Amazing! Another baby came into our family on January 11, 2018.
The ultrasound said that the baby would be a girl, and the due date was January 1, 2018. I heard on a birthing podcast (yes, those exist. “The Birth Hour” is my favorite) that it’s typical to look at your last birth as the normative one. Baby X came right “on time,” with contractions starting on his due date, and I spent much of my pre-baby time angsting over whether this baby would be born on a major holiday or even a week early and whether I’d be one of those moms who has to slip in an anticlimactic birthday celebration in the midst of Christmas day each year.
Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day all came and went. I did have one night of steady but light contractions on December 28/29 when I wrote this letter to the baby, but, alas, I finally fell asleep around 2 AM and woke up in the morning with nothing happening. I sadly went from “this birth will be like Baby X!” to “oh man, this will be like KLC.” Late. Overdue.
In the meantime, I was having a great time. Seven members of T’s family came between December 22 and January 10, with the entire group here for 4 days just after Christmas. We had days of present opening, we ate well, KLC and X had a blast, and I rested. In fact, I slept better this pregnancy than either of my others. Hooray for that! Even when I went past my due date, I was sleeping a solid 7-8 hrs and only waking up once. I gave up Facebook because it was making me anxious and distracted, and I started reading Harry Potter for the first time.
Forty-one weeks rolled around on January 8, and I was having contractions. We had hired a private midwife to act as a doula, and she had come to our house and checked my dilation the day before (checking dilation is generally frowned upon for doulas, but since she’s a licensed midwife, I was OK with it). I was soft, effaced, and 1.5 cm dilated, which wasn’t a big change from the check I’d had the Thursday before with my OB, but both the OB and midwife thought labor was imminent. The OB had been itching to get labor started by breaking my water or stripping the membranes, but I declined. At that point, 4 days before 41 weeks, he thought it was so likely that I would go into labor that he called Nurse Anna to specifically tell her that he had a funeral he had to attend the next day and that she’d need to call his backups during that time period. I kindof love but am a little weirded out by the level of connectedness of the healthcare community here and the utter lack of HIPAA.
I went for a 41 week check-up with my OB but didn’t allow him to examine me because I was having regular, light contractions, and I was sure it was simply a matter of time. We discussed when I would come in next if my labor didn’t progress on its own, and he said, “well, 7 days is my cut off.” Oh, you mean, today? I knew he wasn’t telling me that I had to check into the hospital or else, but it was discouraging. He wanted to “book me in” for Thursday (three days later) for an induction, which he would accomplish by breaking my water. (and other things if contractions didn’t come after the water was broken.) I hedged and said I’d let him know Wednesday whether that was OK with me. Looking back, it seems like this discussion is when I went from “These contractions are here to stay,” to “Hmmph, maybe they’ll peter out. Oh no, maybe they’re petering out now!”
I again slept well that night, and I woke up with zero contractions on Tuesday. Wamp, wamp. Discouraging.
Nurse Anna came by Tuesday night to see if an enema would get things going. I was in a bad mood. Tuesday was the last night T’s mom would be in town, and I felt like I was both letting people down and losing the support of my birth team all at once. I told her I didn’t want to be induced. I gathered my confidence and told her I w0uldn’t agree to an induction until 42 weeks on the dot, the next Monday. Did she agree? “Well, we can take it a day at a time…” Discouraging.
I was angrily making chocolate-covered truffles in my kitchen as I had this conversation about induction with Nurse Anna. That is not an important detail at all, but it’s a funny image I want to remember. Who can be angry while she makes truffles? Apparently me.
On Wednesday, I woke up with a few scattered contractions, and I tried a technique through a few of them called “Abdominal Tuck and Lift,” meant for slow labors, and it did seem to pick things up a bit. Labor had felt imminent for so long at this point, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen super quickly, so 10 AM found me packing up the car with both kids, my MIL, and her luggage and driving her to the airport, 35 minutes away. I then dropped off the kids with a good friend who turned into the super star of the day, the ONE day we didn’t have plans for the kids since my mom wouldn’t arrive until late that evening. I admitted to her that I was having contractions, that they felt even more “real” than the ones I’d had thus far, and I didn’t know if I’d be coming back for the kids any time soon.
I had a glorious afternoon of watching HGTV, eating Wendy’s, and freaking out my two friends who’d had scheduled c-sections when I told them I was that very minute having contractions. I had walked to where they’d been lunching to drop something off, and they thought I was flushed from the walk. Then they noticed that the flush would go away. And then come back in 4 minutes. And go away again. One of them wanted to drive me to the hospital STAT.
