Friday, April 5, 2013

Callie’s Birth Story

“Giving birth should be your greatest achievement, not your greatest fear.”
-Jane Weideman

I awoke at 5:40am with cramping. Were they contractions? I waited until 7 to wake my husband. I told him in an unsure whisper, “I think I’m having contractions.” He immediately jumped out of bed and said; “I’d better take a shower!” I gave a nervous laugh and told him that I didn’t think I’d need to go to the hospital anytime soon. I felt like I needed to go to the bathroom again. I had already made three trips before waking Ryan. I didn’t really need to GO to the bathroom, I just felt relief from sitting on the toilet. I was in the bathroom for the fourth time when Ryan told my mom. She had already been up and was sitting on our back porch. She was ecstatic when he told her my suspicion that I was in labor. All morning I kept thinking, “I wish I knew if these were real or not!” I had been expecting Braxton Hicks all week. But I found out the previous Monday at my prenatal appointment that some women don’t get Braxton Hicks at all during their pregnancy; and that I shouldn’t consider them a precursor to labor. With that in mind, I decided to treat these cramps as the real deal, just in case. I had stock piled healthy snacks weeks before, snacks a marathon runner would eat: high carbohydrate and protein. So in between contractions I ate a cup of oatmeal containing chunks of apple and walnut and started timing my contractions. I didn’t realize how annoyed I would be at this process, but timing contractions over the course of about 10 hours becomes SO monotonous! Sometimes I would time it, other times Ryan would take over after I got tired of pressing the “Lap” button on my iphone. But no one really wants to say, “Press the button” every few minutes, especially when they’re experiencing pain!
I was only comfortable sitting upright, so besides the toilet, the next most comfortable chair was my desk chair. I tried to relax by turning on a movie. I picked one of my favorites: Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix. I was still hungry so I ate a Power Bar. All the while I was drinking sips of water between each contraction so I wouldn’t become dehydrated, as I learned in my birthing class. We made it through most of the movie before my contractions started getting worse. I decided to take a bath. It was around 9:30 am. As I was sitting in the bath, I started (carefully, away from the water) typing out a text to friends and family to let them know what was going on all the while continuing to time my contractions. I almost made it through my text when I got such a strong contraction that I felt the urge to get out of the tub. I was back on the toilet seat when Ryan popped his head in to see how I was doing. I told him about the surge of pain that forced me out of the tub. He sat with me on the bench outside our bathroom. When I felt the contraction pass I started to clean up so I could get off the toilet seat and was shocked to see blood, A LOT of blood! It was pretty heavy and with clotting. I said, matter-of-factly: “And here’s the blood.” I had been waiting for my “bloody show.” At that point everything started to feel very real.
Ryan and my mom were excited but also concerned. They both wanted to see the blood! It was quite a bit, more than my mom remembered having during her pregnancies. They suggested I check with the Midwives. So at 9:45am I called West Suburban Midwives and paged the Midwife-on-duty. At 10:17am she returned my call. It was Cynthia, the midwife I was hoping for and who just so happened to be the Midwife I saw for my two previous prenatal appointments! I chose to see her more than the other 3 midwives because I felt a warmth and familiarity with her from the get-go. Her lightheartedness made her approachable and her enthusiasm was contagious. I trusted her. I explained to her that I had lost a lot of blood and that I was experiencing contractions. She asked me if the blood clot was the size of an egg, and how far apart my contractions were and their duration. She concluded that the clotting was not cause for alarm and my contractions were not consistent enough. Even though my contractions were sometimes 2-4 minutes apart, they weren’t growing in intensity. She also told me that having your “bloody show” does not necessarily mean that you’re going to have the baby soon. She did, however, think there was a good chance I would have her over the weekend! After getting off the phone, I continued to have bouts of bleeding over the course of an hour. It was a little disconcerting, but the clots were never the size of an egg, so I didn’t call Cynthia back. I finally finished my text, which read:

“Update: Experiencing contractions since around 6 am- too soon to know if they are real or fake. Trying to relax to see if they go away. (While I was typing this I had a reall painful contraction and then had my “bloody show” so I guess Callie is coming soooonnn!) *Sorry if that’s TMI! Just keeping you guys updated while I can.”

