June 20, 2013

Til' death do us part: a birth story

**I debated about whether or not to break this post into multiple posts and ultimately decided to break it up.  Each post is still quite long, so please, grab a cup of coffee (or two), hunker down and have a nice read (NOTE: it can get a little graphic, so if you're squeamish don't say I didn't warn you).  Over the next several days or weeks, I will share how I experienced God's miracles, mercy and grace.**

After many words of encouragement and questions about how I'm doing...I'm back.  The last time I posted now seems like a lifetime away.  So much has happened since then.  So much has changed.  I have aged in a way no 20-something should ever have to age.  

I first shared that the hubby and I were expecting back in October.  Not only were we embarking on a new adventure by adding a new life to our family, but we took a leap of faith by moving to the east coast.  No family, no friends.  Totally different culture from the west.  To top it all off, our situation was a trial run for David's career.  It was temporary.  The challenge of living day-to-day, not knowing whether or not we could stay comfortable at headquarters or if we'd need to pack up for one of David's business trips, was stressful.  But it was an amazing opportunity to "test" a different job, expand his professional network and experience the job before committing to it.  In the end, we both decided the job and the east coast weren't for us.  The biggest blessing to this opportunity was that if the job didn't work out David could return to his old gig back west. 

We missed our families.  We missed the landscape (read: the mountains).  We wanted to have our baby in the same area in which we grew up, the beautiful Pacific NW.  So, we packed up our headquarters one last time and flew home.

The move back was a whirlwind--just as much a whirlwind as when we first received our orders last June.  We quickly found a house, took our "baby-moon" in Maui, and moved in.  I was six months pregnant, David had to jump back into work.  We were so excited to finally be settling down!  Our baby would be here in about three months and we were filled with so much joy, anticipation, and fear about being "good enough" parents. :)  I imagine we were experiencing the typical roller coaster of emotions that first-time parents experience.

Slowly we completed the nursery.  My grandfather crafted a co-sleeper out of walnut for his third great-grandchild so that our baby could be in our room for the first several months.  I fretted over silly things like getting the perfect baby carrier(s), having options for strollers, which cloth-diapering system I would use, and limiting the amount of pthalates our baby would be exposed to.  In spite of my fretting, I maintained a healthy, low-risk pregnancy.  All my exams and ultrasounds were all that I could hope for--a healthy mom, healthy baby.  We were rockin' it.  David committed to being trained as a birthing coach to best help me give birth without any medication or medical intervention.  All signs pointed to smooth-sailing. 

Until 37 weeks... At 37 weeks my low-risk pregnancy went out the window.  My blood pressure spiked, which as anyone who's been pregnant knows, that's a scary thing to have happen.  Doctor's start throwing around the word "pre-eclamptic."  This kind of alarmist behavior irritates me so much that it increases my blood pressure even more!  At any rate, it was appropriate to take precautions.  I performed the 12-hour protein test, which came back high enough to confirm my doctor's concerns.  I wasn't quite pre-eclamptic, but close enough to be wary.  She ordered frequent non-stress tests (such an oxymoron).  Each test, my blood pressure continued to be high, but at least my baby was kicking some major you-know-what!  Baby L was an overachiever, with a heartbeat so strong that the nurses and my doctor didn't even bat an eye.  We were just going to focus on keeping me safe and healthy.  

But that meant we were talking "induction."  Oh boy... I couldn't have an induction!  My natural birth plan would have to go totally out the window!  For weeks, I had been unsure about the arrival of Baby L.  Would I be able to love our baby enough?  Would I have the patience, strength and courage to give our little one everything it would need?  Up until the induction word was being tossed around, I wanted the baby to stay put for as long as possible.  But God has an amazing way of taking care of us exactly in the way we need. 

At 38 weeks, a Friday, my blood pressure was even more a concern.  I was sent to the hospital for monitoring.  If my blood pressure didn't go down I would likely be induced that night.  Good thing I had been practicing relaxation techniques the last 11 weeks in my birthing class with David!  Within two hours I was sent home, but on one condition: bed rest.  Better than induction!  I'll take it.  

David was an incredible support.  He cleaned the house, stocked the pantry and fridge, cooked and packed for our hospital stay when we would birth our baby.  We very strongly suspected I would be induced that Monday after my next appointment.  We figured, best to be ready.  But as I said God has an amazing way of taking care of us.  Sunday night, at 38 weeks and 2 days pregnant, 12 days early, the day before I was likely to be induced, my water broke.  Oh my goodness, I can still feel the excitement that ran through me that night!  We were going to have our baby, we were finally going to meet him or her, and we were going to get to do it on the baby's terms, our terms: induction free! 

