Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Birth of Adelynn Elizabeth

If you want the short story, here it is: It went well.
If you want the long story, here it is...

The Birth of Adelynn Elizabeth

“Gooood girl.”

That's what my labor doula, Theresa, was telling me as stronger contractions were coming on. Hearing those wonderful words made me feel like I was doing something good and strong and positive (instead of feeling that my body was out of control.)

This birth journey began more than a year prior with a loss. In September of 2010, my husband (Ian) and I were reunited after more than 8 months of separation for military training. We were excited when we became pregnant immediately, but our joy was squelched by experiencing a miscarriage in October. In January of 2011 we conceived again. Initially I was very happy, but I was also filled with fear that we would miscarry again.

It took a lot of time and prayer, but my fears were eventually completely replaced with excitement and a deep peace—a confidence—that the pregnancy and birth were going to go smoothly. I began making preparations for our family addition: shopping for baby items, investing in cloth diapers, researching about how to make my labor go smoothly, reviewing information I learned during my first pregnancy, and praying all my fears away.

The pregnancy went about as well as a woman could ask for. I didn't experience the problems I had with my first pregnancy: irritation on my finger under my wedding ring, edema, stretch marks, stress, horrible acne, and low iron. My weight gain was healthier, and my back pain and morning sickness weren't nearly as bad. I loved seeing midwives at my prenatal visits, instead of an obstetrician. They made me feel encouraged about my pregnancy and having the birth I wanted. They didn't insist on giving me a bunch of unnecessary ultrasounds, urine tests and cervical exams as the O.B.s had done during my first pregnancy with Samson.

The smooth pregnancy boosted my confidence about my impending labor. I knew I wanted things to go differently than they did with Samson's birth, and I wanted to work hard to achieve a better birth if at all possible. With Samson's birth my water began leaking, but my body didn't go into labor spontaneously. I labored for 12 hours while they pumped Pitocin into me via IV to induce the contractions, which made the entire experience extra painful. I later learned I am one of only a handful of women who accomplish this without an epidural. My doula, Linda, really made a huge difference in helping me through that labor, so I knew I would want to hire a doula again. Through a series of fortunate accidents, I found the perfect, affordable labor doula (Theresa). I had wanted to labor in the water with my first birth, but there wasn't a hospital with tubs near where we lived at that time. Our local hospital in Northern New York does have tubs, so I wrote that as a request in my birth plan for this birth. I also knew my body would be stronger this time, even if only because of toting around a 32 lb. toddler all day.

As the big birth day got closer and closer, I concerned myself with many things. What would I do with Samson, when I go to the hospital? How will Samson deal with the day of separation? What if too many sweets makes me have a very large baby? What if my water breaks and my body doesn't go into labor spontaneously? What if I can't keep the house clean and I come home from the hospital to a big mess? What if my loose belly muscles keep my body from doing what its supposed to? I even worried after I read one woman's experience about a prolonged pushing stage due to her baby's arm coming out of the birth canal alongside the head.

I am SO thankful that none of my worst fears came to fruition.

At first I thought for sure that I would go into labor early. Based on the reactions I got from strangers around town, you would have thought I was 43 weeks pregnant when I was only 6 months. People I met on the street insisted on telling me that my due date must be off or that I was having twins (I tend to have an especially protruding belly due to loose belly muscles). Samson had been born at 38 ½ weeks, which is somewhat early, so I assumed that my second birth would be similar.

My due date was set at September 28, which happens to be my husband's birthday. Fall is my favorite season, so I was pleased with the idea of having a baby in the cool autumn weather. The 38 week mark—the earliest time I would expect to go into labor—came and went. I got the midwife to check my cervix, which she informed me was soft and slightly dilated. I thought that was good news and that I would go into labor soon. She told me to go ahead and go to the baby shower the ladies at church had planned for me, and then have the baby. I laughed and agreed that was what I should do.

While I waited, I used the days to prepare myself more and more for the big birth day. This turned out to be a huge blessing. I took evening primrose oil to help soften my cervix. I kept practicing the hypnobirthing techniques from the book and CD I'd purchased. I put together several pages of encouraging images and scripture verses which I meditated on often through the last weeks to put me in the right mindset. I chose a few hymns, several other songs, and some nature sounds which I compiled onto CDs to listen to during labor for relaxation. While I'd originally not planned on using the birth ball, I had time to buy an air pump to refill it and decided to bring the ball to the hospital just in case.

