Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A lot to love (a labor story)

Warning: super long labor story ahead.

It’s a girl! My first instincts were right about the gender, despite almost everyone else predicting it was a boy. Avery Denise Schmidt was born on September 5, 2013 at 9:12 a.m. She was 9 pounds, 11 ounces and 22 inches long. I could tell she was going to be bigger than Marla, but even I wasn’t prepared for that much baby.

The last month of pregnancy was rough, to say the least. Physically, I felt as comfortable as could be expected, given the giant baby growning inside me while we moved into a new home in the thick of a hot, sweaty summer. Between bathroom visits, tossing and turning, and stressing about packing and moving, I was sleeping just a few hours a night. Walking was brutal. Picking up Marla was basically out of the question.
40 weeks pregnant, two days before delivery.

At my doctor’s appointment on Tuesday (September 3), the doctor stripped my membranes and said she’d be “shocked” if the baby didn’t arrive within a couple days. She mentioned that they’d most likely induce me if I didn’t have the baby by that week, which was unsettling, since I wanted things to happen naturally. Then again, given the size they were predicting (an ultrasound at week 38 had estimated baby’s weight to be 9.1 pounds already), I didn’t really want to wait much longer either.

Anyway, I started having menstrual-type cramps a couple hours after my appointment. I left work early and went home, fully expecting to go into labor that evening. But nothing happened beyond the cramping and some bleeding. That night, I was up with some contractions. They started to get pretty strong and regular, so I called my mom around 5 a.m. and asked her to come over. Unfortunately, by the time she got here, the contractions had petered out. I stayed home from work and my mom spent the day with me so Jeff could go to school, since it was his first day of the year teaching students. The day was uneventful, contraction-wise.

That evening, Jeff’s mom came over to spend the night and watch Marla in case we needed to go to the hospital in the middle of the night. My mom stayed as well. Susie gave me a pedicure and tried to coax the baby out with some strategic pressure points in my ankles. I had had no contractions all day and wasn’t certain I’d have any that night either, but it felt good to have help at the house and to be prepared. As it turns out, apparently the baby felt at ease too, because I started having regular contractions around midnight. They got more and more intense, so I woke Jeff up around 2 to go to the hospital. We left Susie at the house with Marla, my mom followed us to the hospital, and we arrived there by about 3.

They monitored my contractions and the baby for about half an hour before officially admitting me to the hospital. The nurse checked my cervix at 4 a.m. and said I was 4 cm dilated. This was only one centimeter more than what I’d been at my appointment the week prior, so I wasn’t too impressed, especially given the pain I was in. They hooked up an IV with fluids, because I had a slight fever that they wanted to bring down. After that, I paced and bounced on the big exercise ball to manage the pain for a couple of hours. The doctor on call came to check on me and I learned she was a new doctor, and this was in fact her first night on call. Furthermore, it seemed to be a busy morning, with something like five other labors in process and she was the only doctor on duty. Not exactly a confidence boost. We were told that she’d be breaking my water if it hadn’t happened on its own by 6 a.m. Again, I wanted things to progress naturally, so I was hoping somehow my water would break without intervention. Lo and behold, when the nurse came in to tell me the doctor was on her way in, I went to use the bathroom and was pleasantly surprised when my water broke right then and there. This baby was nothing if not cooperative.

As soon as I got out of the bathroom, things seemed to get really intense. The doctor checked my cervix and put me at 8 cm. The pain that followed this exam was so extreme and familiar that, in the middle of a very strong contraction, I asked for an epidural without the slightest hesitation.

Let me sidetrack here and admit that I was a little disappointed in myself for caving to the epidural. I had an intervention-free labor with Marla (sort of unintentional, but whatever), and the very stubborn part of me thought that if I'd done it before, I could do it again. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t had a natural childbirth, but there’s something about facing your absolute darkest hour, the feeling that you will never, ever make it through, and not only surviving, but bringing a baby into the world at the end of it. It sounds cliché, but it was empowering and meaningful. I would honestly tell any woman to think hard about what labor means to her and consider doing it naturally for this very reason. I'd recommend she watch The Business of Being Born and research the vastly expensive and unnecessary medicalization of childbirth in America. Then I would tell her about my second labor and epidural, which was vastly different, much more comfortable, and absolutely no less significant.

The pain relief was glorious. They finally (I say “finally” because it felt like absolute ages, with each contraction worse than the one before and coming on fast and furious) got the epidural placed around 6:30 a.m. It took longer to take effect than I expected, so it wasn’t until probably 7 or so that I really got the benefits of it. It was the strangest thing to sit and chat with my mom and Jeff and the nurses, as if my body wasn’t working harder than ever. I could feel the pressure as the baby moved downward, but the pain disappeared. I felt like I was cheating somehow.

Smiling during labor? Obviously something's wrong here.
By 8:00 a.m., I was fully dilated. However, the doctor was in the middle of delivering one of the dozens of other babies that came that day, so I was asked to just let my body “labor down” for a while as long as I was comfortable. With zero pain, I cheerfully agreed to this and spent the next 45 minutes relaxing comfortably. By 8:45, I felt like the baby might bust out on its own if I didn’t start pushing, so we started with it. I pushed for almost a half hour, then she came out in one final giant push at 9:12 a.m.
A first glimpse of Avery Denise. I'm so glad my mom was in the room and got so many awesome just-born pictures.

Don't ask me why they wrapped her in a blue blanket instead of pink. Some people just have no attention to detail...

Grandma Pam, Grandma Susie, Grandpa David, and Nana Margret were all there at the hospital to greet Avery. General first impressions were that she looked more like Jeff than me. I thought she looked almost identical to Marla at birth, but with darker hair and more of it. Marla came to visit us later that afternoon. She was a little confused and overwhelmed at first, but by the end of her visit, she was giving Avery kisses and holding her on the couch in our room.

This was the best picture we could get of the whole family. Typical.

I’ll write more later about Avery and how she’s grown over the last month and a half, as well as how Marla has stepped into her role as big sister. But for now, I’ll just say that Avery has changed everything around here. For the past several months, I’ve been so distracted by everything going on in our lives that it felt like my pregnancy was just another thing to worry about; another thing to check off a list. But now that she's here, I know it was the only thing I was truly worried about. She is what I was waiting and hoping for all along.