When I started writing this, the little guy was exactly one month old. The little man who we waited and waited and waited (and waited) for is already one month old. I don't understand how the last 4 weeks of pregnancy seemed to last for decades, but the first four weeks out-of-womb has been a blink.
Last April, mostly on a whim, I decided to take a pregnancy test. I'd been feeling a little off and I hadn't taken a test in awhile. I wasn't really expecting a positive test, because I frequently feel "a little off" so when that very faint positive line showed up, my heart skipped a major beat. I had ZERO time to dwell on it, however, because the family was loaded in the van all ready to head to Mia's first communion retreat so I took a very short double take and ran out the door. At that point, I had no idea how I would discreetly share the news with Andrew whilst surrounded by all the parents of the second graders during a retreat. Once we finally got settle in the packed conference room, I wrote him a little note on our paper to the effect of... "Surprise in 9 months?" He nodded and smiled. There's not a lot of hoopla when it's kid number five, I guess.
We were not extremely forthcoming in announcing the pregnancy. It took months before I could really grasp that we were going to be parents of five. I was not at all mentally prepared for another child, and until I felt the little babe kicking, I was pretty resistant to the idea. That's probably why I wasn't super pumped to share the news. Morning sickness was awful which convinced me it was a girl, and also convinced me that 34 was getting too old to have babies. I kept asking God why he was trusting me with another one when I was feeling so overwhelmed with the four we already had. The whole pregnancy became an enormous trial of trust for me.
We were due on Christmas day, which helped a bit with my resistance to the pregnancy, because I frequently considered what our Blessed Mother must have felt being so young and so pregnant with Jesus. But as December rolled around, I became more and more anxious for the kid to just arrive. Every single pregnancy, despite my history of almost always going late, I convince myself that THIS baby will come early. Especially since my c-section with number 3, it just made sense in my head that my body wouldn't gestate long enough to make a giant baby. But it seems I just don't go into labor before my due date.
Christmas plans with our extended families were all scheduled around when Baby U5 might show up. The entire holiday season was sort of a weird-didn't-feel-like-Christmas-blur. On my 35th birthday, the week before Christmas, instead of getting a baby, I received terrible news. My awesome Obstetrician who had journeyed with me through my first VBAC had to have sudden emergency bypass surgery and was going to be out for at least 8 weeks. This meant big troubles for me. Most OB's weren't supportive of me having a vaginal birth after cesarean even though I had done it once before. Though my risks were much lower than last time, I was still too "high risk" for most OB's to respect my wishes for a natural birth, and I was very fearful of what OB partner I would be assigned to for U5. When Greta was born, I knew I would likely have a fight on my hands once I arrived at the hospital in labor and demanded they not cut me. But with this baby, I was so looking forward to a normal birth. And that's what my regular OB would have given me. He had been treating me like a normal patient for the entirety of my pregnancy... instead of like a ticking time bomb... and I was so unhappy that I had to go back to that time bomb feeling with a new provider.
After advice from a good doula friend, I picked an OB partner who was very kind and sweet. But once she read my history, every single visit consisted of her looking at me with fear in her eyes. She was terrified of me rupturing and as I got more and more pregnant, she got more and more nervous. Thanks be to God, she was a soft spoken person who didn't use many scare tactics, but I had a hunch that she was really praying that I would not go into labor so she would have reason to schedule a section. She wasn't going to be on call for the Christmas holiday, however, and I was told that I certainly did NOT want one of the on call docs if I wanted my VBAC. That had me very worried. Christmas came and Christmas went. As did every day afterwards. With each day, I became more and more frustrated that I wasn't in labor. Finally on New Year's Eve I started having more regular contractions. They were a little tougher than pre labor and they were consistent for about 10 hours. I had my parents come down and Andrew and I headed into L&D around midnight. Much to my chagrin, I had not progressed at all. They sent me home. I labored almost the entire day of New Year's but then contractions stopped. And there I was. One week overdue, no real labor in sight, and very frustrated.
