Monday, January 3, 2022

Claire's Birth Story

Claire Elisabeth Fredericks was born on Monday, October 25th, 2021 at 1:51 p.m., weighing 7 pounds and 4 ounces at 19 inches long.

Signs of Labor

On Sunday morning, around 4:30 a.m., I woke up for the fourth time that night before finally wondering, "okay, what is keeping me awake right now?" I assumed something was causing me pain, so I began tracking my contractions for about an hour. They were about 1-2 minutes long, and 8-10 minutes apart. For those who have never been pregnant, the rule of thumb varies when it comes to labor. From what I'd read, you wanted to be having contractions that were 5 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute, for 1 hour. I knew I might be close, but wasn't worried yet.

I managed to fall back asleep, and continued having intermittent pain throughout the day after I woke up later that morning. My friend Leigh came over with sushi for lunch, and we sat on the couch and talked for a few hours before she went home. At that point, my contractions were still just every so often and not overly painful. Since I hardly moved that day, Ryan and I decided to take a walk around the block before dinner -- stuffed bell peppers from Costco. Thankfully, I'd opted for two instead of just one, because that was the last meal I had for awhile! We ate on the couch with our TV trays, watched the season finale of The Morning Show, and went about our usual Sunday evening routine of mourning the end of the weekend, even though it was supposed to be my last week anyway. 

To wind down, I took an epsom salt bath in our future little girl's bathroom, rubbing my belly and wondering to myself, "soon?"

We went to get into bed a bit earlier than usual, around 9:30, when I started feeling contractions again. This time, they were consistently 6 minutes apart before slowing to 9 minutes apart. I texted my friend Brianna, who was just a few weeks behind me in her pregnancy, and she replied, "I think this might be it!" but I still felt in denial. No way. This early? I thought for certain we would have a November baby. My only premonition had been October 22nd, which had come and gone, so my guess was as good as anyone's. 

Still, I called the hospital, and they said that based on how far along I was in the pregnancy to just come into triage and see what was going on. 

Ryan later told me that he was certain we were going to be turned away. Ha!

In a semi-calm panic, we confused the hell out of the dogs by packing up the last of our hospital bags and leaving around 11:40 p.m. It was raining for the first time in weeks, and the roads were nearly empty. It was then that I realized I totally forgot to shower, eat, and "pre-labor" as much as I could within the comfort of our own home. Whoops. Who needs sleep anyway? Or food? Who wouldn't want to spend as much time in the hospital as possible...?

Hospital Time

I checked into triage right at about midnight, and we had our first nurse of the week, Mariah. She did a cervical check right as we got there and I was just 3 cm dilated (for reference, they usual admit you to labor and delivery when you're 4 cm). She decided to wait for an hour to see how I would continue. The next nurse we encountered was not as sweet and accommodating...more like awkward and borderline rude. She attempted to place the IV in my right hand, then my left, before finally recruiting another nurse to do it. She also knocked over my water bottle (clearly not on purpose), which was the cherry on top of a weird experience.

By 1:30 a.m., I was 4 cm dilated and having body chills all over. We were officially admitted to the hospital with our next nurse - Rimma - a wonderful, older European woman who was such a calming force, especially as I went against my own birth plan and allowed a student to administer my epidural, which was definitely less "pressure" and more "pain." To be fair, I knew I didn't want a student to assist in delivery of the baby, but it never occurred to me that a student would be giving me my epidural. If you're pregnant and want some advice: don't be the guinea pig. They can learn on someone else!

In addition to feeling more pain than pressure, they also didn't give me a bolus, which allows you to give yourself more doses of the epidural with the push of a button every 10 minutes. Thus, the ease I did feel from the epidural was short-lived, but I was still able to rest a bit, as was Ryan. Rimma placed a birthing ball between my legs and turned me on my side with a heating pad, making sure I was as comfortable as I could be throughout the process. She really was one of the best nurses we had, and while we had a good experience with our next nurse, I wish she'd been the one to assist in delivery! A couple hours after the epidural, I still hadn't progressed beyond 4 cm, so they put me on Pitocin to induce active labor.

