At our last prenatal group, Julie led us in sharing a hope for the person across from us and a hope for our own birth. Only in retrospect do I understand the gravity of the hope I shared for myself: to tap into a strength I didn’t know I had.
For weeks I had lived in the crossroads of joy and the unknown, anticipating the arrival of my little boy, Judah Clyde, our rainbow baby. This waiting period was especially long as I had expected the little cub to come early. It made sense– my husband is 6’2” and I’m a whopping five feet flat, surely Judah would grow as much as he could in my small body and make his debut by 38 weeks at the latest! Well, 38 weeks turned into 39 and slowly into 40 annnnnd into 41… it was all natural induction hands on deck at this point. We’re talking everything you can think of, and yes, castor oil… TWICE, all while my body was experiencing contractions but never going into labor. Why wasn’t I going into labor?! I met with Julie & Sara a couple days before I would reach 42 weeks and the cut off date for birthing Judah with them at the Birth Center, and we decided to try the Foley Bulb. My cervix was “ripe” and the foley bulb was a success, dilating me to 3.5 cm. Unfortunately, this was still not enough action to get my body to take over labor on it’s own. Though this was certainly not the plan, it was looking like I would need to be induced after all. So after a nice slice of pizza and a beer, with my head out the window soaking up the sun, my husband Johnny and I drove to our Saturday evening induction appointment at General Hospital. Little did I know, it would be two weeks before I felt that glorious sun again.
The road to the hospital was full of street detours. What should’ve taken 30 minutes turned into over an hour. Another little sign of what was to come. When we arrived at the hospital, I immediately requested that I be cared for by a midwife. They agreed to take me on as a patient and my fears about being in the hospital began to settle. We set up our essential oils and I slipped into a silk robe from my travels in Thailand and we made our peaceful little home in the hospital. A midwife came to check my cervix and determined that I was not dilated at all anymore and it was still too “thick” to start me off on pitocin quite yet. Instead, my induction began with misoprostol, which “thins out” the cervix. They strapped some external monitors on and thus the long road ahead would begin. Multiple times, I was questioned about my “pain management plans” and multiple times I confidently informed them that I would not be taking any medications to ease the pain. I wanted a natural birth and I wanted my baby to go straight to my stomach and make his natural way to my breast for his first meal. I had envisioned this for so long and I planned to fight for it.
Mild contractions set in and went through the night. This is doable, I thought to myself, he’ll probably come sometime tomorrow! Morning came and though I was tired, hope and strength came as I prayed and worshiped the One who knit me together in my mother’s womb. I was making progress! Moving forward they started me on pitocin, slowly increasing the dosage as the day went on. Contractions were coming on stronger and I was utilizing all the breathing, relaxation and positioning techniques that I had learned in the Bradley Method classes I took. As the contractions became increasingly intense, I would lay my hands open like a child in the in between, and pray to receive the strength to continue on. Every time I asked, I received this sort of tangible surge of revitalizing refreshment. It was powerful and it moved my heart.
Out of the hospital window, my mom, older sister, Johnny and I watched the sun go down over the city. It was my second night labor and it was time to check my progress. We had been working so fluidly as a team– laughing, reminiscing, praying and sharing stories. The moment of truth: a liberal estimate of 3.5 cm. My heart sunk. I had worked so hard and wasn’t even halfway there?! As always, there were solutions. It was time to break my bag of waters. Though we knew this would put a ticking clock on Judah’s impending arrival, it was a necessary intervention to move things along. As the night got later, we decided to turn down the pitocin to allow for some rest. It was now Tuesday and it was time to go full force on pitocin, upping the dose by 2 every hour. Judah’s heartbeat had been going strong the entire time, but because this was going to really rev things up, the nurses placed an IUCP to measure the strength of the contractions and make sure he didn’t go into distress. The pain was intense and my body was tired. I was really starting to regret going on such a long walk and taking castor oil the day before my induction, but I was thankful to breathe in the essential oils, to rub tiger balm on my sore legs and to receive soothing acupressure massages. It was a beautiful experience to see my husband never leave my side even for a moment and to have my mom and sister taking turns rubbing my back and feet and whispering encouragement. It was Tuesday afternoon and after making very little progress and enduring such intensity, I decided to do nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas.” This helped tremendously and made for some hilarious times! Two words: YAAAS QUEEN! It also allowed for me to endure as they upped the pitocin by two every hour. I continued to move from birthing chair to squatting in the bath to yoga ball to hands and knees as contractions increased in intensity and duration until finally Nancy deemed that I was in “transition.” I went through about an hour of contractions being one on top the other with the hope that any moment they’d check my progress and give me the go ahead to start pushing. As it turned out I was not in transition at all and instead was reversing in progress as my body began to swell from the intensity of the contractions. At this point they had turned the pitocin level up to the highest possible level. Even then, my body was still not taking over labor on it’s own. Judah’s head was down but still not engaged. Exhaustion and pain would have their way no longer, I was in desperate need of an epidural… and quick! This would also be a last ditch effort to help my body relax and still try for a vaginal delivery. Nancy talked me through the decision advocating it as the best option and so a long hour later, I would finally have my rest as that sweet sweet western medicine would seep it’s way into my body coupled with disappointment as the reality that my body wouldn’t be the only one it reached set in. We gave some time for the swelling to go down and to see if that would promote progress, but a few hours passed and it wasn’t looking good. We had exhausted all options and 80 hours later, on Wednesday morning, I would deliver Judah via cesarean section.
