Wednesday, January 30, 2013

TTC, Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Happily Ever After

TTC, Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Happily Ever After

Everyone has an opinion and advice when it comes to children, before, during, and forever after pregnancy. It's hard to find the advice you want, whereas the advice you don't want is abundant. Each and every experience is completely different from woman to woman, as well as from pregnancy to pregnancy. I was always interested in experiences from the perspectives of women like myself who are health and fitness buffs as well as spiritually minded. Take it or leave it, this is the story surrounding my pregnancy from my perspective. 

I'm the type of person who always blames myself for anything that goes the least bit wrong. We began praying for a child in January of 2011. Almost exactly 2 years later, and almost exactly 5 years after we met, we were blessed with an incredibly beautiful, strong and healthy baby boy. My husband and I had some difficulty conceiving, lost our first pregnancy, then had an incredibly traumatizing childbirth experience. I have learned from all of it and am in no way angry or resentful about any of it. I have learned so much from my journey spiritually, about my relationship with God, my husband, and with the world around me. Had I been more open to all of the advice thrown at me rather than knocking them down as less than essential, I would have had at least a better childbirth experience. 

Every New Year's Day, people make resolutions. Most desire to get fit, eat healthier, lose weight, travel more, go on more vacations, and so on. My husband and I looked at one another as the ball dropped on New Year's Day of 2011 and resolved the same unspoken thing. As I looked at him, he smiled and said, "This will be the year that will change our lives." Well, it certainly did change our lives, just not the way we thought. That month I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease after experiencing several months of stomach pains, nausea and vomiting, chronic fatigue and mood swings. That same month, my husband began his constant underways on his boat that lasted several weeks to months at a time, working up to his second deployment. Between being ill and not having my husband home, it was nearly impossible to conceive. After changing my diet and feeling better, my doctor advised me to be incredibly strict with food and drink including any alcohol distilled from grain even if it doesn't mess with my GI issues and wait another several months before worrying about fertility issues. In June of 2011 I decided to take the doctor's advice and cut down my workouts. I normally exercised vigorously for around 4 hours per day. Don't get me wrong, I'm a personal trainer, not one with exercise addictions. Crossfit, weightlifting, hot yoga, running and cycling are what I love to do, my hobbies, how I hang out with my friends, and by the grace of God, my "job". I wanted a baby more than anything else, however, so I cut down my exercise to 1.5 to 2 hours per day, and gained 10 lbs. My body likes to hang around 14% bodyfat so by increasing my carbs and lowering my aerobic and anaerobic output, I put on a little weight to help out with a favorable pregnancy. In January of 2012, I knew my husband was coming home for a long time and I only had one more option before serious fertility treatments. I visited the doctor and we decided to start a Diabetic drug called Metformin. It appeared after several ovulation tests that I hadn't been ovulating, and this was most likely due to Celiac having shut down my reproductive system after suffering for several years. I tried the Metformin in order to stimulate my ovaries, since the drug is known to make your ovaries sensitive to insulin and therefore resulting in pregnancy. 

