Mara’s birth story

I am so happy to share Mara’s birth story with you – a story that didn’t unfold exactly as I expected (how could it?), but ended up even better than I could have imagined.

While my two childbirth experiences share a lot in common (both babies arrived two or three days shy of 37 weeks in labors that were five hours or less), I’m more struck by the differences between them. Corban’s birth story was somewhat dramatic. Mara’s definitely had its moments, but overall it was more like an episode of “Touched by an Angel” than “ER.” I think I prefer it that way!

marabirth07

The story begins Saturday night, August 31. It was the day after our five-year wedding anniversary. We took advantage of the fact that Peter’s parents were in town and went out to the movies while they put Corban to bed.

At my 36-week doctor’s appointment earlier that week, my doctor had told me the baby’s head was lower than the week before and asked if I could feel the pressure in my pelvis. The answer then was “no,” but as I munched on buttered popcorn and sipped Cherry Coke during “The World’s End,” I definitely noticed it. On the drive home I told Peter I didn’t know how I could handle being pregnant for another three weeks if that were in store. I was just so uncomfortable.

We got home early enough to watch some “House Hunters” with Peter’s parents before retiring to bed. I had been bugging Peter to read a particular section of the Bradley Method book I was reading, so he finally read it while I perused another childbirth book and pointed out that I wanted to write down a birth plan in the next day or two.

At 2:20 a.m., Corban woke us up with a piercing cry. Peter attended to him while I lay in bed and started noticing some pretty strong contractions. I had felt similar contractions over the past several weeks, and thought if I could fall back asleep they would stop. As I dozed in and out of a light sleep for the next hour, never really falling back into slumber, I realized they were consistent, and they weren’t going away.

At that point, I told Peter what was happening. He tried to convince me I was just dehydrated from all the popcorn, and had me drink water and take some Tylenol. My doctor had said Tylenol “won’t touch” labor contractions, so if the pain didn’t go away I’d know it’s real labor. Peter also started Googling how to stop labor and suggested I drink a glass of wine. I did not indulge.

Another hour went by. This entire time, I was focused on remaining relaxed and comfortable through each contraction. I lay on my side on our bed with a pillow between my knees and consciously released tension, muscle by muscle, as each contraction hit. They were strong, and felt like deep cramps. I pictured what my body was doing — the cervix opening up for the baby — and tried to let it do just that.

This whole time Peter was timing the contractions using a phone app. At a consistent 40 seconds long and seven minutes apart, I knew there was no turning back and I needed to call my doctor.

I told myself I’d call at 5 a.m. Then as 5 a.m. approached, I started feeling like I had to use the bathroom. Between contractions and bathroom breaks, it was 5:15 a.m. when I finally made the call. The on-call doctor said it sounded like early labor and instructed me to come on in to the hospital. “Yay!” she groggily squealed to me.

I was excited, but not quite “yay” excited. This wasn’t exactly the timing we had planned on. I left work Friday after telling a colleague I hoped I had a good couple weeks left to iron things out there before maternity leave. And I was a bit nervous about what was coming in the hospital. I wanted a medication-free birth, and now was the time to put everything I’d learned and hoped for into action.

Peter admitted he was nervous — nervous that he wouldn’t be able to remember everything he’d read and be a supportive coach to me. We momentarily reversed roles and I assured him that he had nothing to worry about and had already been a great help.

At this point, contractions were more intense, and getting out of bed seemed to further intensify and encourage them. My hospital bag was packed except for a few last-minute items, so I lay in bed while Peter gathered things together and woke his parents to tell them what was going on (yay for not having to worry about childcare for Corban). I tried to get up to brush my teeth, change into the nightgown I had planned on wearing in the hospital, wash my face, find my glasses, etc., but each time I got out of bed a contraction would take me down or I’d need to use the bathroom. I wished I could just lie there. I finally understood the appeal of a home birth — if the doctor came here I wouldn’t have to pack up and ride to the hospital.

I had Peter take this as we headed out the door because he had refused to take a belly pic of me earlier that day and now this was our last chance. And I'm crazy.

I had Peter take this as we headed out the door because he had refused to take a belly pic of me earlier that day and now this was our last chance. And I’m crazy.

Finally, just before 6 a.m., we were in the car. Rick Jackson’s Country Countdown was on the radio — a show we listen to on Sunday mornings on the way to church. Peter sang along to Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” (which always reminds me of this South Park scene in the episode from which our cat Biggles got his name) while I timed the increasingly close and long contractions. They were now more like four minutes apart, and seemed to ebb and flow in longer waves. A wave would wash over me, and just when I’d think it was peaking, another would crash in and prolong it. Peter slowed down at a stop sign and it felt like the longest deceleration in history as the seat belt pressed into my uterus.

The hospital parking lot was hugged in a pre-dawn fog that gave our walk inside from the car a dream-like air. I wished for a wheelchair to carry me down the endless empty hallway from the entrance to our elevator, but powered onward rather than asking for one.

We arrived at the administration desk on the labor and delivery floor around 6:20 a.m., and as I stood there to sign papers, a strong contraction doubled me over. Before I could put pen to paper, my water broke in an unmistakeable gush. “Clean up in aisle four,” Peter joked.

There was no laughing for me though. I needed to get checked into our room so I could lie down. A nurse quickly led us to a room and helped me get cleaned up in the bathroom. I struggled to get the words out to decline the hospital gown she offered while trying unsuccessfully to relax through a contraction that felt different than the others. I was starting to feel the urge to push.

