Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Birth Story: The Trilogy

Birth Story (n): The tale of how a pregnant woman gets a baby out from under her ribs into the waiting hands of a doctor who has gotten way too familiar with her insides without even buying her dinner first.

2016 has been a year that's taken more than it's given. I know that's an odd way to begin the story of the birth of a child, but it's impossible to separate the joy that is my son from the heartbreak that surrounded my pregnancy.  But in the beginning, there was love.

On February 12th, 2 days before Valentine's Day, I found out I was pregnant.  The next day, I was set to host my annual Valentine's Day party for my girlfriends.  I had this delicious little secret all day that I kept to myself.  We had just moved into our new house and were so excited to expand our family.  For one week, Trevor and I just reveled in our gratitude at this baby that would come in the fall.  For one week, life was so sweet.  By the end of the following weekend, life would all come crashing down around us imprinting my pregnancy in ways I couldn't comprehend until much later.

Some time during the night of February 20th, during a windy, winter storm, the power went out at my cousin's home.  A generator hooked up in their basement to restore power filled their home with carbon monoxide.  My cousin, his wife and their 4 children lost their lives that night.  We wouldn't find out until Sunday.  On Saturday of that weekend, a man would drive across my city on a murderous rampage killing people at random, including a father and son 1/2 mile from our home. This little baby had appeared during a time of chaos and mourning.  I carried the secret of him throughout visitations and a memorial service, finally revealing him to my family after the funeral was over.  There were tears.  Tears of joy this time.

3 was our number.  We had always wanted 3 children and our plan was always to move to a bigger house and get one kid to kindergarten before having another one.  3 kids in daycare is expensive, y'all.  I remember that Friday morning in February staring at 2 pink lines on that pregnancy test.  "Hello, baby."  I took a moment to mark the occasion.  It was the first of the lasts.  This would be the last time I anxiously waited for the results of pregnancy test, these would be the last 2 pink lines I would ever see.  This moment would begin a series of lasts that I would mark.

My pregnancy progressed through the winter, a hazy, sleepy, nausea- filled few months which eventually melted into spring when I began to feel like myself again.  I was back on blood thinners- 1 shot/day injected right into my belly.  This was in response to a pre-existing condition that makes me more susceptible to blood clots, as I learned during my 2nd pregnancy when I developed them in my right calf.  And as painful as those shots can be, they were again marked as a "last time" inconvenience that was keeping the baby and me safe.

Summer came and the big moment- the 20 week ultrasound.  When you're pregnant for the 3rd time and you have 2 boys, it's safe to say that the pressure is on to have that elusive girl.  We got asked constantly if this was our attempt to have a daughter or if we were hoping for a girl.  Of course we would have loved a daughter, but I truly believe that you receive the children you are meant to receive.  I'm sure one day I'll know precisely why these 3 boys chose me, but there isn't one part of me that feels that my family is incomplete without a daughter. I love my Three Amigos!

Our birth announcement
The ultrasound showed a healthy, thriving baby boy.  "There's the scrotum!" is literally the first sentence ever directed at my son.  I need to make sure that's captured here...for posterity's sake.  You had a good looking scrotum, son.

Jack and Will had come up with several nicknames for their brother early in my pregnancy, but Kiwi is the one that stuck. It was perfect as we tend to make small, hairy babies that probably resemble kiwi fruit. I learned an interesting fact about kiwi birds during my pregnancy.  The small kiwi bird lays one of the largest eggs in the bird world- taking up 20% of her body!  I will get back to the kiwi bird later on as I very much empathized with her in the last week of my pregnancy.

Nestled inside of me, he escorted his brother to the first day of kindergarten,he was with me at countless work meetings and conference calls and finally, Kiwi and mama made it to October- baby month.  By the 2nd week in October, I was feeling pretty much exactly how this kiwi bird mother feels. The baby had dropped significantly and his head was like a round cork wedged into my pelvis rendering me barely able to walk. I knew he was coming, he had to be coming, I felt that if I sneezed too hard he would come shooting out of me like a pinball with my uterus acting like some over aggressive paddles.  