So I continued to labor and time my contractions. Around lunch time I ate a BLT and drank more water. In the afternoon I decided I would try to take a nap. I slept on and off for about an hour. When I woke I went back to the bathroom, alternating with my desk chair. My mom made me a cup of Raspberry Leaf Tea, which is supposed to help with contractions. It took me a while to drink the tea because of the contractions. My husband insisted that I walk, but I kept telling him: “I want to finish my tea first!” Sheesh! Give a laboring momma a break!  After I finished I could no longer ignore my husband plea that I start walking. Since it was muggy and hot outside he had me walk from one end of our apartment to the other. To make sure I walked the full length he had me touch the back door and front window. He walked with me and at each contraction I would brace myself on him or a wall. It was starting to storm outside; a good distraction. I wondered if she would be born today. I was born on a rainy day. After about 30 minutes of pacing I sat down. Tired of sitting on the toilet and my stiff-backed desk chair, I tried sitting in my IKEA Poang chair. But with each contraction my back hurt almost equal to the pain of the contraction. I decided to try the laboring on my knees while leaning onto an exercise ball. Success! The pain I was experiencing in my back was relieved. After what seemed like a life time of say “press the button” to Ryan the contractions finally seemed close enough together, were gaining in intensity, and lasting for about a minute at a time. I decided it was time to call Cynthia back.  
At 5:23pm Ryan called Cynthia back for me so I could continue to labor with the ball. At 5:42pm she returned my call. As I expected, she wanted to talk to me. I didn’t really feel like talking to anyone, but I knew she wouldn’t be able to make any conclusions without talking to me. Ryan handed me the phone. I tried my best talk to Cynthia. My answers were more often than not one word. As before, she wanted to know if the contractions were consistent and gaining in intensity. YES. She also asked me if they hurt to the point of grimacing and difficult to talk through. YESS! She seemed skeptical. I couldn’t blame her! It was my first time going through this and she didn’t want me to go to the hospital premature. It was up to me. I told Cynthia “I think it’s time to go to the hospital.” I was no longer comfortable laboring at home. She didn’t question me. She would meet us at the hospital within the hour. When I got off the phone I felt relieved for the first time. It was finally time to go to the hospital! I’m not the sort of person that hates hospitals. I really don’t mind them at all! After touring the facilities the month prior, I couldn’t wait to use the various birthing tools not to mention having a couple extra people tending to me. I’d also get to find out how far I had progressed! I was hoping I was at least 4cm dilated, if not, they would send me home.
I went to the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth. I over heard my mom and Ryan discussing whether or not it really WAS time to go to the hospital. I thought to myself, “I don’t care. I just want to know what’s going on!” We had to collect a few last minute things before we could leave. We took a quick picture in case I wasn’t sent home. I poured some pineapple coconut water in my travel cup, and said a quick goodbye to Dixie. Thankfully we still had 2 hours before Animal Ark Veterinary Clinic closed. My mom took Dixie in her car. She would meet us at the hospital after dropping off Dixie. The drive to the hospital was rough. We had to drive over the pothole-laden Chicago streets. UGH!! Not at all pleasant when you’re experiencing contractions. Once on the high way, I thought it would be smooth sailing. But even on a Saturday we found ourselves stuck in traffic. We made it to Oak Park Medical Center around 6:45pm. I refused to be dropped off at the emergency entrance. I wasn’t sick or injured! I was still able to walk, be it slowly, and with many stops. Haha. So Ryan parked in the visitor’s lot and we walked up to the emergency entrance. Once in,  I was quickly