I’m writing this for my friends and family as well as those who might be interested in hearing another one of those stories about how you really can’t make much of a plan when it comes to having a baby. Don’t read on if you are squeamish.
Our baby was due 9/4 and in my head, he or she was going to come that day, or September 1st, or around September 11. Don’t ask me why, but part of it had to do with the fact that my pregnancy had been so run of the mill, so "boring" as my doctor called it, that I figured the date would to according to plan. Everyone told me I looked good, I admit I took a certain measure of smugness in how active I was, so why wouldn’t things go according to plan? I was even proud of the fact that I didn't have a "birth plan." But my lack of a birth plan still failed to entail anything seriously unexpected, uncomfortable or frightening.
Last Monday I went to the doc for a routine 37-week checkup and was told that my blood pressure was a little high, so no big deal, I got some blood drawn. Then Wednesday the offices called to request that I come in to triage at the hospital because the tests were a little concerning. My husband Steve and I met there, nervously, him telling me stories to distract me while we watched another couple, in labor, freak out in front of us. “That’s not us,” we thought.
In triage I had tests run and we joked around a bit with our friendly nurse and dorky nervous med student. As we waited to hear back on the tests as I figured I’d go back to work where I left my computer on. No go, it turned out: the docs wanted to keep me at Prentice overnight to observe me: my blood pressure was at a level they considered “gestational hypertension,” on the verge of preeclampsia. This was serious enough business that I got put in a gown and wheeled up to my room.
Prentice Hospital is gorgeous so the rest of the day felt a bit like I was hanging out in a hotel room, looking out our nice view and watching TV as nurses came by to test me. Steve went home to take our dog to my parents’ house and grab the hospital bag that I luckily had packed a few weeks before. We were supposed to be there until 7 pm Thursday after which, in my head, we’d be going home. I slept fairly well despite hourly visits from the nurse to check my blood pressure.
The next morning (Thursday) Steve brought me some hospital food (I wanted a fruit/yogurt/granola parfait but for some reason the hospital’s version omitted the fruit and added whipped cream instead.) Shortly after, a doctor came by and told me, nicely but bluntly, that my blood pressure was high enough and I was full term enough that I was just going to get induced that day.
Blammo. Too bad I didn’t get a better breakfast, because I wouldn’t be eating again until after I had the baby.
Steve came over to me to reassure me while I stared off into space a bit. When I called my parents I cried a little when I realized how scared and overwhelmed I felt by all of this. I know you’re never really ready to have a baby but I really wasn’t, not now, and not to be medically induced as such. It sounded really scared, uncomfortable and unnatural.
A few people have asked me how I felt about the doctors’ calls here and I have to say I never second guessed, never wanted to explore other options. I know doctors aren’t infallible but I had felt completely, 100 percent fine up until now (except for hand/feet swelling) so they obviously knew something we didn’t. I would do whatever they thought was right.
The doctor checked my cervix which was quite uncomfortable, so between the news, that test (basically a hand jamming up, uncomfortably, inside you) and the information that I would soon be having a balloon put inside me to dilate my cervix, I was jumpy. I took a shower, because god knew when I’d be able to do so next. Here is a tip: when someone gives you life-changing, frightening news, do not shave your legs with a new, cheap razor. Although I guess it was a good introduction of what was to come (i.e. blood.)
I got wheeled up to our Labor and Delivery room from our antenatal room, which had a much crappier view than the first. This was irrelevant except for the fact that the Air and Water show was this weekend and hearing the planes practice can be disconcerting without visual cues. Anyway, I was first given the crib, the balloon that was inserted inside me to dilate my cervix. Having it put inside wasn’t a party but it wasn’t much worse than a fairly uncomfortable gyno visit. What was weird was having the rubbery ends taped to the side of my leg. After that I was given a dose of magnesium, which sounds like a harmless vitamin you might get from broccoli or something but is actually an anti-seizure med given to people with high blood pressure. I had been warned that this would make me feel warm and then crappy, which was exactly what happened. Nice and warm all over and then gradually sicker and sicker over the hours, like I was coming down with the flu. Magnesium is a muscle relaxant and so I was no longer allowed to get up to use the bathroom, so every time I had to pee I needed to get on top of a bedpan, which was uncomfortable thanks to the balloon taped inside me and my IV and blood pressure monitor. Peeing in your bed is a strange experience, plus, now, I just had a small fountain of blood running between my legs after the crib insertion, so that was additionally fun.