When my husband returned home at the end of that month, the end of my first cycle of Metformin, we conceived immediately. We were more ecstatic about that pregnancy than anything before in our lives. From the moment I took that first positive pregnancy test, we began tracking what was going on with that little one inside my womb. I made sure with my doctor and with intense research that my level of exercise would not harm our little one to be. I continued spinning, running and lifting, just not to the extent as before. I only exercised for one hour per day just to be safe. I never let myself become winded or overheated, just as I was told. In March we had a trip scheduled to see my nephew for his first birthday. It also happened to be my Dad's 50th. We announced to my parents the pregnancy for my Dad's present and planned to announce it to my brother's family the day after my nephew's party. The morning after telling my excited parents about our pregnancy, which was the morning of my nephew's party, I began to bleed. It was only light at first so I tried to stay calm. That afternoon we all went over to my brother's house for the party, and my bleeding intensified until I was in so much pain I couldn't move. My husband and I went to the hospital where our biggest fear was confirmed. The emotionless doctor told us we did in fact miscarry at 7 weeks along. Enter the first huge crying session of my life. Not that I never cried before, I have always cried a decent amount, but nothing like I've cried on my journey to motherhood. I went back to my doctor and he assured me that more than 1 in 4 women miscarry, and it had nothing to do with anything on my part. He told me I can conceive as soon as I like, and that it would most likely come very easily as one is more fertile directly after a pregnancy. You better believe I got serious about those ovulation tests and tried like heck to get pregnant as soon as possible. It did take me a week or so to find myself and my foundation and remember my faith in God and how important that is. The moment I was told I miscarried, I told my husband I didn't know if I could put myself through that again. After my week with God and some intense prayer, we got back to what we wanted most. Let me just say, I only shared with a few close people this experience, and almost always got awful comments that were only meant to be assuring. When it comes to pregnancy, almost everything is offensive, it seems. The worst comments were, "At least you weren't very far along," or "My cousin's cousin's sister-in-law had 6 miscarriages and now has 5 kids." No one who lost their child wants to know they can possibly have another several miscarriages, and it doesn't matter how far along the pregnancy was, you bond with that baby the moment you see that positive pregnancy test. You just have to nod your head, turn away, and hope the person talking just gets the idea and stops. 

I had one menstural cycle, then conceived again the next. I knew I was pregnant before I took the test, just instinct. My excited husband told me to hurry up and take the test a couple of days before my missed period but I just did not want to do it. I didn't want to put myself through another positive pregnancy test only to find out the worst a few weeks later. My husband is incredibly supportive and reminded me that there is nothing to fear. I took the test, and a few seconds later we saw the positive lines. We knew that with this pregnancy we didn't want to tell anyone outside of our parents until after the first trimester. We moved up North at 6 weeks along, took a trip to Annapolis for a wedding that week, flew to California for another wedding the next week and settled back home shortly after the morning sickness began to kick in. I exercised very lightly for that first trimester, mostly due to guilt from the first pregnancy and terrible morning sickness that lasted until around 18 weeks. 

I picked up prenatal yoga at 15 weeks and continued running until around 20 weeks. I started teaching several classes per week of crossfit-type weightlifting and spinning at 15 weeks. I would work out about 2 hours per day total, and I actually felt better and better due to the exercise. By my last trimester, I felt great with my workouts. I didn't look pregnant until I was 33 weeks along, and even then the only people who knew had known I was thin prior to pregnancy could see that I was pregnant. My doctor continued to assure me I was just fine even though random people continued to tell me I was being vain and not thinking about the health of my child. He assured me that I looked just the way I should at my point in pregnancy and weighed just the way I should. Any time I felt exhausted or had some joint pain, I went to the gym and felt much better. I believe that due to the exercising, I didn't feel much of the aches and pains as well as exhaustion many pregnant women feel. I gained a total of 38 lbs during my pregnancy by the time I stepped on the scale after my water broke. That is on top of the 10 lbs I gained in order to become pregnant. 

Now, for the intense part, childbirth. Everyone loves to tell their terrible labor stories. For some reason, many women love to share their horrible perspectives of what they tolerated and their ideas of what you are going to have to deal with. Total strangers will tell you how you will be pregnant for 42 weeks just because this is your first. They will tell you to get the epidural and not to be stupid. They will tell you as if they are medical experts just how pain medication does not cross the placenta (it does). Just take everything anyone says with a grain of salt. I actually wish I didn't turn my nose up at everything anyone said. I thought I was above them because I worked out throughout my entire pregnancy, ate healthfully (I never craved anything but fruit), and never took any kind of medication (I don't even medicate when not pregnant, so why now?). 

Childbirth was the most humbling experience of my entire life. I learned more from that 26 hours than I have ever learned. I had my birth plan written out in extreme specifics. I would show up to the birthing center, be IV free, labor in the tub until the baby basically begins to crown, and would get into the bed, bear down and push. I also thought I would give birth a week or so early because everything I read said that women who work out vigorously for 4-6 days per week until labor normally deliver 5-7 days before their due date. At 41 weeks, I gave up on that idea. I had a biophysical profile done at 41 weeks (Monday, January 14) to make sure everything was working right in the womb because I wanted to avoid inducing labor, and my doctor was fully supportive of that until 42 weeks. We found at the ultrasound my baby was at 9.6 lbs according to measurements, and healthy. We set up appointments for fetal monitoring on Wednesday afternoon and Friday afternoon and an induction on the following Monday morning, if need be. Believe me, I tried walking and everything to naturally bring that baby down. Then the first day I didn't exercise at all or walk, just lied down on the couch after my doctor appointment, things happened.

