Friday, September 9, 2016

The Birth of Elliot Michael

Let me preface this birth story with a bit of background, and a disclaimer. Disclaimer first, this is a birth story, and birth is a beautiful, miraculous, messy thing, so if you don't want to know the details or are squeamish this would be a good place to stop reading. The background, when I first found out I was pregnant I was ecstatic. And terrified. I vacillated between those two, sometimes wading through both simultaneously right up until my first appointment and ultrasound.  See, I have a tumultuous relationship with doctors appointments as its been a long time (years in fact) since they've lent anything besides bad news.  Even the process of appointments leading up to getting pregnant was an uphill, tearful time.  

After a long time of trying on our own my doctor finally ran tests to find out why we weren't getting pregnant.  Long story short, it wasn't possible without medical intervention.  So I spent an incredibly long weekend grappling with the stark reality that bearing children may never be an option for me.   Luckily, it just happened to be the weekend my best friend was visiting so she helped me weigh my options and take my mind off things (there was a fair amount of cider, wine, and martini tasting involved). In the end my husband and I decided to try the medication to help with conception knowing that a common side effect if successful was birth of multiples (yikes!). Thankfully the medication did its job and we conceived the first month on it.  This was a blessing as I felt like a crazy person on the medicine. So enter positive pregnancy test and lots of anxiety going into that first appointment.  And you know what that ultrasound showed?  A healthy, growing babe and a steadily beating heart.  Time stopped with the relief in that moment.  Never have I heard a more beautiful sound.

Our first ultrasound

You would think that that news would have eased my anxieties going into the next appointments, but in truth it didn't. For the next eight months, every time I went in for a check up I expected to hear that something was wrong, after all it's been years since my body has done anything right.  But every time my doctor informed me that things were in fact going great, no complications, no concerns.  For the first time in a very long time my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to.  I stopped waiting for that other shoe to drop. 

After seven more months of this, my confidence that we would make it near my due date was growing and we had done everything necessary to prepare.  We'd prepped the nursery, organized our entire house, packed our bags. We'd attended classes on birth, natural childbirth, and breastfeeding. Our birth plan was written and ready to go.  We had researched ways to get through labor without pain meds.  We had our music, essential oils, and diffuser packed and ready to go. I was determined to have as natural of a birth as possible.  Then at 37 weeks that other shoe?  It dropped. I went in for a routine check up and my blood pressure was slightly elevated. So my doctor, erring on the side of caution, sent me over to the hospital to labor and delivery triage for a work up.  Here I spent several hours and multiple tests which all came back normal.  But just to be safe they sent me home to do a 24 hour urine test to check for protein leaking into my urine. (This test is miserable.  I have had tons of medical procedures and tests and I can honestly say this was one of my least favorite). That was on Monday.  

Tuesday evening I dropped off the test and waited to hear the results.  

Thursday morning we got the phone call.  The urine test had shown significantly elevated levels of protein and they were worried about preeclampsia.  With no fuss, the nurse politely informed me that I was scheduled to be induced that evening and I should get ready to head to the hospital.  My first thought was of course, because it can't just go the way it's supposed to after all.  I did have enough notice to finish all the dirty laundry and my husband hadn't yet left for work so he was able to start his leave right away as well.  

We made our final preparations, grabbed our bags, picked up my mom and headed to the hospital ready to get the process started to meet our sweet boy.  Then we got to the hospital and the waiting began.  Forty minutes after our check in time we were taken back to a room by our nurses.  Plural.  Because we had a nurse in training.  A nurse in training who was old enough to be my grandmother. And who had hands the size of dinner plates. Clumsy dinner plates. The first thing she did when we were getting settled in our room was break a key off the keyboard.  I mean, I didn't even know that was possible.  This may seem like an extraneous detail, but trust me it comes back into play. 

If you don't know how inductions work, here's a brief: they give you a combination of medication starting with what they call the miso (misoprostol) which is placed behind the cervix.  Then once that has done its job of softening and ripening the cervix (it can take several doses) they move on to the IV pitocin. It's not a fast process.  And seems even slower when you just want to meet your babe already.  

