Friday, September 18, 2015

Jonah James - A Homebirth Story (or so I thought)

Disclaimer: This is the whole story as I remember it. It's graphic. It's raw. It's at times humiliating. I refuse to hold back. But it's Jonah's birth testimony and I would not change anything about it. To God be the glory. 

A note for moms to be/pregnant mamas: You may want to stop after part one and continue after your baby is born. It gets pretty intense and scary and things like what happened below are RARE and this story is NOT designed to cause fear or anxiety. Blessings on your coming birth.

Our second son, Jonah James, was born July 22nd, 2015. His birth story is not at all the story I thought I would ever be sharing. His birth story is the story of the Great Physician and my Gracious Father watching over us and caring for us in surprising ways. 

I guess the best place to start is before Jonah was even in my womb. Richie and I were married July 20th, 2013. After a traumatic first marriage and abandonment, Richie came in and swept Zane(my 3 year old son) and I up into the safety of his arms and God blessed us more than I ever thought possible. Five months later we found ourselves unexpectedly, but happily, pregnant. We rejoiced and shared the news with fun surprises to our parents. We saw the heartbeat at 6 weeks and again at 9 weeks. The due date was August 3rd, Richie's birthday. 

We prayed for the baby, sang to her and talked to her. Zane kissed my tummy and spoke excitedly about becoming a big brother. 

At 11.5 weeks, I woke up and felt something different. A small gush that had me running to the bathroom. The bleeding started immediately and despite a casual sounding nurse, we rushed to the hospital. That was February 10th, 2014. The day we lost our daughter. 

The experience was extremely traumatic but our family and friends rallied around us, covering us in love and lifting us up to the Father. I was a wreck, so was Richie. There were dreams and nightmares. Richie named her. We mourned. My arms felt so heavy, so empty. I felt like a failure. My body had betrayed us. Thankfully, the Lord kept our hearts soft through this valley. I was ready months before my husband. I wanted to try again. I longed for the sweet burden of pregnancy and childbirth. 

I vividly remember the conversation when my husband told me he was ready to try again. We were alone for once, just driving to the store for our weekly shopping trip. I think my heart exploded into a thousand rays of sunshine. 

We wasted no time (tmi? meh, who cares?). I knew a week before I even missed my period that I felt different. Just little things in my body. An odd cramp here, tenderness there. It was not really a surprise when the test came up positive, though we were ecstatic to see the confirmation. 

It was simultaneously the most wonderful and scariest news possible for me. Every single day I was plague by worry and fears over whether or not my body would hold onto this little life. Whether I would ever get to look into this sweet baby's eyes and kiss those cherub cheeks. We prayed. Hard.

4 weeks

We felt lead to go in the direction of home birth, via a midwife.  Our good friends, Thomas and Jessie, had 2 home births after their first was born in the hospital. Jessie hooked me up with her midwife, Desiree, and from the first conversation I had with her over the phone, my heart felt peace. Immediately she ordered blood work, to check my progesterone and thyroid. Most doctors will not bother trying to find a reason for miscarriage unless you lose 3 or more pregnancies. I dont know how anyone's heart can handle that, and my heart goes out to those who have suffered through those loses. Desiree wanted to test a few things right away, because every life is sacred and precious. My progesterone levels were borderline low, so we started a topical cream. I used this until 14 weeks. 

13 weeks

I kept thinking that once I hit that point, I would be able to breathe a sigh of relief and just enjoy my pregnancy. I couldn't. Every single day of my pregnancy was a struggle of faith. I was so thankful for the life inside of me, yet so afraid of reliving the past. I studied and prayed. I did the only thing I could in this situation, I gave this baby and pregnancy to the Lord and entrusted us into His care. As much as I loved my children, as great as I would sacrifice for them, how much deeper was the Father's love for them? If I truly loved my children, how could I do anything except put them into the hands of the One who loved them more than I ever could?

