Birth stories are extremely personal. Some mothers choose to share them and others do not. Whether or not a woman decides to share her personal birth story is completely her decision and hers alone.
Our birth experience (as most I'm sure) did not go exactly as planned, not that we had it planned out exactly, but I had some ideas of how I hoped it would go. Much of the birth experience was worrying and stressful as complications arose and we were induced early (because of Cholestasis, as explained in my last blog post), plus the long labor of ups and downs. We're now only one week out from our induction date and five days past the date of delivery. Though the birth process was stressful and challenging, bringing Analise into the world was the most joyful and thrilling experience of my life, and my husband's as well, and I'd like to share some of it- but save some details that are extremely personal and not necessary to share. Sharing our story here has several purposes, first of which is processing and outlet for me personally- as I am very early in recovery and go through many ups and downs of emotions about my current stages of recovery. And secondary, maybe sharing our story will be nice for those of you who know us and even those of you who don't, to increase understanding, compassion and connection.
After sharing our story, I'm going to share a few pieces of advice for those of you who are going to visit a new mom, baby or family who have recently given birth. Take it or leave it, there are a few "must dos" and "absolutely do nots" that I will suggest, due to my recent personal experience. Finally, at the end you'll find many of our first pictures- the real, unedited beauty that is the birth of our first beautiful baby, Analise Lucille.
The birth of Analise
If you read my last post, you know that on Saturday, February 18th I was officially diagnosed with Cholestasis of pregnancy, and told by my doctor that I needed to be induced the following Wednesday, February 22nd (our due date was March 20th). This was extremely stressful, but two things ended up being wonderful about it: first, we had four days to prepare before heading to the hospital and second, my mom was able to fly out to California to provide additional support and help us through the first few days of Analise's life.
As we drove to the hospital on Wednesday morning, Kevin and I were both extremely nervous, we had a good breakfast of eggs and toast but I was regretting that decision as my stomach flipped and turned. I had an idea of what to expect as the beginning of induction (thanks to our impeccably timed Sunday birth class previously planned) but after the start, we had no idea what or how everything would occur.
My doctor met us at Stanford and we began in a small intake room at 8:30am, where she checked my cervix- an extremely uncomfortable process. At 36 weeks, as expected, I was not dilated at all. She explained at that point that we would be taken to the labor room, where we would stay until the birth of our baby girl. The nurses would start induction with the first drug, Cervadil, and depending on my progress, we would add Pitocin and proceed from there. The process could be long, she said. In fact, she wouldn't be surprised if we delivered on Friday afternoon (this was told to us on Wednesday morning).
The labor room was nice and roomy, private and comfortable (as far as hospital rooms go) - and every single nurse and doctor we saw provided fantastic care. I was put on IV fluids pretty quickly, and the Cervadil was inserted at 11:15am, and so the "labor" began. The next 42 hours included a lot of waiting, a lot of pain, a lot of stress, and a lot of relief - many highs and lows- and not just for me. My wonderfully amazing husband Kevin was the best birth partner and advocate I could ever imagine. He asked all the best questions, kept me distracted with good music and even a movie or two, massaged and held me during the pain, told me over and over how great I was doing and how strong I was, and he and cried tears of joy along side me as we welcomed Analise into the world.
The long and short of it is, the Cervadil started my contractions swiftly and strongly. By 4pm I was contracting every 2 minutes for 30 seconds each. It was extremely painful and difficult and I couldn't imagine going through this for days, since our doctor said we might not deliver until Friday. I opted for an epidural because I wanted to be calm and feel less pain- by 8pm I had the epidural in my spine (after multiple failed attempts) and I felt no pain- but I also was weirded out by not feeling my legs at all. Even though sSanford uses a low dose of medicines in the epidural, it was still too high for me. I asked to have the medicine cut down, and they did in half, which kept my pain down but left me feeling immense relief (to the point of barely feeling contractions). The other side effect of the epidural was insane itchiness- way worse than my Cholestasis, and all over my body. But the itch was better than the pain. Finally, besides the numbness and itchiness, my blood pressure dropped every time the drug was automatically administered. I can't remember when they began the Pitocin, but when they started that drip, the baby had very scary side effects- her heart rate would drop. At that point the nurse would come in and give me oxygen and lower the Pitocin. When I was given the oxygen mask I was told to "take deep breaths, the oxygen is going straight to the baby." It was scary and relieving at the same time, knowing she was in distress but knowing I had all the help and support for her that could be provided.
