Monday, February 20, 2017

Charles's Story

As many of you probably know, Charles Robert - our fourth child - was born a few weeks ago. He is our second living child. Between Timothy (our oldest) and Charles, we had two miscarriages. We lost Lucy at 11 weeks and Elliot at almost 17 weeks. Because of this, and because of the circumstances of Timothy's birth (see Timothy's Story here), this pregnancy and delivery was very different than our first.

After two consecutive losses, the discovery that we were pregnant again was not a purely joyful moment. I got the call from Jess while I was at work. In fact, my boss was standing right next to me, because we were going over a report I'd prepared. Jess was very direct: "I'm pregnant." There was a pause. (If you'll permit a dad joke, one might call it a pregnant pause.) My first reaction was that I wasn't ready to announce this to my boss, so I couldn't really say anything revealing. "Oh, okay," I said lamely. I asked if I could call her back, and did so about 15 minutes later.

She told me that she was panicking, and I couldn't blame her. I wasn't ready to be expecting again. It's not that I wasn't ready for another child - if Lucy had survived, she'd have been born two months prior. But I wasn't ready to go through another miscarriage. Neither of us were. In fact, we specifically planned to wait another month or two before trying to conceive again.

We made it through the first and second trimesters, with countless blood tests and ultrasounds, but we didn't stop worrying. Statistics show that the odds of losing a baby after the first trimester are extremely low. But the probability of something happening doesn't mean anything once it happens to you.

Then, about six weeks before our due date, we found out our baby was breech (meaning his head was up, instead of down). The doctor gave us three scenarios. The first was that the baby might flip head down on his own, and we would proceed with a normal delivery. This late in the pregnancy, though, that was unlikely. The second scenario was that if the baby was still breech as we approached the due date, the doctor would schedule a C-section. The third scenario was attempting a version, where a (different) doctor would push on Jess's belly to attempt to manually flip the baby head down.

Scenarios 2 and 3 each had risks associated with them. A C-section posed more of a risk to Jess. She might get an infection, and there was a small chance that we would have trouble sustaining future pregnancies. A version had some minor risks of damaging the amniotic sac and/or the umbilical cord, which could harm our baby. Not to mention that versions were only successful in flipping babies about 50% of the time, so we might end up having to do a C-section anyway.

The risks to Jess, our baby, and future pregnancies were all very small. But again, we had already defied the odds with our previous losses. Choosing between version and C-section was very difficult, so we decided to postpone the decision as long as we could. Meanwhile, there was a chiropractic method of encouraging the baby to flip head down called the Webster technique, so Jess tried that a few times.

As the due date got closer and closer, I didn't have an overwhelming fear that something would go wrong. But I experienced a sense of unease. A quiet - yet persistent - dialogue in the back of my mind. "What if something goes wrong?" "Maybe the baby will just surprise us and flip head down." "But what if he or she doesn't?" "God will get us through whatever happens." "Do you really believe that?" And so on and so forth.

Three weeks later, an ultrasound showed us that the baby had flipped head down. Praise the Lord! I was so excited. Both Jess and I suddenly had a shift in our thinking. Up until this point, we had been almost entirely focused on making it to the due date. Now, it was if we had just realized that we would have a new baby in the house. We got to work preparing car seats, cribs, and furniture.

Fast forward to the day after our due date. (Moving past two weeks of, "The baby could come any day now. Ahem, any day now, Baby!") Jess called me at work, saying she was going to the hospital, because her water might have broken. She was leaking some type of fluid, but it wasn't very much. We both expected the nurses to send her back home. But an hour later, she called back and told me she was being admitted. "We're going to have the baby today," she said.

The medical team put Jess on Pitocin to get labor started. We had hired a doula named Karla to help us through the pregnancy and the delivery, and she arrived at the hospital about the same time I did. As the day went by, the contractions started getting stronger and closer together. After they started getting really painful, and an exam revealed she was only dilated about 3.5cm, she asked for an epidural. In the 70 minutes it took to prepare for and administer the epidural, she went from 3.5cm to 9cm. A few minutes later, it was time to start pushing.

