many of you know, but it is quite possible that some of you do not know... i had a baby.
a beautiful healthy happy sweet cherub of a baby girl- Savoya Avelyn Marie Frank.
for a person who is as open as I am is it is odd that i have not talked much (ok, NONE) about this huge event in my life. It has surprised no one more than myself that i have literally not made a single mention of this.
It is because it was hard. really really unbelievably hard. the pregnancy took a toll, and i was not well enough (or felt comfortable enough) talking about it. and then- this funny thing happens after a pregnancy- you give birth.
and immediately following that birth you take care of this tiny little human 24/7. and i kept feeling like 'hey! i should announce my pregnancy on my blog.... but my pregnancy is really hard and i don't feel like talking about it' and then it was like 'hey! i should announce that i just had a baby on my blog- but i never even announced that i was pregnant, so that is sort of awkward..."
here is the thing. i WANT to tell you about my pregnancy... but Im having trouble finding the words to explain what i went through. and actually... i documented it in a photo essay that is horribly raw and not-pretty-at-all, and i'd love to work up the courage to share it here.
but i am afraid. because guys... it was kind of a bad scene. If you worked with me last year, and you didn't notice anything was amiss, it was because i was pushing through HARD CORE and it was taking every ounce of energy for me to pretend like things were totally cool and I was fine, and pregnancy was all unicorns and rainbows- because as a professional that is what you do. you push through because the ShowMustGoOn as they say.
So I may or may not share this photo essay on life in the Frank Household while pregnant, because it is so raw, it is so personal, and it's scary to put oneself out there like that. and i cant just sort of gloss over it- i would have to go deep and really truly tell you about what it was like.. which would mean REALLY letting all of the internet in to this horrifying experience i went through. i don't know if i have the courage.
But, I do very much want to introduce you to my little girl, Savoya, because out of that wreckage of a pregnancy came the most beautiful life. My dear friend Marla of Simply Splendid photographed her entrance into this world for me on black and white film, and i treasure these photos.
I had planned for a home birth, but toward the end of my second trimester i became high-risk, and they had to get the baby out at the earliest possible moment that her lungs could hack it on the outside- at 37 weeks. On a Friday night, we were admitted to the hospital to start the induction.
Never having been induced before I felt like a total newbie. I was scared of a hospital birth.
For reasons that are too long and difficult to explain right now... during my pregnancy i felt as though my care providers let me down big-time. I didn't feel heard, or valued, or believed, or trusted. i felt demeaned, i felt not-believed, i felt ignored, i felt belittled - i felt like i was SCREAMING and no one was listening.
i had some major major major trust issues with the medical community that was about to induce me. Fear + labor is not a recipe for a confident easy labor and delivery, but i was determined to do this naturally. my second son was born at a birth center (labor of love in Lutz Florida) with amazing midwives who made me feel completely at ease, confident, amazing, and powerful.
There was fear, but there was also so much joy. i love birthing, and i love that i got to spend this treasured time with my husband, who made me laugh at every turn. laughing through contractions is quite the experience, but he always knows how to bring happiness into the room.
i felt the exact opposite at the hospital. i desperately wished i could just go back and be with my old midwives (Bea! Andrea! Meli!). Though it was no longer safe for me to deliver at home, i had tried everything i could do to induce naturally on my own so that perhaps i could eliminate the need for pitocin at the hospital, or at the very least- get the process going a little easier. The week leading up to my scheduled induction i drank red raspberry leaf tea every day all day, used primrose oil capsules orally and internally to soften the cervix, took blue and black cohosh tinctures, exercised, nipple stimulation, ate spicy foods, intercourse (yep- i said it)- everything i could to get this baby to come out.
a few days before my scheduled induction- labor started on it's own. HOORAY! YES! I HAD DONE IT!
i packed my bags. i called Marla. contractions were strong. i was breathing through them. this was real honest-to-goodness labor. it had been a few hours of contractions and we were about to hop into the car to go to the hospital but first i wanted to take a shower...
and then the contractions stopped. just flat out 'nope. naw, i don't feel like doing that anymore. PSYCH!" even though i was all "yes! YES YOU DO! labor is fun! you know how this works! you've done it twice before! lets get this party started! no pitocin for me!" cervix was all "nope again. nada. nilch. zero. negatory."
clearly i was not in control. it also turns out that my body very much wanted to keep that baby inside - even though my womb was literally toxic- until i was further along in gestation.
