(4 days postpartum)
It's been hard to even know where to begin, or what to write... Elijah's Birth...maybe I should go in order:
When I saw Dr. Kim on Monday morning, she checked me and I was 3 cm dilated and 70-80% effaced. She said, "Well, I think today's the day. Are you going to have an epidural?" I said, "No. No epidural." "Then go shopping. Walk around and call me when your contractions are 7-8 minutes apart." So, we went home and frantically began trying to finish our to do list, and the contractions got stronger. We went to Trader Joe's and stocked up on a few fresh food items as snacks for during labor and for the eventual hospital trip. The contractions got stronger and closer together. We got a lot done.
Around 7:30pm the contractions were timing at almost exactly 7 minutes apart with a few only 5 minutes apart just to let me know it was really time. We headed to the hospital and I had to really focus. I didn't think about anything except the contraction at hand. I had a little mantra: You can do this. You are doing this. You are already doing this. The contraction pain was tough, and the back labor was probably the worst part about it, but in between contractions I got a break. And that was enough of a relief.
We pulled up in front of the hospital, left the car in front with the hazards on, grabbed our bags and went straight up to the 3rd floor Labor and Delivery. As I was about to buzz in to enter the doors, I started having a contraction right as a nurse was pushing a woman out of the doors in a wheelchair. She shouted, "There's a woman in labor here, she's in pain." I didn't know that this tiny woman, all of 4' nothing, was to be my labor nurse...Mariam. The angel. I don't know who directed me or how I got to my labor room, but I somehow ended up there and Mariam came in a couple of minutes later. She had already been expecting me. Dr. Kim had called the hospital to tell them I would be coming in at some point, and everyone was briefed on the Down Syndrome diagnosis- which was nice, because I didn't have to tell each and every person myself. Mariam asked if I was going to have an epidural, and again I said no. She was thrilled- she is also a midwife and feels it's an honor to be able to assist someone going through with a completely natural childbirth. I couldn't have been paired up with a better person. She knew exactly what to say and how to encourage me. While the contractions got closer together I had quite a group forming in the room: My Mom, my Dad, My sister Tricia, my best friend Denise and, of course, Charles. I don't know if I was a difficult person to be around, but I did need complete silence when I went into a contraction so that I could focus on breathing and not on my Dad's conversation about the Laker's score, or whatever they were talking about. I do know I was snippy and asked for no talking. I let Mariam be the "bad guy" and kick everyone out as it got really close- I was 7-8 cm dilated, 100% effaced and Dr. Kim was on her way. My good friend, Bryna, was also on her way. I asked her to help coach me through it all since 2 years ago she had a natural, home birth with her daughter Lily. Her labor was 36 hours long and Lily was just over 9 lbs. I was in awe and knew that she would know what to say, and knew that she had been there and would understand. Bryna got there as the contractions were timing about 3 minutes apart, so she was able to help coach me through the most intense part. Dr. Kim arrived just as I was starting to feel the urge to push.
All of a sudden I got freaked out about pushing Elijah out. I suddenly thought, "Oh no! Now I have to get him out! How am I going to get him out?!" A few back and forth thoughts in my mind were battling it out to see if there was any way around it. ...of course, there wasn't. He was coming whether I was ready or not. Dr. Kim said, "Jennifer, if you feel like you want to push, go ahead and push." I'd say, "Ok, I'm gonna push...noooo...nevermind, not going to push!!" This went on about 2 or 3 times and then the urge to push outweighed the fear of doing it. Unlike my experience with a worn-off epidural when I gave birth to Christian, the pushing was much different and much easier. My body literally took over... like when you have diarrhea and your body just takes over and gets rid of it. (Sorry for the visual image, but it's the most similar feeling I can think of.) After the first push, I felt it: The Burning. Bryna had warned me about it, and I thought maybe I had some of that when I had Christian. (insert small giggle here, because what I felt with Christian was no where near this.) I just looked at Bryna and said, "The Burning." She looked at me back and said, "I know, Jen. I know. Just push into it." I don't know how many pushes I did...not many...maybe 7 or 8? But, before I knew it, he was out!! And there was this enormous relief of pain and rush of euphoria that hit me. I did it. He is here! And he's not sedated in any way, which is what I really wanted. I wanted to feel like I could do something for him that would be selfless and that might, just might, be slightly better for him than another path. But, I was wrong: It wasn't completely selfless, because I felt like a ROCK STAR!!!!!!! Elijah was whisked away by the nurses off into the corner to be checked thoroughly. There was a lot of whispering. I couldn't see him from where I was lying on the bed. They didn't put him on my chest to wipe him down first. They just took him. Thank God for the Rock Star feeling, because it was 45 minutes before I got to see my son and hold him. My family and friends came in and oohed and awwed and commented on how cute he is. I finally got to hold him for about 2 minutes and then it was explained that his oxygen saturation levels were a little low and they were taking him to the NICU. I was a little shocked, honestly. I guess despite all of my concerns about medical issues, the thought of being separated from him right away had never fully occurred to me. My family and friends began excusing themselves for the night, as it was after 1am, and Charles started moving our stuff to the recovery room. Mariam suggested a shower, and I will say that if I could only pick one reason to recommend a natural birth, it might be all about that heavenly first shower...
