Getting pregnant with my son was not an easy task. My husband had been diagnosed with cancer (twice) and had undergone a two year battle that he ultimately won. His oncologist told us just days before he was scheduled to start chemo that the treatment he would be undergoing would render him infertile, and if he wanted the chance to have biological children in the future then he should consider freezing his sperm. We had only been dating for about a year at this point, and the discussion of having children together had not yet come up, but I think we both knew that we had found the "one." I encouraged him to take the necessary precautions in order to have the choice to have children later in life, whether it was with me or not. And I am so glad he did!
Fast forward two years later...my husband had recently had a bone marrow transplant that saved his life. He was on the road to recovery and was (and is) disease free! (You can read more about our journey here) We were now married and wanted to start our family as soon as possible. For us, that meant me going through in-vitro fertilization (IVF). We chose to see a doctor that we had heard good things about at UCSF. For the past two years while my love battled cancer, I had been watching my friends get married and have babies. While I was beyond happy for all of them, it was not an easy thing to watch. I longed for what they had and it seemed so far away for us. There were even moments where I questioned if we would get to have that together at all. Needless to say, When the time finally came I was anxious to get started and didn't want to waste any time.
I went through one full round of IVF and we got 9 high quality embryos from the procedure. We transferred two embryos right away and waited for our results. There was no doubt in my mind that I would get pregnant on our first try. After all, I did not have any fertility issues, I was in excellent health, and all signs pointed to yes. So when I got the call that my pregnancy test had come back negative, I was crushed. We rushed right into doing a frozen embryo transfer with two more embryos, and again... another negative result. What was going on? I had felt like I was being overmedicated by my doctors at UCSF and when I asked to do a natural cycle frozen embryo transfer I was told no. So when it didn't work the second time I asked my doctor what was up. He blamed it on my embryos, and suggested that we discard all of the remaining ones we had and start a fresh cycle of IVF all over again (at $20k a pop nonetheless.) I was so angry, and felt so dismissed by him. Just weeks ago he was telling us how excellent our embryos looked. And now suddenly there was an issue with them and they should be thrown out? No way. He wasn't willing to take any responsibility at all, and I left feeling like it was my fault that I wasn't getting pregnant. We took our remaining embryos and went to a new doctor at the Marin Fertility Center. After taking a few months off to cleanse my body of the synthetic hormones I had been given at UCSF, I was ready to try again. This time we decided to do a natural frozen embryo cycle, meaning no meds. I got pregnant with twins on our first try. One of the yolk sacks was measuring small at our first ultrasound, so my doctor warned me that we could possibly lose on of the twins, and that this was not uncommon with IVF. Sadly, we did lose one at 9 weeks. I mourned the loss of this little soul, and then let go and moved forward. I was still pregnant with one strong, healthy baby and for that I was incredibly grateful!
We hit another bump in the road at my 19 week ultrasound when it was discovered that I had a single umbilical artery. (The umbilical cord normally has two arteries and one vein that bring blood and nutrients to the placenta and filter out the waste - my umbilical cord was missing one of those arteries, which could lead to growth problems with the baby and can be linked to other issues with the heart, kidneys, and even chromosomal defects.) We were sent to see a specialist in San Francisco for further testing and a special high tech ultrasound. It was the most nervewracking experience! We sat there in silence for 45 minutes while the doctor thoroughly examined my baby's heart, kidneys, and brain in total silence. I was sure he was seeing something ominous. My husband finally asked him if he saw something bad and the doctor told him to "be quiet and let him work." I was shaking I was so scared and doing my best to fight back tears. Luckily, everything came back completely normal and we were told not to worry, our baby looked great! (Huge sigh of relief!) However, he did discover that I had placenta previa, meaning my placenta was covering my cervix which would make it impossible for me to have a vaginal birth if my placenta didn't move, and would require a c-section. Normally as the uterus grows the placenta moves up and out of the way and a vaginal delivery is then possible, and the doctor told me I had a very good chance of this happening. Aside from that, I went on to have a fairly uneventful and wonderful pregnancy. I LOVED being pregnant! It was the most beautiful and feminine I had ever felt, and feeling my little guy move around inside my belly was magical.
