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Hello, Sweet Baby (Eisley’s Birth Story)

**Note: Open talk about surgery ahead.  If that’s not your jam, you might want to skip this post.**

 

The night before I went into preterm labor with Haven, I had no idea I would be giving birth the next day.  I was several weeks away from my due date.  So, I assume I got a pretty good night’s sleep, or as good as one can get at 35 weeks pregnant, anyway.

The night before Eisley was born, however, I knew exactly what was going down the next day.  She had been diagnosed with spina bifida halfway through my pregnancy-a birth defect in which her spinal column failed to close properly, leaving a portion open and exposed on her back.  We had decided with our specialists that a cesarean was the safest route for delivery, and I had spent the rest of my pregnancy slightly terrified of the impending surgery.

So, even though I knew I needed rest the night before, I just couldn’t go to bed.  I put Haven to bed on her last night as an only child.  I triple checked that my bags were packed.  Took a shower.  Laid in bed and tossed and turned-I was a giant bundle of nerves.  I’d say I was about 50% excited and 50% scared.  Not only was I having surgery, but my newborn baby would have surgery as well to close the defect on her back.

I somehow managed to squeeze in about 2 hours of sleep before it was time to go.  In the wee hours of the morning, we packed our hospital bags in the car and got ready to go.  I crept in to Haven’s room to whisper goodbye, and a tear slid down my face.  I knew she’d be fine staying with both of her Grandmas the next few days, I just didn’t know if I would be fine without her.

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Right before we left for the hospital.  This was my last belly pic at 39 weeks and 3 days.

When we arrived at the hospital, I got checked in, changed into my gown, and two nurses came in to start my IV.  The nurse who was placing it seemed like more of a newbie, and it took her a couple of tries.  She told me, “Wow!  Your vein just blew up like a balloon!” Not a good thing to say to someone who hates thinking about or looking at veins.  Ugh.  Even just typing it makes me want to puke.

As they wheeled me out of the room, I said bye to my Mom, who would wait in my recovery room during the surgery, and Josh was instructed to change into his scrubs.  The ride to the OR was shorter than I expected-through one set of double doors and we were there.

I slid down off the hospital bed, and shuffled into the OR, holding my gown closed so as not to moon any of the staff.  The room was COLD.  Like, frigid.  So, this is what an operating room looks like, I thought.  This was surgery numero uno for me, so I don’t know what I expected, but it was still surprising to me.

It took the anesthesiologist three tries to get my spinal block in, which wasn’t awesome, but it also wasn’t as bad as I expected.  It was such a strange sensation to suddenly have the entire lower half of your body numbed, and as they laid me back, strapped me down, and raised the curtain, I marveled at how I could sort of feel, but sort of not.  If you’ve had a c-section before, you know what I’m talking about.

Josh was finally allowed to come in, and I was relieved.  He was a little nervous for me, and we tried to make light conversation as they began the surgery.  It was weird to make small talk with my husband of 7.5 years, as if we had nothing better to talk about than the weather, but I needed to keep my mind off of the fact that I was being sliced open as we spoke.

I had pre-warned the OR staff that I did NOT want a play-by-play of what was happening, and they assured me that they would try to be as vague as possible.  But, then I heard, “We have a bleeder!”

Shoot.  That’s not good.  I may be no medical professional, but I’ve seen enough Grey’s Anatomy surgeries to know that bleeders are never a good thing.

The atmosphere in the OR became a bit more tense as they tried to stop the bleeding.

A few months before, as I tried to wrap my mind around the fact that I was definitely going to have a c-section, a friend with three cesareans under her belt told me that it feels like someone has a hold of your legs, and is tugging you back and forth.  As I laid on the operating table, I realized that’s exactly how it felt.

“Rupture!” A nurse called out, indicating when the amniotic sac broke open.  As they lifted her out, I suddenly felt lighter, like my body lifted from the table, ever so slightly.

And then, a cry.

When Haven was born a year and a half earlier, she weakly cried out once, and then nothing.  She did not have the strength to inflate her lungs on her own, as she was a month premature, and she was quickly given oxygen to help her breathe.

