On Saturday, May 27 2006 I became a mom. I had a picture perfect easy pregnancy and I was dead set on having a beautiful natural childbirth. I took hypnobirthing classes and listened to my subliminal hypnobirthing music every night. I swam a few times a week. I walked a grueling hill twice daily to get to class and though it was a miserable 15 minutes of panting it helped me keep my weight gain to a minimum. I gained 30 pounds in all and for the most part looked like my old self had suffered a mild allergic reaction to the beach ball I had eaten which resulted in slight swelling of the face and legs.
I’m a planner. A very controlling, type A planner with the unusual attitude of letting things run a natural course. Whatever will be will be and it all works out in the end. My due date was June 8th. I was absolutely convinced I was going to have my baby on May 26th. Be careful what you wish for! I had what I assume is a typical birth fantasy. I would wake The Boy up in the night letting him know things were getting started. We would relax and distract each other with banter and movies, maybe a little house cleaning. When things started to get uncomfortable we’d go through our hypnobirthing drills in the comfort of our own bed. By the time we went to the hospital I would be 7 cm dilated. I would spend transition focusing on my womanly strength, calling on the support of all the women who had given birth before me. I would deliver my baby easily with minimal pushing and no tearing. I would channel jungle women and priestesses! All in all from start to finish my labor and delivery would take six hours. Pretty much a typical birth fantasy huh?
Here’s what actually happened.
I lost my mucus plug on a Wednesday. It was a clear gelatinous blob that looked nothing like I expected it to. Nonetheless, there it was. The following Friday I had my regular weekly OB appointment. I proudly informed my doctor that I had lost my plug. “Great.” She said. “Has your water broken?” I assured her that it had not. She went on to explain that water doesn’t always come out in a gush. For many women it’s a trickle that they often times assume is urine.
That night I seemed to lose bladder control. Every time I’d get up from the sitting position I would leak – even if I had just peed. My reasoning for this was that the baby’s head must have been pushing against my bladder just so. I spent the next few days peeing on myself regularly and each time I’d think, “Could I be leaking amniotic fluid?…Nah.”
We had a maternity photo shoot on Wednesday. They’d position my swollen body on a bed or couch, take a few shots and then reset the scene. Every time I’d get up I would gush a little water. I finally came to accept that I was indeed leaking. I waited until the next day to call my doctor. She said to go to the hospital immediately and get checked.
When I got to the hospital and explained the situation I was instructed to don a lovely gown and stretchy tube top, which was to be worn over my belly. I was being attended by a nervous intern whom obviously didn’t know what he was doing. He was very uncomfortable. I was understanding and nice and even put up with his ineptitude at inserting a speculum – until he informed me that doing OB rounds was mandatory but his true interest was in orthopedics. Dammit. The next time I let a trainee struggle to put a speculum into MY vagina I’m making damn sure they’re there out of a love for obstetrics.
After much poking and prodding it was determined that my water had not broken, but they were going to do a quick ultra sound to check my water level. Yet another intern wheeled in an archaic machine, slathered my belly with warm jelly, and began to study the screen. “Hmmm.” She said. “Your level is really low. Have you been leaking fluid?” At this point I had officially reached exasperation. The collective interns decided that since the baby’s heartbeat was strong they would send me home. I gladly went for two reasons.
One – I had my regular OB appointment the next morning where I would be checked by a doctor I trusted, and two – if I was ruptured, hopefully there would be a staff change over before I had to come back!
When I relayed the happenings of my visit to my OB she was furious. She said I had definitely ruptured and needed to be induced immediately because my baby had been exposed to bacteria for several days and we risked becoming septic. (Getting a blood infection.)
She put me in a cab with paperwork and instructions to demand to be seen by the resident attending. I called The Boy and told him to meet me at the hospital. It was very quiet when I arrived. A friendly young doctor checked me in and performed the same tests I had had the night before. The Boy arrived to keep me company and play the waiting game. Finally a positive reading! The last batch of test strips had been defective – we were officially ruptured and would be staying to deliver. It was Friday, May26 – the very day I had been convinced I would deliver.
They put us in a comfortable labor and delivery room. I was starving, but the nurse told me I couldn’t eat. I knew the reasoning behind this: Some medications caused nausea and also if they needed to do an emergency c-section they didn’t want me aspirating on vomit when they put me under. I found neither of these reasons worthy of continuing hunger pangs and sent The Boy out to bring back contraband food.
