Hello! Our daughter is here (and actually, she is four weeks old today)! So please help us welcome Alice Annikki Dahl, born wide-eyed, rosy-cheeked and thick-haired on Dec. 28 (9 days ahead of her guess date) at an admirable 7 lbs 4 oz/19.5 in. She appears to share the same hearty appetite as her parents, so we expect her to add some beef to those bones in no time.
Update: At her two week doctor’s appointment, she was already up to 8 lb 10 oz, which was incredibly exciting to me because it meant all the work of breastfeeding was paying off (that’s a whole other story, though). The nurse even said “you must be making heavy cream!” I’ll take it. I have yet to weigh her since, and things are definitely not 100% smooth sailing (over supply, too fast of a letdown, crying, choking, etc), but we are persevering and sticking with it best we can.
In other news, Alice is already wondering why it’s so cold out here, why baby socks aren’t better designed to actually stay on baby feet, and most significantly: what’s the big deal with sleep, anyway? But we are feeling blessed and totally smitten- having so much fun getting to know her, staring at her for extended and unnecessary amounts of time, and adjusting to a family of three.
And now, The Details:
Disclaimer: This is going to get really long, because our path to Alice’s arrival was quite a long one, and she is one of the biggest accomplishments of our life. I don’t want to forget any of the details.
Her birth was kind of like WHAM! It takes you by surprise, slams you in the face, and leaves your forgetting anything negative or tough that really happened in the last 9 months (including the adventurous 72 hours before her birth). And man oh man was it worth it all- she is here, and healthy, and oh-so-loved, and I would do it all a millions times over again if it meant bringing her to us. So if you’d like, feel free to settle in, get comfortable, and prepare to read over 5,000 words about how she joined this world.
Monday, Dec. 23: Scheduled 38 week doctor’s appointment. The previous week my blood pressure had been a little bit high, I had certainly started to retain more fluid (mega cankles) and I think I gained about 7 lbs in a 2-week period (and here I had naively thought that weight gain slowed at the end of pregnancy. Not the case for me!). But, my urine was still clear of protein and the doctor didn’t seem worried. This week, however, my BP was higher than before, and I was +2 on the protein-in-urine scale, which is not good. We left the appointment with direction to keep an eye out for pre-eclamptic symptoms such as headache and upper abdominal pain, and Bryan headed to work while I headed to the grocery store.
But hold it right there, because on the way home from the grocery store, I got a call from the doctor saying that she had reviewed my charts again, and given the weight gain, etc., she wanted me to go straight to the Maternal Assessment Center (MAC) at Abbott for extended blood pressure monitoring, that afternoon. I asked if I should, you know, pack my hospital bag and she casually said it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Enter: Round 1 freak out. Here I thought that I had just wrapped up work and Christmas shopping, and had two full weeks to finish up projects around the house, spend time with family and friends, and rest and relax before her arrival. Silly me, and the first of many “you don’t have as much control as you think you do as a parent” moments.
After frantically throwing some stuff in a bag and attempting to pick up the house a bit (I did NOT want to come home from the hospital with a baby to a messy house- it could get messy once we got here, but a peaceful, comfortable abode is really important to me and my sanity), I headed to the MAC and called Bryan on the way. He was going to finish up a meeting and head there to meet me. The afternoon was pretty uneventful- I lied on a bed with a blood pressure cuff, which went off automatically about every 15 minutes. I truly think that over the course of the week to follow, I probably got my blood pressure checked at least 100 times. After about 3 hours of this, and alternating feelings of being terrified and excited, the doctor came back in. And she dropped, “you meet the criteria for induction.” Followed by a couple comments about either a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day baby.
Enter Round 2 freak out. Of course all we wanted was a healthy baby and a healthy mama, but this took us by surprise and frankly, shocked us. The doctor made it clear that it wasn’t something we MUST do, but based on their updated criteria for recommending induction, she had to give us that guidance. We spent about 30 minutes discussing our options, and in the end decided to head home for the evening and come back in the morning for more testing. The doctor seemed relieved that we didn’t jump to the induction right away- she encouraged us to head home and get some sleep and pack and enjoy one more night as a couple. I also thought that perhaps my blood pressure and protein could reverse itself- that tomorrow everything would be just fine (naïve, as pre-eclampsia is almost always a progressive issue, and the only “cure” is delivery). Alas, we headed home- hugged, rested, worried, and anticipated what the next day would bring- and did our best to get a good night sleep.