On Friday, October 14th, I worked from home, doing meetings over the phone.  By the afternoon, contractions had started coming in more regular intervals, somewhere between 15 and 2o minutes apart.  That night, I slept upright on the couch because mama kiwi could no longer sleep in any sort of comfortable position.  At 4:30 in the morning of Saturday October 15th, a contraction woke me up.  5 minutes later, another...and another...and another.  I tracked them for an hour.  5  minutes apart, each lasting 1 minute.  I called the doctor at 6am and she told me to come in.  Unlike my first 2 labors, this one came on more gradually so Trevor and I had to time for showers and could drive to the hospital at a normal pace, which is not to say that when I had one foot out the door and he stopped to make himself some coffee, I wasn't a twinge bit annoyed. In my defense, I will just say...

We got to triage and I gowned up. A moment of your time to discuss hospital gowns.  Who in the actual hell designed them?  "They close in the back" is what every nurse tells you.  First of all, what piece of clothing ever made buttons in the back?  Even zippers in the back are a pain, often requiring someone else to help you with them.  But a hospital gown with 800 snaps and 2 strings for tying is some kind of evil altogether.  You know who wears hospital gowns?  Sick people.  And pregnant people.  People who ain't got time for this.  They gave me the gown and had me go pee in a cup. Peeing in a cup while contracting is, in a word, awkward.  Clean catch no less. Wipe yourself, pee in the toilet, but don't pee all the way, catch the remaining pee in a cup, don't get the cup dirty or drop the cup while your body is contracting and a 7-10 lb human is suspended upside down in your stomach making it so you can barely reach your arm under your pee stream or see what's happening.  Clean catch peeing in a cup while contracting in a hospital gown that is falling apart has got to be the reason why people birth their babies at home in a bathtub.  The whole ordeal just really sets you off on the wrong foot.

After cleanly catching my pee, they did an exam.  I was at 3cm.  I would have said "CHECK AGAIN" but a cervical exam isn't something you desire more than is absolutely necessary. But as contractions were consistent, they kept me in the triage bed for a couple more hours to see how things progressed.  After another check, I had progressed to 5cm so I was finally admitted. Our room had a view of downtown.  The sun had come up which was odd.  My first two deliveries happened at night.  It was nice laboring in the light of day.  It's odd, but you feel more connected to life during the day- to the hum of people moving about their day, to cars passing by, to people on their way to work.  The Making Strides for Breast Cancer walk was happening that day and I caught glimpses of people decked out in pink.  The sky was gray and overcast which only served to make the autumn trees that much lovelier.  The bright reds and oranges had exploded and I took it all in as my body ran through the motions of preparing for the birth of our son.  "This is the last time I'll be in a bed like this. This is the last time I'll have to wrestle with a hospital gown during contractions."  I took in the sights and sounds of that room to imprint them in my mind as the last chapter of pregnancy was being written.

By early afternoon I was still stuck at 5cm.  Not that I wanted one of those hyper dramatic birth stories where the 3rd baby was born in a car because it all happened so fast, but I had convinced myself that after 2 pretty quick labors, the 3rd would have to be wicked fast.  It was wicked alright, but I'll get to that in a minute.  I remember distinctly the silence of the room.  Trevor softly flipping the pages of his book, the woosh-woosh-woosh of the heart rate monitor counting my baby's beats.  I watched the world from outside of my window move along throughout its day so unaware of the major event that was about to take place inside of this room.  I relished the silence, something a mom of young kids doesn't get too often.  I thought about my cousin and his wife. I felt their presence in the room with me as clear as anything.  Len's wife Heather was an ultrasound sonographer.  I imagined her standing by my bed coaching me through it, herself the mom to 4 kids, she had been there and she had seen her share of nervous pregnant women laying beside her equipment.  I felt them both in the room with me and it made me glad.

Dr. Carly Davis, soft spoken, young and kind came into the room asking if I would be open to having her break my water to help move things along.  

I was, she did...holy hell, oh dear God, oh sweet baby Jesus.  

She broke my water.  Not much water came out.  Remember that skull cork that was burrowed into my pelvis?  Yeah, it was pretty much clogging up the works.  So after the water broke, his head was like a dam keeping everything backed up.  And then, the contractions started- unyielding, intense, agonizing.  With every contraction, I could feel his head crammed into my cervix like someone taking a combat boot and stomping on a bruise.  I had passed up an epidural, again, thinking that it would go quickly.


