Warning to those who may be sensitive to such, don’t read on if you don’t want to hear about all of my bodily fluids and some pregnancy/delivery horrors.
So, that being said, I’m continuing on with answering the request by one of our friends to share more about the parts of pregnancy no one talks about, I’ll share some stories from my pregnancies and those of some friends of mine (anonymously for their part in less they wish to chime in in the comments!) Please feel free to email me a story, too, if you’d like to share it on this blog: hannah.march.sanders AT gmail DOT com.
One thing I’ve noticed so far with this second pregnancy that’s different from the first, despite my being way more relaxed in general (in part because I’ve been here a while and am settled in to my work life), is increased vaginal discharge. It’s similar to what one may experience during ovulation. I’ve almost always had a super regular menstrual cycle, long in length at about 30 to 31 days. I’ve only ever been “late” by a few days since my early twenties, and only one time a week late–took a pregnancy test that time, but it was negative. Since Levee’s birth, my cycle has been even more evident and predictable. And I’m way more comfortable with it. After Levee was born, I didn’t have a period for one month, then I had a normal-seeming period. Then I went one more month with no period, then I was back on my regular-as-hell cycle. I can totally tell when I’m ovulating due to emotional feelings, needs, and increased clear vaginal discharge.
Early in this pregnancy, I had some normal cramping and sometimes a little bit of blood in my daily vaginal discharge. In the second trimester, I’ve settled into a near-constant slight wetness (like a quarter-sized spot about always on my underwear). I had a horrible cough from October until about now, and coughing hard caused me to pee myself a little bit every time, so I was wearing pantyliners almost every day. This is totally normal, people! I have some friends that post-child and/or just as aging women just naturally piss themselves all the time. No big deal, folks! I mean, it’s annoying for those of us that deal with it because no one wants to pee themselves all the time, but don’t like let it totally ruin your life or anything and definitely don’t feel alone if you pee yourself on the reg!
Anyway, wearing pantyliners made it easier to track discharge since they’re white in color. I don’t like using them because bleached fabric next to your vag is gross and caustic and they are super wasteful (see example diagram above–I use a divacup now for menstruation, and it’s awesome)! Once the coughing subsided, I noticed the liners were still getting quite damp throughout the day. Discharge is one of those things the OBGYN asks about at our now monthly appointments. She said it isn’t great to wear liners every day because they don’t allow the vag to breathe, increase smell, and just aren’t generally healthy for the vagina. I agree and was aware of this, but I try to wear leggings more than one day to reduce washing (for the environment), and they smelled funny if they got wet a bit all day. By the way, I highly recommend the Instagram account @whatswrongwithmollymargaret, which used to be called @whatswrongwithmyvagina, for more real talk about vaginal health, sex, relationships, etc.
The reason for all this discharge/wetness and its increase from last time: my OBGYN said that your second time around with pregnancy, your cervix just sits a little bit open all of the time. You’re just on drip! So it’s totally natural and not a big deal. Last pregnancy I had some discharge, but it was only a lot closer to the end of the third trimester. End of the third trimester I just felt “open” and like I was peeing all the time when I wasn’t peeing–not even just in terms of wetness but something about how my muscles felt down there.
As a solution to constant wetness, the OBGYN suggested THNX period panties for the discharge, and I decided to give them a try! I ordered 3 pairs (you get a 10% discount for 3) of size Large. I think I’d normally be a Medium, but was taking preggo body into account. They are expensive, but I’m thinking I can take them in after the pregnancy if I need to size them down and can use them for postpartum and beyond into my increasingly self-pissing years! With 3 pairs, I could try out 3 different styles. I got the two pictured below plus a sports one, I think. Boyshorts are my underwear style of choice when I’m not pregnant, but I haven’t been able to wear them since second trimester began due to my larger belly now (out of proportion to my hips, etc.) And though I’ve only put on somewhere between 10-15lbs so far in this pregnancy, my waist size has increased 8″, which is a lot for me!
