Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Birth of Eric James

Before I dive into this, I think I have to mention that today is my birthday! I knew this birthday would not bring any sort of big celebration, considering that I anticipated having a two-week-old at this point, but I certainly didn't expect to be spending my 32nd birthday in the hospital with said newborn. Not exactly the party I always dreamed of, you know? BUT, E.J. is doing very well. He hasn't had a fever since Thursday night, he's eating and sleeping well, his white blood cell counts are back to the normal range and the nurses removed the last of his monitors last night, so I can finally snuggle him without worrying about disconnecting any wires. Later today Eric and Ellie will come by to celebrate with me, too. So, all in all, not a bad day!

Alright, let's talk other E.J. news - let's talk birth story! It seems fitting to talk about birth on my birthday, yes? This will be long, of course. (Not three-parter long like Ellie's birth story, but long!)

The short version, in case you'd rather not read this whole thing: I went into labor at 2:00 a.m. on Thursday, July 3rd and labored at home for 21 hours (in pursuit of a VBAC), until my water broke just before 11:00 p.m. I went to the hospital at 9cm, spent a couple of hours trying to push, and ended up with an epidural to give me a rest break. After a couple hours of sleep we resumed pushing...for nearly four hours. E.J. was posterior and stuck at the pubic bone, which ultimately resulted in a repeat cesarean section after a total of 35 hours in labor (27 of them unmedicated). It was an exhausting experience but very, very worth it in the end!

Now, for the detailed version:

When I left off in my "Waiting for E.J." post, it was the night of Wednesday, July 2. We had just turned off Harry Potter with a half hour of movie left to go, because it was about 11:00 p.m. and we were pretty tired. Off to bed!

I was still having occasional painful contractions but for the most part, I was able to sleep through them and they didn't seem to be coming with any real timeable regularity. Ellie made noise at about 1:00 a.m. that woke me up but I dozed off again until 2:00 a.m. At that point, the contractions were picking up in frequency and intensity enough that I could no longer just sleep through them (though I certainly tried!). Around 2:20, Eric started timing some of them in bed, and at about 3:00 I decided to get up and style my hair. Vanity, my friends. It hit me. I remembered feeling so gross by the end of Ellie's birth, and although I had no illusions about looking glamorous immediately after E.J. was born (thank goodness, because I would've been sorely disappointed), I did want to start the process off feeling like myself. So, the hair had to be done.

My hair styling proved to be a nice contraction management technique, as I much preferred to manage the contractions by standing (just like my previous labor). So, I would curl my hair a bit, then pause to hold on to the bathroom counter and sway through a contraction, then resume the hair styling. I was also Facebook messaging with my sister in Japan, because I knew if it was 3:00 a.m. here it was 4:00 p.m. there, so she was definitely awake. She was very excited that labor seemed to have started!

Even after I finished my hair I tried to hang out in the bathroom a little while longer - I wanted to give Eric at least an hour to sleep if I could. During this hour I also lost my mucus plug, and for the first time I started to really let myself think that things might be happening.

By about 4:00, I was tired of standing so I tried to get back in bed, but lying down through contractions was not a good time. So, back up. I tried several other positions, including kneeling on the floor in front of the bed or glider, but the best was standing and holding on to E.J.'s crib.

Eric wanted to help me pass the time and take my mind off things, so he went out to the living room in two trips to get some water and his laptop so we could watch that week's episode of "The Bachelorette." What better way to distract yourself than with trashy TV, am I right? We started the show around 5:15 a.m. but my contractions started coming faster (about two minutes apart) and rather painfully at that point, so we had to stop the show after about 15 minutes because we were taking too many breaks and I couldn't focus on it.

And so the morning wore on. My contractions were coming about every two to five minutes and lasting 30 seconds to one minute each. They were far more intense than I remembered most of my contractions being last time, and I was struggling. I tried to sleep again around 7:00 a.m., but again, that proved impossible. I was already feeling tired though, and I knew I had a long road ahead. Actually, I think my body was in survival mode because I felt almost narcoleptic through much of my labor - I could fall asleep in an instant between contractions. All morning I basically perched on the edge of our bed, dozing off until a contraction started. Then I would quickly stand up, brace myself on the side of E.J.'s crib and breathe and sway until the moment passed. Eric was always right beside or behind me and often would apply pressure to my lower back/hips which was a great relief. Then, when the contraction finished, it was back onto the bed to doze off until the next one. I spent the entire morning holed up in our bedroom because my mom and Ellie were up and about in the rest of the house, and I really didn't want Ellie to see me in so much pain.

Holding on to E.J.'s crib for contraction support

Around 10:15, Eric spoke to our doula, Cloe. She told Eric that because I had not yet progressed at all as of my most recent doctor's appointment, we still probably had a lot of time left. She told him to encourage me to eat, rest and be positive. Eric was already trying to keep me hydrated and fed, and this time he made me an awesome egg sandwich. It really was delicious...even if I nearly threw it all back up while eating it during a contraction. Oopsie.

I had an appointment scheduled with my midwife at 11:30 that morning (Thursday, July 3), so off we went for that. Let me tell you, I did not enjoy the car ride. Neither did I enjoy the fact that the normally empty waiting room at my doctor's office was packed that day - they were double-booked due to being closed the next day for the Fourth of July. So, I stood and swayed and hated everything there in the waiting room for a bit, probably scaring the daylights out of all the other poor pregnant souls waiting their turn. Your day will come, ladies.

Finally the nurse caught sight of me and noticed that I was, you know, in labor. So, she got me right back to a room and the midwife, Lauren, soon joined us. As Lauren prepared to check my progress, she made sure to warn me that because of where we had started, there may not actually be much progress yet, so don't get discouraged no matter what the exam reveals. Then when she checked me she said, "ooooh, girlfriend!" and I knew it was good news: four centimeters! Already! She said it was up to us then where we wanted to labor - we could go straight to the hospital if we wanted, or could go home for a while. We were so pumped about so much progress so quickly that had we had our hospital bag with us we might have (mistakenly) gone right over to the hospital, but instead we decided to go home and call Cloe first to see what she recommended.

Eric's first labor-related text to our families

At this point, I think we were both pretty excited that things were happening, and both assumed that we would be too early for a July Fourth birthday. I had made the joke to Eric the day or so before that E.J. would be born at like 11:30 p.m. on the 3rd, just narrowly missing Independence Day. We both assumed that would be coming true!

