Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Avonlea's Birth Story

A slideshow of Avonlea's birth, photos courtesy Ashley DeLatour

*This is a bit long, but if you have the time, here is the story of Avonlea's birth, which I've finally finished. She's four weeks old on Thursday and already her birth seems foggy and far away. She seems so much a part of our lives already, it's hard to recall first meeting her and all that I felt in those moments. It is good to remember. Enjoy.

If there's anything predictable about birth, it's that the baby is coming out, one way or another, and that you won't be pregnant forever. After that, nothing else is bankable.

I knew that. I knew despite having a birth plan and a set of ideas about what I thought might happen, that birth is messy and out of the realm of my control. I guess it's a good thing I kept telling myself that, since our birth plan went out the window nearly from the beginning.

The week of Christmas I was 37 weeks pregnant, technically full-term. I woke up with Braxton-Hicks contractions early that Wednesday morning. I had been having these painless contractions all throughout my third trimester, amazed to feel my abdomen suddenly rock hard from walking or needing to pee, or for no reason at all. These ones caught my attention, though, because they were rhythmic, coming and going at fairly regular intervals. It was probably three a.m. and I started timing them.

Matt was up, inexplicably, so he started worrying around the house like a Jewish mother, making sure we had all of our supplies for our home birth, freezing washcloths for ice packs and putting things into our birth box in the baby's room while I hung out on the yoga ball with the ipod stopwatch, calm as could be. Matt ran out of things to prep, and I knew he was in full-on nesting mode (wasn't that supposed to be my role?) when he busted out the dimmer switches he'd bought at Home Depot the week prior and started installing them in every room.

Dimmer switches. Really?

After an hour or so of this, I realized that if this was labor, it was LAME and super early. I wasn't in any pain and the contractions, while rhythmic, weren't progressing. So I went back to bed. By the time I woke up later that morning, I was still having sporadic Braxton-Hicks, but not close together. That morning was our trial run.

Later that day, I went to my prenatal appointment and discovered that my blood pressure was too high. I had been really puffy and swollen for awhile, but it was getting bad--my ankles had become "cankles" that ached by the end of the day, my nose had taken over the rest of my face, and my hands were so swollen that my carpal tunnel had gotten inflamed and I was wearing a wrist brace. Edema, a fancy word for swelling, is associated with pregnancy-induced hypertension and high blood pressure. My midwife, Sally, told me that I needed to take it easy and that if my blood pressure kept going up, I was at risk of pre-eclampsia (which can lead to seizures and endanger the baby) and would have to be induced.

At that point, I was fairly convinced that outside of completely stalled out labor with the water already being broken, pitocin was the devil. It was the last thing I wanted. At that point we were planning an all-natural home birth. Sally warned me I could kiss that home birth goodbye unless I rested up.

Somehow that didn't stop me from hosting Christmas Eve dinner at our house and hauling six bags of groceries up three flights of stairs. My in-laws were kind enough to help with rest of the preparations, though. And then there was Christmas day with both sides of the family and more cooking. And then the day after Christmas, spent at Heather's salon with all the Roddy girls--relaxing, but busy, up early, and away from home from breakfast until late that night for the second day in a row.

By the time Christmas was over, I was exhausted and well-aware that I had not followed Sally's advice the way that I should have. I went into the next week vowing to take it easy and tried to cancel as many social engagements as possible. Even though my due date was still a week and a half away, I felt "ready to pop," as I had so often heard it described. Although this kind of popping had more to do with my ankles exploding than with popping a baby out of my body. It hurt to stand, it hurt to sit, it hurt to sleep at night with so much pressure on my ribs and hips and back. My swollen legs ached by day's end. I was secretly hoping that there might be something to the theory that babies tend to come on the full moon, which was Thursday, December 31st. Also, a blue moon. On Christmas, my family put bets on when the baby was coming and if my brother Josh hadn't already taken it, I would have put my money on the 31st.

Wednesday night, December 30th, I got up a little before midnight to go to the bathroom, and just as I was getting back into bed, I felt a gush of fluid. Had I not just emptied my bladder, I would have thought I was peeing my pants, but basic logic told me that this was something else. I rushed back into the bathroom and took my cell phone with me to call Sally and let her know what had just happened. She asked me a series of questions and concluded, "Yep, it sounds like your water broke. Call me back when your contractions start."

My entire body was trembling--maybe from the rush of hormones?--but I changed my clothes, crawled back in bed, and called Ashley, my best-friend-doula-extraordinaire, to let her know that things were getting started.

