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In this episode we talk with Jessica King, an EBB Childbirth Class graduate, about their journey to parenthood and the importance of finding support networks before, during, and after pregnancy.  
 
Jessica grew up in Upstate New York and then moved to Boston to get her Master’s in architecture. While in Boston, she met her wife and fellow upstate New Yorker, Sarah. They started working on creating their family three years ago, and they welcomed their daughter this past November! Jessica and Sarah are graduates of the Evidence Based Birth® Childbirth Class with EBB Instructor, Anna Sutkowski. Their family currently lives in St. Louis with their two dogs.
 
Jessica and her wife, a surgical resident, decided to take the EBB Childbirth Class to ease their anxieties and demystify the process of labor and delivery.
 
In this podcast episode, Jessica opens up about her family’s struggles, setbacks, and joy in their journey from assisted reproduction to postpartum. Jessica also shares how she was able to use the skills and knowledge learned in the course to advocate for herself postpartum when she had difficulties with lactation and a postpartum mood disorder. We wrap up this episode by talking about how knowing you are not alone can make all the difference in the world.
 
Trigger Warning: assisted reproduction, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), pregnancy loss, bleeding in pregnancy, epidurals, preeclampsia, newborn jaundice, and postpartum mood disorders.

 

Resources

Resources:

Learn more about Anna Sutkoski and her EBB Childbirth Class here 
Transcript

Rebecca Dekker:

Hi, everyone. On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk with Jessica King, an EBB childbirth class graduate, about her and her wife’s journey to parenthood, navigating pregnancy, and having an amazing birth experience despite having back labor.

Welcome to the Evidence Based Birth® Podcast. My name is Rebecca Dekker, and I’m a nurse with my PhD and the founder of Evidence Based Birth®. Join me each week as we work together to get evidence-based information into the hands of families and professionals around the world. As a reminder, this information is not medical advice. See ebbirth.com/disclaimer for more details.

Hi, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode of the Evidence Based Birth® Podcast. My name is Rebecca Dekker, pronouns she/her, and I’ll be your host for today’s episode. Today, I’m so excited to welcome a graduate of our EBB childbirth class. Before we get started, I want to make you aware that we will be talking about assisted reproduction, pregnancy loss, bleeding in pregnancy, epidurals, and postpartum mood disorders. If there are any other detailed content or trigger warnings, we’ll post them in the description or show notes that go along with this episode.

And now I’d like to introduce our honored guest, Jessica King. Jessica grew up in Upstate New York and then moved to Boston to get her master’s in architecture. While in Boston, she met her wife and fellow Upstate New Yorker, Sarah. They started working on creating their family three years ago and welcomed their daughter, this past November. Jessica and Sarah are graduates of the Evidence Based Birth® childbirth class with EBB instructor, Anna Sutkowski. Their family currently lives in St. Louis with their two dogs.

Jessica, we’re so excited to have you share your birth story. Welcome to the Evidence Based Birth® Podcast.

Jessica King:

Thank you. Hi.

Rebecca Dekker:

Hi.

Jessica King:

It’s good to be here.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah, we’re so thrilled that you reached out, and you said you were willing to share your story. And I was wondering if you could start off by talking with our listeners a little bit about your journey to parenthood, because I know it was not a quick and easy journey.

Jessica King:

Yeah, it wasn’t. I think one of the first things, I guess, that I think about in our journey is that everyone, presumably, knows that as two women, we can’t make babies on our own. So there’s the assumption that we have to do something for assisted reproduction. But I think the assumption that we have more problems than just being two women is not existent. So that was kind of a thing, I guess. I have PCOS. My wife has one ovary. And so, even if we were in heterosexual relationships, we’d still be facing the need for assistance. And I think that just because we’re two women doesn’t negate that, if that makes sense, that’s sort of where I like to start because I think that there are so many ways for same-sex couples to create kids.

Some people do what we call the turkey baster, right? You get some sperm, throw it in there, and that would be like intracervical insemination, so ICI. That’s not an option really for us because our reproductive organs don’t function that well. So we had to start with IUI, which is intrauterine insemination, and that’s essentially where they take a catheter and put sperm up into the uterus. That was a process that took for… We did it for me. My wife is a resident, so we knew that one of us gets more sleep than the other, it’s me. And so we knew that we’d have to put me on a lot of drugs and all that kind of stuff to get the process rolling. So we did four rounds of IUI. And ultimately, I got pregnant once and then lost it very quickly. So that was really awful and challenging. And then, after that, we decided to go the IVF route.

Rebecca Dekker:

With the IUI, were you taking medications to also stimulate your ovaries so you would release-

Jessica King:

Yes.

Rebecca Dekker:

… an egg, at the time?

Jessica King:

Yeah. I forget exactly what the drugs are. The protocols change for everyone, right, because there are so many different reasons that people don’t ovulate.

Rebecca Dekker:

Right.

Jessica King:

But yeah, so I would take the… What is it? The ovulation strips, the test kit to figure out when I was ovulating. And so we tried to time it out with that and then use drugs. And there are so many ways to do it.

Rebecca Dekker:

And probably every clinic has a different protocol too.

Jessica King:

Yeah. And so, initially, they’re like, “Oh, you don’t need drugs. We’ll just time it out.” I’m like, “Okay.” So the first one, we didn’t use drugs. And then I was like… This is part where you have to advocate for yourself a lot, I think. And I have enough friends that have gone through this where they were like, “Oh, you should try this. You should try that.” And I also have a large community online of people who have gone through it that I was able to find. So using other people’s experiences was really helpful for me because then I was able to better advocate for myself with my physician. And so I was like, “That protocol didn’t work. Let’s try this.” And they said, “Oh, well, that isn’t the best for you, but we can do this.” So I was able to take that knowledge and then get more and more successful, if you will, with it, or at least seemingly more successful. I don’t know.

