Welcoming Oliver

Yesterday was meant to be my first day of maternity leave. I was going to attend a baby shower Mark’s office was throwing us and get a pedicure, followed by a walk and a nap (the two things I planned to do every day of my maternity leave before the baby arrives). However, I am instead writing this with my 4 day old bundle of joy napping peacefully on my chest, making the adorable, random faces only a newborn can make, since our little guy decided to make his debut about 4 weeks early.

Last Friday, I went in for my 36 week check up. During my appointment, my OB did a cervical check, and said I was about 0.5cm dilated, which means pretty much nothing (many women can walk around a couple centimeters dilated for weeks before going into labor). So, I fully expected to finish out my last few days at work, and then have a couple weeks to sit around, take naps, and get impatient about the arrival of our little guy.

Saturday was largely uneventful. Mark and I got up at 6 am (standard for our weekends), did some random bits on our computers, had breakfast, I had a nap (noticing a theme about my priorities?), cleaned our master bathroom, and then we got ready to meet friends for dinner that evening. My heartburn was annoying (as usual) and we had some time to kill, so we got fro yo at Pinkberry before meeting our friends, proceeded to wander around the mall for a little bit, and then had dinner with our friends. As we parted ways with them, we all marveled that the next time we got together, Mark and I would have our little one (or I would be overdue and miserable).

Mark and I went home, watched an episode of Shark Tank (it was 10pm, which was kind of late for us early birds, but I wanted to have some more time to digest dinner before laying down to sleep and making my heartburn worse). Right before bed, I got sick, which was par for the course, re-brushed my teeth, and laid down. As I laid down, I coincidentally started thinking about a friend who had given birth about a week and a half earlier at the same hospital we planned to deliver, and then thought of another friend, who was due 4 days before me, and considered which of us would wind up having our babies first. Literally 30 seconds later, at almost 11pm exactly, I felt something. I didn’t know what – just something odd. I actually thought it might just be a bit of discharge, which I’d seen an increase in since my cervical exam the previous day. Seconds later, I felt another gush and thought “is this my water breaking?”. I sat up, walked into our bathroom, and realized my lower half was soaked. I dropped my shorts and sat down, and water just. kept. coming. It was clear and odorless, exactly as we are told it should be if/when your water breaks (only 10% of labors start with “spontaneous rupture of membranes”), so I shouted to Mark (who was just falling asleep) “I think my water just broke?”. He came, inspected, and agreed that was likely what had happened. I have no way of describing our response other than thinking it was all very surreal. We knew that if my water broke, the baby would be delivered one way or another within the next day, so his birthday would most certainly be March 29th.

After taking a moment to get over our shock – and realizing that when your water breaks, it will continue to leak thereafter – we called our Doula and then our doctor’s after hours line. The doula recommended we get some sleep if possible, since labor hadn’t started (I was having some intermittent Braxton Hicks contractions, but all totally painless, so not actual labor). I knew that wasn’t going to happen for either of us, so when the on call midwife from my doctor’s office called us back and advised us to come on down to the hospital, we weren’t fazed. I asked how immediately we needed to be there, she said soon, but not immediately – that I could go ahead and take a shower and have something to eat if I wanted. I passed on the shower, but decided since I’d lost my dinner to the porcelain gods, I’d make a green smoothie and a frozen (gluten free) waffle. I sipped the smoothie as we packed the last few items into our bag (I had packed our bag weeks earlier, but had a list of ‘last minute items’ to add). It was definitely a win for us type A, overly prepared types, since we had everything ready to go rather than rushing around panicking about our readyness for this adventure.

Once my midnight snack (literally) was finished, and our bags and birthing ball (read: exercise ball) were in the car, we took off for the hospital. I’m usually the default driver in our family, and since I was so laser-focused and not in any pain, convinced Mark to let me drive us there (I have nothing against him driving, just felt like my doing so was a good outlet for the energy and focus I was experiencing. I promised if I had ANY signs of labor, I would pull over and he could drive).