Anyway, as a person who has suffered from eating disorders, I try not to focus too much on these size and weight things, but it is important to be informed about weight gain when pregnant. From what I’ve read, it’s actually more dangerous to not gain enough weight rather than gain too much. But I’m also trying to keep my risk for pregnancy complications like prenatal diabetes low–not just for the baby’s and my health, but also because we are trying for a vbac. A Vbac means vaginal delivery after Cesarean section. Prenatal diabetes and a baby getting too large will mean we can’t try for a vbac. A lot of health insurance companies and OBGYNs don’t support vbac due to the possibility of uterine rupture, but one reason we wanted to stick with our same doctor is that she said I’d be an excellent candidate for one if we decided to have another child, and she would totally support it. A friend of mine who had a c-section with their first kid was just required to go ahead and schedule c-section number 2 with their second pregnancy–it wasn’t even an option for them to consider vbac. Uterine rupture is not common, but it can be devastating and deadly. However, that being said, having more than 2 c-sections also isn’t good. Even 1 isn’t great in my opinion! But I won’t go into all that right now. I’m a good candidate for a vbac, however, and from what I’ve been reading it generally statistically means only good things for the newborn if we are able to go through with it!
“A lot of women tried to freak me out. They tried to freak me out about childbirth by saying, ‘Ali, did you know that you’re gonna poop on the table?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I look forward to it.’ I’m all backed up from holding in my shit at work. I can’t wait to cleanse. It makes sense, like, that you ― that that happens because when you’re in labor, you push, you push, you push, and your husband will be asked to assist in the labor by lifting up your leg, which subsequently turns into a soft serve lever. You just shit on the floor in front of the love of your life. And just when you think that’s enough to make him finally leave you, boom, a baby comes out, and he gotta stay. That’s the real miracle of life, right there.”
–Ali Wong, comedian
We tried for a medication-free vaginal delivery at the hospital the first time around, but nothing went our way. A lot of unexpected things happened, which one should always expect with pregnancy and delivery, I think. So many of our lovely friends were following along on Instagram and Facebook when we went to the hospital, patiently waiting for updates while we were there laboring for 3 days. We so appreciate all of the support you showed us then! It was scary for us, and I know probably for y’all. And it ended in an unplanned c-section. We tried every single option available to us for those 3 days before we eventually had to go with c-section, and the c-section saved Levee’s life. He never would have made it out otherwise.
When Levee was successfully brought into this world alive, I remember Blake posted on social media that it was a long story and we’d share it at some point, but didn’t want to right then. We were exhausted–not just from labor, but also because I wasn’t allowed to eat the whole time I was there laboring, didn’t sleep, had ended up having to use pain meds, which I detest, and Blake also went on a hunger and sleep strike in solidarity. I don’t think we ever did go back and share that story, so I’ll write what I remember of it here. One thing about pregnancy/labor/etc is that you do forget things. It makes you ready to do it all again! haha. I already forget things more than usual, so I’ll say what I can and maybe Blake will post from his perspective at some point later on. (Blake note: I’m gonna just hurl comments from the peanut gallery if that’s okay with everyone. My telling might be a little more action-packed, but it’s obviously better to get it from the mom’s perspective)
As I mentioned in my last post, Levee’s growth in the womb dropped off sharply once I moved to Cape Girardeau. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I had to go to the OBGYN’s office twice a week so they could hook me up to a monitor and check how often he was moving in the womb, making sure he was literally still alive and kicking. My OBGYN said that, statistically, babies that small are unlikely to live in the womb past the due date. If labor didn’t start on its own by then, she said we would need to induce.
We had a very natural birth plan (as natural as you can get in a hospital, and our healthcare wouldn’t support a home birth, nor did we feel comfortable with it given Levee’s small size and other risk factors). We requested the most natural induction possible–a physical induction rather than a chemical induction. We did a balloon catheter induction. This means that at 4pm on my due date, December 2nd, we were checked in to the maternity ward. They put a catheter up inside me and blew it up like a balloon around 5pm. So I had a balloon up inside of me with a plastic tube hanging out of my vagina. I was told to pull on the tube every so often to push the balloon against my cervix and open it up. I was slightly dilated leading up to the induction, which is normal in the later weeks of pregnancy (probably that feeling of being “open” I described above was indicative of this).
