Saturday, April 18, 2015

Reuben's Birth: A Plan!

I went into my pregnancy with Reuben knowing more about birth than ever before.  I was also more aware of the options women have.  I had made many friends in my new town, and some of them had chosen to have babies at home.  Some had been attended by a midwife, some had only been attended by their husbands and family.  I had heard of homebirths, of course, but this was my first experience with meeting people who had done it and were very positive and encouraging to others.

I was also a bit dissatisfied with how things had gone with Mena's birth.  It took me a long time to really put m finger on what had bothered me so much.  It had been so rushed, so frantic at the end.  Nurses and doctors at hospitals have a job, and that job is to do everything they can to make sure that mom and baby survive birth as healthy and happy as possible (and healthy is higher on that list than happy).  I can't fault the nurses for all the checking and monitoring, even though I was so far gone in labor, and starting to panic through contractions and did not want to be up the table to be checked. I did not want to feel panicked and rushed again.  I wanted my labor to be more peaceful.

I was armed with some valuable information about myself now.  First, there was every chance that my next labor would also be hard, fast, and short.  I could plan on three hours (or less) from start to baby.  Second, too much activity, noise, light or other stimuli during labor would increase my stress levels and make labor hurt more.  I needed calm, quiet, dimness.  Third, I could use visualization to help ride out contractions.  I used visualization to help walk my dog.  He was (he has since passed away) a large dog who loved kids and and people, but hated other dogs.  He was insecure and had a "Get them before they get me" attitude toward other dogs.  When I walked him it was imperative that I visualize myself as powerful, calm and in control, because he would pick up on that, relax and feel safe.  I needed the same type of visualization in labor.

Initially, I decided that birth at home would be the best way to achieve the relaxing atmosphere that would help me through labor.  Our little town has no midwife, and as much as I liked Dr. P, he didn't do homebirths.  I found a midwife in the next large town, 75 miles away.  I was very excited, even drove through a snowstorm for my first interview with her, and I felt good about it.  Until I left.  Three steps out of her office, and I was hit with the worst sense of foreboding I've ever had.  I couldn't explain it, but it went on and on, and I couldn't wish it away.  I couldn't feel good or confident about birthing at home with a midwife.  I don't think it had anything to do with the midwife herself.  She seemed to be very experienced and sensible, with all the proper certifications, and my pregnancy with Reuben was about as low risk as a woman can get (except that I was over 35, so I was suddenly an "older mother").  I just didn't feel comfortable, and that would not do for labor.

Maybe it was just the distance, and knowing that it would take the midwife a minimum of 90 minutes to reach me.  Maybe it was that memory, indelibly etched into my mind, of waking up on my back, watching the ceiling lights of the hospital flash by, Dr. K sprinting as she and nurses wheeled me down the hall.  For those few minutes, I knew I was dying.  I prayed for my husband as I was dying.  I know how quickly things can go from apparently perfect to very--even fatally--wrong.

The only other option was the hospital, so I had to plan for a relaxing environment there.  It was the first time I had written a birth plan.  What I wanted was to be left alone to labor in peace and quiet with my husband, but that sounds rather rude.  I wrote about how fast my labors come, about my desire and ability to ride out contractions calmly if given quiet, minimal checks and monitoring, and little noise.  I planned to go to the hospital as soon as the first contractions arrived.

The day before Reuben came was a Sunday, and our parish's church picnic in the park.  It was hot but fun.  When I lost my mucus plug that afternoon, I knew Reuben would be there soon.  I probably should have gone to the hospital right then.  Instead, my parents came to stay in the extra room, and as soon as the contractions hit--sometime around 2:30 in the morning--off we went to the hospital.  Because I had tested positive for strep B, I needed an IV of antibiotics.  Because I had spent most of the previous day sweating it out in the August heat, I was dehydrated.  It's hard to get an IV into me when I'm dehydrated.  It felt like it took a long time, and I had to sit very still through a few contractions while they got it into a good vein.  Of course, the IV pump is usually plugged in, and I wanted to be able to wheel it around with me.  The nurses were concerned because it has a limited battery life--something like four hours.  Oh, this baby will be here before that battery runs out, believe me!