Within 5 or 10 minutes, my contractions started and from the beginning they were about 5 minutes apart. Before this moment, I had often wondered, especially while we were practicing coping techniques and breathing exercises in our childbirth class, What will a contraction actually feel like? I had such an "aha moment" when I had my first one. Like a menstrual cramp, yeah sort of. It was a deep ache from my belly button to my knees, climbing and peaking and tapering off. To be honest, my later contractions in the heat of hard labor have nearly driven the memory of these early, manageable contractions from my mind. The main thing I remember was that I could breathe through them and that they came and went without bothering me too much.

Matt and I got up and he started doing the things we needed to do to prepare for the home birth while I called Sally and Ashley back. The bed needed to be covered in plastic and fresh sheets and washable blankets. Matt moved a desk into the bedroom and put out the supplies from our birth box on it: receiving blankets, towels, etc. By a little after one o'clock Ashley arrived and then Sally followed not long afterwards.

When Sally got to our apartment, first she got out the doppler and checked the baby's heart-rate, which sounded "perfect." Then she checked my blood pressure to see where it was at. The main concern was the bottom number, the diastolic. It had been 94 the week prior at my appointment, but on a second reading had gone down to the mid-eighties. So I was pretty shocked when my first reading was 103. Sally gave me a concerned look and had me relax on the couch and breath slowly. She tried it two or three more times over the next 15 minutes, but it only kept going up each time.

"Alright," she said, "I think you are in early labor, and usually blood pressure only goes up as labor goes on. I think we should go to the hospital where you can get medicine to help bring it down again."

You might think that the idea of going to the hospital would be really disappointing for me, but it wasn't. I knew we'd be transferring to the hospital where Sally was on staff and that she would continue to be my attending physician when we got there. My main concerns with the hospital were: 1. wanting to avoid traveling a long way in traffic if I were having a fast labor, which runs in my family, and 2. not really feeling the need to go to the hospital since my pregnancy had been so healthy so far and I was planning an all-natural delivery.

A word on the precipitous labor thing. Average first labors are 18 hours. But my mom's labors were all very fast. Her first was 8 hours, but she wonders if it would have been 6, since my brother was 10 pounds and she had to push for 2 hours. After Josh, both her labors were fast she had one of us on a gurney in the hallway at the hospital.

Then my sister's first baby was born in 3 hours--she also started labor with her water breaking. Her second came in 3 hours as well, which I happened to be present at, thinking that witnessing one of my sister's births would be the closest thing to my own birth that I could observe in preparation.

And then there's my Aunt Melissa, who woke up in the middle of the night and reached down to feel her baby's head crowning. Seriously.

So I wasn't sure, but I was at least preparing for my labor to be pretty fast.

It was after three in the morning by now (where did the time go?), so I agreed to go to the hospital, but I wanted Sally to check my progress before we left to make sure I wouldn't be going into transition on I-5 (my biggest fear). When she told me that I was only dilated to 2 centimeters, I suddenly realized that maybe my labor, already 3 hours into it, wasn't going to be at all like my family history.

Matt and I had to laugh as we drove down the empty interstate from Edmonds to Group Health Hospital on Capitol Hill (about 15 miles away). My worst fears were so far from the reality--we had the entire road to ourselves and I certainly was not about to deliver the baby in the car. For some reason, though, my body chose the time that we were moving 60 miles an hour and I had no ability to change my position to make the transition from early labor to active labor. I experienced the most unbelievable pain during my contractions. I thought I was going to throw-up and by this time there was no mere breathing through my contractions. I was moaning and totally unable to stop myself from doing so.

I had the thought that maybe it was a good thing that we were going to the hospital--our condo neighbors would have been sure to have heard me in the dead quiet of four a.m. Since one guy sits at his window just waiting for someone to park in the wrong spot so that he can have them towed, I would assume that a home birth not pre-approved by the Condo Board (we are such rebels) might warrant some kind of punitive action. Not to mention the embarrassment of it all.

The next several hours as we checked in and I continued in hard labor are mostly a blur. My contractions were about 3 minutes apart. I remember wanting to get into the tub to try to alleviate some of the pain, but there were check-in formalities and they needed to administer some antibiotics. They made sure to check my blood pressure right away, and low and behold! my diastolic was down in the 70s. No one really knows why it happened this way, but I never ended up needing the drugs to help it go down that Sally originally thought that I needed.

I tried laboring in different positions, with the birth ball, standing, and laying down. I did eventually get into the tub, and I was really disappointed to discover that it didn't help me cope with the pain any better. I got out after a few contractions.

Not long after this I remember a contraction that peaked so much higher and more intensely than the others that I was screaming through it and threw up from the pain directly afterwards. Not to mention I was shaking pretty severely throughout my entire labor process (so much for the signs of transition). From that moment on, the contractions were that intense or more every time. Because my water breaking had started labor, there was very little cushion left between me and the baby. Every time she would move, the pain was excruciating and would even trigger another contraction to start. Sally described it to me as "bone on bone" as her head was trying to descend through my pelvis.

