Everything about Henry’s entrance in this world was surrounded by one adjective: unexpected. It’s taken me awhile to write this, because it’s taken me time to come to terms with some of this as well as digesting that he is likely my last baby. I’ve never told my girls’ birth stories and I may do so later, but this is Henry’s.
When I got pregnant with my girls, neither time was what you’d call a complete surprise. In fact, when I told my husband I wanted to talk to him when I got home to tell him I was pregnant with Nina, he searched the bathroom for a pregnancy test. Henry, on the other hand, took ever careful tracking me by surprise. I had only had a couple of periods since Nina was born and they were barely trackable. I was trying to get a handle on ovulation and such since we used natural family planning, but I really wasn’t paying super close attention. It was June of 2020 and due to the nose dive of the world, my mental health was also very poor. On Nina’s first birthday, I began the weaning process to help track cycles more. I really had only dropped one feed but it ended up being a super easy weaning those first two weeks which is not what I expected after my experience with Sophia. Little did I know I had already conceived by her birthday.
Two weeks after Nina turned one, I woke up feeling hungover and like my pelvis was being hacked in half. Now, I’m not a big drinker and it had been months since my last alcoholic beverage at this time. I also was confused because the pain felt like the Symphysis pubis dysfunction I get while pregnant and deal with for a few months after. That was the light bulb. I had one lone pregnancy test left and figured it would be a waste, but I’d try it anyways. I mean, I hadn’t gotten my period but it was still all over the place. No surprise to anyone reading this, but that test was positive. My husband says the same thing daily when we see each other after work; “Anything new?” I looked him dead in the eye and said, “I’m pregnant again.” He was definitely taken aback. He wasn’t upset or mad or anything juvenile like that. He was just surprised. However, he would never let anyone refer to Henry as an ooops or anything like that. Henry was just conceived earlier than expected in his mind.
We decided early on with this pregnancy that we were going to be done with 3. There were many factors that played into this unanimous decision but it was never even argued. We just knew we were a three strikes and we’re out family. After having two girls, I was convinced I would end up with 3 girls like my best friend. I never even let myself think I would get a boy. Truth be told, I was ok with this. The sex of our kids has never mattered to us; we just liked knowing to get things ready. Dan was getting frustrated with people assuming he must be desperate for a boy and we looked forward to finding out to just shut people up. His sister was also due with a little boy 8 weeks before me so we wondered what kind of playmate our nephew Hudson would have. Due to Dan’s work, I went to the ultrasound alone. Henry was not shy about his boy parts and I saw it before we even got to that part of the scan. We were surprised but thrilled that we were expecting our first son.
The rest of my pregnancy went pretty similarly to my girls with the exception of my pelvic issues being worse and gaining far less weight than with my girls. The entire time I had a feeling he would be early. I was hoping he would come March 3rd. That would be at 37 weeks 6 days which is almost exactly the point at which Nina came. It is also my grandma and aunt’s birthdays. As I neared my due date, it became more and more obvious my gut feeling that I would not make it to 40 weeks was accurate. Many people close to me became to speculate he wouldn’t even wait until March. I figured he’d be a very early March baby.
At my 37 week appointment, I told my doctor about the discomforts I had been feeling. While I knew it sounded like I was in the last few days before labor, I wanted his opinion. Well, he and my cervix both agreed with that. It was decided that February 26th, the next day, would be my last day of work. My work is 30 minutes away from home and an hour from my doctor. Nina was a short and fast labor so I was no longer allowed to travel. Before I left, my doctor said he figured he’d see me over the weekend. He never says things like this so I believed him. Plus, he was on call and he always is on call when I go into labor and my husband was on nights and that is the shift all of my kids were born during. Well, he was only partially right on this one.
Saturday night, the 27th, I started getting contractions around 9:20 pm. They were very spread apart so I didn’t tell Dan when he left for work. I figured it would taper off. At 12:20, I let him know I was now having contractions every 5-7 minutes and I may need to call him home. By 1 am, it was clear that’s what was happening and I called him and my mother in law. After Dan got home, I called the hospital to let them know we were on our way. Curveball number one: this particular weekend was a full moon and the hospital was full apparently. They turned me away. My doctor was on call, but I would not get him. I would not be at my familiar hospital. I had to find somewhere else to deliver. I had a complete anxiety attack. While I knew it made the most sense, Dan insisted we go to the hospital I did not particularly like.
I had no idea where the maternity ward even was here, but thankfully the security guard guided us. This hospital was also bursting at the seams, but unlike my regular hospital, they didn’t turn away women in labor. They just moved women who already had their babies to other rooms. When I got there, I was taken to what I assumed was a triage room like my regular place. Nope: it was their COVID screening room. I would not be allowed into a labor and delivery room until I had a negative COVID test. So there I am, barely holding it together and getting a COVID test. They’re trying to get my records from my regular place and also rerunning some tests I had already had done. I am a phlebotomist’s nightmare and so I typically opt out of an IV during labor if I’m strep B negative. Well, this hospital didn’t let me do that. It took EIGHT separate tries to get it in. This isn’t a new thing and wasn’t their fault, but it was not enjoyable while in labor. Finally, a nurse who got called in 4 hours early due to how busy it was (it was 2:30 am by this time) finally got it in shortly before 3. She said she would be my nurse and she really had this awesome demeanor. Kathy was a God send and the real MVP of nurses.
