Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Benjamin's Birth Story

When Mike and I decided we wanted to try for a second child, I envisioned another girl—couldn’t even fathom a boy, in fact. I pictured Ella and her sister—whose name I just couldn’t imagine, not as hard as I tried (I should have seen it as a sign)—playing princess dress-up, school, house, you name it. I daydreamed about all the hushed-tone conversations they’d have about me, and they’d roll their eyes in my direction when my back was turned.

Ella shared these visions, and she made that very clear. “Ella, do you think you’re having a brother or a sister?” –“Um, I think a sister.” –“But what if it’s a brother?” –“No, I think a sister. Because then we can play princess stuff.” Whenever I would suggest that a brother could play with princess stuff, she’d make a face liked I’d asked her to eat fried liver and onions.

Mike, on the other hand, was quietly dreaming about a son, a partner in crime, someone to share his love of surfing and skateboarding with. Not that Ella isn’t a willing accomplice—but he was eager to impart the lessons his father taught him. He wanted someone in this family who had a chance of understanding where he was coming from, at least a little bit.

Needless to say, we were all eager to meet the new baby. So eager, in fact, that we decided to find out the sex, even though we hadn’t with Ella and thought we wouldn’t with the next one, either. I told myself and Mike that it would be better for Ella if she knew, so that she could get used to the idea of a brother or sister before it became a real concept. Mike told me it was my choice, since he had been more insistent upon waiting the first time—which led to us referring to Ella as “Elizaben” while she was an inside baby: Elizabeth if a girl, or Benjamin if a boy.

I knew Mike was excited when the ultrasound technician pointed between our baby’s legs and said, “Do you see?” What I wasn’t prepared for were my own spontaneous tears of excitement. As it turns out, I was just as overjoyed to be finding out that our family would now have its Ben.

What none of us expected, however, was that our family would be meeting Ben quite so soon as we did, even though our first ultrasound dated his arrival at least a week earlier than the doctors originally estimated based on “the wheel.” What nobody expected, even though I kept hinting that I thought the baby would arrive at least a week or two before even the adjusted due date, and even though everyone at work would watch me lumber down the halls between classes and ask me, “Are you going to make it?” was that Ben would arrive a full five weeks plus one day early.

I had expected to continue teaching until the last day before April break, making my official maternity leave start date the day school resumed, April 25—still a respectable week away from Ben’s due date. I had suspicions he would decide to make his way into the world over the break, but didn’t want to get too excited about the prospect, since, as everyone kept warning me, he wouldn’t necessarily be early just because Ella was. But, since Ella had been due July 1 and was born June 18, I couldn’t help thinking that Ben, who was due May 1, would probably come sometime around April 18.

The week of March 20 was a tough one. I hadn’t been sleeping well for the last couple of weeks, waking up with a start every few hours and sometimes every hour. I was having unexplainable middle-of-the-night panic attacks. I was also experiencing a lot of Braxton-Hicks contractions. This combination of night-time wakefulness led to me literally falling asleep while driving to work. By Thursday, I had already made the decision I would stay home from work on Friday to  spend the day with Ella, who didn’t have school due to professional development taking place. Mike was up the entire night with Ella and decided to stay home with her as well, and decided to stick with that plan—which I was happy about because it meant I would be able to sleep in past 7 am. As with my first pregnancy, I found that the best sleep I got in the last two months of gestation came between the hours of 3 am and 10 am.

Because it was the end of the quarter and students would be turning in essays over the weekend, and because I was getting anxious about wrapping things up, I took my laptop home with me—something I never do. I had already done a partial clean-up of my desk at school, moving boxes of books to my classroom, putting files away, and otherwise creating a clean workplace for my eventual substitute. I spent the day Friday hanging out with Ella, watching Blues Clues and puttering about the house while our cleaning lady, Claudia, erased all of the mess that had accumulated over the past two weeks. I had already stripped the beds and put out clean sheets, including some linens for the crib in the baby’s room to serve in the interim while my best friend, Amy, finished sewing a blanket, bumper, and crib skirt for us.