Sally checked me and I had progressed to a four, but my cervix was still "thick" according to Sally and the baby's station wasn't moving down. Not long after the tub, I asked for something to take the edge off. I had a friend who labored naturally for 30 hours, but tried an I-V drug toward the end just to help her cope. I asked for that exact same drug, which they gave to me and told me it would last about an hour.

One word on that whole experience: waste! If anything, the pain became more intense during that hour. The only difference was that I became sleepy in-between contractions. Why anyone thinks this is helpful is beyond me. I wonder if tylenol would have done more to help me than that drug.

After that hour, I realized that I was not coping the way I had thought I would. It was around 7:30 and I had been laboring (more or less) naturally for about 8 hours, 4 of which had been hard labor. This is way less time than a lot of women have to go through, but I had not mentally prepared myself for ongoing pain over a long period of time. We went through all these coping techniques in our childbirth class and I read about labor, but the general impression I had was that pain was a state of mind and everything would be manageable, if I worked hard enough. Mostly I figured my labor would be so fast, I wouldn't have time to be worn down by the pain. I wish someone had just looked me in the eye and told me the truth: "Childbirth will be the most agonizing experience of your life. You cannot imagine how painful it will be. But it doesn't last forever. And you will live through it."

All of that to say that at that point in my labor, I finally had the thought, "I would rather die than have another contraction." And that's when I asked for Sally to consult with me about getting an epidural.

I knew all about the epidural, and honestly, I had thought it was something I would never want. But now that I was in the throws of labor, I just wanted a break, something to help me relax my pelvis and open up (I was tensing through all my contractions), something that would stop the pain for even a little while.

Sally checked me and I was now at 6 centimeters, so although I wasn't progressing quickly, I was making really steady progress. I trusted that my uterus was working the way it needed to. My main concern was that medical interventions during labor sometimes create the need for further interventions. I didn't want an epidural to stall-out my labor and create the need for pitocin or, eventually, a c-section. But I felt that I was making good progress and that this was a decision I wanted to make. I asked for the epidural.

The anesthesiologist came at around 8:30 and gave me the epidural. It took a few contractions before the medicine took effect fully, but after that, the relief was monumental. I believe I said, "Thank you, Jesus," and Sally informed the anesthesiologist that his new name was "Jesus." Apparently that was nothing new for him, though. Matt commented later that the whole mood of the room changed completely. He wrote in his notes, "9:15, Joey's smiling and eating a popsicle."

The nurses urged me to rest (I was exhausted, having pulled an all-nighter and now over 9 hours into my labor), and I took a short nap, as did Sally and Matt. At around noon, Sally came back to check on me. It turned out I had been fully dilated for a little while and the baby had made some progress through the canal. It was time to push.

Ashley maintains that I had the world's best epidural in part because I could totally feel my abs. When the nurse did a touch test on my stomach, I could feel every place that she touched me. My uterus, pelvic floor, legs, and back were numb, though, so I didn't feel an "urge" to push, or any pain as the baby emerged. Being able to feel my abs meant that I was able to feel and control my pushing. When we first got started, Sally told me that I should try to push and see how it went. Some women can take a half hour just trying to figure out how to do it when they have the medicine numbing all those muscle groups. But for me, from push number one, I was able to push effectively and move forward with every contraction. Sally brought a mirror so I could watch and focus the whole time.

I pushed for an hour and fifteen minutes, more or less. With each push, the baby's head came out more and more, and the mood in the room was light-hearted as the nurses encouraged me and betted on what time the baby would be born. Ashley put on inspirational music to welcome the baby to the world. Matt asked Sally if he could deliver the baby and she said that would be fine. She would stand by, in case she needed to jump in for any reason.

At 1:13 PM, our little girl was born with "Falling Slowly" by The Swell Season on in the background. Despite the numbness, I could feel her body slipping out of me as Matt caught her and then put her up on my chest. She cried right away. I remember how slippery and wet she felt, and that I wanted to see her face, which I strained to do with her head under my chin.

More than any surge of joy or love, what I felt most was wonder. I was in awe that this person had grown inside of me and was now here. I was so curious to know what she was like and Matt and I stared at her in total amazement.

My mom says that when she had my brother, she felt like a piece of herself had been missing, but she hadn't known it until he was born. She felt a sudden sense of completeness and fulfillment. For me, all my love for our daughter wasn't instantaneous, but gradual. This is a theme for me in all the big moments of my life. I'm always struck that I'm still me, and the moment is happening in reality, not some movie in my mind. So there's this sense of normalcy where I would expect to be overjoyed or ecstatic. At her birth, I wasn't overwhelmed by emotion or completeness, or even love. But I was happy. And it was like the seed of emotion from which something bigger than I'd ever felt before would grow.