At that point we decided I was off bed rest.  I figured out how to--how do I put this--contain the mess that resulted from my water breaking, then quickly ate some dinner (good ol' PB&J :)), finished up last minute details around the house, packed the car, walked around the house to get my labor going, practiced relaxation with David one last time...oh, this was one of the most amazing feelings I have ever felt.  We were finally going to have our baby!!  David and I stood in the kitchen, looking around our house, then looked at each other, embraced. and said good-bye to the "us" that we currently knew.  When we would return from the hospital our two would be three!  

Labor was going smoothly.  By the time we arrived at the hospital my contractions were about 10 minutes apart.  I was allowed to walk around, labor in whatever position I wanted.  My blood pressure wasn't even in the "scary" range!  Hah.  Take that, doctor. :)  David was incredible.  With every contraction, he provided me physical and emotional support, reminding me to breath, relax every muscle in my body so my uterus could do it's job without resistance.  About six hours after my water broke, my contractions were roughly four minutes apart.  We were moving along quite nicely.  

The nurse came in to check on my contractions and noted that I was still in very early labor.  The contraction monitor was showing moderate contractions intermittently, nothing indicating my body was anywhere close to pushing out a baby.  David and I knew otherwise...but what do we know?  Our stop watch couldn't be compared to the medical monitor.  Our nurse asked if there was anything she could get for me.  As a matter of fact, yes please.  I was SO hungry!  Is there anything I could eat?  Our nurse was very helpful and brought us a selection of "goodies."  That is if you call processed food goodies :)  I could choose from a Cup o' Noodles, Fritos, applesauce, or a pressed ham and American cheese sandwich.  I decided the sandwich would do the trick.  Between contractions I scarfed it down.  David laughed and said, "Apparently you were hungry."  Yes.  Yes I was.  

While scarfing down my sandwich my contractions got even closer together.  The nurse observed my need to stop and focus on each contraction and decided it might be prudent to check the location of the contraction monitor on my belly.  Sure enough, as soon as she re-positioned it the needle moved up and down in three minute intervals.  I was sitting on the edge of the bed, leaning over my knees with each wave.  I rested my hands palms-up on my knees.  David held my hands, pressing his fingers hard into the palms whenever a contraction came on.  This little trick was great for helping me keep focused on relaxing every inch of my body, getting out of the way of my uterus.  David then asked for a bucket of ice water and a wash cloth.  Oh. My. Goodness. What heaven is this?!  The contractions seemed to be even more manageable when David wiped my brow with the icy cloth while pressing his other hand in my palm.  Isn't he amazing?  After a few contractions like this I decided I wanted to try laboring in the tub.  My friend had told me the water was an incredible relief for the pain, so why not try it?  

Well, I'm glad I tried it, but definitely not for me.  I had been so cold throughout labor, and the en suite bathroom was not heated.  Furthermore, I am fairly tall so laying in a standard tub is not...easy.  And to make matters even more challenging, my contractions were about 3 minutes apart, 90 seconds long.  This was just insane.  I was shivering, which of course doesn't help one relax.  I couldn't get comfortable.  I had enough of that, thank you very much.  Out of the tub I went.  And it's a good thing I did because shortly thereafter I was heading into "transition."  These are the last contractions that stretch the cervix from about 7 cm to the full 10.  It happens so quickly (generally within 20 minutes), and the contractions can feel like they are one on top of the other.  No breaks.  No time to re-focus.  I finally got dressed, and moved back to the edge of the bed.  David continued his coaching, encouraging me, praising my efforts all while wiping my brow with that oh, so wonderful icy cloth.  

Within a few contractions, I started to feel overwhelmed.  This pain was far more than I bargained for.  If these contractions kept up like this for a few more hours there was no way I could make it to the end.  I was screaming at David, "How can I relax, there are NO BREAKS!!!"  Our nurse continued her support, giving David a break and guided me through a meditation to help me focus.  That helped me regain my resolve, but man, those contractions were so intense!  I heard the nurse ask the assistant to get a table ready.  What?!  What is this "table"??  I was starting to feel like I couldn't do it anymore, but I really, really didn't want an epidural.  

One contraction later, I learned the nurse wanted the table to prep for delivery.  She performed a quick check of how far I was dilated--almost there, just have a little lip.  Yes!  "Ok," I thought, "Change positions for a few more contractions and I'll be ready."  I told David I had to move to the floor (yes, the nasty, cold, hard linoleum hospital floor), on all fours.  That just seemed to make sense to me.  As soon as I did, I took a deep breath waiting for the next contraction.  But it never came.  I could breathe!  I could finally breathe and take a break!  Oh, what sweet relief.  I realized I had gotten through transition...and then it came.  The absolute, undeniable, all-encompassing need to push.

