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Babies raising babies: A birth story

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As Hannah continues to prepare for round two of childbirth, I thought it would be fitting to share a condensed version of Lydia’s birth story from almost a year and a half ago.

Experiencing Lydia’s birth will forever be one of the most precious moments of my entire life, and was incredibly emotional and spiritual for both Hannah and me. I still don’t know if I can find the words to adequately describe how precious it was and how much I admire Hannah, but I’ll do my best with my limited vocabulary.

As Lydia’s due date approached, Hannah and I became more and more anxious to have a baby. Thankfully, Hannah was not feeling as much physical discomfort as I think most pregnant women feel at nine months. The tough part for her was just the waiting, especially as the due date came and went without many signs of a baby.

By the fourth day past the due date, Hannah was feeling so anxious that she started getting some truly crazy ideas of ways to get things moving a little quicker. For some unexplainable reason, she decided to go on a 3-mile hike in the mountains with her mom while I was in class (I was still in college at the time). This was especially weird because Hannah hates hiking. Pregnancy does some weird things to women!

After hiking the trail, Hannah did some other very weird things to try to send herself into labor. The worst sounding one was drinking a strange concoction of castor oil and some other stuff. By 8 p.m. Hannah was feeling pretty sick, but by 8:30 she was having more frequent contractions than she’d ever had before!

At about 1:45 a.m. Hannah’s contractions had begun to get too intense for her to sleep. She had only gone to bed about an hour before, and she woke me up at about 2 (I had slept for a couple hours) to help her get through her big contractions. Since Hannah hoped to do an unmedicated labor, the plan was for her to labor at home for as long as possible. After about two hours we decided it was time to go to the hospital. We likely would have tried to hold off a little longer, but we were a little concerned with how much she was bleeding, and our doula agreed that it was a good time to head over. After eating a couple pieces of toast (knowing that it might be her last food for a while), we headed that way.

The hospital was quiet and deserted as we made our way up to Labor & Delivery on the fifth floor at 4 a.m. on a Thursday morning. It was slow going because Han had to stop every hundred yards or so and work through each contraction. When we finally got into the room and when the nurse checked on Hannah, she was dilated to a 5, and we were officially admitted for labor!

Despite my fairly extensive preparation, once everything was real I realized that I had no idea what labor would be like. I don’t know if Hannah would say the same, but for me, labor was much less traumatic than I was expecting. The main reason for that is because Hannah was absolutely incredible. Not that I ever underestimated her, but she was calm and controlled to a point that I didn’t even know would be possible during labor. That doesn’t mean that it was easy by any means, but she was calm, kind, patient and grateful.

The contractions continued to happen about every two minutes or so, with increasing intensity as she progressed. She progressed about 1 centimeter per hour until she reached a 7. We were very grateful to also have the presence of a doula there, as she was an excellent coach and did a great job helping Hannah remember to relax and breathe through each contraction. I was especially grateful that she was there as a coach because it allowed me to play a 100 percent supportive role for Hannah and do whatever she needed me to. I can’t express how much it meant to me to finally be able to help with the pregnancy! For months I had watched Hannah be sick, have pain in her back, and deal with acid reflux, all without being able to do anything to help. Finally, though, in labor I could help! I could put counter pressure on her back, I could stroke her head, and when Hannah was going through contractions while standing up I could support her while she hung around my neck.

By about 10 a.m. Hannah had been dilated to a 7 for a little over an hour. It was also about that time that the on-call doctor came in for the first time (Hannah’s doctor was on a very timely vacation) to take a look at Hannah.

There were so many things wrong with our first encounter with the doctor that I don’t even know where to start. As I remember, she walked in—clearly in a rush—said hello, mentioned that she hadn’t had a chance to look over Hannah’s file yet, but said that based on what she’d seen from the baby’s heartbeat and been told about the amount of blood Hannah was losing, we should prepare for an emergency C-Section.

We felt like we had been punched in the stomach. Hannah had worked SO hard on preparing herself for a natural birth, and she had been rocking it for the past eight hours. A C-section was honestly the last thing on our minds! To make matters even worse, as the doctor examined Hannah she exclaimed, “Where’s her epidural? Does she not have an epidural?” When Hannah said no and that she wanted to continue unmedicated, the doctor boldly stated, “Well you should get an epidural, because if you start bleeding too much when your water breaks, we’ll have to rush you into an emergency C-section, and by that time, if you don’t have an epidural, you’ll have to go under general anesthesia.” If Hannah were to go under general anesthesia, no one other than doctors would be allowed in the room and neither of us would get to see the birth of our baby.

The doctor said she had to run off to perform a D&C, and that we had two decisions to make. First, did we want her to break Hannah’s water, which would hopefully make her progress more quickly. Second, did we want an epidural. The concern was that the blood Hannah was losing was actually coming from a tear in the placenta, and that if too much blood were lost, the baby would not be safe. We tried to get more information about the risks and odds, but the doctor seemed almost insistent that Hannah would be having a C-section. It seemed as though to her, it was only a matter of whether Hannah wanted an epidural or general anesthesia. With that, she told us she would be back in 30 to 45 minutes and left us to decide.