That Monday night at 7:55 PM, my water broke while watching TV. We gathered our things and drove to the birthing center. They confirmed the water break, and told me to get some rest until my strong contractions kicked in. I woke up around 3 AM with stronger contractions, but nothing crazy. According to the monitor, I was contracting alright, but my doctor told me in the morning at 8 AM they weren't making me dilate and the baby had not even dropped. He wanted to increase my contractions by using Pitocin. There goes the idea of a natural, drug free birth, and the first act of crazy weeping began. My husband and I decided it would be best to use the Pitocin and dilate than get a C-section after 24 hours because I was stubborn. They started the Pitocin at 9:30 AM and by 5 PM I was at the highest level of PItocin and the strongest contractions they could produce. The on-call doctor came in to confirm I still hadn't dilated and they couldn't make my contractions any more intense. She told me that chances are, a C-section will happen. I started to cry uncontrollably again, but still had hope that I would dilate by 8 PM. At 8, she came back in to confirm I hadn't dilated still, and asked me if I would agree to the Cesarean. They couldn't figure out why my water even broke, and couldn't understand why the baby hadn't even dropped. My doctor told me either the baby was just too big for me or I was too small for him. Either way, he couldn't physically drop down. Crying harder than I've ever cried in my life because I was so devastated that things couldn't seem to go any more wrong, I agreed. What I didn't know while they were inserting the catheter and getting me ready, was that the baby's heartbeat was dropping between contractions at that point and I had a team of doctors in the operating room waiting for my go ahead. No one wanted to freak me out, and I'm glad because I don't think I could have handled any more bad news. At around 8:35 PM my epidural was inserted and at 8:46 PM I was told I was having my baby and my screaming little boy emerged from behind the sheet. That caused another intense cry. 

After being wheeled back into my room, all I can remember was having my little boy placed on top of me to nurse. I remember constantly telling the nurses not to let go of him because I was afraid of dropping him since I didn't have much sensation in my arms. That's apparently not normal, and I may have gotten too much of the epidural, so don't let that scare you. My family then came in the room all the while I was sweating as if buckets of water were being poured onto me, my face was white as a ghost, and I was vomiting like I've never done so before. Once everyone left by midnight, our baby was lying asleep in the bassinet while my husband was asleep in the chair. My paranoia was out of control. I kept waking my husband, asking him to check if baby Kai was breathing. I'm pretty sure I did this every 10 minutes. The nurses then came in to take him out for a bath and I dozed off for a few minutes. I awoke twice frantically asking my husband where Kai was and why they hadn't brought him back from his bath yet. I rang the nurses after a little time (which felt like hours) had passed and asked them why the baby wasn't back yet. They said he passed out under the warmer and didn't want to wake him. An hour later I asked again so they brought him back so I could nurse him and be with him because I was so scared. I'm not sure if it was the epidural, painkillers, or just being a mom suddenly that made me so paranoid, but the experience was unbelievable. 

