There were times in the week before I went into labor that I thought it would never happen, and I would just stay pregnant forever. Last Sunday night, the 13th, was one of those days.
I spent most of the day either in bed or playing Nintendo. Brett had a bunch of friends over to help him shoot a video piece that he wanted to submit for an upcoming show. I felt anything but social so I stayed in bed while everyone was over. I felt bad hiding out, but I just couldn't handle more questions about the baby and the pregnancy and how I was feeling.
After they finished the video, they all left to go have a beer, but a couple of hours later, about 6 people wound up coming back over to have some Thai food with us. I was so mad at Brett for having so many people come back with him; I did not feel up to talking to people and just wanted to hang out with him. I fear I was rather bitchy. So, Arianna, Lailey, and Leah -- I'm sorry I was so grumpy. Please forgive me; I feel bad!
Everyone left and we went to bed pretty early, about 9:45. Brett fell right asleep but I was awake for a long time. I was having contractions but they weren't bad, although they were enough to keep me awake for a while. I finally went to sleep sometime between 11:30 and midnight.
At exactly 1:03 a.m., I woke up to feel a warm gush of fluid. I wondered if my water had just broken or if I'd had one of those unfortunate pregnant-lady accidents. I got up and went to the bathroom and noticed there was some bloody show and that it seemed like the fluid was of a different consistency than pee.
I went back to bed and woke Brett up about 1:15 and told him I thought my water had broken. We decided to time contractions for a while, and he went downstairs to do a couple of things in case it was real labor -- like put away the moped parts he had spread out on our patio, since he'd planned to do some moped work the next day.
After an hour, the contractions were 3-6 minutes apart and were definitely different than any I'd felt before. However, I hadn't had a big gush of amniotic fluid and was questioning whether my water really had broken or not. I called the doctor and she said that it sounded like I needed to come in and get checked, but not to rush as it didn't sound like there was any hurry.
So I took a shower and got the rest of my hospital bag together, and Brett made some coffee (of course) and we headed out to the hospital.
We arrived about 3:30 and went up to triage. The monitor showed that the baby's heartbeat was perfect and that the contractions were, in fact, about 5 minutes apart. However, the nurse had a hard time checking me to see how far dilated I was, and she had to call the doctor to come check me. I was dilated to about 2 and was about 90% effaced -- no real change from my doctor's appointment a couple of days earlier. Also, they did a couple of the pH strip tests to check for amniotic fluid, and both came back negative, but the doctor wanted to make absolutely certain so they did a swab test as well, which she then went to look at under a microscope.
She came back about 4:30 and said that my water had indeed broken and they would admit me, and that after we got settled in our room we should walk the halls for a few hours to help things progress. We asked her if she had any idea how things would go, and she said that it would probably be quite a while yet before I was in active labor and that she'd think the baby would be born late afternoon or early evening.
In a few minutes, we found ourselves walking the halls and looking at all of the artwork on the Labor and Delivery floor, critiquing many of the pieces as a way to pass the time.
At this point, the contractions were definitely getting stronger and closer together, but it was completely managable, although uncomfortable.
Sometime around this point, we called our families to let them know what was happening. It was a bit like herding cats to try to get everyone sorted out in terms of how everyone would get to Seattle and how people would handle their work situations. Finally, we decided that my mom would drive up immediately and that Brett's mom and sister Rachel would ride with her. My dad and stepmom would come up mid-morning, and Brett's dad would come up with Brett's sister Amy and her husband Seth sometime late morning. At that moment, we didn't think my sister was going to be able to come. (Thankfully, she got someone to cover her shift the following day and was able to come that evening with my niece Adeline and nephew Zachary.)
I was relieved to find out I could eat some light food, since it was around 7 a.m. and I hadn't eaten since our Thai food dinner the previous night. I had some Jello, and some graham crackers, and some hot tea. Little did I know that would be the last thing I'd eat for over 24 hours.
At this point, I was still able to focus on other things, so I leaned over the birthing ball on the bed and cracked open the copy of The Fellowship of the Ring I'd brought with me to the hospital. I didn't get very far, but it was a decent distraction for an hour or so.
Around 8:30, the doctor came back and checked me again, to find that I was already 4cm dilated. Active labor had officially begun.