Anyway, I pulled and pulled and within 2 hours got really nauseous from my extreme heartburn. I barfed and immediately dilated to 7cm and the balloon popped out. You have to be around 10cm to start really laboring and trying to deliver, so I wasn’t there yet, but it felt really promising. I had started having mild contractions in the week or weeks leading up to birth, which is normal. I had stronger ones once entering the hospital and going through the balloon induction.
I tried everything the nurses suggested. I walked up and down the hallways over and over again. They’d put a pic line in my hand in case of any emergencies, but I declined to be hooked up to a fluid drip. I drank tons of water laced with ice cubes of tea and water I’d brought with me. They wouldn’t let me eat anything, but those helped my hydration and energy a bit. After more hours passed with no progress on labor to speak of, the doctor said they needed to break my water for me since this might help progress labor. Blake remembers this as being about 18 hours in to labor. I don’t remember anything about time frames.
So, they broke my water. At some point I went into heavier, natural contractions, but those dropped off. After my water had been broken for 24 hours, they were worried about the risk of infection for the baby, so they put water back in me. Since they can’t reconstruct my bag, this meant I was now trapped in a hospital bed with a tube up inside of me spraying saline solution in. Since my cervix was also way open, it also just poured back out onto the pile of blankets and towels and pee pads below me on the hospital bed. I was still constantly drinking fluids and stuck in bed, and Blake had to carry my filled-to-the-brim pee trays out and dump them in the toilet for me. I pee a lot, anyway.
I could feel Levee inside of me grabbing the tube of saline spraying in his face and moving it around. I’m sure it sucked to have salt water sprayed in your face in a dried-out uterus. Sorry about that, Levee.
With labor not progressing and a lot of hours on the clock, the doctor suggested the next step to be pitocin. This induces contractions. I had had some pretty strong contractions, but they’d dropped off. The pain was intense but bearable. Natural contractions felt like they ramp up, like a gradual trip into intense pain–which somehow wasn’t too bad. And then you get a little break, and then they come again. You expect them.
Pitocin, on the other hand, was a wild and very uncomfortable ride. It’s like the pain went from 0-10 with no warning (even though there was some regularity to the timing of them, maybe every 10 minutes, it just felt out of nowhere and hurt worse). Even with this, I don’t think my cervix ever dilated much more. I remember it getting to 8 cm, Blake thinks it may have stayed closer to 7cm. It was super painful to have a nurse reach up inside and check your dilation, especially in the midst of contractions; I remember that. For hours I would have contractions, Blake close by holding my hand, and he would doze off between contractions and then wake up again when I was in pain to support me. We were both very tired and worn out.
By late night Dec. 3rd/early morning Dec. 4th, the doctor said that it would continue to get more and more dangerous for the baby to keep on with this without any signs of progress. She said the next step would be to try an epidural. Sometimes this is able to relax the mother and muscles enough that labor can then progress. Blake and I were pretty upset by this news, as we really didn’t want to go that route. And we felt like having an epidural meant that, yep, we pretty much had to give in to having a c-section. But we know our doctor was doing her best to help us along with our natural birth plan but nothing was happening, and her main thing is to make sure mom and baby stay safe. I think I cried at this point pretty hard. I was just so exhausted, hungry, and I felt like a failure. I remember seeing Blake’s super anger face. I don’t remember what we said or did really except that of course we ended up agreeing with the doctor. And we did and do trust her. We just had to absorb this news in our own way. (Blake note: I was super upset. We’d read so much leading up to the birth about the rise in c-sections nationally, that it was more convenient for hospitals and insurers, and potentially harmful to mothers and babies. So when we kept getting pushed down the road we explicitly wanted to avoid we felt bullied. But boy are we glad we listened!)
I remember sometime around 3-4am the anesthesiologist came in to administer my epidural. Now, I was scared of this because another friend of mine had a doctor miss administering an epidural and caused extreme, lasting pain as a result. This can have life-long repercussions. The anesthesiologist missed 2-3 times trying to administer mine, but thankfully I had no side effects of that. I remember his forearms were completely shaved, and that I contemplated if he was a swimmer, a bodybuilder, or just somewhat vain(Blake note: definitely an amateur body builder. This dude was jacked! Also vain.). Or maybe naturally hairless. He was pretty cute, and I remember him and Blake or somebody talking about cardinals, though it is mixed up in my head whether this was about actual cardinals (images of bird feeders in his backyard come to mind) or the more likely St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. He kept asking me to sit still, but I was simultaneously having intense contractions from the pitocin. I remember saying just to hold me down because I couldn’t help it, but I don’t know if I said this out-loud or just thought it.