I collapsed on the bed and attempted to resume the comfortable position I used at home. Hospital beds just can’t compare to your own king-size bed, though. Peter filled the nurse in on my desires — no IV, no meds, no interventions, etc. Apparently she had already been preparing whatever initial steps are necessary for an epidural, since (I was told later) about 95% of their patients ask for one. Suddenly her job got a lot easier.

I asked to have my cervix checked, knowing that I had to be frightfully dilated if I was feeling “pushy,” as they say. I asked Peter to get me some water. Then I realized the lights were shining full force and asked to have them dimmed. Anything to bring a bit of comfort. A nurse continued to question us while setting things up around the room and I became annoyed as my requests went unfulfilled, another contraction left me speechless and everyone seemed to be (from my perspective) pointlessly flitting around.

Finally I gathered the strength to insist someone check my cervix. The nurse did, and urgently told another nurse I had “nothing there,” aka 9 and 3/4 centimeters dilated and 100% effaced. “Is my doctor on her way?” I asked, only to learn she was just now being paged. At least they now understood how urgent the situation was becoming!

Meanwhile, the resident on the floor, Dr. M (in fact, the same resident who was there for Corban’s birth), came in and we went over some more details with him. I asked if it was bad to hold back on pushing if I felt the urge. He assured me it was actually good to let the baby engage as much as possible before starting to push, but if I couldn’t resist any longer he was there to deliver the baby. I requested a crash course on how to push, and Dr. M obliged.

I really wanted to wait until my doctor, Dr. L, arrived to start pushing, so each contraction I told myself I could wait one more. It was like having to hold it when you really, really have to pee. Not easy! When I finally decided this was it — I couldn’t wait any longer — Dr. L burst into the room (or at least that’s how it seemed to me) and I had a minute or two break in contractions to say hi.

This is the part of the story that seemed the most drastically different from Corban’s birth. During the pushing stage with Corban, I felt like a machine struggling to keep up. When I was told his heart rate was dropping and I needed to push harder, do better and get him out immediately I was (obviously) terrified. My role was to follow directions — when to push, how to push, when to stop.

With Mara’s birth, I felt completely in control. I had no contraction monitor dictating to the nurse when to dictate to me to push. Everyone around me appeared relaxed and no one told me to start or stop pushing. I just pushed when I felt like I needed to and stopped when it didn’t feel right. Peter stood on my right and a nurse on my left, holding my legs, counting through each contraction, dabbing my forehead with a cool cloth and encouraging me. Outside the room’s large windows I could see that the fog had lifted and the sun was turning the sky pink, and I for a split second I felt almost calm.

I focused all of my mind and strength on each push, relaxing my legs, holding my breath, bearing down in the right spot. Delivering a baby is most definitely an athletic endeavor! I knew the harder I worked with each contraction, the sooner it would be over.

I had read that you get about eight-minute breaks between contractions during the pushing phase, but experienced no such thing. After each push/contraction I had to will myself to relax as quickly and completely as possible, because it would only be a minute or less before I’d feel the overwhelming urge to push again. Apparently even this part of my labor experience happens in hyper-speed.

I can’t complain though. It was intense, with hardly a break, but after just 10 or 15 minutes, I was told this was it! Last push!

Of course the last one seemed the longest. After eight months of wondering whether our baby is a boy or girl, with just seconds to go before finding out, time seemed to slow down. The anticipation of knowing was at the forefront of my mind even through the pain, exhaustion and relief of knowing the end was imminent.

At 6:57 a.m., about 40 minutes after we arrived at the hospital, Mara entered the world and Dr. M held her up. “What is it, Dad?” he asked Peter.

Before Peter could reply, I saw the answer and cried, “It’s a girl!” Over and over, through tears, I repeated that joyous phrase. Dr. L made sure Mara came straight into my arms. Her slimy, white, alien body lay on me as Peter and I admired our daughter.

marabirth01

After a few minutes, the nurses took Mara to be cleaned up and weighed at a station next to my bed. My work wasn’t over, as the doctors delivered the placenta, gave me a shot of Pitocin to jump start my uterus contracting back to its normal size and began to stitch up my minor tear. Mara came back to my arms to nurse while they worked, and continued long after they finished.

marabirth00

I could have held her like that for hours more. The fact that we have a daughter still felt so novel and unexpected. I couldn’t quite believe it. The concept seemed so foreign.

marabirth02

When compared to Corban’s first hours of life… talk about night and day (literally and figuratively). Corban was born at the end of the day and whisked off to the NICU, where I had to be pushed in a wheelchair to visit and nurse him every three hours throughout the night. Mara arrived at the dawn of a new day, which we spent in our room snuggling her close and admiring her perfect features in the bright natural light of a beautiful late summer day.

marabirth06

Of course, there was nothing wrong with Corban, and after he was released from the NICU we enjoyed the same endless snuggles and bliss that a baby’s first day of life brings. But we are so grateful that Mara was healthy and her birth was completely natural and free of complications and interventions. I couldn’t have asked for a better birth experience and we count it as a huge blessing that it happened as it did.

marabirth08

I know it may seem easy now for me to be an advocate of natural, medication- and intervention-free childbirth since my labor and delivery experiences have both been very fast, so I don’t feel like I’m in a place to preach. But I do want to encourage anyone who desires to go the natural route. It is so doable if you go in with knowledge, preparation and confidence. I am fully confident that even if my labor was twice as long and even more intense, the methods I learned from reading (no, skimming) one Bradley Method book along with the support of my wonderful husband would have still been all I needed to manage the pain. With my first pregnancy, I went into labor without enough knowledge of the birth process nor confidence in my own ability to effectively cope with the discomfort and unknowns of childbirth. This time I knew what to expect — and not even just from having experienced it once before. Truly, my reading during this pregnancy informed me on what I had experienced with Corban’s birth, and that’s when things started to click. I also owe a lot to my friend Litzy, who has been incredibly supportive and shared a lot of her knowledge to encourage me along this path.