I hadn’t given much thought to how I hadn’t really heard much of a cry after Haven’s birth, but as I heard Eisley’s cry, it brought a wave of emotions that I hadn’t really expected.

Relief at hearing that my baby was ok. Wonder at the fact that I was hearing this person for the first time that I would love so much and know so deeply, and yet knowing nothing else about her in that moment other than her cry.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  And somehow, under all these emotions for my second born, a twinge of grief for my firstborn and how we had missed this moment with her.  If you’ve had an unexpected or traumatic birth, you know what I am talking about.  I think I will always carry little pieces of grief for both of my birth stories and how I wish I could change some things about the circumstances.

The anesthesiologist lowered the curtain a bit, and the doctor held Eisley up for us to see her.  I tried to lift my head, but either I couldn’t lift it far, or the angle I was at didn’t allow for me to see her.

They took her to the adjoining stabilization room to sanitize and cover her open defect on her back, and Josh went with her.

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Right after delivery.

Suddenly, I felt alone.

I could hear the OR team talking through closing me up, and I knew the anesthesiologist was somewhere behind my head, but it felt like it was just me and the ceiling tiles I was staring at.

I tried to busy my thoughts so I wouldn’t think too hard about what was happening with my body.  Then, the nausea hit.

“Umm,” I told the anesthesiologist, “I feel like I have to throw up.  What do I do?!” I felt a little panicked.  It’s not like I could run for a trash can to puke in.  “Just turn your head to the side,” he told me.

I turned to the side and dry heaved.  I was relieved I hadn’t actually puked on the OR floor.  That would have been embarrassing.

I don’t know if it was the 2 hours of sleep catching up to me, the blood loss, or the anti-nausea meds I was just given through the IV, but suddenly, I NEEDED to close my eyes.  I felt like a cartoon character from the 40’s or 50’s with anvils attached to my eyelids.  “I’m reeeeeeally tired,” I told the anesthesiologist. “You can sleep if you want to,” he said.

So I went to sleep, right there on the operating table as they put me back together.  It was the best sleep ever, I tell you.  When I woke up, which I have absolutely no idea how much time had passed, I felt like a million bucks.  Well, as much like a million bucks as you can while being operated on.

One of Eisley’s doctors came to update me.  “She is doing great,” he said. “She is 7lbs 5 oz, and 19 3/4 inches long.  We have covered her back to keep it sterile, and we are working on placing her IV.  Then, she’ll head down to the NICU to get settled in.”

Finally, they were done with me, and I felt like a weird, numb board as they tilted me back and forth to place a sheet under me to move me back to the bed.  As they wheeled me out, the same blunt nurse who had placed my IV earlier said, “It looks like a bloodbath on the floor.”  Ahem.  Again, NOT a good thing to say in front of your patient.

I was wheeled back to my room, where my Mom waited for me.  I spent the next hour or so trying as hard as I could to wiggle my toes.  The sooner I could move around, the sooner I would be able to get to the NICU to see Eisley.  My nurse told me that the c-section moms who deliver at this children’s hospital (who typically have babies who need medical intervention), are up and around much faster than other c-section moms in the community, because they are extra motivated by the incentive of getting to see their babies in the NICU.

Josh came back, and told us they were still trying to get her IV in.  Apparently, she was a very hard stick, and it was taking their very best people to get it right.  A few minutes later, a team of nurses wheeled Eisley in to see us. “Can I hold her?” I asked.

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I knew, going into Eisley’s birth, that I may not be able to hold her.  It was a hard reality to come to terms with, especially given the fact that I had not been able to hold Haven until several hours after she was born, and even then it was with wires everywhere and a bulky CPAP strapped to her head to help her breathe.  They assured me throughout my pregnancy that they would do their best to try to make it happen, but it really just depended on Eisley and how stable she was.

But, miracle of miracles, I got to hold her.

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It was only for maybe about 5 minutes, but it was 5 minutes that I didn’t know I would have, so it felt like heaven.  It was also healing, in a way.  While I still grieve that I didn’t get anything like this with Haven, I was so thankful that I got a few moments with Eisley, even if it was two hours later.

