Illuminating Stella

Archive of ‘Birth Story’ category

The Bradley Method – Our Experience

John and I took a ten week course on the Bradley Method before we had Stella and planned on a natural birth. We did not end up fulfilling our hope to do so and have been asked if we regret spending the time and money on the course. The answer is no way, not at all!  We are both so glad we took the class and still feel it was a huge asset to us in the birth of our daughter. Sometimes I feel like a runaway Bride trying to preach about the sanctity of marriage when I try to explain why we feel the class was time well spent. It’s true that since we did not have a natural birth, we are not ideal advocates for The Bradley Method. Still, I wanted to write this post for myself and perhaps anyone else who feels like we do or might be thinking about taking The Bradley Method.

We have had many conversations about our birth experience since Stella. We (ok mostly me) have discussed the gritty details of her birth, my rocky recovery and what our plans will be if we have another baby with each other, my girlfriends, other couples and even random strangers in the grocery store. When you travel with a newborn, these things come up. One question that comes up a lot…Would we try again for a natural birth via VBAC or just have another C-section? I can’t really say now what we would do, as I have learned having a baby is humbling. It requires a lot of flexibility and the ability to cope with the unexpected. There were many variables that led up to our C-section. Would we make the same choices again? Probably not. Could we have altered the outcome? Maybe. I have decided to stop torturing myself about it and just be grateful for my healthy girl. The beautiful child playing in her Froggy Bouncer in front of me as I write this post. What I do know for sure is that I would still use many of the invaluable tools we picked up in our Bradley Class.

We took a class with Nicole Green of The Birth School. She is based in Irvine, CA and we found her on the internet. We decided to take the Bradley Method because my Sister and Brother-in-law recommended it to us after the birth of their daughter Madeleine. Our class met every Sunday afternoon for ten weeks in Nicole’s home with about 7-8 other couples of varying backgrounds and intentions. The couples were planning a variety of home births, birth center births and hospital births (like us). Nicole was a fantastic instructor. She was the perfect blend of open, sincere, funny and informed. I did not feel like she was dogmatic or overbearing ever. Maybe most importantly, she was somehow able to make John comfortable.  John is typically pretty anxious with new people and sharing personal space and details. Because the Bradley Method is hinged on the partner or husband coached birth, her ability to make the men comfortable is really critical. They have to buy in. John did and I believe it had a huge impact on our total experience and brought us much closer, especially when the going got tough.

Here are the things I felt were most important that we gained from taking the class and how they played a role in our birth. Our nurses (we met three shifts of nurses before we met Stella) all complimented us on our knowledge and preparation. One told us she wished more couples were like us.

1. An education on pregnancy and birth, the biological process and the stages of labor. Also the various procedures, medications and tools that would or could be introduced in birth and the argument for natural birth. We took the time in advance to evaluate the pros and cons/risks. We had to make a lot of choices during our birth. It was comforting to have already discussed these things with each other in a less dramatic space. We did not need a lengthy explanation and time to freak out, process and decide. We had a birth plan that our nurses taped to the wall for us at the hospital, it also included a list of requests in the event of a C-section. What a relief it was to have that ready to go.

2. Good pregnancy nutrition and exercise. Understanding why certain foods are beneficial and in what ways. I definitely ate better and more wisely because of this information. John cooks a lot of our meals and he prepared and encouraged me to eat the right foods. We learned exercises to prepare for birth, toning the muscles you will use, squats to prevent episiotomy, kegels for la la la, etc. John cheered me on.

3. Breastfeeding and the huge benefits to the baby. I don’t know if we would have fought so hard to breastfeed Stella if we had not been coached on this. I’m so glad we were.

4. Techniques for relieving pain. Though I did eventually give in to an epidural (which I regret now as I don’t feel it did much more than numb my body, probably due to my red hair). The pitocin contractions were really strong insane. I believe I lasted much longer without an epidural by using these techniques and at least kept her exposure to the drugs a little more limited.

5. Relaxation and Meditation. We practiced this a fair amount beforehand. This was critical for me in the end. During my labor I listened to a playlist of my music and tried to focus and stay relaxed. But, where it really came in handy was after my C-section. After they brought Stella to me to try and nurse, I was left in a recovery room all by myself for a really long time. One of my machines kept ringing loudly like a doorbell and it sounded like something was wrong. Nobody came to check on me or the machine, eventually I started to try to yell for help, but no one heard me, no one came for a long time. I was scared and I had to call on my meditation skills to really calm myself down and stay relaxed. I kept visualizing holding Stella and telling myself it would be just a little longer. I ultimately was in recovery for about four hours before I was reunited with my baby and John.

6. Managing stress and centering each week. It was a blessing that we took class on Sunday afternoons. It was such a nice way to start each week and put my focus back on the pregnancy. I had a really stressful and demanding job at this time and if I had not taken this class I think I would have let work override the much more important job I was doing, growing a healthy baby.

7. Husband as Coach. This is the best thing about the Bradley Method as far as I am concerned. John really understood how critical it was for him to be there for me, support me, relax me and show me unconditional love. We learned so many ways for him to do all this. I cannot imagine going through this experience without that level of devotion and involvement from him. Even later with breastfeeding, where I think we were put to an even more grueling, five-week test, John was there for me. I don’t know if he would have had the skills and shared commitment to breastfeeding had we not taken the class. The bond we formed gave us a strong foundation that prepared us for birth as a unified team. I think we are also better, calmer and more confident parents too.

