Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ellie's Birth, Part 1: Laboring at Home

Here we go. It's birth story time.

To give you an idea of how I plan on doing this: I'm going to tell this story in multiple installments. It's going to take a little while. Okay, a LONG while. You know me, I'm wordy and like to record the details. If you're not interested, just come on back next week. I should have things wrapped up by then.

If you are pregnant and reading this, I will offer a gentle suggestion that perhaps you don't. I can't say that I had an easy labor, delivery and recovery experience. Of course, my experience has nothing to do with anyone else's. Every labor is different and reading about one woman's tough experience certainly won't mean you'll have the same. That being said, if I were still pregnant, I would not want to read this. I tried really hard to keep any negative thoughts about labor and delivery out of my mind through my pregnancy so I could just focus on positive thoughts, which helped me feel very confident going into the whole thing. So if you're on that sort of plan, look away! Of course, in the end it all worked out just fine and I have a sweet little girl to show for it, so there is a happy ending!

Because this will get so long, in case you want to skip and come back next week, here's the Cliffs Notes version for you: I was in labor for 91 hours with a terrible speed up/slow down labor pattern, was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, needed a platelet transfusion, and ultimately gave birth by emergency cesarean section when Ellie went into distress as well. The HELLP syndrome plus blood pressure problems and hypoxemia after delivery led to a lot more monitoring and treatment after the fact, too. And that's the basic rundown.

Now for the detailed version, starting with my time laboring at home...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I started feeling contractions around 8:30 p.m. on Sunday while I was talking to my mom on the phone, but I thought it was just a stomachache that was coming and going. It wasn't too painful and the pains didn't last long. I did mention it to Eric, but told him I doubted it was anything. Just for fun, Eric timed some of the pains while we watched TV. We still didn't think much of it.

As I mentioned in past pregnancy update posts, towards the end of my pregnancy I had a lot of uncomfortable days and nights. Probably about every other night (or sometimes more frequently) I would be up all night with heartburn, chest pains, nausea and shortness of breath. Of course I mentioned this to my doctor, but these are pretty common late pregnancy complaints, so I didn't think much of it, except that I was just ready to be done.

On Sunday night, I had a sense that it would be another one of my bad nights. Unfortunately, I was right and sure enough, I was awake all night long in great discomfort. Whenever I felt that way, the only way to get any relief was to take a bath. That night I took probably two or three baths and by the end of the night, I stopped trying to get out and go back to bed and just stayed put in the bathtub. The bath brought enough relief that I was able to focus more on my stomach pains, which I soon realized were, in fact, contractions. They had a definite beginning, middle and end, and I could tell when one was coming because I would first see my stomach tense up and then the pain would start. The contractions were not particularly intense yet, but I used that time to practice my various breathing techniques to get through them.

Monday, March 26, 2012

At 7:00 a.m. on Monday, I was still in the bath and was just waiting for Eric to wake up to share the news that I thought labor had actually started. Eric watched my stomach tense up and timed my contractions for a bit. They were pretty short and still not very strong, but Eric decided to go ahead and email work to let them know he would be in late if things stopped and this turned out to be a false alarm. He wanted to make sure he was around in case my labor turned out to be a rapid one. (Ha!)

Shortly after 9:00, we texted Jess, our doula, to let her know what was happening. Given that I hadn't slept a wink all night, she suggested I try to get some rest as I let things progress. I got out of the bath and called my family to tell them I was having contractions while Eric ran out to get a haircut and pick up breakfast. I remember my sister was concerned that I should be at the hospital already, but I assured her I had time (little did I know!). I remember thinking that the baby may not necessarily come that day, but it was a little bit of a shame that there was no way she would make it until Wednesday so she could share my sister's birthday. More likely, I figured she would be born on her due date, March 27.

I started feeling uncomfortable again, so I got back in the bath and was there when Eric got home. I felt a little better shortly after 11:00 so I finally left the bathtub and went back to bed. I was able to fall asleep by about 11:30 a.m.

I woke up around 2:00 p.m. and Eric and I timed my contractions for another half hour before I fell back asleep until about 4:30 p.m When I woke up, we timed my contractions again for about 45 minutes. Each contraction was lasting around 45 seconds and they were coming on average about eight minutes apart.

Laboring on the couch with Achilles' support

We decided to go for a walk in hopes of speeding things up, but it was very cold and exceptionally windy so that didn't last long. I was disappointed because we had been having 70-degree weather in previous weeks, and I wished we had that again so I could go for a nice, long walk! No such luck, though.

That evening we decided it was probably best to take Achilles to "camp" before they closed because we thought we might not make it until the morning without having to go to the hospital. So, I bid farewell to my "first born" and Eric took him to the boarder. I felt so bad saying goodbye to the little guy - he had no idea what he was in for when he came back home!

