Pepper’s Birth Story

Sorry, Pepper. You’re the second child, so the three readers of this blog haven’t heard anything about you yet. My pregnancy was so, so wanted and so, so hard. I was sick from week 6 through week 17 or 18. I attempted to potty train your sister during that time (epic fail), and I ate a whole lot of potatoes. And then I started to feel better nausea-wise, and simultaneously my body started to complain about being pregnant. Excruciating round ligament pain, then hip pain.

By the third trimester, I was feeling a bit better. Moving more helped, as did acupuncture and chiropractic care. Long walks were my jam. I had a beautiful Mother Blessing party with a small group of friends. I made a cast of my belly. I loved feeling you move much more than your sister because my placenta wasn’t anterior this time.

And then I started to get itchy all over. At 35 weeks, I was diagnosed with intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, which is a liver disorder that causes levels of bile acids to be elevated in the bloodstream and, in the worst case scenario, can lead to stillbirth. Because I had a very mild form (the highest my bile acids were was 18.2; anything above 20 is considered moderate and above 40 is severe), the midwives at our birth center monitored me closely, but did not send me for a hospital induction right away. The plan was that I would be induced by my due date (April 2), so I had a non stress test every week and monitored your movements much more diligently. Luckily you passed most of the NSTs with flying colors, with the exception of one where we had to blow a bicycle horn at my belly. You jumped then and I made sure to eat a big breakfast before the NSTs from then on.

As freaked out as I was initially, the cholestasis was a great perspective-giver. I stopped working early, stopped teaching prenatal yoga, and was able to focus on my last weeks of pregnancy in a way that I don’t think I would have without it. We were a bit worried, but felt good about the medication I’d been prescribed, as well as the conservative and thoughtful way our midwives were taking care of us. I had time to buy labor snacks and pack a bag—things I never had time for before your sister’s birth.

I assumed that you’d come early, like your sister who was born at 38 weeks and 1 day, especially since the midwives started doing cervical checks and sweeping my membranes at 38 weeks. I had a few crying breakdowns with my sweet midwives about being tired of being pregnant and of having contractions come and go. At 38 weeks and 3 days I thought my water had broken and went in for a check. It hadn’t, so I cried again.

At 38 weeks and 6 days, my favorite midwife (Rose, a midwifery student who was our doula with Plum) called and said that they were scheduling my hospital induction for the following week, but that starting the next day (39 weeks), I could have a “midwife induction,” which consists of castor oil and herbs/homeopathy/acupressure. Rose was on call the next day and your dad didn’t want to go to work, plus I was just so done being pregnant, so we decided to report to the birth center the next morning. I called Elena, our cousin who was planning to be there, our doula Andrea, and Johanna, our sibling support person, who was going to stay with Plum during the birth. It turns out that Johanna had been diagnosed with strep throat over the weekend, but luckily would have been on antibiotics for 24 hours by the time we needed her the next morning.

I went to bed as usual Monday night, waking with so many thoughts in the early morning Tuesday. I took a benadryl so that I could go back to sleep and woke up at 7:30ish. Your dad got up then too, and we got Plum ready for the day. I got the car seat situated to bring you home later and had breakfast. Johanna got to our house around 9:30 and she took our last picture as a family of three. I cried in the car after we left Plum.

We got to the birth center around 10 am, and I got a cervical check and had my membranes swept again. I was 5 centimeters dilated with a soft cervix. I’d been walking around 4 cm and 50% effaced for a few weeks, but it was still a good sign. I drank 4 ounces of castor oil in a green smoothie around 10:30 am and then Andrew and I went for a walk in the hilly, strange neighborhood behind the birth center. We got back around 11:15 or so and then hung out in the Peach Room. Reading books (I read When Dimple Met Rishi and Andrew read A Random Walk Down Wall Street), eating snacks, visiting with each other. It was a really different way to start labor. I pooped some, but not the BIG POOP that sometimes accompanies castor oil.

I’d been having contractions on and off for the past 24 hours at least, but they were still pretty irregular. At 1:30 or so, Allison (another midwife) came in to put acupressure beads on my wrists and feet and to get me started with some homeopathy. They decided not to give me herbs since they can be hard on the liver. I drank something homeopathic every 15 or so minutes (Andrew was in charge of that) starting then. I also found that I could rub the acupressure beads and give myself a contraction. My contractions were still variable 3-7ish minutes apart and, while I was breathing through them, I could talk in between no problem.

About 2 pm, Andrea and Elena got there. Andrea’s notes said that I was “chipper and chatty” then. At some point Andrew teased me that I still had my clothes on. We kept going with the homeopathy and my contractions got more intense, to the point where I was vocalizing loudly instead of just breathing through them. At about 3 pm, Rose came in and said that we could stop with the homeopathy because I was in active labor. At 3:30 pm I was done with my clothes, and then I got in the shower.

I labored in the shower for 45 minutes or so, during which I puked, which was gross. Our nurse Jen put peppermint oil on the walls so I wouldn’t have to smell the vomit smell. I got in the bed and alternated between child’s pose and side-lying to rest, getting up onto the bean bag for some contractions.

Around 5:30 pm Rose checked me. I was about 9 and a half centimeters and with a bulging bag of waters. I think her exact words were “water balloon in your vagina.” I moved around from the bed, to standing, to the bathroom/toilet. They filled the tub for me and I got in, but hated it and got right out again.

Rose told me that I could push if I wanted to and I realized that I really didn’t want to. I pushed for 4 hours with your sister, and I was just not interested in that again. I told her I was scared to push and she gave me a pep talk. I don’t remember much of what she said, but I do remember her touching my shoulder and how supported I felt by her—and by everyone.

At 5:45 I got back on the bed and started pushing a bit on all fours. Around 6 pm, Rose broke my bag of waters, with a HUGE gush. (Later she said that she wouldn’t break someone’s waters again without putting down way more towels). There was a little bit of cervical lip in the way still, so Rose held it out of the way while I pushed your head down. I was semi-reclined on my back at that point and then your heart rate dropped a little, so I turned onto my side. I felt so much more competent pushing this time, but it was still not pleasant. I definitely pooped as I was pushing you out.

I did love reaching down to feel your head. And I also loved it when I complained that it was really hard and Rose told me that in 5 more pushes we would meet you. She was right, and you were born at 6:44 pm. You cried RIGHT AWAY and you were bright pink. When your dad saw your genitalia, he cried, which I loved. We tried to bring you to my chest, but your umbilical cord was short, so you hung out on my belly, until your dad cut it and you could come cuddle with me.

I got stitched up. You nursed voraciously almost right away. We went home at 1:30 am and you met your sister the next morning.

We are so glad you are safely here with us. I am so thankful for the support and expertise and love of our entire care team. It is an incredible privilege to have gotten to welcome my two wonderful babies in such a sacred, safe, and special way.

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