When we got home we called Cloe. I spoke to her around 1:00 p.m., and she told me she had massage clients scheduled for 1:00 and 2:30 (she is also a massage therapist). She recommended that I still come to her for my 4:00 massage appointment (the "induction massage" was no longer necessary, but she was willing to help me relax and work some pressure points for me). That sounded like a terrible idea to me - I certainly didn't want to get back in the car if I could avoid it, and frankly, I just wanted to stay in my own home to labor. I was mid-contraction while we were discussing this, however, so I agreed to it basically just to end the conversation so I could go moan and sway in peace. Sensing that I wasn't entirely comfortable with how we left things, Cloe called back a few minutes later to tell us that she had cancelled her 2:30 massage appointment and would come over around 2:00.

Eric made me some macaroni and cheese for lunch, and Ellie was down for a nap by that point so I emerged from the bedroom and ate my lunch while bouncing on the exercise ball in the dining room. I still preferred to manage my contractions while standing, so I would get up for each one. In fact, by this point I had realized that my favorite contraction position was just where it was last time: standing and leaning into Eric. Labor, for us, is another example of how we get ourselves into perfect sync in times of stress. Eric very quickly learned the sound of my breath when a contraction was starting and would immediately come stand in front of me. I would wrap my arms around his neck and he would hold me, swaying with me and reminding me to breathe. Not only was this physically the most comfortable way for me to handle contractions, but it was also emotionally comforting and encouraging. It was such a sense of closeness with Eric, and something I'll always cherish.

"Slow-dancing" through a contraction

Cloe arrived at our apartment shortly after 2:00 p.m. and jumped right into helping me manage contractions and trying some techniques to get baby to turn, because he was still in a less-than-ideal position which was causing me the "fun" of back labor. She helped apply counter pressure to my hips while Eric was my support in front, and she also suggested I prop one foot up on a chair for contractions. After some time working like that in the dining room, Cloe suggested I try sitting on the toilet in the bathroom - I forget the reason why, but it was supposed to help in some way. Surprisingly enough, it did! My contractions felt manageable and even slowed a bit, to the point where I was basically falling asleep on the toilet. I was so tired.

Sensing that, Cloe suggested I try to relax in bed a little bit again, with her help. She made me a nice little nest with pillows and blankets and a big inflatable peanut (for lack of a better way to describe it) to hold between my legs. She had me lay on my side with my back to her and she turned down the lights, turned on some soft music and massaged me while I tried to doze off. She encouraged me to "go in" and relax and let my body do the work. I'll be honest - I don't know what kind of witchcraft it was, but it worked. I'm not sure how or why, but I was able to relax and essentially ignore my contractions and get some rest. Every now and then a tough contraction would hit and I would come out of whatever trance I was in, and I would be in full-blown panic mode, struggling more than ever with the contraction at hand. But Cloe was always able to calm me and get me back to that peaceful place. If I hadn't experienced it myself, I never would have thought it possible.

I rested like that from shortly after 3:00 p.m. until about 5:00 p.m., and then I'd had enough. We decided then to go for a little walk around the neighborhood to try to get things moving faster again. On our way out, Ellie caught sight of me. I missed her so much through the day so I went into her room to say hello to her, but a contraction came soon and I quickly left so she couldn't see me, and managed the contraction silently so she wouldn't hear. I was impressed with my ability to control myself even through those painful contractions, and I was glad Ellie hadn't witnessed it in full force. We left then and walked a pretty short distance while sucking on lollipops and sipping on water, stopping every so often to breathe and sway through contractions. It was drizzling a little bit but we walked anyway.

We returned home shortly and had a little something to eat. Ellie was having her dinner then, so we snagged a little of that: a piece of pizza and some applesauce. Ellie caught sight of me and I heard her say, "Want to see Mama again!" I just hated being so close to her but forcing myself to keep my distance.

We then went back out for a little longer walk, which included almost getting hit by a golf ball thanks to some punks hitting balls at the sand volleyball court by the main complex pool. Good times!

When we got back home, Cloe suggested we try some positioning work to try to get baby to flip. She made a little bed for me on the floor of the bedroom, and had Eric sit in front of me to cradle my head. She had me get down into "polar bear" position (basically, on all fours, but with my head down to the ground), and she ran a scarf under my belly to try to encourage E.J. to move. I hated the contractions in this position and although Cloe encouraged me to "go in" again here, this position did not last that long.

Trying to get baby to flip

I had many moments of weakness during this labor, if we're being honest. At the height of the contractions I would often call out that I couldn't do it, which is a terrible mindset. But I really sincerely feel that these contractions were just so much more than what I felt with Ellie, and they really came pretty consistently all day long. It was very tiring and I was really ready to be done. Whenever I would say that I couldn't do it, however, Cloe and Eric would reply with encouragement: "You can and you are!"

After the polar bear position was over, Cloe lit some (battery operated) candles to put around the bedroom and had me sit on the exercise ball, leaning over onto the bed. While I sat and rocked there, she used some oils and worked pressure points on my ankles and feet to encourage things along. Eric turned on a Pandora station for some music (he had created this station after "The Bachelorette" fell through in the morning by searching for "Moonlight Sonata," my favorite classical piece). Although I was sitting on the ball, I still had to stand for contractions and at this point I was starting to move into the "transition" stage of labor (or so I'm told, based on how the sounds I was making during contractions had changed). During one of my first strong contractions in this stage of the evening, the Pandora station was playing Pachelbel's Canon in D, which was the song I walked down the aisle to at our wedding. This brought me to tears, and I just couldn't help but cry even though Cloe had been encouraging me to not waste energy with crying. It was just such an emotional moment, standing there holding on to Eric, having him support me while I labored to bring our son into the world and this important piece of music from our wedding was playing as the soundtrack. How do you not cry at that?

Of course, the soundtrack wasn't always so beautiful and emotional - this relaxing Pandora station was regularly interrupted by 7-11 Slurpee commercials, featuring the loud, obnoxious sound of someone slurping up their Slurpee. That'll snap you right out of that beautiful moment, that's for sure!