We told the nurses our birth plan and what interventions we did and didn't want. In retrospect, this was entirely unnecessary. The first thing the nurse did with me (once I'd changed into the oh so fashionable and comfortable gown) was to put in my IV. Now I've had a lot of needle sticks, blood draws, and my share of IVs, and this was the worst.  She fumbled around and ended up putting the IV in the back of my left hand.  Aside from being fairly painful, every time I bent my wrist the IV stopped working which quickly became a hassle. Then she hooked me up to the IV fluids and penicillin. I was lucky enough to get a large dose of high powered IV penicillin ever four hours. If you haven't had this, it is excruciating as it burns its way into your veins.  She also plugged me into the contraction monitor and the fetal heart beat monitor.  These were not cordless so I was stuck on a short leash.  We'd now been at the hospital for almost three hours.  To my surprise the monitors showed that I was already experiencing contractions. We mistakenly thought this might mean the process would go faster.  Next came my first dose of the miso. Remember when I told you the dinner plate hands would come back into play?  Yowza. To make matters worse, I'm fairly certain she couldn't find a cervix with a map so it took what seemed like forever for her to place the miso. But then, a break for a couple of hours with our fingers crossed that the medication would work quickly. So we relaxed listening to the steady sounds of our son's heart and movement, and foolishly didn't sleep until the nurses came back in for the next round of medication. 

More IV penicillin, another dose of miso (which again took forever and was preceded by the nurse ripping her glove when she put it on; how clumsy can one person be?) and the news that I was still barely dilated. We settled in for a long night, and the three of us took short snoozes in between vitals checks and frequent trips to the bathroom, which was a slow process as it involved unplugging me from two monitors and then monitoring urine output and of course dragging the IV stand to and fro. And nothing is restful when you're getting checked on at least once every hour. Morning came and with it brought my last dose of the miso from that particular nurse (thank goodness because I'm not sure either one of us would have survived another, it took all of my coping skills to refrain from telling her exactly what I thought) and the day shift nurses came on.  My new nurse was wonderful, yay! By now I was in a fair amount of discomfort, both from the IV and the doses of miso as well as what were at this point fairly regular contractions.  My doctor stopped by on his way to the office, checked my dilation and let me know that not much progress had been made so the doses of miso would continue and he would check on me at the end of the day.  Ugh. 

We settled in for a long day. I spent my time moving from the bed (which was uncomfortable) to the birthing ball (slightly more comfortable and so nice to move) and the chair (also not terribly comfortable). All of which had to be moved to within a few feet of the monitors I remained attached to as well as my IV pole. My dad came up mid morning and spent the day with us as well. Just before lunchtime I got my fourth dose of penicillin and it hurt so badly I nearly passed out. As you can imagine this was not well received by my nurse (or my family) so she promptly stopped the IV, and then proceeded to move my IV to my right forearm which was a much better location. When all the tape was removed from my left hand it revealed a huge bruise and enough of a wound that they bandaged my hand. With my new IV in place the meds resumed. It was still unpleasant but now bearable. So the day continued with vitals checks, frequent bathroom runs, another miso dose (each one becoming increasing more painful) and trying to keep ourselves occupied. Then in the afternoon I developed a headache. I tried hydrating. I ate what little they would let me (some cheese and fruit, the first I'd had since the night before) but it didn't help. So my nurse ordered some Tylenol. Then came another dose of the miso. This one nearly brought me to tears. My nurse encouragingly told me that I had the highest pain threshold of anyone she had met as I was now on my fifth dose of the miso and she had never met anyone who could take the pain of more than 3 without pain medication. 

My contractions were now a continual bedfellow and my discomfort was growing (I forgot to mention before but with inductions you don't get a gradual intensification of contractions, you start at the peak and go from there, and if you're expecting a break or some relief between contractions as you've been taught in all of your classes you're in for a rude surprise because you don't get one, it's like one long contraction vice gripping your uterus). An inspection of the monitor confirmed that my contractions were in fact not bottoming out, they peaked and lowered slightly then peaked again. This is exhausting. And up to this point we had maybe three hours of sleep. My headache was not improving which I let my nurse know. By this time my doctor was back to check on me. He checked to see how far along I was and let me know that I was dilated to a 3. Progress we thought!  But at this point I was in so much pain that him checking brought me to tears. He was obviously concerned by the intensity of my headache and also about the lack of progress in dilation (though less on that second one). A vitals check then revealed alarmingly high blood pressure, no doubt exacerbated by my headache. So he let me know that he wanted to start a magnesium drip in my IV for the headache and that he was going to break my water to hopefully speed up the process of labor. He kindly and strongly suggested an epidural and informed us that this would also help lower my blood pressure. I was wholeheartedly opposed to this (because really who wants to be stuck in a bed for who knows how long, and the catheter freaked me out) but was under the impression that his suggestion was less a suggestion and more of a you should do it now rather than later kind of statement. And I was miserable. So we agreed to the epidural. My night nurse was arriving by then, and I can't say enough good things about her.  She was amazing. 

