Sunday, January 12, 2014

Lucy's birth story - the long version

Friday, December 20th - In labor!
First round of fetal monitoring -- excited to be in labor!

Feeling great post-epidural!
All ready for our little girl!
The waiting area outside the operating room -- Isaac stayed out here while they prepped me. 
Nothing sweeter than hearing this little girl's first cries! 
Meeting Lucy Margaret! 
Instantly I knew she was worth every sacrifice! 
Big girl! 
I can't get enough of this sweet little bundle! 
Ready to head home! 
Hardest present to unwrap ever! 

It all began on the night of Thursday, December 19th.  I began feeling contractions; sporadic, but increasing.  Isaac began timing them as we rested in bed, and I guess I fell asleep as he was waiting for me to tell him when the next was coming.  They were six minutes apart when I finally fell asleep.  Obviously they weren’t too uncomfortable, but strong enough to be aware of them. 

On Friday I couldn’t sleep and was up by 5:15am, deep cleaning the refrigerator, microwave, and emptying the dishwasher.  I was still having sporadic contractions, but they weren’t too intense yet.  Still, I felt that labor might not be too far off, so I wanted to wrap up all the loose ends and leave my house immaculate.  Isaac got up and went to work, and I finished up some final sewing projects for the nursery.  My pain level was generally only about a three -- enough to be uncomfortable and make it difficult to concentrate, but nothing that set off any alarm bells.   

By mid-afternoon I felt like the contractions were coming more frequently, but I refused to acknowledge that this was labor as I didn’t want to be disappointed if it wasn’t.  Besides, it was the night of Isaac’s work Christmas party and I didn’t want him to miss that networking opportunity with his new co-workers.  I refused to time my contractions and got myself dolled up for Isaac’s party and drove to downtown Seattle.  (Yes, I know. Not my brightest idea, but I was driving against traffic, and I knew if this was labor, it was going to be a long one).  By the time I arrived at CBRE my contractions intensifying (up to 4-5 pain scale) and it was getting harder to mask the pain.  After an hour or so at his work party I was getting really tired and feeling ready to acknowledge I was in labor. I wanted to be able to grimace and then go into my relaxation techniques as needed to pass the contractions -- not exactly something I can do while making small talk with strangers.  

By 9pm the contractions weren’t relenting so Isaac called the midwife and Auntie Lorna (my labor coach) to put them on notice - my contractions were five minutes apart for 40 minutes, with the last three coming only three minutes apart and definitely painful.  

By around 11pm I was having three contractions within 10 minutes (the midwife’s marker that I was in labor), so we packed up and headed to Valley Medical Center to check into the birth center.  They hooked me up to a monitor and, of course, my contractions slowed down -- which I’m told is normal -- but intensity remained the same -- painful enough to require concentration to relax.  Midwife Marilyn checked me and told us I was roughly 2cm dilated, 50% effaced, and the baby was -1 station.  I was borderline, but since I was strep-B positive, she decided to admit me to start the penicillin.  We settled into a birthing room, got hooked up to fetal monitoring, and I was given a shot of morphine so I could get some much needed sleep before the real work began. 
The next morning I was feeling refreshed and ready to get the show on the road!   We decided to get up and do some walking to get gravity working (and to work out the nasty bruise in my leg from the morphine shot).  Auntie Lorna left to run some Christmas errands she still needed to run before Christmas because she hadn’t expected me to already be in labor (after all, WHO goes into labor on their DUE DATE??)  Isaac’s parents, Dave and Judy, stopped by to say “hello”, and then we eventually made our way back to our room as the contractions picked up once again. 

By 2pm the midwife on duty, Carol, came by to check on my progress.  She told me I was only 1cm dilated...  Because I’d already been admitted, she let me labor there for a few more hours before checking on me again.  I hadn’t progressed (in her opinion), and she told me that I was in “protracted labor” and this could go on for “up to a week,” and that “real” labor will be a “kajillion times worse.” She told me she was sending me home and that I should relax and take my mind off of the contractions and to not come back until they were extending to the top of my belly and feeling a “kajillion times worse”.  She informed me that because I didn’t feel pain (though I did feel tightening) at the top of my belly I couldn’t possibly be in labor.  (I’ve since learned that my mom NEVER felt pain at the top of her belly with either of her first two births...though she was VERY MUCH in labor!)  

