Holden's birth. It's one with a happy ending. The happiest of endings, really. But the story of his birth isn't exactly the most inspiring, triumphant one. It's actually one that I'll likely choose to forget the details of, once time allows me to wrap up my memories in a sweet little amnesia-tinged package. But it's his story. Our story. So, I will write it, share it, celebrate it. The birth of my son.
We were sure we'd have a Christmas baby. Mostly because Christmas Day might be the worst birthday imaginable and we were mentally preparing ourselves. But Christmas came and went with no baby and the next day, our scheduled induction day, was suddenly here. I really did not want to be induced. I battled with the idea for months but since I had Gestational Diabetes and although small, there is an increased risk of serious complications if a mother with GD goes past 40 weeks, we decided it was what we had to do. We were scheduled to go in to the hospital at 7 pm. We planned to send Claire with her grandparents after her nap, clean the house from top to bottom, and then head in. But around noon, we were visiting with Ben, Lauren, and kids when we got a call from the hospital letting us know that we could come in whenever we were ready. It really wasn't a significant change from the overall plan, but for some reason the 7 hour difference was exciting. Like my water suddenly broke and took us by surprise. We ran around the house, wrapping up final details and flew out the door, leaving Claire with Ben and Lauren and leaving Lauren with our dishes :)
Arriving at the hospital this time around was bizarre. During Claire's birth, I was already mentally long-gone by the time we checked into the hospital. Those natural drugs your body is kind enough to release during labor don't really allow you to stop and think about what you're doing and how ridiculously difficult and painful it's going to be. But this time, I was walking into the hospital with a completely sharp mind. I wouldn't say I was scared, but it definitely felt surreal. Lucidity isn't always your friend.
We got to the birthing floor and checked in. I had been having contractions for weeks, maybe months and they had steadily been getting stronger and more painful. I had been having contractions that whole day but didn't really think much of them since they weren't painful enough for it to be the real deal. But once we got checked in and I was hooked up to the monitor, my contractions were a little more real than I had though. This initially seemed like a good thing. Maybe my body would only need a little kick start and it would take things over on it's own. But the drug that we were planning to start with (the lets-hope-we-can-avoid-Pitocin-drug) couldn't be given to me if I was already having contractions so they sent Kyle and I off to walk the hospital to see if they slowed down or not. We walked around for an hour or so, got some lunch and went back to the birthing floor. It was decided that I could take a half dose of the drug (which was basically a flake of a pill).
It didn't take long before labor started picking up. Since my contractions were still being monitored, I was stuck in the bed while things progressed. I have no idea how anyone does this. My contractions were only hitting a medium on the pain scale but being stuck, laying down in one spot make them way more difficult to manage. My midwife came in after a few hours and set me free (she totally would've let me get up sooner if she had known...the nurse had decided I was high-risk...I wasn't). She did mention that my contractions were "coupling", meaning a big contraction that was immediately followed by a smaller one and said that this pattern could be a sign of Holden being OP or sunny-side up (aka the kiss of death and the reason Claire's labor lasted 32 hours). We had been suspicious that he was OP at different points during pregnancy (which got my butt to the chiropractor at least once a week for my last trimester) but I knew that the vast majority of OP babies turn during early labor so I tried not to stress too much about it. Besides, I'd already done it once, what were the chances of having an OP baby again? I'm not going to jump ahead but you can see where this is going.
After around two hours of laboring, I had progressed enough to be moved from the induction wing of the floor and to our actual labor and delivery room. Side note: if a nurse ever asks you if you want a heat pack to put on your back during labor, say yes, you do. Jessica had warned us that she was having a crazy night with several other laboring moms (I want to say like 4 others) and suggested that we have our doula, Sarah, head in at this point. Sarah arrived shortly after we called her and for a tiny window of time, I was having the labor that I had hoped for...calm, peaceful, and controlled. No pitocin, no drugs...painful but pain with a purpose. Jessica came in after a few more hours and offered to check and see how far I had progressed but I decided to wait until I felt like I absolutely had to know. I kept laboring for another two hours or so and I felt like things were starting to change. I started throwing up periodically (my signature move when it comes to anything physically or emotionally taxing) and my contractions were feeling stronger. I decided to have Jessica check me the next time she came in, which was about seven hours into my labor. I was ready for her to say that I was at least at 7 cm. I was at 4 cm 7 hours earlier so I didn't think that 3 cm was too much to hope for (but I was secretly hoping she was going to say "Oh wow, you're at 9 cm, almost time to push!). While Jessica checked me I was searching her face for some sign of where I was at (she has an excellent poker face). She sat back and told me that I basically hadn't progressed. At all. In 7 hours. One of the more defeating moments of my adult life. Holden also hadn't moved down at all, which seemed like a probable explanation for why I hadn't dilated and Jessica mentioned again that she thought Holden might be sunnyside up.
