Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Birth of Lucy Jane

Lucy's Birth Story

Lucy Jane Parker was born at home on January 18, 2011 at 3:00 am at 39 weeks, 5 days gestation. She weighed 7 pounds, 12 ounces and was 21 inches long. This is the story of my pregnancy and birth.

Pre-conception and planning:
It took a little nudging and convincing, but by the end of 2009, my husband Rick was on board with adding to our family of four. We worked through all of the “how will this work and where will baby eat, sleep, ride, etc.” reservations that he had and were excited to start planning for baby number three. Both of my prior pregnancies had been achieved in one cycle of trying to conceive, so while I hoped for another quick conception, I knew that at 36+ and still breastfeeding it could be more of a challenge this time around.

After four unsuccessful cycles, a conviction that I was infertile, and a mad obsession with peeing on sticks, I got a very, very faint line on a test. It was early on the morning of May 10, 2010 right before we left for the airport to spend a few days in NYC celebrating Rick’s graduation from grad school and our 10th anniversary. I was only 11 days past my ovulation date. So it was still early for testing, and I was using an OPK as a HPT, and the line on the stick was the faintest of faint, pretty much invisible in regular lighting, and took more than 5 minutes to show up. With those factors at play, I figured it was an evaporation line like I had been crushed by previously in similar circumstances. So I packed with the expectation of AF arriving and tried to push disappointment out of mind for the trip.

We had a wonderful getaway to New York. I felt a little tired during the trip, but I chalked it up to not sleeping well in a hotel bed. I considered buying a HPT at a drugstore several times, but I didn’t want to risk a negative result bringing us down on our trip. 

Times Square: 12 DPO

Within an hour or so of arriving back at our house on the evening of May 12th, I peed on a stick and got a faint but not too faint second line. I was elated! I wanted to scream and dance and shout to the world, but I had to be discreet because my mom was still at our house since she had stayed with Lila and Nellie and the dogs while we were away. I snapped a photo of the test and sent it to Rick with the subject “Happy Anniversary!” I went downstairs for the reveal, and of course, Rick looked dubiously at it and expressed doubt that there was indeed a second line. It was a momentary buzz kill, but I had much, much more experience reading tests than he did, and I knew it was positive, and I knew I would pee on many more sticks to prove it to him!

The next few days were a roller coaster. I would get a negative test followed by a faint positive test followed by a negative test the next day. I grieved that it was a chemical pregnancy and was crushed over the loss. I was devastated. I needed to see a line getting steadily darker each day to assure me that everything was progressing well. That just wasn’t happening and some tests were negative, so I just knew that meant that it wasn’t viable, and I was heartbroken.

I went to my friend Kathy’s house on May 14 and took two tests with a fellow expert pregnancy tester to witness. They were still faint but evident enough to finally convince Rick that I was at least momentarily pregnant. 

I continued to test every day but never getting the bold, dark result I wanted but also not having any signs of my period or miscarriage. A glimmer of hope remained despite feeling quite certain it would all end soon. On May 20 (22 days past ovulation) after using at least a dozen cheap dollar store, OPK sticks, and drugstore tests, I decided to buy a digital test. I was terrified of seeing the words “Not Pregnant” and hesitant to spend fifteen dollars to have my heart broken, but I overcame my inner cheapskate and made the purchase hoping to find peace a la Clearblue Easy.

Within seconds, that beautiful word popped up on the screen, “Pregnant!” Finally! I could let myself believe that maybe, just maybe, I was going to have a baby. Of course, I also pried open the test cartridge to analyze the color of the lines on the strip inside the test. Dark enough to satisfy me! After 2 weeks of testing, I could finally stop peeing on sticks. I never even used the second test in the box, a huge show of restraint for an obsessive stick pee-er! For reference on how crazy I had become: When I was pregnant with Lila, I was cool and confident and used one, single Dollar Tree test. That was it! By baby #3, I was a crazed, obsessive maniac full of doom and gloom.