(Ahem: Top things to NEVER say to a woman who has been having consistent contractions for TWO days: “kajillion times worse” and “continue for up to a week!”).  Needless to say, I was devastated!  

Carol continued to emphasize that I wasn’t in labor, and that I shouldn’t return until I was in such intense pain that I couldn’t handle it and I was having at least 3 contractions every 10 minutes (um, that’s why I went in Friday night).  I broke down and sobbed and sobbed into Isaac’s chest.  I had tried so hard to wait to admit to myself (and Isaac) that I was in labor so we wouldn’t have to endure going to the hospital for a “false alarm”.  I felt I was in labor, and the thought of this pain continuing every 4-6 minutes for the next week was more than I could handle.  I knew the pain would intensify, but the emphasis Carol kept putting on “a kajillion times worse” devastated me.  I had dreamed of a natural, calm birth. I knew I could endure more pain, but a kajillion times worse without progressing? I could handle “a kajillion times worse” for a few hours, but not after a week of this level of intensity.  Being sent home was the hardest part of this entire journey for me to this point.  It told me I didn’t know my own body, it told me I was weak, it told me I was foolish.  It told me lies, and I admit I believed them.  

We went home and Isaac drew a hot bath for me and brought me popcorn and a Butterfinger blizzard.  Bless him, he wanted to bring me anything I wanted and that’s all I wanted to eat.  Not healthy, but I had my midwife’s permission (or perhaps just pity?) to eat whatever I wanted.  

I managed to fall asleep in the bath, periodically waking to run more hot water and reposition myself.  Have you ever seen a full term pregnant woman try to lie on her side in the bath so her belly will fully submerge? It’s QUITE a much so that Isaac told me he was tempted to take a picture...if not for the whole naked aspect!  

After that we spent a sleepless night trying to relax through the contractions that were still coming every 5-6 minutes. By 3am I was done in. I wanted to go to the hospital, but I was terrified of being sent home yet again. I got up and paced our tiny living room, shaking my hands and arms to try to distract myself from the contractions, trying not to sob audibly, and hoping and praying that Isaac was getting some much needed sleep.  I should have known that my sweet, sympathetic husband was too concerned about my pain to sleep. 

Finally at 6am I went back to the bedroom and told Isaac he needed to call the midwife. I couldn’t take the pain. I had to be in labor.  I didn’t really care what she said, I was in labor and wanted to go back to the hospital.  The midwife talked with Isaac and agreed to have me come in again to be checked, but suggested that we wait until after 7am to come in when the next midwife would be on call for 24 hours.  What a blessing!  Maybe this midwife will believe that I was in labor! 

We got ready, ate a light breakfast and headed back to the hospital at 8am and checked in with midwife Amy. She checked me and found that I was 4cm dilated and over 50% effaced. Praise the Lord! I cried when she told me, I was so relieved. To add to our relief, she said that I was in labor, it was protracted, but it was real. (Thank you!!) She told us that this could continue to develop over the next week, but at some point my uterus would begin to peter out as it’s a muscle like any can only work so hard for so long.  

She suggested we augment my labor with pitocin, and offered an epidural or an IV of Fentanyl.  I was leaning toward Fentanyl as that’s what my cousin had used with success to take the edge off when she delivered.  The midwife explained, though, that it would only last an hour, and would become less effective with each additional dose.  I knew that I was not going to be ready to deliver in a couple of hours, so after praying and talking with Isaac, we opted for the epidural.  This was step one of relinquishing my goal of an unmedicated, natural hypnobirth. It also meant I couldn’t eat to keep up my energy during labor. Darn!  I was so, so hungry at this point, but ultimately I was more tired and ready for some relief.  

Isaac watched the anesthesiologist perform the epidural procedure -- he found it fascinating! I found it kind of creepy when I felt the medicine hit my spine -- talk about getting a tingle up the spine!  They told me I wasn’t allowed to eat once the epidural was performed as my stomach would shut down.  It was 10am and I was starving.  I was so hopeful when I asked if that would take away the hunger.  Let me tell you -- it doesn’t.  The nurse took pity on me and snuck me some crackers and apple juice -- which I promptly threw up.  That was the beginning of a pattern of vomiting. Even in labor I couldn’t escape it.  Then it was nighty-night Katie!  They told me to get some rest, and I took them up on it.  I was out like a light while Isaac watched football.  