Clearly, both my body and our little baby's body are very sensitive to drugs. Although they can administer up to a level of 30, they kept my Pitocin very, very low- bouncing around from 1 to 2 to 5 and only 8 at the highest. The drop in heart rate was the scariest part of the labor process- and it happened too often. Kevin probably had it worse in stress than I did, because he could easily see the monitors and would catch when her heart rate was down immediately. If the nurse didn't come in fast enough anytime the baby's heart rate dropped or my blood pressure dropped, Kevin would call them in immediately. His strength and calm through the entire stay at the hospital was extremely reassuring.
By Thursday evening, our doctor was back in and out of the room and telling us she thought we would deliver over the night or early in the morning, and she was spot on. By 3:30am I was fully dialated and my water had broke on its own. After the cascading of interventions I had gone through thus far, I was relieved that the doctor wouldn't have to break my water. Baby was ready!
Our doctor arrived at 4am and said it was time to get started with pushing. Then next 39 minutes were so challenging, scary and stressful as the baby's heart rate continued to drop, and then near the end speed up and stay way too high. I even had to push when I wasn't contracting because we were in a rush to get the baby out immediately. Sparing the full details here, Analise came into the world at 4:39am- and there was a "bigger birthday party" as the NICU team arrived to check her immediately, rather than put her directly on me. We were so blessed that she was extremely healthy and could stay with us. When the NICU doctor asked if I wanted her placed on my chest, I was crying so much by that point, but I was able to say "please!"- and there she stayed, skin to skin with me for the next 90 minutes - she got out all her beautiful clearing cries, and had her first two feedings. Kevin and I embraced and cried and loved on her - our beautiful, beautiful princess Analise Lucille.
Aside from my immense gratitude to Kevin. I have my mother and mother in law to thank for the support they provided popping in and out of the hospital. The doctors and nurses all provided top notch care and attention. And so many of you have provided love, thoughts and prayers from near and afar- all which helped our family through the most challenging yet best time of our lives.
Advice for visiting a new mom
Again, this advice is from my own personal experience. Take it or leave it. But, if you don't have experience with birth yourself, I think it can be particularly challenging to know how to support a new mom- what to say, what not to say, what to ask or especially what not to ask.
First, there are many things a new mom is going through after giving birth- her body, heart and soul has just been through one of the toughest things it will ever go through- and she is in major recovery mode. Here are some things you might keep in mind if you're going to visit a new baby and new mom. During birth, a women's body is going through an insane and amazing transformation- her pelvic structure is changed, her ligaments stretch- everything is literally shifted around. It's likely that she will have trauma or tearing during birth, which will require stitches and major recovery (ice packs, swelling, etc). The uterus is shrinking down majorly after labor to get back to it's normal size- which means huge cramping and pain for days. The uterus is also shedding its lining, mainly leftovers of placenta- which means a lot of blood and clots and discomfort for days or weeks post labor. Her body has worked harder than it ever has and thus muscles are probably also very sore and fatigued. Finally, after birth, women experience a range of emotions as hormones are still surging through the body. This can make her feel anything from extreme joy and elation, confidence, strength, to sadness, fear and weakness (at least, I've felt all of these and more).
What not to say or ask:
Things you can (and probably should) say:
That's my two cents, take it or leave it. But I can tell you I've heard some of the former (do nots) already (less than a week after Analise's birth), and it's been frustrating. I never have corrected or stood up to say "no thank you" or "that's not a very appropriate thing to say/ask" - even though I wanted to. I politely changed the subject or tried to laugh it off... when inside it made me so uncomfortable - and I SHOULD NOT be made to feel uncomfortable. By sharing this I hope someone will read it and it could help them prepare to better support their friends or family members who have recently given birth - and, candidly, prevent them from sticking their foot in their mouth (aka being an a$$). :)
Here are some very special and unedited photos of the most difficult and wonderful experience of our lives: