Wednesday, March 4, 2015

My Birth Story

The day before my induction was scheduled, I grieved the loss of my final chance to have a drug-free labor. Three times In my life, I had spent my pregnancies preparing for an unmedicated childbirth and three times my stubborn offspring refused to vacate my uterus until being forcibly evicted by a healthy dose of pitocin. I'd always said that my desire for this kind of birth was because “pregnancy isn't a disease,” but in reality, I just wanted to have that life experience to my name. It's true that you don't get a merit badge for giving birth without an epidural, but nevertheless, it was an accomplishment I would have been proud of. Would have, but never had the opportunity of trying.

This was my last child and I knew it. And the doctor said it was time for him to come out. 

I grieved this loss of the experience and then quickly moved to acceptance. I was comforted by the familiarity of the routine. I’d had two inductions and the two most complication-free labors and deliveries of any of my friends. Both of my daughters were born after relatively short labors and painless, epidural-numbed deliveries. When my second daughter was born, I actually laughed while pushing because it seemed ridiculous that I could possibly be doing anything effective as I felt nothing at all. I was looking forward to getting the boring part over with and being handed my son.

As the nurse got me set up with the monitors and I.V., she reminded me that I would be given antibiotics for Group B Strep (GBS). If you're not familiar with GBS, it's a bacteria that is present in the vaginas of a quarter of all healthy adult women and is harmless to us but can be very dangerous to newborns if it passes to them during birth. The drugs are meant to prevent that from happening. Since I had a history of brief labors, I asked how long it would take to get a full dose of the antibiotics and the nurse said four hours per bag of the liquid administered through my I.V. I relaxed when I heard that, feeling reassured that I my little guy would be fine. 

I knew from previous experience that all the coping mechanisms I've learned, from hypnosis to positioning, were no match for the intensity of a pitocin-induced labor, so upon I shamelessly requested an epidural at the anesthesiologist’s earliest convenience.

The predictable routine continued—My doctor broke my water, my mother and sister arrived, and  I received my requested epidural. After being in labor for three hours, the sleepless night and early morning arrival overcame the adrenaline that I'd been running on and I started to drift off as I reclined in the hospital bed. The nurse told me I was at progressing well and had dilated two centimeters in the three hours I'd been in labor, so I told my family that they could go get breakfast since I wanted to grab a few minutes of sleep. 

Afer months of being too big to get comfortable in my own bed, that tiny hospital bed with the adjustable back felt like heaven. I rested soundly, awakened occasionally by the sound of my own snoring (am I the only mom who’s done that while pregnant?). When that happened, I would notice the faint tightening of a contraction in my abdomen and blissfully, painlessly fall back asleep, happy to think that each wave of pressure was bringing my baby closer to birth.

After an hour, I woke up one last time and realized I no longer felt any pressure in my stomach. I started to worry that my labor had stalled when I felt a curious pressure in between my legs. I'd never felt anything like this before. I'd always been completely numb for delivery with my previous two births.

When the nurse came in, I brought it to her attention. I hedged when I spoke, not wanting to sound too confident or demanding. “I know it's probably nothing,” I said, “And I know it's probably way too early, but I feel like I might be getting ready to push.” 

She checked my cervix and announced that I'd gone from 5 cm dilated to 9.5 during the hour I slept! She called my doctor and made some notes on the computer and while she did, my body was overcome with such tremendous pain that I struggled to be polite. I told her I felt like I needed to push. She checked me again and discovered that I was already completely dilated. 

Apparently my epidural couldn't keep up with the rapid pace that my labor was taking. I was wracked with pain during every contraction and since I strapped to a heart rate monitor, an epidural, a blood pressure cuff, and an I.V., there was no change I could make to relieve the pain. My husband held my hand, my mother rubbed my legs, and I tried to relax as much as I could knowing that each contraction would only last for a few deep breaths. 

I warned he nurse that I felt like my body was going to start pushing whether I wanted it to or not and at that moment, my beautiful doctor arrived on a white horse and wearing a suit of shining scrubs. At the next contraction she told me to push. I pushed through it and the chorus of voices around me cried that they could see his head! The contraction ended and I prepared to rest when the surge was over, but instead my doctor told me to keep going. I was confused and in pain and a little pissed off that my pain medication wasn't making a difference. “What the hell is going on?!” I screamed as I obediently pushed again.

And suddenly it was over. The baby—my baby—my Dylan—was in my arms after a few minutes of effort. 

The labor had been so intense and I had lost so much blood that I couldn't hold him on my own. My trembling arms held on as long as I could, but I had to hand him off to his father. 