16 weeks

 I researched home birth and became more and more convinced that was the direction the Lord was calling us. Desiree's practice was over an hour away for us, but from the moment we first stepped into the building, we felt peace over our decision to partner with her for this pregnancy. Due to my insurance, I needed to see a CNM as well, and Niamh joined the team. My normally stable blood pressure was in the pre-hypertensive range, so I started taking some supplements to help keep it stable. Otherwise, everything was looking great with baby and I. 

Our first ultrasound at 18 weeks.

Jessie loaned me Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and Angie Tolpin's Redeeming Childbirth. I felt more deeply confirmed in the direction we were headed with the upcoming birth. I prepped a birth playlist full of my favorite worship songs and played it daily. Songs like "Oceans" by Hillsong United and "How Deep the Father's Love" sung by Kings Kaleidoscope.  More than anything I wanted the Lord to be with us and strengthen us through this birth. 

21 weeks

We collected home birth supplies, made our plans and watched countless home birth videos. I fell in love with the process and the beauty of being at home when this baby was to be born. I invited Jessie to be there with me. Later on I asked my friend Bren as well. I would imagine the whole thing. Richie holding me and massaging my back while Jessie and Bren held my hands and prayed with me. Singing worship music together and later laughing to different comedy sketches and stand up routines. I visualized slowly opening and breathing our baby out gently into the water, then Richie pulling that sweet baby up to my chest and looking into his or her eyes for the first time. Richie would be the one to announce the gender, as we had kept it a surprise.

32 weeks

Finally everything was in place. I had some meals prepped and in the freezer. I had a lovely baby shower and had all the basics for our little one. I had sewed and crocheted and knitted and crafted all sorts of sweaters and blankets and bibs and things. Then my blood pressure started to creep up a little. I sort of freaked. Desiree had me see a naturopath and I started an herbal supplement that started working right away and lowered me back to my normal range. 

37 weeks

We had our home visit and walked through the birth plan. Jessie and her daughter Ember came over and we had a mini "birthing way". We made a birth necklace, an herbal sitz bath and she massaged my shoulders and prayed for me. It was the sweetest display of friendship I have ever been blessed enough to be on the receiving end of. 

 with the flower halo and necklace we made

At 39 weeks, Desiree and I both had a feeling I wouldnt make it to the next appointment. I was ecstatic over feeling some contractions and feeling the baby start to drop lower into my pelvis. I was on pins and needles in anticipation. 

The days kept ticking by. I felt a bit confused. Not because I needed to have the baby early, I just had felt so strongly that that's what was going to happen. I was so tired. My feet were swollen. The burden of all my supplements were taking their toll. Some were 4x a day, some 3 and some once. It really started to wear on me. I felt a little desperate once our due date hit (July 15th). I was just so worn down from the constant battle with worry. Every quiet period baby had, every time I took a supplement late. Any time my blood pressure was a bit higher. I just prayed so hard for the Lord to have mercy on me and for this baby to come. I spoke to Desiree about how I was feeling. She told me that often we get to that place emotionally right before birth. It gave me renewed strength to keep going. My sister and I went for pedicures 3 days after I was due. 

swollen ankles and feet!

Finally, my home blood pressure readings got just too high and Desiree sent me to her acupuncturist. I went 2 days in a row and the sessions were amazing. Joanna was so sweet and loving. It also had zero effect on my blood pressure. I cried on the way home from the last appointment. I knew I was losing my home birth. I could feel it sliding through my fingers by the minute. I called Desiree and Niamh with a heavy heart and we discussed the numbers, safety and legality of home birth at this point. Shortly thereafter we made the decision to induce at the hospital that evening. As I hung up the phone. I looked over at my mom. She was sitting with me with tears in her eyes, even with her trepidation over a home birth, she knew how much it meant to me. The Lord touched my heart almost instantly and joy crept through my veins. We get to meet our baby very soon! I called my husband at work and told him to come home. We had plans to meet with Desiree at 7:30pm at Salem Hospital. It was an hour away from our house, but it was the closest to her and since we werent in labor, it seemed wise to go with doctors and the hospital Desiree already had a good rapport with. There were excellent doctors on staff over the next couple of shifts and I felt good knowing Desiree's confidence in them. 

