It’s the last week of Prematurity Awareness Month which means that it’s time to share Avery’s birth story. Avery’s birth completely redeemed all that went wrong in my first birth and I hope that this story encourages other preemie parents who are afraid to try again for fear of birthing another preemie or spending more time in the NICU. But before we get started, let me warn you that this is a real (long) birth story with real details. If you’re looking for a birth story that glosses over the pushing and the blood and all of that, you’re going to want to skip this one. If you want the truth, read on. I hope you can still look at me the same way after you’ve read it…
After Harper was born, we were told that we should wait at least one year before having more children. Statistically, women who have experienced pre-term birth are at a high risk for experiencing it again. And this risk is even greater if the babies are less than 18 months apart. That was fine with us. We needed a year to adjust to being parents anyway. Sam probably could’ve waited two years, but right around Harper’s first birthday, I started feeling baby fever. A little over a month later, I was pregnant.
We had moved to Northern Virginia when Harper was six months old, but I still hadn’t settled on a new midwife or OB. I obviously wasn’t going back to the OB who delivered Harper, despite the fact that I liked him as a person, because I was determined to have the natural birth (with a midwife) that I had originally planned to have. The only problem was that I was considered “high risk” now. I had to find a practice that had both midwives and OBs and I would probably have to see an OB at least a few times during my pregnancy.
Thanks to the insurance crisis in our country, I had to go to a practice (and hospital) 45 minutes away from my house, but it ended up being a blessing because I loved being a patient there. There were three midwives and a number of OBs. The rule was that I had to see an OB at least once and a Maternal Fetal Specialist every two weeks for the majority of my pregnancy, but I still got to see the midwives for my regular prenatal visits. Most importantly, a midwife would deliver my baby barring any major complications.
I had never even heard of a Maternal Fetal Specialist, or MFM as they are sometimes called, before that first appointment. I was told that the MFM would check my cervix every two weeks to make sure I wasn’t dilating prematurely (because we still didn’t know why Harper came early – maybe I had an infection? maybe I had a short cervix?) and she would also prescribe weekly (painful) progesterone shots which would prevent my body from going into labor early. Driving 45 minutes every two weeks to these appointments was a pain, but I got to see the baby every time so I tried not to complain.
Other than 10 weeks of awful morning sickness (week six to week sixteen), my pregnancy was pretty uneventful. My cervix looked good. Baby was measuring big the entire time and I had the pelvic aches and hip pain to prove it. I even survived Harper taking off her diaper, climbing out of her crib for the first time and meeting me in the hallway with poop in her hands at thirty-six weeks pregnant without going into labor.
I can’t remember exactly when they started, but one day during my 35th week, I starting having pretty consistent Braxton Hicks contractions. A little too consistent. I think the rule is no more than four in an hour, but one day I had a ton more than that. No pain. No other labor signs. Just belly tightening and a bit of pressure. I drank water and laid down, but they kept coming. If you read Harper’s birth story, you know that my labor started with my water breaking and I didn’t have contractions until I got to the hospital. And I got the epidural pretty quickly so I couldn’t really remember what they felt like. I called the nurse line at my midwives’ office and they told me to take a bath and try to relax. They assured me that I would know if I was in labor. If I wasn’t having any pain, this wasn’t it. After the bath, the contractions went away, but I still felt uneasy.
Over the next week or so, they would come and go the same way. I kept mentioning it to every woman I saw; the nurse who gave me my weekly shot, my mother, my sister-in-law. They all said that they weren’t real because they weren’t painful. Everyone just kept saying, “You’ll know!” I had a nagging feeling that something was happening, but I tried to ignore it.
I forgot to mention that my anxiety levels were pretty high when it came to birth this time. I was nervous about having another preemie. I was nervous about having another baby in the NICU. I was nervous about making it to the hospital in time. But mostly I was nervous about pushing this baby out with no medicine. I wanted a natural birth so so badly, but I didn’t know if I could actually do it. Every night, while I was rocking Harper to sleep, I would pray out loud. And I would end each prayer by asking God to keep the baby in my belly until 37 weeks and to help me birth her naturally. Every single night. And I believed in my bones that God would answer that prayer. But I was still nervous for some reason.
I hit the 37th week of pregnancy on a Sunday morning. And I was huge. My belly was hanging so low I thought she would fall out and hit the floor if I made any sudden movements. I hugged my Pastor at church that day and, after looking down at my giant belly, he said “I sure hope that baby is coming soon!” I agreed and started mentally counting the minutes until my prenatal appointment the next morning.
Monday morning, when I was 37 weeks and one day, I had a prenatal appointment with one of the midwives, Michelle. She was young, close in age to me I assume, and hilarious. I told her about all of the contractions I had been having and asked her to please check me so I would know if I was going crazy. I will never forget 1) how uncomfortable and actually downright painful cervical checks are and 2) the way she laughed after she was finished. I remember thinking to myself, “Great, I’m probably dilated one centimeter.” I have never been more wrong about anything in my life. She stepped back and said, “So you’re at a six and now I have to go talk to the other providers to decide if I can even let you go home or if we should keep you and induce right now.”
First thought – I knew I wasn’t crazy! Second thought – ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!
Check back on Wednesday for part two!