Nevertheless, I'm going to try.
On Wednesday morning, September 2, I woke up grumpy. It was three days past my due date and I had my final prenatal appointment that afternoon, during which I was certain we would schedule an induction. We had discussed how long the midwives would feasibly let me go and at my new practice, they strongly advise not waiting beyond 41 weeks. In my mind, the 41 week mark was fast approaching and with each day that passed and my new baby had not yet arrived, I got more and more anxious. Having been induced with my three girls and having had Pitocin with all five of my deliveries in some capacity for various reasons, I strenuously opposed a labor and delivery using Pitocin if I could at all avoid it.
The grandparents kept the kids while Sam and I went to Macon for the appointment. Because of the holiday weekend, my induction was scheduled for Tuesday, September 8th. I didn't cry. For some reason, this time I was truly optimistic that I would go into labor on my own before then. Jessica (my midwife) informed me that I was a good 4cm dilated, but still "thick" and high. She stripped my membranes. Then, Sam and I then stretched a thirty minute doctors appointment into a date to Sam's Club for a tire rotation and balance and McAlisters for dinner. I joked that I should have had the broccoli and cheese soup because that's what I had eaten at Panera the night before I went into labor with Noah.
Around midnight that night, I started having that familiar cramping feeling of very early labor. The contractions were stronger than Braxton-Hicks contractions, and happening regularly but only about every 15 minutes. I would snooze for about 5 minutes, wake up from a contraction, wait for another one, doze off, and wake again a couple of minutes later. This continued until about 3am when I woke Sam up and said, "I don't want you to get up or anything, but I think I'm in labor." He jumped up, took a shower, and strongly encouraged me to get to the hospital. He'd heard all of the stories about sixth babies coming fast on the side of the interstate and all of that. (I confess, however, this sounded ideal to me. If I could trust any husband and father to deliver a baby on the side of the road, I know Sam could do it. He probably had an instructional youtube video saved to his phone just in case.) I talked him out of rushing off just yet, and we took a (very) early morning walk around the neighborhood. Plenty of contractions during that. Then we watched an episode of Call the Midwife (seemed appropriate). We left and headed for Macon. I contracted regularly on the drive there. We arrived at the hospital around 7am. As they checked me in at OB Assessment, I could feel...well...nothing. Not one contraction. They hooked me up to the monitors. Baby sounded great. Checked my cervix. Hmm. Still 4cm, thick, and high. "Are you sure you've been feeling contractions?" I had two in the two hours I was being monitored at the hospital. You would think by baby number six, I'd know what was going on. Apparently, this is not necessarily correct. For the first time in my life, I was sent home from the hospital in tears. Not in "true" labor.
I felt like such a fool.
Sam listened patiently as I lamented that it wasn't real, that the baby was never going to come, that I felt so stupid. He offered his always-ready encouragement. We piddled around Macon for a bit before deciding that it would be wise to probably take a nap. We went home and got a solid three hours. This would prove integral as events of that night and the next day would unfold.
Thursday night I was exhausted, embarrassed, and depressed, but life went on. We hung out with Grandmom, Grandpop, and Grammie over a meal of spaghetti and meatballs. The grands took over bedtime, and around 11:15pm, I opted to try for some more sleep. Not unlike the night before, when I laid down to try to rest, I was quickly woken from my slumber. At 11:49, I had my first unmistakable contraction. Not to be fooled again, I grabbed my phone and started the stopwatch. I laid back down. The contractions were coming at exact ten minute intervals. They were more predictable and more real than the night before. Rather than jump the gun, I opted for a warm bath to pass the time before I woke Sam up. Around 2am, I woke him up to inform him that my contractions were between 7 and 8 minutes apart. For the second time in as many nights, he got up and got ready to head to the hospital. We got to Macon around 3am, but because I was insistent that I didn't want to get to the hospital too soon, we opted to extend our geocaching streak for one more day. We had been saving a geocache near the hospital for just such an occasion. We had hoped to search for it in daylight hours, but nevertheless, Sam searched high and low by the light of his cell phone at the corner of College Street and Georgia Avenue and at 3:30am penned "herdofsheps" to the log. This would be the final find of our 383 consecutive day geocaching streak.