They took her to the NICU, where she was evaluated by neurosurgery.  They decided that she would have her closure surgery that day rather than waiting until the next day, and that she would, in fact, need a shunt to drain the extra fluid from her brain-a common side effect of spina bifida.

So, at seven hours old, she went in for surgery.  Oddly enough, I didn’t feel scared or anxious during this time.  I trusted the hands and the wisdom of the surgeons as they placed her tiny nerves back inside her spinal column.

Later that night, I was loaded up into a wheelchair, and my nurse pushed me down to the NICU while Josh followed behind, wheeling my IV pole.  We made our way to the back corner of the NICU, and I was able to sit next to Eisley’s bedside.

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She was still intubated from surgery, and she laid peacefully sleeping on her belly.  The monitors beeped as I leaned in, trying to ignore the pain in my abdomen, and I placed my hand gently on her upper back.  Her skin was soft and warm.

A whiteboard above her bed read, Today’s plan: Rest and Recover.

You and me both, Sweet Girl, I told her.

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Birth Story Part 2…or, This Isn’t Too Bad

If you haven’t read Part 1 of my Birth Story yet, you can do so here.


After the doctor left the triage room and I had called my Mom so she could start the 4.5 hour drive, I looked over at Josh.

“How do you feel about this?”  I asked him.

“Well,” he said, “I don’t know.”  In true Josh form, he was outwardly calm, which was good for me.  I was excited, but nervous.  I couldn’t believe that it was going to be a matter of hours before we would meet our little girl.

I remember, a few years ago, during a friend’s pregnancy, I asked her if she was nervous about delivery.  She laughed and told me, “Well, it’s coming whether I like it or not, so I don’t really have a choice.”  I felt the same sentiment this night.  Labor and delivery were here, so the only thing to do was to do it.

Josh called his parents, and they decided to wait until the next morning to drive up, rather than driving through the night.

The nurses came back in and prepared me to be admitted and to move to a labor and delivery room.  They walked me down and around the hallway, and brought me into the room.  As we walked in, I thought, this is where she will be born.  Strange to be here and see it.  Life was going to change in a few hours, and it was exciting and strange to see the environment that it would happen in.

After settling into the bed, they placed an IV, and began to ask me questions about what I would like for the labor process.

“Will you be wanting an epidural?”

“I’m 99% sure no, but I might change my mind.”  They advised me that even if I was pretty sure I did not want one, it was a good idea to go ahead and talk to the anesthesiologist so he could get his spiel out of the way, rather than trying to listen and sign paperwork while I was in hard labor.  I consented, knowing that was probably a good idea.

My friend Kayla arrived, and my sister would be getting there soon.  The plan had been for my sister to be present at delivery, and Kayla would wait in the waiting room with my 6 month old nephew so my sister could feed and attend to him when needed.  However, the ER staff would not let him into the waiting room overnight, so my sister was forced to go home.  We were both bummed, but the circumstances were understandable.

Because my sister was not able to be there, I asked Kayla if she would be there during delivery.  “Of course.  This will be the first birth that I’ve been to.  I can’t believe it’s time for Haven to be here!”

The nurses started my pitocin drip, and decided to start small to see where that would take me.  I was having contractions, but they were irregular, and they were hoping that the pitocin would regulate them into active labor.  I was frustrated because I was having two or three contractions in a row, but because they weren’t fully coming down into a rest in between, they would only count as one contraction.  So I was having them “six minutes apart”, but for three or four minutes at a time.

After awhile, the contractions were still not settling into a good pattern, so they turned my pitocin drip up to 4, then to 6.  The contractions were getting harder and harder, and I thought for sure I was progressing quite a bit.

Because I have had a miscarriage before, I knew what to expect from contractions.  In many ways, it gave me confidence to know that I would be able to handle them.  My coping mechanism for the contractions was closing my eyes, focusing on breathing, and grasping Josh’s hand.  I didn’t expect to need the hand, but I really did.

As the contractions came and went, I squeezed Josh’s hand (firmly, but not to the breaking point, lol), and Kayla talked me through the contractions as they rose and fell on the screen.  There were a couple of times that Josh was still holding my cup of ice chips from the last time that he had spooned some into my mouth, so his hand was not readily available.  All I could get out was, “Hand, hand, hand, HAND!!!”

