Abel’s birth began with a weird itching that I developed around 39 weeks. Since it was the middle of winter, at first I thought it might just be dry skin. But then I started to realize that the itching was focused on my palms and the bottoms of my feet. I would scratch and scratch and scratch and it would feel so good, but there was a dull itch pretty much all of the time.
At my next midwife appointment I told Monica about the itching. She told me that my body might be having trouble processing bile and that I should try to avoid fatty foods. So I did just that. But then I noticed that the itching was getting worse, especially at night. A few times during the night it was so bad that it was waking me up. I remember waking up itching my calves like crazy and thinking that my hairy legs were driving me nuts. Only in the morning did I put two and two together.
So I decided that I should call in to the midwife and let them know that my itching had gotten worse. Now, this is something that I wouldn’t normally do. I normally ignore any health problem as long as possible. Even as I was calling I was telling myself how silly I was being. “This is no big deal,” I was saying. “It really hasn’t gotten worse”. But I listened to my gut and called in anyway (now I feel that was a prompting from God) and was very surprised by the concerned reaction by the nurse on call. She told me that she would talk to one of the midwives and have them give me a call back.
Later that day I heard back from Amy, the owner of our birth center. I was surprised that she was the one calling me back. She hadn’t done any of my prenatals for this pregnancy, so the fact that she was calling made me feel like we were in a potentially serious situation. She explained that she wanted Zach and I to come in that afternoon (this was Wednesday, January 7th and I was due on the 15th) to have my blood drawn in order to figure out what was going on. I felt validated that I had called in, but also concerned.
When we came in for the blood draw Amy met with us. She explained that my itchiness was most likely due to a complication called cholestasis where bile isn’t processed correctly in the gallbladder and liver. The excess bile builds up under the skin and causes the itchiness. Cholestasis can be dangerous, especially early on in pregnancy because it causes a lot of stress on the mother and the only way to cure it is to deliver the baby.
After Amy finished explaining, she told us that they would do the blood draw and call me back the next day with the results. She felt that because I was not acting like the itching was that intense, my levels would probably be low and we could continue my pregnancy as normal. If they were elevated though we would have to begin a natural induction, which I had gone through with Merritt because he was overdue and was something I did not at all desire to repeat.
The next day, Thursday January 8th, I went to work as normal. I called in about noon when I hadn’t heard back from the midwives. The receptionist took a message and told me they would call me back as soon as they had results. On my drive home I talked with Amy about the results that had come back. She began to tell me that she was very surprised when my blood work came back because my levels in fact were extremely elevated. She said that she wanted Zach and I to come to the birth center the next morning with our things because we might me staying awhile. “Staying?!?” I asked in total shock. “What do you mean staying?”
I was so surprised and having a really hard time processing what was going on as I was driving. I pulled into our driveway and Zach was right in front of me going inside with Merritt. He was mouthing to me to pull into the correct side of the driveway and I was mouthing to him that Amy was on the phone. Amy explained that because my levels were so elevated she didn’t want me to be pregnant much longer. We would begin a natural induction the next day in order to make the baby come a little early and take the stress off my body.
I came inside and explained the basics of what was going on to Zach. We called Amy back and asked a million questions. Then we proceeded to run around the house, calling family, packing, and all-in-all freaking out. Since I was thirty-nine weeks we had most everything put together, but suddenly knowing that we would be possibly having the baby the next day made everything much more urgent. Zach also was not AT ALL prepared to leave work so he had a lot to prep for his sub. We got everything ready in a few hours and then tried to relax for the rest of the night.
The next day we took Mer to day care (our friend Anjela’s) and went into Health Foundations. When we got there Amy explained that we would first try the Foley catheter to dilate me and hopefully kick start my labor. I had the catheter inserted with Merritt since he was overdue, so I wasn’t worried. I just didn’t want to have to drink castor oil. I was prepared to do almost anything if it meant that I could avoid that. I remembered from Merritt that having the catheter inserted was slightly painful. With Abel though, it was really no big deal. I think I just wasn’t allowing myself to feel sorry for myself and again I was willing to do anything to not have to drink castor oil.
After having the catheter inserted, we had to let it do its thing. Amy assigned us to walk, and then eat and rest. She told us to come back to the clinic and check in with her at 3:00pm. We went to Target and did laps around the store since it was too icy to walk outside. Then we both allowed ourselves to buy whatever we wanted at Target for lunch in order to make the day feel more like a mini-staycation inside of anxious waiting for baby time. We bought fried chicken, cob salad, asiago cheese rolls and chocolate chip cookies. We came home and ate in bed and then took a nap together.
