to accept supernatural royalty by association on his birthday, though, since he'll have pretty stiff competition for the role-play kind in the games his brothers play.


A mere hour before our little man came rushing into the world, I was uncertain of whether any of my prayers about this baby's health or the birth would be answered. I walked blindly. By some gift of grace, I had become just barely confident of God's care for us in the eleventh hour. For the last several weeks of pregnancy, though, my emotions had wandered here and there, and mostly in the direction of fear, anxiety, and tears.

Yet each of those prayers, it must be said, was answered in a definite way. The baby was not "too big," whatever that means. At least he was not too big to find his way out. We did not get stuck in shoulder dystocia. My husband and I knew when to go to the hospital, though we didn't know that we knew it at the time. We made it there in time and I didn't have to give birth on the side of the road. I was not induced. The "now" for labor eventually came, even though it wasn't the first two dozen times I'd asked for that moment to come.

And the pain? Well, it was painful, but the nurse noted that part of the reason they were not prepared when he was finally born is because I just didn't seem like I was that close. I was not anxious. I was not saying that I couldn't do it, as I had in other births. I was not acting hysterical. I did not give the Amazon-woman yell that my husband and I have come to expect when I'm pushing. As my husband put it, I "surprised the nurses with a composed and stealthy delivery." I was so calm, the nurse said. As with the gift of confidence in God's providential care, so too a gift of grace enabled me to avoid the telltale signs of transition such as doubt, despair, and fear. If you have read post after post about the anxiety this pregnancy has inspired in me, you might appreciate that such a calm can not be said to be natural - at least not natural to me, not to this pregnancy, and not to most Type 1 diabetic pregnancies I've observed in these last eight years. A very special group of friends prayed for me to have a "peace which passes understanding" during labor this time, and I truly did. It wasn't painless, but the physical pain did not disturb my spirit. I think that comes pretty close!

I'm about as tired and in pain now that the baby has been born as I was before, but I can at least say that now I am happy. Happy! Pregnancy was pain and anxiety, but it is nearly forgotten now that baby is here. I will always be happy for your life, little man, even when I feel utterly incapable of giving you all you need and deserve.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Week 38: A Week Full of Tears...and More Contractions

The last two weeks of this pregnancy, I had spells of contractions every day that lasted several hours. For the most part they were far apart and short, except when they weren't. For the most part they weren't very painful, except when they were. They were like labor contractions in that they involved the entirety of my uterus tensing up, but they were unlike labor contractions in that I was still pregnant after they subsided. Since I barely made it to the hospital once before, and after hearing about one friend who delivered in the car on the side of the road and another who delivered at home attended by her husband, I was anxious to avoid finding myself in either of those situations.

I was in fits of tears every night. The contractions weren't painful, but almost everything else was. I couldn't put my own shoes on. I woke up every two hours because my hips were aching. Sometimes I stayed awake, if the contractions were enough to grab my attention, trying to figure out whether they were moving in the direction of pregnancy's end or not. I didn't want my husband to leave my side, but I knew he had to. Every morning when he left for work was a fresh agony. I couldn't even bear to have him sit downstairs reading in the evening while I laid in bed upstairs, because I wanted him to be close enough to dry my tears and hear me call. I didn't want to talk to anyone about my pain and anxiety, but I couldn't seem to think of anything else to talk about. Most of the time when I felt the contractions, I kept silent and tried to assume they would simply go away. Most of the time, they did. But how to keep my discomfort from my husband, to avoid causing him anxiety? Not easily. How to hold inside me and keep down all the anxiety about whether we'd get to the hospital in time? With great difficulty. How not to cry loudly for help, ask someone to come sit with me for a while and wait to see what would happen? With great loneliness.

I'll be honest and say that I was ready for pitocin or a c-section. I didn't actually think these things were right or good for me, I was just ready to buy the end of pregnancy at any cost. I half-thought they'd hook me up to pitocin any time after 37 weeks given that I'm a Type I diabetic and very few people seem to think I can safely carry a baby to its due date, but I think that recommendations for induction have changed since my first pregnancy. In the absence of a specific concern, induction is not prescribed until 39 weeks for anyone, and in spite of my pain, everything was totally fine. Baby's heart rate was fine. My blood pressure was fine, except when I was about to start crying (it was high at those times). Baby's size looked big-ish but not excessive. I do think it's the right call to postpone induction like that, but it sure didn't feel right at the time...

