Jude’s Birth Story – Part One: The Before

It’s about time.  Jude turns 9 months this week- which is so hard to believe, by the way.   And I can’t believe we are nearing the one-year mark.  This year has been full of so many surprises, and when I reflect on who I was 12 months ago, I realize I have learned a lot. I’ve learned life is not always fair.  Choices are not always easy to make.  I’ve learned that motherhood is amazing, challenging, and in a weird way, also healing and redeeming.

I went to visit my friend last week after she had a baby in the same hospital where Jude was delivered, and so many details of Jude’s birth came racing back for me.  Then this week we have ventured to Seattle to tag along with Scott while he works, and I actually get some time to reflect and write while Jude naps (instead of racing around the house to clean or deal with something that needs attention).  Writing is healing in ways, and this has really helped to end one chapter and move on to some more exciting things with a growing, active boy.  It’s taken me so long to sit down and write this, and even now, I’m not totally ready.   There’s always something in the writing of things that makes you see everything more clearly, though.  So here we are.  I’m dividing this in to three pieces.  The before, the during, and the after.  It makes sense to me, and it avoids the Longest Post Ever that I won’t even want to read myself.

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So let’s rewind.  My pregnancy.  It was totally uneventful as I felt pretty good (comparatively), and my round belly displayed all the signs of a growing, healthy baby.  I was at the same OB practice I’d gone to for something like 5 years, and I found my doctor through his ASTOUNDING reputation in the Atlanta area.  I will spare you the details of my sister’s second delivery, but I’ll tell you he treated her during a difficult pregnancy that could have ended at least three times as she was in and out of the hospital for premature labor; he vaginally delivered a large baby who was positioned in a way many doctors would have shied away from and preferred the OR.  It was actually my doctor who first said to me when I had my introductory prenatal appointment, “Pregnancy is a wellness.  It’s natural.  It’s not a sickness.  Relax and know your body knows what to do.”   It was his attitude that led to my interest in natural childbirth, and I enrolled in a Bradley course where I learned a lot of specific and useful information, and my birth plan revealed my preference for no induction or pain relieving drugs. I wanted to do what was best for the baby, and I also wanted an experience that would allow me to feel everything in labor and fully experience childbirth as I was created to do it.

Me at 20 weeks, the day before we found out we were having a boy!

Fast forward to October 3rd, 2009.  I finished my last day of work before maternity leave, and I was 4 days out from my “due date.”  From the beginning of my pregnancy, I had always proclaimed that I knew he would arrive late.  I don’t know why, I always  knew.  Family, friends, even strangers affirmed this as they’d tell me I “looked too good to be that close.” I felt too good, too.  I’d walk up and down my driveway and around my hilly neighborhood everyday to “walk that baby out” as I’d been told.  My driveway is a small mountain, and this task leaves even a fit man exhausted, but I walked and walked and walked without a second thought.  I was relishing these last few days off work before Jude’s arrival and taking it easy with energy to spare. Minimal anxiousness, total confidence in my body. Having taken my Bradley course, I knew precisely what would happen in each stage of labor and how my body should react.  I knew that modern interventions are usually unnecessary.  I knew that birth is natural for the female body and that I was created for this very thing. My original due date according to my period was October 1st.  My practice later changed that date to October 7th after looking at an ultrasound and understanding that I wanted to avoid induction.

The morning of October 7th, I awoke feeling great but dreading being “overdue” and answering the questions that came with it.  I went to my weekly ob visit, and my doctor was very calm and collected.  He informed me that he had a family emergency he had to attend to and that he would be gone the following week.  He also assured me that I was 80% effaced and that many women go in to labor within a week after their “due date,” and that would probably happen to me.  If it didn’t, I was in the care of the practice’s senior doctor the following week, and he knew my baby was healthy and delivery would probably go very well.  With a smile and a vote of confidence in me, he was gone.  I left the appointment feeling so impressed and grateful that there was NO mention of induction on the date I was due. I knew most Atlanta practices would have scheduled an induction already, and I felt both affirmed in my choice of practice and confident in my body. That evening, Scott and I went out for eggplant parmesan (third time!), and I even indulged in a glass of red wine – a first for my pregnancy.  I mustered all the patience I had and waited on Baby Jude.

