Thursday, November 1, 2018

Gwendolyn's Birth Story

I never thought of my first baby’s birth as being traumatic until I realized how badly I didn’t want to relive it. I hoped and prayed my second birth would be a healing, validating experience, and to say I was not disappointed may be the greatest understatement of my life.

During my pregnancy with my second baby, I took steps to improve my chances of a better birth experience. Instead of going with an OBGYN, I went with a midwife. I focused on exercising my entire pregnancy. I read a lot of books on coping techniques. I researched, I prayed, I meditated, I asked my husband and loved ones to support me. But despite it all, I had this overwhelming anxiety that bubbled up and out in the last trimester. 

I told myself I wasn’t scared of childbirth because I wasn’t scared of pain, and that is so often the topic women bring up when they say they’re scared of giving birth. I’d received an epidural my first pregnancy but not to manage the pain. It was so I could sleep after a long, hard unproductive early labor. But living with endometriosis pain since I was 14, I have a decent pain threshold. I knew I could deal with it. It was everything else I feared.

Leading up to my second birth, I felt anxious over all the unknowns of birth — all the health-related things I could not control. I kept wondering, “what if...” What if it’s another long, exhausting labor? What if my body can’t do it without intervention? What if recovery is terrible again? What if I need a C-section? What if I get preeclampsia? What if my medical team ignores my medical complaints and it’s something serious? What if my birth preferences aren’t considered like my first birth? What if I die? Vocalizing my fears sometimes seemed so silly, but there they were — and I was terrified.

All that tension and anxiety did my blood pressure little good, and the last few weeks of pregnancy I was diagnosed with gestational hypertension. I did my best to mentally and physically relax, but to no avail. I cried a lot. Including to my wonderful midwifes who let my prenatal appointments turn into therapy sessions. I told my main midwife I wanted as little intervention as possible, unless it was medically indicated. And, unfortunately, because the hypertension continued long enough, my midwife decided an inducement was necessary to avoid me developing preeclampsia — a potentially life-threatening condition for both mom and baby. 

To my surprise, I was actually relieved to be getting induced. I was still nervous over all the factors I couldn’t control, but I was excited there was an end to my pregnancy in sight and soon I could focus on loving on my baby.

We scheduled my induction, and a few days before I was to be induced, I asked my husband, Nathaniel, and my grandfather to give me a priesthood blessing. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a priesthood blessing is a special prayer given over someone when they’re in need of healing or comfort. We believe that God inspires the prayer-giver on what to say. My grandfather prayed over me, and promised me that I’d feel peace during the labor and that everything would go smoothly. I was so grateful for the reassurance and it buoyed my faith and courage as labor approached.

Just outside the hospital the morning I was induced.
We went in to the hospital to be induced the morning of Oct. 2. My midwife and I had a plan to try low-intervention measures first before trying more invasive measures. Around 10 a.m. my midwife inserted cervidil, a medication to soften the cervix, in to my cervix. I was already dilated to two centimeters and the midwife told me the medication takes up to 12 hours to work, and we would try up to two doses before starting pitocin. She told me sometimes the cervidil kick starts labor and no other interventions are necessary. Other times it’s simply a precursor to needing pitocin.

I hoped things would start moving along nicely on their own, but I was settling in for the long haul and had already accepted I likely wouldn’t be having a baby until the next day. The good news is I was feeling decently well-rested, confident and peaceful. And even though that morning in the hospital they had found protein in my urine — a sign of preeclampsia — all of my blood pressure readings were looking decent. I was feeling grateful to be getting the show on the road, no matter how long labor would last.

The boredom of early labor.

It wasn’t long after receiving the medication that I started feeling mild contractions. The next few hours I alternated between bouncing on the birth ball, walking around outside on the hospital campus, and being monitored in bed. Before my first walk I was given an IV line in my arm, just in case I needed it later. When the nurse administered it, I felt dizzy and nauseated. My nurse even said I got very pale. The IV was very uncomfortable, but they told me it would get better. We went on one walk around the hospital campus and when we came back, my hand below the IV was swollen and uncomfortable — my fingers looked like sausages! But only on my left hand. They removed the IV and it was clear I had already bruised. But the swelling in my hand disappeared quickly. We decided we'd wait to try for another line later, since the first time I hadn't responded so well to it. 

My IV. You can still see the swelling after they took it out.  

The view on our walk.

We want on a second walk in the evening and it was incredibly uncomfortable. I wasn’t having contractions, but I felt dull, constant cramping the entire time and kind of just felt like I had to pee the entire time. When we got back, I explained to the nurses how I was feeling and they said it was likely the cervidil irritating and inflaming everything. 