Here is the book that helped me: “Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way” by Susan McCutcheon. It’s not perfect and I don’t agree with every word in it, but it really was what equipped me the best for a natural birth.

marabirth09

As with any baby, in the end it really doesn’t matter how she made her debut. As happy as I am with how her birth happened, the true joy is in Mara’s mere existence as my daughter.

Pregnancy #2: Home stretch

Tuesday will mark 36 weeks for baby #2, and I’m definitely feeling like I’m in the home stretch. Nesting has officially kicked in and my perfectly painted nails that I spent so much time on Thursday night are already wearing away from all the scrubbing.

nestinglist00

Since Corban made his debut at 36 weeks, 4 days, I feel like I need to be mentally prepared for this baby to come early too. My doctor has said there’s no indication this baby WILL come early, but after being taken by surprise the first time it’s hard to just relax as I approach 36 weeks!

This means I’ve finally made some good progress on all my pregnancy-related to do lists: got a haircut, had maternity photos taken, went shopping for nursing and hospital supplies, packed my hospital bag, got a maternity massage (more on that tomorrow!), completely cleared out our old office (Corban’s soon-to-be big boy bedroom), did some practice labor relaxation exercises with Peter, opened my disability claim at work for maternity leave, unpacked and washed newborn clothes and did lots of cleaning and organizing around the house (although to an outsider it probably looks just as messy as always). That was all in the past week!

I’m also physically feeling like I’m in the home stretch. I have contractions every day and need (like, *need*) to sit down with a glass of water if I’ve been on my feet too much (see above list…). My lower back has started to ache, and it’s just not easy to carry Corban or keep up with his joyful antics like I used to. Getting comfortable in general is not easy. My feet have definitely started to swell, but thankfully it’s not noticeable to anyone else, and they’re nowhere near as hideous as they were with pregnancy #1. I’ll spare you a link back to that picture.

Here’s a pic from almost two weeks ago. I can’t seem to time the photography and blog posting to line up…

34weeks

I was up 18 pounds at my 35-week checkup. That’s definitely less than I gained at this point with Corban, but comparing photos at 34 weeks, the bump is no smaller. Maybe it was all the foot-swelling last time…

34weeks01

Although we didn’t take a childbirth class with this pregnancy, I’ve thought a lot more about what I would like the labor and delivery to be like this time. I am not at all nervous about childbirth, partially because I’ve been through it before so I know what to expect (in general), but also because I have a better idea of what I can do to make it more comfortable and a more intentional plan for how to make that happen.

I’ve mentioned before that my goal is to have a birth free from medicine or other interventions. The more I read about natural childbirth, the more I realize that Corban’s birth was far from intervention-free, although I felt like it was fairly “natural.” With Corban, I had an IV in the entire time, a tiny bit of pain meds in the IV at the end, an episiotomy and a vacuum-assisted delivery. All of that (except the pain meds) was not by choice, but because I was told it was medically necessary. Of course at the time I wasn’t going to argue with my doctor when she told me the baby was in distress and I would need an episiotomy and vacuum to get him out as quickly as possible. Corban ended up being perfectly healthy, and looking back I have no way of knowing if my doctor was being smart or unnecessarily cautious with those interventions.

This time, I’ve talked with my (new) doctor about episiotomies (she doesn’t do them except in extreme cases where the baby is in distress), IVs, monitors and other interventions. I’ve thought about what was uncomfortable about labor last time, and the IV and hospital gown are at the top of the list of controllable factors. I was super hot and uncomfortable and felt trapped in my jungle of IV cords, contraction monitor and two hospital gowns (why two?!).

birthstory03

The IV was kind of unavoidable last time since my Group B Strep test results weren’t back yet (I had had the test two days prior) so I needed to have antibiotics administered as a precaution. They also told me I was dehydrated and would need fluids through the IV. This time, I got the strep test done at 35 weeks, and I’m in the clear. I’ve also been very diligent about drinking lots of water – and, to be honest, if they tell me I’m dehydrated when I check into the hospital I’ll decline the IV and just chug water. I think this will make everything SO much more comfortable! I mean… considering it’s childbirth.

I also bought a cute, comfy maternity nightgown that I plan to wear instead of the hospital gown. Such a small thing, but I think it will make a big difference.

I borrowed some books from my friend Litzy, who is a natural childbirth guru after having her first baby in May, and talking with her and reading up on the Bradley Method has made me feel more confident about natural labor. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the book (can someone please write a pregnancy or parenting book that doesn’t spend just as much time bashing people who disagree with their methods as it does explaining what their methods are? I have found this to be the universal annoyance with ALL books on these topics!), but I like how positive the author is that with proper relaxation and pain management techniques you most certainly can have a natural childbirth without a problem. I definitely plan on employing some relaxation tips from the Bradley way of thinking. Peter is not too excited that the book recommends that the husband massage the wife’s lower back for hours on end during labor. He should be thankful that my first labor was way short, which means this one could likely be short too!

I do actually plan on writing a birth plan this time. Not a “this is how my childbirth experience must go!” plan, but more of a “here are my preferences” plan so I don’t forget to communicate something to the nurses.

So, that’s what’s been on my mind this past week or two. Nothing but work (a whole other set of to-do lists!), enjoying summer with Corban and PREGNANCY/CHILDBIRTH.

7 thoughts at 7 months pregnant

My due date is two months from yesterday. That seems like both a very short time and a very long time.