Saying my good-byes to the pup

When Eric got home, he made us a nice dinner of chicken alfredo, and to help pass the time we started watching the current season of The Office on Hulu Plus. At various times, I bounced on the exercise ball to try to get things moving a little more. Eventually we decided we should probably just go to bed so we could get some rest before things really picked up and sleep was no longer an option. We went to bed around 11:00 p.m.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I woke up early Tuesday morning no longer able to sleep through the contractions, which were feeling much stronger than they had on Monday. Eric was asleep on the couch in the living room, so I went out to wake him up around 1:30 a.m. and have him start timing my contractions. At that point, each contraction was lasting between one to two minutes and coming every five to six minutes. At 3:45 a.m., we texted Jess (the doula) and asked her to join us. While we waited for her to arrive, we finished packing up our hospital bags with things like toiletries and electronics so we would be ready to go when it was time to head to the hospital. We were so sure it was that imminent! Eric also did the dishes and cleaned up the house. While he cleaned the kitchen, I held on to the pass-thru counter and breathed through my contractions.

Jess arrived around 5:00 a.m. and jumped in right away with a hot water bottle and pressure on my lower back, and other massage techniques. It felt heavenly.

Jess helping me through a contraction

At around 6:00, Jess suggested I try to get some more rest between contractions. I laid on the couch and was able to get some five or six-minute naps for about an hour. However, the contractions felt much more painful laying down compared to standing up. By 6:30 a.m., I was telling Eric that I was ready to be done with this part. Little did I know I still had over two full days left!

Laboring on the couch

As the morning wore on, my contractions slowed down to seven to eight minutes apart and I was able to have more regular conversations between contractions. At 10:00 a.m., we decided to take a field trip to the grocery store downstairs to try to get things moving. We bought a very random assortment of goodies, including rainbow sherbet for me and a purple and yellow mylar sunflower balloon for Ellie. I had to stop to breathe through contractions several times during our journey, including in our building lobby and the aisles of the grocery store. When we came back home, we took the elevator to two floors shy of our floor so we could walk the rest of the way up on the stairs. Anything to get things to pick up!

Our grocery store purchases

I tried to rest again around 11:00 a.m., but had little success. So, we decided to go for another walk, this time up and down the halls of our apartment building. Eric and I held hands as we walked for almost an hour. Eric said walking the halls made him think of walking down the fairway at a golf tournament, but for whatever reason, all I could think of was the movie The Green Mile. I just kept saying to myself, "walkin' the Mile, walkin' the Green Mile..." I imagine it was not a good sign that our labor walk made me think of walking to an execution, but hey, that's where my mind went. On a happier note, Eric and I also talked about what a crazy journey we've shared since the walks we first took together on the beach and around our neighborhood back when we were just two kids in love, circa 1998.

Walkin' the Mile.

Walking wasn't cutting it so when we got back to our apartment, I tried another "speed up this process" technique: nipple stimulation with my manual breast pump. Even with all our efforts, by 2:15 p.m. the contractions were still coming at irregular intervals (between five and ten minutes apart) and lasting one to two minutes each. At that point, we started to discuss our options. In addition to the natural remedies we had been trying, Jess suggested we could call my doctor's office to see if we could come in to have my dilation checked and/or have my membranes stripped. Our other option would be to go to the hospital, have my water broken and the process otherwise medically sped up.

Eric called my doctor's office on my behalf and spoke to the receptionist, who was being advised by a nurse in the office. She had a difficult time understanding what he was asking and insisted we go straight to the hospital because I was clearly in labor. Eric tried to explain that although I was having contractions, they had slowed down during the day and we were trying to explore other options. She told him she was going to hang up and call the hospital to let them know we were coming. Eric told her this was not what was going to happen, and he and our doula would monitor the situation and things were under control. Jess commented to me at that point that Eric is such a good advocate with me. How right she was.

With that option off the table and a strong preference to avoid the interventions associated with going to the hospital too soon, we decided to take another field trip to the grocery store to get some lunch. After lunch we went for another walk, a longer one this time. We went down two floors, walked the whole floor, then took the stairs up to the next floor. We repeated this pattern several times. Unfortunately, on this walk, I had to stop even less frequently for contractions than I did on the previous walk. Things just weren't picking up speed. Contractions were still coming about every seven to ten minutes.

Back at our apartment, Jess again discussed our options with us. Because we still wanted to avoid the hospital and what we were doing didn't seem to be working, we decided to try a different strategy. Jess suggested that because the contractions seemed to increase in frequency/intensity after sleeping at night, perhaps I should try to relax and get some rest and see if that helped speed things back up. She pointed out that by this point, my body was probably so tired and mentally, I was so frustrated and tense - all factors that could be contributing to the slowing of labor. She recommended I drink a glass of wine, take a warm bath and try to sleep. I thought this sounded like a good plan. Jess left for the evening and Eric went to get me some red wine.

