Saturday, December 17, 2016

My Birth Story

I've decided to share the story of Maya's birth here, both for my own processing and for the interest of those who want to know. Personally, I really enjoy reading and listening to other mothers' birth stories, and I really appreciate what seems to be a recent trend of women sharing these stories with each other to affirm the miracle of birth, acknowledge how different each birth story can be and to remember such an important event in the life of a family. While I was pregnant, I spent a lot of time listening to the Birth Hour, which allows women to tell their birth stories.

The following gets pretty personal, so read at your own risk. 🙂

As many of you know, Ellie was born via c-section almost 3 years ago. It was discovered at 29 weeks that my amniotic fluid was low (about half the normal amount), and she needed extra monitoring to make sure she was developing properly. She was also breech and didn't turn, no matter what we did (she had less space to move around, due to the low fluid). So she ended up being a planned c-section a few weeks early.

As soon as Ellie was born, I started asking my doctor and midwife about the possibility of VBAC for my next birth (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). I didn't want to get locked in to having c-sections for every birth, and I wanted the experience of a vaginal delivery. Both my care providers said a VBAC was definitely an option, should I have a pregnancy without complications. 

Fast forward to Maya. My due date came and went, without any signs that she was coming soon. At 39 weeks and 40 weeks, I wasn't dilated at all but there was some effacement and my cervix was "very soft" (whatever that means!). Maya was still very high up and wasn't dropping. I had a few contractions at night two nights in a row towards the end, but they didn't turn into anything substantial. She didn't seem to indicate she was ready to come out yet. I was anxious, because I knew my doctor wouldn't let me go very far past my due date, and induction options are limited with a VBAC, because they can increase the chances of uterine rupture at the precious incision. For some reason, I had little faith in my body to go into labor on its own, and I kept telling my midwife, "I'm not surprised she's late. I'm not sure this is going to happen." I wonder, looking back, if my body wasn't ready, because I was so tense and nervous about it all.

Finally, 8 days past my due date, I started trying home induction methods. I used my breastpump, went on long walks, took homeopathic herbs, and then on Tuesday, October 18, I followed a recipe from my midwife for an egg dish with castor oil. I ate it at 4:15 pm, and it tasted fatty but surprisingly, not as bad as I expected. I started trying to line up childcare for Ellie, in the event that the castor oil got things going. At first, I felt queasy but no other symptoms. At 6:45pm, I ended up on the toilet with diarrhea. Then around Ellie's bedtime at 8pm, I started feeling some tightening and discomfort. By 10pm, I started having some contractions. I got in bed soon after, but couldn't sleep and finally got up at 12:15 am when the contractions were intensifying and lying down didn't feel comfortable anymore. They continued throughout the whole night, but weren't so painful that I couldn't cope or breathe through them. I was up all night listening to podcasts, emptying the dish washer and cleaning the house, and bouncing on my birth ball, with contractions lasting a minute and being about 3 - 5 minutes apart.

Ellie eating breakfast with our friends
I was texting regularly with my midwife and finally around 4:45am, we decided to call friends and go in to the hospital. My midwife didn't want us to wait too long, so I could be monitored during labor (because of the VBAC and risks of rupture). We left for the hospital at about 6:30am, but between 5 and 6:30 am, my contractions slowed way way down, to about 10 - 12 minutes apart. I think dealing with logistics and packing up got me distracted and this seemed to affect the contractions. I was nervous about this, but then my contractions picked up in the car on the way to the hospital. We arrived at about 7am and got settled in a delivery room. We turned on our LED candles and essential oil diffuser to create an "atmosphere" in the room.
My water broke just as I arrived in the delivery room to meet my midwife. It was only a little bit (apparently it broke at the top of the sack and not the bottom, so it was only a trickle...I didn't know this was a thing). She checked me and I was dilated to 1 cm. This made me excited that at least I had progressed a little, even if it was barely anything! We hung out in the delivery room for a few hours and also went up onto the outdoor terrace of the hospital to get some fresh air and walk around. At this point, though, the timing of my contractions was a bit sporadic and less regular than it had been at night. I was monitored sporadically to check on Maya. She was doing fine.
Since I had been up all night, I was exhausted, so I tried to lay down on the bed for a moment. I fell asleep and woke up 45 minutes later, very distressed that I had had no contractions for the whole 45 minute nap. This was, in fact, the beginning of a 6 hour lull where I had absolutely no contractions at all. :( I was so discouraged during this time. I wanted to go for a walk to see if that would make things start up again, but I wasn't allowed to leave the hospital. We sat in our room, watching TV on netflix, listening to podcasts and eating lunch. Absolutely nothing was happening. I also spent time figuring out who was going to stay with Ellie for the next few days (it ended up being a complicated puzzle!), because I knew Maya would be arriving some time soon one way or another (because my water had broken).

Finally, at 4pm, my midwife broke my water more fully and then we started pitocin to see if that would help things start back up. Since Maya hadn't descended and I was only at this point dilated to a 2/3, she thought an epidural might help relax everything and help me progress with the pitocin. We started a low dose and contractions did start showing up on the monitor, but things were inconsistent. After the pitocin was increased, the contractions got stronger and more regular, but my midwife kept checking me every hour and progress seemed negligible. She checked me during a contraction and said that it seemed like the top of my uterus was contracting, but not the whole thing and perhaps that was why the cervix wasn't dilating and Maya wasn't coming down. We increased the pitocin again and kept hoping and praying things would change.

Late that evening, between 10 - 11 pm, other things started to happen that indicated things weren't going well. I started bleeding a little and the midwife was concerned about the source of the bleeding. We had reached the maximum dose of pitocin that my doctor was comfortable with and contractions were still inconsistent. I was dliated to about a 4/5 but Maya was still high up. Then, even with the epidural, I started to experience pain with contractions, which my midwife later told me could have been a potential rupture at my previous c-section incision. 