After Claudia left, I decided to cook a casserole to bring to my book club, which was meeting later that night. I made a double batch, since the following day our family was trekking out to Hopatcong, NJ to visit some friends who had just had their baby, a girl named Coralee. I wanted to be sure we visited and brought some food and gifts before we had our baby and became home-bound for a while. Ella helped me chop and mix ingredients, and I helped her dress her miniature princess dolls in each other’s clothing. I packed up and headed over to my friend Kerry’s house, eager to see everyone and catch up after a long winter hibernation that had kept us all apart for far too long.

Although our book topic was Little Bee, by Chris Cleave, as usual conversation dissolved into the issues that were most pressing to us: for me, this was my birth plan. I polled the members of the group who’d already had their second children, asking for suggestions on how to include Ella in the process. Just the last week or two, I had started to reconsider home birth or the Danbury Birth Center, because either option would allow Ella to be as involved in the labor and delivery of her baby brother as she felt comfortable. I was concerned about her feeling left out, since Ella had taken on a protective role when it came to me—rubbing my aching back, kissing my burgeoning belly, and rubbing my tired head. She was constantly asking, “What time will baby Benjamin come out?” I thought it would be cruel and confusing to just disappear and then reappear with a baby in my arms, yet Yale didn’t allow children under 12 into labor and delivery rooms.

I shared my concerns with the group, who assured me that no matter what, Ella would be fine. By the end of the night, I was satisfied and relieved, since I loved my midwives’ practice very much and didn’t really want to leave them and transfer someplace new at 35 weeks, even though plenty do. As we all got up to leave, my girlfriend Krista rubbed my belly and murmured some words of encouragement. As we hugged goodbye, I felt a pop and then a trickle of warmth down my pants leg.

“Um, girls…” I started to say. “Either I just peed in my pants, or my water broke!”

Instantly the girls snapped to attention.

“Are you ok?” Kerri asked.

“Do you want me to call Mike?” said someone else.

“What can I do?” they all wondered.

“Nothing, no, thanks, I’m ok…let me just go to the bathroom,” I said as I waddled through the kitchen. In the bathroom, amniotic fluid continued gushing out of me. My hands shook as I attempted to dry my jeans. It’s too early, I thought to myself. Too early!

Kerri was waiting outside the bathroom door. “I’ll drive you home,” she said.

“No, no…it’s ok. I’m fine! I’ll be fine,” I assured everyone. “Kerry, can I borrow a towel?” I asked. I was becoming a bit overwhelmed by how much fluid was coming out. When my water broke with Ella, it was such a slight trickle for the first four hours that I was able to putter around the house comfortably. This time, I was afraid to move for fear of drowning small children.

“Should someone follow you home?” Anne or Krista or somebody asked.

“No, no, really, I’ll be ok. I’ll call Mike when I get in the car. There’s no rush…I’m not having contractions or anything, my water just broke!” I said goodbyes all around, hugged everyone, and left. In the car, I called Mike, who was over at Jeff & Deirdre’s house watching a movie with Ella—their usual tradition on nights I had book club. He would walk over to their house with Ella dressed in her pajamas and hang out until 10 pm or so, then either walk back with Ella or carry a semi-asleep Ella back home.

“My water broke,” I said when Mike picked up the phone.

“What?” he said incredulously.

“My water broke!” I repeated. “I’m on my way home.”

“Um, ok! Ok!” Mike said nervously. “Are you ok?”

I assured him I was, and hung up to call my parents and tell them the news. My mother and I had been talking for weeks about when she should plan to fly out to be with Ella and help us out, afraid that she wouldn’t be able to use frequent flyer miles, that tickets would be exorbitantly expensive, or that flights wouldn’t be available last-minute.

