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Adapting with Grace

When I found out we were finally pregnant, I was so excited to experience pregnancy but was also anxious about birth. I loved reading birth stories and talking to other women about their births. Birth is fascinating to me. I was eager to have an empowering birth with intentions of not using any interventions unless necessary. I prepared for this by taking the Embryoga prenatal yoga series two times during pregnancy, Sean and I took the Intuitive Birth class that focused on techniques like mindfulness, I read books like ‘Mama Bamba’ and ‘Ina May’s Guide to Natural Childbirth,’ I talked with other women who had non-medicated births, I stayed healthy by eating right and exercising, meditated, and frequently visualized the birth experience I was wanting. I played college volleyball, so I was almost treating birth like a big match I had to practice for!

Fast forward to 41 weeks gestation. Still pregnant. I had been doing every trick in the book in an attempt to start labor: walking, stairs (BSU stadium stairs in fact), hiked Camel’s Back, sex, acupuncture, spicy food, medicine ball bouncing, breast pump, red raspberry leaf tea, evening primrose tablets, and even ate a whole pineapple. I was not sleeping well in anticipation of Baby Boy’s arrival. Finally, in the early morning (about 4am) of 41 weeks 1 day (December 21st), I went to use the bathroom to find I had lost my mucous plug. This triggered instant Googling to make sure that’s what it was. Shortly after that, my water had broken and had begun slowly trickling over the course of a couple hours, causing me to use the bathroom frequently to clean up. I was feeling so excited things were finally happening! I decided to try and get some rest in case today was the day. By 9am, I virtually had gotten no sleep because I was so anxious and I was not experiencing any contractions yet. I called the hospital to tell them what happened during the night and they said once I check into the hospital, I cannot leave. My goal was to labor at home as much as possible, so I decided to wait to go in with hopes labor would start soon. When my husband, Sean, woke up I told him what happened in the night, but that we would probably still have a lot of time. So I suggested he go snowboarding, which he did! I think this helped keep his mind off waiting and kept me from worrying about him waiting. While he was snowboarding, I continued with my ‘tricks’ to start labor. I went for a long walk, used the breast pump, bounced on the medicine ball. Still no contractions. So, by about 4:00pm, we decided to check into the hospital.

Our Midwife, Tess, happened to be working that day, which made me so excited! I was hoping she would be there for our birth because she had been with us throughout pregnancy and I felt so comfortable with her. After they checked us into our room (which was very spacious by the way!), Sean set up our room how we planned. He put battery candles everywhere, started the lavender diffuser, put my quilt and pillow on the bed, put a picture of us on the table, and taped my affirmation cards from my Prenatal Yoga class on the walls. We didn’t know at the time, but the affirmation card that resonated most with us was ‘I adapt with grace to any situation.’

The nurse then swabbed my fluid to ensure it was amniotic fluid, and sure enough it was. She mentioned the risk of infection increases each hour the waters have been broken, which made me nervous. The amniotic fluid also had a yellowish tint to it, which they said indicated there may be meconium (i.e. baby pooped in the womb), which could cause issues. We then met our labor and delivery nurse, Kris, who shared she had 31 years of experience! When I asked if she had kiddos, she said no because she couldn’t. This stuck with me throughout our birth experience and made me feel grateful for being able to be pregnant. By about 6:00pm, my Midwife said we could try the breast pump for an hour to see if that would get labor going and to also monitor baby’s reaction to contractions. I appreciated my Midwife allowing me to continue with my intention of an intervention free birth as long as we could. My contractions were very mild at this point, I could hardly notice them unless I was looking at the monitor.

