This is literally not the birth story at all. I just wanted a place to unpack some thoughts about the pregnancy, so I did. If you’re only interested in the nitty gritty birth details, go ahead and skip this part and head over to Part 2. Also, yeah, this is sort of a travel blog, but it’s also not, and I don’t feel terribly inclined to compartmentalize my life so you’re getting this story here because I don’t want to put it on my old blog with my other birth stories, which I will link at the end of part 2.
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. It seems awkward to mention, yet somehow relevant, that this pregnancy (our 5th!) wasn’t “planned.” I mean, it was, in the sense that we wanted more kids eventually and in the sense that we know how babies are made and we didn’t do that by accident. But we didn’t plan for a pregnancy and a newborn in 2020 because at the time Lucy was conceived, our life wasn’t exactly stable. My husband Daniel was deployed to Saudi Arabia for a year and I was traveling full time with our four little girls, plus the cat and dog. We managed to get pregnant when he was home for a very short visit for his best friend’s wedding before returning to finish out his last couple of months overseas. During that last stretch of his deployment, the responsibility of finding and purchasing a new house to live in, as well as the cross-country move, fell entirely to me. Doing this all alone with four kids and two pets was a tall enough order, throw in first trimester puking and exhaustion and you can see why we were planning to wait a year or so. I’ll also say that in the past we’ve kind of been wizards at natural family planning and charting and spacing our kids quite intentionally, so I had all the confidence in the world that we were in the “safe zone” of not risking conception during his visit. But it was meant to be, because the world needed this soul, in this time, and so she came.
I had an unusually high amount of stress from the very beginning of this pregnancy. I was so anxious about my stress levels. Stress is bad for the baby. I felt like I wasn’t taking care of myself as well as I am usually able to. I felt a lot of guilt, like I was failing the baby. Daniel was gone for the first few months and then, as much as it’s wonderful when your soldier comes home, any army wife knows that homecoming poses its own challenges and adjustments, especially when the whole family is adjusting to a new town and Daniel’s new grad school schedule. I also felt so guilty about not being excited to be pregnant and my lack of emotional connection to the pregnancy. I had recurring nightmares about being in the ocean and being pulled under, or being swept away by a river current. The dreams always ended with me giving birth in a hospital (not the plan!) to a very undersized baby (not the norm for me!) I also had a sense of dread about the birth that I don’t normally have. A sense that I just didn’t have it in me this time. That the pain would be too much. Daniel assured me that I most certainly DID have it in me, and I COULD do this, but that if I didn’t want to, we’d go to the hospital and get an epidural. Or hell, a c-section. Whatever *I* needed to do to feel comfortable giving birth, we’d make it happen and he’d be right beside me. Usually, what I need to feel safe is a homebirth. This time, I was open to other ideas because I felt so defeated before it even started. I put it on the backburner though, because fear isn’t usually a helpful guide in making huge decisions and I was resolved to find a way to be clear headed about it all.
Early on I found an amazing group of midwives. An hour drive from home, but totally worth it. They were always very in tune to my emotional health as well as my physical health and one point they even asked me if I was having bad dreams. I told them I was and confided in them about all of my concerns about how stress might affect baby. I also mentioned that they should take the dream thing with a grain of salt, since I also have a recurring dream about riding in a car with Betty White and Snoop Dogg. First, they tried to help ease my concerns about hurting the baby with stress, but they also reminded me that “mother’s intuition” is a perfectly legitimate medical reason to order an extra ultrasound, and while usually they (and I) prefer fewer ultrasounds overall for normal low risk pregnancies such as mine, they’d be happy to put in the order at any time. However, despite the nightmares, I opted to wait til the half way point (20 weeks) anatomy scan to have my first ultrasound at a freestanding radiology center that is not affiliated with my midwives (this is what I always do, and it is the norm for most home birthers.) At the scan, Lucia was measuring right on schedule and showed every sign of being a perfectly normal, healthy pregnancy. It was also at this appointment that the tech accidentally blurted out that we were in fact having our 5th girl, despite our request to be surprised. Ah, well. Knowing is fun, too. It was about to get very Pride and Prejudice up in here!
