Tuesday, November 26, 2019

William's Birth Novella

Four weeks ago, our second son, William Gordon Melton, joined our family at 9:28pm on October 29th, 2019! He was born at GM Cheil Women’s Hospital in Gwangmyeong, South Korea which will never not amaze me and has pretty much guaranteed him a lifetime of complicated paperwork. Luckily the time difference worked at and he has the same birth date both here and back home on the East coast. It's taken me much longer this time to write down his birth story and while I know most people don't want all these little details, I hope I never forget them!

I found out I was pregnant just a couple weeks after we found out we’d be moving to South Korea. We figured our family would grow during our time overseas but the timing of this new little boy was a bit of a surprise and not without a few complications. Moving while 26 weeks pregnant in the middle of summer, for starters, is not for the faint of heart... but the biggest challenge was that my due date fell between the closing of the old army base hospital and the opening of the new hospital. This meant I'd be referred off post to a Korean hospital for my prenatal care and delivery. Luckily we knew about this before we arrived so I was able to start researching hospitals ahead of time and most importantly hire myself a doula. I didn't have a doula with Tommy because I felt so comfortable and supported by the midwives I saw throughout that pregnancy. This time I knew it would be essential to my peace of mind, that she would help me navigate language barriers and cultural differences to have the birth I wanted. And lucky for me my doula has become of my closest friends here!

Once we arrived I quickly got an appointment at the clinic on post where I was seen just once in order to get my referral for the off-post hospital I had chosen based on mostly positive Facebook reviews from other spouses. My doula had told me that Korean hospitals and doctors have a different mindset when it comes to birth and that their practices are more old-school. Episiotomies are more routine, they have higher c-section rates, some hospitals still don't even allow the dad in the delivery room. She said to go in to my appointments prepared to advocate (and maybe even fight) for the birth I wanted.

I only had three prenatal appointments at the hospital and in general received good care however I was on guard the whole time. I filled out the hospital's birth preferences sheet they provided and it seemed that they would accommodate most of my requests (the option to labor in any position that feels comfortable, husband be allowed in the room at all times, baby to stay with me at all times, skin to skin after birth etc).  Because they do ultrasounds at each visit here, they were concerned he was measuring quite big so they changed my due date back from November 2 to October 22 and suggested that we might need to be induced. But because they kept saying at each appointment that he was measuring ahead and just SO big I was pretty much convinced that he would be early anyway. Plus Tommy was born at 39+2.

A few weeks before my (October) due date my doula attended a birth for another mom at the hospital where I was being seen. She came home from that birth completely shocked by what she'd seen and immediately called me up to let me know her concerns. It seemed to her that the birth preferences the hospital claimed to offer would not be acknowledged or even considered and that once I got to the hospital in labor, the doctors would take over and I would have little to no say in how I labored, delivered, or how my baby and I were cared for after birth.

At this point I am almost 38 weeks pregnant and feeling panicky and scared. I did not want to go in to my birth combative and defensive, with every decision a battle between me and the doctors.  I wanted a low intervention birth and a gentle recovery with my baby boy and I did not want to have this fear and anxiety and risk my mental health for the postpartum period. My doula then asked if I'd be willing to switch to a birth center we had previously visited together but that I had thought too far, almost 2 hours away, to consider.  I talked with T.J. but we both quickly decided that the longer drive was worth it for a better experience. Switching to the birth center required changing my insurance and since this was an out of network hospital we'd have to pay out of pocket and then get reimbursed later but at this point the costs were definitely worth it. I then called the english speaking midwife and asked for the soonest appointment and got one for two days later and I immediately felt better about my decision.

T.J was able to come with me to that appointment and agreed that this new hospital felt like a much more supportive environment. While it is called a birth center it is not like what may come to mind when you think of birth centers in the States. It has full surgical capabilities in the event a c-section is needed but they encourage and are better equipped to support natural/unmedicated births.  The labor and delivery rooms felt more like luxury hotel rooms with a full size bed, a bath tub, dim lighting. I would be able to labor anywhere in any position. On top of that we'd be able to do skin to skin and have our baby in the room with us the whole time after the birth. They still agreed that baby boy was measuring large but were much more relaxed about his arrival saying babies come when they're ready.

So then we waited... I had another appointment a week later where I did a non-stress test during which I had several Braxton Hicks contractions that got their attention. I'd been having these contractions quite regularly and for quite a few months and they weren't painful so I didn't think anything of it but they wanted to do a cervical check to see if I was progressing. It turned out I was already 2cm dilated but not very effaced. Still they told us to go home and pack our bags and they might see us later that weekend. I wish they hadn't said that because the next week and weekend draggggggedd..... I bounced on my ball, walked up the stairs instead of taking the elevator,  ate spicy food, did squats, went for long walks and tried literally every old wives tale about inducing labor. Each night my Braxton Hicks would ramp up and I would wonder if this was the night they'd turn into real labor. Bring on the pain I thought! I was ready.