On Thursday I went to an appointment with my OB. The perinatologist was noticeably disturbed by the fact that my induction was not scheduled until the day after my due date; less so by the fact that all four of my children attended the ultrasound appointment. My dilation had only increased by one centimeter, to four.

On Friday afternoon, I began another bout of contractions. They seemed a little closer this time, maybe a little longer, and a little more consistent. I went to a friend's house for the boys to play and for us to chat. I figured getting out of the house and trying to forget what incredible pain I might be in at any moment would be a good idea - or at least an acceptable idea - given that the contractions were still far apart and not yet painful. The play date passed uneventfully and contractions came more frequently during the dinner hour. I nearly burst trying to keep the fact from my husband. I ended up blowing up about something else and we got into a huge argument, and I still wonder whether that may have stopped labor from happening at all that night. (Yet another reason it might be better to cry than yell!) Uncontrollable weeping - about our argument, my pain, and the uncertainty of it all - commenced when he left the house to take our children to one of their regularly-scheduled activities. More weeping as we hashed out our disagreement and apologized upon his return. Contractions slowed but continued.

In fact, contractions continued throughout that long, terrible night. I dozed but never really fell asleep. I got up and did some Sudoku puzzles, then laid down again. I got up later and baked some muffins. I finally laid in bed and sobbed loudly, waking up my husband, and declaring that I just wanted the contractions to end or give me a baby. All was in vain. I snatched a few minutes of sleep here and there in the early hours of the morning, occasionally waking to feel a contraction begin. The contractions were still not painful, just noticeable. Frequency and duration were changing constantly. If I'm honest, what really kept me awake was the anxiety. Will someone be here to watch my children when the time comes? Will we get to the hospital so that my husband doesn't have to deliver on the side of the road? I begged him to read an Emergency Childbirth manual I had on hand, just in case. He grudgingly consented.

About 2:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, contractions became more intense and more frequent. I waited an hour before saying so, and we waited another hour before marshaling the troops to leave for the hospital (again). We packed our things. With the wind blowing ferociously and coldly, ice rained down from the sky as we stepped outside to leave. I briefly wondered if the low pressure cold front moving through had caused my contractions to pick up, thus confirming my belief that the beginning of labor is in the hands of cosmic forces completely outside my control. We waved good-bye to our friends who came to take care of the boys, quickly ran to the car, and left, hoping that we'd have a baby by the morning.

But by the time we'd been in the car fifteen minutes, I could tell the contractions were slowing down rather than speeding up. I began to cry for the umpteenth time this week. We stopped for my husband to eat dinner, but I felt slightly nauseated and completely uninterested in eating. The darkening sky and the chill that was settling over everything helped me feel even more depressed (if that was possible). The hospital called to make sure the baby hadn't been born on the way, and I very sadly informed them that such was not the case.

By the time we arrived at the hospital, my anxiety about crying "Labor!" falsely for the second time was beginning to eat me alive (From the fear of being abandoned, deliver me, Jesus). The contractions continued to slow until they were almost gone. Our triage nurse was annoyingly cheerful as she told us the story of how she delivered her fourth ten minutes after arriving at the hospital with her three other sleepy children standing around the labor ward. I was not comforted, since I did not want to think about taking care of my other children when I myself was in such desperate need of care. It's very likely that her story would have had me laughing at any other time, but on this particular night, it only served to heighten my anxiety.

We waited in triage. By and by, my dilation was checked, and the news was disheartening. In 48 hours since my appointment at the OB's office, I had not dilated a single centimeter. Two long days and a night of contractions seemed utterly wasted. It was a feeling similar to when my OB proclaimed I "had more work to do" during my fourth labor and I felt crushed. I started crying again at some point. Probably multiple points, actually. The hospital registrar kindly brought me a tissue. The doctor said I couldn't get pitocin until the morning, since I wouldn't be 39 weeks gestation for another six hours. I wasn't even sure it would work and I definitely didn't want to go through another sleepless night, but there was no other option. It was about 8:30 in the evening. We collected our belongings, sent our "just kidding about being in labor!" texts, and drove home.

Tears, tears, tears!