Friday, September 23, 2016

Marjorie Louise: A Birth Story

It's taken me a few weeks to get it together to write down Marjorie's birth story. I'm not even sure I'll get it all down right now before she wakes up and needs to eat*, but I figure I might as well start typing. The first two weeks of her little life have been a roller coaster, and I'll write about that another time. For now, I want to get the story of her birth out of my head and onto "paper". Edit: It's long.

I was due on August 29, but I always felt like she was going to be a September baby. I'm not sure why, maybe it's that "motherly intuition" or something. Maybe it was wishful thinking, since I kept feeling like I just wasn't quite ready to be done being pregnant. I had it in my head that it would be funny to go into labor on Labor Day, so I kind of had that as my target for a while.

On Sunday, September 4, I was having regular contractions, but they were about 30 minutes apart. They weren't super strong, more like a bigger Braxton Hicks. Noticeable, but not too painful. This went on all. day. long. We took a walk, and got an order of the "labor-inducing" pesto from our local Italian restaurant. The owners had been telling me to eat it for weeks, but I demurred until I was ready, just in case it worked. Um, it worked. Within an hour or so, I was having full-on contractions.

Pregnant Pesto Produces Possibilities
From around 10pm until midnight, I contracted painfully but easily, every 10-15 minutes. Around midnight, we decided to try to go to bed, for a change of scenery. The contractions were still around 10 minutes apart, nowhere near the 4 minutes apart required to go to the hospital, but they were strong. In bed, I woke up with each contraction, checking the clock to see if they were getting closer, "shit, only 8 minutes." "7 minutes that time!" "ugh, 9 minutes." Time passed slowly and quickly, the beginning of this whole "longest shortest time" of parenting, I'm just now realizing.

Around 1:15am, as I finished a pair of close-ish contractions, I thought it might be good to change positions, so I told Will that I felt good enough to get up and go back to the living room. I stood up and felt liquid dripping down my leg. "Ooh, I think that could be my water breaking!" Sure enough, I went to the bathroom and my underwear was soaked. We called the hospital, who told me to put on a pad, wait an hour, and if the pad was soaked, to call back. So wait we did. And soaked it was. We called back around 2:30am, and they said we could come in.

One last picture leaving the house pre-baby, arms full of pillows.
By 3am we were on the road to the hospital (turns out, packing the car took longer than we thought, plus I was still having contractions) and taking ironic photos in the lobby between contractions.

"Take the picture! Take the picture!"
The super fashionable
pajamas-to-hospital look.
We were checked in and in our room in Triage around 3:30 or so, and contractions sucked while laying reclined in the hospital bed. Turns out, reclining is not the ideal position for unmedicated contractions. I got monitored and measured, and was only 3cm dilated. Thank god my water had broken, or I would not have been allowed to come to the hospital in the first place, much less be admitted. I remember the nurse checking out my vitals, and me just asking how soon I could get the epidural. So much for "I want to labor as long as possible without it, but trust me when I say I want it" -- I wanted it at 1:30am at home, and I wanted it now. I threw up quite a bit from the contractions, which was super fun. I threw up again at some point, was it right before the epidural? Might have been. It's a little hazy. It felt like we waited in Triage forever.

By 5am, I was moved into my sweet sweet labor and delivery room (hello, Kaiser Oakland, your facilities are amazing) and getting an epidural. I was nervous, not because of the needle, but because the anesthesiologist said I would need to remain completely still, even through a contraction, while she was placing it. Will and our nurse Bharti basically held me down as I hunched over at the edge of the bed, and I somehow powered through with very still, deep breathing. I think it took less than the 5 minutes the anesthesiologist said it would take, and contractions were definitely easier in the hunched-forward position, than in the reclined position I was in in Triage. But I also tapped into some sort of tunnel vision for a second, just focusing on the pressure Will and Bharti put on my knees as I hunkered down to breathe for a second. It was exhausting, and that was just one contraction. I never felt more confident in my decision to go for the drugs.

Happy girl with an epidural that has kicked in.
From about 6am until about 9pm or so, I labored so damn peacefully it was ridiculous. I was dilating slowly, which meant I could snack on grapes and peanut butter pretzels to my heart's content (they said I could eat normal food until 5-6cm), and I found the nature videos and spa music available on the TV to be quite soothing. I was in pure, blissed out heaven. I took naps, and hung out with our awesome nurse Bryanna, and was just more relaxed than I've been in a very long time. It's been a busy, stressful and traumatic year so far, and I don't know if I can truly explain how lovely it felt to just be free and relaxed, no discomfort mentally or physically. I hadn't really even pieced that together until today, over two weeks later, that one of the reasons I was ready to be done feeling everything was because I'd been feeling so much for so long. I just wanted to relax. And man. It was so relaxing. You guys, I can't even tell you how awesome this epidural was, but I hope the picture above says enough.