Rebecca Dekker:

You’re making some progress with…

Jessica King:

Yeah, I guess it feels like there’s some control over an uncontrollable situation when you’re able to say, “Well, I want to do this and let’s try that.” So even though it didn’t yield a successful pregnancy, it still felt like I was taking steps in the right direction. So we did three medicated IUIs. The second of the medicated was successful, and then we did a fourth just because why not and we had time to kill it basically before starting the IVF process. I was like, “Well, if we can get it done, then we don’t have to do IVF.” That’s saving a lot of money. It’s saving a lot of stress on our bodies and gets us more time, right? Like, we can kind of start this going, so yeah.

But ultimately we ended up doing IVF. What we did with IVF was reciprocal IVF, so I carried Sarah’s embryo and we both went through the retrieval process. So at this point, we now have a ton of embryos on ice because Sarah, with her one successful ovary, there is one existing ovary rather, was able to produce I think seven embryos. And then for me, and this part actually kind of gave me a little bit of solace when it came to the fact that I had had this lost pregnancy and that they retrieved close to 35 eggs from me. And then of that, only 14 of them sort of matured to the embryo stage. So it’s like my eggs are also just a little wonky. In addition to not coming out on a regular basis, they’re also maybe not the best. So it made me feel less like it was my fault.

Rebecca Dekker:

It explained what had happened and that there was probably nothing you could have done differently.

Jessica King:

Yeah. Exactly. It was like, “Okay, that’s just an unfortunate anomaly that happens. It’s not anything I was in control of.” So I mean, it still was awful and it still doesn’t feel great, but it does make me feel a little more at peace with what happened. I ended up getting ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, so we had to put my transfer on hold.

Rebecca Dekker:

Can you tell our audience a little bit about what that is for our listeners who aren’t familiar with it?

Jessica King:

Absolutely. So when you’re going through IVF, the goal is to have your ovaries create as many eggs as possible. And so they put you on a lot of drugs and all that fun stuff. I mean, I think it can happen to anybody, but I think for people with PCOS, it’s a little bit more common because we produced more eggs all the time, they just don’t necessarily reach maturity.

And so what happened is I had produced so many eggs and my estrogen levels got so high that my body thought I was pregnant. And so when they retrieved the eggs, there’s a lot of fluid that then goes to fill the void where the eggs were. And because your body thinks it’s pregnant, it holds onto that fluid. And so basically what happened was all the fluid and some of the blood that comes just because they go and they puncture your ovary to get the eggs out. And so there’s blood and fluid that typically doesn’t do much and your body sort of absorbs it and it’s fine. But because my body was holding onto all of this fluid, my abdomen got very swollen and I just had a bunch of free fluid hanging out in my abdomen for a very long time. It was really, really painful. I ended up having to go back to the hospital after the procedure.

Luckily, I didn’t need to have anything to drain it. It’s sort of they were just like, “You can do this yourself. You’re okay, but be very, very careful because you can torse an ovary. I think that I temporarily flipped my bowel because I had this moment of just excruciating pain that lasted for 10-ish minutes. And then my wife and my mother were both there and they were able to get me into a better position. And then things sort of calmed down. It was still really painful. It hurt a lot to move. I was out of pants with buttons for a solid five weeks.

Rebecca Dekker:

Right. Just waiting for it to go down on its own.

Jessica King:

Yeah. I mean, it’s hard to walk.

Rebecca Dekker:

Did your legs get swollen too, or just your abdomen?

Jessica King:

No, just my abdomen. My legs got very swollen during pregnancy, but during the first phase it was all abdominal swelling. It eventually went down and it was just… I, unfortunately, had to take time off of work and all that kind of stuff just because I couldn’t sit upright, but I also couldn’t lay flat. It was a lot.

Rebecca Dekker:

That’s a potential side effect of the egg stimulation and retrieval.

Jessica King:

It is. Yeah. It’s one of those things where you see all these ads that’s like, “Oh, everyone should be storing their eggs.” I’m like, “You say this as if it’s like, ‘oh, I’m going to blink and magically-‘.

Rebecca Dekker:

And first of all, it’s really expensive.

Jessica King:

Well, I mean, yes, that’s one part, is it’s very expensive.

Rebecca Dekker:

And the other part is that it’s an invasive procedure essentially.

Jessica King:

Yeah. And it’s not as simple as they make it out to be. And so I get a little huffy when I see these influencers online being like, “Oh, I had my eggs retrieved.” I’m like, “If you don’t have to, I wouldn’t.” I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. And I hope that that is something that people know when they go into the procedure ahead of time instead of-

Rebecca Dekker:

Right, that they’re given true in informed consent.

Jessica King:

Yeah. Yeah, because it is no small endeavor. Even for my wife, she was walking around with a giant ovary in her abdomen for a while because your ovaries swell up because they’re so filled with eggs. And so she’s a perfectly healthy, typical person, just sands an ovary. But even for her with just the one taking up all this space, it’s not comfortable, it’s not as though you can go and do all the things you want to do. You shouldn’t be doing yoga. You can’t go and move around quickly. You shouldn’t be lifting stuff. So it’s not a small feat by any means. And I feel like I’m sadly a big fan of The Bachelor, and so I see all these post Bachelor influencers, they’re like, “Oh, I’m freezing my eggs because I didn’t win.” It’s like, that’s not a good enough reason in my opinion. I mean, everybody is obviously free to do what they want and all that, but I do hope that there’s genuinely informed consent because it’s not small and it’s not easy.

