As the May 2nd due date of our first baby slipped further into the past day by day, we grew more and more impatient and anxious for her arrival. We had passed 41 weeks and it was beginning to seem we would make it all the way to the induction scheduled at 42 weeks.
On the morning of Friday May 12 we went in for a non-stress test, testing they require every couple of days once you’re past due to ensure the baby isn’t in any distress. We had been to a couple tests before this and everything had checked out, but this time the ultrasound showed an insufficient amount of amniotic fluid inside the uterus. This can be a problem because it increases the likelihood of the umbilical cord getting compressed between the baby and the uterus, which essentially cuts off the baby’s life support system. Because of the lack of fluid, the doctor sent us over to the hospital for further monitoring.
So we left the medical office, checked in at the hospital, and they put Sarah back on the monitors. A little while later we noticed the heart rate monitor had stopped picking up Harper’s heartbeat. The monitors can be a little finicky and can stop working if you move positions or if there’s not enough gel between the contacts and the skin, so we weren’t too worried at first. But then a nurse came in the room and started moving the heart rate monitor around on Sarah’s belly, trying to find Harper’s heartbeat. She moved it all around, from this side to that, and her voice grew slightly more tense as she started paging a handful of other nurses and the doctor into our room. Suddenly the room was packed and I had to step away from Sarah to make room for them to do their jobs as they rapidly turned her back and forth on her sides and put an oxygen mask on her face and an IV in her arm and moved the monitors around trying to find our little baby’s elusive heart, and in that moment, as Sarah and I locked tearful eyes from miles apart, I feared we were losing our baby.
That was the single most terrifying moment of my life. Even now, looking back from the other side of a happy ending, I can’t think about it without tearing up.
Eventually, her heartbeat sped up again and they were able to pick it up on the monitor. Later, the doctor would tell us her heart had slowed for 6 minutes and that we came incredibly close to having an emergency c-section.
After the heart deceleration, going back home was out of the question. We wouldn’t be leaving the hospital until our baby was born. This came as a bitter sweet surprise. On one hand we were excited it was finally time, but on the other we had previously been staunchly opposed to the idea of being induced since we were hoping for a natural labor and birth.
We would soon learn we’d have to let go of almost all of our plans and expectations of birth.
Everything had moved so quickly during Harper’s deceleration, but now things slowed to a long drawn out waiting game. We were stuck in triage for a few hours, anxiously staring at the fetal monitors, hoping Harper’s heart wouldn’t slow again, and growing tense every time the sound of her heart beat seemed to fade. Eventually we learned to turn off the volume on the monitor so we could focus on something else and relax a little. By the time we got into a Labor and Delivery room it was around 4:00 PM Friday afternoon. Because Harper’s heart had been solid for a few hours, they let us go to intermittent fetal monitoring, so Sarah could be off the monitors for 40 minutes of each hour. This helped us calm down a little more after the earlier scare, though I was still anxious every time they put the monitors back on. Fortunately each time they did so, there was Harper’s little heart beat, loud and clear.
After being admitted to L&D, we were offered a few different options to begin the induction process and we decided to go with something called the Foley balloon since it seemed the most natural option. The Foley balloon, or cervical ripening ballon, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The doctor inserts and inflates one balloon just inside the cervix and another outside the cervix. The result is the two balloons squeeze the cervix between them and slowly stretch it open.
Sarah received the balloon at 4:50 PM and we were told it would have to remain in her for 12 hours, at which point she should be between 4-6 cm dilated.
A couple hours after inserting the balloon, Sarah started feeling back pain and cramping. Her mom and I tried to make her more comfortable by pressing on pressure points in her feet and putting heating and cooling pads on her back. Throughout the night contractions started coming 2-3 minutes apart. Sarah was able to manage them without any pain meds but wasn’t able to get any sleep that night. Not only was she dealing with uncomfortable cramping and contractions, she had the long end of the balloon taped to the side of her leg which made moving around awkward and uncomfortable. She also had to be put on the monitors 20 minute of every hour to make sure Harper was still doing well.
