Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Birth Story: Part 1 - The Itch

This is the beginning of our birth story. It is filled with the unexpected, yet there is never any doubt that God was faithful and in control. Click here to read Birth Story: Preparations if you haven't already.

On Wednesday, December 21st, I was 36 weeks pregnant and busily getting ready for Christmas, our wedding anniversary, and a baby - all happening one right after the other. I was feeling wonderful and truly loved being pregnant. My pregnant self was the new normal and my husband was just as thankful as I was for no morning sickness or weird cravings, just the usual ache in my ribs and back from my growing little one. It had been a relatively easy 9 months (a blessing!) and here we were nearing the end. All was well until I jumped in the shower that evening and noticed I had the itch...

A few days prior I noticed my shins were itchy and sometimes my arms felt itchy too. I just assumed it was common with being pregnant until that Wednesday evening when my palms, thighs, and feet also became itchy. There was no rash or anything - just an itchiness that would not cease. I put on some Eucerin and got into bed with my laptop so I could look up the reason behind my urge to scratch. I found that throughout pregnancy whenever something seemed different with my body, I would search for the reason why and this made it easier to accept any discomfort with less complaining. It is fascinating what goes on inside of you during those 9 months - your body works so hard! As I googled my symptom, I found myself pouring over forums and websites of women sharing their opinions and stories behind the itch of their pregnancies. It was well past midnight when I shut off my computer and had come to a conclusion: I was to call my midwife in the morning.

There were so many different opinions about itchiness while I was reading, that overall it seemed like a harmless, yet annoying, common pregnancy symptom. What prompted me to call my midwife were the few responses from women that urged others to call their doctor and have their bile acid levels checked for what is known as Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy, or just Cholestasis of Pregnancy. These women thought they just had a normal pregnancy itch too, until they were diagnosed with cholestasis - a condition that must result in early delivery of the baby. Cholestasis is harmless to the mother, aside from intense itching, but can be harmful to the baby. They do not know why it happens, and it is quite rare, but from what research has been done it shows that the mother's pregnancy hormones interfere with the liver and gallbladder's ability to store bile acid. This excess bile is entered into the bloodstream. Bile in the bloodstream is what causes concern for the unborn baby. Thirty-seven weeks is the recommended time of delivery and not much is known about what happens to the baby if the mom is left to go full term (some statistics state a low percentage of stillbirths if no induction takes place). To be on the safe side, I knew making an appointment with my midwife the very next day was the smartest thing to do, rather than wait until my checkup appointment on Tuesday.

On Thursday I went in for an appointment and shared my concerns. Thankfully, the midwife I met with that day was fully aware of the condition (due to its rarity, many ob-gyns are not) and she ordered a blood test to be done while I was there, as well as a non-stress test. There is a liver function test (LFT) and a bile acids test. From what I read the night before, some doctors just do a LFT and unfortunately these results can be misleading. If just a LFT is performed, you should request for a bile acids test to be done too. This takes longer for the results to come in because it has to be sent to a special lab, but it is much more conclusive. I wasn't overly concerned when I left the office that day because I felt like I didn't have near the intense itching that women with cholestasis described online. Some would scratch until they bled and that was not me. I was bothered by it in the mornings and at night, but hardly at all throughout the day. I called Matt to let him know the results would be back right after Christmas and we prayed for peace and health of our son.

Christmas arrived that weekend and all was great as we celebrated one of the best holidays of the year. The impending results of my blood test were only a thought, and not a worry, as we stayed busy soaking up family time and our last Christmas without any children. Matt and I knew that our next Christmas would be so different with a little one and we enjoyed dreaming what that would be like.  Tuesday soon arrived and Matt headed back to work as I headed back to the doctor's office for my regular checkup. Only my LFT results were in and they showed that my liver was just fine - a praise. My symptoms had not worsened and I didn't spend much time worrying about waiting on the results of my bile acid test. I felt good and the many kicks and tumbles of Matthew II in my belly let me know he was doing good too. I spent the night of the 27th on an anniversary date with my husband of three years. 3 years and almost a family of 3... I was feeling so blessed. 

