Male readers may find this post a tad out of your comfort zone. Read on at your own risk. Just sayin’. You’ve been warned.
I’m sorry for my recent absence. I’ve been busy falling in love.
I’m so enraptured with this little piece of Heaven that I didn’t even know was missing from my life. I can admit now that when I first found out I was pregnant, I wondered if I really wanted this. My kids were potty trained, and sleeping through the night, and I actually had something that sort of resembled a social life again. My kids were going to start school in the Fall. I would have a clean house again! And the laundry would always be done! And I could get a part-time job! The sky was the limit! Instead, before even one day of this life I imagined, I would be starting over.
But any hesitation I had melted away the moment the nurse laid Grace in my arms. How could I have forgotten what this felt like? This mommy thing is what I was born to do!
I’m so grateful that God blessed me with another baby girl – that I get to play dress up with bows, and pretty dresses and bobby socks – because I don’t feel like I ever really got to do that with Faith.
You see when Faith was born, I was in survival mode. Luke had just been diagnosed and Nick was having seizures on a daily basis (see Blessing #22). I think it would be accurate to say I was traumatized. And while Faith made it so much easier to smile through those days of finding my new normal, life wasn’t exactly easy. So, I chose clothes for her based on comfort and convenience – not their cuteness quotient – and accessorizing wasn’t even on my radar.
I was also so preoccupied with making sure that she hit all of her developmental milestones, that I was kind of anxious for her to grow up. It wasn’t until she was fifteen months and started putting words together to form simple sentences that I was finally able to breathe.
The first two years of Faith’s life are a complete blur. Not this time.
This time, I’m determined to soak in every moment of Grace’s baby-hood. I take great joy in dressing her for church on Sundays like my own living doll. I spend hours holding her while she sleeps and spoiling her in every imaginable way. I can’t get this time back. Every morning, when I speak my first words of the day to her, she smiles. It’s a smile that is reserved just for me. She doesn’t smile at anybody else that way. It’s my favorite moment of the day.
So anyway, I wanted to share my birth story with you all. Before I begin, you should know that I have an illustrious career in treating newborn jaundice. Luke was born moderately jaundiced. His treatment was the standard, “sit your baby in the window and take him for walks in the stroller” regimen. However, when Faith was born, it was an entirely different scenario. She was so jaundiced that she had to stay in the hospital under the blue light beyond when she was supposed to be discharged. When they did finally release her, it was on the condition that we rented a phototherapy machine that she had to stay on 24-hours a day until her jaundice levels were controlled. I also had to take her to the pediatrician every day for two weeks, and they nearly re-hospitalized her when her levels weren’t dropping.
I read that jaundice is generally worse with each successive child, so I dreaded what may be in store the third time around when the second time was so severe. My birth plan largely centered around “jaundice maintenance,” with the primary plan to curb it being to supplement with formula until my milk came in, because the more the baby eats, the more she flushes the jaundice out of her system.
So anyway, it all began on May 9th when, at 37 weeks pregnant, I woke up in the middle of the night. Itching. Intensely. All over my body. Nonstop. I waited until morning before I called the doctor, and he told me to come in immediately. He told me he suspected that I had cholestasis of pregnancy. The cure is to deliver the baby. Basically, my liver was overproducing bile acids. The acid built up underneath my skin causing the itching. This can be very dangerous and possibly even fatal to an unborn baby, so just to be on the safe side, he put me on some medication to curb the liver production. For two days, it appeared that the itching was improving, but early in the morning of May 13th I woke up with the itching back in full force. It lasted all day, so in the afternoon I visited my doctor again, hoping he would agree to induce my labor. He checked the baby, who was still fine, and told me that I was 3cm dilated and 50% effaced. Surely, with those numbers he would induce me! No such luck. He sent me home. By now, the itching and sleeplessness had taken its toll and my nerves were raw. I was so desperate to have relief that I left his office in tears.
But that night, I started contracting. Every ten minutes. They lasted through the night at this same rate. By morning, I was averaging every seven minutes. I called the doctor and was told to come in when they had been five minutes apart for a full hour. For a short time it dropped to every five, but then a half hour later it was back up to ten. Then fifteen. It appeared the labor was fizzling out. I decided to stop timing and take a shower. When I got out of the shower I realized that the contractions seemed to be coming faster, so I timed it – two minutes apart! I didn’t have any instructions for two minutes apart, so after a half hour I called the doctor again and was told to come in. 4cm dilated, 70% effaced. I was in active labor.
Now this might make me a weirdo, but I LOVE giving birth. Perhaps it’s because my first birth was a C-section, but having a VBAC the second time around made me feel like a warrior. I AM WOMAN! HEAR ME ROAR! It was the most liberating and empowering experience of my life. So, I looked forward to Grace’s labor with gusto.