New sign for a new plan

My sister met up with us and we all headed down to Salem, battling crazy traffic, and checked in to the hospital. Desiree and Jen met us there shortly after and we got the process started. It took 3 tries and someone from IV therapy to finally get a line in and get the Pitocin going. The first doctor on shift, Dr. M, was wonderful. She was young and fresh, with a funky personality. What a great fit! I was really hoping to deliver with her but it was not to be. I made slow progress through the night. Jonah was up high at -3 station and they couldnt break my water until he started to descend more because that would drastically increase the risk of C-section due to cord prolapse. Sometime in the early morning, Jonah had slid down enough to break my water and with a gush of fluid, the contractions became steadily more intense. Finally morning came, and with morning, the shift change. My new doctor, Dr. L, was older, far more professional and serious but still very kind. 

I continued to labor, they had to adjust the monitors quite frequently as we kept losing the signal. They tried hooking me up wirelessly so I could walk the halls and Richie and I started shufflin'. That only lasted about 2 trips before we had to quit due to the monitor slipping around too much. Tried the ball and the same thing. I was a little frustrated but I understood, they had to monitor since I was on Pitocin still. Totally not worth the risk to baby just for my temporary comfort. 

The contractions started really to get intense for me and I started to get scared of the intensity. This was not what I had prepared for! I had been ready for a relaxing birth pool, being able to move freely and here I was strapped to the bed. Desiree came in and checked on us, she asked about being able to use water in any form but due to the monitor situation, we weren't going to be able to. The doctor asked me about an epidural and told me the anesthesiologist, Dr. R, would be going in to a c-section shortly and would be unavailable for about an hour and a half so if I wanted one, I may want to get one now or I would have to wait. I didnt want one, but I did. I was getting a bit panic-y (sure wish I would have thought to turn on my playlists and read my scriptures!). I caved and asked for the epi. 

Desiree headed off in order to preserve the sacred ground of an injection in the spine. Dr. R was great but it was very difficult to stay calm and still through the contractions. I knew the risks of an epidural. Richie stood close and held my hands. Soon after, relief was starting to tingle through my lower half. Before my left leg was even close to numb, I noticed it had stalled and it was not getting any number. Contractions continued and the epidural faded pretty quickly. Dr. R was now in surgery and couldnt correct the kink in the line. Guess it's going to be natural after all! Jonah's heart rate kept dipping with every contraction despite position changes. Dr. L checked to see how I was progressing and I was just about ready. Fully dilated but Jonah was still a little high. So Dr. L decided it was time for a few practice pushes. 

Whoa now, I am SO not ready for this! Desiree isnt here, mom and Jojo arent in here. I have no music on. Why dont I have any music on?!?!? 

Richie grabbed onto my right thigh and held it while the nurse was on my right. Dr. L was ready and told me to push with the next contraction. Holy crap, I cant do this. God, I'm not ready! I pushed with everything I had. I must have done something right because my next instructions were "Again, go for 3 pushes each contraction!" And suddenly I was pushing for real. I cried out "Oh honey I am so scared! I cant do this!" Richie was calm, "Honey, push, push, push. You're doing it. You've got it." Just steady as can be. That first time dad, with no childbirth classes, just remained calm while his wife was crying, watching his baby's head emerge, never flinching. 12 minutes later, Richie had tears in his eyes as he shakily announced, "It's a boy!"

Side note: 12 minutes total pushing time. I learned with Zane, the nurses told me "it feels like your pooping muscles. Use the power in that area". Zane was pushed out in 17 minutes. Sounds gross and I know it's a huge fear for a lot of women that they'll poop but YOU ARE HAVING A BABY, no one cares. And if your body is ready for that bodily function, there aint no way you're holding that back while pushing baby out. So ladies, just push, down there. Dont be shy. Give it all you have. My heart cannot even comprehend what you mama who have pushed for 3 hours go though. My 12 minute labor felt like forever. You have my utmost respect!