The epidural didn’t help progress my labor, and the c-section discussion was next. Around 6:30 am our doctor came in with the game plan. Again, we were upset but resigned eventually to this being the next necessary step. I remember they were going to do it at 8am on the morning of our third day in the hospital, December 4th. But then they came in and asked if we’d mind if someone else went first, and we could go at 9am. We didn’t care. I think we both passed out and slept a while, which was great, to be honest. A nurse came in at some point and shaved off the top of my pubes where they’d cut me open.
Levee was born by c-section before 10am.
He was totally fine when he came out, super chill, as I remember (Blake note: he screeched like a wet cat for a bit, but not long. I think he was tired too and just happy to be out). My OBGYN did an excellent job and said she sewed me up super well in case I wanted to ever try for a vbac. Sadly, they put a curtain up so I couldn’t watch the c-section. I really wanted to and don’t think I would’ve been grossed out. I’m not bothered by blood and guts or anything. But I guess maybe it’s protocol since a lot of folks would be. While I couldn’t feel my body below the waist due to the epidural, I could feel my whole body rocking back and forth on the operating table as they cut open a large incision and wrested Levee from my womb. They took him immediately, crying to a nearby table to check his weight, vitals, and clean him up a bit. I just wanted them to hand him to me already! (Blake note: I was able to see over the curtain and watch the whole thing. It’s pretty amazing to watch two women doing a tug-o-war with your partner’s abs! If you’ve ever tried to pull a 25 pound Thanksgiving turkey apart when it’s still half frozen then you know how dense a body actually is. I couldn’t believe how much flesh the surgical team had to wrestle with on such a small person!)
When they handed him over, he just chilled out on my boobs and stared at me and Blake. It was awesome.
At some point, the OBGYN called over Blake to show him my placenta. I was planning on donating my umbilical cord for the stem cells, but it turns out nobody would want my shit cord, anyway. As Blake tells it (I wasn’t allowed to see) about 40% of my placenta was all gray and gristly on the outside. It had been dying, like it thought the pregnancy was over already. It was sent to the lab to be tested, but nothing was discovered. My sick placenta is the likely reason Levee wasn’t getting enough nourishment (and therefore his growth rate dropped off) in the 2nd-3rd trimesters and the likely cause of my labor not progressing. The cervix wasn’t getting the memo that a baby was still in there, fighting to get out! The placenta had looked fine from the inside on every ultrasound. My body thought the pregnancy was over already. We are really lucky all the important bits grow early in the pregnancy and that he still got enough to survive without any known effects or delays in his development. And we definitely felt he wouldn’t have made it if we’d stuck to our guns about the perfect natural birth we wanted–we needed all the help we could get, it turns out. (Blake note: The single most humbling experience of my life. Turns out I don’t know shit. Lesson learned.)
I don’t regret going through all of those hours of labor. They were important to me, and I’ve read that laboring benefits a baby, even one ultimately born by c-section. Sorry I haven’t cited all of these things I’ve read about. I usually do that, but I’ve been reading about all of this for years and didn’t bother to keep an annotated bibliography. You may be surprised (or not) to know that I actually do keep a running annotated bibliography of the books and many of the articles I read. It’s part of my sketchbook practice. But it’s harder to keep track of all of that while pregnant/postpartum. Do some of your own research if you want to learn more–I recommend it, anyway!
Speaking of un-cited sources and facts, my one request for the c-section I would’ve liked would have been to do a vaginal swab on the baby so it would get some birth canal gunk on him. Sounds gross, but it’s supposed to be beneficial for the development of the baby’s microbiome/digestion/gut bacteria. My doctor hadn’t heard of that, so I’m going to definitely ask about it again ahead of time for this pregnancy in case we are forced to do a second c-section.