At my next check up - 10 days overdue at that point, the OB wanted to at least get my section scheduled. I agreed to scheduling at that point because maybe that was what was supposed to happen. I expected to be scheduled for 42 weeks exactly. But I talked to the doctor about a gentle induction by breaking my water and she said she'd talk to the hospital about it and get back to me. I received a phone call the next day from her notifying me that the hospital was in no way comfortable with an AROM induction and that she would see me "tomorrow" for my scheduled section. My jaw dropped. No one had informed me that it had been scheduled "tomorrow." I told her that I had not been informed of that date, and I was hoping for 42 weeks exactly. I didn't have all my ducks in a row for surgery in less than 24 hours. Thank goodness she was able to reschedule it for the following Friday afternoon at exactly 42 weeks pregnant.
On Wednesday evening, I had my scheduled prayer time at church. I was so angry with God and fearful and nervous that I might need surgery. I was all by myself in the chapel reading about how I needed to give all my fears and worries over to the Blessed Mother and she would take care of them. So there, in front of Jesus, I began to bawl. I sobbed and loudly told him that I was scared of a csection, I was scared of labor, I was mad that nothing was happening, I was scared me or babe wouldn't make it... I was just scared. And then a loud noise shook me out of my dramatic state. I quickly calmed myself thinking someone was coming in. And that's when another noise hit and began to shake the pew I was sitting in. An Earthquake!!! An Earthquake in Kansas!!! It turns out that right at the moment that I was despairing in front of the Lord, two relatively large earthquakes struck. And I very quickly realized He was in control.
I spent the day before my scheduled section in surprisingly good spirits. I kept remembering how He shook me out of my despair and helped me trust... so each time I had fear, I just gave it over to Mary and Jesus. It was at this same time that another little miracle was happening states away from us. One of my best friends, a nun in Ohio, was in her chapel praying. She wasn't praying for me at that moment, but was looking something up in the Bible when she ran across this verse:
"Shall I bring a mother to the point of birth,and yet not let her child be born? says the LORD. Or shall I who bring to birth and yet close her womb? says your God." ~ Isaiah 66;9
Sister quickly proclaimed to the Lord that she was claiming this verse for me and my baby would be born naturally! I, of course, did not hear this story until we told her of Xavier's birth days later... So it was all the more amazing.
On Thursday evening, as our little family of 6 prayed our night prayers, I was a little nervous, but I was excited that we would finally meet our baby soon. As we ended our normal prayers, Andrew had all of the children gather around me and place their hands on me. He blessed me with water from Lourdes and prayed for a safe delivery for Baby U5 and I. It was such a special moment.
I woke Friday morning at 5 a.m. to make myself some breakfast. I had to fast a long time before my scheduled surgery at 1:30 p.m., so I wanted to make sure to get some food in my pregnant belly before I was required to stop eating. By 5:15 a.m. I noticed that I was contracting pretty good, but I wasn't convinced that it was any more than false labor. The contractions kept coming all morning and by the time we had to take the kids to school at 7:30 a.m., I really had to fake my way through them so the kids wouldn't know I was in labor. I got big hugs from my big kids and told them they'd finally be meeting our baby soon after school.
The contractions were not dying down at all, and they seemed to be getting a little more difficult to manage so I tried to stay on my feet as much as possible to encourage labor. I wasn't supposed to eat or drink anything but I had a pretty good hunch this labor was real, so I allowed myself a few sips of water and a tiny bit of juice throughout the morning. Try running a marathon on that!! My parents were set to arrive at 9:30 a.m. that morning and I vowed to myself that I would not tell them I thought I was in labor. I was just going to wait and see if they noticed when they arrived. That lasted all of about 2 minutes because a contraction hit just as they were arriving, and I couldn't really fake my way through them anymore so I told them... "I'm pretty sure I'm in labor." They were excited but skeptical because they had witnessed so much false labor in the weeks leading up to that day.