Eventually we moved back out into the living room, where I kept "slow-dancing" with Eric through contractions. We brought the ball out there and I tried to sit and bounce between contractions but it got to the point that sitting seemed to almost trigger the contractions - every time I even started to squat down to sit, another contraction came hard and fast. They were very, very intense at that point and I was really starting to feel frantic through them, despite Eric and Cloe's comforting and encouraging words. Things were getting real and I couldn't help but keep thinking to myself, "why on earth did I ever think I wanted to know what this feels like?!"

Cloe applying counter pressure while Eric supported me

Cloe told us that she thought we really were at the point that we could go to the hospital if we wanted to, but she didn't think we needed to rush out just yet. She suggested Eric and I take a shower first, sort of as a cleansing, relaxing fresh start before the next stage of labor. I reluctantly agreed (basically, I hated everything), so Eric and I went to get towels from our bathroom to take into the guest bathroom (bigger shower, more space).

On our way to the front bathroom, while still in our bedroom, another contraction came and I grabbed onto Eric. Cloe came in from the living room and put counter pressure on my hips, as usual. Then all of a sudden, I felt a pop and a splash. My water broke, all over the carpet and both Eric and Cloe's feet (and mine too, of course!). Eric had missed out on a fun water-breaking story with Ellie's birth, but he got one this time! It was 10:50 p.m. at this point.

In light of the amniotic fluid all over my bedroom carpet, I decided to decline the shower and just go straight to the hospital. We quickly gathered up everything we needed to take with us, said good-bye to my mom and off we went. Cloe reminded us to drive slowly, and suggested I sit in the back seat so I could lay down a little if I wanted, considering that sitting still seemed to be triggering my contractions. Fortunately, Eric remembered that the on-ramp to I-95 that we would normally take was closed at night for construction (of course it was), so he and Cloe discussed an alternate route.

Another update to family

The car ride felt like a nightmare. That was when things really took a turn for the cinematic, and I was every cliche pregnant woman you see in the movies - yelling and screaming in the backseat, snapping at her husband, the works. I first made Eric turn off the radio because I just COULD NOT HANDLE THE TALKING. Then Eric tried to talk to me, and I don't even remember what the poor guy was trying to say but I'm sure it was perfectly sweet and reassuring and loving, but all I wanted was for him to STOP TALKING. (To my credit, I did apologize for asking him to stop talking as soon as the contraction passed, so at least I was aware that I was being crazy.) I also begged my contractions to PLEASE STOP until we got to the hospital. PLEASE STOP. Man, I hated that car ride.

We arrived at the hospital and I have never been so happy to get out of a car in my life. In the short distance from the car to the hospital doors, I had to stop three times for contractions. And again in the elevator. And at the check-in desk. I remember haaaaaating the check-in process. We were already pre-registered, but they still wanted me to fill out a bunch of paperwork, which included questions like date of last menstrual cycle. Which, I mean, I guess is important in this circumstance but OMG BABIES ARE COMING OUT OF ME. I DO NOT KNOW THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS RIGHT NOW. I just wanted to get to a room and STOP WITH THE QUESTIONS. Yes, everything in my head was a yell. But seriously, they couldn't have put those sorts of things on the pre-registration forms? Why now???

When we got into our room, there were already about four or five nurses buzzing around. It just felt so crowded and frantic and I hated everything. I stripped off my clothes and donned the ever-flattering hospital gown, and they tried to get me hooked up to monitors. Again, I hated the whole process because monitors required me to be in bed, which, as we know, is not how I prefer to deal with contractions. On the positive side, however, they checked my progress and as of our arrival at 11:45 p.m., I was nine centimeters! Not only was I so close, but we were going to have ourselves a Fourth of July baby after all!

Stuck in bed and hating it. Also, I was SO HOT. Eric is holding a cooling washcloth on my forehead.

After about 40 minutes (of me totally spazzing out during contractions in the bed), Eric asked the nurses if we could do intermittent monitoring so I could get out of bed. They had to keep me on the monitors, but said that I could stand next to the bed, so I did just that. My contractions were incredibly painful and my body was involuntarily pushing somewhat with each one. By 1:00 a.m., I was really starting to feel the urge to push. Baby E.J. was at a 0 or +1 station.

Cloe supporting me through a contraction

The doctor and nurses agreed to let me get back into bed and try to push to see what happened. I started out sitting up to push (the bottom of the bed goes down, making it into a chair, essentially). Then, the brought in the squat bar and I held onto that to push. At this point I remember thinking a great many not-nice things about the nurse Diana, who insisted on trying to find the baby's heartbeat with a monitor the entire time I was pushing. So, I was holding onto this bar, pushing and wanting to just GET THIS KID OUT ALREADY and she was reaching all around me, very much in my personal space, trying to find his heartbeat with the monitor. Oh, the rage. I wanted a lot of unpleasant things to happen to Diana in that moment. Sorry, Diana.

I then propped my feet up on the squat bar and tried pushing that way for a while, then I laid down while my team held my feet and legs and I tried that position for a bit. Around 4:00 a.m., baby was still sitting in a +1 station and we started to discuss getting me an epidural so I could finally rest. The thinking was, I could relax for an hour or so, get some sleep, then resume pushing all refreshed. Let me tell you, as much as I wanted an unmedicated vaginal birth, that epidural decision was a piece of cake. If I'm being honest, if we had come to the hospital earlier, I probably would've gotten the epidural long before that point. The memory of the sweet relief of the epidural is very vivid for me from my first birth, and after all those hours of intense, rapid contractions and hours of pushing this time, nobody had to ask me twice if I wanted that sweet heaven. BRING ME THE EPIDURAL.

Once that decision was made I got very impatient and thought the anesthesiologist would never show up. I hated every single contraction just that much more. We made the epidural decision around 4:30 a.m. but it was 5:30 by the time that bad boy was in place and I was happily NOT regretting every one of my life choices every two minutes with each contraction. Finally, I could get some rest. (They said they gave me a mix that was about 70% strength so that I would still feel pressure but not pain, but it felt pretty a-okay to me.)

Cloe made up the couch-bed in the room for Eric then went to get coffee. When some machine started beeping shortly thereafter, Eric was waiting for Cloe to get it before realizing she was gone. He got up to get the nurses then went back to sleep. As for me, I passed out pretty much right away and was out cold. I don't remember any beeping or any of that, although I do remember asking Cloe to take a picture of Eric sleeping at some point. I also remember that the nurses came in at some point and put an oxygen mask on me and asked me to turn on my side, presumably for the benefit of the baby. I had a similar situation during labor with Ellie. I did as requested and then was right back asleep.

