The Baby!

IMG_3351_2The eagle has landed! On Friday, July 17th, our tiny little bub was born. We are absolutely in love with the little creep. I haven’t stopped staring at him since he was born, and am only now starting to put him down for naps (as in, not hold him 100% of the time) only because I need to get him used to sleeping in his Moses basket at the side of the bed at night. (I am too high strung to bed share, so every night has been a not-so-delicate balance between being terrified of falling asleep with him in bed with us and being terrified of not having him close to me.)

The following is a ridiculously over-long birth story, which I’ve recorded here mostly for myself, and then also for any moms (or dads) -to-be who might be interested:

Thursday, the day before The Baby was born, was The Boyfriend’s birthday. Randomly, and for the first time since taking his current job, The Boyfriend had Thursday and Friday off work, so we settled in to celebrate his birthday like the old people we are: by staying home for two days, eating a ton of candy and baking a ton of cookies. By late afternoon on Thursday, I had to abandon the remaining cookie dough because I was getting mild contractions every 2-3 minutes. Having gone through the pregnancy with no Braxton Hicks “practice” contractions and having never had a baby before, at first I thought I was having some totally unfortunate bowel trouble. The contractions felt like diarrhea pains, only they were on a regular cycle and they were close together. However, they were also mild and only slightly annoying, and at 39 weeks pregnant exactly, I had gotten used to just ignoring feeling like I had to poop all the time. I called the hospital for advice, and when the midwife heard that it was my first baby and that I could laugh off the contractions, she told me to go to sleep because it could still be days.

It was that response, coupled with my desire to labor at home for as long as possible in an effort to avoid hospital interventions, that contributed to my spending the hours of 2am to 8am in a kind of crazy dream state, having increasingly painful contractions, closer and closer together, in the shower, on the toilet, in the bath, pacing the living room, crawling up the stairs. This was just five days ago, and I couldn’t tell you why I didn’t call the hospital back or wake The Boyfriend up, other than I’d never done it before and didn’t know when to say enough and I was also probably in denial. I’d abandoned timing the contractions because when they got painful enough for me have to lean over the back of the couch and moan my way through them, the last thing I wanted was to focus on exactly how long they were lasting. (This is why it would have been wise to wake The Boyfriend and force him to do it. Again: denial is a powerful force.)

I finally decided it was time to go to the hospital when I started feeling like a wild animal. I couldn’t think straight and knew I needed to be where the baby would be born. In addition, I started bleeding, which was scary. I woke up The Boyfriend, and then I called the hospital to tell them I was coming in. She warned me that they were very busy (incidentally, it was the full moon, which is a time when labor wards are notoriously full), and asked if I wanted to wait another hour at home, but I wasn’t about to spend another second in my house.

After I writhed around in the car in early morning traffic for a little while, we got to the hospital and all I wanted was privacy and someone to help me. It wasn’t even pain medication I wanted – I just needed to be where I was going to give birth and have someone close by who could tell me what was happening. As it turned out, they were so busy that there were no free rooms. Instead, I was led to a partner waiting area, where the midwife who dropped me off assured me that “no one would forget I was there.” Totally reassuring.

About fifteen hour-long minutes later, I was moved over to the maternity day unit…to a waiting room full of couples and children waiting to have ultrasounds. The idea, I guess, was that I could be examined in an out-patient room there while they sorted out a room for me on the labor ward, but for me, given no explanation and being guided to a chair in a crowded waiting room while sweating through my clothes and rocking back and forth, I was so upset. I wasn’t getting the help I thought I would at the hospital, and now I had none of the privacy I’d had at home. I went immediately to one of the bathrooms and cried while leaning over the sink. The Boyfriend had to come find me when they called my name, because I refused to leave the toilet until someone came to help.

To make a long story short(er), the midwife tasked with examining me in the out-patient room only got as far as checking the baby’s heart rate (which was perfect) before the blood and my absolutely heathen behavior freaked her out. She sent me back to the labour ward, where I was matched with the head of midwifery.

This woman was like an angel, and I mean that in the most sincere way possible. I remember laying on the exam bed coming to pieces and seeing her name and title on her badge and thinking, Oh, thank God. The Head of Midwifery. She took some rapid-fire notes about what had been going on with me, ran and got a pan just before I vomited all over myself, and then gave me my first-ever (and only) internal exam. To her surprise and my complete and utter relief, I was nine centimeters dilated.

NINE. CENTIMETERS. For those who don’t know, you start pushing a baby out when you are at ten centimeters. At this point, I cried tears of legitimate joy. I was close to having the baby, and I wasn’t being an insane person for being so angry about getting shuffled around. (Yes, even in labor, I was afraid of what people would think of me for being a dickhead to them.) I was in transition, the hardest part of labor which takes a woman from cervical opening to pushing, and had been sent to a public waiting room. In the hospital’s defense, there was no way for them to know how far along I was, as they just did not have the space to examine me when I arrived. Because the active part of my labor had, at that point, only been about six hours and because it was my first baby, I don’t think anyone expected me to be so far along.