Probably the most helpful thing that prepared me came as a mixed blessing. During the last several weeks of my pregnancy I found I would experience terrible pain if I reclined on the sofa with my torso at about a 45° angle. If I stood up quickly the pain would subside immediately. I kept having it and I kept changing positions. This actually ended up training me to just try different positions if I was in pain, because changing positions made the pain go away. What great preparation for labor! It also reminded me that I did not want to be reclining on my tailbone during the pushing phase of labor.

When the 39 week mark came and went, I got pretty restless. I was having an awful time remembering anything for more than 10 seconds. My sleep was increasingly restless. I was basically running around like a chicken with my head cut off and accomplishing very little. The midwife once again told me my cervix was soft and slightly dilated. She also did an ultrasound to be certain the baby's head was in the right position to be born. She showed me that she could see hair on the baby's head!

Around 40 weeks, I gave serious consideration to trying castor oil to induce labor. Something stopped me: a nudge from the Spirit, I suppose. I just had this feeling that God had this all planned out to go a certain way, and I shouldn't mess with it. I had read that making love is often very effective at inducing labor (if the body is ready). We tried this, but all it did was give me a “false start.” The evening that we tried it, I began having contractions at 10 minute intervals which continued for 12 hours. I even had my doula come to my house! She did some acupressure techniques to induce contractions. The contractions didn't increase in intensity or frequency, and then the contractions went away as suddenly as they'd come.

I was seen by an O.B. after my due date passed. He recommended induction, but was willing to let me pick the date. I hated the idea of choosing my daughter's birthday. We set an induction appointment for the next Thursday, and I went home praying against it. I didn't want Pitocin again!

In hindsight, this time of waiting was very valuable. All the extra little things I learned in my reading and my prayer time--God really did have the perfect day chosen for us.

The Saturday after my due date passed I woke with contractions that were more intense than what I had been having. I got up to go to the bathroom and I lost my mucous plug. I was thinking that was a good sign that labor was coming within the next few days, but I didn't know if I should let myself get too excited. I woke my husband up to let him know what was going on. I checked the clock and it was 8:52 am. I remembered I had complained to my doula in a phone conversation, “Why is it that labor always seems to start at some crazy hour like 3:00 am.? Why can't labor start at some convenient time like 9:00 in the morning and have the baby that night?” I thought to myself What if this is it? What if I'm having the baby today?

I started to try to get ready for my day and realized I needed to start sounding through the contractions (meaning I had to make sounds to cope with the intensity). I didn't even feel like brushing my teeth through the contractions. I moaned loudly and Ian started asking if I was OK. Hmm. Maybe its time to call Theresa?

As the day went on and the contractions were not letting up, I decided to make preparations to head to the hospital. Our friend Benjamin came over and started washing the dishes and tidying the kitchen (which was huge blessing, considering my fears about coming home to a messy apartment). Ian helped me finish packing bags, making phone calls and loading the car.

There were a series of (God-ordained?) circumstances led us to end up leaving Samson with another Army family from my husband's platoon. We waited for them to pick up Samson, and our neighbors from down the street picked up the dog. We were finally off to the hospital.

I had been timing my contractions all day and they were averaging about 4 minutes apart by the time we climbed in the car. This is considered to be just about the right time to go to the hospital. I kept timing contractions as we headed into town, but they seemed to have slowed (it was about a 20 minute drive). I was worried about my labor stalling or even stopping, so I tried some nipple stimulation. This made the next contractions extremely strong, so I stopped doing that right away! Theresa called my cell phone, and we realized she was at the hospital waiting for us! We got to the hospital at about 4:00 or 5:00 pm, and made our way through the cold rain to the back entrance.