Sleeping Eric

What was supposed to be an hour of rest turned into nearly four glorious hours of sleep. I woke up around 9:00 a.m. to the sounds of Dr. Adams, Eric, the nurse Karissa and Cloe whispering about me. When I opened my eyes, there they all stood and it seemed like it was basically, "Good morning! Time to push!" And just like that, I was back at it.

The morning update

During the pushing phase this time I was both loving my epidural hardcore, and glad that I had done some pushing without it the night before. With the epidural, I could feel the pressure of contractions but not the pain, and because I had already done some pushing, I knew what I was supposed to be doing, even with the decreased sensation.

And so, I pushed. And pushed. And pushed. E.J. had come down a bit while I slept but it still was not easy. The nurse and Cloe and Eric helped hold my legs while I pushed, counting to ten twice, and later three times, for each contraction. At one point, they said they could see the top of E.J.'s head and he had curly black hair, which I found very encouraging. I knew he would have black hair!

Pretty early on during the morning pushing, E.J.'s heart rate started to decelerate significantly during pushing. I took some contractions off from pushing and tried laying on either side. Between each one, I was reminded me to take deep breaths in my oxygen mask. He started to handle things much better and I resumed pushing for some time. Dr. Adams even left the room for about an hour to see if the nurse would have better luck, with orders to call her when he finally descended into the birth canal.

As the pushing continued with little progress, Dr. Adams returned and started talking about possible courses of action. At this point, the baby was posterior (sunny side up) and was having trouble getting out under the pubic bone. The first possible strategy was using the vacuum, which could help encourage him down. She was clear that the top of the vacuum was lightly attached and if two tops came off assisting the delivery, then it would be a c-section. Additionally, laboring women can only push for so long without progress before it becomes unsafe for mom and baby, which would also mean a c-section. Those two courses of action fueled me to keep pushing, because no way in hell was I ending up with a c-section after all this. No freaking way.

Through each push I listened only to Eric's voice cheering me on (though there was also shouting coming from Cloe and the nurse), and in between pushes I looked into his face. At one point, I wanted to ask him to pray for me, but I knew he already was. As for me, I was praying for strength and for my baby's delivery. I was talking and singing to E.J. in my head. I was envisioning myself birthing him and hearing his cry and feeling his tiny body on my chest. I was thinking of Ellie calling the four of us a family. All these things kept me motivated, and I pushed and pushed for contraction after contraction for hour after hour. I never felt tired. I felt determined.

When things still didn't seem to be progressing I asked Dr. Adams if I could try any other positions, and she suggested putting me on all fours. Getting there was the least graceful I have ever felt, let me tell you (giant belly plus numb legs does not a nimble woman make), but by that point, who cares? We tried that for a while but still, no success.

Finally it was time for the talk that deep down I knew was coming but wouldn't let myself even think it. Dr. Adams had been trying to turn the baby or help him under the pubic bone each time I pushed but was not having any luck. He had actually turned sideways at one point before settling back in to a posterior position. She did not think the vacuum would be able to get a good suction given his position behind the pubic bone. However, she expressed that she was willing to try. Given that his heart rate was becoming less stable during contractions and the fact that he had finally passed meconium, she left us to talk about what we wanted to do next, stopping short of actually recommending a c-section. It was obvious what we needed to do at that point, but it helped that she let us feel like we were making the decision.

I have to take a minute to talk about Dr. Adams. She's the new doctor that took over the practice I've been going to, and she's very soft-spoken and kind. I know that she was fully supportive of my hopes for a VBAC. In fact, I commented to Eric that our last practice in NJ - the doctors we saw for Ellie's birth - were fine with my plans for a natural birth. But this practice actually encouraged a VBAC/natural birth. Not only were they on board with my plan, but they wanted it for me just as much as I did. I sincerely believe that. I also learned later that Dr. Adams just gave birth via c-section a year ago, and is hoping for a VBAC herself with her next pregnancy. She told Eric while she was washing her hands before heading into the operating room that she was doing her best to treat me as she hoped she would be treated if she were in my shoes with her next birth. VBAC patients are typically allowed to push without progress for two hours with an epidural. Dr. Adams let me push for nearly four (plus the pushing the night before). She let me try different positions and exhausted all other options before resorting to the outcome we all tried so hard to avoid: c-section. And even when she clearly knew that was how this was going to end up, she framed it in such a way that it still felt like the decision was up to us. We still felt like we had control.

Dr. Adams, the nurses and Cloe all stepped out so Eric and I could discuss it and I broke down. We both did. Eric just held me and we cried. How was this happening? After all that? All the contractions, all the positive thinking, all the pushing, all the encouragement and support and hard work. How? But at the same time, we both had the peace of knowing that we had done every last thing we could, and at this point, there was no reason to continue and risk creating an emergency situation for me and/or E.J. So, we cried together and then dried our eyes and said, "Let's go get our family."

And so we did. With my first c-section, it had escalated to an emergency situation, and the whole thing was very hectic and chaotic and frightening. This time, it was very calm. They prepped the room and assembled the team and gave us instructions and wheeled me down the hall to those doors that gave me a panic attack back when we took our hospital tour. As soon as I got into the operating room I looked up at those lights - the big, round white lights that have been the focus of many panicked flashbacks for me since Ellie's birth. Something about those lights...they scared me and that stuck with me. I felt my heart rate start to rise and my breathing quickened, and then I met the world's chattiest anesthesiologist. I don't know that this guy was talking to me to purposefully distract and calm me, but that's exactly the effect he had. He asked me all kinds of questions, about how long we lived in Jacksonville, Eric's job/career change, my work, how to avoid jury duty, etc. The whole time I was being prepped, this guy was making small talk. I think he just generally is interested in talking to the people he meets on the job, but I am so grateful to his chatty nature for taking my focus off those lights and the surgery.

In the meantime, Eric was rushed out of our room to wait outside the delivery room by himself (for what he says felt like forever). During that time, he did get to talk to Dr. Adams (as mentioned previously) and the woman who was on her to way to clean our room. He remembers her being rather positive and encouraging.

Before I knew it, Eric had joined me in the room and we were ready to go (Cloe was not allowed in).