The process of getting the epidural was not as bad as I thought it would be, in fact it took only a few minutes. They had my mom step out of the room as only one support person is allowed in during the epidural but she was back within 15 minutes.  Epidural's are strange. I could still tell that I was in labor, and I could feel my son kick and move inside me, but I had very little other sensation from the waist down. The upside was I no longer was experiencing pain from the contractions. But it is odd and very disconcerting to not feel your legs or be able to move, and it's cold.  It also meant more frequent checks from my nurse. I was now attached to four IV cords plus the epidural as they also started the IV pitocin at this point.  And I got the dreaded catheter.  I was also continuously attached to a blood pressure cuff and got my blood pressure taken every half hour. I was so thirsty, but my water intake was limited to just a few ounces over several hours.

Shortly after the epidural my doctor returned to break my water. This is probably one of the oddest sensations ever. And it took forever!  I think it took almost 20 minutes before it finally broke. It was increasingly unpleasant as now I was stuck unable to move and wet. And you can't feel pain but you can feel the wet. But we were hopeful that this would speed up the arrival of our sweet boy. 

A short while later, my nurse did a check and let us know that I was still dilated to a 3 but the baby had dropped which was good. Though he wasn't quite in the right position, so I got to have the lovely peanut (like a birthing ball but in the shape of a peanut) between my legs and the nurse let us know that we would be turning me from side to side every 15 minutes. Talk about a long night. None of us got sleep, I mean, how can you when they are coming in every 15 minutes.  My husband and mom tried to nap in turns but were largely unsuccessful. The turning was accompanied by continued vitals checks as well as checks on my progress (these were largely disappointing).

Let me pause here for a moment to sing the praises of my people. My people are the best people. My husband was amazing throughout this entire process, well the entire pregnancy really. When I was worried, he was steady, when I needed anything he was right there to help. When I questioned decisions he was supportive and encouraging. He was my rock. 
My mom was a godsend as well. From helping assure my husband was fed and hydrated to helping with turning me or unplugging me. And of course my dad was a great distraction during the day and he took care of our puppy girl the whole time we were in the hospital. He also made sure my mom and husband were fed. And of course all of the support from our people near and far who were anxiously waiting for updates throughout this process but were kind enough not to pester us. You all are amazing, and we are continuously grateful for the immensity of your support!  

Okay, so we're back in. The night drug on. I made very little progress. We all became more exhausted. Then somewhere around 4:00 am my nurse checked again to see if I had progressed. And she discovered that my sweet babe who had been descended was no longer descended. She informed us that she would need to talk to my doctor who was just getting out of a c-section. I had a bad feeling this meant we weren't going to be able to finish a normal delivery. About 20 minutes later my doctor arrived to do his own check. He let us know that I should have made much more progress by now (I was still only at a 4, and not very thrilled about this) and that I was likely headed for a c-section. He said that we could wait and keep trying but the only thing that was likely to change was that the baby or I would become distressed. So we agreed to the c-section. They said they would take us in at 6:00 am. My mom called my dad and woke him up to let him know and he rushed down to the hospital arriving just a few minutes too late to see us before the surgery. Then within minutes the room was swarming with people getting myself and my husband prepped for surgery. It was a whirlwind. But the nurse made sure my husband ate so he could be present and focused and she got me all prepped as well. After 36 long hours of labor we were finally at the end. 

Just before 6:00 am they rolled me off to the operating room (which was freezing cold and filled with unfamiliar faces). I was still attached to 3 IV's plus the epidural and of course my ever present blood pressure cuff. My favorite nurse was still on duty so she was with me, which helped.  After all, I was sleep deprived, excited, and nervous about the surgery plus disappointed that we hadn't been able to follow our birth plan in the slightest.  So given all that I was teetering right on the edge of a massive outpouring of tears. The anesthesiologist walked me through the entire procedure as they were getting me positioned and draped on the table. It was helpful to know what to expect. The other doctor introduced himself and let me know that he would be taking care of Elliot once he was born while my doctor tended to me. Once I was all draped and ready they brought my husband back. And then things happened very fast. 

