I am sitting here in bed beside my sleeping newborn, sipping my second cup of coffee, listening to my mom play with Forest upstairs, unable to believe this is my life! I have absolutely nothing to do, nowhere to be, not a thing more important in this world than to sit right here and soak this in. What a glorious, unsurpassable, and fleeting privilege. The labor is finished. The joy is so sweet.
Before these days fly by too quickly, I wanted to capture them in the way I have before — with the story of our new baby’s birth and first days at home.
Those who follow me on Instagram will know that our fourth baby’s due date came and went without event. My mom went home that morning after waiting with us for two days, I took the kids to their last day of VBS at Portico Church, and then Forest and I walked for the 3 hours of VBS… trying to get things started!
I felt frequent, painless contractions, but I’d been feeling them for weeks. My membranes had been stripped for the second time the day before and my midwife had exclaimed that I was “four centimeters but I can stretch you to six!” so it seemed like something could happen any minute.
But it didn’t.
The afternoon passed. I cooked what I referred to as “my last supper” (aka the last meal I wanted to cook for a long time, if I had a choice) and invited my in-laws and brother-in-law over for BBQ chicken and cornbread. We ate out on the porch, me feeling hot and exhausted, uncertain how much longer I would be in this limbo.
Later that evening, around 9pm, I felt like maybe my water had broken, but it was such a small amount of clear fluid that it seemed unlikely. I’ve always had my water broken at the hospital right before each delivery, so I didn’t really know what the experience would be like. Birth is such a unique experience each time, even your fourth time around.
Eventually I called the midwife on call and told her I thought my water had broken, and after talking to me for a while, she surmised I probably had a “high leak,” meaning the bag had broken but would just trickle for hours, and also she wasn’t entirely sure it had broken at all. Elliott and I watched the last episode of C.B. Strike while we waited, and when the leaking didn’t seem to continue, we called the midwife and decided to come in the next morning after a night of rest. More than anything I hoped that labor would start naturally in the night and I wouldn’t need to be induced.
I didn’t rest well that night, of course, and the leaking continued. Also… no contractions. At all.
The next morning I checked in with the midwife on call and made a plan to come in around 9am. We ate a huge, delicious breakfast of blueberry pancakes with my in-laws and then left our three children in their capable hands. Around 9am, Elliott and I finished packing our bags (just in case) and drove to the hospital holding hands… probably to have a baby.
All was quiet on the L&D unit; we seemed to be almost the only patients there. We settled into a triage room, and our midwife did a couple of tests to see if my water really had broken. Yes, it had! So now I needed to get some antibiotics (due to being GBS positive), and after 4 hours she planned to start some pitocin to help the baby move down, then break my water, and then have the baby.
It was now around 10:30am. I got an IV, moved into a regular L&D room (the nicest on the unit, and with a tub–that I would never use!), and met my nurse, a peaceful, kind woman. She started my antibiotics, and my midwife started some aromatherapy as well, which was a relaxing touch.
Meanwhile, two things started happening. The first was that I was having contractions now that were 3-5 minutes apart, and were growing slightly painful. Around 12pm, the contractions picked up, and I was now having to breathe through them. My nurse changed the position of the bed so that it was like a giant chair, and we talked between the contractions, which were about 3 minutes apart now.
The second issue was that the baby’s heart rate had gone up, and was now consistently 190 beats/minute (when it should be 140s-150s). My midwife was getting concerned, so she gave me a bolus of fluid and also brought the attending MD on call in to meet me just in case things got more serious. She also finished breaking my water (there was a pocket of water around the baby’s head), which would certainly speed up labor.
I got up to use the bathroom and saw what I thought was meconium (baby poop) in the toilet. This shows the baby is probably in distress and needs to be born quickly to prevent infection and aspiration of the meconium. I reported this to my midwife, who thought it was unlikely, but checked.
I was right, unfortunately.
(I learned later that this was a pretty tenuous time, and I was beginning to be in danger of a c-section because of the baby’s distress.)
Meanwhile, after using the bathroom and having my water broken, the contractions had really picked up. I have never had an epidural, but after my midwife checked me right then and said I was still only 8cm, I started to think about asking for one. I thought I still had a ways to go, and it also always takes me a while to push because I don’t have that classic “urge to push” that so many women do. I thought I had at least an hour of misery still ahead of me. I’ve done this same thing three times already, and I knew so well that harrowing tunnel of pain that I had to get through in order to have a baby. For a few moments, it seemed more than I could bear again. I said the words in my head, trying them out, imagining me saying them out loud. “Can I have an epidural?”
