And Then There Were Four

I love reading birth stories. No matter how diverse and unexpected, they are always beautiful.

“Tell me about your birth plan”, said Libby, my Labor & Delivery nurse. “I don’t have one.  I’ll tell you what I would love to happen, but I know that things change and I trust you guys to do whatever you need for me to have a healthy baby.”

I had said it hundreds of times, but did I actually believe it? As a mother who had given birth once, it was hard to fathom a different birth experience than what I had with Michael. Spontaneous. Two full days. No pain medications. (You can read that one here if you want!)

But here I was, admitted to L&D on Superbowl Sunday morning, on the cusp of beginning an induction that wasn’t “medically necessary”, solely because my instinct, combined with several minor issues over the past few days, was telling me that something wasn’t right. As if I needed further faith in my medical team, Linda, my Midwife was going to do whatever she needed to make that happen because she trusted my gut as well. She trusted me- just a mom with no medical degree. That speaks volumes to our relationship. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Teddy’s birth story really began on Friday, when, after some bleeding, I marched myself right over to the Midwife’s office to be checked. After a few hours of tests and ultrasounds, it was determined that the baby was not in distress. The bleeding wasn’t severe, and we couldn’t identify the source, so it was decided that it was just some variation of normal and I was likely in early labor. I went home with instructions to just keep a very close eye on fetal movement and come back in if there were any concerns.

Sunday morning around 4:30, I woke up to a gush. Surely, my water had broken, I thought. I was very alarmed when I discovered that it was actually quite a bit of blood. A quick call to Linda, and it was determined that I needed to head into L&D to be checked again. My hubby called my MIL who was going to get dressed and drive down. I called a good friend who lived nearby to come and watch Michael at the house until my MIL got here. I texted my Doula, Shawna, to let her know what was going on. Go plan activated. Check. Check. Check.

When we got to the hospital, I was taken to the room with the labor tub- the same room where Michael was born almost exactly 22 months earlier. Luckily for me, it seemed to be a quiet morning in L&D. I was hooked up to all the monitors for the same testing that was done on Friday. NST to check fetal heart rate. Ultrasound to check fluid levels. Physical check for dilation. Heart rate was fine. Fluid levels were high enough. Still 2 cm dilated, as I had been for a few weeks. Linda came in to go over the test results. Everything looked good. The baby was not in distress. She still did not have an explanation for the bleeding, but there was no medical reason for her to induce me. She gave me two options: go home with the strict instructions that if fetal movement decreased or there was any more bleeding, to come back in or induce right then. Elective inductions are not usually done on Sundays, so she promised that if I decided to stay, she would provide the nurses with a medical reason why it needed to happen.

I’ll be honest. I know enough about birth to know that induction can lead to further unwanted interventions. Induction terrified me and I wanted to avoid it. I talked to Mike. I talked to Linda. I talked to Shawna. I talked to everyone a second and third time. I was nervous about the bleeding, but I was more nervous at the prospect of induction and all that came with it, so I decided that I wanted to go home. I told Mike, who, knowingly, looked at me and said “You don’t seem 100% confident in your decision.” I’d been made. How lucky am I to have a partner who knows me well enough to stop me when I am making a decision out of fear? (Even on Super Bowl Sunday!) “You’re right.” I said, “we need to have this baby today.” While deciding to induce was completely out of character for me, I knew in my heart that it was time for us to meet that baby boy.

What a strange feeling to not be in active labor, but to know that you will be soon. To know that you are willingly volunteering to start the process of one of the most trying physical experiences a person can go through. To know that, somehow, you are going to meet your baby within the next several hours. I signed the papers and said a prayer.

By 10:45am, we had begun the Pitocin drip. For the first few hours, I was really just trying to relax and have fun with it. The contractions were bearable, so I was bouncing on my labor ball and rocking out to some EDM. Mike tried to turn on the Superbowl pregame coverage, but it was really distracting me and causing my contractions to slow down so I told him to turn it off (Sorry babe!)

