My birth story

My birth story has been hard to write.  The experience of giving birth was many things I expected -joyous, exciting, intense- and many things I did not -emotionally draining and even traumatic.  Many people told me that you cannot predict what your birth will be like and to expect some changes in the plan.  But that kind of advice doesn't really help prepare you, and I guess that's the point.

As many of you know, I prepared for a birth without medication using a technique of self-hypnosis.  We took an intensive birth preparation class called HypnoBabies, which I really liked.  Essentially, the class teaches you how to use deep relaxation, similar to meditation, to "turn off" your body when you need to and to focus on relaxing through the contractions.  Many women who used this technique said that they had pain-free births, and on average, women have shorter labors and fewer complications.  It was also a really nice way to prepare for birth because Jake and I would do practice exercises together that help you let go of fear and just relax.  Can't complain about that.  The actual reality of the birth experience was a little different.  But we'll get to that.

Ultimately, I wanted a healthy birth without interventions so that baby and I would be as safe and healthy as possible.  I think it's a common misconception that women who want a natural birth are martyring themselves for some heroic purpose.  I'm not anti-drugs; I love Advil and I've never gotten a prescription that I didn't fill immediately.  But I researched all-things birth for a long time and decided that the best thing I could do for me and the baby would be to use what nature gave me and avoid interventions.  Epidurals and pain meds are not 100% safe for mom or baby, they often lead to more and more interventions, and I have a close friend who recently endured one of the worse epidural-related complications...so I was motivated.  

But on to the story.  Stories are better with pictures, so here we go...

 My sister Amy Lou getting my birth hair ready.

My sister Amy Lou getting my birth hair ready.

My water broke at 8am on Wednesday, August 10th.  I had an appointment that morning at 8:30am at the PeaceHealth Nurse Midwifery Birth Center.  I'd been getting all my prenatal care there, and I highly recommend it.

Unfortunately, when I looked down to see that water was spilling out of me, I also saw that it was not clear.  I yelled to Jake in the kitchen, "I think my water just broke."  He came in and was a little confused too - to be honest, it kind of looked like I was just losing control of my bladder.  But I wasn't.  The discoloration was due to meconium in the water, which is the baby's first poo and is supposed to happen after they're born (ick).  It can be a sign of fetal distress ... or it can just happen because you are 6 days overdue (my situation).  

 The Ladies M-V, at my side!

The Ladies M-V, at my side!

I told Jake to be ready for bad news, and we rushed to the Birth Center.  I called my mom and sister, Amy Lou, on the way.  Amy had been visiting for almost a week, waiting for baby to come.  I asked, "Is there any way you can delay your flight?  My water just broke."  Luckily, she was able to fly out later that night, so she and Mom headed over too.  My sister Maren had visited too but had to go home because she had final exams that week.  We were so sure that Baby O would be early or on time... but no!

So we went to the Birth Center, and Michelle the midwife confirmed what I suspected.  Because of the meconium I was considered "at risk," and we would have to give birth at the hospital instead of the Birth Center.  I would have to be on continuous fetal monitoring to watch her heartbeat, and if it dipped we might have to do a C-section.

Jake, having a tough time adjusting to the plush surroundings of Riverbend Hospital

We went home for about 10 minutes to grab our things and get over to the hospital (which is only about 10 minutes away).  Jake ran around the house like a mad man.  We had a bag packed but still needed to add several things.  I had thought we'd have time to do that while I labored at home for some time.  Nope! 

I did not really start "active labor" on my own.  I had these super wimpy contractions that really just made my belly hard and were barely noticeable. Pauline the midwife let me wait until about 1pm, and then she said I would need to get on Pitocin, the synthetic hormone that makes contractions and dilation happen.  I was not excited for this. Pitocin can make contractions much more intense, and of course it's a drug, which I wanted to avoid.

 Waiting waiting...

Waiting waiting...

I had a big lunch at noon, which would be the last meal I would eat until breakfast the following day.  Pitocin can make you ill, so it was just juice and crackers after that.  And some tater tots that my awesome friend Missy brought to me.  In her purse. Haha take that, hospital rules!

I got hooked up with the Pitocin, and we were off.  The contractions became much more noticeable, but still manageable with our hypnosis techniques.

 When we told the nurses that we were using HypnoBabies for a natural birth, they put this sign on the door to tell visitors that they needed to check with them before entering.  Very nice.

When we told the nurses that we were using HypnoBabies for a natural birth, they put this sign on the door to tell visitors that they needed to check with them before entering.  Very nice.