During the end of labor, every time Jess had a contraction, the baby's heart rate would drop. Jess and I became concerned, because this had happened during Timothy's delivery, and he'd ended up in the NICU. But the nurses and the doctor didn't seem too concerned. Also, while Timothy's heart rate had dropped down to 70bpm during contractions (from a baseline of about 130), this baby's heart rate was only going down to 100. However, by the time Jess started pushing, the heart rate was going down below 90bpm during contractions. From that point on, I was focused on helping Jess push (as much as a husband can really help, which is to say, "not much"), so I couldn't see the heart rate monitor anymore.

Once the baby's head had crowned, the doctor said that, while the baby was fine now, too much of this pushing and dropping heart rate could cause stress to the baby, so it would be better to get the baby out sooner rather than later. He asked if it was okay to make an incision - called an episiotomy - to speed things up. For a second, a small part of me thought, Oh no, something could go wrong. The baby might not make it. Jess gave the doctor permission, and he made an incision. Jess gave a push, and the baby's head came out. The doctor then had to untangle the umbilical cord from around the baby's neck. Jess pushed again, and out came the rest of the baby. I declared the baby's sex to those in the room, "It's a boy!"

Jess didn't have a very good angle, so when she saw the baby, she said, "He's not breathing. Is he breathing?" Did something go wrong? Is he alive? I thought. But the doctor calmly suctioned the amniotic fluid out of our son's mouth, and then we heard the most beautiful sound in the world: a baby's first cry. The doctor placed our son in Jess's arms, and I announced his name: Charles Robert Marks.

The next morning, Jess's parents brought our oldest son Timothy to visit us at the hospital. He was excited to see his little brother (the first thing he said when he saw Charlie was, "I see a little nose!"), but at first he seemed more excited to run around the hospital. While Jess's parents spent some time with their new grandson, I took Tim to play with the elevators, look at the fountain, and visit the pharmacy downstairs. I asked him if he wanted to pick out a present for Charlie, and after a couple of age-inappropriate ideas (such as spicy peanuts and post cards), he settled on two little stuffed animals. On the way back to our hospital room, he had me take them out of their box, and he ran back to the room shouting, "I want to give Charlie his present!"

Jess, Charlie and I spent another day in the hospital. To our relief and delight, the nurses told us that Charlie was doing great. There would be no lengthy NICU stays for this baby! And so, two days after he was born, we loaded Charlie into his car seat, and brought him home.

Many details were left out of this story. I am currently working on a book about the impact our miscarriages have had on me as a father, which will include a fuller account of my experience waiting for Charlie. In this post I touched a little bit on how the experience of pregnancy and delivery differed between Timothy and Charles, as a result of the deaths of Lucy and Elliot. I will delve into this theme in greater detail in my book.

Dad Pick: Adagio Tea

Back when I lived in Chicago, I drank a cup of coffee every weekday morning. When I moved to Minnesota, though, my commute shrank from 50 minutes to 10 minutes, so I didn't have to wake up as early anymore. I also found that I didn't really like the way I felt - physiologically, that is, not emotionally - when I drank coffee. So on those occasions when I wanted a hot drink, I opted for tea instead of coffee. Now that there's an infant in the house again, and I'm not getting an uninterrupted night of sleep, I find myself drinking a cup of tea every morning at the start of a work day.

There are a lot of options for tea drinkers when it comes to buying tea. Perhaps the most common is those boxes at your supermarket that have 20 tea bags, each containing almost-powdered fragments tea leaves. I don't think the tea produced by these bags tastes bad, but I much prefer to buy and brew loose leaf tea.

Chicago had a great tea shop called Adagio, with a wide selection of loose leaf teas, but I've yet to find anything like that in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Fortunately, Adagio sells some of their tea on Amazon.

You can use a metal diffuser to brew loose leaf tea, or just drop the leaves straight into the water, and then pour the tea through a strainer into your cup. I still prefer the convenience of bags, though, and I've found you can get a 100-pack of fillable tea bags for fairly cheap here.

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