We arrived at the hospital around 1am and made our way up to labor and delivery. I described to the nurses what had happened, they had us fill in some paperwork, and then lead us to a labor and delivery room. Unbeknownst to us, we landed the best room on the floor and lucked out with a super awesome Glaswegian nurse (isn’t it appropriate that our little guy would be welcomed by a Brit?). We’d find out later that it was a good thing we arrived when we did, since all of San Diego was apparently birthing that weekend. They’d delivered 7 babies on Saturday, and we caught them shortly after all that chaos died down and before Sundays wave of labors arrived. By mid-day Sunday, all the rooms were full and 2 women were having to labor in the halls! It was crazy.

Jane, our awesome Scottish nurse, showed me around the room, had me change, and then hooked me up to the fetal monitors to check on Baby O. We talked about our respective backgrounds, the difference between birthing in the UK and here (she worked for the NHS previously, but had delivered both her children here in the US at the same hospital we were in). She also discussed how her daughter’s birth started the same way – water breaking, but no natural labor, so she had to be induced. We knew we were likely headed the same direction. Once your water breaks, the uterus is no longer a sterile environment, putting the baby at risk, so they ideally like to see the baby out within 18 hours (5pm Sunday), but definitely within 24 hours (11pm Sunday). We agreed to give it until 5 am (6 hours post rupture) to see if things would kickstart themselves. Mark and I spent the next few hours trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to nap and taking laps around the L&D floor in an effort to get my labor started (also unsuccessful).

As 5 am rolled around, we agreed to start the induction. Jane hooked me up with an IV bag of fluid and some antibiotics, which I’d be given every 4 hours until baby was out, since we didn’t have my GBS test results back (they’d only taken the swab on Friday, so the lab wouldn’t have then back until Monday or Tuesday; without results, they’ll aways assume you’re positive, just in case).  Then we started the induction with Pitocin – starting at 1 milliunit, and increasing every 15 minutes for the next few hours. By 6 am, I was starting to feel contractions. They were manageable, but certainly more noticeable than the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d been having for several weeks.

The nurses work 12 hour shifts, rotating at 7 am and 7pm, so we knew we’d be losing Jane soon. Fortunately, since we’d bonded and she was looking out for us, she grabbed one of her daytime nurse friends (who also happened to help with Jane’s birth a few years earlier) for us. Julie was equally as awesome – fun, confident, and very direct – so we were very happy. Since the hospital has both doctors and midwives on staff for delivery, the two nurses discussed who was on for the next shift, and whether I should opt for an OB or if they were happy with the oncoming midwife. I loved how in just a few short hours, I’d started to build this amazing birthing team, and that “my” nurses were looking out for me. As it turned out, Andrea the midwife was starting at 7am, and the nurses were both extremely confident in her, so said I’d be in excellent hands (literally) whether it was the nurse or the doctor. Awesome!

As time went on, Julie kept amping my Pitocin, and the contractions were getting increasingly noticeable (and by noticeable, I mean uncomfortable). They were coming in consistent 3 minute waves for some time, so by noon (5 hours after my induction started), Andrea examined me to see how things were going. I was 3cm dilated and 80% effaced, so the drugs were definitely doing their job. Over the next couple hours, we continued amping the Pitocin, and the contractions becoming increasingly painful. I was no longer able to talk through them, and had started really focusing on my breathing and relaxation/comfort techniques to make it through the 60-90 second contractions I was having every 3 minutes still. By 2pm, my mood had changed. I wasn’t miserable, but I was definitely at the tipping point. Andrea examined me again, and I was up to 4cm dilated. I felt really defeated that the last 2 hours had ‘only’ gotten me another cm, but she reassured me that the first 4 cm are the longest and that she was very pleased with my progress.

