Fort Riley's IACH: A Birth Story

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The moments after I found out I was pregnant were a tornado of emotions. It was 6 am on a Tuesday. My husband was at PT, and I woke up that morning with a strange psychic intuition telling me I should take a pregnancy test. I did. It was positive. My first thought was, “Oh my God, my parents are going to kill me.” Then I quickly realized, “Hold up — I’m 29! And married! We’re both employed! And we’ve been trying to get pregnant!”

Then the panic set in. What happens next? I was a pro at NOT getting pregnant, but I had no idea how to BE pregnant. That’s where the Army and its medical network came to my rescue. Thankfully, they handled everything.

I am very lucky to be someone who rarely gets sick and has no chronic medical issues. To this day I’m not even entirely sure who my primary care physician is. But since we live on post within spitting distance of the Irwin Army Community Hospital (IACH) parking lot, it seemed like an obvious choice to utilize the medical facilities on Fort Riley.

So, I called the main appointment line (785-239-DOCS) and followed the prompts for the OB/GYN. I told the nurse who answered the phone that I’d taken a positive pregnancy test. She told me to go into the hospital’s lab at my convenience for a urine test. I did, and a day later I got a phone call from another nurse confirming my pregnancy. Five weeks to be exact.

So. Many. Appointments.

I didn’t see a doctor throughout my entire pregnancy. Thankfully because of my age and medical history, I was deemed a low-risk pregnancy, so I only needed to see a midwife. My first appointment was at 10 weeks, which was when my husband and I first got to see the tiny embryo speck on screen. Everything looked good, so I retained my “low risk” label.

From then on, my appointments were short and sweet. I’d weigh in, answer the same “Do you feel safe at home?” “Do you think about hurting yourself?” questions and have a brief interaction with the midwife. She’d check the baby’s heartbeat, answer any questions I had, and send me on my way.

Right and Up tip: Be sure to make your next appointment before you leave your current one! Don’t be like me and assume someone is going to contact you. I didn’t see my midwife for a solid six weeks in the second trimester because I was waiting for someone to call me and make the next appointment. Nothing gets your mother more fired up when you tell her “I don’t know” when she asks when is your next appointment. The typical low-risk pregnancy will include appointments about every three weeks until later in the third trimester, when they're once a week.

What Will Tricare Cover?

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Tricare will cover genetic testing, and I opted to take advantage of it. Shortly after my 10-week appointment I returned to the lab for some blood tests. They took a few vials of blood and tested it for genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis. My thought was: If something is wrong, it’s better to know early so we can prepare ourselves. Thankfully, everything came back negative.

At 20 weeks I had my anatomy scan in the radiology department of the hospital. I had to slam 28oz of water an hour before my appointment and wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom. Supposedly it's for good reason — your bladder is full and the ultrasound tech can better see the baby. But, considering the advancements, in technology, I think they had me do it just to be mean. “Ha ha! We made the pregnant lady almost pee her pants in public!”

However, it was totally worth it. My husband was able to slip out of work and join me for the appointment to watch our baby squirm around. We opted to not know the gender, so we were asked to look away from the screen occasionally so we wouldn’t see anything that would give away the surprise. They did both a traditional ultrasound as well as the cool 3D scans like the one pictured above.

Tricare will pay for all your ultrasounds, except ones that are only performed to reveal the gender. Typically the gender can be detected at the 20-week anatomy scan. But since our kid was positioned in a way that you couldn’t see his or her junk, we wouldn’t have learned the sex even if we wanted to. If we wanted an additional scan to tell us the sex, we would have had to pay out-of-pocket.

About a week after the anatomy scan, I got a call from a nurse telling me this direct quote: “There is a problem with your baby.” Not even kidding. I’ll never forget those words. But, just before the impending hysterical meltdown in the middle of my office started, she said, “It’s not a huge concern, but one kidney is slightly bigger than the other. We need you to see a specialist in Topeka.” Christ, lady. If I have one criticism of IACH, it’s that the nurses’ bedside manner could use some improvement!

Despite a billing issue that tried to tell me otherwise, this visit was 100 percent covered by Tricare. The specialist in Topeka was incredibly kind and thorough, and he addressed every single concern I had. To be honest, the nurses at Fort Riley had me more worried than I should have been. The doctor in Topeka made it seem like it was no big deal and the enlargement would probably correct itself. He asked to see me again at around 30 weeks. I did, and sure enough, the baby’s kidneys were the same size and functioning normally.

Learning About Childbirth

My husband and I signed up for the childbirth classes at the hospital. We opted for the three, two-hour classes every Wednesday evening for three consecutive weeks. They were extremely helpful and the nurse who ran them was entertaining. Plus, they had snacks! Every pregnant lady had her husband with her. It’s not a requirement of course, but I highly recommend that partners go along. When pre-labor goes down, it’s nice having your partner (or whoever will be with you if the other parent is away) know what is happening. And don't worry—they're not those corny Lamaze classes we saw in 1990s sitcoms where the moms have to practice breathing.

I opted to breastfeed, so the breastfeeding class was absolutely vital. IACH lactation consultant, Sondra Redvay, is a friggin 'God-send. She’s a breastfeeding guru. She leads the class and will cover absolutely everything you need to know, from proper latching to what nursing moms need to eat. For her, it’s personal. She shared how trying to breastfeed her baby was a miserable and painful experience, so she vowed to never let a woman go through what she did. I have her phone number stored on my phone and have used it several times. She’s there to help you throughout your breastfeeding journey.