On Wednesday the 28th, one week from when I noticed I was itching more than usual, I went about running errands around town. I pulled into a local gas station to run in and get a gatorade because I was so over drinking water! As I walked back to my car, my phone rang and it was the doctor's office. The nurse asked if my blood test results were discussed with me at my appointment the day before and I told her how only my LFT results were in and all was good. She said that my bile acid levels came back and they were elevated (my heart literally felt like it stopped for a second). The nurse said she was going to have a midwife call me as soon as one was available and I immediately called my husband. I swallowed my worry and asked him to pray because I knew full well that elevated levels meant an induction was in the future. I secretly hoped my levels weren't high enough or that it was all a misunderstanding. We prayed over the phone together before I called my mom and asked her to pray too. I let them both know I would call as soon as I heard from the midwife. 

About an hour later I was wandering the aisles of the grocery store, checking items off of my list. I was almost done when my phone rang while I was walking down the cereal aisle. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves and answered the phone, while thinking in the back of my head that God is in control of my situation. The midwife, Kathy, informed me that I do indeed have cholestasis of pregnancy. She explained this in detail to me and said my levels were at a 31 when they should be below 10. I felt frozen and forced myself to remain as normal as possible so I continued to push my buggy over to the cheese, but everything was slowly becoming a blur. I asked her what my options were and she said that as medical professionals, they have to call for an induction. Kathy shared that not much is known about cholestasis, but they do know that if I wait to labor naturally, there is no guarantee that my baby would be healthy and safe. I understood this and when asked if I would come in to be induced, I of course agreed. I told her I'd like to speak with my husband about it all right away and that's when she ended the phone call with a statement that sent my head spinning... "I will have you scheduled to come into the hospital tonight at 8:30 for an induction." 

Tonight... Tonight?! I was not prepared to hear this. I knew I was to be induced, but that night? In just 6 hours? I honestly thought that if I were to be induced, it would be in a couple days - not in a few hours. I hung up the phone, assuring her I would call back to confirm, and willed my body with all my might not to cry or break down right there in front of the cream cheese. I suddenly felt sick and my body felt so heavy as I tried to put on my brave face and finish my shopping. I knew that I couldn't possibly call Matt and tell him what I just heard while still walking around Lowe's Foods... I had to wait until I was in the car. I remember walking down the frozen foods aisle to grab the last items on my list and I could hardly see through the tears that rushed to my eyes. I clenched my jaw to keep the tears from streaming down and forced a smile to my cashier. The thoughts in my head were going a mile a minute - was my baby really okay? Induction is not natural labor! This is not part of my birth plan... I said I'd be flexible, but induction never crossed my mind! Oh no, pitocin makes contractions worse causing more discomfort than natural contractions. And what about Matt? What's he going to say? I need him. What did I do wrong? I can do this. I have to be strong. My baby is coming. I don't understand. God, help me understand. God, help me. Why? Why? WHY?

As I loaded the last of the groceries in the suburban the tears came. I couldn't stop them and I quickly pushed the buggy back to its return before people stared at me. I kept my eyes down and fumbled for the keys that I could barely see. I needed to call my husband and hear his reassuring voice. I drove a few rows over to an empty spot of the parking lot and waited for him to answer. I tried so hard to keep my voice steady, but it was no use. I broke down on the phone and told him he had to come home and that we had to go to the hospital tonight. I remember the surprise in his voice when I said that word... tonight. He thought I was silly for apologizing about making him leave work unplanned, but at that point I was starting to feel responsible for everything. Those mile-a-minute thoughts were quickly running out of control as I couldn't seem to think straight anymore. Matt lovingly reassured me that everything was going to be okay, and with joy in his voice he said that we were going to meet our son soon. I couldn't help but smile when he put it like that... yes, induction guaranteed that we were going to meet our son sooner than expected. 

