Becoming a Mama - Part 7 - Piper's Birth Story
As soon as I put on my hospital gown and we got settled into our birthing suite, things started happening pretty quickly. I was hooked up to fetal monitors to monitor the baby's heart rate and a blood pressure cuff that was set to take automatically take a reading on my arm every 15 minutes. A doctor came in to do an ultrasound and make sure the baby was in the right position and she was! Next up...the moment of truth. Remember that at the start of the week, I was not dilated at all. We spent the week hoping and praying that things would progress naturally on their own before it was time to start induction, so my biggest fear going into this morning was that my cervix would still be at 0 centimeters. After my nurse checked, she called another nurse in for a second opinion. I was still at 0. As in zero. Zero centimeters dilated and zero progress on the natural labor front. It was such a disappointment, but I vowed not to let it get me down.
Quick sidenote about my birth plan. I didn't have one and that was a deliberate choice. Many women carefully plan for the situation surrounding their labor. They make decisions about when or whether to accept pain medication, decide on comfort measures, and carefully choose their surroundings. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that. In my own case however, I knew that developing a birth plan would probably mean nothing more than setting myself up for disappointment or anxiety. Precisely nothing had gone according to my "plan" or expectations throughout my entire pregnancy. I spoke with my doctor about this at one of my prenatal appointments and asked her if she thought it was okay for me not to have an exact plan. She told me that it was not only okay...it was the best thing I could do for myself. The more the medical team knew I trusted them and the less I tried to enforce my own ideas, the better care I was likely to receive. I know that concept probably sounds terrifying to many people, but it made so much sense to me. When my clients truly trust me to understand their needs and design an aesthetic experience for them, that's when my work is always at it's very best. I don't mean to say that my husband and I wouldn't advocate for my health and our baby as needed, but we agreed that we wouldn't try to prescribe a specific scenario. Heading into our induction day, I let myself be flexible and open-minded. I knew that I would prefer to avoid an epidural, but I also knew that it might be something I needed since induction can take such a long time. I decided to trust the Lord, and trust our medical team to do their very best work.
In order to start the induction process, the doctors first gave me a drug to help "ripen" my cervix. Ugh - I really hate the way that sounds. Isn't there a better word than "ripen"?!? I kept joking that it sounded like I was going to be harvested like an alien or something. After four hours, they checked my cervix again. I was still at zero, so I got another round of the ripening drug. I was having mild contractions throughout the eight hours, and it was a bit uncomfortable, but nothing too painful. We watched TV, I finished writing and scheduling this wedding blog post, and we passed the time away as best we could. Around 7:30 pm, after the second round and cervix check (still at zero!) I asked if we could eat dinner. It was painfully obvious that this was going to be a very loooooonnnngggg process that could take another 24-48 hours, so I needed some energy. Thankfully, the doctor agreed and we called my mom to bring us a Chipotle delivery! I had to wait four hours from the time we finished eating, and then I received another round of the ripening drug. Many hours later (now Sunday morning, April 17th) I was finally measuring at 1 centimeter. The doctor on call decided to insert a foley catheter balloon, which mechanically dilates the cervix to about four centimeters until it falls out. My nurse warned me that this procedure would be very painful and she asked if I wanted an epidural. I told her no, but agreed to take a dose of Stadol to help with the pain. The stadol is a narcotic pain medication that is only effective for about an hour. After they finished putting the balloon in, I knew I had made the right decision. My nurse told me she had never seen someone tolerate that so well without an epidural and that gave me a little boost of confidence. With another dose of cytotec (the ripening drug) and the foley balloon inside me working it's magic... my mild contractions started to slowly increase in intensity, but I tried to sleep through it as best I could to give my body some rest.
Hours later on Sunday evening (I lost all track of time throughout my labor!), I was finally measuring at four centimeters. The foley balloon was removed and I started receiving pitocin through an IV. My contractions had been steadily increasing in intensity already, but as soon as the pitocin entered my system, things kicked into high gear. I spent the next however many hours in intense pain. The baby had shifted and was resting on a nerve in my side that was causing me severe pain. I was also having pretty strong back labor. Truth be told, the nerve pain and back labor were so bad that I barely noticed the actual contractions even though we could see their fairly strong intensity on the monitors. Contractions come in waves so there is a break between them... but I never felt a break because of the nerve pain...it just hurt ALL the time. My amazing nurse worked hard to help me find the most comfortable positions. Jarrod and she rubbed my back, propped me on my side with pillows and the nurse hardly ever left my side. I have no idea where the time went on Sunday night. When you're in labor, you just get into a different headspace where nothing else is noticeable besides the intense focus you have on what's happening with your own body. We told our parents and families to go to bed and get some rest because we still had a very long way to go. There was no way this baby would be born until Monday or Tuesday.
