Jami & Justin’s
The best laid plans of mommies and babies…
So I’m finally finding the time to update this and fill everyone in on our crazy adventure of Harlee’s grand entrance into the world. Which, as all of my Facebook friends can tell by the pictures posted, did NOT go as planned at all. That’s babies for ya, right? Our childbirth instructor put a slinky in our goodie boxes for class as a reminder to always be flexible, as birth is something you have no control over. Boy was she right.
I had been having prodromal labor contractions ever since Friday the 15th (I kinda think that was brought on by the full moon) – I’d have rhythmic contractions at night til I went to bed and then they’d stop. Each day they’d come a little earlier, get a little stronger, but still stop by the time I went to bed. Very frustrating – it felt like my body was “crying wolf” – getting me excited that I was finally going into labor, only to find out we’re still just practicing. Piled on with the fact that I was past my due date, I was getting very anxious and aggravated! I was trying things like eating labor cookies I found a recipe for online (they weren’t very good) and bouncing on my yoga ball and riding bikes with Justin and rubbing pressure points on my feet and ankles, but nothing seemed to be working. I kept thinking about my grandma and how her pregnancies lasted 10 months… was that hereditary? It was beginning to seem like it.
That following Thursday, the 21st, I had good strong contractions starting in the morning, which was new, and they were consistently 10 minutes apart. I had made an acupuncture appointment to help move things along, so I had my mom drive me to that to be safe, and then I saw the chiropractor that evening. Anything to get this party started! Then finally that night the contractions really hit hard – hard enough to make me forget everything I learned in childbirth class for pain coping! At 4am the contractions were so hard I threw up, causing my water to break, so I sent our midwife a text message to let her know that I think this is finally it! She came over that morning and very effectively talked me through managing the contractions, and I felt a lot better. It’s amazing how much a little support and encouragement can make a difference. I honestly didn’t expect contractions to be as intense as they were.
Of course I wasn’t expecting them to be a walk in the park, but oh. my. god. they were like nothing I’d ever felt before. With her help, though, I felt so much better. Of course they were still intense, but I could manage them, and that was a very empowering feeling. I even smiled through my next intense one, knowing that yes, I can do this! And we’ll be meeting Harlee that much sooner! It wasn’t long before contractions were five minutes apart. I managed to sleep a little bit between each one, but for some reason I woke up later to the contractions being back to 10 minutes apart. Our midwife continued to monitor me and we tried different techniques to get labor sped back up again, but nothing worked. At around 3 we listened to baby’s heartbeat during a contraction and noticed that it slowed down significantly towards the end of the contraction, and then recovered shortly thereafter to a normal speed again. She didn’t like how that sounded, and suggested we go immediately to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville, which is the closest hospital with labor & delivery that we could get to. Because of Illinois’ stupid laws about CPMs assisting home births, she couldn’t go with us, so instead her assistant met us there and acted as our doula. Justin and I were in a kind of fog on the way up there… all I could think about was “What’s happening?” This turn of events threw me off – I wasn’t prepared to deal with a hospital, especially after all the work I’d done to avoid going to one! I was worried that being in that environment would cause my labor to slow down even more, or stop, which wouldn’t be good since my water had already broken. I tried to remain calm and think positive – we’d go in there, get electronic fetal monitoring done, find out what the problem is, find out there ISN’T a problem, and come home. Everything would be fine!
We were pleasantly surprised when we entered Emergency – the receptionist (or whatever his title was) didn’t give us any trouble when we said we were planning a home birth but our midwife detected a decel in his heart rate during contractions so we wanted electronic fetal monitoring. He kindly sent us to outpatient registration and off we went. Whew! I was braced for an argument, especially after announcing we were trying to birth at home! Outpatient registration went well also, the woman who helped us there was also very courteous and even said that we should be able to go back home if everything looked good. Wow! So far so good! Our doula met us there and was also surprised at how smoothly things were going. We went to our room and I was hooked up to electronic fetal monitoring right away, and sure enough each contraction I had displayed a drop in his heart rate. The nurse we had was awesome – she was 100% on our side for having a natural birth and was prepared to do what she could to help us achieve that, preferably at home! We were totally respected with every wish we had – no interventions (besides the monitoring of course), no internal exams (which they agreed was unwise anyway since my water had broken), and anything else that came up. I was feeling more and more relieved in our situation. Maybe this was meant to happen to prove to me that it is possible to find people in hospitals who aren’t just out for money, but instead are there to aid another human being. Granted I did have to deal with some annoying residents who ambushed me a few times. I took my GBS test with my midwife and therefore didn’t have any paperwork on it because of the legal issue, and the residents felt it was necessary to lecture me on the dangers of being GBS positive, even after I insisted I was negative. That was rather annoying. But all I need to do was tell my main nurse that I would prefer not to see them in my room anymore and that was that :).