Tuesday, Dec. 24: Merry Christmas Eve! Off to the MAC bright and early, and immediately got hooked up to the blood pressure machine. My numbers weren’t much worse, but they surely weren’t much better. The doctor sent us home around noon, with direction to collect my urine for 24 hours so they could get a true read of what was happening there. So off I went with my gallon jug, my toilet funnel, and hopes that we were going to have a festive Christmas after all. I was also given direction to lay very low, which is easier said than done during family holidays! But we had a nice Christmas Eve at my parents- I wasn’t as energetic as normal, but hoped that it would all pay off. I was able to spend a bit of time with Mike, Jacque, Cecilia and Annie- who were all in town from St. Louis- but not as much as I wished! The highlight of our evening was definitely when Cecilia insisted that we all play ring around the rosy in the family room. Alas, instead of spending the night at my parents, we headed home for another night in our own beds, since we didn’t know if it would be our last.
Weds, Dec. 25: Merry Christmas! Once again, we headed to the MAC first thing in the morning- to drop off my jug-o-pee, and to get some more BP monitoring. Again, the numbers weren’t better, but as the doctor stated, they weren’t alarming. She ordered my jug to be tested that afternoon, and said she would call that evening with the results. So we again left the hospital relieved and optimistic that Baby Dahl would stay put for awhile longer, and headed to Houlton for the Dahl Christmas festivities. I, again, tried to be as calm and “zen” as possible, which again, is not easy with 20 people in one house celebrating the season! It was a great afternoon though- full of love and laughter and FOOD. We headed home around 6 pm that night, with hopes of relaxing in the basement with a movie and some popcorn.
WELL, baby Dahl had other plans. Around 7 pm I got a call, from my doctor’s office, and immediately upon hearing the doctor’s voice (you know that if you get a call from an actual doctor on Christmas Day, it’s not just a courtesy call!), that it was serious. She calmly informed me that my protein was all the way at 1000 mg, and anything over 300 is considered pre-eclamptic. This was it- we had no choice but to go in the next morning for induction. Enter Round 3 freak out: THIS WAS IT! I couldn’t help but cry off and on throughout the rest of the evening- worried about what the next couple days would bring, worried about the little baby girl inside of me who was going to be forced to come out before she was ready, and mourning the end of the life that Bryan and I knew and loved so much- the life of just a young(ish) couple and a dog living a social and fulfilling life in Minneapolis. We knew we wanted to have a family, and we wanted it so badly, but it was still really scary to think about how drastically, and how quickly, our lives would change. As always, Bryan was a rock and such an optimistic, comforting force. We were going to HAVE A BABY! It’s FINALLY, finally happening! Game on.
Thursday, Dec. 26: Up and at ‘em bright and early after a so-so night of sleep- we headed to the hospital for an 8 am admittance. Let me tell you what a weird feeling that is- to park your car and head inside, knowing that the next time you come out there will be another PERSON in your family. Strange and fascinating and amazing. But anyways, we got checked into our nice labor and delivery room around 9 (and I stared in awe for about 5 minutes at the infant warming bed in the corner- our daughter would be in there shortly!). The doctor came in awhile later, and after a quick cervical check revealed that my body definitely wasn’t going into labor on my own, she decided to start with a drug called cervidil, a vaginal insert for cervical ripening. It’s basically looks like a long tampon that the doctor inserts so that the medicine rests right against your cervix. They leave it in for 12 hours at a time, up to three doses (so it could be at least 36 hours before we were even ready for Pitocin). Thus, Thursday was pretty uneventful- we spent our time talking, reminiscing, anticipating, watching movies, and trying to rest as we knew things would pick up in the next couple of days.
Around 9 pm that night (right as we were about to finish The Heat) my blood pressure started going up. . . at one point it was around 170/90 I believe, which is not exactly ideal. So, as much as I wanted to avoid an IV, and drugs, I had no choice but to get a port put in, and get started on magnesium, which is used to prevent seizures when BPs get high in labor. We didn’t want seizures! This is when things started to get scary for me- the magnesium is a strong muscle relaxant with awful side effects, and the “loading dose” that they started with left me feeling horribly hot, nauseous, groggy and blurred my vision. Around this time they also removed my first dose of cervidil since it had been about 12 hours, and while I had made some progress (dilated to a 3 and about 70% effaced), it was clear I would need another dose (at least). Needless to say, we never finished The Heat. . .