Pitocin is administered by IV starting at level "2" and increasing to level 4, 6, and so on.  I asked them to increase the Pitocin slowly because I wanted to give my body time to kick in on its own.  We moved up to level 4 after an hour or two.  Still manageable. 

Our nurse Judy was very impressed with us.  She told me to remember that my body is capable of much more than we can imagine and to hang in there.  Our next nurse, Evelyn, was not a natural birth believer.  When we told her about our plan she said, "Ok.....and you do know that there are other options, right?"  Ummm, what?!  Do you mean, have we heard of pain medication?  Yes.  Now please leave.  Evelyn quickly bumped me up to level 6 without asking or telling me.  Not cool.  The contractions got pretty intense, and I asked for the midwife (Hilary) to come back.  She had a little word with Evelyn.

Well, Evelyn turned out to be correct after all.  The Pitocin went back up to 6, and we were off again.  Each time it would increase I would feel it about 1-2 contractions later.  The feelings were about the same: an intense pulsating in my abdomen and pain throughout my pelvis - but it would become more intense.  Jake was with me, coaching me along, and using our self-hypnosis cues.  We also had iPod tracks to listen to, and he put those on a couple times.  At one point my mom took over for Jake.  She did something that really helped.  She gave me something to visualize during the contractions.  We visualized my grandmother, Lois, and my aunt and uncle's house in Tacoma where we always gather at Christmas.  This took my mind off the pain and kind of transported me to another place.

I had no real sense of time.  The hours passed quickly, but the contractions felt like an eternity.  I was stuck at 5 centimeters for 5 or 6 hours with no progression.  Around this time I had an important realization.  If I was going to get anywhere, we had to increase the Pitocin, and we had to do it steadily.  I told this to Jake, and he agreed.  He was just waiting for me to be ready for that.  As much as I wanted to trust my body and let the process happen organically, I also needed to trust my mind.  I could see that my body was not progressing without the help of this synthetic hormone.  I could be sad about that, or I could gather my courage and embrace the situation.

 Gathering my courage

Gathering my courage

Hilary and Evelyn bumped the Pitocin up to level 7 for a while, and then quickly up to 8.  This was around 5-7pm.  My sister had been with us up to this point, but she had to catch a flight.  I remember seeing a kind of fear in her eyes as she got ready to go.  She looked like she was saying 'I'm proud of you, but I'm worried for you, and I feel bad that I have to leave.'  I told her it was ok, and it really was.  I was approaching a point where I could not think of anything other than what I was doing.

My dad arrived a few hours after Amy Lou had gone.  He came into the room and sat by me.  We did not say anything for a long time.  He just sat with me and held my hand and leaned in close.  It makes me emotional to think about it now.  It was such a sweet moment.  I was so glad he had come, but I was so overwhelmed with pain.  He seemed to understand all of that just by being close to me. He was my dad right then, just my dad.

After a few more contractions, my mom and dad commented that they were so impressed that I was staying calm through each one.  I would lean back, close my eyes, and focus on my breathing.  Usually Jake would hold my hand too and talk to me or use our cues.  This was what we had practiced, but it was so much tougher than I ever could have imagined. "If I didn't do this, it would be worse," I tried to explain.  It would have been easy to lose it; I was on a fine line between control and hysteria.  Like being 2 inches under the water during a crazy thunderstorm.

As we got into the night hours, there were no more visitors to the room.  Krystle the nurse took over for Evelyn.  When Evelyn left, I squeezed her hand and thanked her - she had really come around since her earlier comments, and I could tell she was genuinely pulling for us.  She said, "We can do better than that," and gave me a big hug.

The amazing thing about having Krystle take over at that time was that Krystle had been our HypnoBabies class instructor, too.  How serendipitous can you get?  She jumped right in and took over for Jake for a while.

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Here we are, Krystle, me, and Jake pre-contraction

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...and here's the team during a contraction - Krystle is in her element. I look so hot right now. Jake is getting TIRED.

When they turned the Pitocin up to level 9, a change happened.  I was on the birth ball when it hit me.  I remember slamming my foot on the ground in shock.  (**I want to warn any pregnant readers at this point- skip ahead to the birth pictures!**)  I yelled out, "Its changed!  Something is different!"  I felt pain and intensity like never before.  I started to lose my grip and felt myself crossing into hysteria.  It was scary, to be perfectly honest.  And it got worse.