And then there are those afternoons like one I had the week after Avonlea was born. I was sitting on the couch holding her, when it all came flooding in on me. I looked up at Matt and my wedding photos on the table across the room and I was suddenly overwhelmed by the cumulative goodness of my life: Matt and my marriage, the life we share, the love we've grown, and now this person who has joined our family--a piece of both of us, the product of our shared life. I do love her so much more than I ever knew I was capable of.

The rest of the day of her birth was filled with nurses coming in and out, the trial of trying to get Avonlea to latch (she had zero interest in nursing at first--and then, a wicked bite), and all the post-partum care that both she and I needed.

My birth was so different than what I had planned or expected, and I had to fight some disappointment with myself that I chose the epidural over the all-natural birth I had planned. Like I somehow missed out on a rite of passage. But when I think about my experience, I really believe I made an informed decision and that it was the best decision for me at the time. I am really grateful that it did the job I wanted it to do with out leading to any complications. The pain relief was such a mercy. I also ended being so glad that we had the support of the nursing staff for all of my post-partum care, which I wouldn't have had with my home birth. For a first baby, it was nice to have help to know what was normal and to be taken care of after such a foreign and body-wracking experience.

That night, New Year's Eve, Matt and I watched the Space Needle explode in fireworks at midnight from our hospital room window. We were bleary-eyed from exhaustion and only awake because the baby was fussing, but we managed to mutter "Happy New Years" to each other before collapsing back into our beds.

And it is... a very happy new year for us. We love our little girl, and as each day passes, we love knowing her more.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Harvest time

After a year of growth, we have TWO lemons ready to harvest from our lemon tree. I'm thinking about making this recipe with them, since it will last for several months and will be a special occasion kind of treat. I'm not sure if I can get a whole cup of juice from two lemons, though. We'll see.

If it turns out well, I think I'll make some scones on Saturday to have with the lemon curd. My first time in the kitchen since Avonlea was born. Feels like a milestone.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Avonlea's First Bath


A flair for the dramatic

So far, Avonlea is a pretty mellow baby: a good sleeper, with only a couple of fussy periods during the day. Despite this, I think she has taken after her father in her flair for drama. Most people would say that Matt's pretty mellow too, but I'm not talking about emotional drama. I'm talking about the frequency with which Matt has to visit the Emergency Room. In the last ten years: a lacerated ankle (biking accident), a concussion (biking accident), a separated shoulder (snowboarding), not to mention countless bouts of anaphylactic shock from accidentally consuming peanuts. As a kid, there was epilepsy, allergies, and asthma. And, oh yeah, jaundice. So I guess she really does take after dad.

At her 4 day check-up Avonlea had been looking a little yellow, but not even the pediatrician was worried until her blood work came back. Her bilirubin count was way too high (18.4). The doctor told us, "She will be ok, but she must have phototherapy. Tonight." So, having just left the hospital on Friday, we were heading back to a new hospital on Monday night, knowing we'd be there at least a day, if not longer.

It was so hard for me to be separated from her in her little isolette for the 13 hours she was under the blue lights. We were sharing the room with another couple with a sick baby, just a curtain between us. Then there was the pull-out couch bed and the world's worst shower I took that night (no shampoo or conditioner to be found). My postpartum hormones were kicking in and I kept trying not to cry in front of the nurses. Not to mention my milk had come in, she wasn't eating much because the jaundice made her lethargic, and I was deeply uncomfortable. Not the best night of my life.

I did get to take her out to nurse her during the night, and I was grateful to hold her tired, hot little body. But then she had to go right back in. She, on the other hand, seemed perfectly content in her pseudo-Carribbean paradise (it was like 85 degrees in there!) and slept soundly the entire time.

Thankfully, she responded quickly to the phototherapy and we got to go home the next afternoon. Disaster averted, I can look back at these pictures fondly. She looks just like a little bug with her eye-protective headgear on, don't you think?

Anyway, I'm hoping she's gotten it out of her system (no pun intended) and we won't be back in the hospital for awhile.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Avonlea Theodora Roddy
Born: December 31, 2009
6 lbs, 13 oz ~ 17 inches

I have so much to share: our birth story and all the ways we've fallen in love with this little girl over the past two weeks. Little by little, I'll get caught up. Meanwhile, I'm snuggling her and trying to get some sleep. :)

Today was her two week check-up. She had dropped down to 6 lbs, 6 oz. after her first three days, but now she is a big 7 pounder! (7 lb, 7 oz, to be exact). She's also measuring 19 1/2 inches long. She's still only in the 25 percentile for her age, but we don't mind. We're savoring her being so tiny for as long as we can.