After my IV line was finally placed, I received word my COVID test was negative and I could go to a regular room. I hoped this meant labor would finally really kick into high gear as the cortisol from the stress was preventing too strong of contractions. That and I make amniotic sacks of steel and they never break without the doctor. Kathy called the doctor, who was an hour away, and I began prepping for the real deal. Around 5 am, the doctor arrived and said she would break my water since as expected I had a bulging bag but it wouldn’t break on its own. However, she quickly realized Henry had his arm over his head. If she broke my water, his arm could get stuck and he could end up with shoulder dystocia. As this can cause injury to mom and baby, I had to wait to see if he would move. I was told to lay down and relax. At 6, she came back in and told me she was going to check his position. However, because the monitor was showing I wasn’t having contractions anymore (I was, the monitor had slipped), if I hadn’t made any progress, she wasn’t going to do anything as I was only 37 weeks. Cue major stressor again. At this point I felt it was one thing after another. Thank God I had actually progressed to 6 cm dilated and 90% effaced so it was clear labor had not stopped. My water was broken, I got some lavender essential oil to breathe in during contractions, and I sat on a ball to do my thing.
At about 7 am, Kathy came in and said the monitor either slipped again or Henry was moving away from it as they weren’t picking things up again. She readjusted the sensors and I continued my zen handling of labor by deeply breathing in the lavender oil and praying for women experiencing infertility. However, Kathy came in once again at 7:30 because those sensors on my belly just weren’t picking Henry up well. Little stinker kept moving. So, much to my extreme enjoyment (cue sarcasm), I had an internal fetal monitor placed. This was the first time with any of my kids I had any issues with monitors. They had been having so many issues they hadn’t unhooked me the entire time yet even though I was supposed to go without continuous monitoring. At first this seemed to do the trick and I continued with the most zen labor I’ve ever had. This was more due to me trying to over come the craziness so far and knowing how to handle contractions than anything else. At around 8:45, I was told it looked like he might have really gone into my pelvis as his heart rate kept dropping to below 100 during contractions. However, when they checked me I was only 7.5 cm dilated. The good news was, the internal monitor came loose during this time and when it was replaced it seemed to be working properly.
With the dips chalked up to a poorly set monitor, I was once again left to my own devices. We all were getting impatient as this was ending up to be a much longer labor than I’d ever had. I was very concentrated on keeping calm because I knew it was due to the stress I was dealing with. I have read books by Ina May Gaskin and I knew labors required you to relax in order for things to progress normally. I personally have always chosen to go pain med free during labor so I did this with breathing and other such methods. I was really doing all I could to help my body progress. The contractions were big and I was doing what I could to overcome the cortisol. Unfortunately, it turned out the dips in Henry’s heart rate were not a monitor problem. By 9:30, it became clear this was continuing to happen during contractions. I was hooked up to fluids and told to lay down to see if this would help. At this time, my best friend asked if they had suggested the dreaded pitocin yet. I always text her throughout labor and she always has good advice and encouragement. I said no because I was having good contractions. I had spoken too soon.
Sitting on an exercise ball is a great way to open up the pelvis and use gravity to keep labor going. Laying down in bed doesn’t work as well for me. My contractions started to go back to where they had been earlier in the day: just not strong enough to make any progress past a certain point. However, Henry’s heart rate would drop if I moved out of the position I was laying in. I had stalled out at 7.5 cm and I couldn’t do the natural things to progress my labor. This was at 10 am and I was exhausted. I was told they wanted to start Pitocin. Kathy, bless her soul, knew this was not what I wanted and she told me to think about it and come get her. I texted my best friend who texted her sister with 9 kids of her own. Both of them told me what I already knew but needed to hear from them; I needed the Pitocin to help get Henry out before he really went into distress and a c-section would be needed. In fact, my bestie told me to prep for the possibility. We have a mutual friend whose son was stillborn due to lack of action and a delayed c-section when he went into distress so this was something she couldn’t leave unsaid. She knew I needed that so I would be ready to ok the action if needed.
When I got hooked up to the Pitocin, I had another anxiety attack. Kathy was amazing and talked me through. She told me I had everyone fooled that the curve balls weren’t shaking me and I was one of the calmest natural laboring mothers they had ever seen. She also encouraged me they wouldn’t give me more than needed and she figured it wouldn’t be much. That amazing woman was right. They started Pitocin at 10:30 and by shortly after 11 I was making the noises I do shortly before I need to push. Dan even told Kathy this. All of a sudden at about 11:17, the look on my face changed and both Kathy and I realized I needed to push. Kathy had realized at this time everything I told her about my body was accurate and since Nina was 30 seconds of pushing, she called the doctor in immediately. The doctor assured me I was still only 9 cm and asked if I would move to my back from my hands and knees. Well, I hate pushing on my back and I knew I had a mere seconds before we were at the point of no return. She tried telling me I had a greater chance of tearing. Given I had Sophia in this position with no issues, I ignored her and said I’m pushing now. Well, I beat my own record of 30 seconds. Henry was born a mere 15-20 seconds after I told the doctor I was going to push. It was so fast they put on my file “fully dilated 11:18, delivered 11:19.” And like with my girls, there were no issues to me.
Henry’s birth was a roller coaster ride. My first thought after was, “Thank God I never have to do that again.” However, Henry Albert Stanzell arrived safely on February 28th making my doctor correct that he wouldn't hold out through that weekend. Unless the big guy upstairs intervenes, he will be my last baby. If I ever do happened to get pregnant again, I’ll have to seriously consider delivering at the same hospital as Henry (incidentally also where I was born) because Kathy was the best nurse I’ve ever had and I’ve never had a bad one. It just goes to show there are silver linings even in the craziest of situations.