Andrew had me start climbing stairs. My dad was timing contractions. My mom was cracking jokes to keep things light and to keep us all from being too anxious. We were supposed to check into the hospital at 11:30 a.m. for our 1:30 surgery, so by about 10:30 a.m., I was wondering what to do. I called the OB's nurse and she asked how far apart my contractions were. When I told her they were 2-3 minutes apart she said, "You need to go to the hospital NOW!" I was in no rush. The contractions were tough but I was still able to manage them, and I didn't think delivery was imminent. Andrew and I took our time getting to the hospital. I prayed and prayed that this was real labor because I still wasn't fully convinced.
When we arrived at the hospital around 11:15a, the nurses said "Oh, you're our 1:30 p.m. scheduled section." I smiled... "Well... not exactly... I've been in labor for the last 6 hours, so I'm hoping to avoid surgery."
They got me into the triage room and got me hooked up to all the monitors. I refused to lay in the little bed as I wanted to remain vertical to help labor along. The nurses were busy with all the women in labor that day so it took a while before anyone got to me. When I reported to the resident that I hoped I was going to be able to avoid a section, she and the nurse were both rooting for me. When they finally checked me I was dialated to 5cm and 80% effaced. This was much more progressed than my last check, and we all rejoiced that I was in fact in labor. The nurse cheered, the resident was pumped, Andrew was excited, and I was crying tears of joy.
I felt so bad for the resident when she returned to my room 10 minutes later having to tell me that my OB was still recommending the c-section. I smiled at her. I knew she would. I told the resident that the news was no surprise to me but I would be declining the section and having this baby on my terms. The resident told me that my OB would be in shortly.
Andrew and I were so blessed to have a nurse who had VBAC'd herself. She was so calm the whole day and so encouraging. When the OB arrived, the first thing she did was go through all of my risks of laboring. "You're 42 weeks pregnant. You have a high chance of rupture. We could lose the baby if something happened. You could need a hysterectomy." I told her I understood all of the risks. I also told her that all would be okay and that we would be having a VBAC later that day. I was okay with all the monitors, and if something went wrong, I was happy to have a section. But I wasn't going to be cut just because of the "what ifs." Andrew was convinced that we were going to need to fire our OB that day. We could both see the concern in her eyes and she certainly wasn't making labor less stressful on me. It was so nice to have a supportive nurse. I had an IV put in to get a dose of antibiotics since I was GBS positive, but as soon as they ran through, we were unhooked from the IV. I didn't want anything messing with my natural birth so I was happy to be IV-free fairly quickly. I spent most of the afternoon - between contractions - reassuring my doctor that everything was okay. Every time baby would move and the monitors would go crazy, the doctor would come running into the room, and my sweet nurse would calmly readjust the monitors and everyone would relax again. Instead of laboring on the birth ball much or standing much, I spent most of my labor time sitting up in bed because everyone was so concerned with baby staying on the monitor and it was easier to be on the bed than having the monitor adjusted every two minutes. Not great "freedom of movement" ad is recommended for VBACS and all laboring mothers, but there was only so much I could do.
At one point I decided to labor on my knees leaning on my bed and baby's heart rate dropped dramatically. It was hovering around 90 and wouldn't recover. Eight people came running in hammering me with questions "do you feel okay? is anything different?" No... I reassured them... the baby just moved when I moved. As soon as I turned back around, his heart rate (which wasn't actually dropping - the monitor had just started picking up mine instead) went back to normal and everyone chilled out.
By 3 p.m., I was anxious to know how we had progressed so I had the doc check me. She reported that I was at a stretchy 8 and fully effaced. She told me that if I had the urge to push, it would be okay to do so. We talked about breaking my waters to speed things up a bit, but I wasn't ready for the pushing stage. I was convinced that a 2-week overdue baby was going to be huge and pushing was always my least favorite part of labor.