We went in at 3:00pm and met with Amy but nothing had really happened. She told us to come back in the next morning and to call her if the catheter fell out. By the time that we left the clinic our family had all arrived from Iowa for the birth. We decided to walk some more and for a change of scenery we went to the Roseville mall. We met Dick and Kim there and they played with Merritt in the indoor play area while we walked laps.
Afterwards we went back to our house and ate dinner with my Mom and Dad and my sister Sarah (my sister Natalie was coming up the next morning). Just as people were starting to leave after dinner, the catheter fell out. I was excited that I was more dilated, but the same thing had happened with Merritt and hadn’t kick started my labor. We called Amy and told her what had happened. She told us to call back if I went into labor during the night or come back in at 9:00am the next morning. That night Mer went to the hotel with our families, while we tried to relax and stay calm.
The next morning came and I still had no contractions. We went in to meet with Amy and soon both my sisters were there. Amy decided that since I was a second time mom, she felt comfortable breaking my water. I was excited that this was the next step, because I was sure she was going to tell me that we would have to start castor oil. Amy felt confident that breaking my water would get my labor started.
So I laid down on the bed and Amy attempted to break my water, but had a lot of trouble doing so. Apparently when you are already in labor breaking your water is easy because with each contraction your water bag bulges out making it very simple to pop. When you aren’t in labor however, it can actually be really difficult because the bag is is flat against the baby’s head and is akin to hooking a thin film of saran wrap with a crochet hook.
After a few attempts though, Amy thought that she had popped it but wasn’t sure. She asked us to go into the shower and do squats for the next thirty minutes or so to put pressure on my water bag and hopefully help it pop. So, huge and pregnant, I squatted for as long as I could as deeply as I could. I was so motivated to break my water because, again, I was just trying to avoid castor oil.
After finishing the squats, Amy concluded that my water still hadn’t broken and asked if I wanted to try it again. I was all for it. She tried a few more times and then had Rachel (another midwife) try because she has longer fingers. They both were trying really hard and it was a little painful, but I was totally willing to go for it. They kept asking if I was okay and I kept giving them a thumbs up because I was still fighting my cough and while I was lying on my back it took everything that I had not going into a coughing fit. Zach also told them a few times “She’s okay. She’s tough and she really just doesn’t want to have to do castor oil.”
Still, even with both of them trying, they couldn’t break my water. Amy commented that I had dilayed to at least five centimeters while trying, but I was still really disheartened and sort of painicky. I just wanted it to work so badly so I wouldn’t have to do castor oil. I suggested that maybe we could try moving upstairs and using stirrups to make it easier for them. Although they didn’t think that the stirrups would have any effect, they thought that maybe being on the hard surface of the exam table would be easier than the bed. They decided that as long as I was game, they would try one last time.
We went upstairs and Rachel tried to break my water. She commented that she was very competitive and it was really bothering her that they weren’t getting it. She tried and tried and tried and then Amy tried again and then all of the sudden “Woosh!”. I could hear and feel the amniotic fluid rush out of me and onto the floor. I was so relieved. I saw Amy and Zach look down at the floor with a kind of surprised look on their faces. I asked them, “Is it a lot?” Zach replied, “It’s all over the floor and Amy’s pants.” We laughed, and of course Amy and Rachel acted like it was a complete non-issue and covered up the fluid so I wouldn’t see it.
We went back downstairs and I announced to Sarah and Natalie (who had come to the birth center) that they had broken my water. Then we waited for awhile for contractions to come. I was feeling restless and asked Amy if walking might help move things along. We went back to Target for more laps, this time with Sarah, Natalie and both of our moms in tow. Unlike the day before, the whole scene at Target was crazy. It was the middle of the day on a Saturday and there were tons of people, samples being passed out, and the Target mascot, Bullseye was walking around. All the while we were doing laps and I was leaking amniotic fluid. It was surreal and hysterical. Since we all couldn’t possibly stay together, Zach and I would walk laps and then pick up Sarah, Natalie or Kim for awhile and then keep walking (my Mom was too busy shopping to do laps). We even ran into someone that we knew from church and Sarah forced me to take my picture with Bullseye!
After Target we headed home again to rest and eat. Amy had told us to come back into Health Foundations at 4:00pm if nothing had happened yet. We were really hoping that I would have some contractions before then but alas, nothing. My water was broken and I was five centimeter dilated but yet still no contractions. We went in to meet with Amy and she explained the inevitable next step, castor oil.