The parking garage was muggy that morning, and I tried my best to stall or at least leave our stuff in the car - I was not going to be embarrassed again by being sent home, but my efforts were for naught. Sam convinced me to go ahead in with all of our belongings. I picked up the phone to cross the pedestrian bridge and didn't even need to speak a word before they buzzed me over. One look at the surveillance video and they could tell I was about to download a baby. The experience in OB Assessment was more positive. My contractions were still only about every 7 minutes, but given that this was my sixth baby and that there had been progress from yesterday morning (I was now 5cm, 80% effaced, and the head was actually to a numerical station for the first time in 6 babies), they went ahead and admitted me.
I was moved to Room M322, the same suite I delivered Abby in 9 years earlier. The night nurses who would be off duty in just an hour and a half did all of the necessary administrative work and lamented that they would not be around to see whether Baby Sheppard was a boy or a girl. Apparently, surprises are as fun for the nurses as they are for Mom and Dad. The nurse started an IV line (as discussed with my midwives) as a precaution. Then Alyssa (the nurse) called to touch base with my doctor. She came back saying that they were going to start me on a Pitocin drip and my heart dropped. Thankfully, Sam is not scared and immediately spoke up on my behalf. I really, really didn't want Pitocin. Especially not yet. After speaking with my midwife again, she recalled my plan to do intermittent monitoring and no drugs. This happened as the shift change occurred, so when Alyssa left she told me she handpicked my day nurse who was awesome with natural childbirths. Her name was Noreen. As soon as she told me, I realized that the room number was not the only commonality between Shep 6 and Abby's deliveries. Noreen was also the nurse on duty when I delivered Abby.
Alyssa unhooked my monitors. Freedom! I was able to walk around and come and go as I pleased, unhindered by IV fluids or constant monitoring. Every thirty minutes, I was to check back by the room for "intermittent monitoring" where they would verify that baby was enduring labor perfectly. This was my least favorite part because I have a big tendency to wiggle, knocking the monitors haywire, and setting off alarms. Let's just say my twenty minute strips weren't of the best quality. I met Noreen as we passed by on a loop. My contractions were more frequent while I was up and about, but still nowhere as close as I would have guessed. They would not get any closer than 5-6 minutes apart until transition.
While I was dead set against Pitocin, I was totally okay with breaking my water. In my previous experience, this is what really got labor moving as my babies tend to ride high...forever...until the water is broken. Jessica broke my water around 8:30am, and apparently, I have a very strong bag of water. The first tool she used didn't work to break it, so she had to resort to a second option. It worked. I was optimistic that things would move very quickly (as they always had previously) from that point. I told her that I was discouraged that my contractions were still so far apart, and she said that she once had a veteran mom deliver a baby with contractions coming every ten minutes. So, it wasn't completely unfounded. I was making progress, at this point up to 7cm and 90% effaced, but the head was still pretty high. I continued with the status quo - walk around, get monitored for a little while, repeat. The contractions were definitely intensifying, but not getting any closer. On one round through the hallways, we passed through the waiting room so I could give the kids a hug. It was great to see their faces.
When we got back to the room, I suggested to Sam that he send the grandparents and kids to lunch since things weren't progressing as quickly as I expected. They divvy'd up the kids and went to the cafeteria and in-hospital Chick-Fil-A. As I reached transition, my contractions finally started coming faster and I opted to stay in the room rather than walk around. This was around 12:30pm. I got a call from the customer service desk saying that Pastor Bob was there to see me. I said, "Sure send him back." Sam said, "Are you sure? Your contractions are coming like every other minute?" I knew he wouldn't stay long and just wanted to pray over us, and I was happy to be the subject of an earnest man's prayers at that point. He did just that, and left, passing through the same waiting room to greet our parents and children on his way out of the hospital - a truly perfect person for a pastoral care position.
