Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Father's Joy: Not a VBAC Story

A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.
John 16:21

(Disclaimer: This is a birth story. Some details may not be appropriate for men, children, or the squeamish. :)

On the afternoon of Sunday the 9th, my husband and I dropped the children off at my parents' house and drove to the hospital for my pre-op appointment. I was having some contractions, enough to make me somewhat uncomfortable and even require the occasional deep breath, but then again, I had been having sporadic contractions for a few weeks. As expected, the pre-op included signing paperwork, having blood drawn, and going over every detail of the morning's scheduled surgery with the nurse. When our questions had been answered, Don and I went to dinner at our favorite steakhouse to enjoy one more date before baby came (and so that I wouldn't have any dishes to wash). We came home to a strangely quiet house. I folded the last scraps of laundry, emptied the trash, and double-checked our bags to ensure that everything was packed. We were as ready as we could possibly be to bring home a new baby.

Before heading to bed, I quickly looked up some information on "irritable uterus." Apparently, the term refers to frequent, irregular contractions toward the end of pregnancy that - unlike true labor - do not cause the cervix to dilate. With the frequent tightness and contracting I had recently experienced, I suspected that my uterus was, in fact, irritable. Don and I stayed up too late talking, and when he went to sleep around midnight, I found myself lying wide awake. I finally got to sleep after an hour or so, only to wake up sometime after 3am with continuing contractions. These were strong enough that I couldn't sleep through them, and found myself wanting to change positions instead of lying still. After several had come and gone, I started glancing at the clock at the start of each one. They were four minutes apart. For anyone else, that would signal time to head to the hospital, but I knew my body. Since we had to be there at 6am anyway, I figured that I probably could just wait. So for two hours, I quietly drifted through steady contractions every four minutes. Finally, it was 5am and time to get up.

"So, if we get there and I'm at, like, 2 centimeters, we'll go ahead with the C-section as planned," I proposed to Don, "but if I'm in active labor, maybe we can wait a few hours and see if she comes out?" "We'll see," he replied, as we drove through the silent darkness. It was too early for anyone else, or even the sun, to be up, and since I had hardly slept, it felt like it was still night. We arrived at the hospital a little before our 6:00 appointment, and I mentioned that I was having a lot of contractions. The first nurse I saw, ironically, was a friend of a friend whom I had gotten to know at our mutual friend's party several months ago. She seemed excited that I might be in active labor and asked if I wanted to be checked. Since we know each other, she called in another nurse to check me. I wasn't dilated. "I can barely get a fingertip in there," the second nurse said. Yes, several hours of painful contractions every four minutes had done absolutely nothing to push this baby out.

As frustrating as this news could have been, it actually brought me a lot of peace. I couldn't help but laugh at God's timing, to send me this mock labor just hours before my scheduled surgery. If the contractions had started just a few days earlier, I'm sure I would have been back and forth to the doctor's office several times waiting for my cervix to dilate, all while having painful contractions, and it probably would have ended much like Lydia's birth - with a baby that wouldn't come out. Instead, the Lord gave me just enough contractions to feel like I was doing something good for Abby's health. (Statistically, C-section babies who experience labor before birth have fewer breathing problems than those that are taken straight from the womb without experiencing labor contractions.) And He gave me peace in knowing that a natural, uncomplicated delivery was not His plan for this baby - beyond a doubt, submitting to my husband in scheduling the C-section had been the right thing to do. In fact, we had even picked the right day, because with the intensity of my contractions, I would have been heading to the hospital on the 10th either way! I knew that God would work everything out in His perfect timing, but He arranged the details even more perfectly than I could have imagined, so that I was fully, completely ready to have the C-section at 7:30am that morning.