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It was like the air had been taken out of the room. Hannah and I both felt devastated, and we all felt like we had just been pushed around by the bully on the playground. We were OK with the decision to have the doctor break Hannah’s water. The process doesn’t hurt, and it just moved things along at a normal, natural pace, with the only change being that contractions get a little more intense. The real decision was between getting an epidural or not. After saying a prayer for guidance, we felt that we should keep going according to our birthing plan. The doctor would break Hannah’s water, and she would not get an epidural.

When the doctor came back around 10:30 a.m., it was as if we were meeting a completely different person. She came in, sat down and told us that she had had a chance to look over Hannah’s file. She said Hannah was very healthy and that she felt optimistic moving forward. As Hannah walked through everything we had planned—natural delivery, no epidural or episiotomy, immediate skin-to-skin time, and me cutting the umbilical cord—the doctor was totally supportive and encouraging. She didn’t even mention a C-section again.

We all waited anxiously for more bleeding after Hannah had her water broken with what looked like a giant plastic crochet hook. We were all relieved to see that Lydia’s heartbeat remained normal and everything looked OK.

As soon as Hannah’s water broke she progressed to 8 centimeters. I guess once you get past 7 things really start to kick into gear for the home stretch. We were encouraged by how quickly Hannah went from a 7 to an 8, and then an 8 to a 9, but it took what felt like forever for her to finish it out and get to a 10. Things were especially difficult once she dilated to a 9 because she started feeling intense urges to push. The nurse had told us this would likely happen, but she said that Hannah shouldn’t give in because if she did, Lydia’s head might bash up again her cervix, which would cause it to swell and cause the birthing experience to be even more difficult. Hannah did a fantastic job. My favorite moments were her saying, “Oh wow, I really want to push. Trying not to push, trying not to push … Pushing! Pushing! Giving in!” By a little after 11 a.m. (we were then on hour 10 of labor) she was dilated to a 10 and ready to start the final stretch.

Around this time I started getting teary-eyed again because it was so emotional to realize that our little girl was going to be born any minute (babies just do weird things to your emotions, OK!). The doctors came in, and we all took positions around the bed to help Hannah get through the last parts of the delivery. I got to hold Hannah’s left foot/leg.

I want to reiterate here that I cannot express or describe my admiration for Hannah. This is probably the most painful part of the whole experience, and Hannah powered through it like a pro. She was truly incredible. I have never seen such control and focus. It gave me a new definition of power. Not brute force or physical strength, but pure strength of will and of mind. She is my hero. At this point she had been laboring for 10 hours, she had been awake for basically 26 hours straight, (during which, don’t forget, she had gone on a 3-mile, very steep hike). She had had nothing to eat other than ice chips since we checked in at 4 a.m., and the two pieces of toast she’d eaten before leaving for the hospital she had thrown up around 6 a.m. She could easily have been grumpy, angry, impatient or bossy, and nobody would have blamed her. Instead, she was calm, patient, kind and extremely polite. She thanked us every time we handed her the cup of ice, and she also thanked the nurse for counting to 10 every time she had a contraction so she could have a goal for how long to push. She is an angel.

I also want to mention that I had seen almost a dozen videos of births before in my anatomy class and from being a TA for a human development class, but nothing could ever have prepared me for how miraculous it was to see a birth in real life. When I say miraculous, I mean it completely literally. Not only is it a miracle that a baby comes to life and takes a first breath, but it’s also a miracle that she fits through the tiny door she has to come out of!

The most uncomfortable thing for Hannah was the doctor’s attempts to try and “loosen things up down there.” From my position I could see that the doctor was just poking around with her fingers, but Hannah asked later what the deal was with the “wooden dowel” that the doctor was prodding her with, haha. It was obviously a tight squeeze (as noted by the doctor more than a dozen times). But after about 45 minutes of pushing, Hannah gave her final effort, and Lydia Lynn was born! It was at that time that I also learned why the jargon is “catch the baby,” because she came flying out much faster than I had anticipated!

We waited a minute as they cleaned her off and got some things situated, and then I got to cut the umbilical cord (which, by the way, is the coolest looking thing ever). Hannah and I could not believe how perfect Lydia was. She is the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, and she was so calm as she lay on Hannah’s chest that there was almost a reverent silence in the room. Well, it would have been a reverent silence if it weren’t for all the horribly uncomfortable stitch up work that they had to do on Hannah after the placenta had come out. She says that was probably the most painful part of the whole day!

After the doctor started evaluating the aftermath, we realized why Hannah had been losing so much blood. As the doctor and nurses had suspected, there was a tear in the placenta, which could have been dangerous for the baby, but thankfully didn’t seem to have affected Lydia at all as far we were told. All in all, our outcome was the best-case scenario.

I am so grateful that everything went well for Lydia’s birth, and I will forever admire Hannah for her strength and courage to do it all unmedicated. I can’t wait for baby No. 2 in just a few more weeks!

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