March 13, 2016

A Deployment Birth Story: Part II

A Deployment Birth Story

01.02.15 // Friday

2 pm: When asked at my 38 week appointment if I had felt any contractions, I shrugged my shoulders and replied with that first-time-mom confusion, "I don't think so?" My obstetrician, Dr. Anderson, laughed and said I would definitely know if I had, but he wanted to check me for dilation anyways. I practically skipped out of the office to my mom in the waiting room, who had been with me since Christmas, just beaming. I was 4 cm dilated, 75% effaced, and at a -1 station. In English for the non-parent readers, I was in fact progressing and Eloise had dropped down significantly. She was coming! Dr. A knew I was really scared to labor without Brad and, as strange as it may seem, a big part of me wanted it to come and go quickly. My eyes were set on the prize of meeting my daughter. I wasn't going to get those beautiful moments with my husband, seeing him hold our girl for the first time. The quicker I could get past those moments where his absence felt palpable and painful, the better. On my way out, he said he was delivering at the hospital through Sunday, and he bet on her arrival before then. He instructed me to come in to see him with any regular contractions, smiled, and winked a goodbye at me. I'm endlessly thankful he understood exactly where my heart and mind were that day.

All evening: Walk, walk, walk. Spicy food for dinner. Try to measure and count contractions, but I really had no idea what I was doing or feeling. Walk some more. My mom and I joked that this was the best night of our walk-loving dog Ruby's life. We debated going to the hospital, but I decided I wanted one more good sleep in my own bed. Not to mention, a few weeks prior someone had joked with me that January 2nd might be the worst day for a birthday. Everyone is feeling down at end of the merriest season, and we're all dreading coming out of our stretchy pants to return to the reality of work and a cold winter ahead. Nope. I wasn't going to do that to my girl. Obviously, one day would make all the difference.

01.03.15 // Saturday

8:00 am: Sleep in. Shower. Sliced apple and raspberry coffee cake for breakfast. This is one of my favorite birth story details. Such a specific and odd, pregnant lady breakfast! I absolutely insisted on it, and my mom was fabulous about catering to my every silly request. Our morning was actually very leisurely and not at all how I pictured the hours before delivering a baby would be.

9:00 am: Walk, walk, walk. I'm not kidding. I probably walked waddled a marathon.

9:30 am: After more confusion trying to time contractions, my mom persuaded me to just go to the hospital. As we drove, she excitedly exclaimed, "You are going to have a baby today!" I immediately shot her down. "MOM. NO. STOP. They'll probably just tell me my contractions aren't regular or strong enough and send me home." So rude! But I was trying to prepare my heart to continue to wait when it was already carrying enough ache. We were just 68 days into a start to finish 266 day deployment, and surviving the holiday season nine months pregnant without Brad had been brutal.

10:00 am: We checked in at the hospital and I was hooked up to a monitor that tracks contractions. Before a pattern could even be noted, I was checked for progress and admitted to the hospital. I was officially having my baby! I was dilated to 5 cm, and Eloise's head was extremely low. The triage nurse couldn't believe I was physically able to sit down that's how low she was. Dr. A met with me personally to say I could go home if I wanted to try to progress naturally, but he already knew what I wanted. He said his preference would be to break my water manually and give me a small dose of Pitocin, a drug that accellerates contractions. He knew given how low she was, with or without intervention, she was coming soon and fast. And again, he knew I wanted to speed past the hurt (literally and figuratively) and have my baby.

11:00 am: The next few hours were a whirlwind of IV's, painful contractions that took my breath away, and struggling to get Brad connected via video chat. Eventually my nurse recruited the hospital technology guy to help. She could see the fear in my eyes as I was dilating fast and Brad still wasn't "there" on screen with me. Such a weight was lifted when he finally appeared in his 'Best Dad Ever' Darth Vader shirt. He had a huge, handsome smile on his face and an energy drink in hand. It was the middle of the night in Afghanistan. Only his face was lit by the glow of the screen in the dark of his bed, and his staff sergeant slept soundly across the way. But he was ready.

2:00 pm: My goal was always to progress as long as I could without an epidural but never to completely rule it out. The day was going to be tough enough, I didn't need to make things any harder on myself by dealing with the guilt of asking for pain management after I had vowed to deliver naturally. In my own career as a nurse and with friends, I had seen this guilt crush new moms too often. I didn't want my first moments with Eloise to by plagued by any negativity. I planned to take each moment as it hit me and decide how much more my body and emotions could handle. Now at 7 cm dilated, I asked my nurse to let me labor a while longer without pain management, but as soon as she walked out the anesthesiologist walked in. He said he had been hovering at the nurses' station watching my monitor. If I didn't get an epidural right then, I wasn't going to get one at all. I agreed to have it placed before I missed the opportunity, and my mom was asked to leave the room. Apparently, too many spouses had been passing out during the procedure. My nurse comforted me through it, but in the rush everyone had forgot about Brad, who gets queasy at the sight of needles, sitting helpless with a front row view from the computer on my bedside table! In the middle of a very chaotic and nervous moment, I hear my husband say, "Hey Kayla? I accidentally saw your booty. It still looks great." Everyone laughed hard, and my spirits were lifted. I so love that guy who is always good for a laugh.

