A Birth Story

Technically speaking, things went according to plan, but that’s more a testament to my “plan” than to the actually birthing experience. You see, these days pregnancy books like to talk about having a birth plan, which is a piece of paper that outlines your ideal birth and what you would like to have happen (as well as what you’d like to avoid). For most people, this involves things like “prefer natural birth, husband wants to cut the umbilical chord, please do not give the child a vitamin K shot, I plan to breastfeed immediately and room in with my child” etc. etc. etc. Copies are given to your nurses and OB, and the whole process is supposed to help you visualize how you want labor to go, as well as think through various scenarios ahead of the big day, when you might be more prepared to decide if you would want an epidural or not vs. in the middle of the whole labor thing. Of course, to me this sounded like just another way in which women are trying to make birth into an experience vs. something that happens at the end of being pregnant, and the whole reason you keep visiting that OB so frequently.

My birth plan? Leave hospital not pregnant, hopefully with child.

It Begins

At 4:30 AM on Saturday morning (two days before our official due date), when I awoke with a sudden (or I should say more sudden than usual) urge to pee and rushed off to the bathroom, I was pleasantly baffled by what felt like just a really big but uncontrolled urination, one that I might not have thought much more about if the toilet paper did not have a tinge of pink to it. Hmmm. And had my underwear not been a bit damp (hadn’t I made it to the toilet on time?). So I decided to play scientist and test the hypothesis – by getting in the shower and squatting. And sure enough, out trickled more water, in a peach hue.

I called to my husband – it’s official. My water broke. We’re having the baby today. The waiting is over.

About water breaking – only 1 in 10 women’s water breaks before labor begins. Many women make it to the hospital with contractions 3 minutes apart with a fully intact amniotic sac (although I’m told that it is very common for it to break on the drive to the hospital). Often, the OB will break your water to try to get things moving along quicker once you are already at the hospital. But when your water does break, they like to have the baby out within 24 hours, as the risk of infection to both mother and child goes up after that point. And so, unlike women who have contractions and are left to wonder if they will build into full labor (or if they are just having more Braxton Hicks), I knew for sure that we would have a baby before the weekend was out.

As I wasn’t having any contractions, I told my husband that we might as well just go back to bed until the show gets on the road. I took a shower, grabbed one of the monster-sized maxi pads I bought in preparation for coming home from the hospital, and crawled back into bed by 6 AM. And I actual fell back to sleep. Probably because, for the first time in two weeks, I didn’t need to wonder if tonight would be the night – it already was.

I slept in until about nine, and my husband paged the OB to try and catch him before his epic Saturday morning runs (he’s a marathon runner in his spare time – yes that is ridicules, I know), just to let him know what he had in store for the day. When the doc called back, I told him that I still wasn’t having any contractions to speak of (only minor cramping, like menstrual pain) and he said we should come to the office at 10:30 AM to see where things were.

My husband then went next door to let our fantastic neighbor know what was going on, as she would be serving as our doula (from here out I’ll refer to her as ND, neighbor doula). We agreed that we should pack up the car in the rare event that we were sent directly to the hospital, but that otherwise we would give her an update when we returned from the doctor’s office. I called my parents to let them know they should officially make the drive down. We were getting ready.

At the doctor’s office, our OB looked exhausted. He’d just run 20 miles in the rain and was decked in sweats, trying to get his body temperature back to normal. He hooked me up to a fetal monitor to check on the baby’s heart rate for five minutes and all looked fine. The baby even responded to this weird buzzer thing he played next to my belly to check for responsiveness. Then he checked me and my cervix wasn’t dilated but a hair, despite my having walked around town 80% effaced for the last two weeks. And still no contractions worth mentioning. The doc said we should meet him at the hospital at 5 PM, regardless of where things went (unless of course the contractions came on full force much sooner, or any bright bleeding occurred). If labor started naturally before then, great. If not, we’d have to induce it chemically to get this show on the road.

And so we headed home, excited but a little disappointed at the state of my cervix. We updated ND and decided that all of us should try to nap, and then take a long walk to see if we could get things cooking.

By the time we started our walk, it was around 1 PM. It was still raining outside, so we all suited up, my husband grabbed the dog, and we headed for about a 2 to 3 mile loop around town. It was nice to walk, to get outside, but while the occasional steep hill would bring on a mild contraction (purposely using the singular here), nothing really got started. When we returned home, ND said she was off to nap some more and that she would stop by around 4:30, right before we’d be departing. Husband and I went inside to shower, snack and nap some more (although I think he read while I was dozing on the couch). I distinctly remember being torn between wanting to do more to get labor going (pace around the dining room table) and wanting to rest up for the long night ahead. In hindsight, I should have just slept the whole time, but I don’t think my efforts were harmful (even if they never did get my uterus in gear).