seated in a wheel chair and after a few quick questions I was on my way up to Triage. Once in Triage I was told to strip down and dress in a hospital gown, which was no big deal. Seriously, I’m really not put off by hospitals! An Electronic Fetal Monitor (EFM) was strapped to my belly to monitor Callie’s heartbeat. Now all we had to do was wait for Cynthia to arrive so she could check my cervix (I only wanted my midwife to check my progress, something I had decided on in my birth plan). Callie’s heart rate was just fine; she always had such a strong heart beat! While strapped to the EFM Callie got the hiccups! We could actually hear her hiccuping; it was so sweet! Despite my pain and looking dreadful, I had Ryan take a video of the hiccups. :)
The contractions and my lower back hurt SO much while sitting in that slightly reclined position. I couldn’t WAIT to get up! I don’t know WHY that is the birthing position shown in movies! It’s so misleading! Finally Cynthia arrived! She checked my cervix and reported that I was 6cm dilated! 6 cm!! I couldn’t believe it! I was so relieved. I wasn’t getting sent home. I wasn’t crazy! I knew what was going on in my body. The contractions were REAL and Callie was going to be here soon! I felt validated. She asked if I wanted to us the Alternative Birthing Room (ABC room, for short). I respond, “Oh yea!” When we got to the ABC Room I immediately started to relax again. The lights were dim; the Olympics broadcasting on the TV overhead. I felt like I had walked into a hotel suit! And it was, as far as hospital rooms go. I had every option available to me. Cynthia immediately started preparing the birthing ball and gathered a couple different birthing stools. Ryan left to get our overnight stuff out of the car (We didn’t bring it in with us just in case we were sent home). My mom stayed with me. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to try first! So many options! I decided I wanted to sit in the shower- hoping that the hot water would relieve my lower back pain. My mom helped me in. I sat on a medical stool in the tub so the water would hit right on my lower back. It was SO relaxing, I could just fall asleep in there if it weren't for the painful contractions every couple of minutes. I don’t know how long I was in there, at least an hour because Cynthia check Callie’s heart rate twice using a waterproof doptone (I knew at that point she was checking her heart rate about every 30 minutes). Ryan and my mom took turns sitting with me in the bathroom to keep me company. I had my water cup with me and even ate a slim jim and cheese stick while in the shower! Haha! They all laughed at that one, but hey, I was hungry! I changed positions in the shower a couple times alternating between the water on my back and belly. I requested my soap and loofah so I could get clean for the birthing tub. After feeling completely relaxed I got out. I put on my sports bra and a loose night gown I borrowed from my mom (didn’t think to pack one! Oops!). I asked Cynthia when I would be able to use the tub. She told me not until I was around 8cm dilated, but she said she would start filling up the tub now since it would take a while. I had Ryan sit in the arm chair next to the bed while I sat on the birthing stool in front of him. I “watched” the Olympics for a while until Cynthia asked if I would like her to check me since it had been about 2 1/2 hours. Sure. Maybe, just maybe, I would get to go in the tub! 8cm! Woohoo! I could get in the tub! As I was helped into the tub, I asked if I could bring the  birthing stool in with me. It was still the most comfortable for me to sit up completely straight, which is why I had chosen to sit on the toilet ALL day. The birthing stool, which is shaped like a toilet seat, work just as well.
I wanted quiet. No music. No talking. We left the Olympics on for background noise, and if I chose, a ready distraction. Every now and then my mom or Ryan would ask if I was ok. Yes. Cynthia spoke to me so softly it was almost like an echo.The nurse brought me Apple Juice and crushed ice, which was wonderfully refreshing. I tried to relax as much as possible without a thought or worry.
