night and day – a birth story

Truth be told, I was not unhappy about the prospect of getting induced. At a (low-key) party the Friday before SB was born, a friend who had a baby last year told me about how she and many of her fellow birthing class moms had bad experiences with it and would decline an induction next time round… and I’m sure there’s something to it, but also, my baseline for “terrible experience” is leaving the hospital without my babies. I’d take any physical discomfort over that. Plus, the total lack of control I had over C’s bag of water breaking and her birth a few days later must have left deeper scars than I’m aware of, and so I welcomed the thought of experiencing all this in a much more controlled environment.

But then the next day I woke up and had what I can best describe as cervix cramps. They weren’t really painful, so I wasn’t sure if they were productive, but once I bothered to time them I was a little surprised that they came every 5 minutes. A few weeks earlier, my doctor had told me that – once I was full term – if I had contractions every 5 minutes for at least an hour I should head to L&D. But these “contractions” (I didn’t even feel anything contracting) felt way too weak, and somehow I was paranoid of being sent home for not being sufficiently dilated – it just seemed too much hassle to head over to the hospital only to be told to go back. Despite grand plans of what I wanted to do before the planned induction I didn’t feel like doing much during the day, so we just hung out, went for a short walk, re-packed the hospital bag and timed contractions every now and then. Initially even timing them wasn’t easy, as I wasn’t necessarily sure something was a contraction until it was nearing its peak – to give you an idea of how not-strong they were. Gradually they grew more intense, but I could still comfortably talk through them even when they were 3min apart. Then, less comfortably but still talking. This was probably around 9pm and I called L&D, to get their opinion. They didn’t seem too interested in the spacing (perhaps because I was the one who was calling, and clearly still able to communicate?) and concluded I was probably in early labor. As I wasn’t planning to get an epidural, they recommended I stay home, but call again or come in once the contractions got too much to talk through.

We started to play a game, but now things were picking up and I had trouble concentrating on my moves. Around 10 we decided to go to the hospital, though until we had everything assembled and were ready to head out it was probably 10:30. Walking towards the car, I felt something moist come out of my vagina – first I thought my water may have broken, but there were no huge amounts of fluid (irrationally I was worried about making a mess in the car…) On the upside, if it was my waters that’d mean we’d get admitted regardless of how dilated I was.

By now contractions were intense enough that I closed my eyes to breathe through them. Initially I thought about counting how many contractions it took to get to the hospital, but quickly gave up. Many, despite streets being empty. Yet we got there without anything exciting happening.

The way from the hospital entrance to L&D never seemed to take longer, what with stopping every 2-3min to get through a contraction. Except for a few nurses the place was strangely deserted. I was assigned a triage room and asked for a urine sample. Once I went to the bathroom I saw that the moisture from earlier had been the mucus plug. Cleaning myself enough to give a clean-catch sample took 3 fairly painful contractions (maybe I just shouldn’t have bothered). H had been getting worried why it took me so long, while I was glad about anything I didn’t need to do or explain. Back in the room they put me on monitors – I was grateful to hear SB’s heartbeat, because with all the contractions I’d had a hard time feeling her move around that day. We’d been promised a doctor would be in, but that took a while. I started to feel lots of pressure with the contractions, which were coming every 2 minutes and quite intense. H went to find the nurses again – somehow they didn’t know where the doctors were (?!) but perhaps his insistence helped, because 5-10 minutes later a nice young doctor that I’d met at a previous testing appointment came in. She checked me and was, I think, a little surprised to find that I was 8-9cm dilated and that my amniotic sac was still intact but bulging out – this probably explained all the pressure I was feeling. Her supervisor came to also check me and reached the same conclusion. Now the plan was to get me into a labor room as soon as possible and break the bag there – once it broke, the baby might come out rather quickly, they thought. Just a quick ultrasound first to make sure baby was still head down (she was).

My right leg really hurt even with light pressure on it, so I was glad when the nurse offered to wheel me into the labor room. (So much for my plans of being active during labor.) I think it may have been the same room as where A&C were born, while H thinks it was the room next door, albeit with identical layout. (And his account on such details is probably more reliable here ;) The familiarity was strange, basically the only difference seemed to be that it was pitch black outside now, and that I was rather hazy from the contractions – although I am glad that my birthing class taught me to pay attention to the times between contractions, when there is no pain, and to rest during those.