On the way back to the house I let myself feel sorry for myself for the first time and broke down crying. I just wanted to have the baby without having to start off with chugging that nasty oil and having diarrhea, but I guess that was just not going to happen. When we got back to the house I tried to collect myself because Zach’s parents and my dad were there watching Merritt. I walked past them really quickly and went upstairs to eat. Before taking the castor oil you are supposed to eat a big meal so that you aren’t completely depleted of energy and nutrients during labor. We ate some really yummy pizza, but I didn’t enjoy it as much because I knew that I’d be having castor oil for dessert.
Afterwards I went into the bathroom and chugged the castor oil, which is like drinking Vaseline. It coats your mouth and lips and instantly makes you feel sick to your stomach (it’s making me feel sick to mine thinking about it right now) even though the diarrhea that it causes takes longer to start. During this time Zach had told our family to all leave and head back to their hotel (you don’t really want to have diarrhea in front of a crowd). I could hear my sisters leaving and I got really sad. I so wanted to be with them but instead I was in bed with the beginnings of diarrhea. I was also pregnant and emotional and wishing we could have more time together.
Soon I was pretty miserable but still not having contractions. You take the castor oil and the homeopathic tinctures in two rounds. Meaning you take the first round and then every fifteen minutes you either take a tincture or a homeopathic and that goes on for about two hours. Afterwards you are directed to call the midwives. When we called Amy to tell her we had finished the first round she told us we could go ahead and start the second (which is the whole process repeated again) as soon as we were ready. She also said that we could wait a little bit if we want to though and have a snack.
Well, I was definitely not ready. With Merritt I had just chugged my second round of castor oil and then about fifteen minutes later I was in labor. I did not want that to be the case again. Zach gently pushed me to take the second round right away and I flatly refused. He obliged, but set a time to start in fifteen minutes. I know he was just trying to support me to do something that I didn’t want to but had to do, but still I was thinking, “No I’m not. Yeah, it’s easy for you to say fifteen minutes. You don’t have to take the stuff.” I just was hoping against hope that I would have a contraction and I wouldn’t have to do the second round. And it’s not just about the taste (which is horrible), it’s about the fact that you feel so sick at the time so the thought of actively drinking something that you know will just make you more sick is just appalling. So when fifteen minutes came and Zach said, “Okay, let’s go.” I said, “No, just five more minutes,” in a super pathetic voice and he relented. And then…
Ah, the first contraction! It’s was so awesome! I was so freaking proud of myself! “I knew it! I knew!” I kept saying in my head. “I knew that if I just waited long enough I would have a contraction and I wouldn’t have to take the castor oil again!” Then there was another contraction and I told Zach I was sure these were contractions and that he should start timing them. It was 8:30pm. He called Amy to tell her that my labor had started. She said to call her back when the contractions became more intense. I had one or two more contractions in the bed and then I had to stand up and lean against the wall in our bedroom as they were getting more painful.
After the next contraction, I moved to the toilet and Zach called Amy again. She made a plan to meet us at the birth center at 9:30pm. Zach told me “Let’s do five more contractions here and then start to get ready to go.” I agreed but didn’t think that I could wait. The contractions were almost instantly really intense. I had one more contraction and said, “No, we need to go now”. Zach tried to stay with me and I ordered him to get things ready so we could leave more quickly. I made it down to our entryway before I had another contraction against the wall. Zach was scurrying around putting Sitka (our Huskey) in his kennel and putting the chairs up on the couches so that Juneau (our Golden Retriever/Huskey mix) wouldn’t get up on them while we were gone. Even in labor I made sure to tell him to do that!
Zach helped me put on my boots and I made it until the car before I had another contraction. Zach went to comfort me but I told him to start the car. I just wanted to get to the birth center. Reflecting on it now, I think my body was telling me I needed to get to the birth center quickly. I remember the contraction that I had against the car so clearly. I was so dark, quiet and cold outside. I had started moaning to help me relax through the pain and I remember wondering if any of our neighbors could hear me. I was surreal and beautiful and odd.
We got in the car and I urged Zach to drive faster, although he was trying to drive carefully so the ride wouldn’t be too bumpy. I had a couple more contractions in the car which were very painful. I hate being in the car while in labor because you can’t lean against anything to mitigate the pain. I really feel for any women who have to drive long distances while in labor.
We arrived at the birth center, I walked in and immediately read the clock, 9:15pm.
I labored on the toilet for a few contractions. I was already naked, on the toilet backwards, moaning loudly. Amy and Sophie immediately started to fill the tub. My contractions were very intense. I started thinking, “Either I’m really close to having the baby or I’m not and I need to get on top of these,” because they were overwhelming and very painful.