Jake and Krystle convinced me to get back into the tub, and I did eventually.  This must have been between 11 and midnight.  I was on the toilet first, and I had a desperate conversation with Jake about pain medicine.  I pleaded with Jake to ask Krystle to give me something for the pain.  I could barely see straight.  I can only imagine that the pain is similar to having a broken bone, but the bone is your pelvis, and it keeps breaking every 2-3 minutes for 30 seconds or more at a time. (If you are pregnant and still reading, seriously, skip this. It won't be this hard for you. I plan to write another post about what I would do differently for my next birth (yes, I plan to have more kids), and this is one of those parts I would do differently.)

It breaks my heart to think of what was going through Jake's head at this time.  His wife is in terrible pain, but just days ago she was confidently convinced that she wanted a natural birth.  We both knew about the risks of a medicated birth, and now we were so close.  Plus, Krystle told Jake that if I got pain meds now, it could likely slow down the progress we'd made.  Jake decided against the drugs.  He got me into the tub, and I started to manage a little better.

Another couple of hours passed in the tub (maybe less? It's hard to remember), and this was by far the toughest part of the labor for me.  It was the transition period.  Jake was exhausted, so was I.  He tried so hard to keep me going, to have me think of other places and events - anything to take my mind off of the pain.  But I could see the tears welling up in his eyes.  There is no perfect way to capture this moment in words.  I will just say that there was a tremendous amount of love in the room, just an enormous outpouring of determination and love.

Krystle checked my progress and took Jake out of the room to deliver the results.  She said I was close to 10 centimeters (fully dilated) and would be pushing at any moment.  As they spoke, I felt another contraction come along.  I began to chant a word (something I had started doing when I felt the contractions coming, it helped me stay focused and it was my way of letting Jake know that another one was coming) - the word was either "open" or "Olive" (Olivia had too many syllables at this point).  But this contraction was different; suddenly I wanted to PUSH!  YEEEEEESSSSSSSS!!!  Finally!

I yelled, "PUSHIIIIIIING!"  Jake rushed back in, "really?!"  "YES!"

I pushed a few more times in the tub, and Krystle said we'd better move to the bed.  Because I was hooked to an IV, and in very active labor, it took me some time to move around.  I got out, got toweled off, had another contraction in the bathroom, and then moved to the bed.  I laid on my side because it hurt to lie on my back.  No one told me I had to anything any differently, they all followed my lead; that was very nice.

"I am going to have this baby in 30 minutes," I thought to myself.  And you know what, I practically did.  About 30 or 40 minutes later, little miss Olivia swam into my outstretched arms.

 You're HERE!

You're HERE!

Pushing a baby out is different than enduring contractions. Jake said that the color came back into my face, I looked focused and more present. Each push was simultaneously caused by an incredible surge of energy from somewhere within me and also causing a huge surge of energy, down and out. I immediately felt better too. With all this new found energy, I was so motivated to have this baby; I made a plan in my head.  I would wait until they told me she was crowning, and then I would push with all my might to get her head out - and I would get it out in 2 or 3 contractions.  I did this.  After big push #2, I asked, "Could the next one be it?"  Hilary said, "Yes. As soon as you're ready." 

The next contraction came and I puuuuuuuuuushed and puuuuuuuushed and I didn't stop even after the contraction ended.  Everyone was cheering me on.  "Push push PUSH, Hannah!"  The whole room was energized.  And then finally her head was out!  On the next two contractions her shoulders came out one at a time.  There was some tearing with the second shoulder, but I didn't feel it.  (Or at least, I didn't feel anything different than what was already going on down there.)

I reached down and grabbed my baby girl under the shoulders and pulled her slippery body all the way out.  Up onto my chest she went.  Jake was over the top excited.

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Jake cut the cord, tentatively - he said he didn't want to hurt her, even though he knew she couldn't feel it.

I pushed the placenta out with relatively no problem.  The nurses and Hilary had to push on my stomach to make sure everything was out (weird, I never really thought about this part of labor).  It was very painful, but I just kept looking into my perfect girl's eyes and that got me through.

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My mom, Grandma Lynnette, was there for the big push.

Olivia went to the breast right away, just like we hoped she would.  (Sometimes babies have difficulty with breastfeeding initially if the birth is heavily medicated.)  She nursed and looked up at me, and I looked at her.  It was incredibly sweet.  Jake was still elated.

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Daddy holds Olivia for the first time

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The fam charges in!

After Jake and I had some time with her, and the nurses had checked everything out (she was healthy!), Jake called to tell his family they could come in.  One second later the doorknob turned and in they came!  They were so excited to see her, they'd been waiting by the door.

