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Oliver Epic ~ A Birth Story

When Teddy was born a little over two years ago, I noted he backed his way into the world. He was breech. It was a difficult delivery marked by a stuck head, severed bladder, severe internal scarring, and time in the special care nursery. Before he was born, I was on full bedrest for a month. The fallout from his birth lasted for months, culminating in a hernia directly related to the complicated c-section. It’s easy to see why I was fine with never having another baby.

While I was still recovering from the hernia repair—which involved installing 2 mesh panels in my abdomen—I got pregnant with Oliver. Yeah. I shake my head, too.

I was deeply unhappy with the multiple pregnancy tests I took. They were all glaringly positive. I was gobsmacked. I cried, not because babies are unwelcome, icky, and so much work but because I couldn’t stop thinking about my previous delivery (and my very-recent surgery.) It was so very, very awful. My spinal wore off! I had intense pain in my incision for weeks! I have to do that again?

But, Oliver.

All I had to do was look around our dinner table at the milk mustaches and iffy I’m-so-glad-the-Queen-of-England-isn’t-here-tonight manners to remind myself how different my previous eight births have been. From Aidan to Ryley to Sam to Tommy to Joel to Beatrix to Archie to Teddy, every birth was a revelation.

But I was so scared. So scared for myself, so scared for Oliver, so sure something was going to go wrong.

My anxiety surrounding his birth was heightened because everyone else seemed deeply worried about it, too. The doctors at my OB’s practice would enter the exam room with my phone book-sized chart and let it drop with a thud on the table. They read my history with low fluid and bedrest. My hernia was a hot topic. I was asked about it at every appointment. Where are the mesh panels located? They obtained my surgical record from the hernia repair and arranged for the surgeon who did the repair to scrub in to my c-section. He would open me. They warned of encountering not only the mesh but all the scarring, which would be even worse than last time.

“Why did you get pregnant again?” one of the OBs asked, obviously exasperated. I didn’t really mean to, I said, feeling ashamed and then feeling ashamed I felt ashamed…

…and then I ended up on bedrest, again. Deja vu, see? History was repeating itself. Pain was in the forecast.

My mom arrived to help, just as she did two years earlier. This time, I had a crop of eight kiddos for her to tend to and everyone seemed more on edge. It appeared I’d be on bedrest for 5-6 weeks, but then October 4th happened.

I woke that morning and was pleased I had a reason to get up and get dressed. I had an early-morning ultrasound to check my fluid level, a twice-weekly work release. Beatrix noted I was actually getting dressed for a change. “Oh, you are having the baby today!” she declared. I laughed and told her I wasn’t, I just had an appointment and I’d see her after school.

A half hour later, I was lying on a table in a dark ultrasound room watching the tech hunt and hunt and hunt for a pocket of fluid to measure. She ran the little paddle all over my belly and sighed. Finally, she measured a few scrappy pockets and came up with a number: 5. It wasn’t high enough for me to stay pregnant, I knew. Beatrix was right.

The doctor was going to do a NST in the office, but another mom was using the machine and had just started. He sent me to the hospital to be monitored instead. They’d decide later if it was delivery day or not. But I knew. Luckily, he said we could swing by home to get items we might need for the day. They’d be expecting us.

They were. We were met in Labor and Delivery by two nurses, one saying to the other, “Here she is!” I was taken to Recovery Room 1 where I was told to strip, don a green gown, leave pee, climb into bed, and they’d be back. I couldn’t quite believe I was there. I was trembling. It was cold and I was scared. My husband and I barely spoke on the drive. He said he was really worried. My mom, who we said goodbye to during our short jaunt home to get my pillow, charger, Kindle, and toothbrush, was crying as we left.

There was a heavy DOOM vibe. I felt it. I believed it. Pray! I texted friends, Pray! I left a FB status, Pray! I asked my husband.

The monitors were strapped around my belly. The baby looked okay. I had light contractions. A new nurse came into the room and asked how I felt about having the baby today. I said I figured things were moving in that direction. She would stay with me from that moment until she returned me to Recovery Room 1 post-op hours later.

