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A father's account: The birth of Riley

Written by: Bill August 26 2012 This is how Riley joined our family (from his father’s point of view). To start, things did not happen WHEN we thought they would and certainly not HOW we thought they would. We (birth) planned, God laughed. For me, this all started on the weekend of the 17th of...

Written by: Bill

This is how Riley joined our family (from his father’s point of view).

To start, things did not happen WHEN we thought they would and certainly not HOW we thought they would. We (birth) planned, God laughed.

For me, this all started on the weekend of the 17th of September. It was unseasonably cool and fall like in Philadelphia. It was the perfect time for Shannon and I to indulge in all things pumpkin. We took long walks, had pumpkin flavored coffee, ate some gluttonous sandwiches at Paesano’s, and had a generally perfect weekend. We really enjoyed our time as a married couple and in some weird way I think we knew that it would be the last time for a while it would be just the two of us.

On Monday, September 19th, Shannon was not feeling right and her blood pressure was high. She was advised to go and be examined at Pennsylvania Hospital. We arrived at 1:15 p.m. We were sure this would be just like the other two times this had occurred and we would be sent home with the knowledge that that everyone was healthy and we could just continue to monitor things. It was at 4:00 p.m. that we were informed that this time things would be different. Shannon was considered to be severely preeclamptic and the only way to cure this was to deliver the baby. This was a shock to say the least. Looking back it was not as upsetting as I thought it would be. Riley was coming at some point, so why not now? The only difficult part was thinking about the possible effects of preeclampsia and how important it was for Shannon and Riley to be out of danger. We felt a little better knowing that Riley was at least 37 weeks at this time and he would be fully developed if delivered. I called my mother and Shannon called her sister Jen who both quickly came to the hospital. I went home and grabbed our meticulously planned out hospital bag. It was an odd feeling being in the house alone. Looking around and knowing that this is it, things are about to change in very deep, fundamental ways.

By 7 p.m., the reality had sunk in with Shannon and she was very sad. Our plan was to have a natural birth in the birthing center. No medications, little-to-no interventions, walk around for a while and allow the amazing process of childbirth take care of itself, etc. Now we were discussing the course of medications that will be used as this birth would be 100 percent induced and a C-section was a VERY real possibility. As first time (almost) parents I think there is a certain amount of comfort in planning. We know what interests we will share with them, we know how supportive we will be, we know how we will react when we are upset, and we know everything except how naive we are. This was the first time we were faced with our plans being torn to shreds, and it is impossible to believe it would be the last.

7:45 p.m. – The process of induction with Cytotec begins and we are just waiting. By 10 p.m. Shannon was very tired, emotionally, physically, and in other ways I am sure only mothers know about. The first contraction to be captured by the monitor occurred at 10:45 p.m. It was small and just the beginning. At midnight Shannon was resting. It was still the four of us in the room hoping that the medication would help the process of dilation so the Pitocin could begin. By 1:30 a.m. we learned that this was not the case. The contractions were closer together, but it would not mean much without the dilation. We were told a balloon would be inserted to manually get things going. To me this sounded like some form of torture, but it was important, because after all, the only way to make sure everyone is safe is to get the baby out.

By 1:45 we were informed that the doctor was busy and the balloon would not be inserted (on a side note, I cannot overemphasize how disappointed we were with a majority of the doctors at the hospital. They were understaffed and more defensive than apologetic. The nurses, however, were amazing). Shannon was hurting at this point. She was not in a good space mentally and the combination of physical pain, exhaustion, and non-follow through by the doctors lead to to what she called, “a dark place, mentally.”

By 4 a.m. there was still no progress and another dose of the Cytotec was given. We all discussed an epidural and Shannon hesitantly decided that it was the best option. Shannon's platelets had dropped to 104 and if they dropped below 100, an epidural would no longer be an option. The anesthesiologist told us it was the best option for those being induced due to preeclampsia. Also, Shannon asking the anesthesiologist to give her a C-section right there and then to stop the pain led us to encourage her to accept the epidural. The following are quotes from Shannon after the epidural was started at 4:50 a.m.:

“I can’t believe I ever didn’t want to do this… this is wonderful!”

“Jen, you are going to have to get this—get the epidural.”

“Bill, please write down the benefits of an epidural: It made me less restless, I’m relaxed, and it put me in a better place mentally. I’m in a positive space.”

“My butt itches.” (This was actually said throughout the day by Shannon regardless of the epidural.)

By 8:00 a.m. we are still waiting for Shannon to be evaluated. Everyone slept a little, an hour or two overnight (except my mother, she was a champ). Shannon was still comfortable and felt the pressure of her contractions. She was speaking to family on the phone and keeping people up to date.