In addition to the anesthesiologist (and the janitor), everyone was really very nice. One friendly nurse offered to take pictures for us and made sure to snap this last picture of us as parents of only one child:

Let's do this "family of four" thing!

One thing that was different from my first c-section was that I didn't really get a play-by-play report as to what was going on. I felt a lot of tugging and pulling but I didn't really know what was happening, and I didn't get any warning before they pulled the baby out. But, before I knew it, I heard someone say, "1:27 p.m.!" and I realized that meant that E.J. was here! Our Eric James was born at 1:27 p.m. on the Fourth of July, 2014. He weighed 8 lb, 6 oz and was 21 inches long with black hair and dark blue-gray eyes.

And boy, was he cute!

But they didn't hold him up over the sheet and I didn't hear any crying. Nobody in the room seemed panicked but both Eric and I were nervous. Eric could see what was going on - they had carried E.J. right over to the warmer and were working on him. He didn't seem to be moving at all. I urged Eric to go be with him and held my breath, waiting to hear a cry. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I started to hear a little whimpering, which gradually escalated to that beautiful, beautiful cry. We learned later that E.J. couldn't cry right away because they had a tube down his throat to check to make sure he hadn't swallowed any meconium. But, he checked out fine and I loved that sound!

Eric and E.J. in the OR

VIDEO: E.J.'s first cries

Eric went over to say hello, take pictures and cut what remained of the cord. He says he read about needing to make a firm cut, but forgot in the moment and had to cut it again. While he was over there, people called out E.J.'s stats to me from across the room and I marveled at how similar he was to Ellie: He weighed 8 lb, 6 oz, and she weighed 8 lb, 7 oz. Both were 21 inches long. Both posterior and born via c-section at 27 minutes past the hour (Ellie at 3:27 p.m., E.J. at 1:27 p.m.). Apparently I make babies very consistently!

Also, can you tell which W. baby is which?! These pictures of my two babies were taken just moments after each was born.
(It's Ellie on the left and E.J. on the right!)

I mentioned this before, but next came my favorite part of the birth. They brought E.J. over to me and I was able to hold him up against my head and chest, skin-to-skin. Right there in the operating room, I cuddled and kissed and touched my new baby. No, it wasn't what I had always envisioned, but it was a precious moment that I won't soon forget. E.J. was so calm there with me and I relished that experience.

Eric giving me my first look at our son

Proud parents of a new baby boy!

Eric and his son

Kissing my boy

Skin-to-skin

I held E.J. like that until they had finished working on me, then he and Eric stepped out for a moment while they got me transferred back onto my bed to go back to my room. Once I was all situated, they handed E.J. to me to hold for the ride back to the room. I loved that I got to hold him in transit, and I also loved that at this hospital you really do labor, deliver (barring a c-section, of course) and recover in the same room. After Ellie was born I was taken to recovery, and the timing worked out so that we were stuck there during a shift change so we spent hours just sitting in recovery before we were returned to our own room. I hated it. This time, we went straight from the OR back to our room, so it felt like we really had the whole day left to get settled and enjoy our newborn in peace.

Headed back to our room!

Recovering in peace

Of course, there was a little more fussing over me to be done, and the nurse helped me to get breastfeeding underway shortly after returning to our room. She asked if I had nursed my first child and I responded, "Yes, for 21 months," so she basically said, "oh, you got this, then!" And sure enough, we did. E.J. latched on like a pro and our breastfeeding experience so far has been effortless. Just like before, how lucky that makes me is not lost on me, and I am so grateful to be able to feed my children with ease. Hey, I'm not super awesome at birthing babies, but I rock at feeding them.

Once everything died down and the room cleared out, Eric and I were left to stare at E.J., take his picture and call family to share the good news (and his name!). A while later the nurse came back to give him a little sponge bath, and then it was back to just us. Our hospital is a "Baby-Friendly Hospital," which means that not only are they super encouraging of breastfeeding, but there also is no nursery for healthy babies; the baby just stays in the room with you the entire time. So we had E.J. all to ourselves, and I loved it.

The final update

Hating his bath

Proud Daddy

Exhausted but very happy!

And that, my friends, is how Eric James came to join our family. We gave him a more complete birthday celebration later that afternoon, but I'll save that for my next post.

Welcome to the world, Eric James!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Presumed Meningitis

Life with E.J. at home thus far has been going pretty smoothly. He's a very good-natured baby, way more so than his sister ever was. His newborn sleepiness combined with his seemingly easy-going nature have made the transition to family of four seem pretty effortless thus far.

On Monday night, Eric and I were commenting on that very fact to each other. We were both marveling at how well our new life was going and what a great baby E.J. is. I mean, after Ellie was born, we had all kinds of nonsense to deal with: lingering health complications for me, Ellie's refusal to enjoy life unless someone was constantly holding her and bouncing on an exercise ball (she seemed to skip that "sleepy newborn phase" altogether), the worst kidney infection of my life. This time, however, there weren't any complicating factors like those. My recovery was going great, Ellie was smitten with E.J., and we were doing a pretty good job of balancing both kids and keeping everyone happy. And E.J. himself was just so mellow - I even commented that with Ellie, I knew the sound of her cry before we left the hospital, but I wasn't sure I could pick E.J.'s cry out of a lineup, because he just cried so rarely. Frankly, we agreed, it all just seemed a little TOO easy this time around, and we were both just sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop: the crazy fussiness to set in, jealousy to rear its ugly head on Ellie's part, something. It had all just been so perfect that it seemed too good to be true.

But maybe it isn't too good to be true, we said. Maybe we just got lucky. Maybe things are really just going to go smoothly for us this time. Maybe there is no other shoe to drop.

And then the universe laughed and chucked a shoe at us.

And so, now instead of telling E.J.'s birth story next as planned, I'm telling the story of his five-and-counting days in the hospital.

Ellie and I both came down with colds last weekend. Ellie's was in and out in just a day or two, but mine has lingered. Obviously, I was rather freaked out about exposing a week-old baby to any sort of germs, but it couldn't be helped. As of Monday night, he still seemed healthy so I was continuing to hope and pray and wash my hands until they were nearly raw to try to avoid E.J. getting sick.