When I finished with my parents, I called the answering service for our midwives. They patched Debbie right through—she was on call all weekend, which relieved me. As much as I loved her two new partners, Debbie has been in practice for decades, and she had been the one attending Ella’s birth—it was fate. Debbie informed me that unfortunately, since I hadn’t yet been tested for Group B Strep, that we would have to go to the hospital right away, instead of laboring at home, so that I could begin to receive IV antibiotics every four hours. Great, I thought to myself. Unwanted intervention #1.

I walked in the front door to find Jeff and Mike running frantically around the house. Jeff was dusting off the infant car seat, which we hadn’t yet pulled out of the basement. Mike was haphazardly throwing clothing into a bag, trying to make sure I’d have everything I wanted at the hospital. I stood on the entry rug by the front door, afraid to step further into the house because fluid continued to gush even faster out of me, literally soaking my jeans.

“Get off the phone!” Mike yelled at me.

“I’m on the phone with the midwife!” I yelled back, laughing hysterically at the amount of fluid gushing out of me. I could barely find the breath to talk to Debbie between cackles. “Oh my god!” I exclaimed. “There’s just SO much!” I finished making arrangements with Debbie and hung up.

“Now just hold on,” I said, turning my attention to Mike and Jeff. “Let’s slow down.” I tried to calmly give directions, wishing the fluid would subside so I could make my way upstairs to change, pick out some clothes, and finish packing my bag myself. I asked Jeff to get some Clorox wipes to wipe down the car seat with, wishing I had taken it apart before this to throw the cover in the washing machine. I started taking things out of the bag Mike was packing and tried to tell him where everything I wanted was upstairs. I asked for a dry towel so that I could get out of my jeans and get into something dry.

Finally, we made it out of the house and over to Jeff and Deirdre’s so that I could say goodbye to Ella, at the very least, and let her know her baby brother was on his way. She was, to say the least, very surprised. “He’s coming out TODAY?!?” she said, wide-eyed.

“Well, maybe not today, but very soon,” I told her. “We have to go to the hospital now to see the doctor and find out.”

There were a few tears as Ella clung to my neck and expressed her desires to come with us, which broke my heart, but they quickly subsided as Deirdre offered another cookie and redirected Ella’s attention to the movie still playing in the background.

“She’ll be fine,” Deirdre told me. “Good luck!”

Alone again in the car on the way to the hospital, fear overtook me. “It’s too early,” I said nervously to Mike. “What’s going on?”

We didn’t say much else about it on the way up—just laughed at how easy the drive was in the middle of the night compared to the drive at 10 o’clock in the morning. I commented on how the bumps in the road weren’t nearly as bad when I wasn’t having contractions every three minutes. Before we knew it, we had arrived, just minutes before midnight.

Debbie was waiting for us when we got up to Labor and Delivery triage, where a nurse took my vitals and Debbie confirmed that my water had, indeed, broken. I declined the offer of a gown, not wanting to spend the night feeling even more like a patient, especially after Debbie told me she didn’t want me to try to go into labor overnight, that she would prefer we rest and wait until morning if possible.

Luckily, we got admitted to an L & D room, rather than a regular hospital room, since I was mildly contracting every 10-20 minutes. I tried to breathe deeply and calmly as I got hooked up to the IV. Mike, who knew a thing or two about IVs from his kidney extraction, asked the nurse to find a different port to leave in my hand so that I wouldn’t have a big long tube taped to my arm in between infusions. While that helped, I was still uncomfortable having something stuck in my hand—and the 20 minutes it took to actually receive the penicillin were terrible. They had to combine the penicillin with other fluids because the penicillin burned in the veins when injected. The fluid was cold, the penicillin was hot, and I was paralyzed during each infusion, afraid to move and unable to think about anything else except the drugs. Many times I asked myself and anyone else in the room, “Why would women CHOOSE to be hooked up to all this (and more) during labor???”

The night passed slowly. Mike made a bed on the hard tile floor after a brief attempt in the reclining chair next to the bed. I surfed the internet, sent emails, and watching shows on Hulu while I listened to him snoring softly. At one point I finally dozed off for an hour or so. I willed my body to start contracting…I visualized my cervix opening. Please, I thought. Please…don’t make them induce me.

