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Welcome to the World Callahan!: My Very Honest, Full-Disclosure Birth Story

This is my first post back on Mommy’s Block Party after finally becoming a mother myself in January. My sweet baby boy is now three months old. Those three months have been full of plenty of learning, a good bit of tears, and a whole lot of love. I wrote down his birth story about a month ago while the details were still fresh in my mind, and I’m here to share it all with you, readers! It was important to me to share most, if not all, of the gory details because I feel it is important to talk about what real birth can look like. It’s not easy, not pretty, and the only thing harder than childbirth is motherhood itself. Without further ado, here is Callahan’s birth story.

Callahan’s birth story starts on January 2nd, 2021. I was 35 weeks pregnant and my beloved golden retriever, Sophie, had just been diagnosed with Lymphoma and was going downhill fast. To state the obvious, I was under a lot of stress. I started having semi-regular contractions and was advised to head to labor & delivery to check on the baby. My contractions turned out to be non-productive, but while being monitored, the nurses saw decelerations (decels) in the baby's heart rate, so I was admitted overnight for monitoring. After 12 hours of a close watch on both of us, we were discharged, but put on twice weekly non-stress tests. This went on for two weeks, during which time I ended up having to put Sophie down. The stress and grief of losing Sophie undoubtedly had an impact on my body and my baby’s well-being. 

The week after Sophie died, my house was quiet and sad and I was in a bad, bad place and ready for this baby to finally come and bring some joy back into my life. Not to mention, I was huge and physically miserable. I was at one of my non-stress tests and about to hit 37 weeks pregnant. My cervix was 80% effaced but completely closed. I desperately asked my OB for tips on how to get things moving along and she advised me to go home and have sex. I was willing to try anything so that’s what happened. I woke up the next morning (January 15th) having contractions. 

I went to work like normal, since I wasn’t sure if this was “the real thing.” In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have, since my job involves facilitating virtual learning for six first graders. I ended up calling the OB’s office and leaving work (~11:00 am) to head to labor & delivery. My contractions were around 15 minutes apart. With the history of the decels and it still being fairly early for baby to come, the doctors wanted to monitor us closely. I drove home (in the pouring rain, in Charlotte traffic, having contractions - more grand decisions), where I met my husband, grabbed our bags, and headed for the hospital. 

We're about to be parents!

After arrival and a few hours of monitoring, (~2:00 pm) they saw some decels in the baby’s heart rate and the decision was made to induce labor at 37 weeks. The risks outweighed the benefits at this point, so it was better to get him out. Neither the baby nor I were in any imminent danger, so a C-Section wasn’t immediately necessary, but my cervix was still completely closed. They admitted me (~4:00 pm) and inserted a Foley balloon (~7:30 pm). The Foley balloon is intended to force your cervix to dilate and open. This was one of the most painful parts of my entire birthing experience. They started Pitocin at around midnight. I was in a lot of pain, really uncomfortable, and vomiting into a bag. It was very important to me to have a natural birth - I did NOT want an epidural. So, I labored naturally all night long while my husband snored peacefully on the couch.

The next morning (January 16th, ~8:00 am), the Foley balloon was removed and my cervix was checked. This was 10/10, the WORST pain I have ever felt in my life. My cervix was still completely closed and now raw from the balloon insertion. The balloon didn’t work. I was coming up on 24 hours of natural labor and baby’s heart rate was still decelerating. They needed to break my water and I was at my breaking point and completely falling apart. If my labor didn’t progress faster, we would be staring down a C-Section. I was given a choice: Get an epidural (and hope it would speed things up) or plan for a C-Section. I was spinning out, in so much pain (if you’ve had Pitocin, you know) and so anxious. This wasn’t how my birthing experience was supposed to go. I didn’t make a birth plan because for me, that was just a list of things that would go wrong, but I never expected this. With the support of my husband, I had to mentally let go of everything that I expected to happen, but finally, sobbing, got the epidural. They broke my water (10:00 am) and I finally got some rest.

Here is where I need to tell you about my amazing nurse. Her name is Kelly and she is a labor and delivery nurse at Atrium Health Cabarrus. I wish I had a way of contacting her because she saved me on the day of my son’s birth. I truly don’t think I could have done this day without her support. I’m not a religious person, but I think she was sent to me. She was straight with me when I needed her to tell me the truth, she held me as I cried, getting the epidural I desperately did not want, and she took the best care of me in the afternoon while my body finally relaxed and progressed. I’m getting emotional writing about her, but I am so thankful that she exists and was my nurse on the day I needed her the most. Okay, back to the birth story.

