Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Baby #2 Birth Story

Yeah, this is a book blog or whatever, but who doesn't love a good birth story? And in my personal opinion, this is a good birth story. At least, it has a very happy ending.

For those of you who read my private family blog, this may be a bit redundant, but there are a few juicier details here.

So, for a little background. My first pregnancy's labor and delivery was a bit traumatic for me. After 15 hours of active (induced) labor, a horrible epidural, 3 1/2 hours of pushing, an emergency C-section, and a terrible recovery, the experience was anything but ideal. Due to issues with the epidural not working very well during the C-section, they ended up knocking me out completely after the baby was out. I didn't get to really see, let alone hold my baby for another ten hours. Breastfeeding was a nightmare, both because my son's first meals had been formula and he got used to a full belly, and also because of the C-section scar. I had a very difficult time holding him in position to get a good latch. I know it was mostly due to the strong waves of hormones coursing through me after birth, but I couldn't help feeling like a failure. My body had failed to push this baby out (granted, he was 9 lbs 5 oz. with a ginormous head, and the doctor said he never was going to fit through my petite frame), and I was failing at taking care of my child. That first week of his life was incredibly stressful and emotional for me.

Needless to say, I was bound and determined to have a different experience with this second pregnancy. I found a doctor that was very experienced with VBACs. I did all the research and read all the books and pretty much got very convinced that in order to have a successful VBAC I needed to have as natural and intervention-free of a labor as I possibly could.

Due to some thyroid issues in my first trimester, some anemia issues in my second trimester, and what I can only assume were some general hormone issues throughout the whole pregnancy, I always felt sick and exhausted and generally miserable. Which is why I kept putting off preparing for this baby. I always felt too tired, plus I had plenty of time. I wasn't due until October, so when September hit I remember thinking, No worries, I've still got a whole month to get things ready.

So imagine my surprise when on September 9th, at only 36 weeks along and on a grocery shopping trip with my toddler, I started feeling some major cramping. I booked it home, threw my kid in his crib for quiet time, and tried to sleep it off myself. But when the cramping and contractions kept getting stronger through the afternoon, I finally called my husband and begged him to come home from work early. I didn't think I was in labor, but I was in enough pain that I couldn't face dinner and bedtime routine alone. Needless to say, my husband found this episode really concerning, and even though the contractions ended up subsiding later in the evening, he was worried enough that he took work off the next morning to come to my doctor's appointment with me.

At the appointment, my doctor confirmed that indeed, I had experienced some real pre-labor contractions. I was dilated to a three and nearly completely effaced. My husband asked what that meant in terms of when this baby would come, and my doctor said, "Well, she could have this baby tonight, or it could come in another three weeks." Based on my experience with my first baby, I thought we probably had some time, but I was certainly praying it wouldn't be three weeks.

We went home, and I put myself on a self-imposed bed-rest for the next few days. We put friends and family on notice, my husband desperately tried to finish up some projects at work so he could leave at a moment's notice, and we spent the weekend sorting baby clothes and pulling all our baby gear out of storage. Finally we settled in to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

The two weeks that followed were perhaps the most miserable of my life. Contractions became the constant background of my daily existence. Any sort of movement or activity (like getting off the couch to go to the bathroom) could trigger a bout of contractions or cramps. They were much stronger and more painful than the Braxton-Hicks I'd been experiencing for several months, and they would often stick around for several hours at a time before fading away. There were episodes when the contractions would become very strong and painful, and I would think This is it! I'm finally in labor!, but they never became consistent or regular, and in the end they would always fade to a dull ache. These contractions left me incredibly sore. I tried going to church the first Sunday, and even took my own pillows to sit on, but it was terrible. I hobbled out of the meeting two hours later like an old woman, I could barely walk. I didn't leave the house much after that, because I was nearly physically incapable of it. I never slept well. I couldn't sit or stand or even lie in one position for too long. I could barely take care of myself, let alone my toddler. Things were pretty desperate.

At my 38 week doctor's appointment, I had an ultrasound to measure the size of the baby. These estimates are never very accurate, but the measurements came back at 8 lb. 4 oz. My doctor was concerned that if it took much longer for me to go into labor, this baby would grow too big and we'd have a repeat situation of my first pregnancy. As I was already dilated to a 4, she offered to induce me at 39 weeks. I was surprised by the offer, because she'd told me repeatedly from the beginning that she never induced VBACs, and I didn't want to be induced again anyway, but as soon as she made the offer for an induction I felt very peaceful that this was a good direction to go. After all, I still had over a week to wait to go into real labor on my own, and I could decline the induction at any time.

And so I endured another week of physical and mental torture. By the end, I was going a little bit crazy. My body was completely exhausted from being in perpetual labor, and I was ready to be done. There's a part of me that really wants to believe that if I had just waited long enough, eventually my body would have had to go into real labor. But there's another part of me that isn't so sure. There's a strange little family pattern between my mom, my older sister, and me. Among our combined nine pregnancies, not a single baby has been delivered without the help of pitocin. In fact, I'm the only one that has actually experienced any form of natural contractions. Perhaps all these inductions speak more to the medical profession's tendency to intervene, but after a lot of prayer and consideration on my part, I couldn't help but feel that waiting to have this baby naturally would only increase my chances of needing a C-section, and this baby was ready to come sooner rather than later.