Because I had a bowl of oatmeal that morning, I had to wait six hours from the time I ate until they could take me to the OR. This gave me considerable time to think, stew, imagine. The OB who was going to do my c-section popped in the room at one point. She greeted me with a smile and news the surgeon who did my hernia repair happened to have an opening in his schedule at the same time my surgery was expected to start. He could open me. Also, she decided she was going to do a vertical incision which would avoid the mesh and scarring completely. But, she warned, it would lead to a weaker uterus and longer recovery. Avoiding the danger zones seemed like a great idea to me, so I consented.

The anesthesiologist was worried, though. He visited me and said he understood there was a lot of internal scarring and during my last c-section, my spinal wore off. I had to be sedated via IV. He wanted to avoid that, so he proposed a unique way to fend off pain. He would give me an epidural AND a spinal. First, he’d put in the epidural line, then he’d inject a spinal. The spinal would give great concentrated coverage, the epidural would give it lasting power. I wasn’t thrilled with this plan because epidurals hurt a lot more than spinals. There’s that horrifically awful crackling, pressing sensation with an epidural, as opposed to the one-shot spinal. Memories of a worn-off spinal resurfaced and I realized I had to be a big girl and deal with the epidural when the time came.

At precisely 1:00pm, the nurse walked me to OR #1. I was amazed it was proceeding on time because nothing at a hospital ever happens when they say it will. The trembling began again. The nurse settled me on the edge of the table, sitting up in preparation for my epidural/spinal. I had a feeling of being pulled along by events well beyond my control. Surgical techs counted instruments. Music played in the background. My nurse held my hands as I was asked to arch my back for the anesthesiologist and his needles.

And then, a song came on and I felt an immediate calm as I listened. It’s not a song I gave much thought to before, especially since it is by an American Idol winner and I haven’t watched in years. The song was “Home” by Phillip Phillips.

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Home. My baby was coming home in minutes. He’d emerge from my belly through a vertical incision, like curtains parted, brought into my arms. Everything ahead was more than worth it. Bring scarring, bring burning, bring adhesions, bring numbing, bring being strapped down, bring pressure, bring the smell of my own flesh burning (yep), bring it on, all of it.

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

My husband was brought in. He sat next to me. We held hands. The hernia surgeon opened me. The OB asked him if he wanted to deliver the baby, too, but he declined. So she pulled him out and I heard Oliver’s first cry. He sounded like a tiny squeaking duckling. He peed on at least three people before he was handed to the nursery team, assembled there because he was early and expected to need oxygen and perhaps other interventions. But he was blessedly okay. He didn’t need oxygen. His Apgars were 8/9. He weighed 5lbs 4oz and was 18.5in. long. Pronounced perfectly healthy, he and my husband were taken back to Recovery Room 1 for the first bath and to wait for me.

I was stapled back together. Ca-chunk ca-chunk ca-chunk over 30 times from bellybutton to bone. The only bit of bad news I received came from the anesthesiologist.

While he was doing my epidural, he punctured my dural sac which meant I had a very high chance of developing a spinal headache, which he described as the “worst headache of your life.” He said if I were going to develop a spinal headache, it would most likely happen in the first 24 hours. I watched the clock and took note of how my noggin felt, but didn’t want to dwell on it because I figured I might give myself a headache simply by expecting it to show up. Thankfully it didn’t. When one of his partners came to see me the next day, I told him how glad I was to pass the 24 hour mark. He said, “Well, it can still happen up to 6 weeks after an epidural.” Thanks.

Other than the punctured dural sac, I’ve been enjoying my easiest c-section recovery yet. My pain was well-controlled. I only needed Ibuprofen when I first got home. My incision doesn’t hurt at all. The most uncomfortable part was getting my staples removed. Physically, Oliver’s birth was the easiest of all, despite being major abdominal surgery. I still stayed in the hospital for the full insurance-covered span of days primarily because Oliver was (and is) having feeding issues. While healthy, he is late pre-term. We have encountered many roadblocks and sleepless nights trying to get him to nurse and gain weight. That will be a future post.

But his birth was beautiful. The fears of many people were unfounded or eliminated.

Welcome home, my seventh son, my ninth child, my littlest, my tiniest, my feisty, my duckie, my love.

