Thursday, February 2, 2012

Eleanor's Birth Story

Happy Thursday, everybody!
Hope you are doing well.  Things here have settled into a nice routine along with some extra fun here and there.  There's been a little chess.
We've made some innovations with quinoa.  
And Razi has become a bit of a babysitter.
I went on my first postpartum run (yes almost two full months after being cleared for exercise.) and it was a breeze, though my abs are sore.  
Today, I'm going to tell you how our little girl got from here
 to here.
But I'm going to do it after the jump.  Birth stories are the very essence of TMI, and if that's not your kind of thing, please scroll on down and check out my last post about tortilla chips (which are SO good) or check out thekitchn, if you want something fun and food related to read.
I've had this post rolling around in my brain for weeks now.  At first I debated about posting it at all, given that this is a food blog, but I have decided that I think it's important to do so.  It's first important to me because there's something very therapeutic about sharing my birth story, something that helps me understand and contextualize the experience. (I also don't really remember it that well. Isn't that incredible? Birth amnesia is REAL.) 
The second reason I want to share my birth story is that I think that conversations like this one (and like that of the mastitis I was unlucky enough to suffer) are important to have.  There is an overwhelming amount of negativity surrounding birth in American culture, and it's something that we often don't talk about with our friends and family.  (There were significant parts of both of my sisters' birth experiences, some of which were absolutely shocking, that I had no idea about until I started preparing for Eleanor's birth.)  For some reason, it's something we just don't talk about that much, and I think that needs to change.  
I was very lucky to have an easy pregnancy.  I felt good and managed to stay very active, continuing to run and do yoga well into my third trimester.  Other than some mild edema in the last few weeks, I had absolutely no negative side effects of pregnancy, aside from major sugar cravings.    
I was completely prepared to stay pregnant for the full 42 weeks.  We were in no hurry to get her out, and other than my swollen feet, I felt remarkably good and could have stayed pregnant for much longer.  
When I was 39 weeks and 3 days pregnant, we planted some bulbs in the front yard.  As usual, I had crammed my day full of activity and we were outside digging and watering until well after dark.  We went inside and headed to bed around 11.  (Note to pregnant people: go to bed early.)
I woke up around 1 a.m. and realized that either I had peed my pants or my water had broken without me realizing it.  There was no huge gush like in the movies, so we weren't even sure that it was my water.  (The fact that I was 39 weeks pregnant should have been a strong hint, but denial is a powerful thing.)
We went into the hospital after taking our time to shower and pack up.  When we got there we were checked in to triage and baby girl was monitored for a while while I tried in vain to sleep.  She was a little upset about having her comfy water sack removed and we had to stay in triage until her heart rate slowed down a bit.
We were then moved into our room in labor and delivery.  It was clear at this point that I was still not in labor.  This sucked.  I thought that as soon as my water broke contractions would begin, but no labor pattern emerged in spite of some major effort on my part for a few hours.  My efforts produced contractions but nothing that could be called labor.
We had spent my entire pregnancy preparing for an unmedicated, unaugmented birth, but it became clear that I was just not going into labor on my own.
I was told that I was free to continue to keep trying to get myself into labor on my own but that it was unlikely, and that we were of course at a risk of infection since my water had broken.  We made the decision to accept pitocin, synthetic oxytocin, the hormone that stimulates uterine contractions.
I confess; I cried.  I had a small breakdown in our room, so upset that my body wasn't doing what I thought it should, feeling like I wasn't going to get the chance to let my body labor the way I had expected it to.  (I was also upset at how unlucky I felt. Only around 10% of women experience a rupture of their membranes before they're in labor. It was a fear I'd had throughout my pregnancy, especially when a friend of mine experienced it and ended up with a c-section.)  I was very nervous about my ability to labor without pain medication because I had heard how terrible contractions on pitocin would be, and that being dilated by means of the baby's head instead of the bag of waters could be more painful.
I am so thankful for the amazing nurse who was taking care of me at that point.  When we decided to start the pitocin I was clearly very upset and afraid that it would lead to further interventions, especially because I'd heard that hospitals give a time limit for births that begin with ruptured membranes since the risk for infection is so much higher.  But this nurse looked me in the eyes and promised me that I was under no time constraints and assured me that what she and everyone else there wanted for me was the birth I had in mind and they would do everything they could to help us get there.  I have a very vivid memory of her looking at me deeply and feeling so comforted and cared for at a time when I really needed it.
I know every pregnant woman worries so much about the doctor or midwife that they choose, but truthfully it's the nurses who are with you throughout labor and delivery, and who affect your birth most deeply, in my experience.  We got very lucky and had three nurses who were absolutely fantastic.
We started the pit drip around 7:30 a.m..  This was somewhat frustrating because I had to have an IV in my arm and continuous monitoring, more things that I had not envisioned for myself, but they turned out to be no problem at all. I was still entirely mobile, including having the freedom to labor in the tub.
Labor got going around 9 a.m. and I settled into the work, spending a lot of my time bent over the birth ball on the back of the bed.
Having something to focus on, and really feeling like I was in labor, erased all the issues I had been dealing with. I was ready to get this done.  The nurses administered the pitocin very judiciously, starting at the lowest possible dose and only using as much as I needed.  For those who know, they never set the drip above 10, which is quite low.  Luckily, my body responded very favorably to the induction.