40 weeks

As great as I felt, I also wanted to avoid induction so badly that I had been doing everything in the world to get this baby out since about 38 weeks.  Walking?  Check.  Pineapple? Check, everyday.  Eggplant?  Check, three times.  Sex?  Super awkward and check.  Nipple Stimulation?  Used the breast pump, check.   Herbal teas?  Check.  Full moon?  Weekend before my due date, check.  The only thing I refused to try was castor oil since I’d read a few things linking its use to meconium issues.  Nothing was successful, and let me assure you that there is still nothing more frustrating to me than wanting so so badly for your body to do something when it won’t. It’s torture. As the days after my due date went by, I began to fear induction and get nervous.  I was never worried about Jude’s safety; I felt good and he was active and moving.  I just worried about having to be induced if I went 14 days over since I knew that even very lenient midwives usually act at that time.

On the morning of Monday, October 12th, I was 5 days “overdue” and went to the doctor for my weekly check-up.  I had a vaginal exam, and there was no change in my dilation, and the new doctor (whom I’d never met before prior to this appointment) explained that Jude was still quite high.  He stripped my membranes without asking “to hurry things along” and chatted with me in a way that seeped arrogance.  With an ultrasound, they discovered that my fluid levels were at a 7 which is certainly a drop from my previous reading of 15.  I knew from my research that normal levels were 5-25, but when we went in for the conference with the doctor, he explained that his anecdotal experience told him that 7 is definitely low, and that I needed to be induced that very night.  I questioned him on this, and he informed me that he was a doctor who had been delivering babies since I was born, and that a healthy mother and baby were of his concern.  When he asked,”You don’t want to risk stillbirth for the sake of a ‘birth plan’ do you?”  I really began to freak out.  He also told me that Jude was “at least 9 pounds” and that I was a small woman with an unusually narrow pelvis, so a cesarean was a possibility.  I knew in my gut that I was not carrying a 9 pound baby, but the mere mention of a cesarean sent me to ridiculous levels of anxiety.

I left the office in such a crying mess, I couldn’t even talk.  I felt so betrayed by my doctor. I knew deep inside that there was no problem and that I didn’t need to induce, but what if I was wrong? He had a point that he was certainly experienced, and I could never forgive myself if my stubbornness led to problems for Jude.  The word stillbirth hung like a rock in my stomach, and I couldn’t shake it. I called the office back and asked for a few more days. The doctor himself called my personal phone, which apparently he never does, and told me that he wouldn’t feel comfortable letting me go longer and that his conscience would not let him be negligent on this.  I asked for a non-stress test to assess Jude’s health more closely.  He said “okay but only if it is early tomorrow a.m.”  So on Tuesday the non-stress test was performed, and everything looked fine.  As I used that for an argument against induction, my new doctor explained that it was just the point he was trying to make; Jude was fine now, but I was playing with fire by staying pregnant any longer, and those test results could soon change.  He argued for an induction that night.  I was incredibly torn, stressed, anxious, and conflicted.  I did my reasearch on which doctors were on-call in which days, and I finally succeeded in convincing him to wait until Thursday, even though he was “not entirely comfortable with that.”

Looking back, I knew things were heading in a terrible direction. I spoke with my family, cried to Scott, chatted with my closest friends, all the while making it clear that I didn’t want to do this but felt pressured to do it. My friends, bless their hearts, were trying so hard to be supportive and reminding me of all the successful inductions they knew of.  Nevertheless, I was so so nervous as we drove to the hospital on Wednesday evening.

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To continue where this leaves you, click here for the next part and then on to chapter three.

What I Wish I’d Known About Breastfeeding

This post is included in Modern Alternative Mama’s Breastfeeding Stories Series and is intended as a contribution to “Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me” at Amy’s Finer Things.

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We celebrated Jude’s half birthday tonight, and I can’t believe we’re halfway to the big number ONE.  Every parent says this and it’s so cliché, but I don’t know where the time goes.  When I think back to that first week home or our time together in the hospital, it seems like it was yesterday, but then again so much has changed in our lives that it seems like a lifetime ago.  For every mama, those first few weeks are filled with sweet memories of tiny little newborn diapers, sponge baths, lullabies, sleep deprivation, admiration of those awkward little arms and froggy legs, and laughing at squeaky newborn noises.  And then there’s the hormones.  The crying, crazy hormones that leave you so in love with this tiny creature one minute while the next you find yourself wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into or if you can handle the big task ahead.

Me and Jude, about 3 weeks after delivery

My situation was much like most of yours except that it was further complicated by a few things.

There was the laboring for hours unmedicated (which was exactly what I wanted) and the unexpected cesarean at the end (which was exactly what I feared the most) and so many feelings of disappointment following those experiences.

There was the recovery that results from pushing for more than three hours only to have a doctor tell you to please hold on while I push him back up a little so we can wheel you to the O.R.

And then there was the breastfeeding.

Oh, the breastfeeding.