In the meantime my parents arrived in South Korea, as did a box of Tommy's baby clothes I'd been anxiously waiting on that took forever to ship from the states. It was like our baby boy knew and was waiting for all the pieces to be in place so I wouldn't be worrying about who would watch Tommy or what I would bring him home from the hospital in. Two days after my parents arrived I had my next (and last) prenatal appointment at 12pm and even though I was discouraged that labor hadn't started yet, and was starting to think I'd be pregnant forever, I pretty much determined not to leave that hospital that day without a baby. I did not want to make that drive again. We loaded our hospital bags in the car and left my parents to hold down the fort.

 
(my last pictures of just me and my little buddy before he became a big brother)

When we arrived, I had an ultrasound like I did at every appointment and they estimated the baby's size at over 9lbs. The doctor said we should schedule an induction for a couple days later but before I could get too worked up about that the midwife agreed to do a cervical check and a membrane sweep. We went up to the labor and delivery floor where she told me I was 3cm dilated. And after she swept my membranes she brought me a breast pump to use for 30 minutes to see if contractions would pick up. Slowly but surely I started to feel more crampy and the contractions seemed to be coming from my back and wrapping around my stomach which was a sign we were moving in the right direction, even if they weren't painful yet. The midwife agreed that if we left to go home we'd probably be driving back later that night so she had persuaded the doctor to let us stay but she told us to go for a big long walk around the area, grab some food, relax, let the contractions pick up and then to come back in a couple hours.

We left the hospital around 2:30pm and I was in such a calm but excited mood as T.J. and I walked around, holding hands. It kinda felt like a date and I knew it was a rare few golden hours with just the two of us- even if I was getting some strange looks as I began to have to pause and grimace through the growing contractions. I kept worrying that they would stop but quite quickly I was able to say out loud "I think this is really it!" Then I would need to slow down, squeeze T.J.'s hand harder when the next contraction started before we could carry on our walk.  They were definitely getting painful but I was so happy and so excited that I wasn't too bothered yet. Mostly I was just excited that it didn't seem at all like my labor with Tommy (unrelenting back labor with no noticeable pattern to the contractions and no relief from the pain).

We walked nearly 4 miles around the surrounding city blocks near the hospital, only stopping once to get me a smoothie, and a second time at McDonald's for a large french fry. Around 4pm I texted my midwife to let her know I was feeling regular, painful contractions and she said to give it another hour then come back. I then called my doula and told her we were officially staying and having this baby today so she could start making her way there. 

By 5pm I was starting to get pretty tired from walking around and since I knew I'd need all my energy for the hard part ahead we headed back up to the labor and delivery floor of the hospital where we removed our shoes at the door,  met our midwife, and she showed us to the room where our baby boy would be born. T.J. went to get our bags from the car and we made ourselves comfortable.  I was so grateful to not have to have another cervical check, nor did they make me get an IV. I was free to move around the room and labor however and wherever I wanted and it was such a more peaceful and empowering environment. Rather than feeling like a patient waiting for the doctor to tell me what to do, I felt like I was in control and I was going to do this!!
(the view from our room)

The midwife then wanted me to do some stretches to help make sure the baby was in the best position possible. She had me lay on my side with the fetal monitor belt on and then each time I had a contraction she would gently pull my left leg up and out while T.J. pulled back on my right hip, opening up my pelvis. We did that for about 45 minutes and then I asked if I could get in the tub for a bit as the contractions definitely had more bite to them now. While the bath was filling up I went to the bathroom and lost my mucus plug and I knew things were about to get more real. Getting in the tub felt so good and provided a lot of relief. The lights in the room were dim and we put on my labor playlist and I tried to relax my body during the brief windows between. During a contraction I'd kneel with the faucet running over my back, gripping the side of the tub and T.J.'s hand. I stayed in for at least an hour (though the timeline starts to get fuzzy for me here) as the contractions got more and more intense and closer together.  By the time I got out my doula had arrived and I moved to the bed where I knelt on all fours and gripped the headboard and started really having to vocalize through the contractions. I'd breathe in deep through my nose, then groan out through my mouth. My doula would push really hard on my lower back to try to ease some of the pain there.