Guys, I can not overstate how scared i was about delivering at the hospital with strangers in a health system that i did not feel had my best interests in mind (or frankly, even cared). I felt like i was going to have to go into battle. I knew it was too dangerous for me to deliver anywhere but a hospital, but i also didn't feel safe in the hospital. it was all kinds of anxiety up in here. i had delusions that perhaps i could get my labor going myself through natural induction processes, labor outside the doors of the hospital, and then walk inside just before i started pushing. i was kidding.... but not really kidding.
Natural induction never happened for me, and we needed to get that baby out. So on friday, we found ourselves starting the induction process.
what they say about Pitocin is true.
mother of god on holy hill, pitocin is not something to mess around with.
while i was initially scared of my hospital birth (will they support my hope for a natural labor? will they confine me to a bed? will i be able to labor in water? what if i start delivering the baby in the water- will they force me out as i'm pushing? will they keep me from eating? will they take me to C-section? will i fail to progress on pitocin? will they be able to comprehend how much the continuous monitor straps drive me up the wall from the condition i suffered from (cholestasis) and ignore how horrible i was feeling? will they have any frame of reference for this condition? will my baby survive? will i hemorrhage?) i found my nurses to be incredibly supportive, so kind, and truly a god-send. they made my fears evaporate. i began to relax at the hospital, constantly surprised at every turn how supportive the midwives/nurses were, how i felt like they did indeed actual listen to my needs and do whatever they could to support me, keep my baby alive, and keep me comfortable.
to my nurse Kelsey, if you ever come across this article- you were my rock. you were such an important part of this birth and i am forever eternally grateful for you, your patience, your care, and your strength.
i told them how scared i was of pitocin, and what i had heard about how it made contractions unbearable.
I know my body during natural labor and delivery, and i can tell what stage of labor i'm in based on the sounds i'm making and my mental state. In natural labor there comes a point when a woman is in 'transition' and it is truly the most difficult part. you literally feel like you can.not.go.on. and i dont mean like 'ok... lets stop the labor, i cant do this' - i mean like 'I AM ACTUALLY DYING'. the mother is silent in between contractions - not responding to people asking her questions- and moaning through the contractions as they happen. this period of labor then transitions into delivery.
But on pitocin it makes you feel like you are in transition THE ENTIRE TIME.
before we had started pitocin we had tried everything else. softening the cervix, manually dilating the cervix, and i never went into labor. they decided to break my water to see if that would stimulate my own body's responses to go into labor. but nothing happened, so pitocin was started.
*side note- that was a sad point for me- the breaking of the bag of water. This was my last baby, and I am actually a person who LOVES birth. as hellish as the pregnancy was, the one thing i kept thinking about was how excited i was for labor and delivery. how excited i was for that spontaneous moment of 'OMG! it's TIME! here we go!" that moment when your water breaks spontaneously. i hated the feeling of being hooked up to wires and tubes and all kinds of gadgets during a time that is normally/should be so natural and what my body was made to do on it's own. It's difficult because when i complain about this i sort of want to slap myself because these 'inconveniences' are what made sure my baby was still alive, so i am INFINITELY grateful for them, as well as the medical team that helped me. it's just that it felt like... it just sort of felt like a big ole rainstorm on my parade. and that rainstorm is a little pity party, and i allowed myself that pity party for about 30 minutes during labor, and then told myself to get over it and move on.
So the pitocin.
i started focusing inward and feeling strong contractions. i breathed through them. we walked the halls, i heard someone's newborn baby crying and i cried, knowing that in just a short time i would be hearing my own baby crying for the first time. the realization hit me that this was it.
then i quickly was unable to really talk in between contractions anymore, and began to moan through the contractions. i knew i was in active labor.