For the next seven hours, little changed. I remained 4-5 cm dilated and fairly comfortable sitting up in bed. Then the nurse readjusted me so that I was laying flat. That did it! The contractions were suddenly very strong and right on top of one another. I asked for my epidural. After the epidural took effect they checked again, 6cm. Eight hours of active labor, and I had only dilated 2cm. I began to wonder if a C-section was headed my way.
But, an hour later, I was having sharp pains in my stomach despite the epidural. The doctor suggested that perhaps it was a sign that I was ready. He checked again and surely enough, I was fully dilated. Pushing seemed to relieve the pain. In two contractions, she was born.
Grace Elizabeth arrived at 11:32 pm on May 14th. She weighed in at 8 lbs. and 7 oz. and was 20.25 inches long.
I was anxious to breastfeed her, and it seemed that the hospital had gotten much more pro-breast since my last visit when Faith was born, because without being asked, they immediately brought her over to suckle.
Breastfeeding and I didn’t have the best track record. I had two failed attempts at doing something that was supposed to be natural, but nothing about it had ever felt natural to me.
With Luke, I went in with very unrealistic expectations. I thought breastfeeding would be so easy. It wasn’t. Getting a good latch is not always easy with a newborn, and can I be honest? I think lactation consultants can be a little intimidating to a new mom. Every time I would try to feed him, the lactation consultant was there adjusting things. It made me feel like I wasn’t doing it right (when in retrospect I think I was doing just fine) and that he wasn’t getting enough nourishment. I had no confidence that I could feed him on my own because the lactation consultant was always changing what I had done, rather than encouraging me that I had done a good job. More than once, I was in frustrated tears.
I had been instructed to feed for twenty minutes on each breast at each feeding upon discharge. That’s 40 minutes! I know better now, but new moms just do as they are told. Now let me tell you, at 2am when you haven’t slept in weeks, and you are given the choice to sit up 40 minutes breastfeeding, or 15 minutes bottle-feeding before you can get back to sleep, that bottle starts to look really friendly. I was also sure Luke must not be getting enough milk from me. He never seemed satisfied until I broke out the bottle, and he didn’t have patience for the breast when the bottle offered such immediate gratification.
The second time around with Faith, I was ready, but it seemed that all the chips had been stacked against me. Because of the severe jaundice, the doctors were encouraging bottle feeding. Once we were finally able to put that behind us, when she was three weeks old, Nick had his first seizure and I was back and forth between the hospital and home, pumping all the way. We weathered Nick’s hospitalization and got him home, just in time for Luke to receive his autism diagnosis – and that did it. The depression hit so hard that my milk never came in again.
So when they brought me Grace for the first time, I held my breath and said a prayer as I put her to my chest. Yeow! She grabbed on with a long, strong suck. This baby knew what she was doing. The angels must have given her a few breastfeeding lessons along the way. I knew right away that this time would be different. I respected the expertise of the nurses and lactation consultants, but I had found my own voice now, and I had confidence in my own experience.
As soon as they brought us to the room, I asked the nurse to bring some formula but she refused.
“Don’t you want your baby to get your colostrum?”
“Of course I do, but I need to flush the bilirubin out of her system before it builds up and she gets jaundiced. I’m going to use the formula as a supplement until my milk comes in.”
“Well, let’s just see what happens. Maybe the jaundice won’t be a problem.”
Now there are many risk factors that contribute to jaundice and Grace had just about every one of them, and there are things that can be done to mitigate them, but the hospital was tying my hands.
I got almost no sleep that night. Grace suckled all night. I kid you not – six hours straight. I continuously pressed my finger against her little forehead, looking for the faintest tinge of yellow, but with each passing hour I had to admit, her color just looked so good.
The pediatrician came to see her the next morning.
“Does she look jaundiced to you?”
“No. She looks beautiful.”
I regurgitated my long frustrating history with jaundice and asked if she would recommend the staff bring me some formula.
“Let’s just see what happens.”
I knew that if she was significantly jaundiced, the “let’s just see” route wouldn’t cut it. She would end up going home on that phototherapy machine that my insurance doesn’t cover. But all I could do was expose her to indirect sunlight and pray, so I wheeled her bassinet over by the window and opened the blinds wide and I asked everyone I knew to pray.
She pooped six times that day. For those of you who don’t know squat about jaundice, poop is a very good thing.
The next day was the day we were scheduled for release, as long as Grace passed her jaundice test. The test came back that evening. No jaundice. Free to go. No machines. Breastfeeding well at hand. To this day, she has never even seen a bottle. It still amazes me that something that once seemed no unnatural and inconvenient, now seems the easiest, most natural thing in the world to me.
In retrospect, I have to wonder if the itching was God’s way of sparing Grace from the jaundice and giving us a great start with breastfeeding. Cholestasis and jaundice are both the result of overproduction in the liver, so perhaps the medication I was on helped her as well. I may never know for certain, but I would like to think it is an example of God using something hard for our good in the long run.