At some point between checking my dilation and having that tremendous need to push, I heard the nurse tell me not to, she told the other nurse to call the doctor, and then turn again to me: I needed to wait for the doctor to get there.  For Pete's sake!  If you've ever delivered a baby, you understand that there is NO FREAKING WAY that you can't push.  David went into coaching mode again, helping me to breathe through each pushing contraction so that I didn't bear down.  I moved back to the bed, and the nurse decided it was okay for me to be serious about pushing.  I requested the squatting bar and got to work.  

After a few contractions squatting, I was exhausted--apparently all my squatting exercises weren't quite enough to give me the stamina for this stubborn baby.  I decided I would try the classic position, sitting back on the bed upright while holding my knees to my chest.  Ahhhh, very effective.  The next contraction the doctor on call walked in.  He was so calm and gentle.  This was going to be a piece of cake!   

About 20 minutes into pushing, the fetal monitor picked up that Baby L was a little low on oxygen.  The nurse instructed David to grab the oxygen mask and to put it over my mouth and nose between pushing contractions.  What sweet relief!  With every contraction, I would breathe in, breathe out (1), breathe in, breathe out (2), breathe in and hold while I pushed with everything I had, bearing down...until finally!  His head was at the opening.  The nurse asked if I wanted to touch its head.  Wow, so much hair!!  So very close!  Two more contractions and our baby crowned.  Some people told me this would be the most painful part of the entire labor.  I disagree.  It was a relief!  Baby was crowning, I just needed to control the next push.  Slowly, gently to ease any tearing that might occur.  There!  The head was out.  One more push and the body would be completely out... Oh, my goodness, I did it!  Nine and half hours of laboring, 45 minutes of which were pushing, I had birthed my baby free of medication and most medical intervention.  

I heard a tiny cough-like cry, and the nurse announced we had a baby BOY!!!!!  My heart filled so full I thought I would burst.  I insisted our son be put on my stomach right away.  He was beautiful, tiny, and what seemed to me as being so very fragile.  The baby's nurse came over to do the quick once-over checks, temperature and color primarily.  I asked to wait to cut the cord until it stopped pulsing to protect our son's heart.  David was praising me, in total awe of our son.  He was completely and totally consumed with love for the both of us. The doctor asked if David wanted to cut the cord, to which he responded (and to my surprised) with "okay". :)  I was proud of accomplishing what I set out to do, overjoyed that we had a son, amazed at what David and I created together, and yet...concerned.  Our baby's cry wasn't very strong.  As I gazed at him lying there on my stomach, he was pretty gray, squirming a bit, but not much.  Having never birthed a child before, I didn't know what was normal and what wasn't.

The nurse then said it: he's not really pinking up so we're going to move to the warming table.  David didn't leave our son's side, talking to him, loving him.  I delivered the placenta, still away from my baby, not exactly sure what was going on, but confident that David was doing all that he could.  Then I heard one more line, worse than the first...  The nurse explained that our son needed to be taken down to the nursery because he wasn't breathing very well on his own.  Ok.  Deep breath.  I can handle that.  David would be with him.  Everything was going to be okay.  

I had to focus on taking care of myself for the time being.  I knew that because I hadn't received an epidural I could walk very soon.  The doctor stitched me up.  The nurse took a few tests.  In about two hours I was up and walking.  I got cleaned up, and headed immediately down to the nursery.  I needed to see my son, see that he was okay.   

Each step I took was slow, deliberate.  I couldn't believe how sore I was, but I had to get to my baby.  I walked in and immediately saw David standing over him across the room.  The sight was amazing.  My husband as a father.  Words cannot describe how remarkable this is.  Here was a man that now, in addition to loving me with all his being, was determined to do everything he could to protect his son.  To be there at all costs so to make the best decisions for him, to be there to comfort him with a gentle voice and warm touch.  David was a dad.  I walked up to him, we hugged and tears started falling.  David asked me what I thought we should name him.  We had chosen two names for a boy, now it was just a matter of deciding which name best fit our son.  I looked at him, tears in my eyes and not a single doubt in my mind.  Our son would be Samuel David.  A strong name for our little fighter.  David nodded in full agreement.  We hugged.  We cried.  Our Samuel just had to be okay.  

Hours went by.  Samuel's oxygen saturation levels were just not holding at the percentages the doctors (pediatricians) wanted.  His temperature took a great deal of encouragement to come up to the usual 98.6.  David told me the nurses also had to give him an IV to get his glucose levels up to normal.  Once the pediatrician gave Samuel his baby exam, we learned even more strange news.  Samuel had two extra digits (one on each hand), a butterflied vertebrae, and a poor gag reflex--just a few things that on their own wouldn't have meant a thing.  But his inability to regulate his breathing even a few hours after birth combined with these funny abnormalities made our pediatrician question if there was something much more than just underdevelopment.  Little did we know that her instincts would turn out to be right, and that this was just the beginning of a very, very long road ahead of us.

**To be continued: Life in the NICU**


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