Nothing like holding a sleeping 4-day old babe in a sling while writing about her birth. Especially as I am not the one recovering from the labor.
Nothing like sitting and typing while my 4-day old niece is peacefully nursing her mama in the next room.
When Christian and I arrived in DC ten days ago (Feb 8), Olga was anxious for their baby to be born by her due date Feb 13. First, she hoped the baby would be born while I was still here (me too!); and secondly, she wanted to meet their new daughter. However, Olga was showing no signs of impending labor; her cervix was firmly closed and not even a Braxton Hicks contraction had been felt.
This worked out for Christian and I, though, because we spent a very full and fun week exploring DC with Olga who wanted to walk as much as possible once she heard that exercise might stimulate labor.
On the morning of her due date, Feb 13, Olga saw her mucous plug and had very light contractions. After lots of discussion, Songbae went to work. Olga, Christian, and I drove to Virginia to have lunch at my parents’ club (yummy: calamari, fresh tuna wraps, caesar salad with grilled salmon, steamed mussels). We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling in a nearby park trying to bring on more contractions. We were sure the baby was going to come any time! And that evening, well, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one staring at the ceiling all night long…
We woke up the next day and still no baby. Olga went in for her weekly check-in with her OB. Everybody was delighted to hear that she was two centimeters dilated. Seriously, it was practically a party in this house, but the doctor cautioned that 2 cm could mean labor in a day or labor in a week. The doc was unmoved by the bloody show nor was she impressed by the light contractions.
Olga, Christian, and I walked all over Oak Hill Cemetery (beautiful) and Dumbarton Oaks Park (wooded).
After we got home we then hoofed it to the Target 15 blocks away. We did end up taking the bus home though, at Christian’s moaning about being tired.
By evening there were more contractions, but still irregular and light. We decided not to talk to say the c-word (contraction) anymore. We were definitely jinxing ourselves. We determined to eat a good meal (we did) and get a good night’s sleep (we did not).
Somewhere in the wee hours, Songbae woke me up. Olga was having contractions every 5 minutes and they thought it might be time to go to the hospital. Olga appeared calm, which was a warning signal to me that it was probably still early labor, but they both assured me that Olga had a very high threshold for pain. Another clue, in retrospect, was that before we left the house, the doctor on call asked to speak directly to Olga and calmly asked how he might help her. When she engaged in conversation with him, he agreeably said she could certainly come to the hospital to see if she was really in labor or not. At that time, Songbae and Olga could only shake their heads in disbelief. I mean, is there anything to be believed about labor for the first time? At 3 am we packed everybody up, including Christian, and headed to Sibley Hospital.
Laboring just before leaving for the hospital the first time. Idyllic and peaceful compared to later, but at the time, it seemed unbearable.
Upon arrival, Songbae and Olga were stunned to find that she was still only 2 cm dilated, the same as she had been that very morning – and after so much laboring! It was disappointing. Our nurse was sweet and optimistic though and gently broke the news that she thought we should go back home.
More stunned disbelief from Songbae and Olga, but I was secretly relieved. The longer Olga was at home, the more she would have the freedom to move around untethered to monitors and the longer she would have to snack and drink for the energy she would surely require. The hospital only allowed clear fluids and later when Olga considered a possible epidural, not even fluids were allowed, but only ice chips. In the end, Songbae and Olga were glad for the time at home as well.
We stayed a couple more hours, but after we were told dilation was still at 2 cm, we packed up laboring Olga and a perky and alert Christian and drove back home around 6 am. This next part of the story is unclear to me, because as soon as I got home, Christian and I tumbled into bed and passed out until 10 am. Umph. We were spent and labor was just beginning!
Olga did not get so much sleep. She’d rested and bathed and labored and moaned and
when I woke up she was moaning quite loudly,
Things like, GET ME TO THE HOSPITAL RIGHT AWAY I CANT TAKE THIS ANYMORE.
Which, if you’ve ever had a baby, you know is a typical thing to say, especially when you are in transition.
Please note: Olga was a super woman and labored beautifully (all the nurses said so too) and delivered Alina without any medication whatsoever.
We accommodated Olga, but we did it slowly, because we both knew that if she had not dilated amply when we reached the hospital that we were going to have a very unhappy laboring woman on our hands. She was already not in a good mood about the level of pain she was experiencing which was much much more than she had anticipated. Again, I heard her complaints as good news. It is common for women in transition to feel like the contractions are unbearable. Her contractions were between 3-7 minutes apart, but they were lasting longer and were clearly much more painful. I applied pressure on her lower back during contractions and she said it helped. Damp washcloths did not.
When we got to the hospital, Olga went straight in, but I stayed in the waiting area, because for whatever reason, this time Christian was denied entrance to the Delivery Wing. Songbae was upset about this as he’d previously confirmed that is was patient discretion that determined who was in the the room. In fact, he ran right back out and told me to go in with Olga while he sat with Christian. (He says now that he and Olga discussed this and both agreed that I might be more helpful to the laboring mom.)