Here’s what’s on my mind:

1) I actually went through the entire day yesterday thinking today was July 24 and telling people my due date was two months from today. I was in serious shock and disbelief to learn that today is in fact July 25. It’s cool to just blame pregnancy brain for being a day behind, right?

2) My excitement to meet this child is growing – a lot. I just want to know – boy or girl? And I want to hold my dear baby and see him or her, and enjoy a sweet, tiny newborn.

3) My fear of being a mom of two babies is also growing. At this point, I just do not have the emotional or physical energy to keep up with Corban after working all day, and I know waking up six times a night with a newborn is 10 times harder than being pregnant. So I’m sure everything will be a bit challenging at first, although I won’t be working… which brings me to my next thought…

4) I keep thinking once I’m on maternity leave I’ll have time to do all the junk around the house that is currently neglected because I have no energy beyond working 40 hours a week and scraping by as a mom. Am I crazy? I also have this idea that I will be able to attend playdates and go out and do typical mom things that happen during working hours. I probably am crazy.

5) I joined a fitness challenge with a few other moms (basically we just set goals for ourselves each week and then get points for meeting them) and it has been really motivating for me to be consistent with what I know I should be doing to prepare for labor and the end of pregnancy. My goals seem really silly compared to my pre-motherhood athletic endeavors, but they are important and make me feel healthier. I’m focusing on walking, squats, pelvic floor exercises, sitting on an exercise ball (yes, sitting is considered exercise for me at this point, haha), drinking water, eating vegetables and getting enough protein in my diet.

6) I really desire to have a natural labor and delivery this time. I almost did with Corban (had a tiny bit of painkiller in the IV at the end), but I didn’t really have any intentions one way or another regarding meds (other than let’s see how I feel and then decide). But now I’m feeling more drawn to do it the old-fashioned way and do whatever I can to prepare myself for that. That means it’s time to check out some natural childbirth books from the library. Any recommendations?

7) I drank a beer tonight. This beer, specifically, and I don’t know if it’s just because I haven’t had a beer in roughly six months, but it tasted amazing. [And no, it will not give my child fetal alcohol syndrome. My doctor has sanctioned an occasional alcoholic beverage in the third trimester.]

Corban’s birth story (part 3)

Catching up? Read part one and part two before proceeding!

Quick recap: It’s been 4 hours and 30 minutes since my water broke, with no noticeable signs of labor leading up to it; 3 hours since we checked in to the hospital; maybe 2 hour and 20 minutes since we arrived in our room; and 2 hours since things started to get painful. And now I’m fully dilated.

Suddenly the mood in the room completely transforms from a dark, relatively peaceful, private space to a buzzing hospital scene. The resident, Dr. M, is back. The nurse anesthetist arrives and is sent away, annoyed. “So no epidural?” I ask, somewhat frantically. “What about the IV?”

They start the IV drip at some point unbeknownst to me. I’m still struggling with contractions as they bring in monitors for the baby, and my doctor, Dr. E, arrives, remarking at how surprised she is to be back so soon.

This is it. Someone straps an oxygen mask to my face and I scoot down on the bed. I’m told to hold my knees back, relax and push when they say to push. Waiting for them to give the word to push was not easy! I take short, shallow breaths like we learned in our birthing class. “Now?” I ask. No…. “Now?” No…

Finally, “Push, push, push, push!”

I push as hard as I think I can. My nurse, Kate, is right beside me on my right and Peter is on my left, both helping hold my legs and shouting encouragement. Dr. E coaches me on how to properly do it, but there are so many things to remember and so much going on as I employ all my strength and concentration. Suddenly they tell me to stop.

The first contraction is over and I apparently am not adhering to instruction very well, though everyone is supportive of my efforts. With the next contraction, I try harder to take a deep breath, then relax my legs, focus my strength, hold my breath, but I am still not being entirely productive.

Dr. E tells me there’s no time for me to learn how to push. The baby’s heart rate is starting to drop and I need to get it right and get the baby out quickly. This scares me and I refocus yet again, committing to pouring all my energy out. I imagine I’m at the end of a race and want to give it my all, hold nothing back and finish strong.

Peter, Kate, Dr. M and Dr. E are all shouting instructions and supportive words. During one contraction Kate counts as I hold my breath and push. During another, Dr. M takes over counting. The counting gives me strength and focus, and I am so grateful for all the direction I’m being given. There is just too much for me to remember on my own in the midst of everything.

The oxygen mask is driving me crazy. I’m sweating monstrously and clenching my eyes shut during each contraction. When I open my eyes, it is exactly like a scene from a movie. A bright light surrounds a larger-than-life Dr. E (despite her being a small woman) as she talks to me and explains relatively calmly what is happening.

I hear a word I hadn’t wanted to hear: episiotomy. “You’re going to cut me?” I whine. “Do you have to?”

Dr. E explains that we have to get the baby out quickly. Local anesthesia stings then numbs the incision. I feel like I’m finally pushing correctly and I long for the relief of the baby’s head emerging. They all tell me I’m close. They can see the head – the baby has lots of hair. But each contraction ends with disappointment. Finally Dr. asks me if it’s OK if she uses the vacuum – she thinks it’s necessary. I don’t care as long as the baby comes out fast and safe.

I feel like I have no more energy to push, but I have to push harder. I squeeze my eyes shut. I wish I could rip the oxygen mask off. Everything feels foggy.

Finally, they tell me to open my eyes and the sweet relief I’ve been longing for arrives. Dr. E pulls the baby out and I see right away that it’s a boy, just as Peter and she exclaim, “It’s a boy!”

I start to laugh immediately. “It’s a boy!” I say, over and over, panting and smiling. I expect him to be placed on my chest, but he’s taken away to the other side of the room after my initial glance. “Can I hold him?” I ask? Not yet. They have to monitor him after his traumatic entrance into the world. A tiny cry resounds. I see there are several nurses in the room that I hadn’t noticed before.