 By 1pm, I could tell that this labor was going to be very different than my first. I called Shawna and told her that we were ready for her to head in to help out. The Pitocin contractions that I was feeling were already similar in quality to those I experienced at the very end of my spontaneous labor with Michael. I can’t explain exactly, but Pitocin contractions are, for lack of a better term, relentless. With spontaneous labor, I feel like your body takes time to prepare you and ramp up to these back-to-back hard contractions that eventually come. With Pitocin, the contractions are chemically manufactured to occur every 2-3 minutes as soon as possible, so that they can be the most effective. Mentally and physically, you don’t have time to get yourself “there”. The medicine just starts to do its job and you are “there”, whether you’re ready or not, until its time for the baby to arrive.  It does not act like a tide which ebbs and flows. It is like waves crashing repeatedly into a rocky shore. I began to have to really manage my way through the contractions sooner than I expected. I tried bouncing on my yoga ball, standing, walking the halls (thankfully, the hospital was more than willing to hook me up to portable monitors and IV drip so that I could be mobile!) but found that relaxing, breathing, surrendering, and getting very introverted was giving me the most effective contractions. 5 deep breaths. I found that the contractions were lasting 5 deep breaths, and that felt manageable to me. Mike and Shawna were amazing. They went with my vibe- when I was vocal, they shared my affirmations. When I was introverted, they got quiet. They knew when to apply counter-pressure and when to not touch me.

By 5pm, my “relaxing and breathing through it” seemed to be less effective. I asked to be checked and was disheartened to find that I was only at 4cm. Linda asked if I was willing to have my water broken to see if that helped move things along. I had my water broken with Michael as well, so I knew what to expect and was comfortable with it. At Linda’s suggestion, I was able to get into the labor tub in the room after my water was broken. Again, I am so grateful to have been laboring under an amazing team who helped me figure out how to spend some time in the labor tub even with the monitors on my belly and IV in my wrist. I am a water baby and have very fond memories of laboring in the very same tub during Michael’s birth. The water allowed me to mentally relax into the contractions a bit more than I could before, but after just 1.5 hours or so, I felt that I was not getting the relief that I needed anymore.

Once on dry land again, I tried to manage the contractions again by counting breaths, but at this point I was in so much pain that I could barely vocalize my needs. I was exhausted and literally could not keep my eyes open. I distinctly remember thinking “this is what zombies must feel like” as I tried to keep at it.

At 7pm, Linda wanted to check my progress again. 6cm dilated. I started doing mental math. 2 cm when I got here. 6 cm now. 4 cm divided by the number of hours since I started pitocin times 4 more cm = I couldn’t go on like this.

“I need medication.” Mike and Shawna, in trying to help me stick to my wishes, reaffirmed how wonderful I was doing and how proud they were of me. “You can do this” they said. God bless them. “I don’t have anything to prove to anybody”, said me- the woman who had barely managed to squeeze out a string of more than 2 legible words over the past few hours. “Amber is a woman who knows what she needs” said Linda. That beautiful angel of a woman. She knew my hesitations about an epidural from our prenatal conversations, so she offered me a narcotic option instead. While less invasive, it would mean that a medical team would have to take the baby first to assess him before I got to hold him if he were born within a certain amount of time. “Absolutely not”, I said. I was flexible on many things, but one thing I would not give up without a fight was the possibility to be the first arms to hold that sweet boy. “I’ll get the anesthesiologist”. Thank God.

By 8pm, my epidural was placed and the anesthesiologist had left the room. “It should start working within 15-30 minutes” he said. It couldn’t have started working soon enough, if you had asked me. “Now you can relax for a few hours, maybe even sleep, and when you wake up it will be time to push!” Linda said. She was going to go try to get a little rest in the lounge as well. Sounded great to me. “I’ll be back in about a half hour to place a catheter” said Libby. Over the next few contractions, I could feel myself beginning to relax more in-between contractions. I was frustrated that I could still feel all of the contractions themselves, but the relief in-between was truly a gift. I honestly believe that it made all the difference in the last bit of my birth story.

At 8:30pm, Shawna was applying counter-pressure to my lower back during a contraction when I started feeling urgent pressure in my bottom.The feeling did not come on gradually- it came in all at once and unrelenting. I mustered all of the energy I could and urgently mumbled “I’m feeling a lot of pressure!” Shawna thought I was yelling at her for applying too much counter-pressure and she was taken aback. When I realized that she hadn’t heard me, I screamed “I have to push!”  Shawna & Mike said they would call for the nurse. I knew this baby was coming, but I don’t think that Mike, Shawna, or Libby believed me until Libby checked me at Shawna’s urging and saw that the baby was crowning. I had progressed from 6 to 10cm in a matter of 1.5 hours. Something that none of us expected.