Like when Lydia was born, inserting the IV was a failure due to my wiggly arm veins. When my nurse friend missed (and felt terrible about it), another nurse came in to start my IV and get me completely prepped for surgery. My contractions slowed down significantly as Don and I waited in our hospital room for the process to begin. After meeting with the doctor and anesthesiologist, it was finally time to walk down the hall to the OR. Don wasn't allowed to come in yet, so I had to sit on the edge of the table and lean against a nursing student for what seemed like a very long time as I waited for the spinal needle to be inserted. As soon as the discomfort was over, I felt somewhat sick and lightheaded. They laid me on the operating table as my lower half slowly fell asleep. I realized one advantage to an emergency Cesarean: everything happens so quickly, there is no time to realize how unpleasant it is. Lying sprawled out, drugged, and unable to move as doctors prepped every last detail seemed to last for ages this time. Finally, my sweet husband was allowed to come stand by my head and comfort me. I was concerned that I didn't feel numb yet; it was more like my legs were asleep. In fact, during the procedure, I was sure that someone or something was repeatedly poking me in the same spot. When Don looked, however, I was apparently cut wide open and nothing was touching the area where I was feeling pressure. It was strange and unpleasant, but apparently the discomfort was all in my head!

The details are fuzzy, but at some point during the procedure, I really didn't feel well. According to the anesthesiologist, my heart rate fell to something like 50 beats per minute and he had to give me medicine to get my heart rate up. Later, I felt tugging and knew this meant baby was coming out! "Guess what was around her neck two times?" Don asked. Like her brothers and sister before her, this baby had likewise strangled herself in the umbilical cord. Thankfully, in a C-section, a cord around the neck is not the problem in can often be during a vaginal delivery. (Both of my boys were fine within a few minutes of birth, but it certainly scared their Daddy to see them come out blue.) And soon after the tugging sensation, there was some very pronounced crying: our baby girl was born!

Of course, the nurses immediately took her to the side of the room to clean her up, examine, and weigh her. They were blocking my view, so Don took a picture and brought it back to show me. "Does she look like an Abigail?" he asked, knowing the name I was leaning towards. I said I needed to see her, not just a picture. Finally, after another long wait, they brought the naked baby over to me and placed her right on my chest. After having two babies whisked away after their vaginal births, I have longingly wished that I could hold my newborn against my chest immediately after birth, instead of seeing them for the first time swaddled in hospital blankets. This time, despite the wait, my first contact with my baby was a precious skin-to-skin bonding opportunity. She was so tiny: 5 pounds, 9 ounces, wonderfully perfect, and definitely an Abigail. When I noticed her tiny mouth rooting around on my chest, I asked for some help (not being able to move much, as I was still being sewn up) and allowed her to nurse. Right on the operating table, my little Abigail was nursing, and I was as happy as someone undergoing surgery could possibly be.

To complete my operation, the doctor stitched me back together on the inside, and then used superglue to seal my incision. I had no idea that superglue was a medical product, but supposedly it will heal with a clean scar, and no stitches to remove. The doctor had also cut around and removed my old scar, so this way I will only have one scar line from the two surgeries. Don and I asked him whether my uterus looked thin; after all, that was the reason an elective Cesarean had been recommended to me by the last doctor. No, he said, it didn't look unusually thin. The next day, in fact, he said he didn't see any reason it shouldn't hold up for another pregnancy, and that labor would even be possibility if I wanted to try it. Praise God for His healing hand on my womb!

The rest of the day was spent resting, recovering, and introducing Abby to her grandparents and siblings. Even after feeling returned to my legs, I couldn't get up because the medication from the spinal left me lightheaded and queasy. Still, I was able to snuggle with Abby and nurse her almost continually - for the first 24 hours, she was either sleeping or sucking. My sister-in-law noted that Don looked better than he ever had after the birth of one of our children. Certainly, this had been the easiest and least traumatic for him. Everything had gone smoothly, and sweet little Abigail was perfectly safe and healthy.

The name Abigail means "father's joy," so it fit her perfectly. Abigail Joy, our double joy, had brought joy to her earthly father with her smooth and predictable birth. And I trust that her Heavenly Father, who knew every heart conflict that led up to the day of her birth, was filled with joy as well. I will always be a supporter of the amazing miracle of natural labor and birth, and I would encourage other C-section moms to consider trying a VBAC with their doctor and husband's approval. But for Abigail and me, the scheduled C-section turned out to be the best plan. I am feeling better emotionally than I ever have in the postpartum weeks, and my physical discomfort is much than I experienced with my first C-section. Truly the Lord has been faithful to answer our prayer that this sweet baby, this gift from His own hand, would be received into the world with an abundance of joy.

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