Warning: grab some coffee or a red bull. This is going to take awhile. If you’d like to skip all the reading though, there are PICTURES BELOW!!!
Cassie’s POV (Ben will be offering his later):
It’s true what they say. That time goes by so quickly once you have a child. It’s been two months since our little bean joined this world and I can’t believe I’m just now getting around to this post. There is so much to say about the birth of Tessa and yet, I don’t know if I have enough words to truly capture the experience.
For those that don’t know, Ben and I chose to have a home birth. This is a decision that I will never, ever regret. It was one of the most amazing experiences in my life. I’m choosing to share our birth story because it’s something I don’t want to forget and because when we were researching home birth options, it was so encouraging to read other people’s stories.
Ben and I took Bradley classes to help prepare for our birth. We signed up for the classes before we decided on a home birth. We had planned to go as natural as possible in the hospital, but we learned so much in our classes and felt so confident in my body to do what it was made to do and in Ben’s ability to coach, that we made the decision to birth at home.
My due date was Wednesday, May 12, 2010. We had taken polls at work to see who would come closest to the date, time, weight and length of Miss Tessa Jane. I chose May 12 at 10:30 am. Near the end of my pregnancy I had it in my head that she would come at exactly 40 weeks. A few days prior to my due date, I met with my midwife. I was 80% effaced, but only 2 cm dilated. Even though women can go for weeks at 2 cm, I knew it wouldn’t be long. I asked Ben to take off Tuesday and I decided to go ahead and begin my maternity leave that day as well. I told my mom to go ahead and fly in (she was planning on it anyways to surprise us) so she flew in either Monday or Tuesday evening. On Tuesday, Ben and I took care of some errands to get ready for the labor to come – stocking the fridge and cleaning the house since we would have a houseful of people for the big day.
On Wednesday (my due date) we decided to take a walk on the greenway since that it supposed get labor going. We had been walking for about 10 minutes and Ben suggested we take a break. We sat down at a picnic table and Ben told me to put my feet in his lap – they were swollen beyond recognition. The moment I lifted my legs up, I knew that either my water broke or I had peed all over myself (if you ever want to have a picnic on the greenway, call me first and I’ll tell you which table to avoid.) I told Ben what happened and we stood up to assess the situation. I was still “trickling” and couldn’t stop it so sure enough, my water had broken. At 11:30 am on the greenway. I was too uncomfortable to walk the few blocks back to the house so we called my mom and she picked us up.
When we got home, I cleaned up and we tried to contact our midwife, Debi. She was at a conference in Nashville – no luck on the first try so we left a voice mail. I was still in early labor, so I wasn’t worried that we couldn’t reach her. I snacked on some fruit and whole grain foods to get ready for the big day. We already had our birth pool set up – it just needed to be filled with water. We contacted our parents and Jason and Jaime, since Jaime was our designated photog for the day, to update them and then we waited for active labor to begin. Ben timed my contractions (thank you iPhone and your amazing apps!) while I rotated between the birth ball, the couch and the bed. Ben had turned on my “calm” birth playlist. Yes, I made two playlists for that day: the “fun” playlist and the “calm” playlist. Not one time did the “fun” playlist get turned on, but hey, you never know. My idea was that maybe Tess would be born while Vampire Weekend or Edward Sharpe was playing. That totally didn’t happen.
Things picked up around 4:00 pm. My contractions were super close together and I was beginning to feel the “painful” contractions. The ones you can no longer talk through and have to put all your focus on just to get through them. Yeah, those ones. Cue active labor. We tried contacting Debi again and when we couldn’t reach her, we contacted the backup midwife. In the meantime, Ben’s mom and stepdad had arrived, along with some of our close friends. The ladies and Ben began filling the birth pool up. This was the only timed Ben left my side during that day – to help fill up the pool. Once he delegated that task he was right back at my side and didn’t leave.
Side note – Random things I remember during active labor:
- At one point, I asked my mom to put makeup on me so I would look decent for the pictures. Not even kidding.
- I wanted to want sushi so bad and instead I threw up everything in me and did not want to eat a thing. Boo.
- I banned Jaime from picture-taking during a particularly difficult contraction.
- Those midwives are insistent on keeping fluids in the laboring mom. Someone was offering me a drink every 5 minutes. Unfortunately, no one offered me a margarita during that time. I really think that would have helped : )
- I begged for Tylenol just to take the edge off.
- I lost all sense of decency during the course of labor. I don’t know that it’ll ever come back.
- People just kind of buzzed in and out of the room and at any given time there could have been up to 10 people in our bedroom. While I was in labor. And I love that aspect of laboring at home.