As my nurse attempted to start my IV she blew my vein. Having drawn blood from, and inserted catheters into countless furry, wiggling animals, I have little patience for professionals that find themselves unable to do the same to me, a hairless patient, laying perfectly still. The second attempt was successful. Once my fluids had been started I was left alone. I found myself growing increasingly resentful of the myriad machines I had been hooked to. I had an itchy band around my jelly-covered belly that was holding two monitors against my skin. One to track the baby’s heart beat, the other to measure my contractions. I had a blood pressure cuff strapped to my right arm that would inflate every ten minutes or so, and then deflate. In its deflated state it would slip lose and fall around my wrist – quite charming. Last but not least I had the IV plugged into my left arm with my blown vein steadily throbbing with each beat of my heart. The best part of the IV was its stand. The stand was so old that two of it’s four wheels were corroded stiff and rather than rolling smoothly it required Herculean efforts to drag it every time I had to go pee.
The Boy returned with food and I scarfed secret bites between the comings and goings of the nurse. Having a full belly did wonders for my disposition – that and a staff change that brought a wonderful new nurse to my room. Her name was Musetta and I felt an immediate camaraderie with her. I promptly admitted to the contraband food. She chuckled and said, “I didn’t hear that.”
The pitocin was started and my mother –in-law, Laura and Huns arrived. The following hours were rather boring. The doctor would come in every now and again and subtly increase the pitocin drip. The contractions were noticeable but very tolerable. My mood was happy – I even went so far as to say, ”Hey, we’re lucky! Most people want to be admitted and have to wait until they’re 3cm – we get to stay from the start.” Of course that was my half-hearted attempt at being positive. I was secretly mourning the death of my home-laboring fantasy.
Eventually we got down to business. This pitocin wasn’t fooling around anymore. Contractions would grip my body like a vise. A vise covered in broken glass. I would grab The Boy and rock back and forth chanting, “open…open…” and trying to envision my cervix opening. The Boy was very supportive.
Around 3AM they finally decided to check my progress. They hadn’t done so any earlier because they didn’t want to introduce any more bacteria into my birth canal than was absolutely necessary. I was very surprised to find that having my cervix checked for dilation was quite painful. I was also very surprised to be told I was only at ONE centimeter! That’s right. NINE hours of pitocin labor to be at one centimeter. That was disheartening news, but I was still game. “Okay…” I panted. “We’ve started to make progress. It will go faster from here.”
And so on we went. Contraction after contraction. Actually, with pitocin you reach a point where the contractions don’t technically ever stop. They just lessen for about fifteen seconds and then hit you again. Four hours later they checked me again. It’s funny, even though I was wracked with pain the entire time those four hours really flew by. So it’s 7AM and I’m shaking and exhausted and I look up at The Boy who has been awake for twenty-six hours straight and is virtually sleeping on his feet. I know how much he is against an epidural or any other medication. I say to him, “If I’m anything less than 5 centimeters I’m going to need an epidural.” He was so tired he just nodded blankly.
Still ONE centimeter!
I couldn’t believe it. The four most challenging hours of my adult life had been for NOTHING. I informed the nursing staff that I wanted an epidural immediately. I looked back at The Boy. He actually looked grateful and relieved! Humph. Men.
The 45 minutes that passed between the time I mentally gave in and asked for the epidural and when I was finally actually given one were the longest 45 minutes to ever tick away. Keep that in mind ladies – it can take quite a while for the busy anesthesia staff to get to you, and your pain doesn’t put itself on hold in the meantime.
Just as I was getting the finishing touches put on my back in preparation for the epidural (plastic, betadine, tape etc.) I hear my mother burst through the door behind the curtain with a triumphant “I’m here!” The nurses blocked her faster than sky marshals on air force one. “You’ll have to wait outside a moment.” I heard explained to her in muffled voices. I felt bad that poor mom got a less than jovial reception, but I had more immediate things to worry about. Namely the aptly monikered anesthesiologist, Dr. Yum and his faithful sidekick, Resident Boy. Neither of them could leap a building in a single bound, but they could stop the pain.
After putting approximately fifty yards of tape all over my back and shoulder to hold all my tubing in place I was given a catheter (quite convenient!) and propped up in bed like royalty ready to receive visitors.
My mom came in flushed and wired. It was wonderful to finally have her there. I was surprised by how important it suddenly was that she was there. She originally wasn’t scheduled to arrive until two days before my due date, and we had decided that if I went into labor early she wouldn’t rush to the airport – she’d just see the baby when she came. When I called her from the cab on the way to the hospital to let her know this was it, she wished me luck. I didn’t know until later that she had immediately called the airline and changed her flight.
I can’t tell you how beautiful a thing it is to be suddenly pain free after so many hours of struggle. I had been up for twenty-four hours, but suddenly felt refreshed and at ease. It was decided that Laura, Huns and The Boy would go home for two hours to clean up and get some sleep. My mom would stay with me. I would try to nap.