At shift change, we said goodbye to Rimma and Mariah, and hello to our next and final L&D nurse. We also found out that we'd be delivering with a different doctor (my OB/GYN office operates on a rotation of providers). I wasn't initially thrilled, but what choice did we have?

As it turns out, however, this doctor was delivering a baby via c-section at another hospital 20 minutes away. So they told me that they'd be taking me off of Pitocin at 9 cm dilated to "labor down" on my own for nearly three hours. Unamused, impatient, and frustrated is what I was feeling, but I tried to keep my shit together. Ryan stayed by my side, voicing his own frustration, and feeling helpless. 

Finally, just after 1:00, 12 hours after being admitted, it was go-time! 

My nurse suggested I stop self-administering the epidural so I could feel my contractions and know when to push. My suggestion to any future laboring moms: yeah, don't do that. Ended up completely defeating the purpose of the epidural!

"Breathe in deep, hold for 8-10 seconds, and push like you're pooping. Short breath out, repeat."

Completely different breath work than I'd read about and watched on YouTube, but okay, let's do this.

After being 9 cm dilated for so long, I was certain that I wouldn't be pushing for a long time. Surely, just a few rounds and done, right? Imagine my surprise when, about 20 minutes in, I asked if we'd made progress. My doctor replied, "we have about three more hours to try [before c-section]."

"THREE HOURS?!" Absolutely not, I thought.


Pushing was literally the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Not even painful, but simply exhausting! I could feel myself falling asleep between pushes because I was just so damn tired. I started doing more pushes, four instead of three. I was desperate to meet our girl, and to be done with labor.

45 minutes later, I felt something close to the "ring of fire" (because remember, I was told to stop giving myself the medication...LOL, joke's on me!). I finally heard, 

"Sam, are you ready to meet your baby?"

I saw her beautiful face, all covered in blood and gunk, completely thrown by what had just happened, in awe that it was all finally over, and we had a daughter!

They placed her on my stomach, and I instinctively pulled her to my chest for skin to skin...and that's when I felt it. The umbilical cord snapped, and blood went everywhere. Things went from joyous to scary, as the doctor went to clamp her cord far sooner than I'd planned. I wanted her to have an extra minute or two on her cord, isn't that what's supposed to happen? Insert opportunity for mom guilt, #1.

She was taken from me, and we were told she had excessive fluid in her lungs. In a state of shock, I'm not even sure what I was feeling at the time. It never occurred to me that she would go to the NICU. Everything during pregnancy had been so uncomplicated, so why was it that birth had to be?

While delivering the placenta and getting stitches, I watched the doctor look back and forth between me and baby on the warming table, surrounded by a team of nurses. She remained calm throughout the chaos, which made me feel a bit better. 

Just under an hour later, the nurses brought her to me in her little clear box, all clean and cozy. But instead of getting to hold her to my chest, I only got to hold her finger. I wouldn't hold her to my chest for nearly 24 hours longer. Insert opportunity for mom guilt, #2.

"You're my mama," one of the nurses narrated for me as I held her little fingers.

Sure am, baby girl.

Since the nurse had advised that I go off the boluses so I could feel my contractions, I also felt a whole lot of everything else, including some of the stitching and numbing. In a sense, I felt like I had a half natural birth, as I felt more pain than pressure during those final pushes. So not what I planned. Didn't plan on having a baby in the NICU, either. Wild how little of the things in your hospital bag are necessary when your little one has been taken away from you until further notice.