Rebecca Dekker:

Mm-hmm. Yeah. So what happened next? Then they had to prepare your body to implant the embryo?

Jessica King:

So if I had been retrieve… Or transferring is what they call when they put the egg in for the embryo at that point. If I had been transferring my own embryo and I hadn’t had OHSS, I could have transferred probably five to seven days after the retrieval. And so that’s a fresh embryo transfer. Basically what happens is they retrieve the eggs, they inseminate them, and then they grow them out to a blastocyst stage of, I think, three, five or seven days depending on you and your history and all that kind of stuff. And then they grade them. Basically you want the best graded embryo to be the one that they put in you. So then they implant them, and then you take a bunch of hormones and hope for the best.

For me, because my body had to recover and because I wasn’t retrieving my own embryo or wasn’t receiving my own embryo, there was a bit more to it because the way your hormones work is different when it’s someone else’s, I guess, because you’re not quite in sync the way you’re supposed to be. So for me, I had to wait for my body to recover. Once that happened, I had to go on birth control, which I think is very counterintuitive, but they used birth control to regulate my cycle so they could then in put in the other hormones that were necessary.

So I got my cycle regulated and then started taking progesterone and estrogen. I think I had a heavy duty amoxicillin and maybe some steroids as well to kind of flush everything, make it as inhabitable as possible, and then have the embryo transferred, which is also it’s not an invasive procedure, but you do go in and it is in a sterile room, like a procedure room. And then they use a catheter and they place it up into the uterus, and then you keep taking meds and hope for the best. So I was doing, I think, an estrogen shot, or no, progesterone shot once a day and then estrogen pills three times a day.

And so that got interesting, I guess, because I had to travel for work. And see, generally they’re like, “If you’re pregnant, you kind of don’t want to say stuff until the first trimester’s over.” I don’t quite understand the rationale behind that, but that’s what I hear. So I’m on a business trip with my boss and I’m like, “Oh, I’m going to have to somehow explain that I need to be back in the hotel room at this specific time. I’m not drinking, and I’m going to ask for a well done steak because you shouldn’t eat rare meat.” I’m like-

Rebecca Dekker:

It’s basically acting like you’re pregnant.

Jessica King:

Yeah.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah, because you’re trying to get pregnant. Yeah.

Jessica King:

Exactly. And so I was like, “My boss isn’t an idiot, so I think she’s going to figure it out pretty quickly.” So I basically had to say to her, I was like, “Hey, I have to go shoot myself up in the butt before dinner tonight.” And she’s like, “Okay, we can talk about that more.” But I mean, she was great and really helpful and also a wonderful ally for me and a good mentor and person to talk to. So that worked out just fine. But there are definitely moments where it was like traveling home, I’m in the airport waiting for the handicapped bathroom so that I have enough space to-

Rebecca Dekker:

Do your injection.

Jessica King:

… administer the shot, and it’s just like, “Oh, the number of airport bathrooms that I’ve gone into and been shooting myself up in medication-“

Rebecca Dekker:

Eventually, they all seem to have those sharps containers, which makes you realize how many people have medical conditions.

Jessica King:

That’s the thing. You become very aware of all the things that other people need when you need them too. It’s like, “Oh, that’s why we have this.”

Rebecca Dekker:

Right.

Jessica King:

So, I did that. So I was on the meds for my first trimester and then I got to stop taking them, and it was great.

Rebecca Dekker:

So you got a positive pregnancy test then?

Jessica King:

I did, yes. So we got a positive pregnancy test on the first round of IVF. That was wonderful, but also terrifying. And actually because of having the loss, I was very on edge for most of my pregnancy. Before I went into the doctor to confirm the pregnancy, I had a subchorionic hematoma that ruptured, and so it was all of a sudden just a ton of blood rushing out of my body while I was at work.

Rebecca Dekker:

That would be scary, yeah.

Jessica King:

It was absolutely awful. I ran to the bathroom because you know what it feels like when you start essentially having your-

Rebecca Dekker:

A miscarriage.

Jessica King:

Yeah, you know what that feels like. I got in there and I was just like, “I’ve never lost that much blood from a period in my life.” Hopefully not in any other time either. Actually, I can’t think of another situation in which I’ve lost that much blood. But that was terrifying. There was tissue. It just kept flowing and flowing and flowing out. So I was convinced that I was miscarrying and I was just sobbing in the bathroom. HR came in, and our HR rep is fantastic too, so she was holding me as I was sobbing. And then kind of got myself cleaned up and rushed to the doctor for my already standing appointment, which is great. And so we got in there and my wife met me. I mean, I was just kind of a wreck and in shambles. We walk into the room and the ultrasound techs like, “Okay, so we’re confirming pregnancy.” And I was like, “No, I’m pretty sure. I just miscarried. See what’s up.”

And sure enough, there’s a little sack and a little heartbeat, and I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” It was genuine surprise, which I think it was horrible to go through it, but it was a really, really nice surprise to be like, “Oh, so why am I bleeding so profusely?” And she’s like, “Oh, here’s the hematoma, and that’s what happened,” and I’m like, “Oh, okay. Well, great.” But yeah, so we saw the little sack and little valves moving and we’re like, “Oh, look at that.” it was just incredible. It was amazing to see, especially because they show you a picture of the embryo before they implant it. So we saw our daughter at the very, very earliest stage, and then we get to see her as this tiny little sort of valved thing, I guess embryo still.