I slept lightly for two hours. I was awakened by a persistent pain in my side that would come in waves and lessen, then come again sharply. “Hey, wait just a damn minute,” I thought. “I gave in and got an epidural – what the hell is this pain all about.” I described it to my mom, (did I mention she’s an OR nurse?) and she said that it was right on time. Apparently the anesthesiologist gives you a pain med cocktail when he puts the epidural in. This cocktail usually lasts two hours and then you’re dependent on the epidural for all pain management. I alerted the nursing staff of my discomfort and they called back Dr. Yum. He gave me another cocktail. The pain left almost instantly, and I felt what could only be described as delicious.
The Boy came back feeling slightly refreshed. He was much improved from earlier. He bantered with my mom and I dozed off and on. Around eleven thirty the nurses started checking with me frequently asking if I felt any pressure. I told them I didn’t feel a thing and doubted I would notice when it was time to push. They all said the same thing, “Oh no, you’ll know when it’s time. You just let us know when you feel pressure.”
I’ve witnessed many births, and one rather common occurrence is a sudden bowel movement pushed out ahead of the descending baby. Being anemic, I had been taking iron supplements, and found myself to be quite constipated. I am perhaps the first woman in the history of giving birth that was actually looking forward to the time when I would unknowingly poop my bed. Sadly, this was not to be. I could tell the baby was getting close because the nurses were coming in every ten minutes or so and checking me and asking me if I felt any pressure. Each time they’d come I’d ask, “Did I poop yet?” and they’d say, “Nope. How are you feeling? Do you feel any pressure?” They had long since turned off my epidural, but Dr. Yum is a very talented man and I still couldn’t feel a thing.
At one O’clock I started having trouble breathing. It wasn’t as dramatic as it sounds. Every time I breathed out I would get a very uncomfortable pain in my diaphragm. It was so strong that I wanted to just hold my breath in. I still didn’t feel any pressure, but I decided it was more than time to get the show on the road. “All right!” I said. “I’m ready to push!” “Do you feel pressure?” The nurse asked. “No, but I’m ready to push.” I said. Even though I couldn’t feel anything it was agreed that the baby was low enough that I could successfully begin to push. So I pushed.
It was very much like those birthing shows on TV. Everyone was excited, I was pushing hard, the nurse was hollering at me to push harder and hold my breath. I kept letting my breath out because I didn’t want to burst any blood vessels in my face or eyes. As the baby’s head came out they discovered that her cord was wrapped around her neck and her little face was a deep purple. Her cord was so tight that they had to cut it in order for the rest of her to come out. All in all it only took about four rounds of pushing and baby Karis was born at one seventeen.
The following half hour was a blur. Karis was put atop my chest and we stared at each other in awe and shock. She was surprisingly cute for a new born. She had less hair than I expected. They took her back across the room to clean her up and weigh her. I had torn just a tiny bit, and thanks to Dr. Yum I still couldn’t feel a thing as they stitched me up. Finally they lay her beside me and a nurse instructed me on how to position baby Karis on my breast.
When we were wheeled into a shared room for recovery they made sure to position her plastic baby tub right next to my bedside. She was wrapped up tight in those pale blue hospital receiving blankets like a little burrito.
I can remember two things very clearly about my first half hour in that room. One: My roommate had a very large, very loud family, every member of which seemed to be visiting. Two: I was amazed at the amount of urine that came out when I had my first pee after delivery. I had forgotten just how much a bladder is capable of holding without a little person lying on top of it!
I always thought I’d be one of those mothers that was too paranoid to let her baby out of her sight for fear there’d be a mix up at the hospital. There was little chance of that considering I had given birth to an exact clone of myself. Long about midnight I was beyond exhausted. I was exclusively breast feeding and needed to offer the baby my breast every two hours. That wouldn’t have been the least bit bothersome if I could have dozed in between feedings. Dozing was an impossibility. I was too scared to fall asleep because the baby kept burping up colostrum and I was convinced if I fell asleep she would choke on it. I kept asking the nurse to take her to the nursery until her next feeding but they were trained to strongly encourage mothers to room in with their babies. “But it helps with the bonding! Having her near will help your milk come in.” “Yes, yes, I can assure you we are bonding just fine. I promise, having you take her to the nursery will not make me dry up! I only want two hours of sleep, then you can leave her with me.” After explaining my paranoia about the baby choking on her spit up the nurse reluctantly agreed to take her to the nursery.
I immediately fell into a coma with visions of highly trained nursery staff attending to my baby’s every whimper. That beautiful, beautiful sleep lasted exactly twenty-two minutes. After twenty-two minutes of semi alone time (if you don’t count my roomie and the constant barrage of nurses parading through – which begs the question “Where the HELL are all of these nurses when you WANT something?”) the nurse brought my darling little bundle back to me and said, “You need to feed her! She was inconsolable.” I looked at the sleeping baby burrito and then back at the nurse with a raised brow. “Inconsolable?” The nurse just shrugged and walked away.