To the Hospital

At 4:30 PM (twelve hours post water break-age), I called my parents to let them know we were heading to the hospital and would probably be radio silent until the next morning, and told them know where the spare key was hidden so they could crash at our place and take care of the dog. ND came by to check in, said she was making a run for snacks and that she would meet us at the hospital in an hour. Having already packed, we hopped in the car and headed in.

Because we were pre-registered and had already talked to our OB about arrival time, we simply headed up to Labor and Delivery. They showed us our room at the end of the unit and began to take some of my information (when did your water break, what was your due date, etc.). I was then hooked up to a fetal monitor and a contraction monitor, just to see where things were. Baby sounded good, but nothing much to speak of in terms of contractions.

At this point, we were all in good moods. ND brought me chocolate chip cookies to snack on, my husband was playing DJ with the iPod and docking station we’d packed (talking about how great it would be if the baby were born to Django), and I was joking around with the poor student nurse trying to take my information (nurse: “have any major life events occurred in the last year?” me: “I got pregnant.”).

By 5:30 PM, the OB showed up to give me a dose of cytotech, which is placed next to my cervix in order to “ripen it” aka bring on contractions chemically. The hope was that my water being broken wouldn’t wash away the medication (as amniotic fluid keeps renewing itself despite the sac being ruptured, so I was still in a maxi pad to catch the continuing leakage). He said he’d return around 10 PM to check on our progress.

So we waited, and joked around, and ND and I walked the hallways. We even watched some of My Cousin Vinnie on tv, just to pass the time.

Active Labor

By 7PM, the contractions had fully kicked in. At first they were just uncomfortable, starting in my back and moving to my groin. And then they decided to send shooting pain into my hips, specifically my pelvis. At first I could just breathe through them, and I labored standing up as much as I could, leaning on a table when a contraction would come. This evolved into leaning on a table while my husband and ND pushed on my hips for counter pressure. The next step was leaning on ND slow-dance style (she’s the perfect height) during a contraction. After that, we went with my sitting on the edge of the bed, leaning onto the hospital tray. This worked best for me, in that I didn’t have to use my legs to hold myself up, something that felt more and more difficult as the hip pain increased.

All this was interrupted every half hour by the nurses, who would have me get on the bed to be monitored for five minutes (both fetal and contractions), as well as check my blood pressure and temperature. My husband found the contraction monitor fascinating, as he could get a visual of what was going on. The brand name on it was TOCO or something like that, but he insisted on calling my contractions “taco,” as in “that was a really big taco you just had,” or “here comes another taco.” This also led to our discovering that the contraction monitor also worked like a laugh-o-meter, as my giggling would extend pressure on my abdomen just like a mild contraction, which led to many jokes about how we could assign taco scores to various sitcoms. And yes, all this joking around happened earlier when the contractions weren’t quite so strong. By the time they were full force, it took all the effort I could must to get back into bed in order to get monitored at all.

10 PM came and went and no sign of the OB. At this point, the contractions were full on and I was growing anxious to know what kind of progress we were making, cervically speaking. ND was beginning to have a harder time coaxing me to change positions, I was becoming irritable in that classic woman in labor way (“no, don’t rub my back like that”), and my husband and the nurses kept trying to rally me by saying things like “the more painful they are, the more work they are doing,” which has to be the most infuriating thing in the world to say, regardless of how right they are. I mean, how often in life, when faced with serious pain, are you encouraged to dive into it instead of finding a way to relieve it? Sure, more and stronger contractions would open my cervix but to get up and walk around during them was just something I had a really hard time accepting. I run from pain, not towards it. This was the point at which I decided nature was completely stupid.

At 11 PM the nursing staff changed shift and the new nurse put in an IV shunt in my hand so I could be given antibiotics prophylactically because of the amount of time elapsed since my water broke. Having an IV shunt placed in your hand is never fun, but having it placed in your hand while in the throes of contractions, contractions that make it more than difficult to hold still, is basically torture. I had to stop the nurse three times to let a contraction pass before she was able to finish. And my poor husband, who has a fear of needles so intense he claimed religious exemption in college to avoid vaccination, found this to be the most horrifying part of the entire labor experience.

1 AM came and went and now I was really in a lot of pain. The “fun” part of contractions brought on by cytotech is that they tend to be much closer together than “natural” contractions, at least earlier on. This means I got less recovery time between each contraction, so I was completely wiped out. And the doctor still hadn’t shown (probably because he wanted to wait as long as possible for the medicine to do its magic), so I was banking on my being somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 centimeters when he finally did arrive. Because we were getting dangerously close to the 24 hour mark, and if pushing wasn’t right around the corner, I doubted my ability to rally.