“Does he have a name?” Dr. E asks. Corban!

Peter kisses me and I send him to the other side of the bed where our little boy is being weighed and cleaned. He takes photos and returns to my side to show me. 6 pounds, 8 ounces and 19 inches long. Born at 10:45 p.m. I am told I was only pushing for about 15 minutes. It seemed like an eternity.

I am so overwhelmed. It’s a boy. I did it. It’s over. It’s beginning. I am so incredibly exhausted.

Meanwhile, Dr. E and Dr. M deliver the placenta. They ask if I want to see it, and then they hold it up. It looks like a huge rectangular muscle and I am completely disgusted, yet fascinated. I hear Dr. E explaining to Dr. M how she goes about stitching me up.

Finally, Corban is in my arms, with a tiny oxygen mask over his face. I always expected to cry in this moment, but instead I smile a lot, kiss his head and stare in disbelief. I am too shocked to cry. It just seems unreal.

My time with Corban is too short. He has to go to the NICU for more monitoring. Peter goes with him while I continue to be stitched and cleaned up. I feel like I’m in a dream state. I vaguely hear the nurses and Dr. M laughing at how Dr. E managed to squirt blood from the umbilical cord all over the entire hospital room. She laughs with them. Peter didn’t get the chance to cut the cord because they wanted to get Corban stabilized as quickly as possible. Dr. E talks to me, but I am so tired I barely have the energy to speak. Eventually she says she’ll see me in six weeks and heads out the door.

The anticipation of going to see Corban in the NICU keeps me from passing out in the now quiet hospital room. It’s just Kate and me, and I’m buried in my phone texting and emailing friends and family.

Kate wakes me from my dizzy text message haze and asks if I’m ready to go see Corban. She helps me into a wheelchair and asks if I’m feeling sick. “Nope!” I reply, only to immediately be struck a wave of sickness. “Actually, yes.”

Suddenly I’m glad I haven’t had anything to eat.

The ride to the NICU is long and slow. Finally, I’m with my darling son, his tiny body hooked up to lots of monitors, but looking good.

His face looks just like my last ultrasound picture! Only not scary. A nurse places him in my arms and coaches me on how to nurse him. He sucks a little. I just want to hold him and stare. Peter, Corban and I sit in a daze as a nurse snaps two photos which will become my favorites from the day.

Now it’s Peter’s turn to hold him, and I suddenly feel guilty realizing I’ve had the chance to hold him twice already, but Peter isn’t bothered. How could he be bothered by anything right now? It’s still just so surreal. This tiny human – a stranger to us now – is our son.

Eventually we go to our room to sleep before coming back in a few hours to nurse him again. But we don’t sleep, despite my feeling more exhausted than I’ve ever felt before. Instead Peter and I stay up talking, posting a photo of Corban to Facebook and reading the joyful text message replies buzzing on our phones.

The next 24 hours are a blissful daze of visits to the NICU, feedings, naps, doctor visits and happy messages from friends and family. Corban is moved into our room, where we can hold him and stare at him all we want. I swear, every time I look at him he gets cuter.

Corban’s birth story unfolded much differently than I expected, but it was the most incredible experience of my life. I’m still amazed at how quickly everything went, and in the end, I was happy I didn’t have the epidural. The delivery was painful, but I survived.

It’s true what they say about forgetting the pain of it all very quickly. Once you have in your arms the end result of nine uncomfortable months and however many painful hours, all the negative memories seem to fade away. Motherhood has it’s own unique struggles, but when you’re staring down at your sweet little snuggly baby, everything seems perfect.

Corban’s birth story (part 2)

Catching up? Read part one first.

This was it. We arrived as a couple and would leave as a family. Excitement rose in me as my nurse, Kate, led us from triage into our room.

I recalled our birthing center tour and how I stood in a room just like this one thinking the next time I’m here I’ll be having a baby.

The reality finally settled on Peter, and he was ready to support me through this.

He went out to the car to get our bags while Kate started setting up my IV. I texted and emailed a few people to tell them I was in labor before Kate hooked me up to an IV of fluids to combat my dehydration. I lay in bed in the dimly lit room and tried to remember to sip water from my standard side-kick, my beat up lime green water bottle, but had a hard time focusing on anything but answering Kate’s questions about what my preferences were regarding labor.

I told her I didn’t want to plan on getting an epidural or other pain meds, but I didn’t want to rule it out. She went over some pain relief techniques with me, and told me to save the tub for when it gets really tough because it’s the best secret weapon in the arsenal. She turned on the soothing music of the Care channel and told me to start breathing deeply through contractions now, even though they weren’t particularly painful yet, because it will make it easier later. On the monitor, I could watch each contraction build up, peak and then come down. At this point I told her my pain level was at 3 out of 10.

I hadn’t eaten since lunch, and was starting to get pretty hungry, but it looked doubtful that my doctor would allow me to eat at this point. I cursed myself for leaving the house without shoving something – anything – down my throat.

A little after 8:30 p.m., my doctor (Dr. E) stopped by, marveling at how unexpected my labor was. I had seen her two days prior for my 36 week checkup and had my Group B Strep test done (to determine if I carried an active bacteria that could harm the baby if it were to be transferred during delivery). The results wouldn’t come back from the lab until the next morning, so I needed penicillin in my IV just in case I had it.

Dr. E asked if I was hungry. Yes! “Jell-O?” she offered. Even Jell-O sounded good at that point.

Peter lingered over the room service menu, picking out dinner for him and items off the clear liquid menu for me.