Several hours later (I think around 3pm? My sense of time was pretty skewed) Amy checked me and I was still at 4cm. Darn!  She went ahead and broke my water to keep things progressing.  She noted a small amount of what she suspected was meconium (baby’s first poop) in my bag of water, so she alerted the pediatric team to be in the room when I delivered baby girl.  

By 4pm (?) I was 9.5cm and almost fully effaced and +1 station -- yes!  Almost time to push! 

Chatting with mom!

6pm brought another check and I was fully dilated and ready to push! I had no feeling whatsoever, which was the biggest challenge for me to push effectively.  Again, I had no concept of time.  My midwife prepared me to be pushing for up to 4 hours.  The first two hours flew by (no really!) and there was still little progress.  In fact, the most effective pushing I did was fully involuntary every time I threw up.  I’d only had ice chips all day, but I still managed to be impressively sick throughout the pushing.  I finally asked (in my most pitiful voice) if I could maybe possibly have some gum?  They said “yes” and man, I wish I’d asked sooner! It was the most delicious, relieving taste! 

Baby girl’s head was still cocked to one side as I pushed.  (I should note that from 32 weeks pregnant she was firmly situated, head down, facing my left hip with her rump under my right ribs...she hadn’t changed positions in 8 weeks!)  After 2 1/2 hours of pushing I was starting to wear out. I admitted for the first time that I was exhausted, and for the umpteenth time that I was SO HUNGRY.  I tried sooo hard not to whine, but I was starving!  It was more a plea for mercy (and food) than whining.  

My midwife asked us if we’d like to have a doctor come in and attempt a vacuum-assisted birth.  My baby’s heart rate, which had drawn awe and praise throughout this entire process for being so strong was finally beginning to wane.  She was getting tired, too.   Amy explained that the risk was that if the vacuum didn’t work, they’d have no choice but to send me for a c-section.  My contractions were weakening and she explained that I couldn’t deliver baby girl without my contractions doing their part, no matter how hard I pushed.  I was, in fact, pushing with all my might, but my contractions were steadily declining in strength.  She also warned me that baby girl might not be low enough to even attempt the vacuum.  Isaac and I took a few minutes to talk and pray and decided to proceed with the vacuum.  

Dr. Olson came in and, sure enough, baby girl wasn’t low enough.  Cue the most intense pushing of the day, a couple of vomiting fits and baby moved just low enough to attempt using the vacuum.  Through all of this, I’d hardly opened my eyes, so I was unaware of just how hard they pulled with the vacuum, but Isaac and Auntie Lorna assure me it was quite impressive -- the doctor had her feet braced on the bed, pulling on baby girl as I was pushing with all my might.  I was so ready to meet this little girl!  After two attempts and the vacuum safety-release pulling off each time, Dr. Olson told me that it wasn’t going to work, and I needed a c-section.  I cried, Isaac cried...we prayed hard and they started prepping us both. My midwife was wonderful throughout this process.  She assured me that I’d left no stone unturned, that I’d worked so hard, been so brave and strong, and I’d get to meet my little girl in just a few more minutes.  Isaac suited up from head to toe in Tyvek (a truly great look!), and they wheeled me into the operating room.    

The few moments that I had to leave Isaac in the waiting area while I was being prepped were the longest, hardest moments of the entire ordeal.  I felt so alone in that room, shaking from the cold and the shock, surrounded by over a dozen strangers - nurses and doctors for me and another set of specialists for baby girl.  They brought me a shot of antacid to drink (as I’m lying flat on my back, arms out to the sides, after not having had anything to eat or drink for 14 hours!) in case I threw up. I tried to tell them that it was going to make me throw up, but I’m not sure I actually got any words out I was that exhausted and scared.  It tasted like salty sweet tarts -- so nasty!  With that I was finally fully prepped and Isaac came back in: cue more tears! 

I remember Isaac telling me to look at him, and trying to open my eyes and not being able to see him clearly (my eyes were fully crossed from exhaustion) and mumbling that I couldn’t keep my eyes open.  He sat down next to me and whispered prayers in my ear through the operation.  I could not have asked for a better husband!  He knew exactly what I needed -- I needed Jesus in that moment more than ever.  