After awhile, the doctor came back in to check my dilation.

“You are three centimeters and 90% effaced.”

Three. Centimeters???  Are you serious?  This was the first time that I questioned whether I could do it without an epidural.  The contractions were getting pretty strong, and I knew that as I approached 7-10 centimeters, it would just get harder.  The nurses asked me if I wanted some pain meds through my IV, but I felt like there was still quite a ways to go until I reached my pain threshold, so I declined.

The contractions became harder, and I suddenly felt sick to my stomach.  I grabbed the awkward plastic cone-shaped sick bag, but didn’t throw up.

Forty five minutes later, the doctor came to check me again.

“You are eight centimeters and 100% effaced.”

I lifted my head off the bed in shock.  “Eight???”

The nurse smiled at me.  “No wonder why you were feeling sick.  Your body was going through a ton of change.”

Ok.  I’m at an eight.  I can do this.  The end was in sight.

Just a little bit later, I was checked again.  The nurse said that as she was checking, she felt it change from a 9 to a 10.

“Whenever you feel the urge to push, just let us know.”  They began to set up the room for delivery.  The doctor put on his gown and gloves, the NICU nurses were on standby in the corner of the room, and other people were doing other things, but I was too busy to notice what else was going on.

“I feel like I have to push!”  I told them.

Everyone assumed their places.  My labor and delivery nurses were on each side of me, holding my legs.  Josh was by my head, holding my hand with one of his, and holding a cool rag to my forehead with his other.  Kayla was behind Josh, camera at the ready.  This was probably the time that I panicked the most, as I was cautioned not to push yet, but my body was involuntarily pushing anyway.  I focused all my energy on not pushing.

An oxygen mask was placed over my nose and mouth, and I was given the go ahead to start pushing.  I focused on one of the nurses as she counted me through the pushes.

“Good job, good job.  Again!”  I gave three pushes at a time, and by the third push, I was just ready to breathe again.  I could feel the muscles in my face bulging, but I really had no control over them.

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I had been worried about the pushing part, and how much it would hurt, especially if I tore.  If I’m being honest, it was not as bad as I imagined, and the things at the forefront of my mind were actually about how I was so thirsty and my mouth was so dry from the oxygen, and how I really needed some chapstick.  I kept on pushing because I wanted water and chapstick ASAP, haha.

“I see lots of hair,” the doctor said.  Good, I thought.  I had hoped she would have lots of hair to justify all the heartburn I had during my pregnancy.

After only twenty minutes of pushing, she was out.  She cried out for a second, but then she was quiet.  She was placed on the table between my legs, and I took off my oxygen mask and leaned up.

“I can’t see her!  I can’t see her!”  They wrapped her in a towel, and placed her on my belly, but the towel was over her face as they wiped her down.  She still was not crying after a few seconds, so they took her to the NICU nurses in the corner.

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As strange as is sounds, my focus wasn’t really on her at that point.  I knew she was in good hands, and I knew I still had more work to do.  They pressed down on my belly to deliver the placenta, and began stitching me up.  I didn’t really feel anything, even the poke of the needle to numb the area.  I was concentrating on keeping my body from shaking off the table.  I guess it was a combination of adrenaline, hormones, and maybe some effects of the pitocin.

They called Josh over to the corner where they were working on Haven.  They were using a manual oxygen pump to help her breathe.  She was grunting and working hard to keep the air sacs in her lungs open.  Josh began talking to her, and she opened her eyes wide and looked at him.  Josh said later that this was the coolest part for him.  I think this is exactly when he fell in love with her.

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“You can come to the NICU with her while we get her set up,” they told him.

Before they left, the nurse wrapped her in a blanket, and brought her over so I could see her for a few seconds.  I barely had time to register what she looked like before they had to take her away, but I was grateful I got to see her for a second.

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Josh followed them down the hall to the NICU, and they explained in better detail how they would help her breathe.  Then they had him come back to the delivery room while they did the “mean stuff”, like placing her IV, pricking her foot, and strapping on a machine to help her breathe.

After Josh got back to the room, my Mom arrived.  She had rushed from home, over four hours away.  For the next three hours, we waited in the delivery room until we could go see Haven in the NICU.