They let me waddled to the bathroom and labor on the toilet, because that was comfortable.  They made themselves scarce, turned the lights down nice and low, and brought a big mug of ice water with a straw.  It was perfect.  My husband wanted to rub my back or do some sort of massage, but touching was too much stimuli for me.  No, honey, just give me water when I ask.  And hold my hand.  There was no clock in the restroom, but that was probably good.  Nothing makes time stretch to its utmost like watching a clock.  Siting in a semi-squatting position kept me progressing at a good clip (I think if I had walked, it would have progressed too quickly for me to handle).

Soon, I had to really focus on relaxing and visualizing something powerful and calm.  My favorite image for dog-walking was a huge, old sailing ship, like in Pirates of the Caribbean. The image of a great, grand ship slicing through smaller waves, and riding over the larger ones was a perfect image for labor.  The contractions themselves were like waves, but as they grew more intense and very close together, the ship wasn't the right image.  I needed something to help me picture riding with it, not slicing through it. Surfing was better.  I no longer felt powerful.  I had to go with the contraction because if I didn't I would wipe out, and it would hurt.  Maybe that's not the  most useful imagery, but it helped keep me focused on the importance of relaxing.  (I have actually never surfed.  I live in the most landlocked state in existence, but the image was the important thing.)

Sometime during my surfing, my water broke.  I told Lupe to get the nurses and tell them.  They wanted to check how dilated I was.  I didn't much feel like getting to the bed, but like I mentioned, checking is their job, and I generally believe in letting people do their jobs.  I got on the bed and that familiar sensation hit.  I needed to PUSH, and I said so!  I'm sure I was fully dilated, because the nurse told me to go ahead.  Someone else ran for the doctor.

Dr. P wasn't there that night.  Dr. J was on call.  I found out later that they'd performed two emergency c-sections that night as well (which might account for why they left us alone so nicely), so I think a straightforward, simple vaginal delivery was a relief.  I pushed, and everything hurt so badly that I asked Dr. J if I was crowning.  He nodded, and I felt like I imagine marathon runners do when they realize the finish line is only 50 yards away.  Two more pushes and Reuben was out.  It was 5:06 am.
Look at all that hair, and his beautiful broad forehead!  This little guy ended up with curls.

I had wanted to let the cord stop pulsing before they cut it, and the doctors and nurses had agreed.  However, Reuben's cord was so short, they couldn't hand him to me, or even see while I birthed the placenta.  Instead of leaving him laying between my legs, they cut the cord and gave him immediately to me.  Yup, my squashy little beet with a brush cut.  After birthing the most enormous placenta I've ever had, all that was left was the clean-up.  The nurses were very impressed with me, which I found a little confusing.  They must see delivery every day, or at least several times a week.  I guess I labor much more quietly than most women (making noise increases my stress level; I like quiet), and not everyone can ask coherent questions in the middle of pushing.  I get that, but knowing women who labor for much (much) longer than I, I didn't think two and a half hours, however intense, really put me in any special category, except "most likely to deliver before the doctor arrives."

Can I give hospitals some advice?  Dear hospitals, feed your new mamas well!  Give them meat and fat, and something filling, warming and satisfying.  Regular hospital food does not cut it!  That's my big change in plans for baby #5:  Before I go to that hospital, I'm packing myself a thermos of bulletproof coffee (coffee blended with butter, coconut oil and gelatin) and a bacon sandwich for my post delivery meal!
And Reuben makes four!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Philomena's Birth Story: Accidentally Natural

Read Lilli and Sal's birth stories first!

Between Sal and his younger sister, Mena, we moved, and I had to say good-bye to Dr. K.  I was at a new clinic, a new hospital and had a new doctor, Dr. P. We were in a new house and new neighborhood, but family problems follow you everywhere.  Times with our teen hadn't gotten any better.  She finally made things easy on everyone by deciding that she'd just move out as soon as she was eighteen--and then doing it.  I knew it wasn't a good decision for her life, as she also dropped out of high school and shacked up with her boyfriend.  They spent the next year or so bouncing around with different friends and relatives and wearing out their welcome (lying to people does that, fast).  For me, it simply made a rough pregnancy a little easier.   There is no peaceful way to live with someone who A) you are responsible for and B) you cannot trust out of your sight.