After an hour of combat boot on a bruised cervix type agony, I was only at 6cm.  So at that point, feeling like I was having an out of body experience, I asked for pain relief.  Enter the anesthesiologist.  One thing to know about anesthesiologists, especially during labor is that they stride into the room like Golden Gods on invisible chariots.  They know that they are the most welcome sight in the world.  They go through the motions asking you questions that you can barely breathe enough to answer.  You are asked to sit on the edge of your bed and curl your back into a "C" shape.  Remember, baby's head was pressing so hard on me, that sitting on the edge of a rock hard hospital bed puts pressure on all sides of you.  He gave it his first attempt.  "There's blood in the catheter, I'll have to try again, I hit a blood vessel."  "Whaaa-- u mean--uhhh--not working?" is what I think I managed to gasp out.  What follows is a summary of the attempts made at inserting the epidural:

Attempt #1: NOPE
Attempt #2: NOPE...but with all assurances from the doc that he had never not gotten this to work.
Attempt #3: NOPE...but hey, now that I've got you to the point of delirium on this bed curled up into a "C", drenched in sweat, shall we give it the old 4th college try?  At some point during the 40 minutes this was all taking, I remember Trevor asking the nurse to wipe my brow.  I was sweating and digging my fingers into his shoulders as he sat on a chair facing me on the bed.  He probably still has claw marks.  He is amazing in every way.
Attempt #4:  Success?  I add the ? because it was in, I was asked to lay back down, they put the smallest bit of what's called a loading dose to test it out, but by then it was time to push.  
I was stabbed 4 times in the back on the Ides of October.  Trevor and I discussed this poetic injustice later that day once the healing could begin...

You know it's time to push because it feels like you're about to take the biggest dump of your life, I'm sorry but there is literally no other way to explain this.  I yelled out "I have to push!!"  And without the benefit of any pain relief, Dr. Davis was called into the room, gowned up, gloves on, ready to catch this baby.  I gave it a push.  It was really a garbage push, I knew I could do better, but I was feeling like I was on the last leg of a 100 mile uphill mud run.  I tried again and gave it everything like the labor and delivery champion I knew I was.  It was happening, he was coming out.  One more gigantic, get this kiwi egg out of me, push and his head was out. I know it seems strange to be very aware of this particular moment, but remember- I was counting lasts.  And I remembered the last push.  By the time baby's head was out, he was crying.  Trevor confirmed this for me.  His head popped out and he was already wailing!  One last push, one last time for this pain, this agony and this incredible moment would happen for me.  

Shoulders, torso, legs and he was free.  4:08pm, not many milestones are marked to the minute, but that was when our family was made complete.  Trevor cut the cord and just like that, he was here, he had a birthday, he was ours. A very quick towel off and he was quickly moved onto my chest for skin to skin contact and connection.  As with every other moment like this, the tears flowed freely, but this time I didn't just cry for joy at meeting my baby.  Remember how I felt that Len and Heather were in the room for me?  After 8 months of the reality of losing them, I finally let all of that go.  This baby's entire existence had been book-ended by tragedy.  One week after finding out I was pregnant, my cousin and his family were gone and one week before this baby was born, Trevor lost his cousin, Kristy, very unexpectedly and tragically, something we haven't discussed much, but has weighed heavily on our hearts.  Tragedy and joy were both intermingled in those tears that flowed that afternoon. I cried for joy, I let go of sadness that had been held on, buried deep so I could try to find the happiness for this new life.  I let it all go.

Happy birthday!
But we're not done yet!  There was one thing I hadn't quite let go of.  The placenta still wedged in me!  Yes, the life giving, amazing, and heavy ass placenta.  Dr. Davis sat at the bottom of my bed holding the umbilical cord like a kid holding the string of a balloon that had just popped.  Oh yeah, I thought, I need to get this thing out too!  I couldn't really feel the contractions, not because of the epidural, remember that was doing nothing for me, but I was just too overcome.  But yep, ok, there was the contraction I was waiting for and out she came and that, my friends, was almost a bigger relief that the 7 lb human who has preceded it. And that was it.  The last of the lasts when it came to childbirth.  As I held this warm, squishy baby on my chest, I had the sublimely happy feeling that our family was complete.  This baby was the exclamation mark on our family and the reason we all got through the ups and downs of 2016.