Fast forward to about 33 weeks. I felt like my bump visibly shrank. I was already feeling like my belly was small because usually I get HUGE when I’m pregnant and I didn’t this time. I was also just on edge from the unrelenting vivid dreams. Over and over. Crashing waves, unstoppable current, cold hospital, tiny, fragile baby. At every prenatal appointment the care provider uses a tape measure to measure the uterus from the pubic bone to the fundus, or top of the uterus, and while it’s not an extremely accurate science, it gives a good idea of whether or not the baby has grown one week to the next and about how far along a woman is in her pregnancy. Up to this point I had consistently grown the right amount every visit to indicate I was progressing normally. If my belly had shrank, well, my uterus had not. The baby had not. It had grown. But again, my midwives reminded me that if I felt something was off, they’d be happy to explore further to either put my mind at ease, or discover whatever problem my subconscious was trying to alert me to. But I was satisfied with the increase in fundal height, keeping in mind that I had lost a few pounds and that was likely the reason my belly seemed a little small. I am an anxious person by nature, but I also consider myself fairly intuitive. It’s tricky when you’re in a place of wanting to trust your gut, but also knowing that anxiety tells you lies. I try to err on the side of being somewhat sensible, and at this point “I’m having bad dreams” feels like a crazy pants reason to insist there’s a problem when there are literally zero signs of a problem.
Around 36 weeks I started having really, really strong painful contractions periodically throughout the day. They felt like late labor contractions, not practice contractions. This is called prodromal labor and it’s not uncommon. Real contractions that start up, particularly at night, but fizzle out. It can last for weeks and it’s exhausting, but not a cause for alarm if baby is handling it well.
At my 37 week appointment the midwife measured my uterus as usual and said, ( and I’m paraphrasing) “hm. Interesting. No change from your 36 week appointment. Normally at this point we don’t do anything about a one week anomaly because it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but I know you’ve been having concerns about her being born small. A lack of a centimeter could just mean baby dropped and it measures like a decrease in fundal height. Or it could just be because you were measured by the other midwife last week. Or, it could be that she’s actually not growing for some reason. If by next week there was still no growth we’d absolutely insist on a biophysical profile (an in-depth ultrasound) to make sure the placenta is still functioning, but not for one week of no change. However…we never want to treat it like it’s nothing when mama has a gut feeling about something. To us that in itself is a possible symptom of a problem. Would you like to give it a week and see if there’s growth, or schedule it now? We’re comfortable either way.” Again, being that there was no actual tangible reason for alarm, I opted to wait. Seven days didn’t seem like many, especially considering it was perfectly safe for baby to be born immediately should we discover a problem at my 38 week appointment.
I didn’t make it to my 38 week appointment. I woke up one night with a bad headache and extreme, intense anxiety, on top of increasingly uncomfortable contractions which never got close enough together to bother calling labor, but still kept me up all night. I called my midwife the next morning (Friday, January 24) and she told me to come in immediately. Daniel drove me. It had been almost a week since my last appointment and there was still no growth, though baby and I both seemed healthy otherwise. My midwife put in an urgent order for a biophysical profile and Daniel drove me straight to the same radiology center that did my 20 week anatomy scan. The results of the scan were that Baby seemed on the small side for 38 weeks, maybe even just under 6lb, but there were no signs of fetal distress and the placenta looked great. They also said that it appeared I had no signs of being effaced or dilated which made me think, damn…all these contractions for nothing?
So we regrouped with the midwives and they laid out all the information. On one hand, baby is happy, the placenta is healthy, and she appears to only be slightly scrawny for a 38 weeker. It’s probably safe to let her cook a few more days especially since I’d been in labor for literal weeks and the real thing was surely very near. On the other hand, she isn’t growing, and that’s not nothing. They told me they were comfortable giving her a couple more days but if she hadn’t come by Monday we’d discuss a transfer of care to the hospital, where we’d likely decide to go with an induction. This felt like a good compromise. It seemed like baby would decide where I gave birth. Ultimately, deep down, I knew I didn’t want a hospital birth if baby could be born safely at home. But if she couldn’t be, I would be thrilled for the gift of modern medicine and be totally at peace with that as well.
You can read part 2 if you’d like to find out what happened next…