After a restful afternoon of contractions (oxymoron?), T and I decided to go back and get the big kids. I wasn’t yet angry with the world, so we didn’t think we’d be checking into the hospital just yet. I also knew that the friend keeping the kids had made us dinner per our Meal Train that she had set up in advance of the birth, and it was so nice to be able to pick up the kids and dinner and then come home to a fully cooked meal of pulled pork sliders, hummus, veggies, and corn.
Nurse Anna came back to check on me on Wednesday after dinner, and she was a lot more positive in general, though she didn’t seem to think I was really in labor at that point. (Turns out she had called my OB and asked him about my fluid levels, placenta health, baby size, etc, that he had checked in a scan Monday.) She didn’t check my dilation again as she preferred to minimize vaginal exams.
Bedtime came, and I felt I needed some rest, though it was hard to decide what to do. I’d had contractions die off twice before as I slept, but everything I’ve read and know about birth is that you should get rest while you can so you’re not exhausted when you really need the energy. So, despite my fears and my mother’s imminent arrival, I went to sleep. (The rock star friend who kept my two kids all day and made us a healthy dinner? She also picked mom up at 9:30 PM and brought her to our house!)
By 11 PM, I had moved to the couch. The leather couch was cool, and I kept getting hot during contractions. At midnight, I opened the bathroom door and screamed! My mom was in there and I hadn’t heard her! Oops. “Hi mom! Welcome to the Bahamas! I’m having contractions!”
I bounced on the birthing ball, did some more Abdominal Tuck and Lifts, opened Christmas cards delivered from Tennessee, and laid back down. Still, these contractions weren’t painful, but they were intense sensations. At around 2 AM, I remember giving myself deadlines: if you rest until 2:30 AM, you can be awake then. If you make it to 3 AM, you can take a bath.
Taking a bath meant going back into the bedroom, which woke up T. I know it might sound nice that I was laboring in the living room partially to keep from disturbing him, but every minute of sleep he got before the birth meant a minute more energy for all the tasks I’d call on him for during and after the birth, so it was mostly selfish.
At around 4 AM, I texted Nurse Anna that my contractions felt a lot more intense but that I didn’t think she needed to come yet. I left the bathroom and woke up T for a walk outside. This necessitated moving X back to his room as he had snuck in during the time I’d been in the bath. We walked in the dark down to the complex’s dock on the harbour. They’d been expanding it, and I hadn’t seen it since it was finished. At this point, I was stopping with every contraction to work through it. One of my goals for birth was to labor in the ocean, but walking on the dock was as close as I got. I might have enjoyed getting in the water later in the morning, but I was very sensitive to being seen and keeping my privacy while I was actually laboring hard. I didn’t want to speak to anyone, and gallivanting around our complex on a week day was a sure-fire way to have to talk to people or be gawked at.
After walking slowly back up the hill, I decided to get in the pool. It was in the high 70s outside, and the pool was heated. It felt good but not great to be in the pool. In there, my contractions slowed down to 8-10 minutes apart, and they were a lot longer and more intense. I stayed for 3 contractions and decided I wanted to warm up even more and get in the shower at home.
The shower, as in my birth with Baby X, felt great. My contractions were more intense, but the sensation of being surrounded by warm water was soothing. I was distracted from the pain and focused my concern on the water temperature, which I would change slightly every minute or two. At 5:30, we called Nurse Anna. She agreed to come.
Nurse Anna checked me when she arrived at 6:15, and I was 3-4 cm, making good progress. I got back in the shower again. I moved around the apartment, ate a little bit, and showered more. At 8 AM, I was 6 cm and soft, stretchable to 7. Another hour or so passed, and I got anxious to go to the hospital so I could get past the drive, which I anticipated would be terrible. Nurse Anna called the doctor and told him we’d be coming soon. We live about 3 miles from the hospital, maybe less, just over the bridge from Paradise Island. He asked if he should meet us on the bridge to catch the baby. Hardy har har.
We made it to the hospital in two contractions. I was offered a wheelchair no less than 5 times between the parking lot and the registration desk. (Do people REALLY want to be wheeled in while in active labor? really? It sounds horrible to me!) We saw our friend and fellow church member, the country’s only neurosurgeon, in the parking lot.
I got checked in, and the assigned nurse on the maternity ward was a bit terse. I was afraid she was offended by our choice to bring in a private midwife (I know that they all know each other). In the end, she got along great with Nurse Anna and seemed to appreciate that she was able to do her paperwork and other official hospital stuff more easily. I wasn’t sure if the hospital would have policies on what a non-staff member would and wouldn’t be allowed to do, but it seemed like Nurse Anna had free reign to help me and even would have been welcome to catch the baby.
