Feb 25, 2018

Colors at the Cathedral

It almost feels a bit sacrilegious to publish a post full of bright colors in the midst of Lent, a time of solemnity and introspection for the church and its people, but I suppose anything that inspires wonder and awe brings one closer to God, doesn't it? In fact, Abbot Suger, who rebuilt the great abbey of Saint Denis just north of Paris in the second quarter of the 12th century, believed that "heavenly light" in a sacred space represents the presence of the divine. So, in that spirit, I want to share some photos I took during two recent visits to Washington National Cathedral, one as the late-morning sun shone through the stained-glass windows and the second from an evening light show during the Cathedral's Seeing Deeper program. Enjoy!

Feb 8, 2018

Robbie's Birth Story

Robbie, several hours after birth

Well, Robbie would be six weeks old today if he'd arrived on his due date - this is as good a time as any to post his birth story, right?

As you might have guessed from Instagram, I didn't really enjoy pregnancy and I was totally over being pregnant by week 37. I knew that our baby needed to keep cooking until I hit 39 weeks at least, but I was hoping he'd arrive as early as was healthy and so I did most of the things you're supposed to do to encourage labor: drinking red raspberry leaf tea, eating six dates a day, going on lots of walks, etc. I even had a membrane sweep at 39w1d! (My doctor was of the opinion that membrane sweeps don't really work but said that it wouldn't do any harm as long as I didn't mind the severe discomfort of the procedure. I didn't, and it didn't feel that much more invasive than a cervical check.) By December 24th, though, I had accepted that I'd almost certainly be pregnant until - if not past - my due date of December 28.

So, on Christmas Eve, I went to our family friends' annual Yule Log party in good spirits; I joked with the other guests about how the baby could arrive any day now but knew that he probably wouldn't. In fact, when we celebrated the party's tradition of each sitting on the Yule Log and making a silent wish for the year to come, I made a point to wish for a healthy and safe birth rather than an immediate one.

The woman who led our childbirth class warned us that labor for first-time moms could take more than 30 hours, with the first stage, most of which would probably be spent enduring contractions at home, lasting up to 12 or 18 hours. On top of that, I'd read that only 10-15% of women have their water break before their contractions start; of that 10-15%, most experience a trickle or a leak rather than a gush. A few minutes after making my Yule Log wish, though, as I stood in the middle of our friends' living room, my water broke in spectacular fashion. Jon says that I suddenly made a really strange facial expression before rushing off to the bathroom - it was so unexpected that I honestly wasn't sure if I'd peed myself! Once I confirmed that my water had, in fact, broken, we explained the situation to our very excited hosts and said our goodbyes. Jon had had several drinks at the party, so I drove us home, my parents and sister following behind us so they could pick up Charlie and take him to their house.

I called my OB's office when we got home at 10:30pm as Jon put on a pot of very strong coffee for himself. I told the answering service that I wasn't having contractions at all yet though my water had broken and so I wasn't sure if we should head to the hospital or wait. By the time my doctor called me back around 11:30, I had started having contractions, though I didn't realize at the time that's what they were because they didn't feel like what I thought they would. The OB told us to come in, so a freshly sober Jon very carefully drove us to the hospital as I groaned in pain while assuring him that I wasn't in active labor.

We got to the hospital soon after midnight; the nurses hooked me up to the monitors and confirmed that the the severe cramp-like pressure I was feeling in my lower abdomen and back was indeed contractions coming every minute or two. At that point, I was dilated to nearly 2cm - same as at my appointments on December 18 and 22 - and rated my pain at a 4 out of 10. The nurses asked what my plan was for pain relief, and I said I wanted an epidural but not until I'd progressed further. One of the nurses pointed out that it would take about an hour from when I requested the epidural to when I received it and, furthermore, that there was no medical reason for me to put myself through pain while I waited until a relatively arbitrary point later in labor for drugs I'd already decided I wanted to take. I'm so glad that I agreed, because my pain was rating at a 7 by the time I'd had enough fluids for the anesthesiologist to administer the epidural around 2:30am! It worked quickly and comprehensively, and I fell asleep.

The baby's heart rate dropped a little bit soon afterwards and the nurses gave me an oxygen mask, but they weren't overly concerned and I was able to doze, pain-free, for the next two hours until they woke me to check my cervix again. I was just shy of 5cm at 4:45am. I fell back asleep until 8:30, when they did another check and told me I was at 9cm. I was surprised to have progressed so quickly, especially since I hadn't felt anything happening! The baby wasn't quite as low as they wanted, though, so they put a peanut ball between my legs and had me sleep on my side to encourage him to drop. By 10am I was at 9.5cm and the baby was a little lower; by 11:30 I was fully dilated and feeling sharp pressure at my cervix, and my wonderful nurse, Nicole, told me to get ready to push because the baby had dropped further. She also asked me to stop topping off my epidural - I'd been able to regularly re-up the medicine myself - so I could feel some of the contractions, even if the feeling would be muted, and physically understand what my body was supposed to do in response.

