henry's birth story

It’s been almost three months since I gave birth to our little Henry. I’ve wanted to write his birth story for weeks but as a brand new mom I’ve struggled to find the time. As I type this from my laptop on the couch Henry is snuggled up in his daddy's arms while daddy plays a video game. Multitasking is the name of the game these days. And this post is going to be a long one.

Henry Grant Earl was born exactly two weeks early at 3:59am on Thursday, May 14. He weighed 5 lbs, 7 oz and measured 18 inches long. His early arrival into this world started at my 37-week OB appointment on Wednesday, May 6 when my blood pressure registered at 146/98. We’d been monitoring it closely since I'd hit the third trimester and while it’d been a bit high this was a significant change. 

My OB sent me to triage at the hospital where Henry and I were monitored for 6+ hours. Because of COVID, I had to go to triage alone. Thankfully my BP stabilized and Henry looked perfect so I got to go home. The next day I went back to triage for a BP check. It was in the 140s when I got there but settled down quickly so they sent me home. That weekend my church friends hosted a beautiful drive-by baby shower for me. 

I wasn't scheduled to see my OB again until Thursday but on Monday (May 11) I called her office to see if I could move my appointment up. After the BP scare waiting until Thursday to be checked again felt like a really long time. The receptionist said she could see me at 1pm that afternoon so I took the appointment. 

When I got to my appointment my BP was 134/92. Next thing I knew my OB came in and said, “Well, now it’s time for you to have your baby.” She officially diagnosed me with pregnancy induced hypertension and called the hospital to schedule my induction. They had an opening the next morning at 8am. Suddenly everything became more real. 

I called Dale to let him know that I was coming home but that tomorrow was going to be the day. My OB warned me that inductions can take a good 24 hrs so I figured we’d most likely have Henry sometime on Wednesday. Being induced ended up being one of the longest, most frustrating processes of my life. 

Tuesday morning (May 12) we checked into the hospital. Due to COVID, we knew we wouldn't be able to leave our room until after Henry was born and we were moved from L&D to postpartum. Being in the same room eating only hospital food and the snacks we'd brought for over 48 hours was rough. 

The first day things didn't get started until mid morning once the midwife on duty arrived and was making her rounds. My first midwife's name was Stephanie. She checked my cervix (I seriously had no idea how painful that exam would be) and I was only about 30% effaced and at a 1.5. That meant cervical ripening was needed to get labor going. 

At noon Stephanie placed a prostoglandin called Cervidil behind my cervix to start the ripening process and strengthen my contractions. For the next 12 hours the nurse monitored me and Henry while we waited for the Cervidil to do its job. At midnight Stephanie came back to see what progress I'd made. She took the Cervidil out and to our disappointment, my cervix hadn't really budged. 

Thankfully I had an awesome night nurse named Kathy who helped me feel at ease despite the pain and disappointment. My contractions continued to increase throughout the night but Henry was no where near ready to start making his arrival. 

The next step was to give me Misoprostol, another prostoglandin, orally every four hours up to four times. Wednesday morning the shift change brought Danielle as my new midwife. After two doses of the Misoprostol, when Danielle checked my cervix it still wasn't ripe. She administered my third dose of Misoprostol and went over my options for next steps. When she came back in four hours I could either try one last dose of the medication and wait another four hours or go straight to the Foley catheter. 

By this point I was overly exhausted and struggling both physically and mentally. The cervical exams were incredibly painful and I was really discouraged that after 24 hours I hadn't made any real progress. I started to wonder if anything would work and sobbed to Dale after Danielle left the room. 

Dale and I talked over the options Danielle had given us and decided to move to the Foley catheter after my third dose of Misoprostol. Talking with Danielle she explained how the Foley catheter would act like the baby's head pressing down on my cervix to get active labor started. She said in her experience the catheter had never not worked and that I could have some pain medication to help me relax while she placed it. Even though I hadn't planned on taking any opioids, I didn't have the mental or physical strength to go through another, even more painful, cervical exam without some assistance. 

