February 17, 2015

Birth Story

It only took me 1.5 years to write this birth story...

Good thing I didn’t have time to write down my birth plan because it would have gone out the window from the start.

I woke up on Wednesday morning when D kissed me goodbye. As soon as he left for work, I realized that my underwear felt wet. We were in the middle of an August heat wave, so I assumed that I had sweated through my underwear. But then it occurred to me that maybe my water had broken. There was no gush, and I felt no contractions, so I was not convinced.

Making the decision to keep going about my day, I took a shower and got dressed to go to work. Then, I made the mistake of consulting Dr. Google. The internet attacked me with scary factoids about the risk of infection, and I decided to call my doctor JUST IN CASE.

After describing my symptoms, I was told to come in to check for amniotic fluid. Still clueless, I asked if I could go to work. “No,” said the nurse. Completely convinced that this was a false alarm, I called D. “So, don’t freak out, but it’s possible that my water broke, and I have to go to the doctor’s office to confirm. It’s probably nothing, so no need to come home at this point.” He quietly pretended not to freak out.

I called my boss and told her that my water may have broken, I wasn’t coming in that day, and I would keep her posted. Little did I know that my coworkers were planning a surprise baby shower for the following day. Surprise! My baby was too impatient to wait another month until her due date.

Off to the doctor’s office I went, completely convinced that they would tell me to go home and wait for contractions to start. The nurse did three tests to confirm the presence of amniotic fluid. Two tests came back positive and one was inconclusive. I held on to that inconclusive result as my last hope that this wasn’t actually happening. So I was surprised to hear the nurse tell me to head to the hospital, where they would be expecting me.

Going to the hospital seemed ridiculous to me as I was having no contractions at all. Nevertheless, I called D and told him to get home because we had to leave for the hospital. He drove home in record time and immediately proceeded to freak out. He insisted on packing a bag and throwing our as-yet uninstalled car seat in the trunk, while I protested that we would just be sent home from the hospital to wait for contractions. Still, I agreed to take some things with us JUST IN CASE.

D had memorized three different routes to the hospital, but the one he chose that day was blocked by construction, and he had to improvise. Good thing I wasn’t riding over bumpy roads during a contraction! We got to the hospital by 2 pm and made our way to the triage room on the labor and delivery floor. As the nurses checked me in, we found out that the baby was head down (I suspected as much from all the kicks to the rib cage), sunny-side up, and I was 80% effaced and 1 cm dilated.

Then, we were told that we were assigned a room and we should get set up there. Um, WHAT? What happened to the whole concept of waiting until contractions were five minutes apart and one minute long before calling the hospital, as we were taught in our childbirth class? As I remained in denial, I told the nurses about the inconclusive amniotic fluid test. They were confused but agreed to do another test that was going to be 100% definitive. My hopes of going home were crushed when that test came back positive.

We checked into our room, a room with a gorgeous view of the Charles river. While we were admiring the view, more surprises came our way. The doctors gave me 12 hours from the time my water broke to wait until the start of contractions. If labor didn’t start by then, I would be induced via a pitocin drip. I was already expecting that, but what came as a surprise was that I wouldn’t be “allowed” to eat after starting pitocin. Um, hell no. I had done my research and concluded that the reasons for not allowing a laboring woman to eat were completely bogus. Also, denying a woman in labor nourishment must be some sort of medieval torture – if anyone needs the energy to keep going, it’s a woman in labor!

It was almost 2 pm by then, and I had only eaten breakfast. Pitocin drip was scheduled to start by 7 pm, and I was ready to eat a cow by then. We technically weren’t supposed to leave the hospital, but our wonderful nurse said “You didn’t hear it from me, but…” She recommended a good sandwich place down the street. Before we could leave, though, the nurses had to put the IV needle with a heparin lock into my arm. Later, it would be used for the pitocin drip, but meanwhile, I was to be administered antibiotics for Group B strep, JUST IN CASE I had it (my test for it was scheduled for the following day, so we didn’t know my GB strep status, which turned out to be negative).

I’d never had an IV before (except maybe during my two major surgeries in childhood, but I was knocked out for those), but I knew that phlebotomists always had a hard time finding my veins for blood draw. What I didn’t know, however, is that apparently I have “bumpy veins.” That means that the nurses blew up three of my veins before finally calling in an IV specialist. Her name was Joan, and she was a little old lady who was all business. I warned her about my “bumpy veins” and she replied that she had been doing this for thirty years, and I should lie down and give her my arm. Two seconds later, she was done.

Four new holes later, I was ready to blow that joint and get some lunch. We called it our jailbreak. It was a sight to behold: a hugely pregnant woman, with a highly conspicuous white sleeve over the heparin lock and hospital tags on the wrists, walking around the city. We made our way to the deli, ordered our food, and ate our delicious sandwiches in the park by the river. We were in no rush to get back to the hospital since I wasn’t feeling any contractions, so we decided to keep walking along the river to try to get things moving.

The temperature was in the 90s, so despite the beautiful view, it wasn’t the most pleasant walk. Still, it was better than being stuck in a hospital room. We were out for so long, that the doctors started calling our cell phones and suggesting that maybe we should get back to the hospital. It was around 5 pm, and I was in no mood for pitocin. As a last-minute stalling tactic, I suggested that we install the car seat “while the car is parked in a nice, level hospital parking lot.” D agreed, and we proceeded to install the car seat. By “we” I mean that D was doing all the installing, and I was standing around looking hugely pregnant and providing useless suggestions.