After a while I had to pee. I had been sipping water in between every contraction. I was helped out of the tub to the bathroom. After relieving myself I was helped back onto the birthing stool in the tub. At this point the contractions changed to something entirely different. My lower back started throbbing again, hurting, at times, worse than the contractions!  I sat there for a while before Cynthia suggested that I try total immersion to see if that would relieve my back. It helped a bit. I tried rolling onto my left side. All the while my mom stroked my arm and Ryan affirmed me. I remember Ryan’s breath smelling really bad because he had gone so long without eating anything! Haha. At some point I asked about my bag of water. It was still intact. I asked Cynthia if breaking it would move things along. She said there was a chance that could happen, but it may also slow things down. Heh. Again I had to pee. Ugh! So annoying! As I was getting out of the tub I started shaking uncontrollably. I remember my mom and Ryan asking Cynthia if I was cold, but I wasn’t!  It was the hormones surging through my body. I’ve never experienced anything like it! On my way back from the restroom, still shaking, I asked if I could lie down for a bit instead of going back in the tub. I laid on my right side, facing Ryan. The contractions seemed to last forever. All I could do was close my eyes and try to breath through them. I had reached a new level of pain at that point. Blinding pain. I was transitioning. In between contractions I would open my eyes just a little. Seeing a worried look on Ryan’s face I would shut them again. Cynthia asked if I wanted her to check my cervix again. It was hard to do since the contractions were so close together, but she managed to do it. I was fully dilated at 10cm +2. Callie was just a few stations away from crowning! I asked again about my bag of water. It was still intact! I felt like I had waited long enough. I didn’t care if Callie was born En Caul. I was getting so tired, having only 4 hours of sleep the night before. I had now been up 19 hours and counting. Even though the day seemed to fly by, 19 hours of pain is exhausting! I told her to go ahead and break my water. Thankfully this was my only intervention and it was one I chose. She ruptured it in between contractions. Afterward I was helped back into the tub, onto the birthing stool. I felt like it was going to happen soon, that Callie wouldn’t even make it to her due date! How wrong I was! Cynthia told me that my labor had progressed very quickly for my first time. She said anytime I felt like pushing I could. I didn’t really feel the urge, but felt like since I was fully dilated that I should. I thought that maybe I was ignoring the urge for fear of the pain?? I later realized that wasn’t the case. I started watching the clock. It was 11 something. I was exhausting what little energy I had left. Ugh, I had to pee again. I felt if I relieved myself that pushing would be less confusing. I asked if I could just pee in the tub because I really didn’t want to leave. Cynthia told me I could, that medically speaking urine is sanitary. “How much longer?” I asked. “It could be another couple of hours.” Cynthia replied. I was SO caught off guard by that answer. “REALLY?!” I exclaimed. I honestly did not think I had another couple hours left in me. Seeing my defeat, Cynthia suggested that I try full immersion again. Periodically she would check with her finger to see where Callie’s head was. She would then point to a place on her finger to show me how close her head was to crowning. Cynthia would even have me try to push her finger out. “Every push counts.”, she encouraged. Callie was moving down. All I needed to do was push long and hard enough to keep her down. I felt  like I was getting nowhere, despite the praise from Cynthia, Ryan, and my mom. I was getting discouraged, but I was determined. As I zoned out, focusing on the Olympics in the background, I remember thinking back to the half marathon I ran in March 2011. THIS was the last mile. The hardest mile. It was going to be BAD, really bad. But NOT finishing was NOT an option. Not then, not now. Shortly after that the contractions intensified. Blinding. Pain. Different than when I was on the bed. I felt like I had a knife in my back and lower abdomen at the same time. At this point it was excruciating when the nurse checked her heart rate, but I was comforted and encouraged that her heart rate NEVER dropped. That little heart was beating perfectly right around the 150s. I also noted that each time they checked the doptone was placed lower and lower down my abdomen. At one point I felt Callie’s feet kicking my left rib. I started pushing on them- hoping she could use my hand as a springboard. Haha! I felt her wriggling and wondered, WHY NOW?! Why are you moving around now?! I tried to remain calm, to keep my breath steady, like a runner. I kept my eyes closed and tried to “rest” in between contractions, but I was soooo exhausted that I was actually passing out in between them! I remember their voices calling to me, as if in a dream. “Sarah?” “SARAH?!” Louder and louder, trying to wake me. But they didn’t have to. The contractions were like an annoying alarm clock I kept snoozing. At each contraction I tried to push. Ryan was bracing my back, pushing me up because I just couldn’t sit up anymore. He was so exhausted his arm was shaking! While pushing on my back he held up my left leg and someone else the right; I didn’t open my eyes much and