Gazing Upward



Scott was correct when he predicted that we were having a baby girl.  His reasoning was that only a girl could create so much drama surrounding her arrival. And my last trimester was certainly filled with its share of drama. From echocardiograms and heart med, to walking pnemonia and low iron, my body was giving me a pretty difficult time.  And then came the news that my blood platelet count was low…too low to have an epidural during delivery. (Low platelets mean inability to clot, leading to hemorraging risks.)

If you read my post a few weeks ago, or saw my plea for help on Facebook, you know what sort of panic I was in.  Natural childbirth had always been intriging to me. But given I was already having some breathing troubles, and knowing I’d be coming home from the hospital to the demands of four children, I thought a painless delivery seemed like the most logical option.

To my surprise, through advice and information from others, and through reading a couple of books on the Bradley method of natural childbirth, I learned that recovery is typically much faster and easier after a natural labor.  I embraced the challenge before me  and educated myself on how to handle labor contractions, delivery, and everything involved in the process. I called my friend, Melissa, who is a doula, and she promised me she’d be there if she could (she has a 3 month old she’s nursing plus her mom was having back surgery the week before my due date, so she couldn’t make a definite commitment.)  I hired Melissa’s doula, Kelly Denson, and gradually became excited about the whole idea.  After all, hadn’t millions of women before me endured this natural and miraculous process?  My only catch was that I absolutely did not want to be induced because enough people had shared the horrors of a pitocin-induced natural labor.

Well, on Monday, June 4th at 4:30 pm, my doctor called and confirmed my suspicions (yes, I actually self-diagnosed myself 3 weeks prior so the internet doesn’t always lead you to crazy conclusions).  The lab results showed that I had obstetric cholestasis which can cause various complications for the baby, including stillbirth.  In fact, most women with this condition (and it’s about 1 in 1,000) are medically induced as soon as the baby’s lungs are mature enough (36-37 weeks).  My doctor first suggested that I come in the next morning for a specialized ultrasound.  But after consulting a specialist, he called back and said we needed to deliver the baby the next morning.  I hadn’t felt the baby move much that day, so I was thankful we would soon be able to get him/her out of my toxic body.  But I have to admit, the idea of laboring with pitocin was causing me some panic.  Ironically, my doctor informed me that the lab results showed a huge increase in my platelets…certainly high enough for an epidural.  However, at this point, I had worked too hard and psyched myself up too much to give up on natural delivery.

At 6 am on Tuesday morning, Scott and I arrived at the hospital.  And in keeping with the dramatic flair of the previous three months, we had a bit of a scare.  As the nurse hooked me up to the monitors, she was unable to find our baby’s heartbeat. For well over a minute.  Scott and I glanced at each other and smiled weakly.  After the nurse calmly asked if the baby had been high or low, to the right or to the left, and still couldn’t locate the heartbeat, we connected eyes again. And I could see the panic in Scott’s face.  We had been through this scenario before at a 10-week check up for the very first baby we lost.  And with the reality and devastation of stillbirth still fresh on our hearts from my friend’s loss of her baby girl at 35 weeks pregnant this past February, I was about ten seconds from breaking out into hysterics.  All I kept thinking was that we were too late and we’d lost our baby overnight.

The nurse was finally able to locate the baby’s heartbeat, and relief flooded my entire body.  By 7 am, I was hooked up to an IV with fluids and pitocin.  They graciously started me off slowly on the pitocin so my body could adjust accordingly.  Sometimes women’s labor is sped up with a jumpstart of that evil inducer which brings on intense contractions before your body’s pain threshold can rise to the occasion.

My doula, Kelly, arrived a little bit later. As you can see in this picture, I chose to labor in my own clothes (tank top and a cotton skirt) so I could move around the room and change positions without flashing my backside to everyone in the room. (Although, I ended up doing that very thing hours later when I first began pushing. 🙂 )

As you can see by the clock, I was still smiling after almost three hours of pitocin. I was still only 4 cm, 60% effaced, and -2 station.  The contractions were pretty regular, but I wasn’t yet in “active labor.”  I wasn’t even uncomfortable. I was just impatient.  My doctor wanted to break my water to get things moving more quickly, but I had been warned that contractions can really intensify once the water is gone. That sac of water acts as a cushion, and I was determined to make my labor as positive an experience as possible.  I asked if I could have until lunchtime to see if my water would break on its own.