That wine was glorious, let me tell you. However, I was so tired that I kept dozing off and forgetting to drink. I decided to take my wine into the bath for maximum relaxation. Eric joined me in the bathroom to make sure I didn't fall asleep in the bath, which was probably wise. I was in the bath for 20-25 minutes and only had one contraction that whole time. I made it through half of my glass of wine before I gave up and went to bed.

While I slept, Eric called Jess to update her and then talked to my mom on the phone to reassure her that both the baby and I were doing just fine. Although this labor pattern may be uncommon, it is not totally abnormal and Eric could tell that I was still okay both mentally and physically at that point so there was no cause for concern.

I will pause here to say that the relationship Eric and I have really was such a rock to me throughout the whole long labor process. When Eric told my mom that he knows me well enough to know when I'm okay and when I'm not, he was absolutely right. We were completely in sync through the entire labor. He knew when it was getting to be too much for me, as opposed to when I was just frustrated and in pain and simply saying it was too much. He knew how best to be supportive and my favorite way to cope with contractions was to wrap my arms around him, lean into him and let him support my weight while I swayed and breathed through the contraction. He was such a soothing source of comfort and strength to me through the whole thing.

Leaning on Eric for support during a contraction

I couldn't have done it without him.

After speaking to my mom, Eric laid down on the couch and tried to get some rest as well. Understandably, he had a tough time falling sleep.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Around 11:15 on Tuesday night, intense contractions began waking me up so often that I started checking the clock to time them myself. I could see they were coming every three to four minutes, so I woke Eric up around midnight. He joined me in bed to hold my hand and help me time my contractions. At this point, they were lasting between 55 and 75 seconds and were coming every two and a half to four minutes. After an hour in bed, I felt I needed to stand up to better manage the contractions. I moved into our bathroom, where the towel bar proved to be the perfect height to lean on. It also allowed Eric to stand behind me and rub my back during and between the contractions. For the next several hours, we remained in the bathroom while the contractions continued to feel very strong and reoccur with the same frequency. 


As strange as it may sound, although I remember this part as being one of the more painful periods of my labor, I also remember it as being one of the most beautiful. It was just Eric and me, there in the quiet darkness of our home, swaying together and working to bring our daughter into the world. It is one of my more vivid memories of contraction spells. Eric was very sweet and encouraging, and I felt such love for him and such gratitude for his support.

Eric messaged Jess at 12:45 to update her and he emailed her the contraction history he had been tracking on his iPhone. She told him to call when we wanted some company, and by about 2:00 a.m. we were ready for her. The contractions were feeling even stronger and I could not hold back tears during the peaks.

Jess arrived around 4:00 a.m. and resumed her massage techniques while Eric got the rest of our things ready to go to the hospital. By that point I really felt things were getting intense and I was ready to go. We discussed whether to leave fairly soon to avoid rush hour, or to wait until 10:30 a.m. or so, when rush hour would be finished. At that point I was so sick of laboring at home, I said I just wanted to go. The whole reason I had wanted to stay home for as long as possible was that I wanted to avoid any unnecessary interventions that might come from getting put "on the clock" at the hospital (Pitocin, c-section, etc.), but by then I was just saying, "I'm having this baby today, one way or another." I just didn't think I could handle another day of regular contractions, followed by another night of even stronger ones. I was just ready to get the baby out. So, we decided to leave for the hospital at 6:30 a.m. By the time we left, however, my contractions had once again begun to space out a bit. By that time they were coming every four to seven minutes.

Jess drove us to the hospital and I had several contractions while we were in the car, which I hated. It was very uncomfortable and I just wanted to get there. As we drove, Eric called the doctor's office to let them know we were on our way. We laughed a little because, of the five doctors at our practice, the doctor on call that day was the one we had met with the least, having only had one appointment with her. We figured of course she would be the one to deliver our baby (not that she's bad, we just weren't as familiar with her!). Eric also sent out a text update (the first of many) to our families to let them know we were on our way to the hospital at last. It was the first they had heard from us since Monday morning's "labor has started!" call.

The update

And we'll end here for today - cliffhanger! If you have made it this far through my multi-part novel, thank you. Stay tuned for the next installment!


Lauren said...

Thanks for sharing I LOVE all the pictures you have did you hire someone to take them? Love that you got a red glass of wine too, I bet that was amazing! :-)

Krystal said...

I can't NOT read these posts! ;) What a tough woman you are! I love all the photos you took throughout -- what a story thus far.

Sara said...

Call it sleep deprivation, whatever, but I cried through most of that post and can't wait to read the rest. You are very strong.

Jessica said...

First...I'm so jealous you have such amazing pictures through your labor process. Those will be something you'll always adore, even if they make you remember all the pain and uncomfortable-ness. I'm so sorry you had HELLP. That is such a scary complication. I'm glad that you and Ellie are ok!!! Can't wait to hear the rest of the story

Jessica Renee said...

You are my hero!! You are just so strong! I found out on the day I delivered that my pains were indeed contractions and I'd been feeling them for a couple days too but NOTHING like what you're describing. I'm heading over to read Part 2, so exciting!