I knew what this felt like. I had done this twice before. I could do this. I felt focused, happy, determined- i was in my favorite zone... birthing.
dudes - i LOVE delivering babies. i would have a billion babies if my body could handle being pregnant. I would be totally duggerific up in here. they would probably do a reality show about us that's how many babies i would have. i am in the zone when i'm in labor. with baby number 2 - my middle child Pierson- right after he came out i literally said 'lets do it again. right now, lets do it again.' in that moment there was nothing i was wishing for more than to have had an undiagnosed twin baby in there and to do it all over again..... right then and there. I say this only to drive the point home that i am totally cool with contractions, that i am comfortable with the knowledge that my body is capable and can do some amazing things, and that i believe birth can be a natural, normal, non-scary event. And while i was scared of the hospital, i was never ever scared of the birth itself.
but people... the pitocin. the pitocin created a new stage of labor for me. remember those stages of labor?
- early labor= quiet during contractions, talking and normal in between contractions.
- active labor= moaning during contractions, no talking in between contractions.
- pitocin megaforce astronomic level labor- 100% screaming inside brain but no sound can come out because the pain is so far beyond anything physically experienced that one can not take a breath so that sound can escape, whether during a contraction or in between contractions.
all I could say was occasionally 'help' in a whisper. Surely i was going to be pushing this baby out at any moment.
it was early sunday morning in the wee hours. I had not slept since thursday night. the first night in the hospital I probably could have slept, but they kept the monitors strapped to my belly which caused me to itch uncontrollably and tear at my skin until it bled and i was never able to sleep.
It had been over 24 hours of labor, and i didn't feel i could go on. I needed another strategy. i needed another coping mechanism. we decided it would be a good time to get in the tub of water, which was annoyingly so far away from my room. Normally, getting into water cuts my pain literally in half - it is a GODSEND. but as i climbed into that tub of water I realized it wasn't helping. the weightlessness of the water wasn't doing anything for the pain this time. what's more, the tub was so deep that i wasnt able to lay my arms/head on the rim and relax- i was having to support myself in the tub on my own on my hands and knees. after 2 days and 2 nights of being awake and in labor my arms were beginning to fatigue and give out.
i was scared.
i was scared my arms would give out and i would drown. i was scared because my last coping mechanism wasn't working- the one i had banked on. I was scared because the contractions on pitocin were exponentially harder than i had anticipated for even knowing pitocin was more difficult than natural labor. i was scared because i just didnt know what was going on with my body. i was scared because i had thought i would have delivered a baby long ago. I was scared because normally my body is SO GOOD at delivering babies, but apparently my body is only good at delivering babies when IT is ready to deliver a baby, not when PITOCIN says i need to deliver a baby. I was scared because i knew the first contraction after being weightless in the water was going to hit like an absolute locamotive... but i knew i had to get out.
i climbed out of that tub and back in the wheel chair and it hit. i couldn't breathe, my mind was bending, i just remember gripping my sweet nurse Kelsey's arm and locking eyes with her- unable to speak but trying to communicate with every ounce of eye connection that i was terrified and in astronomical amounts of pain. she stayed frozen there with me, keeping my gaze locked to hers with her hazel eyes. she was a total rock.
we got back to the room and i knew i couldnt go on. i held an emesis bag but I refused to allow myself to vomit. so help me god, i was not going to do it. i had vomited so much this pregnancy- nearly every day- and THE BUCK STOPS HERE. absolutely not.one.more.time. every new contraction a wave of nausea would hit and i would just say 'no. nope nope nope nope nope. no no no no no. NO. NO NO NO." i felt like if i focused my intensity on not vomiting it would give me something to focus on. something i could control. because everything else was completely and utterly out of my control.
i requested pain medication.
Dustin was my greatest supporter and steadfast rock. It is funny, I have never felt more in love with him than when i was in labor. he was there, he was really and truly there for me. he knew i would be disappointed in myself if i got an epidural. i was expecting him to question my request. and deep down, i wanted him to as well. he knows, and I know, that every woman reaches the point where they are at their weakest and they will take an epidural if it is offered. and we had talked about this possible moment when i would say i needed an epidural, and what he would do- how he would challenge me- and how he would fight for me when i couldn't fight for myself.
