In the almost four years it's been since I gave birth to my first daughter, I realized I've actually never written it down and shared it with other people. After listening to some of the amazing birth stories on the podcast The Birth Hour, and knowing the power of stories, I knew that I wanted to share mine with you all.
We were very blessed to have had a honeymoon baby, of which we found out about very early. I, unfortunately, suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum, a rare pregnancy condition where 1-3% of women suffer from in which you get sick for most if not the entire pregnancy. This is no morning sickness, nor even the all-day sickness that most women feel during pregnancy. This was losing 10-15 pounds in a matter of one week, in and out of the hospital for severe dehydration, constant medication, and only getting out of bed to dart straight to the bathroom. Since it was my first pregnancy, I thought this was normal. Many doctors that I saw during my first trimester told me that it was just morning sickness and that it would go away after a while. Finally, one doctor by about the second emergency room run, explained what HG is and how nothing would help besides hydration and medication. It's safe to say, pregnancy was not my forte.
There were many beautiful moments though, and I was happy to say that by about halfway through I did manage to come out of HG symptoms, for the most part, having to only take nausea medication every once in a while for the remainder of the pregnancy. On this plus side, I had to play major catch up with the weight gain, so ice cream every night was a dream! In the midst of starting to feel better, Nick and I did have to make our very first move (first of five....so far) from Virginia to Pittsburgh. I will say one of my proudest moments of that pregnancy was waking up that morning at my brother and sister-in-law's place on the other side of the city, taking medicine, promptly throwing it up then came down the stairs saying, "let's do this thing," hopping into our rental truck and driving it into the heart of Pittsburgh where we moved in that day.
While I hated living in the city, I was happy to have Magee Women's Hospital, a great Pittsburgh Hospital right down the road from us, about 10 minutes with the lights and about 5 without, so I was definitely feeling more confident. However, I will say that while I knew of one other woman who was pregnant at the same time as me, I didn't really have any friends who either had a baby before or were pregnant at the same time. I was young, 22, and just gotten married, the first of my friends. The concept of birth was very foreign to me, and I didn't really have anything to go off of except for Pam and Jim's birth episode from the Office. I wasn't afraid of labor or birth, I mean why should I be, it was going to happen regardless of if I wanted it to or not, so why waste time fearing it? Truth be told, I didn't even take a childbirth class because I figured my body would know what to do. I mean, everyone I kept telling me that I would 'just know' when I was in labor, so it would know what to do right?
One random thing about my pregnancy was during an early ultrasound, they found that the baby had a two-vessel cord. Usually, the umbilical cord will have three vessels in it; two for blood inflow, and one for outflow. In my case, the cord has one inflow and one outflow. Due to the cord, I was then considered a higher risk pregnancy, since it does have the ability to affect the baby's growth. Other than that, we had a healthy baby and an overall healthy pregnancy.
We did want to know whether we were having a boy or girl. There were a couple of reasons for this. Nick and I are very impatient people, so waiting was too hard for us. Plus we wanted to start to call our baby by name and be able to pray for him/her by name. We found out that we were having a little girl, and both of us couldn't be more excited. I was especially excited because my husband and I had made a little deal. We are big NFL football fans, him with the Philadephia Eagles and me with the Dallas Cowboys. They are big rivals in the league and we had to come to an agreement on who would get to have a little fan with them come next football season. The deal resulted in the firstborn girl being a Cowboys fan with mommy, and a little cowboys fan I was getting!
The Final Days
As the third trimester hit, I was in more frequently for check-ups with the doctor so they could watch her growth closely with the two-vessel cord. I had to have more electronic fetal monitoring each visit as well, which means they would hook me up to the heartbeat machine to listen to her heartbeat for about 20 minutes each visit to make sure she was still getting enough blood flow. Everything was looking fine, so they were able to back off some of the checks during the last couple of visits which was nice.
And then, the waiting game really began.
At my 39 week check-up, the doctor was convinced that she wouldn't see me at my next scheduled appointment for 40 weeks. I was already 3 cm dilated and pretty well effaced, so after the standard checkup, we said our goodbyes of what I thought was my last prenatal appointment.
Boy was I wrong.
That week, I was up almost every night with Braxton hicks contractions, causing both myself and Nick to stress out, timing them on and off to the point where I just didn't care anymore. It became our nightly ritual to play Mario Kart to take my mind off of the contractions. Now looking back on it, I do think I was having prodromal labor, since the contractions would be pretty constant like active labor contractions, but would never increase in intensity.