I've never felt so bad for so long as I did that pregnancy.  The first four months felt like endless food poisoning.  I don't know if it was a reaction to the high stress of the previous year, and especially the four months before the pregnancy, a result of my poor diet (highly processed and not very nutritious, and very short on fruits and veggies), or was simply a quirk of that particular pregnancy.  I had not and have not had morning sickness like that in any other pregnancy.  However, the only other issue with the pregnancy was my susceptibility to bacterial vaginosis, which isn't as uncomfortable as a yeast infection, but can cause premature labor.  It is also treated with the most vile antibiotic I have ever, ever taken in my life.  The antibiotic used for it turned my tongue green, made everything taste horrible, increased my nausea, and left me feeling more lethargic and drained than the pregnancy.  It's horrid stuff, even if it works.

As labor approached, I planned a birth much like the one I had with Salvador: give me the epidural ASAP.  However, I had never gone into labor while at home, and I wasn't sure when to come to the hospital.  I couldn't count on having a checkup that coincided with my "labor day," like last time, and I couldn't exactly get down there and see how dilated I was.  Dr. P told me that the usual guidelines were to come in when the contractions were 5 minutes apart.  Just in case, I bought a copy of The Birth Book by Dr. William Sears.  It's a good thing I did, because it was the only preparation I got for what was coming.

The Monday before my due date (I was due that Friday), I lost my mucus plug.  I probably wouldn't remember that, but I went to my Moms' Book Group that night, and my impending birth was a big topic of conversation.  One of the moms there was our local neonatal nurse, and I mention the mucus plug to her.  "Oh, that baby is coming soon," she predicted.  She was very right.  All the baby and birth books, though, tell moms not to get excited about it.  Labor and delivery nurses roll their eyes if a mom walks in and says she lost her mucus plug and labor is coming.  (Poke around Pinterest to find this one; search "Labor and Delivery Nurses").  I figured I had another full day at least, but I did double check my hospital bag when I got home that night.

I woke up at 2 am with contractions.  Not bad ones, but intense enough that I couldn't sleep. They were about ten minutes apart. I walked around the house a bit.  For a little while, sitting in the rocking chair was comfortable.  As the contractions got more intense, but no closer together, I would bend over and lean on the back of the couch, which helped me relax my uterus.  I felt chilled, so I ran a deep bath and laid in the water on my side, which had the double effect of easing the contractions and letting me doze a little.  When the contractions became too intense for that, I got out.  The contractions were about 6 minutes apart now, close enough to five, so I woke my husband, threw on some clothes and called my parents.  They lived just across town now.  In the twenty minutes between waking my husband and my parents arriving, my contractions became much more intense, enough that sitting through one was very uncomfortable.  But we live less that ten blocks from the hospital, so I figured I would have lots of time to get there, get checked in, bundled into a room, and all the other rigmarole.  It was nearly 4 am, so we had to be buzzed in through the emergency room entrance.

Thankfully, we didn't have to convince the nurses that, yes, I really was in labor, this was no false alarm. It was pretty obvious.  I don't know how long we stood in the waiting room outside the labor and delivery hall (our hospital isn't big enough for a L&D ward), but it felt like a long time, and the contractions were coming thick and fast.  I wanted that epidural, now!  I'm sure, though, that it was too late by the time I left home.  I was much farther along than I thought, and I was terribly afraid I was looking at hours and hours of these heavy, fast contractions.  That fear didn't help.  I could relax like I had been.  Once in the room, the nurses were in a hurry, getting me into the hospital gown, taking my blood pressure, trying to get me to fill out paperwork, trying to get me on the bed to check my progress.  All I knew is that I was losing it.  I leaned on my husband, gripping his coat--he hadn't had a chance to take it off--with each contraction.  I kept apologizing to the nurses.  I felt like I was such a bother, rushing in like this, making a scene.  Nothing the nurses said made me feel that way; that's just me.  I suppose repeating, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," is better than cussing at them.

Then my water broke all over the floor.  I didn't realize it at first.  Everything down there either hurt or was numb, and sensations weren't exactly reaching my brain with much accuracy, or being analysed well.  I thought I'd peed all over, and I was terribly embarrassed.  The nurses insisted I get on the bed for a check.  About the time I did, I felt it.  I needed to push.  I needed it more than anything I had ever needed, and I told the nurses so.  One left to get Dr. P.  The other helped brace my leg and told me to go ahead and push.  One, two, three, and little Philomena was born.  I think Dr. P came in time to catch, but I'm not sure.  Mena was bundled into a warmed blanket and handed to me.  She snuffled around, found the breast and started to nurse.  I know I delivered the placenta and got cleaned up, but I don't remember it.  I had my baby in my arms, healthy, red and perfect--a beet with a brushcut--and I had survived a natural birth completely by accident.  Then the anesthesiologist showed up.  Of course, they had called him, woken him up, then he had to drive in, and prepare everything for an epidural . . . and it was totally unnecessary.  He is the husband of the neonatal nurse, so I sent him home to tell her the good news.  Mena was born at 5:04 AM, almost exactly three hours after labor began.  I had been in my hospital room less than an hour.