The Bradley Method will definitely shape any future birth plans we may have.  Because of everything listed above I was able to remain fairly calm (minus the barfing) as they wheeled me to the operating room and throughout the surgery. We were prepared, even for this outcome. I am not going to pretend we were not disappointed to end up having a C-section birth with Stella, but we are still ultimately thrilled we had a healthy, beautiful baby and that we took the time to prepare for her arrival.

This Woman’s Work – My Breastfeeding Experience

No woman who sets out to breastfeed knows what her experience will be until she’s in it. I guess many of us may naively think it will somehow come naturally and easily and it will feel like heaven with a virtual angel at your breast. For a few this is how it goes. For some it’s a struggle with various challenges. And then there’s the women like me, where it’s an all out battle. My experience began with a string of failures and it was only with crazed tenacity that I triumphed.  I don’t know that I would even recommend my path to any other woman but this is how it went.

After my C-section, John went to the nursery with Stella and I went to recovery. I am so grateful that John was able to be with her there. Apparently, because she was over 9 pounds, hospital policy was that she needed a glucose test within an hour to make sure she did not have infant diabetes. This test required her to eat something. (We found out later that this is a new policy and that the Lactation Team is fighting hard against this practice). John insisted that they bring her to me to nurse and not give her any formula or sugar-water. This was in our birth plan. He had to battle for that one as the pediatrician did not want to allow her out of the nursery because she had a slight fever. So when the nurse brought her to me she told me that I needed to nurse her and quick, so she could run the test. Nothing was coming out of my breasts and I could not even sit up or anything. It was dreadful, the nurse told me that I had “bad” breasts and she kept squeezing them trying to get some colostrum out of me. It was painful and it just didn’t work. I was so frustrated, yet again, not the post birth bonding I had envisioned with my baby girl. After the C-section, I felt like my body failed her again. The nurse took Stella back to the nursery in a huff.

In postpartum I continued to try to nurse Stella. Apparently, it wasn’t going well because by day two, her weight dropped from 9 lbs 3 ounces to 8 lbs 2 ounces. This was a shock to us as we thought she was getting some milk. We were left to make a tough decision on whether we would give her some formula or continue trying. Because she dropped 11% everyone was concerned. (No one told me until I saw the most awesome lactation specialist 3 weeks later that the same bloating I experienced from all the IV fluids would also have affected Stella and her actual birth weight was probably more likely in the 8 lb range. Of course this makes so much sense, looking back at the pictures she is totally bloated just like Mama. She said it makes her crazy they do not take this into account and get Mothers all stressed out about the weight loss.) At the time,  we got slightly different advice from each nurse and each lactation specialist which made things even more confusing. We ultimately decided to give her some formula and keep trying to breastfeed.

At this point, we were introduced to the SNS (Supplemental Nursing System). I had never heard of anything like this or knew anyone who had used one. It is basically a way to feed her thru a small tube you slide into her mouth at the breast so she gets enough flow and milk. We also used breast shields to help her latch since mine were kinda mushy and she has a slightly recessed chin and was a lazy sucker. The deck was really stacked against us. I pumped and tried to feed her, but we supplemented with formula using the SNS, so she was still at my breast and hopefully stimulating my milk to come in. I had no idea it was going to be this hard. The SNS is a big help, but still a total pain. Keeping the small tube in place and getting her to draw from it was just a maddening pursuit.

Once we were home the drama continued. In the midst of all this, I got a fever because my C-section incision got inflamed. I had to take antibiotics and the incision was weeping liquid for a week or so. Breastfeeding continued to be a huge challenge and led to lots of bickering and tears. The hormone crash combined with extreme sleep deprivation and the infection made me a little nutty and grouchy and critical. My poor husband took the brunt of a lot of this.

We went to lactation every week and it took almost 4 weeks to get her back to her birth weight. The second week we rented the hospital grade pump and I kept increasing my pumping and changing up our nursing strategy. I also bought this hands-free pumping bra, which was a total LIFESAVER. Our pediatrician was still concerned. The third week our Lactation Consultant told me that she was out of ideas and suggested I see another Consultant to see if she had any new suggestions. My milk just wasn’t coming in enough to feed Stella. We would weigh her at the beginning of an appointment and again after I fed her and she would not take very many ounces. This was extremely discouraging. I left that appointment in tears and feeling like a huge failure. But I didn’t give up yet and John supported me. He bought me a scale so we could weigh her at home and not have to wait a week to get her weight and make sure she was gaining an ounce each day.

What finally did it was pumping every two hours for 5 days straight, with one 4 hour break at night. I fed her about every 3-4 hours. I would set an alarm on my cell phone to pump and/or take meds. It made me almost a lunatic, but my milk came in!!! I am very proud to say that I stuck with it all, the pumping, the nipple shields, the SNS and the supplementing. We also got a new Lactation Consultant who was just awesome and made me feel much more relaxed and supported. Relaxing is critical. We were able to lessen the supplementing little by little each day and by about five weeks, no more formula. I did not stop using the SNS and breast shields until she was about six weeks, from then on she was exclusively fed breast milk. I returned the hospital pump and went back to my Lansinoh Pump.

Both my pediatrician and the lactation specialists told me that most women would have given up. I am not sure where I got the determination, I think it’s because I did not get the birth I wanted with Stella and I was just too stubborn to give this up too. At almost four months, she is thriving and we have never had to give her any more formula. She is now 14 lbs 4 ounces and healthy and happy. Breastfeeding can still be tough. I feel awkward feeding her out and about, but it gets easier each time. Sometimes it’s annoying to be the one always on deck to get her fed, any time she is fussy on John’s watch he suggests to me that she is hungry. Oh and then there was the lovely bout with Mastitis. Despite all this, it’s very rewarding and I love being able to do this for her.