After the euphoria of childbirth begins to subside, you realize that you're more hungry than you've ever been in your life.  Hospitals don't let you eat anything while you're in labor.  I did manage to devour 2 popsicles though which were amazing.  I hadn't eaten anything real in over 20 hours. I ordered a hamburger from room service.  It was a blackened hockey puck wedged between Gordon Food Service buns a sad tomato slice and a limp lettuce leaf.  It was the most delicious, amazing, incredible hamburger I've ever had in my life. I inhaled it, all the while gazing over the tray at my baby boy laying in his crib. It was the first time in 9 months, he wasn't inside of or on top of me. It was a beautiful view.

Happy birthday to my baby who was born on Sweetest Day; my baby who was soon to be named.

What's in a name?  I'm going to explain the genesis of Teddy's name which I fear will sound very silly when it's all typed out, but I don't care, he's perfectly named for who he is to me.

All of my life I have had a deep affection and connection to bears.  Keep in mind, I'm a person who really doesn't love animals.  I never grew up with pets, hate zoos, but just really love bears.  I've had teddy bears all of my life. I've had bears as stuffed animals, art prints and knick knacks. I identify very much with bear mothers who protect their cubs to the end. So for me, bears are comforting, especially teddy bears. During what has been a very, very difficult year, my baby was a source of comfort, safety, happiness and connection to the wonderful things life has to offer if you're open to receiving them. He was always my teddy bear, the thing I quite literally slept with and held on to during tough times.

Not wanting to limit him to being a Teddy or Ted all of his life, Trevor and I discussed Theodore, Edwin or Edward.  We landed on Edward as our favorite of the three and we later learned that Edward is Trevor's grandpa Jack's middle name.  Perfect.  Jack Stefanick was a teddy bear himself being a very loving man who happened to be a large animal vet in PA. Doubtful he ever helped a bear, but he would have if one had happened into his practice!

Teddy's middle name was always known to us. Lenox. Lenox is a combination of Leonard "Len" after my cousin and grandfather and Trevor's grandpa Rex Lee, a fighter himself who's had his own share of bad health lately but who stays resilient in spirit and mind even when his body can't keep up.  Edward Lenox pays homage to men who mean so much to Trevor and I and whose spirits, I know are held deep within their great-grandson/cousin.

"Loved by my family"

My mom has said that 3rd babies are a gift to the whole family. That has been absolutely true for us. Jack and Will adore their baby brother. They probably love him a little too much at times, I worry that they'll be like Lenny and the rabbits from "Of Mice and Men", but Teddy is used to noise and chaos.  When I was pregnant, his brothers would blow raspberries on my belly and yell "hi Kiwi"! Noise does not faze this child one bit. I couldn't wait for the boys to meet their brother.  Trevor left the hospital Saturday evening to go bring the boys to see us.  Teddy had "purchased" big brother gifts for his brothers which we gave to them at the hospital.  People ask how the boys have taken to Teddy.  Let me tell you, these boys have been totally hooked up.  Being big brothers is a very lucrative business, they have definitely received more gifts than their baby brother. How could they be anything but pleased at this little cash cow baby? But as these photos show, their love for Teddy is sincere, deep, and profound. In the immortal words of Maria Von Trapp- "somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good."

I always knew my birth stories would end in a trilogy. Teddy is our Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  The birth of my last child was my last crusade, the very last time I would embark on the long journey necessary to bring new life into the world based on this crazy idea that the genetic combination that is Trevor and me would bring something good into the world.  That's been my crusade for almost 6 years, which is how long we've been parents. It's been our crusade to raise these little men to be loving and compassionate, curious and brave. So now we wait. Jack, Will and Teddy are in the world and we're pretty confident, the world is all better for it.

So that's my birth story, the story of how the most difficult year of my life yielded the sweetest gift.  In the summer of my life, the autumn baby came to town and turned this upside down year back on its feet. He is a gift to our family and he'll be a gift to the world.  In the words of the great Lin-Manuel Miranda in his song "Dear Theodosia" from this little Broadway show you might have heard about called Hamilton, he and Leslie Odom, Jr sing the words of every new parent.

I'm dedicating every day to you
Domestic life, was never quite my style
When you smile, you knock me out, I fall apart
And I thought I was so smart
You will come of age with our young nation
We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you
And you’ll blow us all away…
Someday, someday
Yeah, you’ll blow us all away.

I love you Teddy, you will most definitely blow us all away.
Love, Mom

The trilogy baby. There will be no Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull kid...