I suppose most birth stories end at the baby’s delivery, but due to the circumstances surrounding Paul’s birth, the story just feels incomplete without including the next couple of days. So I guess this is Part 2 of Paul’s birth story: the hospital stay.
It was close to midnight before we were settled into our room on the mother-baby unit. Dan had run down to the hospital coffee shop and store to find us some dinner (finally!) and, after quickly feeding Paul, we scarfed down some food and got ready for bed.
The nurse gave us a brief explanation of what the next 24 hours would look like for Paul. Babies born at 35 weeks often have problems with their blood sugar. The problem is, the fat stores that get babies through those first milkless days just aren’t there on a 35 weeker. There’s nothing to keep the blood sugar up, and once that drops too low a lot of other problems can follow. So, every three hours Paul was going to have his blood sugar checked. As long as it stayed above 45, everything was fine. If it dropped below 45, he would get one more chance. If it dropped below 45 again, it was off to the NICU to be put on an IV. Paul had to make it 24 hours with good blood sugar levels and the last 12 hours had to be consecutive.
That night went great. Paul’s first blood sugar was 67. For several readings he hovered in the fifties. It wasn’t until his second to last reading that he dropped to 40. Our nurse gave us a bottle of formula and explained that, by taking in about 15 ml of formula with each feeding attempt, Paul’s blood sugar level should stay high enough. So we reluctantly gave him the formula and I started pumping to try to encourage my milk to come in faster.
The formula did the trick and the next 12 hours went smoothly. Well, it was a sleepless nights (aren’t all nights in the hospital?) but as far as blood sugar levels, everything went smoothly. By Wednesday morning our nurse took the last blood sugar level. It was high enough and she declared, “We’re done!”.
Rooming in with your baby is entirely different from having a baby in the NICU. No rushing back and forth to and from the NICU trying to make it for nurse reports and “hands on” times. No trying to squeeze in rest between meals, showers, visitors, and trips to see Baby. I hardly even had to get out of my bed! Every time I looked over to see that little Baby bed next to mine, my heart was just so happy. I kept reliving the whole birth experience over and over, hardly believing things turned out the way they did.
We snuggled Paul almost all the time. Even in the middle of the night it was hard to put him down. After two NICU babies, we just couldn’t fathom leaving him all by himself in that little bed when he could be in our arms.
Wednesday brought it’s own handful of trials. Because Paul was born early, and because he was born quickly with a lot of bruising, and because he had a high blood count at birth, he was bumped up several risk levels for jaundice. Whether or not a baby has to be treated for jaundice depends on their bilirubin levels. However, the level that requires treatment depends on a number of factors including the baby’s age, and the risk factors I just mentioned. In other words, Paul was very likely going to need to spend time under the bilirubin lights.
Sure enough, by Wednesday afternoon a light was brought in and Paul was put under it. Poor little guy was not happy being unswaddled and unheld. He spent the next several hours trying to tear off his face mask, all the time crying and squirming. His little cries were so small and squeaky (like a puppy, many have said), and it was so sad to watch him struggle under there. But he needed it and we were happy to do anything that might keep him healthy and bring him home.
At 6:30 on Wednesday night, Paul was taken to the NICU to have some blood drawn to check both his blood count and bilirubin level. Our nurse suspected we might be able to accompany him and was certain our girls would never be allowed in the NICU. She didn’t know our history. The next half hour or so was a happy reunion. The doctor, nurses, clerks, and techs all enjoyed seeing Lydia and Abby again. We visited and caught up while Paul had his blood taken and everyone rejoiced in Paul having made it so much further than the girls. We were reminded, yet again, of how wonderful the NICU staff is at our hospital and half wished we could have somehow stayed in the NICU instead of the Mother-Baby unit for those two days we had to be in the hospital anyway.
After our little reunion, I went with Paul back to the room and munched on my dinner while Dan took the girls for a walk. We were waiting for the verdict. Most likely, Paul would be transferred to the pediatric unit to stay under the bili light and I would room in with him there (I had already been discharged).
Close to 8:00 the nurse came in and said, “Well, I talked to Paul’s doctor and we got the lab work back. You can go home.”