Above are some pics of Levee in the hospital and when we first brought him home. I think they wanted us to stay 3 days after the c-section, but we left sooner than that. I got tired of being woken up in the middle of the night by nurses wanting to know if I was okay. Yeah, B., I’m good, I’m trying to sleep here! And they wanted to keep giving me strong pain meds for the surgery, but I hate heavy pain medications. After delivery, I just moved on to some Ibproufen. I find pain helpful in the healing process. You know where you’re at, and you know not to do too much and hurt yourself. The pain was considerable if I lagged off on my Ibrpoufen regimen, however, but it got better over time.
With a c-section scar, you can’t lift anything “heavier than the baby” (because what choice do you have, you have a new baby and need to hold it for so many reasons) for 7 weeks, can’t take baths, can’t go up and down a bunch of stairs, can’t be in the car or in general sitting a long time, etc. It makes postpartum time pretty rough. It’s a major surgery. But I will say from my friends’ experiences, that vaginal deliveries can be super rough, too. I recently had a friend with the worst vag ripping open story I’ve ever heard. She had to get stitched back up, then re-stitched back up, and was on home rest for 15 weeks after delivery and still feels it pretty strong months postpartum.
My own c-section scar still itches a lot. We took a trip for Christmas across state to Blake’s grandmas, and I wasn’t supposed to be in a car that long, but it went okay. I was still getting used to being a mom and found it hard to be around other people, even family, right away. A few weeks later we took another 7+ hour trip up to Iowa for Blake’s stepmom’s funeral. We got some insight on how babies deal with sensory overload when 6-week old Levee conked out almost immediately at a bowling alley. I then pulled out some of the stitches moving around copper to get ready for getting back to work. I had to go back immediately since I didn’t have any maternity leave. I felt lucky to have had Levee be born just before winter break, but that’s still not a lot of time to heal from surgery and get used to being a new mom. I barely remember my first semester back, to be honest. I was exhausted, grumpy, and dripping with milk everywhere I went. But we made it through.
Blake and I had opposite schedules so one of us could always be home with Levee. Blake got really good at typing one handed so he could work and hold Levee, and sometimes I’d come home from work to find them on the loveseat and Blake would say, “I haven’t moved in 5 hours.” I’m constantly impressed by his skills. He’d hand the baby over so he could go piss and eat and whatever else, and I’d give Levee the boob. I barely slept because all night Levee would breastfeed. He just stayed attached to my boob. I think he missed me being away from me all day while I was working. My pumped milk (thankfully copious) wasn’t the same as cuddling. It was hard only sleeping 2-3 hours at a time at the most, and it went on for months.
“I thirst for the privacy and solitude, for the oxygen of day’s lung, night. Instead, the hours of darkness are a bleak corollary of those of light, an unpeopled continuum in which I remain on duty, like a guard in a building from which everyone has gone home.”
–Rachel Cusk, “A Valediction to Sleep”, A Life’s Work, p. 175
I think by 6 months he was finally sleeping more hours in a row. We’d get up about 2:30am so I could breast feed him again. We were trying him in his own room at this point. Blake usually went down and grabbed him from his room and brought him upstairs. He’d latch on and we’d sleep/feed a few hours. Then maybe he’d fall asleep a couple more hours, then Blake would get up with him and let me rest a bit more. Sometimes I wouldn’t even sleep, I’d just wake up and pump alone in bed, but it was kinda a nice break and super good of Blake to give me those moments.
I could talk more about breastfeeding, and maybe I will write a post on that at some point–if any of this is useful or interesting to any of you. Maybe I’ll write it more for myself, anyway, even if no one is here to read it. For now, my motherhood of Levee has become easier in this past year, giving me the delusions to desire another child, and here we are! I’ll end with another quote from Rachel Cusk’s amazing book, A Life’s Work, which I highly recommend everyone read.
“Brief pauses begin to appear in the score of motherhood, silences like the silences between album tracks, surrounded by sound but silences nonetheless. In them I begin to glimpse myself, briefly, like someone walking past my window.”
–Rachel Cusk, A Life’s Work,p. 207-208