Once in my room, Charles and I dug into our Trader Joe snacks and made a meal out of cheese and crackers, strawberries and oranges, raw trail mix and potato chips with hummus. It's a good thing we brought that stuff, because I don't know if we would have had any other options. I was still in shock that my baby wasn't with me. I was wheeled over to see Elijah, who had an oxygen tube in his nose. The neonatologist, Dr. Mah was there along with the cardiologist, Dr. Leon. They did the ultrasound on his heart with us sitting there to watch. It was everything I had been seeing on my ultrasounds with Dr. Ballet, but bigger and clearer now that he was born. Everything on the ultrasound seemed to be looking good, but the doctors told us they would finish up and meet us back in our room to talk. When they got there, Dr. Leon confirmed that there are no heart defects- the #1 most common problem in babies with Down Syndrome! (Huge sigh of relief.) He was clearly happy to be giving this report. Dr. Mah explained that Eli's oxygen saturation levels were still low and that he really believed it was just a transitional respiratory issue, but that Elijah would probably have to be in the NICU for a couple of days, and that he would check back in tomorrow. My heart sank.
I couldn't sleep much that night. I was still on a high from the birth and from meeting Elijah for the first time and I was concerned about why he was in the NICU. I slowly walked myself over to see him while Charles was sleeping. He was lying on a warming table with an oxygen tube taped in his nose, two different IV's (one for fluid, one for food) laced into his umbilical cord and sensors stuck all over his little body. The two nurses on staff were like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum- the monitor was going off like crazy and they couldn't seem to figure out which wire went where. I couldn't take the monitor alarms anymore and walked slowly back to my room.
On Wednesday, I had a day full of visitors and by that night got the devastating news that I would be discharged on Thursday, but Eli would be staying in the NICU. It was a bad, bad night for me.
Early Thursday morning I lifted the shade on my hospital room to let in some light in hopes that a little sun and perspective could get me back to my optimistic place. But the tears came hard... The hormones are a lot...The hormones are ENOUGH...but there is more. I'm getting a crash course in how to be an advocate for my baby. Everything about what's happening to Elijah is confusing. Some things make sense and some things don't. He just doesn't seem sick. Physically he looks great. In fact, every nurse has commented on how minor his physical characteristics of Down Syndrome are...Well, actually, they don't SAY Down Syndrome at first. They tiptoe around saying it by saying things like, "Babies like this," "babies with this condition," "because of his diagnosis"- but never the words Down Syndrome until I've said them first. Once they hear how open I am, I see them relax a little. But, every shift there are new nurses, so we go through the dance again while the nurses speak in virtual code and are almost impossible to understand- all for the fear of saying two little words.
Flash forward. It's 4 days post partum and I was discharged on Thursday, but Eli is still in the NICU. There seem to be a whole lot of protocols that will need to be met before he can get out of there. The facts I know now, are that Eli has a condition called Pulmonary Hypertension, but the doctors say they think it is just transitional in his case. Apparently all babies have this necessary condition in the womb, but that immediately upon birth the transition takes place. With Eli, the transition is taking longer. If their diagnosis is correct, then we should be relieved. But, as his Mom, I just want him 100% and at home with us. My mental and emotional state right now is pretty fragile. I was on a constant roller coaster between euphoria and depression: I would see and spend some time with Eli and feel like everything was going to be alright and that I couldn't be more in love with any little living thing in the world. But then I'd find out he'd have to stay in the NICU a little longer, and depression would strike. Now, I'm feeling less of the euphoria and more of the depression. I feel so empty. Five days ago, I had a baby inside of me and now he is out, I am back home, my body is recovering and I only get to see him 2-3 times a day. The doctors only want me to nurse him 2 times a day, so he can reserve his energy and weight for getting better. He has surprised me and latched on right away and seems to like breastfeeding. Today when I saw him for the second time, he wouldn't nurse though. I started feeling pressure to bottle feed him, so that the nurses charts continue to look good. I'm pumping like crazy and trying to keep it all together, but not succeeding very well. The doctor says he thinks we're looking at Eli being in the NICU for another week and that he is doing well, although he is on a slow track. I'm afraid to get my hopes up as to when he'll come home.
Christian doesn't understand any of what's going on and I haven't even bothered to try to tell him anything. He's too young. What he does know is that Mommy is sad. He says, "Mommy- you not sad. You happy, right?" (Insert more guilt and crying here.) I'm trying so hard to give him a ton of love and have special time with him now that I'm not working. When I'm not at the hospital with Eli, I'm home trying to do something fun with Christian, but my heart is having a hard time with fun right now. The NICU is cold and depressing, pumping is a drag and some of the nurses that I have to spend time with just seem to want to be unfriendly. Well, I guess there is just one like that... Mary. I REALLY don't like Mary. Nothing takes her out of her frigid, chip-on-her-shoulder demeanor. I'm helpless to do anything for my son, so I direct my frustration at Mary. Mary: I do not like you.
I'm trying to keep it all in perspective, but I don't think the Hormones know what perspective IS. My funny and lovely friend, Carrie, had her beautiful baby boy, River, on Thursday and she texted me to say that she "Forgot how emotional the whole giving birth thing is." I'm with you, Carrie. I didn't know how my heart would grow enough for two children, but it immediately and geometrically did just that. And in it all, I have found both indescribable joy and desperate fear for these little lives I'm responsible for now.
So...it isn't pretty and it isn't perfect, but it is what I am going through right now. And, so, when I wonder how I can take any more, I think of my mantra: You can do this. You are doing this. You are already doing this.