From noon to six we killed time reading and watching TV to see if I would be dilated enough. I wasn’t allowed to eat real food but at one point I was given juice and broth and jello and since I hadn’t eaten since that crappy parfait, when I did, it felt like Thanksgiving.
Here I need to say something about nurses. Jamie, Sarah, Caitlin, Leah, DeAdre, Jackie--these people all should make way more money than professional athletes or talking heads on the news. They empty catheters, change bloody pads, reassure you, clean up your pee. God bless them. That is all.
At around 8 pm my cervix was checked again (and again, no party): nothing really happening, so back to business for another six hours. This time we tried to sleep, although not very successfully.
At around 2 or 3 am my balloon was taken out and I was given Pitocin to induce labor. I had been thinking this whole time of the baby-delivering process as a really long trip with a lot of legs to get through and I still felt daunted by what lay ahead, most specifically next, getting my water broken and the inevitable epidural. I knew I wanted an epidural since minute one of this pregnancy. “I want drugs, give me all the drugs” I told all the doctors and nurses I saw since I got to Prentice on Wednesday. My nurse had told me I could request an epidural once I started feeling pain, but I remembered all my friends who told me to get an epidural as soon as humanly possible. I decided to head the pain off at the pass and asked for the epidural.
I was scared of getting it, since you should be scared of getting a needle in your spinal cord. The numbing needle was the worst part (Steve was sent out of the room for this since it was a sterile environment procedure, although the ladies who gave me the epidural were a merry group), just a real good sting, but after that I couldn’t feel too much except an occasional rooting-around feeling in my spine which I can’t describe as anything but visceral. But then, oh my god. It wasn’t just that the pain went away, or that the discomfort went away. I felt good. It was almost sexual, if I’m being completely honest. Plus, now I had a catheter in, so no more bedpan for me. I got my cervix checked and my water broken and it was no big deal. I wanted to go online to Facebook/Tweet how awesome the epidural was but it was 3:30 in the morning and I was exhausted and the magnesium was still making me feel like crap, even with the epidural taking the edge off.
I slept happily until a few things started taking over. The long labor began giving me a fever and I began feeling contractions, which was an unwelcome surprise after not feeling anything. Meanwhile, I wasn’t making much progress with my cervix. As my fever reached 101, 102, 103, my doctor came by to talk to me about the possibility of a C-section. I really didn’t want a C-section as the recovery sounded much worse to me (the description of stitches “tugging” sounded awful) but now, at around noon on Friday, I just didn’t care so much anymore. I wanted to arrive at this destination. Rolling over onto each side was difficult enough: the thought of pushing a baby out sounded impossible. Meanwhile, I felt like I was stuck in a permanent contraction. A woman from anaesthesiology came by to go over some pain relief options with me (I think at the time I had erroneously expected the epidural to take away all pain, and any pain felt like too much pain after the fever and magnesium), including rearranging the catheter in my epidural but the thought of sitting up and getting my spinal cord tube refixed sounded awful. We discussed the possibility of me being put to sleep during my C-section. Remember, I had done a workout video on Wednesday morning.
My doctor came by again and I started to throw up, which she joked about having a hard time not taking personally. She wanted to monitor me for a few hours to check on my dilation and fever. I was given a cold blanket and ice packs and antibiotics and Tylenol in my butt. I slept and was monitored. Steve set an alarm on his phone so that he knew when to push the button to administer me more fentanyl through the epidural. I sent him away when I could so that he could eat. He cried a little bit as he confessed how unhappy he was to see me in pain as I just slept and got prodded and tried to keep warm and not worry. A “baby,” the final destination, was so far from my mind at this point.