When I took my Bradley class* before I delivered Jude, we had a session on breastfeeding and all of the wonderful benefits that come along with it.  Focused on unmedicated childbirth, the class informed me that there would be a beautiful moment when my child entered the world, when he was laid on me skin to skin, and he’d latch on beautifully and thus we would begin our loving breastfeeding relationship.  There was some mention of a few latch problems that you can correct should they arise so that you can get the baby drinking most efficiently, but all in all, breastfeeding was introduced as a perfectly natural thing that our bodies were designed to do.  It is beautiful and natural, of course, but what I was completely unprepared for is that it is HARD for some women.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of my delivery, Jude was about 3 hours old when I first got to hold him.  After he was delivered by cesarean, I remained in surgery for about 2 hours.  When we were finally in our postpartum room together, my wonderful doula helped me get proper positioning for breastfeeding.  We tried, but little Jude just couldn’t stay awake.  We’d missed the “magic window” just after birth, and he was so tired and I’m sure influenced by the drugs in my system as well.  He never truly latched on, but at least we got the positioning down before she left and told me to call her the next day if I needed her.

The day following Jude’s birth, I had some colostrum coming in and we were working diligently on nursing.  At the first sign of hunger, I’d bring him to my breast as you should, and he’d seem to be nursing hungrily.  The lactation consultant who helped me that day, however, pointed out that we could see a deep dimple in his cheek and that was a clue he wasn’t latching on correctly.  She assured me that he’d get it if we kept working, and so we did.  Around the clock.  Again and again.  Subsequent LCs who came to help me noticed the same thing, and the third one vaguely mentioned Jude’s tongue-tie as a challenge, but that was it.

Meanwhile I was growing more and more tired and Jude was growing hungry.  The evening before we left the hospital, Jude was angry.  He would respond to my attempts to nurse him by crying at my breast and refusing to suck.  I now understand that he’d learned to associate breastfeeding with frustration because he wasn’t getting much of anything as a result of his tight frenulum and my slow-to-happen milk. My milk hadn’t come in – partially because of the cesarean and, I think, partially because his inefficient latch wasn’t stimulating my milk production accurately.  Frustrated and crying, I felt like a complete failure as I looked at my hungry baby and felt so helpless.  Late that night, a nurse suggested that I give him formula, and I absolutely refused.  I was scared of nipple confusion, and this was not the way things were supposed to be.  What was wrong with me? First I couldn’t deliver my baby vaginally and now I can’t breastfeed.  I was waiting for it all to “click” for the both of us.  The next morning, however, the pediatrician came in and told us that Jude had lost a lot of weight (12 ounces down from his birth weight) and that supplementation would be a good idea.  When she left, I cried my eyes out, and Scott gave Jude his first formula bottle.

I left the hospital feeling helpless and out of control and dependent on doctors and formula and bottles and pain meds and everything I wanted to avoid when I imagined my birth experience.

This story could become very long – even longer than it is – so I’ll spare you the details, but I will say that the days and weeks that followed were filled with many moments of excitement and joy, yes.  But they were also filled with moments of intense frustration and feelings of inadequacy as I absolutely COULD NOT get Jude to latch on and my milk supply was meager. I sought the help of FIVE different lactation consultants and the counsel of my experienced doula after I left the hospital, and we tried every single day for 27 days before we got it.  Let me re-phrase this, JUDE DID NOT TRULY FEED FROM ME, NOT EVEN ONCE, UNTIL HE WAS 27 DAYS OLD.  Establishing breastfeeding was truthfully the most difficult and trying thing I have ever done in my life and, to date, it’s my proudest accomplishment.  I’m proud to say we’re going strong at 6 months, and every second of hard work was worth it!

In conjunction with Amy’sFiner Things ‘s “Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me” series concerning pregnancy, babies, and birth, I’ve simplified the breastfeeding lessons I learned in my month-long journey to contribute.  Oh, the things I wish I’d known!