when I did I looked at the clock. Tick, tick. Seconds, minuets, hours. My mom started taking video around this time because we all thought Callie was going to come anytime now! They could see her head starting to crown! I remember thinking, maybe even saying, “Well, I guess she made it to her due date.” The contractions were so painful that I was dry sobbing during each one. I wanted to cry, but my body wouldn’t produce the tears. It was very strange. Groans and moans escaped me because my body couldn’t contain them! The pain had to be released somehow. I think Cynthia knew that I didn’t have much energy left. She boldly stated that the tub wasn’t working for me and asked if I’d be willing to try another position. I consented. I just couldn’t bear down enough in the tub. The buoyancy of the water was working against me. It took some time getting out of the tub again. I remember saying, “I just was to lie down! I’m SO tired!” Cynthia said I could try laying down on my side, that some women give birth that way. Sure. Anything to just lie down!! Between the tub and the bed I paused during a contraction to lean on Ryan while Cynthia put counter pressure on my lower back. I finally made it to the bed, but as soon as I laid down on my side and experienced a  contraction. I shouted, “No, NO, this is NOT going to work!” Cynthia grabbed the bean bag and placed it in front of me to lean on and asked me to get on my hands and knees. My first contraction in this position felt a lot different than in the tub. I could bend my knees and really bear down. It wasn’t too long after than I felt Callie really drop down and stay there. And if I ever did feel the urge to push, it was then. I remember saying a quick prayer in my head. I called out to the Lord to help me push this baby out. Cynthia told me to push several short pushes to keep me from tearing. In between each push I started to hyperventilate. It was harder to regain an even breath after holding my breath for as long as I could stand during each push. I heard my mom ask Cynthia in a worried tone if I needed an episiotomy. “Oh no!” Cynthia replied. “That’s only used for emergencies.” “Good,” I thought. I can get this baby out! (Later my mom told me how Cynthia had been working Callie out every so gently so I wouldn’t tear, and I didn’t!!) The nurse kept telling me to slow down my breathing. I was glad she kept reminding me because it gave me something to focus on. Soon each push brought on a burning sensation. The so-called “Ring of Fire”. At LAST! The finish line was in sight! But it burned SO bad- and I let everyone know it! I didn’t want to push anymore it burned so bad! But what choice did I have? I had to take control of the pain. It was no longer out of my control. It’s a very strange feeling to inflict pain on yourself. I pushed and half her head was out. Ryan told me, “Don’t stop! Half her head is out!” I pushed again and the rest of her head came out. A couple more pushes and she was all the way out! On August 5th (her due date!) at 3:37am Callie Jean Bowlin had made her debut! Almost 22 hours of labor; 13 hours at home, 3 1/2 hours of pushing. She was 8 lbs 6 oz and 22.5" long. A quick moment of relief and then Cynthia slid Callie through my legs and said, “Grab your baby!” “Sarah, pick up your baby!” I was in shock. Looking down at my baby, MY baby! I was so tired, on the verge of passing out. I thought: maybe I shouldn’t pick her up?! But how could I not! I swooped her up and sat back on my knees. She was so slippery; SO beautiful. I was surprised to see a head full of strawberry blonde hair and hardly any Vernix on her skin. She had long fingers and toes, just like her Daddy. She was so calm and opened her eyes almost immediately after I took her in my arms. We sat there for a moment just staring at each other. Then Cynthia and the nurse told me turn around and lie down so I could pass the placenta. So, baby in my arms, they helped move me into position. Cynthia started pushing down on my abdomen to help move the placenta down. Once the cord had stopped pulsing, it was cut and the nurse handed Callie to a bewildered Ryan so get myself situated to start breast feeding. It was difficult to get her to latch while my abdomen was being mushed. My placenta wasn’t moving down. I wasn’t concerned. I learned that the placenta was no big deal to pass. But for whatever reason mine wasn’t coming out. Cynthia tried tugging on the umbilical cord, and it snapped off! Now there was a problem. Cynthia told me that she was going to have to reach her arm up and pull it out. The pain hurt as bad as the worst contraction! It was terrible!!! But after it was out the pain was gone. Now I could finally rest.
I am truly blessed to have had the birth I planned and prayer for. And I am so thankful for my birth team who supported non-stop. I'm sure it was almost as hard to watch and wait as it was for me going through it.Throughout my labor I never once asked for or wanted pain medication. Never once was I fearful. Never did I think I would birth on my hands and knees! Haha! I maintained my focus and finished what I started. Yes, it was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, but it was manageable and natural. Some have asked if I could do it over, would I choose to fore go the epidural again? Yes. It was worth hearing Callie’s perfect heart beat, the freedom to move around as I desired, to use the birthing tub, and to be fully present in mind and body for her birth. 

Cynthia, whose middle name also happened to be Jean!