The Final Countdown

In the final 10 weeks of pregnancy, I received a TDap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccine and flu shot. These vaccines will protect the baby for the first three months of his or her life, so they’re extremely important. I also received my in-processing paperwork and parking pass to park in the new mom/baby spots at the hospital.

Then, we waited. The childbirth classes provided a ton of information about pre-labor signs and when you should drive to the hospital. My husband and I felt confident that we were ready.

Three days before my due date, contractions started fast and furiously. Contractions were three minutes apart, so at 9am I called the labor and delivery number. Since they were slow, they said I could come in to be checked. I got right into the examination room where I was told I was only 3 centimeters dilated. They won’t admit you until you’re at least 5 centimeters. I was sent home and told to power through contractions until they were “unbearable.”

I like to think I have a high pain threshold, but I was a total wimp with these contractions. You know that scene in Taken when Liam Neeson shoves roofing nails in the bad dude’s knees and hooks them up to a car battery to electrocute him? Imagine that pain, but in your lower back. Then add in the crippling fear that in a matter of hours you’ll be pushing a human through your lady bits.

By 7pm, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went back to labor and delivery. Somehow, I was barely 4 cm dilated. I think they took pity on me because they admitted me and hooked me up to an IV drip full of drugs that were supposed to take the edge off the pain and help me relax. It did not. However, maybe it provided a placebo effect because by 11pm I was 6cm and I was given the green light to get the sweet, sweet epidural.

Let's Have This Baby

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The 11pm check up was the first time I saw a doctor. He was awesome and incredibly calming. I was able to get some rest thanks to the glorious epidural, despite the nurse coming in every hour or so to check my and the baby’s vitals. At around 5:45am, I was 10cm dilated and it was go time.

At 6:22am, our son Gavin was born. Hearing the doctor proclaim “It’s a boy!” was something I’ll never forget. Neither is the look on my husband’s face when he saw Gavin for the first time.

Why Army Hospitals Are Great

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Granted I don’t have anything to compare it to since I’ve only had the one baby, but my experience at IACH was fantastic. IACH prides itself on being a hospital that has a remarkably low C-Section rate. They will only perform C-Sections if they absolutely have to. It has been reported that doctors in civilian hospitals will perform C-Sections for any number of reasons—like wanting to get a woman’s labor over with faster so doctors can end their shift and head home on time.

Plus, you can opt to have a midwife deliver your baby. Since I went into labor at night, the midwife I saw throughout my pregnancy wasn’t there. But, honestly, I felt more comfortable with a doctor since there is only so much a midwife can do if something goes wrong. But, the fact that a midwife is available is a huge plus for women who opt to use one. According to the childbirth class, military hospitals, especially IACH, are extremely supportive of using natural delivery methods and not rushing the delivery process.

IACH is also tremendously supportive of mothers who want to breastfeed. If you let the nurses know that’s your goal, they will make sure you’re successful. They will come in your room every two hours to remind you to breastfeed, and will guide you through the process. They’re especially helpful when you buzz the nurse desk at 2am sobbing hysterically and repeating, “I can’t do it! He won’t latch!” No way I was the first person to do that, and I’m sure I wasn’t the last.

I had the same nurse for the two days while I was in the recovery room. She was extremely sweet and exceptional with Gavin. She would even take him to the nursery and rock him to sleep so I could get some uninterrupted rest. I asked if she could come home with us and do the same there, but apparently that’s not allowed and it was weird of me to ask. Whatever. It was worth a shot.

After his initial check up with a pediatrician two days after going home, Gavin had all his checkups (2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 9 months and 12 months) performed by his primary care provider—a nurse practitioner. Luckily Gavin doesn’t have any health concerns, so we haven’t needed to see a doctor or specialist.

At 8 week postpartum I saw an OB/GYN who checked how I was healing. I also haven’t had any issues, and haven’t seen a doctor since.

Would I Do It Again?

Gavin is now three years old, and as I reflect on how things went, I couldn’t be happier. I successfully met my goal of breastfeeding for a year, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the IACH nurses and the lactation consultant. And better yet, the entire pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal care didn't cost us a penny. Considering the average cost of delivering a baby without complications is $9,700, that’s substantial.

Fort Riley’s old hospital where I had my baby was nice, but the new hospital is a significant upgrade. If the services, the personnel and the doctors’ expertise aren’t enough to convince you to have a baby at IACH, maybe the sweet new facility will.

Having a baby is an incredibly stressful time. But the Army and Tricare take a lot of the pressure off. Now, if only they could send one of their nurses home with you for, like, three months, then they’ll really be something special!

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about the author

Rachel is the Editor of Right and Up, an Auburn grad (War Damn Eagle!) and holds a degree in journalism. While working as a sports writer covering the Tigers, she met a cute, tall officer stationed at Fort Benning. A few margaritas, conversations about why a no-huddle offense is superior and 18 months later, they got married. They have PCS'd to Fort Huachuca, Fort Riley and are now in Washington, DC. They have a ridiculously adorable son named Gavin and two furry children, Jeter and Lilly.