We welcomed Benedict into the world early in April with an emergent c-section. Everyone’s doing great! Here’s the birth story we’ve shared with our Bradley childbirth group and a few friends.
One night I started having menstrual-like cramps, about 4 total over the course of a night. The next night, they picked up, coming about every 10 minutes for a few hours, then stopping. Since we had a 41-week visit that morning and a 41-week ultrasound scheduled for three days later, I called to see if I should still come in because we might be in labor. They said to come on in to check things out.
We had our appointment with the midwife at 10AM. Based on what we talked about, she said she had a gut feeling that, since the doctor was there, she’d like to go ahead and do the ultrasound that morning to make sure everything’s all right. Since its the 41-week biophysical profile, she prefers to make sure it really happens at 41 weeks (which would be over a weekend) rather than later in the week.
Thank God she acted on this hunch!
For a very stressful 5 minutes, Benedict “failed” the biophysical profile. He had a steady heart rate — which was good — but very low fluid, low muscle tone, and wasn’t moving when the doctor prodded him. (Now I’m betting he was asleep).
Based on the test results, they recommended we check into the hospital for a non-stress test. Based on those results, we’d consider an induction that day.
Within a few minutes, I had on a hospital gown and was hooked up to electrofetal monitoring and an IV in with some sugar solution to see if Benedict started moving around over the next hour. He didn’t, and during this time they didn’t see the “Accelerature” (or something) in his heart rate they’d want to see.
At that point, around 12 or 1PM, the doctor and midwife came in. The doctor said because of the non-stress test results, Benedict’s stillbirth rate jumped to about 20% and that he recommended a c-section. We both agreed that our decision was obvious, but we were also very upset and scared.
We asked for a few minutes to process our decision together. By this time Josh had contacted our doula, who came to the hospital to grab our keys and then run to our apartment for our birth bag. I can’t remember if she was there or not when we started in for surgery, but she was a big help!
We were scared, but the surgery went very well. We both went to pieces when we heard Benedict take his first breath and cry for the first time. He had a 9/10 APGAR and was completely perfect from the start.
As it turns out, Benedict had a “true knot” in his umbilical cord, which happens in about 1 in 2000 births. The umbilical cord was also wrapped around his neck. Because of the true knot, vaginal birth would have been very dangerous for him; a long labor could have pulled the knot tight and cut off his oxygen. Knowing this has made it possible to focus on how lucky we are even through all the pain and anxiety.
The recovery was hard, emotionally and physically. Even when the Bradley class encouraged us to consider all the things that might happen — to really sit down and think through what all the birth outcomes would be — I never really considered how I would approach life with a c-section. It took a while (and some counseling) to cope with everything that happened.
The natural birth child classes were still worthwhile. I used a lot of the Bradley de-stressing techniques to help me fall asleep and calm down from my anxieties, and JHubbs did such a good job of being positive, telling me I was doing a great job, and in general being confident about how he could help both in the hospital and when we got home.
I got hit hard with postpartum issues, so the first week home was really rocky with anxiety and stress and my descent into madness.
It felt like within minutes, literally everything I planned went to heck. Instead of my visions of a naturally-birthed, cloth-diapered, breastfed little dude, I was suddenly immobile and on Motrin (and eventually antibiotics) with a Pampers-wearing, formula-eating baby. Everywhere I looked I saw my failure, and all I could do was look, because I could only get up long enough to walk to the toilet every few hours.
But hey, that was my come-to-Jesus-no-really-it’s-time-Sarah moment. None of this was my failure; it was all God’s plan for me (and JHubbs and Benedict). It was time for my ego to die.
Thanks to the glory and mercy of God, I’ve been able to continue to breastfeed about two times a day and breast pump 2-3 times a day. Benedict eats about 30% breastmilk and 70% formula (with added infant probiotics), and I’ve made my peace with that.
