On September 9, 2013, we experienced a miracle for the fourth time. Sawyer Lynn Pendleton was born at 2:55 pm at the Northwest Medical Center in Bentonville, AR. He weighed a whopping 9 lbs 12 oz and was 20.5 inches long. If you want to know more, keep reading, but I'll warn you now it's long and detailed and may get a little too personal.
To adequately tell the story of Sawyer's birth, I have to first explain that by the time I became pregnant this fourth time around, I was starting to get a little bored with the whole process. I'm not suggesting that pregnancy and childbirth aren't incredible experiences every time whether it's the first or tenth, but my pregnancies are so routine that I felt the need to switch things up a bit just for my own sanity. My last 3 pregnancies/births have been more or less the same story: textbook pregnancy, induction during the 39 week, epidural right away, out comes big baby. I was just hoping for something to make things a little more exciting. Plus, I was a tiny bit obsessed with having no regrets in case this was my last rodeo. Over the course of 9 months, I decided on two things that I wanted to be different this time:
1. I didn't want to find out the gender.
2. I wanted to experience labor the "normal" way ("real" contractions, as much of labor at home as possible, not being stuck in a bed, etc.).
In order to accomplish these two things, several others were eventually added to the list such as no epidural, no Pitocin, and no scheduled induction. I worried about how far overdue I might go if left to my own devices, but was determined to do things my own way.
Well, the day of my due date rolled around and aside from moderate contractions pretty irregularly, there were no signs of impending labor. We took a hike as a family and went to a preparedness event sponsored by our church, but at the end of the day the only thing I felt was exhaustion. By the next evening I was so uncomfortable that sleep was pretty much out of the question. I talked to my parents that night via FaceTime and my dad told me that he had seen a pregnant elephant recently and was convinced that he had never seen an animal more pregnant and uncomfortable than that... until now. I was so done with being pregnant that I was willing to try just about anything (short of Pitocin, of course).
The next morning I had an 8 am doctor's appointment to have my membrane's stripped. First they stuck me on a monitor to measure contractions and I watched for 20 minutes in disappointment without a single peak. The doctor came in, measured me at 6 cm, and stripped my membranes. He then told me he strongly encouraged me to meet him at the hospital in a few hours to break my water. In his words, he didn't want me "walking around in public like that." Still not quite sure how to interpret that.
So I headed home, packed a bag, and got the girls ready to take to take to Alyssa, who had rearranged her schedule at a moment's notice and was working from home to take care of our kids. Did I mention Savannah was home from school with a fever? Yeah, awesome timing, but Alyssa is a total saint and didn't even bat an eye. The whole time I was getting ready, the contractions started coming strong and close. I've heard a lot of stories about membrane stripping not working, but it was working and working fast this time. By the time we dropped the girls off and made it to the hospital, they were coming about every 3-4 minutes. Jeff didn't think that was good enough--he really wanted to see my water break on it's own--so he parked as far away as possible and made me snake through the rows of cars on our way to registration. Once inside, we had to wait about 30 minutes before we made it up to labor and delivery, all the while I was feeling those contractions coming strong enough to bring tears to my eyes. At that point I remember thinking, "So this is what labor feels like."
Ha. Ha ha ha. Famous last words.
I finally made it to labor and delivery and they took me to a room and immediately hooked me up to an IV and monitors. I was so irritated because this was exactly what I DIDN'T want, but I had been warned that it was hospital procedure to take some readings at first but I would be able to get up soon. So there I was, flat on my back, lying still to not disturb the heart rate monitor, and suffering through ever-increasing contractions. Jeff was still trying to be my comic relief, cracking jokes with the nurses and making commentary about the size of contractions on the monitor, but I was too focused to laugh. Just when I thought I might be able to get up soon, the doctor came to break my water.
At that point things really started getting fun. Suddenly the contractions intensified by about 10-fold. I was still stuck on my back because getting up too soon could result in a cord prolapse. And on top of that, it felt like every contraction came right after the last, never giving me a second of rest. I could not find a single position in that hospital bed that helped, so I just cried and gave in to the horrible intense pain. When I was finally given the go ahead to get up, I hardly had the strength to do anything. I managed to get out of bed and walk around a bit, but I felt like collapsing when the contractions hit. I tried the birthing ball but it wasn't helping much, so I tried leaning over the side of the bed, but that didn't help either. At that point, I realized I was majorly under-prepared for this. I had hoped I would get a nurse that would be sympathetic and know a few things about natural labor, but I was not so lucky. It was as though I had decided to tackle a race without any training, and my body was paying the price. My mom had warned me that intense pain always makes her throw up so I should be prepared for that. Turns out I have the same reaction. Eventually I ended up back in bed. At least there when my body gave out (which I was sure it would) I would have something to catch me.
It was some point during this stretch that I was ready to cry uncle. If I had had any strength at all, I probably would have grabbed Jeff by the shirt and yelled at him to run and get the anesthesiologist as fast as he could. Instead, the nurse offered some IV pain killers that could "take the edge off" for a while. Yes. Please. Now.
I'm pretty sure it was Fentanyl that she gave me, although I was a little out of it so I can't be sure. Whatever it was, I think I got the placebo version, because it didn't help at all. I didn't feel an ounce of relief and the edge was very much still there. The only thing I might attribute to the drug is it seemed to slow the contractions just enough to give me 30 seconds of reprieve in between each one. Luckily, the end was near.
I honestly felt like I had been in that delivery room for HOURS, but within 90 minutes of the doctor breaking my water, I was ready to push. At which point another myth was busted: pushing is not easier than labor. It's just different. It was like someone had been punching me in the arm for an hour and now they were punching me in the leg. It didn't hurt less, but at least it was different. Looking back now, this part was actually kind of cool. Yes, it hurt like I was being ripped open from the inside, but it was amazing how I could feel everything. With an epidural, I had always been told to push, and I would try to make my body do what I thought was pushing, but I never could tell if it was working because I couldn't feel it. Now there was no question that I was doing something, and I could easily tell when I was pushing the right way vs. the wrong way because I could feel the baby move through the birth canal. It was completely amazing and amazingly painful all at the same time. The nurse got the head about halfway through, then the doctor took over and in a matter of minutes, my baby was out. And, oh! What a glorious moment when I felt him leave my body! I don't think anybody could have prepared me for how happy I would be at that exact moment. In an instant, all the pain and stress was gone. And it wasn't that I was overcome by my new baby (that feeling was somewhat delayed until I had rested a bit), it was simply the contrast of one moment to the next.
I've heard that some people can get up within minutes of delivery in the absence of drugs, but I could not even imagine budging from that bed for at least an hour. I was so exhausted and drained that I couldn't even hold my baby when they brought him to me. I knew he was big, but he felt like a dead weight in my arms. I finally asked them to take him away and clean him up while I rested. A few hours later, after a nap and a shower, I was ready to take in my baby and have those sweet first moments with him.
Now, a week later, I am able to reflect on the whole experience and ask myself if it was worth it. It was definitely a new experience, so I can check that off the list. Would I do it again? Heck, no. Some things you only need to do once. Would I encourage someone else to do it? Sure, if they really wanted to. But for heaven's sake, take a class or hire a Douala.
I should also mention the fun of not knowing the gender. From day one, I have felt like this was a boy. At a 12-week ultrasound, the doctor slipped and mentioned that he thought it was a boy. During the last trimester, three complete strangers told me I was having a boy just by how I was carrying. So when the nurse told me "It's a boy!" I didn't really react. Now, if it had been a girl, I would have been really surprised but finding out it was a boy was actually a little anticlimactic. Nonetheless, I am totally thrilled.