Anyway, by around 9pm I was only at 6cm, and had developed a small fever. The baby's heart rate was slightly elevated, so they wanted to give me Pitocin to speed things along a bit. My only concern was whether my pain would increase, because up until this point, I felt a mild pressure during most contractions, but zero pain. And some contractions had passed without my feeling anything. I didn't really want that to change. I was told that I could get extra doses of the epidural (extra beyond the little bump up doses I could administer to myself every 15 minutes, that is - referred to as "an extra shot of Jaeger at the end of your night at the bar") if needed, but that the Pitocin would make the contractions stronger and closer. Fine. 

They were right, the contractions sped up and intensified. And joy of joys, my sciatica returned. Now I was starting to get uncomfortable -- the sciatica meant that I couldn't really get comfortable even between contractions, and our friend/doula Jenny and Will were giving me massages, and it was the closest we came to doing any of the techniques we learned in all of our classes (aside from the couple of hours pre-hospital). I was ready for that bonus epidural now, thankyouverymuch! Meanwhile, Will was pretty anxious about my fever and the baby's heart rate, so he went to the bathroom after talking to the nurses (who assured him that I and the baby were ok). But by the time he came out, I'd been checked and was fully dilated. I asked if it was too late for the extra epidural, but our nurse Kate said I wouldn't need it at this point. I could start pushing, and she thought that I'd be ok. 

Sidenote: Kate was awesome. Bryanna selected her to take over when her shift ended at 4pm, and as we'd been Bryanna's only patients (apparently not everyone goes into labor on Labor Day?), she wanted us to be taken care of. Apparently we are fun people to labor with. Bryanna was fantastic, and Kate was an excellent replacement. We love them both very much and grew quite attached.

It was about 11:15pm at this point, and Kate's shift ended at midnight. I wanted to get this baby out in time for Kate to help deliver her, and so did Kate. I was surprised at how easy pushing was for the first hour or so. I remember saying something like, "If this is all that pushing is? Dude, this is going to be a piece of cake." and I remember getting laughed at. But the first hour was really not bad at all, thankyouepidural. Kate's shift was set to end, but she took a little longer to finish her charting, and then asked her replacement nurse if it was ok for her to come in and help out. I'm so glad Kaiser allows nurses to do this, and that the replacement nurse wasn't offended or didn't feel like Kate was stepping on her toes...because I don't know if I could have gotten through the end of that pushing without her. I mean, I would have gotten through it. Sure. But Kate was just the perfect cheerleader - while everyone else (nurse, Will, Jenny, and eventually the doctor) was down at my legs, Kate was up in my ear, with encouraging and sometimes hilarious sentiments to help me along. As she later said, "Sometimes you don't need people yelling at your vagina. Sometimes you need someone up by your head." So true, Kate. So true.

Will kept shouting that he saw the baby's head, and I kept looking in the provided mirror to see if I could see anything, but I couldn't, so I just kept pushing along. Pushing was tiring, but not painful, so on we went. Until she started crowning. I got to reach down and touch her head (slimy, totally weird), and finally she started staying put between contractions (instead of her head going back inside like a prairie dog in a hole). Shit was getting real. The nurses said they wanted to wait until the last possible minute to call in the doctor, since when they do that, a whole mess of people come in - the residents (Kaiser is a teaching hospital, which I love) and the doctor and midwife and a NICU nurse and probably some other people. I think it was like 6 new people in addition to our cozy little team of 4. 

When they felt like it was almost time, the crew came in...and then the baby crowned forever. I literally saw a resident checking her phone. Apparently Margie was an "epic crowner". The doctor, bless her, was not one for trying fast and furious methods for getting the baby out (and Kaiser doesn't do routine episiotomies), instead favoring perineal massage and some sort of oil I can't remember, to stretch me out slowly. It was as painful as it sounds. When she said she was going to apply the oil to help stretch things out, I would cringe in anticipation of the stinging and burning...but it was generally over pretty quickly and at this point I just wanted to keep pushing. I looked up into the mirror at one point and saw a big round head, coming out of what was apparently my vagina. Totally cool and weird and something I will probably never forget.

I pushed 3-4 times per contraction, wanting to push over and over until she was out already. Having a baby stuck in your vaginal canal is sort of unpleasant, though she was riding it out like a champ, with steady blood pressure and a calm heartbeat. But at this point, I was ready to push her the heck out. We had several rounds of "this is it, we'll get her out on the next one!" and at one point I had to clarify whether they meant this one push or this one contraction (because girl's gotta set her expectations properly), but eventually, one of the pushes was indeed the final push. I didn't know it would be the last one until I opened my eyes and suddenly there was a baby coming towards my face. I didn't really feel a big sense of release when she came out - I just heard some shouts and exclamations and baby cries while my eyes were still squeezed shut from pushing...and then there she was. I hope I'll never forget the feeling of opening my eyes and seeing this squirmy baby coming towards me. It was intense, and I think I may have just said "oh shit oh shit" over and over until and even after I was holding her. This slimy, wiggly little person was on my chest being patted dry and covered in a blanket. I didn't realize until later that she'd had her first big poop-splosion all over me immediately after coming out. Off to a solid start, kiddo. Nice work! :)

Delivering the placenta was way cooler than I expected. I didn't feel a big release when Margie came out, but I definitely did when I delivered the placenta. It was one big push, and then a whoosh and suddenly I felt empty. It was amazing, and I was shocked at how suddenly done I felt. Like, oh. The delivery is over. I'm empty now. And we got to thoroughly examine the placenta before we left the delivery room - placentas are really cool, you guys. I highly recommend looking at yours up close if you have the opportunity. We took pictures, but they're not on my camera and I don't have them yet. But if you want to see them, well, I can probably share them eventually.