Kick it up a notch

At 2AM, the OB arrived. And my cervix was only 4 centimeters. I started bawling. He suggested that we needed to amp things up and wanted to start me on Pitocin. Pitocin is a synthetic version of the hormone Oxytocin, which my body should have been releasing to get my uterus to contract. That being said, it tends to bring on really strong contractions. I was convinced I could not survive them and I told the doctor so, and he suggested I get an epidural. At this point I was delirious with exhaustion and fear, and I was completely convinced that an epidural would be no match for what I anticipated a Pitocin-induced contraction would be, so I even pleaded that if he didn’t think this was going to work and that I was just going to have to get a c-section, we should just get it over with. He said there was no reason to go there yet and assured me the epidural was worth a try. And so I agreed to both Pitocin and an epidural, feeling completely defeated and afraid, but no longer thinking about the baby as much as my need to just survive this.

The nurse came in to give me IV fluids before my epidural and was about to hook up the Pitocin when I begged that she wait until I had the epidural… I mean, why should I torture myself with stronger contractions when relief is around the corner (and more importantly, how on earth did she expect me to stay still for the placement of the epidural if I had Pitocin coursing through my body?). She insisted that the doctor wanted the Pitocin started right away and this is when ND stepped up big time and said that she should check with the doc to see if we could wait. I was in no shape to argue with the nurse, and while all the back rubs and counter pressure and encouraging words were wonderful all night long, this was the moment when I was most grateful for having a doula. She could see how scared I was and helped me get what I wanted when I was in no shape to ask for it myself (or ask my husband to ask for it). Ultimately, I got my way and we waited for the IV fluids to infuse enough for the epidural to be placed.

The anesthesiologist was fantastic. She was young and confident and assured me that all would be fine. She placed the epidural quickly, despite my being 100% panicked that a contraction would hit the exact moment she touched needle to spine. The medicine used to numb the area burns like a bee sting, and I felt something (which my anxiety made worse, I’m sure) when she placed the shunt, but after that, once she was taping me up, I was so relieved to have it over with that I began to grow calm for the first time in over an hour. I was instructed to lay flat on my back for the first 20 minutes or so while the medicine set in, and I was quickly relieved of my pain. At this point I was hooked up to a fetal monitor, contraction monitor, IV, blood pressure cuff, pulse-ox monitor, and given a foli catheter. I would be bed ridden for the rest of labor, but I didn’t mind. The drugs were kicking in and I was told to go ahead and take a nap. In fact, we all did.

A half hour later, as the Pitocin began to kick in (although I could not feel a thing – God bless epidurals), the nurse came in, concerned that the baby’s heart rate was decelerating every time I had a contraction. On the “taco” scale, these contractions were 4 times greater than the ones I was having earlier, although all I could feel was the pressure of my stomach tightening – no pain, no hip pain, nothing. She had me change positions and headed back to the nurses station. It was now around 3:00 AM.

She was back again ten minutes later to reposition me another time. And then another. At which point, I was taken off Pitocin to see what would happen now that things were moving along, and given the concerns about the baby. I only vaguely remember any of this, as I was so tired (and so completely relaxed from the epidural) that I drifted in and out of sleep. By 4:30 AM, the nurses said the doc was on his way back in, as he was worried about the baby’s heart beat. He quickly returned, and while I was up to 8 centimeters, the bones in the baby’s head were already crossing and it felt like he had turned his head such that he was basically stuck. The doc said we could try to keep going and monitor things closely, but that it would likely take me three hours of pushing to get him out if he didn’t reposition. Or we could go with a c-section. I opted for the c-section.

Emergency C-section

And then there was a whirlwind of activity. I was handed a consent form to sign, the anesthesiologist returned to place long acting morphine in my epidural for the surgery, the nurse shaved the top of my bikini area with an electric razor, my husband was suited up in sterile surgical garb and we were in the operating room a mere 15 minutes later. The room was bright, and cold. Well, I only know it was cold because I was shaking so violently they had to give me demeral, but I couldn’t actually feel the cold (thank you, epidural, yet again). A curtain-like drape was placed in front of my head and the nurses made sure I couldn’t see my lower half in the reflection of the surgical light above (so as not to inadvertently have to watch myself being cut open). The anesthesiologist tested that my epidural was working by poking at me to determine where my sensitivity started, and I was a-okay. My husband was given a chair by my head and before I knew it surgery had begun.

I never felt anything other than pressure, although at one point I could hear something that sounded like poultry sheers cutting up a chicken, which I responded to by trying to hum at random just to cover up the noise. The anesthesiologist picked up on this and began talking to me as a distraction, both to narrate when and why I was feeling pressure and the keep me from listening to the gory sounds of surgery. About 10 minutes in, I was warned I would feel a lot of pressure, and while completely absent of pain, it felt like someone was pushing down full force on my abdomen like a bad deep tissue massage. I could feel something being tugged out of me, and I started saying “when is he going to cry, just please let him cry” over and over, as I didn’t know how close things were. When they did pull him out moments later, he cried instantly. To which I responded by sobbing with sheer relief. It was 5:40 AM.