When learning about the Bradley method of natural childbirth, you read about the different emotional signposts that indicate where a woman is in labor.  This picture is a great example of the first signpost where I’m still smiling, chatty, and excited.

Sometime around 11:00, the contractions became stronger and I transitioned to the second emotional signpost where you become focused and serious.  I changed positions to see what made the contractions more manageable.  For some, I sat on the birthing ball. For many of them, I stood and rocked back and forth or leaned forward onto the bed. And for some, I lay on my side. Once the contractions became more difficult, I focused on the lyrics of the songs playing from my computer. We had started off with Adam Wright and Act of Congress. Then we had Christy Nockels playing on repeat for the rest of the time.  Her voice is so soothing! Even now, when I’m listening to her songs, I can recall which lyrics I was focusing on during contractions.  I guess the songs off her latest album will forever be connected in my mind to Maryn’s birth!

What made the discomfort endurable was the thought that I would soon get a break.  I knew if I could make it through the next 45 seconds, I would have a few minutes of relief.  As one friend advised me, I just took it one contraction at a time, not thinking ahead but simply about making it through one at a time. This was a tremendous help!

Dr. Johnson came in around 11:40 to check my progress. By now, my contractions were manageable but strong enough that I was VERY nervous about having my water broken and the pain getting worse when I was still so far from 10 cm.   Or so I thought.  We were all thrilled to find that I was dilated to 6 cm, 90% effaced, and the baby was at station zero!  My doctor felt I was moving along on my own and allowed me to continue laboring without intervention. I got back on my feet after being checked. The picture below was taken at 12:10 pm, just 45 minutes before our baby was born. Scott was so attentive and encouraging throughout the morning.

At 12:25 pm, I was standing and leaning over on the bed during a contraction when I felt a lot of pressure and my water suddenly broke.  It startled all of us because this was no slow trickle… it was a pretty big splash! But we all laughed and cheered that my body was naturally responding and progressing. At this point, I got in the bed and laid on my side for a few more contractions.  These contractions were the worst ones…I remember saying aloud, “This really hurts!” But I never screamed. I never cried.  I’m not even sure if I’d say it was the worst pain I’ve ever been in.  The thought of asking for an epidural never crossed my mind.  Through each contraction, my wonderful team of husband, doulas, and nurse would help me by massaging or applying pressure to my back, whispering encouraging words, and pulling my hair back.  I also remember though that they were encouraging me to moan or make noise to help endure the pain. I had been so adamant that I wouldn’t make any kind of noise…how embarrassing would that be! But I definitely “hummed” my way through a few of those last contractions! 🙂

In order to move the baby down into the birth canal with the help of gravity, Kelly and Melissa suggested that I lean over back of bed while on my knees.  This was the first time I broke a sweat. If you look at the time of the clock, this point was 8 minutes before Maryn was born! After a couple of intense contractions, I suddenly felt my body give a powerful and involuntary push. It’s amazing to me that your body naturally knows what to do and kind of takes over! The nurse checked me, and I had reached completion (10 cm dilated).

I pushed a few more times and then flipped over onto my back.  The nurse asked for the observing nursing student to call my doctor and let him know I was pushing but that he didn’t have to come yet. Well, about a minute later, the baby’s head crowned! The most painful and difficult part of my whole labor was not being able to push while we were waiting for my doctor to arrive.  Kelly and Melissa kept telling me to blow on their finger as if I were blowing out a birthday candle, but all I wanted to do was push the baby out.  (I actually have a picture of Kelly holding out her finger and telling me to blow rather than push, and Scott is looking at her as if to say, “Good luck with that!” Can’t post pic here though… all modesty was gone at that point!)

Dr. Johnson finally arrived, and with a couple more pushes, our baby entered the world at 12:55 pm! I can honestly say that this part of delivery was not painful.  The bottom half of your body naturally numbs itself, so you don’t feel anything except relief from the pushing.