I never experienced any morning sickness, nausea, or food aversions during the pregnancy. My body felt great, but my head was a wreck. I spent months expecting to miscarry. The lack of morning sickness only added to my fears. I saw my friend Janet, a nurse midwife at a nearby OB office, for my initial lab work at around 8 weeks. After talking to her about my anxiety, she suggested a quick ultrasound to see the heartbeat. The tech picked up the heartbeat quickly, and tears of joy overcame me. A real, live baby! She also took a couple of measurements which I didn’t want. I only wanted to see a heartbeat. She kept double checking the due date on my chart with her measurement and then re-measuring. She kept bumping her measurements up, but they were still about 5 days behind my calculated due date which I knew to be rock solid and accurate, so of course, this sent me back into my spiral of gloom. I knew the date discrepancy was within the range of normal, and Janet tried her best to talk me down, but I still expected that since baby was measuring small, it probably wasn’t a viable pregnancy. After my last crazy pregnancy where ultrasound results had caused great distress and changed my birth plans, I had decided to not have any more ultrasounds, yet here I was once again with more ultrasound induced stress!

Janet knew I was planning another homebirth and told me I could come back at the end of the pregnancy if I wanted to do the GBS test or any other lab work but that I didn’t need to see her again. When I was around 12 weeks, I finally felt confident enough in the viability of the pregnancy to contact my midwives Claudia and Debbie to let them know I was pregnant and to begin care for my third homebirth! I discussed the care plan with Claudia at my first prenatal appointment, and she felt like due to the current homebirth politics that I should see Janet more regularly or not at all in order to stay off the radar of the (not homebirth friendly) OB at Janet’s office. I had no interest in dragging Lila and Nellie to regular office visits with two providers, but I wanted to have a back-up care giver since my last birth plan had gone awry.

Hilton Head Island: 18 weeks

During my first pregnancy, I was a brave, trusting, birthing warrior. I had no back-up plan, no ultrasounds and plenty of confidence that my birth would go smoothly and that the baby would be healthy. Somewhere along the way after that easy birth at home that went according to plan, I lost my birth warrior status. It may have been the PTSD from getting deathly sick after my first birth or having placenta previa with my second, but I was scared and felt the universe owed me a bad outcome after two great births and two healthy babies. I often ponder this and sometimes think that my change in confidence was part of becoming a mother. From the moment I held my first baby in my arms and felt that overwhelming, life-changing, infinite love, I appreciated the fragility of life on a whole new level, and it terrified me. I was also haunted by chilling words a psychic had given me during a ten dollar palm reading back in 1999. She had told me that I would have three pregnancies and two children, and her words were seared in my mind.

So the pregnancy continued with my head full with fear, doubt, and worry. However, my body felt great, and it was by far my easiest pregnancy physically. I so wish I could have enjoyed my symptom-free pregnancy! I continued to get prenatal care with Claudia and went back for another visit with Janet at around 24 weeks. Instead of Janet, the other midwife in the practice Kay was in the office that day, and she was not thrilled at my sporadic visits, so I started going on a more routine but spaced out schedule to appease everyone. But no 20 week ultrasound to stress me out!

My brother's wedding: 23 weeks

Third Trimester:
The pregnancy progressed smoothly. In late November at around 31 weeks, I started having regular contractions, not labor contractions but more than intense than Braxton Hicks contractions. They were especially bad when I walked. Anything that required me to walk more than a short distance caused them to be pretty intense. I started shuffling around to try and keep them at bay. I continued to get regular chiropractic care to ensure that everything was well-aligned, diagnosed myself with irritable uterus, and carried on with life the best that I could. I frequently had to stop and breathe through them and spend time on my side drinking water, but they never resulted in any changes to my cervix. At a couple of prenatal appointments, my urine dipstick showed trace red blood cells, and a few days before labor kicked in, I was stricken with a raging UTI where I went from feeling fine to peeing bright red blood and having stabbing back pain within a couple of hours. Looking back and later learning that a UTI can cause contractions, my guess is that the UTI had been brewing asymptomatically for several weeks and was the underlying cause of the contractions all that time.

