Little Ella Marie by Jesse Rankin
Jennifer and I are thrilled to announce the arrival of a new family member, Ella Marie. I have the short version and the long version of the story for those who would rather not read a long winded description of the birth. The short version is: Ella Marie Okonsky Rankin was born on Tuesday, November 4th at 12:39 PM. She is early (expected due date was December 31) so she is little and adorable. She weighs 3 pounds 10 ounces and is 16 inches long. She is in good health and she and Mama are doing well. She was born at St. Luke's Hospital here in San Francisco. We had planned to have a home birth but little Ella had other plans. After the birth Mama and daughter were transferred to UCSF to their Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. This is standard for premature baby's so not to worry. She will stay for about a month. Sometimes with baby's born this early they need help breathing but Ella is breathing fine on her own so Mama and Papa have been able to spend hours holding her.
On Monday night Jennifer and I attended our birth class held at our midwife's practice. We had a great instructor, Jane Austin, who also teaches pre and postnatal yoga classes. Jennifer was taking the "pre" courses and now will move on to the "post" classes. Luckily, Monday night's class was devoted to labor. Little did we know that 13 hours after leaving the class we would have a little one on the outside. That night Jennifer was having some pain in her lower abdomen and felt some contractions but just assumed they were Braxton-Hicks contractions (practice contractions for those unfamiliar). In retrospect, she may have just been hoping that was the case since we would have liked her to stay in a little longer (at the time - now we are thrilled she's here). We went to bed and Jennifer woke up at around 3am and was having contractions. I woke up around 5am and we talked about it and I gave her a massage to try and help. I got up and left for work and thought everything was normal.
Meanwhile the contractions continued and Jennifer grew concerned. Next thing I knew I get a phone call at 9:30am. Jennifer was upset and concerned and needed to go to the hospital. I left immediately. Ella wasn't even born yet and she's already getting me out of meetings. Good girl! I was very worried about Jennifer and baby at this point and literally ran out of the building and did my best impression of how I used to drive at 17. I'm a little slower but I am still able to maneuver quite well in traffic. I made it home safely and picked up Jennifer. She asked me to grab her a jacket on the way out and of course I grabbed the wrong one. :-) She was in some pain and concentrating on her breathing. I got a little impatient with the city traffic when Jennifer brought me back to reality and reminded that my role in labor is to support her and not ADD stress but REDUCE it. She said that my "words of advice" to the other vehicles on the road wasn't helping her and she had to waste precious breath on that reminder. Whoopsy. And by they way, she added, watch the bumps! We went to St. Luke's Hospital because it was the designated back up when we arranged the home birth. We got into the building and waited about 47 days for the elevator. We went to the third floor and were taken into labor and delivery room 3. They put Jennifer on the bed and it was approximately 10:30am. Things were a little slow from my perspective and the gravity of the situation wasn't readily apparent yet. Not everyone knew yet that this was early and an unexpected labor. That changed quickly and they brought in the monitor to check Ella's heart-rate. Now, we had been going to a midwife and Jennifer had not been hooked up to any equipment to this point except for a "quick" ultrasound at 16 weeks. When they first put the monitor on there was not a heartbeat but that was because they had to find the right spot. Not knowing this, I was a bit freaked. Luckily they found the heartbeat but it was fluctuating a lot due to the contractions. At 32 weeks the little ones aren't as well suited to deal with the stress of labor. They gave Jennifer some magnesium sulfate to try and stop the contractions.
Let me just say that Jennifer and I made decisions about how we wanted her pregnancy to proceed as well as how we will proceed with Ella Marie's healthcare. We make no judgments on decisions taken by anyone else, just do what we think is best. I say that because this is a sensitive topic. One reason we wanted a home birth is because we wanted to avoid medical interventions if possible and once in a hospital setting, in a tense time you have a knowledge gap, even when Mama is a health professional. It's the classic if I knew 2 days ago what I know now I think we would have avoided the magnesium sulfate. It hasn't proven to be effective at stopping labor and Ella proved that. What's done is done but it's overwhelming when you have a room full of people telling you what should be done. Which led us to a moment I'll always remember.
They had already tried the magnesium sulfate and were giving antibiotics and some steroids to help Ella's lungs when the doctor mentioned to Jennifer that she would like to give her something else, perhaps for the pain. Jennifer very clearly stated that she didn't "want any more crap put into her body," to which the doctor responded, "it's not crap." Good stuff. No more crap added. Jennifer went from 3-cm dilated at approximately 11am to 10cm dilated at 12pm. The most difficult part from the time we arrived until 12 was that the labor was being treated as a problem to be stopped, not a birth to embrace. That is not stated to point fingers, just describe what was going through my mind. It was between 11:30 and 12:00 where it just became "we're going to be parents today." Game on.