By 8:30 we expressed our frustration to a poor nurse about how impersonal and disappointing the treatment from the doctors was. At 10:00 a.m. We receive a half-hearted and backhanded apology from the “Laborist.” (By the way Laborist, welcome to my mother’s list.) She inserted the balloon to initiate dilation. At this point the discomfort of this, as you can imagine, led the nurse to let Shannon know she could increase her dose of pain medication with a magic button. Also at this time the nurse tried to talk to me about being a nurse. It was uncomfortable. (I know, I know, my wife had a balloon filled with fluid inserted so I have no place to speak of discomfort.)

At 11:10 a.m. we met the attending doctor. On the plus side she was the first doctor that we felt spoke to us respectfully and was straightforward. We liked her. On the down side there was no progress with dilation so it was decided that Pitocin would be started at a low dose to hopefully get things going.

11:55 a.m.—We took bets for the baby’s weight. [[Looking back now, if we go by closest without going over, I won (7lb 10oz) and if we go by who was closest, then Jen won (8lb). My mother was (thankfully) way off with 9lb 2oz…)

At 12:30 p.m. they removed the balloon and Shannon was at 4 to 5 cm., so the Pitocin was increased. Due to the dehydration and swelling it was incredibly difficult to find a vein to take blood for Shannon. It took 45 min and three nurses to do so. Her temp had also crept up to 100 F (this became important later). At 1:15 p.m. Nauna and Poppy arrived. Soon after, they broke Shannon’s water and her temperature continued to slowly rise. She was uncomfortable but truly handling it like a champ. We were all super amazed and impressed with Shannon. Half an hour later they let us know that Shannon could have no more water because with her fever going up, there
was a chance she would end up with a C-section. They were not super clear as to why. Still, they were giving her Tylenol and an antibiotic in case there was an infection. In terms of contractions, things were moving, but so was all of our fear because we were not sure where it was moving to. They soon increase the Pitocin.

At 3:45 p.m. two doctors and a nurse rush in and stop the Pitocin and quickly reposition Shannon. The contractions had been lasting too long and Riley was in distress. Eventually everyone was stabilized but this left us in a bad place. On one hand, Riley was not doing well with that amount of Pitocin, and on the other hand, seeing as this was not a natural labor, it was needed to progress things. We were informed that one doctor did not see this ending any other way than a C-section. This was heartbreaking. More and more was out of our control and the level of risk to everyone increased and changed in different ways. All I remember was feeling so powerless and helpless and wishing I could do something, anything, for Shannon to make this better. We decided that if this is how it was going then it should be planned and not an emergency. We told our nurse and started to tell all of the friends and family who have been checking in with us. I think we felt defeated, but somewhat relieved that there was clear end in sight. This really touched me because it was a clear moment where Shannon decided that, with the information we had, this was the best thing for our child and it was worth the risk to make sure he would be alright. I knew she was going to be a great mother. It takes a little but we accept things for what they are.

Eventually at 5:20 p.m. the doctor we liked came in and told us that she felt it would be best if we restarted the Pitocin on a lower dose. She did not agree with the other doctor that it was C-section or nothing. Shannon decided to listen to her because, well, we liked her better and we trusted her. (Also, a big deciding factor was Shannon’s thirst. She was super dehydrated and her mouth was completely dry. If she decided on C-Section she could not have any water but if she chose to go with the Pitocin she could drink. She immediately downed two bottles of water and I think this was a bigger factor in choosing to go with a vaginal delivery than you may realize.) At this time there still was no increase in dilation but the cervix was 90 percent effaced and he was getting lower and lower. This was emotionally draining so we asked everyone to give us some time alone so Shannon could rest.

By 5:50 p.m. I was alone with Shannon and watching her rest. I could not stop watching the monitor as if it could somehow do something or tell us something new. Things were eerily peaceful in the room, but it was also sad thinking of this process lasting longer and longer with Shannon having no escape. Then, things changed quickly.

7:15pm Shannon woke up in extreme pain. The epidural was not working and she had regained full feeling in her lower body and Riley was pushing hard. Her face turned bright red and she felt like she was burning up from the inside out. I sat there fanning her with a pad of paper. Every time I offered to try and get someone she told me “no”, the small wind from the paper was more important. She called the nurses station several times between contractions and this is how the conversation typically went:

Nurses Station: Hi, how can we help you?
Shannon: Help!
NS: What help do you need?
S: I need help!
NS: Help with what?
S: Help …

She was screaming at this point, begging for a C-section, more determined than ever that she could not do this. She felt there was no possible way she could continue in this process. Eventually the anesthesiologist arrived to give a large bolus of pain medication into the epidural. It took much longer than they had said it would for the help to arrive. By this point it had been almost three hours since an obstetrician had seen her. The pain was continuing and growing with each contraction. By this time my mother had returned, and we were both fanning Shannon with bed pans to help with the heat she felt. Eventually this amazing nurse we met over 12 hours prior came in to check on Shannon even though she was not her patient. When she learned that there had been no exam in some time despite the pain and intensity of the contractions she decided to examine her herself (which I believe is against the rules).