From here, things got a little frenzied. This little boy was coming, ready or not! I remembered from Michael’s birth that Linda had me hold my breath and slowly blow it out to help pace the pushing. Like I was blowing out a candle. Linda hadn’t made it down to the room yet, so I “blew out the candle” as best as I could to slow this kid down. At this point, I was grateful that the Epidural hadn’t numbed me yet so I could feel and control what my body was doing. A second nurse hastily got the baby station in the room set up. Linda had been paged again, but wasn’t responding. Libby went into the hall to get anyone else who was around and could help deliver this baby. The two resident doctors on rotation in OB that Sunday came in to the room and Libby quickly explained that the baby was coming. No sooner than the residents got into the room and threw on some gloves, Theodore Anthony flew into the world. 8:50pm after 2 pushes, I was a Mama again.

A few minutes later, a very surprised Linda came tearing into the room (apologetic for not having gotten there sooner!) to help wrap up the process and do an evaluation. While Teddy nursed like a champ on Mama’s chest, Linda helped me deliver the placenta (which I later had made into capsules- I’ll blog more about this later!) and, upon looking it over, discovered that I actually had a placental abruption and a small blood clot, which explains the bleeding I had been having the past few days. She validated my instincts by telling me that induction today was the right decision. Had I waited any longer, the abruption could have caused serious issues for both me and Teddy. I had a little bit above average bleeding, likely due to the abruption, but miraculously, despite not being coached through my pushing, no tearing at all! Since the epidural had not numbed my legs yet, I was able to avoid a catheter all-together and even able to get up and walk myself to the bathroom shortly after Teddy’s birth.

While Teddy’s birth story was much different than I envisioned, it was just as beautiful as I could have imagined. For the past two years, I have been very vocal about my natural birth experience with Michael and, in a weird way, I am glad that Teddy’s birth was so different so that I can share on other aspects of birth now from a place of experience.

Just as in Michael’s birth, I was reminded of the importance of having a birth team that you trust implicitly with your and your child’s life. My Midwife, Linda, my Doula, Shawna, my Nurse, Libby, and my amazing hubby, Mike were all on my side. No one was trying to diminish my feelings. No one questioned my requests or feedback. I felt 100% supported and knew that, if any of them said that something needed to happen, it was not just to meet a quota or because they wanted to go home earlier or because it was easier for them. It was because that was what was necessary for the safe delivery of my baby boy. I can’t imagine making the decisions that had to be made that day without the support from and confidence in my birth team.

Most importantly, I learned to trust my own instinct. One of the reasons I decided to do the induction was because I said that I would not be able to live with myself had we gone home and something happened to Teddy. I shudder to think of what could have happened if this abruption continued to go undetected, but because of my own mommy instinct, I don’t have to. This is a lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

It felt like the longest day of my life, but once it was done, it was all a blur. Like all the nerves and the pain never even happened. Labor is just like motherhood in that way. The hours are long, but the days are short, and now the two most beautiful boys in the world call me Mama. Someone pinch me.

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Oh, My God

I believe in God, but I’m not so sure that I believe in religion.

Hear me out, here.

I’m not against religion, in fact, I had a strong religious upbringing which I often credit for the way that I’ve “turned out” (who are we kidding, I’m still such a work in progress). I spent my weekends at youth group and my week nights at religious education classes and I don’t resent that for a second, I’m just not sure that a church is what I need anymore to quantify my relationship with God.

I know my God, and I know the type of person that God teaches me to be: loving, inclusive, patient, peaceful, forgiving, understanding, and accepting. My God is happy to listen to me no matter where I am- whether that is in a building with other people doing the same or alone in the woods or in my car. He doesn’t require donations and doesn’t guilt me into doing good deeds. My God expects me to act as a good person of my own accord and is there for me when I fall short of that. My God doesn’t judge me, and doesn’t condone me judging others. The God I know is like an old friend who, no matter how much time we spend apart, catching up feels like we’ve never missed a beat.

This is the God that my family needs in our lives.

Our religious identity as a family (or lack-thereof) is something that we talk about often. Now that we are going to be responsible for raising a second tiny human into a respectful, adult member of society, it is something that I find myself thinking on even more often.

I have had a lot of amazing, well-meaning people who have shared concerns about the fact that my child isn’t following the traditions of their church. Worries that, for example, “his (tiny, innocent, perfect) soul won’t make it into heaven” if we don’t get him baptized, and it is well-meaning comments like these that, unfortunately, have the opposite of their intended effect on me.