This is where things get much fuzzier for me. I know that I labored for a while all over the room, on the birthing ball, leaning against the sink or the bed, hanging on Brett. The contractions started to hurt quite a bit more and required some focus to get through.
One thing I loved about the hospital we delivered at is that you have one nurse, one-on-one, for her entire 12-hour shift. It was so nice to have that continuity and that level of attention. Our amazing nurse, Angelica, ran a bath for me sometime in this period, and I have to say that the Jaccuzi tub was fantastic. It really helped with the contractions, and I stayed in there for about an hour. It was easily my favorite part of labor.
I was starting to have to vocalize through the contractions -- moaning, praying, even swearing, sometimes all at the same time.
I got out of the tub probably around 10, and our moms arrived shortly thereafter -- sometime around 11. They really wanted to see me so I said they could come in for a few minutes if they were very quiet and calm. I felt self-conscious about vocalizing with other people in the room, so it took a lot of willpower, but I remember being able to be quiet during the contractions while they were standing there.
I think it was around this time (probably around noon, although I have no idea) that they checked me and I was dilated to a 7-8 and was beginning transition.
I remember things got really painful around this time. I had been feeling nauseous for a couple of hours, and I got up to go to the bathroom. While I was sitting on the toilet, I had a horrible contraction and knew I was going to throw up. I just sat there heaving while Brett and Angelica held me up and held a tray for me.
The next couple of hours are a complete blur. Everyone started making comments that I'd have a baby by lunchtime, etc. Our nurse Angelica kept pushing her lunch break back because it really seemed during the early afternoon that delivery was more and more immanent. I remember looking at Brett at one moment and saying how disappointed his sister Amy was going to be, since it looked like I was going to deliver before she and Seth and Jeff arrived.
The contractions were very painful by this time and I kept throwing up. I was starving since I hadn't eaten but a 1/4 cup of Jello and two graham crackers in about 18 hours, and was terribly thirsty, but I was throwing up even ice chips. They'd put one in my mouth, and about 3 minutes later, out it would come.
By around 3, I was feeling the urge to push. The doctor checked me again and I was dilated to 9, but there was one small problem -- I had what's called an anterior cervical lip, which means that because the baby's head was presenting at something of an angle, the front part of my cervix just wasn't dilated to 10, although the rest of my cervix was wide open and the baby was at +1 station.
So around 3:20 I started pushing, and the doctor or nurse would intermittently try to hold the lip of the cervix back during a contraction so that the baby's head could move down. Let me tell you, that hurt like hell. It was horrible.
The next couple of hours passed, with me getting more and more exhausted and incoherent and the contractions getting worse and worse. They were literally coming on top of each other, with no break in between. I'd have 3 or 4 before I would even get any kind of release, and that was brief and still quite painful.
I had been hooked up to the external fetal monitors intermittently throughout the day. These are small plastic discs that are about 3 inches in diameter, and they hook on to your belly via an elastic band attached around the belly. One monitors the baby's heart rate and the other monitors contractions.
They started to really irritate my skin and my belly; the elastic bands were itchy and painful and the monitors themselves were digging into my belly and making the contractions worse. I remember at one point trying to push one of the nurses away when I saw her coming with them because I could not stand to have them on anymore.
The decision was finally made to switch to an internal fetal monitor, which I had been dead set against as it attaches to the baby's scalp using a small screw. The thought of that had set my teeth on edge before I was in labor, but at that point, I didn't really care and was just happy to not have the external monitors on anymore.
Sometime around 5:00 or 5:15, the doctor came back to check on me. I was still having the cervical lip, and the baby had not moved down at all since I started pushing.
By this point, I was so wracked with pain and so exhausted that I couldn't even talk. I remember lying on the bed and feeling a contraction come on, and just moaning to try to let Angelica and Brett know that I was ready to push so they could come hold my legs back.
I remember just sitting there sobbing for part of this time. The pain was so intensely over the top that I thought I was going to break in half, I was exhausted, I was thirsty, I was starving, and I was still throwing up. Oddly enough, I almost began to look forward to throwing up as it gave my mind and body a focus other than a contraction for a minute or so.
My entire body was tense and hard as a rock. I still wasn't getting a break from contractions and every muscle in my body was spasming.
I kept saying, "Oh, I wish I'd gotten an epidural." I thought the point where that was a possibility had long since passed.