The next few hours are a blur - skin to skin for an hour while they checked her vitals, which I barely noticed. Crying and looking around in a daze. Seeing the look on Will's face as he looked at his daughter, who I'd come to know inside my belly, but who somehow still felt totally new, familiar and strange all at once.

I cry every time I look at this picture.

We were moved pretty quickly, by about 3am, into our postpartum room (apparently a lot of people go into labor in the middle of the night after Labor Day and they needed the room). I was still pretty shell shocked from the whole thing, to be honest, and it was hard for me to adjust to this new world where this little creature who just came out of my body was our daughter. This was our child, holy shit. I wasn't really prepared for the hormone shift - I don't think anyone can really prepare you for what that feels like. But for the first few hours, I didn't really feel connected. It may have been the epidural wearing off (though I didn't have any problems feeling connected while on the epidural all day), or it may have just been the standard trauma of a relatively easy birth, but it took me a few hours to come back down to Earth and feel like I could actualize what had just happened. I felt empty, literally, but I also felt confused and shocked and not totally sure what I was supposed to do. People kept asking what her name was, and I still wasn't sure. I wanted it to be Marjorie Louise, but I wasn't 100% sure that it was right. I didn't quite know her yet. And it felt like it was suddenly all up to me, and I wanted to be sure. And suddenly I wasn't sure of anything. We had a kid? Is that what just happened? I'm not pregnant anymore? That's the baby that was inside me? That one, right next to me in the little crib? Is ours now? And my body is a wreck, and did we remember to tell our families that she was born? A blur, I tell you.

"She's here. This is our baby. Can you believe it?"
But after a few hours, things started settling down. We notified our families, who had been up worried all night, and eventually decided on her name. I ate a little and drank some deliciously cold water, and actually got some sleep. The nurses came in to administer painkillers and check our vitals and help us with diapers and swaddles and breastfeeding. Everyone took such good care of us that I didn't want to leave. We were lucky to get a "bonus" night; because she was born after midnight, that first night didn't count towards our "2-nights post birth" allowance. And I was so glad to take all three nights.

I won't go into epic detail about the amazing care Kaiser Oakland gave us, but I will say that it was wonderful. Margie was born at 12:59am on Tuesday, and we checked out on Thursday afternoon, and in between we had fantastic round the clock care from great nurses and doctors and midwives and pediatricians and food service and janitorial and a photographer and pretty much everyone was just great. The food was plentiful and tasty, the room was comfortable, and we just got to chill out and start getting used to being parents. Nothing can really prepare you for the time when you leave the hospital and take the baby home and realize that uhhhh now this is your life, but man did Kaiser prepare us as best as they could. Except that nobody helped us with the car seat, which I felt was A) not very nice, I was terrified trying to do it for the first time, and B) unsafe, and they probably should make sure you're not lying when you say that yes, you have one in your car bye bye now.

Happy and cozy in our hospital nest.
Right now, as the adorable Margie Lou is crying her little eyes out for no discernable reason, I kind of wish we could go back to the hospital and the care of that cozy little room. But we're parents now, and we'll figure it out. I have plenty more to say about postpartum hormones and adjusting to life as a mom, but that's another long post for another day. 

Me and my lil buddy this morning, very tired
after not so great sleep and a fussy morning.
Will is back to work now, and the days are hard but mostly good. The nights are harder, because psychologically as adults we think we're supposed to sleep at night, and newborn babies don't quite get that concept. But we're working on it, and right now I'm listening to Will try to soothe our crying baby in the other room as I try to recall all the details of her birth before they're lost to the sands of mommy brain. I can't believe she's already 2.5 weeks old. Time has already flown by - her birth seems both infinitely far in the distant past, and like it was just a few days ago. 

If you've written your birth story down, please do share the link in the comments. Or just share in the comments, if you haven't written it down elsewhere. I'd love to read about other people's experiences, now that I'm on the other side. <3

*it took me 2 writing sessions to get it all out, and I only finished in two thanks to Will making dinner and snuggling Margie so I could write. Thanks, Will.

Edit: One thing I forgot to mention was the catheter (thanks, Meldemy for reminding me!) -- I had been totally freaked out by the idea of a catheter, which is a requirement when you have an epidural. Turns out, you don't feel it being put in, and it's really no big deal. And then you don't have to get up to pee. They take it out before you start pushing, and before we went to postpartum, the nurse re-inserted it to empty my bladder for me (thanks! did not know this was a thing you could do manually!) since it was full, and in her words, "I place a lot more catheters than the postpartum nurses. Trust me, you'd rather have me do it now while your epidural is still going than have them do it once you're settled over there." She was right. It was no big deal.

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