Thursday, November 08, 2007

Birth Story(s)

This Friday, MamaLady is hosting a Carnival of Birth Stories.

When I read about it at Elaine's, I thought, why, that might be fun--for a change of the hen's pace, so to speak. I might never have another excuse to tell these stories here! And so, with Elaine's encouragement, I give you the story of the births of my two oldest children: a study in contrasts.

My firstborn was 4 days late. On his due date--January 17, 1991, the Persian Gulf War had begun, and my husband and I, like so many Americans, had been glued to CNN ever since. We had stayed up watching till 1 a.m., and when I lay down in bed, I heard a soft, clicking pop that seemed to come from inside my body. An hour later, I awoke to the realization that my water had broken.

We timed contractions, called the doctor and headed for the hospital. Before the days of fancy suites and birthing centers, you labored in a labor room, and delivered in a delivery room. This labor room was tiny, cold and devoid of comforts except for a TV; Wolf and Bernie kept us company through all the early stages of labor, drowned out at times by hammering on a nearby wall, where new birthing rooms were under construction next door.

A nurse kept offering me "something for the pain." Now, we'd attended childbirth classes, but we had no particular plan for pain management other than breathing and playing it by ear. At that time, we had no friends who had children yet, so I had heard no opinions beyond the pros or cons on the childbirth instructor's little chart.

Finally, "something for the pain" sounded really, really good to me. I asked about the side effects to myself or the baby and was assured that the injection would just make me feel a little sleepy, dull the edge a bit. I forget, now, which narcotic it was, but it actually made me feel completely dopey and unable to think, and it slowed my labor to a standstill.

So our doctor ordered Pitocin. A resident started it and when nothing happened immediately, our doctor (who now, at 9 a.m., had other patients waiting for him at his solo practice office), tripled the drip level.

I immediately began feeling the urge to push, though I was nowhere near fully dilated, and I couldn't stop myself from pushing. My husband kept telling our nurse this, but she did nothing but say ineffectually to me, "Stop pushing." After 30 minutes, our doctor came in and checked the paper tape monitoring my contractions and his eyes widened. "You've been pushing!" he said. (Duh! Yes! we said.)

He immediately ordered an epidural, to stop my pushing. By then I was nearly fully dilated, so I was wheeled into a surgery room, since the other delivery rooms were full. There was no mirror in there, but they brought one in when I asked for it. Not sure why I remember that, but the whole experience had seemed so surreal, thanks to the narcotic, that I think I hoped that my first glimpse of my son's head in that mirror would snap me into reality.

Just then an alarm went off. The fetal monitor attached to the top of our son's head indicated that he wasn't getting enough oxygen. It was time to push, now, and with the doctor using forceps, it only took four pushes (they had to tell me when to push, as I couldn't feel a thing) and he was out.

It was a long time before they were done with me, as my doctor had to sew up my cervix, which had torn during all that pushing-before-fully-dilated. I was vaguely aware of that and of our son being washed, weighed, photographed and held by my husband. I was still feeling dazed, dopey and soooo out of it when I first got to hold my son. (I told that story here.)

Later, we found out that the strength of my cervix was possibly compromised for future pregnancies (I've been fine, praise God); and four years later, when we found out our son was autistic, we learned that lack of oxygen at birth and a forceps delivery is not uncommon with that diagnosis.

Intervention had led to intervention which led to further intervention, and I vowed never again to accept any kind of pain medication except an epidural! But God in his wisdom worked it out so that in my five subsequent births, I never even had that. (Although I've ended up having more than my share of Pitocin...sigh.)

I was all set to accept an epidural when I went into labor one day early with our second child, a daughter. We were at a gathering that we had hoped and prayed we'd be able to attend. An older woman, a mother figure in our church, had invited about 5 couples to her home for a meal and games. She thought that some of us who didn't know each other should get to, and I'll never forget one gal who had just met me that evening saying suddenly, after we'd been together for a couple hours, "Oh! You're pregnant!" (I was wearing my most flattering maternity outfit, which hid that bump nicely under an elegant A-line sweater.)

We informed everyone that I was having contractions, and they gathered around us in a circle, laid hands on us and prayed many beautiful prayers for the birth and for the child we were soon to hold. It was amazing. We were so blessed and hopeful that it was indeed really labor.