  • The breast pump can be your saving grace.  Hopefully you will have an easier time than me, and you won’t have to deal with the pump until later if ever.  For me though, it is the only reason I’m still breastfeeding.  My milk came in a tiny little trickle on day 5, but it didn’t really come in until day 8.  And in order for that to happen (and to keep it going until Jude latched), I had to pump 8-12 times a day around the clock.  There is nothing more draining than getting a newborn back to sleep, and then sitting on the floor of the nursery in your sleep-deprived haze and staying awake for another 20 minutes to pump.  It stinks, I know.  But if I hadn’t done this, I am confident that I’d be one of those women saying that I just never made milk.  Even with the pump, I didn’t have tons. Without it, I think I would have leaked and then dried.
  • Don’t underestimate the benefits of skin-to-skin.  We all know it’s important in the moments after birth, but did you know it’s helpful in the weeks following delivery as well?  The 4th LC I spoke with told me to sit around as often as I could with no shirt on and Jude in his diaper lying on my chest.  We lounged like this every hour of every day unless we had company.  We co-slept at night like this for 2 months.  The day after I started doing more skin-to-skin (around day 12, I think), I saw my milk supply double.  It works, I swear.  My husband started calling me “The Native” because of my shirtless habits, but I think it was a sort of rebirth for Jude and I after our difficult journey.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you have to supplement. I really really did not want to use any formula.  That said, my milk wasn’t there till day 8.  What was the other option?  After my milk came in, the pump was all I could do for 27 days.  A breast pump is less efficient than a baby, so even pumping around the clock, I had to supplement with about 8-10 ounces of formula daily.  Once Jude latched on, however, my supply went up to accommodate his needs within about a week.  At that time, I swore off all formula which brings me to the next point.
  • Never use formula for the sake of convenience. Nursing is “putting in your order” for the next day.  If you ask your body for 20 ounces, it will deliver.  If you ask for 24, it will deliver. (Usually anyway.  There are, of course, thyroid issues and breast surgeries that can interfere with milk production.)  If you have issues with milk production, don’t worry.  Lots of women do, myself included.  There are a number of remedies and such to help it.  A quick internet search can tell you some, but fenugreek works especially well for me.  That and LOTS of WATER.  Trust that God will allow you to provide for your baby.
  • Surround yourself with positivity. Ignore the nay-sayers.  In that difficult month of establishing breastfeeding, I completely avoided the conversation with someone if I knew that person was not 110% pro-breastfeeding.  I have a few friends and in-laws who are not necessarily anti-breastfeeding, but they have a sort of take-it-or-leave-it attitude about it, thinking that breast and formula feeding are basically equal and formula is more convenient.  I didn’t want those people influencing my determination or convincing me that lots of women can’t breastfeed.  (Some people say this is true….  I just read that over 60% of women say they can’t breastfeed!  Realize that statistically that number is actually 2-5%.  With the right support and determination, almost anyone can do it. )  Tell yourself you CAN do it, and surround yourself with people who realize how important it is to you and support your journey.  I would not be breastfeeding Jude if it weren’t for the encouragement of my mom, my sister, my husband, and my breastfeeding friends.
  • Don’t give up! Just look at my story.  Know that your body and your baby were designed for this very task, and it will work if you keep trying and be patient.  When I tell a childless person that it took us 27 days, she doesn’t really seem that affected.  When I tell a mother that it took 27 days, she is amazed…knowing how incredibly LONG that first month can feel.  There were moments when I was afraid our window had passed, but I refused to accept failure and knew that Jude would catch on eventually and my body would provide.
  • Set a goal and commit to it. For me, when Jude wasn’t latching on, I said even if I had to pump around the clock, I was committed to 10 weeks.  Once he latched on, I soon had to go back to work.  Nevertheless, I decided no matter how much I hated pumping, I refused to stop before 6 months.  Now we’ve met that goal, and I intend to make it to 10 months.  At that time, I’l reassess.  Set a goal and hold yourself accountable.
  • Read about the benefits of breastfeeding.  It’ll motivate you to not give up.  You can find articles everywhere but here, here and here are a few to get you started.
  • Use the experts.  It took a team of people to get me breastfeeding!  As I said before, I saw FIVE LCs after I left the hospital, a pediatric ENT (to evaluate Jude’s tongue-tie and clip the frenulum), and a pediatric OT (who gave me daily exercises to do with him to improve his overly compressed suck).  Most major hospitals have a Lactation Department.  Use them.
  • The rewards are better than you can imagine.  It helps you bond with your baby, and it allowed me to feel so much more confidence as a mother.  You can rest assured you are making the best choices for your baby. Plus there’s no sterilizing and filling bottles in the middle of the night or as you pack the diaper bag!

When it all gets to be too much, just relax. Babies can tell when mama is stressed.  There were moments I was intensely frustrated with my situation and disappointed with myself.  When those feelings became overwhelming, I’d take a deep breath and rest with the baby.  Know it will work for you if you keep trying.


*I don’t mean for this to be a negative statement about my experiences in a Bradley class.  It taught me so much about labor and delivery and the many modern interventions that can occur.  When it comes to breastfeeding, however, it wasn’t extensive.  I would suggest that you take a class specifically devoted to breastfeeding information.