However, when the next contraction hit, I decided to push just to do something through the pain, and I could feel the baby begin to move. I tried again as my midwife hastily pulled on her sterile gloves and gown. Then I pushed again, and my midwife told me firmly that I needed to do that once more right now. Elliott told me later this was because the baby’s head had already been born, and I had no idea. I buckled down and did what she said, pushing with all my might, and our baby was born in a glorious, familiar rush into the world.
They immediately put him up on my chest and everyone started rubbing and patting him because, terrifyingly, he looked pretty gray. He also wasn’t crying out or opening his eyes like all my babies have done right away. I could hear the charge nurse saying, “Come on, baby. Hmm, I don’t like this.”
Knowing he needed to be skin to skin, I opened my floral robe, only to remember I’d kept on a cute nursing nightgown… everything had happened too quickly to change into a hospital gown! Word to the wise: forgo cute and be prepared.
Elliott and I were thankful, in awe, and slightly worried all at once. He was here! He was definitely a boy! He had all 10 fingers and all 10 toes, and a mop of dark brown hair, and he looked so much like his siblings right away. Our baby, on my chest, in our arms! It is miraculous and insane and glorious that we have been given this unbelievable gift–a child, a baby, our own flesh and blood–not once, not twice, but four times now. Thanks be to God!
But even as we gasped and marveled and touched him for the first time, the medical team was getting increasingly concerned. After a few minutes of rubbing him on my chest, they whisked him away onto the baby warmer right as the Pediatric team from the NICU finally strolled in, shocked to find the baby had already been born. They went to work suctioning his throat and nose and watching him, and eventually he pinked up, but he was still breathing very very quickly (about 90-110 breaths/minute when the acceptable average is 40-60). His oxygen saturation was now consistently in the low 90s, but would often drop to 85-89%. (Although the acceptable average for babies is 85-95%, the ideal in all humans is 98-100%.) When they did give him back to me, I tried to get him to nurse, but unlike all my other babies, he didn’t seem to have any interest. He was just too exhausted from breathing.
An hour went by of observation, snuggling skin to skin, and monitoring. Finally, after about two hours, his breathing rate had slowed down a little, and he seemed more relaxed, less strained. Our baby was able to nurse, and I was so relieved and thankful to see him respond and latch on. I’ve always nursed my babies within minutes of birth and been so thankful to see their reflexes kick in to nurture themselves. The relief was all the sweeter this time after waiting a couple of hours.
Around 4:30 the nurses felt comfortable enough with his breathing to put him through the distress of his first shots and weighing and measuring him. We were all astonished to learn that he was a hefty 8lbs 13.6oz! Almost 9lbs! Lena was 8lbs 4oz (two days late), Gil was 8lbs 3oz (5 days early), and Forest was a little peanut at 7lbs 7oz on his due date. Where did this huge baby come from?! Everyone was assuming he’d be smaller since he was so active in utero and even turned sideways two weeks before his due date. Athletic little guy, beefing up in there!
Elliott went out to get me a snack and came back with a huge mocha from the coffee stand where I used to get mochas between nursing school classes in college. I hadn’t had one in years but so many memories came rushing back! He was also bearing two slices of pizza and a giant M&M brownie. Food never tasted so good. Our nurse nodded in pleased approval as Elliott fed me the pizza and I nursed our precious newborn. All as it should be!
Around 6pm the medical team gave the OK for us to move from the L&D unit to the postpartum unit, which also meant that our little boy didn’t have to go to the NICU. Sweet relief! I was feeling great at this point, so I walked over to the unit instead of riding in a wheelchair. Little did I know I had a lot of walking and time on my feet ahead of me.
We basked in the spacious beauty of the postpartum room, something we’d been looking forward to for months. The huge windows looked out over UVA, and we had a stunning view of the Rotunda, St. Paul’s steeple, and even glimpses of the Corner. Elliott left for about an hour to pick up a huge celebratory sushi dinner and a bottle of Flying Fox sparkling wine that we’d been chilling in the fridge since our babymoon.
And now, dear readers, I’m going to take a break here. I’ll be back soon with the rest of our hospital story, as things took a turn for the worse right after this and there is much more to tell! To be continued later this week…