I started getting that slightly frantic feeling like you need to move or shift or do literally anything to climb out of your skin and away from the contractions.  I felt like a change in position would help and I also felt like I needed to go to the bathroom so I moved to the little restroom in our room, closed the door, and sat on the toilet. In there by myself I'd lean my hands and head against the cool tile wall when the contraction hit and moan and yell and shout trying to keep my sounds lower pitched so my body would stay relaxed despite everything in me wanting to resist and run away from the pain. I only had maybe 30-45 seconds before the next one would come and I noticed myself starting to involuntarily push. But I was wrapped up in my own little world and still thinking I had a long way to go. I still thought I just needed to go to the bathroom. My midwife however came back in to the room and heard the animal sounds I was making and I could hear her telling T.J. and my doula that they needed to get me out of the bathroom because I was indeed pushing. T.J. asked me gently if I wanted to move back to the bed and I said NO, not yet, that I didn't think I could stand and walk. After a few more contractions in the bathroom by myself, T.J. decided he didn't want his son born on the toilet so he came in and physically lifted me to my feet and helped me move the 10 feet to the bed.
The midwife helped me lay down on my left side and then gave me that peanut ball to put between my knees. T.J. knelt in front of me and I wrapped my arm around his neck and squeezed his shirt (his skin) as hard as I could during each contraction. I have very little memory of what else was going on in the room. I don't remember seeing anyone else except T.J. and I just stayed locked in on him or had my eyes closed tight but I could hear my doula and midwife encouraging me and telling me how close I was. I felt my waters pop, I felt my body take over, and I literally couldn't not have pushed even if I tried.  At some point the doctor came in the room as well and apparently was very calm and supportive and helpful but I literally don't remember even seeing him which I guess means his presence wasn't disruptive and he just let me do what I needed to do to get that baby out.
With Tommy, since I'd had an epidural I was completely dependent on the nurses and midwives to tell me when to push, how to push, how long to push, and how close I was. But this time I was so in tune with my body and I could feel my baby moving down, moving closer, but then moving back up once I stopped pushing. The good thing about that is the slower progress kept me from tearing and in all I only pushed for maybe 30 minutes before I was screaming "I want him out!" and then one last big push gave way to a huge wave of pressure leaving my body and there he was.  All of a sudden there was a whole new person in the room and just like that the pain immediately stopped and was (mostly) forgotten.
They laid him on my chest and rubbed him down as he was a bit blue from having the cord around his neck but he was wailing and showing off his lungs in just a few seconds and all was right in the world. I remember thinking I did it! We did it! And noticing that he looked like his brother except less of a cone head and fatter.  Our big boy almost met the Korean doctor's high expectations weighing in at 8lbs 13 ounces.
We spent that first night in the same room and can I just say all hospitals should have full size beds that your husband can also fit in. We were pretty much left to ourselves, to stare at our new little guy, until the next morning which was so nice especially since fresh hours old babies actually are quite sleepy and like to let their mama's rest. In the morning we were brought a traditional Korean breakfast complete with a big heaping bowl of seaweed soup which luckily I'd been warned about ahead of time. The bulgogi beef was actually quite good even if it's not my usual breakfast of choice. We moved to our recovery room soon after and said farewell to our beloved midwife who was heading on vacation that day. Talk about fortuitous timing! I am so glad baby boy decided to make his appearance before she went out of town.  Since she was the only English speaking midwife/ nurse there, the rest of our brief hospital stay involved more hand gestures and pointing at my boobs then back to Will and giving a thumbs up to the other sweet nurses. Dinner was Samgyetang- a traditional Korean soup with an ENTIRE chicken in it and only chopsticks and a spoon to tackle it with. 
T.J. and I just had to laugh at how different this entire experience was from Tommy's birth. The biggest difference though for me was how little pain and discomfort I had this time around. I don't know if it's because I didn't have an epidural, or any tearing, or if maybe my body was just more prepared since it had done this before but I felt amazing and my recovery was so easy! On top of that baby boy nursed right away and has continued to be a champion eater. He is squishy and snuggly and has moved into our family and our hearts like he was always there. We brought Will home to his big brother on Halloween and now here we are, 4 weeks into being a family of 4.  And even though a full night's sleep is already a distant memory, it's impossible to imagine life without our two precious and perfect baby boys. 

5 comments :

  1. What a great record of William's birth. He is gorgeous. Congratulations.

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  2. Congratulations! What a beautiful birth story!

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  3. Thank you, Shannon, for sharing this beautiful journey with us. Your boys are both adorable. Tommy will make a great big brother! xoxox

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  4. What a beautiful, empowering birth story! I read every word and am so in awe of how you were able to make the choice to switch to a birth center despite the long drive, how you were so in tune with your body, and how you just pushed out a human without an epidural! (I've literally never done that!) I'm so so glad your recovery has been easier!!!

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  5. Shannon, you are one amazing young lady!!! I so enjoyed this post and so admire all that you went through to do this birth "your way." Blessings abundant to you and your precious family.

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