Once I was a little further into active labor, I began begging to get in that pool. However, getting in too early can slow labor down so it’s suggested to wait until you’re at least 5 cm dilated. Well, there weren’t any midwives there yet so I couldn’t be checked and there was no way I was checking myself. My mom, who is a nurse, offered to check. I adamantly refused. I finally gave in on the 4th or 5th offer when she proclaimed me to be at 3 or 4 if I remember correctly. Ugh. I think it was at that point that I questioned the whole natural birth idea and probably blamed Ben for all the pain I was feeling. Handsome Ben, who was still by my side. While we waited for the midwives to arrive (yes, we finally reached our primary midwife and she was en route!) I labored in the closet, in the bathroom and in bed.
Debi and the other midwives arrived around the same time. What time? I have no idea. I lost all sense of time after 4:00 pm. She checked me and while I wasn’t quite ready for the pool, I was close, and so they began adding boiling water to warm it up some. Soon thereafter I got the go ahead to get in and sweet baby Jesus, what a relief. The contractions had become more intense and that hot water was a lifesaver. I wanted to set up permanent residence in that pool because people kept bringing in boiling water so it never got cold. I think I spent quite a while laboring the birth pool. I had gotten out once or twice to use the bathroom, but it was definitely my place of refuge. It was so relieving to sit on my bum and recline against the cushiony side while hot water surrounded me, but I knew that if Tessa was ever going to come out, I’d have to change positions eventually. I tried getting on my knees and leaning over the side so gravity could help out a bit. BAD decision! Gravity hurts! That position created much more pressure down there that I wasn’t quite ready for.
I was ready to get that baby out though. I had Debi check me and I was around a 7 I think. I labored in the bed some and on a chair, but eventually decided to hop in the shower so I could have the benefit of warm water and gravity at the same time. I let the water rain down on my back while I leaned against Ben (world’s best husband and labor coach.) I think that’s what I needed – a little help from gravity. I hadn’t really felt “pushy” until then.
I got out and dried off and made my way to the bed. I thought I wanted to deliver in the water, but the bed is what my body was calling out for. Cue transition. I don’t know how long I was in transition – the details almost blur together. For whatever reason, I decided I was going to labor through transition and pushing while on my side. I got set up and tried to breathe and remain calm and focused while the midwives monitored me and Tessa (they had been doing this all along. Even in the water, every 30min-1hour, one of the midwives would monitor the baby to see how she was doing.)
At some point, I was told I could push. And so I did. For me, pushing was a glorious thing. I say that because contractions were hell. Plain and simple. They hurt and I couldn’t feel any kind of progress being made. With pushing, I could feel Tessa making her way into this world. I pushed and pushed, two steps forward and one step back. My midwife asked if I wanted her to hold a mirror up so I could see down there. Umm, no thanks – I’ve got enough going on. Then she asked if I wanted to feel the head. No thanks again, but she grabbed my hand and made me feel Tessa’s slimy little fur-covered head. Wow. This was it. I pushed some more and could feel myself tear – not what I expected – it was an intense stinging sensation, but it didn’t distract me too much. More pushing. More pain. More progress.
And then she came out. At 11:54 pm on Wednesday, May 12, 2010. I pushed for 45 minutes total.
Side note: Apparently no one (the midwives) thought I’d be giving birth that night. They all thought she wouldn’t come until the next day, so for most of the evening while I was laboring, everyone else was eating sushi (my top request, even though I didn’t get any until around 2:00 am) and sipping coffee and mingling in the living room.
I didn’t know something was wrong immediately. She didn’t get placed directly on my chest as I had hoped, but I thought they were just cleaning out the mucus and gunk from her mouth and nose. Then they put the oxygen mask on her and I knew something wasn’t right. She had RDS. Respiratory Disease Syndrome. They moved her up closer to me and continued to work on her for about 20 minutes. And then we had a choice. We could keep her at home and see if she pulls out of it on her own or we could send her to the ER to get checked out. As much as we wanted to fulfill the home birth of our dreams, we couldn’t risk it so we called 911 and they came to get her. It was a circus at our place. We had an ambulance, a fire truck, and a rescue truck in front of our house. Guess we should have notified our neighbors in advance of our home birth plans.
A whole gaggle of firemen paraded into our bedroom and scooped up little Tess in their arms. I think that was one of the saddest times for me – a complete stranger held our baby girl before we did (nevermind the fact that I was laying there in all my just-gave-birth-glory – all modesty goes out the window during labor and delivery.) Ben had already packed up his daddy bag and took Tessa and held her while they rode to the hospital. While they were outside getting ready to go, they asked if we were sure we wanted to send her to the ER. Little Tessa was so alert and looked every one of those burly men in the eyes, melting their big ol’ hearts. She was breathing better, but we decided to send her anyways. The main objective through the entire birth was a healthy baby and a healthy mom. Better safe than sorry.
