Monday, March 24, 2008

Childbirth Pt II

For the benefit of family and friends who care about such matters, here's a little more info on the birth. (Soon enough I'll return to the regularly scheduled programming of anti-car essays and bike rants interspersed with family cycling updates -- like the challenges of biking with two kids.)

April kicked off her labor about 5am Saturday morning. Her dad and stepmom were in town and were planning to come get Sylvia for an outing anyway. April went on about her morning, having mild contractions. By 11am it became apparent that things were moving. We called the hospital about noon and they gave us the green light to come in. Sylvia ran off with the grandparents and Angela (our good friend and birth assistant) stayed with us. April was very casual and wanted to make sure we waited to go to the hospital until it was time. Around 2pm she said, "Let's go."

The last birth was long and miserable. April had almost two full days of prodromal labor -- she was in pain with what felt like meaningful contractions, but they did nothing to advance the delivery. She was spared that this time around. The attending nurse midwife said she was at 3cm and her contractions were coming regularly and strong. At 3pm they admitted her and we settled into our room. The delivery wing was nearly vacant with only one other expectant mother in the house. After about an hour of more frequent contractions April asked if she could get in the birthing tub (think whirlpool on wheels without the jets). This really got things going and by 5:30 the nurse said April was at 8cm. Contractions were coming fast and furious and the nurse was convinced she would be delivering very soon. She couldn't actually deliver in the tub, however, so we had to move back to the room.

There was excitement in the air. I remember thinking how quickly it was all going and I was happy for April. A 14 hour labor would be so much better than the 36 or more hours of torture she endured the first time around. It seemed like a fitting reward and it was all but assured. There was a shift change in midwives and nurses. All of a sudden we were dealing with new folks who had to come up to speed with our short, but momentous, history thusfar at the hospital. Then, things stalled. The nurse said nothing had changed with the cervix -- April was still at 8cm. It began to seem a bit too much like the first time. "Man, this sucks," I thought. After another hour or so (sometime around 7pm) it was time to move to Plan B.

"Plan B" makes it sound like we had a Plan B. In reality, everything other than "Plan A" would be Plan B. Plan A was like last time -- April labored and pushed Sylvia out without any drugs. She did take an Oxytocin drip to get things going after a similar stall, but she endured a day and a half of labor (after more than a day of "pre-labor" pain) without any anesthetic. She wanted this delivery to go the same. That was Plan A.

The necessity for Plan B was like a reality check. April was tired and starting to hurt a lot. In addition to the contractions, she had cramping between the contractions. She wanted the labor to be over and I respected that. Who wouldn't? The nurse and midwife discussed the options: an Oxytocin drip would get things going; an epidural would ease the pain. After several rounds of advice, April agreed to both. She asked me if I was okay with that. I told her no one was judging her. The ultimate goal was a healthy baby and a healthy mother. It was nice because there was little delay. The anesthesiologist was up within the hour. She was thorough and efficient. She was also tall and broad-shouldered (of some pure Scandinavian stock, and looked like she could certainly kick mine and probably Eric Sovern's asses). Soon April was able to rest. Angela and I did the same. With lights out we all did our best to nap for an hour or two.

Details are foggy, but by midnight things got going again. Contractions were coming on in earnest. The epidural was dialed so that April wasn't numb -- she could still feel the building pressure and know what was happening. Soon enough it was time to begin pushing. At "go time" the delivery room becomes a buzzing hive of activity full of people who've never been present until that moment. Last delivery I was so sleep deprived it was like I was tripping. All I remember was a large, wheeled bright light shining at April's crotch. When I took the time to look away from my post next to her, the room (which had been empty aside from April, Angela, the widwife, attending nurse and me) was suddenly populated with 4-5 more people cheering us on. It was quite surreal.

