August 16, 2017

Ryenne Ashley's Birth Story (3 years late)

So when I was writing my last post about Aubrey Isla's birth, I was flooded with memories of Ryenne's story too. I never wrote out Ryenne's birth story because truthfully I was very traumatized by it and felt extremely insufficient as a mother for months afterwards because of all that happened during her labor and then later during her NICU stay. I did not even feel comfortable talking about it with people, and looked back at her birth with feelings of doubt and shame. However, having a natural, beautiful birth experience with Aubrey Isla has been extremely healing for me, and I think that that can be encouraging to other moms who may be feeling as I did after a traumatic birth experience. I'm proof that one traumatizing birth story does not have to equal another!
Labor with Ryenne Ashley started on a Thursday after a ladies' bible study that I was a part of. We had been laughing at the study because at that point I was already a day overdue with Ryenne and the other ladies were joking about me going into labor there ;) Contractions actually started that afternoon though, and they progressed over the next 3 days. By the third day, the contractions were so consistent that I could not get any sleep, yet they were still about 7 minutes apart which meant that theoretically it was too soon to go to the hospital. By Sunday I couldn't stand it anymore and we went into the hospital, hoping that all those sleepless days and nights would have resulted in me being dilated and ready to go with the birth. We got there and I was at 5 cm. Our doula, Chaka, met us there (she had stayed overnight with us one night at our place when the contractions were still 7 minutes apart). Thus began our very long hospital stay.
When we were admitted, the contractions slowed WAY down. Pretty soon they were spaced apart even farther than 7 minutes, and it seemed that my labor was stalling. The doctor on call that night was a man who was in a pretty big rush to get the baby delivered. He talked about pitocin and also about breaking the water bag. At one point he actually said, "You can't just stay here like this" - obviously the birth wasn't moving fast enough for him. It was extremely stressful being faced with intervention options already, when I had hoped to deliver as naturally as possible. At this point it had been about three nights straight of no sleep, and I felt that I had absolutely no strength to push a baby out. David and I talked about getting an epidural so that I could hopefully sleep for a couple of hours and regain some strength. The anesthesiologist was about to leave so we had to make a decision quickly: we chose to get the epidural.
Of the whole labor, the epidural was my least favorite part. I will and can never forget the awful sensation of having that liquid drip down my spine! For over a year afterwards, I could still feel the exact place where they inserted the epidural - and when I would trip or lose my balance I would feel it most acutely in that spot in my back. Also, in order to get the epidural they needed to insert a catheter and they required David and Chaka to leave the room for both the catheter and epidural. I felt horribly alone for those 15 minutes.
Well, although the epidural would not have been our first choice, it was definitely a situation where we felt we needed it in order for me to regain that strength. Once the contractions faded out and the epidural seemed to be working, I was able to sleep for about two hours before the doctor (Dr. Doom, maybe we should call him lol) came back, pushing us to consider pitocin or breaking the water bag as an attempt to hurry along the labor. We consulted our doula and it seemed that breaking the water bag would be the least invasive, despite the fact that the doctor strongly cautioned us that one of the risks of breaking the water bag would be a cord prolapse which would result in an immediate C-section. Lovely.
We prayed and decided to go with breaking the water bag, so the doctor came back to do that (I didn't feel a thing because I had the epidural) and thankfully there was NO cord prolapse. Contractions did pick up after that, and steadily progressed.
By the time I was ready to start pushing, enough time had gone by that the epidural had begun to wear off. I remember I could feel and move my left leg without any problem. We asked about the epidural and one of the nurses replied that one of the nurses had turned it off hours ago so that I would be able to feel the urge to push. Little did we know that it would take over 2 hours of pushing before Ryenne was born, so that meant that the epidural was hardly doing anything at that point.
This right here is why I believe that in Ryenne's case an epidural was necessary: by the time 2 hours of pushing had passed, I was literally falling asleep between contractions, waking up just in time to push. At that point I did not have it in me to push the baby out. I remember hearing a C-section mentioned, but they opted instead to try a vacuum assist - which meant they placed a vacuum on the baby's head and as I pushed, they pulled. The first attempt popped right off with a VERY loud POP (it sounded like the baby's head popped off), and the second attempt resulted in a very wiggly baby. I remember seeing her for the first time and my very first thought was "She looks exactly like David" ;)