So off she went to the ER, along with everyone else in the house! I was left there with my midwives and my mom since I still needed to be stitched/cleaned up (I had a 1st degree tear so it wasn’t bad at all, but I didn’t realize the numbing process on my hoo-hah involved needles. That was the only time I used foul language during the entire labor/birth!) Back to Tess – at first it seemed like things would be ok and she would get to come home later that evening. We were then told they wanted to monitor her just to be sure. Ugh, but ok – I tried to remember the main goal – healthy mom, healthy baby. So I get to Skyridge a few hours later (2-3 am) and finally get to see my baby girl. She was on oxygen from the get-go because of the RDS so we had to maneuver wires and tubes anytime we held her, but it was definitely worth it to have her in our arms. They had a room for us to stay in so we finally got to bed around 5 am and slept until 8 or 9 am. We thought we’d be taking Tess home Thursday evening, but the on-call pediatrician had ordered some lab work during the night and some of the tests came back abnormally high. They begin a treatment of antibiotics on her since something’s wrong, but they’re not exactly sure what. The tests were done again. Again, abnormally high results.
By now, it’s Thursday evening and we’ve set our hearts on taking our girl home hopefully before the weekend is over. The pediatrician decided to test Tessa for Group B Strep. I tested negative for this, but they wanted to test anyway to rule it out since her lab work was all wonky (technical term.) The nurse says we’ll have the results by morning. Around 5:30 Friday morning, the nurse wakes me up and says that Tessa tested positive for Group B Strep and that Tessa would be transported to the NICU at Erlanger in Chattanooga. Our hearts stopped. Skyridge had never had a Group B Strep + baby and the NICU was the only place to provide adequate care. We contacted our families and close friends and prepare for the transport. They brought Tess to our room in the special transport carrier (I have no idea what it’s called.) Our hearts broke into a million pieces. She was still alert, but we could see how sad and scared she was in her eyes. Once paperwork was completed they took Tessa and we went home to drop our things off and head to Erlanger.
Once we got to Erlanger we found out that we qualified to stay at the Ronald McDonald house and they had a space open for us. That was a miracle from God. I cannot imagine driving back and forth everyday to visit Tess. And I cannot say enough good things about this charity. It was an amazing blessing to be able to stay there and we hope to get in some volunteer hours there once Tess is a bit older. If you’re looking for charity to donate your time and/or money to, please visit the Ronald McDonald House of Chattanooga.
We found out that Tessa would have to stay in the NICU for at least 8 more days to finish her 10-day round of antibiotics (2 days were completed at Skyridge.) During that time we had overwhelming support from our families and friends. The outpouring of love we received was almost overwhelming at times. We will never be able to pay them back for the support they gave us – people brought us food, cleaned our house, stocked our fridge, mowed our lawn, took care of our bill at the RM house, filled our gas tanks, brought us cupcakes, came to visit, called, texted, emailed, facebooked and the list goes on and on. (I couldn’t even type all that without tearing up. We have amazing people in our lives.)
Every day (4-5 x/day) Ben and I would walk across the street to the NICU, ring the desk, get cleared to enter, scrub up and feel like the luckiest parents in the world. Our little Bean was located in Pod 5 (they keep about 8 babies in each pod) which meant we walked by another pod on our way in. It also meant that we saw some of the tiniest, sickest babies in the area. Babies that were born three months early, with blood on the brain. Babies that may not make it. Babies that it seemed didn’t have any visitors. After visiting with some of the parents we met during our time there, there was no way that we could feel sorry for ourselves, because no matter how many more tests had to be run or how sad it was to see our little girl hooked up to all those wires, there were babies that were fighting much harder than our baby girl. Our hearts and prayers go out to those families and friends that we made during our brief stint in the NICU.
And it was brief. On May 22, we brought our little bug home to the tunes of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros song Home (if you don’t know it, you should listen to it asap.) Tessa Jane weighed in at 8 lbs 11 oz and was 21 1/2 ” long when she was born. Our lives have never been the same and our hearts have grown to a new capacity.
Last side note I promise! I could not have done this without Ben. I know the woman is the one who has to actually carry the baby for nine months and push the kid out, but without Ben there is no way I could have done a home birth. He was an amazing coach. He stayed by my side and was everything I needed him to be. Labor consists of much more than just the obvious physical hurdle – there are emotional, spiritual and mental aspects too – and I could not have faced those things without him. He played just as much a role in Tessa’s birth as I did.
Thanks to everyone for your prayers and support. We love you all! And now for the picture play-by-play. And for those of you that might be reading this at work, I left out the actual pushing pictures, so there’s nothing gross to look at or a need to be worried that your boss might walk by and see some crazy home birther pushing an almost 9 lb baby out of her hoo-hah.
Thanks Jaime for capturing that day. I’m sure you saw a side (all sides) of me that you might wish to forget, but we are so glad you were able to help us preserve that day in pictures.