My 40-week appointment came and went with the doctor saying the same thing again: any day now. I had already slowed down from working some, had everything packed and prepped by now, but still, nothing had changed. The practice contractions were still happening every night, or if I was lucky, every other night, but nothing progressed past that. I was going on a long walk every day (when it wasn't freezing since it was the middle of February in Pittsburgh), but nothing progressed.
Then the dreaded 41-week appointment that no pregnant lady wants to attend. I mean I was eight days past my due date! How was that even possible, I thought babies just came on their date, maybe one day or so late, but one whole week? I walked into my appointment, sat down in the room waiting for the doctor. When she walked in, she looked at the chart, looked up at me, and the first thing out of her mouth was, "why are you here?" I looked back at her and the first thing out of my mouth was, "I don't know you're the doctor here you tell me." Turns out, I was almost 5cm dilated, and nothing had started yet. No water breaking, no mucus plug, no bloody show, absolutely no signs of labor that could be starting any day now.
"Well, let's give it one more day, then you'll come back in tomorrow afternoon and we'll see how everything is looking and then look at scheduling an induction. I don't think we'll need to do that though, since I think you'll just go into labor on your own by tonight."
So the next afternoon, I came waddling back in the room, where she was again surprised to see me. As a first time mom, this was incredibly hard for me. I felt as if I had done something wrong to not allow labor to start. Why was I making the doctor so surprised every visit? Was I missing something that I should have been doing to make things move along faster or better? These were all the frustrating thoughts I had while she called down to labor and delivery in the hospital to see about scheduling an induction. I didn't really know what this was, so she explained to me that they would help progress labor along more quickly with the use of medication to help start the contractions. I was excited to finally meet my baby, so I said let's go for it! The doctor then said that we would receive a call at any point in the middle of the night if they had a free room in L&D for us to come in, so keep our phones up. While I wasn't thrilled about it being in the middle of the night, I was just excited to finally have an end date in sight.
The call never came.
Nick and I must have woken up every hour to check my phone to see if the hospital had called about us coming in. I never heard anything; no call or text happened all night. We didn't get much sleep that night either. Finally, 8 am rolled around and Nick finally called the hospital to see why we had not received a phone call at all that night. Turns out, the delivery floor was full the entire night and there was just no room for us. There was finally room that morning, so we packed up the car and drove over to the hospital.
Throughout the night and into the morning I had been feeling very crampy. I have severe period cramps due to endometriosis, so it wasn't any worse than that, but nonetheless, it was still uncomfortable where I just wanted to curl up in a ball. We finally got checked in and into our labor room where I changed into the lovely gown and got situated for my IV. I had had several of these throughout the course of my pregnancy due to HG, so IV's at this point didn't phase me. The doctor came in to check my dilation prior to starting medication to see what would be needed. I was already at 5cm almost 6cm and was only feeling mild cramping. At this point I was hooked up to all the monitors and the nurse, with an amazing Texas drawl might I add, was surprised and told me that I was having small contractions now. "Do you feel them?" I responded that all I had was pretty intense cramping, but like I normally do when I have my period. Apparently, that was my body beginning labor, so they decided to put me on a low dosage of medication to help move labor along a little faster. At this point, it was about 10 am when I started the medication. After I was all hooked up, I did request to have an epidural. My mom had an epidural during both her deliveries with myself and my brother, so I thought this was the normal thing to do during birth. I also thought it was normal to labor and deliver in the hospital bed as well. (Little did I know at the time...)
I've been in the hospital so many times during my life that needles and procedures don't really phase me much anymore. Even with the size of the epidural needle, I wasn't afraid at all. It went in fine on the first try and I could start to feel the effects on my legs. While I did feel numbness, I could still feel things happening, so I could still feel my legs and I could definitely feel the contractions as they were starting to ramp up. By the time I realized and told the nurse, it was too late in labor for them to try again. So a partial epidural would have to be it.
By about 1 pm, I was in the thick of things. My contractions were coming one after another. I was also being moved from one side to the other every 20-30 minutes or so to keep me moving while having my partial epidural. While I couldn't feel everything to the maximum strength, I still could feel a lot and didn't really know how else to manage the pain, except through breathing and holding (really squeezing) Nick's hand when the contraction would come. I did have a lull just after 1 pm (which I now know can happen during labor when the body is preparing to transition to the pushing stage) so I told Nick it was okay to run downstairs to get food for lunch and run right back. The nurse was super kind and wanted to stay with me (I was the favorite among the ladies in the hall that day for her, and she was rooting for me to have my baby first so she could stay with me longer). While Nick was gone, I did have the urge to use the bathroom but didn't think anything of it. At that point, the doctor came in to check on me since it had been a couple of hours and found that I was at 10 cm and ready to push. Right after the doctor finished checking, Nick walked back into the room with his food as everyone turns to him saying, she's ready to push! Nick stands there, not really believing what he was hearing, since it had been only 10 minutes since he had left, but here we were ready to have our baby girl.