Throughout the 40 weeks and 5 days that I carried Ryenne, I imagined things possibly going wrong with the pregnancy or the birth, but never once did I imagine something going wrong with the baby.
As soon as they placed her on my chest, it became very clear that she was not breathing right. She was gurgly and gasping, and after about one minute they whisked her off to the NICU. I was very thankful David could go with her and Chaka stayed with me. From that moment on, I believe God gave us a very special grace as we were about to go through one of the longest weeks of our lives. Looking back, I don't know how I didn't fall apart when they took my baby away or when I didn't get to see her for hours or when I did finally see her, she was hooked up to a bunch of different monitors beeping and buzzing. It never really hit me what a sober situation we were in until a friend of mine came to visit, and when she looked me in the eyes I could see pity there. It struck me then that this was not a normal experience (though certainly not as bad as some).
Ryenne had a pneumothorax which basically was a little pocket of air in the "skin" of  her lungs that would not allow her to fully expand her lungs when breathing. They had to keep her on oxygen and monitor her for a week in the hospital before the issue resolved itself and we were finally allowed to come home. Apparently a pneumothorax can be a common side effect from having a vacuum assist - something about the baby getting pulled through the birth canal faster than when a mother naturally pushes her out.
Because of all this, we had a very rough start to breastfeeding, but after much encouragement from several sources, we pushed through and I was able to nurse Ryenne until 18 months - something I never ever would have thought would be possible in those early days and weeks!
Honestly, it still feels very vulnerable to share Rye's birth story - I think a large part of that is because of the major guilt I struggled with for weeks and months after she was born: that it was my fault that she had had such a rocky start because I had failed to push her out on my own. But this was the way that it happened and I trust God that He knows best, and more than anything I am so so thankful that I have a beautiful healthy girl now with no issues whatsoever! Some people have a hard labor and then things only get harder, but after that NICU stay, things just went beautifully for us. So I am grateful and so glad that God was right there with us during that whole time.
So there it is. Ryenne's birth story after all these years. It may not have been as beautiful as Aubrey Isla's in the sense that it was harder and scarier, but it was also different from Aubrey Isla's in that Ryenne was the one who made me a mama and David a daddy, and there is truly something so so special about looking at your firstborn child and letting all of that sink in.
Thanks for reading again! I'm glad to have gotten all of this off my chest after all these years :) And here's a picture of our bright, sunshiney, healthy 3-year-old now <3

