Sawyer's Birth Story
Our first birth story was certainly not a day(s) that went as I'd planned, but it did go exactly as it was supposed to. I love to remember moments in their entirety, everything from the random details to the big moments, and that's what I'm recording here. God worked in our hearts in an incredible way and Jonathan and I left that hospital different people than when we'd arrived: stronger, more in love, and already being shaped by this little life we were called to raise.
As he was our first baby, I'd researched and read as much as I possibly could. I wanted to know everything that could happen and provide the best possible outcomes for our perfect boy. I studied everything from the birth itself to the laundry detergent we'd use when he came home. While I said I was open to however the day ended up going, my goal was all natural; I wanted to give birth without Pitocin and without an epidural, and I wanted to postpone the afterbirth care until we'd had skin to skin and I'd fed him for the first time. I wanted all the things the experts recommended, because they're the experts, after all. As we walked to the parking lot after our last OB appointment, Jonathan stopped and turned to me and said, "Angel, you are not a failure if you get an epidural," and I broke into tears. That's when I realized I did have expectations for myself that were building up and that I needed to work through.
I had no contractions, not even Braxton Hicks, until the morning of the 4th of July. I was due June 30th, but had a feeling all along that he'd come on the holiday. When I woke up at 2:45am with my first contraction, my first thought was, "I knew it!". I jumped out of bed and came into the living room to sit on my birth ball and review our labor class videos on my phone. My contractions were 8 minutes apart for 1 minute each until almost an hour later. Then it was 20 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour, and I gave up and went back to bed. I thought I should sleep as much as I could seeing as he was on his way. After an hour's rest, I decided to get up and get ready for the day, I was too excited. We'd planned to celebrate the 4th at my parents' house, but they came over to our place instead so that I could labor at home. I made pasta salad and collard greens, Jon grilled burgers and sausage, and we had a great celebration! All morning my contractions were steadily an hour apart, and still lasting a minute long. After noon, I lost my mucus plug (pregnancy is glamorous) and contractions sped up to every 20 minutes.
Jon and I went for a walk around town like we'd done every night for the past 3 months, hoping to encourage things along. The day felt like it was taking forever. At 9pm again we both tried to lay down and get some rest for what seemed to be a long night ahead. I was able to sleep for an hour before I woke up to another strong contraction. The contractions were coming every 10 minutes, and after pacing around the house and sitting on my birth ball, at 1am they were finally a minute long, every 4 minutes, and had been for an hour. I woke up Jonathan with an exhausted and excited "it's time to go to the hospital."
We arrived at the hospital after 2am and at this point I had had 24 hours of contractions on 2 hours of sleep. My RN friends were certain that I'd be at least 6cm dilated after such a long day, but when the doctor came in, I was 100% effaced but only dilated to 2.5cm. My contractions were the strongest they'd been at this point, and were coming every 2-3 minutes. Jonathan was my perfect support. I held on to him with each wave and he was exactly the encouragement I needed to get through. He held my waist as I leaned on him with my arms around his neck and as we swayed back and forth, wave after wave, I had an image of us dancing in the same pose at our wedding. My love for him had only grown. After two hours, the doctor checked me again and I'd just progressed to 3cm. Still, the contractions were as strong and close together as ever. Two hours later, again no progress, but we were finally admitted.
As much as I had wanted to go natural, my eyes were red and bloodshot, I hardly had the energy to stand much less push out a baby, and we still had hours ahead of us. I was ready for an epidural. When they moved me out of the dark triage area into a delivery room, I could see that the sun had come up, I began to wake up more as my contractions slowed down, and I was no longer at my wit's end. I told the nurse I wanted the epidural when she asked, but I really had begun to feel a bit better. By the time the anesthesiologist came in, my nerves had built up more than my pain. Jonathan wasn't allowed in the room as administering the epidural was a sterile procedure, and the feeling of a needle behind my back and the fear of the unknown sent me into a panic attack. I couldn't sit still long enough to get it. That was the worst part of the entire day. I was hyperventilating, sobbing, and shaking uncontrollably. The poor anesthesiologist told me she'd come back when I was ready. Jonathan came back into the room and I cried to him. "I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this," was all I could say over and over. We'd both hit our breaking point. I was sure that they were going to need to put me under general anesthesia and take the baby out because I was done. We cried together, cried out to God, and read through the pack of verses and encouragements that my friend Rachel had made for her birth the week before. One was exactly what I needed to hear: "I choose to rest in the peace of Christ that passes my understanding."
I realized that what was plaguing me was my lack of understanding. I was terrified of the unknown, because I had no control. I couldn't control how my body would react to Pitocin or to an epidural, or if Sawyer would be affected as well, and that scared me beyond everything else. BUT, I could choose to rest in the peace of Christ that passes my understanding. I don't need to understand, or fear, creations because the Creator loves me.
I FaceTimed my friend, who works as an L&D nurse at that hospital. She set me straight. "Here's what you're going to do: you're going to take fentanyl to help your anxiety, it's going to let you rest enough to get your epidural, then you're going to sleep, and then you're going to have this baby." I choked out "but won't fentanyl hurt Sawyer, because it'll get into my blood and..." she stopped me, "do you think I'd tell you to do something that would hurt your baby?" "Well, no." "Exactly. I'm texting your doctor to put in the order, you can do this. You are going to have this baby!" I needed someone to get in my face and tell me just that. I was ready. My nurse came in with the fentanyl and I was the happiest (loopiest) I've ever been. The anesthesiologist came back, and Jonathan took a picture of me to set as his phone background as I was getting prepped. He said he did it because that was the moment he knew we were going to make it, everything was going to be okay. (It’s not my best looking photo, but I’ll share it here anyway).
