Monday, January 18, 2010

The (belated) Birth Story: Henry

Only recently have I realized that I haven't yet captured Henry's birth in words. I realized this when I was teaching my students the definition of a memoir. After grasping the definition, each student was to state what he/she would write about if he/she was to write a memoir. Of course, when I asked the question, the students fell silent. So, I thought I'd give my example and told them that I would write my memoir about almost giving birth to my son in the car. That definitely peaked their interest!

Henry's birth was such a different experience than Charlie's over three years ago, and I want to be sure that I remember the details later in life when I'm possibly screaming at him for wrecking the car or doing some of the other stupid things I did while in high school.

Throughout my pregnancy with Henry, I knew I wanted to attempt natural childbirth. I even considered a home birth . I read a lot of birth stories early in my pregnancy, and I really wanted to experience childbirth in as natural a way as possible. I was empowered by the stories I read, and wanted to let my body do what it is capable of doing. I met with a midwife who was wonderful. We discussed my concerns about a home birth since Charlie had been pre-mature. She completely resolved my fears and I was almost totally on board. I loved the idea of giving birth in the comfort of my own home. I loved the thought of not having to be in a hospital, a place for sick people, to give birth. It's bad enough that our health system sees maternity leave as a disability. But after much thought, a lot of research, and conversations with friends and family, I realized that a home birth was not the right option. Essentially, the deciding factor was this - if I opted for a home birth, I was taking the chance of Neal having to catch the baby. Now, I knew that was something that he did NOT want to do. I had to consider his role in the whole thing, and I did not want to put that responsibility on him if it was something he was not comfortable doing.
Before I made my decision, I talked at length about the possibility with my OB. He was definitely open to the idea but also informed me of the fact that if something were to go wrong, I'd be on my own. I appreciated his concern but went on my merry way and made the decision that was best for me and my family. We instead decided that I would deliver in the hospital where Neal would be able to be my support and not the baby catcher.

I read a lot about natural childbirth. We eventually decided on our own version of the Bradley Method. We read and read and practiced. We practiced breathing, birthing positions, labor positions, etc. We felt prepared. There is a section in one of Bradley's books that discusses the early stages of labor where the mother walks around "putsy putsy" getting ready for the real hard and final stages of labor. At the time, we thought that "putsy putsy" was a funny way to descirbe those moments before hard labor begins, but when we thought we were experiencing it, the term seemed to fit.

About a week before Henry was born, Neal, Charlie and I had a quick dinner before going to our parent meeting at Charlie's school. During dinner, I started feeling mild contractions. We began to time them. They were inconsistent, but we were sure that this was it. We walked "putsy putsy" around the house, got our bags together to go to the hospital. Made a phone list of who to call, and eventually, gave up on the whole thing because the contractions subsided. We'll call it a practice run. I decided to leave my bag packed because I had a feeling that labor would come soon.

I distinctly remember the special items that I packed in my bag. I had chosen comfortable clothes to wear while in the hospital, opting out of the hospital gown. I also packed my i-pod, with a soothing labor playlist, a book to read, and grapefruit-grape seed oil shower gel. I remembered that my sister brought me some invigorating shower gel while I was in the hospital with Charlie and how it felt oh so good to take a shower using something other than the hospital bar soap.

Throughout the rest of the week, I had mild contractions here and there but thought little of them. I made it to Friday, my last day of work before my scheduled maternity leave. Henry's due date was the following Tuesday, so I figured I would probably have a few days to laze around the house and brush up on my birthing skills before he was born. My biggest fear at this point was that I would be pregnant forever, or at least be pregnant for a couple of more weeks. My OB, of course, had offered me the option to induce two weeks before the due date, but I wanted nothing of it. I wanted a natural child birth and was willing to remain pregnant a little longer if needed. In my mind, I knew he would come when he was ready. After all, Charlie came when he was ready; it just happened to be 5 1/2 weeks early. I finally agreed to schedule a date to induce, which fell almost two weeks after my due date. Deep inside, though, I knew I would not go that far.

Monday rolled around and I found myself staring at my huge belly, talking to it, hoping to persuade Henry to make his entrance to the outside world. I cleaned the house, went on walks, and continued to prepare for his arrival. On Tuesday, the due date, Neal and I accepted an invitation to dinner at Tiffany and Mark's house. We had a wonderful meal and made jokes about my possibly never-ending pregnancy. It was an early night, and we were home by 9:00. After getting Charlie bathed and in bed, I had a nagging desire to soak my feet in the warming foot tub that I never use. I plopped myself on the sofa and submerged my feet in the wonderful bath. It was soooo relaxing. I decided to add a little tea tree oil to the mix to ease my stinking late summer feet. The scent was invigorating, but I was so tired, I almost fell asleep.

At about 10:00, I started to feel mild contractions. Again. I did not want to make a big deal about it because I had kept Neal and me on the edge of our seats the entire week with false labor. I checked my watch and decided I would tell Neal if the contractions continued for 30 minutes. By 10:30, the contractions were still coming. The intensity and timing was inconsistent, but nevertheless, they continued. I told Neal about them, so we decided to get things together for a late night departure to the hospital if necessary.