Knowing that I couldn't just keep laboring with my progress completely stalled, Jessica gave me the option to start Pitocin or have my water broken. I really did not want to start Pitocin (especially since that meant I would have to be continuously monitored for the rest of my labor) so I chose the latter option. After my water broke, my belly shrunk down to about half it's size (my projected 9 lb baby and it's subsequently huge bump turned out to be made up of a regular sized baby and a record-setting amount of fluid). There was meconium in the water, which meant that the people from the NICU would be waiting to whisk Holden away once he was born...just one more strike against this labor/delivery.
At this point, Holden's labor was still somewhat similar to Claire's. My progress had stalled early on with her and then it picked up and moved really quickly once my water was broken. To be honest, I was pretty pissed off that this was happening to me again. I had high hopes that the whole "second baby coming quickly/quicker" myth was true but this labor was shaping up to be just as trying as my first time around. But I knew I could do it. I'd done it once before. So I refocused on my contractions and got into "the zone". I know that relaxing through each contraction can take hours off labor and since that seemed like an excellent idea, I forced myself to welcome the pain. Occasionally, Sarah would give me a gentle reminder to relax my face or point out that my fist was clenched but for the most part, I felt like I was on my game during this stage of labor.
After a few hours of laboring after my water had broken, things started to feel off. The pain was really intense. With Claire's birth, I was a silent/withdrawn laborer. My doula at Claire's birth summed it up by saying that if we lived years ago, I'd be the mom who went into the woods by herself and came back with a baby. This time I didn't feel the same resilience. The pain felt wrong...pain without a purpose. It made me feel a little panicked. Knowing what I know about labor, I decided that I must be in transition. Extra painful contractions, the self-doubt...definitely transitioning. The idea of this helped boost my confidence. Breaking my water had gotten things moving. I'd be holding my sweet baby boy within hours.
About two and a half hours of this "transition" labor, Jessica returned and checked me. I knew without a doubt that I was progressing. I had to be close. No such luck. Nine hours of labor with zero change. It felt like a sick joke. I was mentally done. I could handle the contractions, the pain, but not without progress. Jessica gently suggested that it was time to get things moving and said that we needed to start Pitocin. I was terrified of Pitocin from the beginning and now facing the prospect of Pitocin strength contractions at my current state of physical exhaustion and mental defeat was overwhelming. At the end of my rope, I struck up a deal. I still felt like I could do it but I needed a break. I asked for a shot of a narcotic pain reliever before we started Pitocin and Jessica agreed. Obviously, this wasn't the drug free birth I had planned for but I felt like it was going to be the temporary reprieve I needed in order to keep going and avoid an epidural down the road. I was given the narcotic and it immediately made me feel calmer. I was started on Pictocin around the same time. I don't know if it was the narcotic itself or the addition of Pitocin but I felt little to no relief from the pain.
This is when I would say that things started to get ugly. I had been on Pitocin for around an hour. Super long, ridiculously painful contractions (by now the effect of the narcotic had completely worn off). Since Jessica was even more confident that Holden was OP, she had me positioned on my hands and knees through these contractions. She applied counter pressure on my back while Sarah massaged my shoulders. Their support actually helped a lot but this labor was the hardest I've experienced, by far. Then a tough labor took an even worse turn. I had 3 super strong contractions that lasted 2-3 minutes and Holden's heart rate started to drop. I had to flip to my side and was given oxygen. Jessica checked me again and I had progressed 1 cm to a whopping total of 5 cm. Not what we were hoping for. Then Jessica suggested that my last chance at a vaginal birth was to get an epidural. This was one of my worse case scenarios. The idea is that I wasn't able to relax my body enough during contractions for them to work and getting an epidural would take it out of my hands. I was so convinced that I was doing it right. That I was relaxing and getting in "the zone" but it didn't work. My calm demeanor was long gone by this point. I lost it. I cried and cried. This was not the peaceful, drug free, intervention free birth that so desperately wanted for my son. I had failed. Things couldn't get any worse. And then they did.
I was given the epidural and was put back on Pitocin. I started to calm down and accept the path this birth was taking. It was the end of Jessica's shift and since I was still nowhere near pushing, she was saying goodbye to us and introducing the assistant to the midwife who would be taking her place. I was given the epidural for maybe a half hour at this point, when Holden's heart rate monitor showed that he was having decelerations after each contraction. Jessica put her goodbyes on hold and went over to watch the monitor. His heart rate would drop but then he would pick back up. My blood pressure was also dropping (which can happen with an epidural) so Jessica ordered the nurse to get me on a drug to counteract it. While this was all going on, it happen. Holden's heart rate totally crashed. His baseline was around 120-130 bpm but now his rate was at 60-70 bpm and it wasn't coming back up. I was moved to my hands and knees (which I didn't know was possible with an epidural and I'm still not sure how I got there) in hopes that his heart rate would pick back up if it was a position issue but it didn't help. According to my doula's notes, his heart rate was at 60-70 bpm for around 4 minutes when Jessica called it and I was quickly taken off all monitors and ran to the surgical room for an emergency c-section.