Around 5 am Saturday morning, a midwife came and removed the balloon. As expected, she was dilated to 4cm. The midwife then said she would order pitocin to strengthen the contractions and get that going right away. When we questioned this and told her we were trying to avoid pitocin if possible she became somewhat combative and condescending. Luckily, that was our only interaction with that midwife. During our stay we had so many nurses it’s impossible to remember them all, but one nurse named Joelle was our favorite. After that midwife left, Joelle reassured us that we were the decision makers and we could proceed however we wanted to. It meant a lot to both of us to feel like we had someone truly on our side. She encouraged us take an hour to go for a walk outside, have some breakfast, and then decide how we wanted to move forward.
After a refreshing walk outside the hospital and having breakfast, Sarah asked if she could continue working with Dr. Knight rather than the midwife. Dr. Knight was the doctor who had been called in during the deceleration the day before and she had inserted the Foley balloon. We had really appreciated how calm and reassuring she had been during that terrifying experience, and we wanted to discuss our options with her.
We spoke with Dr. Knight and told her we wanted to avoid pitocin since it would require Sarah to be stuck in bed on the monitors for the duration of the labor, she wouldn’t be able to eat anything, and we had read contractions on pitocin were much more painful than contractions that start naturally thus increasing the likelihood of introducing medications to manage pain. Dr. Knight was understanding and respectful of our preferences but still recommended pitocin. She said she wasn’t comfortable waiting for labor to progress naturally since we had had the deceleration earlier and due to the low fluid levels. This is when we learned Harper’s heart had slowed for 6 minutes and that we had been “this close” to having an emergency cesarean. We asked for some time to discuss things alone and then we decided to go ahead with pitocin. This was a tough decision as it felt like everything was going completely opposite of what we had hoped our experience would be, and it seemed like we were traveling down the exact path that our research on natural birth had warned of, the path of one medical intervention leading to another, each one increasing the likelihood of ending up with a cesarean. It was tough, but we slowly came to accept and let go of things outside of our control.
Around 9 AM they administered the pitocin, and it wasn’t long before the contractions started coming fast and hard. By 10:30 Sarah was beginning to have difficulty getting through them. We tried various positions, but unfortunately she was limited to a small area just around her bed and couldn’t move around freely. For a while she sat upright on the bed as I held her hands and pulled her forward. At times she stood next to her bed and we swayed together, trying to slow dance through the pain. By early afternoon Sarah was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the contractions. As each one approached I’d start pushing hard on the small of her back as she winced through it. At the worst point the contractions were starting every 2 minutes and lasting more than a minute which meant she only had 30 seconds or so to rest before the next one would come.
At 2:30 PM the doctor checked Sarah’s cervix again and told us she was still at 4 or 4.5 (though we think she was trying to be generous with the 4.5).
At this point, after a sleepless night and weathering painful contractions for hours with almost no break in between, we felt defeated. Sarah was exhausted and overwhelmed and began questioning out loud how much more she could take. I struggled to remain positive as I watched my wife endure this struggle. I wanted more than anything to somehow take the pain from her, to bear the burden for her. I was so proud of her for making it so far and at the same time I was secretly hoping she would get the epidural because I didn’t want to see her in pain any longer.
In that dark period of the process, Sarah texted her friends, explaining how spent and overwhelmed and pained she felt. She was beginning to consider an epidural but felt it would be a failure or weakness since she had said she was trying to give birth naturally. Her friends were supportive and uplifting, assuring her she wasn’t a failure if she felt it was time to get the medicine and that she should do whatever she needed to be rested and have the energy to birth Harper.
After fighting for so long, we discussed the epidural with our nurse and Sarah decided she wanted to do it. Around 3 PM they gave her the epidural and increased the pitocin and shortly after Sarah felt immense relief. Finally she was free from the painful contractions and we were all able to relax and get some much needed rest throughout the afternoon.
That said, the epidural wasn’t without its side effects. The rest of the labor Sarah had intense, uncontrollable shaking as well as some itchiness. She also had to be on her side for the rest of the labor with a giant peanut shaped ball wedged between her legs.
At 6 PM Dr. Knight checked her again and she was still at only a 4-4.5. After hearing this, Sarah was even more grateful for the epidural. She couldn’t imagine having gone through another 4 hours of endless painful contractions with no progress. At this point, the doctor recommended breaking the water and we agreed. Dr. Knight broke her water but there was so little fluid that barely anything came out. Then we went back to resting and figured she would be laboring through another long night. We weren’t hopeful that the baby would be coming any time soon.