I had called ahead, so the nurses were expecting us. They wanted to put an ID bracelet on me, but the bracelet had my birth date wrong. I can laugh about that now, since that was about the only thing that went wrong. The only other hang up was the fact that I had tested positive for Group B Strep. The nurses hooked me up to an IV to administer antibiotics so we wouldn't pass GBS onto the baby. (Group B Strep is a colonization found in many healthy women, but can sometimes be fatal to their newborn babies). While they were getting this ready and getting me checked in, Theresa massaged my low back and buttocks. I had instructed her and Ian to clog my nervous system with other sensations to block the intensity of the contractions. This type of massage totally fulfilled that request, and she kept doing it at the height of each contraction for most of the rest of the labor until the pushing stage. Her strong hands pushing on my back in just the right spots made it so I felt almost no pain whatsoever until toward the very end of the labor when things got very intense. There was one other main tactic that helped to clog my nervous system with pleasant sensations. I kept asking Ian to kiss me through the contractions. (He is THE BEST husband ever for doing this, because my breath must have been pretty gross after throwing up three times.)

As soon as we got checked in and settled, Theresa ran the water so I could get into the jacuzzi tub. I laughed as I felt the warm water swirling around me. It felt SO good. She left Ian and I alone in the bathroom for a while, but I called her back in to massage me some more. I have no idea how long this went on (time became a blur), but I imagine Theresa must have been exhausted from leaning over that tub to massage me. Ian sat on the edge of the tub supporting me with his words and his touch.

They suggested we listen to some relaxing music/sounds which helped a little during early labor, but I was pretty unaware of it at the end. Having trained my body to relax completely by practicing with a hypnobirthing CD for months really came in handy, especially since I could no longer focus on the words the woman on the CD was saying. Theresa spoke imagery to me about mushroom hunting in Iowa. It kind of helped me go out of myself and out of the hospital for a moment so I could regroup.

At some point I had to get out of the tub. I don't recall what the reason was, but after I got out I spent a bunch of time dancing around the room (while using my arms to hang on the nurse or Theresa or Ian), sitting on the birth ball, and squatting/kneeling. I'm not kidding when I say rocking on ball and kissing Ian felt almost orgasmic. Theresa had brought two pads to kneel on on the floor, which was a Godsend. I just kept changing positions and I did not feel that I wanted to sit down in the bed. I am really glad I learned to speak up for myself after my first birth. I was able to ask my birth assistants for water, Gatorade, and energy gel packs (these are what marathon runners use for a boost). The nurse and both of my birth assistants were so in tune with what needed to happen, and they were at my side from the beginning to the end. Theresa was noticing when I seemed to really lose all my composure and she'd tell me to take a deep breath. I would take a deep breath & try to let my body breathe in relaxation, and that would really help me (at least for a couple minutes). She helped me sound my way through the contractions by making the sounds with me and bringing the sound to the lowest tone my vocal chords are capable of making: a big, long, loud OH-oh. Theresa called it my beautiful birth song (it really was like singing).

Eventually they checked my cervix again, and told me I could end this all very quickly by letting Dr. Dembski sweep the membranes with a gloved finger. This was because my cervix was very open, but my waters hadn't broken. The baby just hadn't quite moved down far enough, but if the water broke she would probably move right down. Laboring with the waters unbroken sort of acts like a cushion making it more comfortable, so the fact it had taken this long was an answer to my prayers. They asked if I wanted to think about for a bit or just send Dr. Dembski in.

I thought about it really fast. I'm getting so tired; do I want to get to the pushing stage soon? “SEND HER IN!”

I don't know how long I labored after she swept the membranes, but it wasn't very long and I started to feel the urge to push. I can't recall who was coming or going or who was saying what. “Transition” made everything extra blurry. I was kneeling on the bed facing away from everyone, and I started making big, throaty groaning sounds like I was Conan the Barbarian or something. They told me to stop making that type of sound, because they were worried about getting a sore throat. Someone helped me bring my sounding to an appropriate level and figure out how to push more effectively. They let me push when I felt like pushing, which was a marked difference from the directed, “purple pushing” I experienced with Samson's birth. Each time I felt like I wanted to push, I let my breath out very slowly, and pushed as hard as I could, but only for as long as I wanted to. No one was telling me to keep “push- push-pushing”. They did make me change positions. I was in a semi-squatting position, but I had to rest on my tailbone. It worked alright, though. I think the pushing stage lasted for about 30 minutes, but it felt like less than that.