Now, there are moments in life where everything is flux. Moments where you think "this could change the course of my entire life". I've experienced this once before when waking up in the passenger seat of our car and realizing that we were doing a 360 on I-5. For lack of a better term, it's almost an out of body experience...like you're watching it happen instead of it happening to you. I have to imagine that the walk/run to the surgery room took less than a minute but it felt like a lifetime and I still remember every second of it as clear as when it was happening. I was still on my hands and knees, my whole body shaking uncontrollably. I found myself saying out loud to Holden "please be okay" over and over. I felt like I was losing him. I knew the facts, his heart rate had crashed and it had been several minutes but I wasn't educated enough to know what that meant. Was he already in mortal danger? Can a baby get by at that heart rate and be unharmed for that amount of time? Was it already too late? For a brief moment the idea that I would never hold my son crossed my mind. It was too much for my heart to bear. Once we got to the surgery room, I was put back on monitors and we found out that Holden's heart rate wasn't back to his baseline but it had increased up to somewhere in the low 100's.
My worse fears were behind us and I immediately thought of Kyle, who was left in the delivery room and had no idea what was going on since I was taken away. I really am not attempting to seem selfless but I truly believe that this had to be more difficult for him than me. I had immediate information. He knew nothing. The last thing he knew was that his laboring wife's blood pressure had dropped and his sons' heart rate had completely crashed. Then he was left in the room to wait. I can only imagine what that felt like and I'm grateful that our doula was there with him (seriously people, hire a doula). He's generally a stoic man but the words "worst moments of my entire life" have been uttered in reference to this time. I'm not sure why she thought it was a good idea to share this with me but afterwards one of the nurses on the floor described to me how she saw Kyle when she walked by the room while I was in surgery and it's seriously an image that I'd like to erase from my brain.
While it was determined that Holden's heart rate had somewhat stabilized, I was prepped for surgery. The room felt like complete chaos but I'm sure that this is just the nature of an emergency surgery. Jessica was still with me and while I was being prepped, I think she went back to tell Kyle that Holden was improving and that surgery was going to happen. If an epidural was "a" worse-case-senario, a c-section was "the" worse-case-scenario in my mind. But as soon as Holden was in distress, I just wanted him out as soon as possible and I didn't care how it was going to happen. I couldn't see the heart rate monitor from where I was laying so I had to keep asking if he was okay. I'm still not sure why, but for some reason, the anesthesia wasn't working. I kept getting pinched and asked if I could feel it and I definitely could. Since it was taking too long, I was told that I was going to be put completely under. Which meant that Kyle wouldn't be allowed in the room. Seriously. I asked the anesthesiologist to tell me when it was going to happen (sidenote: he was a totally jerk to everyone in the room but exceptionally kind and considerate towards me). I counted down from 10, made it to 8 and was gone. When I woke up, I had already been taken back to the delivery room. Holden had been brought to Kyle around 10 minutes after his birth. The earliest thing that I remember was Kyle saying "He's totally fine. He looks just like Claire." By this time, Nicole had gotten there to photograph and she snapped some pictures of me holding him for the first time, which is wonderful since I don't actually remember it happening. I remember seeing him and being struck by how much he looked like Claire and by how tiny he was. My "huge" baby ended up being 7 lb 5 ounces. By the time I was lucid and had him in my arms, it had been almost an hour since he was born. The baby nurse was in our room and she quickly offered to do his examination while I held him, which was a relief since I felt like I had already missed too much time with him. And that was it. I was the mother of a son. A perfect, sweet, handsome little boy. The healthy son that we had always hoped for.
Jessica came in to said her goodbyes, since she had stayed with us through all of this and was now hours past her 24 hour on-call shift. I really don't know how I would've gotten through the whole process (or pregnancy for that matter) without her by my side and I'm grateful she was still there when everything started to go wrong. She explained that when they got to Holden, he was sunnyside up with the cord wrapped tightly around his neck. Which would explain why he never moved lower than -2 station and was why his heart rate crashed. He was going to be born via c-section regardless of his heart rate crashing or not...that just sped things up.
So here is my take on the whole thing. In my opinion, Holden's birth went about as bad as a birth can go, with mom and baby still being safe and healthy in the end. I had 12 hours of labor with almost zero progress, an emergency c-section, and neither Kyle or I were there for our son's birth and first moments. If you would've told me this before he was born, it kind of sounds like a nightmare. But now that it happened, the strange thing is that I truly don't care at all. I have always had very specific wishes for labor and delivery and my babies first moments and basically none of them worked out. But the moment that Holden was in danger, every one of those wishes was thrown out the window. All that mattered was the he was okay in the end. And he is more than okay. He's just simply perfect. Which is something we'll never take for granted.