We traveled to my parents’ house in Tennessee for Christmas. I was slightly nervous to leave the state at 36 weeks pregnant while having regular contractions, but Christmas at Goggy and Papa’s house is the biggest deal in the world to Lila and Nellie, so we weren’t missing it! We could just have the baby at my mom’s house! On Christmas night, the contractions got more intense, and I tried to check my cervix. I was unsuccessful but was certain that I had felt something in there that shouldn’t be there: a bulge or a tumor or a fistula or rectocele or something truly awful. 

Christmas Day at my parents' house: 36 weeks

We arrived back in Atlanta the day after Christmas and Claudia came for a prenatal appointment on the 28th. I insisted she do an internal exam to check on the horrible bulgy thing. She assured me that my anatomy was perfectly normal, I wasn’t dilated a bit, and all was well. What was that bulgy thing? A baby! I guess they protrude a little by the time 36 weeks rolls around.

December 30 was Nellie’s third birthday, and we had a party at a local park. Thankfully, I was able to bake and decorate and party with very few contractions. I even ran a short distance at the party, and the baby didn’t fall out! It was a great day, and I was technically full term, and my sweet Nellie baby was now a great big three-year old and almost a big sister.

Nellie's birthday: 37 weeks

The first week of 2011 was uneventful. Now that Christmas and Nellie’s birthday had passed, and the New Year was here, I could think about giving birth to a baby. A living, breathing, healthy baby! I was ready to get ready. Finally. I’m a world-class procrastinator; so of course, I didn’t pull out the baby gear until the ninth month!

My dear friends held a Mother Blessing for me on January 8. It was laid-back, low-key and celebratory and exactly what I needed to put me in the right frame of mind. I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful, supportive network of friends that understand my craziness and quirkiness and love me anyway.

Mother Blessing: 38 weeks

I didn’t do much in the way of labor preparation during the pregnancy. I figured I had it down by this point and knew what works for me and what doesn’t, and I just kind of wing it as it comes anyway. But on January 9, I watched the film, “Orgasmic Birth” thinking I could use it to check off a mental box for labor/birth prep. Oh, how I hated this movie! It was just not my thing at all. I was grouchy and very pregnant, and I hated the stupid way this one particular woman would smile during her contractions. It was just a giant, ecstatic, annoying, drunk, smile. I have no idea why it was so irritating to me, but it really struck a nerve.

January 10 brought snow. Lots and lots of snow. The city of Atlanta shut down for three days as I was winding down week 39. The roads were a mess, but since the midwife drives a 4WD, I let myself believe that she would be able to make it if labor started while we were still buried under snow. On January 13, the snow was starting to melt and roads were becoming passable. That morning, I started having mild, regular contractions, so we got excited and did a few last minute baby prep and birth planning tasks. Then the contractions fizzled out and Rick went into work for a half day.

Snowed in: 38.5 weeks

Last minute preparations: fluffing up the diapers!

I attended a belly mapping workshop with the lady from Spinning Babies on Friday, January 14th. Traffic was horrendous because of the remaining snow, and it took me two hours to get to the workshop, and I began to worry that I might have the baby while stuck in gridlocked traffic. It was fun to map the baby’s position, and have it painted on my belly, and the OB hosting the event did a quick ultrasound to verify that our palpating was accurate. They were careful to avoid revealing the baby’s sex, and I got to see the 3D view of the baby’s face. It was the sweetest little squishy face in the world, and I became even more impatient to be able to finally meet this little one.

