[Note: I started writing this in the hospital, but didn’t finish until a couple of days ago. Sorry if the chronology is wonky.]
We have a new family member, and he’s pretty amazing. The Critter was born at 12:01 AM on Monday, August 20th, 2007. He was 7 pounds, 12 ounces and 20 inches long. He’s beautiful and has big, round noggin. And yes, we’ve saddled the little guy with four names. He’ll grow into them, I promise. His initials are a combination of my initials and Critter Papa’s.
He’s amazing. He’s sleeping right now – that’s a pretty popular activity with him – and he’s been feeding really well too. He just passed his hearing test and he passed some other test that resulted in a sticker that says “Good Job!” on his ID card. Awesome.
The full story of his birth is a long one. The good news is that everything is fine with all of us and the future looks rosy for all. The short version is that while the plan was to have no interventions or pain medication, we ended up having a goodly many interventions, culminating with a c-section birth. The long version is below.
Last Monday, we finally had our tour of the hospital, and Monday night, I had a LOT of Braxton-Hicks contractions. So many so that I thought we might be turning around and heading back to the hospital! I actually DROVE to a big work meeting on Tuesday so that I could get home quickly, if need be. Everything was fine, but I decided to start working from home on Wednesday. By that point, I had decided that I was ready to have the baby. Thursday was 39 weeks and I checked out at 50% effaced and 1 cm dilated. Friday evening at prenatal yoga, the class sang a loud OM for me to welcome the baby out into the world. Saturday morning, I started having a LOT of Braxton-Hicks contractions, and they ended up lasting all day. Here’s what we accomplished on Saturday: got the car’s emissions test done, stopped by the farmers’ market, picked up blinds, curtains and shelving at Home Depot (and lost my mucous plug there – yummy!), picked up my sister Melisa from the airport, got the nursery glider delivered, had an infant CPR certification class, went for a walk and had a spicy Thai dinner. Whew! It was a very active day – no wonder I was having so many contractions! But they were never very regular and they never got more intense.
However, on Sunday, at 5 AM, I woke up and thought my water had broken (it hadn’t, as it turned out) and knew that we were in business. We started timing contractions, and from 5 AM on, they did get more regular and more intense. Dave, of course, did NOT go on his 20-mile run Sunday morning. We had a different endurance event that we’d do that day. I called the Doula that morning around 7:30 and we talked for just a little bit, given how early it was and how long it could take me to progress. I had called the doctor when I thought my water had broken, and didn’t call her back until 11:00ish when the contractions were about 5 minutes apart and lasting about a minute each. I wasn’t super comfortable, but it wasn’t really difficult yet. Of course, not having been through labor before, I didn’t know how intense everything would get before it was over. We went in to the hospital around noon, bags in hand and really excited.
In triage, I was hooked up to the monitor (I asked for intermittent monitoring and a hep-lock rather than a permanent IV) and, on the first contraction, the Critter’s heart rate plummeted. This is called a “variable.” It didn’t happen with every contraction, but because they caught it, the doctor essentially told us that we wouldn’t be leaving the hospital without a baby. Oh my! I was 2 cm and about 80% effaced at that point, so we knew we had a ways to go. The doula was already in our L&D room when we arrived, and she had set up with music, birthing balls of various sizes, and all kinds of helpful tricks and tools. We settled in and were all pretty content. Melisa got some lunch for everyone (except me, although I nibbled on Melisa and Dave’s lunches a bit).
For the next three hours, labor was pretty easy, though contractions were getting stronger. Dave and I went for a walk around the L&D ward and we enjoyed sitting on the birthing balls. When the doctor checked me around 3 PM, she found that I hadn’t progressed and was still at 2 cm dilated. Again, because of the variable decels in the baby’s heart rate, there was a need for things to progress. So the doctor recommended pitocin (a synthetic oxytocin), which causes contractions. Dave and I talked about it and decided to go ahead with it. I was really nervous, because I had learned that pitocin brings on stronger contractions than those that occur naturally. The doctor’s response was that contractions are contractions and that they’re going to be strong to get the job done.
I learned that pitocin works. Over the next four hours, and as the pitocin dose continued to increase, the contractions got stronger and stronger and more and more difficult to deal with. It was hard. And it hurt. I knew that Dave, Melisa and Jen the Doula were all there, helping me along and saying encouraging things to me, I just went deeper and deeper into my little tunnel as the contractions intensified. I would close my eyes with every one, and I needed to hold onto someone with my right hand, no matter what. My breathing went from deep inhalations and exhalations, to a faster, low humming/moaning, to higher pitched noises. I had decided some time ago to think “open” while inhaling and “out” while exhaling. By the time they got really strong, I had to rely on Dave to remind me of that and say it for me. It may sound silly, but it was a way of reminding myself of why I was going through all of that!
I had to keep getting up and going to the bathroom, which required moving at least 10 feet, unhooking from the monitors and negotiating the IV pole. Dave was a big help here. I think it was in the bathroom that I let myself feel most vulnerable and told Dave of my fears. Also, I kept passing bloody show, which was icky, but let me know that I was accomplishing something. Yummy.
Around 6 PM, my doctor checked me and told me that I was at 6 cm dilated and 100% effaced. Yippie! However, around 7 PM, I started saying that I wasn’t sure that I could do it. Since I didn’t know how much longer it would take, and since I was already having so much difficulty, I brought up having an epidural. This was NOT in my original plan, but I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able to handle the coming contractions. I didn’t know how far I had progressed, and was scared that transition was going to be much, MUCH worse that what I had already been through, that I decided to do it. I was disappointed with myself, but everyone reassured me that I was doing what I needed to do.