After that I wasn't worried that something was wrong with Jennifer and baby although it's very difficult to watch someone you love in pain. Don't like it one bit. In the meantime we had put in a call to our midwife, Maria Iorillo, and St. Luke's had a midwife, Emily, on duty as well as a pediatrician named Karen. These 3 women were amazing and kept the mood positive, explained things and were who provided a profound sense of calm. Once it was determined Jennifer was 10cm dilated they decided to move her to the OR because Ella was a premie but they also broke out the C-section consent form. That's where it was great having Maria who we had spent time with discussing all these things and we all knew that there was no need for that. Ella made the decision for everyone.
They didn't have time to move Mama and Ella to OR. At this point there was a tremendous amount of activity in the room with machines, doctors, nurses, midwives, Mama and Papa. Someone directed me to the right side of the bed. I went over but realized my view was terrible and I was restricted from being close to Jennifer. Maria said to come back over to see the baby be delivered. As I was making my way around the bed through the maze of people and equipment, Jennifer was saying "I feel a lot of pressure, I feel a lot of pressure." Boy did she. As I got to the left corner of the bed, Jennifer's waters burst. It was projectile and doused Maria and Emily. I thought, "Whoa, I'm not sure if that's something you see everyday." 2 minutes later Ella's little head was crowning and she entered the world.
She was brought right over to a little bassinet to be checked out by Karen and me. Karen explained what she was doing and I chatted with Ella and we looked into each other's eyes. I then cut the umbilical cord. After a couple of minutes I went to check on Mama and said, "ok, let's deliver that placenta!" Papa too late once again. Already done said Mama. Karen brought Ella over to Mama for a kiss before taking her upstairs to wait for the transfer over to UCSF (Univ. California San Francisco). After about 20 minutes Jennifer was asking when she could go up and see Ella. She was told she needed to rest and then they would bring her up in a wheel chair. She hurried that along and pushed the chair aside. After some quality time with Ella the transfer team showed up and brought Ella to UCSF.
Jennifer was transferred at 5pm as I went home to collect clothes and vote. I heard it was a big day for some other reasons. We've now been spending all our time at UCSF with little Ella Marie. She's on the 15th floor and has an incredible view of San Francisco, the Golden Gate bridge and beyond. I know other parents already know and it's a cliche, but all we want to do is sit and hold Ella. We're transfixed and love this little person in a way I can't articulate. She's too small to hug her the way I'd like to but some gentle nose petting is quite fun. To put the feeling into an easily watched, pop culture reference I point you to this link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nqP3p5IBx8) and advise you to watch from minute marker 7:12 to 8:18. For those that already know the reference, it is when Ed is handed Nathan Jr. (so they think) by one H-I McDunnough. Her spontaneous teary announcement of her affection for this child is how it feels.
Lastly, we've also been thinking that she took us too literally when we read to her in utero. The book we would read to her is "Oh, Baby, the Places You'll Go!" adapted from the works of Dr. Suess. The last page of reads:
You'll find that this world's
a great place to begin,
but it could use some help–
which is where you come in.
So now, as my voice
burble-urps in your ear–
with a bump-thumpy sound
that is not very clear–
the words I am saying
you hear in your heart,
and know that I wish you
the very best start.
It's a scrumptulous world
and it's ready to greet you.
And as for myself...
I can't wait to meet you!
It seems she was ready to meet us too and decided to come out. She's her mother's little girl.
But, she is also her own strong little self. We later found out that the reason for the pre term labor was the bodies anticipation of a placental abruption. Once the placenta was delivered, a tear was noticed, indicating its beginning of coming away from the uterine wall. Placental abruption is a complication wherein the placental lining has separated from the uterus. It is the most common cause of late pregnancy bleeding. In humans, it refers to the abnormal separation after 20 weeks of gestation and prior to birth. It occurs in 1% of pregnancies world wide with a fetal mortality rate of 20-40% depending on the degree of separation. Placental abruption is also a significant contributor to maternal mortality.
It is our belief that the body is so efficient, as is little Ella, that the body and her knew that they needed to exit and enter the world before the abruption happened. And thankfully all that 'crappy' magnesium sulfate did not work to stop the labor or we would have been in real danger.
Ella was discharged from the NICU on December 3rd, weighing in at 4 lbs. 14 oz.