I pulled up a picture of Sawyer’s last ultrasound and I got that verse card, and put them both on my lap. The epidural was the tiniest pinch, and the pain was gone. It had been 33 hours of contractions and I was finally at rest. My doctor came in and broke my water, but I still wasn't progressing. They put me on Pitocin to augment my labor. Still, I was completely at peace. I slept for five hours, and I was still sleeping at 9cm dilated.
Finally, just after 6pm, it was time. With Jonathan right next to me, I pushed for 40 minutes, and he was here! He didn't cry right away, and I was so scared. Hearing that first little cry, seconds later, was heaven. Forty hours, a full work week, and it was done, our family was complete and our boy was resting on my chest. 7lb, 6oz, 20 inches long, born at 7:22pm. But before we had time to relish in those first moments, they took him away to complete his assessment. They told us that his oxygen level wasn't where they wanted it to be, but they hoped it would rectify on its own. They left us alone with him and a pulse ox and we held each other. Only a few minutes passed before his oxygen saturation had dipped into the 80s and we called the nurses back.
Sawyer was taken to the NICU and Jonathan and I were left alone to settle into our new postpartum room, the empty bassinet glaring.
They did an x-ray and found that his lungs were cloudy with fluid, so they believe he aspirated right on his way out. He was put on 4L of oxygen and prophylactic antibiotics. Blood cultures were drawn, and he was placed on a dextrose drip as he was unable to feed. Monday morning I was able to see him and hold him, finally! Jon held him for the first time ever.
Because of COVID, only one of us was allowed to be in the NICU with him at a time, and we had to always be wearing a mask, gown, and gloves. It was brutal to leave the mask on. To not be able to smell his hair or kiss his little face. I so wish I was there to see Jon hold him that first time, I know it was magical. Monday night, Sawyer was weaned down to 3L of oxygen and we were given the green light to try to breastfeed for the first time! He had a great latch and great first feed, despite all my fears of not following the "experts": limited skin to skin, being apart, and having only fed to a pump for the first 24 hours. God isn't limited by the experts' research!
Tuesday morning his oxygen came off! I sobbed, it was such a relief to see his face without that nasal cannula. But we worried because I was going to be discharged that day, because of COVID they were getting all postpartum moms out within 48 hours, and we did not want to go home without our boy. Sawyer needed to stay in the NICU until he was titrated off his dextrose drip and keeping good blood sugar levels, until the blood cultures resulted Tuesday night (hopefully negative), and until he kept good oxygen saturation levels on room air for 48 hours. So, we knew he needed to stay at least until Thursday, assuming all went according to the best case scenario. God answered our prayers and I was able to board in the NICU in a room they have set aside for parents. Jonathan wasn't able to stay (due to the COVID regulations of only one visitor in the NICU at a time), but praise God I could be there to nurse Sawyer. We didn't know if I'd be able to stay more than that first night, but we took what we could get!
Just before 11pm Tuesday night, I was feeding Sawyer when the little wiggle worm kicked out the IV line that was running his antibiotics and dextrose. The lab closed at 11, so quickly the doctor called down to see if his blood cultures had resulted yet. They were negative! The doctor let him skip his last round of antibiotics and fast forward off the fluids, so as to save him a new IV poke. One step closer to home, and one less wire on my boy! Tuesday night for me, though, was brutal. I was engorged as my milk had finally come in, and I didn't know what to do. I had just tried to sleep through the pain, begging God to take away the milk, but it woke me up after an hour. One of the nurses heard me crying after midnight in Sawyer's cubby and came by to check on me. She had been a NICU nurse for over 50 years and was a literal angel. She patiently helped me to get latched, work through my clogged ducts, gave me lists of advice, warm compresses, and told me to go back to my room and pump until I was dry. I pumped out ounce after ounce after ounce and felt enough relief to sleep.
Another COVID restriction was that we could only visit Sawyer once per day. As long as I was in my room, I was still "in" the NICU and didn't count as my "visit" until I'd left and come back. But, I couldn't be in my room while Jonathan was there, because then we'd both be "in" the NICU at the same time. So many technicalities. So, Jonathan came Wednesday evening and I went to a friend's house to take a hot shower and rest. I didn't know how badly I needed it. I walked into the bathroom where she'd laid out a towel, washcloth, and sweet card, and I sobbed. Just cried and cried and cried in the shower. I had had so many emotions over the past 4 days and hadn't let myself really feel and process them. It was exactly what I needed. I felt like myself again as I made my way back to the hospital to see my boy. No other parents were needing the room for the night, so I was able to stay again, praise God!
Thursday morning I was hoping for the best, I laid out his going home outfit, and waiting eagerly for news from the doctors. At 10am we got word that he was coming home! Jonathan rushed to the hospital as I finished the paperwork we needed, and we brought our boy home! It was the best feeling in the world to carry him through the door, as my worst fear days earlier was coming home empty handed. Our sweet boy was where he belonged.
God was so so good to us, in the midst of everything going the exact opposite of how we'd planned, it went exactly according to His. My desire to have control only led me to see that I have none, and I had no choice but to trust the Lord. I imagine the rest of Sawyer's life will be just like that. As he grows, I'll be growing too.