2:30 pm: Much to my surprise in my comfortable epidural bliss, it was time to push! By this point, Dr. A was already there. I've heard horror stories of doctors running in to catch the baby and running out. Not mine! He was there through the whole thing, cracking jokes with Brad and coaching me through every step. Brad was the one counting for me during rest periods in between each push. Remembering the sound of his voice filling the room, encouraging me, still leaves me speechless. His ability to be there for me without being physically present was incredible.

2:55 pm: Pushing was a really odd sensation for me, and I remember asking again and again if I was doing it right and moving her along. Apparently I was. Only five hours after arriving at the hospital and maybe 20 minutes of pushing later, I met our daughter. I must have shouted her perfection through tears to Brad a million times or more. The nursery nurse that cleaned Eloise and took her initial measurements ensured computer-Brad was transported over to the infant warmer to watch just as any new dad would. She explained everything to him and zoomed in to show him every perfect detail of our girl - all ten little fingers and toes. We had decided just before I was 20 weeks pregnant on a name but didn't share it with anyone. Not a single soul. So much of our lives these days is public news, but we wanted to savor this one sacred thing between just the two of us. Not to mention we didn't care to hear anyone else's opinion on the name we chose for our child. Minutes after she was born, holding her to my skin, I looked up at my mom and said, "This is Eloise." I know that moment is one of the best of my mom's life. She still cries happy tears when she talks about it. Words could never suffice when it comes to explaining how grateful I am for my mom. I hate that Brad couldn't be there, but I am thankful it afforded my mom an opportunity she may never have had otherwise. She saw her first grandchild take her very first breath. And she watched me, her own baby, conquer a challenge I didn't believe I was brave or strong enough to face.

The rest of my 31 hour total hospital stay was a whirlwind. I thought my first labor would give family plenty of time to make the 90 minute flight or even 8 hour drive from Michigan. As it turned out, Eloise was too excited to be here and didn't allow anyone any time for travel at all. It was actually a blessing in disguise to share so many sweet hours alone recovering and bonding with her before the rest of her grandparents and aunts arrived to cover her in kisses.

Leading up to this day, I was more nervous about the actual labor and delivery without Brad. I thought once I got through it, I'd be too busy with newborn life to feel the sting. I actually struggled much more afterwards in the weeks of postpartum recovery. Her birth day was so fast and emotional, I didn't have much time, energy, or emotion beyond extreme love to feel upset. I really only had one big break down that night. My family had all gone to rest and celebrate new life together at our home. Brad was who knows where doing who knows what since it was a new day in Afghanistan and there were missions to be completed. There I was with Eloise warm and safe in my arms. She was perfect and healthy and everything I had prayed she would be, but I had never felt so alone or scared. The enormity of the day had just hit me, and I wanted so badly to look over and see Brad snoozing on the stiff couch where spouses were supposed to be. But he wasn't there. I knew he would've given anything to be there. So I wiped my tears and kissed our miracle on her tiny head. There was no other option but to focus on the positives and take one step at a time. That is exactly what I did day after day until Eloise's Daddy came home safe and sound six and a half months later to meet her.

I need to step on to my soap box for a second before I wrap up, so bear with me. There are a lot of strong opinions voiced about what labor, delivery, and parenting should look like for all women. I have a lot of respect for ladies who opt to labor naturally and deliver without any pain medication, but I have an equal amount of respect for those who do not. There are so many controversial topics that cause a big divide between moms that I could dive into, but I just think we are all superheroes. Plain and simple. End of story. The way we all love our sons and daughters is our common ground. It's indescribable. I believe we instinctively do what is best for those tiny humans we love most, including what is healthiest for ourselves in each challenging phase of new parenthood. I carried a lot of shame for a long time when I told our birth story. Anyone who has spent any time around Eloise, a baby born by way of an induction and an epidural, knows she is and always has been the definition of a perfectly happy and healthy baby.

With time I became proud of our story, exactly as is, because it led us to where we are now as a family. Each choice I made helped shape the exact little girl Eloise is growing to be. Every moment she gave me the strength I needed, beginning in October when I said goodbye to Brad and could feel her tiny kicks with each tear that fell, our bond as mother and daughter strengthened too. I wouldn't dream of changing a single thing about our complicated story.

Eloise Mae, someday I hope you will read these words and understand just how important your birth day was and always will be to me. You are so loved.

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