Kelly checked my cervix (~5:00 pm) after I’d had some time to hopefully progress. I think we were both expecting me to be about 4 cm dilated, but hoping for more. Her eyebrows shot up and I braced myself for potentially bad news. “You’re at 7 centimeters!” Even she was shocked! Kelly called my doctor to update him and my husband and I sent out text updates to our parents. We were almost ready to meet our son! Things were getting real and I *wasn’t* having a C-Section! Another hour went by and I was at 10 centimeters. It was go time!

I started pushing at around 6:45 pm. It took me about 20 minutes to get the hang of things and learn how to push effectively. At the beginning of the process, I was still nauseated and throwing up into a bag between contractions. My husband started spoon-feeding me ice chips between contractions and that helped a lot. After just over an hour of pushing, 36 long hours of labor, at 37 weeks and 1 day, Callahan Matthew Watkins was born at 7:54 pm on January 16, 2021! He weighed 6 lbs 14 oz and was 20 inches long, and was (is) absolutely perfect.

Typically, this is where the birth story ends. Obviously, the story ends when the baby is born. It’s a *birth* story. But that’s where I think people are wrong. Not enough people talk about postpartum and I was wholly unprepared for my postpartum experience so I want to talk a little about it, even though it might be taboo. Things are gonna get real here, so if you’re not up for it, stop reading now.

We had to stay in recovery for longer than usual because I was clotting. If you’ve had a baby, you’re well aware of what a fundal massage is. The nurse comes to push on your uterus every 15 minutes for the better part of two hours in order to help the muscle contract back to its normal size and expel what’s still inside. For me, it was more like every 5 minutes for three hours. So I’m laying there, trying to figure out how to breastfeed this teeny tiny squalling person that just emerged from my body, completely in shock from the entire experience, and couldn’t even enjoy it because I was still forced to be in an incredible amount of pain. But hey, the birth of a baby is a beautiful thing, amiright? 

Once they decided I was no longer at risk, I was brought up to our room. When the epidural finally wore off and I could get out of bed, it was time for my first trip to the bathroom. It was past midnight, I hadn’t slept in two days, and I had birthed a human four hours previously. God bless the nurse who took care of me that night (let’s just agree to hold all nurses in higher regard, honestly). She rinsed me, taught me how to take care of my very tender and swollen body, sent me back to bed and taught me how to breastfeed my screaming, hungry new baby. 

I had a Stage 2 tear in my perineum. Apparently an average size tear for my average size baby, but MAN. Ouch. (And honestly, my body ended up doing a terrible job of healing naturally and I ended up having to have a silver nitrate treatment to cauterize some internal tissue that didn’t heal right at 12 weeks postpartum!) We spent two days in the hospital learning how to take care of me and take care of Cal and then we were sent home to figure it out on our own. 

Breastfeeding was (is) hard and Cal initially lost too much weight. I was unprepared for just how much pain I would be in postpartum. I did NOT take it easy and my anxiety did not allow me to rest. I severely overdid it and paid the price. My best advice for new mothers is this: Accept the help. Rest. Let someone else handle it - whatever the “it” happens to be. Take care of you. Take care of your baby. Those are your priorities. Your housework can wait. You’re not obligated to have visitors over. Say no to people. It’s OKAY to say no to people. Set boundaries and stick to them. I could write a whole blog post on being pregnant during a pandemic and having a baby during a pandemic - That’s a story for another time, but seriously, COVID is still a THING. You don’t have to have a million people over to meet your new baby! Seriously…. Set some boundaries. I wish I had.

I guess that’s where my story ends. I’m still alive and still figuring out how to exist in this brand new body of mine. I’ve successfully kept Cal alive for three full months and he is thriving and growing like a beautiful little weed. I love him so much it hurts. It physically hurts. He is the light of my entire life and he came to me exactly when I needed him. He is so beautiful. I could fill you in on all of our struggles when we came home but I think that’s just a part of new parenthood that everyone goes through, even when it’s your fourth or fifth kid. There is a nagging, incessant, constant worry that I'm pretty sure is never going to go away. It’s all hard. And it’s all worth it. Otherwise no one would have more than one, right?

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