Friday, July 23, 2021

Baby #4 Birth Story

Introducing Rose Elizabeth Tanner, born July 2nd, 2021.

Yes, dear reader, I am no longer pregnant! And if everything goes according to plan, I will never be pregnant again! This is a fact that I cannot help marveling over again and again now that I am on this side of things. I will never be pregnant again. Hallelujah!

As with all of my pregnancies and birth stories, there is so much for me to process, so many emotions, and writing it out here always helps. There was my super traumatic first labor and delivery that ended in an emergency C-section, then there was my unmedicated second birth story that served as a dose of healing, and then there was my third birth story that was as dramatic as the little person herself.

And now we have my fourth and final birth story, which I'm just sitting down to write three weeks after the event. If I had to pick one word to describe this birth, that word would be "hard". 

Which is silly, because when I tell the short version of the birth story, it's actually very routine and happy. The short version goes like this: I experienced a long-term promodromal labor and was already dilated to a three, so my doctor agreed to induce me as early as the hospital would allow (39 weeks). We went in on the day scheduled, I got hooked up to the IVs, they ran antibiotics for the morning (I was strep B positive), then started pitocin, then broke my water. I labored through increasingly intense contractions through the afternoon, got an epidural around 4 PM, and was ready to deliver by 5 PM. The baby was born at 5:44 PM, and we were both healthy and well.

That's the short story. It was fine. It's the kind of birth story that is common, my doctor will likely have already forgotten about it. There was little drama, everything was fine, and we ended up with a beautiful baby girl in our arms. Happy story.

But to me personally, it was hard. Part of the reason it was hard is because, based on my last three experiences, I had some expectations for how this labor and delivery would go. I expected to go into labor on my own without pitocin (I did not). I expected the labor to be quick (it was not, at least by my standards). I expected to be able to do it without an epidural (I ended up getting an epidural). And I expected it to be early (technically, it was early, as I was induced at 39 weeks, but considering I was dilated and laboring for the ENTIRE month of June, I really wanted her to come earlier). When each of these expectations was shattered, I felt disappointed. I felt like it wasn't the way I wanted things to go. And it just felt like a hard end to a hard pregnancy.

But there were other factors, left out of that short version of the story, that did objectively make this a hard birth story. First, it was just a hard pregnancy. There was the fact that I was hospitalized twice with bleeding during this pregnancy (more on one of those stories coming soon), causing extreme concern about my ability to carry this baby to term. There was the long laundry list of smaller health concerns that plagued the end of this pregnancy: anemia, a recurring yeast infection, vulvar varicosities, and extremely low blood pressure, that made everyday life extremely difficult (because it was all of this on top of being nine months pregnant and in almost constant labor). There was the spit cup (have I told you about the spit cup?) and heartburn and insomnia and just so many reasons that this pregnancy was physically, but also mentally and emotionally, the hardest pregnancy I've ever had. June was just about the longest month of my life.

But then we finally got to July 2nd, the day of my scheduled induction. Like I mentioned, I was disappointed that I needed to be induced, that my body wasn't able to spontaneously go into labor itself (and maybe it would have, but after experiencing a month of prodromal labor, I would take the induction, anything to not be pregnant any more). Then the induction didn't quite go like it had in previous pregnancies. Before, I'd only needed a little pitocin to jumpstart my body, and it would take over from there, but this time, they kept giving me higher and higher doses of pitocin, and it seemed to be doing nothing. Several hours after breaking my water, I was still dilated to a 3, the same as when I'd come in to the hospital. Nothing was happening, and the higher doses of pitocin were brutal. You know how when you're working out, and you hit a point where you've over-exerted yourself, and your muscles start shaking because they can't hold up anymore? The contractions were so intense and painful that I could feel my entire uterus shaking like that, like it was going to collapse in on itself if only it could.

I wanted to do this birth without an epidural, but when they checked me again and I was still only at a three, I knew I couldn't endure the pain of those high-dose pitocin contractions. I begged for an epidural, but they couldn't give me one because my blood pressure was too low. Did you know this was a thing? I did not. They had to give me half a bag of fluid to try to raise my blood pressure, and the process took well over an hour. I thought I was going to die. I literally felt like my body was going to rip apart from the force of those contractions.

Finally, with the fluid in me, they called in the anesthesiologist. It took everything in me to sit up for the epidural, every ounce of mental and physical will power to hold myself together while they inserted the epidural into my spine. I anxiously waited for the relief to wash over me... but it didn't. Well, it sort of did. Just like with my first pregnancy, where my experience with an epidural was subpar, this time the epidural only worked on the right half of my body. The left half still felt the full force of each intense pitocin contraction.

But half the pain was still better than all the pain. I was able to relax a little, and apparently, that's all I needed. I just needed to be able to relax my body a little, because the next time the nurse checked me, I was fully dilated and ready to push. In the span of an hour, I went from a three to a ten.

We still had to wait for my doctor, who had just gone into surgery with another patient. This wasn't too much of a problem for me. Even without an epidural, I never feel the strong urge to push that most women talk about. I just feel like I could push if I wanted to, so we waited for about 30 minutes until my doctor was able to get there. The pushing part was relatively easy. Three sets of pushes and fifteen minutes later, I was holding our beautiful little Rose Elizabeth in my arms.