8lbs 11.7oz and 20.5 inches long

Born at 9:57 am our sweet Jonah James was born. He was finally here. And such a surprise. Richie had felt so strongly the whole time it was a girl, that I figured maybe he was right. Not only was our baby a "he", he was a ginger! I was born with dark brown hair that turned super light and Richie was just born super blonde! Ah grandparents, always sneaking stuff in at the last second ;-)

Desiree came back to check on us, not realizing baby had just arrived! Doc L. was still fixing me up so they temporarily turned her away while they finished. Soon enough, everyone had heard and they took turns coming in to check. Zane was in love with his new little brother from first sight. I was disappointed that things didnt turn out as planned for a moment but I was quickly reminded that it played out exactly as God had designed for us for this birth. It was an intimate experience between Mom, Dad and sweet baby Jonah. 

Everyone visited and cooed over this sweet boy. A few hours later, they all went home to rest and give us family time. I was feeling ok. The nurses came regularly to check on me and check my bleeding. Jonah latched on almost immediately and we rested. It was pure bliss. The answer to my heart's prayer. My anxiety could finally be at rest. No more worry, he was finally in our arms.

Part 2

Sometime in to my second round of postpartum Pitocin (to control bleeding and encourage uterine contractions) my IV got screwy and they had to pull it out. They decided not to run another line since I was doing so well and my veins had already given them a run for their money and this one alone had taken 4 different tries by different people. About 4 hours after birth, Thomas, Jessie, Bren and the little ladies came by for a quick visit and brought us flowers, a balloon and birthday cake. I felt fine but it seemed like my bleeding was different. It felt gushier. I felt bad but sent them off so the nurses could check me and that was when our world was rocked. 

Things started happening quickly and it's been a fair amount of time now (8 weeks!) so I may miss a detail or two. The nurse covering my regular nurse came to check on me and was concerned. She started pushing on my tummy, trying to get any clots out. She pushed a few out and called someone else in. I believe it was another nurse. They worked in tandem pushing on me and cleaning up the clots that came out. At one point, they called for a scale and more people came in. They started weighing the clots. They called for the doctor and the IV specialist. Dr. L got their first and was not happy with my bleeding at all. Richie was by my side but I begged him to go stand with our son, so he wouldn't wake up and be afraid and to give the medical staff room to work. Soon, all 3 of them were pushing on me and doc was catching the clots and looking pretty gravely concerned. Someone plunged needles into my thighs, more Pitocin, something called Hemobate. They continued their shoving on my lower half. The pain was insane. I was crying out, yelling. Dr. L kept apologizing, "I know it hurts honey but we have to do it." She may have cursed at one point, I cant remember for certain. 

The bruises left from just one of my IV sites

"I've got to reach in and pull them out. I'm so sorry." Before I even knew what she meant, both of her hands were inside of me and I was coming off the bed, writhing in pain. This was far worse than birth. She kept pulling out clot after clot. When she was satisfied for the moment, they decided to put in a catheter. The first attempt failed. Oh, how it hurt. I heard them saying something about my tearing being close to my urethra, which is why it hurt so bad. I begged for something for the pain but I still had no IV site. Thankfully the second attempt was a success and the IV team arrived. They tried more than once but were only able to get in lines that were smaller than they wanted but they decided 2 smaller lines beat no line at all if they couldnt get the larger one to work. 

They started shoving papers at Richie to sign. He looked paper white. Blood bags were hung over me. Dr. L was talking again, they were taking me to OR immediately. Suddenly I was flat on my back, lights overhead blurring past. "We have to stop the bleeding. I dont know what we will find, but if we cant, we may need to do a hysterectomy." Hysterectomy. No. Please God, no. 