Partly it was because I couldn’t physically and emotionally keep up with the demand and still recover from the surgery, but mostly it’s because we found out Benedict has a weak suck, so he wasn’t getting enough food those first few weeks (or sleep) until we found the right nipple/bottle combination. Once we figured it out, Benedict got really fat, got his first fat rolls, and finally started sleeping longer at night.
Sidebar: I have so much respect for exclusive breastfeeders — that’s one part of the process I thought would just fall into place and work out, and it was arguably the most stressful part of the first week home! (I also had a home lactation consultation during this time).
Another saving grace during this time was realizing I was experiencing severe progesterone deficiency (shout out Richmond Natural Medicine!). Within hours of starting progesterone supplementation, I felt like a new woman. We had a night doula one night (shout out to Ruth Green!) and then my mom came to town a few days at a time, and somehow we survived.
Between weeks 2 and 6, I was back at the doctor’s a lot for an infected incision. At the time, this felt like I was being punished and like I wouldn’t be able to survive it. I can’t even count the number of rosaries I was doing; I feel like my life was a constant Hail Mary. (…I bet that’s how I got through it.) But you know, that passed, too. And I couldn’t even count the mercies that went into the recovery process, even if it wasn’t a perfect one (having insurance, having a husband on paternity leave, having a healthy child, having a mother generous and nearby enough to come help, having generous friends, having prayerful friends, and on and on and on).
Reflections (Not Mirrors)
The whole experience has been a one-way train to a deeper relationship with Jesus (really, don’t pray for things you aren’t ready for). One day, I was holding Benedict and a Tenth Avenue North song came on, singing, “For you, my body was broken,” and I just lost it. I got it. It finally sunk in. And it has very special ties to a religious experience from my silent retreat in December that I’d love to share some other time.
And when I get sad about this disfiguring scar across my body, and how it’ll be with me forever and a part of my glorified body in heaven, too, my thoughts jumped right to the scars Jesus had and has in heaven — long, gross whipping scars, not just the scars on his hands and feet and side. So: the purpose of my life is not to not suffer or feel pain or have a perfect body. The purpose of my life is to let God burn all things that are not-Christ out of me. I’m fighting it in my own selfish ways in person (just ask JHubbs about my cranky self), but that’s definitely a process going on in my brain right now.
Shout out to Thomas Merton from No Man Is an Island: “If we love God and love others in Him, we will be glad to let suffering destroy anything in us that God is pleased to let it destroy, because we know that all it destroys is unimportant. We will prefer to let the accidental trash of life be consumed by suffering in order that His glory may come out clean in everything we do.”
It took about eight weeks to feel like having a baby wasn’t a terrible, horrible life event. That sounds wrong, and in the past I’ve mentally judged people for saying similar things. But woah. Until it happens, you just don’t realize the every-minute of a baby.
A gift from God? Yes, totally. Hence his name: Benedict = blessed, Theodore = gift from God. But I think the closest thing to experiencing life with a newborn would be being screamed at and sprayed in the face with a warm water gun every half hour, 24 hours a day, for two months. That captures the constantly sticky, hunted feeling of a new life in your life.
But I don’t mean to scare anyone reading this. Imagine what that would feel like, and then imagine being so in love that every scream is also like a love song, and every hit in the face (when you’re sleep deprived and a little insane) is the softest, best thing that’s every happened to you.
Most of the crying I did in those first months was because I loved him so much and didn’t have the strength to hold him or be with him when I needed to rest. John Legend’s “All of Me” will haunt me with its beauty for the rest of my life — it was the soundtrack of my life for those first few weeks (minus the making out in bathing suits, of course… seriously, that video is weird so maybe just listen to it).
So, that’s my weird analogy, and I’m sticking with it.
In general, I’m still weirded out by how weird having a baby is. Even now, editing this blog post, it feels hard-to-believe that there’s a baby sleeping in the room behind that door. Even holding him, it feels unreal. God has blessed us so hard I feel paralyzed some days. But then the little man needs some food so I take a deep breath and I get up again.