Along with check-in, the nurse took my vitals and took a strip with the baby’s heartbeat and my contractions for twenty minutes or so. I sat on the birth ball, which Nurse Anna had thought we wouldn’t even need, and we almost hadn’t brought it along. By 10:30/11 AM, my OB came to check my dilation. “Six centimeters!”
Ugh, OK. No progress. But we’ve been busy, driving to the hospital, getting checked in. “Just let me get in the shower.” The OB had told me there was one, and everyone was fine with me not being monitored continuously.
We turned the shower on. It trickled out. Ice cold. We figure out that the hot and cold were switched. With the hot on at all, it turned scalding. Still just over a trickle. I was standing in the shower, contracting, shivering, waiting for relief that wasn’t coming. Finally, T held his breath right to get the temperature so I could get in the barely-more-than-a-trickle shower. And then, mid-contraction or no, the temperature would go up, scalding. Or down, freezing. And then back to manageable. UGH.
The shower broke me.
I did my best. I stayed in, dodging the dangerous temperature swings, going one contraction at a time. “I can’t do it.” “The only way out is through.” “OOOOUCH IT’S BURNING ME” “This is productive pain.” “aaaaah FREEZING COLD.” “I welcome the pain.” “I can’t do it!!” “I AM doing it.”
Before I’d left home, I’d started to sing through contractions, scales and “Doe, a deer, a female deer…” (After the birth, Nurse Anna told me she was sure I was a first soprano.) I was still vocalizing, but it got to the point of grunting and having trouble getting through each contraction, and I thought maybe I should be checked.
The OB came back by after I got out of the shower. “No change. Still six centimeters and the cervix is starting to swell.”
I lost it. From this point until the baby was in my arms, I felt out of control. I’d used my one good trick, the shower, and it got me nowhere. Or maybe worse than nowhere because I was feeling pushing urges, which caused the cervix to swell, but I wasn’t dilating. I had been stalled for at least four hours.
From then on, I screamed with most contractions. I laid in bed, demoralized. I asked for an epidural. The anesthetist was in a procedure where my OB was also assisting (a blood transfusion for a patient with an issue with a “gynecological problem”), so I couldn’t have one. The OB wanted to break my water to provide better pressure on the cervix from the head. I cried and didn’t know what to do. He said, “You seem hesitant, so why don’t I leave and let you think about it.”
I got back on my hands and knees at one point on the bed, but that didn’t seem to help. With one scream, a small gush of fluid came, so we thought my water had broken on its own, and it was clear (no meconium). The OB came back 30-45 minutes later to see how I was doing, and I had dilated to 8 centimeters. He also felt that the main bag of water at the bottom had actually not broken, only the water at the top (I can’t remember which one they called the forewater and which the hindwater). Now that I was 8 cm, I consented to having the other bag broken. This fluid was not clear. It had meconium staining.
Suddenly, the baby’s heart rate, which had been rock solid and my greatest encouragement as I was struggling, went down. The OB didn’t stop to check if we could adjust the heart rate monitor. (Nurse Anna was very sure that it just needed to be moved down as the baby had clearly moved and made progress when the waters broke.) Thinking the baby was in distress and in danger of meconium aspiration, he said, “You’re very soft. Give me one big push and I’ll stretch you with the next contraction.” So I did. I screamed and screamed. Nurse Anna said, “Don’t scream.” The OB said, “Keep screaming, it’s helping.”
“Now, let’s get this baby out with the next contraction.” I screamed, I pushed, and he pulled her out at 1:18 PM on 1-11-18.
Going from 8 cm to baby in arms was so fast.
When she was in my arms, I felt complete and utter relief. She was perfect. She was pink as could be and crying right away. With KLC, I didn’t know what to think or feel. With Baby X, I was in shock that he was a boy and that I’d done it with no interventions!! With LF, I was simply overjoyed. I was so, so, so happy.
I was examined as they took the baby to the side of the room for suctioning. The placenta delivered easily and looked great. (One of the things providers get skeeved out about is the placenta “wearing out” and calcifying, which would obviously be bad, but it seems their worries are rather overblown.) I had a first degree tear with only three stitches needed, for which he gave me local anesthetic. My bleeding wasn’t bad, and I asked them to hold off on the shot of pitocin to see if it was necessary. The bleeding picked up an hour or so later, so I called the nurse in so I could get the shot, which helps the uterus clamp down and stop the bleeding.