But when E.J. woke up at 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday, he felt a little warm. I fed him and put him back to bed, but he was up again at 4:30 a.m. and definitely warm. A quick check of his temperature showed a fever of 101 degrees. We removed all his blankets and I fed him, and almost immediately after eating he threw it all back up - very unusual for him. We re-checked his temperature, which was still 100.7 degrees, above the "call the doctor" threshold of 100.4. So, I called the doctor, who said we had to take him to the emergency room.

It was around 5:30 a.m. when we got ourselves together and ready to go. We woke Ellie, who was in surprisingly good spirits (and quite excited to see the moon and the stars), and off we went to Wolfson Children's Hospital pediatric emergency room.

We had no wait whatsoever; they called us back while we were still registering. E.J. still showed a temperature at check-in, which meant they immediately started their entire "fever in infants" work-up: urine culture (via catheter), blood culture and spinal tap.

That right there was probably the worst experience of my life. We had to lay E.J. on that hospital bed and he just looked so small. I kept my view of what they doctors were doing obstructed by choice, but I couldn't block out the sound of my baby's cries as they did all that to him. If I didn't know his cry before, I sure do after that experience. I just sat there next to the bed feeling so helpless and so much pain on behalf of my sweet newborn. I couldn't help but cry myself but I tried my hardest to hold it together, because I could tell Ellie was scared, too. She's stoic like her daddy, so she didn't cry, but she hung close to me and I tried to reassure her as best as I could.

When they finished the blood and urine cultures, I was able to hold E.J. for a minute. As soon as he was in my arms he got calm, grasped my hand and just stared at me. It broke my heart into a million pieces to think about what he was going through, at only 11 days old.

Comforting E.J. after his first round of tests

Sweetheart.

We weren't allowed to be in the room for the spinal tap so we stepped out to the waiting room. Ellie very sweetly called out, "Bye, E.J.!" as we left the room, and then was thrilled to watch Sponge Bob on TV in the waiting room while I filled out some paperwork for the hospital. Finally they called us back into the room and I was able to cuddle and nurse E.J. while Eric and Ellie entertained themselves with the privacy curtain. The nurse tried to give E.J. some Tylenol but he threw that right back up.

Cuddled and comforted

It was explained to us that they do all this testing as a precaution to check for very serious causes of fever, such as meningitis. It's unlikely the fever is caused by anything like that, but in the event that it is, it can be devastating to the baby if left unchecked. So, it's a "better safe than sorry" situation. We were told that we would be staying in the hospital for 24 to 48 hours while they watched the cultures to see if any bacteria developed that would indicate what we were dealing with. So, before long we found ourselves upstairs, settling in to a room of the children's hospital.

And that is where we have spent five long, frustrating days, with another nine days ahead of us. Although E.J.'s cultures have remained clear, some other labs indicated potential bacterial infection. In particular, the doctors were concerned about the protein levels in his spinal fluid and his white blood cell count. He also continued to maintain a fever from Tuesday morning until midnight on Thursday. The doctors ran all kinds of additional tests: for respiratory infections, chest x-rays, belly x-ray, nasal swabs, more bloodwork. They just couldn't figure out what was causing this fever, so in the meantime they were treating it aggressively with antibiotics (via IV) every six hours. The thinking was that then if/when we did figure out what the culprit was, treatment would already be underway.

My poor little guy hooked up to the IV

The first day was particularly difficult. Eric and Ellie spent as much time at the hospital as possible, but Eric also had to make sure Ellie's needs were taken care of, so he took her home for nap and bedtime while I stayed at the hospital with E.J. (considering I am exclusively breastfeeding E.J. and still unable to lift Ellie after my c-section, there was no other option). The day was long and often lonely, and E.J. was just so unsettled. The only way to get him to rest calmly was to hold him, which was of course understandable after the ordeal he had been through but meant little to no sleep for me. I hated seeing my sweet boy so miserable, and that coupled with battling a cold myself, running on very little sleep and still trying to recover from my c-section (while sleeping on a hospital "couch" that folds into a "bed") left me a pretty big emotional wreck.

Peaceful on my lap

Then, E.J.'s IV went bad so they had to try to re-insert it. And they tried and they tried and they tried, with no luck. The poor kid was a pincushion for hours while they tried to get this IV going. They tried everything - his arms, his hands, his legs, even his head. Eventually they gave up and had to give him a few doses of medication by shot instead of IV, which he hated. I was so tired of seeing my baby poked and prodded and stuck and stabbed, and I hated that I couldn't protect him from it all.

Poor little baby arms

Hospital baby feet

By the second day, however, E.J. was much more his usual mellow, sleepy self. He just seemed better, even though is fever still lingered and he was still throwing up a bit. Yet all the testing still did not yield any clear results.

E.J.'s fever finally broke in the early morning on Thursday, and by then he was eating and sleeping very well. Still baffled by his lab results, however, the doctor sought other opinions from her colleagues. (She kept saying, "He doesn't look nearly as sick as his numbers indicate he is.") In particular, on Thursday she consulted with the head of Infectious Diseases at the hospital, who agreed that although the cultures remained clear, it might be the best course of action to continue treatment because there were still worrisome lab results that could not be accounted for. He mentioned possibly keeping us for 5 to 10 days for antibiotics, which left me feeling so frustrated and discouraged. I just wanted to get home and get my family together, but instead we were stuck in the hospital with no answers, only the knowledge that E.J. was fighting something and it could be serious but nobody could figure out what it was.

But then, Friday morning, things started to look up. The Infectious Diseases doctor came back and apparently had changed his tune. He mentioned that there was something growing in the blood culture, but he thought it was likely a contaminant and we would know that for sure in 24 hours. If so, he saw no reason to keep E.J. in the hospital! Halleluia, an end in sight! We were so excited about the likelihood of going home first thing Saturday morning.

Our excitement was short-lived, however. Later that afternoon, the pediatrician came in. As soon as she walked in the door, I could tell by her face that it was bad news. Apparently the Infectious Diseases doctor had overlooked or forgotten about some of the most important data in E.J.'s chart: the protein levels and white blood cell counts. When he was transferring our case over to the ID doctor who would be here over the weekend, he realized his error and retracted his recommendation to send us home. Instead, he wanted to keep us for another 10 days for antibiotics.