26 comments to Oliver Epic ~ A Birth Story

  • Gretchen, he is beautiful, and so is his story. So happy for you!

  • Beautiful, Gretchen! You, Oliver, his story, your story. All of it.

  • I’ve been waiting for this story.

    I am so happy to read it, so overjoyed that the fears were unfounded. God loves to surprise us that way, I think. “See? See?” he says with a gentle chuckle. “You are not alone.”

    Welcome to the world, little Oliver. You are so loved.

  • What a sweet, beautiful story. I had complications with #2 which ended in a 2nd c-section and my 3rd c-section had a lot of fear and complications involved–but it too was my best surgery and birth experience! So glad things turned out well.

  • Bring it.

    I love the way you peppered the narrative with gorgeous images. It helped me read with less anxiety, knowing and seeing the ending.

    Welcome to the world, Oliver. Your mommy loves you to the moon and back, as do a host of others.

  • So sweet. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • WOW! He makes me want to have more babies. You’ve given us such a wonderful view of your birth story, and I love that you came back at your fear with such calm. So beautiful Gretchen!

  • Congratulations, Gretchen! A beautiful story for a beautiful boy!

  • Your birth story is amazing and inspirational, thank you for sharing it with us! Little Oliver is quite possible one of the most beautiful babies I have ever seen and he has the loveliest name! I can’t wait to meet him 🙂

  • sonja

    I am so amazed by you. Welcome to the world little one.

  • What a beautiful story! I could completely understand your anxiety and am so glad it turned out to be a much different experience. Oliver is adorable and I’ve so enjoyed all your photo updates! Praying that spinal headache never arrives.

  • I Gretchen, thank you for sharing this beautiful birth story! Thank God that everything went smoothly. While I was reading this my 6 year old looked over my shoulder and squealed at Oliver’s cuteness. =0) Blessings to all of you!

    Gretchen in Los Angeles

  • edj

    My anti-spam word is “beauty” and that’s so appropriate. Thanks, Gretchen. And congrats to your family on your latest addition–he’s so precious!

  • Oh, Oliver. You are so loved. And Gretchen, so are you. Beautiful story…made me tear up a bit.

  • Oh my heart, totally love your family photo!!! Well done to you and your feisty se7enth son!!!

  • Beautiful story, beautiful baby, beautiful family!

  • My anti-spam word is delight (pretty sure you have chosen these words), but it fits for me as well – for you. For your writing, sharing, our friendship. I love how you wove the song ‘Hold On’ into Oliver’s birth story. I’d imagine he’ll hold on to his love for you for life. You have a blessed family. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait until I can hold on a little bit to your new little guy.

  • What a beautiful story. He is such a handsome clear-eyed little guy.

  • Kimberly

    YAY! So glad it was all better than expected!

  • My anti-spam word was Pure. Appropriate for that adorable pure soul you created. Congratulations Gretchen! I had no idea you were so scared and worried. You always seems so calm and unharried. Envious really 🙂 Thrilled for you that things have gone so well.

  • Such a beautiful story. I am so happy to hear that his arrival was a peaceful one for him and for you.

  • Brittany

    Wow! Thankful that you both are o.k. From my experience, you were right on with this sentence:
    But I was so scared. So scared for myself, so scared for Oliver, so sure something was going to go wrong.

    Being scared is a rational response to the gravity of the situation. Thankfully all worked out well, and he is beautiful. Julius was also “pre-term” — just a little bit early. The first few weeks were spent with me nursing, and Kevin “massaging” – re: pushing out — the milk. Now he is just about 2 and 34 pounds, so something worked. God bless lactation specialists.

  • So glad he is here and well and so are you. I can relate to the anxiety so much. It is such a miracle that things go as they should a majority of the time. With our last baby I was also very nervous about some possible surgical challenges. None came to pass and I had the easiest recovery yet, which is saying a lot because all of my recoveries have been fairly easy. And the line about being ashamed about being ashamed–yes.

  • Amy

    What an amazing story! I am so happy that, despite your fears, sweet Oliver’s birth was such a peaceful and beautiful experience. Congratulations, my friend!

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