Besides the period of time during which I was losing it, the birth process went very well. As soon as we checked in, they started talking about us leaving the same day, something we’d expressed interest in. With the lady having the extensive procedure done and a couple other birthing mothers on the floor, the recovery rooms were all occupied, and I would have been sharing a room had I moved to one. T would have had to go home alone, and I would have needed to stay up to care for the baby or send the baby to the nursery, which I emphatically did not want to do. Instead, they allowed me to recover in the much larger and private labor room until we checked out that evening at 9 PM, just after LF’s initial pediatrician exam. Their only requirement of us was to go to the pediatrician’s offices the next day for an oxygen saturation test at 24 hours. Because they have an official policy of performing that test now, I had to sign LF out AMA (Against Medical Advice), which made me feel like a crazy rebel. I took a bunch of extra blue pads for the bed for my bleeding, and away we went!
Nurse Anna came to check us on day 2 and day 4 at home (as well as several other times since–such great service!), and Baby LF got her second checkup also on day 2. Neither of us have experienced any significant issues, praise God!
The only thing that has been a bit of a challenge is breastfeeding. LF reminds me so much of KLC as a baby, and breastfeeding started off very similarly with a painful latch and initial slow weight gain. (Isn’t this my third baby? Shouldn’t I have this down by now?) I got a few tips from Nurse Anna during a visit, but on day 6 I hired a lactation consultant in the Chicago area via Skype. Isn’t technology grand? She was incredibly helpful and encouraging, and the painful latch turned itself around within a few days. LF regained her birth weight around 2 weeks, and since then she gained nearly a pound in her 3rd week.
I’ve personally recovered even more quickly than the first two births, thanks in large part to my mom’s help for two weeks, everything T has done, T’s family’s help for the weeks leading up to birth, and our community coming around us. My weight is less than 10 pounds from my pre-birth weight already.
This is such a long post, but I’ll wrap it up with some reflections.
1. I’m glad we stayed in the Bahamas.
Where to give birth was a very difficult decision for Baby X and LF. With LF, I really wanted to make it work to stay in the Bahamas because I knew how much easier it would be to wait for the baby and recover from the baby here. The actual 1-2 days of birthing would likely be non-ideal, but being home would enable us all to be rested and for the older kids to have blessed routine. Happily, all of the positives of staying in the Bahamas were confirmed. We avoided life in a polar vortex and had healthy outcomes all from the comforts of our typical day-to-day lives.
2. I don’t think I’d birth with the same providers again.
I did feel very supported in my choices by my birth team and by the hospital. The providers would remind each other of things like, “She doesn’t want the eye drops” and “Delay cord clamping” as the birth progressed without a word from me. However, my initial reaction to the birth was to cast blame for why I struggled so much at the end and why my body stalled. Having the baby delivered with so much help at the end felt quite shocking and was not my preference, despite my screams. After processing for a while, I realized that blaming wasn’t helping anyone. No one could say exactly why things happened how they did. What I do know, though, is that, if I had another child (not something we have any plans for at this point), I would change providers. Oh, and I would find place with functional showers.
3. Sometimes things don’t go our way, no matter how we stack the cards in our favor.
One reason that the birth being hard affected me was that I’d bought a prenatal workout program that supports natural birth and the alignment of the mother and baby in utero. Then, both the OB and the nurse made comments about how the baby’s head wasn’t aligned to come down on the cervix to provide enough pressure for dilation. “BUT I DID ALL THOSE WORKOUTS!!!” I wanted to scream.
After processing this more, I realized I was attached to the outcome of this birth being easier than my second. I was told over and over that it would be by the OB and even the Nurse. Plus, I deserved an easier birth because I had worked so hard on my exercises while pregnant! Being able to step back and say, “yes, I’d prefer outcome A but outcome B may very well occur. Or perhaps an outcome C that I can’t even fathom at this point,” is a new skill for me. Usually, I can only see my attachment in retrospect when I’m disproportionately emotional after an event.
4. Praise God for His provision for another low-risk pregnancy, healthy birth, and a healthy baby.
At this point in my life, I have walked alongside many friends who have struggled with some aspect of bringing a baby into the world. Some friends struggle with not being married when they thought they would be, some with conception, some with carrying the child, and some with birth. I feel relieved and grateful but sometimes guilty when I walk through these experiences with relative ease. This is a matter for me to think through more since it reflects my view of the world: is God supposed to evenly give out the hard stuff so we each have our share? Can’t I just be happy? I’m not even sure what the emotion is to describe this happy-sad of knowing that it’s not easy for others and that I am indescribably blessed.
Friends, thanks for reading.