Things changed dramatically overnight. Not long after pitocin started, I suddenly had three doctors in my room. They shut the machine off to stop the pitocin and my nurse quickly shoved an oxygen mask on my face. Apparently the baby wasn't responding well and they wanted to give us both a break. After a second try at the pitocin with the same result, one of the doctors sat down to have a heart to heart with me. They needed to place monitors on the baby internally through my cervix because the external monitors I was wearing on my belly just couldn't give them enough accurate information about what was happening with her. Every time I had a contraction, the baby's heart rate was dropping and they needed to know more. He looked me straight in the eye and said "I very strongly encourage you to consider having an epidural now. This procedures is going to be unbearably painful for you and we just really need to insert these monitors for safety purposes." I decided to trust him and agreed to have the epidural. Earlier when I declined the epidural for the insertion of the foley balloon, I told myself that I wanted to try to wait until I was at least at four centimeters. Now that I was at four and reaching a crossroads with some complications, I knew it was time and felt at peace with the decision.
The anesthesiologist came in and to insert the epidural catheter. Jarrod helped me sit still and held me steady while this was done. Because I would no longer have control of my lower body (everything below the chest was numb!) I would no longer be able to get up or out of bed, so I also received a catheter. The doctors broke my waters and inserted the monitors, including one which gets attached to the baby's head. This process took a very long time and they had a hard time getting the monitors in place. I was incredibly grateful for the doctor's earlier advice to get the epidural. It's one thing to suffer through contractions and nerve pain, but having someone's hands up inside you trying to insert medical equipment for 20-25 minutes is an entirely different ballgame. I can't fathom how much that would have hurt without the pain control medication. Once the monitors were secured, pitocin was started again. One of the doctors sat down to give us an update and explain the situation. She told me that they were going to do everything in their power to give us a vaginal childbirth, but that the data from the monitors was telling them that the baby wasn't tolerating my contractions well. Essentially, the placenta was "shutting off" with each contraction, which meant the baby wasn't getting sufficient oxygen. Yes, that is as scary as it sounds. She said that they would give it a while and if there wasn't sufficient improvement that we might have to have a conversation about surgery. I took some deep breaths as she left the room and focused on the task at hand... continue laboring and praying for safety.
Less than five minutes later, alarm monitors were going off and there were suddenly six or seven people in my room. The nurse put the oxygen mask over my face again and lights were turned on. I remember feeling terrified and even though I was receiving oxygen through the mask, I felt like I couldn't breathe. This wasn't right and I knew what the doctor was about to tell me. She said, "We're going to have that conversation now, even sooner than I'd hoped. We need to go to the OR because the baby's life is at risk." I nodded through my mask and things started happening very quickly. Unbeknownst to me, a nurse had already given Jarrod scrubs and instructed him to put them on over his clothes and pack up all our stuff right away. A team of people, including nurses and anesthesiologists prepped me for surgery. The next few minutes were a blur of activity and then I was transferred (literally - picked up and moved by a team of people since I couldn't walk or move on my own) from my bed to a different mobile bed for transport.
As I was wheeled down the hall, on and off an elevator, and into the operating room, all I could see was the hospital ceiling. I'll never forget those moments because I felt such a wild mixture of emotions. I was excited because I knew we would be meeting out little girl in a matter of minutes, but I was also fearful. I was fearful of the surgery, fearful that there would be complications, and just fearful of how quickly things were happening. I prayed silently the entire time I was being moved on that stretcher and a calm came over me just before they took me into the OR. I reminded myself that this is exactly why I didn't have a birth plan... because I was never in control. But I didn't need to be in control because God always is.