During this time all the women in our family arrived for the birth. My sister Natalie, who had been my de facto doula during Mer’s birth, immediately came back and checked on me. I later learned that she then went back to our moms and Sarah andreported that I was very close which she knew from listening to how I was breathing.
The pain was really bad then and I was trying to figure out some way that I could get on top of it. I asked if I could get in the shower because I remembered that feeling so good during Merritt’s birth. Amy said of course but suggested that I could get into the tub instead. I knew that they usually wait to let you get into the tub until you’re farther along in your labor. So when she said I could get in that’s when I really started to let myself believe what I had known from about my fifth contraction, this labor was moving REALLY FAST and I was already towards the end.
In the tub I felt like I was in a movie. I was so aware and I was talking a lot. With Merritt I had so much more time to get in the zone and I felt like I was in a dream, but this time I could see and process everything and everyone. I felt a little silly like I needed to perform and have the baby quickly because my family was all watching and wouldn’t that just be so convenient for them. As soon as I had these thoughts though I tried to push them out of my mind and focus on what I was doing.
Pretty soon I told Amy that I felt like I was going to poop, or maybe I needed to push. I knew that I needed to push, but I just always doubt myself in order to not get my hopes up. Amy told me that it was fine if I pooped and assured me that it wouldn’t hurt the baby to poop in the water (which I was nervous about) but also said that she would check me to see if I was ready to push. She did and confirmed that I was.
So I started pushing. I had a lot of emotions flowing through me with all the hormones. At one moment in between contractions I broke into an intense looking cry. I could immediately see that my family was worried so I started saying, “I’m happy. I’m happy” and Zach repeated what I was saying loudly. Then I tried to explain that I was thinking about how much I loved Merritt and that I was about to have another baby and that I would feel that same way about him or her. I thought I was making perfect sense but when Natalie repeated back what she thought I was saying, it wasn’t what I had intended. I got really frustrated because to me I was speaking completely normally. Zach understood what I was trying to say and translated for me. Later he told me that I wasn’t making much sense at all.
Pushing went extremely quickly and in about five pushes Abel was out. It was 9:56pm and I had been in labor for only about an hour and a half! Zach caught him and I held him in my arms. I announced to everyone that he was a boy and his name was Abel. Then I specially addressed my mother-in-law, Kim, when I announced his middle name, Matthew, because that is Zach’s brother’s name.
Abel was bluish when he was born and needed to be given oxygen through a hand pump. It made the first few moments of his life a little more worrisome. Amy was giving him the oxygen and I told her, “Amy, is he okay? I really can’t enjoy him until you tell me he’s okay.” She told me that he would be fine and in a few minutes his coloring was normal.
I stepped out of the tub and went to the bed to deliver the placenta which came out pretty easily. I was shaking really badly which I didn’t enjoy, because it made me look and feel weak. My family thought that I was cold, which I did feel cold but the real reason that I was shaking was because of adrenaline. My body had produced adrenaline to help me through the birth, but because of my extremely short labor I ended up not using it. The shaking continued for a long time.
I had a small tear that didn’t need to be sewn up which I was happy about. Amy thought that the tear was probably caused by Abel’s hand that was curled up by his head when he came out. I nursed Abel right away and he was a very good nurser right from the beginning. Nursing him was a good distraction because then I began to bleed.
At first I couldn’t really feel that I was bleeding, but then every time that Amy pushed on my uterus to make it clamp down I could feel a gush of blood coming out of me. Then I started to get interventions. Amy gave me a shot of pitocin in my leg and then asked me to slowly chew a chalky pill. I was aware of the procedure for interventions at the birth center, so I said aloud, “This is because I’m bleeding too much.” She then gave me an IV with fluids and even more pitocin. The mood in the room began to change a little bit. Amy and Sophie stayed calm but Amy’s voice tone changed. Instead of asking Sophie to do things she began to tell her. Not rudely, just in a matter of fact way.
I began feel really sleepy and closing my eyes a lot. I could see that my family was worried and I was trying to act normal so to not scare them, but I was just having such a hard time keeping my eyes open. I learned later that at one point I actually started to fall asleep on Zach and Amy and Sophie had to tell me to stay awake. After a few minutes, my bleeding started to calm down. Abel was happy and healthy and started to get passed around to my family.
The next couple hours pasted quickly. Amy left and I gave her a big hug. I was so grateful that she had been with us throughout the entire process. Katrina, another midwife, took over. Abel was weighed and measured. Katrina sat with us and debriefed about the labor and delivery and discussed all of our questions while I ate some Jimmy John’s. I was grateful that she took the time to talk through what had just happened because I know many women don’t have anyone explain the intricacies of their labor to them.