I turned my head to the left where the pediatrician was working on his head – his poor little cone head. Although it would honestly be more apt to call it a santa’s cap, as you could see the spot where his head got stuck on my pelvis and the cone the protruded from there. The doctor told me he was turned such that when he opened me up, the first thing he saw was the little guy’s ear, and that it would have taken quite a lot to have delivered him vaginally (to which one nurse told my husband that I would have pushed for two hours and still ended up in a c-section). He pinked up nearly instantly, receiving APGAR scores of 9 and 10 respectively – great news after the scare about his heart rate. I sent my husband to go with the baby as they went to the nursery to clean him off, and everyone else finished closing me up.

Recovery

As I was wheeled out of the operating room, ND joined me and we went to the recovery room. She fed me ice chips, which were pretty much the best thing ever, and I tried to tell her about the surgery as much as I could. The nurse said I could go to our private recovery room once I was able to wiggle my toes, which now protruded out of inflatable leg cuffs meant to keep me from getting a blood clot. Since I was still medicated from the epidural, these felt like a mini leg massage and I kept commenting about how much I liked them (not knowing a day later I would be begging to have them removed as they would get so sweaty and itchy).

ND and I chatted for maybe 20 or 30 minutes when in walked my husband, a triumphant glow on his face and our son in his arms. It was the first time I got to see him close up, and when he was handed to me, both my husband and the nurse helped me get the small one to latch on to my breast almost immediately. And he nursed right away, which was amazing. My husband told me about watching him get washed off, gave me the stats (7 pounds even, 20.5 inches long), told me I did an amazing job, and kissed me on the forehead. It was the most perfect thing he could have possibly done. At this point, ND said she was going to head home, being it was now past 6 AM and the poor girl needed to get some sleep. I thanked her profusely and off she went. And off I was wheeled to our hospital room to get some sleep. Some very needed sleep.

Observations

We did it. We had a baby. My husband was amazing, my neighbor doula a god send, and the nurses and doctors made sure no harm came to me or the small one, so I am forever grateful. So here are my stray observations about childbirth:

Epidurals are a good thing, and if I’m allowed to try a vaginal birth after caesarian (VBAC) with the next baby (a long, long time from now, like when the small one is very much out of diapers) I will certainly get one. No more attempting natural childbirth for me. No way. Heck, I’ll be impressed if I get to attempt a vaginal birth at all given the new recommendations about VBACs.

I am grateful that I decided to go for the c-section instead of trying to push (and ultimately getting a c-section anyway), as I only had to recover from the c-section and not the pushing (although the many hours of active labor did leave me more than exhausted).

I do feel somewhat like I missed out on childbirth because I didn’t have a vaginal delivery, let alone a natural one. But at the same time I don’t feel guilty about my decision as it was medically necessary. (Not that I am in any way condemning those who have elective caesarian births, but natural was something I wanted so to end up with the labor I had and not be disappointed is a big deal for me.) It’s like I passed but didn’t graduate into motherhood with honors, so to speak… I know that sounds weird but it is what it is.

A doula is a good thing, if only because it took some of the pressure off my husband. I don’t think everyone needs one, but I had an easier time asking things of ND than I did my husband, as I was so sure he was freaked out (he totally wasn’t and did a rockstar job, but I wanted to make sure the birth experience wasn’t awful for him so I feel like I tried to shield him a bit).

He will rise to the occasion. My husband who was so afraid he wouldn’t feel a connection to the baby at first, and who begged me to let him “be at the bar across the street” during my entire pregnancy at one point turned to me and said how glad he was to be by my side during labor, and I already told you what a beaming dad he was after the c-section. Next time I’ll just worry about me, and not my husband. He can handle himself.

I was so prepared, I was completely caught off guard… I was so focused on what I needed to do to survive delivery, to eat the right things while pregnant and buy only organic onesies, that I completely forgot about anticipating meeting my child. Which, of course, was completely magical. He was beautiful. He was serene. He smelled perfect and it felt so good to hold him. And that was the most amazing gift of all… being so astonished by how instantly I fell in love with my son.

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3 Responses to “A Birth Story”

  1. The Tyranny of Vaginal Birth « The Small One Says:

    […] guilt so many women feel about having a c-section.  As I finally got around to writing up my own birth story (now posted as a page on this here blog), I thought it was a very apropos topic to share with the […]

  2. jennifer Says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, it is really beautiful.

  3. starrhillgirl Says:

    OMG. I totally forgot about My Cousin Vinnie!

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