So for what seemed like hours I continued having contractions that showed a decel in Harlee’s heart rate toward the end of each one, but he picked right back up again afterwards. I tried all kinds of different positions during each contraction, but nothing seemed to help his heart rate improve. Our doula had to get back to her little boy, so rather than leaving us there alone all night she called her friend, who happened to be our childbirth class instructor and a doula herself, to come stay with us instead. We were so grateful for both of their support, it made such a huge difference to have someone there both for support and also as a voice of reason as we were faced with so many different questions and choices. Both of the doulas and our midwife all were surprised at this point that nobody tried to rush me off to a c-section after seeing the heart rate decels, which was another comfort to me – the staff really was trying to honor my wishes for a natural birth. So long as little Harlee was making good, full recoveries after each contraction, we were in the clear.
After a long night of contractions and no improvement in baby, it was looking inevitable that the home birth we had hoped for was no longer the plan, and our baby would be born at the hospital. The staff remained respectful of our wishes, honoring the fact that we wanted little to no interventions and to have the most natural birthing experience possible, as close to the home environment we were hoping for. Saturday was a long day, trying different positions and praying for his heart rate to pick back up. My labor patterns had lost all consistency, yet I was dilated to a 7 later in the afternoon (I ended up agreeing to being checked – curiosity was getting the better of me as to what the progress was). Everyone found it odd that my dilation was showing I was in active labor but I clearly wasn’t according to my contraction patterns. We discussed all kinds of different options and tried different things to get labor to pick back up. Stimulation with a breast pump was one of them, and I did have a few more contractions but the baby wasn’t handling it well. We talked about inducing with Pitocin, but the more his heart rate decelerated the more we worried that pitocin-induced contractions would only make things worse.
We had no idea what was going on, if maybe his cord was in the way and each time I contracted it got pinched, and with my water having broken there was no cushion, but there was no way to tell. It was getting critical too because my water had been broken for way too long. I had no idea what to expect next, but the staff continued to work with us and stay within our wishes to keep things natural and non-invasive, but at this point I was more than willing to sacrifice my wishes for the safety of the baby. Our doula had stayed with us this whole time, and I can’t even find words to express how grateful I am for that. It was such a scary experience, wondering what was happening with our baby, wondering what to do next, wondering if our choices would be the right ones… All I wanted to do at several points along the way was cry… and Justin and I did quite a bit of that together. He kept telling me all he wanted was us to be safe and healthy, all he wanted was everything to be okay. I agreed, all I wanted was for Harlee to arrive safely, no matter how it was that he got here.
We wanted him out of me and in our arms as soon as possible – the contractions and his heart rate were scaring us more and more. It was so hard. We ran an ultrasound to be certain his head was down, which it was, and the staff decided to call in an older doctor that had years and years of experience and who they trusted more with a situation like this, and also trusted to help us make the right decision for what to do and honor our hopes and desires for the outcome of the birth. He came in and talked with us, and expressed his feelings about how a cesarean would be the ultimate last resort and we’d try what we could to help labor get into a normal pattern and get this kid out naturally. He suggested internal fetal monitoring, and once we had a better idea of what was going on we’d decide on inducing with Pitocin again. An epidural was suggested to me, and c-section was lingering in the back of my mind (causing more tears).
After much thought, and having wanted to avoid an epidural at all costs originally, we decided maybe it was best because I was actually fighting every hard contraction that hit me, no matter how hard I tried to relax and cope. The mild contractions were easier to relax through, and those were the ones that didn’t show much of a heart rate decel. So I decided an epidural would ensure relaxation during contractions and possibly give my baby a chance to recover. So I got one, and it totally sucked. I hated that thing, everything about getting it and everything about having it in. If everything were going normal I would have much rather dealt with labor all the way to the birth rather than be numbed to it. But once it took effect, I was able to relax during contractions, and that at least eased my mind for my baby’s sake. Next came the internal monitor, first inserting the probe into his head (which I felt SO. BAD. about, poor little guy jammed his foot into my ribs when it was inserted) and then the monitor in next to him. This gave us a much more accurate reading, and after a few more contractions that I didn’t feel, the doctor said he couldn’t, in good conscience, allow me to be put on pitocin. The baby was not doing well at all with contractions, even with me relaxed during them, and it was taking longer and longer for him to recover after each one.
I finally said out loud I’ll do anything to get him out asap so he’s not suffering anymore, I was sincerely concerned about him and had been the whole day, and I admitted that I’ll even do a c-section if we had exhausted all other options, just so long as he’s safe. Turns out that’s what had to be done, we had truly exhausted all our options, and nobody felt comfortable letting it go on any longer. That was pretty scary, and Justin and I cried even more together before I was taken away to get prepped. I was in such a fog, I NEVER imagined I would have wound up where I was then, but I was so grateful everyone worked with me so closely and diligently to try to achieve a safe vaginal birth. I felt that this truly was the best option for us, and despite the fact that this was the last thing I ever wanted for my baby or myself, I could at least be at peace that we really had no other choice and we did the right thing, and I wouldn’t have to ever wonder “what if?”.