As we went home it was so oddly similar to having Merritt. So cold and the middle of the night. We came back to the house with my Mom and tried to get ready for bed as quickly as possible because we were so exhausted. I remember as I laid down I could hear Zach, who had fallen asleep almost instantly, snoring loudly. I could also hear Abel, who is a very loud, snorty sleeper making noise. With my boys snoozing around me I felt exhausted, sleepy and at peace.
My postpartum time with Abel began really similarly to Merritt. My mother-in-law Kim stayed with us and we enjoyed time as a family. I bonded with Abel really well and spent lots of time with him one on one during the first week.
Abel overall was a normal little baby, but because Merritt had been so incredibly calm we worried about him when he had small issues (that didn’t feel small at the time). He had some really difficult nights during his first couple of weeks, where he would be extremely unhappy and inconsolable. They absolutely panicked us. Even during just those few nights we felt extremely helpless and like he would never be happy.
Also the day after Abel was born, Merritt came down with the flu and was the sickest that he had probably been in his whole little life. He actually threw up in Zach’s hat while on a trip to Target (Zach still wears the hat). It was really difficult because we had to keep Merritt away from Abel and because Abel was more or less attached to me, away from me as well. Pretty much it became that Zach and Kim cared for Merritt downstairs while I cared for Abel upstairs. I missed Merritt and felt really scared that he would get Abel sick.
At the same time I was still recovering from the cough I had come down with around Christmas as well as the birth. I was trying to take care of myself, but also having a hard time parenting since I wasn’t yet able to wear Abel (which he really loved) or pick up Merritt. I also was having some extreme headaches and baby brain or cloudiness. I would have hours at a time where I felt disconnected and had an extremely difficult time focusing.
All of these things kind of came to a head on week three when Zach went back to work (although we didn’t realize it until afterwards). I got through the first two days after he went back okay but I was dying by the time that he got home and overall just not feeling well (very exhausted and sometimes faint). Then on the third day, I woke up and began to feel very faint in the shower. By the time that Merritt had woken up I was concerned that I might pass out. At the same time Abel had been pretty fussy over the previous couple of days and was needing almost constant soothing, but I worried about wearing him because I was still recovering. I was completely overwhelmed and felt like I couldn’t make a single clearheaded decision. I started bawling and then I decided that I just wasn’t up to it yet. I called Zach and told him I needed him home for a few more days.
Zach was extremely worried about me (and with good reason). He left school that day and took off the rest of the week to stay home with me. I felt like I was sick and Abel was sick, but Zach could see that the biggest problem wasn’t either my physical health or Abel’s, it was my mental well-being. I went into the midwives and then ran blood work on me. I almost fainted in their office during the blood draw; that is how sick I felt. I thought for sure that my iron levels were insanely low from the bleeding I had after birth and that’s why I was feeling so horrible.
The next day we went in and got the results from my blood work. Everything was completely normal. I was happy to be healthy, but really shocked as well. I knew how horrible that I had felt. I knew that I hadn’t been just making it up. In the end though it was most likely intense exhaustion combined with the beginnings of depression.
Thankfully over the next day I began to feel much better. The combination of having Zach around the house to help me, and realizing that Abel and I weren’t sick, helped me to be able to feel on top of things again. We also worked on getting me more high quality sleep. Abel was an extremely loud sleeper so I realized that I was never getting into REM sleep because I was constantly waking up to him or thinking that he was about to wake up. We moved Abel into his nursery, but kept the doors open in between us. Then we turned on a fan next to me just loud enough that I would still hear his crying but not every noise that he made.
By four weeks Zach was ready to go back to work for the second time. The Sunday before he went back, I did a “practice day” where I pretended like I was home alone with the boys. That day went really well and really boosted my confidence about staying home. It put me back into the mindset that staying home with the boys would be a fun adventure instead of something that I just had to “get though”.
From then on I really fell into a rhythm. I realized, or should I say remembered, that I am a person who can’t stay at home all day, that I need to feel busy and productive. I tried to go on a fun outing almost every day and got together with other stay-at-home moms, so that Merritt would have other kids to play with and I would have adult interaction and conversation. I figured out ways to keep both the boys happy and myself happy and balance all of our needs. I started to love every day and enjoy the time I had with the boys.
I wanted to write about my postpartum experience for myself to remember it, the feelings and thoughts and emotions that I was going through. It was the most intense two weeks of my life thus far as far as emotions are concerned. I want to make sure that I remember how I felt at the time but also how I came out of it. Also, I hope that reading this might help another Mom if she is in her dark time to feel validated in her feelings and also to see that there is a beautiful light at the end of the tunnel.