Our Hospital Stay 

The next few days felt like a blur. My parents brought us subs from Jersey Mikes. Ryan and I visited her separately in the NICU that first night. I had to use a peribottle to pee, add witch hazel pads to my disposable underwear. Everything hurt, and my whole body felt like I'd been hit by a bus, but somehow, time continued to pass. Looking back, I wonder if we could have visited her more often that first night, for longer, even overnight (insert opportunity for mom guilt, #3), but I think I was just trying to process everything. Even now, it's a strange concept to me that other people got to keep their babies in their hospital room with them. I start to tear up thinking about how we didn't get to have that special time with her, how I wasn't there for her every time she cried, how she didn't get to latch to me within those first few moments of her life. Instead, I had to ask a nurse to wheel me down several hallways and up an elevator to meet another nurse to escort me from NICU checkin to her room. Overall, our hospital stay was a blur of going back and forth to the NICU, ordering food, and for me, just feeling down. 

(The first picture we took of her in the NICU, a few hours after delivery)


We had the best nurses at the NICU: Melody, Sarah, and Amanda. They made us feel like the most important family in the NICU, even though our little babe likely had the least complications out of majority of the babies there. We were discharged from the hospital on Wednesday, with Claire's pending departure for Thursday or Friday. They'd found an increase in her white blood cell count and had her on antibiotics, which meant they had to keep her for three days minimum. 

Ryan and I drove home Wednesday night, ordered dinner, and came home without our baby. Everyone told us, "at least you can enjoy one more night of rest!" In reality, it isn't easy to rest knowing that your two-day old baby isn't safe at home with you. Instead of waking to a crying, hungry baby, I set an alarm to wake myself up to pump...something I wasn't even planning on doing for at least another four weeks.

Thursday morning, we woke up excited! We got to the hospital around 8:30 a.m., feeling confident that she would be able to come home with us...until they told us she'd lost 10% of her body weight. Even though babies generally lose 7-10% of their body weight within those first few days, it was apparently reason enough for her to stay there one more night. We felt completely deflated. They offered us to "room in" at the NICU, which basically means to stay with her in a small suite overnight with a nurse on call to assist, if needed. I stayed at the hospital with her while Ryan went home to gather our things, round two. I spent all day with her, attempting to get her to latch (with the help of an amazing lactation consultant). Despite getting to finally spend time with our brand new daughter, being cooped up in a stuffy NICU room as opposed to our home was not the way I wanted to spend these first few days.

Around 6:30 p.m. that night, we went to a room with the most uncomfortable pullout couch, linens, and pillows, and had the hardest night of our lives. It's one thing to be at home with your crying, fussy newborn, but it's a completely different can of worms to take care of a baby who is still a patient in the NICU. She was hooked up to so many wires, and every time she cried, her heart rate set off tons of anxiety-inducing beeps, which likely caused her even more frustration and fear, which then stressed us out even more. Changing her diapers amongst all of those wires was terrifying. We had the least personable nurse of our stay come in and check on us more frequently than we would have liked because Claire kept kicking off her oxygen monitor, causing the machines to beep even more ferociously. My poor baby, having such a harsh entry into the world. I didn't go into the hospital with a detailed birth plan, but this was absolutely not a part of our plan.

I cried the whole night. Ryan and I had no idea what to do, and hardly knew how to help. We pieced together a whopping two hours of sleep, and by 6:45 the next morning, we were chomping at the bit to get out of that room and back to our regular NICU room with the friendly nurses. I watched Claire get yet another blood test (her right foot had 4+ tiny marks from getting poked and prodded). We received news later, after another near hiccup (the blood test revealed that her thyroid levels were potentially abnormal...?!), that we would be able to take her home that afternoon. Finally, after spending Monday-Friday in the hospital, away from her mama, scared and confused. 

Final thoughts

My heart still breaks for her and our family, but it breaks even harder for those families who have to endure it longer for more complicated circumstances. I know that, at the end of the day, we are extremely lucky that sweet baby Claire was overall very healthy, and five days in the NICU is nothing compared to what other families experience. That said, our feelings are still valid, as our experience is our own. I know it was just a few days, and not everyone has a dream birth experience, but it was simply not what we expected. While it was complicated and scary and totally not what we'd planned, our experience brought us our Claire, who is the healthiest little chunk now. We are so looking forward to watching her grow up, and feel so lucky that we get to be her parents.


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