In the morning, Debbie suggested she check me to see if she could clear any hidden “obstacles” such as a forebag of waters. She and the nurse, Jen, who had four children that Debbie had helped deliver, joked that Debbie would “roto-rooter” things along. Although Debbie didn’t find anything, she did determine that I was about three centimeters and 80% effaced, meaning the contractions I’d thought I was having were actually real, even if they were inconsistent and far apart. Still, she prepared me for the worst. “You may need to think about Pitocin,” she warned.

“No,” I said. “No Pitocin. How long before something HAS to be done?” I asked.

While Debbie assured me that the hospital didn’t put a time limit on laboring women, she did say that she didn’t want me hanging around forever. I told her I wouldn’t even consider Pitocin or other induction drugs until after midnight, when Benjamin would be 35 weeks old. 35 was the magic number for the hospital—it meant he wouldn’t automatically be whisked away to the Newborn Special Care Unit for observation. If he were born before midnight, he would be considered premature and would require observation and monitoring in the NBSCU. Debbie continued to tell me the baby was going to be fine. I believed her, not once considering that “fine” could mean very different things.

After Debbie checked me, she left us alone with instructions to get things moving—she wanted me out of bed, moving around, and for Mike and I to spend some time stimulating my nipples—a proven trick for stimulating labor. Since I was still feeling pretty good, I showered while Mike went out for coffee and breakfast, finally getting the chance to shave my legs. I spent a long time under the hot water, just trying to relax despite the huge needle in my hand. Luckily, it was well taped and the nurse assured me I didn’t need to worry about getting it wet.

Luckily, Mike had packed his computer, so I danced around the room after my shower, enjoying Sebadoh and Sonic Youth, bouncing slightly to Modest Mouse and the Pixies. The whole time, I kept shoving negative thoughts to the back of my head. Because I was so alert and aware, instead of focused and introspective as I’d been when I was in labor with Ella, I feared nothing was really happening to help Benjamin get out. I feared he wasn’t ready, or that my body wasn’t ready, despite my water breaking. I was terrified of needing medical intervention to get him out. I danced faster. I squatted. I rocked on the ball. When Mike came back, we did nipple stim like nobody’s business. By 10:30 am, I was contracting regularly, if only five minutes apart.

We hung out for the next two hours, talking, dancing, walking the halls. Eventually my contractions got strong enough to require pressure on my hips and low back to alleviate the pain. Finally, I told Mike and our nurse I was ready to get in the shower again. My contractions were strong enough and close enough together that I was having trouble finding a comfortable position.

I lost track of time after that—but I know we spent a fair amount of time in the shower, where my contractions started hitting closer together. My lower back was aching with each contraction, so I found swaying side to side and moving my hips around in big, wide circles helpful. Mike artfully positioned the water over my belly and back, alternating between contractions for maximum comfort and coverage. We continued to stimulate my nipples, since that seemed to directly bring on each contraction at this point. Eventually, I went from cold to hot and stifled, and told Mike I wanted to get out.

“I think I’ll take a hospital gown now,” I said, acknowledging that I felt pretty close to ready to deliver, although not really believing I was working hard enough to be ready to push. Mike and the nurse helped me into a gown and onto the bed, where I lay in child’s pose between contractions—oddly enough, a pose that I hadn’t found comfortable in yoga classes for months was a major comfort to me now. As each wave of contraction broke over me, I rose to my knees and grabbed the back of the hospital bed, which was raised to its highest point. The contractions were so strong I found myself moaning with each one. The pain in my back kept making me hold my breath and I had to constantly remind myself to breathe. Yet strangely, between contractions, I was still joking around with everyone in the room.

Finally, after one contraction, I said to Debbie, “I don’t know if it’s just wishful thinking, but I feel kind of ‘pushy’ after that last one!”

“I bet you are,” Debbie said. “Jen and I have times bet here, and we both guess the same time, so I know we’re right,” she encouraged me.