I lay flat on my back looking up into masked faces and bright lights as the numbing agents crawled up my toes toward my waist. I was at peace with this. I had given everything I had. But as preparations were nearing to an end, the anticipation of being cut open sent me into a full-blown panic attack. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was terrified. Just when it felt like it would never be over, I found my husband’s eyes and locked in until in my peripherals, I would see the shadow of my sweet baby boy behind the curtain. Pure excitement like I’ve never experienced before washed over me. Before I knew it, Judah was placed on my chest, mouth to mouth. What a beautiful little human! For some reason though, I was having very negative thoughts. I expressed my concern about this to my nurse and instead of judging me, she encouraged me to acknowledge the thoughts and let them pass. And they did. And I had a son! What a gift!
After just a few moments of sweet bonding time, I began to feel the pain of the incision and before I knew it, I was waking up in another room. Apparently, I had hemorrhaged and lost over a liter of blood. Luckily, I was still able to breastfeed Judah within the “golden hour” with the help of Nancy. The struggle I found here would be the beginnings of the series of events that would lead to “the incident.”
Before I move on to the incident though, I must include a necessary back story. Just a couple weeks before Judah was born, I decided to disinvite my mom to his birth. She had relapsed in her battle against alcoholism and so for many reasons, she would be unable to attend the birth. Well, because I wasn’t induced until 42 weeks, a couple of weeks was all we needed to reconcile and for her to get back on the course to recovery. It was certainly not a straightforward decision to make with the presence of a lot of hurt and mistrust, but we decided it wouldn’t be the same without her there. This decision to forgive and show grace would change the course of our lives.
Fast forwarding to Judah’s first day of life, my mom and step-dad had just arrived to meet Judah for the first time and as he lay in the bassinet we decided to do lay down as well and get some much needed rest. As I was drifting off to sleep and looking over at my mom looking down at Judah, I noticed her face turn from delight to dismay. The incident. Judah took a deep breath in and never breathed out. Within seconds his little blue body was being rushed out of the room by a swarm of nurses. God would use my mom, even in her brokenness to save our son. Truly a miracle!
Johnny ran with them and with tears in his eyes, he felt a familiar hand on his shoulder– it was the hand of one of the resident doctors, a close family friend, who just so happened to be on her rotation in the ICU. His biggest fear, that something terrible would happen to Judah was becoming a reality. After missing a couple feeds, Judah’s blood sugar had completely plummeted. Usually a newborn missing a feed wouldn’t be an issue as they would just tap into their liver and fat stores, but for some reason Judah was unable to. This would lead to 10 days of poking, prodding, testing, tears, prayers, songs of trust, pumping routines, waiting, learning big words, transferring to UCSF and finally an answer– panhypopituitarism.
See what I mean about big words? Basically, Judah’s pituitary gland didn’t form correctly in week 3-4 of gestation and as a result cannot produce the hormones that we need every day. Thankfully in this western world, there are synthetic versions of everything Judah needs– cortisol, human growth hormone, testosterone and thyroid hormones. This would explain so much. Because Judah is unable to produce cortisol, the hormone that signals to the mother that the baby is ready to go into labor, my body never went into labor. Hence, the three days of pitocin which ended in an emergency c-section. Cortisol is also responsible for breaking down sugar in the liver, should our bodies miss a meal. Who would’ve guessed I would need to become an expert in the endocrine system?! It’s been four months now and his daily dose of medicines has become our new normal. As long as his little body gets what it needs, his trajectory is that of any normal, healthy baby boy. And man, he is a ham and a half!
Sometimes life gives you detours. When it feels like you’re circling around the place where you want to go and you’re frustrated, perhaps that’s the very point. In order to get to the place you want to be, to tap into the strength you didn’t know you had, you need them. There’s a wisdom outside of our control and our understanding behind them. So it was with Judah’s birth and so it will continue to be as we fight to raise him in the way in which he should go. I am confident that the decision to give birth at the birth center naturally with three amazing midwives was just the beginning of that. Though things didn’t go as planned, I am so grateful I had the ladies from the Birth Center by my side throughout the whole journey in what felt more like friendship than medical care. Until the next wild child….