Mapping of baby's position: 39 weeks

Labor begins:
I went to bed on January 17 at around 11:00pm. A few minutes later, I felt a contraction. I grabbed my phone and started the Contraction Master app to time the next one. The contraction lasted about forty-five seconds and the next one was only two minutes later. Here we go! In three labors, I’ve never experienced those early, widely-spaced contractions that get longer and closer together during active labor. All three have started with contractions less than five minutes apart. That makes it confusing to judge the progression of labor and which is why, baby #2 was almost an unassisted birth. This time Claudia had instructed me to call her at the very first sign of labor since we expected this to be another fast one, so I gave her the heads up and she said she would pack up and head our way. I called my friend and photographer Monique to head over too.

Monique and Claudia both arrived within an hour. Within the next hour, Claudia’s assistant Kim arrived. It had been a bad week for the apprentices in Claudia's practice, and none of them were available, so she had called in a former apprentice and doula that I had never met before. (One of the many reasons why I choose homebirth: no strangers at your birth.) Luckily, I felt a good vibe about her, so it wasn’t an issue having an unexpected stranger there. My contractions continued to be about 40 seconds long and 2 minutes apart for next couple of hours.

From the onset of labor, I had a a hard time handling the contractions, and I knew they were mild, so I began to stress out about how I would tolerate the later ones. I was very whiny and talkative and kept trying to analyze my labor pattern, pain tolerance, intensity, and psychology. Claudia just smiled her knowing smile and told me that I was very much in my head and that it would be better when I could stop analyzing and just flow with it. I found some relief standing beside the bed and putting one knee up on it during contractions, but with such a small break between them, I just couldn’t find my groove. Mostly I just complained and flapped my hands a lot.

Whiny stage of labor

At 1:26am, I had spontaneous rupture of membranes. The amniotic fluid was meconium-stained which was an unexpected curve ball. I hadn’t considered the possibility since it hadn't happened with my previous two births. Claudia let me know that meconium is a contraindication for water birth. She operates based on informed choice, so it was up to me to decide how to proceed. Given that it was light staining and fetal heart tones were good, I felt comfortable making the decision to go ahead and use the pool. At this point, I shifted from irritable, whiny, laboring mama into birthing goddess. I stopped analyzing everything and began riding each contraction instinctively. It’s amazing to me how the intensity increases but the actual pain seems to decrease and melt when you find that labor groove where you moan and sway and rock just so. Bam! Painless labor!

I got in the pool at 2:15 and oh, what sweet relief. It was warm and cushy and weightless and glorious. I became silent at this point. I tried sitting for a while, but settled on hands and knees resting my elbows on the edge of the pool. Then I felt my face doing that giant, stupid smile like the lady on the “Orgasmic Birth” video. I’m sure I would have been very annoyed with myself if I could have gotten back into my head and analyzed the event, but I was in the zone and silent and “the smile” just involuntarily plastered itself across my face with every contraction. 

The smile worked so well that I never vocalized or gave any of those telltale grunty sounds that you hear when it’s time to push. Maybe it was sphincter law. I don’t know, but I was just easing my baby down and out in complete silence while smiling like an idiot a goddess. I remember at some point a song came on my playlist that I didn't want to hear, and I wanted to tell Monique to turn it off, but I just couldn't communicate and no one was picking up the brain waves I was sending out. Finally, I mumbled the shortest sentence I could muster to alert someone to catch the baby: “I’m crowning.”

A few minutes before birth: deep in the zone

Everyone jumped into action. Rick went to wake Lila up, and she came into the bathroom all groggy but excited to meet her new sibling.

Within moments I was giving the final push and right as the baby was coming out at exactly 3:00am, I noticed that the Indigo Girls were singing “Love Will Come to You.” It was surreal and magical to hear the words, “Where there's now one there will be two…” as my baby came sliding out into the water.

I was still on hands and knees so Claudia laid the baby on my back and Rick announced that she was a girl. I was so flooded with emotion. I sobbed and was so, so thrilled to have baby girl #3. I didn't feel like I had a boy/girl preference during pregnancy, but apparently I did! I was overwhelmed at the sweetness of having three little girls. Perfection!