Then, at 9:30 PM, Dr. Knight checked the cervix again and with surprise in her voice said, “Oh hello baby! You are at a 10!” After being in the hospital for more than 30 hours, it was such a relief to hear these words.
The doctor told us she would have us wait another hour to let Sarah “labor down” and let the baby drop down a little further before pushing. The nurse propped her upright to allow gravity to do some of the work and then we excitedly waited for an hour or so as the nurses started preparing our room for the birth.
At 10:50 PM the nurse had Sarah start pushing through her contractions. Because of the epidural, Sarah couldn’t control her legs, so between contractions, her legs were up in the stirrups. As a contraction started Sarah would take a breath, hold it, pull on her thighs, and push as the nurse counted to 10 and her mom and I held her legs. After the 10 seconds of pushing she’d take another breath and repeat twice. Then she’d have a break until the next contraction.
After 30 minutes of this, Harper’s head was visible while Sarah was pushing, then would recede a bit when she stopped pushing. It was incredible to see Harper’s head begin to emerge, and I was amazed by the way the way the plates of her skull overlapped as her head was squeezed under all that pressure. I felt so relieved this long journey was finally about to end and excited we would soon meet our daughter.
After an hour, Harper’s head was crowning and staying visible whether she was pushing or not. The nurse told Sarah to reach down and touch her head and Sarah felt it with a look of shock and excitement. Then the nurse called Dr. Knight and she came in our room right around midnight. Once she was scrubbed in, she directed Sarah through one contraction and then said, “If you can push one more time right now, you’ll deliver this baby.” Sarah gave one more hard push and Harper’s head emerged. The doctor told Sarah to stop pushing and she unwrapped the cord from her neck and maneuvered Harper’s body out into the world.
At 12:09 AM May 14 2017 Harper Elizabeth Moody was born and Sarah became a mother in the first few minutes of Mother’s Day.
Harper came out screaming and peeing and pooping. We were in awe and rapture as the doctor placed Harper on Sarah’s chest and the next hour disappeared in an instant as we stared at our tiny creation while the nursed cleaned up and the doctor put a couple stitches in Sarah.
Unfortunately Harper had pooped while still in the uterus and the nurses were concerned she had inhaled some meconium. Because of this they told Sarah not to console Harper as she cried to encourage her to cough it up. Of course it was almost impossible for Sarah to not console her beautiful new baby crying on her chest.
After an hour of skin-to-skin on Sarah’s chest, it was time for Harper to be weighed and measured. The nurse laughed in surprise as she put her on scale and saw she was 9 pounds 12 ounces. Sarah couldn’t believe she had just pushed out an almost 10 lb baby.
Around this time Sarah’s dad and sister came to see the brand new baby, and Harper had her first feeding around 2:00 AM.
Finally at about 3:00 AM we were moved to a postpartum room and tried to rest in spurts between the many nurses’ visits to check on and test Harper. Because she was a large baby, they were concerned about her blood sugar and had to prick her heel and draw blood many times during the next 24 hours. It’s so hard to watch your newborn baby being stuck with needles.
The next day passed in a exhausted, blissful blur as family members filtered in and out throughout the day to meet Harper.
We spent Sunday night in the hospital as well, and then finally on Monday around 2 PM we were released and brought our baby home. As we put her in the car seat for the very first time and drove away from the hospital, I felt a strange nostalgia. Somehow, in the stressful blur of the past few days, our first baby’s birth had come and gone, and already time was slipping from us. Already, days in her little life were fading into the swift river of time.
Now, as I write this, one week has passed since her birth. Every day we’re learning more about her and her rhythms. Learning how to care for her, how to sleep in small stretches between feedings, how to change diapers and wipe the little boogers that form in the corners of her eyes and feed her and hold her and, more than anything else, how to love her. We are learning every day to love her more and more as this brilliant little life grows and ages in front of our eyes day by day.
And lastly, to my lovely wife, I am so proud of you. I’m so honored to have journeyed through this difficult, exhausting, exhilarating process alongside you. I’ve never been more proud of you than this past wild week as I saw you cross the threshold into motherhood, and now as I watch you mother our beautiful newborn with so much love in your heart, I have never loved you more. I couldn’t dream of a better partner to have though this new chapter of our lives and I’m so hopeful for the future together, the future with our small but growing family. I love you.
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