 After a few hours things were starting to get tough.  I was getting tired and wasn't sure if I'd made any progress.  (The friend I mentioned above who started in the same situation as I did labored with pitocin for hours only to find out she had made 0 progress the entire time.)  I was afraid to do so, but I asked to be checked for progress.  This was my first cervical check ever.  The midwife came and told me that I was 5 cm dilated and 100% effaced.  (Sitting on the bed to be checked was the worst! I was only comfortable moving around.)  This was great news.  It gave me a surge of energy, and I felt like I was going to be able to keep going knowing this.
At that point she suggested I try the tub.  I was working quite hard at this point and decided it was time to call our doula.  (A doula is a birth assistant.  She deals with non-medical support before, during, and after labor.  My doula is an expert in birth movement for hospital births.)  
She arrived and I was in the tub.  She quickly came in and set a great mood in the bathroom for me, with lavender essential oils and calming music.  While I labored in the tub, she approached me and said that a birth photographer had missed a birth next door and wanted to know if we'd be interested in having our birth photographed gratis so the photographer could build her portfolio.  Between contractions I said "sure" and didn't think about the photographer for the rest of the day.  I knew that she was there, but I barely noticed her.  (In fact, I introduced myself to her after Eleanor came out.)  While a birth photographer is something I would have never thought of asking for, the photos of the birth are absolutely priceless and I feel SO lucky that she happened to join us that day.  We now have beautiful photographs these important moments to cherish and share with E when she grows up.
The last part of this stage of labor was difficult.  The contractions were intense and my husband and doula talked me through each one.  They helped me stay relaxed through visualizations, more lavender oil, and calming touch on my forehead where I hold my tension.  
We prepared for the birth by taking Bradley Method classes which taught us that complete relaxation between contractions would help conserve energy.  I focused on taking slow deep breaths.  I did do some vocalizing, but it was very low and quiet.  Before I knew it, I was in transition.  (A mere 2 hours after that check putting me at a 5!)  I was in first stage labor only for around 7 hours.    
Luckily, transition was not the nightmare I'd expected.  While my contractions were intense, I was completely and utterly relaxed between them.  In fact, I think I lost consciousness. I remember knowing that there were other people in the room, but I was entirely focused inward.  
Then, it was time to push.  Initially it felt so much better than first stage labor.  I had something to do, something to put my energy into other than just riding out the pain.  And this was my doula's specialty: helping me move around to get the baby out as quickly as possible.  My husband took this panorama between contractions.  I am holding on to the squat bar, my doula and the nurse are watching, and the photographer is in the background.  I think you can see on everyone's faces what kind of an environment it was.  Everything was very calm and quiet.  
So I pushed. And pushed and pushed and pushed. I pushed everywhere in that room.  My doula was my guidance at this point, telling me what to do, which was exactly what I needed.  Without her help at this stage in my labor, I think I would have very likely ended up with a c-section.  My midwife came to check me after 2 hours of pushing and said I still had a long way to go.  Because they knew we weren't interested in interventions, the staff let me, my husband, and our doula work quietly on our own.  I have never worked harder in my entire life.  I was dripping sweat and shaking from all the effort.  Something was keeping me from making it to the final part of labor.  We think baby had her hand up next to her face, which was making it incredibly difficult to move her down.
After 4.5 hours of pushing, I was offered vacuum assistance to get her out.  Basically, when the baby is coming out, each push gets them a little further but they slide back.  The vacuum is a soft cup that helps keep baby from sliding back with each push.
We consented to the vacuum because I just wasn't confident that I could push her out on my own.  Going through labor is the hardest thing I've ever done, and I did it all on essentially no sleep since my water broke so early.  Within two or three contractions of consenting, the room turned into an operating room and was filled with OBs.  (Frankly I have no idea how many people were there. I was just focused on the great doctor who was working with me.)
They told me I had a chance with the vacuum but if it didn't work they'd have to give me an emergency c-section, so I had to make it count.  I vividly remember the pause leading up to that contraction. I was so exhausted, so ready to meet her.  My contractions came a couple minutes apart throughout labor, but they had become more difficult to feel in the pushing stage.  I wanted to be sure that I didn't try to push until I really felt it start to peak.  Those quiet two minutes felt like hours.  The contraction came, I started pushing, and with a whole room of people cheering me on, I birthed our daughter.
She was perfectly healthy when she came out, but she didn't cry.  She was just plain happy.  She was so incredibly alert, watching everything around her, staring at me.  Her demeanor might just be a part of her personality, but it also may be attributed to the fact that I had no pain medication throughout the labor.  I am very glad I did, because if I'd gotten an epidural, I would have been bound to the bed.  If I hadn't done all that moving and pushing, I'm not sure the vacuum would have been an option.  Her apgar scores were fantastic and she was returned to me within a few minutes and didn't leave my side after that.
The third stage of my labor, delivering the placenta, also came with complications.  My placenta didn't fully detach.  I accepted pain medication on the advice of my doula and midwife and the obstetrician removed the placenta.  It was by far the most painful part of my labor, and I was thankful to be in the hospital when it happened.
We were given as much time as we needed to quietly stay in the labor and delivery room and soak in our new baby.  I kept looking around, feeling like what had just happened to me was a dream.  I couldn't believe that she was finally here.
Then we were moved to the mother and baby unit.  The rest of our stay at the hospital was pleasant and we took full advantage of all the help they had to offer, but we were so ready to go home when the time came..
For us, parenting has been a process of getting to know our baby, and her getting to know us.
We've practiced breastfeeding in public for the fresh air.
Celebrating her firsts.
And trying our best to still enjoy the finer things in life while taking care of her.
Truthfully, it's the most fun I have ever had. 
Thank you for reading my birth story.  I would be honored to hear yours, on your blog or to my email.