At around 11:30, I took a shower and planned to go to bed. Neal was working at the computer, and we decided that I should get some rest, believing that we would head to the hospital sometime the next day when the real work would come. After showering, I put on the most comfortable t-shirt I had and headed for bed.

The moment I lifted myself into bed, my water broke. It wasn't the gush that I had expected, but it was definitely enough to let me know that this was it. I was truly in labor. I called for Neal, who instantly came to help and comfort me. We weren't sure how much time we had, but I wanted to labor at home as long as possible. Neal finally convinced me that it was time to call my father, who was to be our middle of the night babysitter for Charlie. At around midnight, we made the call, and my father said he would be right over. My parents live less than 20 minutes away from our house, so we had little worries about him getting there in time.

At 12:40, my dad had yet to arrive, but the contractions were increasing in strength. I was getting worried. By the time he showed up by about 12:50, I was bowled over with pain. Walking to the car was ridiculous because every few feet, I had to lean over and moan to ease the pain of the contractions. I remember the moment my father walked into the house, we were waiting anxiously by the back door. Right when he walked in I said, "Hi, Dad" and then I had to brace myself on the chair in our den to get through yet another painful contraction. At this point, they were about 3 minutes apart and hurt like hell! Fortunately, Charlie remained quietly sleeping through all of the gutteral moans bellowing out of me. I think Neal was a little scared about my physical reactions to the pain, but he kept his cool and helped me to the car.

By approximately 1:05, we were in the car, backing out of our driveway. The 10-15 minute drive to the hospital was familar to us, since we had been there several times while Charlie was in the NICU in 2006. But boy was it a different ride! I had contraction after contraction and was praying that I wouldn't be in the midst of one while going over certain familiar bumps in the roads. Let me tell you, being in extreme labor while in the car is a nightmare. During the first few minutes of the ride, all I could think about was the upcoming railroad crossing. I remember thinking in my head, "PLEASE don't have a contraction while crossing the tracks, P.L.E.A.S.E!"
We came upon the railroad crossing, and I cursed the gods for making me have a contraction while crossing the tracks but was also grateful that we did not have to stop for a train. We made our way via side streets hoping to avoid lights. Once we got to Shady Grove, though, the contractions were so bad, I feared I would deliver this baby in the car. I moaned and groaned all the way down this winding road when we came upon a stop sign. I screamed at Neal to drive through it because I knew the baby was coming, and he would wait for nothing. I later learned that those moans were worse than I even knew. Neal told me that he was terrified by the sounds coming out of me, but thankfully, he drove us safely to the hospital.

We finally pulled into the hospital drive. Neal wanted to drop me off at the entrance but I was adament about staying with him. I did not want to fumble my way to the maternity floor on my own. We parked the car in a nearby spot and quickly (but slowly) made our way to the building. We had to stop several times on our way in because I could barely walk, let alone walk my way through a contraction. At one point, I had to stopped and asked Neal to lean over so I could lean on him. He was baffled about what I needed him to do. I remember leaning on him awkwardly, wondering if I would make it to the building, when I saw my mom drive by in the parking lot. I was grateful to see her, but we had little time to waste and headed inside.

When we entered the building, a very nice security worker gently offered a wheelchair for me, but there was no way in the world I could sit! The baby's head was pressing on my pelvis with full force and standing was the only way I could bare to be alive at that moment. When he again tried to offer the wheelchair, my mind said, "You want me to do what? Don't you know how impossible it would be for me to sit right now?" Instead, I looked at Neal and softly groweled a polite "No." I think I even thanked the man for the offer. That's the southern girl in me! I do remember that he was kind enough to step on the elevator with us and push the button to the correct floor. I can only imagine how many women have gone there in labor to find themselves on the wrong floor.

Once we got to the second floor, the maternity floor (I will never understand why they could not have just planned that building with the maternity ward on the first floor!) Neal went to the window to check me in. At this time, I was leaning on the wall, moaning in pain. Yes, I was that woman. The woman who was almost completely oblivious to her surroundings and who was moments away from squatting right there in the waiting room to give birth. I think I scared the hell out of the other couple in the waiting room. She was, of course, in labor, but I think they decided to come to the hospital early. I met eyes with her, and she looked at me in terror as if a giant alien was growing out of the top of my head.

As I leaned on the wall, waiting, feeling Henry trying peak out, I could not believe the brief conversation I heard between Neal and the admissions attendent.

Attendent: Is she in labor?
Neal: (exasperated) Yes!!!!
Attendent: Is she pre-registered?
Neal: Yes!!!
Attendent (as she picks up the phone to contact a nurse): We've got one on the wall out here.

Yep, that was me. The one on the wall who was obviously in serious LABOR. Had I not been pre-registered, would they have really made me fill out the paperwork before giving birth?

They immediately sent me back to the triage area sans Neal, which totally pissed me off. Our plan was for him to never leave my side during this process because he was the only one who knew that I wanted a natural childbirth. He was supposed to be able to hold my hand and coach me through the whole thing. But they would not let him go back with me initially in order to protect the privacy of other patients (that were nonexistent) in the triage area.