Dr. R met us in the OR, "Please, help me, it's hurts so bad," I sobbed. "Don't worry, we are going to take care of you." His reassurance was warm and sincere. They moved me to the operating table. Dr. L started adjusting the blood bags, sliding them out of the way. "I'm so scared." "Don't worry," she said, her hand on my shoulder as she leaned close," I'm going to take care of you like you're my own daughter." My eyes flooded and I saw Dr. R readying the syringe of milky white general anesthetic and pushing the full syringe one of my IV lines. 

Panic filled my chest. I've never been under general anesthesia before. Some people do not wake up from that. I could be allergic or have a bad reaction, couple that with the hemorrhaging and I had a very real chance I would not wake up again. 

From the time I was a little girl, my view of the Cross and sin and heaven was if I haven't sought forgiveness of every sin and "have a clean heart" when I die, I may not end up in heaven. I don't believe that any more. I haven't for several years but buried in my heart that fear burned with its intensity. What if? I fought the urge to rack my mind for my latest sins, to repent and beg forgiveness before I went under. No, the cross is enough. Lord, I know what you have done for me, I have accepted that gift. I'm either waking up to see my boys or in heaven with You. 

My last thoughts were of my boys. Zane at home with Grandma, Richie up in our room with Jonah. What if he starts crying and Richie cant calm him? What if he's hungry? My poor sweet Richie already has enough to be panicked about. Lord please keep little Jonah at peace. 
My world went dark.

Slowly I came around. Two nurses chatting beside me. Things slowly started to come into focus. My throat was raw. The oxygen mask on my face muffled my words, "Did I throw up?" "Oh no honey, your throat just hurts from the breathing tube." "What happened?" "The doctor will tell you more but they were able to get everything stopped. You are going to be ok."  I started becoming aware of my body. Oh no, please God, not that. "I, uhm," I struggled for words, " I have to have a bowel movement." Pure humiliation. The nurses moved quickly. "Hang on, we've got you. Don't worry." They got a bed pan under me. Tears filled my eyes again. I have never felt more humiliated and embarrassed in my entire life. "I cant believe you have any control at all over your bowels," the nurse said, sounding positive and nonchalant as she cleaned me up, "the drug they gave you, Hemobate, causes uncontrollable diarrhea." No, no, no, no. God, hasn't all of this been enough? Please Lord, I cant take much more. "The fact that you havent had that problem is a really good sign! I dont think you will have that problem. Just let us know when you need help again." I know they deal with that kind of stuff all the time but it's so much worse when it's you they have to help. It's a different kind of personal hell. Do you try to ignore it and end up with a worse situation or call them and go through the humiliation of total helplessness? 

Since I was speaking, they offered me a phone call to my room. I spoke to Richie, my voice gravelly and wobbly. In his voice there was pure relief and I could hear the flood of tears that he was barely holding back. "I'm ok baby. I'm ok. How's Jonah?" "He's ok, just been sleeping away." Now it was my turn for relief. Shortly thereafter I was back in my room. My sweet husband and baby waiting. The doctor came in and explained what they had done. They had stopped the bleeding with a Bakri Balloon, a silicone balloon placed in the uterus and filled with saline. It would press against the wounds in the uterus on all sides, putting pressure to stop the bleeding. It would have to stay in place for 24 hours, then they would remove it. We would find out over the next 24 hours whether more action would be needed. 

Richie had called mom but I guess she was slightly incoherent when he spoke to her, as he had woken her from a deep sleep. When I called her to tell her I was ok, she started to sob. "I didnt know. I didnt know it was bad. I'm so sorry." I reassured her. It was better for her to know the gravity of the situation after the fact. "Can you please come back? Please come be with Jonah so we can rest." We had been up since Tuesday morning, it was now Wednesday evening and we had very little rest since then. Mom got there and Richie pretty much passed out. The night was long. I had to call the nurses several more times to assist me, each time waves of embarrassment washed over me and each time, the nurses were sweet, respectful and quick to help. I could barely stay awake for feedings but mom helped me with Jonah, either holding him or putting him back in his bassinet when needed. 