Fortunately, when I laid down, the discomfort went away. Around 7 p.m. I laid down and decided I’d try to get a nap in since not much was really happening in way of labor. Nathaniel left to find himself dinner. While he was gone I started having contractions again, and noticed they were getting closer and strong enough that I started timing them. Pretty quickly they were getting more intense, longer and closer together — about 50 seconds to a minute long and coming every two minutes. I texted Nathaniel to let him know that by the time he got back I thought I’d need help getting through contractions. 

Around 8 p.m. my nurse came in to monitor the baby. Laying down through the contractions was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, and I kept asking if I could sit up. The nurse told me the baby was having decelerations in her heart rate and she couldn’t get a good read on if she was stable or not, so she really needed me to sit as still as possible. I asked if we could at least try monitoring while I sat up on the birth ball. I promised I would sit as still as possible.

While on the birth ball I was listening to music. A cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow” came on, by Kina Grannis, and I started crying. That song has always meant so much to me and it made me think of my Grandma Moore and all the women who have come before me. My own mother and grandmothers — women who have shown me so perfectly what it means to love, to mother, to sacrifice. It’s impossible to fully express how I felt in the moment — overcome by the intensity of the physical experience of labor, overwhelmed by love and the sweet reality of the links that bond us through generations.

We tried sitting on the birth ball but still couldn’t get a good reading so I had to lay down again. After I laid down, I kept begging to be done and asking how much I had left before I could get up again. Nathaniel said the nurse kept lying to me — she told me it’d be 10 or 15 more minutes, but I ended up laying there for what must have been about an hour. I was so in the moment, just trying to breathe through each moment, that I didn’t notice exactly how much time had passed.

Around this time, my parents and my 4-year-old daughter, came to check on me. They chatted with me between contractions.
Eventually, my nurse let me get up out of bed and get back on the birth ball, I was doing my best to relax my body, relaxing my jaw and breathing through the contractions — blowing out from my mouth and doing “horse lips” — as much as I could. Nathaniel would also dig his fists into my lower back at the height of each contraction. He later told me he was scared of how hard he was pushing because he felt like he might bruise me. He also said it was amazing to push that hard on my back because he could feel my back muscles moving and contracting. I was so grateful for his help, it felt wonderful to have him work in to my back. He often pushed so hard that he was almost pushing me off of the birth ball.

During this time, I also was holding on to a rock I gathered while at the beach with my mom, aunt and cousins. While I was on the beach, I had picked up that rock, held it, prayed and meditated as I watched and listened to the waves hit the shore. It was my anchor and a reminder that God not only created the heavens and the earth, but he made me. And he made me to not only be perfectly physically engineered to birth, but he created me to mother and to love beyond what sometimes seems like I am able. I tried visualizing my contractions like the very waves I’d seen — powerful but peaceful, and building in intensity before dissipating. It was so helpful to hold that imagery in my mind during contractions!

Around 9 p.m. my midwife arrived to check on me. I asked if I could move to the labor tub and she told me they didn’t want me in the tub until I was progressed to five or six centimeters dilated. She said the tub sometimes stalls labor, but we could try getting in to the shower. At 9:07 p.m. she checked my cervix and I was at three centimeters. Because labor was moving along now, she removed the cervidil at that time. I stayed on the birth ball another few minutes so the nurse could get an IV PICC line in my hand, just in case we needed it later and needed quick access. My parents and daughter left to get some rest since it seemed birth was still a long ways off. 

We moved the birth ball in to the shower and labor quickly intensified. At this point, my contractions were probably a minute and a half long and I was only getting a 30-second break between each one. At this point, I was sweating profusely, nauseous and seeing stars. I was facing Nathaniel, with my back to the wall, and he was reaching around me trying to massage my back with the shower head. I kept telling him I couldn’t do it, and I needed an epidural. I kept thinking, “It’s going to get worse,” trying to reserve the mental and physical energy for the duration and intensity of labor to come. He remained steady, level-headed and reassured me over and over that I could do it because I was, in fact, actively doing it.

Nathaniel encouraged me to stand up and turn around on the ball so he could help massage my back better. He also tried to encourage me to move my hips on the ball through the contractions, like I had been previously doing. I kept telling him that I couldn’t. At one point, I felt like if I could just pee I would feel so much better. Since I was in the shower, I tried to pee but couldn’t. In hindsight, I recognize this was an urge to push.

Each contraction seemed to get heavier and heavier, and at a certain point I earnestly wondered if I’d just black out from the intensity. I didn’t know if I could survive how intense this experience was. I kept holding my breath and Nathaniel would have to remind me to breath — doing horse lips — to get through. At certain points, I would grip him tightly, pushing all my energy into him. I screamed at the top of my lungs a few times. And I had the overwhelming urge to bite into Nathaniel. Lucky for him, I never went through with it, but he told me later he could tell that’s what I wanted to do!

My midwife came a few minutes later and told me the tub was ready for me and we could start moving that way. I instantly wondered how I could possibly manage to get to the tub when I felt like I could hardly move while I was sitting. The tub was all the way down the hallway! I finished working through one contraction and then I stood to move down the hallway.