Rebecca Dekker:

You’re just seeing all these stages of development that you don’t normally get to see.

Jessica King:

Yeah, it’s so neat. And then I graduated, if you will, from our reproductive physician into the OB. They carried me through to the rest of the pregnancy. I wouldn’t say that I loved pregnancy. It was not my favorite. I had a lot of nausea in the first trimester. I had really low blood pressure for a lot of it. And then at the end, my legs got very, very swollen and I was just generally uncomfortable. But it’s just awesome to have our daughter. She’s so great that it sort of makes up for all the rest.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah.

Jessica King:

So, yeah.

Rebecca Dekker:

It was like, “It was worth it, but it wasn’t for me.”

Jessica King:

Oh, 100% worth it. I would do it again, but I also distinctly remember looking at Sarah while I was in labor and saying surrogate. So you go back and forth. But all those happy feelings that come after the baby arrives is just like everything else is sort of a wash.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. There’s a little bit of amnesia, I think, after they wake you up.

Jessica King:

100%. Yeah.

Rebecca Dekker:

I think that’s way of making sure we don’t always just stop at one.

Jessica King:

Yes.

Rebecca Dekker:

Some people do obviously, but not everybody. So tell me, how did you find out about Evidence Based Birth® and the EBB childbirth class?

Jessica King:

So I wanted to get a doula mainly because I know that my wife as a resident has very little time. And so I knew that I would need someone who had their wits about them and have the time to actually learn all the things in the room with me. Not that I don’t think my wife can do that. I just know that she doesn’t have time to be as prepared as I would want her to be.

So we started interviewing doulas. One of the doulas we interviewed is was our teacher, Anna. She didn’t have time for us in her schedule, but she said, “I do teach this class. It seems like something you two would be really interested in.” And so we’re like, “Yeah, that sounds great,” because I mean, I’m a big fan of evidence. My wife being in the medical field is also a pretty big fan of data-driven things. And so it just seems like a very good fit. And then I also, prior to being pregnant and trying to get pregnant, pregnancy was one of my biggest fears. And irrational pregnancy-

Rebecca Dekker:

Pregnancy or birth? Or both?

Jessica King:

Pregnancy.

Rebecca Dekker:

Pregnancy.

Jessica King:

I mean, all of the above.

Rebecca Dekker:

All of it.

Jessica King:

And it’s irrational, right? I’m married to a woman, we’ve been together for 10 years, and yet probably seven of the past 10 years I’ve been like, “Oh no, what if I get pregnant?” It’s like, “Well, that’s very unlikely to happen.”

Rebecca Dekker:

There’s a very deep fear, right?

Jessica King:

Yes. So I thought it would also just be very good for me to learn more about the process since I’ve sort of tried my best to ignore it for a very long time. And yeah, so we signed up for the class. I am a very firm believer that knowledge is power and the more you know, the better you can advocate for yourself because I always have this assumption, wrongly that everyone’s focusing on me, right? All my doctors are focusing solely on me all the time. And that’s just not true. They don’t have time and they know what they know, and they’re going to do their jobs and they’re going to do their jobs well. But if I can advocate for myself, that makes their job easier and it also makes it so that I’m more in control of what’s happening.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah, you’re safer if you know what’s going on.

Jessica King:

Exactly. And so I’m very much like I want to read and know everything that I possibly can so that I can maintain some semblance of control. I found that taking the Evidence Based Birth® class and then also listening to the podcast made me a much better advocate for myself when it came to how I want to go through the birthing process and things that I wanted during pregnancy, I guess, to better understand ahead of time so that I could then make decisions. I also read a book that was about pregnancy and evidence in that realm. And so that was also really useful to help me figure out how to sleep. I’m a back sleeper and you’re not supposed to sleep on your back, but evidence doesn’t quite support that as much anymore. And so it was like, those types of things make me much calmer. So the more I could learn about being pregnant, about giving birth, going through the process of labor, the happier I was as a woman who was carrying a child.

Rebecca Dekker:

What were some of the things you learned from the childbirth class that maybe struck you or that you weren’t aware of before or made you think differently?

Jessica King:

I think one of the biggest things was probably just the use of Pitocin and just the side effects of it and how it impacts the full process. Because I think I’m of the view that we overmedicate all the time in this country, and I think Pitocin is not necessarily different from that, right? Like we want to make things easier for people so we’re going to just speed things up by throwing this in without necessarily talking about what the other implications are of that. Like, what does it mean if I’m taking Pitocin? What does it do for the rest of my labor? How does that impact it? What happens if it’s not quite working? How is that going to make me feel? And all of that.

And then the other one is just the epidural. And so I don’t want anybody touching my back unless they’re giving me a massage, and I definitely don’t want them near it with a needle. And so I was very, very opposed to getting an epidural just solely based out of my own fear. But having learned more about them from the class and how it worked made me much calmer about it.

And so when I walked into pregnancy, or I guess when I walked into labor and throughout when I was making my plan, I was going into it with the idea that I do not want an epidural unless I absolutely have to get one. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with epidurals. It’s truly because I didn’t want a needle anywhere near my spine. So that was how I walked into it. But I think knowing more about it and also knowing about it before going into labor so that I could ask questions when I was at my doctor’s appointments and when I toured the facility, I was able to say, “Well, if I have an epidural, what happens? Am I able to still do this? Am I able to still do that? What are your protocols here?” They were able to answer them and then I kind of knew how I would want to work around what they do throughout the process. And so those were two big things.

