You can read Part 1 here.
At some point the next day I finally reached full dilation and started having the urge to push. While the hospital did allow water births, I decided to try using the birthing stool. It was a lot higher than I expected, and it was uncomfortable. But other than mentioning that I wasn’t comfortable, I made no effort to change locations. At that point in labor, a mother is simultaneously too focused and too overwhelmed by the birthing process to advocate for herself, and no one connected my calm, quiet comment that the birthing stool was uncomfortable with a real desire to move to the bed, which is what I wanted.
The pushing stage went on and on. It reminded me of descriptions of the labors of first-time moms, where each contraction might move the baby forward three inches, only to have him slip backwards two inches in the pause between contractions. I was really glad that I had studied and rehearsed pushing technique for this delivery. I had barely been allowed to push at all with my first child before my Ukrainian doctor and midwife teamed up to force him violently from my womb, and my second and fourth children had been born with just a few pushes that didn’t seem like too much work, but this baby just didn’t seem to want to come. I began to suspect that he was posterior, meaning that the baby is facing forwards instead of looking back at the mother’s spine. My third baby had been born posterior, and it had been a long, slow labor. I voiced my suspicion, but the midwives didn’t really respond. Maybe they didn’t know, or maybe they didn’t want to alarm me by confirming that this baby would take a lot of hard work to be born.
At some point, my midwife came and sat right behind me, offering both emotional and physical support as I labored. There was a second midwife present as well, whose job it was to catch the baby. With each contraction, I was able to give two very focused, long, hard pushes, and eventually, the baby was born. As I had suspected, he came out looking up at the world, a posterior baby. Under the midwife’s direction, my husband was able to be the one to catch him! It was the first time he’d ever gotten to do this. We named him Andrew.
After Andrew had been weighed and dressed and nursed and everyone had gotten a chance to hold him, my husband took our older boys and his littlest sister “home,” which was actually a vacation rental house on a lake about thirty minutes away from the hospital. Some friends had offered to let us use it starting a week before the due date so that we could be closer to the hospital. When I went into labor two weeks early, they graciously got it ready for us, and it became our home away from home for the next few weeks.
I remember experiencing a new level of physical exhaustion after that delivery. For days afterwards, I felt like I’d run a marathon purely with my abdominal muscles. My mother-in-law stayed with me at the hospital, and I was so thankful for her help. With my previous U.S. hospital birth, I had left the hospital the same day, as soon as they would allow me to check out. I had so disliked the forced four-day stay at the Ukrainian hospital where I had given birth to my first child that I was determined not to spend a single night in the hospital with my second child. However, this time around, I decided to take advantage of the full 48 hours of hospital care allowed me under my healthcare plan. I knew that once I left the hospital, it would be extremely difficult to rest, because I would feel the need to help my husband with our other kids. So I rested for two days, enjoying friendly service and delicious hot meals made to order and brought to my room three times a day. On the last day, my husband and kids picked Andrew and me up from the hospital, we said goodbye to George’s mom and little sister, who returned to Indianapolis, and we went to the lake house.
It was comfortable, with two full bathrooms, toys, and plenty of space for the kids to play outside—not to mention the lake! But I felt immediately overwhelmed and depressed. I was pressuring myself to step up and take over the food preparation chores that had fallen to my husband while I was in the hospital, but it’s always awkward to cook in an unfamiliar kitchen, and I was still recovering from an exhausting delivery and was also busy with the care of a newborn. Everything seemed bleak and impossible, and I just wanted to curl up in bed and sob hysterically.
The next day was extremely hot, and the baby was so sleepy that I was having trouble getting him to rouse to nurse. Seeking relief from the heat and hoping the fresh air would help wake him, I moved outside to the shade under some trees, placing him in a travel baby bed on the grass. It was a relaxing setting and helped my nerves, but as far as I could tell, it made no difference in helping me get the baby to wake up to eat. I didn’t think much of it, since newborns sleep a lot, and my oldest child had been so sleepy for his first few days of life that we had stripped him to his diaper and swabbed him with ice-cold washcloths when it was time for him to eat. Even then, he’d barely stay awake for more than a few mouthfuls. But after that initial sleepy phase, he became more alert and ate really well. I assumed Andrew was experiencing something similar. He felt a little warm, but everyone was hot, and I figured his little body was just having trouble staying cool in the oppressive summer heat. I started swabbing him with a cool washcloth to help him stay comfortable, but I wasn’t really worried.
The next day Andrew had a scheduled check-up with the pediatrician, who worked out of the same hospital where I had given birth. When the nurse put him on the scale, she nonchalantly noted his weight was 7 pounds 12 ounces, but I was taken aback. He had lost 1 pound and 2 ounces since birth! When the nurse took his temperature, he had a low fever. When the doctor came in to see him, he was very concerned, and my report of Andrew’s lethargic state strengthened his fears. Because the lab didn’t have the results yet for the staph culture my midwife had done when I had checked into the hospital in labor, the pediatrician moved proactively to avert a possible tragedy.* He said, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to check you back into the hospital.” I remember that my initial instinct was to argue with him, but I quickly stifled that urge and determined to adapt to this unexpected turn of events.
He marched us straight from his office to the elevator and then into the ICU, where Andrew was immediately hooked up to machines to monitor his temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels and given an IV in his arm to administer antibiotics to prevent a fatal encephalitis, because the doctor had to assume that Andrew could have been exposed to staph bacteria during the birthing process. Andrew looked so pitiful with all those wires coming off his tiny body. I called my husband, who was waiting outside in the car with our four other boys, to explain what was happening. They came up to the ICU to say goodbye to us. The kids all gathered around the baby in his hospital bassinet for a farewell picture before going back to the house on the lake.
If I had tried to envision the ideal place to recover from birth and rest with my newborn, I never would have imagined the ICU. But once we were settled in, I found that there were many advantages to being in the hospital again. Suddenly I was back in a setting where all my meals were provided for me, and I didn’t need to do anything but care for my baby. Gone was the overwhelm and depression that had engulfed me as soon as I arrived at the lake house. Now I felt at peace and cared for, and I even had visitors! A couple from a church nearby that supported us as missionaries came on the second day to wish me well and drop off snacks to supplement my hospital meals. As far as Andrew’s condition went, I wasn’t super concerned about it. This was partly because I sincerely trusted God and the doctors and nurses, but I also didn’t realize just how ill Andrew was.
*My lab test for staph bacteria eventually came back negative.
Read Part 3.
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