With the partial epidural, I could feel myself pushing, but alas, I didn't really know how to push effectively. I pushed on my back since that was the only way I thought a woman could push during delivery, plus with the epidural, I wasn't able to stand up or move. With each push, I could feel myself getting more and more tired, and more and more frustrated with not seeing, hearing, or even feeling any progress being made. I was able to rest some in between pushes, but as the time hit two hours of pushing, I was really feeling defeated, feeling once again like I was failing to let my body do what it was meant to do.
As the time reached the two-hour mark, the doctor and nurse suggested trying to get me into a new position to push, when all of the sudden I gave one good push, and she moved down! After that, it was a couple more pushes and she was here! She came out sunny side up, which means she was facing down instead of up, which could explain why pushing took longer than expected.
Our little Lily was finally here.
They wiped her up and put her on my chest right after birth and man was it love at first sight! I will never forget looking at her and meeting her face to face for the very first time. Even now at 3.5 years later I look back on those first photos and can see her, my little girl in that tiny babyface. It is a moment in time that will always stand still for me, a beautiful moment of our family for the first time that I will absolutely never forget!
Our hospital stay was very interesting, to say the least...
February 22nd ended up being a 70-degree day, very unusual for Pittsburgh, but what made it even more comical was that the hospital had scheduled its air conditioning repair for the building for that week months in advance. So it was 70 degrees outside, I had hormones rushing through me and sweating already post-birth, and now there was no way to get cool except for the huge fans the staff had set up in the hallways to try to move air around to make things less humid and hot. Something I never, ever expected in the middle of winter!
I ended up having a 2nd-degree tear, which means that I needed quite a bit of stitches after, so I knew the healing process would be a bit. However, one of the biggest struggles I had post-birth was breastfeeding. Bless the hearts of the nursing staff who all came to help me during my hospital stay, I know they were well-intentioned, but I was so overwhelmed by all the different types of advice they all kept giving me towards making breastfeeding work. One was convinced that the football hold was THE way to go and nothing else, another said the cross the body hold worked well too, another suggested doing a laid back hold, all within the first hour of having Lily. I was so overwhelmed! I did get her to latch okay in the beginning but definitely needed the assistance of a nipple shield for quite some time.
Postpartum went pretty well for me. I was lucky and so blessed to have my mom come up for a week to stay with Nick and me to help take care of myself and Lily once Nick's paternity leave ended. We also had some amazing friends who set us up a meal train to bring us plenty of nutritious food for weeks! That was something I will never forget was not having to cook or even clean up after meals! I will always help out with meals now for moms and hope to promote that among other new moms and young adults as well now. Breastfeeding was still a battle, as I went to see a lactation consultant at the pediatrician's at least once a week for a month. Between getting comfortable with how to feed, to trying to get her latch, to also having to pump to keep up supply, it was exhausting! I did this for almost two months, and just as I was getting to hang of things...
Yup, I never thought I would feel something worse than labor and birth, but kidney stones is no joke! Nothing takes the pain away, nothing helps it to move down the path, and you definitely don't get to take home a cute baby after all the pain is done. I was in the hospital for almost three days with excruciating pain from the stone, the pain of which I thought someone was straight up stabbing me continuously in the lower back. Finally, after three days of seeing if I would pass it on my own, I was developing a fever, which meant that infection was setting in. Surgery would have to happen. So I was scheduled to have my surgery a week later, which was an easy recovery itself, but having two major recoveries in two months, definitely don't recommend. Nick was amazing during that time, not only balancing visiting me in the hospital but also taking care of Lily by himself at night and coordinating with family and friends to watch her while I was in the hospital and having my surgery. Unfortunately with that, I lost all my supply during my stay in the hospital, so bottle it was for the rest of the infant days.
Overall, my birth experience was fine, it is mine that I will always have and remember. There are parts I want to go back and redo and change based on things I know now, but other parts I wouldn't change for the world.
Things I would recommend especially to first-time moms:
*Take a childbirth class, whether in person or online!
*Research your options for intervention or pain management so you know more of what
is going on and what questions to ask during everything
* Seek out other birth stories to read or listen to
* Talk to other women who have given birth if you can, especially positive experiences
* Drink lemon water during pregnancy! It helps to prevent extra calcium build up that
can cause kidney stones during or after pregnancy.
Questions about my birth or the choices I made or advice I'd give? Leave a comment below!