On the way home I called my mom and told her what I knew. As I pulled in the carport, I sat there and listened to her reassure me, like Matt had, that this was all part of God's plan. She asked if I needed her to do anything or bring anything over and I replied with a no thank you. I wanted to go on as normally as possible and would call her after she got out of church to let her know what room we were in, etc. Matt pulled in just minutes after I finished unloading the groceries and he wrapped me in a strong embrace as I just crumbled into his arms. I couldn't say anything. Him holding me brought back the flood of tears again and he led me over to the couch to pray. I explained to him that I'm just so upset, but I can't really pinpoint what it is exactly that is upsetting me. I wasn't upset about laboring because we had prepared and planned for that and I wasn't upset about the health of our baby because I had a peace that can only come from the Lord that our little boy was going to be just fine. I know that part of my reason for being upset was that being induced meant I wouldn't get to start labor naturally... something I really desired. Most of all, my flood of emotions came from the shock that it was all happening so quick and I had no control. Yes, that was the reason.

We decided to eat the dinner I had originally planned for that evening and then go for a nice walk down our quiet, country street before heading to the hospital to check-in. All was to carry on as normal as possible. Matt made some phone calls to his family to update them while I stepped outside and called my dear friend, April. I sat in the adirondack chair looking out at our yard and briefly shared with her what was taking place. April said something that touched me so deeply and provided instant comfort. She said, "Olyvia, the Lord has always known Matthew's birthday," and that simple truth reassured me yet again that God was in control. I told Matt that statement from April and we both smiled at the thought of meeting our son so soon! We ate dinner, did some last minute laundry, and even managed to take some belly photos like we'd been planning to do. Oh, and let's not forget that we did go to Wal-Mart too so I could buy two cheap gowns to labor in (I wanted something other than the hospital gown). My favorite part of the evening though was when we took a quiet walk down our street, hand in hand. Although I was nervous, I felt comforted walking with my husband, ready to embrace what scenarios were ahead. 

Unbeknownst to us, we were headed in for a 6 night hospital stay...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Birth Story: Preparations

    We're pregnant! Now what? 9 months can seem like a very short time to prepare the arrival of a newborn, but thankfully we learned it doesn't all have to be perfect for the baby to arrive! Your child will come when the Lord says, regardless of whether or not you've completed all your pre-baby to-do lists (trust me, I know!). I realized that I was making myself a bit crazy with my lists and was spending time on tasks that weren't quite as important; like telling my husband we HAD to go buy the hanging closet organizer for the little guy's extra clothes, instead of sitting down and talking through our plans for labor and delivery (note: you should definitely plan for the birth of the baby before planning how to organize the baby's size 12 - 18 month clothes). Once I prioritized, I was able to devote more time to what really mattered most to us... having a safe, healthy birth of our son, not the ordering of clothes in his drawers or whether to shelve his books by author or genre :)
    As new parents, Matt and I wanted to be confident that we were preparing for our baby in ways that we felt would be best for him as this was most important to us. We prayed, researched, and spent many hours in conversation as we eagerly awaited our son's birth day. It is my hope that anyone reading this who is expecting a baby of their own will be encouraged to re-prioritize their to-do lists, dig a little deeper when it comes to making decisions about labor and delivery, and above all, spend more time in prayer with the Creator of your little one. Below are what we considered the more important things we did in preparation for baby Matthew.