I was lying on my side when the doctor came over and sat down right next to the bed and looked me in the eyes. I remember that she said, "You have choices here. You can get an epidural. It's still an option, and it's ok. You're not a failure. This is hard. You've been pushing for a very long time. We can get someone here right away."
I looked at Brett and, crying, told him I think I needed one but that I really didn't want to get one. He said, "Leen, if you need one, then do it."
I said to the doctor, "How quickly can you have the anesthesiologist here?"
And she said, "I'll go find him right now."
We had both been so against epidurals. I felt so disappointed in myself, and if I'm honest, afraid of what our moms would say. Both of them had all of their kids without drugs, and my sister had her three naturally, too. My mom had been telling me practically my whole life how she believes that epidurals are bad, that they slow labor down, that they can pass the drugs to the baby, etc. And Brett's mom, being a doula, had said many of the same things. After my nephew Jacob was born, the two of them sat there telling me all of this together, and how great they thought it was that my sister hadn't had an epidural. So you can imagine it was a very hard decision for me to make in light of that.
The anesthesiologist was in my room almost immediately, and he began working. The hardest part for me was having to stay totally still -- with my contractions coming so close together I had to maintain that stillness throughout the contractions, which was one of the hardest things I've done in my whole life. But Brett and Angelica were, as always, right there holding my hands (and sometimes even holding my legs and arms down), and that made such a difference.
When the drugs took effect a few minutes later, I experienced a feeling of relief that I have never felt before in my entire life. I just sat in bed, crying. It felt so much better. I could breathe again, and I could talk, and I didn't feel like I wanted to jump off the Columbia Center just so the pain would stop.
I really wanted to see my mom at that moment, so Brett went out to get our moms. I saw them come through the door and I just started bawling and saying, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I didn't want an epidural but I just couldn't do it anymore." (I'm tearing up now just writing this...it was a very intense moment of emotion.)
Both of them just came over and hugged me and told me that it was ok and that they were so proud of me and that they didn't care. I really needed to hear that and after they both said that, I felt a lot better.
A few minutes later, Brett's sisters and my stepmom came in, too, while Brett went to get some food since he hadn't eaten anything all day. We just hung out for about 45 minutes. I was able to laugh and joke with them and was able to relax and rest. I needed that time.
They left and we just rested for a while longer, as there was a nursing shift change. So while Angelica updated our new nurse, Joanna, Brett and I just rested. We were both exhausted.
Around 8 p.m., I started to push again. Joanna and Brett were fantastic. They held my legs and talked me through the pushing. I could see everything in a big mirror they had put at the end of the bed, and being able to see what an effective push looked like was really helpful since I couldn't feel much with the epidural.
The doctor said we'd give it an hour or two and then see if the baby had progressed. She said that if the baby hadn't moved down from that +1 station by then, we'd need to talk about a c-section. When she said that, my heart just sank and I felt a sense of disappointment.
I started talking to the baby between contractions, telling it to move down, to come on out, that we wanted to meet he/she. During the worst of the contractions before the epidural, Brett would try to talk me through by telling me to just keep up the good work and we'd get to meet the Snugglefriend soon. But I didn't care. I didn't care that they could see the head, I didn't care that my baby was going to be born. All I cared about was the pain and how horrible it was. I could not focus on the fact or enjoy the fact that we were about to meet our baby.
After the epidural, though, I was excited. I wanted to get the process over not because it hurt, but because then I'd get to meet this little person who had lived inside of me for 10 months. I could use that as a motivator to push -- my mind was in a state where I could accept rational thought, whereas before it had been consumed with the irrationality of the intense pain.
So I pushed and pushed and pushed, and finally the doctor came back about 10:30 and checked me. The baby was still sitting at that +1 station. A bit of the head was coming down to a +2, but the doctor said that it was the soft part of her head that was just getting squeezed through every time I pushed; the bony part was not budging. She said the words I had dreaded: "I think you need a c-section. This baby is just not coming out. If you'd made any progress since you'd been pushing, I'd be fine to let you labor for as long as the baby's heartbeat looked good, but you haven't progressed, and I'm afraid that you could be here all night and not get any further and just get more and more exhausted."
Brett and I looked at each other, and we just knew that a c-section was the right decision. The circumstances were exactly the ones that we'd talked about being necessary for us to accept a c-section -- I'd tried literally everything to get the baby out on my own but the baby just wasn't fitting.