Carrie said...

You're one fierce, awesome, amazing woman, Alicia Rose.

Cameron Lilley said...

Oh my gosh Alicia. I just love, love, LOVE this!!! I love that you felt so strongly about your birth plan and were brave enough to stick to despite obvious road blocks. I love how serendipitous it was to have the birth photographer there at the right place, price and time. I love your dedication to the process. And I love that Eleanor was welcomed into this world in such a natural, peaceful, and joyous way. E is going to cherish having this story written down for her and it inspires me to do thesame for my little ones. You are right, birth amnesia does exist ;) Thank you for sharing. Hope you three continue to enjoy every new moment. Looking forward to meeting the little sweet pea. Sending lots of love from San Diego XOXO

Amanda said...

I've read your blog for a while, but never commented. I just want to thank you for sharing this story and going outside the comfort zone of food. You never know who is reading and this came at just the right time for my husband and I putting together our birthing plan. Thank you for the encouragement to stick to your beliefs as a woman and mother. A beautiful and inspiring story, I can't thank you enough for bravely sharing!

Maicokid said...

Few people make the most of their lives. We are proud that you are one of them. Nana and Papa

Alicia Ambler said...

Thank you all so much for your comments. They mean the world to me.

Anna @ On Anna's Plate said...

I just found your blog through your comment on HTP-- thank you so much for sharing! My husband and I are expecting our first child (a girl) in the next month or so (due date March 31st), and reading this was so helpful. We're taking Bradley classes, but giving birth at a hospital, so I've been feeling more and more anxious about how it's going to go down. While I know there's no way to know how it's going to go, your story gives me hope that I CAN give birth naturally in the hospital. Thanks again for sharing!

laura said...

Good work! Both on the baby and the story.

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