Dan showed up in the room just a couple of minutes later and the nurse told him the good news. We couldn’t believe it. A take home baby! We packed up our things, and just like the story I thought I would never tell, we headed out to the car. The only differences between that story and this one were that Paul was in his car seat on the cart, Dan was pushing the cart, and the nurse was pushing me (in my other version I was holding the baby, Dan was pushing me, and the nurse was pushing the cart).
I share those details only to emphasize the goodness of God. While I can’t rightly call it a miracle that I made it to 35 weeks (others have done the same), I can declare with confidence that God heard our prayers and graciously, kindly answered them the way we hoped. He gave us a take-home baby, a safe and natural delivery, and let me hold Paul right after he was born. He gave us peace and joy through it all. Even in the days after coming home, He has filled our home with more joy and peace in spite of sleepless nights, fussy toddlers, and illness. God certainly has been kind to us and we will continue to acknowledge the good things He does for us.
Ever since Lydia was born, I have enjoyed hearing others’ birth stories. Some are encouraging, inspiring, or at times, intimidating, but all have been useful in preparing me for another birth. So this is Paul’s birth story. Here’s my disclaimer: this is going to be long (for the most part) unedited. If you don’t enjoy hearing lots of medical sorts of details, this post may not be for you.
To understand the full impact of this story, it may be helpful to read (or reread) this post from a year and a half ago. I recently went back and read it and was so surprised at how similar the beginning is to Paul’s story. God is so kind.
Monday (March 16) started off in a pretty routine way. We woke up, ate breakfast, and Dan went out to the garage to exercise. While he was out, I snapped this picture, my 35 week photo. I never thought I could make it to 35 weeks and we were thrilled to get this far. In fact, when Abby was born my doctor told me I would probably never go past 32 weeks. Our current doctor told us a 35 weeker is usually a “take home baby” and we were thankful for even a chance to bring Baby home without spending time in the NICU.
We were running low on leftovers so we had a pretty small lunch. I had just a peanut butter, banana sandwich, figuring I would grab a more substantial snack after my nap and dinner-time would come soon enough. After lunch, one of the girls from our church came over for a couple of hours to clean our floors and play with the kids outside, since I have been unable to do those things for a while now. They stayed out extra late and didn’t come in and get settled down for naps until after 2:00.
I was chatting with Dan (who happened to be home that day) while he washed dishes. “Aren’t you going to go take a nap?”, he asked me. I told him I was headed that way, just wanted to print off a couple of things from the computer. I had spent the morning tidying up our kitchen from the months I’ve spent “taking it easy”, and I had just finished and wanted to move our printer upstairs so the counter would be clear. I printed my documents and was just looking through them when I felt a big gush.
Just a second later I felt another gush, and then a third. My water had broke, and it took a moment to realize what was happening. I hesitantly tried to get Dan’s attention while he worked away at a particularly dirty pot. As soon as he knew what was going on he sprang into action, gathering items for the hospital, calling our babysitters, getting the girls up from their short nap. I was all but helpless because I was leaking so much fluid and I didn’t want to move around and risk speeding up the coming labor.
After half an hour, what seemed like a very long half hour, we were in the car on our way to the babysitters, and then the hospital. Contractions had started but they weren’t coming in any predictable pattern yet, they just hurt.
By 3:45 the contractions were coming more regularly and we were in the waiting room of the family birth center. I was excited, restless, and nervous, so we just stood in the waiting room holding hands and waiting to be called in. A nurse came and got us settled in our triage room, where we spent the next two hours.
I was amazed at how peaceful everything was. In the past our room has been full of medical staff poking and prodding me in a million ways. This time there was just one midwife entering my data on the computer and hooking me up to be monitored for the next 20 minutes (which turned out to be two hours). This was the first time I got to see a graph of a baby’s heartbeat and my contractions during labor. It was almost fun, watching the coming contraction and then seeing how far apart they were (3 minutes) and how long they were lasting (1 1/2 to 2 minutes). I thought to ask Dan to take a picture but by the time he got the camera ready I was right in the middle of a contraction. We took the picture anyway.
We gave the midwife a copy of my birth plan, which was as simple as I could keep it while still being meaningful:
-Please direct any possible questions to Dan.