Overall, we feel 100% satisfied with the birth experience at Swedish and my OB's care. We feel like our desires were listened to and honored, but that when it became necessary, the doctor told us what she thought was best for me and for Elanor. The hospital was fantastic, too. Every doctor and nurse who cared for us was amazing, especially Angelica, Joanna, and the anesthesiologist. They were all wonderful and compassionate and real and truly made the experience a good one, even though so many things didn't go the way we thought we wanted them to. We will definitely be going back there when we are someday ready to have another baby.
After we decided to have the c-section, the next half-hour was a blur. The doctor spent a good 10 minutes answering our questions and walking us through what would happen. I really appreciated that she did that. I think we'd blocked out a lot of the details of what we'd talked about at my appointment a few weeks earlier with regard to a c-section, just because both of us believed it wouldn't be necessary.
Brett ran out to tell our families (who had now been waiting in the tiny waiting room for going on 12 hours), and the doctor went to find another OB to scrub in with her on the surgery. The nurses got an anesthesiologist back in, and reserved an OR.
They upped my pain medication, introduced the doctor who would be helping with the surgery, made me drink this vile stuff that is supposed to neutralize stomach acid (which didn't work and I threw it all up, of course, because what better way to end this pregnancy than how I began it: vomiting), and off we went down the hall.
One thing I forgot to mention is that I'd been shaking uncontrollably since mid-afternoon. It's pretty common during transition and pushing for women to shake; the hormones combined with the pain are usually the cause. But in my exhaustion, the shakes had continued after I had the epidural, and they were even coming on and off while we were heading to the OR.
As soon as the doors to the ER opened at the foot of the gurney and I saw the lights and table and equipment, something released in me and I started sobbing and shaking even harder. It wasn't that I was disappointed by the fact I was getting a c-section (honestly, by that time I just wanted it all over) but I was scared to death. I had never had surgery before, and I was already so tired and overwrought that it was just too much.
I tried to whisper scripture to myself, and to pray, but I was so over the edge that I couldn't even get a whole verse out of my mouth and all I could think to pray was, "Oh, God, oh God, oh God, please help, I'm scared."
Brett was overwhelmed at this point, too, and was running out of things to say. I remember opening my eyes to see him standing over my bed with his hands on my head, his eyes closed, and his lips moving, just praying.
Thankfully, the anesthesiologist saved the day. I cannot express my gratitude to this man. He sat with me behind the drape to monitor my pain levels throughout the process, so he was on my right and Brett on my left. He held my hand the whole time and talked to me in order to distract me from what they were doing on the other side of the drape. (Hearing them talk about moving my organs around was probably not a good idea, given how upset I was.)
The plan was that when they pulled the baby out, Brett would stand up and look to see whether it was a boy or a girl, and then he would tell me and go to the baby.
When that time came, the doctor told him to stand up. The baby's head an shoulders were out but they were having a hard time getting the rest out and were pushing on my stomach/torso really, really hard. I remember that I couldn't breathe and that it hurt a lot, even through the drugs.
Finally the rest popped out (at 11:22 p.m.) and Brett exclaimed, in a surprised and incredulous tone, "Oh my GOD, Leen, it's a girl!!!"
I replied, in an equally incredulous tone, "WHAT? Are you serious? A GIRL?!"
We were just so sure it was a boy. I had even bought some boy things and had really gotten into that mindset; I think we both had. So it was quite a shock for about two minutes, and I even admit to being somewhat disappointed. But since we got over that shock (pretty much immediately), it seems so right that she is a girl, and I cannot even imagine her being a boy.
She didn't cry right away, which scared me to death. I really thought something was wrong. Thankfully, she just had fluid in her lungs as a result of having been born via c-section instead of vaginally. (With a vaginal birth, the contractions and trip through the birth canal help squeeze out that fluid.)
I remember calling to Brett, "What are we going to name her?" And him saying, "I don't know!" A few minutes later, I called over, "How is Elanor doing?" and then realizing what I had said and saying, "Wait, I just called her Elanor. Is that ok; is that fine?" And him saying yes. (I think he would have said yes to anything I wanted at that point; he was so awed at what I'd been through that day.)