And then also that you can eat. You can eat and drink. I love that. I love food. And granted, I wasn’t really wanting a lot of food, but I was in labor for 28 hours and I went into labor at nighttime so I’d been awake for, I’m not that good at math, but a really, really long time, probably close to 48 hours. I needed food, I needed sustenance. And so feeling comfortable and okay consuming what small amounts I did eat, it kept me calm. Because if all I hear from the provider is, “You shouldn’t eat because if we have to intubate you and you vomit, you could aspirate.” And it’s like, that’s [inaudible 00:28:36]. Let’s go with what the evidence shows and all that kind of stuff. So that was really helpful for me throughout the process.

Rebecca Dekker:

So it sounds like you armed yourself with the information, which then kind of diffused your fear so that you weren’t as afraid of the process.

Jessica King:

Yes. I’m very much one of the people who’s like, if I’m afraid of something, I want to know everything there is to know about it so that I can not be afraid of it anymore.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah, that’s awesome.

Jessica King:

That’s why I like true crime as much as I do.

Rebecca Dekker:

So you can avoid those serial killers.

Jessica King:

Yeah. Like one of my biggest fears is being almost killed by a serial killer. Because I don’t want to have to remember it. But if I can just avoid the thing altogether, let’s learn as much as we can.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah, I totally get that. I have this fear of being lied to. So one of the things I’ve been learning is body language and how to read people because I always feel like I’ve been susceptible or vulnerable to people, will take advantage of my nature to trust people. So I feel better now knowing some of the signs of deception and what to listen for and stuff. Not that I approach everyone with that belief, but yeah, I agree. Information can be power.

So towards the end of your pregnancy, you’re planning a birth with a doula and an OB in a hospital. Anything else you wanted on your birth plan? Were you hoping to avoid an epidural or just like, “Absolutely no epidural” was you in your plan?

Jessica King:

I was hoping to avoid one.

Rebecca Dekker:

Okay.

Jessica King:

But open to getting one if it was meeting was necessary.

Rebecca Dekker:

If it was needed. Okay.

Jessica King:

Yeah. And ultimately, my birth plan, I typed out this whole thing and then I ended up forgetting it. But yeah, it was ultimately I just don’t want many people in the room. I wanted sort of as calm of an environment as possible. I really wanted to get a room with a tub, which unfortunately they didn’t have any available. But I did have a shower, and that was great. And actually, in retrospect, I think a shower was better for me anyways just because my legs were so swollen that I don’t know that I would’ve been able to get out of a bathtub. And also being in back labor, I don’t know that I would’ve wanted to be leaning back on anything. But yeah, that was sort of it. I didn’t have too many plans. I was just like, “Please keep my mother and mother-in-law out.”

Rebecca Dekker:

You knew who you wanted there and you had an idea for the kinds of comfort tools you wanted to use?

Jessica King:

Yeah. And I wanted the ball. On our tour, I was able to see how capable their beds were. So I was like, “Oh, I could do a squatting labor if I wanted to in the bed, be supported in that.” So I felt that I had very good tools at my disposal, and so I just went in and was like, “All right, here we are. Let’s go.”

Rebecca Dekker:

So share your birth story with us. How did it begin?

Jessica King:

Well, it began Friday night at around 8:30. We were watching Austin Powers. So that movie will forever have a special place in my heart now, as if it didn’t before. Yeah, I just started feeling kind of crampy. I went to use the bathroom. I was like, “Okay, maybe this is it. Maybe it’s not. I’m not quite sure.” I was kind of looking for the mucus plug, hoping like, “Oh, okay, that will be my telltale sign” and didn’t see anything, but then just kept not feeling great. And I was like, “Okay, this must be what the waves are,” right? Because I remember asking my OB, I was like, “How am I going to know?” And she’s like, “You’ll know.” And I’m like, okay, but I feel like a kid when they’re like, “How do you know when you’re in love?” and it’s like, “Well, you just know.” And now on the other side of it, it’s like, “Yeah, you just know.” But there’s not really any way to necessarily describe it accurately ahead of time. You know when you’re in it.

And so I would have this cramping, and then it would go away. And then it would come back, and then it would go away and I was like, “Oh, I see what’s happening here.” And so I took a shower and just tried to get myself clean because I was like, “Okay, we’re doing this” and also just wanted to feel better. I laid down in bed with a heating pad and just tried to sleep as much as I could before they really ramped up. I texted our doula. I was like, “Hey, I’m starting to feel the waves. We should probably get going soon.” She’s like, “Okay, well time them out. When it’s closer together and all that, let me know.” And so it took probably about three hours, I’d say, before they really picked up to the point when they’re like, “You should go to the hospital now.” I think that was probably the quickest part of my labor. It was like the very beginning.

And so around 11:30 or so, we left the house, got to the hospital, got checked in, met the doula there. My mother-in-law made us a bunch of snacks and sandwiches, and I’m like, “Can we just get there, please?” I’m terrified I’m going to have this baby in the car, which I did not. And so we got there. I went into the intake room. They had me do a urine test I hadn’t done throughout my pregnancy other than at the very beginning. I think because I had dangerously low blood pressure the vast majority of my pregnancy, they weren’t really worried about preeclampsia. And then when my urine came back, it was filled with protein, and they’re like, “Oh, you have preeclampsia.” No one told me this until afterwards.

Rebecca Dekker:

Wow.