Crouched over, expecting this baby to plop out on the floor in moment, I made my way to the triage area. Almost crawling back to the area on my own, a nurse met me in the hall to help. She began to ask me a few questions and took me into a small curtained room. Then she told me to take off my pants so she could assess how far along this labor had actually gotten me. All I could do was just stand there, crouched over, and whisper, "I can't." I just couldn't do it. It hurt too bad. I think I told her that much because she calmly reminded me that I could not give birth with my pants on. I rolled over onto the bed, and the saint/nurse helped me out of my pants. She took a brief look and then immediately called for another nurse to help wheel me to a room. I heard some words like "100%" and "fully dilated" and had brief moment of excitement because I knew I'd meet my son soon. I was also so out of it from the excitement and the pain that it was hard to tell what exactly was going on around me.

They wheeled me quickly through the hall toward a room, and the breeze created by their swiftness cooled my face and I briefly relaxed. Then I remembered why I was there. I suddenly started calling out for Neal. I was afraid they had forgotten him! We finally got to a room when suddenly, the rolling bed came to a screeching hault. They had taken me to a room that had not been cleaned yet. They made a quick U-turn and rolled me down another hall (more cool breeze) and finally to a nice fresh room. At this point, there were still no signs of Neal. They immediately got me on the birthing bed and told me to start pushing. Everything was happening so fast that I found it impossible to focus.

Finally, I saw Neal standing on the sidelines, but unfortunately, that did not help my ability to focus. It just hurt so bad! My efforts to push were ridiculous. I could feel the doctor pulling at my skin, and afraid of an epesyotomy, I screamed at her, "What are you doing to me?!" She calmly told me that she was trying to stretch my skin to avoid tearing. (Oh, thanks! To this day, I still feel guilty for yelling at the woman who was trying to help me.) At that moment, my fears were waning, and I began to regain a sense of focus and confidence. The nurse to my left must have seen it in my eyes, and she said four little words that helped turn things around - "You can do this." I never EVER thought I wanted to hear a nurse chanting in my ear while I was trying to give birth. But at that moment, her soft yet stern words helped me focus and I suddenly became conscious again of what I needed to do.

I began to push from the depths of my soul, and I could feel that things were starting to move along. I could feel the baby's head crowning, what I had read about as the ring of fire. I think I even said those words to myself when I felt it, and boy, is it appropriate. Moments later, I gave a push and Henry's head was out. Then another that pushed out his shoulders, and I felt an instant relief from the pain. Within seconds, he was laying on my belly, peering up at me. The time was 1:33, less than 15 minutes from our arrival at the hospital. I was on such a high!

After a few moments of cuddling, the nurses plucked him away to be wiped down, cord cut, weighed and pricked. I had gestational diabetes during this pregnancy, and the protocol is for the baby to be pricked on the heel 7 times during the first 24 hours to test his blood sugar levels (fortunately, his levels were fine on the first 3 pricks, so our pediatrician ordered them to quit pricking him early the next day). Also during that time was the delivery of the placenta and the oh so painful stitches. That was one part of natural childbirth that I was not prepared for. I remembered getting stiches with Charlie, and I hardly felt it because of the eipdural. This time, it was more than uncomfortable. More than anything, though, it was just unexpected, which probably made it feel worse than it was.

After their work was done, I was able to hold Henry again and try to nurse. Since Charlie was a premie, I never got the chance to initiate breastfeeding immediately after his birth, so this moment was super sweet and much anticipated. I had a slight fear that he wouldn't latch on, but this boy was an instant champ at breastfeeding! He knew just what to do, and I will remember that sweet moment for the rest of my life.

During this time, my mother and mother-in-law came in. My mom had practically followed us up to the maternity floor, but when she got to the admissions station, they told her I had already had the baby. What? She could not believe that it had happened so fast. Even the nurse joked that I had planned it this way, meaning that I waited until the last possible minute to go to the hospital to avoid having to spend much of my labor there. In fact, I did plan it that way, but my plans fell by the wayside when Henry came barrelling into the world without much notice.

Around 3:00 a.m., we decided to get some rest. I was still on such a high, though, it was hard to sleep. The next day, my mom came back with Charlie who was so ecstatic that he had a new baby. His first words were, "He came out!" It was so wonderful to see him snuggle next to Henry and truly be happy to have him join our family. Later, Charlie went to school, and Neal went to work to finalize some things before taking a short leave. I decided to go on a walk about the maternity floor. I remember pushing Henry in the hospital pram and feeling so invigorated! I can't remember feeling so strong and good about myself. It was so different from my experience with Charlie after being bedridden on magnesium for two days and then dosed with pitosin and an epidural.

Now Henry is 16 months old, and I cannot believe how much he has grown and developed. Before too long, he'll be talking back to my like his brother does and will eventually be begging me to let him drive. Ach! But I will always have the beautiful memory of his birth. Thank you, Henry, for giving me the birth experience I hoped for.