It was now July 3rd, 2015...my due date. My placenta previa had resolved and I was cleared to have a vaginal delivery. I went in to see my OBGYN and there were zero signs that labor was close. My cervix was still high, posterior, and not effaced at all. My OB told me to sit tight and if there was still no progression in a few days then we would talk about induction. I did NOT want to be induced. I had plans for a completely natural childbirth, and an induction to force out my little one before he was ready was not included in those plans! I went home and tried everything under the sun to get labor going. I walked up an incredibly steep hill in my neighborhood several times per week while doing curb walking (one foot on the curb and one foot off - I looked like a crazy person) I ate spicy food, had sex, used evening primrose oil to try to soften my cervix, ate eggplant parmesan (which I hate, but have been told it can start labor) rubbed clary sage essential oil on specific acupressure points to trigger labor, went to acupuncture several times per week, you name it, I probably tried it! And all to no avail. Five days later nothing had changed. My OB said she wanted me to come in that weekend to be induced. That would make me 1 week past due. Full term is considered to be anywhere between 37-42 weeks and I wasn't willing to schedule an induction until I was 42 weeks and still not showing signs of labor. My doctor didn't love this idea but was willing to give me a few more days as long as I "understood the risks." She told me that my placenta would begin to calcify and would ultimately stop supporting my baby the longer I waited, and that my chances of a stillbirth were rising the longer I waited. I compromised with her by agreeing that if there was still no progress at 41 weeks and 5 days, then I would go in to be induced as long as it was on my own terms. And that is exactly what ended up happening.
I went in on Wednesday evening, July 15th to be induced. I felt nervous, and couldn't seem to wrap my head around the fact that I would soon be meeting my son! I still intended to have as natural a birth as possible, and I wanted to go very slowly with the induction to give my body a chance to go into labor on its own. The nurses and midwives at Kaiser were incredible, and so respectful of my wishes. They did their best to stick as close to my birth plan as possible. I had my room set up with flameless candles for lighting, a diffuser with relaxing essential oils, I was dressed in my own clothing, and had brought all of my own pillows and blankets from home. My doula and dear friend, Aisha, knows her stuff and was able to talk them into giving me just 1/4 of a dose of Misoprostol (the pill used to start labor) and then wait overnight before giving me another dose. (They generally start with 1/2 a dose and increase from there, giving another dose every 4 hours until labor is well established.) I began having contractions but they were irregular and I could still walk and talk through them. I wasn't able to get much rest because someone was coming in every hour or so to check on me and monitor my baby. Early the next morning around 5am, I was given my second dose of Misoprostol, this time a half dose. My contractions were getting stronger and closer together, but they were still irregular and my cervix wasn't progressing enough for my midwife to be able to sweep my membranes or use a Foley bulb. Things kept going like this for a while, and eventually I was given my third dose at full strength. My contractions were in full swing now and they were intense (induction causes stronger contractions than natural onset of labor.) My midwife wanted to get things really moving and give me another full dose a few hours later, but I declined. I felt like my body had gotten the hint and I was well on my way to active labor. I am glad I listened to my intuition, because not long after that my water broke. Almost immediately my contractions began coming one after another and they were long, strong, and intense!
It was now late Thursday night, over 24 hours since I had first been induced. I was only dilated to 1 cm and about 80% effaced... and I was exhausted. I was falling asleep in between each contraction. My midwife sat down next to me and told me that I needed to consider an epidural. She pointed out that I was completely exhausted and still had a long way to go, and she was concerned that when the time came I wouldn't have the strength to push my baby out which could result in a c-section... this was the worst thing I could have heard. I was terrified of a c-section and would do anything to avoid one. However I really wanted to do this naturally and didn't want an epidural either. I talked it over with my hubby and my doula, I cried and cried, and then I accepted the fact that my midwife was right. By the time I got my epidural I was already at 5cm. Half way there! The anesthesiologist was this tiny, intense woman with terrible bedside manner. I was in the middle of a contraction and unable to speak when she told not to move a muscle because she was going to jab the needle into my spine. I did my best to not move through the pain. It was so hard, I could barely breathe! Once the epidural was in, I felt immediate relief. I requested that it be put on the lowest setting, and be turned off completely when it came time to push, so that I could feel my son being born.