One some forums that I frequent, there had been a discussion about whether doing a marathon or giving birth was more difficult, and the overall conclusion was that childbirth was more challenging. The comment that has stood out in my mind for some time now is that giving birth is like doing mile 25 of a marathon over and over and over again, and the finish line keeps moving. I did indeed find that to be true. Wow.
I love my anesthesiologist. He is a lovely man. I have no idea who he was, but he was terrific. I had about three hard contractions while he was putting the shunt into my spine, and it was really, REALLY difficult to make myself hold still while he did it. Once it was in, I felt relief pretty quickly. I remember thinking, “oh, this is how most women get through this!” Everyone told me to rest, and when the doctor checked me (and found me still at 7 cm), I knew I had made the right decision to have the epidural. She suggested that since I could now relax, things might speed up a bit. I remember telling silly pirate jokes. What I don’t recall very clearly is that both my blood pressure and Noah’s heart rate dropped pretty significantly. I’m glad I didn’t realize what all was going on at the time, or I may have freaked out a bit. I do recall noticing doctors and nurses moving and speaking quickly, but I didn’t understand what was going on.
Around 11 PM, the doctor checked me again, and reported that I was STILL at 7 cm, and that my cervix was beginning to thicken again. Well, that’s the opposite of what we wanted. I knew what was coming next. Since we had been concerned about the Critter’s heart rate since I was admitted to the hospital, and since I hadn’t progressed, I knew that the step that we’d have to take would be a c-section. I understood, and Dave and I agreed to it, but I was disappointed and somewhat scared. We waited about half an hour before the on-call anesthesiologist would arrive to turn up my epidural. Dave and I spent time wondering what the baby’s birthday would be: the 19th (which was the due date we calculated once we found out I was pregnant) or the 20th. Jen the Doula was terrific, and gave us a good bit of information about c-sections, anesthesia and how we were making the right choice to do this.
Anesthesiologist #2 was not my favorite guy. I would ask him serious questions, and he made jokes. Bah. He turned up the epidural, Dave put on his paper scrubs (they don’t let you wear the cloth scrubs, since they don’t want them stolen) and we kissed goodbye. He couldn’t be with me in the OR while I was being prepped and draped. But Jen the Doula, since she’s hospital staff, was allowed in, and I’m oh so grateful. She was there to focus my attention on happier things while I was given a spinal block. I could still feel pinpricks after the epidural was turned up, so they had to do a spinal. Dave later told me that he could hear the anesthesiologist through the door say “This epidural is NOT working!” and that was a frightening moment. I have to confess that it’s possible that I was hypersensitive to the pinpricks – a friend had to have an emergency c-section, and her drugs weren’t working properly, and she could feel the medical team cutting into her. And I was terrified of that happening. Jen the Doula asked me about our wedding and our honeymoon while they were doing the spinal – a procedure that I generally understand, but haven’t yet read all of the details about – and that helped enormously.
Dave was finally allowed in, and he did have his camera with him. He was terrific, and we talked about our trip to South Africa and how funny warthogs are while the incisions were being made. I didn’t want to hear the details of what was happening, given my pre-med past life and general curiosity about medical procedures. Much better not to listen to the doctors talk about cutting me open and what they may be finding. That’s fodder for lots of obsessive worries, and I know better than that. Finally, the doctors told Dave he could have a look and take a picture. I’ll never forget his face when Dave saw the Critter for the first time. Amazing. Indescribable, but I’ll hold onto that forever. He likes to tell people that he had no idea he could take a picture at that point, and didn’t even have the camera on. He got his picture of the baby’s head emerging (including the gaping abdominal wound in me), and then another when the Critter was fully out. Wow.
Since I couldn’t see what was going on, I had to rely on listening intently. I could hear suction (c-section babies have lots of fluid in their lungs) and I finally heard him cry. Wow. (We hear him crying all the time now, so…) Dave took more pictures of him being weighed (7 pounds, 12 ounces) and measured (20 inches) and we heard him exercise those lungs. Powerful lungs! It took a little while for the doctors to sew me up (during which I had to suppress a powerful urge to cough) and then I was allowed to hold the Critter while we were wheeled back to my L&D room. Melisa and Dave stood with the baby while the pediatrician examined him and he got poked, prodded and cleaned. I was across the room in a fog, wondering who was going to stop that baby from crying so much. And I was shaking – a common side effect of all of the anesthesia I was on. Melisa later said it looked like advanced Parkinson’s disease with all of the shaking.
Melisa had been and continued to be on telephone duty for most of the day/night, and she and Dave made the calls to our parents. I later learned that Daddy had been up, worried, since he hadn’t heard from us in a couple of hours, before I went in for the c-section. Everyone was delighted to hear the good news and we had a few hours of relative calm while anesthesiologists and nurses tried to get my blood pressure back up (it had dropped pretty low, even for me, and I’m normally a lizard) and I tried to sleep. They pushed a bunch of fluids into me (which later resulted in MASSIVELY swollen feet and legs). I later found out that my BP had gotten down to about 60/38 – VERY low. I kept thinking that it wasn’t such a big deal – until I was given numbers much later. Yikes.
I think it was about 5 AM when we were finally sent to the Mother & Baby floor. The whole time we’d been back in L&D, Dave held the baby. He wouldn’t put him down and just held him close. Beautiful to see, and beautiful to remember.
The whole experience was different from what I had expected and planned, but we’ve got a healthy, hungry, happy little boy here. I’m finishing this two weeks after we were admitted to the hospital, and I’m amazed at how long it has taken me to record the experience. There’s a lot more from the hospital stay, but perhaps I’ll save that for another day. Recovery isn’t a picnic, but it is all indeed very worth it. We are greatly blessed, and deeply thankful for this little miracle.