When her head crowned, it felt like a big, warm, smooth ball. Her head came out, then her body. I heard them say the cord was wrapped around her neck once (this is common). Very shortly, they handed me my purple, wiggly baby. Being purple is pretty common, but she “pinked up” pretty quickly. At some point someone cut the cord, took her APGAR scores, and used the bulb to suction fluid out of her lungs, but this was all a blur to me. She was born at 9:04 pm and weighed 8 lb. 7 oz. Later, someone told me that one of her hands came out at the same time as her head!

When I was sitting there holding her for the first time, I was suddenly a burst of energy and very talkative, even though I had been exhausted minutes earlier. I was singing and saying all kinds of crazy things, like how her squinty eyes made her look like a little Asian baby. I think I was a little nuts—like how you'd act if you just won the lottery.

Very shortly after birth—I'm not sure how long, but it felt like an instant—I was able to nurse her and she suckled for what seemed like a really long time before they told me it was time to take her to the nursery and me to the recovery room. I didn't mind handing her over, because I was ready to rest. They later brought her to me in the recovery room, Theresa went to sleep in the waiting area, and Ian & I fell asleep around midnight.

The hospital staff took great care of us, being so polite and trying not to wake any of us unless it was really necessary. They were very attentive. I had some little problems like the shakes and some pains and cramps. They helped me with all of that and helped me walk to the bathroom (I did end up taking a little Motrin for the cramping). Each time they took me to the bathroom I'd look up into the mirror and be so pleasantly surprised at how I looked. I felt gorgeous! I didn't have any broken blood vessels in my face—my skin and hair looked radiant!

The delivery nursers at that hospital were so awesome. Sometime the day after Adelynn's birth, one of the labor nurses walked to our recovery room after she got off her shift. She just wanted to check on us and tell me how happy she was for us. Talk about going the extra mile.

While I was disappointed in Samaritan Hospital for not having a lactation consulntant on staff, they were very good about the breastfeeding. No one told me I needed to force her to stay awake and nurse every so many minutes or that I needed to thump her foot if she fell asleep (as they told me when Samson was born).

The family that watched Samson brought him to the hospital for us the afternoon after Adelynn's birth. They were so happy with the experience! Apparently he was no trouble at all. Then, Samson stayed with us in the hospital until we were discharged. I gave him a new Transformers toy, which kept him pretty well occupied. He was very excited about a new baby sister (he hasn't stopped wanting to hug her).

We were all very pleasantly surprised by the hospital food. I'd go back to eat there again!

The pediatrician checked Adelynn a couple of times before we went home. She had had good APGAR scores (8 and 9) and healthy weight. She lost just 2 ounces in three days, which is very healthy. They checked her twice for muscle tone which was good. (This was a concern of mine; Samson had been born with low muscle tone.) No cone-shaped head here!

My parents-in-law and grandma-in-law drove out to stay with us in New York. After we came home from the hospital, I cried for joy every morning and every night for nearly two weeks. Ian said he thought I must have been high, I was SO happy. I felt completely overwhelmed by how well everything went. I felt completely blessed. The family cooked, washed dishes, helped care for Samson, held the baby, and Ian entertained everyone. All I had to do was focus on recovering and taking care of our new little addition.

I felt an extreme closeness to my husband and my Savior during those days following Adelynn's birth. I felt like they both came through for me far beyond what I'd even hoped for or expected. I didn't even have a tear or need to be stitched up! I just kept thanking and praising God in my heart. My husband has been more in-tune with my needs and done even more around the house—served me in ways he never did before. I didn't have a lot of the post-birth problems I'd had with Samson's birth, such as edema, over-producing milk (that was messy!). I did have muscle soreness, of course. Adelynn developed a little baby acne and a short-lived diaper rash.

Overall it was the best birth a woman could have asked for. My most important remarks would be that by the time I felt like I couldn't take it anymore, it was time to push the baby out anyway. So, an epidural would've been pointless. I've heard this time and again from people in the natural birthing community, so I like to encourage women with that information. The whole experience was a resounding testament to God's grace and faithfulness.
I'm going to say here that I'll reserve the right to add/subtract from this essay later.