They started the procedure with me squeezing my husbands hand. It's very strange to feel a tugging and pulling and to know that this is the doctor slicing you open but to not feel pain. Then my husband got to stand up in time to see one of the doctors climb on top of my abdomen and shove with her entire body weight to push the baby out. And at last our son was born at 6:11 am. But there was a pause before he cried (and breathed), the briefest of pauses that felt like an eternity. The doctors quickly remedied this and took him over for his vitals. I was able to watch as they weighed and measured him. He was 8lbs 9ozs and 20.5 inches long (and three weeks early mind you) and my husband cut the umbilical cord.  Then the doctor brought him over to me so I could see him and let my husband and I know that because of the magnesium drip his breathing was slowed and so they would be taking him to the NICU for monitoring.  Of course I was unable to go as I was still being operated on.  So I watched as they took my baby and my husband followed out of the room. And then the crying began. My nurse did her best to reassure me but really there is nothing that can make that helpless feeling any better. I was trapped, strapped to a table and freezing, shaking uncontrollably, with no way to know how my baby was doing. It was a terrifying, lonely time. I tried hard to rein the tears in and take control of my emotions, but in truth between the lack of sleep, hormones, and extreme situation I failed miserably. So I gave it up and just let the tears flow and the uncontrollable shaking consume me for a bit. I managed to choke out the question of how long until I could see my son as they were wheeling me to recovery and was informed that I would likely be able to see him within four hours. I informed the nurse that four hours was not going to work for me, to which she let me know I didn't have much choice as my legs wouldn't be working before then. This brought on new round of tears. But grace was on our side, and they didn't need to keep him that long after all.  My doctor stopped by to let me know surgery had gone well and that he had checked and my babe was on his way back down. He kindly stayed even though his shift was over until he could give this news. As did my wonderful nurse. So before I even left recovery my husband and son returned and the nurse placed him in my arms. We were apart for about 30 minutes and it was the longest of my life. The doctor informed us that he was now breathing fine and everything looked good. I have never felt more profound relief as in that moment when I got to snuggle my sweet boy. 

After about 45 minutes in recovery they took us to our post surgery room in the high risk area. I was still hooked to an IV for fluids and a magnesium drip but was informed that if my blood pressure remained okay I would get to stop the IV the following day. Once we were settled in our room they let my parents come back to meet their grandson which was wonderful and we got to tell them that his middle name was Michael, after my dad. We all teared up at their reaction. 

That afternoon I got to get up and walk and was able to get myself to the bathroom, IV pole still in tow, though now it helped stabilize as walking was difficult for some time. It was so nice to be able to move again!  The following morning my blood pressure was good and Elliot was still doing fine so we got to move from the high risk room to the normal post delivery room.  I finally got my IV out, but they left the port in just in case until they knew I was being discharged.   And I got to shower. It's amazing how that can make everything better (I'm sure you weren't counting but it had been three days since I'd been able to shower). Showering did show the extent of my bruising though. I had the aforementioned wound and bruise from that first IV on my left hand, bruising on my left upper arm from the blood pressure cuff, in my right inner elbow from blood draws, and my whole right bicep from the continual blood pressure cuff. Plus I was covered in adhesive residue from all the tape that had been keeping the various fluid lines from tangling. In short, I was a mess. And you know what, I could have cared less.  

Those two and a half days post birth at the hospital were filled with all the things you'd expect; more vitals checks for us both, wound checks for me, a vision test, hearing test, glucose tests, bilirubin tests, and PKU test for my son (I hated this test, trying to calm him as he screamed while they squeezed blood out of his foot was heart wrenching). We also had newborn pictures and a few visitors. This helped to pass the time. By the third morning we were ready to leave, well beyond ready really. Those hospital beds and chairs leave a lot to be desired.  I had been cleared by my doctor to go home but we had to wait several hours for the pediatrician to clear Elliot as one of his bilirubin tests over the night had come back higher than they wanted. But finally, she arrived and cleared him after informing us what to watch out for and assuring that we had a follow up appointment with our pediatrician the following day. 

So, 5 days after we went to the hospital we finally got to go home with the best gift we've ever gotten, our son. I'd love to tell you that we quickly got caught up on sleep and that recovery was easy but if you've had an infant you know the truth. We continued to be sleep deprived, and loved every minute of it. Recovery was slow, much slower than I had hoped (there were two big things I was looking forward to post birth; being able to lay in my stomach, and being able to take a bath, and after a c-section you're not allowed to do either one). I had a friend who had several c-sections and had told me that recovery was a process, and boy was she ever right. Recovery from a c-section following 36 hours of labor and no sleep is no joke, especially when caring for an infant. But I abided by doctor's orders and my family took amazing care of me and each day I felt a little better, and Elliot grew a little more. 

We now have a healthy 15 week old we love with our whole hearts and couldn't be more thrilled. Despite the fact that not a single thing on our birth plan came to fruition, I love our birth story. Because it's messy, and unpredictable, and doesn't follow a plan, and you know what?  That's life. And it's a beautiful thing. 

Meeting my son

Elliot right after he was born

His footprints at birth

Snuggling Elliot

Elliot and Aria, Elliot is one week old

Next Up: Northwoods Vacation