Once my angel midwife knew this, however, she transferred me to a bigger, better, more “active” labor room, with mats and yoga balls and a giant bean bag chair to use to keep me off the bed. I was on beds on my back for a grand total of five minutes while in labor and it was horrible. I can’t imagine being strapped to a bed on monitors and having to labor without medication. The only thing that made me feel better was moving around, mostly because it was a distraction. Being on my back on a bed forced me to focus on how much I hurt.

I didn’t have the chance to use any of the active labor goodies, though, because as soon as I hit that room, I needed to push. The midwife threw the bean bag chair onto the bed, I got on all fours leaning over it, and using “gas and air” (laughing gas, effectively), pushed a tiny human out of my body in 45 minutes. The pushing was the most physically exhausting thing I’ve ever done, but it felt productive and didn’t ever hurt, which is strange, considering you’d think that would be the most punishing part of having a baby. I made lots of primal, crazy-person sounds, and tore off my dress and bra like a mad woman. For anyone concerned with how they might look/feel during childbirth: you will not give a shit. At all. I have never been so exposed or looked so insane, but when faced with trying to be modest or trying to be more comfortable, comfort won 100% of the time.

People told me that, but I didn’t think I would ever get to a point where I didn’t care. I brought make up to the hospital and had an outfit planned for delivery. However, I quickly learned that lots of the cliches about childbirth are true. In fact, at one point, I whimpered, “I just want him out already,” which felt like a cliche even as I was saying it.

But, then he was out, and it was surreal. He was beautiful and perfect and ours. We were in the delivery room for a few hours, so I could rest and shower and so that the baby could be examined, and then were transferred to a post-natal ward, where we stayed for just a little while longer before being discharged and coming home. The Baby was born before noon and we were home around 7pm.

Aside from getting a slight runaround at the beginning of the hospital experience, the labor and birth were as straightforward and wonderful as they could have been. My intentions were to avoid intervention and pain medication other than gas and air, and I managed to do it, by some insane stroke of luck.

Having had a baby without an epidural, I can say now that I understand completely why women chose to have them. Labor is scary and it is painful and if you found yourself with an IV or an electronic fetal monitor keeping you on your back in a bed, I can’t even imagine how much more painful and scary contractions can be. On the other hand, I think not having an epidural spared me a lot of complications. I was active and mobile right until the very end, which may have contributed to shortening my labor. I also had a lot of control over the pushing stage, which might have helped spare me any injuries. Ultimately, I think my experience was due partly to believing I could do it, and mostly to being really, really fortunate.

Now, I get to spend all day, every day with The Boyfriend and The Baby, who is basically the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Love, love, love.

IMG_3301 IMG_3376

Advertisements

38 Weeks!

I am 38 weeks and 2 days pregnant today, which is just absolutely madness. A friend’s sister, who was due one week before me, had her baby a few nights ago, and even though I am very pregnant and living in a house full of baby things, it still boggles my mind that there could be a baby here at any moment.

For anyone even remotely interested, here’s the third trimester belly progress:
323434363738

(In addition to being photos of some random internet stranger’s belly, which are by nature not interesting, I know these pictures are boring because I’m wearing the same thing in all of them. However, that was intentional, because I figured it would be easier to track changes this way. So, sorry, everyone.)

To look at me, it would appear that not much has happened in the last week or so. However, I feel like I am suddenly enormous. That pelvic pain I bragged about not yet experiencing in my previous post is here in full force, making my lower back and inner thighs feel like I’ve spent several days riding a galloping horse. I always thinking about food, but too full to eat anything. I am also totally exhausted. I haven’t officially started maternity leave from my PhD program, because I figure I might as well wait until the baby is born, considering I can very easily do my work from home, but my brain is basically already on a time out. It took me two full days to write an embarrassingly short project proposal, even though I able to crib most of the material from other things I’d already written. Luckily, I’d managed to get a lot done before I became useless because useless I most certainly am.

My PhD project, when it eventually starts really happening and isn’t just a bunch of stuff I tell people I will be doing someday, will focus on childbirth intervention, so I’ve spent many, many months researching maternal health care and childbirth and all its various outcomes. What I’ve found, for the most part, is that as wonderful as modern medicine has been to women giving birth (like, say, in its insistence that people wash their hands before attending laboring mothers), in many ways, processes that might be better left to proceed on their own are often too actively managed. (As an example, there’s the “cascade of interventions,” which is labor induction -> electronic fetal monitoring to watch the effects of medically induced contractions -> mothers laying on their backs in bed -> more intense pain -> epidurals -> the slowing of labor -> fetal distress and/or failure to progress -> caesarean section.) I had a lot of big feelings about this overmedicalization of childbirth when I drafted my PhD proposal, long before I found myself pregnant. Doctors are too pushy, medicine is too incentivized, nature has been abandoned in an effort to keep schedules or avoid lawsuits. And I still think those things. (To be fair, this isn’t just some earth-mother hippie crap being howled at the moon. Statistically speaking, the cascade of intervention is very, very real.)