My midwife called to check in. She was off duty at 1pm, and supposed to be en route to Mississippi at that time. I was rapidly approaching the time to push, but I knew I probably would not get her. She suggested that since I'd only progressed a couple of centimeters since 4am, maybe it was time to consider Pitocin. I relented, but it would turn out to be unnecessary. The next face I saw was not that of my midwife, but of the head honcho in the practice, Dr. Luhrs. She popped in because she had a couple of circumcisions to perform and knew that Jessica was on her way out of town. It turns out, so was Dr. Luhrs, but only had to go as far as Charleston, so her drive was not as daunting. At this point, I was 8cm and I was ready to be done. She had me push through a contraction to see if the head came down at all when I pushed and she realized that the second bag of water had not broken. As soon as she broke that, within literal minutes, I was ready to push.
I recounted the events of the pushing stage to Sam through watery eyes as I recalled them the next day. I couldn't even think about it without getting emotional. I still can't. He said that my recollection of how the events transpired was totally different than how he saw it. Nevertheless, I can only speak from my perspective.
When the Noreen checked me and said, "You're still at 8cm." I said, "Are you sure? Because I really feel like I'm ready to push." She said, "Yes, you're at 8, but it's entirely possible that you could be delivering a baby in two minutes." I could tell. At this point, there were no doctors or midwives anywhere in sight. It was 1:15pm so Jessica was supposed to be gone, Dr. Luhrs was never supposed to have been there, and the substitute midwife, Jeri was supposedly on call but hadn't yet checked in. Poor Noreen didn't know what to do. I was paralyzed by my contractions which were coming on top of each other without a single second in between them. In my previous, Pitocin-regulated labors the contractions during transition were intense, but came at predictable intervals. This time, there was not so much as 10 seconds rest in between them. As soon as it subsided, the next one began. I felt like I couldn't catch my breath. I couldn't open my eyes. I prayed and reminded myself that each contraction got me closer to finding out whether we were adding a boy or girl to our family, to finding out what color hair or if they had hair at all, to finding out how big this baby I was carrying had grown inside of me. I felt a familiar level of frenzy about the room, but I was concentrating too hard to care. All at once, Dr. Luhrs, Jessica, and Jeri all showed up at the same time to deliver Shep 6. As they quickly discussed who would stay (Dr. Luhrs pulled rank and "ordered" Jessica to go on and get her oil changed before her trip, she would deliver this one), I started to panic.
That familiar phrase I've uttered each of my non-epidural deliveries came out.
With closed eyes and tensed muscles, I said, "I can't."
Jessica was still in the room and came to my side. She held my hand and in the gentlest voice said to me, "You've done the hard work. You're almost there. You can do this. You just have to focus for a little while longer." I opened my eyes, nodded, and with renewed resolve, decided to get. the baby. OUT OF ME.
Maybe you watch Call the Midwife, but this scene immediately came to mind:
Dr. Turner: Well done. You made Brenda McKenty feel safe.
Chummy: Magic handkerchief. Works every time.
Dr. Turner: No. *You* made her feel safe. It's the mark of a good nurse. Midwife too. Everything else is just mechanics.
It took one bad push and five good ones to deliver sweet baby Hannah. After the fourth good push, her head was out. Sam looked at me and said, "Her head is out. Full of dark hair! You did it." One more push and we found out it was a beautiful baby girl. With a head full of dark hair and the longest fingers and toes of any baby I've ever seen, she was laid on my chest. There are no words to describe the complete sense of relief after delivering a baby. She was here, she was safe, and she was out of me. It was a beautiful moment. Being a baby friendly hospital, they didn't clean her off, or weigh her, or anything before I got to hold her and nurse her. She latched like she'd been doing it all her life. All of the kids got to come back and meet her with special permission from Noreen (there are only supposed to be 3 visitors at a time in the maternity pods), then the grandparents all held her. When everyone cleared out, the baby nurse came in to check her out. She weighed 9lb 1oz, measured 21 3/4" long, and 14.5" around her head. She didn't look that big, thanks to her long, lean limbs and digits. She's going to be a basketball player. Or a piano player. Maybe both.
In the hours and days that followed, I felt the best I ever have post-delivery. I had no pain. And other than being exhausted already from the days leading up to the delivery, I couldn't have asked for a better recovery. I could even feel my mood lifting.
We are delighted that God has blessed our family with the precious Hannah Rae.
We promise to love you so.
Thank you so much to our friends and family who have supported, encouraged, prayed for, and tangibly gifted us in celebration of Hannah. We love you all!