I was, however, starting to lose my patience. The contractions, the sleep deprivation, the having to unplug myself from the fetal monitors and then wheeling my IV with me to the bathroom every time I had to pee (which was about every 10 minutes), and then having to adjust the fetal monitors every time I came back, every time I changed position (which was also happening increasingly often, as I sought to relieve myself of the pain). It was all just getting too much, and I decided I was ready for an epidural to help take the edge off. I pushed myself for an extra half hour, to ensure I was ready for the epidural, and then rather tersely requested Mark find Julie or Andrea so they could call in the anesthesiologist. At that moment, unfortunately, the L&D floor was in its own state of chaos. Julie was helping administer someone else’s epidural with said anesthesiologist. They could send him into my room after, but Julie would need to stay with the other patient, monitoring vitals for an hour, so I was given a new nurse. The new nurse arrived – along with a nursing student – and I was mid-contraction. The new nurse was fine, but didn’t have the same energy and confidence Julie exuded, so I was immediately impatient with her. The fact I was beyond my limit with the labor itself did not help. Then, 5 minutes later, I was told the anesthesiologist wouldn’t be available for another hour, because another laboring mom had started to show signs of fetal distress, and was going to need an emergency c-section, which trumped my discomfort. They were going to call in another anesthesiologist, and on the inside I was freaking out. What had happened to my birthing team? My nurse was gone, I’d be getting some rando anesthesiologist, and I was feeling awful. Andrea came in to reassure me about what was going on, and to try to encourage me, which i really appreciated, but I was still wearing thin and was starting to really, REALLY want that epidural. Thankfully, literally moments later, we got word that the emergency c-section was being put off – that that woman’s fetus was looking good again – so Dr. Millbern was on his way to do my epidural.

Dr M came in, discussed the risks and process of the epidural, confirmed it was what I wanted, and quickly got to work. He had me lay on my left side, while Mark sat in front of me holding my hand, offering love and support. My biggest concern at that point was how much – if at all – the needle would hurt when going on my back. Both he and the Doula quickly assuaged my fears, saying it would be painless – and it was. Within a minute or two, I started to relax. I could still feel my contractions, but they’d immediately become manageable and even comfortable, rather than overwhelming. Thank goodness.

Once I was comfortable again, and capable of having a conversation (and feeling more patient), the ‘new’ nurse tried reintroducing herself and taking care of some intermittent checks that needed to be done. She was fine, but I still missed Julie, and kind of wondered if/when I’d be getting her back. I tried not to let that distract me, and instead focused on how much better I felt. I was, however, also worried about my progress stalling – which was my other big concern about getting an epidural (since I’d be confined to bed, and no longer able to move around as much and to help progress labor as much as possible). The ‘new’ nurse had also turned off the Pitocin to get me some relief when we didn’t know how far off my epidural would be, so I was concerned I was going to back track, stall my labor, and end up with a c-section as the 24 hour window got closer.

Thankfully, within about 20 minutes, Julie was back. Apparently as soon as she finished with the other patient’s monitoring, she immediately demanded to get me back, and came in to apologize profusely for all the chaos that had ensued over the last hour or so. Words can’t express how happy I was feeling at that moment. I was getting my team back, I was feeling comfortable, and Julie was back in charge, amping up my Pit drip to get things progressing again. Andrea checked me about an hour later, and sure enough I was progressing; I was up to 5cm, and then an hour later, was up to 7.5cm – woohoo!

As time passed, and my cervix dilated, the 7pm nurse changeover was approaching. I was sad that Julie would be heading home (as was she! She was really looking forward to meeting Baby O). We knew that Jane was back on at 7 though, and would be taking over, so at least I would be with another nurse I already knew and loved.

