Saturday, August 20, 2016

Walker's Pre-Birth Story

Walker is finally here!

Labor was very easy, especially compared to what I thought it would be like for a first time mom, but the weeks leading up to his birth day were by far the hardest of the pregnancy. Pregnancy had been mostly a cake walk for me (aside from a lot of nausea in the first trimester) but excruciating hip pain that regularly brought me to tears and 10 days of prodromal labor made the last weeks a nightmare. To read the very happy story of his birth, click here, but for the darker days leading up to it, this post covers it all.  

36 weeks: At my long awaited first cervical check, I was very pleased to be 1cm dilated, 50% effaced, -2 station.  After waiting for this check for weeks, we were elated!  For those who don't know, pregnant women's cervixes dilate from 0-10cm during labor and efface (thin out) from 0-100%. The doctor congratulated me on being so advanced for 36 weeks, credited my active pregnancy with getting me there and indicated that I was technically in labor since I was dilating and very effaced.  He also told me that many women begin their one true labor at 0cm and 0% and that I was already well on my way to delivery. Woohoo!  He also said that because Walker was so large for his age (at this point, although that would change in the weeks ahead) and well developed, that he should be good to go if labor really did come early.  We started to get excited and were so proud that my body knew what to do and was ahead of the game. 

Fetal station is a score given on a scale of -5 to 5, with -5 meaning the baby isn't in the birth canal at all, 0 meaning the baby is on his way out, 3 crowning and 5 completely out.  His -2 station wasn't surprising because he had been very low all pregnancy, but was atypically advanced for 36 weeks. The doctor said the -2 meant he was officially in the birth canal and "engaged" -  more good news and another indicator that he was making his way toward the exit.  Many babies don't engage until mama is at the hospital, so this too was a good sign we were well on our way.  We were so proud of him and so hopeful that we would get to meet him early.

36 weeks, 2 days: I lost my mucus plug aka had my "bloody show" on a Friday night!  I know, it sounds super gross, but its quite the pregnancy milestone/turning point for most women, I promise.  I don't think we've ever been more excited, except for when we found out we were pregnant. We were also incredibly surprised. Knowing several people (including many family members) who gave birth the day or day after they lost the plug, we felt SO unprepared.  The nursery was done, everything bought, etc., but the hospital bags weren't packed.  We quickly packed the seven (yes, seven, one for his clothes & accessories, one with his newborn shoot props and outfits, two for my clothes, one for Ross's clothes, one with my labor props, candy, birth plans, camera, massagers etc., and one with the cord blood donation kit) hospital bags and eventually somehow managed to go to bed, anxiously waiting for the action to start.  Then nothing... so much nothing.

After reading literally everything on the internet about losing the mucus plug, the best thing I found was one scholarly article that found that the average time to the onset of labor in one massive retrospective study was 3-5 days and that no one went beyond 14 days after losing the plug without giving birth.  My doctor said essentially the same thing.  So after a year and a half of infertility and almost 9 months of pregnancy, we thought our baby was finally within days of being in our arms. The next day we had our 8 hour labor and delivery class.  We excitedly told the instructor we'd lost the plug the night before and she acted like we wouldn't make it through the weekend still pregnant, adding that it was a good thing the class was in the hospital. The suspense was killing us.  We knew we'd finally have him in our arms in the next few days.

Prior to this day, we were in a good place emotionally and I think we were both mentally prepared to be pregnant for 4 more weeks.  This first false alarm was also the beginning of the end of our sanity though, because after this point our hopes were so high up that we would have Walker in our arms in a matter of hours or days, which obviously didn't happen and became increasingly impossible to deal with.

36 weeks, 4 days:  I had my first very mild contractions before bed. Again, we got so excited thinking it was the real deal. I frantically monogrammed his newborn hat, which I'd been putting off.  I got it done, proudly packed it in his little suitcase and felt ready to go.  Then the contractions stopped. We didn't know then that this would be the first stop on an epic, miserable, COMPLETELY EMOTIONALLY DRAINING train ride called Prodromal Labor.  Despite reading 4 books on pregnancy and attending an 8 hour labor and delivery class, I was completely unfamiliar with this term or this possibility.  Prodromal Labor is real labor with real contractions that unfortunately stop before a baby is born.  A lot of women have it and not only is it obviously uncomfortable to go into labor repeatedly, it's an emotional rollercoaster of the worst variety, because you keep thinking your baby is going to be born that day and in your arms... then he isn't. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, especially couples who suffered through infertility.  It's the cruelest mind trick your body could ever play.