During this time, we called my Mom to bring us dinner from Panera (Yum) and to stop by and say hi before things really got going. After really no increase of contractions with the breast pump, our Midwife suggested we begin Pitocin. I was hesitant about this because I did not want to have to be hooked up to an IV during labor, but we needed to try to get things going as my risk for infection was increasing each hour. As they slowly increased the Pitocin, our Midwife suggested different positions and exercises (like squatting) to help bring Baby down. I was so excited about this part. I felt this was what I had been preparing for! However, as I began squatting during a contraction, Baby Boy’s heart rate dropped and the nurses asked me to come back to the bed. They stopped the Pitocin at that point and changed my positioning to be on my hands and knees on the bed over a medicine ball, which helped bring Baby Boy’s heart rate back to normal. At this point, my Mom had decided to leave and we would call her when baby was born. This may have been around 9:00pm. Once again, they began Pitocin and increased it slower than before. Sean and I were able to walk the halls and I would pause during contractions. The contractions (or ‘surges’ as they should be referred to!) were very manageable at this point. I was able to talk through them. However, Baby Boy’s heart rate continued to drop during this time so the nurses suggested I go back to the bed and lay on my side with the peanut ball between my knees, while also trying to get some sleep if possible. So, I was in bed throughout the night while they slowly increased Pitocin. Nurses occasionally came in to tell me to turn to my other side due to Baby’s heart rate drops. I remember nurses coming into the room in the night and staring at the monitor with concerned looks on their faces, but when I would ask if everything was ok, they always assured me it was. Sean was able to rest during this time too on the side bed in the room. Our room was very peaceful with the diffuser going and the battery candles. The nurses would comment it felt like a spa!