As we approached 7, however, things started to go a bit pear shaped again. A spot in my lower belly was no longer feeling numb, so I had a small spot of excruciating pain, which was becoming very distracting. We thought initially maybe I just needed a bit more of the epidural meds, so increased that. Unfortunately it didn’t do the trick, and I had started getting overly numb on my left side, while this little spot on my right was still feeling awful. Worse yet, the drugs were making me puke intermittently, and as my left side numbed, I was struggling to “puke effectively”, and thus getting no relief. Again, I was at the wall – feeling psychologically stressed about my left leg having become completely numb, feeling a lot of pain, and feeling helpless with my nausea. Both ‘my’ nurses knew I was in a bad spot, since they’d seen my demeanor change radically from my state of mind the rest of the day, and Mark was feeling awful and helpless. After what was probably 15 minutes, but felt like hours, Dr M and another anesthesiologist were back in my room, inspecting my epidural. They were considering re-setting it entirely, to try to better cover all the right nerves, but wanted to try adjusting the existing catheter first. Thankfully, that seemed to do the trick. I guess it had become a little dislodged during one of my puke sessions, and had gone in a little further, affecting the balance between my left and right. Whatever the cause, it was now fixed though, and I was back to feeling good.

Since by this point it was 7 o’clock, and I was 9.5cm dilated (0.5 cm away from the green light to ‘push’) and I was running on very little sleep, Jane recommended I nap. She wanted me to have some energy to push, and said that while I was sleeping, my labor would continue to progress, and actually take me past 10cm, helping to reduce the overall amount of pushing I would need to do. We decided I would take a 2 hour nap, and then we’d get to work on getting Baby O out. After an hour, however, Oliver decided he was ready for the world. He was getting lower and lower down the birth canal, which was causing his heart rate to be affected by my contractions (they were basically contracting around his skull). Jane came in, woke me up, started adjusting the bed, and then Andrea joined her as we got ready to welcome our little man into the world. Andrea did one last cervical check and could feel Oliver was very close. My left leg was still numb, so Jane helped to hold it up, while Mark and Courtney (our Doula) held up my right leg. Each time we saw a contraction on the monitor, I would push-push-push. About 6 or 7 contractions in, Baby O was right there (and Mark has since reported that seeing him crown and emerge was one of the most incredible experiences of his life). Andrea started instructing me to push at 50 percent, to help ease him out, since he was “sunny side up”. 2 more rounds of pushing – 20 minutes of total pushing all together – and he was out! Crying, healthy, and in the arms of his mama. It was all such a blur of excitement and relief and awe. I just stared at him on my chest, smiling, while Mark cut the cord. He was there – my little miracle of life was here at 9:15pm (roughly 22 hours after my water broke). Words truly can not express what an amazing feeling it is seeing your child in front of you for the first time.

In addition to cleaning him up as he lay on my chest, the nurses did a few other checks while Andrea finished things up below (delivering my placenta and cleaning things up). I felt incredibly fortunate that I only had to push for 20 minutes (the most exhausting 20 minutes of my life, mind) and that I had no tearing (music to every vaginally birthing mother’s ears). Being a premie (technically “late pre-term” at 36 weeks + 2 days), they were especially interested in his wellbeing. His nostrils were flaring just a tad while he breathed, which made us concerned about how well he was breathing and his oxygen intake. They took him away briefly to measure his oxygen (which was just fine), and while they had him, warmed him up a bit under a heater, measured him (19.5 inches, 6 lbs 2 oz), and went ahead and gave him some of the shots he’d need in the first day anyway. Within a few minutes, he was back on my chest, and Mark and I were once again marveling at his perfection. He was here – our little bundle of joy was in our arms.

Honestly, the next couple of hours are a blur. If I remember correctly, we were mostly just laying in our L&D room, admiring our newborn and recovering (getting me detached from all the machines, removing the catheter from the epidural, etc), before being moved to our postpartum room (where Jane had us hooked up with a super spacious corner room with a great view!). When we did finally make it to postpartum (around 1am), my left side had finally regained most of its feeling, so I took some preemptive painkillers for when my epidural fully wore off. Mark and I were both exhausted, but I personally found it difficult to want to sleep, when my little guy was right next to me, bundled up, looking adorable. Eventually exhaustion overcame me, and I was able to rest for a few hours, unfazed by nurses coming in and out to check my and Oliver’s vitals. I did wake briefly around 5:30am, when they came to collect Oliver for his bath and a checkup, and I was helped to the bathroom by a couple of nurses to begin my own postpartum recovery care. The nurse helped me walk as a precautionary measure, since there was a possibility of some remaining numbness in my legs, but I felt mostly ok after the first few steps, and she commented how capable and independent I was.