I was at this point given antibiotics, because my water had been broken for 15 hours. My doctor came in to check on progress and was concerned that my body didn't seem to be responding to all of these interventions, and baby wasn't engaging. We had tried everything and had exhausted our options. Plus, with the bleeding and pain, it seemed like baby needed to come out soon. We agreed that we needed to give up at that point and opt for a c-section.

It was a very emotional moment for me. I had spent months preparing and hoping and praying for a vaginal birth, and it seemed like I had so many things in my favor - great care providers, a healthy pregnancy without complications, etc. But sometimes, God has other plans. It was very difficult to give up this dream. There were a lot of tears. But I was also ready for all of it to be over and to meet Maya.

Once we decided to move forward with a c-section, things went fast. They increased my epidural dose, got me into a gown and prepped and then wheeled me into the operating room. (This seemed to happen very quickly to me, with a flurry of activity, but Nate later told me he had plenty of time to pack up our things, bring them to our room and get into scrubs, etc.) On the way to surgery, I nearly passed out in bed from lying on my back and had to lie on my side for a few minutes to recover.

The surgery went very well. Because I had been through it before and knew what to expect, I was pretty calm. I shook a lot, which happened to me last time as well due to the cold and a side effect of the anesthesia. Lots of teeth chattering! When Nate came in, he played songs from Keith and Krystin Getty's album "In Christ Alone" right near my hear to keep me calm. (This is my favorite worship music album). They pulled Maya out at 12:16am, just barely on October 20th (her oldest cousin's birthday!). I didn't have any pain, but I always say from both my c-section experiences that the physical sensation of feeling them pulling and tugging to get the baby out is the weirdest thing I've ever felt. She cried right away, and we were also both crying and feeling very emotional about her finally being here. Both my arms were free to hold and snuggle her. 

After a little while, Nate took her to another room to get her cleaned up with the midwife and I had a nice chat with the nurses in the operating room while they stitched me up. These nurses were so friendly and our conversation really helped distract me from the rest of the surgery. This part went by more quickly than with Ellie's birth. I also asked to see the placenta, which I found very fascinating (and an interesting distraction). Then my doctor said "all done!" and I was surprised at how quickly everything had gone. I got wheeled into the recovery room and finally really got to hold and nurse Maya. We made phone calls to family and then Nate took Maya up to our room, while I stayed in recovery for a few more hours to be monitored and to rest. I didn't make it to our room until about 4am.

Looking back on the birth, I don't think I could have or would have done anything differently. I think we intervened at the right times and did all we could, but my body just wasn't able to fully engage in the process or just wasn't ready for some reason. I dealt tearfully with a lot of disappointment the first week I was home, but I was able to process the experience with Nate, my midwife and some other friends who had been through similar things. I have peace about the final outcome after some of this processing time. I am thankful to live in an age where medical interventions can happen so that both my girls were born healthy. I will probably never give birth the "traditional way" but in the end, God knew this outcome before I did and He protected me along the way. I am thankful to have recovered very smoothly and quickly from the surgery, something I should not take for granted.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Feel free to share thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Unintended Consequences of Marriage

Recently I had an interesting conversation. I was talking with a friend about his relationship with his gielfriend, and he made a comment to the extent of, "I have learned so much about myself in this relationship." We went on to discuss the ways in which dating and marriage are huge tools used by God as He molds us more and more into His likeness.

As we were talking about this, it made me realize something. There are a variety of reasons that people get into a relationship or start dating someone. Sometimes it is just because it is fun or it works. It is the thing to do. Often people want companionship, someone to share life with.  I find it fascinating that God takes this desire within us, this piece of ourselves, and He uses it in such a different way than what we intend it.

In marriage, we are constantly confronted with our own sin. There are points where the other person accepts our sinfulness and failings. But so often we get caught on the carpet. We get caught in our self-lies and self-deception. We are caught as the patterns of sin in our hearts bubble up. We can often fool people from a distance, but a spouse is in close. They see the ways that we fail time and again at the same thing, not just once or twice, but consistently. As a recently married college friend once stated, there are times when his wife looks at him and would just ask, "what are you doing?" He said he often couldn't even answer the question. Our ability to deceive ourselves is strong, and marriage pulls back the cover and lets light flow into those hidden areas.

In marriage, we are also confronted with another sinner. We see not only our own sin, but we have to deal with the sin of another. We get the chance to view their sin up close. Because they are also not as familiar to us, it can be equally as eye opening. We also see the consequence in a new light. And when those choices affect us, it brings another new perspective in. It leads to the interplay between grace and justice. If we only ever sought justice with our spouse, it would very quickly degrade into keeping score. When fairness becomes the ultimate goal no one wins, because it is impossible. There is no way to keep things equal.

Finally, in marriage, forgiveness takes on a different flavor as we are the one being forgiven and needing forgiveness. In marriage, we can learn the power of confession and forgiveness as we seek to live in peace with one another. This proximity, this being in each other's business, has the effect of forcing us to confront our own sin and the other person's sin. We then have the chance to confess and be forgiven, or to receive the other person's confession and to forgive them. We are given daily practice in this necessary process for the Christian life.

Talking to this younger guy was a great reminder of how God has used my marriage to shape and mold me. After a few years, I think it is easier to get into a routine, but I needed the reminder as well to press into those learning opportunities from God. I need to remember to grab those chances to forgive and be forgiven. Through that process of confession and forgiveness, we taste something truly divine, something that only comes from God. The chance to let go of ourselves and be free from the weight of keeping score and comparison. We often get into marriage for different reasons, but it is great to see how God uses it to make us more like him.