Natural Childbirth with Drama

Since Hannah was four days overdue, last Saturday we decided to give baby Massimo a nudge with a nice walk by the beach. We parked by Carlsbad Village Drive  and walked on the beach sidewalk by the 101 for about a mile; it was a beautiful, sunny day, with the ocean breeze mixing with the scent of seafood coming from the seafront Italian and Asian restaurants.

I guess the walk did it because that same evening, around 7:30, Hannah started having contractions. The plan was to go to bed early, in case we had to drive to the hospital in the middle of the night, but with three kids what do you expect? By the time we cleaned up after dinner, got the kids ready for bed, told them a bedtime story, and got ready ourselves, it was 11 pm.

At 1 am, I heard Hannah’s whisper that it was time. Why does labor always start in the middle of the night? I don’t do well with that.

Half asleep, I bought another hour of rest, but when finally Hannah said that she would be driving to the hospital herself, I capitulated and got ready.

It’s great to have my brother-in-law Mike and his wife Savannah as next-door neighbor because we had the nice arrangement that Savannah would spend the night at our house, and then both of them would watch our kids for the rest of the day.

Savannah later mentioned that it was funny when our two-year old Luisa half-woke up next to her in the morning and started caressing her neck, as she usually does with her mommy’s, only to realize it was Savannah and blurt out a surprised, “Hey!?”

Back to us, Hannah and I got to Scripps Encinitas at 3 am and, after all the customary bureaucratic paperwork, we got assigned a spacious labor room. Nancy, the nurse on duty, was great, very respectful of our desire for a natural, unmedicated childbirth. Soon we got settled, with our oil diffuser, desk fan (Hannah loved it during transition and second-stage labor), and iPhone with our Sony Soundstation set up around us.

At 5 am Nancy was replaced by Irene, a fantastic nurse of Cuban origin, with over 20 years of experience; highly personable and knowledgeable, she immediately connected with us, and told us she’d had two unmedicated births herself. She checked Hannah and told her that she was progressing just fine.

Hannah was having 60-second contractions every five minutes, and was handling them perfectly; I did not even have to remind her to relax her muscles or keep up her abdominal breathing. A three-time mom going on her fourth labor, she was handling everything like a pro.

In the meantime, her best friend Emily had arrived. Emily had a natural birth a few months ago and wants to be a Bradley practitioner. She came with her husband, a talented pediatric chiropractor, who ended up helping us with our post-birth drama.

A couple of hours later, Hannah was in transition. This is the shortest, but toughest time; with our last child, Hannah was under intense pressure for 15 minutes, hardly interested in anything or anybody, with strong nausea and at the end of her wits.

This time it was different.

Surprisingly, the contractions stayed stable, and in between them, she was able to chat with us and the nurses. This was strange.

And it lasted for two hours.

Since things were not progressing, Irene recommended that Hannah relieve her bladder, since a full bladder can push the uterus up and tie things up.

Hannah did, and that changed the game.

By the time she walked back to the bed, she had progressed to the pushing stage.

That was intense. Eyes wide open, mouth serrated on my forearm (a wet towel would have been handy, why did I forget that?), she pushed baby Massimo out in what felt like one push. I had barely the time to look from Irene to Hannah and back to Irene, and the baby was out and on Hannah’s tummy.

That was fast.

Because Massimo came out so fast, his face was bruised and bluish. Irene said that was to be expected. Besides the bruised face, another consequence of babies that come out so fast is that mucus is still stuck in baby’s throat, so he’s a little less interested in nursing right away.

That was not the main problem, however.

He weighed 9 lbs and 12 oz; a big boy.

His size made the nurses suspect Hannah had gestational diabetes (she hadn’t taken the soda test), so they prickled the baby’s foot to check his blood sugar levels.

They were low: 38 mmol/L.

That’s where our little drama began.

A specialist nurse that was in the room said that normal neonatal blood sugar levels are between 60 and 80 mmol/L; anything below 40 mmol/L is cause for concern; in such cases nurses administer formula along with breast milk to supplement sugar intake. The reasoning is that low sugar levels can cause brain damage in the baby. Formula is administered through a little feeding tube in baby’s mouth during breast feeding.

I did not like the idea.

I told the nurse I understood the principle behind it; if mom had gestational diabetes, the baby has a lot of sugar intake during pregnancy, as the sugar goes through the placenta into baby’s system; mom’s insulin, however, does not, so the baby’s pancreas has to produce a lot of insulin to digest the added sugar. After birth, the baby still produces a lot of insulin, so the sugar intake from breast milk might not be sufficient to feed the baby’s brain.

The reasoning made sense, but I objected to formula because of the rest of the additives. As a health nut, I hated the idea of a little baby’s immune system being hit with potential toxins like calcium chloride or cupric sulfate.

As the nurses left for a couple of minutes, Tyson, Emily’s husband, came in and adjusted baby Massimo. We brought him up to speed with the situation. He shook his head and said that he would avoid formula if possible.

As he left the room, the nurses came back and fed the baby half an ounce of formula while Hannah was breast feeding him. As the process was almost over, I got a text from Tyson with studies performed on hypoglycemia, confirming that, in most cases, the newborn will adjust to the change in sugar supply very quickly. In our case, the “damage” was done.

Irene checked the baby’s sugar levels again one hour later, and they were 75 mmol/L. Great. After another hour, they were 70 mmol/L, so Irene said the baby was fine and would not need any further formula.

Very happy to hear that.

All in All, Hannah and I had a great labor experience. She was exhausted, but ecstatic and empowered; as with our previous experience, giving birth naturally and without medications made Hannah feel like a super woman.

And she was.


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