By about 4:00am, my Midwife suggested we go in the tub. I was so excited for this. I had visualized laboring in the tub. I would have loved to birth in the tub too, but St. Al’s does not allow that. The tub was in a separate room and very peaceful. Sean had put some battery candles around the tub with the lights off and placed our speaker in the room playing Nahko and Medicine for the People. Sean sat up behind me and would massage my shoulders or pour warm water on my belly during contractions. It was intimate and relaxing. Our Midwife was also in the room occasionally pouring water on my belly and suggesting other positions. Contractions were very manageable in the tub; the warm water was so relieving. I didn’t want to get out! We spent about 2 hours in the tub. The tub was probably my favorite part of the whole labor experience. I’m grateful my Midwife arranged this for us. I was also very hungry at this point and ate a granola bar (which definitely wasn’t enough for the labor to come). Once we got out of the tub it was about 6:00am and my Midwife decided to check my cervix. She didn’t want to check me often due to risk of infection with my waters being broken. She said I was at 1 cm, but while checking me she was able to get me to 2cm (which was not a comfortable feeling by the way). This was discouraging to me after all of the hours of being in labor. They recommended I lay on my side in bed to avoid Baby’s heart rate drops. Contractions were getting intense now. I was having to focus on my breathing during each one and close my eyes. I could no longer talk through them. By this time, my Midwife’s shift was ending, as well as our night time nurse Molly. A new midwife named Jo came on and our nurse Kris, who we had initially when we checked in, came back on shift. I was relieved to see a familiar face in Kris. I will always remember what Kris said to me looking into my eyes as I was laying on the bed working through contractions: ‘We are going to be successful today.’ I’ll be honest, the next few hours were the most intense part of the entire labor. I had to focus on my breath during each contraction while Sean provided strong pressure to my lower back. He was my savior. From about 6:00am to 10:00am Sean was right there with me during each contraction providing pressure. So much so that he woke up later that day with a swollen hand! I remember trying to use all of my techniques I learned in birth class, from the birth stories I read, prenatal yoga, etc. I remember saying ‘Open’ and ‘Relax’ in my mind while visualizing myself opening. I wanted so badly to be able to move my body during my contractions, but because of Baby’s heart rate drops I had to lay on my side in the bed. Side lying was where his heart rate was best, even though I had to continue switching sides because his heart rate still continued to drop. Because of having to lay in bed, I remember thinking how torturous labor was at this point. And I was thinking of my poor husband, who was exhausted from not sleeping well either, as he was giving his all to help me. I didn’t think this was how labor was supposed to go. I was exhausted. I was having negative thoughts and I even remember questioning why we even got pregnant. I didn’t see an end to the labor and I couldn’t imagine being able to push a baby out with my energy level being so low. By this point, the midwife Jo decided to check me. I remember her telling the nurse I was ‘thick’ and 4cm. I knew I wasn’t supposed to focus on the numbers, but I couldn’t help it. I started to do the math in my mind of all the hours we had been in labor and how little I was dilated. 10cm seemed so far away. And Baby’s heart rate was dropping throughout, which had me worried about him. At this time, the epidural was being talked about. My plan with the epidural going into birth was to only do it if labor was extremely long and I wasn’t progressing. I had hopes the epidural would help me progress. Maybe it would help me relax, even though I thought I was doing a really great job of working through contractions and not tensing up during them. I was also considering Sean. The only way I could have continued was with his physical pressure on my back and I could tell he was so exhausted. So I decided to do the epidural and was excited for some relief. And let me tell you, it was amazing. I had heard from other women the epidural can hurt when the needle goes in, but not at all for me. I had instant relief and I was still able to move my feet. This allowed me to relax in bed and attempt to sleep. I knew I needed sleep if I was going to push Baby out. I remember looking over at Sean at this point. He was sitting next to me, face down on the bed with a cup of coffee in his hand. The nurse Kris had to wake him up and tell him to go take a nap on the side bed. I remember feeling so sad about this. He was so tired but still wouldn’t leave my side. It was moments like this that made me have a whole new appreciation for the man that he is and made me feel lucky to have such a supportive partner. I could have never gone through labor and birth without him. This experience brought gratitude for our relationship that I didn’t expect. So, for the next few hours I laid in bed, still having to alternate sides to avoid heart rate drops. I wasn’t able to sleep, but I was able to relax thanks to the epidural. I then had to start wearing an oxygen mask to help Baby. I was feeling delirious and hungry, but you can’t eat once you’re given the epidural. They did give me apple juice however. My fever was also increasing. I was having chills. They said if my fever got to a 100.4, then I would be diagnosed with an infection and Baby would have to be taken to the NICU for 2 days after birth. I did not want to be separated from my Baby after birth. Around 1:00pm, the Midwife Jo returned and decided to check me. I was still 4cm. I was so discouraged. And my fever was a 100.3, almost to the 100.4 point which scared me. Jo began discussing options with us. She said she hated saying the words, but a C-section may be our best option at this point given my increasing fever, baby’s heart rate drops during contractions, and lack of progression with dilation. When she said C-section, I had honestly seen the writing on the wall hours before, even though C-section was the last thing I wanted. I wanted so badly to have the moment where I push my baby out using all my feminine strength, just like I had seen in all the birth videos and read about in stories. I was realizing a different type of birth was in store for me. I knew though, if I let my emotions take over, I would have lost control.