8:00 p.m. —It might have been the best thing we could have ever heard, the nurse told Shannon she was 9 cm and it would be happening very soon. She moved the bed to have Shannon into a sitting position which alleviated some of the pressure.

9:00 p.m. —Still no evaluation from the doctor (We knew they were talking about everyone, but communication could have made this 100 times better). In an hour there was a major change in Shannon. Knowing that her body was on board and this baby would be on his way soon she reached a level of focus that I can only imagine could relate to her running a marathon. She was quiet but intense, and made it through each contraction without any complaints and mention of the pain. Eventually she felt the urge to push. It was time to get somebody. Our nurse and a doctor we had not met yet came in.

They told Shannon she had two options: one, continue to sit and wait for the baby to come down so she could push for less time or two, start pushing now even though it could lead to three to four straight hours of pushing. If anyone knows Shannon it should be obvious that she decided to push right away. I think she decided to start chasing the light at the end of the tunnel and that by her will alone this baby would be born.

10:00 p.m. —The pushing continued and Shannon was a champ. She continued her focus and pushing with little to no words in between. The doctor told us that Riley was coming closer and he would be with us soon. Nauna left the room at this point so Jen could come in. Jen and I each took a position holding Shannon’s legs. She was still pushing, somewhat disheartened that not too much is happening that we can see. Still she continued on.

10:25 p.m.—We got the first glimpse of Riley (and his dark hair!).

10:45 p.m.—Shannon was amazing and just focused. She continued to push after we told her she could relax. No mentions of pain or pressure, all she wanted was to meet Riley.

11:00 p.m.—Nauna and Poppy were in the waiting room along with my dad. Everyone was texting my mother for updates, Jen was on the right leg and I was on the left. My mother was taking notes and praying every prayer she knows. We knew something was happening by how much the doctor and nurse were preparing the room and calling for the pediatrician. I started shaking a little.

11:15 p.m.—The doctor told us that he was so close and he would be with us soon. Shannon spoke for the first time in a while, “WHAT, the head isn’t even out yet??!?!” she quietly returned to pushing harder and harder.

11:20 p.m.—We saw him inch closer, and I just kept thinking “He’s not going to fit!”

11:26 p.m.—Riley was born. I cut the cord. Shannon lay back and looked at him. I was watching as the nurse and the pediatrician take him over to the exam table but was not hearing him cry. Shannon asked if he was alright. I saw them use the small resuscitation bag on him. Not knowing what to say to Shannon I told her he was good. It must have been 5 seconds, but it felt like 5 years. We heard him cry and we knew he was alright. They quickly laid him on Shannon’s chest and we got our first good look at our little boy. Some pictures were taken of the three of us and I just remembering having an indescribable experience that I am sure other fathers ha
ve had. Two different life changing realities hit me at once. First, we have a son. All planning and everything aside, he is here. Second, my wife became the mother of our child. I could never look at her the same way again. She was able to provide us with something indescribable and beautiful and I loved her in a whole new way.

12:10 a.m.—I got a close look at him on the table and he was perfect. My entire body was shaking while I just stared at him. They told us that he would have to spend some time (possibly up to 48 hours) in the Intensive Care Unit due to Shannon’s fever. To make sure he did not have an infection he would be placed on antibiotics for 48 hours and it would have to be initiated down there. Due to the magnesium Shannon had to take to prevent seizures she could not visit him while he was down there. We had to wait for them to evaluate him before I could go and visit. While Shannon was being sutured on the bed Nauna and Poppy came in to see him. They were warned that Shannon was, um, out there, but I believe the response was, “Well I am not in here to see her, I am here to see him!” Everyone got a moment with him before he was placed in the incubator and taken to the NICU.

1:45 a.m.—After they wake me up with smelling salts they let us know I can go down to see Riley. I wanted to stay with Shannon but it was very important to us that one of his parents see him. It took some time to wake up but I headed down.

2:00am – I finally was able to see and hold my son. We had a nice conversation of which the details will remain between Riley and I. It was at this point that I realized that my dad was right all along. He would always say that when, and only when I was able to hold my own child would I understand the love that is created instantly.

Shannon had the amazing gift of being a mother for 37 weeks already. Holding him, keeping him safe and nurturing him. I cannot speak for how she felt, but I know that instantaneous rush I felt when I held him is something I will never experience in the same way again, and is something I will cherish. I went upstairs to see Shannon and told her our son was doing well.

7:00am – The three of us were together in the hospital room. Our little family.