Being in great shape helped with all the labor up until the c-section, I'm sure. My doctor and nurses kept assuring me that my scar couldn't be seen even in the smallest of bikinis and that my stomach was firm and would go back to normal without dieting very quickly. They kept commenting on my fitness and figure as if that was the sole reason I was upset about my c-section. I'm not sure how they thought I was in shape from looking at my pregnant figure then my goopy post pregnancy figure, maybe just from checking my vitals constantly and my pain tolerance. But really though, I was more worried about the c-section because you have a higher risk of placenta previa or uterine rupture in following pregnancies. I remember the nurses saying "Poor thing is contracting like a train but it just isn't getting her anywhere" while they were inserting the catheter. And yes, having a catheter inserted before the epidural while contracting intensely is painful. I could have tolerated another 12 hours of contractions alone without medication before that and the epidural insertion. Fitness however, did not help with having a c-section. My lifestyle had nothing to do with the way things turned out. I was angry with myself for the way things happened and was angry about how unfair it was that I had to go through with that. However, had my water not broken on Monday night, I would not have gone to the hospital until Wednesday after my baby's heartbeat dropped on Tuesday night and the most terrible of all things could have happened. That c-section was a good thing and I am blessed that I had such a great team of doctors and nurses and my husband by my side. My nurses were the most incredible I could have asked for. I remember three of them the most, since I had them the most while I was there. Joanne, Mary, and Leslie (the English lady). Mary gave me a sponge bath the day after surgery and I felt better than I every thought I could the day after that kind of event. The three of them made sure my nursing was going well and were more encouraging than anything. They let me take medicine when I wanted it at the smaller dose that I wanted, and move about as I wanted. They took Kai as little as I wanted them to and brought him back as I pleased. The anesthesiologist informed me of everything that was happening from the moment he told me about what was going to happen to everything as it was happening in the operating room and even checked up on me the following days to make sure I was doing well. My doctor who I loved from the moment I moved here was reassuring through everything and always made me feel like I had options. I wasn't forced into that c-section, or at least didn't feel like it. 

Everything in my life has been planned for the most part. I went to school where I wanted, got the interviews I wanted, traveled everywhere I wanted, and did as I pleased, when I pleased. Meeting the love of my life was not planned, but he saved me from myself. I met him in February of 2008, and knew I met someone who would help keep me straight and was the greatest influence on me. He is the sweetest, most supportive person I've ever known. I always joke that he's the greatest man to ever have lived since Jesus Christ.... but I'm not really joking, I totally believe it's true. Then I had this child. It's said that you should marry a man you would like to have a son just like. Throughout my pregnancy, I was so overly offended by everything anyone said. I thought nasty things about people and judged people and was ultimately very prideful. Now that I look at my child, every time I nurse him and watch him as he stares back at me with his big innocent eyes, all of my sourness has melted. In fact, ever since the birth I haven't thought one negative thing. I may not have had a natural birth, and can not even remember much of the details of birthing him, but that baby is my son no matter how he happened. Nothing about children can be planned exactly. However things happen for whatever reason and from woman to woman, having a child is experiencing a miracle.... the greatest blessing of one's life. I'm so grateful for my supportive friends and family who coached and encouraged me throughout my journey from beginning to present. Even during labor I received the most helpful texts. Each one made me cry out of sheer appreciation for all the love I have in my life. 

During pregnancy, I didn't restrict calories at all. Given, I actually had an aversion to ice cream and meat as well as sugar. I only craved fruits and ate lots of Raw vegan protein shakes in order to get my daily intake of protein. In the coming months, I plan on competing in fitness competitions. I won't be training intensely for another 5 weeks, but until then I will be maintaining a healthy diet. I won't be restricting calories until I need to, and will continue to eat an extra 500 or so calories in order to breastfeed. Contrary to popular belief, exercise does not affect milk supply. It will be tough training and working with a new baby, but it will happen. As for now, I have not even weighed myself at 5 days post pregnancy. I don't want to get myself down for no reason, as I've just begun to lose all of my water weight. The amount of water I was holding in my legs after surgery was unbelievable. I'm going to keep a level head and know that it's okay that all I'm doing for now is feeding the baby all day long. I'm his lifeline and that's okay, because I made that decision way back when I decided to have him. As for baby blues, I'm thankfully safe. I actually have the opposite, baby highs. Every time I look at him my eyes well up with the happiest tears I've ever had. I wasn't even this happy on my wedding day, graduation, the times my husband came home from deployments... never. Baby Kai is the greatest thing and most amazing miracle. I always say God gives the strong some mighty challenges, and those challenges made me even more grateful of what came of them in the end.  I came to a realization the other day, while looking down at my perfectly made son. Childbirth may be God's punishment to women, but being the sole provider for that little baby is God's forgiveness. There is no greater gift than being the only one who can give that baby the perfect nutrition he needs to thrive. In other words, there is no greater gift than to be a mother.

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