Meanwhile, my contractions became stronger. I asked to get up and walk around, so Kate took the contraction and baby heartbeat monitors off me and introduced me to my “friend,” the IV bag on wheels.

All the pressure in my abdomen made me feel like I had to go to the bathroom – a much bigger ordeal than I anticipated. Contractions continued to strengthen and I felt completely overheated in my two gigantic hospital gowns. I attempted to give myself some air, but the IV kept me trapped in the gowns.

Finally, I emerged from the bathroom, feeling less comfortable than ever. Standing and moving around made the contractions more bearable. I asked for a birthing ball (a.k.a. an exercise ball) to sit on. Bouncing on the ball brought some more sweet relief (or maybe just distraction) so I decided to call my mom. After about 30 seconds of conversation, I had to hand the phone off to Peter as another contraction hit.

Now, I must say, contractions did not feel how I expected them to feel. They weren’t sharp pains as I anticipated. Instead they felt like cramps – dull and deep, and more a sensation of discomfort than straight up pain.

As I bounced, I continued to feel ridiculously hot. I begged Kate to unhook my IV so I could get rid of one of the gowns and change into a sports bra. She helped me change over and around the IV line and bag of fluids. We would pause when a contraction came, as I stared straight ahead and breathed and Peter massaged my shoulders and encouraged me.

Kate could tell my pain had increased significantly, so she had me get back in bed to be monitored again. At this point it was probably 9:45 p.m. Peter put the two newborn hats we had purchased – one pink and one blue – on the couch across from my bed so I could use them as a focal point while breathing. Instead, my eyes were drawn to an abstract spot on the painting hung above the couch.

The food finally arrived, a tuna sandwich for Peter and green Jell-O and pink lemonade for me. Food was the last thing on my mind, but at Peter’s urging I took a sip of the sickeningly sweet lemonade. Yuck.

I tried to get comfortable in bed, but the only comfort came immediately after a contraction, when the pain temporarily subsided and I remembered what it felt like to feel normal again. The contrast made those moments blissful, but they were fleeting as the contractions came one right after another. I twisted and squirmed in bed, but a comfortable position eluded me.

Anticipating the pain to come, I told Peter and Kate I wanted an epidural.

“Really?” Peter asked, knowing I had wanted to avoid it if I could. Really.

Kate checked my cervix to see if I was dilated enough for epidural time. Shocked, her voice took on a serious tone as she told us I was “a stretchy 7” centimeters. “Here’s what you can do,” she said. “You can either get into the tub right now, and by the time you get out it will be time to push, or you can have the epidural.”

Peter and Kate reminded me how much relief the bath would bring, and how close to the end I was. They told me the bath is probably all I need, but I just couldn’t fathom getting out of bed and into the wet tub at that point. I’ve never been a bath person, and it didn’t seem any more appealing at that point than it ever had in the past. I just wanted relief from the pain.

Kate also brought up the option of putting pain meds in my IV for instant, all-over relief. But I didn’t want to be drowsy when my child entered the world.

Without much hesitation, I apologized for being a wimp and told them I just wanted an epidural.

Kate ordered the epidural, but the nurse anesthetist was in the room next door administering an epidural. Once again, my options were laid out, and I agreed to a tiny bit of IV painkiller while we waited for the epidural.

While Kate ordered that up, I continued to writhe in bed. Peter had sneaked off to the corner of the room to try to eat his dinner, and were I not distracted by my intense contractions, I would have shot him a glare.

It was now almost 10:15 p.m. Still no epidural. Still no IV meds. Kate checked my cervix again.

I was nearly fully dilated.

TO BE CONTINUED… read part 3

[I wrote this entire post on my iPhone while nursing. Be impressed. The grand finale will come soon!]

Corban’s birth story (part 1)

As great as our childbirth classes at the hospital were, I think one of the best ways I prepared for childbirth was by reading other bloggers’ labor and delivery stories. Each one was different, and mine was nothing like any of the blog posts I read, but reading first person accounts of every detail during labor made me feel more comfortable with what was to come.

So in the hopes that maybe by sharing my story I’ll help another new mom feel more comfortable about childbirth, here’s the story of Corban’s birth.

Thursday, Dec. 8, started like any other Thursday. I went to work, continued training the two people who would take on my responsibilities while I was on maternity leave, sat through a pretty boring meeting (and enjoyed baby kicks throughout to keep me entertained) and by 5:35 started to wrap up. The newsroom holiday party was starting at a bar across the street, and I planned to stop by for some food before heading to a church women’s ministry meeting at 7. I finished my work and began to check my personal email and Facebook.

Suddenly I simultaneously heard a dull, but distinct, popping noise and felt what seemed like a hard baby kick to the cervix.

For a second I didn’t think much of it aside from it being quite the kick, but then I started to feel like I was leaking. My heart raced as I grabbed my phone, checked the time (5:40) and rushed to the bathroom. In the stall I Googled “popping sound water break,” and my suspicions were validated by numerous message board postings from women describing what I had just experienced. I texted Peter, quickly gathered my things, checked on the status of my trainee who was finishing up a photo gallery and raced out the door. “See you tomorrow!” I said, hoping that this was a false alarm and I was just like all those other first time moms who rush to the hospital only to be sent home.

I called Peter on my walk to the parking garage. He was calm, as always, and was skeptical about this being the real deal. I told him to start packing his things and find the phone number for the hospital. The wind seemed so icy as it whipped tears right out of my eyes, making the walk seem ultra dramatic.