The next day came and Dr. L was able to remove the Bakri balloon with no complications. I would still be able to leave on time, just 2 days after birth. My catheter came out. I was on the upswing. Desiree came by to check on us. In all the chaos, no one had informed her of the complications and she got quite a shock when she looked for us in our old room. We shared our story, she held our sweet little Jonah and we rejoiced at God's tremendous gifts. 

There are SO many times that we suffer, we wonder why. What is God doing? I dont understand why He would allow this! I cant see a positive reason for this. In this story I can plainly see His mighty hand as both my Father and the Great Physician. 

From the very beginning we felt lead by the Lord to Desiree and the midwives at Bella Vie for Jonah's birth. Given the eventual outcome, it may seem odd that God would lead us there, when we did not even see them during birth! I believe that the Lord used Desiree, Jen and Niamh to comfort our torn up, still grieving hearts. Not only were we still healing but I was very, very nervous about this pregnancy and they gave us so much peace and joy about this new journey. I think the pregnancy would have been much different had I returned to my previous OB. Not only that, I would not have ended up at Salem Hospital. The medical staff there were part of a greater work for sure. 

I had a very healthy pregnancy, aside from slightly elevated blood pressure. I have never had high BP, but little Jonah made my BP rise. Through some basic steps we were able to keep it within a good range. Until the last few months. Then it was a little struggle. We added some supplements and it went back down. Then back up. We added some stronger remedies from a Naturopathic Doctor. It went back down. Then at the very end it crept back up. We tried acupuncture in the last days. I felt much better after the treatments. My blood pressure rose a few more points. It was never dangerously high. It was only ever slightly out of their treatment scope. Technically, they could have handled my case at home, given a CNM was present, it was up to her discretion. My midwives and I sought the Lord. We got an answer when the last treatment had no effect. We took that as direction to go ahead and head to the hospital to induce.

I was supposed to birth Jonah at home, in the water. Had I actually given birth at home, I would have hemorrhaged alone at 4.5 hours after birth since the midwives typically leave 3 hours later. Knowing myself, I likely would have hesitated, not wanting to make a fuss when my bleeding picked back up. Then it would have taken several minutes for the ambulance to arrive, get me to the hospital and start treatment. That could have easily cost me my life.

The first doctor I saw, the one I was hoping to birth with, was not the doctor I needed. Dr. L came on shift and had time to get to know me and was the one who caught Jonah so she knew my case very thoroughly when I started to hemorrhage. That foreknowledge is a huge help when crisis situations like mine come up. Not only that but Dr. L was the head doctor, with many years of experience. She was exactly who I needed. 

Every single person we came into contact with, be it an IV tech or doctor was so very caring and kind. Not only were they amazing to go through childbirth with but after a big trauma, reassurance and a kind smile are things you need desperately. We even met a nurse from the Milwaukie area who love Rigoberto's too (our favorite Mexican restaurant).

Then the question comes to mind: Why me? Why anyone? We live in a broken world, ravaged by sin and in bodies that are destined to return to the dust we came from. Our bodies sometimes fail. This time, the bleeding did not stop. As to "why me?" I think there are a number of possibilities and I'm sure they only scratch the surface. First, I submitted my will, trusted the Lord and went to the hospital. Another mama may not have. I cultivated a strong desire to give God control of Jonah's birth, even if it wasn't my "dream" birth. Another mama may have ended up broken and in a dark depression due to the trauma of the experience. Most importantly for me are these 2 things: 1 - on that operating table I had a defining moment of faith and I stood strong. What I know about myself is in the face of death I DO have faith that my heavenly Father is real and cares. 2 - I got to see, in a very tangible way, God's hand working. That is a very rare experience in our lives.

I was crazy excited to go home, ok?

I rejoice at the work of His hands. My sweet son Jonah was born into this world exactly as he should have with the Lord's hand covering us and uplifting us. We made some amazing friendships and experienced so much love through this experience. 

Oh and by the way, my midwife Niamh, was completely floored that Dr. L said what she said in the OR. That isnt like her at all. She is very professional and tends to keep walls up. Guess someone softened that Doc's heart towards a scared mama on her operating table that day.