Lilli was delighted to have a little sister.
I had been so sick during my pregnancy with Mena, but she made up for it after the birth.  She was a placid, happy baby, and figured out her days and nights within 48 hours.  None of my other children have been such good sleepers.  I admit, for a little while I thought I had just gotten that good at parenting babies.  I had it figured out.  In reality, that was just Mena.  She is still a heavy, good sleeper, and still a generally happy child.  I was surprised by how quickly she and I both recovered from the labor.  Recovering from it was much easier than recovering from Sal's birth, even though he'd been an easy, relaxing, mostly painless labor, and this one had been a whirlwind.  That easy recovery was enough to make me want to try natural birth again.

There's a lot of advice out there about how to have a short labor, what to eat or how to exercise for a natural labor, all the things you have to do to have what I stumbled into totally unawares.  After talking to my mother about her labors, I'm convinced there's a genetic component to laboring.  I'm also convinced that every expecting mom needs to learn how to relax through contractions, how to use visualization to help her, and how to keep calm and in control when it is so tempting to panic.
Everyone all together.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Salvador's Birth Story: By the Book

Read Lillian's birth story first! Part 1 and Part 2

One would think that in the two years between Lilli and Sal, I would have read more about childbirth and dealing with the pain of contractions, but in reality, I didn't.  Life was full of other, more pressing things.  Not just my teaching, but the extra full-time job of parenting a rebellious and dishonest teen who was determined to do as little school-work as possible.  I've sat on both sides of the parent-teacher conference table, and I've had to both give and receive bad news about a child.  Childbirth is easy in comparison.

I never gave any thought to natural childbirth with Salvador.  I'd felt contractions with Lilli, and they were enough to last me a lifetime!  I told Dr. K that I wanted an epidural as soon as possible in the process--end of discussion, end of plan.  Pitocin?  Didn't cross my mind.  I had three goals: vaginal birth and no episiotomy (and hopefully no tearing), and healthy baby and mama. I didn't have a birth plan (I'd never heard of a birth plan). When I see articles bemoaning the epidural rate in the USA, I remember that it isn't just up to the doctors.  How many women are just like I was with Sal's birth?  Give me the epidural.  I don't want any pain.  Break my water if you think it's necessary.  Women go into birth planning and expecting that epidural, so, like me, they don't learn how to handle contractions.  They don't check out the Bradley Method or Lamaze or Hypnobirthing.   The epidural is the plan.

I had my 40 week appointment a few days before my due date, as my due date landed on a weekend (and Halloween).  I felt good.  I didn't have the swelling in my ankles and feet I'd had with Lilli.  My blood pressure was good.  My parents had even bought me a blood pressure monitor for home, so I could keep track of it daily.  I'd had some more intense Braxton-Hicks contractions that week, but nothing that didn't go away immediately if I stood up or sat down or walked around the house.  I wasn't sure what to expect of early labor, even though this was my second rodeo.  Dr. K found me partially dilated (a 2 or 3, I think), and discovered that I had a very small, high leak of amniotic fluid.  I'd also lost my mucus plug, probably early that morning when I was too dang tired to notice.  She sent me home to get my bag, arrange childcare for Lillian, call Lupe, and come on back.  Labor was coming.

She was right.

I was back at the hospital before noon, and it wasn't long before contractions started, and when they started getting uncomfortable, I was happy to have that epidural put in.  I have to say, when it works, it makes labor easy.  So easy.  I read a good book until it was almost time to push.  I know many articles and birth books talk about how epidurals slow down labor, make pitocin necessary, and lead to c-sections.  When I consider that I started feeling labor around 1 pm, and Sal was born after less than twenty minutes of pushing at 6 pm (right on the dot; we had double nurses present because it was shift change), I have to conclude that it didn't slow me down, at least.  My entire labor was about 5 hours, unless we count the labor I couldn't feel before that (do you count labor you can't feel?).  And there was Sal.  Remember that we had double nurses there?  Yup, my newborn son peed all over both shifts as they weighed and measured him.

