A Birth Story: Maxwell

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Sharing, writing, and reliving Max’s story as I prepare to welcome our second child.

On Saturday May 12th, 2012 I was 34.5 weeks pregnant. My husband Morgan and I figured we had at least a month to go before our son would be born. Morgan had learned the week before that his father passed away. Saturday was his last day in Philadelphia to attend his father’s funeral. It was a trying and emotional week for him and our family. That day, I was working as a leasing agent for Century Sales and Management. 48 hours before I had just learned that I had not passed the Bar Exam I spent weeks and months preparing for. I would be unable to practice law for at least 6 to 9 months.

In several years prior we had struggled to get pregnant, finally gave-up for the immediate future and took some career risks. I was aiming to launch a law firm with my close friend Mike Echternahct, and Morgan was working as a delivery driver to supplement the student loan income. Then we got the most wonderful surprise: our first baby during my third year of law school! The timing was challenging but we were beyond thrilled. I graduated from law school about 5 months pregnant in December, 2011. By May, with me a recent law school grad trying to launch a firm, we were struggling financially and we lacked health insurance. It was, all together, a very challenging but a very exciting time.

I’ve never known the coexistence of stress, fear, and joy like I did 2011-2012.

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Thus on May 12th, at 34.5 weeks pregnant, I was anxious. I started noticing “a problem” around 11am while showing an apartment at 5419 Ervin Street here in Lincoln, but thought it (what ended up being my broken amniotic sack) was just normal symptoms of late pregnancy. I was just sure I was being an over reacting first time mom, but because our midwifes, Jearlyn Schumacher and Karen McGivney-Liechti were so cool about taking calls and because of how serious our Lamaze instructor, Jill Morrow, had explained a ruptured sack is, I decided to call around 6:00pm that evening after spending dinner with my best friend Frances (Schoonveld) Hayes. After Frances left, I went to the hospital at the midwifes instruction. Jearlyn, a nurse, and I all were “just sure” it was not my water. The nurse took the test while I watched Resident Evil on SyFy in the hospital room. About 45 minutes later the nurse came back in and told me I was ruptured and having a baby! Mentally, I still somehow associate this news with Milla Jovovich.

I called my parents and they rushed to the hospital. My father, despite the rush, remembered to call the Embassy Suites and cancel our reservation for Mother’s Day brunch the following day. Morgan quickly started trying to rearrange flights to get home. Frances and my mother ran to the apartment to get me some clothes and basic necessities.

Jearlyn checked me and determined I was 60% effaced, I was 1 centimeter, and the baby was at -2. They took me and my parents on a tour of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I recall pretending that seeing the incubators and breathing masks didn’t terrify me. I took copious notes. I took enormous pride in not falling to pieces.

My midwife and doctors figured I would need Pitocin in the morning to really get labor going. Wrong. At 12:30am or so active labor started. Because I was early and high risk I had to stay on the monitors and the baby had the scalp monitor. Even though I couldn’t have my water birth as planned or walk the halls I had positions and tactics for laboring in my room. My mother stuck with me. She and an amazing nurse, Jen, got me through intense (and FAST) labor without any medications at all. I used my wedding ring as a focal point and comfort object to touch. I found it super helpful to move my pelvis in rhythm with the breathing a contraction to offset the lower back pain. Jen and my mother were great coaches throughout the whole process.

Labor, like any woman who has experienced it can say, is rather indescribable. It was pain with purpose – not at all like spraining an ankle or other physical injuries. I’m not a quiet individual by nature and expected I would be noisy in labor. The opposite was true. I turned totally inward. I lost all concept of time, of the scenario, of my embarrassment of my swollen body. Only at one point did I break, and it this period of time I remember. Between contractions, I began sobbing that this experience was not supposed to happening like this: early, without Morgan, and during a week of awful and hope-dashing news. My mother rubbed my back and simply told me “I know, baby. I’m so sorry.”

After seven hours of un-medicated labor and a half hour of pushing, Maxwell arrived early in the morning Sunday May 13th, 2012 at 7:02am. It was Mother’s Day. My mother cut the cord for her first grandchild on Mother’s Day morning. Morgan was flying over Houston when Max was born. At landing he was bombarded by texts and pictures on his phone.

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Once Maxwell was born they laid him next to me for a few minutes before he was whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. My mother went with Max to the NICU for his first bath and evaluation. Maxwell was 5 pounds, 12.5 oz and 19 inches long. I stayed in the labor room to deliver the placenta and be stitched up. I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours and I was exhausted. Truly joking, and in a post-birth haze, I asked Jearlyn if they could just “yank” the placenta out by the cord. She knew me and chuckled, but the over-seeing physician thought I was serious and explained that could be very dangerous before catching on. For reasons unknown to me this odd little conversation is seared into my memory. The nurse, Jen, had stayed two hours after her shift to aid me in labor. As she was leaving I thanked her deeply and sincerely. I then blurted out that she looked so much like Christina Applegate (side note, I was right. Several weeks later when my friend Demetra Simmons was in labor she identified Jen solely because her resemblance to Miss Applegate). At that point they suggested I eat. Oddly, I elected to order a club sandwich and french fries. I ate approximately three bites of this. That “hazed feeling” you hear about post-birth? True. All true. I was acting like a stoned person who, incidentally, had never touched any drugs.

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Morgan got to the hospital, thanks to a ride from the airport from Ben Craig, at about 1:30pm with Mother’s Day flowers in hand. I was so relieved to see him that I burst into tears upon hugging him. I remember telling him how scared I had been, which wasn’t something I had allowed myself to verbalize until just then. While I was happy my mother could be there and that Max was safe, I was devastated Morgan wasn’t there to support me and that he missed the birth. Morgan had a very positive attitude, and while he obviously would have preferred not to miss his son’s birth, was very proud of me and excited to meet Max.birth3

Maxwell did not need respiratory assistance or a warming incubator. He had a few IVs to ensure he would not lose too much weight and needed lights for jaundice for the first few days. My last night in the hospital was Max’s third day in the NICU and Morgan and mine’s 2nd wedding anniversary, May 15th, 2012. We ordered in Olive Garden to our hospital room. Had I left the hospital I wouldn’t have been able to stay checked in as a patient and I wasn’t willing to leave Max’s side just yet.birth4

Maxwell’s total NICU stay was exactly 10 days. The nurses and lactation consultants we had during the whole experience were absolutely fantastic. I never could have made it through the first 10 days, or the first month really, of breastfeeding and pumping without their support. Maxwell’s diet was only supplemented with formula, meaning it was still mostly breast milk, for the first 3.5 weeks of his life. By 6 weeks of age I was producing almost 30oz a day! I really credit the support of the Saint Elizabeth’s staff in those early days, Morgan’s continued support at home, and my stubborn attitude for making it work.

Life has sense gotten easier, careers have been prosperous, and we know great love in our lives. Maxwell will be welcoming a little sister in 2015.

I packed my hospital bag by 30 weeks.

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