Jessica King:

So yeah, they came back and said the number, and I saw Sarah’s eyes get big. And I was like, “What’s up?” And she’s like, “You’re fine. Don’t worry about it.” I’m like, “Okay.” And so this is the part where having her with her medical knowledge and her knowing me and how neurotic I can get was very, very wonderful because she was like, “Okay, we don’t need to worry about it yet. They’ve got it under control. They’ll do all the things they need to do, and that’s fine.” Luckily, they didn’t keep me hooked up to a blood pressure monitor throughout it. They’re just kind of like, “Okay, we’ll check it every 30 or 40 minutes or something.” And so it didn’t keep me hooked up to the machines, which was really nice. So I was in the intake room, then I was able to get up and walk around and just go through some comfort movements and things like that.

Our doula was really great at massage therapy type things. I started having full body shaking with every wave. That started really early. Every time a nurse would see it happen, she’d be like, “Oh, you must be getting really close” and I’m like, “Great. That would be awesome.” And then 20 hours later, still no baby. So I had full body shaking with every single wave almost from the beginning.

The baby, she also wasn’t quite positioned right. And so we did some spinning baby work. They were able to get her into a better spot, which was really great. But yeah, so then I was just going through different comfort measures and stuff like that. I finally got into my labor and delivery room, and that’s where I was able to get in the shower and kind of move through the process of labor. It got to the point where my legs were super swollen so they wanted me to be able to lay down so they could try and get the fluid out of my legs, but I couldn’t lay down because I was in back labor and I was having these full body shakes, and I was just losing so much energy from them.

And so at that point, Sarah was very much, “Can you please just get the epidural?” And I was like, “I mean, maybe” and I started thinking about it. I looked to our doula and she was like, “How sure are you right now?” I was like, “Oh, like 60/40.” And she’s like, “Then wait.” She’s like, “Wait until you’re more like 90%.” I was like, “Okay, that’s a good plan” because I don’t want to jump to something I don’t want just because in this moment it feels a certain way.

Rebecca Dekker:

Right.

Jessica King:

And so we just kept working, walking back and forth through the room.

Rebecca Dekker:

And using a lot of movement and a lot of positioning?

Jessica King:

Yeah.

Rebecca Dekker:

Okay.

Jessica King:

Lots of that. I was on the ball bouncing. My whole mindset was that I was a cranberry and a bog just floating out in the water. Just that’s my happy place.

Rebecca Dekker:

I like that visualization. I’ve never thought of that one.

Jessica King:

Oh, I loved it. I loved just bouncing on that ball. But then it got to a point where I think it had been, oh golly, probably close to 18 hours or so of this full body shaking, back labor, and very swollen, painful legs. And then I had this one just really, really painful wave that came and I was just like, “Okay, I’m tapping out. Get me the epidural.”

Sarah and I had essentially a safe word because I wanted to make sure that I was very, very sure that I wanted them to put a needle in my spine because again, I’m terrified. And so I told Sarah, I was like, “If I say Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice,” that means bring them in. And because I was like, “Well, I should say it more than once.” I was going to say paralyzed because that was my biggest fear, was that I would be paralyzed from wherever down because they screwed up my spine. But paralyzed is too big of a word to say three times. And it was like when I was thinking about, it was around Halloween so I was like, “Oh, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice.” And so it got to that point and I looked at her and I was like, “All right, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice” and she’s like, “Okay, bring them in.” And everything happened.

So it was an attending and a resident that did the epidural, which if you can get a CRNA to do it, that would be my preference. That’s what we tried to get. But the one on call wasn’t available and was working with someone else. And so my epidural ended up being challenging because my body was so swollen. I asked the resident how many he’d done, he was like, “Oh, like maybe three or four.” I looked at my wife and she was like, “That means zero.” And she’s like, “Well, he is learning” and she’s a resident, so we kind of have a soft spot. I was like, “Okay, fine.” And so he couldn’t get it right. So then the attending came in and did it and then let the resident do the-

Rebecca Dekker:

The threading of it in or whatever?

Jessica King:

Yeah. I don’t quite know what they do, but he had him balance out the meds or set up the drip, whatever it was. They ended up giving me a bolus style epidural, which is not what I would recommend to a person who is in labor. And so basically, the bolus is a big influx of the medication every 20 minutes. And so you get this huge wave of, “Oh, okay, everything’s fine. I don’t feel anything” and then it peters out. And then you click your little button for more, so you get another bolus, and then that peters out. And then you get the influx from the catheter. And so you can end up overmedicating yourself inadvertently.

What ended up happening was that I couldn’t feel when I was having waves. So the only reason that I knew they were happening is because my whole body started shaking afterwards. So I didn’t have the sensation of it. I didn’t feel the cramping. But then my whole body would start shaking like I was freezing cold, and then it would stop. But that was always after. So it’s not as though I could time out or figure out when to push or anything like that.

So a nurse came in. My wife didn’t know this about epidurals and my doula didn’t. Typically when you get an epidural, they only allow a birthing partner there with you. It’s very rare, if ever, that they would allow a doula to stay in the room. So it’s usually the full nursing staff that’s with you and then the anesthesia team and your birth partner. So we had no idea that a bolus was an option for an epidural. And so when the nurse came in, she’s like, “Oh, he set this up as a bolus” and we’re like, “Why?” And she’s like, “Because he is a man.” Like, “Oh, great. That’s thrilling.” You’d think they would still know that that’s probably not the best way to do it. So we had to call him back in, and then he changed it. So he changed it to a steady drip.

Rebecca Dekker:

Like a small drip? So then-

Jessica King:

Yeah, which is better because then it’s not this huge like, “Oh, I don’t feel anything” to, “Now I feel everything.”

Jessica King:

It’s more of a nice toned down sort of thing.