-Unless it becomes medically necessary I would like not to have an IV.
-I would like to have as natural of a delivery as possible.
-If at all possible, I would like to hold the baby immediately after delivery.
The midwife informed us that at 4:00 our doctor had started a c-section and we would have to wait at least half an hour before he could come do anything.
Now, back at 16 weeks, I had a surgery to put stitches in the cervix, adding support that would hopefully enable things to stretch and Baby to stay put longer. My fear during our time in triage was that I would dilate too quickly and the stitches would tear. So we waited and prayed and watched my contractions on the graph. Dan named the unitless graph, the “Graph of Awesomness” and let me know when my “awesomeness” was “off the charts”.
By 5:00 I was starting to feel the stitches pulling and we kept waiting to hear some word from our doctor. A very sweet resident came in and chatted with us for a while. She did an ultrasound to check that Baby was head-down, and she told us that she could remove the stitches if our doctor took too long.
Our doctor rushed in around 5:30 and sat down with the resident immediately to start taking out the stitches. The procedure took longer and hurt more than I was anticipating. Dan held one arm while a nurse held the other and both kept streams of encouragement coming as I scrunched up my face and braced myself through each painful poke. Finally the stitches came out and I was able to get up and walk to our labor and delivery room. Much to my dismay, I was only dilated to 1 1/2.
As we walked to the room where Baby would hopefully be born, I drilled our nurse with questions about 35 weekers. Would I get to hold the Baby? Would I be able to have a “normal” delivery? She told me that Baby had to be a certain weight (4 pounds, 9 ounces?) to stay in our room. The resident had predicted Baby was probably 6 – 6 1/2 pounds, so that was encouraging. I could have a normal delivery in a normal labor and delivery room, but there would have to be a special team present to evaluate Baby and decide if s/he needed to be taken to the NICU.
When we got to our room a new nurse took over and chatted with us for a long time. I was leaning against the bed waiting for her to finish so I could try to get into some sort of more comfortable position. She kept offering me all sorts of natural pain relief methods: bean bags, birthing balls, the shower, heating pads…I was overwhelmed and just wanted her to leave. I knew it would help to move around but I could hardly bring myself to do that, so I asked for the birthing ball, figuring I’d been using it over the past couple of weeks and maybe I would have some idea what to do with it.
During the entire labor I had Philippians 4:13 playing in my head to a tune I learned when I was a kid:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can do. All things through. Christ who strengthens me. Christ who strengthens me.
Because this was going to be a VBAC, I had to be hooked up to the monitor continuously and I had to have a hep lock so I could be hooked up to an IV quickly if that became necessary. I asked for some water, determined to stay hydrated and avoid that IV. I was feeling the contractions almost entirely in my back and legs, so the nurse showed me how I could sit on the ball and lean forward on the bed to help with the back labor. Dan was a champ and started massaging my lower back. When the contractions became more intense he would press hard on my back, which helped significantly with the pain. Then in between contractions it was back to massaging. As soon as a contraction would end I would whisper, “Water” and Dan would grab my ice water and hold it for me to take a sip, then I would relax for about thirty seconds before another contraction came.
There was a shift change and our new nurse came in and brought a heading pad for my back. Dan and I were in our groove now, but wondering how long labor would last. We were spoiled with Lydia and the entire labor was 8 hours. I was starving, but couldn’t bear to eat anything, and Dan was hungry too. Those pb sandwiches were not holding us over very well. Occasionally we would discuss the likelihood that Baby would be born early enough for Dan to run out and get us some Qdoba.
When Lydia was born I didn’t make a sound until very close to her actual delivery. So when I started moaning through the contractions we thought for sure we must be close. We kept waiting for the signs of transition. Dan was sure I would throw up, and I kept waiting for that moment when I would feel the urge to push. Time seemed to be moving so slowly. I know, it’s kind of pathetic when others have labors that last days, but like I said, we’ve been spoiled.
I’m guessing on the times here, because I was to absorbed in labor to pay much attention to the clock. I would occasionally check it to guess at the likelihood of Qdoba though. I was so hungry. Dan kept asking if I was going to throw up and if I felt pressure. Both the nurse and Dan could tell by my behavior that the contractions were getting really intense, but I still didn’t feel any urge to push.