What didn't happen after he was born was bleeding.  The cyst that had caused all the trouble after Lilli had disappeared as the uterus shrank.  When I became pregnant again, it reappeared.  In the aftermath of birth, Dr. K was able to quickly remove it and suture the site.  It never reappeared, though we had ultrasound techs check for it with each of our next two pregnancies.  That part of my life was gone, and I doubt we will ever know what caused it in the first place.

He looks thoughtful here, but I think he spent his first hour after birth screaming. He'd had enough of this birth stuff and was ready to go back to that nice, warm, dark place.    
If I take away the learning curve needed to care for Lilli, Sal really was my hardest baby (so far . . .).  He wasn't colicky or anything, but he did get overwhelmed very easily.  He didn't like too much light, too much noise or too much activity.  He wanted life to be like before: warm, dark, and quiet except for some nice, rhythmic white noise.  I used to swaddle him up, warm an extra receiving blanket to put on his back, and rock him around the kitchen with the vent fan on high.  It was the best way to get him to sleep.  Baby wearing and co-sleeping had made things easier with Lilli, but I can't imagine parenting baby Sal without them.  She liked them; he needed them.

Though the epidural didn't slow my birth, I did get to feel the after effects.  I itched horribly for most of the next day (try sleeping through that), and I was headachy.  As much as I liked the pain relief, I didn't like the side effects.  I just didn't know what the options really were, and I didn't think I'd ever be able to handle a natural labor.  I still thought of labor as the hard, fast contractions I'd experienced with Lilli.

My favorite, favorite picture from the hospital.  Lilli and Sal meet for the first time.  She was thrilled with baby brother (at least until she found out how noisy he was).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Lilli's Birth Story: Risks Unknown (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of Lilli's Birth Story

 There we were, me, baby Lilli, my husband, my step-daughter, both my parents, my brother, his wife, their two little ones.  The nurses were in and out, checking on me, waiting to see if the epidural was wearing off properly, checking the baby and me.  Everything seemed to be going fine.  As all the feeling came back to my legs (and I realized how sore I was), I also realized that I couldn't put off a trip to the bathroom any longer.  The nurses helped me out of bed and I waddled to the bathroom.

Then came the blood, gushing, pouring, roaring out of me.  I remember the nurse calling for help, for a wheelchair, then I blacked out.  I came to on my back, moving, the lights on the ceiling of the hospital flashing by and knew something was very wrong.  I remember praying to God not to leave my husband to raise our daughters alone.  He'd already lost one wife to abandonment.  It would be too cruel to make him a widower today.  I don't remember anything else until that night--it must have been late, but I don't know how late.  I woke up back in the same room.  Someone had delivered a beautiful basket of fruit, crackers and cheese from the staff at my school.  Lilli was nowhere to be seen.  Just Lupe, my husband, was there.  My part was the easier part.  I had been unconscious.  I hadn't endured the horrible waiting and praying, the dread of hearing the worst news, that my family had endured for the past hours.

The problem had nothing to do with the pre-eclampsia.  Instead, the culprit was a cyst on my cervix.  The ultrasound technician had spotted it at my 20-week ultrasound, and it had grown with my pregnancy.  The biggest concern about it had been whether it would interfere with proper dilation and effacing.  Since that part was over, we hadn't thought it would cause other complications.  Unexpectedly, it prevented my uterus from clamping down and stopping the bleeding properly.  As I held my baby girl and spoke with my family, my uterus was filling up with blood.  I was slowly bleeding to death.  Dr. K said I was only ten or fifteen minutes from the point of no return.  Much longer and I would have lost too much blood for them to save.  As it was, I'd had hours of emergency surgery, a blood transfusion, and I was on a high alert watch.  If I started bleeding again, the next step was an emergency hysterectomy.

Much of the next few days has blurred together in memory.  I couldn't eat for a while.  I had broth and ginger ale and water.  I was on a catheter, and because I couldn't get up, they put funny little things on my feet that squeezed them periodically to prevent blood clots.  I felt cold, even with the heat turned up.  It was snowing outside, the light, powdery snow we get in early fall.  The leaves on the trees were still golden, but they froze while I was there and started turning brown.  Lilli was perfect.  I was exhausted.  They took my blood several times in the first twenty-four hours after the surgery.  It felt like every hour, but I'm not sure anymore.  I never had a problem with needles until then; now I can't watch them stick me.