And so, on September 26th, 17 days after my first contractions started, we dropped our son off with some friends and finally made our way to the hospital. I was dilated to a 5, and fully effaced. Despite the fact that I had agreed to be induced, I still wanted to avoid an epidural at all costs. This was actually one of the things I was most nervous about, because I knew that contractions on pitocin are supposed to be way more intense than natural contractions, and I worried that I wouldn't be able to handle the pain. Here is where I need to give a shout-out to my e-friend Amy. She was the first person I'd ever heard of that had actually delivered not just one, but four babies on pitocin without an epidural. She generously sent me all of her beautiful birth stories, and I was completely inspired. I knew it was at least possible, and so I convinced myself that I could do it too.

My attending nurse tried very hard to convince me otherwise. I did not like my nurse very much at the beginning (she grew on me by the end). She gave us all these statistics about how low my chances were at having a successful VBAC and about how incredibly risky it was that I was being induced (I didn't realize it when my doctor made the offer, but pitocin increases the risk of uterine scar rupture, which is why doctors usually never induce a VBAC), and she assured us she had the operating room all prepped because it was very likely I would end up with another C-section. She told me if I didn't have the epidural, they would have to knock me out again in the case of an emergency. I was pretty upset by all of this, but bless my doctor! I had talked to her about my desire to avoid an epidural, so when she came into the room and saw me filling out the anesthesiology consent forms, she said in a surprised voice, "Oh! Are you getting an epidural?" And when I told her I wanted to hold off on making that decision, she totally backed me up and said, "Yes, well, I would like you to be feeling contractions before you decide." So, the nurse backed off and I got to put off the epidural question.

They started the pitocin drip at 1 PM, and my doctor broke my water soon after that. My nurse said she would check me again at 3 PM. I was relatively comfortable for the first hour. I enjoyed being able to move around, I got up to go to the bathroom, and I played a game with my husband on his phone. But during the second hour, things got pretty intense rather quickly. I had my husband turn on some music, rolled onto my side, and had him massage my back through each contraction. The pain quickly escalated to a level I had never experienced before, and I found myself clinging to the side of the bed, making these pathetic whimpering noises, feeling like I was going to pass out, and trying desperately NOT TO MOVE. It seems ironic now that one of the reasons I didn't want an epidural is because I wanted to be able to move around and labor in different positions, but when I was actually in the middle of it, my only goal became to move as little as possible. For some reason I felt like moving at all would kill me.

I tried really hard to remember all of the breathing and relaxation techniques I had read about and practiced, but honestly, I had a hard time focusing on anything. At the height of each contraction, the promise that the epidural could take all this pain away was honestly the most tempting thing in my life. Luckily, during the lull between contractions I was able to relax enough to tell myself that I could endure one or two more contractions without an epidural. I just had to survive through the next one.

At 3 PM, my nurse came back in to check me. She announced that I was dilated to an 8, and then she said if I wanted the epidural, it was now or never. I remember thinking Don't tempt me! I'm going to last through two more contractions, and then I'll give in and get the epidural. But at this point, I wasn't really capable of talking so I didn't actually respond to the nurse. She got really busy at this point, calling my doctor, wheeling in the delivery table, and running around like things were about to happen. I wasn't sure why she was in such a hurry, because I had convinced myself that I still had hours and hours ahead of me, so imagine my surprise when a mere fifteen minutes later I felt that uncontrollable urge to push, and finally found my voice to announce that to the room.

My doctor came in at this point with a few other support nurses, and they set about rolling me onto my back. I was NOT happy about this because it HURT SO BAD TO MOVE. I kept telling the nurse that I did not want to move to my back, and she kept telling me that I HAD to if I wanted to deliver this baby, and I remember thinking, No, I do NOT have to be on my back! I've seen Call the Midwife! But of course, I was in no condition to actually make that astoundingly logical argument, so onto my back I went.

They started coaching me through the pushing, and this is the point when I became extremely grateful that I'd held out and not gotten the epidural, because what a night and day difference between my first pregnancy! I could actually feel the baby! I could feel where I needed to push! I could feel the progress as he moved down the birth canal. I could feel myself stretching, and I could feel when I needed to push harder. The contractions became so much easier to bear because I was focused on the sensation, and it felt so productive. I was still mentally prepared for this part of the experience to take several hours (remember I pushed for 3 1/2 hours with my first before the C-section), so I tried not to get too excited when they talked about seeing the head, or told me I was doing well (I'd heard all that before, it didn't mean anything to me). But when my husband finally asked if it looked like it was going to work, or if the baby was stuck, the nurse said, "Oh, this baby is coming out vaginally, no question," I finally let myself believe this was really happening.

It took 45 minutes. Forty-five blessedly short minutes before I felt the release as the head emerged, and then the rest of the body wriggle through with that last contraction. They held up that wriggling, squirmy baby, my husband cut the umbilical cord, and they handed him up to my chest. And there he was. My perfect little baby that I had pushed into this world, snuggled in my arms.

It was absolutely one of the best moments of my life.

I had done it. I beat the odds. I labored on pitocin without an epidural. I pushed an 8 lb. 10 oz. hunk of a baby out of my body. I welcomed that baby into this world and held him to my chest and snuggled him and told him I loved him just minutes after he was born. It was a beautiful experience for me, a moment I will never forget.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Suzanne! I am SO happy for you. I literally have tears in my eyes after reading your story (I am a sucker for birth stories, no question!). I'm so glad you got to do it your way (minus the being forced to push while on your back--they made me do that with my third baby, and it was so frustrating!). You are so tough--I'm so amazed that you held out and listened to your gut while the nurse was giving you the statistics for VBACs on pitocin. Your baby is beautiful, and I'm so happy for your family!