The question of pain relief came up again – the options were an IV analgesic that would have to be discontinued 30min before delivery (because it makes the baby drugged and sleepy, too) or laughing gas (N2O), which dissipates from the body so quickly that it can be used through delivery. Worried that the last part might be the most painful, I wasn’t particularly interested in pain relief I’d have to discontinue before long, plus I was wondering how they’d figure out when “half an hour before birth” would be. So N2O it was. They gave me a mask to push onto my face whenever I needed it, and take off once the contraction was over. It did dampen the pain somewhat, although I could definitely still feel everything. Subjectively, the main drawback was that this occupied my left hand, and they were busy poking an IV into the other, so that I had no free hand to hold my husband’s.

Still in search of ways to relax, I asked soon after this whether I could go into the tub. The nurses probably gave me a skeptical look, but I was too busy to care. I could, I was told, but the N2O couldn’t. And I’d have to get out when it looked like I was about to deliver (they don’t do water births, sadly). So they started filling up the tub. The next contraction was so intense that I moaned. Once it was over, I announced that perhaps I wasn’t going to get into the tub after all. Everyone agreed.

Around this time the doctor came back in, with her equipment to break the amniotic sac. She was getting ready, preparing to intervene after the next contraction was over. I was feeling more and more pressure and the urge to push, but was told not do. At the peak of the next contraction, the amniotic sac broke from all the pressure. For a short moment, relief, then again lots of pressure. It must be her head, I thought. And indeed, with that same contraction, Strawberry Baby’s head emerged from my body.

H later told me that he, along with one of the nurses, was the first to see her head. The young doctor was saying “wait, not so fast” and frantically trying to put on her second glove. There was a call on the intercom and, when I “came back” into the room, suddenly there were a dozen people or more, including the midwife who was present for A’s delivery and the doctor whom I saw in my twin pregnancy. And someone else.

All the pressure was gone. After what felt like a few anxious seconds I heard SB cry, then they put her on my chest. Surreal is the closest I can come to describe it. A moment ago I had still been pregnant. It wasn’t even 1am, we had been at the hospital for at most two hours. And yet here she was, my precious little girl.

MilkyLeaks

My pajamas and sheets are milk-stained – whenever one breast feeds, the other lets down some milk in solidarity.

Earlier this week I went through what I think was a bout of mastitis, with fever and chills and generally feeling miserable. My MFM’s nurse, who’s also a lactation consultant, sent in a prescription for antibiotics but encouraged me to try and get the ducts unclogged manually. Heat didn’t seem to help, but ice packs did. It had been the same when my milk came in after we lost A&C, though I only remembered after the fact. And while I was physically much more uncomfortable this time, I can assure you that it’s much better with a baby to drink the milk. (Not that you’d have any doubts.) We just spent the whole morning in bed, snuggling and sleeping.

Yesterday I hit the point where I’m starting to realize why people don’t get anything done with a newborn in the house. SB seems to be sleeping less already (do they really grow up this fast?) so while I had grand plans of writing up the birth story and making myself something nice for dinner, I held and nursed my baby, cleaned up poop from more fabrics than I care to remember, ran laundry and ate granola. And cried a little about not having gotten to experience any of this with A&C, about how much I love this little girl, and with generally being overwhelmed. (This tends to happen 1-2x per day. It lasts a few minutes and then I’m better again.) So, while wonderful, it’s not exactly easy. But still wonderful.

intermezzo

Thanks for all your kind and thoughtful comments on the anniversaries of having and losing A & C. I didn’t manage to post on Wednesday, but I did think of all your babies lost far too soon. And of my own, of course. It is strange to have their actual anniversary, and this “public” anniversary, so close together. Last year I was still in a complete haze. I’ve been out at night again (in part simply because it gets dark earlier), looking at their stars, remembering those nights one year ago.

Strawberry Baby is still tucked inside and enjoys kicking my ribs. We had a growth ultrasound last week, which I thought would be reassuring around all these anniversaries, but ended up freaking me out because one of the head measurements was in the 2nd percentile or so. The MFM in charge of the ultrasound clinic that day didn’t think this was anything to worry about (“these numbers and percentiles make it look way more scientific than it really is”), but I guess it’s too easy to concern a mother who has lost a child (or more). So I read some papers and learned that (a) girls tend to have significantly smaller heads, and (b) nobody gets really concerned unless the head is 2 standard deviations smaller than the mean, or even 3, depending on how conservative one is (because, y’know, we can’t all be in the 50th percentile). And we’re not even at 2 stddevs. So I was mostly reassured, but still brought it up with my doctor. Who hadn’t even noticed, but went back to look at the numbers and said that, as long as it’s not 2 stddevs below the mean, he’s not concerned. He also explained that (counter-intuitively for me) with increased gestational age ultrasound becomes less accurate. Mainly because it is difficult to measure larger 3-dimensional objects correctly when you’re looking at a “slice” through them – chances are that your slice isn’t quite in the right place.