Now, i am not an epidural hater. as a matter of fact, i had an epidural with my first child and loved the experience. but, as i learned with my second child- what i love more than an epidural is being able to be an active participant in the pushing instead of a passive one. i love being able to feel the whole process. i'm not out to win a medal, i'm not out to out-do or out-mother or out-labor anyone out there. the pain of going through transition without pain medication so that i can come out on the other side and feel and experience the delivery fully is what i love. you love epidurals? awesome. you do you! you epidural that whole thing up till the cows come home and i will support that. but, with this last little baby, for me... i just wanted to be able to feel myself push her out, and for me to catch her and deliver her up to my chest myself.
so dustin did question me. he said 'lets see how dilated you are first. then we'll make a more educated decision' he told the nurses 'the non-pregnant, non-laboring lexia would want me to do everything i could before we make that decision' and right then and there i felt more love for him than ever before. because here he was- in this impossible situation- and he found the perfect way to handle it. had he not said anything i would have always second guessed the decision and blamed him for not being my advocate at my weakest moment. Alternatively, had he totally blocked any chance of me getting an epidural i would have felt like he wasn't on my side, that he couldn't tell what i was going through, or how bad it really was, and i would have lost trust in him.
and then it happened, i vomited. hard. with everything i had in me. my body turned inside out. over and over and over again. i had been holding it in for so very long- telling myself that i would not vomit... and there i was, losing control of the one last thing i thought i could control.
they checked me. i told myself that if i was at least a 9 that i could maybe go on for another 30 minutes. remember- not like 'maybe i could continue on laboring for another 30 minutes' i mean like 'maybe i could continue to live for another 30 minutes and then i will die' - that's how it felt. i was thinking 9cm conservatively so that when they said i was 10 and complete and the baby would be here any second then i would be pleasantly surprised and encouraged.
i was a mother effing 5cm. five.
i had dilated exactly ONE centimeter in all those hours of pitocin. all those hours i thought i was in transition, absolutely nothing was going on down there.
immediately i asked for an epidural. i just realized i wasn't progressing, that my body did not want to let this baby out at 37 weeks, and eventually they'd probably suggest a c-section and this whole thing just went to the crap-shoot. i totally gave up.
as a matter of fact, i not only requested the epidural, but i wanted immediate pain medication. like, inject that stuff straight into the vein. i was 30 hours in and i could literally not go on. i had felt like i was in transition for an entire day, but it was all a sick pitocin illusion. i definitely cried, i felt totally defeated, i felt mad at my body for failing during the pregnancy and failing during the birth and just mad.
the epidural was perfect, they laid me back, and i literally could not wait for sleep. it was about 4am sunday morning and i hadn't slept since thursday night. i needed sleep. i told dustin and Marla to lay down and get some shut eye, and dustin did immediately. i think he was asleep before his head hit the pillow. and as i was laying there waiting to fall asleep, i just kept looking at Marla who was sitting straight up, with a worried look on her face. and i vaguely realized that the nurses were active- like.... really active. speaking in calm 'nothing-is-wrong-dont-worry-about-it' voices, but at the same time hustling. like.... REALLY hustling. and i was violently shaking. in my complete drugged up haze i kept thinking, 'marla looks like she knows something is going on. i should probably call out to dustin to wake him up. am i dying or is the baby dying?" and i finally pieced together the fact that they couldnt find the baby's heartbeat.
and then the midwife said 'wait..... open her knees up..."
and there was a baby being born! laughter all around from the worried staff.
Dustin was still sleeping on the couch. I called out to him- our baby was being born! it seems that my body needed just mere MINUTES of relaxation to fully dilate and get that baby into position. MINUTES!
i looked at the clock- it was exactly 4:30. i thought to myself "if i could get this baby born at 4:44 that would be pretty cool. her birthday would be 11-22 born at 4:44." i thought it was ambitious, but for as fast as she was coming, i thought i could do it.
i started crying. The full realization hit me that this was it. not just that i was going to meet my baby so soon, but that this was the last moments i would ever be pregnant. that i would ever have two hearts inside me. that i would ever go through this phase of life- that after this, this chapter of my life would be closed. no more birthing babies.
i hated that it was ending. i wanted it to take longer. i wanted to hang on for just a minute more. but she was coming so fast and i was so excited to meet her.