The time in the hospital after Lilli was spent recovering from my emergency more than bonding with her.  I remember long, quiet stretches punctuated by visits and holding and nursing Lilli.  The staff knew I wanted to feed her myself, not have them give her bottles, and they were very good about making sure I did.  Even when I was discharged, on that Friday--I had been in the hospital since Monday afternoon--the deep, bone-weary exhaustion had not left.  That was from the blood loss and transfusion, I am sure, and my abdomen ached terribly.  I couldn't believe they were sending me home, even though I was glad to be going.  I was ready for my bed, my house, my shower, and time with my baby. Of course, I got winded walking up half a flight of stairs, so I couldn't quite believe they actually trusted me to be in charge of a baby.

She was so little we actually used some preemie-sized clothes, but she was a champion nurser and doubled her birthweight in a few months.
Six weeks later, I had to go back to work.  It was surreal.  I felt like I had changed enormously in the course of my birth/near death experience, yet everything at the school was the same, down to the gradebook program mysteriously losing whole sets of grades.  I cried every minute I was alone that first day.  And the second.  My only solace was that Lilli was being cared for by a wonderful woman from our parish.  M had three children of her own, who she homeschooled, so Lilli gained three older "siblings" during the day.  I pumped four times a day at school and delivered the milk to M every afternoon when I picked up Lilli.  I discovered that the only way to snatch enough sleep to function in a room full of 13-year-olds was to co-sleep with Lilli.  It was so much more restful, and we've co-slept with all our babies, breastfeeding them on demand throughout the night.

Sometimes, Lilli seemed so easy, and I wondered why we hadn't tried for a baby earlier, but I think God's timing was on our hearts.  Dr. K and her staff saved my life.  We had only moved into that town a year before, and I am convinced that I would not have survived in the hospital in our previous town.  Too many of my grown nieces have delivered there, and the stories are discouraging (very high rate of c-sections, actively discouraging moms from breastfeeding--not a very welcoming environment).

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Lilli's Birth Story: Risks Known (part 1)

Goodness, without Pinterest, how would we know how many different birth stories were out there?  And though I always tell my children the stories of their births, I've never felt like sitting and writing them down until now.  Four births in, with number five on the way, I finally feel like I have something to say about this process, and I realize that I've had more variety of births than most people: medically-necessary induction, low-risk with an epidural, unintentional natural birth, and an intentional natural birth--all in the hospital.

Lilli was the first.  I wasn't classified as a high-risk pregnancy.  My weight-gain was in the healthy range, my blood pressure stayed pretty good throughout, and though I was tired, I didn't seem to be excessively so.  After all, I was pregnant and teaching junior high full-time.  That meant being on my feet for five or six hours of the day, and it isn't what I would call a low-stress environment (particularly in that district). During the fourth and fifth month of pregnancy, I developed severe pain in my lower back and down one leg.  Assuming it was sciatica, my doctor, Dr. K, sent me to physical therapy, which made it worse.  After six weeks of constant pain, which was only bearable when I was standing straight or laying flat, I went to the chiropractor.  After one adjustment, my pain was down by about 90%.  I could drive across town without crying from the pain.  A second adjustment eliminated it completely.  

I loved Dr. K.  I felt much more comfortable with a female doctor than a male, and she was easy to talk with.  She never made me feel silly or stupid for asking questions.  Two of her staff attended our church, so I got several casual "check-ups" every Sunday.  Still, I can't say I was a well-educated mom about birth.  The one birth class offered in town didn't mention anything about naturally handling labor pain.  They did a very good job talking about real vs. false labor and explaining the different pain-relieving options available.  They took us on an excellent tour of the maternity floor of our hospital and guided us all through pre-registration (I love pre-registration).  One of the nurses teaching the class was a La Leche League leader, and the information on breastfeeding was also great.  I really could have used information about relaxing through contractions, breathing to ease the tension, and the power of visualization throughout.  I went into labor completely unprepared.