Claudia helped me turn over and do around-the-cord gymnastics to get in position to put the baby to breast and wait for the placenta. We basked in that afterglow that is just so unlike anything in the world. The work of labor is done and the most wondrous prize in the universe is in your arms. So intoxicating and miraculous.

Once the placenta was out, Lila got to cut the cord. 

Then I got out of the pool full of birth soup and showered off and donned the mesh undies and snuggled into bed with my perfect, gorgeous baby girl that smelled like angels had just kissed her. I was so smitten and in awe of her perfection and her realness and that she was mine and that she made it here safe and sound and hallelujah and praise to all the forces of all the spheres that ushered her here into my heart. Glory to all the things! My baby girl. My perfect, delicious baby girl. There are just no apt words for that love that knocks you into another dimension.

We cuddled and nursed and Monique snapped a few more shots then went home to grab a little sleep before her girls got up. Rick put Lila back to sleep for a few hours. Claudia and Kim did the mom and baby exams and wrap-up stuff and left a bit later. Except for a completely obliterated amniotic sac that was in tatters (I ended up passing pieces of it for weeks. Weird.), everything checked out perfectly. 

My dear Claudia has been at my side for all three of my births. I love her so much.

By 6:00am, that ferocious post-partum hunger had struck, so Rick ran out to grab me a spicy chicken biscuit because even though I had never tasted one before, that was the only food I could imagine eating. I never experienced pregnancy cravings, but I have had very specific cravings after all three births.

Rick and I discussed our final contender baby names and settled quickly on Lucy Jane - family names from each of our families. We called our parents and siblings and announced our new baby girl. My parents immediately packed up and drove in from Tennessee. Nellie woke up and got to meet her baby sister for the first time, and Lila was so excited to hold her again. My sister Miriam and my nephew Ewan came over, and my parents arrived around noon, and everyone got to meet the fabulous Lucy Jane and celebrate her birth day with us.

Later in the evening, I realized that we had forgotten to have a birthday cake for our celebration (a birthing day tradition in our family), so I sent my dad out to fetch a cake. I told him to get something small and suggested he buy a pretty little 6-inch cake from the bakery case at Kroger. He came back with half of a bundt cake which was ridiculous, and my hormonal reaction and sorrow over it was even more ridiculous. A miniature bundt cake would have been fine, but why do they even sell half of a cake? It was tragic in my mind. I kept trying to take photos at an angle where you couldn’t tell it was a half cake. Thankfully, in hindsight, I adore the weirdness of it, and it makes me laugh because it is SO my dad and half of a cake is so absurd and that suits us just perfectly.

My parents left the next morning and took Lila and Nellie back to Tennessee with them for a few days. I was sad to split up our family so soon, but both girls had colds, and I was having a lot of anxiety and germaphobia with their coughing and sneezing on the baby. It worked out nicely and gave me a few days to babymoon alone quietly with Lucy Jane and physically recover from birth.

As I replayed the birth in my head over the next few days, I kept returning to Claudia's Facebook post describing it from her perspective. I read it over and over dozens of times. She writes about the births she attends with such reverence. It is so special to have those words from her as part of the story of Lucy's birth.

Despite the beauty and ease of birth, my postpartum recovery was unprecedentedly difficult. My OCD and anxiety worsened in the days and weeks following birth. It had been so bad during pregnancy that I couldn't have fathomed that the darkness could become darker. I counsel postpartum moms routinely but couldn't see through the haze to assess my own situation. Thankfully, after desperately trying to reach Janet at the OB office, Kay stepped in and quickly referred me to the Emory Women’s Mental Health Program and their world-class postpartum services. They were able to get me in quickly for treatment. The program was a lifesaver and helped me to right the balance in my world and get me to where I could savor and enjoy my baby and our new family dynamic and feel secure that neither she nor I were going to perish at any moment. Life is so good now. My blessings are abundant and our love is profound, and I can see it and feel it now and revel in it. I’m a lucky, lucky mama.