I reached down to pull her out and up to my chest.
two tiny pushes. actually, did i even push? i dont remember. but i do know that when i looked at the clock it was 4:32. exactly 2 minutes. i hugged her to my chest - she was a girl. i just still couldnt believe it. i think i checked 3 or 4 times to make sure. a baby girl. she latched on immediately and i couldnt stop crying and laughing and crying.
i had once heard a story of a woman who, after a long labor gave her infant to the nurses so that she could sleep right after the birth. i remember thinking 'how is that possible? how could you deliver a baby and then just give her up like that right away just to get some sleep? she must have had massive issues with bonding later i bet. that poor little baby, just entered the world and she isn't with her mother"
it had been about an hour after the birth. we had done lots of skin to skin, and she had nursed and she was absolutely perfect. but, i could barely keep my eyes open. I had to sleep and i say that in the very literal sense.
but the staff had other plans. i had to transfer rooms- out of the delivery room and into a recovery room. i was in and out of consciousness. it was 6 or 7am on sunday morning, an i still had not slept since Thursday night. it felt like exam after exam after exam- constant prodding and poking and massaging. so many questions. i couldnt keep my eyes open. they put me in a wheel chair and handed me my bundled up newborn and i thought to myself 'this is not safe. i am not safe. i am not capable of knowing for sure that i can hold on to her because i'm falling asleep sitting up. i am going to drop her' room transferred. more poking and proding. more questions. 'can you pee? can you move? can you walk around yet? " still hooked up to the pitocin my IV was so painful. and i reached me threshhold. i asked them to take Savoya so that i could sleep.
there i was- i was that mother. a new form of empathy came over me, and i inwardly scolded my previous judgemental-self. sleep deprivation and maternal exhaustion is a very very real thing. but what's more, those nurses had just spent the last 30 hours with me (in shifts) and i had trusted them with my actual life. there is literally no one else who i would have rather had watching my daughter than those women.
That first night, sunday night as i was nursing her in our quiet dark little room i noticed a dimple on her right cheek.
it's so funny, you spend so long- 9 months- with this tiny human and you feel like you know them. you know their personality, you've been together every minute of their lives. but then they come out and you discover all these things that you didnt know about them. are there birth marks? which way does their hair cowlick spin? who is this little person?
Since neither dustin nor I have very pronounced dimples of any kind i couldn't believe that she had that little feature. I'm not sure why it was such a thing for me- I guess it was just a reminder that these tiny humans... they are their own people. They aren't carbon copies of my husband and myself. We're granted this opportunity to help them on their own individual journey... but they are truly just guests in our homes and our care. they aren't OURS to KEEP... just lent to us for a short time at their most vulnerable state. and it made her seem more precious... like i was borrowing this tiny human and i had better take care of her as you would take care of someone else's most prized possession.
it made me think about all the other things i had yet to discover- what shape would her belly button be? what would her voice be like? what color eyes and hair will she have? will she be left handed like her eldest brother, or right handed like her youngest brother? will she be quiet and shy or exuberant and outgoing? it was like realizing that it was going to be a holiday every single day henceforth, that all these things were like little gifts waiting to be opened.
and all of this, all of these realizations, fully coming to light not during my first birth, not my second, but on my third baby. people say to me all the time 'is she your first? oh, your THIRD? oh, well this is old hat to you then. you're a veteran" but the truth is it feels like i've learned so much more this time around than i ever did with the boys. were the lessons always there, its just that i'm finally listening now that i know she's my last? is it that i am older? is it that i am able to finally take a maternity leave for the first time ever? i keep trying to pinpoint the answer, to find out why this time around feels so magical, but i cant nail it down. i'm not sure I want to, because magic looses is magic-ness when it is figured out... and i want this to go on and on.
thank you to marla cyree of simply splendid for documenting this whole process for me on black and white film. These are the closest thing to a time machine i'll ever have. you are a treasure.