I couldn't really see her, since the nurses and doctors and Brett were all crowded around the warming table where they'd taken her. It was really hard for me not to be able to jump up and see her right away. Even when they got her all done and bundled up and Brett brought her to me, I couldn't get a good look since I was lying flat on my back. The best I could do was kiss her little head a few times -- I couldn't even touch her since they didn't want me to move my arms.
I remember Brett leaning over me and saying something like, "Here's our little girl," with tears in his eyes. I was crying then, too.
Finally, they got me all closed up. It seemed to take forever. Toward the very end, I started feeling sensation, too, which was very scary. The anesthesiologist immediately upped the dose in my epidural to the max and also added at least 2 narcotics, so by the time they finished, I was very out of it. I couldn't even open my eyes. I could hear everyone talking on the walk back to the room, but it was as though they were very far away.
In the recovery room, they continued taking care of Elanor and I just laid there because I couldn't move. Gradually, I began to be able to talk and move a bit again, and finally, finally, I got to hold her. They brought her to me and helped me get into position, and put her up to my breast, and she just latched right on and began nursing. It was a beautiful moment.
Brett had to go get our families at this point; it was now almost 1 a.m. and they didn't know what was going on. So the onslaught began, and all 12 of them came rushing in to meet her. It was hard for me to let them hold her, since I'd only held her for maybe 10 minutes at that point. But I did it, and I know they were all glad I did. I actually loved seeing them all ooh and ahh over her. I think my father-in-law Jeff's reaction was the best. He was instantly smitten with her and turned from his sometimes gruff self (if this says anything, the current front runner grandpa name for him is Grumps) into this big melty man who would do anything for his little granddaughter. It was really special to see all of the family (except my brother and his wife and kids, who live in Oklahoma) get to meet her right away.
We didn't get moved to our postpartum room until about 3 a.m. The curtains were open when they wheeled me in, and I could see the entire downtown all lit up right there, including my building. It was really pretty.
By the time they got us settled there and left us alone, it was 4 a.m. -- 24 hours since we'd been admitted, it was finally over. We were so tired but were too full of adrenaline to sleep.
That hour or so in the darkened recovery room, with the curtains open to a view of downtown at night, is one of the most special moments in our relationship. Just sitting there in the dark, looking at the city I love, praying and thanking God with Brett for this blessing, talking to Brett and holding Elanor in my arms was so special and intimate and wonderful.
I felt so whole and complete in that moment. Everything was right in my world. Even though the labor and delivery had been pretty much the list of everything I didn't want -- continual monitoring, epidural, c-section -- it was completely worth it to have what I have now, this perfect little girl, who makes my life complete in a way I didn't even know I needed.
It's only been a week, and I cannot imagine life without Elanor in it. Not only is she herself incredible and perfect and amazing, but having her here has brought me closer to Brett in a way that I never dreamed possible. The love I feel for him is so much deeper and stronger now than it was a week ago. His continual, reassuring presence during labor (even though I know it horrified him to see me go through so much), his praise of me afterward, telling me how tough I am and how proud he is of me, his sacrifice of his own needs and his selfishness to care for me this week, and most of all his clear, deep love of Elanor -- all of this has overwhelmed me.
He has truly been Jesus to me this week in a way he never has before, and has completely fulfilled his command in Ephesians 5: "Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her ... In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself."
There are so many examples of this; I could list them out here but it would take all day. I'll just say this: I am so in love with my little family, with Brett and Elanor.
It's bittersweet to know that Elanor couldn't have been here without the loss of our first baby. That baby was definitely on our minds and in our hearts on Monday. Still, knowing he or she is in heaven is comforting -- and now, having Elanor...well, I don't want to imagine not having her. I guess I feel like the miscarriage has been redeemed now through her, not that she's a replacement for the baby we lost, but that I can move on in a way now that she is here, knowing she couldn't have been without the miscarriage having happened. It's hard to explain this well; I hope I am making sense.
Our lives will never be the same -- we won't be able to sleep in, or go to the movies on a whim, or any of that kind of thing, but that's ok with me. This new family of three is so much better than before. None of that matters now. We have each other and we have Elanor, and she is worth any sacrifice we have to make in terms of our lifestyles. So while our lives will never be the same, I wouldn't want them to be.
Because this? Is so much better.
I'll end with this verse from Ephesians. It sums up exactly what I'm feeling, that right now I have immeasurably more than I could have asked for or imagined.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.