*The Bradley Method - Natural Childbirth
     This was one of the best decisions we made that educated and prepared us for a natural labor and delivery. I happened to be watching an episode of The Duggars (don't judge - I'm a huge fan!) and learned about the Bradley Method when the show featured JimBob and Michelle taking one of the classes. I googled it, read about it, and was intrigued with the 12 week class content. I bookmarked it in my favorites several months before we even got pregnant. I'll be honest and say that natural childbirth was not a road I thought I would originally take - contractions sounded scary and painful - until I began doing some research that began pushing me in the natural birthing direction. Like I said, it intrigued me and something deep inside of me gave me the feeling that it was possible and it was the best way. I was still riding the fence though when I registered us for the class as I wondered whether or not I could handle a natural childbirth. Matt was very supportive of taking the course (it is very husband-centered which also appealed to me), and we soon learned to look at labor and delivery in a whole new way. We saw natural childbirth as the absolute best way to bring a child into this world and the Bradley Method prepared us through research, techniques, exercises, and support of instructor and classmates. Contractions were no longer "scary" and "pain" had a completely different meaning. It was a lifestyle change for us and I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone - whether you're set on having a natural birth or just beginning to consider it.
                                                       *A Birth Plan

    One of our classes was spent on writing a birth plan and this is an image of what was in ours (part of the image was removed because it had personal info). It is important to remember that just because you have a plan, that does NOT mean everything will go according to what is written :) You definitely need to remain flexible in case emergencies arise. It is very helpful in letting the nurses and doctors/midwives know what you want and value in your labor and delivery and it helps you keep your perspective too. We thought carefully about each of the desires listed under Labor and Delivery/Post and they are what we felt was best for our son. You can also click here to see a powerpoint I had to put together for Bradley class one week that has info regarding circumcision, IVs, and cord clamping. If you have questions about our birth plan, or want to know where we found research for certain items on the plan, let me know and I'll be happy to pass it on.


    There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to breastfeed my little one (breast is best!). I remember babysitting different babies while I was in high school and as I would hold them close to feed them their bottles, I would imagine what it would be like to feed my own child one day. I was aware of just how amazing it was that God designed a woman's body to provide all the nutrition her baby needs and I couldn't wait for that experience. I knew it could be hard work to nurse a baby and in preparation I had the full support of my husband (so important!), breastfeeding items here at our home, bookmarked great breastfeeding websites, and noted when the local La Leche League met each month in case I needed extra support. I could probably write an entire post on breastfeeding alone because I feel so strongly about it and most likely will in the future, talking about my personal challenges, the myths, and benefits of one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. And while I realize breastfeeding isn't always attainable for every mother due to certain circumstances, much of the time it is possible with the right knowledge and support. Check out these sites for more information: Reasons to Breastfeed, Dr. SearsKellyMom, and Best for Babes.

*Cloth Diapers
     I remember specifically telling Matt in the car one day while we were dating that I was not going to cloth diaper our children because I didn't see the point in going through the extra hassle they caused. You see, we had just come back from visiting his family in Ohio where I met his sis and sis-in-law, both who cloth diapered their little ones and I didn't see why they went through the trouble. Let me just clarify that what I said back then was in complete ignorance. Diapering is just another area of our life where we've come to question why we do things a certain way and ask ourselves, is there a better way for us? In our desire to live a simpler life, cloth diapers just happened to be a smart choice after we took the time to get past our lack of knowledge in the area and research for ourselves. Both of us knew that me becoming a stay-at-home-mom was a strong desire we shared and saving money on disposable diapers was one way to cut costs to make that desire a possibility. We also wanted to forego any chemicals contacting our baby's skin and keeping diapers out of the landfills was a bonus. I had so many questions prior to the baby being born about cloth diapering and am very thankful for both of my sisters-in-law who were open to answering and sharing their diaper knowledge. I love cloth and hope to post one day soon about what we've saved since we made this personal decision.

   As I mentioned before, we felt these items listed above were what was most important for us in our preparations for Matthew's birth. When researching we made sure to look at both sides of things before reaching decisions and felt peace as we waited on our little guy's arrival. I'm not saying go out and do what we did, but I do encourage you to make yourself knowledgable of what choices you have when it comes to having a baby of your own - as they can greatly impact the well being of your child. Choosing to learn and ask questions is always a good idea! Seek the Lord's wisdom first as He already knows all about the new life you're birthing into the world and save those silly to-do lists for after you've tackled the important tasks :)

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