Scott announced it was a baby girl, and they immediately placed her on my chest.  While my gut instinct had been that we were having a girl, I was still a bit shocked.  Those first moments of holding our new daughter were so surreal.  It took me a few minutes to realize that I was done with labor and had actually delivered our baby!  If you’d asked me that morning how long I thought my labor would be based on my slow progess, I would have guessed late afternoon. Amazingly, it was only 30 minutes from the time my water broke at 6 or 7 cm to the delivery of our little miracle. Within 6 hours of induction (and only 3 hours of active labor), Maryn Elizabeth was here!   Our baby was safe and in our arms, and it is a vivid memory I’ll treasure forever.

While natural delivery was hard work, it was one of the  most incredible experiences of my life.  I had such clarity through it all versus my delivery of Carter when I was so drugged (had been given pitocin, ambien, blood pressure  med, epidural, etc.) that I barely remember that experience.  With this labor, Scott was more involved and so it felt more like teamwork.  I was amazed by the power and strength of my body and its abilty to instinctively know how to respond.  Praying and meditating on song lyrics throughout the difficult moments made me feel close and connected to God…in my vulnerabiltiy, I felt His presence.

We were so thankful that my doctor, who attends church with us and has taken such great care of me over the years through my miscarriages, took my suspicions about having cholestasis seriously and followed through to make the diagnosis.  We were also grateful that he allowed me to labor as I wished rather than intervening more than necessary, as long as the baby was in stable condition during the process.

Maryn was a pretty good size considering she was 11 days early. She even measured 1/4″ longer than Carter and he was born just 6 days early!

Our beautiful baby girl….

…and her proud daddy.

We let the kids come in from the waiting room first to meet their new sibling. When they came into our room, we shared the news that they had a baby sister!  Carter’s first response as he climbed up on my bed was, “Mommy, I thought we were having a boy.”  He had a few moments of being sad and stating that he wanted it to be “two girls and two boys.”  (On a funny note, Scott asked Grace the next day if it was cool to have a little sister. Carter interjected with, “It’s NOT cool to have three sisters.”)

But as you can see from the pictures, he was also very excited and eager to love on the baby. And he probably dotes on Maryn the most at home.  While he has sinced asked why God made the baby a girl, he tells us every day that he loves the baby.

We had feared that Grace would really struggle with her mommy holding a baby all the time, but she has done incredibly well with the transition. She loves to bop into the room, kiss the baby’s head, and talk baby-talk to Maryn.  This morning, she said in her high-pitched little voice, “Oh you’re so cute! Yes you are! Don’t cry…your Mommy is here. She’s right here baby Maryn.”  PRECIOUS! She also loves to hand me baby wipes while I change diapers.  We are so proud of her!

Right after delivery, I changed out of my clothes (which were a bit of a mess by then) and into a  hospital gown. Carter was a little confused why my belly was still a little big. 🙂 But they have loved being able to get back into my lap to read books and be held.

Caroline has been so sweet and adores holding Maryn. At the hospital, the kids watched the nurse bathe their baby sister, and Caroline got to slather on the lotion.  She loves to be hands on! Maryn did have a little trouble maintaining her temperature that afternoon, so she had to lay under this heating lamp for an hour or so.

When the kids ran back out to the waiting room to share the sex of the baby with the rest of our waiting family, they exclaimed, “Mommy had a baby!!” To which everyone laughed and said, “We know, but is it a boy or a girl??”

My mom, who began driving from North Carolina early that morning, arrived just a few hours after Maryn’s birth.

I’ve been sentimental thinking back to June 5th. It was such a special experience that I want to do it all over again. Melissa (pictured here) and Kelly were so helpful in assisting me through labor.  During the painful contractions following my water breaking, they knew that the baby would be arriving very soon, and their knowledge of the process and timeline gave me renewed strength to keep going because my baby would soon be born.  Melissa actually wrote her version of my birth story and posted on her blog…you can read it here.  It was fun to compare stories!

The miracle of our daughter’s life has not been lost on me.  After losing six babies, I wasn’t sure we’d ever have the experience of childbirth again, so I have a more heightened sense of awe and gratitude this time.  And given the medical issues at the end of my pregnancy and the grief that a couple of my friends have been facing, I had to come to grips with the fact that I wasn’t guaranteed anything.  These thoughts might sound cliche, but the reality of it all has touched me to the core.  Thank you to all of you who have invested in me and our family through this journey of building and expanding our family! Your prayers were felt, your advice was heard, and your kind words treasured.

More pictures and stories of the first days to come, but for now, I’m off to cuddle with my baby!


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