I was so incredibly upset. Eric was on his way to the hospital at that time and when the pediatrician left, I just cried and cried until Eric arrived. Then the pediatrician returned to talk to both of us. We learned they had finally assigned E.J. a diagnosis of "presumed meningitis." They use the term "presumed" because there was no bacteria in his cultures (the "gold standard" for meningitis diagnosis) but his other lab results were indicative of bacterial infection. Because E.J. is so young, the best course of action is to assume the worst and treat aggressively. Basically, there is a (pretty decent) chance that E.J.'s fevers were simply caused by a viral infection (possibly the cold Ellie and I have been fighting), and it has just cleared out on its own and no treatment is necessary, but there's no way to test for that to be sure. Because his numbers did indicate that the fever could be caused by a bacterial infection, it is best to assume that to be true and treat accordingly because there are no harmful side effects to the antibiotics he is on, even if he doesn't actually have meningitis. However, if we were to assume it was a viral infection and not treat, and it turned out that it was meningitis, the consequences would be severe. With a baby this young, you just can't take that chance. So, the verdict was in: diagnosis was "presumed meningitis," and recommended course of action was an additional 10 days of IV antibiotics for our little man.

He is such a trooper.

I was so discouraged. The time in the hospital so far has been challenging and lonely, and I know it has been no picnic for Eric, either, as he has been shuttling back and forth with Ellie twice daily as well as taking care of things at home. But at the end of the day, how can we complain about an inconvenience in our lives, when our baby's well-being is at stake? There's no need to even do a risk-benefit analysis, here. We do whatever we need to do to make sure E.J. is healthy. There is no other option.

So that's where we are: day five of fourteen total in the hospital. Rest assured that E.J. is eating and sleeping well and receiving lots of cuddles and love, and today they're inserting a PICC line so hopefully he won't be such a pincushion for the rest of his stay. The doctors and nurses have all been very kind to us so we're hanging in there. Eager to get out, sure, but hanging in there.

Aside from the helplessness I have felt while watching E.J. go through this whole ordeal, I'm constantly worried about Ellie and how she is handling it. She was separated from us already while E.J. was born, and now to be away from me long-term like this...I just don't know what she thinks of it all. She seems okay, but this has to be confusing for her. On the upside, she has been showered with gifts and toys from hospital staff - all items intended for the patient, but given that the patient hasn't yet learned to hold his head up, he doesn't have much use for coloring books and such. So, Ellie is cleaning up. And I am totally okay with spoiling her rotten until we get through this.

Ellie's haul!

Rocking her baby brother. At one point, he was crying and Ellie said, "He needs his Ellie!" Awwww.

Listening to the pediatrician's heart

I can't end this post without thanking everyone for their thoughts, prayers, love and support through the whole thing. Our family and friends have been so concerned, asking how E.J. is and praying for him, and getting their friends and family to pray for him, too. He is one loved little boy. And I have to also give a huge thank you to my mom, who, upon hearing that we would be in the hospital until Thursday, right away found substitutes to cover her Jazzercise classes for the latter part of the week so she could come up to stay with Ellie for a couple nights, freeing Eric up to spend more time at the hospital with E.J. and me. I know we would've been fine otherwise, but it made it so much more bearable for me to have Eric with me more during those first few days. Even if I didn't need the help with E.J., just Eric's companionship was a huge boost to my mental state and probably helped me avoid many an emotional meltdown. So thank you, Mom, for giving us that help!

Ellie and Grammy by the "big crayons," a hospital favorite of Ellie's

Now that we're facing even more time in the hospital, the offers to help have been pouring in from family and friends alike, and we are so grateful. I'm sure at the end of this I will have many more people to thank, but for now I'm just sending out a blanket "thank you" to everyone. Thank you, family for your offers to come help with Ellie or whatever we need (and we will probably be taking you up on them). Thank you to everyone who has said a prayer for E.J. Thank you to everyone who has called or texted or messaged to see how he is. Thank you to everyone who has taken even just a moment out of your day to think of him and wish him well. I have been posting updates on Facebook and the comments that those posts have generated have brought tears to my eyes - so many people from all stages of our lives thinking of our sweet boy, offering up encouragement and beautiful prayers. We are so blessed.

And of course, as always, Eric has been a rock. He is taking great care of Ellie, too, as well as making sure I am getting the rest/food/medicine/support that I need. In addition, he is juggling a lot of other life issues, such as securing a new house for us (more on that to come), dealing with E.J.'s health insurance, etc. He is really something. As much as I would prefer to avoid these sort of tough situations, I always come out of them feeling so blessed to have Eric as my partner in life. He and I are two very different people, and as individuals, we handle stressful situations very differently. But as a couple, in times of crisis we tend to find ourselves perfectly in sync. We each know what the other needs and we really bond together to get through whatever is before us. I am lucky to have found such a perfect counterpart to navigate life with me. He is incredible.

So for now, we're still in the hospital. I'll post updates should there be any, but it seems like we're basically just kicking back and hanging out while E.J. gets dosed with IV antibiotics every six hours for the next nine days. I'm planning to use my downtime at the hospital to catch up on some blog posts (birth story!!!!) and other projects, so you'll see some non-hospital-related content from me, too.

And again, thank you all so much for the love and support. We are one very blessed little family.

Now, let's get this handsome face better and HOME!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Waiting for E.J.

Before I get to the birth story itself, I should talk a little about our last days before E.J. arrived. As I mentioned in real time, we sent Ellie to stay at my mom's house starting Thursday, June 26. The plan was for her to hang out with my mom, having all sorts of Grammy fun, while I hopefully went into labor shortly thereafter. Then, my mom would drive Ellie back to Jacksonville so they could come see us at the hospital.

Eric drove Ellie down to my mom's house that Thursday and when he got back, we took advantage of being kid-free with a dinner date at Seven Bridges Grille & Brewery followed by a movie ("22 Jump Street"). We had a great time and even though I was missing Ellie, I was really enjoying having that time with just Eric. We had some great dinner conversation and enjoyed the movie. It was a great way to relax before the GET THIS BABY OUT mindset really kicked in.

On Friday morning I had a weekly appointment with my midwife. I was somewhat discouraged to hear that I really wasn't making any progress yet, despite knowing that doesn't really mean anything. She mentioned that although E.J. was head down, his head was still high and he was laying in a less than desirable position. She gave me some natural things to try to help encourage things along and suggested some strategies to get E.J. into a better position. I scheduled my next appointment for Thursday, July 3, hoping I wouldn't need it! I also spoke to my doula and scheduled an "induction massage" with her for the afternoon of the 3rd - again, hoping I wouldn't need it.