My mind raced on the 20-minute drive home. This could be it. Are we ready? What do we have left to do? Fortunately, I was comforted by the sudden realization that we were ready. True, the nursery wasn’t done being set up, but just earlier that day a friend who had just had a baby told me in a Facebook message not to stress about finishing the nursery because the baby won’t even be sleeping in it for a while after birth. That message popped into my mind and comforted me. As far as material things went, we were pretty much set, but what about the baby? I was 36.5 weeks pregnant, which is close to full term, but still early. Suddenly the only thing I worried about was whether the baby would be okay.

I arrived home to Peter nonchalantly reading the news on his computer. Are you packed? Should we go to the hospital? What’s the phone number? What should we do? I began to panic slightly while he remained in denial. I called my doctor, who happened to be on call that night. “Alison! Didn’t I just see you?” she said, referring to my checkup two days prior, when I was 1.5 centimeters dilated and 85% effaced, which meant “nothing,” according to her at the time. I described what happened and she said I’d better come in just to see if it really was my water that broke. “Don’t rush, but come now,” she said.

My hospital bag had been packed since before Thanksgiving, when I was paranoid that I’d go into labor while traveling. I had also, thankfully, written out a list of things I wouldn’t want to forget – phone charger, toiletries, Gatorade, popsicles, etc. “I should probably eat something, right?” I asked Peter. I opened the fridge, my stomach a ball of nerves. It was nearly empty, as was the norm during the past several months with my lack of appetite and ridiculously busy schedule. Leftover beef tenderloin from when my mom visited the weekend before stared at me and I closed the door in disgust. After we got to the hospital surely I’d have time to eat some of the many snacks I had packed weeks ago.

At 6:45 p.m. we walked out the front door. I stopped and looked at Peter. “The next time we come through this door there might be three of us,” I said.

Once on the road, I called my mom, told her not to freak out, but filled her in on the situation. She, of course, did freak out somewhat, as was to be expected. I texted a vague message saying I couldn’t make it to the women’s ministry meeting. Peter and I briefly discussed our disbelief at the situation, then spent the rest of the car ride debating middle names, which we hadn’t been 100% settled on.

Leaving our bags in the car, I gripped Peter’s hand tightly as we walked into the hospital and checked in to the childbirth center. I was sent to a tiny room in triage, where a young-looking blonde nurse introduced herself as Kate and began to question me. She too seemed skeptical that this was it, but sent me into the bathroom to change into a hospital gown and give her a urine sample.

Back on the bed, I met the resident on call, who looked eerily like a guy I knew in college, and he explained the different ways of determining whether I really was in labor. By this point I had started noticing contractions, but was having a hard time telling when they would start and stop. They put a monitor around my stomach so we could see the contractions on a screen. He took a sample of the amniotic fluid and used a color-changing test strip to see if it indeed was amniotic fluid.

It certainly was. And I was two-and-a-half, “almost three,” centimeters dilated. That meant I was already entering the second stage of labor. Baby’s coming!

Kate and the resident postulated that the baby’s birthday would probably be December 9, since it was already almost 8 p.m. on December 8. I looked at Peter and smiled as he pressed his hands to his forehead in disbelief. December 9 seemed like a wonderful birthday! Peter shook his head; he clearly wasn’t ready for this.

TO BE CONTINUED… read part 2

[I figured since Corban is already almost 4 weeks old I’d better at least get the story started even if I’m not done typing the whole thing up! Stay tuned for Part 2.]

No more belly pics

… or weekly pregnancy updates.

That’s because on Thursday, December 8, at 10:45 p.m. we welcomed Corban James Sherwood into the world!

Born at 36.5 weeks, he was a healthy 6 pounds, 8 ounces, and measured 19 inches.

The early date, of course, was a big surprise to us. Just 40 minutes before I went into labor I was telling a co-worker how I planned on being around the office until Christmas. Then the labor and delivery were a mere 5 hours total, so the quickness in which or lives changed so dramatically has made this all the more shocking and exciting of a weekend.

I am so overwhelmed with emotions, and have so much more to share, but for now suffice to say Corban is incredible and we are blissfully enjoying our new status as a family of three.

35 weeks and a baby shower

Months ago I looked at Thanksgiving weekend on the calendar, saw that I would be 35 weeks pregnant at that point and worried that I’d go into labor while traveling to Missouri to visit Peter’s family. Or that the baby would already be here.

But we made it!

Phew. (Though I did bring along the hospital bag I started packing last week… just in case.)

Pregnancy is definitely no longer comfortable. Sitting, lying down, standing… after a few minutes, doing any of the above makes me sore.

If I’m sitting in a certain position, sometimes I think I can see a head – or a butt – on my left side. I actually hope it’s the latter, because otherwise it means the baby is breach. My right side continues to take the brunt of the discomfort, so you’ll often find me stretching my right arm up or attempting to elongate my right side to make more room.

I’ve also started getting cramps, which I’m pretty sure are contractions. They aren’t regular or even very often, but I’m not really enjoying them.

But other than the constant torso discomfort, I actually feel pretty good. I’m excited, and relatively calm despite still not being quite ready on several fronts. The earlier symptoms like nasal congestion and itchy eyes have gone away. I’ve been drinking tons of fluids, and I think that’s helped my foot/ankle swelling.

Thanksgiving

But back to this weekend, we spent Thanksgiving Day with my family. It was really great to see my cousin and her adorable one-year-old, swap pregnancy stories and get the scoop on what labor and the first few months of life with a baby are like.

They sound absolutely exhausting. But I’m still excited.

Friday we drove to Peter’s hometown to visit his fam, and because his mom was hosting a…

Baby Shower

We have been blessed with several wonderful baby showers so far (and another couple more to come). This one featured this beauty:

My sister-in-law, Jenny, made this dashing diaper cake. It survived the trip home in one piece and I kind of don’t ever want to take it apart.