However, what has been really interesting about doing this research while facing my own childbirth experience is discovering that as a pregnant woman, I will do anything to ensure my baby is healthy. I can intellectualize the medicalization of nature as a product of hospital care as much as I want, but I’ve learned that if a professional with an ultrasound wand tells me something might be wrong, I will drive home in hysterics and spend the next three hours on Google, working myself into a panic and vowing to consent to anything to make it better.

Those aren’t two opposing thoughts – in fact, in most of the theory I’ve read, that’s how medicalization works. Doctors and hospitals apply techniques to make childbirth more efficient/more scheduled/ostensibly “safer,” and mothers trust their care providers and consent to them.

It’s just been very eye-opening to experience it myself.

For the first 32 weeks of the pregnancy, I saw the same midwife practicing out of a medical practice near my house. At each of my relatively rare and low-key visits, she would test my urine, take my blood pressure, and then do a fundal height measurement using a tape measure. For the uninitiated, the fundal height is the distance from the top of a pregnant woman’s uterus to her pubic bone. This measurement in centimeters should, conveniently, mirror the number of weeks pregnant a woman is – a woman who is 26 weeks pregnant should measure on (or around) 26 cm. At all of my appointments, I was measuring spot on. At 24 weeks, I was 24 cm. At 28 weeks, I was 27.75 cm. At 31 weeks, I was 31 cm.

And then I moved to another city and had to transfer to another midwife. In the five days between my last appointment with my previous midwife and my first appointment with my new one, the baby turned from head-down to transverse, meaning he was now laying horizontally across my belly as opposed to vertically along it.

3233

I went from the long belly on the left to the short, stubby belly on the right. I didn’t think much of it, until the new midwife whipped out her tape measure and measured my nearly-32-week-belly at 27 cm. She immediately made me an appointment for a growth ultrasound, because measuring five weeks behind (even by super high-tech tape measure) could be a sign of a growth-restricted baby without enough amniotic fluid.

Now, as a person who knows too much about pregnancy and childbirth due to having had my super dweeb face in journal articles and books for nearly a year, I completely flipped out. In addition to taking me out of a midwife’s low-risk care and placing me into higher-risk “consultant” (doctor) care, this new potential amniotic fluid issue put me at risk of being harangued into an induction, as fears about a baby’s size and amniotic fluid levels are one of the most common reasons labors are induced. Cue the crying in the car on the way home, the drinking of tons of liters of water a day in an attempt to up my fluid levels, and the crawling around on my hands and knees to try to turn the baby.

A week and a half later, when I had the growth scan, the baby was head down again and measured in the 60th percentile for growth, which was lovely. However, the total amount of amniotic fluid measured via ultrasound was 8.2cm, which was still cause for alarm, as the “normal” range is about 8-18cm. I was hovering right at the low range of normal. My new hospital consultant wrote “low AF at 5% at USS” (low amniotic fluid at the 5th percentile at ultrasound) under a giant “ALERT! Please indicate risk:” label on the inside of my maternity notes, and told me she wanted me back for another scan in two weeks. That was great.

Two panicky weeks later, at my second growth ultrasound, the amniotic fluid was up to 11.8cm, which was firmly normal. In addition, the baby now measured in the 90th percentile for growth. In fact, the ultrasound tech thought the baby might be growing too big – she took the femoral length measurement four times because she thought she was making mistakes. The baby that was once thought to be too small was now almost off the charts.

Despite the incredible hulking baby, I passed the growth scan with flying colors and am no longer high risk.

I hope it goes without saying that I am, of course, very happy and grateful that everything ended up being fine. It was, however, really bizarre to know that the difference in fundal height measurements between midwives was entirely due to the turning of the baby and the admittedly insanely subjective tape measure method, and still feel totally nuts when I was sent for extra ultrasounds. I thought that there was something horribly wrong with the pregnancy because of a tape measure.

On one hand, it’s nice to know that the people taking care of us are proactive. I have had nothing but wonderful interactions with everyone, and I don’t think any of the extra tests were done to make me nervous or take advantage. However, on the other hand, it was unnerving to find myself ready and willing to submit to any intervention possible (I would have been completely on board with an elective c section, for example, if it meant combating growth restriction, which shocked me, given what I know about pre-term caesareans), when the methods pointing me in those directions should be approached with caution.

The extra growth scans illuminated to me that childbirth interventions are notoriously difficult to manage and are more often than not used based on evidence that is subjective at best. For all the actual problems that are addressed by them, there are hundreds of others that are caused by them. (I lucked out because in my case, the only issues the extra scans caused were emotional.) At the risk of sounding super naive and having to eat these words after I have the baby, my WARNING ALERT SMALL BABY EXTRA SCAN experience has only solidified my desire to try to have as few interventions as possible during the birth.

We’ll see how that goes.

P.S.: I’ve been writing and editing this post for 24 hours and I still feel like it makes no sense. There was a point in here somewhere, guys, but like I said above, MY BRAIN IS ON VACATION AND I JUST CAN’T.