This past Valentine’s Day was life-changing.
At 1:30 a.m. on Saturday morning David and I welcomed our son Augustine Krupinski Downs into the world. Born six days after his due date, we were thrilled that the anticipation of meeting this little man was finally over. Here’s the story of how he came to be a Valentine’s babe.
When planning August’s birth we wanted to have an unmedicated delivery within a hospital setting. We had heard too many horror stories of home-births gone wrong, so decided to take a moderate approach. We prepped for the big day months in advance, taking classes of all kinds and reading any and all information we could about the experience. We had a medicine ball, aromatherapy tools, massage techniques, a visualization plan, you name it! We were ready to bring this bèbè out in the most natural way possible. By month nine of my pregnancy we were armed with our formalized birth plan and ready to take labor on full force! Or so we thought.
Once we felt prepared for the birth experience the big waiting game began. We knew that statistically first born babies tend to come after their due date, but we were determined to make his arrival punctual. So come week 39 we began to implement any and all holistic induction methods we could read up on – some so silly I’d never even divulge them to my closest friends! But week 39 came and went, as did week 40. Then our patience began to wear thin. My doctor declared a date of induction for the following week – so time was running out should we want a natural birth experience.
Then, on the morning of Friday, February 13th, I woke up to go to work and discovered signs that I was beginning to dilate again. I called in, woke up David, texted our family and hopped in the shower. This was the moment, right?! My parents insisted on driving in to the city to be with us during admission, so as we waited for their arrival we did what any mom-and-dad-to-be would do: We cleaned! We figured that it was our last chance for some time to do a thorough tidying up so we whipped out the cleaning supplies and got to it! I also knew that remaining active while in labor would help the process along. So why not clean, right?!
When my parents arrived with their chariot we jumped in and drove 10 minutes down the road to Saint Joseph’s hospital, right on the glistening Chicago lakefront. The excitement within me began to build as we entered triage and underwent a pre-admission exam. To everyone’s surprise, we were sent packing. It wasn’t yet time. I was still only 3 centimeters dilated – no new news as I had been holding steady at that spot for over two weeks. Deflated that we had a false alarm we grabbed all our bags (and there were lots!) and headed back to my parents’ car.
As we drove back to our apartment I invited my dad to spend the day with us. We could have some home-roasted coffee, watch silly YouTube videos and pass the time together. Then, a “brilliant” idea struck! Why don’t we pick up the dogs from home and head to the burbs to hang out at their place?! With a big yard and cushy couches we could lounge the day away at grandma-and-grandpas-to-be. So we headed west for 30 minutes, dogs in tow, and settled in for a relaxing day at my folks’ place. Then I had another “brilliant” idea: Let’s go out for some Indian food! I had already tried eating spicy grub to induce, and was craving more, so an Indian lunch buffet sounded perfect.
Once at the restaurant my contractions started to strengthen and become regular. But what was that to me when there was mutter paneer to be consumed!? So I kept quiet and filled up my plate with saucy, steamy and spicy vegetarian grub and ate, and ate, and ate. By the time dessert rolled around my contractions were too strong to hide. I began to wince at the table and my dad began to fret. “We must go to city” he declared in his thick Polish accent. “No, no, no” I insisted, “we have plenty of time.” I was convinced that my labor would be a long one and didn’t feel the need to hurry anywhere. But then a little voice in my head convinced me to start tracking the contractions using my BabyCenter app. To my surprise, my contractions were coming every three minutes, on the dot. I was supposed to be at the hospital when they were at five. Oops!
So off we zoomed back towards the city during Friday rush hour. Along the way we passed by my brother’s work and I insisted that we pause so I could a) give him a hug and b) use the restroom (I thought my water had broken). My dad was in a panic – thinking I’d deliver the baby in his car along the way. He suggested we call the police for an escort. “No dad – relax!” As my contractions grew stronger my excitement began to build. This was definitely not another false alarm. It was happening! I was absolutely giddy, despite the pain. This was the moment we had been waiting for. The baby was coming!
I couldn’t help but giggle my way through admission. We had just seen the staff a few hours before and being back so soon made the start of labor comical. “I am here to stay!” I declared as we went passed reception and intake. And so it was confirmed upon my exam. I had dilated to 5 centimeters (thanks Indian buffet!) and was ready to rock and roll.
One of the reasons we chose St. Joseph as our hospital was their commitment to providing a customized and comfortable delivery experience. We were assigned to our room, which would serve as our laboring, delivery and recovery center. We were also guaranteed that our birth plan would be followed to the “t,” which included post-delivery skin-to-skin time, in-rooming and exclusive breast feeding. We also had a midwife/nurse practitioner, as well as a lactation consultant, provided to us by the hospital, both of whom we had already met and been coached by leading up to the delivery. And with St. Joseph having some of the lowest intervention rates in Chicago, we knew we’d be in excellent hands no matter how the labor progressed.