Once I had the epidural I was able to get some rest, but my contractions began to slow down and the talk of giving me Pitocin to get them going again arose. Yet another thing I had wanted to avoid. I asked that we give it some time and see if things picked back up on their own, but they didn't. My contractions continued to slow down so I was started on Pitocin. The main reason I wanted to avoid Pitocin is because it causes contractions that would be much more intense than natural ones and this can be stressful to the baby. Sure enough my son started to react negatively to my contractions and was having dips in his heart rate with each one. My midwife became concerned and the dreaded talk of a c-section came up again. The Pitocin was turned off and my baby was monitored ongoing at this point. The dips in his heart rate stopped and he was doing well so they began the Pitocin again and watched him carefully. He was doing great and I was finally able to get some much needed rest.
A few hours later I was jolted awake by intense pressure down there. I called my nurse and she checked me. I was at 9cm! She told me NOT to push, under any circumstances because it could cause me to swell, and that she would be back in about an hour to check on me again. I asked her to turn off my epidural at that point. Not 15 minutes later I felt the INTENSE need to push. I could barely stop myself! I called my nurse in again, she checked me and said it was go time! It was now Friday afternoon around 12:45pm. I had been there for so long that the staff all knew me well. I had two doctors, several nurses, and my midwife in the room with me while I pushed, in addition to my doula and my hubby. I tuned everyone out, closed my eyes and went inward into my birthing body. My eyes remained closed almost the entire time, and I connected with my son as he got ready to enter the world.
It felt like forever that I had been pushing, and I kept being told the his head was visible. In my mind's eye this meant that his head was actually coming out, but when they showed me with the mirror, he was still way up inside and the very top of his head was just barely visible. I felt so discouraged and demanded that mirror be taken away! I pushed and pushed, and it seemed as if no progress was being made. Words like forceps and vacuum were floating around, but I knew I could do this. At the three hour mark, my son was doing excellent on the fetal monitor so they felt comfortable to continue to let me push. My midwife suspected that he had a short cord, because with each push my son would come out further, then be pulled back in.
My amazing nurse Anna, who is also a HypnoBirthing Instructor, saw that I was struggling. I was so exhausted, and was beginning to feel like this kid was never going to come out! I was dry heaving, and falling asleep in between pushes. She came over, looked me in the eye, and told me that I could do this, and I was going to do this. It was time to get him out. She stood at the foot of my bed, held my forearms, and told me to try to pull her onto the bed with me when I pushed. This gave me some leverage and major progress was being made! I continued to push even after my contractions had ended, and finally my son's head was out! I pushed once or twice more and out he came! Over 40 hours of labor and four hours of pushing, I finally had my little man! All 8lbs 1oz and 21.5 inches of him! (I am crying as I write this, remembering that moment.) I had my arms outstretched, ready to hold my son in my arms for the first time and see his little face, when I noticed something around his neck. It was his umbilical cord and it was wrapped around three times.
I felt paralyzed with fear. The doctor unwrapped the cord in lightening speed and the shade of purple in my son's face quickly turned to pink and he started to cry. It was then that I finally began to cry too. My son was passed off to the pediatrician to be examined. He was covered in meconium (the first tarry like poop a baby has, which can be dangerous if they pass it in the womb because they can inhale it.) He was wiped off and his little tummy was pumped to remove any meconium he may have swallowed. Luckily it happened on his way out and none had entered his lungs. I was told that he was doing great and as long as he passed their "tests" then he could stay with me and not go to the nursery. He had to cry for five minutes straight, which he did, and he had to latch on to my breast effectively.
When I was finally handed my son, I laid him on my bare chest and let him find his own way to my breast. He was able to latch on and we were given the all clear to let him stay with us and not go to the nursery for further evaluation. He was ok and I finally got to see his sweet face! The nurses and two doctors said that they had never seen a baby born vaginally with a triple cord prolapse before. The good news is, is that he was being monitored the entire time and he was doing great, so they suspected that the cord wrapped around as he was rotating down and into the birth canal. It was the most terrifying minutes of my life, and I couldn't possibly describe how grateful I am that he was ok.
I lost a significant amount of blood during his delivery due to how long I pushed for, and it caused me to become quite anemic. I was so weak and sore. It took me hours to be able to stand up and walk to the bathroom on my own. They kept us at the hospital for two more days to monitor my son and me. Finally on Sunday we were able to go home!
Despite how sore and exhausted I was, I was in a state of pure bliss and so grateful to be home with my sweet, healthy boy.