Wednesday afternoon I got a small does of pain medication and Danielle successfully placed the catheter. Getting the pain meds was absolutely the right decision for me. After a few hours the catheter started to increase the frequency and intensity of my contractions. I was ready for the epidural. 

To my delight, at shift change my night nurse Kathy came back on duty! This was a total tender mercy, comfort, and blessing. Sadly I didn't get a picture with her but she looked like my brother-in-law Ian's mom Patricia, had a calming demeanor like my mom, and the same name as Dale's mom. I seriously wondered if she was actually real that's how wonderful she was. The floor wasn't busy so I was her only assigned patient that night. Without her and Dale there is no way I would haven gotten through labor and delivery.

Anesthesiology came to give me my epidural. Hands down best decision I could have made. After I got the epidural I was able to sleep for a few hours while the Foley catheter worked its magic. Around 10pm on one of Kathy's checks she asked me if I was feeling more pressure down below. I'd woken up to the pressure and told her yes. When she went to check my cervix my water broke and the catheter popped right out. I was at a 7 and 100% effaced...it was labor time! 

I learned pretty quickly that unfortunately epidurals don't help with back labor. Henry was sunny side up and my back labor was intense. Following the catheter coming out my contractions kept increasing and I got to a 10 pretty quickly. Kathy positioned my legs to help turn Henry and soon it was time to call the midwife. 

Alisha, the midwife who had come on duty, was all business. As soon as she got in the room my contractions slowed down and I felt silly that we'd called her in already. Although her bedside manner was somewhat lacking it didn't really matter. Between Dale and Kathy I had the emotional support I needed to get through labor and Alisha was good at her job. She delivered Henry perfectly and stitched up my third degree tear beautifully. 

I ended up pushing for over two hours and threw up six or seven times. Dale and Kathy would hold up my legs, I'd grab the back of my thighs, take a deep breath, and then hold it while I pushed in 10 second intervals. Every few contractions I'd motion to Dale to get the barf bag and I'd puke as soon as I finished pushing. 

My back labor continued to be intense and towards the end all I could think was, "How is this baby not here yet? I can't do this anymore." I'd start to push and run out of breath and start to feel hysterical. Then I'd get it together and we'd go again. Eventually Alisha had me change positions so I could bear down on the side handles of the bed instead of holding my legs up. That helped conserve the little bit of energy I had left.

When I was getting close to the ring of fire, Kathy looked deep into my eyes between contractions and said lovingly but firmly that when the time came I'd want to pull back and instead I needed to lean into it. Her advice was spot on. Those last several pushes I kept thinking, "Ok this one has got to be the last one. He's got to come now. Why isn't he coming?" I pushed with everything I had left and when his head finally popped out I felt this huge release of pressure and suddenly the rest of his body came shooting out. Henry was here! 

He'd been in the birth canal a long time and came out stunned. Alisha held him up long enough for Dale to cut the cord and then the baby nurses took him over to the warming table to work on him. I delivered the placenta shortly thereafter and I just kept looking over at the table and asking if he was ok. Dale was still by my side and even though it felt like forever, after a couple of minutes they brought our Henry over and laid him on my chest. I'd waited my entire life for that moment and it was as beautiful as I imagined. 

While Alisha stitched me up I held our sweet Henry on my bare chest while Dale and I marveled at this amazing little boy we'd created together. That golden hour was over too soon but it's a moment in time I will forever cherish. Just thinking about it again brings tears to my eyes. 

The rest of Henry's first few days of life were not at all what I thought they'd be. Thursday morning they moved us down to postpartum and a few hours later they were admitting Henry to the NICU for low sugars. We spent the next two days in the hospital and almost didn't get to bring him home with us when I was discharged on Saturday. 

Soon I'll write more about the experience of Henry being in the NICU, particularly during the pandemic. For now, Henry's birth story is finally written before my maternity leave is over. Hooray! 

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