Olga was now 6 cm dilated! I was thrilled! Olga was not. She wanted an epidural. Blood was drawn, she was put on an IV and baby monitor and blood pressure cuff, juice was withdrawn, and many scary questions were asked about blood transfusions and reactions to anesthesia.
We were informed that the blood work could take up to two hours to return.
So Olga and I talked it through – between contractions, of course. She wanted a natural drug-free birth; she did not want any medical interventions. We’d discussed this in advance. I was there to remind her of that. And could she see how much more medicalized the labor had become just at the mention of an epidural? She was doing so amazingly well too. Then I got a timely text which bolstered me and which I showed to Olga:
“6 cm is the beginning of transition. ALL WOMEN SAY THEY WANT AN EPIDURAL AT THAT STAGE!!!”
She agreed to see how much she’d dilated before making a decision.
We were left alone for a long time. Fortunately for us (but unfortunately for somebody else) there was a medical emergency in the delivery wing and we were left alone. Olga’s blood samples were left rolling on a tray in our room. We just kept on trucking through contraction by contraction and before we knew it two hours had passed. After 2 pm, Olga had her first visit from a doctor. She was 8 cm. She was progressing completely ON TRACK. (It is typical to progress one cm per hour after you reach the first five centimeters.) The doctor assured Olga that she could have the epidural whenever she wanted. Olga decided to wait another half hour.
At this point, we did everything in half hour increments. An entire hour was too long to imagine.
Take a moment and open your mouth as wide as you can. Measure it in centimeters. You are probably near 6-7 cm across. So imagine a uterus contracting enough to stretch its cervical opening to 10 cm – for the first time ever. It is a miracle of childbirth that our organs change shape and our bones shift to allow passage of a new human. AND SO MUCH WORK.
Olga and I imagined beautiful wooded places, we floated in seas, we told stories, we thought of mothers around the world and through history, we massaged, we cried, and we sweated. We were delirious, obviously she much more than I. (Although, I did realize at some point that afternoon that I had not eaten since the previous night.)
Around this time, Songbae was able to come into the room with us. My parents had arrived with provisions and Legos. Christian was with them – but after already four hours in the waiting room, I knew he might not be easy to handle. When we got the inevitable text that one of us needed to come out, I tried to go, but Songbae thought I stay, in case Christian wouldn’t let me leave him again and Songbae went out again.
Olga, meanwhile, was having contractions hard and heavy. We got her up and standing and moving around. The contractions were less painful and shorter when she was up and leaning forwards supported by the raised hospital bed. She hated all the tubes hanging from her, but there was nothing to do. She labored on. Soon she had an urge to push. The nurse came in and Olga told her so. The nurse looked at her calmly and said, You said that to me so nicely…I am going to wait until you yell that at me. And then turned and left. She did it in a nice way. It was funny also, but nobody had time to laugh. Finally Olga’s water broke. There began to be messes to be cleaned up with every contractions.
Olga began yelling that her uterus was pushing on its own. We called the nurse. The doctor came in. And thank God, a head was visible on its way down. I yelled, Olga, It’s almost over! Baby is on her way!
To which the doctor muttered out of the side of her mouth, She still has quite a bit pushing to go. Baby is not here yet.
I ran out to tell Songbae to come in and take over so he could witness the birth. My parents were down in the cafeteria and Songbae was helping Christian build his new Lego set. Songbae looked up and said mildly, Okay, I’ll come in as soon as Mom and Dad come back.
I sprinted back to Olga. Every contraction showed us more and more of the baby’s head. IT WAS SO EXHILARATING. Olga was working SO HARD. The whole thing was surreal. I just held my breath and waited for Songbae to relieve me. I knew I wasn’t going to see the actual birth and I wanted to absorb every minute detail. Olga had her legs back and she pushed against me with one foot. She pushed against a nurse with the other. She pushed until her face turned purple. She was having alternating big and small contractions and she used the little ones to rest.
Then suddenly the head was fully crowning and with big exhale
baby slipped slithered out pink and beautiful.
I took off to get Songbae. I was astonished at what I’d witnessed in place of him. SORRY SONGBAE!! WHERE THE HECK WERE YOU??!
When I got to the lobby Songbae was calmly putting away Legos. With the memory of that morning’s first trip to the hospital still in his mind, he’d thought he had plenty of time. Mom and Dad were sitting and drinking coffee. I surely yelled something incomprehensible. Songbae took off.
Placenta delivered without incident.
There was meconium in the amniotic fluid (baby pooped before leaving womb), so the neonatologist scooped baby up and suctioned out her lungs. This happens often and while it can pose a threat, it was quickly and efficiently handled.
Alina Nari Lee was born in the afternoon of February 15, 2013 in the year of the snake. 6 pounds 15 ounces. A beauty.
Did I mention that her mom was a champ? OLGA IS A CHAMP!!
Alina an hour after being born. She’d just been washed in this picture.
Daddy and Baby bonding on day 2.
Baby Alina sleeping on day 4.