I want my children to know God, but not THAT judgmental God. I want them to know the one that I know. Better than that, I want them to know that God in whatever new ways that they come to know him as they grow and learn to be good people in this crazy, scary world.

So it sounds like I know where I stand, right? I usually feel that way too, but then I hear the voice of younger me say “Without a religion- a church, a group, a class- how do you get your Children acquainted with that God?”

My answer, for now at least, is this: lead by example and surround my children with a community of like-minded people. I did not turn out  a decent human because I sang praise songs in a group of other teens once a week, I turned out a good person because the people that I spent my time with and the people that I loved were good people who, at the very least, respected my beliefs.

This decision in my family’s life  isn’t set in stone, but for now I’m finding peace in knowing this: my husband and I are good people. Our family members are good people. The friends we surround ourselves with are good people. We are all loving, inclusive, patient, peaceful, forgiving, understanding, and accepting people and, by default, we are showing our kids the type of people that they should aspire to be.

I think our kids might end up alright.

Truth, Lies, and The Postpartum Body or “If You’re Saggy & You Know It, Clap Your Boobs”

The funny thing about pregnancy is that it is allowably selfish. I came to realize this early on. The well-being of my baby depended on my own, so all of my focus was 100% on “me”. MY body. How am I feeling this week? How big is MY belly? How much longer do I have to be pregnant for? I spent countless hours googling questions about how MY body was reacting to the pregnancy. Appointments with the midwife were all about MY uterus and how good of a job I was doing at growing this baby. I took prenatal yoga to make sure that MY body was healthy. His lifeline was braided together with mine. It was a huge adjustment for me then, after MY body did its job and pushed a new life into the world. All of the sudden, we were two separate beings. He was still 100% dependent on me, but in a much more active sense. He required all of my attention, which I gladly gave. The point of all of this, after all, was to have a new baby to care for- right?

In the weeks following his delivery, I devoted myself tirelessly to my Little Man. Everything I did was for him. I ate because he needed me to have nutrients to pass on to him. I slept because he needed me to be awake enough to care for him. I showered because I didn’t want my poor baby to smell my B.O. when I cradled him. In the midst of this milk-drunken self sacrifice, I (gladly) lost my sense of self. Once we settled into our routine, however, I started to try to focus some more on “me” again. I had spent 10 months being pampered and so in touch with my body, then 2 months of suddenly neglecting myself. Once I faced the realization that I had gone from feeling like a self-realized goddess to feeling like a stranger in my own skin, I started to pay attention to my body again. I was amused by my observations.

I miss my pregnant belly. There, I said it. There was a stretch of time not so long ago when I never could have imagined myself uttering those words, but they’re the truth. I felt very “woman” while I was pregnant, and to feel woman is to feel sexy. To boot, there was always this wonderful thought in my mind: “I’m not fat, I’m just pregnant.” Though I was 40 pounds heavier than I had ever been, I felt so proud of my beautiful body. Now, even after shedding the a quick 20 lbs of baby/fluids, I am stuck facing the reality that is the new landscape of my body. Here is the very real breakdown:

Face: I look like a mom. I can’t put my finger on it, but something about my face (maybe the bags under my eyes?) says: “that lady has seen life come out of her hoo-ha”

Flexibility: After the acrobatic act of birthing a baby, you would think that I would be more flexible. After all, my body basically ripped in half to produce a child, right? Wrong! I think my body has PTSD. At the slightest suggestion of stretching or bending, it goes on strike and says “Nope, there’s no way that’s happening again!”

Boobs:I love breastfeeding. It gives me a closeness that I could have never have expected with my son. That being said- WHY, GOD WHY?! I’ll never forget the feeling of that first latch- truly magical….and shocking! My nipples used to always hurt at first while we were both getting used to nursing, now they feel nothing. And I mean nothing. Behind those numb nipples are two massive pains in my arse. E cup. I didn’t even know they made bras in that letter of the alphabet. Men always talk about wanting a woman with giant knockers, but if they ever saw boobs in real life, they would know this is not ideal. Big = heavy, and heavy = saggy. On top of this, one boob is always dripping, that leaky bastard. Through my nursing pad, through my bra, through my shirt, and out on display for the world to see. A milk duct is getting clogged every week or so. I’ve figured out how to remedy that, but it always ends in milk literally shooting out of my nipple. Last, but definitely not least, they’re lopsided. Not “Oh, no one else will notice that” lopsided, but more like “Holy crap, did you frankenstein a boob off of another body onto your own” lopsided. My boobs belong in a carnival freakshow.