On Sunday, I visited my parents and celebrated my niece's first birthday.  My parents had just bought a blood pressure machine for their home, so everyone tried it out.  My BP was on the high side of normal, but nothing alarming.  On Monday, I was draggier than usual, but hey, isn't everyone by the 38-week mark?  I laid down at lunch and slept through both my planning and teaming periods.  I was incredibly relieved to go to my 38-week check-up after school.  It was a good thing my appointment was that day.  My BP was sixty points higher than the day before. My urine very clearly had protein in it.  I had pre-eclampsia. "You are staying here and having a baby in the morning." 

And that was that.  I did not get to go home to pack my bags.  I had to call a neighbor to pick up my step-daughter from the hospital.  We didn't have cell phones, and I was unable to get anyone at my husband's workplace to pick-up the phone.  He arrive home three hours later to an empty house, a very hungry dog, and a my message on the answering machine.  My sub-plans for work weren't done, and I hadn't planned anything for that week.  I was expecting to go closer to my due date and had started plans with that in mind.  I called a teacher on my team and gave her emergency plans for the week over the phone.  

I hadn't discussed much in the way of a birth plan with Dr. K.  I hadn't even heard about birth plans then.  I did know that I very much wanted to avoid a c-section at all costs.  Being cut open scared the heck out of me, and I knew if I had one, the chances of having another were high.  I wanted a big family, and I didn't want to have to cut it short because my uterus couldn't handle another surgical birth.  Thankfully, Dr. K agreed with me completely.  She had no desire to cut me open either.  I spent the night laying awake, staring at the BP monitor, willing my pressure to go down.  It didn't.  They had put a medical goo on my cervix to soften it--I wasn't dilated at all, nor effaced.  Lilli wasn't ready to be born, and my body wasn't ripe to birth her, but we didn't have a choice.  By morning, my BP had crept up.  They induced me at 8:00 am. 

No one had told me that induced contractions are harder and more painful that natural ones.  I'd had no information about how to handle contractions at all.  I could not receive an epidural until I had reached a certain point of dilation.  Until then, we needed labor to progress if we wanted to avoid a c-section.  So we progressed in intense, terrible pain.  I walked.  I got on all fours.  I leaned on my husband.  I held his hand.  I had him rub my back.  I think I even tried a shower (after a while, it's just one blurry memory of pain).  These things might have worked well, except that I was missing a very key part of riding out contractions: I was not relaxing my uterus.  So long as I kept tensing in reaction to the pain, the pain would be worse (and I would be more tense).  I don't know how long it was before I was able to receive the epidural--it had to have been at least three hours, but it felt much, much longer.  I know I dozed some after it took effect.  I hadn't slept much at all the night before, and the nap at lunch the day before was long in the past.  At least I continued progressing and soon I was fully dilated and effaced and it was time to push.  The epidural was wearing off a little by then, just enough to sort of feel to push and sort of feel her being born.  I'd always heard stories about women pushing for hours and hours, so when I was told it was time to push, I thought  I was only half-way through.  I thought I had hours more of work ahead.  Lilli took four, maybe five pushes, about twenty minutes worth (um, don't hate me), with rests in-between, and she was born at 1:20 pm.  

She was tiny, 5 lbs., 2 oz., only 17" long, a tiny fairy child of a baby with sticks for arms and legs.  She'd had no time to put on the last layer of fat some babies develop.  Thick, black hair covered her head and she looked like an angry beet with a brush-cut.  I fell so deeply in love with her.  It was like I'd never understood love before that moment.  I wanted to hold her and never let her go, and they let me as I delivered the placenta and they cleaned me up.  A few stitches for a few minor tears, a few minutes to let the nurses finally weigh and measure and diaper her, and she was back in my arms.  Everyone stepped out into the hall to give mother and baby a few minutes of blessed peace and quiet to meet each other.

Which would have been fine, except something--maybe the epidural, maybe the stress, maybe the medication they had given me to help me sleep the night before (which didn't work)--made me suddenly nauseous.  I couldn't figure out how to hold Lilli safely and reach the call button, and I had this horrible image of me throwing up on my beautiful newborn baby girl, who had surely had as hard a day as I.  I leaned as far over the edge of the bed as I dared, and I vomited all over the floor.

After being moved to a clean room, I thought the hard part was over.  My baby was here.  She had already latched on and breastfed.  My brother and his family were there, and my parents came in, it was joyous and beautiful.  I felt like a wrung-out washcloth, but isn't that how a woman feels after birth?  The worst of it was over . . . I thought.
Lilli meets Daddy face to face.