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This was how we spent most of the next day

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We were taken to a recovery room after the birth, and we went straight to sleep (after some more time spent staring at our little miracle).  The next day was full of visitors, which was great!

 Grandpa Ralph

Grandpa Ralph

 Grandma Robin

Grandma Robin

 Friends, Shane and Sarah

Friends, Shane and Sarah

 My dad, Grandpa Gary

My dad, Grandpa Gary

 Baby gifts!

Baby gifts!

 Grandpa Denny and Grandma Lynnette, my mom

Grandpa Denny and Grandma Lynnette, my mom

 My best gal, Missy

My best gal, Missy

 "Uncle" Joe Joe

"Uncle" Joe Joe

We stayed one more night at the hospital, and left the following day.  I was so ready to go home.  I appreciated the help we got from the nurses, but I wanted to be comfortable in my own bed and couch, snuggled with my little girl.  I had lost a lot of blood, and it took a long time to heal. A LONG time. Jake stayed home with me for 2 weeks, and it was just great to have him there.  I couldn't have done it (any of this!) without him.

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Aunt Meggie picked some great clothes for Baby O after her first outfit was slightly puked on...and peed on

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Added bonus of a hospital birth: free food! (I ordered everything.)

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3 men and a baby

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A lady came in to take my picture for the website - I was so white from the blood loss, and this is 24 hours later!

Our little angel gets her hearing test

We're outta hereeee!

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Me and my girl

Was there ever a doubt that it was worth every hard-fought minute?  Look at this face.

Some of my favorite (pregnant) things

Pregnancy brings us many things: great joy, occasional bouts of crying for no reason.  Mostly a baby.  That's a biggie.  Here are a few of the simple joys I've encountered in the recent past:

1. Door-opening.  THANK you very much!  So glad you could be bothered to push this 15-pound door open a little longer, whilst I am carrying around a bowling ball in my shirt and perpetuating the human race.  You're all welcome!  (Just kidding, I really do appreciate it.)

2. The "aww aren't you . . . pregnant!" look.  Look at me.  Look at the baby bump.  Back at me.  Feign saying something.  Realize you've got nothing.  Close mouth, cock head to the side, bring chin to neck, and smile without showing teeth.  Awwww...

3. Hearing about the stuff that drives other pregnant women crazy.  Sure, I've got my own gripes, but other people's problems are so ... funny!  One lady on my podcast was complaining that, while at the Starbucks the other day, the barrista exclaimed "wow!  When are you DUE?!"  Well, this lady was like 13 1/2 months pregnant and, judging by the reaction, apparently as big as a bus.  What do you expect?!

Another lady complained when someone asked her what she might name the baby.  "Ugh!  Seriously?!  If I wanted you to ask that, I would have offered up the information myself!"  <-- her real reaction (*side note: I reserve the right to get pissy about this kind of mundane stuff later in pregnancy too.  Its only funny when it happens to other people.)

4. That long dark line that develops along the bottom side of the belly.  I don't have it.  Finally something good comes from being insanely pale-skinned!

5.  Emotional outbursts that don't make any sense.  Well, sometimes they make *some* sense.  Like when I see a baby and I tear up.  Or if I'm so hungry I turn into a fussy child.  But one time I was taking this new class at the gym - it basically entails hitting large exercise balls with drum sticks to music.  The song "Its Raining Men" came on, and I was having so much fun drumming away and jumping around and singing along, I almost started to cry.  Out of happiness. That's some weird hormones.

6. Water aerobics.  I love the weightlessness, the easy exercise...but mostly the nonstop belly love from the older ladies.  I feel like a celebrity in there!  Tonight I turned around in the locker room to this series of awesome comments, "oh cute suit!" "oh look at you, you are ALL baby!" "so cute!" "you are absolutely adorable" "glowing!!" "when are you DUE?!"
 

What's gender got to do with it?

Boy or girl - doesn't matter, right?  Right!  And wrong.  The gender of a baby matters in ways that have nothing to do with value judgments or personal preference.  One of the most common things people ask me whether I would prefer a boy or a girl.  I suppose there are some people that freely answer this question one way or the other, but not me.  I can't.  And I won't, even if I could.

There was a time when I knew that I wanted a girl.  Three girls, actually.  Hope, Faith, and ... Love? Peace?  EarthMoonSunshine?  I forget.  This was yeeeears ago...circa 5th grade.  Circa Jennifer Love Hewitt, Party of Five, and apparently some kind of hippie influence.  Now I can honestly say that I don't have a "preference."  I have fears.  And concerns.  And I also dream about the fun little things that come with raising a boy or a girl.