So off we went to our assigned room. A warm cozy space with a view of the snow-covered lake. We unpacked all our gear, including my favorite lavender spray, LED candles, humidifier, relaxing soundtrack, massage tools and said a prayer, asking God for peace and wisdom. We were now ready for this baby to make his debut!
As my labor progressed from 5 to 7 centimeters I was feeling great! As my labor coach David was doing a fine job talking me through my contractions and spurring me on. After a couple of hours at the 7 mark, my labor began to stall, so we agreed to have my water forcefully broken. Within the next hour the strength of my contractions grew, with no further dilation in sight. Argh! Things were getting rough and I still had at least another 5 hours to go. David and I had discussed whether we wanted to have an epidural in advance. Our agreement was that if things weren’t progressing that I’d declare my need for a spinal tap and then wait ten minutes to see if I could still power through. And that’s what we did. And guess what? I couldn’t. Rather than elongate the labor and risk not having the strength to push once the time arrived, I decided to get the juice.
The anesthesiologist arrived and calmly threaded in my spinal catheter. Within moments, sweet relief. This was the life! I could still feel the pressure of the contractions but no discomfort. At least that was the case for the first 30-60 seconds. Then a sudden wave of pain took over me. What the?! Something about the epidural went wrong. My assigned nurse grew concerned and requested that the anesthesiologist return. The pain was worse than before – how could that be?! “I’ve never seen anything like this,” the doctor declared. And with that, they upped my dose of juice and the pain melted away. Sweet relief.
Thanks to the relaxing effects of the epidural, my body’s tension dissipated, allowing me to dilate the final 3 centimeters in just an hour! I was surprised when my doctor entered my room and declared it was time to push. “Really!?” I exclaimed with excitement. “Let’s do this!”
So we began to push. Or so I’m told since I was completely numb waist down and couldn’t feel a thing. And then it happened. A complication. As I was pushing the baby’s heart rate suddenly dropped from 180 to as low as 40. A bad sign indeed. After a few minutes of pushing my doctor asked that we take a break to allow the baby to recover. Once the pushing stopped his heart began to beat strongly again.
Ten minutes later we began to push once more with the same result. My doctor grew increasingly worried. She had us stop again. With a calm and steady voice she began to explain that the drop in heart rate could be a sign that the baby’s cord was wrapped around his neck. She speculated that, as I pushed, the cord was tightening resulting in a strangulation effect. She then explained that if the trend continued we would need to undergo an emergency cesarean, to prevent further harm. She said we could try to push for two more increments, and if the heartbeat stalled again, we’d be moved to the operation room for the procedure. David and I exchanged a knowing glance and assured the doctor that we trusted her judgment and that the baby’s safety would come first.
Then we pushed again – and the heart beat stalled once more. We had one more chance to see if we could avoid the procedure, but in our hearts knew that the likelihood of a vaginal delivery was slipping from our grasp. But keeping the baby alive and healthy took precedence – so we were prepared to do whatever was needed.
Our fourth and final push run was upon us. We stared at the monitor anxiously as we gave it our last go. And as the trend foresaw, his heartbeat stalled. So off we went to the surgical suite. They strapped me in, upped the juice, cut me open, and delivered the baby. David was on my side of the screen the whole time, providing comfort and distraction from the procedure.
As the baby emerged we could hear his healthy cries and tears of relief dripped down our cheeks. He was here, and alive! The doctor confirmed our diagnosis by announcing his hearty state, followed by a confirmation that the cord had indeed been wrapped around his neck. What a relief that we went through the surgery! We whispered prayers of thanksgiving as they worked on stitching me back together.
David and I had included several notes about emergency c-section in our birth plan, which had been a wise precaution. In it we had asked that David be given full access to the baby should I be restricted to the operating table. We requested that he be allowed to give the baby skin-to-skin contact immediately following the procedure and the ability to stay with the little one no matter where he was taken. And that’s exactly what we did. David was able to become August’s first physical contact following his birth. August was given the comfort of a familiar voice and a warm embrace directly after his delivery. It’s exactly what we had hoped for considering the circumstances.
After a couple of hours in the surgical area I was moved back to my room where I could begin further recovery. After a thorough exam, August was brought to my room where he remained for the next few days when he wasn’t needed in the nursery for standard newborn procedures. After day four of being in the hospital we were given the green light to head home where the final steps of my recovery could begin.
More than a week later we can happily say that both the baby and I are doing great – and dad too! We’re learning August’s rhythms, establishing our breastfeeding routine, and settling into our roles as new parents.
We are so incredibly thankful to our family and friends, as well as the staff at St. Joseph, for all their support and encouragement throughout this past week. We couldn’t be happier with our birth experience, complications and all, and are so moved by everyone’s outpourings of love.
Baby August, David and I thank you one and all!