It took a little vacuum assistance (which is a hand pump, not a machine, for anyone wondering), but Willa was born well into Easter morning. April was ecstatic and a little weepy. It had been another experience full of ups and downs. However, it wasn't quite over. Once the baby is delivered, the mother still has to pass the placenta. I refrained from posting my photos of that, but the placenta is an amazing mass of life-giving tissue -- it is an extra organ. The other weird thing (and the best advice I can give to a new father/partner preparing to endure the experience) concerns the actual egress of the baby from the birth canal into the room. Newborn babies look dead. It doesn't matter that you've been standing there for hours looking at a monitor that shows your baby's heart rate of 140-150 beats per minute; when the kid actually squeezes out of your partner's vagina -- all purple, bloody and waxen -- it looks stillborn. There is a moment of shock -- "It's all gone wrong, the kid is dead!" But soon the baby starts wriggling and crying. If it's your first kid you might think that crying sound is loud. If it's your second (or more) kid, you think about how that crying is only going to get exponentially louder and you have to listen to it for many years to come.

Following the birth everyone leaves except the nurse. She is stuck with the ungrateful job of cleaning up the room. That includes changing the blood-and-goo-stained sheets of the bed, disposing of soiled things, helping mom clean up, bathing the baby, as well as weighing, measuring and recording stats. I love the attending nurses because they love what they do and most have been doing it a long time. They like to see new life ushered into the world and they have kids of their own. They're weathered and necessarily stern. They grab newborns and administer shots and tests despite crying and revolt. Yet, they are soft and compassionate. I think many have found the balance, at least in their professional lives.

One last thing I will say: The connection you can make with your partner during childbirth is unlike anything else. Staring into her eyes while you are following her pain, trying to direct her to breathe with you, is an amazing experience. Giving yourself up wholly and fully to that moment is supremely worthwhile. Pupils locked to every movement, reminders to stay focused, hugging and kissing -- it's all the utmost expression of affection and heartfelt love.

Well, enough of the narrative, here are some photos:

Angela brought these spring bulbs along. When we arrived only the purple (which looked like crocus, but might actually be iris) had bloomed. The yellow daffodil was a bud when April began laboring at the hospital. Snow fell throughout the night. When Willa was born, it bloomed. We contemplated "Daffodil" as a middle name, but opted for "Ravenna" -- isn't Ravenna way more conventional?

This is one of my favorite photos ever and I didn't even capture it. Sylvia is going to be a great big sister. Except for the moments when she isn't, but those will be great, too. It goes without saying that April is an awesome mother.

Grandparents, Brian and Sabra, appreciating the little morsel of joy.

Megan, one of Sylvia's primary caretakers holding Willa at 8 hours after birth.

Bobby takes a turn with the baby. He also gave me a ride home. (I biked back the next day to pick up everyone with the ramp-parked car.) We were also supposed to grab a beer, but as soon as food hit my belly, I was ready for sleep.

Little baby feet. On Willa's left ankle is the sensor to prevent her being carried away (or the wrong baby being assigned the incorrect parents). It also prevented any congratulatory cell phone calls since cell phones interfered with the security system. I had to walk downstairs and out for that. But it was a nice break.

Sylvia takes her own opportunity to check Momma's blood pressure. She has a thing for doctor stuff right now.

Corey, Megan and Sylvia check out Willa.

That's about it until next time folks. Be well!


mark said...

Very nice update, John. Thanks for taking the time to write this. Hello to April and all the kids - what, do you have like 6 now?

Anonymous said...

Congrats to you and yours! Sylvia will have her hands full and that's the best part...
Much love Fleckstein clan!

the B-rants...

Blogstyle said...

I'll probably be the one taking the helm for the measurement taking portion. "Nope, Carrie, you still haven't dilated to within tolerance."

Blogstyle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy said...

Disgusting! Jesus Christ, have you no shame?...

Did you guys eat the placenta like some folks do?

Please write about it.


Luv ya.

cvo said...

Congrats guys.

look forward to meeting your new family member in the fall.