I am so thankful for so many people on that medical team, but one anesthesiologist stands out in particular. He was so kind and calming. He talked to me the entire time, explaining what was happening as I was prepped for surgery and doing so in a way that was cheerful and not scary. I don't know how to describe it except to say that he took all my fears away. Jarrod sat by my side and the curtain was pulled up so that we couldn't see. I couldn't feel a single thing below my chest, but I knew there was an entire team of people getting ready to perform that surgery. The anesthesiologist was telling me a story about when he and his wife had their first baby and then he paused and said... "here's the best part... you didn't even know it, but they've already started and your baby will be out soon!" A moment later he told me I would feel pressure in my chest (boy was he right, I felt a giant wave of heavy pressure and I just had to breathe as deeply as I could while it passed), and then he said, "she's out!" We all waited eagerly for a few moments and then we heard the most beautiful little cry.
The NICU nurses (who are always present in the OR in case the baby needs special care) walked her past us so that we could see her and took her to the warmer. I felt so happy and relieved she was here, but I was also a little sad that I couldn't hold her yet and that she was across the room. I didn't have my contacts in (you're not allowed to wear them during surgery) so everything was blurry and I couldn't see her that well. A few minutes later, they swaddled our little girl, Piper Rose, and placed her in Jarrod's arms, right next to my face. That moment was incredible and I laughed and cried through it. Absolutely nothing else mattered.
After the doctors finished closing me up and my anesthesia was discontinued, it was time for us to be wheeled to the recovery room. I still couldn't move my lower body but I had control of my arms and they placed my little girl in my arms so that I could hold her as we were wheeled through the halls.
This is our first picture together and I love it so much it almost hurts. I was beyond exhausted and run-down, but simultaneously the happiest I've ever felt in my life, and this perfect little creature was quietly staring at me and nestled in my arms. Every single bit of pain, heartache, fear and anxiety that Jarrod and I experienced over the last months, days and hours was absolutely worth it.
As we waited in the recovery area to make sure I was doing okay after surgery and let my anesthesia wear off, Jarrod called our parents. I remember hearing my mom exclaim through the phone "Oh my goodness!" so loudly that I could hear it through Jarrod's phone. Piper had been born at 4:02 am on Monday, April 18th. We surprised everyone and it was the most joyful thing to be able to deliver that news. After and hour or so in recovery (again - I had zero sense of time!) we were transferred to the mother/baby wing and given a room that would be our home for the next few days. After a visit from my mom and brother, as well as a handful of visits from nurses, I finally drifted off to sleep for the first time in over 30+ hours.
Piper's birth was a miracle, in so many ways. Looking back on it all, I see how everything happened exactly as it needed to happen, when it needed to happen. If I had designed a birth plan, I'm not sure exactly what it would have been, but I'm certain it wouldn't have included 42 hours of labor resulting in an emergency c-section! There was absolutely nothing we could have done to plan for any of it. Since then we've realized that we were so fortunate in so many ways. For example, if I hadn't received the epidural when I did, I would have received general anesthesia for my surgery and wouldn't have been awake for any of it because there wouldn't have been time for the anesthesiology team to place a catheter to administer my spinal block. Instead, they were able to use the existing epidural catheter and I was awake for all of it even though it was emergency surgery. What a blessing.
In part one of this series, I shared some pretty astounding news about our little girl. If you've read this entire story, you know by now that although we were expecting our daughter to be born with Down syndrome, she was actually born without it. We learned that news two days after leaving the hospital when the results of a chromosome test came back. The first few weeks after returning home were an emotional whirlwind of epic proportion. Postnatal motherhood hormones are no joke, and recovery from a c-section is tougher than I had previously imagined, but now that I'm feeling better and we're settling into our new slightly sleep-deprived routine (as much as you can have a "routine" with a newborn baby - ha!), I have to say that life is really, really good. It's amazing to look back on the past year and realize that at this point last year we were learning the news that we might have a hard time having a baby. It has been such a journey, and if I'm honest with myself - at times, such a physical and emotional struggle, but there is such joy at the end of it and we have grown tremendously throughout this last year. Now, here we are, with the most beautiful little five-week-old daughter who has changed our lives forever. Be still, my heart.
To my daughter, Piper Rose Atchison, who may read all of this some day: Your daddy and I love you immeasurably, but that love can't even come close to how much God loves you. I wrote these blog posts, but I didn't write your story... He did. We hope you always know how much you are loved and never lose sight of the fact that you were fearfully and wonderfully made.
love, Becca (Mama)