I started pushing at noon on Christmas Day. The baby was head down and facing the right direction and my body was totally ready to give birth, but apparently his head was at a bad angle and we had trouble getting him past my pubic bone. After two hours, during which I was in serious discomfort but not excruciating pain thanks to the remains of the epidural, I was so exhausted that I asked Nicole what methods of intervention might be required to get the baby out. (It's possible that, had I been able to walk around over the previous twelve hours, the baby might have repositioned himself, but equally he might not have and I'm glad I chose the epidural and sleep over mobility!) She said the only thing they'd do if necessary would be to use the vacuum but that it wouldn't be necessary. She knew I could do it on my own! I didn't really believe her, but her optimism and encouragement made all the difference - plus, she gave me the okay to regularly top up my epidural again over the course of the last hour, which got us through another hour of pushing before the doctor came in with a second nurse to deliver the baby.

(Of course, this story can't be told without Jon getting a shout-out, too. He was an incredible coach through the whole process. Despite not sleeping at all the night before, he was on his feet at my side for all three hours, holding my leg and counting through contractions and pushes for me. He was an entirely active participant in our son's birth, and I absolutely could not have gotten through it without him.)

My memory of the ten minutes or so the doctor and the second nurse were in the room is hazy. From what I remember, it was like the last thirty seconds of a sports game in a cheesy film - you know, where the two teams are tied and the underdogs have the ball and everyone's cheering for them to make the goal/basket/touchdown/whatever and you know they're going to win but it's still a nail-biter and it's just total chaos amidst the teamwork. I had Nicole to my left, Jon to my right, the doctor in the middle, and the second nurse just hovering behind him; they were all yelling at me and I was yelling back and then all of a sudden, at 3:04pm, our Robbie was born!

It didn't seem real, not even when they put Robbie on my chest and I held him skin-to-skin. Looking at Jon, who was crying at my shoulder, made it real. We had a baby! The nurses toweled Robbie off and Jon cut the umbilical cord while the OB finished delivering my placenta and stitched me up from a second degree tear that I hadn't felt happen during the birth.

Robbie measured 21" and 7lbs 9oz, and scored an 8 on his first apgar and a 9 at five minutes. He had a few minor medical issues that needed to be checked out in the days after his birth, including jaundice that required an extra 24 hours in the hospital, but otherwise he was perfect. We are beyond grateful to the nurses in the Special Care Nursery, who not only gave us an extra day of learning from them but also made the executive decision to give him a bottle, formula, and a pacifier overnight when we weren't with him. (We'd have agonized over the timing of introducing each of those, but being able to use them as soon as we got home from the hospital helped us stay sane.) Breastfeeding went relatively well from the beginning, thanks in large part to the hospital's fantastic lactation consultants who visited me each day while I was in the recovery room and again after I was technically discharged while Robbie was in the Special Care Nursery. (I was also able to make an outpatient appointment to check in with a LC for two weeks after Robbie came home, which was super helpful.) He lost 6.6% of his birthweight in the first few days but was back up by his one-week pediatrician's appointment, and has been gaining steadily on a diet of breastmilk plus one or two bottles of formula a day since then, delighting our pediatrician at every appointment.

Six weeks to the day after we brought Robbie home, it's still a bit weird to think that we have a baby. Like, we made another human and now we're responsible for him. How crazy is that? Of course, things change as soon as we feel like we've gotten the hang of parenting, but it's been such fun to watch him develop in these early weeks. (He started smiling for real a few day ago, which is so rewarding to see.) We love him tremendously and are deeply appreciative of the village that helped us through pregnancy and birth and is holding our hands through this newborn stage. I'm thrilled to recommend everyone we've worked with in case any of you are in the DC area and are looking for providers/resources:

OB/GYN: Reiter, Hill, Johnson, and Nevin
Hospital: Sibley Memorial Hospital
Childbirth and Childrearing classes: Nested
Moms' groups: PACE and Sibley (you don't have to have delivered at Sibley to go to their sessions!)
Pediatrician: Dr. Amy Pullman

If you have any questions, I'd be more than happy to answer them by email at betsytransatlantically@gmail.com. I know birth stories aren't everyone's thing, so thank you for indulging me if you made it this far!

Robbie in the Special Care Nursery after completing his bilirubin treatment (3 days old)