Stretch Marks: I was lucky enough to escape my pregnancy with not a single stretch mark on my belly, so I let my guard down. Bad move. In comes milk, out come the boobie stretch marks. I didn’t even realize that those were a thing. I now look like I am wearing a purple tiger-striped bra at all times.

Aroma: The gas. I can’t even, with this gas. Luckily, I have a few oblivious scapegoats in the baby and the dogs, but I know the truth. Also, blame the hormones, but the B.O. is out of control. I fear that when my son grows up, the scent of body odor will bring back fond photographic memories of feeding at his mother’s breast as a baby.

Nether-regions: Of course there was bleeding. Every mother has to deal with that. The bleeding was what it was, but it was the padding that I couldn’t handle. I was so uncomfortable. I think that the lessons in self-diapering from the nurse in my recovery room bathroom were more intensive than my baby diapering lessons in childbirth class. After my long labor (see labor epitaph in previous post), I also ended up with a torn labia and a dislocated and/or fractured tailbone. Those things I could deal with, too. A few stitches and some pain meds and I was good to go. What I was NOT prepared for was the sensation that my insides were going to fall out of my lady hole for the first few weeks after giving birth. I was also not physically or mentally prepared for the horror that was my first post-delivery sneeze. I vow to my dying day to warn every pregnant lady that I meet to physically hold her nether-regions and clench once she feels that first sneeze coming on.

‘The 6-week appointment’: Once things began to feel back to normal down there (I’ve come to terms with the fact that nothing will ever feel the same up top ever again) it is finally time for the all-mighty 6 week postpartum check up. Partners everywhere, rejoice! Getting the green flag from my midwife meant that I was approved for physical activity again. ALL physical activity. My feelings on the “go-ahead” went quickly from elation to “well, shit”. This meant that using the excuse “I’m not allowed to”, wasn’t going to cut it anymore. For anything. I was going to have to face the reality that I needed to start figuring out how my new body worked. Now, I am a very confident woman, but let me tell you, the first time those clothes come off, whether it was in front of a mirror realizing that I no longer had an excuse to not tone up that tummy, or in front of my hubby realizing that he hasn’t seen any parts of me uncovered since before I changed transformer-style from a kangaroo to a normal human being again, I didn’t feel too great. Luckily for me, my husband thinks that I am amazing, perfect, and beautiful so it had very little effect on him. It was, however, very emotional for me to realize that I didn’t feel great about my body like I always have. There was also a very strange little voice constantly in my head trying to convince me that I’d given my body to my child and that it is no longer acceptable to be sharing it with anyone else. That voice is a pesky little bastard, but I’ve learned that I can drown it out with some smooth moves from my hubby and a glass of wine (or four).

I’m learning that pregnancy didn’t just change my body for 40 weeks. It is a transformative process and now that I’ve traveled through this part of my journey, my body will never be the same again. My body tells of my stops on this journey and I am learning to be proud of it. Now, let’s hit the beach!

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Finding Your Feet Again

The first time I saw my toes after months with a bulbous belly in the way, I started ironically humming a song that I have always loved  “…this is what it’s like, finding your feet again.

A few days ago, the song popped into my head again, and it was hard to stifle a chuckle when I realized how different those words now felt to me. This is the newest stop on my motherhood journey- finding my feet again. Figuring out who I am. Gradually, I am starting to feel like “myself” again, however I am realizing that “myself” is different than I remember. “Myself” is so much more than it was before.

Before bringing my little man earthside, before bearing witness to my body’s own goddess strength, I was a different version of myself. The question “Why don’t you tell me about yourself?” was immediately met with a description of my possessions, my career. Those were the feet I stood on- weak & unstable- those of a child.

It has been incredible seeing my life and priorities evolve in such a short amount of time. Just as in labor, there has been a moment of transition- a short time where I was on the cusp of my new self, but afraid to embrace it. The uncertainty made me shakey, nauseous. Just as in labor, however, I came through this transition ready to push. Ready to push myself into a new, better version of me. And, just like in labor, I have pushed enough to produce a new life- my own. Now, “Why don’t you tell you about yourself?” is met with this:

I am a Wife & I am a Mother. These are the two feet that I stand on-the feet of a Woman. These are feet that acknowledge that my life is only as beautiful as those whom I share it with. These are the feet that will carry me safely, sturdily, on this journey.

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