36 weeks, 6 days: At a political fundraiser at 6pm I start having mild contractions.  They worsen as the event goes on and on my 45 minute drive home.  Before leaving, the most maternal lobbyist I know told me she could tell I was going to have the baby by that Friday, without knowing I was having contractions.  I eat dinner when I get home and they continue to get stronger and closer together. I call the doctor who advises me to rest and see if they go away.  I fall asleep around 10pm with them, waking up at 11:40pm to much stronger contractions.  I begin diligently timing them - they averaged about 10 minutes apart and went until 6am when I fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion.  Some time in the middle of the night I called the doctor again, who told me they were for sure the real thing and invited me to come to the hospital whenever I was ready, but that waiting until they were 5 minutes apart would be best.  Around 3am I called my parents, who live an hour north of us, who excitedly showered and put their bag in the car.  They offered to come down, but I told them to wait until we left for the hospital.  During that time Ross put our hospital bags in the car, laid out items for our dogsitter, showered, etc.  I fell asleep around 6am still having them and when I woke up at 7am for work they were gone... we were devastated. 

37 weeks:  After less than 3 hours of sleep and a night full of painful contractions and emotions all over the place, I headed to the doctor for my previously scheduled before-work 8am 37 week check-up.  I was 2cm dilated, 50% effaced and a -1 station.  The doctor was very complimentary of my stats, saying again that I was way ahead of the game for 37 weeks and we could expect baby very soon.  She also told me that our previously XXL baby was really starting to taper off in size relative to other babies of the same gestational age, which worried me since I'd read a lot about the placenta losing nutritional value in the last weeks of pregnancy.  I started to wonder if that was why he was sending chemical signals to my body to initiate labor.  The reassurance of the 37 week mark indicating it would be totally safe for him to be born was quickly undermined by our fears over his growth stopping. 

After telling her about my contractions she told me about Prodromal Labor, but said that for most women it only lasts a couple days and then their bodies finally give birth.  We left hopeful that we would be meeting him and he would safely arrive into the real world very soon.  My mom then told me that she had 3 straight days of prodromal labor with my sister and she was born on the 4th day.  She agreed that it was the most exhausting thing on the planet.  It started to make sense.  I knew we must be close.  That day at work I had 2 incredibly important meetings that I somehow managed to make it through on no sleep and expecting to go into real labor at any minute.  I had 2 hours of strong contractions that afternoon averaging 5 minutes apart and 45 seconds long.  My doctor told me to come to the hospital when my contractions were 1 minute long, 5 minutes apart and for 1 hour. I was gearing up to go to the hospital to meet my son. Ross was on standby with the bags again packed at home.  Then of course... they stopped.  

Walker's chandelier finally arrived, so we installed it, giving us a brief but nice distraction from the false alarm labor. 

We also celebrated our 6 year anniversary that weekend, recognizing the benefit of our baby not being born that day and taking solace in a little bit of bright side. We went to the Carolina Inn, where we got married, and did lots of walking around Chapel Hill at our favorite personal romantic milestone sites. 

37 weeks, 6 days: After a relatively uneventful (in terms of labor) and disappointing few days with only a few short spells of very mild, sporadic contractions, on this day I endured 8 straight hours of Braxton Hicks contractions (aka "false labor contractions") that thankfully I knew were false but were still uncomfortable. I had never had them for 8 hours straight.  I also had intermittent real contractions, the worst stomach ache on the planet and every active labor symptom known to man. Of course it all stopped and we didn't get to meet Walker. This was one of the hardest days emotionally. Unpacking the hospital bags from the car again was devastating.

I kept drinking my red raspberry leaf tea religiously, taking evening primrose oil, eating pineapple, doing squats, bouncing on my birthing ball and of course walking to try to get the ball rolling. I wanted my son safely in my arms, no longer dependent on a placenta that I was worried was failing him, and I wanted to end my exhausting and uncomfortable prodromal labor misery.