The next contraction caught me off guard and I screeched. When Mike put his hand on my back I screamed, “Nononononono! Don’t touch me!” The pressure was excruciating.

Debbie softly rubbed my back side to side after the contraction subsided. “Focus your breath,” she said. “Try to focus on where you want it to go.”

Her reminder helped me channel some yoga practice into the next contraction, and as I let out a low, loud moan, I directed all my energy and breath into the center of my body—down my spine, through my cervix, and out. I am not making this up when I say I actually felt myself opening with that breath. 

“Oh!” I said after. “I really need to push now!”

Debbie checked me for the second time, confirmed that I was almost ten centimeters, and told me she would set up the bed and call the newborn team in. Within minutes, I was pushing. Within minutes, Debbie was able to tell me the baby was “sunny side up”—meaning I had been having back labor. Within minutes, baby Benjamin was crying heartily on my stomach. Within minutes, he was in my arms, wrapped up and staring into my eyes. He was, dare I say it here and never in my daughter’s presence, even more beautiful than she had been. I was smitten.

As I held him, I heard someone telling me he would have to go to the Newborn Special Care Unit after all. He was “grunting,” they said—working too hard to breathe. I tried to stay rational while Debbie finished taking care of me. I tried not to panic when they took our son away. We wouldn’t be able to see him again for another 30 minutes to an hour. We wouldn’t get to hold him again for another two days.

Ben’s story continues from here, and we’re not sure when the next chapter will begin. He spent four days on a ventilator, getting a blend of oxygen and air forced into his lungs to help him inflate them. He spent three more days on a high humidity nasal cannula with a blend of oxygen and pressure. He spent almost a week on IV nutrition, eventually weaning from that to expressed breast milk through a feeding tube into his belly. He is now working on taking milk from a bottle, and should get the feeding tube out shortly. I am expressing 48-60 ounces of breast milk a day. I get to try nursing him maybe once or twice a day. I try to stay positive, because he is still a preemie according to the calendar. I try to stay positive, because he is, according to the NBSCU team, doing “great.” He is going to be “fine.” He will come home “soon.” But there is a hole in my heart, and a pit in my stomach, and I miss him. When I don’t miss him, I am missing Ella. I just want my family together, whole, and home.

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also on fargo said...

He is doing great. And he will be home soon. But you have a whole cadre of friends who know how hard the waiting and watching is and we are all thinking of you and Ben and Mike and Ella. Take care. We love you!

Lil'Libs said...

Jen. what a moving account. He is beautiful. You will be together soon.

Ann Boyd said...

Wow, what an intense ride you had! That is awesome that you were able to bring on labor without pitocin. We tried that with Rosie (I had an amniotic leak), but we couldn't get it going. However, my midwife put me on a super-gentle pitocin drip (that I slept through for 5 hours) and then labor kicked in pretty normally and I was able to manage the rest of it with no drugs. So, pitocin doesn't always have to be awful!

So glad you are together with Benjamin (and Ella) now -- all four of you. And happy birthday!

p.s. do you know the book "Baby Catcher" by Peggy Vincent? One of my favorite collections of birth stories. Your terrific tale here would fit right in!

Anonymous said...

A beautiful story written by a truly beautiful person. I can only imagine what that experience was like for all of you. But, my heart has been with you the whole time.
Lots of Love from your family in St. Louis

Summer said...

Beautiful story and wonderful to read it now that Ben is safe, sound, and healthy at home.

For some reason I haven't written down my birth story... Probably because my in-laws read my blog and sometimes what I write can make them uncomfortable. I chose instead to write a very abbreviated version of it not long after Cedar was born which got the point across but didn't delve into the details. After reading yours, I am reminded of all of the beautiful birth stories that I read in Ina May's books and on websites and blogs during my pregnancy. I always told myself that I couldn't wait to share my experience with the world. And then I didn't. But now I think I will. Thanks for reminding me how important this is.