Finally, my labor and delivery nurses came with a wheelchair to wheel me down to the NICU to see her.  When we got there, she was in an open-air crib with a warming lamp above her.  She had wires coming out everywhere, and had a big CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) strapped to her head and covering her nose.  She had a small tube taped to her chin that went into her mouth, down her throat, and into her stomach to drain off air and fluid caused by the CPAP.  There was also an IV in her hand.

She looked so tiny and fragile, but at the same time, I couldn’t believe that she had fit inside of me.  There were the feet that had constantly poked out of the left side of my belly, and the bottom that had burrowed so far into my ribs on my right side.  Because of the CPAP, I couldn’t see much of her face, but I could see a thick tuft of brown hair poking out of the back.  I placed my hand lightly on her shoulder and arm.  “Hi honey,” I told her.

The NICU nurse explained all of the machines and how they were helping her, and what the numbers on her monitor meant.  She also told us that they had taken an X-Ray of her chest, and there was some fluid on her lungs, and possibly pneumonia.  They had started her on a round of antibiotics, and she was receiving IV fluids for nourishment.

Later that night, my Mom and I returned to the NICU to see her again, and I got to hold her for the first time.  We did Kangaroo Care, a technique where the baby is placed skin-to-skin inside your shirt, against your chest.  Finally, I was holding my baby girl.  The moment that I had been robbed of at delivery because of her circumstances was finally here.  Even though she was very sick and there were wires everywhere, all felt right in the world.

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I’ve been asked a couple of times if I had the birth experience that I had wanted.  The answer is yes and no.  I had a feeling during my pregnancy that Haven would come early, but I didn’t expect her to come this early.  I was 35 weeks and 5 days, which is considered late pre-term.  The biggest concern at this point is underdeveloped lungs, which was Haven’s biggest struggle.

I was not crazy about being induced, especially with pitocin, but I know that under the circumstances, it really was the best option for us.

I am so proud of myself that I was able to labor and deliver with no pain medication or epidural.  Maybe it is because I am now three weeks out from the experience, but I really honestly did not think that the labor process was all that bad.  I mean, I don’t want to do it again right now, but it does give me lots of confidence for future deliveries.

And above all, I am so glad that our Haven Harper is here, and is healthy.  Her first couple of weeks were rough, but she has proven herself to be a fighter.  In my next blog or two, I’ll talk about our NICU experience-the hard things and the beautiful things.  It was a life changing experience for sure.

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Birth Story Part 1…or, You’re Not Crazy

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 (35 Weeks and 3 Days)

I woke up that morning feeling crampy and stiff.  I didn’t think too much of it, because honestly, sleep had been difficult for weeks.  Usually, after getting up and moving around, the crampiness would go away.  I got up, poured a bowl of Pops, and settled down to read my Bible and journal.

The crampiness was not going away, though, and I was trying to pay attention to see if there was any kind of pattern or rise and fall to the discomfort.  There didn’t seem to be, so I decided to keep an eye on it throughout the day.

Later that morning, I texted my sister to let her know how I was feeling.  We planned on her being there during delivery, so I wanted to let her know just in case.  I just wasn’t sure what to make of the discomfort.  Do I chalk it up to the last few weeks of pregnancy?  Do I go in to get checked?  She suggested that I go in to get checked-better safe than sorry.

Josh was getting ready to take the car to go to work, so she offered to take me to the hospital.  My brother in law was working from home that day, so it would be possible for her to leave her two boys with him and go with me.

As we circled the parking lot trying to find a spot, I kept thinking, it’s probably nothing, and I’ll feel dumb if it is.  But we’re already here, so there’s kind of no going back.

We walked into the Emergency Room, and I told the receptionist, “I’m 35 weeks pregnant, and I might be having contractions, but I’m not sure.”

“Ok, follow me.”

They led me back through the ER doors, and my sister had to go around through the main entrance.  We wove through several hallways,  “Have you ruptured?”  She asked me.

“No.”

I was taken to the labor and delivery floor, and the receptionist had me sign in.  They took me to a triage room, and when I saw the hospital gown on the bed, things got real.  I mean, I just wanted to know if I was having contractions, not actually be admitted.  Memories from my ER experience during my miscarriage came flashing back.