It was a few minutes into the c-section when I began calling to Isaac that I needed to throw up. The anesthesiologist was there almost instantly to catch everything that came up and keep me cleaned up and breathing freely.  I continued to dry heave through most of the procedure. It was awful. I remember worrying that I was going to mess up the surgery with all my stomach-heaving.  In retrospect I realize they were probably very used to this, but at the time it was terrifying!  

I overheard them trying to get the baby out and hearing that she was stuck...  It was crazy to feel the tugging as my entire body moved as they tried to pull her out.  Even in a c-section she wasn’t cooperating as she was leaving my decidedly too snug womb.  The nurse was asking if she should push her back up from below and it was decided that she would push her up through the birth canal and they would pull on her legs simultaneously.  And then she was out!  When I heard her cry for the first time (before I could see her), the tears spilled out and I managed to say “that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard!”  A moment later the pediatric team (after exclaiming over the SIZE of my baby) called Isaac over to meet our daughter!  He brought her over to me and I got to meet our little Lucy Margaret!  My first thought (and exclamation when I saw her): “Oh, she has my nose!” And Isaac’s response: “Thank goodness!”  I love that man! He made me laugh even in the midst of such a situation!!

I spent most of the night sitting up in bed, holding my sweet, sleeping girl!  The nurse was in and out every 20 minutes either checking on Lucy or on me.  At 1:00am I finally had enough feeling in my lower half to have some food.  I’d optimistically ordered room service at 6 that night, but it was stone cold and not sounding very appetizing. The nurse brought me a plain turkey sandwich and several cranberry juices. It may not sound like much, but it was like manna from heaven! By this time it had been about 17 hours since anything but ice or gum had passed my lips.  I realized about halfway through my sandwich that I wasn’t the least bit nauseous -- glorious!  9 months and several days of labor later and I could once again eat without worrying about seeing my food again!  

The other things I recall keeping me awake were compression “boots” on my calves (from ankle to knee), which alternately inflated and deflated to compress my legs to keep the blood flowing and prevent blood clots.  They were uncomfortable to say the least.  I also was itching over nearly my entire body. In fact, I remember telling Isaac that my entire body itched except around my incision.  When the anesthesiologist checked on me the next morning he assured me this was entirely normal after an epidural and to request a lighter epidural if I were to have one in the future.  

The next day I was sore from the top of my scalp to my knees -- literally.  My face felt like it had been smashed into a wall, my shoulders had endured the workout of a lifetime, my torso was killing me, my legs were weak and sore...  Pushing, even though it didn’t effect a birth, was the single hardest workout of my life!!  It took about three days to recover, even though I was on three kinds of pain meds...  Those were nice, I have to say!  

By Tuesday morning, the 24th, I’d hit all the milestones necessary to be discharged.  The midwife, doctor, and nurses were amazed by how quickly I was progressing.  I was up and walking around within 18 hours of surgery, had my catheter removed and was slowly (oh so slowly!) shuffling to and from the bathroom by myself. I was able to shower, remove the bandage over my incision (once I realized my belly was still large enough to keep me from actually SEEING my incision -- I wasn’t quite ready to face that!).  I was eating and getting some energy back and weaning off the IV pain medications.  The nurse came in and removed my staples (15 in all) and applied liquid glue and steri-strips to my incision to keep it together.  
Finally that afternoon we were released and on our way home with our beautiful bundle of joy.  What a wonderful Christmas blessing!!  

As Isaac said, “she was the hardest present to unwrap ever”, but also the second best gift we’ve ever been given.  She is overshadowed only by the reason for the season - Christ’s birth -- and subsequent death and resurrection all to save sinners like us.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of our daughter, and for the peace that truly surpasses all understanding!  We know that without you, we wouldn't have been able to make it through four days of labor, a major surgery, post-op pain and emotion, and so much more.  Thank you for your Son, who you sent to earth, whose birth we were to celebrate in just a few days.  What a wonderful, beautiful reminder to us each year as we celebrate our child that you sent YOUR child -- your only child, your perfect child, to live in an imperfect world, to grow, to minister, and ultimately to die for us.  But He didn't stay dead, and that's why we have the hope that we have today.  As a new parent I cannot fathom looking down at that sweet, tiny person and knowing that one day that life would be sacrificed for the salvation of so many.  Thank you for being less selfish than I am for I already know I'd give my own life before I let harm come to my sweet Lucy.

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