38 weeks: From 3am-5am I had incredibly strong contractions that I just KNEW were going to lead to Walker's birth. They were so strong that they made me nauseous and caused me to curl up in the fetal position.  I timed them, woke Ross up and texted my parents.  After two hours, they of course stopped.  At 8am we went to our previously scheduled 38 week check-up.  We were so excited to learn that I was 3cm dilated, 80% effaced, a -1 station, with a soft and anterior cervix (which is the final density and position of the cervix before birth).  The doctor said that these stats gave me a Bishop's Score of 11.  The Bishop's Scale is 0-13, with anything above 8 indicating you're on the verge of, if not in, active labor.  Most people are at the hospital by 8.  Some get epidurals around then, but I was headed to work.  She said she doubted I would make it to my 39 week appointment, but to schedule it anyway "just in case" and that if I bled from my cervical exam that day it would be a very good sign that he was on his way out ASAP.  

She also said he was now a week behind in size... this was the most shocking news of the entire pregnancy because he was consistently 1-2 weeks bigger than he should be for 8 months. The nurses had nicknamed him Shaq months ago.  I really started to panic and the urgency to get him out became less about us wanting to meet him and end my discomfort and more about making sure he was actually getting nutrition. She did say though that because he was literally in the birth canal, it was impossible to measure him accurately and they really couldn't tell how big he was... a unique and unusual problem for a 38 week check-up. Great.

When reading everything on the internet about 3cm dilation, girls said that they were admitted to the hospital at 3cm, that being 3cm was immensely painful for them and they were glad they were in active labor at that point so they didn't have to endure it for long, that when they were 3cm their baby was born in 3 hours... these things should have helped but didn't.  All I could picture was living the rest of my life at 3cm dilated, technically in labor, with a starving, shrinking baby in my birth canal with no intentions of exiting.  I was worried about his health, worried about my sanity and comfort and could barely think straight.

I had medium strong, pretty consistent contractions throughout the day and pretty strong ones before bed. I bled all day from the cervical check, a very good sign that the blood vessels were popping right before birth, according to the doctor.  I also lost considerably more mucus plug this day (I thought I'd lost it all at 36W 2D but apparently had not).  I knew I was almost 2 weeks since I first lost the plug, meaning there was no way I could NOT go into labor in the next 48 hours, right?!  Like most days, I walked like crazy (over 8 miles that day) to try to encourage the contractions to progress and mostly to stay comfortable, since sitting and laying down hurt so much.  

There was rarely a day during this period where I didn't get above 14,000 steps, many days way more.  I also bounced on my labor ball, did hundreds of squats and jumping jacks each day, drank the nastiest red raspberry leaf tea with oregano, cinnamon and basil 3 times a day, took evening primrose oil, practiced labor acupressure, ate pineapple (and once even two balls of wasabi and I hate spicy foods... mild salsa is usually too much for me) all hoping to encourage the contractions to stay around to no avail. I wasn't sleeping most nights, couldn't sit on my couch or lay in my bed without immense hip and tailbone pain (remember, he was literally hanging out in the birth canal... a place where babies are supposed to be passers-through with epidural treated moms, not a long term chill zone) and was so on edge.  I was literally working full time on no sleep, no rest after work because it was too painful to sit, exhausted from walking and bouncing every non-working waking minute, technically in labor, with a dilated cervix and a baby in my birth canal.  I was completely worn out, physically and definitely emotionally. I was a basket case.

Then, finally, at 38 weeks and 1 day I had a small clear discharge throughout the day. I was so uncomfortable that I walked TEN miles - 20,000 steps - that day. I didn't think much of the discharge, until that night at 1am when I noticed a bigger spot of it in my underwear. A few hours later I noticed another spot. I called the doctor at about 5am on August 5th - 38 weeks, 2 days - and was asked to come into the office to determine if my water was breaking. We doubted it could be the real deal, but went to the doctor anyway, and that's exactly where this exhausting, icky pre-birth story ends and Walker's birth story begins. :)

To read his full birth story (and you should - that's where this gets SO wonderful), click here


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