This is where our Intuitive Birth class kicked in again. In class, we were given the assignment to consider our best and worst case birth scenario. Besides death (sorry dramatic!), my worst case scenario would have been to have no support, be given no options during the process and to lose control emotionally. So, I did my best to think objectively. We had to roll with the punches. We had to think about NOW and make each decision as they came along – not worry about the future or grieve the past. I looked at Sean and we both decided C-section was best at this point. The next hour or two was a whirlwind. The OB, Dr. Bales, came into the room and introduced herself. She explained the C-section briefly and the risks involved. I had never had surgery before, besides my wisdom teeth. As she was talking I was trying to comprehend that this was actually going to happen. It was surreal. They then began to prep me for surgery. Took all my jewelry and wheeled my bed away. Sean had to stay back and join separately. That was very hard to separate from him. Again, I couldn’t let myself think or feel too hard otherwise I would have lost control. When he said ‘I love you’ as I was wheeled away, I could barely say the words back. I remember trying to keep my mind off things by engaging in conversations with nurses, etc. We would joke about their driving skills with the bed. When we arrived in the surgery room, the lights were bright and the room was white. There were so many people in the room. Respiratory, NICU, nurses, anesthesia, etc. Everyone was so efficient moving about the room, occasionally coming by to introduce themselves to me. I had watched a few C-section birth videos, so I somewhat knew what to expect. That’s when I saw my Midwife Tess! She had come back to the hospital, in her street clothes, to be there for the birth! I couldn’t believe it. It was so comforting to see her. She joked and said she would be my ‘doula.’ Again, seeing her face was getting me to that emotional breaking point of crying. So I had to push those emotions aside. I think so many moments like these of putting my emotions on hold, even though some were very happy and positive, poured out on me the days after birth. I was so thankful for Tess to be there to explain what was happening and support me while Sean was being prepped. Everyone else in the room had a job, but Tess’s job was about Me. Even small things she did, such as cover my breasts while on the surgery table, meant so much to me. Once in the surgery room, anesthesia had me sit up and curl my back again so I could be numbed. Sean still wasn’t in the room yet, so our nurse Kris held my hands and put her head against mine while he did this. It was support from people like Kris that made me grateful for all of the people in my birth. The numbing kicked in quickly. They then transferred me to the surgery bed, put my arms out (almost like Jesus on a cross haha) and put a blue sheet in front of my face so I couldn’t see the surgery. I was very shaky at this point. I could not control my arms. They assured me it was normal. So many things were happening that were out of my control that I remembered I could always go back to my breathing.

Even though I wasn’t having a contraction, I treated the C-section room like a contraction. I focused on my breath to help keep me calm. I remembered our mindfulness techniques and focused on the NOW. Another nurse then asked what kind of music I like. I was kind of confused and surprised by the question! But I told her Chris Stapleton and she played it over the speakers for me during the whole surgery. I will forever love the song ‘Millionaire’ by him and will never be able to listen to it with a dry eye from now on! That’s when Sean came in the room with all his gear. Hearing his voice alone was going to get me to lose it. I also remember him saying ‘I’m so sorry you have to go through this’ while crying. This was honestly one of the first times I had ever seen Sean cry in the 9+ years of knowing him. Again, I had to compartmentalize my emotions. They then started rubbing my belly down with a brownish colored liquid, I’m assuming to sterilize. I couldn’t feel it, but could feel the pressure of them rubbing. When the surgery started, I just remember feeling weird pulling/tugging sensations. No pain. After a few minutes of this, they removed the window cover in the blue tarp covering my face from seeing the surgery and the surgeon held up our Baby!

The second I saw him I was so overwhelmed I started crying and closed my eyes. I couldn’t believe this was real! He had a good strong cry. Sean was then escorted over to the side to be with him. Sean immediately started talking to him and calling him by his name. It was so sweet to hear him say ‘Hi Harvey! Hey Bud!’ It was comforting knowing at least Sean could be with him right away. I didn’t see the pictures until later, but during this time Sean was cutting the cord. The surgeon also told me that we made the right decision. She said Harvey was ‘sunny side up’ (face up) and the cord was knotted and wedged between his head and my pelvis. This was potentially the reason for the heart rate drops during contractions. They then brought Harvey over to me and placed him on my chest. He immediately stopped crying and was looking at my face. His body was so warm. It was such a special feeling. It made me feel like everything we had been through during labor was all worth it. Even though Harvey’s birth experience was not what I had in mind, I truly felt like we did everything we could to achieve my ideal birth. So, I have no regrets but I do still mourn the birth experience I didn’t have. Most people say ‘All that matters is a healthy mother and baby’ and while of course that’s true, I feel like that statement discredits the emotions I feel about not having the birth I dreamed of. I’m also realizing, even though I didn’t get to have the strong physical moment of pushing him into the world, I used strength in a different way throughout the experience.

Harvey James Rutten Born 12/22/18 at 2:13pm8 lbs 10 oz 21 ¼ in long

“I adapt with grace to any situation.”

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