At 5 pm though my OB, Dr. Katz, checked me and reported that I was dilating and it looked like I would actually be able to deliver this baby vaginally. I was worried about having the energy to do so but she and the nurses promised I’d be able to. We did a few practice pushes and then I was left to figure out how often and when my contractions were coming, which didn’t take long, so we decided to get the show on the road around 6:30 Friday night. I wanted a little bit of a distraction so we put on The Simpsons and eventually an NFL game, I guess it was the Lions versus somebody else, I dunno. I just didn’t want it to be completely quiet in there.
Pushing is hard but apparently I was good at it. The most difficult part is focusing all your concentration in this weird triangle of your body, your head, your legs and your butt/vagina. You’re supposed to hold your breath as you do it which seems weird, yet not stress out your face so it felt like my head was going to explode at certain points. Dr. Katz promised me that I’d be done, probably around 7:15 which seemed almost like b.s. to me but that beat pushing for four hours which was what a friend of mine recently did. I couldn’t imagine it.
Pushing didn’t feel extremely productive to me (I never even pooped on the table even though I was mentally ready to do so) and I was so tired from the magnesium that I almost fell asleep a few times after each round of pushing, but Dr. Katz promised me I was making progress. I felt like she wasn’t kidding me when the pediatrics team showed up and all this gear arrived so I figured they knew something was coming. On around my tenth cycle of pushing (“Come on come on harder harder harder”) finally my doctor pulled something out of me and told me to stop for a second. We had told her our baby names, Paul or Amelia, and with one more push, she said “It’s Paul!” The baby came out, very small and doll like.
Steve started crying a little bit (but in a manly way) and the baby was scooted over to the warmer to get cleaned up and checked. He cried which sounded good to me but I couldn’t get over how surreal this all felt. I had always envisioned this moment my entire life, how emotional I would be, but I had a really hard time believing that that baby came out of me, that that was the thing I had carried around for 8.5 months, that I had made that. I kept wanting to fall asleep.
Postpartum cleanup was not my favorite. My abdomen got massaged, hard, which hurt and I still felt a lot of pressure from the placenta, so getting that out felt good.. Dr. Katz stitched me up for awhile which you can imagine was not a pure delight (meanwhile Steve held Paul, whom I had barely touched thus far, and I couldn’t see either of them really beyond the side of my hospital bed.) I was half-delirious and so I asked Dr. Katz a million questions about what she was doing and what I needed to do and she basically told me to shut up for a goddamn minute which was kind of funny in retrospect. She apologized and so did I. I talk when I’m nervous and overwhelmed I guess.
I held the baby finally, all teeny (only a little more than 5.5 pounds but in good health) and alien like. I think he actually looked pretty good for being so fresh and new (I imagine the shortish amount of time pushing helped not beat him up too bad on the way out) and tried to wrap my brain around the fact that he’s ours. We called my parents who wanted to come over immediately but I told them to hold off til the next day.
Finally I got cleaned off and Steve brought me some M Burger (I had been wanting a Diet Coke for like 18 hours now) and finally moved to our fourth and final room in the hospital. I was pretty sore in all my nether regions from hospital beds and stitching so I was given a Norco, which helps with pain but also makes you really hot. Paul had to stay in the nursery for four hours for monitoring due to the antibiotics I was on for my fever. We were given the chance to get him back around 1 in the morning but we decided we’d meet up with him after we’d gotten a full night’s sleep since we didn’t know what we’d do with him at 1 am anyway. We have the rest of our lives to get to know each other.
Except that I couldn’t sleep so well, maybe because of this goddamn magnesium that I’m still on until tomorrow night, maybe because I kinda slept all day yesterday, albeit in fever dreams, maybe just because I can’t quite believe it. I figured writing this all down will help and I think it did. There is a baby squalling in the room next door and I am tempted to go check on Paul except that as of a few hours ago my legs still didn’t work that well thanks to the epidural so maybe I should wait on that. It’s 4:15 now, Saturday morning. We finally got here, all of us.