But as the minutes ticked by, I was getting sick of my OB being nervous, and I kept worrying about my big kids at school not having any news about the baby yet. So I finally agreed to having my water broken. It was stained a bit with meconium, which was not surprising for such a late baby. They had the NICU on call just in case. After they broke my water, the flurry of hospital birth prep began. Warmers turned on, instrument trays brought in and readied, plastic coverings placed appropriately, doctor and nurses "suiting up" with covering and gloves. Etc., Etc. Even though this was my fourth vaginal delivery, I found myself fascinated with the amount of stuff a hospital requires to catch a baby. I was able to get back on my knees after they broke my water and I soon started to feel the urge to push. As is the case whenever a mom reports "a pushy feeling" suddenly the room was FILLED with nurses and staff awaiting the newest arrival.
Pushing this time was brutal. Partly... I was in my head thinking how big this kid must be since he was 2 weeks past his due date. And partly... because a week prior my sub OB had told me about a mom who ruptured while pushing. It's hard to relax and push when you are freaking out about stuff.
This pushing stage definitely took longer than with my first VBAC, and it was the only point in labor that I felt really out of control. It felt the closest to a Hollywood depiction of labor as I've ever experienced. I remember my hair being all up in my face, and I suddenly felt like the room was a million degrees. And yelling... There was lots of yelling. Andrew stayed right next to me holding my hand and encouraging me the whole time. He told me later, because I was too out of it to remember, that the only point of the whole day that scared him was when the nurses told me that I needed to really push to get baby out... like something might be wrong. But I don't remember them even saying that to me. All told this "hardest part of delivery" only lasted maybe 10 minutes, but it felt like a lot longer than that.
At the end of the massive struggle that is pushing, the final push brings the most amazing relief. Andrew exclaimed, "It's a boy!" with tears I his eyes, but since I had delivered on my knees facing the bed, I didn't see our sweet little boy until they pushed him between my legs and had me grab him. I remember being confused as to how I was supposed to hold him while his cord was still intact and attached to the placenta that hadn't delivered yet and turn myself around to a sitting position whilst attached to the blood pressure cuff, but we somehow figured it out. The strangest thing about Xavier's birth was the feelings I had once he delivered. With Greta, my first VBAC, I felt caught up in swirling cloud of joy and amazement... But with Xavier the predominant feeling was just relief. The most unbelievable feeling of "Thank God that's over!" that I've ever experienced. In pondering these thoughts over the past few weeks I've realized they came from a combination of being 2 weeks overdue and having to fight the system without my supportive OB at my side. I feel a little robbed of that joyous feeling that normally comes with birth. That feeling that I'm quite sure I would have had if the last 2 weeks of pregnancy hadn't been filled with constant worry about OB and hospital rules and recommendations. In my dreams, I would have accidentally delivered sweet Xavy all by myself in my home in my bathtub... But the practical side of me wouldn't go for that because the "what ifs" in my case are all too real.
Xavier Ray was born in the hospital at 3:43 pm on the very last day he could have been born naturally. My 9 lb 8 oz boy came out healthy and beautiful and screaming like a banshee. He wasn't interested in nursing at all for almost 12 hours which was very foreign to me after successfully nursing 3 of his siblings right from the get go. Lactation said he had swallowed too much mucus during birth and his belly was already full. He definitely got the hang of nursing by day two. His four bigs love him to pieces and fight over who gets to hold him next. Though he was the first kid that I was so nervous about adding to the family, he fits so perfectly and I now can't imagine life without him.
I got to see my real obstetrician at my 6 week check up today. He's recovering wonderfully from his heart surgery and it was so fun to share my birth story with him. He chuckled as I recounted how nervous his partner was. He told me that he would have let me go to 43 weeks if baby still looked good which amazed me. I'm not sure I would have been mentally stable enough to be pregnant another whole week. He also mentioned how he'd try not to have heart issues next time I did this... To which I rolled my eyes and said, "Next time?!" But if I've learned anything from this pregnancy journey, it's that Gods plans are much greater than our own. So He'll open my heart to a number 6 if he needs us to have one. And if Xavier is the last of the U kids... I will savor every moment of his babyhood.