But the hard part wasn't over. After we'd had a chance to sit for a while and bask in the glow of newborn sweetness, they moved us from the delivery room to the recovery room. I met my new nurses and ate some dinner while Nathan got some snuggle time in. Then the nurse came in to help me go to the bathroom, and as soon as I shifted positions, I felt the blood start gushing. And gushing, and gushing. Not in all my previous pregnancy recoveries nor in my two episodes of hemorrhaging during this pregnancy had I ever bled like this before. It was a bit terrifying to see the blood soaking through all the pads they had in place, drenching the hospital gown and flooding the bed. More nurses were called in. They brought in scales to weigh the lost blood and count the clots. They got me to the bathroom and changed the bedding and cleaned me up as best they could.

My doctor ordered two different types of medication to help stop the bleeding, one administered as a shot in my hip. Unfortunately, I had an adverse reaction to one of the medications, spiked a fever, and began to shiver uncontrollably with chills that continued on and off for the next twelve hours. And while the medication did seem to help staunch the hemorrhaging, I continued to lose a lot more blood and scary looking clots (like, the size of golf-balls) throughout the night. The nurses assured me that I was within acceptable ranges of blood loss and wouldn't need a transfusion, but even still, I've never lost that much blood before in my life.

It was draining, literally and figuratively. I remained stable, I continued to improve, nothing was ever life-threatening, but everything about my recovery was slower and more difficult than it's ever been before. I felt that blood-loss. I asked the doctor who was discharging me why there was so much blood this time, both during the pregnancy and after the delivery. Her answer was, "Well, honestly, this is your fourth pregnancy. I think your uterus is just tired."

When I prayed about this pregnancy a year and a half ago, the Lord's response was, "Well, you can if you want, but it will be hard." When my husband gave me a blessing the night before the induction, he talked about "enduring the trials and hardship" of the labor and delivery. It was all hard. It was a hard pregnancy. It was a hard labor and delivery. Not dangerous or life-threatening. Just hard. My uterus is tired. My body is tired. My soul is tired.

And because I'm the type of person who looks for meaning in everything, I've been asking myself "Why was this so hard?" Why does pregnancy in general, and this pregnancy in particular, have to be so hard?

I just finished reading Greg McKeown's new book Effortless. I have many thoughts about this book, and hopefully will get a chance to write more about it later, but he opens the book talking about his epiphany that life was not meant to be hard, and if life is feeling hard, we should ask the question, "How can I make this easier?" In retrospect, this was not the best book for me to be reading at two weeks post-partum, because life is just hard at two weeks post-partum, and when I asked myself, "How can I make this easier?" the most obvious answer was, don't get pregnant in the first place. Don't have a newborn (I especially felt ragey during his chapter about making sure to get enough rest... if there's one thing a mother with a newborn should not be lectured on, it's the benefits of getting enough rest). If I didn't have kids at all, my life would be so much easier.

But despite McKeown's conviction that life is meant to be "effortless," some things are worth the extra effort. My beautiful little baby was worth that hard pregnancy and that hard labor, and this hard newborn stage. I would do it over again in a heartbeat to get our last little girl again.

But what about theoretical future children? Theoretical future pregnancies? Here's the thing, I love my kids. I love them so much, and I admit I'm a little bit heartbroken at the thought that I will never get to experience the miracle of playing genetic dice again, watching a new little spirit with a fully independent personality inhabit a new little body and grow and develop in the most surprising and (usually) delightful ways. It's spectacular to experience.

But one theory I have, one hypothesis about why the Lord allowed this pregnancy to be so difficult, is to convince me I need to be done. To convince me my body cannot handle pregnancy again. Four has always been the plan, we have always known this would be the last one, but I know that if my pregnancies were easier, I would have more children, and I don't think the Lord wants me to. Does that sound strange? It does to me too. Why wouldn't the Lord want me to have more children, when my desire is there?

Because McKeown is actually right. The Lord really doesn't want my life to be unnecessarily hard. Something underlying all the revelations I've ever received (or not received) about my pregnancies and family planning is that the Lord is completely and utterly aware of how hard my pregnancies are, and He does not want my life to be hard. He is pleased with my righteous desires to raise a family, but He also understands that my body only has so much energy, and I need to conserve that energy for the children I already have, and for the other work I have been called to do in this life. 

I know that my greatest joy and purpose in life will come from my family, and from my role as wife and mother, but I also know I have not been called to run faster than I have strength. I have not been called to raise a large family (or at least, not larger than the family I have now). I have been called to get a PhD, and I need to have mental space and physical energy for that as well.

And I'm meant to have a period of ease. I became pregnant for the first time a little over ten years ago, and this past decade of pregnancy and babies and young children has been exhausting. It's not over yet, I still have a year of nursing ahead of me and one last toddler/pre-school stage to get through, but I see in my future a period of rest. A period where I am more in control of my own sleep, my own schedule, my own energy. I see life getting easier, and that's what the Lord wants for me.

So here's to being done with pregnancy! I will not miss it.  

But also, here's to the sweetest little newborn ever! All that hard was worth it, a thousand times worth it.