I took two steps when I felt another contraction coming on. I told my midwife I needed to work through it. I leaned over, gripping on to the shower stool, and was doing my best to breathe through the contraction. Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming urge to push — or rather, I felt my body pushing. I announced to my midwife I was pushing, and she encouraged me to wait and then asked if I could make it to the bed. I told her I couldn’t, and started pushing with the contraction, hoping with everything inside of me that I wasn’t going to hurt myself or the baby in the process — I was just measured at a three, after all! How and why was I already pushing?!

I scarcely understood what was happening. All I knew was it felt so good to push. As I pushed, I immediately felt relief and noticed I pooped. For a split second I thought that would be the end of it and I’d continue laboring. I saw my midwife scoop up the poop and move it out of the way, and before I knew it there was a small gush of water, followed by another large gush. I felt the baby crowning, which felt like a lot of intense pressure and slight burning — like a cork waiting to pop — and then heard my midwife announce, “There’s the head.” I gave another push, and saw my baby beneath me, between my legs, in my midwife’s hands. My midwife said, “Grab your baby, Hannah!” I grabbed her, the midwife unwrapped the cord from around the baby’s shoulders and behind her neck, and then I held her to my chest. I looked up and a nurse to my right — whom I had never met before and was not previously in the bathroom — announced the baby’s birth as 9:39 p.m. And just like someone flipped a switch, I suddenly felt absolute bliss. Never mind I felt absolutely stunned, too. I could scarcely wrap my mind around what had just happened!

Where it all went down!

Nathaniel later told me that the midwife had motioned to him to hand her towels. He also said she quietly motioned to a nearby nurse to get the medical team in the room. She didn’t have a chance to even put gloves on before catching the baby! Nathaniel said my face upon holding our baby was like a deer in headlights. He and the midwife kept repeating to me, “You did it, Hannah!” And even as I stood there — hearing them, holding my baby — I could hardly wrap my mind around what had just happened. 

I hobbled to the hospital bed with our new, tiny, sweet, crying baby clutched to my chest, her umbilical cord dangling between my legs. I was laughing and kept commenting to all the staff around me things like, “Did that just happen?! Wow! I did that! That was amazing!”

I laid down and delivered the placenta after feeling an urge to push. My midwife commented I had a particularly small placenta. I tore quite a bit in two spots during delivery, so the midwife gave me stitches. I did all of this while holding our new baby, Gwendolyn. We did skin-to-skin, including nursing several times, for a solid two hours before the nurses took her to clean and measure her. Nathaniel cut Gwen’s cord after it had stopped pulsing. 

Meeting our girl for the first time.

Nathaniel FaceTimed my parents as I lay in bed — maybe 10 minutes after giving birth — to share with them the news. They were in shock, too! My mom was bummed she’d missed all the action. She also thought I wouldn’t be delivering until the morning. We all laughed over the phone, and they hurried over (without our daughter who was already asleep at my grandparents’ house) to meet the new baby. 

My dad, husband and mom meeting Gwendolyn.

Admiring Gwen

As we laid admiring the baby, we noticed that below her lower lip and both earlobes were bruised from her speedy delivery in to the world. She had very little swelling, a lot of hair, looked almost exactly like her big sister and was a tiny, sweet and perfect 6 pounds, 10 ounces, and 20.25 inches. We were absolutely smitten. 

Measuring Gwendolyn. You can see her bruised ears here!

Nathaniel getting her diaper on and the nurse making footprints. 

For the next 30 hours, I barely slept a wink. I felt amazing! The adrenaline rush after birth was absolutely incredible! I felt physically good and mentally blissful. I was up and out of bed as soon as I wanted to be, and had no problems getting around. I tended to the baby whenever I needed or wanted. I didn’t feel nearly as swollen or in as much pain as I thought I’d be, and I only took occasional ibuprofen to help manage the pain — the worst being cramping whenever I nursed. 

It was a complete contrast to my first birth — 30 hours of labor, an epidural, nearly blacking out several times after birth, taking narcotics for pain management, not being able to get out of bed on my own, not being able to help with baby. 

Since then, I can still scarcely believe how beautifully the entire labor went! And my recovery has gone so, so smoothly. My labor was intense, humbling, spiritual, emotional, joyful and empowering. It was a beautiful lesson to me to trust my body, and live in the moment. I am so happy to learn —as the famous midwife Ina May Gaskin says — that my "body is not a lemon." God truly has designed me perfectly. I am physically capable. I am emotionally capable. And what a beautiful precursor and reminder as I head into the physically and mentally rigorous reality that is motherhood. 

I'm six weeks out from giving birth and I am feeling great! Gwendolyn is an easy-going, happy baby. She's a marvelous nurser, a decent sleeper, and happiest if she's in someone — anybody's — arms. We absolutely adore her and are so glad she's a part of our family.


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