Throughout Monday and Tuesday morning, an extensive number of hospital staff came to check on Oliver and me, check vitals, drop off food, etc. We were incredibly well looked after, even though we were told by the nurses that we were easygoing and low maintenance (more than once, nurses were shocked I didn’t want/need any pain meds). We also had a few visitors, though thankfully not too many (just my brother and some of our best friends, who are expecting their own little one imminently), since we were trying to get to rest, bond, and get to grips with feeding.

All-in-all, our entire experience has been wonderful, which is awesome after the challenges I had in my pregnancy (threatened miscarriage, hyperemesis, placenta previa [which ultimately resolved itself], heartburn that further inhibited my eating [and sometimes caused me to be sick; because, of course, celiac and hyperemesis didn’t present enough dietary challenges!]). Things I am especially thankful for and/or pleasantly surprised by:

– the hospital staff. our nurses, the OB (both mine, who was there in the beginning, and the subsequent doctor who took over for the latter half of the day), the anesthesiologist, the postpartum staff… they were all wonderful, and really gave me a positive “birth expereince”

– my recovery. I’m still not taking any pain meds, because I don’t need them. Bleeding has been minimal. I’m not suffering (so far) from anything like postpartum depression (if anything, I’m experiencing the exact opposite!). I’m up, walking comfortably, and feeling good.

– the immediacy of pregnancy symptoms disappearing. my appetite is back (no more feeling overly full after half a meal!), I haven’t been sick since my labor, and my heartburn was gone within hours of my delivery. My food aversions are gone, and I’m now happily eating all the stuff I used to enjoy. I’m also back to drinking so. much. water. (which I have always done in the past, but stopped doing as much during my third trimester, since I was so full/suffering from heartburn).

– how well prepared we were for his early arrival, including having the car seat bases in the cars and having prepped some meals to store in the freezer, which we are now enjoying. When my water broke, we weren’t panicking about getting things done or being underprepared, we felt ready and eager to meet our little one.

– Mark. I love my husband, so, so much, but since he tends to be squeamish and hasn’t spent much time around children, we wondered how quickly and easily he would adapt and how comfortable he would feel during the birth. In a word, he was perfect. So supportive, was able to read me and my needs perfectly, was a source of positivity throughout the entire thing, and was so caring. Seeing him as a dad has been an absolute highlight, too. Watching him fawn over and  cuddle with Oliver melts my heart. He’s also been so caring and positive throughout this postpartum period; consistently looking for ways to help and telling me what an amazing job I am doing. He is also so keen to cuddle with and care for Oliver; we often find ourselves “fighting” over who gets to snuggle and have skin-to-skin time with him.

– how much we are in love with our newborn. It’s such a cliche, but it’s impsossible for me to put into words how much joy I get watching Oliver sleep, feed, stretch, and make all the little faces he does. In the morning, we let him wake up slowly on our bed, and watching him stretch and yawn is the highlight of my day.

– how healthy and happy Oliver is, despite arriving 4 weeks early. Thankfully he was measuring larger than his gestational age consistently, so he is still a reasonable length and weight, but his lungs, digestive system, etc are all in great working order. Initially, he was rather lethargic (I guess it’s understandable given his early arrival and spending so many hours in the birth canal!). With him already being on the lighter side, we were keen for him to gain weight quickly, but struggled to keep him awake enough to feed reasonably. We are still taking it day-by-day, but things are going pretty well, and as of our pediatric visit today, he has starting gaining weight (up 2 ounces from yesterday), so will hopefully regain his birth weight in the next 3-4 days.

Overall, we simply could not be more delighted with our little bundle of joy, and are so thankful to have him in our lives – even if his early arrival made us nervous for his wellbeing.

Oliver

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