We spent the rest of Friday taking care of errands and last minute things around the house. We hit the pool for a little while in the evening - sweet, glorious, weightless heaven!

On Saturday, Eric golfed in the morning and then we spent the afternoon at the pool. It was beastly hot so we spent a lot of time going back and forth from our lounge chairs to the water. On the whole, it was really very nice - aside from our babymoon in March, I can't remember the last time I was able to just relax at the pool without having to worry about a two-year-old running around, hellbent on her own destruction.

I took a picture of my two favorite boys poolside!

Helloooooo, down there, feet!
(Please notice the baby blue toes in honor of E.J.! The color is actually called "Cinderella," so it was like a two-for-one in reminding me of my kids!)

Sunday was when we really started Operation: OUT, KID. We went out to the beach in the morning and walked a good three miles. The breeze off the ocean made the temperature bearable, and the walk was really quite pleasant.

It was a gorgeous Sunday morning! Score one for being pregnant in the summer in Florida vs. winter in NYC, am I right?

After our beach walk we went to Taco Lu's for some tacos, and I made sure to order anything that had the "spicy" indicator next to it, because GET OUT, KID. The food was delicious, though I longed for a margarita.

My lunch! Bangin' Shrimp, the Spicy Bird and Carnitas

That evening we had more spicy food for dinner and I baked the same labor cake I made and ate 24 hours before going into labor with Ellie, in the hopes of a similar reaction. (Alas, we finished that stupid cake before labor ever started. Lies, cake!)

Labor cake in the works

While all this was going on over the weekend, Ellie was having lots of fun at my mom's house, with trips to the beach and the playground, a new pool on their porch, and a fun day at Busch Gardens.

Ellie and Grammy

She even got to eat bubblegum ice cream!

Fun in the pool

Hanging out with friends at Busch Gardens

On Monday, our only big outing was a walk around the mall, but I was feeling pretty over it so it was not as productive as our beach walk. That afternoon I got a bit of a shock when my doctor's office called to set me up for my official "We're Going In After Him" c-section date. I knew it would happen, and it was just a precaution, and really I "lucked out" because although they wanted to schedule me for exactly 41 weeks (on July 8), because of scheduling conflicts, they couldn't get me on the books until Friday, July 11 (E.J. would've had free Slurpees from 7-11 on his birthday for life!). That meant I had a little extra time to go into labor on my own, although by that point I was sure that would NEVER HAPPEN.

By Monday I was a very impatient pregnant lady, even though I tried to keep reminding myself that I hadn't even hit my due date yet. I think it was a combination of having that "end date" looming out there, the constant well-meaning but anxiety-inducing texts from family asking if anything was happening yet, and being away from Ellie. I had thought sending her to my mom's house would be a great stress-reliever for me, but it actually backfired. I missed her like crazy and felt so guilty for shipping her off instead of spending our last days as a family of three together. I worried about how it may impact her adjustment to our new family and was basically a wreck over the whole thing. I just wanted to go into labor already so Ellie could come home and I could have both my babies with me.

But, relief was on the way! On Tuesday, my mom brought Ellie back to our house and decided to just stay here with her until the baby came - or until she had to get back to work, whichever came first, but we were all crossing our fingers in favor of the former. Especially because by then, I had officially hit my due date and knew that this baby would be a July baby:

40 weeks pregnant and ready to meet this kid already!

We took advantage of my mom's presence that afternoon by leaving her with a napping Ellie while we went looking at houses to rent, which is a whole other story for another day. While we were out driving around checking places out, I noticed that some of my usual Braxton Hicks contractions were starting to get a bit painful. I hoped it was a good sign but the painful contractions were so irregular (and nothing I couldn't remain straight-faced through), that I didn't think too much of it. If I learned anything from Ellie's birth, it's that labor can be quite a lengthy process. Don't get too excited too soon!

On Wednesday (July 2nd), my mom took Ellie to storytime at the library while Eric and I went to check out a couple more houses. That afternoon, Eric went to the gym while Ellie napped. My mom and I chatted for a while while I bounced on our exercise ball, and then I took a nap myself (thankfully, because although I didn't realize it at the time, I had a sleepless night ahead of me!). That evening, after Ellie was in bed we watched most of the first Harry Potter movie. We turned it off with a half hour of movie left to go because we were all so tired, thinking we would finish it the following day. I had continued to have sporadic painful contractions all day, but they were so irregular that timing them didn't prove fruitful, and I could still play them off without trouble. So, I still didn't think much of it. I would soon be changing my tune, however...

And that's where we'll leave off for now! Next up: it's baby time!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

One Week

I'm a couple of days late posting this (poor second child, am I right?), but we took an official "one week old" picture of E.J. on Friday:


Our first week has been great. He's still a super sleepy newborn, and he eats like a champ and seems very good-natured (so far, at least!). Ellie is a doting big sister and we're all just completely smitten with the little guy.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Skin-to-Skin

I mentioned in my last post announcing the birth of sweet E.J. that my attempt at a VBAC was unsuccessful. I'm going to share the full birth story soon - well, as soon as I'm able to reflect, record, and process a bit. I'm disappointed that I didn't end up with the outcome I hoped for, despite my efforts, but I also know that I could not have done anything differently. That birth that I dreamed of just wasn't in the cards for me.

What I had most been dreaming about when thinking about having a natural birth was the first moments of my baby's life, when the doctor would put him on my chest immediately after he was born so we could spend the very first moments of his life together, skin-to-skin. Needless to say, I didn't get exactly that vision - just as before, there was that sheet blocking my view, and E.J. was quickly whisked away to be checked out. But one of the things that I will most cherish about this birth was that my doctor and the hospital still allowed me to have that early skin-to-skin time with my newborn. No, it wasn't how I envisioned it, but as soon as they verified that E.J. was okay, he was brought over to me and placed on my chest, right there in the operating room, and he stayed there with me until they finished working on me.

When they first brought him over he was fussing, but as soon as he was put up to my chest and head he settled. He just looked around, alert and calm, taking in his first moments. And I was able to lay there with him, just breathing him in.


I wanted to mention this part of the experience separately from the full birth story, because those first moments with E.J. are a memory that I will always treasure and I am so grateful to have had that opportunity.