Friday, Dec. 27: Today started around 1 am, after my “loading dose” of magnesium was complete (thank goodness), and they were able to insert round two of cervidil. Same story, different day. Friday was a little less relaxing than Thursday- I was feeling less-than-stellar on the magnesium and also had to get started on fluids since I couldn’t eat or drink (a rule I broke a couple of times). The bummer about having an IV and magnesium and fluids, and constant fetal monitoring and such, is that I was pretty much tethered to the bed- if I had to use the restroom I had to ring my little nurse button, get their help to disconnect everything, and hobble with my IV pole over to the bathroom, and was often monitored.
One thing about labor is that your modesty quickly flies out the window- which was solidified throughout the night as I labored completely naked in the bathtub, and frequently got out, walked to the bed, totally wet and moaning and rolling my IV pole. NOT something I would have predicted I would do, but duty called.
Okay, back to Friday afternoon. Around 2 pm, they took out the second dose of cervidil, and unfortunately I was again not quite ready for Pitocin. This was rather disappointing, as I was ready to get “real” labor started. The doctor didn’t want to do another dose of cervidil, so she recommended a “mechanical ripening” method, which is just as brutal as it sounds. I have a hard time explaining it, but essentially, they insert a long rod with two deflated balloons, each about the size of a peach, into my cervix. One ball is placed on each side of my cervix, and then the balls are filled with fluid. The idea is for me, or a nurse, to TUG on the rod every 30 minutes or so, and the idea is that the balls will gently open up my cervix and help me reach the dilation number needed to start Pitocin. So there I was, lying in the bed with monitors on my stomach, IVs in my arm, and inflated balls in my cervix. I did my best to pull on it with authority, as did our nurse. Around 8 pm that night, one of my favorite nurses of our hospital stay, Danielle, came on duty, and she informed us that she is known for being aggressive with the balls. She said she likes to “pull and hold for awhile.” So there she was, pulling and holding on the ball (which just felt like some minor pressure to me) and out popped the balls! Success for the mechanical ripening method. The doctor came in and said I was dilated to a 6, and we could start Pitocin to get the contractions going. At this point I was starting to feel some pain and pressure in my back, which had me nervous about back labor, but the doctors said she was in the right position so as not to worry. I should also probably mention that at no point did we ever discuss a C-section (something I really didn’t want), but it was always a thought in the back of my mind- what if I went through all of this, only to have it end in a C-section. I also worried that with such a long induction, that I wouldn’t have the energy to power through when it mattered most- pushing and such, but I tried really hard to remain optimistic, and trust that my body and my baby would know what to do. Basically, I tried to free myself or worry or fear, and have faith that we would make it out okay with a healthy baby and a healthy mom. That’s all you really can do, right? Okay, so Pitocin started around 9, and we again tried to “rest,” which was becoming harder and harder.
Saturday, Jan. 28: Around 1 am, my contractions started getting really strong, and I knew it was time to call our doula, Katie. The contractions were coming faster and furious-er, and I began to doubt how I would persevere the pain and pressure. It’s not that they hurt that bad at this point, but I knew that if it hurt this bad this early that I was likely totally screwed and would end up getting an epidural so I didn’t have to endure such extreme pain for what could be 10 hours or more. Hell no! But again, I tried to push out these fearful thoughts, and listened to our doula as she guided me through different positions of dealing with the contractions. I did some on my hands and knees on the bed, some draped over the yoga ball, and some standing next to the bed with a leg on a chair doing pseudo-lunges.
Around 3 am I thought that the bathtub sounded lovely, and luckily, we had some great nurses who were willing to let me give it a try. I felt very lucky that they allowed this, as with my drugs and BP issues and such, I feared they would insist I stay in the bed. Looking back, there is NO way I would’ve gotten through the night without an epidural in the bed. So, I got connected to the waterproof monitoring system, dragged my IV pole into the bathroom, removed my tank and skirt, and sat on the bench in the bathtub. Bryan and the doula alternated spraying my back with warm water during contractions, but eventually they got so intense that I wanted to be IN the water, so we filled the tub and in I went. I remember feeling such relief hitting the water- it lightens you enough to ease the pressure of contractions, and the lights were all off and Katie had brought some electric candles and scents that made it a somewhat (all things considered) relaxing environment. Bryan was sitting on a stool right next to me, the whole time, and I loved the warmth and strength of his hand holding mine. Katie, the doula, was sitting just next to him, and gave me great direction and encouragement for dealing with the contractions. I felt so fortunate to have such an awesome “team” (Alice included- she was champ the whole time- always had a strong heart beat, and would always give me a little kick of encouragement when I needed itJ). I also started making some sing-songy sounds with each contraction, and would try to “lighten” my pelvic floor and let each contraction “float away.” Sounds strange, but it works. I also remember getting really uncomfortable when the tub water cooled off, so multiple times Katie and Bryan would work together to drain the water while simultaneously refilling it and splashing the warm water up around me. I would sometimes rest and close my eyes between contractions- and I think I probably even fell asleep a few times. Things were going well.