My last labor was not the kind I'd dreamed of nor was it the kind I was used to, but I have no regrets. My childbearing years came to a close quite dramatically as though the door to my womb slammed shut, but I've had five years of healthy pregnancies and three healthy babies. No miscarriages. No cesarean sections. There's no point in me ever buying a lottery ticket because I'm pretty sure I've used up all the luck a person can ask for in life.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Counting Down the Lasts

Five years ago with our daughter Lydia, we celebrated life by adding up the firsts—first positive pregnancy test, first ultrasound, first kick. Now with our son, we’re celebrating by counting down our lasts—last morning sickness, last glucose test, last bottle of Tums. And tonight is my last night to be pregnant.

I have been excited about this so far. Then  a week ago I realized I had just finished my last prenatal appointment. Once again, my first instinct was to rejoice, but as I walked into my doctor’s waiting room, I remembered the checkup I had between my second child’s birth and my third’s conception. I remembered sitting in those soft, purple chairs, looking at all the young, pregnant mommies and feeling left out. My memory became very hazy and selective and suddenly all I could recall was the joy of bringing a new life into the world.

This whole pregnancy, I have felt confident that this child would happily be my last, and while this boy will definitely be my final child, I wonder if I will continue to be just as happy about it. I wonder how I'll feel in six weeks at my doctor’s office looking at all the round bellies.

Will I remember the pain, insomnia, and nausea of pregnancy? Will I just remember the joy of having a new life inside me? Will I someday ache to touch tiny toes in a way I don't understand? Or will my heart graduate to more mature delights as my children grow?  Will soccer cleats replace tiny socks in making my heart weepy? Will braided hair become as adorable as bald baby heads?

Tonight is the last night I am going to bed pregnant. Tomorrow is my first day as a mom of three. It's time to close the chapter on a five year journey that has brought me from being a young woman dreaming of the perfect family to a grown woman who realizes that can never be achieved. Now it's time to make some new dreams. Hopefully dreams that involve fewer elastic waistbands. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Halloween, Part 2

Lydia, my four-year-old, had been looking forward to Halloween of this year since Halloween of last year. She’d talked about Trick-Or-Treating for months. She'd gotten her costume as a birthday present in August. With all the anticipation, I assumed that she had a basic grasp of the holiday. I didn't really explain how any of the traditions worked because…well, to be honest, I just kind of assumed that all American children knew through cultural osmosis how Halloween works. 

Anticipation was building at Pruitt’s Halloween birthday party as the children ate their pizza rolls and played the games we adults insisted they would enjoy more than roaming the neighborhood begging for handouts. (In reality, we were killing time waiting for the neighbors to get home from work and turn on their porch lights.) Finally the children lined up at the door and we prepared to leave. Safety first, we handed each child a couple glow-in-the-dark bracelets and our entourage left with more adult chaperones than kids. 

Then we made a curious discovery. Lydia, it seemed, didn't really understand how Trick-Or-Treating worked. She seemed to know how it was supposed to end—sitting on the living room floor emptying a pumpkin full of candy—but wasn't quite clear how she got there. 

At the first house after taking her candy, Lydia randomly told the lady at the door that she didn't want her bracelet any more and handed it over to the woman. At the second house, when the gentleman offered the children candy, Lydia reached into her pink pumpkin bucket and pulled out the candy she’d just been given. She handed it over to the man there. 

By the third house, it had become apparent that Lydia thought she had to trade something for the candy she was being given. 

Polite, yes. Necessary, no.

I generally try to stay away from over-spiritualizing the events in my personal life, which is why you can find zero books by me at the local Christian book store. But in this case, the lesson was undeniable.

Lydia, like ever so many of us, had no understanding of grace. Trick-or-Treating may have started as a way to extort treats from helpless homeowners with threats of tricks should they fail to comply, but in our suburbs and neighborhoods, the locals look forward to the lavish giving of candy and trinkets. It's as though Christmas is just two months too far away and the best they can do is dress their Santa side in orange and black and wait for kids to come to them.

The people in the neighborhood are rich with chocolate. They have bags and bags of it that they're just giddy to get rid of. All the kids have to do is show up and take it. Lydia's little candy is both unneeded and unwanted. Silly, right?

But we do this, too, don't we?

God has bags and bags of holiness (metaphorically) and we hand him our smashed and mangled righteousness buried in the bottom of our hearts—more often in the form of a list of the bad things we managed to avoid doing than any actual good we did—and try to trade it in for atonement. What’s he going to do with that?

Of course, the difference in my daughter’s experience and my own is that by the end of the first block, Lydia had learned her lesson and was on board with the whole Free Candy thing. In the meantime, I've been a Christian for three decades and I'm still trying to earn God’s approval. Why do I still think that the good things I do are a fair trade for his grace? Why do I still judge my sisters for their empty hands when they approach Heaven and ring God’s doorbell? Why don't I follow their lead?