The fact is, having a boy or girl does not matter to ME, but it does matter.  I studied gender long enough to know that boys and girls grow up differently and probably have some innate differences as well.  By the time children are 8-10 months old they have started developing a gender identity.  They learn that they are male or female in the same way they learn that the sky is blue.  From the moment they are born, in fact probably before that, we start to treat them differently.  Boys are more likely to be complemented for being "smart," "strong," or doing a good job.  Girls are more likely to get compliments about their looks- their cute shoes, pretty hair, or sweet smile.  (Here is a great blog about this very conundrum.) 

I've heard parents say that they tried to raise their kids "gender neutral," but each time it became impossible.  That makes sense to me.  Studies have shown that boys and girls tend to be naturally attracted to more "male" or "female" activities, toys, and behaviors.  Not true in every case, of course, just tendencies.  And we can't necessarily control that.  We can't control the messages kids get from other adults and kids.  And then we have our own limitations.  I have probably complimented little girls' clothing and hair 1.8 million times without thinking anything of it.  We do these things!  We all live in a gendered world.

And I know the world will not be a fair and balanced place for my children.  These fears go beyond gender too.  Chances are we not resolve sexism, homophobia, poverty, and the hundreds of our other social blemishes before my kids are grown.  But this doesn't make me "wish" for a boy any more than a girl.  It's not like that.

There is a fascinating and wonderful scene in the movie, The Family Stone, that my family watches every Christmas.  Sarah Jessica Parker's character tries to make a point about how it's a tough world out there, and even tougher if you are gay, and so doesn't every parent hope for a "normal" child?  Diane Keaton is the mother of the five Stone children, one of whom is gay.  She and the father, Craig T. Nelson, have such a fantastic response.  They remind me of my parents and of Jake's.

This video should start at the 3:15 mark - if you want to see the whole train wreck from the top, go to YouTube. I love this movie!


I think that all any parent hopes for is that their child will have the courage he or she will need to face life's inevitable unfairness.  I hope that I will find the way to pass that on to my kids.  Whether they are boy, girl, alien or superhero.

Professional and pregnant

Pregnancy is probably the single most important and visible thing that distinguishes women from men.  The way that we treat pregnancy, especially at work, is important.  I used to write about this issue when I was a wee college student many years ago (ok, like 8 years ago).  But living it is so very fascinating.

When I told my boss I was pregnant, he said "I am just going to treat you like a normal human being.  I don't want to be accused of giving you special treatment."  Gee, thanks.  Other people have treated me A LOT differently now that they know I am pregnant.  Sometimes they are kidding.  They tell Jake that he should be carrying things for me.  Or they offer to do things they'd never done for me before.  Or they just assume, in a very subtle way, that certain things will be more difficult for me or that I am more fragile than I was before.

I'm not sure how I feel about all this star treatment.  In many ways, I love it and appreciate it.  In other ways, the girl-power side of me doesn't want people to think that I am weak and fragile ... but I kind of am!  I am carrying some very special cargo in here, and all the changes in weight and stability, along with the morning sickness and constant headaches do take a toll.  I told my boss, "Listen, just treat me normally - if I'm sick, treat me like I'm sick."  I've been pregnant for 16 weeks without a single sick day from work, or a single change in my schedule.  ... But it will get harder.

It will also get more visible.  What do you think when you see a pregnant lady?  I sat through a court hearing in which two of the attorneys (out of 6) were visibly pregnant.  I could not stop thinking, "that is SO cool!"  Followed by, "I wonder how they do it?  Is she feeling up to all this?"  I was a little distracted.  A big pregnant belly carries a lot of baggage.  And for some, its probably all they can see.  The fact that the belly is attached to a very capable lawyer is lost.

I will be appearing in a trial next week.  It should be interesting to see what, if anything, is different.  The fact is, being pregnant is a very unique situation.  There is nothing like it.  You are not JUST sick, or JUST bigger - you are pregnant with a baby!  You HAVE to be treated differently at times.  If you work around dangerous chemicals, you have to be moved - but it doesn't mean you should lose your job.  Other times, you shouldn't be treated differently at all.  Like in court.

So, as I concluded many many long years ago, I think we need to THINK of pregnant women as equals, and still accommodate their needs, even when the needs are different.  And we should WANT to do this.  Because women make the babies.  No one else can do that.  And it is a very, very important job to have.