We drove home and walked around our block a few times, and when it seemed that the contractions were picking up, we went to the hospital around midnight. We had moved since our first was born, and this hospital had lovely, quiet labor/delivery suites. As soon as I lay down, the contractions became farther apart. We imagined that it was false labor and we'd soon be sent home. But after an hour, I had dilated another centimeter or more, so they said we should stay. "But sleep, now, while you can," the nurse advised. So I did, waking up every 8 minutes to breathe through a contraction, for several hours.

At about 5:15 a.m. I awoke with back labor. My husband woke up and helped me as much as he could, but it was excruciating, and I asked for an epidural. "We'll have the anesthesiologist here as soon as your doctor checks you." It took another 45 minutes for our doctor to arrive, but when he did, he checked me and began to laugh. "You're fully dilated! Let's push this baby out!" he said.

"Wait... What about my epidural?" I asked, trying to adjust to this unexpected new schedule. The last time the nurse had checked me, it looked like we still had hours to go.

"Too late!" he said. "C'mon now..."

"But, I've never pushed without...."

"You can do it! C'mon!"

And so I did. At the second push, I think, my water finally broke, and on the third, her shoulders were delivered. "Here," my doctor said, "you do it," and he guided my hands to grab her under the shoulders and pull her the rest of the way out.

This was the only child that we didn't have a definitive ultrasound on, and I've often tried to remember for certain who said, "It's a girl!" But I think it was me, as I lifted her out. She cried very briefly, blinked a bit, and then fell asleep on my chest almost immediately. Cushioned in her water bag for the entire delivery, I think the whole journey had been a very peaceful one for her. She certainly had the air of one who's been awakened from sleep, just as quickly returning to her nap.

Our nurse showed me the paper tapes from the monitor. She couldn't believe that my contractions had never been closer than 8 minutes till the last 30 minutes or so. Neither could I--I had basically slept through the whole thing, right up till transition. I think that having the cushion of the intact water bag made a huge difference--and all that prayer!

It was the most ideal and easy of all 6 of my births, and I never had another one like it, though I kept hoping. Labors #3, #4 and #6 were all Pitocin-induced and intense, but very short--1.25 hours, 1.5 hours, 1.5 hours. (I had to be induced with Numbers Three and Six, because of anti-E blood compatibility issues, and Number Four was at the strong urging of my doctor, when I kept having inefficient contractions.)

With Number Five, we had the anti-E issue, but I really, really wanted to go into labor on my own, so I switched to a homebirth practice which was willing to let me go till my due date. Four days early, I had an uneventful homebirth that began with my water breaking and ended nine hours later--as long as my first birth had taken. (Somewhere about halfway through, I remember thinking longingly of those hour-long labors and wondering what my objection to Pitocin had been again...?)

Then our daughter ended up having to be hospitalized anyway for jaundice due to the anti-E issues. So with the delivery of #6 we gave in to another induced, short labor, so we could get our son under the bili lights (the treatment for jaundice) right away.

There ya go--six birth stories for the price of two!

Every one seemed like an adventure into the unknown, with a gift waiting at the end. And what precious gifts they were and are, as babies, as toddlers, as little boys and girls, as big boys and girls, as near-adults. Every one worth the discomfort of pregnancy, the pain of labor, the work and sacrifices of parenting.

Thank you, Lord, for these good gifts, safely delivered.


Megan (FriedOkra) said...

Thanks for sharing those... It's neat to read birth stories by a woman who's been through it a few times - I think somewhere in my mind I suppose mothers of several kids would be bored/jaded about birth, but that's clearly not the case! Congrats on being a champion birther and a fantastic mom!

elaine@bloginmyeye said...

Yay! I'm so glad you shared these. Don't forget to link up at MamaLady's tomorrow.

I'm still working on my #2 story -- definitely with the twinges of "this is not what I expected" that you mention here. I probably won't have a third chance, but it seems like you definitely have to be willing to make that journey back into the unknown each time.

Summer in FL said...

Wow J! Great stories. So much I didn't know since I was only around for the last one. Thanks so much for sharing these!

MamaLady said...

Mr. Linky is up. Please come on over so you can share with everyone!

Islandsparrow said...

I always am fascinated by birth stories - thanks for sharing yours Jeanne!

Jenny in Ca said...

wow, birth stories are so interesting and such miracles. Thanks for sharing yours.