August 9, 2017

Aubrey Isla's Birth Story

Well this must be a new blogging record for me - it's been 9 almost 10 months since I last blogged! In fact, I haven't even introduced our newest baby girl on here, so that is a shameful thing! David has been after me for a while to get back into blogging, but I just feel like I can't find the time to sit down and do it! But here I am giving it a whirl while both my girls are ... I was going to say napping but as soon as I got to that point my littlest let out a cry!!
So - TAKE 2: Now I've got my babe sitting next to me with groggy eyes and paci in mouth. We'll see how long this lasts before the sleepiness wears off and she wants a little more attention :)
Where to start! Well, I guess we will go back to January when little miss Aubrey Isla Ho`opomaika`i Graef entered our lives! It was a crazy easy birth (I call it a dream birth) after my horrific experience with Ryenne, and I couldn't be more thankful. It was so beautiful that I actually thought "I could do this again" the minute she popped out. It was an all-natural, no interventions birth experience, and I had such a great stay at the hospital here in Hawaii as well. Everyone was incredibly supportive of all things natural - including breastfeeding.
I remember contractions starting on Monday morning the 23rd of January and then growing stronger and stronger until early Wednesday morning (1/25 at 3 am), we headed to the hospital. I kept waiting for them to get unbearable, but my body just seemed to be handling it all so remarkably well. I remember thinking when we pulled into the hospital that it all just felt pretend because this couldn't really be it. My water hadn't broken yet, but contractions were averaging out at 3 minutes apart.
When I got in, they took my vitals and immediately asked if I had a birth plan. Did you catch that? They ASKED me! We did have one, so I handed it over and the doctor literally took notes and from that point on they never ONCE asked if we wanted any pain meds/epidural. Instead, they were all so supportive and kept saying how I could do it and how great I was handling everything. They also asked me on a scale of 1-10 what my pain level was at (10 being the worst pain imaginable). I said maybe a 6 or 7 (wanting to save my high numbers for transition). They checked and I was already 7 cm dilated and I was VERY relieved that this really WAS it and that we were gonna meet our baby soon.
We were ushered into a large, quiet, dimly lit room. It's always surreal seeing all of the newborn things sitting across the room as you sit in the hospital bed feeling as though you are still ages away from meeting your babe. Little did we know that about 8 hours later she would be born :)
I managed the contractions with the support of my amazing birth partner, David <3 If you remember from Ryenne's birth, we had a doula come with us, but since she lives in Chicago, we couldn't very well fly her out here, and I felt confident that David's support was really all I needed this time anyway. He did AWESOME - kept repeating the same comforting words to me over and over again, and allowing me to squeeze the life out of his hands, shoulders, wrists, arms, waist - anything that was within reach when a contraction hit. The nurses did an amazing job of just letting me birth in peace and gave David and me lots of space to do so.
Periodically, the nurses would ask me what my pain level was at and I would continue to say a 6 or maybe an 8 once in a while. I just wanted to save those last few numbers for when things got out of hand, I thought.
At about 10am, one of the doctors came in and suggested that we try breaking the water bag since it hadn't happened yet and it might be what was keeping baby from coming out. I really really did not want to intervene at all, so David and I compromised by saying that if nothing had changed by 11, we would consider intervening.
At about 10:45, I was beginning to feel discouraged and disheartened and afraid that we would need to break the water bag. We were praying that this wouldn't have to happen, and then a big contraction hit and my water bag popped and I felt an explosion of water under me! I yelled "my water just broke!!! I need to push!!!" and while I was relieved that they wouldn't have to break it, I was suddenly very afraid of the pain to come. I had a feeling that once my water broke, things were going to get a lot more painful and progress a lot quicker.
They brought the doctor in (amazingly fast by the way), and she patiently waited for a contraction to hit and encouraged me to push. It felt SO SURREAL at this point. My pain was still remarkably manageable, yet here I was about to push out a baby! Again, it felt like it was all pretend!
I should add that there were a couple of nursing students that were in the room that were incredibly supportive! One of them was a guy and it was his first day on the job. He had been turned down by all the other ladies that day who didn't feel comfortable with a male student in the room, but we welcomed him in! I just felt like it would be so healthy for a guy in our day and age to see what the female body was made for, rather than what Hollywood makes our bodies to be! He was a CHAMP - super helpful and supportive-  at one point he was even holding one of my legs when it came time to push! It didn't feel weird at all, and I would strongly encourage mamas to give students and especially male students a chance if they have the opportunity :)
So! Back to the story. I was fully dilated at this point and baby was definitely on her way out. I remember with Ryenne feeling so discouraged when everyone would tell me that they could see her head because I wondered if they were just saying that to encourage me but really there wasn't much progress. This time, I started to feel the same way. It felt like with every push there was no progress. Someone offered me a mirror which I promptly turned down (I never wanted to use a mirror!), but after a while I asked if they could bring it in and it helped me immensely! It was so good to see the progress and finally made me BELIEVE that this baby was really REALLY coming! No more pretend!
I remember with the last push, they were saying that this was it - I took one last look at the little head on its way out, then pushed with all my might with my eyes closed! The next thing I knew, she was right there!
I was fully expecting that she was going to be a clone of her daddy like her sister is, but she totally surprised me by having her very own look! I loved her intensely and cried and cried when they put her on my chest. I couldn't believe how beautiful the whole experience was. Throughout the whole time, God gave me enough strength to push through the pain and keep a grip on things. I know I couldn't have done it without Him! And as for those higher numbers - I really never felt like things got THAT bad! The worst was the notorious "ring of fire" when the baby was heading through the birth canal. But that was literally seconds long and by that time you can push your heart out which makes you feel like you're doing something for the pain!
Many women describe natural birth as "empowering," but for me, I would describe it as "humbling." Humbling to experience such a beautiful, remarkable thing! Humbling how God created the woman's body to be able to withstand such pain! Humbling to witness new life entering the world!
Well there you have it! Aubrey Isla's beautiful birth story. There was no NICU stay this time, no breathing issues, no formula, no pushy doctors/nurses poking and prodding. There was just US.
So thankful for this experience! And if you are reading and you had a traumatic birth, I am so sorry. That was my first experience when Ryenne was born and it was very traumatic. I think I had a little PTSD afterwards because I could not bear to talk about her birth story for months and even years. It still brings a lump to my throat to think about it. I felt like a failure of a mother for the longest time, and prayed often that there wouldn't be a repeat of that experience when Aubrey Isla came. But God is good, and He can heal you and you can still have the birth of your dreams :) Aubrey Isla is proof of that.
Thanks for reading this overdue blog post! Hopefully this will give me a kick in the pants to keep posting more regularly.