With the car seat installed, and no contractions in sight, I was all out of stalling tactics, so we headed back to our room. By 7 pm, the pitocin drip was started. The initial dose was very low, and the nurse was to increase it every half an hour or so, depending on progression. Nothing was happening for a while, and we were getting bored. So, we decided to start a salsa party. D turned on the salsa station on Pandora, and we began to dance. It was a bit cumbersome (you try doing the right turn with an IV drip in your arm and two fetal monitors on your round belly), but it definitely cheered us up. Despite the excellent soundproofing of the labor rooms, we must have been making a lot of noise because our nurse came to check on us and wondered what on earth we were doing. I said that we were having a salsa party, to which she replied that I was clearly not in labor and she upped the pitocin.

There was a change of nurses at some point as our nurse’s shift came to an end. The new nurse was not nearly as friendly, but she knew what she was doing and mostly left us alone, which was fine by me. Sometime around 11 pm (still no contractions), the nurse became concerned because one of the fetal monitors was indicating some fetal distress. She turned off the pitocin and monitored the situation. The real situation wasn’t fetal distress, though. It was maternal distress. More specifically, I was getting hungry and the hospital cafeteria wasn’t allowed to give me food. We did sneak in some granola bars into the hospital during our jailbreak, but they didn’t seem appealing to me. In the greatest irony of the hospital rules, my husband was allowed to order food for himself (this was included in our stay). I told him to order enough for two, and when the nurse left our room, I snuck some of his dinner into my hungry belly. The fetal monitor went back to normal.

The pitocin was restarted around midnight, and this time, the contractions kicked in almost immediately. D fell asleep on the “partner” chair while I dealt with the waves of contractions. Immediately, it became clear to me that lying on my back was uncomfortable. I was having back labor and the only tolerable position was being on all-fours, or some variation of bending forward. The nurse came in, saw me breathing through a contraction, and told me to get some rest. She said that this was the easier part, and I would need energy for when the contractions would get more intense. But I couldn’t rest at all. Perhaps it was due to the pitocin, but my contractions were intense from the beginning. Yes, they got stronger and longer and more painful and closer together as the labor continued, but there was no way I could rest or sleep through any of it. Particularly because I hadn’t learned how to sleep on all-fours in my childbirth class.

The contractions were growing more intense, and more than anything, I wanted to get in the tub. But I was told that I couldn’t labor in the tub because my water had broken (turns out, that’s a bogus reason). Finally, my nurse suggested that I could stand in the shower as long as I kept the fetal monitors on my belly and did not get my heparin lock wet. I was happy to get in the shower to run water on my lower back, which provided a tiny bit of relief from my awful back labor. However, I still had to keep bending forward because any other position was intolerable, and this was causing the fetal monitors to slip off my giant, wet belly. D had to hold both monitors in place from outside the shower. To say that we were both stuck in awkward positions would be an understatement.

Meanwhile, the contractions were becoming REALLY intense and painful. And I couldn’t stand in the forward-bend position any more, my thighs were shaking by that point. It was probably around 3:45 am, which meant that I had spent almost four hours exercising my thigh muscles in that forward-bend position. I decided to get out of the shower.

In intense pain, I asked the nurse how much longer this was going to go on. What could she say? She replied that she didn’t know, and it’s possible that I’m only half-way there. I was crushed and doubted my ability to keep going without an epidural if this was the level of pain that I was experiencing only half-way through labor. I was very set on having as intervention-free birth as possible, and the pitocin was already undermining my plan. D reminded me of my epidural-free plan (as I had asked him to do in advance). The nurse offered the epidural, and I said no. However, we decided to have her check on my progress. The nurses weren’t checking on my dilation progress because my water had broken and they didn’t want to risk an infection. But it was time for me to know how far I had advanced.

I got onto the bed, on my back (ouch!), and the nurse checked my cervix. Surprised and delighted, she said: “You are nine centimeters dilated! You’ve been working hard, kiddo.” Nine centimeters! That was the best news I got all night. I wasn’t halfway through labor, I was getting close to the end! That little bit of information gave me the extra jolt of energy to keep going.

It was around 4 am, and the nurse paged the OB on call to come in. The OB arrived, and suddenly I felt the unmistakable urge to push. In preparation for labor, I had read books and birth stories, and I was always frustrated to hear that one would just KNOW when it was time to push. How would I know? What if I didn’t know? But, now I get it. It wasn’t that I consciously made the decision to push. My body NEEDED to push, and I couldn’t stop it if I wanted to.

The concept of time became hazy. I was almost completely unaware of the people present in the room. It was dark, my glasses were off, and I had only one purpose in mind at that moment. I became vaguely aware of a small crowd of people near the entrance of the room, but I didn’t care about them in the least. (Turns out, they were residents and a pediatrician, and maybe some other people whose function I never learned.) I pushed with all my strength, but turned out my pushing wasn’t very effective. The nurse and the doctor guided me to direct my energy toward my belly, and spend less energy grunting. Somehow, I understood what they meant, and my pushes became more productive.

Suddenly, I felt enormous pressure, and blurted out: “I feel like this baby is going to come out of my ass!” Very ladylike, I know. The nurse replied: “Sounds about right.” A few more pushes (which had to go slow to avoid tearing), a burning sensation, and the head was out. Then the doctor told me I had to stop pushing, and she unwrapped two loops of the umbilical cord from around the baby's neck. One more big push, and at 4:26 am, after 35 weeks and 6 days of gestation, my daughter was born into the world.

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