Justin stayed with me through the whole thing. I was still in such a fog about it all that I was actually in a perfect state of mind to stay distracted from what was happening. I felt the tugging and pulling, and once the doctor got his hands on the baby he announced that there was no way he’d be coming through naturally if we tried, his head was in such an awkward, crooked position. Seemed as though the decelerated heart rate was due to the contractions shoving his head into my pelvis in all the wrong ways, and with no fluid to cushion the blow. Poor little guy! I felt the weight lifted from me as they pulled our little guy into the world, and I forgot about everything that had happened and everything we went through once I heard his first miraculous little cry. That was a truly incredible feeling. He was okay! And he was finally here! What a relief.
They showed him to me right away, and Justin stayed with him as they took him to get cleaned up and checked on. They respected our wishes to not give him any eye ointment, but we did agree to the vitamin K shot after all the stress his head went through. He didn’t get any other shots, and they asked us before they did anything else like weighing and measuring him, which we also agreed to but I greatly appreciated that they bothered to ask our permission for something as simple as that. The room they did this in was wide open for me to watch everything that was going on. They made it fun for us, and also distracted me as the doctors put me back together, asking us to guess his weight and length. Harlee Dennis Papenberg weighed 7lbs 6oz, and was 20.5 inches long, born at 7:31pm (which adds up to 11, our lucky number…). Justin brought him over to me, and I got to give him his first kisses. It wasn’t how I had hoped to greet him into this world, but it was still amazing and special. He was beautiful, and perfect, and HERE, safe and healthy.
Finally I was finished and got wheeled back to our room where our doula finally got the relieving news that everything was okay, and I got to feed him for the first time (which was awkward with the lower half of my body being completely numb…). But despite the numbness and awkward positioning, he latched on like a pro after a little help from our doula and made me feel like I knew exactly what I was doing! Yay! So proud of little Harlee :). It felt great to be so successful with feeding him – after our natural birth plans completely fell through I was definitely bummed that I didn’t get to experience something my body was built to do, even though I’d accepted the fact that there was no way around this. Being able to feed my baby the way nature intended definitely helped make up for some of that feeling of loss.
Unfortunately we had to stay at the hospital for quite some time to make sure I healed and recovered well. The doctor was concerned about possible infections because my water had been broken for so long, too, so I was monitored for that as well. Seemed as though everything was fine until Monday the 25th, the day we were going to be discharged, when I spiked a fever. We went back and forth wondering if maybe my milk was coming in, or maybe it was just my hormones trying to balance out after everything that happened, but ultimately we decided better to be safe than sorry and they put me on antibiotics and kept me for another day. Luckily these didn’t interfere with breastfeeding, so I was able to continue on with that. My fever went away since that afternoon, but it spiked again at night, so we all agreed that okay, something’s up. The doctor came in Tuesday morning and said he feels it’s endometriitis, an infection of the uterine wall, caused by bacteria being introduced to it after my water had been broken. Thank goodness Harlee didn’t have any trouble, I’d rather this be me than him. Unfortunately my fever spiked again Tuesday evening, so I was stuck there for ANOTHER 24 hours. Wednesday I was a completely hormonal and emotional wreck. I spent the majority of the morning and afternoon crying. I was just so overwhelmed with everything, but my main issue was not being able to just go home. I wanted to settle in with my family in my own environment without any interruptions from doctors or nurses and just start life as the three of us. As if by some odd twist of fate my doctor sent in a woman to talk to me, who happened to be a Healing Touch and Reiki practitioner, and she used some of her energy work techniques to help ease my stress, which helped out a lot and also renewed my faith that everything is going to be okay.
So that’s pretty much my birth story – not at all the story I thought I’d be telling. I’ll admit I did and still do mourn the fact that I missed out on experiencing birth the way nature intended, especially after building up so much excitement about it in myself prior to the big event. I keep wondering why, what’s the reason for things to go completely opposite from how I hoped they’d go? What kind of lesson am I supposed to pull out of this? Or how will this experience affect my life in the future? I believe everything happens for a reason. But sometimes those reasons just aren’t clear, and that can be very frustrating. But I will say my experience was very humbling. You can’t plan anything, and you really have no control. I still believe birth is natural, and I still believe it’s not something that should happen in a hospital, as hospitals are meant for situations when things aren’t going well or right. And modern medicine still frustrates me, but I’ve seen first-hand in friends and relatives that it has its place. But this time I guess it was my turn to experience it first-hand, and I got to be one of the cases where birth needs to happen in a hospital, because in my case something went wrong. It totally sucks, but I’m really grateful that we were there and that Harlee was delivered safely and is healthy and doing well, which is all that matters in the end. I’m also really grateful that we got to work with such compassionate people – I’ve never encountered that at any hospital before. I guess that’s another lesson I got out of this experience – there’s hope for humanity in the medical field. Not everyone is out for money and power, and it’s not all about fear of lawsuits. There really are kind, caring people out there who genuinely want to help, and I’m really grateful I ran into a group of them.
And now back to snuggling with my little man, who couldn’t be more perfect and I couldn’t be happier to have him in our family. I’m so excited to be starting this new chapter in life, and I’m starting it with a completely different outlook – go with the flow and have no expectations, and be flexible!