What he remains concerned about is my blood pressure – I suppose it doesn’t help that it was 140/90 in the office, even though at home it hovers around 120/80 and it’s usually pretty good at my non-stress-test appointments, too. My liver enzymes and platelets and urine remain fine, fortunately. It’s not so much what he says, but I can see in his face that he worries. For a while I thought, well, he’s an MFM, being worried is his job. But it’s not that. I finally remembered the first, and really only, time I’d seen him worried – at the anatomy ultrasound with the twins, when my cervix was already so very short. The situation is different now in that we actually have options for what to do. I will be full term in 2 days (incredible), so I’ll be followed closely with twice-weekly NSTs in addition to the usual weekly appointments, and he’s thinking about induction at 38w or so, depending on how things develop. (There seems to be a difference in recommendations at that point between gestational hypertension and preeclampsia, but I didn’t quite get it.) Which is rather soon – but of course I’m happy to do anything that helps keep Strawberry Baby safe.

(This was supposed to be a short post. So much for that.)

one year

I can’t quite believe it’s been a whole year. I remember it like yesterday, but I also feel like some time has passed now. It’s still hard to wrap my head around any of it though. Not a day goes by on which I don’t miss them.

I keep thinking about how much they changed me, but it’s a difficult question. Because while I think that a lot of how I am at the core is still the same, losing A & C has certainly reshuffled my priorities. And in part I simply haven’t figured it out yet.

We didn’t really know what to do with this day. Cake kind of seems weird without them here to enjoy it. I didn’t want to do anything with others as my own feelings are complicated enough – maybe I just wanted to be “allowed” to cry whenever I had to.
Initially I had thought about going to the beach where we scattered their ashes, but H is terrified we could get into an accident and something might happen to Strawberry Baby, and I’m not all that comfortable driving anymore anyway, so we stayed and just went to the water here.
I feel kind of bad about not doing much for them today. We’re planning to go to said beach once Strawberry Baby is here. She has been kicking me reassuringly all day long, sweet girl. I wonder if she knows or feels that her mom is having a rough day.

I’ll leave you with another picture of our precious firstborns. And an extra picture of C – by the time the professional photographer came, it had been over 30h since she was born, and time was starting to wear on her little body. But she was a truly beautiful baby. They’re both very much loved and very much missed.

C both of them

Today

Today a year ago, I lost my mucus plug in the morning. I freaked out, but the nurse tried to convince me that I needn’t come in (and perhaps they couldn’t have done anything anyway). A couple hours later, C’s water broke. Our poor little girl was all curled up on the ultrasound. It was heartbreaking – and the slim prospects of survival they were giving us for either of our twins didn’t make it any better. It was one of the worst days of my life.

This morning (my time zone), my brother’ girlfriend delivered their daughter, overdue and 9.5lbs, but healthy and alive. She is my dad’s first* living grandchild, and I wonder how he feels about it. He’s not one to talk about emotions but was clearly devastated by the loss of A&C. I’m happy for them, really, but I wonder how I’d have taken this without Strawberry Baby kicking me reassuringly.

* My MIL wrote an email about this baby being my dad’s first grandchild. H was very offended.

it’s more like a wish list

Before reaching 24 weeks, I wasn’t willing to deal with anything birth- or baby-related*. So despite the suggestion of my book or app, writing a birth plan was out of the question – even though I had found out to my own, and particularly to my twins’s disadvantage, that birth can happen before that milestone. But then again, whatever was in the birth plan usually isn’t particularly relevant in such situations.

When I was pregnant with the twins I really wanted to try a vaginal delivery. Not sure why this seemed so important… Well, I did have that. Turns out this wasn’t the important part after all.

Now my top priority is to get Strawberry Baby here alive and well. One might think this doesn’t take a “birth plan”, and perhaps it doesn’t. While many people may be able to plan a pregnancy, birth is another story. After feeling slightly ridiculous for trying to plan something that can’t be planned, I renamed the document “birth wish list”. It starts like this:

Everyone alive.
Preferably healthy.

I did come up with a surprising number of details, like skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding and our preferences on circumcision in case Strawberry Baby has fooled us all along – but most of these refer to the time after delivery. For labor itself, there’s not much. I haven’t even made up my mind regarding pain relief, as the thought of a needle near my spine scares me. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, I suppose. In part I’m sure it helps that the hospital staff was wonderful when the twins were born, and as we’re going back to the same ward I’m just hoping to have similarly positive encounters. In part, really, as long as I have a living and breathing and healthy Strawberry Baby in my arms afterwards, I don’t care so much about the details.


*I did collect nursery inspiration on Pinterest, but it was kind of a secret guilty pleasure