I have a hard time remembering all the details around this time, but Katie took notes. Around 4:45 am I started to feel rectal pressure- I think I asked if I pooped about 10 times- I thought “I had to have pooped that time!” but I don’t think I ever did (as far as I, or Bryan, know at least!). It seriously felt like I was going to poop out a bowling ball- gross, I know- but the best way to describe it that I can think of. I was convinced Alice was going to come out of the wrong hole! And as for contractions, well, they hurt. I’m not sure how much I should write about the pain, nor do I really know how to do it justice, but in short, it was blinding. It’s unbelievable pain and pressure that is hard to even fathom. Far different than I had predicted, and I knew it was going to be unbearable. But somehow I beared it. I think at that point, I felt like I had so little control over the type of labor I was having, and the drugs I had already been given, and if there was a drug that I could potentially avoid, then I would try to do it. I also heard some pretty bad stories about recovering from an epidural, and knowing that I still had 24 hours of magnesium after delivery, I wanted to avoid any additional recoveries needed. I think I only mentioned an epidural once- I whispered in Bryan’s ear around this time that I didn’t think I would be able to make it without one- but our plan was for me to ask for it, to the doctors, myself. And besides my one whisper to Bryan, it never came up again.
Around 5:15 am I had to get out of the water (I would hop out as quick as I could and scoot over to the bed, as I did NOT want to get stuck in between the two with a contraction. The nurses were all amazed at how quickly and dutifully I would follow their direction!). At this check I was only 7 cm, but the head was lower. I was a bit discouraged, as I felt like I had some intense contraction and yet was only a 7. I was fearful of what the next couple of hours would bring, but again, tried to be calm. Katie wrote in her notes: “Katie is just SO amazing at this- she stays relaxed, she keeps her eyes closed, she breaths with a nice soft jaw, she does everything suggested to her- she’s a true pro,” and “Katie is really good at being honest about her needs and stepping up to the task, despite her discomfort.” She also wrote, not surprisingly for those who know me: “doesn’t like being touched!” Ha.
By 6:15 am, the contractions started getting REALLY intense, but I was soothed by the creaking and clicking of the pumps (weird, I know) and kept feeling my stomach and knowing that our baby girl was going to be here soon and it would all be worth it. I tried to talk to her as well, knowing we were in this together. From Katie’s notes, I said “you guys, these are intense,” around 6:45 am, but she wrote that I was acting like a completely relaxed and champion birther, and even that “it’s something to witness.” I tried a few contractions on the toilet and standing with Bryan in a “slow dance” position, but nothing was as soothing as the tub, so I always ended up back in there.
At 7:45 am I was talking about how tired I was, and I could tell that the baby was getting lower and lower with each contraction- a lovely part of labor that they call “transition.”
A little after 8 am I remember feeling for her head, as I was certain she had to be low and ready! Another line from Katie’s notes: “Katie’s breathing is so nice and soft- sometimes it sounds like a song. She throws horsey lips in there from time to time to get through really rough patches :)” She then wrote that at around 8:30 am, I started to sound really “pushy.” And I certainly remember that! With each contraction, I would feel like pushing so hard. I knew I had to get out of the tub soon, but was NOT excited about dealing with contractions on my back in the bed.
I eventually made it to the bed, where the not-so-cool nurse Susan started making a huge ruckus fixing my cords, cleaning the room, turning on the bright lights, and generally making me as uncomfortable as possible in what was a really intense situation. My contractions were SO strong, I was starting to get scared, and the doctor took forever to arrive, despite the fact that Katie said I was likely ready to start pushing. Upon arrival in the bed, my BP also started to get higher- it was around 170/112- so I had to start getting some meds (they just added it to my IV pole) to make it through the rest of labor. Finally, around 8:45, Dr. Gibeau arrived, and informed me that the baby was “right there” and we were going to start pushing and have a “nice, peaceful birth here.” They adjusted the bed so it was ready for the birth, turned on the bright spotlight, and helped me get my legs up in the stirrup.