The pain reached a new level and I started standing up for the contractions, leaning forward on the bed. Afterward I would collapse back onto the ball and dread the next one. The pain was so intense I bit my tongue to resist yelling out, “God, help me”, and I was silently praying all along. Although I was fully aware of the things happening all around, I couldn’t respond to them. When Dan asked me questions I didn’t respond. When he tried doing something different, like rubbing my back higher up, it was all I could do to grab his arms and move them back down. I kept looking back at the contraction chart to see how much time I had before another one came. I guess at this point, I was in transition.
The nurse and Dan made the call that it was time to check me, something I had been avoiding because I was terrified I would only be dilated to 4. But I did what they told me, hoping for some encouraging news. I climbed on the bed and a resident came in. I was dilate to 8, fully effaced, and Baby was at station zero. He said there was a little bit of the cervix over Baby’s head.
The nurse suggested that if I roll on my side and try another position, it might be enough to pull the cervix away from Baby and speed things up a little. I was all to happy to oblige. I think it was two contractions later when the nurse panicked a little because she saw Baby’s head.
She hit an “emergency staff” button and a team of doctors, residents, nurses, and pediatricians came storming into the room “like a SWAT team” (said Dan). I didn’t know if I was supposed to be pushing or not, so I didn’t try to push, but I didn’t fight it either. But it became pretty apparent to us all that Baby was coming whether or not I was “supposed” to be pushing.
Our doctor told us his part of the story later. Normally if he has a patient dilated to 1 1/2 at 5:00 in the evening, he doesn’t stick around. He knew my history with Lydia’s speedy labor so he grabbed some dinner at the hospital and was just sitting down to read a book when he got the page. He came walking to my room, not aware of how quickly things had been progressing. As he walked into my room, he saw Baby’s head.
I asked Dan later how long I was pushing. “Three minutes” was his guess. The nurse said I pushed through two contractions. I remember pushing the head out and hearing the nurse suggest I curl up to feel the head. Not a chance. I was just going to get that baby out. I pushed once more and was surprised that Baby wasn’t coming. The head was out, after all. It turns out Baby came down so fast and hard that he didn’t have time to straighten out. Dan says his knees were still curled up to his chest when he was born.
Then it was all over. Just like that. Baby was placed on my stomach and Dan cut the cord. Somebody said, “You have a little boy.” We were shocked. Both of us had convinced ourselves Baby was a girl. The pediatricians took Baby to the warmer and started their evaluations with lots of exclamations about how bruised his face and feet were from the delivery.
The doctor and resident began stitching up some second degree tears, a process that took half an hour and was miserable for me. I had an episiotomy with Lydia and this time I tore in the same spot, where the skin was still weak. Sadly, as soon as Baby was ready to be held, I couldn’t hold him. I was in too much pain as they stitched me. So they kept him on the warmer and waited for my stitches to be complete.
I remember looking over at the bed, thrilled to have a little boy this time, and thinking, “He’s a Paul.” We had discussed a few baby names but hadn’t picked one out yet. When they handed him back to me, Dan said, “I kind of like the name Paul.” And his name was chosen.
Then I got to hold him. This was a moment I’ve wanted since Lydia was born. I’ve prayed for it more times than I could count. I almost cried just thinking about the possibility as we got further along in the pregnancy. And God made it happen. It was so happy.
Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
We could have made it to Qdoba but it just felt wrong to have Dan leave me or Paul that soon after birth. So we just waited. I had brought some energy bites, made and frozen long ago, and they were lifesavers in those hours following birth. Much better than the hospital’s jello or popsicles.
When our two hours in recovery were over, the nurse helped me to a wheel chair. I got the much loved heated blanket and the even more loved swaddled Baby and they wheeled me to the Mother-Baby Unit. As we rolled along, and I marveled at the birth story we got to have this time, the hospital played a little lullaby announcing Paul’s birth.
He was perfect. Twice the size of Abigail at her birth. Much older than Abby or Lydia. Able to eat and breath on his own. And he had hair.