When the nurses came in, they asked me what was going on.

“Ok, I just want to clarify,” I told them, “that I don’t think I’m actually in labor.  I think I’m having contractions, but I’m not sure, so I just wanted to get checked.”
They took my vitals, including my blood pressure.  It was elevated as it had been for the last few weeks.  I normally run in the 110s over 70s, but my blood pressure had lately been something like 135/90.  So not an astronomical number, but high for me.

They strapped the fetal monitors around my belly, and I watched the screen as they asked me questions about medical history.  I could see (with some relief) that I was having contractions, but they were not strong enough to be able to feel clear divisions between them.  It was justifying to see it on the screen, though, and to know that I wasn’t crazy.

The doctor then came in to check cervical dilation and take some swabs.  She said I was dilated 2 centimeters and 50 percent effaced, but that did not necessarily mean that I was in labor.  Many women can walk around at that stage for weeks before delivery.  They decided to monitor me for a few hours to see if I would progress at all.  I was given a big jug of water to drink, and at first I just thought it was a courtesy.  How thoughtful of them.  Come to find out, they wanted me to drink it like crazy to see if that would stop the contractions.

My sister and I got to know that triage room pretty well as we waited.  The nature of my contractions was not changing, so they told me they were going to give me IV fluids.  Until this point, I had never had an IV, at least not that I could remember (I did have one as a baby).

Two nurses came in to give me the IV, and I could tell that one was a student.  It took her a few tries to place the IV, which was not fun, but I just tried to stare at the spot I had picked out on the ceiling.  I could tell she felt really bad, and although it was definitely not fun, I didn’t want to freak out and make her freak out.

Eventually, the IV was placed, and they started the fluids.  After receiving the fluids for awhile, my contractions slowed and my blood pressure went down.  They concluded that it was probably an irritable uterus that was causing the contractions.  The uterus, they told me, is a muscle, and when I get dehydrated, it starts contracting.  So apparently I was dehydrated.  I guess I should not have had that big glass of sweet tea the day before.  Oops.

I was sent home with instructions to drink tons of water, rest, and to come back in if I started bleeding, if my water broke, or if I started having stronger contractions in a pattern.

Thursday, March 5th-Friday, March 6th (35 Weeks and 4 Days)

Sometime overnight, I began leaking amniotic fluid.  I didn’t recognize what it was at that point, because honestly I just thought I was getting really sweaty overnight.  By late morning on Friday, when I had had to change underwear again, I started to become suspicious.

I kept an eye on it for a few hours, but things were not changing.  My contractions were about the same as they had been for the last few days, but I was beginning to be able to feel a bit of a rise and fall with them, rather than a continuous background of discomfort.

By early evening, I was starting to think that we needed to go back to the hospital.  Josh was off work that day, but he had gone out on a walk, so I waited for him to get back.  I had started to write down the times of contractions, and they were ranging from three to seven minutes apart.

When Josh got back, we decided to go in to get checked again.  If it was still nothing this time, I was really going to feel stupid, but again, better safe than sorry.

We were taken into triage again, and I ended up seeing the same doctor that I had a few days before.

“So tell me what’s going on,” she said.

“Well,” I told her, “I think I might be leaking fluid.  And my contractions are getting a little stronger and more defined.”

She told me that she would check my dilation again, and take a sample to look at under the microscope to see if it was indeed amniotic fluid.  I was still dilated to a 2, but now I was 75 percent effaced.  After a few minutes, she returned with the results.

“Well, it is fluid.  Once you are ruptured, there is a risk for infection, so we will be admitting you and inducing you tonight.”

Ok.  It’s happening tonight.  I’m going to have a baby.  I felt strangely calm.

I really had hoped not to be induced with pitocin, so I asked her if there was any form of induction that we could do that was one step below pitocin.

“There are other methods, but at this point the infection risk is high so pitocin is your best option.”  If that was what I would have to do, then that’s what it would have to be.

With shaking hands and climbing adrenaline, I called my Mom.

“Well, they are inducing me tonight.”

Part 2 Coming Soon…