And I began to push.
Bryan was directly to my left, about hip level, and to his right was Katie our doula, then a nurse, and ready to catch at the end of the table was the doctor. Not-so-cool nurse Susan was to my right, but I avoided looking that way as much as possible. At first I didn’t really know what I was doing with the pushing- I was putting too much energy into my legs and my yelling/screeching- when instead I needed to deepen my noises and pull on my legs with my arms so that I could push in my pelvis. It took a couple tries to get it right, but eventually I felt like I was getting the most out of each contraction and really moving her out. What a weird, and amazing, experience. I remember being so exhausted in the short break between contractions, and fearing the next one, knowing it could be even more intense than the previous one, but also being comforted by the doctor’s words that I was doing great and she was coming down fast. And Bryan was amazing and so comforting, I was squeezing his hand as hard as I could as I contracted my entire body and turned purple with each push, and I know it was an emotional experience for him too. Together with our doula, they made the most perfect support team for me.
Sidenote: I’m pretty sure Bryan saw EVERYTHING and isn’t freaked out at all by it. I know it’s not for all men, but I think it’s often an unnecessary fear by both sexes that once they see your parts like that they’ll never see them/it the same again. What they get to witness is f*&king amazing and it’s also so different from how they normally see you. He was blown away by what he saw and I’m pretty sure his respect for me sky rocketed up. To see Alice come out of me and to hear the sounds that came out of my mouth (tribal) – I mean, I’m pretty much a goddess to him these days.
Anyways, around 9:30, the doctor said she could see the baby’s head (and hair!), and asked if I wanted to feel it. Talk about another weird and amazing experience- reaching down and FEELING your baby’s head. Wow. I definitely remember feeling the “ring of fire,” and heard the doctor ask for KY Jelly or something and she began massaging and stretching my skin around the baby’s head to make the exit a little more smooth. Not an enjoyable feeling, but I appreciated her efforts to reduce my potential tearing as much as possible.
Soon after, the doctor said the next push could be it, so when the next contraction came, I pushed with all my might, and out came Alice Annikki. Poor Bryan got splashed with amniotic fluid, and I continued to push until she was fully out, screaming, with a cute little cone head of light brown hair and a pink chubby body. All pain was gone; only pure relief and total surrealness was felt. She looked nothing like I had pictured, but everything I had ever wanted and nothing short of amazing. You just can’t believe that moment is actually happening. You see it in the movies and all of your friends and family tell you about that moment, but until you experience it you really can’t fathom it’s actually happening. I loved her from the moment I saw her. Some of the quotes that Katie had in her notes from those first minutes of having her on my chest: “I can’t believe we did this, you guys! It was so hard, but so worth it! Look at her skin, and her little nails!” Overall amazing incredibleness that is kind of hard to process at the moment, or even in the days after, but now it’s one of the coolest memories of my life.
As for the post birth, I was extremely fascinated by the placenta (I even made our doula take a picture of it, which I will do a favor for you all and NOT post here), I had to get a catheter because my bladder decided to stop working for awhile, and I only got a few stitches. Overall, I am amazed at how good I feel only three weeks later. The human body is amazing, and I have a whole new respect for mine and for all the woman out there who have gone through the experience.
I wouldn’t say I won the labor lottery, because it was a long road and not exactly what I had planned, but I am proud of how it played out and how I handled it all, and of course what matters most is that I am healthy and Alice is healthy. And, I would punch myself in the face if it ever came off that I was bragging about having a natural birth- yes, I felt like a bad ass- but so is every single woman who has ever felt a real contraction or heck, ever gotten pregnant and delivered a baby. Every birth story is different, and no matter how it happened, it’s ALL a feat. Solidarity now to all moms out there.
In sum, Alice is here- she is healthy and perfect and lovely and loved- and we are extremely lucky and dare I say even blessed.
These days, I’m focusing on hanging out with the most super awesome and amazing Bryan and Alice, and a dog named Tilly, trying to prioritize the important stuff right now: enjoying their company, keeping her fed and warm and clean, exploring the world around us, and enjoying our transition to a family of three (+ dog). The joy and happiness is overwhelming, and when I think about the path we took to get here, I can’t help but feel overly lucky for where we landed. I know we are just barely into the throngs of parenthood, but so far, so good. It’s amazing how quickly, and how significantly, your life, priorities and outlook can change when those little ones enter your life, and I just can’t get enough of our sweet little gal.
And now, a collection of photos from her first four weeks.