The Birth of Hank (2nd baby, hospital birth with family doc attending)

Below is the story of my second-born son, Hank. It was a non-medicated hospital birth and my care provider was our family practitioner. Total labor time was 5.5 hours. I don’t expect to go beyond my due date with my second pregnancy. Finn had arrived two weeks early so it seems logical to assume that our second son will follow suit. I scour the Internet for studies to back up this theory but find nothing promising. Despite this, I feel confident that although he is due on Christmas Eve he will be around for family holiday celebrations. The week after Thanksgiving I take a bathroom break while at a professional development training for my school and discover the toilet paper is covered with what looks like tons of snot. I chalk it up to another random pregnancy symptom but days later after googling “mucus plug” I realize that’s what it was. More googling assures me that this is no guarantee he will be early. Labor could start in a few days or a month. The last few weeks of teaching drag by and each day I joke to my students, “Maybe I won’t see you tomorrow,” but I make it to winter break still pregnant. I begin to have mild cramps each night and tons of Braxton Hicks (as I had for the final few months of both pregnancies) but nothing that feels like a real contraction. We go for nightly neighborhood walks in the chilly Seattle air and relish these last few weeks as a family of three. On Saturday evening, December 17, at the end of my first day of winter break, I have some bloody show in the toilet. In excitement I call my doula, Melissa, to keep her informed, although I know it is not a guarantee I will go into labor right away. Monday morning, December 19, 4 AM. I’m awoken by a contraction. It feels like a wave of cramping moving from my back around to the front. Although it doesn’t feel terrible I can’t get back to sleep either. I immediately start timing them with my contraction app. They are 5 minutes apart, like clockwork. I’m finding it hard to lie still through them and after close to an hour I wake Peter. I tell him it’s time. We call his mom, Margaret, so she can come over and stay with our sleeping son. We call Melissa and ask her to come over. I eat some instant oatmeal, not feeling hungry, but knowing I’ll need some sustenance to keep me going later. As we putter around getting things ready I stop every 5 minutes to lean on the counter, swaying my hips and breathing through each contraction. Margaret arrives and I have a few more contractions that seem more intense. I decide it’s time to head to the hospital so we call Melissa and ask her to meet us there instead. Throughout this time I’ve been tracking the contractions with my phone and they are closer to 4 minutes apart now. We arrive at the hospital around 6 AM and they take me in to triage to put me on the monitor. Melissa arrives and as I greet her another contraction comes that I need to stop and breathe through. The nurse says, “Hmm, the monitor didn’t pick up that contraction, but clearly it was real!” No kidding. They check my dilation. A stretchy 3-4 cm. I’m admitted to a corner room and assigned a grandmotherly nurse whose name eludes me now. I sit on a ball but have been feeling some mild back pain so I decide to get on the bed on my hands and knees. The nurse shows Melissa a way to push up my hipbones through my butt (not the double hip squeeze but something entirely new that I had never heard or read about). After she leaves the room Melissa asks, “Did that help?” I sort of shrug. I decide this time I’m not going to wait so long to get in the tub so they start to fill it. Peter puts on my music of choice, Bach cello suites, and soon I’m in the tub, which is designed so you can walk in and sit down on a seat. Then the whole thing tilts backwards so you are reclining. (This detail becomes important shortly thereafter.) It feels amazing. Someone comes to put in a heplock but I’m barely aware they’re there. Melissa turns down the lights and it’s quiet and warm. I’m aware that my doctor has arrived and she comes in to say hi with a resident who is shadowing her. I’m so wrapped up in myself and my body that I barely get a smile out.  While in the throws of a contraction I flail my arms around and somehow manage to hit a lever on the side of the tub, causing the whole thing to start lurching forward and emptying water out onto the bathroom floor. At this moment my husband (who is not a hulking guy) somehow invokes lightning fast reflexes and superhuman strength and keeps the whole tub (with me and probably 50 gallons of water in it) from tipping upright. The nurse runs in, fixes the lever, and is astonished that Peter was able to do such a thing. (Oddly enough I attended a client’s birth in the same room about 18 months later and I noticed the tub had been changed. Perhaps this was not the first time such as a thing had happened with that style of tub!) After that excitement the contractions are suddenly stronger and I have to switch to quick breathing. It’s hard to stay on top of each wave as I ride the contraction. I contemplate speaking the words “it hurts so much” for a few minutes before actually saying them aloud. Melissa simply nods in agreement and reassurance. And then suddenly I feel my baby move down in my pelvis. It’s time and I know it. I stand up and say I want to push. Melissa and Peter help me out of the tub and as another contraction comes I know I’m going to poop but I’m ok with it. I stand naked in the bathroom leaning on Melissa and announce “I’m going to poop.” Then it’s on the floor. I don’t care. I walk to the bed and the nurse swiftly cleans up the mess as I glance at the clock. 8:30 AM. It’s only been 2.5 hours since we arrived. I can’t believe how fast it’s going this time but I’m elated that soon I will have my baby. The doctor checks my cervix and announces “Yep, there’s nothing there” as I squat on the bed and begin to push. I ask for a squat bar and am determined to birth this baby like a warrior. This time around I know what I’m doing and it feels exhilarating to be doing it. They are monitoring his heartbeat with the Doppler and it keeps dipping during the contractions. After a few pushes under these circumstances the team in the room decides it’s dipping too low. They help me move to hands and knees and I’m given an oxygen mask. It’s annoying to have to breathe through it but I know I need to do what they ask. Despite being stark naked on my hands and knees and breathing through the mask I’m still feeling calm. I wonder to myself if the cord is wrapped around my baby’s neck but I don’t worry. I put all my effort and focus on pushing. (Later I noticed in the video that Melissa and Peter are both near my face and saying encouraging things and mopping my brow, but at this moment I am completely inward.) With each contraction I push with all I’ve got and I feel him move down and around my pubic bone and then slide back up. I try to get him a little further each time and it’s so odd to feel him slide down and back but encouraging because I know we’re making progress together. After a while he moves down and stays and I’m encouraged to feel his head but as soon as I reach around to feel him he slides back in. And then finally he’s crowning. My doctor asks me to stop pushing but my body is not in my control and the contraction keeps pushing him out. The cord is wrapped around his neck three times and the doctor swiftly unloops it. As I flip over to my back and reach out for him they hold him up for me to see and he’s this big round-faced baby. And then he’s over on the exam table. Because of the cord they want to check him right away but clearly he’s fine and he’s on my chest in 30 seconds. Joy. Exhilaration. He’s round and pink and chubby and big. We make guesses to his weight (8lbs 13 oz) and laugh about how the nurse had commented earlier that he would be a small baby. I look at him and announce, “He’s definitely a Hank.” He looks up at me with his big eyes and I’m smitten. He latches and nurses like a champ. Pure happiness. I did it again. Five and a half hours from start to finish. The birth high seems to last even longer this time, just as the after-pains are more intense. I lay awake in the room listening to his uneven newborn breaths and relive the labor over and over and over in my head. I even watch the video footage we’d taken that very same night. For weeks after I relive the birth in my mind as I drift off to sleep. That’s when I get the idea to become a doula, because I want to be close to this amazing feat of life again and again. Permission for Erica and Peter Johansen to make prints from these files. Permission for Erica and Peter Johansen to make prints from these files. Permission for Erica and Peter Johansen to make prints from these files. Permission for Erica and Peter Johansen to make prints from these files.   All photo credits: Melissa J. Thompson photography    More photos from this birth here

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