Rebecca Dekker:

Right.

Jessica King:

And so that took a while to get figured out. I was on the bolus style for probably five hours, but it did allow me to get little three minute naps in here and there. So that was nice.

Rebecca Dekker:

You got some rest?

Jessica King:

Yeah, I got a little bit, but not much. And then it came time to push. And so I tried a squatting position. So even though I’d had the epidural, I was still able to use my legs and use my upper body to hold on because of the bed. Those beds are incredible. They have a very cool design. And so I tried that. I just didn’t have enough strength at that point to do it. So I ended up doing a side-lying position and which I mean worked out really nicely because I didn’t want to lay there in that sort of like… I forget the name for it, but that typical movie style where you’re just legs out-

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah, I think the medical term is lithotomy or… Yeah, there’s other names for it too.

Jessica King:

Yeah. And so I wasn’t wild about that. To me, the squatting physician seemed like most natural just when thinking about it. And then when I was doing it, I was like, “It doesn’t feel right. It’s not working for me.” Suddenly moved to the side-lying. That was great because it allowed me to have my legs in a position that I wanted them to be in to help my lower body relax those muscles. But then also had me laying down because I was exhausted. And so we pushed and pushed. And then at some point, as she was crowning, I was just like, “Oh no, I can’t push anymore because I’m going to tear.” And they’re like, “You need to push because she’s in distress.” I remember my wife looking at me being like, “You have to push.” I was like, “Oh, okay.” Because I mean, at this point, I’ve been awake for so long and been laboring for so long, I was totally just kind of out of it. I’m like, I’m going to do what I’m told, but I don’t know.

So yeah, then I gave that final push and out she came. I have to say, delivering the placenta was probably one of the greatest feelings in the world, because after you’ve pushed the baby out, it’s this like just nice, warm, soft thing. It’s like, “Oh, that’s great.” And so I did have some tearing. It wasn’t terrible. I think it was a second degree tear. Is that what they call it? As a degree?

Rebecca Dekker:

Mm-hmm.

Jessica King:

Yeah. So I had a second degree tear that they stitched up, and it was again, with a resident doing it. So it wasn’t as speedy as an attending, but it all worked out and just got to hang out with our baby. It was great. It’s just incredible that we saw her at all these stages. Now she’s this just absolutely adorable little girl, and yeah.

Rebecca Dekker:

How did it feel like going from pushing out a baby to all of a sudden having her on your chest?

Jessica King:

I was pretty in shock, I think. I remember Sarah was like, “Why aren’t you smiling?” And I was like, “I don’t really know what’s going on.” She’s like, “Aren’t you happy?” I’m like, “Yeah, I am,” but I was just so, so out of it. But then it was just like you have this tiny human on your chest and it was just incredible. I said hi, I introduced myself. I was amazed at how long her fingernails were. That was a very long fingernails. But I was just sort of filled with wonder and awe and just blown away at this little person that we’d been just anxiously waiting to meet. And yeah, it’s just incredible. She’s finally here and it was awesome. And then they took her away briefly to get her weight, her height, head circumference, all that kind of stuff, and then brought her right back. We just hung out for a while they waited for our recovery room. Yeah, it was just wild. It was just incredible. All the stuff leading up to it, it’s just so worth it because she’s just the greatest.

Rebecca Dekker:

What was your postpartum experience in the weeks following the birth?

Jessica King:

It was interesting. So she was born shortly after Thanksgiving. So there’s that month between Thanksgiving and Christmas when it’s like, “Okay, well, family wants to be here for Christmas. They also want to be around for the birth.” So then we ended up having both of our mothers living with us for a month. That was a lot. I think that’s too much help, quite honestly. But at the same time, I was like, “What are we going to do? Send them away and then bring them back a week later?” and it’s all that. So we had a ton of help, which ultimately ended up being great in certain capacities.

Sarah had to go back to work, not immediately. She got two weeks off, I think, actually. She fully took it, which was great. I ended up needing extra help though because… So one thing that I wish that I had known ahead of time, I guess, is that they tell you like, “Oh, your milk will come in and it will be right on time, and it will be plentiful, and it will be perfect, and it’s all your baby needs.” That’s not true. I’m trying to think of how to phrase it. So my milk ended up coming in late. And so, Ada wasn’t getting enough food, even though I was nursing for the appropriate amount of time, as if that means anything because you don’t know how much is actually coming out. So she just was not getting enough. She ended up losing a lot of weight. She got very jaundiced and was sick. And so we had to supplement with formula until my milk came in.

And then in addition to that, she just wasn’t great at latching. So that was another just not good experience. And so we had to work with a lactation consultant and all that kind of stuff. Eventually, she’s picked it up, she’s great. I am now an over producer, which has pros and cons. But during that time when she was just really sick, it was really useful to be able to have one of our mothers would stay up late and give her a bottle. So I still had to pump, but at least Sarah was able to get some sleep, which allowed me more time to rest during the day. And so having those people who can basically make it so that you can sleep as often as possible was really helpful.

And so now it took probably four weeks, I think, for her to learn to latch properly and for me to produce enough milk as much as she needed. I think she understood, but I remember stating to my mom and my mother-in-law, I was like, “If she doesn’t get this latching thing worked out, I’m done at six weeks,” mainly because I was like, the antibodies that are there, I wanted her to have as much as possible before her immune system kicked in a little bit more. And then that day she was like, “Oh, I know how to do this now. Oh, fantastic.”