The real cake was a winner too.

We also played a few games, like seeing whose water would break (melt) first.

And matching up candy bar names with pregnancy/baby terms.

(Won’t think of Milky Ways the same anymore…)

Lots of fun with Peter’s relatives, and lots of lovely baby gifts.

I should also mention that I got lots of encouragement from Peter’s mom and cousin that childbirth without an epidural or other painkillers is totally doable. They both did it 3 times sans meds nor regrets. I’m still leaving my options open, but it was good to get their experienced perspectives.

Again, we feel so very blessed by all the love and support around us during this time! It’s been so much fun to share our excitement with our friends and family. We certainly had a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

The final ultrasound

When I first started going to the doctor after becoming pregnant, I was told that we would get two ultrasounds: one at 8 weeks to check for a heartbeat and get a measurement for a more accurate due date and one at 20 weeks to find out the sex (which we didn’t) and check for limbs and heart chambers and things like that.

At our 20-week ultrasound everything looked good, except one little thing: the placenta was low in the uterus, closer than it should be to the cervix. This can be a problem come delivery time because the placenta cannot be delivered before the baby. If the placenta is blocking the cervix at the end of the pregnancy, it’s called placenta previa and it requires a C-section, no ifs, ands or buts.

My doctor said not to worry because it was still early, and nine times out of ten it will move up to where it belongs and all will be well. But she needed to schedule an ultrasound in the third trimester to check and make sure it had moved.

Of course when I heard this at 20 weeks I was actually kind of happy – another ultrasound! A peek at our baby’s face later on in the pregnancy!

But as the date drew nearer and we learned more about placenta previa in our childbirth class, I started to worry. What if it hasn’t moved and I need a C-section? I don’t want one! Of course, healthy baby is the #1 goal, and if that requires a C-section there’s nothing I can do about it. But I really would prefer not to have a C-section. I want to go through every stage of labor, no matter how long and painful, and have a baby the old-fashioned way.

After I had worried sufficiently, I switched gears and began to prepare myself for the possibility of a C-section. There are a few pluses to it, and though they aren’t enough to make me want one, I tried to focus on the good. Like knowing exactly when the baby would come, or even being able to choose his/her birthday. A 2011 baby or a 2012 baby? We would (possibly) get to decide. And I would get two extra weeks of paid leave from work. And I could stop practicing breathing techniques and relaxation exercises. And I’d avoid the scary unknown of childbirth (granted, a C-section is a scary unknown in itself and the recovery is harder).

Then I just tried to stop thinking about it and instead pray.

Tuesday was the day. I would finally find out and put the big question mark behind me.

As I hopped up on the table for the ultrasound, I forgot all about placenta previa and just got excited to see the baby. I reminded my doctor that we didn’t want to know the sex.

“Hi, Baby!” she said as the picture came into the frame. There was the face, with chubby little cheeks (as far as I could tell on the grainy image). There was a leg, an arm, etc.

“Looks good,” my doctor told me. I remained fixated on the sonogram. “Yep,” she continued. “Head is up here, placenta is in the right spot, everything’s good.”

Sigh of relief. “Yay!” I said, partially in reaction to the news but mostly because it was so exciting to see the baby’s image. “Can I have a picture?”

Funny how that abstract image on the screen made me stop caring about placenta previa or anything else. I got the good news I was praying for, but by then I was more interested in those chubby cheeks.

I guess it’s just another reminder that the baby is all that really matters. Labor and deliver, whether C-section or not, is just the means to an end – or rather, a beginning. Of life.

Prepared to be unprepared

It’s November 1, also known as TWO MONTHS UNTIL MY DUE DATE!

OK, I won’t freak out in this post. But I might at some point.

I’m actually feeling a little bit more prepared (so not the right word) for labor and delivery now that we’re three quarters of the way through with our childbirth class at the hospital. Last night was class number three, which focused on our tour of the birth center, reviewing all the pain management techniques we’ve learned and going through a mock labor to practice sitting/standing positions, breathing and just generally knowing what to do during each stage of labor.

Sadly, Peter was out of town for work, so I had to do the mock labor without my beloved birth partner. But I think it ended up being a good thing, because when I got home I called him and tried to relay all the information we reviewed and learned in class. Just going over it one more time will help it stick, I think. Pregnancy has been hard on my brain and I noticed in class that I had completely forgotten some of the things we learned just a week or two ago. The extra review was a very good thing.

I also feel a bit more prepared because I’ve been reading other [formerly] pregnant bloggers’ birth stories and discovering just how unpredictable labor can be. That doesn’t sound like it makes very much sense, but what I’m getting at is, well, you can’t ever really be prepared. If Peter or I can remember when to call the hospital and how to get there, plus some of the breathing and pain management techniques we’ve been practicing, I think we can survive. I know it’s going to be really hard and really painful, but for every person on earth (7 billion as of yesterday, maybe) there’s a woman who went through labor and delivery.

I’m not planning on writing up a “birth plan,” mainly because I don’t know what it’s going to be like. My loose “non-plan” is to work with Peter to employ all the natural pain management techniques we’ve learned and be ready to deal with a lot of pain. If there comes a point when I feel pain meds are necessary, I’ll take them. I’d like to get as far as I can without them, but I know there’s a high chance I’ll want the relief at some point and I’m OK with that. But I’m definitely not going to be a wimp about it. I don’t expect it to be easy.

My next step in feeling prepared is to pack our “goodie bag,” as our class instructor, Sue, calls it. In it will be all the things to help me through labor – music, lotion, massage tools, “focal point,” snacks, etc.

Any recommendations for relaxing music to add to my labor playlist?