So yeah, that was one part of it. And then I don’t think I had much of the baby blues where you have that sort of hormone shift within the first couple weeks, but I did find that my mood probably around two months became much more labile, right? So I didn’t feel terribly depressed, I didn’t feel terribly angry, I didn’t feel terribly happy or anything, but it was like, if I felt an emotion, it was way more than what it typically would be. It was very much a pendulum swinging back and forth.

Rebecca Dekker:

You’re having a lot of swings.

Jessica King:

Yeah, which is not common for me. I describe it as if my mood is walking down a sidewalk. My sidewalk is usually a pretty good-sized sidewalk, and it became a balance beam. And so that got dicey. And then Ada discovered her thumb, which came with the most obnoxious slurping sound I’ve ever heard in my entire life and I was like, “I need help because I should not be feeling this angry about the fact that my daughter discovered her thumb.”

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah, that didn’t really makes sense.

Jessica King:

My mom and my wife were like, “This is great developmental milestone. Why are you so upset?” I’m like, “If she slips that thumb near my head, another second, I’m going to explode.” And then I felt horrible for feeling that way, which is a very normal thing to feel, but also it doesn’t… Just because it’s normal and people experience these things doesn’t make it feel any better. So throughout my pregnancy and postpartum, I have stated I am concerned that I will have postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. And so I really wanted to be in front of that. So I made it very well known as like, “Parents, wife, siblings, friends, this is a concern of mine. I’m letting you all know so that you can keep an eye out, hold me accountable, and just make sure we’re all paying attention.” And so luckily, a safety net was like, “You need help. Go to the doctor.” And so I went to the doctor, got me on some meds. And now I’m back to my normal self, which is very nice. So.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah, it’s good to hear that you had help and support and knew that it was a possibility that you might need help. It’s so common.

Jessica King:

It really is. The number of my friends who’ve reached out to me and been like, “Hey, I just wanted to check in because I have this experience,” has been like, “Oh, I’m not alone in this.” I knew that I wasn’t ahead of time, but it’s also when you have people reaching out to say, “Hey, this was my experience. How are you?”, it’s really helpful to know that those people exist and that they’re there for you and that you aren’t alone. And that there’s not anything to be ashamed of either, because at least I think a lot of people feel ashamed about their mental health in general. It’s not something that we generally say like, “Oh, you have anxiety? Good for you,” or like, “You’re struggling with depression? Good for you.” Or, “You have bipolar? Great.” That’s not how we talk about mental health in this country. And so I think that just being open and honest is the best thing that we can do for ourselves and for everyone else. So yeah, I wanted to make sure that I was being very, very proactive. I don’t want to end up on Dateline, quite frankly.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. Well, I think your story is important, like the end part of this story, for a couple reasons. One is to be aware. If you have PCOS or gestational diabetes or any kind of metabolic syndrome, just to be aware that delayed milk production is common in people with those conditions. And then the other point is just being aware of your mental health and having a team support lined up and everybody knowing the warning signs. In the EBB Childbirth class, we try to include extra copies of the screening questionnaires and your workbook and set a reminder like, “Six weeks after your baby’s born, to start tracking this,” because that’s kind of like where you need to be alert that starting around then.

Jessica King:

Yeah. That questionnaire is really helpful because even I was just like, “Well, I don’t feel this way all the time. I’m fine.” It’s like, well, it’s not quite how that works. So it was very useful to have the screening test to be able to like, “Oh, well, in the past seven days have you felt this way?” Like, “Yes.” And so, yeah, very useful.

Rebecca Dekker:

So thank you so much, Jessica, for sharing your story and all your experiences and being so candid about everything. Do you have any final words of wisdom or advice for planning on entering pregnancy or parenthood soon?

Jessica King:

I just think the biggest pieces of advice that I would have is just try and build your support network as best as you can. I think that having a good support network for various things was what made the whole process manageable. I wouldn’t say it made it easy, but I had a very, very good community when I was trying to conceive, of women who had gone through assisted reproduction. Having that support group was really useful.

So whether it’s a Facebook group or an in-person group or something on Reddit, but like a place where you can talk about what you’re going through with other people is really, really useful because I think so much of the time we sort of live in this like, “Oh, well, I shouldn’t really be talking about this and it’s not comfortable and people don’t want to know that, so I’m just going to do it alone.” And it’s just like, don’t do that to yourself. There’s nothing shameful about not being able to get pregnant. There’s nothing shameful about having emotions about that or having emotions during or after pregnancy. It’s all part of the human experience. So just being honest with yourself and being honest with the people around you and building that support network as best you can is the best thing you can do, at least in my opinion.

Rebecca Dekker:

Thank you, Jessica. I think it’s important for our listeners to remember. There’s no reason to do it alone, and finding support is key, so reach out.

Jessica King:

Yeah, absolutely.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. Thank you Jessica for sharing your story. We appreciate having you on the podcast.

Jessica King:

Thanks for having me.

Rebecca Dekker:

This podcast episode was brought to you by the Evidence Based Birth® Childbirth class. This is Rebecca speaking. When I walked into the hospital to have my first baby, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Since then, I’ve met countless parents who felt that they too were unprepared for the birth process and navigating the healthcare system. The next time I had a baby, I learned that in order to have the most empowering birth possible, I needed to learn the evidence on childbirth practices.

We are now offering the Evidence Based Birth® Childbirth class totally online. In your class, you will work with an instructor who will skillfully mentor you and your partner in evidence-based care, comfort measures, and advocacy so that you can both embrace your birth and parenting experiences with courage and confidence. Get empowered with an interactive online childbirth class you and your partner will love. Visit evidencebasedbirth.com/childbirthclass to find your class now.

 

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